Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Tableau 8: The Kraken, Bubble Maps and Andy Cotgreave – Part II

acotgreave_1356108152_71Andy Cotgreave

Andy Cotgreave is Tableau Software’s senior data analyst in the UK. With 16+ years experience battling with good and bad Business Intelligence (BI) tools, Andy has held positions in data analysis, business research and software development. Prior to Tableau, he was a senior data analyst at the University of Oxford. He has also served in positions at Fast Track, RCP Consultants and RM PLC, giving him a diverse range of technical and non-technical skills. He’s a frequent speaker and has spoken at conferences including Strata London, Oxford Internet Institute and News:Rewired. Andy is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and holds an MA in Geography.

“Waiter, there’s a Kraken in my bubble map!”

Andy rearranged 7,596 circles into a Kraken engulfing an orange submarine. To see an interactive version of this visualization and learn a little more about how he did it, click on the image below.

Kraken bubble map

DataViz History: The Ghost Map: Vibrio cholerae

Vibrio cholerae

Description and Significance

Vibrio cholerae is a “comma” shaped Gram-negative bacteria with a single, polar flagellum for movement. There are numerous strains of V. cholerae, some of which are pathogenic and some of which are not. [SOURCE]

The bacteria infects the intestine and increases mucous production causing diarrhea and vomiting which result in extreme dehydration and, if not treated, death. It is usually transmitted through the feces of an infected person, often by way of unclean drinking water or contaminated food. Since water treatment and sanitation is more advanced in the United States, cholera is not nearly as high of a public health threat in the U.S. as it is in densely populated, economically reduced areas like India or sub-Saharan Africa where water and sewage treatment technology is low.

Filippo Pacini first discovered V. cholerae in Italy in 1854, though it was originally believed to be Robert Koch who discovered it thirty years later in Berlin in 1884.


V. cholerae thrives in a water ecology, particularly surface water. The primary connection between humans and pathogenic strains is through water, particularly in economically reduced areas that don’t have good water purification systems.

Non-pathogenic strains are also present in water ecologies. It is thought that it is the wide variety of strains of pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains that co-exist in aquatic environments that allow for so many genetic varieties. Gene transfer is fairly common amongst bacteria and recombination of different V. cholerae genes can lead to new virulent strains.


V. cholerae enters the human body through ingestion of contaminated food or water. The bacteria enters the intestine, embeds itself in the villi of absorptive intestinal cells, and releases cholera toxin. Cholera toxin (CT) is an enterotoxin made up of five B-subunits that form a pore to fits one A-subunit. CT is made from filamentous phage gene, CTXφ.9 A phage gene is also responsible for another virulence factor of V. cholerae, which is toxin co-regulated pilus (TCP), which acts as a receptor for CTXφ.

Physiological responses and symptoms that follow release of cholera toxin include stimulation of the mucosal lining of the intestine to secrete fluids. This causes vomiting and watery diarrhea that has a “rice water” quality. Death can occur from extreme dehydration and if not treated does occur 50-70% of the time.

Treatment includes rehydration and replacement of lost electrolytes, which are important ions, such as sodium and potassium, used in biochemical processes to keep the body alive. Because of the low quality of water treatment in many poverty ridden countries, rehydration with clean water can be impossible without medical aid and supplies.

The Outbreak Grows

The outbreak around Golden Square in 1854 hit a new peak before midnight on Thursday. Hundreds of the residents now had the disease and in some cases entire families in small, dark suffocating rooms.

Henry Whitehead’s social rounds had now become a death vigil. As dawn broke, Whitehead was called to one house where four people were already dead, their skin already taut and blue. As he made his way from house to house the horrors before him were difficult. However, while visiting one of the filthest houses on his route, the residents seemed to be doing just fine. He was amazed. Surely, they would have been sick too.

Back at 40 Broad Street, baby Lewis was silent. The disease had left her dead.

The neighborhood was under attack. Neighbors shuttered themselves up. By that afternoon, a yellow flag was raised to alert the residents that the cholera had struck.

But, you didn’t need to see the yellow flag to know there was trouble. You could see the dead being wheeled down the street by the cartload.

Next: Dr. John Snow

Happy Easter: 60 Years of Peeps – Charles Apple Blog

60 Years of Peeps

Here is another one from Charles Apple’s blog. [SOURCE]

Charles says:

“What a scream.

I don’t know for sure who designed it, but my old pal Doug Jessmer — who works there now — tells me:

I’m fairly sure that was Thomas Marcetti Jr. I know it was on his screen a bit the last few days.

Whoever worked on this page: Please let me hear a peep from you.

The Peeps Detail


UPDATE – 4:15 p.m. PDT

Executive editor Bonita Burton tells us:

Thanks! Thomas Marcetti, Managing Editor of Design & Graphics with Designer Amy Johstono. It was Thomas who spotted the story and knew how it would resonate with our largely retiree readership who grew up with the candies.

Average daily circulation for the Villages Daily Sun is 44,624.

That page is from the Newseum. Of course.”

Tableau 8: The Kraken, Bubble Maps and Andy Cotgreave

krakenThe Kraken

One of the great sea monsters of Norse myth and legend is the Kraken, said to be able to overturn ships and drag them down into the cold depths. There seems to be a degree of confusion with the Midgard Serpent, because some legends say there are only two Kraken in existence, and that these were born in the first creation and are destined to die only when the world itself finally perishes. This seems to be what Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) had in mind in his poem The_Kraken. [SOURCE]

However, there are less apocalyptic tales about the Kraken – in particular about the ‘young Kraken’ – that contradict this, suggesting something on a lesser scale than the Midgard Serpent, though still scary enough. In the mid, I8th century Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan (1698-1764), Bishop of Bergen, tackled the long and hazy tradition of the Kraken in his Natural History of Norway (1752-1753). After scrupulously interviewing mariners he came up with this remarkable tale, which repeated a tradition that can be traced back to the 12th century but is certainly much older.

Fishermen told Erik Pontoppidan that sometimes when they rowed several miles out to sea, particularly on hot, calm summer days, they found that in areas where they were used to sounding a depth of 80-100 fathoms (50-60m), they would find it registering less than half this. If the fish were also jumping, the fisherman guessed that the Kraken was lurking below, stirring them up. So, while keeping a careful watch on their depth, lines, the men would gratefully catch fish until the monster showed signs of rising to the surface. Then they would haul in their nets and paddle for their lives.

Once clear they would rest on their oars and, as Pontoppiaan tells it, they would soon see an enormous monster rise to the surface – a creature so vast that no one could see the whole of it at once. The bishop says that it had the appearance of a number of small islands surrounded by something resembling seaweed: ‘At last several bright points or horns appear, which grow thicker and thicker the higher they rise above the surface of the water, and sometimes they stand as high and large as the masts of middle, sized vessels. It seems these are the creature’s arms and, it is said, if they were to lay hold of the largest man,of1war, they would pull it down to the bottom. After this monster has been on the surface of the water a short time, it begins slowly to sink again, and then the danger is as great as before, because the motion of this sinking causes such a swell in the sea, and such an eddy or whirlpool, that it draws down everything with it.’ This curiously symbiotic relationship with the Kraken is explained by Pontoppidan: “The Kraken have never been known to do any great harm, except that they have taken away the lives of those who consequently could not bring the tidings.”

Presumably he meant there were legends of ships and sailors being attacked, but that this was rare and never occurred in the circumstances he describes above. He personally heard only one close anecdote: two unwary fishermen suddenly ran into a ‘young Kraken’, one of whose ‘horns’ or tentacles ‘crushed the head of the boat, so that it was with great difficulty they saved their lives on the wreck, though the weather was as calm as possible’. Writing as he was in the Age of Enlightenment, Pontoppidan was laughed to scorn by many naturalists who thought he had fallen for a bunch of fishermen’s yarns. About the only part of his report seriously was his mention of the ‘young Kraken’. This creature was well known to Norwegian fishermen; to judge by their descriptions, ‘young Kraken’ are quite clearly ordinary squid. But, although evidence was then emerging that squid could grow much larger than previously imagined, the suggestion that one might have a circumference of over a mile remained outrageous. Some rationalists suggested – as in other cases of supposed monsters surfacing at sea – that what the fishermen were talking about, in a garbled and fanciful way, was simply the surfacing of weed tangles, buoyed up by the gases of their own decomposition. But most people simply laughed the tales away.

Proof of a kind that Pontoppidan’s sailors may not have been exaggerating came in a curious way during the Second World War. While hunting for German submarines off the coast of Norway, ships of the US Navy found a strange conundrum. Sometimes in areas where they knew the depth to be over 150 fathoms (90m) their sonar would indicate a much lower figure. Closer investigation showed that this phantom layer would rise gently towards the surface at night, then sink during the day. This suggested some kind of dense blanket of living organisms maintaining temperature by adjusting their depth.

The phenomenon is still unresolved but a reasonable suggestion is that it was probably caused by large schools of squid fanning out all at the same depth. And, if such a shoal surfaced, it might well appear, as Pontoppidan wrote, ‘like a number of small islands, surrounded with something that floats and fluctuates like seaweeds’. So is the Kraken in the end no more than a large school of squid breaking the surface? Well, possibly, squid are continuing to surprise us by the size they can reach. One wonders, too, about the phantom submarines which both sides chased occasionally in Scandinavian waters during the Cold War. Perhaps squid may indeed reach a size still not fully appreciated by either science or the world in general, and thus be the true Kraken.

Next: Andy Cotgreave rearranges 7,596 circles into a Kraken engulfing an orange submarine.

DataViz History: The Ghost Map: The Broad Street Pump

stlukes_churchThe Broad Street Pump had a long reputation of being a reliable source of clean well water. It extended 25 feet below the surface of the street, passing the layers of accumulated rubbish and debris that artificially elevated most of London. It stretched through a bed of gravel all the way to Hyde Park, down to the veins of sand and clay saturated with groundwater.

Many of the residents in Soho would pass by the water pumps closer to their homes, such as the one on Rupert Street and another on Little Marlborough, to get the much better tasting water of the Broad Street pump. The water was colder and had a pleasant hint of carbonatation. The coffee houses uses this water as well as the pubs in the area diluted their spirits with it. The Eley family who made the percussion caps would take jugs from their home, and make the trek to the Broad Street pump to get water for their mother. They also maintained two large tubs of this water for their employees to  have a drink to quench their thirst during the workday.

We would later learn more about the water drinking habits of the neighborhood and, more specifically, the water from this pump.

imagesCAAUGC2LOn Wednesday, Mr. G the Tailor who lived at 40 Broad Street, began to feel queasy and had an upset stomach. The symptoms would have been painful. He would have vomited all night. He would have had muscle spasms and abdominal pain. He was terribly thirsty. His bowels were evacuating large quantities of water with white particles that clinicians of the day called “rice-water stool.”

Sadly, the one thing that cholera did not affect was the mind. Mr. G was very much mentally alert and aware of his situation. One stated,

“While the mechanism of life is suddenly arrested, the body emptied by a few rapid gushes of its serum, and reduced to a damp, dead…mass, the mind within remains untouched and clear,shining strangely through the glazed eyes, with light unquenched and vivid,-a spirit, looking out to terror from a corpse.”

On Friday, Mr. G barely had a pulse, his eyes were sunk, his lips dark blue, as well as the skin of his lower extremities.

As baby Lewis suffered in the next room, Mr. G’s heart stopped beating, barely 24 hours after showing the first symptoms of cholera.

Within another few hours, another dozen Soho residents would also be dead.

Next: Vibrio cholerae

DataViz History: The Ghost Map: Reverend Henry Whitehead

220px-Whitehead_henry1884Although he had no formal medical education, the epidemiology of cholera intrigued Reverend Whitehead. So who was this religious leader and how did he get interested in cholera? [SOURCE]


Reverend Henry Whitehead (1825-96), shown here in 1884 at age 59, was born on September 22,1825 in the seaside town of Ramsgate (middle center ) in Kent by the Straits of Dover. His father was master at Chatham House, a small public school in the area. Henry was the eighth of ten children and grew up in the school, where later he became an assistant master. In 1847 at age 22, he left home and his potential teaching position to attend Lincoln College, University of Oxford. It was here that he made up his mind to enter the Anglican Church.  After obtained his B.A. in 1850, he left for London to seek ordination.

His first employment was as assistant curate (e.g., junior priest) with the Vicar of St. Luke’s Church, Berwick Street (center right, labelled “ch” above King Street ) in Soho, London, near the home of Dr. John Snow and the future site of the Broad Street cholera outbreak. Saint Luke’s had been completely rebuilt in a decorated Gothic style in 1838-9 and was popular in the parish that included Broad Street and its environs. Following his ordination as a deacon in 1851, Whitehead took up his duties among the residents of the crowded slums of the Berwick Street area and became a welcome visitor in the homes of his parishioners.  His friendliness and social acceptance would proved to be his greatest asset when the outbreak occurred that August of 1854.

When Whitehead walked through his Soho neighborhood, it was usually a meandering, sociable one: he stopped at the local coffee shop where machinists from the local factory ate. He stopped and visited parishioners in their homes. He even stopped by and visited inmates at the St. James Workhouse, where 500 of London’s poorest citizens lived and were forced to do hard labor. Whitehead sometimes stopped off at the Eley Brothers factory where 150 employees worked producing the new “percussion cap” that enabled firearms to work in any weather. The Crimean War was raging and business was good for the Eley Brothers.

At the Lion Brewery on Broad Street, the 70 workers did their jobs while sipping malt liquor provided to them as part of their wages. Reverend Whitehead knew most people by name and his walk would involve a steady stream of sidewalk and parlor conversations. In the early morning and at nightfall, his parishioners would pour into St. Luke’s for daily services. After services, people would flock to the various street vendors around the church. But one single location seemed to be at the center of it all. One of life’s great necessities.

The best tasting water in Soho. It came from the Broad Street Pump.

Next: The Broad Street Pump

DataViz History: The Ghost Map: The Night-Soil Men

18th Century London

It is 1854 Victorian London and it stinks. Scavengers lived in a world of excrement and death. Unorganized, independent scavengers referred to as bone-pickers, rag-gathers, pure-finders, dredgermen, mud-larks, sewer-hunters, dustmen, night-soil men, bunters, toshers and shoreman spread out in the London nights in search of organic materials to use to make money or for trade.

“Pure” was a polite name for dog shit, the Night-Soil Men clean up the human shit. One account went as follows:

Night-soil men carted human, animal, and household waste in buckets from the back yards of houses, and private and public cesspits, and transported the waste to the country. The men were allowed to work only between midnight and five a.m. They arrived with a cart, and worked in teams of four, consisting of a holeman, ropeman, and two tubmen. The team of men announced their arrival by ringing a bell, which they hand carried. If the privy was located in a narrow back yard, and if the only access the night men had was through the front door, they would have to carry out their work through the house. The men carried their lanters and equipment to the entrance of the cesspit. The holeman would descend first. He would go down a few feet into the pit, loosen the sludge, and shovel it into a tub. A ropeman would then raise the filled tub, and the two tubemen would empty the tubs into a waiting cart. As he emptied the cesspit, the holeman would descend further down the hole. Pulling up the tubs, the ropeman would be careful not to spill too much waste. As the work progressed, the tubmen could easily carry over 100 pounds of sewage. The men would lower a ladder down the increasingly empty cesspit, and the process would be repeated, with the holeman descending the ladder again and again, the ropeman pulling up the waste, and tubmen carrying out the sludge, until the waste was removed. [SOURCE]

John Hunt Night-SoilLondon was growing fast. Two and a half million people were crammed inside a thirty-mile circumference. Recycling centers,  public-health departments and safe sewage removal had not been invented yet. An underground market was created as the garbage and excrement grew into large piles. Henry Mayhew’s seminal book, London’s Labour and the London Poor outlined the daily routines of these people. The early scavengers of Victorian London weren’t just getting rid of that refuse-they were recycling it.

Steven Johnson pointed out that Victorian London had its postcard wonders, to be sure-the Crystal Palace, Trafalgar Square, the new additions to Westminster Palace. But it also had wonders of a different order, no less remarkable; artificial ponds of raw sewage, dung heaps the size of houses.

Trouble was brewing in London. On the 28th of August, 1854, at 40 Broad Street in Soho, Sarah Lewis’ six month old daughter was vomiting and emitting watery, green stools that carried a pungent smell. While waiting for the doctor to arrive, Sarah soaked the soiled cloth diapers in a bucket of tepid water. As the baby girl finally slept, she crept down to the cellar and tossed the fouled water into the cesspool that lay at the front of the house.

The terror was about to begin.

Tomorrow: Henry Whitehead

DataViz History: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Steven B. Johnson

Steven B. Johnson

I have now finished reading Steven B. Johnson’s riveting book, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. This has been a labor of love for me since I have known the story (or at least some of it), about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, for quite a while. I have wanted to read Mr. Johnson’s book for many years and decided regardless of how busy I am with work, now was the time.

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of seven books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. His writings have influenced everything from the way political campaigns use the Internet, to cutting-edge ideas in urban planning, to the battle against 21st-century terrorism. In 2010, he was chosen by Prospect magazine as one of the Top Ten Brains of the Digital Future.

His latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, was a finalist for the 800CEORead award for best business book of 2010, and was ranked as one of the year’s best books by The Economist. His book The Ghost Map was one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2006 according to Entertainment Weekly. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Mr. Johnson has also co-created three influential web sites: the pioneering online magazine FEED, the Webby-Award-winning community site,, and most recently the hyperlocal media site, which was acquired by AOL in 2011. He serves on the advisory boards of a number of Internet-related companies, including, Betaworks, and Nerve.

Mr. Johnson is a contributing editor to Wired magazine and is the 2009 Hearst New Media Professional-in-Residence at The Journalism School, Columbia University. He won the Newhouse School fourth annual Mirror Awards for his TIME magazine cover article titled “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live.” Steven has also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and many other periodicals. He has appeared on many high-profile television programs, including The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He lectures widely on technological, scientific, and cultural issues. He blogs at and is @stevenbjohnson on Twitter. He lives in Marin County, California with his wife and three sons.

john_snow_choleraMy blog series on The Ghost Map

I plan on writing short synopses of chapters of the book in this blog over the next week. My goal is to pull you in, get you excited about what Mr. Johnson is writing, and have you read the book for itself. I won’t give away any secrets specifically noted in the book, but will focus on the chronology that led up to the creation of the now famous map. Mr. Johnson introduces us to an interesting, sometimes frustrating cast of characters throughout the book. He tells us about the crazy theories that seemed plausible at the time, and the uphill battle Dr. John Snow fought to have anyone take him seriously.

I hope you will come along with me for this fascinating and educational journey this next week. But I do have to warn you: Don’t drink the water.



How to visualize data with extreme value differences?

I came across this visualization problem on a UX User Experience blog. [SOURCE]


I am working on some routines for a client application to visualize data in a 3D bar chart style. The data consists mostly of smaller values with only a few large values.

For example:


So, the problem is that the large values pretty much makes the visualization useless. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to display this data … OR … perhaps a suggestion on how to massage the data to make it more visually appealing?

There were several suggestions made by other bloggers, but this recommended solution caught my eye.


For anyone mathematically inclined, the answer is to use a log scale.

For non-mathematical people, you may be better off showing a break in the chart and then the extreme value.

log scale

Here are a couple of the responses to this proposed solution.

  1. As much as I hate to downvote, I really don’t think the ‘non-mathematical’ option is a good solution. It’s more misleading than helpful, as the mind’s got a pretty powerful inclination to compare the bars without taking the axis break into consideration. In such a situation, a simple table of numbers might be better, as you’ll instantly see that some values are much wider than others. – Mal Ross Mar 20 at 21:29
  2. @MalRoss it isn’t always about comparing all the values with each other.  Sometimes it’s more about visualising the relationships between a lower group and a higher group.  And in terms of reading charts vs. tables, charts give a much quicker overview, and so are often preferred in business. – JohnGB Mar 20 at 22:08
  3. Logarithmic scales are probably the best bet, though they still end up throwing off the true vastness of the difference.  It really depends on what needs to be conveyed by the way that the information is displayed.  If the vastness of the difference is of key importance then simply graphing the small number as a very small line may still be appropriate.

03/26/2013 – Here are some thoughts from Alberto Cairo, The Father of Infographics.

Alberto Cairo Comments

Finally, one responder simply provided a cartoon to state his point of view (shown below).

What do you think about the solution proposed above? I have had this problem in the past too and would love to hear your point of view.




The Amazing Work of John Grimwade, Director of Information Graphics at Conde Nast Traveler

John Grimwade is graphics director of Condé Nast Traveler magazine (based in New York) and has his own information graphics business ( He has produced infographics for more than 30 major magazines and several books. Before moving to the United States, he worked for 14 years in newspapers in London (including six years as head of graphics at The Times). He co-hosts the annual Malofiej “Show Don’t Tell” infographics workshop in Pamplona, Spain, and teaches information graphics at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Source: Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art, 2012.

VIDEO BELOW: John Grimwade, the Director of Information Graphics at Conde Nast Traveler and Portfolio magazines discusses how he creates his beautiful graphic illustrations with former Newsweek graphics director, Karl Gude. This video is from 2007, but I still feel it resonates true today. [SOURCE]

John Grimwade, Director of Information Graphics at Conde Nast Traveler

Below are some examples of Mr. Grimwade’s amazing work.

D42M63 M58 M57 M54 M46 M35 M29 M23 M18  D41 D37


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