There’s Water in the Basement

If you didn’t know, climate change is real and it threatens much of our current way of life. I don’t go so far as to say it threatens the extinction of mankind, because there are nearly seven billion of us and to wipe out every living soul would be a tall order. But, it could wipe out parts of our history.

If you didn’t know, the city of Washington in the District of Columbia was built on a swamp. Except, actually, it wasn’t. Most of the city was built on higher ground along the riverbank of the Potomac. True, there are low-lying areas affected by the tides and high water, such as the National Mall, but places like the Capitol were purposefully placed on high ground.

And that gets us to this article in the Washington Post. It takes a look at the impact of rising waters and flash flooding on the National Mall, home to some of the preeminent American museums. The article uses a map to show just how the museums are threatened by extreme weather events that will only increase in frequency as climate change ramps up.

Note the Capitol and the White House will both be fine.

The designer used colour to denote museums by their risk of flooding, and sadly there are several. But as the article describes, there are few short-term fixes that we can undertake to mitigate the risk of damage to the collections.

Credit for the piece goes to Taylor Johnston.

Hey Boo Boo

When I was in the Berkshires, one thing I noticed was signs about bears. Bear crossing. Don’t feed the bears. Be beary careful. Okay, not so much the latter. But it was nonetheless odd to a city dweller like myself where I just need to be wary of giant rats.

Less than a month later, I read an article in the Boston Globe about how the black bear population in Massachusetts is expanding from the western and central portions of the state to those in the east.

The graphic in the article actually comes from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, so credit goes to them, but it shows the existing range and the black bears’ new range.

I understand the inclusion of the highways in red, green, and black, but I wish they had some even simple labelling. In the article they mention a few highways, but my familiarity with the highway system in Massachusetts is not great. Also, because the designer used thin black lines to demarcate the towns, one could think that the black lines, especially out west, represent counties or other larger political geography units.

Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

How Far You Won’t Go

Housekeeping first, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been publishing as much lately. That’s because I’ve been on holiday. After a tremendously busy year, I need to use up all the time I didn’t spend on holiday. Consequently, I’m only going to be posting a handful or so more times before the end of the year. The plan is to return in early January to my regular posting schedule. For this week that means the next few days before I’m off for American Thanksgiving.

But on with the show.

One of the things I haven’t been doing too much of is travelling. There are many reasons for this, but one is that air travel in the United States has, of late, been, shall we say unreliable. Hundreds if not thousands of flight cancellations, sometimes with no obvious cause. And in one notorious case, Southwest claimed inclement weather cancelled flights in Florida, but it was the only airline to cancel significant numbers of flights. In other words, it wasn’t the weather.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article that explored the issue, doing so via a great example. It followed the literal path of one Southwest aircraft over one long holiday weekend. The screenshot below captures two of the graphics with a wee bit of text between.

What’s nice about the graphics’ design is how they use small multiples and consistent colours. The intended route is always on the left and what actually happened is on the right. Red and blue colours depict those throughout.

The only thing I quibble with is the embedded HTML text. Sometimes the page loads fine for me, other times it looks like it did this morning for this screenshot. Note how for some city labels the final letters get dropped to a second line, e.g. the “o” in Chicago or the “e” in Baltimore.

This is far from a deal breaker on this being a good graphic, but I find it mildly annoying, especially when in situations like the bottom left Orlando, there’s no obvious reason as to why, because the little airplane departure icon sits atop the final letter.

I understand the idea behind using native HTML text in graphics, but when things like this happen, I wonder if it wouldn’t simply be better to include the text as part of the graphic and avoid these potential mishaps altogether.

Credit for the piece goes to Emma Brown.

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 Cross Section

I spent the better part of the last two weeks travelling and hanging out in the Berkshires and Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts. One of the coolest experiences was driving up the automobile route for Mt Greylock, the tallest point in Massachusetts.

Most of the drive itself was just regularly spectacular as the mid-morning sunlight hit the trees above the road, creating a warm yellow-orange light that bathed the route. But maybe about halfway or two-thirds of the way up, I rounded a bend in the road and came upon a clearing—and convenient pullover. The scene elicited an audible swear and not surprisingly I stopped the car to enjoy the scenery and take some photos.

Whilst there, I also noticed a small sign that, among other things diagrammed the cross section of Mt Greylock and points to the east and west. And I figured that would be a good way to start the week.

Mt Greylock

The sign uses an old map to illustrate the different rock layers that define the mountain. Marble, which is a soft rock, erodes during glaciation whereas schist, a hard rock, does not. And during the recent ice ages, when glaciers covered the area, most of the marble areas of the mountain range were eroded away, leaving just the sharp stony peaks of schist.

Credit for the piece goes to the US Geological Survey designers, ca. 1894.

Peeping Map

Depending upon where you live, autumn presents us with a spectacular tapestry of colour with bright piercing yellows, soft warm oranges, and attention-grabbing reds all situated among still verdant green grasses and calming blue skies. But this technicolour dreamcoat that drapes the landscape disappears after only a few weeks. For those that chase the colour, the leaf peepers, they need to know the best time to travel.

For that we have this interactive timeline/map from SmokyMountains.com. It’s pretty simple as far as graphics go. We have a choropleth map coloured by a county’s status from no change to past peak, when the colours begin to dull.

All the colour

The map itself is not interactive, i.e. you cannot mouse over a county and get a label or some additional information. But the time slider at the bottom does allow you to see the progression of colour throughout the autumn.

Normally, as my longtime readers know, I am not a fan of the traffic light colour palette: green to red. Here, however, it makes sense in the context of changing colours of plant leaves. No, not all trees turn red, some stay yellow. Broadly speaking, though, the colours make sense.

And to that end, the designers of the map chose their colours well, because this map avoids the issues we often see—or don’t—when it comes to red-green colour blindness. This being the reason why a default of green-to-red is a poor choice. Their green is distinct from the red, as these two proof colour screenshots show (thanks to Photoshop’s Proof Colour option).

Protanopia
Deuteranopia

The choice isn’t great, don’t get me wrong. You can see how the green still falls into the shades of red. A blue would be a better choice. (And that’s why I always counsel people to stick to a blue-to-red palette.) Compare, for example, what happens when I add a massive Borg cube of blue to the area of Texas and Oklahoma—not that you have a choice, because resistance is futile.

A bit of blue

Here the blue is very clearly different than the reds. That makes it very distinct, but again, I think in the context of a map about the changing of leaf colours from greens to reds, a green-to-red map is appropriate. But only if, as these designers have, the colours are chosen so that the green can be distinguished from the reds.

As I always say, know the rules—don’t use red-to-green as one—so that you know the few instances when and where it’s appropriate to break them. As this map is.

Credit for the piece goes to the SmokyMountains.com

Flowing Lava and Layers

I didn’t have the internet yesterday morning, so apologies for no posting. But at least it was back by the afternoon. Unlike utilities in La Palma, where a volcano has been erupting and lava flowing, covering parts of the island.

The BBC had a brief article last week detailing the spread of the lava, which has been devastating the town. And it was a neat little graphic that I really liked.

At least it doesn’t move super quickly?

This graphic does a couple of things that I really like. First, context. Yes, the main graphic is the actual spread over four days (the fifth layer is almost half-a-day later). But in the upper-right corner, we have the same graphic layered over a satellite image of the region. I’m not sure how I feel about the satellite image, but overall it does provide a sense of scale.

Because the second thing I like is how the larger map shows not a satellite view, but rather a topographic or terrain view. The lines represent points of continuous height and help explain why the lava flow looks the way it does. The drawback here is that you don’t get any sense of urban development, like streets or neighbourhoods impacted. For that you could often use a satellite image, but then the colours and their saturation could detract from the importance of the graphical element, the lava flow layers.

Finally for the layers, I like the stepped gradients of the dark reds. This makes the sequential flow very clear. My only quibble might be the stroke or border on the shape. You can see that for all but the final shape, the stroke is a thin white line. But because those layers are stacked in reverse order—or else you would only be able to see the last layer, the most distant spread—the white stroke often overlaps and hides the black stroke for the final day.

Here I would recommend taking the five layers, duplicating them then merging them into a single sixth shape that sits atop the original five layers. I would eliminate the fill colour from the shape and then put the outline to black, that way the final borders of the lava flow in the graphic could be seen for the entirety of the flow.

But overall, this was a really nice piece that provides a lot of context to the lava flow.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

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.

Fixing Where 9/11 Happened

Today we have a quick piece, but one that I read at the weekend, you know, the 9/11 20th anniversary one. The article served as a quick summary of the day for those who either don’t know or don’t remember. After 20 years, there are a lot of people who have come of age in a post-9/11 world that were either not born or too young to recall those before times.

And so this map helped to identify the location of the three sites impacted by the planes: the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

See anything off?

Except look closely at the graphic.

Little is where it belongs. The World Trade Centre marker is on Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The Pentagon is nearer to Fredericksburg than Washington. And Shanksville is in Maryland.

You can leave the dots for Washington and New York, as they are correctly placed. But why not just use some typography to put the World Trade Centre beneath New York and the Pentagon beneath Washington?

What makes it peculiar is that Shanksville is in Maryland, so it’s dot is just wrong. And so here’s a rough fix for that part of the graphic.

It was just an odd graphic for an article about one of those days that will be long-remembered in history.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.