Urban Heat Islands

Yesterday was the first day of 32º+C (90º+F) in Philadelphia in October in 78 years. Gross. But it made me remember this piece last month from NPR that looked at the correlation between extreme urban heat islands and areas of urban poverty. In addition to the narrative—well worth the read—the piece makes use of choropleths for various US cities to explore said relationship.

My neighbourhood's not bad, but thankfully I live next to a park.
My neighbourhood’s not bad, but thankfully I live next to a park.

As graphics go, these are effective. I don’t love the pure gradient from minimum to maximum, however, my bigger point is about the use of the choropleth compared to perhaps a scatter plot. In these graphics that are trying to show a correlation between impoverished districts and extreme heat, I wonder if a more technical scatterplot showing correlation would be effective.

Another approach could be to map the actual strength of the correlation. What if the designers had created a metric or value to capture the average relationship between income and heat. In that case, each neighbourhood could be mapped as how far above or below that value they are. Because here, the user is forced to mentally transpose the one map atop the other, which is not easy.

For those of you from Chicago, that city is rated as weak or no correlation to the moderately correlated Philadelphia.

I lived near the lake for eight years, and that does a great deal for mitigating temperature extremes.
I lived near the lake for eight years, and that does a great deal for mitigating temperature extremes.

Granted, that kind of scatterplot probably requires more explanation, and the user cannot quickly find their local neighbourhood, but the graphics could show the correlation more clearly that way.

Finally, it goes almost without saying that I do not love the red/green colour palette. I would have preferred a more colour-blind friendly red/blue or green/purple. Ultimately though, a clearer top label would obviate the need for any colour differentiation at all. The same colour could be used for each metric since they never directly interact.

Overall this is a strong piece and speaks to an important topic. But the graphics could be a wee bit more effective with just a few tweaks.

Credit for the piece goes to Meg Anderson and Sean McMinn.

Brexit Crazyness Continues

The British Supreme Court ruled today that Boris Johnson unlawfully advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament. And because the advice was unlawful, the act was therefore unlawful. And because the act was unlawful, the effects of said act were unlawful. And because the effects were unlawful, said effects are null and void. So, you know, prorogation never happened.

So the Prime Minister has misled the Queen. He has failed to pass all but one bill in Parliament (it was a bill for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster totally unrelated to Brexit). He lost three seats, one via a by-election and two by defecting MPs. And then he purged 21 MPs from his party to completely obliterate his working majority. In any other year, this would be cause for the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister. Instead he is sticking around in New York to give a speech about, what else, Brexit, before flying back to London tonight (Eastern US time).

So what’s next? Who really knows. This has never before happened in the history of the United Kingdom. But one possible option is that the opposition parties may hold a no confidence vote. But there will be significant pressure against that, because, as my graphic shows, any election that would likely result, would mean Brexit happening with Parliament dissolved. And that would, ahem, defeat the entire purpose of preventing a No Deal Brexit. Consequently, a no confidence vote or general election is unlikely. (Unless, the opposition and Tory rebels can agree to a non-Jeremy Corbyn caretake prime minister, e.g. Ken Clarke or Margaret Beckett.)

Omnishambles. Even Iannucci couldn't have made this stuff up.
Omnishambles. Even Iannucci couldn’t have made this stuff up.

Regardless, get ready for a crazy day of Parliamentary procedure tomorrow.

Hong Kong Identity

One of the things I have been following closely the last few months has been the protests in Hong Kong. The city is one of China’s few Special Administrative Regions—basically the former British colony of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau, two cities bordering mainland China and separated by the Pearl River estuary.

Long story short, but since 1997 Hong Kong should enjoy 50 years of a legal system that is more aligned to that of its former status of a British colony than that of mainland China. But increasingly since Xi Jinping took power, he has been eroding those rights and the youth of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to protest, a right they enjoy but not the rest of mainland Chinese.

And so we have a survey looking at the identity by which those people living in Hong Kong choose to identify.

And it’s not Chinese.

Not a good trend for Beijing
Not a good trend for Beijing

From a news perspective, this poses problems for a Beijing-based Chinese government that is making pains to promote a greater Chinese identity throughout the world, least of all by pushing for a reunification with Taiwan by force if necessary. A generation of several million Hong Kongers and the way they raise their children, in addition to their friends and supporters abroad, weakens the authority of Beijing.

Hence the threat of a Tiananmen Square style crackdown on Hong Konger protestors.

Alas, the United States has been far more concerned with its trade dispute than it has been the democratic and human rights of several million people. At least, that is the impression given by the White House.

But, as to the design, I do not love the spaghettification of the line charts. Though I do appreciate that the Hong Kong identity has been separated by the maroon-coloured line. I wonder if labelling the lines in the small multiples is necessary given the decision to include the legend at the top of the chart.

The other tricky thing with this type of chart is that the data series is a population cohort. And yet the data is based on a time series. And so the cohorts vary over time. It might not be entirely clear to the audience that this (appears to be)/is a sample of people of an age at a particular date. How do those people change over the years? It’s hard to see that trend by separating out the data.

Overall, it’s a solid piece. And it’s important given the gravity of the protests in Hong Kong.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data team.

Pub Trivia Scores

So today we have pub trivia scores.

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted from my data recording of my Wednesday night’s team trivia pub scores. For the very few of us who know what this means, here you go.

We're on a downward trend
We’re on a downward trend

Essentially, our ability to score points on music in the last round remains pretty bad. Hence the general downward trend.

Credit for this piece goes to me.

It’s Boris Time, Baby

Today Boris Johnson begins his premiership as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. He might not be popular with the wide body of the British population, but he is quite popular with the Conservative base.

The Economist looked at how Boris polled on several traits, e.g. being more honest than most politicians, compared to his prime minister predecessors before they entered office. And despite being broadly unpopular outside the Tories, he still polls better than most of his predecessors.

Boris rates higher than many previous prime ministers before they came to power
Boris rates higher than many previous prime ministers before they came to power

Design wise, it’s a straight-forward use of small multiples and bar charts. I find the use of the light blue bar a nice device to highlight Boris’ position amongst his peers.

But now we see where Boris goes, most importantly on Brexit.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Tornado Alley Spread East

Last week the Philadelphia area experienced a mini tornado outbreak with three straight days of watches and warnings. Of course further west in the traditional Tornado Alley, far more storms of far greater intensity were wreaking havoc. But with tornado warnings going off every few minutes just outside the city of Philadelphia, it was hard to concentrate on storms in, say, Oklahoma.

But the New York Times did. And they put together a nice graphic showing the timeline of the outbreak using small multiples to show where the tornado reports were located on 12 consecutive days.

Who remembers the film Twister?
Who remembers the film Twister?

Of course the day of that publication, 29 May, would see another few dozen, even in and around Philadelphia. Consequently, the graphic could have been extended to a day 13. But that would have been rather unlucky.

From a design standpoint, the really nice element of this graphic is that it works so well in black and white. The graphic serves as a reminder that good graphics need not be super colourful and flashy to have impact.

Credit for the piece goes to Weiyi Cai and Jason Kao.

The Rise of the Tropic(al Plant)s

Last week I had three different discussions with people about some of the impact of climate change upon the United States. However, what did not really come up in those conversations was the environmental changes set to befall the United States. And by environment, I explicitly mean how the flora of the US will change.

Why? Well, as warmer climates spread north, that means tropical and subtropical plants can follow warmer temperatures northward into lands previously too cold. And they could replace the species native to those lands, who evolved adaptations for their particular climate.

Thankfully, last week the New York Times published a piece that explored how those impacts could be felt. Hardiness zones are a concept designed to tell gardeners when and where to plant certain crops. And while the US Department of Agriculture has a detailed version useful to horticulturists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces a very similar version for the purpose of climate studies. And when you group those hardiness levels by the forecast lowest temperatures in an area, you get this.

More palm trees?
More palm trees?

There you have it, the forecast change to plant zones.

From a design standpoint, I like the idea of the colour shift here. However, where it breaks seems odd. Though it could be more influenced by the underlying classifications than I understand. The split occurs at 0ºF, which is well below freezing. I wonder if the freezing point, 32ºF could have been used instead. I also wonder if adding Celsius units above the same legend could be done to make the piece more accessible to a broader audience.

Otherwise, it’s a nice use of small multiples. And from the editorial design standpoint, I like how the article’s text above the graphic makes use of a six-column layout to add some dynamic contrast to what is essentially a three-column layout for the graphics.

They're living on a grid
They’re living on a grid

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich.

Bad Endings

Turns out I was not the only one to look at plotting the ratings of the final series of Game of Thrones. The Economist looked at IMDB ratings, but just prior to the finale on Sunday. They, however, took it a step further and compared Game of Thrones to the final series of other well regarded shows.

All good things…
All good things…

From a design standpoint, I’m not a huge fan of breaking the y-axis at 6. While the data action is all happening at the high range of the scale, that is also the point. Each show is at the top of its class, which makes the precipitous falls of Game of Thrones, Dexter, and House of Cards all the more…wait for it…stark.

I do like the shading behind the line to indicate the final series. That certainly makes it easier to differentiate between the final episodes and those that came before.

But again, I’ll just say, I like how Game of Thrones ended.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Trump Keeps Attacking the Special Counsel

Yesterday the New York Times published a fascinating piece looking at the data on how often President Trump has gone after the Special Counsel’s investigation. (Spoiler: over 1100 times.) It makes use of a number of curvy line charts showing the peaks of mentions of topics and people, e.g. Jeff Sessions. But my favourite element was this timeline.

All the dots. So many dots.
All the dots. So many dots.

It’s nothing crazy or fancy, but simple small multiples of a calendar format. The date and the month are not particular important, but rather the frequency of the appearances of the red dots. And often they appear, especially last summer.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan and Karen Yourish.

A Macedonia by any Other Name

As someone who loves geography and maps, I have plenty of printed atlases and map books. One year, as a gift, my family gave me an early 20th century atlas. That one in particular is remarkable because of how much the world changed between 1921 and 2019—what was French West Africa is now several independent countries.

But our maps may be changing again as Greece has now formally recognised the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as North Macedonia, what most of the world simply calls Macedonia. But Greeks do not want you to confuse that Macedonia with the Macedonia (or Macedon) of Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great. The squabble over the name has prevented what will be North Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO because of Greek objections.

As the Economist recently showed, however, it might take a little while before the name Macedonia catches on with the public at large. (Note, I intended to type North Macedonia but instead went with Macedonia. I opted to leave it incorrect just to show how difficult it will be.)

What's in a name?
What’s in a name?

The plot uses my favourite small multiples to look at six countries whose names have changed. Some of you may be unfamiliar with the originals. Bechuanaland may be the most obscure, but Burma and Ceylon may be far more familiar. Of course the historian in me then wonders why the mentions of countries spiked in books. But small multiples are usually not the place to do detailed annotations to humour an audience of one.

In terms of its design, we have an effective use of colour and line. I may have dropped the thin red line for the max 100 value as it makes the piece a bit busy overall, but that might just be house style.

Of course for this graphic in particular, we will have to wait several years before we can add Macedonia/North Macedonia to the plot.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.