July 27, 2011

US Government Debt Visualizations


The image shown below by WTFNoWay.com has been generating quite a bit of interest.  It shows $15 trillion as a stack of $100 bills; one that dwarfs the Statue of Liberty.  Other than reinforcing the idea that $15 trillion, and by association US public debt, is a staggering amount of money, is it actually useful?  Not particularly in my opinion.  Also the choice of $100 bills seems somewhat arbitrary.  The image is one of a series that starts with a single $100 bill - something familiar to most Americans.  A $1 bill is probably even more familiar and would have produced a far bigger stack; a bar of gold bullion, somewhat smaller.

What Crisis?

Joe Weisenthal was particularly scathing in his critique of the WTFNoWay image.  He contrasted the image with charts (see below) showing that the cost of servicing the debt as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total government spending are at historical lows.  However, interest rates are particularly low as well, important context that is absent from Joe's charts.  Business Insider have published eight more charts that provide additional insight into the current US debt situation.

Who's to Blame?

The chart below from Wikipedia gives the impression that debt (as a percentage of GDP) has grown under Democrat control of Congress and stabilised or shrunk under Republican control.

However, if we look at total government debt (rather than as a percentage of GDP) then it appears that much is due to spending by the GW Bush administration (although Congress was under Democrat control from 2007) as shown in the following chart published in the New York Times (via a friend).

Finally, Alan Kohler presented a couple of interesting charts during the finance section of the ABC TV news.  The first is similar to the previous two as it shows the growth of the US debt ceiling under previous administrations; Republicans raised it more often than Democrats.  The last two show the gulf between US government tax receipts and public spending both current and historical.

The Big Picture

All of the visualizations paint a different picture of the debt situation: alamism (WTFNoWay); what crisis? (Joe Weisenthal); blame the Democrats' (Wikipedia); blame the Republicans (Alan Kohler); blame Bush (NYT).  Whether the designers have intended such bias is difficult to know but the above examples illustrate that in isolation, individual charts provide only limited insight into complex phenomena.

July 21, 2011

Tilt: Visualize Web page DOMs in 3D

As a software developer I often find the need to dive into the DOM of a Web page, and I usually use the Firebug or Web Developer plug-ins for Firefox to do this.  So, I was intrigued when I came across Tilt, a Firefox plug-in that visualizes a Web page in 3D.  The video clip below shows Tilt in action.

I installed the Tilt plug-in and took it for a test flight.  I'll be sticking with Firebug and Web Developer for the time being; Tilt represents a cool example of WebGL used for 3D visualization but it's more of developer's toy than a serious development tool.

July 8, 2011

Australian Public Opinion Infographic

The Lowy Institute has just published its 11th annual poll surveying Australian public opinion on a range of foreign policy issues.

A friend pointed me to an infographic summarising some of the poll's key findings.  It was designed by Ben Spraggon for ABC News Online.

The Feelings Towards Other Countries thermometer is similar to the temperature scale chart presented in the original report.  It's a natural representation of the answers to the survey question:
Please rate your feelings towards some countries, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favourable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling, and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred: the higher the number the more favourable your feelings are toward that country.  If you have no opinion or have never heard of that country, please say so.

Feelings towards 18 countries were canvassed - I'm left wondering why those particular 18 were selected; the report doesn't say.  The report also indicates that this question has been asked each year since 2006.  I'd like to have seen this historical data charted but perhaps there is too much flux in the set of countries that comprise each year's question.

The Dealing With Global Warming and Military Involvement in Afghanistan are excellent examples of how to present this kind of historical data.  The line charts Ben uses are reproductions of similar charts in the Lowy Institute report.  You can clearly see a decline in public concern for the seriousness and urgency of global warming and of tackling it as a matter of priority.  Similarly, public support for Australia's continued military engagement in Afghanistan continues to fall.

I think similar line charts would have provided a better representation of the Concern About Asylum Seekers data.  Ben has chosen a similar treatment to that given in the report with the exception that in the report the bars are aligned such that positive and negative sentiment can be more easily contrasted.

As the infographic was commissioned for ABC News, I guess Ben focussed on the questions that were newsworthy at the time.  There are many more questions covered by the survey, e.g. opinions on nuclear power, terrorism, ANZUS, WikiLeaks and Indonsia, with accompanying charts that visualize the responses and tables holding the raw data.  It makes for interesting reading.

July 6, 2011

What Do You Love? Visualization

Recently, Google quietly launch WDYL (What Do You Love?)  You provide a search query, which WDYL uses to build a web portal to several Google web-sites:
  • Search (image, patents, book, blog, maps, news)
  • Alerts
  • Trends
  • Gmail
  • Sketchup
  • YouTube
  • Translate
  • Moderator
  • Voice
  • Groups
  • Calendar
  • Earth
  • Chrome
  • Mobile

Naturally, one of the first searches I tried was for "visualization".  Here's the result and a screenshot (see below).

A few of the links are quite useful, e.g. I added the Google Alert web-feed to my Google Reader account, but exploring visualization in 3D (Sketchup) or scouring the earth for visualization (Google Earth) don't make sense (but they might for other queries).

Anyway, give it a go - if you find anything interesting please let me know.

July 4, 2011

Map of Global Transportation Networks & The Anthropocene

Environmental education organization, Globaïa, have prepared two interesting visualizations.

The first is a map of global transportation networks that shows traffic routes by road, air and sea converging on major urban areas.

The second is a collection of charts showing a variety of measures of global human activity.  All exhibit a more-or-less exponential growth pattern.