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Showing posts from February, 2009

Quick hits: Tumblr does infoviz

Check out, a two-month-old collection of charts, information graphics and other artifacts to ponder. Naturally, some are richer and more compelling than others. Three particularly clear, thoughtful examples:

Instrument RangeWhat I like: Color coding, always a plus if used intelligently; excellent labeling (sonic frequencies, where octaves start) — which is almost unnecessary given the clever use of the keyboard as the Y axis; X-axis groupings demonstrate not only how categories of instruments compare, but also how each instrument compares with other members of its category. Wishlist: There's not much that needs improvement here. Use a serif font, maybe?

Comparing Dangers of Popular Drugs What I like: Shades of solid gray, perfect for photocopying; legible and consistent presentation; table of numbers alongside chart — potentially a distraction — underscores message and clarifies why drugs are charted in this order (by user dependence, in descending order). Wishli…

More data dumps

Another in our occasional series on Where The Numbers Come From:

What more could the aspiring info-interpreter want than a Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network? Hosted/maintained/curated by the folks at the Open Knowledge Forum, it provides more than 350 data "packages" (from the Airborne Antarctic Ozone Experiment to Yosemite National Park) and code that are "free for anyone to use and reuse." Some packages contain video or podcasts, others static images, still others scientific data. The mix of media means there's something to entice analysts of all bents.

For my part, since I am a lifelong Bardbrain (I once wrote a thesis on metaphorical structure in the language of Shakespeare's plays), I find this subsite especially intriguing. I'll try to whip up a Shakespeare-related visualization and post it here soon.

Infoviz infiltrates the business press

Fast Company's Cliff Kuang tells his readers that information graphics are all the rage among young graphic designers these days, and for good reason: The discipline—involving cartographers, statisticians, computer programmers, and graphic designers—creates public debate on a level graphic design rarely does. As Manuel Lima, the founder of the information graphics website Visual Complexity, once told me, "One of the big challenges we face now is dealing with all the data around us, and finding ways to make it useful.""Visualizing the Economic Stimulus" — Fast Company

Ask and ye shall receive: more on where the stimulus money will go

Two days ago, I wrote:I'm hoping that someone at ProPublica will soon update [a treemap of the House's stimulus bill], including a treemap of the bill's Senate version and providing graphics that compare 1) the proposed dollar amounts, 2) sector spending and 3) the timetables.Apparently I'm not the only one who thought this would be a good idea, because now presents a treemap of the Senate bill — and, even better, a bar chart comparing the two versions. ProPublica has a brief text item on the contrasts, but the chart is a far superior means of expressing them. Here's why:
It's interactive, so you can choose exactly what you which aspects of the data you want to see and exactly how you want to see them (by average, by total, by whose bill they come from). Sometimes interactivity is like lipstick on a pig (ahem) — a last-ditch gimmick to save a bad chart — but here it's appropriate and meaningful.

You can choose what you want on the X axis: al…

Where the money goes: ProPublica provides details

Occasionally you don't need an image-driven graphic to convey a lot of data; sometimes a table of numbers alone can be quite illuminating. Here's a comparative table put together by that shows how the House's version of the US stimulus bill stacks up against the Senate version (passed just moments ago). PP explains:
Some highlights: The House version would spend $60 billion more on education. The Senate version adds more than $100 billion for tax cuts to individuals and families. The House would spend more to upgrade the country’s electricity grid. The Senate would spend more on medical research.
The table's very clear and concise, but I do wish the numbers cited there were linked to the actual text of the proposed legislation (or, even better, some sort of graphic translation of it) so readers could see for themselves the exact details of each provision.

Meanwhile, there's also a treemap of the late-January House version (made with ManyEyes) over at S…

Critique: NYT unemployment graphics

To illustrate the horrible unemployment numbers announced today ("employers in the United States have shed about 3.6 million jobs since December 2007"), the New York Times presents a series of graphics:


We have a perfectly nice bar chart here: clear, legible, professionally done, all that. This chart tells us two (2) things: what month it is and how many jobs were lost. Surely there is additional info about this two-year stretch that would add depth and meaning (and potentially even yield an epiphany or two!).

One suggestion: The story says, "Manufacturers eliminated 207,000 jobs, more than in any year since 1982. The construction industry eliminated 111,000 jobs. And retailers, who were wrapping up their worst holiday shopping season in years, eliminated 45,000 jobs." Segmenting each bar by color to represent the various sectors would show at a glance where the biggest losses were coming from.


Again, a perfectly nice fever chart. (I don't mean to minimize the…

Fixing a junky chart:
Jon Peltier breaks it down for us

At the PTS blog, Excel charting whiz Jon Peltier takes an all-too-common type of crappy chart and walks the reader through his methods for analyzing and improving it. He starts with this:

... and ends up with this far better version:

The second version is far clearer and more scaleable — not to mention that it's more correct mathematically. (He alters the bars to make them all the same width; this does away with any questions about whether the varying widths mean anything, and if so, what that might be.)

Overall, Peltier's site is a handy resource, with pages of newbie-friendly tutorials and tips here. Thanks, Jon.

At a glance: How soon can I get there?

A new map of Travel Time to Major Cities - developed by the European Commission and the World Bank - captures this connectivity and the concentration of economic activity and also highlights that there is little wilderness left... accessibility is relevant at all levels, from local development to global trade and this map fills an important gap in our understanding of the spatial patterns of economic, physical and social connectivity.The creators of this map went beyond simple considerations of road mileage and cities' distance from the coast to calculate a more complex measure of "friction surface" — in other words, how long it really takes to cover a given mile of terrain. Among the other factors that add to travel time (i.e., friction) are topography, national borders (the crossing of which can cause delays), and land cover. (Check out the data sources page to see where all that information originated, and what the data's parameters are.)

Kudos to the mapmakers for…