Turn Down the Heat

First, as we all should know, climate change is real. Now that does not mean that the temperature will always be warmer, it just means more extreme. So in winter we could have more severe cold temperatures and in hurricane season more powerful storms. But it does mean that in the summer we could have more frequent and hotter heat waves.

Enter the United States, or more specifically the North American continent. In this article from the BBC we see photographs of the way the current heatwave is playing out across the continent. But it opens up with a nice map. Well, nice as in nicely done, not as in this is actually nice weather.

Yeah, no thanks.

The only complaint most of my American readers might have is that the numbers make no sense. That’s because it’s all in Celsius. Unfortunately for Americans most of the rest of the world uses Celsius and not Fahrenheit. Suffice it to say you don’t want to be in the dark reds. 44C equals 111F. 10C, the greenish-yellow side of the spectrum, is a quite pleasant 50F.

And that can relate to a small housekeeping note. I’m back after a long weekend up in the Berkshires. I took a short holiday to go visit the area near that north–south band of yellow over the eastern portion of the United States. It was very cool and windy and overall a welcome respite from the heat that will be building back in here across the eastern United States later this week.

At least yesterday was the summer solstice. The days start getting shorter. And in about five weeks or so we will reach the daily average peak temperature here in Philadelphia. At that point the temperatures begin cooling towards their eventual mid-January nadir.

I can’t wait.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

New Mexico Burns

Editor’s note: I was having some technical issues last week. This was supposed to post last week.

Editor’s note two: This was supposed to go up on Monday. Still didn’t. Third time’s the charm?

Yesterday I wrote about a piece from the New York Times that arrived on my doorstep Saturday morning. Well a few mornings earlier I opened the door and found this front page: a map of the western United States highlighting the state of New Mexico.

That doesn’t exactly look like a climate I’d enjoy.

Unlike the graphic we looked at yesterday, this graphic stretched down the page and below the fold, not by much, but still notably. The maps are good and the green–red spectrum passes the colour blind test. How the designer chose to highlight New Mexico is subtle, but well done. As the temperature and precipitation push towards the extreme, the colours intensify and call attention to those areas.

Also unlike the graphic we looked at yesterday, this piece contained some additional graphics on the inside pages.

Definitely not a place where I want to be.

These are also nicely done. Starting with the line chart at the bottom of the page, we can contrast this to some of the charts we looked at yesterday.

Burn, baby, burn.

Here the designer used axis lines and scales to clearly indicate the scale of New Mexico’s wildfire problem. Not only can you see that the number of fires detected has spiked far above than the number in the previous years back to 2003. And not only is the number greater, the speed at which they’ve occurred is noticeably faster than most years. The designer also chose to highlight the year in question and then add secondary importance to two other bad years, 2011 and 2012.

The other graphics are also maps like on the front page. The first was a locator map that pointed out where the fires in question occurred. Including one isn’t much of a surprise, but what this does really nicely is show the scale of these fires. They are not an insignificant amount of area in the state.

Pointing out where I really don’t want to be in New Mexico.

Finally we have the main graphic of the piece, which is a map of the spread of the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fire, which was two separate fires until they merged into one. The article does a good job explaining how part of the fire was actually intentionally set as part of a controlled burn. It just became a bit uncontrolled shortly thereafter.

Nope. Definitely not a place to be.

This reminded me of a piece I wrote about last autumn when the volcano erupted on La Palma. In that I looked at an article from the BBC covering the spread of the lava as it headed towards the coast. In that case darker colours indicated the earlier time periods. Here the Times reversed that and used the darker reds to indicate more recent fire activity.

Overall the article does a really nice job showing just what kind of problems New Mexico faces not just now from today’s environmental conditions, but also in the future from the effects of climate change.

Credit for the piece goes to Guilbert Gates, Nadja Popovich, and Tim Wallace.

Top Gun

Last night I went to see Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. But for those that don’t know, the first film starred Tom Cruise as a naval aviator, pilot, who flew around in F-14 Tomcats learning to become an expert dogfighter. Top Gun is the name of an actual school that instructs US Navy pilots.

Back in the 1980s, the F-14 was the premiere fighter jet used by the Navy. But the Navy retired the aircraft in 2006 and it’s been replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a larger and more powerful version of the F/A-18 Hornet. So no surprise that the new film features Super Hornets instead of Tomcats.

And so I wanted to compare the two.

The important thing to note is that the Tomcat flies farther and faster than the Hornet. The F-14 was designed to intercept Soviet bombers that were equipped with long-range missiles that could sink US carriers. The Hornet was designed more of an all-purpose aircraft. It can shoot down enemy planes, but it can also bomb targets on the ground. That’s the “/A” in the designation F/A-18. In the role of intercepting enemy aircraft, the F-14 was superior. It could fly well past two-times the speed of sound and it could fly combat missions over 500 miles away from its carrier.

In the interception role, however, the F-14 had another crucial advantage: the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. It was a long-range air-t0-air missile designed for the Tomcat. It does not work with any other US aircraft and so the Hornet uses the newer AIM-120 AMRAAM, a medium-range air-to-air missile.

There are plans to design a long-range version of the AIM-120, but it doesn’t exist yet and so the Hornet ultimately flies slower, less distance, and cannot engage targets at longer ranges.

However, dogfighting isn’t about long-range engagements with missiles. It’s about close-up twisting and turning to evade short-range missiles and gunfire. And even in that, the F-14 could use four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles whereas the F/A-18 carries only two on its wingtips.

By the 2000s F-14 was an older aircraft and while the moving, sweeping wings look cool, they cause maintenance problems. They were expensive to maintain and troublesome to keep in the air. But they are arguably superior to what the Navy flies today.

Moving forward, the Navy is beginning to introduce the F-35 Lightning II to the carrier fleets. Maybe I’ll need to a comparison between those three.

Credit for the piece is mine.

May Jobs Report

Friday the Bureau of Labour Statistics published the data on the jobs facet of the American economy. Saturday morning I woke up and found the latest New York Times visualisation of said jobs report waiting for me at my door. The graphic sat\s above the fold and visually led the morning paper.

Almost out of the hole.

We have a fairly simple piece here, in a good way. Two sections comprise the graphic. The first uses a stacked bar chart to detail the months wherein the US economy lost jobs during the previous two and a half years. We can take a closer look in this second photo that I took.

But the recovery hasn’t been uniformly good for all.

Here we can see the stacked bars pile up with the most recent bars to the right. Some of the larger bars have labels stating the number of jobs either lost (top) or gained (bottom). I’m not normally a fan of stacked bar charts, because they don’t allow a reader to easily discern like-for-like changes. In this instance, the goal is to show how close all the little bits have come towards making up the three negative bars. Where I take issue is that I would prefer the designers used some sort of scale to indicate even a rough sense of how many jobs the various bars represent.

That issue crops up again to a slightly lesser degree with the bottom set of graphics. These compare the growth of hourly earnings and inflation both from February 2020. During the first few months of the pandemic and its recession, you can see earnings for those most directly impacted by shutdowns drop. But there is no negative scale accompanying the positive scale and that makes it difficult to determine just how far earnings fell for those in, say, leisure and hospitality.

The second part of the graphic works overall, however it’s just some of the finer design details that are missing and take away from the graphic’s overall effectiveness.

This all fits part of a larger trend in data visualisation that I’ve been noticing the last few months. Fewer charts seem to be using axes and scales. It’s not a good thing for the field. Maybe some other day I’ll write some things about it.

For this piece, though, we have an overall solid effort. Some different design decisions could have made the piece clearer and more effective, but it still does the job.

Credit for the piece goes to Ben Casselman, Ella Koeze, and Bill Marsh.

Boston: Sportstown of the 21st Century

Tonight the Boston Celtics play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, one of the most dominant NBA teams over the last several years. But since the start of the new century and the new millennium, more broadly Boston’s four major sports teams have dominated the championship series of those sports. In fact tonight marks the 19th championship series a New England team has played since 2001. And in those 18 series thus far, Boston teams have a 12–6 record.

Let’s go Celtics.

Of the 12 titles won, the New England Patriots account for half with six Super Bowl victories out of nine appearances. The Boston Red Sox have won all four World Series they have played in since 2001. Rounding out the list, the Celtics and Bruins have each won a single championship with the Bruins appearing in three Stanley Cups and the Celtics in two NBA Finals. Tonight begins their third.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Into the Memory Hole

I noticed an interesting thing this morning. Over the holiday weekend I bookmarked a BBC News article about new airlines because it included a small graphic showing the number of airlines started during the pandemic (32) and the number of new airlines lost during the pandemic (55). The graphic used a stock three-dimensional illustration of a passenger airlines with a blank white body. From the top of the body rose two white bars, next to the left was the shorter of the two with a 32. The right was taller and had a 55. Above each was a header saying something to the effect of “Airlines started in 2020” and “Airlines lost in 2020”, respectively. Funny thing this morning that when I returned to the bookmark with this post in mind, the article’s graphic had disappeared.

This weekend I happened to start re-reading 1984, George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel about a man named Winston Smith. He works in the Records Department and is tasked with “rectifying” misstatements. I had just finished reading the section where Orwell describes Smith’s work wherein he takes previously published newspaper articles about statistics and figures and then edits them to include new numbers aligned with the actual outputs. This way should anyone read the old article for evidence of a previous past, they find the output forecasts have always been correct. He then destroys the written record of the old past by dumping it into a memory hole, a pneumatic tube that delivers it straight to a furnace where the old past is incinerated and thus replaced with Smith’s new version.

When I read the article again, because the graphic was gone, I read a paragraph that had figures for 2021. I cannot recall those numbers being present earlier this weekend. But they are roughly where I remember the old graphic being. Yet the article includes no note about any edits to a previous version let alone what those edits may have been. And so now I am left wondering if I really saw what I think I remember that I saw. How very Orwellian.

But let’s assume I did see what I thought I saw, the graphic was actually unnecessary. It presented two figures, 32 and 55. The bar chart itself had no axis labels and that made it a bit difficult to believe the numbers themselves. It did not help that the white bars blended almost seamlessly into the white body of the airliner. Moreover, the graphic was large and fit the full width of the text column. For two figures.

My initial goal was to show this graphic I made to show just how little space truly needs to be used to show an effective graphic. I also changed the direction of the bars. Instead of making one bar about the positive change and the other the negative change, I made both bars about the change. Therefore the one bar moved upwards with the positive (32) and the other downwards with the negative (55). I then plotted a dot to show the net change between the two. Yes, 32 airlines were created in 2020. But that still made for a net loss of 23 that year.

But because the graphic was missing and there was some new text for 2021 figures, I decided to incorporate them as well to show how the trend basically continued year over year.

Finally, a graphic

I left the white space to the right to illustrate how you really do not need a full-width graphic to display only six data points, itself a three-fold increase on the original graphic’s data content. The original graphic contained more illustrated plane than it did data content.

Graphics should be about the data, not about the splashy, flashy, whizbang background content that ultimately distracts our attention away from what should be the focal point of the piece: the data. The article still contains photos of planes with the livery of the new airlines, of empty terminals to represent the pandemic losses, and portraits of executives. This graphic did not need an illustrated plane taking over the graphic. It needed to only show those two numbers.

I would even contend that the article could have made do with a simple factette, two big numbers. Airlines closed in 2020 and the airlines opened. It need not be fancy, but it quickly delivers the big numbers with which the reader should be concerned. You don’t need to see an aircraft or a terminal. You could add some colour to the numbers or even a minus sign as there is a significant difference between a 55 and a -55. But all in all, the graphic need not be full width like it was originally.

But I think we should all keep in mind the value of transparency. The graphic did exist, of that I am certain. But future readers or even my sanity cannot be sure that it did. And in an era where “fake news” and fact-checking are important, I wonder if we need to be including corrections notes in more of our news articles. Because if we lose faith in our news, we have little left to lean upon in our societal discourse about the events of our time.

Credit for the piece is mine.

School Shootings

The Wall Street Journal put together a nice piece about the uptick in elementary school shootings, both in the number of shootings and the number of deaths. It used two bar charts, regular and stacked, and a heat map to tell the story. The screenshot below is from a graphic that looks at the proportion of school shootings that occur at elementary schools. They are not as common, but as other graphics in the article show, they can be quite deadly.

Not a great trend…

The graphic above does a nice job of distilling the horror of a tragedy into a single rectangle. That is an important task because it allows us to detach ourselves and more rationally analyse the situation. Unfortunately the analysis is that yes, Virginia, things really have been getting worse.

Overall the article is simple but soberingly effective. School shootings are a problem with which American society has not dealt and my cynical side believes with which we will continue to not deal.

Credit for the piece goes to James Benedict and Danny Dougherty.

Kids Do the Darnedest Things: But Really They Do

Remember how just last week I posted a graphic about the number of under-18 year olds killed by under-18 year olds? Well now we have an 18-year-old shooting up an elementary school killing 19 students and two teachers. Legally the alleged shooter, Salvador Ramos, is an adult given his age. But he was also a high-school student, reportedly more of a loner type. Legally an adult, perhaps, but I’d argue still more of a child. At least a young adult.

Well, as I noted above, here we are again, kids killing kids. With guns!

And it does look like it correlates with those state with more liberal gun laws, including Texas.

If you keep doing the same thing, but expect different results…

Credit for the piece is mine.

The Shrinking Colorado River

Last week the Washington Post published a nice long-form article about the troubles facing the Colorado River in the American and Mexican west. The Colorado is the river dammed by the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams. It’s what flows through the Grand Canyon and provides water to the thirsty residents of the desert southwest.

But the river no longer reaches the ocean at the Gulf of California.

Why? Part drought, part population growth, and part economic activity. The article does a great job of exploring the issue and it does so through the occasional use of information graphics. This screenshot captures the storage capacity of the two main dams, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, created by the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams, respectively. You may have heard of these recently because the water shortages presently affecting the region have brought reservoir levels to some of their lowest levels in years. And that means people have been finding all sorts of things.

But the graphic does a nice job of showing just how low things have gotten of late. Naturally I am curious what the data looks like on a longer timeline. Hoover Dam, of course, began during the administration of Herbert Hoover but was completed during the Franklin Roosevelt administration—who also renamed the dam as Boulder Dam though Congress reversed that change in 1947. Lake Powell came along three decades later and so the timelines would not be the exact same, but I am curious all the same.

Low and getting lower

The overall article makes sparse use of the graphics and they occupy much less space in the design than the numerous accompanying photographs. But the balance in terms of content works, I just would have preferred the charts and maps a bit larger.

Contrast this to what we explored last week in a New York Times piece, specifically the online version. There we saw graphics with no headers, data descriptors, axes labels, &c. Here we see the Washington Post was able to create a captivating piece but treat the data and information—and the reader—with respect. There are fewer graphics in this piece, but the way they were handled puts this leaps and bounds above the online version we looked at last week.

Credit for the piece goes to a lot of people, but the graphics specifically to John Muyskens. The rest of the credits go to the author Karin Brulliard and then just copying and pasting from the page: Editing by Amanda Erickson and Olivier Laurent. Photography by Matt McClain. Video by Erin Patrick O’Connor and Jesús Salazar. Video editing by Jesse Mesner-Hage and Zoeann Murphy. Graphics by John Muyskens. Graphics editing by Monica Ulmanu. Design and development by Leo Dominguez. Design editing by Matthew Callahan and Joe Moore. Copy editing by Susan Stanford. Additional editing by Ann Gerhart.

Whilst We Wait for Roe…

to be overturned by the Supreme Court, as seems likely, states have been busy passing laws to both restrict and expand abortion access. This article from FiveThirtyEight describes the statutory activity with the use of a small multiple graphic I’ve screenshot below.

Too much colour for my liking

Each little map represents an action that states could have taken recently, for example in the first we have states banning abortion before 13 weeks, i.e. a nearly total ban on abortion. It uses dots, for this map orange, to indicate legislative acts to that effect. But if states have passed multiple legislative acts, e.g. South Dakota when it comes to banning specific types or reasons for abortion, multiple dots are used.

I generally like this, but would have liked to have seen an overview map either at the beginning or end that would put all the states together in context. Dot placement, especially for states like Kentucky, would be tricky, but it would go a way to show how complex and convoluted the issue has become at the state level.

Credit for the piece goes to Ryan Best.