Monthly Archives: November 2013

That’s “Code” Comfort

I’ve been working on a mobile app that will support adding vector-based mapping polygons. Using California and Massachusetts to do a test on MULTIPOLYGON states and a map extent spanning the lower 48, I imported the data, ran the code and when I saw the visual, thought something was messed up:
How could the code be putting California at the top of the image? I went back to my source map and sure enough, the northern tip of California really does go as high as central Massachusetts. It occurred to me that it could be because of the Lambert Conformal Conic projection for the contiguous U.S. that I’m using. But it turns out the northern boundary of California is 42° and so is the southern boundary of western Mass (or at least it seems that was the intention at the time, given the quality of surveying and certain conditions facing surveyors – see the Granby Notch story ( .


Incidentally, several states share 42° as an official boundary:

File:42nd parallel US.svg
Sometimes our notions of things, based on certain conceptions, distort reality. I can see where my perceptions of California as being in the southwestern part of the country and being mostly warmer than the chilly, northeasterly Massachusetts would make it hard to believe they could have boundaries near the same latitude. At least I know my routines work. That’s “code comfort.” Still lots of work to do!

Labeling Graphs

Recently, WikiLeaks released a draft text of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. In what is otherwise an excellent (and somewhat disturbing) analysis of the data done by Gabriel Michael, a Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University, there is one problem: I couldn’t read the labeling on the graphs very easily. In this case, since the data is heavily tied to connections between countries, it’s essential to understanding the relationships presented in the graphs.

To a degree, this was exacerbated by the layout of the Washington Post’s article template ( which is where I first viewed these. But even viewed on the author’s original site – somewhat larger – they can still be difficult to read (


Allow me to make it clear that I’m not picking on anybody here or denigrating some very fine scholarship. I’m just adding a couple of modest improvements in the hope that graphics such as these will be able to reach an even wider audience. They carry a message that really needs to be received by as many people as possible.

First, the obvious. I increased the font size. However, it’s (usually) more legible to also change to a sans-serif typeface…and, while we’re at it, let’s bump up the weight. So now we have:


It’s worth noting that I was able to save the image at a smaller size too. It’s 440 pixels wide (including a bit of white space) and could now conceivably be viewed on a phone.

There is another improvement that may be made: Getting rid of the thin black lines around the circles. They don’t fit with the rest of the imagery in the graphs. Furthermore, a hollow shape requires a bit more visual decoding by the viewer’s eyes. Of course, removing those lines also means reversing the text color and picking some solid color for the circles. I chose a grayish-blue, not too saturated, to provide a bit of contrast to the yellow-orange-red lines:


Again, this post is not meant to be anything more than constructive. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.