• October 28, 2019

    You can see the time-lapsed imagery with this browser. [via @weatherdak]

  • October 28, 2019

    For The Atlantic, Ian Bogost on communicating complex ideas to an audience:

    One thing you learn when writing for an audience outside your expertise is that, contrary to the assumption that people might prefer the easiest answers, they are all thoughtful and curious about topics of every kind. After all, people have areas in their own lives in which they are the experts. Everyone is capable of deep understanding.

    Up to a point, though: People are also busy, and they need you to help them understand why they should care. Doing that work—showing someone why a topic you know a lot about is interesting and important—is not “dumb”; it’s smart. Especially if, in the next breath, you’re also intoning about how important that knowledge is, as academics sometimes do. If information is vital to human flourishing but withheld by experts, then those experts are either overestimating its importance or hoarding it.

    I struggled with this during my first year of graduate school, because it took a while to get out of my own head and imagine myself as a reader. Or, in the case of that first-year regression analysis course, I was supposed to imagine a policymaker on a tight schedule.

    I would crunch numbers or whatever and write reports. My professor told me I had to do a better job explaining the meaning behind the numbers. How should a non-statistician interpret these results? It was my job as the statistician to explain.

  • October 25, 2019

    Charts can reveal truths that we never would see otherwise, but they can also be misused to show us something in the data that doesn’t reflect reality. Alberto Cairo’s new book How Charts Lie is a guide on how to better spot the latter. It’s about reading charts more critically and understanding data better, which are necessary skills for everyone these days.

    I’m putting this at the top of my queue.

  • October 25, 2019

    Marion Rouayroux, a graphic designer and a big fan of the show Friends, collated a bunch of data about the sitcom. Then she visualized the data with a series of information graphics.

  • Members Only

    How to Use IPUMS Extraction Tools to Download Survey Data

    Almost all of my visualization projects that use data from the Census Bureau comes via IPUMS. In this guide, I provide five steps to getting the data you need using their tools.

  • Members Only
    October 24, 2019


    The Process  /  ,

    Analysis and visualization are often a messy process that never matches up to the step-by-step guides you read, but that’s normal.

  • October 24, 2019

    For Datawrapper, Lisa Charlotte Rost outlines the steps to prepare and clean your data in Excel or Google Spreadsheets. From the beginning:

    When you download an Excel file, it often has multiple sheets. Our data set has three of them, as seen on the bottom: “Data”, “Metadata – Countries” and “Metadata – Indicators”. Look through all of your sheets and make sure you understand what you’re seeing there. Do the headers, file name and/or data itself indicates that you downloaded the right file? Are there footnotes? What do they tell you? Maybe that you’re dealing with lots of estimates? (Does that maybe mean that you need to look for other data?) If you don’t find notes in the data, make sure you look for them on the website of your source.

    The guide is in the context of prepping your data to load into the Datawrapper tool, but the advice easily applies more generally.

  • October 23, 2019

    Overview is an ongoing project that uses a zoomed out view for a new perspective on the world:

    Seeing the Earth from a great distance has been proven to stimulate awe, increase desire to collaborate, and foster long-term thinking. We aim to inspire these feelings — commonly referred to as the Overview Effect — through our imagery, products, and collaborations. By embracing the perspective that comes from this vantage point, we believe we can stimulate a new awareness that will lead to a better future for our one and only home.

    Far away enough to see patterns. Close enough to stay connected to the parts.

  • Mapping When and Where People Start their Commute

    For commuters, the farther away you live from the workplace, the earlier you have to leave your house to get to work on time. How much does that start time change the farther out you get?

  • October 22, 2019


    Design  /  ,

    On Multiple Views, the Interactions Lab talks about their experience as a design studio and how quickly implementations can change when you introduce real data into the system:

    It’s easy to assume that the tools and approaches used for general software design apply equally to data visualization design. But data visualization design and interface design are often deeply and fundamentally distinct from one another. We learned this the hard way when we turned our research lab into a collaborative data visualization design studio for a few years. Data permeates visualization interfaces in ways that pose challenges at every stage of the design process. These challenges are even greater within large visualization teams. By reflecting on and articulating these challenges, we hope to inspire new, powerful data visualization design tools and communication processes.

    Always start with real data. You’re wasting your time otherwise.

  • October 21, 2019

    For Tampa Bay Times, Tracey McManus and Eli Murray delve into the purchasing of properties Clearwater, Florida by the Church of Scientology:

    The Church of Scientology and companies run by its members spent $103 million over the past three years buying up vast sections of downtown Clearwater.

    They now own most commercial property on every block within walking distance of the waterfront, putting the secretive church firmly in control of the area’s future.

    Most of the sales have not previously been reported. The Tampa Bay Times discovered them by reviewing more than 1,000 deeds and business records, then interviewed more than 90 people to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding the transactions.

    The lead-in scrollytelling through Clearwater is quite effective in laying the foundations of the story.

  • October 18, 2019

    Microsoft just open sourced their data exploration tool known as SandDance:

    For those unfamiliar with SandDance, it was introduced nearly four years ago as a system for exploring and presenting data using “unit visualizations.” Instead of aggregating data and showing the resulting sums as bar charts, SandDance shows every single row of a dataset (for datasets up to ~500K rows). It represents each of these rows as a mark that can be colored and organized into different areas on the screen. Thus, bar charts are made of their constituent units, stacked, or sorted.

    Nice. I hadn’t heard about SandDance until now, but I’m saving for later. You can grab the source on GitHub.

  • Members Only
    October 17, 2019

    Data represents the real world, and visualization represents data. But sometimes data and the real world disagree with each other.

  • October 17, 2019

    When it comes to meaningful visualization, context is everything. Richard Brath, at the 2018 Information+ Conference, looks back on historical visualization approaches and how they might be applied today to make data graphics easier to read and use.

  • How Much Commuting is Too Much?

    One person’s long commute is another’s dream. Another person’s normal might be someone else’s nightmare. What counts as a long commute depends on where you live.

  • October 15, 2019

    A study found that a hospital program significantly reduced the number of hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Great. But then the researchers realized that the data was recoded incorrectly, and the program actually increased hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Not so great.

    They retracted their paper:

    The identified programming error was in a file used for preparation of the analytic data sets for statistical analysis and occurred while the variable referring to the study “arm” (ie, group) assignment was recoded. The purpose of the recoding was to change the randomization assignment variable format of “1, 2” to a binary format of “0, 1.” However, the assignment was made incorrectly and resulted in a reversed coding of the study groups. Even though the data analyst created and conducted some test analysis programs, they were of the type that did not show any labeling of the arm categories, only the “arm” variable in a regression, for example.

    Here’s the original, now-retracted study. And here’s the revised one.

    Data can be tricky and could lead to unintended consequences if you don’t handle it correctly. Be careful out there.

  • October 14, 2019

    FiveThirtyEight has been predicting NBA games for a few years now, based on a variant of Elo ratings, which in turn have roots in ranking chess players. But for this season, they have a new metric to predict with called RAPTOR, or Robust Algorithm (using) Player Tracking (and) On/Off Ratings:

    NBA teams highly value floor spacing, defense and shot creation, and they place relatively little value on traditional big-man skills. RAPTOR likewise values these things — not because we made any deliberate attempt to design the system that way but because the importance of those skills emerges naturally from the data. RAPTOR thinks ball-dominant players such as James Harden and Steph Curry are phenomenally good. It highly values two-way wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It can have a love-hate relationship with centers, who are sometimes overvalued in other statistical systems. But it appreciates modern centers such as Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid, as well as defensive stalwarts like Rudy Gobert.

    I’ve mostly ignored sports-related predictions ever since the Golden State Warriors lost in the 2016 finals. There was a high probability that they would win it all, but they did not. That’s when I realized the predictions would only lead to a neutral confirmation or severe disappointment, but never happiness.

    I’m sure this new metric will be different.

  • October 11, 2019

    For The Washington Post, Lauren Tierney and Joe Fox mapped fall foliage colors across the United States:

    Forested areas in the United States host a variety of tree species. The evergreens shed leaves gradually, as promised in their name. The leaves of deciduous varieties change from green to yellow, orange or red before letting go entirely. Using USDA forest species data, we mapped the thickets of fall colors you may encounter in the densely wooded parts of the country.

    Nice. Be sure to click through to the full story to see leaf profiles and an animation of the changing colors as fall arrives.

  • Members Only
    October 10, 2019


    The Process  / 

    Visualization has a way of making things feel more concrete and definite. So how is it that interpretation gets so fuzzy?

  • October 9, 2019


    Data Sources  /  ,

    Here in northern California, PG&E is shutting off power to thousands of households in efforts to prevent wildfires. Luckily, the area I live is just outside of the shutoff areas, but for others, a map of what’s up would be useful, right?

    However, instead of a map, which is “temporarily unavailable” at the time of this writing, PG&E is providing shapefiles. I mean, that’s kind of nice for people who like to make maps, but it’s not so great for the rest. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

    At least you can keep track with the San Francisco Chronicle: