Archive for the ‘Critique’ Category

Visualization: Geomap (Google)

Friday, June 19th, 2009

geomapgooglevisualization

[Editor's note: Google has made freely available the curious choropleth (colors by country) and graduated symbol (bubble) maps found in their Google Analytics tools as part of their charting - visualization kit. You set-up a HTML JavaScript object with the map parameters (country-value pairs or city-value pairs) and the colors and Google will make you an interactive Flash map (data brushing reveals country value on mouseOver) color coded via uninformative class breaks and terrible cartography linework (look at the US, Canada border) and a terrible world map projection (cylindrical with gross distortions in the higher latitudes). But it is free and fast and several regional base map are also available. There is certainly an oportunity for someone else to come up with a better API that uses the same function calls but draws better maps with meaningful data classes. Screenshot above is static, click on it to go to interactive version.]

Republished from Google Visualization.

Overview: A geomap is a map of a country, continent, or region map, with colors and values assigned to specific regions. Values are displayed as a color scale, and you can specify optional hovertext for regions. The map is rendered in the browser using an embedded Flash player. Note that the map is not scrollable or draggable, but can be configured to allow zooming.

We have two examples here: one that uses the regions display style, and another that uses the markers display style.

Regions Example

The regions style fills entire regions (typically countries) with colors corresponding to the values that you assign. Specify the regions style by assigning options['dataMode'] = ‘regions’ in your code.

Markers Example

The “markers” style displays a circle, sized and colored to indicate a value, over the regions that you specify. To use markers, you must include the following Google Maps API script with a key, unless you specify locations using latitude and longitude values.

Continue reading at Google . . .

Book: The Big Sort (Bill Bishop)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

littlebook

[Editor's note: I could not put down this fascinating book about post-WWII politics, religion, and culture in the United States of America. The lead author is a journalist by training and skillfully pulls together many threads into a coherent overview with first hand stories, maps, and graphics illustrating his points. If you are a geographer, sociologist, or political scientist make sure to check out his work.]

Republished from TheBigSort.com.

Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

By Bill Bishop with Robert G. Cushing

This is the untold story of why America is so culturally and politically divided.

America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do. This social transformation didn’t happen by accident. We’ve built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show — most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this way-of-life segregation. Our country has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred, that people don’t know and can’t understand those who live just a few miles away. The reason for this situation, and the dire implications for our country, is the subject of this ground-breaking work.

In 2004, journalist Bill Bishop made national news in a series of articles when he first described “the big sort.” Armed with original and startling demographic data, he showed how Americans have been sorting themselves over the past three decades into homogeneous communities — not at the regional level, or the red-state/blue-state level, but at the micro level of city and neighborhood. In The Big Sort Bishop deepens his analysis in a brilliantly reported book that makes its case from the ground up, starting with stories about how we live today, and then drawing on history, economics, and our changing political landscape to create one of the most compelling big-picture accounts of America in recent memory.

The Big Sort will draw comparisons to Robert Putam’s Bowling Alone and Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class and will redefine the way Americans think about themselves for decades to come.

Continue reading at TheBigSort.com . . .

Reviewing the Nokia 6210. An iPhone competitor? No.

Monday, April 20th, 2009

nokia6210navigator

Nokia’s WOM World was kind enough to loan me a Nokia 6210 Navigator (full specs) with the new Nokia Maps 3.0 beta to test in March. I was excited to use this phone because on the surface it has a similar feature set to my iPhone in a smaller profile with potentially less costly carrier subscription and not being tied to ATT. The phone has a GPS, camera, video phone capabilities, and better navigation software with 3d and walking modes via their OVI Nokia-branded maps service which came preloaded on my testing unit.

It took me a while to figure out that I could access the mapping functionality via a dedicated map “compass” button on the main button area (blue button on the bottom of top (LCD part) slider unit in photo above). The mapping functionality is not visible in the phone’s home screen of GUI buttons. After a while I figured out how to use the “Menu” key to get more than top level menus and then choose the map icon there, too. Maps are preloaded onto the phone, no need for net connection for basic functionality, a plus over the iPhone.

Compared to the iPhone, the Nokia 6210 has several great 3d map views more akin to GPS car navigaion systems (an app is available for the iPhone that brings some of this functionality over). The Nokia 6210 has better integrated search for POI around you (I have downloaded several 3rd party apps for my iPhone that do the same thing). The 6210 also does walking directions (and allows straight line walking, not just along roads).

It is strange this phone ships with the GPS turned off. When I pulled up the map application for the first time it did not ask me if it should turn on the GPS receiver. I had to go into the settings area and manual enable. While I can understand the goal of reducing the drain on the battery, this was inconvienent and confusing to turn on. During normal usage, the GPS would take a very long time to engage. The maps app would crash often (it was beta, after all). The 6210 doesn’t seem to use cell phone tower triangulation to get the fast fix (and GPS later to refine position), a serious downside compared to the iPhone’s rapid location display and then refinement. Route planning on the phone required a license code, compared to the free Google Maps routing on the iPhone. This adds potentially $100 extra per year for the same functionality.

The Nokia 6210 Navigator is a slider phone, but the slider functionality did not always engage the phone’s OS to unlock, or there would be a extremely long delay. The keypad interface instead of my iPhone’s touch screen was infuriating. I should note the phone has the old 3 abc-per numeric keypad layout, not a blackberry qwerty keypad.

Phone call quality seemed on par or slightly poorer than my iPhone. Same locations, same SIM, same carrier. Data connections were notably slower due to reliance on 2G (Edge) service. Web page rendering was terrible compared to the iPhone. Nokia has announced several new phones with 3G speeds.

I wanted to test the video conf. capability since this phone has two cameras, one pointed towards your face and the other at the back of the phone. But I didn’t know anyone else with a video conf. capable phone. It is rumored the summer 2009 iPhone hardware update will enable this.

The camera was okay, not as good as iPhone in low light. The 6210 does have a flash, though! and the battery is easily replaced. Just pop off the back of the case. The SIM card is located behind the battery and easy to swap out.

All in all I prefered my iPhone 3G over the Nokia 6210 Navigator. I see that Nokia is prepping a new touch screen version and has introduced the Ovi store to compete with the iTunes app store. But by the time that is released, we’ll have a new version of the iPhone.

Watch this YouTube video for views of the phone; Maps application shown at the very end.

Interview: 1st Custom Map App Developer for the iPhone (Kelso)

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

[Editor’s note: An exciting development as Chris Leger @ Earthrover Software has partnered with Tom Harrison to release several of Tom’s California-focused recreation maps the iPhone and iPod Touch, the first such for the platform. Other efforts have wrapped poor functionality around terrible maps and in a couple cases decent gov’t National Park Service maps, not original custom cartography. Chris was kind enough to give me an email interview about the product.

As hand held GPS units, mobile platforms like the Apple iPhone and Amazon Kindle all converge, delivering custom maps to these devices will become a more important business opportunity for cartography shops. I see two classes of mobile map applications: (a) raw map with GPS and (b) enhanced map with GPS. Earthrover’s maps are a good example of the former while PacMaps’s Acadia National Park map app shows how a flat map can be enchanced with a placename index to search locations on the map and possibly even routing information.

So far examples of both solutions use just one map scale. It would be nice to see developers work with cartographers to offer additional custom maps at the zoomed out scales since the raw map isn’t legible when zoomed out.

An app that satisfies one or more of these seems destined to do well: (1) pre-trip planning and routing, (2) on-trail location, waypoints, and tracking, and (3) post-trip display show and tell.]

Q: Kelso’s Corner
Who contacted who about developing this app oriented around the recreation maps? I first saw your Mt. Tam Trail Map app ($5 each) and was entranced. Additional titles include: Angeles Front Country Trail Map, Mamoth High Country Trail Map, Point Reyes Trail Map, and San Diego Backcountry Trail Map.

A: Earthrover Software
I contacted Tom [Harrison] about it, and he was willing to give it a try.  I’ve used his maps in the past for trips in California, and my main interest in writing iPhone apps is for field guides and reference information to take into the field.  Having Tom’s maps available was one of the first things to come to mind–his maps are great and are well known, so they’re the obvious choice to have on a mobile device.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
I assume you did the development of the app? How much design review went into the app and it’s functionality?

A: Earthrover Software
Right; I wrote and designed the app.  I spent some time thinking about which features would be worth the complexity of implementing them, did some research to figure out what format to use for the data (PDF versus SVG versus PNG versus …), made a prototype to focus on smooth scrolling and zooming, then kept refining it until there wasn’t anything left on my to-do list.  Since Tom’s underlying map data is of such high quality, I could focus on keeping the user interface fast and tight–there’s not much screen real estate to play with, so every button counts.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
What have your initial sales been like?

A: Earthrover Software
With a few titles out and no advertising apart from our websites, I’d guess we’re averaging about 3-5 sales a day.  This will go up as we add more titles, and hopefully there will be a broader audience for some of the upcoming maps of National Parks.  While it would be nice to have a blockbuster project and pay off the mortgage, I don’t see that in the cards for the types of apps I enjoy writing–which is important since I’m doing this in my spare time, rather than on someone else’s dime.  I’m more interested in expanding sales by taking the underlying engines I now have for maps and field guides, and applying them to more products to appeal to a broader audience.  This has worked well for field guides.  The second one, Wildflowers of the Western Plains, was released today, and five more are in the works.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
Do you anticipate future titles (you must be experiencing some success to keep coming out with titles)?

A: Earthrover Software
Yes, we have more coming.  I submitted the Yosemite Valley Trail Map to Apple today, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Yosmite National Park, Death Valley, and Tom’s complete John Muir Trail map set are in the works.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
How long did it take to develop the app?

A: Earthrover Software
It was about a month of calendar time, I think, between me contacting Tom and getting the first app released.  That doesn’t sound like much, but I’m a pretty efficient programmer and put in  a lot of hours that month.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
What kind of testing have you done with it out in the field?

A: Earthrover Software
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I haven’t done any field testing with the apps yet.  I don’t have an iPhone (just an iPod touch), so I can’t really check out the GPS functionality except via IP localization.  Tom does field checks of his maps, so the underlying map data is known to be good, and I use Google Earth to fine-tune the map coordinates in the app.

Q: Kelso’s Corner
How do you see the iPhone 3.0 firmware making it easier to develop this type of product?

A: Earthrover Software
Easier integration with Google Maps will be interesting for many apps, and an obvious update to our apps is to allow the user to switch back and forth with a Google Maps view.  But Google Maps requires a network connection–ruling out use in the field on an iPod touch–and isn’t as fast in zooming and scrolling as our apps.

Conclusion: Kelso’s Corner
Thanks, Chris for sharing your development experience with us and good luck on future titles and projects! I’m sure the new iPhone 3.0 firmware will make it easier to sell a complete line of maps from within a single app instead of forcing users back to the iTunes store. Lots of potential :)

SND New York City Meetup Presentations

Monday, March 9th, 2009

[Editor's note: I was up in New York city Saturday for a regional Society of News Designers meetup. The same presentations are now live on the SND website, which I've clipped below. Enjoy.]

Republished from Society of News Designers.
By Jon Wile — March 4, 2009

We were in New York City on Saturday for a free regional meetup. More than 100 people joined us in person and many more checked in online. The all-star lineup of speakers included graphics legend Nigel Holmes, Rolling Stone art director Joe Hutchinson, former Fortune graphics editor Sarah Slobin, and New York Times interactive graphics gurus Matthew Ericson and Shan Carter. We have presentations to share and we will put up the captured video footage next week if you did not see it live. Check it out.

Rolling Stone art director Joe Hutchinson speaks on Saturday at the meetup in New York. <a href=

Rolling Stone art director Joe Hutchinson speaks on Saturday at the meetup in New York. Photo by William Couch

PRESENTATIONS

Download Sarah Slobin’s (PDF: 29.5MB) presentation here.

Watch Joe Hutchinson’s presentation here.

Download the presentation (PDF: 26.6MB) from Matthew Ericson and Shan Carter here.

PHOTOS

ABOUT THESE MEETUPS

We had our first meetup in December in Washington: At that event, more than 60 visual journalists showed up to talk about our craft and get to know each other over drinks at The Hawk ‘n’ Dove, a classic Capitol Hill watering hole. It was a lot of fun.

Have an idea for a meetup in your town? Drop me an email and I can help you set it up.

Housing Market State by State (Wash Post)

Friday, March 6th, 2009

[Editor's note: This graphic mixes a free-form Dorling cartogram with a bar chart. Both examine the same nominal geographic data but the bar chart shows "underwater" mortgages as a percent of all mortgages while the cartogram shows the same by total per state. Since most US state choropleth maps are simply visual lists, this graphic dispenses with the map entirely and examines the thematic data through two lenses to show two different results.]

Republished from The Washington Post.
March 5, 2009.
Graphic by Todd Lindeman and Laura Stanton.
Related story >>

At least one in five U.S. mortgage holders – or about 8.3 million households – owed more on their mortgages by the end of 2008 than their homes were worth, sometimes called “underwater.”

SOURCE: First American CoreLogic | The Washington Post – March 5, 2009

U.S. Launches Wide-Ranging Plan to Steady Housing Market
$75 Billion Plan Would Help Borrowers Avoid Foreclosure

Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 5, 2009; Page A01

The Obama administration yesterday sketched in the details of its most ambitious attempt to reduce foreclosures and stabilize the beleaguered housing market at the root of the economic meltdown.

The program has two key elements: a refinancing program for borrowers with little equity in their homes but current on their loans, and a $75 billion program to help reduce mortgage payments for struggling borrowers.

Several large lenders praised the program, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo. There were also converts among those outside the industry. “I was skeptical at first, but I think these guidelines are helpful in a lot of ways,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit group that has been critical of industry efforts to modify mortgages.

Homeowners with loans as large as $729,750 could see their interest rates temporarily cut to as low as 2 percent under the program. The administration also said it will add new incentives to persuade lenders that hold second mortgages to give up their claims, further lowering homeowners’ debt obligations. While the Obama administration initially said it would focus on owner-occupied properties, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said they would refinance loans for some second homes and investment properties, too.

That the programs would apply to mortgages worth up to $729,750 throughout the country and not just in high-priced regions surprised some industry officials who praised the move. “It will allow us to help more borrowers, especially those who have been hit hardest by the current crisis,” said John A. Courson, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Continue reading at The Washington Post . . .

Is Color Always Better? Maybe Not (Kelso)

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

[Editor’s note: This beautiful example of strong graphic story telling printed grayscale in The Washington Post on January 12, 2009. The strong contrasts in tones of black ink were very successful. Sometimes we rush to colorize graphics unnecessarily. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we must. This is a follow-up to my earlier post last year. I quote from there:

“Color graphics can fall into the trap of treating every category as equal. Doing so can create graphics without any focus or visual contrast. Often one category is more important than the other. Or colors used to symbolize nominal or ratio choropleth categories are so close together they are indistinguishable and create little or no visual appeal. There are also legibility problems associated with impaired color vision.”

In the color version (below) that was converted for the web, color-blind compatible blue, orange, and red hues, but I think this and many other grayscale graphics that already exhibit strong figure-ground contrast could stay grayscale when posted on the web.]

Republished from The Washington Post Monday January 12, 2009 (A01).

Bush Econ: A Legacy of Little Growth (view original).

How growth in jobs, in gross domestic product and in disposable income have fared during the Bush administration and those of his 10 most recent predecessors.

By Brenna Maloney and Todd Lindeman – The Washington Post – January 12, 2009

Color version:

Related article: By Neil Irwin and Dan Eggen
Economy Made Few Gains in Bush Years, Eight-Year Period Is Weakest in Decades

President Bush has presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades, according to an analysis of key data, and economists across the ideological spectrum increasingly view his two terms as a time of little progress on the nation’s thorniest fiscal challenges.

The number of jobs in the nation increased by about 2 percent during Bush’s tenure, the most tepid growth over any eight-year span since data collection began seven decades ago. Gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic output, grew at the slowest pace for a period of that length since the Truman administration. And Americans’ incomes grew more slowly than in any presidency since the 1960s, other than that of Bush’s father.

Bush and his aides are quick to point out that they oversaw 52 straight months of job growth in the middle of this decade, and that the economy expanded at a steady clip from 2003 to 2007. But economists, including some former advisers to Bush, say it increasingly looks as if the nation’s economic expansion was driven to a large degree by the interrelated booms in the housing market, consumer spending and financial markets. Those booms, which the Bush administration encouraged with the idea of an “ownership society,” have proved unsustainable.

“The expansion was a continuation of the way the U.S. has grown for too long, which was a consumer-led expansion that was heavily concentrated in housing,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a onetime Bush White House staffer and one of Sen. John McCain‘s top economic advisers for his presidential campaign. “There was very little of the kind of saving and export-led growth that would be more sustainable.”

“For a group that claims it wants to be judged by history, there is no evidence on the economic policy front that that was the view,” Holtz-Eakin said. “It was all Band-Aids.”

Continue reading at The Washington Post . . .

Climate Change: The Carbon Atlas (Guardian)

Friday, December 19th, 2008

[Editor’s note: China has surpassed the USA as the #1 worst fossil fuels polluter in the world, according to the Guardian. They have updated their Carbon Atlas with new numbers and an interactive version, shown below (still has Dorling cartograms!). I earlier blogged about last year’s print version here. Data is from Energy Information Administration. Seen at designnotes.info. I like the little animated hand on the graphic showing that it can be interacted with.]

Republished from the Guardian.Christine Oliver, Tuesday 9 December 2008.

New figures confirm that China has overtaken the US as the largest emitter of CO2. This interactive emissions map shows how the rest of the world compares. Global C02 emissions totaled 29,195m tonnes in 2006 – up 2.4% on 2005.

Read more in the associated article at Guardian.

The Words They Used (NY Times)

Monday, September 29th, 2008

[Editor’s note: Continuing my blogging catch-up, this graphic from the NY Times on Sept. 4th integrates graduated circles with tag clouds (word clouds) that also include frequency numbers. This approach takes up more space, but I think makes it more readable. Below the main “cloud” is a breakdown by speaker with columns with tags and another set of mini graduated circles in rows. Important to note: this is rate per 25,000 words spoken, not the actual frequencies.

Seeing this graphic again and thinking of the first Presidential debate between Obama and McCain last week, I am reminded that these tag clouds are only appropriate when the content sample is large / long enough to allow themes to manifest and that categories can be just as appropriate as individual key words.]

The words that speakers used at the two political conventions show the themes that the parties have highlighted. Republican speakers have talked about reform and character far more frequently than the Democrats. And Republicans were more likely to talk about businesses and taxes, while Democrats were more likely to mention jobs or the economy.

View original at full size at nytimes.com . . .

Graphic by MATTHEW ERICSON/The New York Times.

iPhone GPS with iTrail and RunKeeper (Kelso)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

This week sees the introduction of RunKeeper and an updated version of iTrail for the iPhone. Both applications make use of the platform’s built-in hardware support for GPS tracking in real time and recording routes for future reference.

Let’s look at how each app performs against my criteria as expanded from my earlier blog post:

  • Live GPS tracking
  • Real-time display of route and current location on interactive map
  • Custom interval precision (how often GPS location is recorded)
  • Storing of multiple GPS tracks
  • Display of stored GPS tracks on map
  • Location tagging (set placemark)
  • Provides real-time feedback on altitude, speed / pace, and distance traveled
  • Provide and record GPS accuracy (eg: accurate to 10m, 310m).
  • Provide “smoothing” / “straightening of the track based on the GPS accuracy
  • Provide altitude readjustment by matching lat/long against SRTM elevations
  • Export to GPX format
  • Export to KML format
  • Import of GPX and KML tracks to “follow” (eg, download a trail and follow along in the field)
  • Import map (via KML/KMZ ground overlay?) and follow along (thus not requiring Edge or 3G connection)
  • Attach photos to location (location is created on capture of photo)
  • See all photos in an album on the map as icons
  • Click on the photo icon in map view get a big view of the photo
  • Attach a longer text description to each location, not just the name
  • Can the app be exited (not be active) and still record the GPS track?
  • Can the app be screen locked while recording to prevent data loss?
  • Battery life (offer ways to maximize beyond 3 hours)
  • Developer support (responsiveness, feature updates)
  • Price

CONS FOR BOTH:

Active App: The apps are limited by Apple to only record while the app is active on the display. If you take a phone call or decide to answer a text or check an email or otherwise switch out of the application it will stop recording. This is fine if you stop moving and then pick up your route. But you must remember to go back to the app and “resume” the GPS tracking.

Battery Life: The iPhone is NOT a dedicated GPS device and, while you can eek out more “GPS time” by turning off wi-fi and dimming the screen, you’ll still only get between 3 and 4 hours track time before running the battery into the ground.

PROS FOR BOTH:

These apps are just the tip of the iceberg for GPS on the iPhone. Both apps are cheap compared to a full featured GPS and should be complemented with other apps like Where to?, Vicinity, Where, Nearby, and Yelp to get the other “nearby points of interest” found on a full service GPS device. I’d purchase both to support the further development and see where apps go :)

Now to the reviews…

iTRAIL
$3 — get on iTunescompany website

iTrail was first to market (it’s been out for a week+ now) and is priced to move at $3. It has been updated to version 1.2 as of Monday morning and version 1.3 is promised as soon as Apple can review it, which lags a week or two behind real time.

Version 1.2 introduces a screenlock similar to Apple’s own screenlock so you can store the iPhone in a pocket and not worry about accidentally canceling the GPS tracking. I had problems with that while testing version 1 on the trail.

iTrail allows the altitude and speed to be graphed against distance. After the track is recorded (or between recording sessions) iTrail allows the route to be previewed on a Google Maps (requires Edge or 3G service, won’t work in the back country). But there is no ability to zoom in or out, pan, etc. Version 1.1 introduced the ability to export the track to GPX and KML formats via Google Docs (free account required).

The GPX can be loaded into your standard GIS software and the KML can be added to your own Google Maps mashup or viewed in Google Earth.

iTrail can be complimented with TrailRunner for the Mac which will import the GPX file and you can perform all sorts of “sports” analysis on the saved tracks.

I occasionally had problems with the track starting to record with a spurious first data point. This can be worked around by starting a track at the trailhead and then waiting a couple minutes and using the reset track button.

The track accuracy was not especially detailed. The new v1.2 adds ability to increase the precision but still it is not as good as RunKeeper.

Overall, iTrail meets 10 of my 22 criteria and is cheaper than RunKeeper.

RUNKEEPER
$10 — get on iTunescompany websit

RunKeeper has managed to generate quite a bit of hype preceding it’s launch Monday. Overall I find it to be more precise in tracking locations. I think it is doing this by sampling the GPS signal with greater frequency (say every 2 seconds instead of 10 seconds). Unlike iTrail, you must publish your “run” (or ride or walk or drive) to the runkeeper.com site to view it on a Google Mashup that is full featured and can toggle between map and hybrid satellite mode.

While RunKeeper is more accurate in recording the locations along my route than iTrail, there is no user-modifiable setting for this. Nor does RunKeeper track elevation (altitude).

Both RunKeeper and iTrail apps should allow an option to calculate the speed and adjust the interval accordingly in real time to achieve optimal data quality or via a set X seconds interval.

RunKeeper excels in track map quality on the web. The Google Mashup there is fully interactive and has nice icons including mileage markers. There is a full run history of all the different tracks. When you click on a different run (the green bars in the bottom screenshot) the statistics show and the map updates. The web site is free now but not guaranteed to stay that way.

RunKeeper does a better job of displaying fitness statistics on the device. It also looks nicer than iTrail. But it’s lack of map display in the app is a serious negative. Their website interface is not optimized for th iPhone.

Also below, a YouTube video demonstrating how to use the app.

Overall, RunKeeper meets only 5 of my 22 criteria and costs more than iTrail.

The same company came out with GPS Twit in July for posting to Twitter with your location