Even Older Family Trees

Yesterday we looked at a graphic about an old family tree, revealed by ancient DNA. But at the end of the day it is a family tree of descent for a human male. But mankind itself fits within a kind of family tree, the circle family tree of life.

The tree of life continues to evolve as we discover new species and then reconfigure what we have to fit what we now know. When I was a wee lad in school, we learned about the three kingdoms of life: plants, animals, and fungi. Bacteria were a separate branch.

A few weeks ago, however, I was reading an article about how a recent DNA analysis identified a new “supergroup” within our larger group of complex cellular life, eukaryotes (plants, animal, and fungi fall within this). Luckily for our purposes the article contains a small graphic at which we can take a look.

Humans are way, way, way down on the tree.

The diagram uses a fairly simple design. Two panels split the largest groupings into its branches whilst the second panel breaks up eukaryotes. Colour links the eukaryotes together and shows how they fit into the broader tree to the left, which uses dark grey and light blue for bacteria and archaea, respectively.

A nice additional touch was the designer’s decision to include a small icon that represents the name of the supergroups within eukaryotes. Because, as the text points out, we don’t have commonly known names for these supergroups. Did I know that we belong to the opisthokonts? Absolutely not. Although dog people may be upset that the cat got the call to represent animals.

Regardless of the design, you can still see in the second panel how people are more closely related to amoeba than we are plants. But this new supergroup, hemimastigotes, branches off from the rest of us eukaryotes at a very early point. And the DNA proves it.

Overall this was a really nice graphic to see in a fascinating article. Science is cool.

Credit for the piece goes to Lucy Reading-Ikkanda.


Happy Friday, everyone.

At the beginning of the week, we looked at the launch and deployment of the new James Webb telescope. If you recall, one of the key elements of the satellite’s design is its sunshield. As the name says, it shields the satellite from the sun, thus keeping the equipment super cold, which is necessary to operate in the range of infrared.

But, as xkcd points out, that’s not actually the real reason for the sunshield.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Fire in Fairmount

Philadelphia made the national and international news last week, although for once not because we’re all being shot to death. This time because a fire in a rowhome killed 12 people, including nine children. The Philadelphia Inquirer quickly posted a short article explaining what occurred that morning. But the early indication, based upon the confession of a five-year old, is that a child playing with a light set a live Christmas tree on fire.

Ironically, the city prohibits live trees in high rises, apartment buildings, and multi-family dwellings. The rule is in place because live trees are a very real fire hazard. Just a few weeks earlier, a man and two of his sons were killed in a suburb north of Philadelphia (his wife and a third son survived). They died in a fire that began with lights on a live tree. But here in the city, the code states that multi-family dwellings begin at three households. This rowhome had been converted into two separate units, so a live tree was legal. But they would have been better without.

The Inquirer article features a scrolling illustration depicting what we presently know about the fire: how and where it started, why it may have spread, and ultimately who died.

Live trees smell great, but they’re a very real fire risk.

Credit for the piece goes to Sam Morris.

Space: The Final Frontier

We’re back after a nice holiday break. And one of the most fascinating things to happen was the successful—and seemingly easy, more on that in a bit—launch of the James Webb space telescope. The James Webb was developed by NASA with contributions from both the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Whilst it did launch behind schedule and at a price tag of $10 billion, the James Webb is the most sophisticated and complex space telescope mankind has yet launched into space. It will look backwards into time to some of the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe. It will also look at the thousands of exoplanets we have discovered in the last three decades. The instruments aboard James Webb will be able to help us identify if any of these planets have water and other ingredients necessary for life as we know it. This could be one of the most monumental space missions yet.

But James Webb’s launch was far from guaranteed. As this great article from the BBC explains, the construction, assembly, launch, and deployment were all incredibly complicated. James Webb is expected to operate for ten years before its fuel, needed to keep the telescope cold, runs out. However, the seemingly easy launch and deployment means that it used less fuel than expected. Some early reports suggest that the telescope may have some additional time left in it now before the fuel runs dry.

I encourage you to read the article, because it explains the advantages of the telescope, how it works, and its deployment with several illustrations. There are five in particular, though I’ll share only two screenshots.

The most important is this, the key distinction between Hubble and James Webb. It shows how the two space telescopes will be operating in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

All the light…

The graphic fakes the colours, because by definition we can only see the visible portions of the spectrum. Wavelengths get either too short or too long on either side of the visible spectrum—which differs for different species. I would actually really enjoy seeing how these two spectra stack up against other space observatories like Chandra (x-ray) and Spitzer (infrared).

Next we have the deployment, which finished just last week. The graphic summarises how complicated this process was—and how fraught with risk. But in the end it went off without any major hitch.

Make sure to read the instructions before deployment…

This uses a nice series of small multiples of illustrations. These simplified drawings show how the tightly packed telescope unfolds and then begins deploying its vital heat shield then its mirror.

The last thing to check out in the article is a slider showing the “before” and “after”. You have seen them before for things like flood or hurricane damages. Here, however, you can compare a photo in Hubble’s visible light to an existing infrared version of the same photo.

Of course, just because the telescope finished deploying its mirror last week doesn’t mean we get photos this week. The Baltimore-based team running the observatory will spend the next few months tuning everything up. But the goal is hopefully to have the first images from James Webb sometime in June.

And then we have the next ten years to hopefully start collecting data.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics team.

Toronto Keeps It Cool

Last month the Washington Post published a nice article that detailed the deep water cooling system that the city of Toronto, Canada uses to keep itself cool. For the unfamiliar, deep water cooling at its simplest means sucking up very cold water from the bottom of a lake or ocean or wherever you can get very cold water, and then pumping that inland to absorb heat before cycling it back.

Of course, for the longer explanation—and what makes Toronto’s system different—you should read the article. And for our purposes it includes some nice illustrations that diagram just how that system works. The screenshot below captures the basic process I just described, but there are additional illustrations that do a great job showing just how the system works.

Just look at those gloriously cool temperatures…

What I particularly enjoy about this style is how the illustrations of the building and similar are minimal and restrained. This allows the diagrammatic elements to come to the forefront, which is important to make the system understood.

Credit for the piece goes to Daisy Chung.

Greater Delaware

We are at that point in the year where I begin to use up my holiday time for work. I just returned from two weeks away, but I am out again tomorrow, so no post. Ergo, this Thursday is my Friday. And so I’ll leave you with a post from xkcd that talks vexillology, or the study of flags.

Beware Greater Delaware.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Ventfort Hall

On the last day of my trip I took some time to visit two Gilded Age mansions, called “cottages”, though they are anything but the image the word cottage conjures in my mind. Ventfort Hall, the subject of today’s post, was the cottage of Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan. Yeah, that J.P. Morgan. So already “not a stereotypical cottage” should be flashing in your mind.

From an information design standpoint, one of the really neat things was seeing the floor plans and grounds of the home, which had significantly deteriorated since it 19th century construction and necessitated significant restorative work.

First we have a map of the grounds, originally over 26 acres, since reduced to just under 12.

Lots of running around room there…

These kind of maps help you appreciate just how much has been lost in the century-plus since its construction. In particular greenhouses and other mansions’ farms made the estates partially self-sustaining. The butlers weren’t doing Whole Foods runs, except they did have to go to town to get the specialties and the meats.

In addition to the landscape architecture we also have the floor plans for two of the four floors of the mansion. This is the ground floor, or first floor. Most of this is open to the public as part of the restored summer home, though some parts are closed for staff and volunteers. Some parts remain original, though significant damage has meant that other parts are wholly new, but to the best reconstruction of what was.

But where’s the mancave?

The first floor, or the second floor in American parlance, held most of the bedrooms, including the two masters, his and hers.

I want the big room.

This floor has two rooms, Caroline’s Suite and the Honeysuckle Room, that are presently off limits to visitors. But you can peer in through the open doorway to see what the original conditions were like before the restoration, spoiler, not good.

Also not accessible to visitors are the floor above, which contained mostly servants quarters and a few additional guest bedrooms, in particular two directly over the master bedrooms.

Finally the basement is also not accessible, but is where the kitchen, boilers, &c. were all housed. You can peak in through the outside windows and catch a glimpse of the kitchen. But hopefully it’s restored and opened someday, because apparently beneath the veranda was an entire bowling alley. Because don’t all great homes have bowling alleys?

It’s funny because I’ve always enjoyed architecture, so much so that I thought I wanted to be an architect growing up. Then I realised I’d have to do maths and I said nah. Now I work with data. Go figure. Also, whenever I’ve looked at apartments or places to live, whilst photos are super helpful, I’ve always valued floor plans more. They help me appreciate the true dimensions and thus visualise myself and my stuff in the spaces. And that’s why these sort of displays are super neat when visiting famous homes.

It’s also funny because my present one-bedroom flat could almost fit entirely within the billiards room. Oh, the Gilded Age.

Credit for the piece, as in the design, goes to Arthur Rotch.

Mt Greylock Covered in Ice

Yesterday I referenced a photo of a sign along the drive to the summit of Massachusetts’ Mt Greylock. When I finally arrived at the summit, well, there were quite a few people as the day was very pleasant. But walking about the summit I also found a few more signs. One that impressed me was the following.

Yesterday I had mentioned how glaciers carved the geography we see today. But just how big were these glaciers? Massive. This graphic shows how high the glaciers would have been over the summit, already nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.

That’s a lot of ice.

Naturally the silhouettes of both the Memorial Tower and Empire State Building help given additional context of just how large these glaciers were. This sign isn’t far from the tower, which just reinforces the mental image the sign creates.

But the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago, and since then nature has reclaimed the summit. One of the things that impressed upon me was how the whole summit smelled. I grew up in a house where we frequently burned balsam fir incense and candles scented the same. Opening the car door I immediately was hit by that very same smell.

It turns out that the elevation is sufficiently high that the summit of Mt Greylock supports a sub-alpine environment, including a boreal forest, which you’d typically find near the Arctic Circle. And those kinds of forest are full of those kinds of evergreens and balsam firs. This sign detailed just that.

Need smell-o-vision for this…

Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) designers.

An Animated Approach to Understanding Vaccines…

…courtesy of Family Guy.

In the last 18 months of looking at the data behind Covid-19 and the vaccines, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people, maybe even some of you, about the pandemic and the vaccines we’re using to combat it. Unfortunately, I’m just one person. Seth MacFarlane, however, has himself and the crew behind Family Guy to produce an advert for the Ad Council. The advert explains how vaccines work, why you should get them, and does so with some really nice animation. Animation that tops any illustrations I could do.

So enjoy their animated short.

It’s like Schoolhouse Rock…without the rock.

Credit for the piece goes to Seth MacFarlane and the crew behind Family Guy.

Update on Tiffany

Last month on another Friday I shared some graphics from a video by CCP Grey that looked at the origin and history of the name Tiffany. It’s a great video and I highly recommend it. But last week he published…an addendum I guess you could call it.

The piece takes a look at a research path he took for the video. It happened to involve some history and genealogy, two things I personally enjoy, and found it to be a fascinating insight into his research process.

All the paths don’t lead to Rome

The screenshot above hints at the idea that sometimes work is not linear and, especially when I’m doing genealogy work, there are often tangents and dead ends. In other words, to an extent, I can relate.

Happy Friday, all.

Credit for the piece goes to CCP Grey.