Swiss Railways Diagram

One of the great things about Switzerland is its passenger rail system. Service is frequent and convenient, and the network is dense so you can get almost anywhere in the country by train. And you can even ride the rails high into the Alps on the many cog wheel railways and funiculars. But Swiss railways really outdid themselves with this rail service diagram. If you download the full sized version (and you should) and zoom in, you will see that the diagram contains train arrival times for every station pictured (for those train services that run daily). With only a copy of this diagram you’d have all the information you needed to navigate the entire Swiss rail network, although you might need a magnifying glass to read the small print. The Human Transit blog explains how to read the notation.

Swiss railways

Visualizing where our energy comes from (and where it goes)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory produces fantastic annual diagrams that show energy flow in the U.S. from source to end use. Here’s the latest one, from 2012. You can learn a lot from studying this, but here are a few insights that were interesting to me:

  • Almost 2/3 of total energy is not used for productive work (energy services). Most of this is probably from waste heat. Our transportation sector is particularly wasteful, which I guess is what happens when most people have their own internal combustion engine to propel them at high speeds over vast distances every day.
  • Petroleum is used mostly for transportation (i.e. gasoline), with some going to industry (not sure what this would be).
  • Coal is still the biggest source of electricity, although if you look at diagrams from earlier years you can see that it is decreasing at the expense of natural gas, and to a less extent, wind and solar.

Where does it come from and where does it go?

Tornadoes Over Time with CartoDB

Yesterday I participated in an online introductory class about CartoDB, a new mapping tool with a great look and feel and a solid free option. Although I had dabbled with CartoDB before, this class got me excited about it. In particular, a new tool called torque that allows you to make animated geovisualizations is really cool.

One project we did in the class was creating an animation of tornadoes touching down in the U.S. over time. My animation shows 10 years of data in about 15 seconds. You can clearly see a pulse of tornadoes each year that begins in the south in the spring, and moves northwest as the summer progresses. Meanwhile, Florida shows tornado activity pretty much year round. Making the map took about 20 minutes. Here it is:

tornadoes over time

click on the image to see the animation

Using Tableau Public to Make an Interactive Visualization

Dashboard_1¬†For the last several weeks I’ve been experimenting with Tableau Public, a powerful, free software package for data analysis and visualization. I’m impressed by the software. It’s certainly the best free product I’ve worked with.

My big project on Tableau is an interactive graphic showing global mercury emissions by country and sector. I was able to get a nice dataset from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. These data were part of the 2013 UNEP Global Mercury Assessment. So they are very up-to-date, and with the adoption of the new Minamata Convention on Mercury, the topic is quite relevant. Good ingredients for an nice viz.

The graphic combines three elements: 1) a world map showing mercury emissions by country in a color gradient scale, 2) a tree map showing the mercury emissions of regions and their constituent countries as a part of total global emissions, and 3) a bar graph showing the makeup of emissions by industry sector for the world or selected countries. All the elements are linked so that selecting objects in one changes the other elements.

Check it out.


Minamata Convention Word Cloud

I’m not usually a fan of word clouds. They’re flashy but don’t really tell you much, and they seem like a pretty lazy analysis that you do if you don’t know what else to say about a text. Having said that…this word cloud is actually pretty cool. The text is the Minamata Convention on Mercury and it was produced on It’s a visually pleasing color scheme and layout, but of course the real reason I like it is because the text is very close to my heart, as I’ve spend the last several years negotiating it together with 140 other governments. I like the idea that a text that represents such a huge amount of collective effort on the part of hundreds of people around the world can be represented in a little graphic like this.

Wordle: Minamata Convention on Mercury


First post

Welcome to the very first post of geovisualist. I’d like to start with with a problem that was actually what finally inspired me to start this blog. I have some data. The data consists of a list of about 40 countries with a number of fields related to mercury use in a particular industry. The exact nature of the data is not really important. It’s preliminary, but when I have finalized data I will describe it in more detail. What I’m interested is how these data can be displayed in a map format. I don’t have GIS software, so I’m looking to do this online in a way that’s easy, free, and looks good. So far I’ve found three tools. The first is Many Eyes, a project sponsored by IBM that let’s users post data and experiment with different visualizations (not limited to maps). I was able to make a nice interactive bubble marker map:
2012 Capacity

The next tool is called CartoDB. It’s exclusively for making map-based visualizations, and is a bit more slick that Many Eyes in that respect. Here’s the interactive bubble map.

Finally there’s Google Charts. This method uses ready made chart libraries that create a javascript interactive object that you can embed in a website. apparently does not like embedding javascript, but you can see what I created here.

Now, all of these tools were more in-depth than what I originally wanted to do with the data, which was create a map that I could publish as a simple image file. Still, the interactive nature of these visualizations is pretty neat. But I would still like to find a free tool that will let me display the data and export as a high-quality good looking still image.