Posts Tagged ‘topology’

Gitmo In Limbo (Wash Post)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

[Editor's note: While President Obama has committed to closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year, it's hard to know what to do with some of the prisoners.

This graphic reminds me of the old adage about people being able to deal only 5±2 things at once. There are almost 200 countries in the world. It's hard to keep track of them all. But there are only 7 continents, and those are easy to remember because it fits the 5±2 rule. To instead of listing out all those countries alphabetically or ordered by number of detainees, sometimes it is more useful to group them first by geographic "region". Note: Washington Post style views the Middle East as a separate continent-level region from Asia. Thank also to Laris for formulating these ideas with me.

Why wasn't this information shown on a map instead of listed in a structured table with charting? For several reasons: Geography, while useful as an metaphorical principle, does not function as a the most important thematic (organizing) principle in the distribution. We know nothing about where the individual detainees are from in each country so we would have had to create a by country choropleth map which would have given a false importance to larger countries like China, and been hard to show the three thematic subcategories. We could have placed the thematic symbols (1 for each detainee and color coded to their status, like in the table) on each country, but then it would have been harder to compare each country between countries for number and type of detainee as each entry would not have shared a common baseline. A table with charting accomplishes our goals: We list the countries sorted by number of detainees and grouped by continent. This serves the same function as a map would have in terms of giving in indication as to where each country is (metaphorical principle, reminding readers of the country's location in the network topology). And we get to easily compare the quantities and thematic types associated with those countries at a glance because of the common chart axis baseline.

What exactly are continents anyhow? Geology seems to have moved on to plate techtonics with 20-some major plates that often meet or rip apart the middle of "continents", but continents remain popular I think exactly because of the 5±2 rule.

Some cartographers are moving beyond the physical geography "continents" into top-level cultural regions. Allan Cartography's Raven world map does exactly this, take a look. The same holds true for any large set of thematic data. Find the trends, group them together, and use that hierarchy (topology) as an access metaphor. And remember geography doesn't always need to mean map. Your users will thank you.]

Republished from The Washington Post.
Orginally published: 16 February 2009.
Reporting by Julie Tate.

About a third of the detainees held at Guantanamo are either facing charges or approved for release. The rest are judged to be enemy combatants, and it is unclear whether they will be prosecuted, be released or continue to be held.

4 Cases Illustrate Guantanamo Quandaries
Administration Must Decide Fate of Often-Flawed Proceedings, Often-Dangerous Prisoners

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 2009; Page A01

In their summary of evidence against Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, a Somali detained at Guantanamo Bay, military investigators allege that he spent several years at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Sudan. But other military documents place him in Pakistan during the same period.

One hearing at Guantanamo cited his employment for a money-transfer company with links to terrorism financing. Another file drops any mention of such links.

Barre is one of approximately 245 detainees at the military prison in Cuba whose fate the Obama administration must decide in coming months. Teams of government lawyers are sorting through complex, and often flawed, case histories as they work toward President Obama’s commitment to close the facility within a year.

Much of the government’s evidence remains classified, but documents in Barre’s case, and a handful of others, underscore the daunting legal, diplomatic, security and political challenges.

As officials try to decide who can be released and who can be charged, they face a series of murky questions: what to do when the evidence is contradictory or tainted by allegations of torture; whether to press charges in military or federal court; what to do if prisoners are deemed dangerous but there is little or no evidence against them that would stand up in court; and where to send prisoners who might be killed or tortured if they are returned home.

Answering those questions, said current and former officials, is a massive undertaking that has been hampered by a lack of cooperation among agencies and by records that are physically scattered and lacking key details.

Continue reading at Washington Post . . .

Web Trend Map 3 (Information Architects Japan)

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

[Editor's note: View the internet as a large subway map styled after Tokyo, Japan, with nearly 300 of the most successful and influential websites online today located along topical "lines" and hubs. Insets offer a "weather forecast" and "brand experience" rating of the same. Thanks Mike!]

Republished from Information Architects Japan.
First posted there Wednesday, March 5th, 2008.
Preview the 2009 Web Trend Map 4.

It was featured by The Guardian, WIRED, Le Monde, Corriere, kottke, Boingboing, Techcrunch, Mashable, Valleywag and literally thousands of blogs. We are happy to announce that the coolest gift for geeks, the A0 poster of the 2008 Web Trend Map (841mm x 1189mm / 33.25in x 46.75in), is now up for grabs:

Want a Lick of the Ice Cream?

Of course, we’d like you to enjoy our hard work in a format that suits you best, so we offer the map in the following formats for you to download and enjoy for free:

  1. Clickable Startpage with daily updated iA surf tips
  2. Big, A3 PDF (8MB, printable)
  3. 1600 x 1024 Wallpaper
  4. 1440 x 900 Wallpaper
  5. 1024 x 768 Wallpaper

A Closer Look

The map pins down nearly 300 of the most successful and influential websites to the greater Tokyo area train map.

Different train lines correspond to different web trends such as innovation, news, social networks, and so on.

The Forecast

We’ve brought back the weather forecast from version 2 and incorporated it along the main Yamanote train line.

Brand Experience

The bottom layer includes a rating of brand experience analogous to restaurant experience. It illustrates our perception of user experience and brand management of the main stations. We studied the usability, user value, and interface (simplicity, character, and feedback), and rated each site on a scale of eating at various types of Japanese restaurants.

Order the A0 Poster

These large and beautiful posters are US$55 each (shipping included). We ship anywhere in the world. Only 1,000 have been printed but 664 have been pre-ordered, so get yours while supplies last. To claim yours today, order through our PayPal link:

Continue to Information Architects Japan to order . . .

Global Forces Converge to Drive up Oil Prices (Wash Post)

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

[Editor's note: January begins newspaper design association page contest season. We came across this graphic looking thru our 2008 work in the Washington Post and was reminded how it fits in with my geography and projections as network topology thesis. Lines on this map of "Major Global Trade Routes" of oil connect each geographic feature with related geographic features. Weights are given to each connection and represented visually. Overall the network is conformal to real geography in a top level abstract sense, but the connections (flow lines) between them shine. Kudos to Renée, now at the Wall Street Journal.]

Reprinted from The Washington Post, July 27, 2008.

In the time it takes most people to read this sentence, the world will have used up (forever) about 9,520 barrels of oil. At 40,000 gallons per second, it’s going fast.

The United States plays a central role in the global energy system as the largest consumer, the largest importer and the third-largest producer of oil in the world. With use of this finite resource rising at breakneck speed, will the world have enough to meet its needs, and will it be able to afford it?

Where does the oil come from? Just three countries — Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States — pump about 31 percent of the world’s oil. More than 9 million barrels per day of crude oil (plus another 1 million barrels per day of liquids derived from natural gas) are being extracted from the reserves underneath Saudi Arabia, the world’s single largest oil producer.

Every day, the U.S. consumes more than 20 million barrels — almost one-fourth of all the oil used in the world and more than two times as much as the second-biggest consumer, China. Consumption in most developed countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, hovers around 2 million barrels a day — barely a tenth of that used by the U.S.

Screenshots below and above. Download PDF.

Graphics reported by Brenna Maloney, graphics by Todd Lindeman — The Washington Post. Map by Renée Rigdon – The Washington Post.

World Airline Traffic Visualization (?)

Monday, December 8th, 2008

[Editor's note: Continuing my theme of traffic flow visualization (1 | 2), here's a video by FlightSuite, NHAW, Technorama, and NASA showing animated world flight patterns in a 24 hour period as colored yellow dots traveling from city to city. I'd tell you more but I can't dig up any other information about this visualization. Tufte has a neat section on this topic. Thanks Seba!]

YouTube version that is SMALL first. View larger.

Different video that is US centric:

Visualizing Bus Level of Service (Greater Greater DC)

Monday, December 8th, 2008

[Editor's note: Looking at the previous post on visualizing subway level of service, I was reminded of one of David Alpert' great posts on the same topic in March 2008 but on the frequency and reliability of bus routes. David based his graphic on observed data but then extrapolated it a bit and graphed the resulting histogram. Also see this crazy art project showing 3D data sculpture of the Sunday Minneapolis / St. Paul public transit system, where the horizontal axes represent directional movement and the vertical represents time.]

Republished from Greater Greater DC.

Waiting for the L2

The L2 bus travels along Connecticut Avenue from Friendship Heights, detours through Adams Morgan, down 18th and New Hampshire through Dupont, and then along K Street to McPherson Square. It also runs right past my window. I started keeping track of its actual times and compared them to the schedule. (Click image for larger version).

This chart shows how much time you are likely to wait at 18th and S based on when you show up. The darkest area is 10% of the buses: for example, at exactly 8:00, 10% of the time a bus will come within 3 minutes, but 90% of the time it will take longer than 3 minutes. The lightest area is 100% of the buses (that I’ve observed); at 8:00, 100% of the time a bus will come within 8 minutes (not bad).

The red dotted line represents the schedule. The WMATA trip planner reports that this bus should arrive at 7:48, 8:04, 8:23, 8:36, 8:48, 9:01, and 9:16. If all buses showed up exactly on time, the entire chart would coincide with the red line.

You can see that many of the triangular areas deviate to the left of the red line. That means that the bus often shows up early. If you get to the stop at 8:46, two minutes before the scheduled 8:48 arrival, 30% of the time the bus will show up within four minutes, but 70% of the time it will take 12 minutes or more because 70% of the time this bus shows up before 8:46. And it’s been as early as 8:41 (that’s where the tall light blue spike appears), which means to be safe and avoid risking a 23-minute wait for a 9:01 bus that may show up at 9:04, you have to arrive to the stop seven minutes ahead of time.

The tighter the triangle, the more accurate the bus’s appearances. As you can see, the 8:04 is pretty good, only deviating to the left (early) occasionally and then not very far early. At the same time, it’s not late much; the big dark triangle means that the bus isn’t usually more than a couple minutes late either. On the other hand, its light colored spike is very high, meaning that occasionally even if you show up a minute early you might be stuck waiting 28 or 32 minutes if the 8:23 is late.

The 8:23 and 8:36 appearances aren’t very consistent, leading to the lack of visible shape in those areas. Those buses are often early and often late, and several times have shown up within one minute of each other.

You can see all my data on this Google Spreadsheet. The first tab is my direct observations; the second tab is the calculated data that generated the chart.

In conclusion, the 8:04 is fairly reliable, while the later buses are not so much. WMATA is working on offering real-time bus info which would help since someone could see how much time actually remained until the next bus, and see this before leaving home. The other big recommendation I see from this data is for the drivers to try harder to avoid being early. They should wait at certain key stops until the correct departure time. That way, commuters could at least know for certain that if they showed up a minute or two before the bus’s scheduled arrival, they wouldn’t be left waiting at the stop for 20 minutes.

Visualizing Level of Service on Subway Lines (Track 29)

Monday, December 8th, 2008

[Editor's note: Washington DC has the second busiest subway system in the US after New York city. This series of visual diagrams show the network's topology and how to optimize routing to achieve a better level of service (quicker train frequency). Note how the time scale has been reduced to modular 12, easy to understand as a train every 2 to 6 minutes based on the number of colored lines thru each subway station.

DC's metro rail subway is convenient and affordable. But with more people using transit every year, the system is beginning to show signs of strain (heck, it's over 30 years old now!). The federal gov't just gave one of the last nods to construct a new line (dubbed the "Silver") connecting downtown DC to Dulles International Airport and farther out into the exurbs. But this does little to alleviate crowding on the original 5 rail lines .

How to squeeze the most capacity out of existing tunnels and switches? These excellent maps from Track 29 chart the current system and show how it might be tweeked to optimize the flow of passengers from point A to point B primarily on the Orange line, the most overcrowded, where a switching problem reduces train frequency thru the downtown central business district (CBD).]

Republished in part from Track 29.
(They have a much more complete technical discussion.)
First seen at Greater Greater Washington.

The first diagram represents WMATA’s current service pattern during rush hours. Colors represent each of the subway routes. More lines along a colored route represent better (more frequent) service. [Ed: not all stations shown, based on "rush" peak service.]

Based on the 135 second headway, WMATA can run 5 trains through a given segment of track every 12 minutes. Each the diagrams below represents a 12 minute interval during rush hour. Each of the lines on the diagram represents a train in each direction. Therefore, a trackway with two lines (like between Stadium Armory and Largo) represents a headway of 6 minutes–12/2. In other words, you’ll be waiting for a train for up to 6 minues. While on the Red line it would only be 2.5 minutes. [Ed: map seems to undercount Green line service.]

There are several choke points in the system, including at the Roslyn tunnel where the Orange and Blue lines converge and travel under the Potomac River into the District of Columbia.

Click to see larger.

The chief limitation for the Orange Line, as you can see here is the 4 minute headway on the Vienna-Rosslyn segment. Adding one train would reduce headways to 3 minutes and would add a capacity of 1000-1400 passengers for every 12 minute period. Any additional capacity is sorely needed, but the segment of track between Rosslyn and Stadium Armory is essentially at capacity.

Hence the so-called “Blue Line Split.”  Here’s what WMATA is proposing: [Ed: WMATA runs the Metrorail subway in DC.]

Click to see larger.

This results in better service on the Orange line, and equivelent service on the Blue, except for Arlington Cemetary station primarily used by tourists (there are no homes or offices at that station). Many Blue line riders actually need to transfer at Metro Center or L’Enfant stations or get to eastern downtown faster, so this may actually be a boon for them, too.

Click to see larger.

But, while that squeezes extra service, the naming convention of the lines becomes confused. Some propose renaming / rerouting the Blue and Yellow lines like so (below). This map reflects this and planned Silver line service.

Greater Greater DC has a full discussion of adding even more commuter rail service to the nation’s capitol.

Continue reading at Track 29 . . .

Beautiful Visualization Of People Connecting via Facebook (TechCrunch)

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

[Editor's note: The amount of people using Facebook and other social networks are astounding. This 3d globe visualization movie shows Facebook users friending each other, commenting to each other, and otherwise interacting, all geolocated via IP addresses. I like the flight paths and pulses best. Thanks Lynda!]

Republished from TechCrunch. By Michael Arrington on November 22, 2008.

A group of Facebook engineers – Jack Lindamood, Kevin Der and Dan Weatherford – have created a small project called Palantir at a Facebook Hackathon event. The project is named after The palantír of Orthanc, a crystal ball-like object from The Lord Of The Rings (yep, they’re nerds).

Anyway, it’s a video of the earth showing Facebook activity visually and geographically. One view shows activity as dots of light that flow upward. Another view shows connections between people around the globe as it occurs. The images above show a little of it, but you really have to see the video to appreciate it. You can see it here and here.

Facebook says they are strongly considering productizing this, but for now it isn’t on the roadmap. If they do go forward with it, presumably you’ll be able to watch friend connections happening all over the world.

Instant-Messagers Really Are About Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon (WaPo)

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

six degrees[Editor's note: Topology makes internet searches faster, makes cool maps, and connects people in social networks.]

Big Microsoft Study Supports Small World Theory

By Peter Whoriskey Reprinted
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008; Page A01

Turns out, it is a small world.

The “small world theory,” embodied in the old saw that there are just “six degrees of separation” between any two strangers on Earth, has been largely corroborated by a massive study of electronic communication.

With records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world, researchers have concluded that any two people on average are distanced by just 6.6 degrees of separation, meaning that they could be linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances.

The database covered all of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, or roughly half the world’s instant-messaging traffic at that time, researchers said.

“To me, it was pretty shocking. What we’re seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who conducted the study with colleague Jure Leskovec. “People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore.”

Continue reading at Washington Post . . .

Presidential Watch – Map of the Political Blogosphere

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I’m on a topology kick so today’s “map” shows the links between 533 different websites and blogs focused on the 2008 presidential race (view site here). Produced by Linkfluence, this social graph theory based tool has both “map” and “trend” views. Each site is a node or “place” in the topology and anytime the sites reference each other or a candidate thru time a line or “edge” is drawn between the nodes.  I find it ironic that the “liberal” media is actually quite centrist when compared to the liberal and conservative sides of the topology. 

Where is the debate happening ? What are the hot topics on the agenda ? Who’s making the news ? Who are the online community leaders ? Here are very simple and comprehensive ways you can answer these questions. … Identify the true opinion hubs and shapers in the debate. (Presidential Watch 08).  

Here is the view: 

blog links

Here is a liberal view from

blog view daily kos

Here is a conservative view from

blog links michelle malkin

Topology and Projections: 21st Century Cartography

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

maps splash walters gallery baltimore

The traveling map exhibit MAPS: FINDING OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD at the Walter’s in Baltimore, Maryland (via the Field Museum, Chicago) wrapped up last weekend. While looking at John Adam’s Road distance map of England and Wales I was put in mind of how map projections try to preserve several of:

  • Area
  • Distance
  • Shape, and
  • Direction/angle

Then the question arose: Might information (thematic) topology now be interchangable with purely geographical topology?

John Adam’s map from 1680 places towns in relative (not absolute) geographic lat-long coordinates in a rough framework that preserves their orientation to one another and in the rough-shape of their original geography. But the primary purpose of this map is to emphasize the relationship between towns and intra-town distances. Below by Royal Geographic Society.

john adams road map 1680

This topological focus (of NODES and EDGES in math-speak) is perfectly represented in Adam’s map. Circles (nodes) are inscribed with town names and straight lines (edges) connecting town circles are annotated with road distance (not straight-line geographic distance).

Modern scientific cartography, with an emphasis on visualization, might finally be loosening the geographic straight jacket to the point where purely lat-long geography doesn’t matter so much but the inter-connection (edges) of said features (nodes) gains emphases and is preserved.

I believe such thematic topology maps are “geographically” accurate and employ projection just like conventional cartography but these “projections” are as of now ad hoc and not properly defined or formalized and are often created manually. Efficient and effective mathematical formulas should be devised and listed along conventional map projections in publications like Snyder’s (USGS) Map Projections: A Working Manual.

The nearest we come to topologic maps are subway maps and cartograms. More on cartograms below.

new york subway map slice

This subway map of New York City is a topological map where the island area of Manhattan is relatively small geographically but is significantly exaggerated to accommodate the “accurate” display of the topological nodes and edges of subway stations and subway lines. (Dorling cartogram example below by Zach Johnson.)

zach johnson cartogram

Cartograms are a good example of topological maps:

  • Area of symbol represents the NODE weight alone.
  • Distance is based on EDGE weight first and and geographic distance second (trying to approximate the “relatedness” between each, eg close countries close, far countries far).
  • Direction is approximated.
  • Shape is approximated.

Zach Johnson has a good post on this topic on his blog (cartograms are the focus of his Masters Thesis).

Below a New York Times map showing the weighted electoral votes of the 48 contiguous states as the topological area of each state.

ny time cartogram example

Let us examine a map of water flow in a stream network (Kelso and Araya):

six rivers streamflow

One usually sees these maps with a conic projection to preserve equal-land-area. But the river segments are drawn exaggerated to their geographic width to represent the EDGE weight between nodes in the true geography space.

The map is dispensing with equal-land-area between nodes (the overall area and shape are preserved) and instead focusing on DISTANCE and DIRECTION between each node. The edges are “preserved” by exaggerating the stream centerlines to preserve the thematic variable. Overall SHAPE is preserved, but local land AREA is not.

Such topological maps are not diagrams because they are still rooted in land-geography; the placement of the nodes is guided by land geography but shift accordingly to best show the interrelationships between nodes. Ignoring the land-geography by listing the nodes and edges in a chart or table is not a map. A topological map takes a complex n-dimensioned space and represents that topology in a 2d dimensioned space.

precip swiss atlas

Some precipitation maps use “gridded” tightly spaced, regularized nodes and edges (above: Swiss Atlas, 2.0). The “weight” of rain and snow fall is indicated by color. Because of the spacing of the nodes and the hyper-localness of the mapped theme, this “topological map” manages to preserve both the topology and the geography.

nat geo 8th world atlas human chapter opener

The above example from the 8th Edition National Geographic Atlas of the World focuses on the quantity difference between nodes and represents that with height spikes (3d). If this were a topologic projection that needed to show the contents of each node (not the inter-relationship between nodes) the spike height would be flattened out into area alone (2.5d), leading to a grossly exaggerated land-area map but correct population-area cartogram such as:


Above from the Dutch company Mapping Worlds via Zach Johnson.

tom patterson relief example

Tom Patterson (above) uses this 2.5d term to talk about relief shading of land elevation. But I think it can be used to represent any map that is a representation of more than simply 2 variables (lat and long). Really, much of thematic cartography is 2.5d when it tries to represent complex datasets (like precipitation) with color and other visual variables.

So visualization / modern scientific cartography is focused on examining and preserving / projecting topological relationships. Often these are closely related to geographic space, but not always. That is why I am so fascinated by cartograms :)

How do we measure the “error” and “conformal”-ness in a topological map?

  • Area: Does this “view” of the topology preserve the node and edge weights?
  • Distance: Does this “view” preserve the inter-relations between nodes?
  • Direction: Both topological between nodes and geographically.
  • Shape: Purely geographical. This is what sets some cartograms above others.

For topologic shape:

Projecting a n-dimensioned topology onto a 2d surface has one or more points tangent to the 2d surface. An ideal solution shows all nodes and edges shown flattened out but this would likely require using an interrupted projection with dashed linkage lines between like-lobes content (I have seen this somewhere, need example).

For geographic shape and direction:

We are concerned with local shape (direct neighbors in the topology) and global shape. In the England example above for the Dorling cartogram the north-south direction axis tilts left in the topology. A “best” solution preserves this geographic orientation by rotating the topology network until it “conforms” more to the geography.

Finally, we can visualize this with a modified cartography cube from Zach Johnson:

cart cube zach johnson