Majestic Complexity

July 3, 2021

I grew up in London, in the 1950s when, with little else to do, kids my age travelled about the city, visiting places, seeing the sights. Nearly all these trips included a ride on the London Underground, the Tube. It was cheap, it was reasonably safe, and you could rarely get lost because they had the very best maps.

The famous Tube map designed by Harry Beck in 1933 was our guidebook and our treasure map.

The Genius of Harry Beck's 1933 London Tube Map--and How It Revolutionized  Subway Map Design Everywhere | Open Culture

The present day Tube system is far more complex, but the structural integrity of the map is always retained — because it works!

There's a brand new London tube map – and it's got Reading on it

I am sure this early exposure to the Map fed my life-long interest in data visualization. I was interested, therefore, when I saw a story about a team of theoretical physicists and mathematicians who have published their data for selecting the most complex subway map of all.

For its study, the group analyzed maps of the world’s 15 largest metro transit networks, as determined by total stations. They considered all the trips a traveler could make from Point A to Point B with two connections, then determined the fastest possible path for a given trip. That framework aligned with behavioral research showing that people can store up to four pieces of information in their working memory at one time—in this case, a trip’s origin, its destination, and two transfer stations. The result was a “cumulative” complexity rating. 

And the winner as the most complex subway map is the New York system, closely followed by Paris and Tokyo. London came fourth.

relates to The World’s 15 Most Complex Subway Maps

I rather admire the Moscow metro map because it lays out an honest vision that centralized control is important to an autocratic state, and it is important that the outlying “limbs” of the system can communicate one with the other only by going via the centre.

tube map Moscow

Of them all, I believe the Seoul subway system map is the most difficult for me to read:

Korean tube map


The Remarkable Growth of Cities 1500-2018

March 20, 2021

Regular readers will perhaps recognize that I am a great fan of well done data visualizations of historical issues. Here is another one constructed by the folks at the Financial Times. It follows the growth of the world’s largest cities from 1500 through to 2018.  It lasts about 3 minutes and is quite fascinating.


Visualizing The Market Disconnect

August 10, 2020

Yet another visualization of data by Visual Capitalist.  This one is to explain the disconnect between the stock market and actual conditions,

Understanding the Disconnect Between Consumers and the Stock Market


The Amazon Phenomenon

July 2, 2020

Most of us almost subconsciously know that Amazon is just about everywhere, that it is such a natural part of our lives that we do not give it much more thought. Thanks once again to Visual Capitalist, we now have a useful visualization of just how powerful Amazon has become, and how swiftly it has overcome all competitors.

[Image: Visual Capitalist] Select image for a better view

There seems little to stop further exponential growth. Bezos can keep spinning off more and more multi-billion dollar corporations in emerging markets for as long as the aggregate cash flow is counted in the trillions. This will eventually lead to “trust busting” populists breaking it up, like Standard Oil and Bell, I guess.  But I think any unravelling of Amazon-Bezos will be far more wrenching than any of the historical parallels.


The Cholera Map in 3D

August 11, 2019

I am fairly sure I have mentioned before my great interest in the way that data can be graphically visualized to create new awareness, or simply to explain something more accurately.  I have even tried to create some myself when I thought they would add value.

One of the most famous early examples of a data visualization leading to political action was Dr. John Snow’s investigation into a cholera outbreak in London in 1854.  By tracking the deaths in one area of Soho, he traced the infection back to a single well that had been polluted.  The map he created to illustrate the specific spread of the disease was instrumental in launching the new science of epidemiology.

Snow’s map was, of course, a two-dimensional display, with all the limits imposed by that technology.  However, the famous map has now been digitized and turned into a 3D object that can be viewed from any angle using the tools on the right of the screen.

This very simple display shows off the potential of 3D mapping very well.

Thanks to the Spatial Awareness newsletter for the tip.


The Remarkable Growth of Cities 1500-2018

March 22, 2019

Regular readers will perhaps recognize that I am a great fan of well done data visualizations of historical issues. Here is another one constructed by the folks at the Financial Times. It follows the growth of the world’s largest cities from 1500 through to 2018.  It lasts about 3 minutes and is quite fascinating.


The Political History of the UK

March 11, 2019

As some readers will recall, I am a great admirer of data visualizations and their educational use in history. I was very pleased, therefore, to come across this fascinating video by Ollie Bye and made available on You Tube.

In less than 8 minutes, this map shows the political divisions into which the United Kingdom and Ireland have been divided for every year from 54 BC to 2016.

It is particularly useful in those confusing years between when the Roman Empire collapsed in the 400s through to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The small Scottish “kingdoms” of those years are represented by numbers rather than names and are equivalent to the following:  1. Caithness 2. Sutherland 3. Ross 4. Small Vassals 5. Buchan 6. Mar 7. Atholl 8. Angus 9. Stathearn 10. Fife 11. Dunbar 12./13. Galloway.


Odds and Ends

May 20, 2010

The early years of yoga in the US were replete with “scandal, financial shenanigans, bodily discipline, oversize egos and bizarre love triangles, with a few performing elephants thrown in for good measure.”  So says a new book on yoga pioneer Pierre Bernard—known as the “Great Oom” — as reviewed at the Wall Street Journal.  Times were different in Bernard’s day but his promotion helped yoga get to the position where it “flourishes even in the Great Oom’s home state of Iowa, and the yoga industrial complex has broadened to include magazines, books, clothing and celebrity followers.”

The wonderful Information is Beautiful site has another great winner — the meaning of different colours in different cultures. Evil, oddly enough, is black everywhere, it seems.


The World Atlas of Language Structures

April 30, 2008

I have mentioned before that languages are an important interest of mine. Now we have an extraordinary linguistic resource online — the World Atlas of Language Structures.

The database covers more than 2,500 languages by up to 140+ structural and familial criteria. The content is displayed in text and maps serving as a rich body of data visualizations. We are lucky to have such work made available to us, and I greatly appreciate the effort.


I ♥ Maps

March 29, 2008

I’ve touched on data visualization before. The ability to display quantities of data in a visual format that explains and expands is a key skill in my opinion. None of has time to read through the reams of statistical background, but we all have a reaction when we see an image that conveys the same knowledge.

Since I was a young boy, I have had a fascination with maps — pure visualizations of geographic data. I’ve had odd collections of maps, and I’ve read a few histories of cartography. I like maps. But many uses of maps have now been usurped by satellite imagery that allows the viewer to scale their view exactly as desired, and can add map-style data as an overlay. With some, you can even drill down to a street-level view. Fabulous use of technology.

Commercial Drive

But this doesn’t mean that maps qua maps have lost their interest. Especially when there are sites like Strange Maps to fire up the imagination. They manage to find odd and fascinating maps of all kinds. There is a great map of the walks taken by Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, for example. There are fictional maps, artistic diagrams, odd stuff. The image below is of the haunts of Tom Petty in Los Angeles.

Tom Pettys LA


The Debtor Religious Right

February 16, 2008

I left politics at my last blog, and this post is about the visualization of data at least as much as it is about the actual data itself. Researchers from the University of Utah and Cal State have examined the relationship between the location of payday lending companies and the political strength of the religious right. They find a strong correlation between the two. The explanation put forward by the authors is:

“When the Christian Right allied itself with conservative Wall Street business interests in the 1980s and early ‘90s, consumer protection law was placed to the side as an inconvenient sticking point. The laws allowing an astonishing number of triple-digit-interest-rate lenders throughout most of the Christian South and Mormon West are a legacy of that political alliance.”

I think that is kind of interesting; but it really comes alive when you look at the data in a visual way. Thanks to Consumerist, we have two splendid maps that speak for themselves:

religious lenders

This ties in nicely with another map recently published in an entirely different context.

US Religions