Tag Archives: beautiful complexity

Visualizing Worldwide Births and Deaths

Some folks in cyberspace have taken to visualizing data on births and deaths worldwide. This simulation shows the spot on a world map where a birth or a death has been recorded, and flashes it before your eyes. Green for birth, red for death. While numbers are thrown out there in the media (4.1 births per second), it’s hard to imagine what that looks like. This map does just that.

One colleague has pointed out that this map skews toward countries that do very good census keeping, so maybe this doesn’t show all of them. But in the meantime this simulation both shows you where these demographic events are happening, and how big of a discrepancy there is between the rates. This could be a place for great data mining and future publications, assuming one can get at the data that is running behind this sim.

For example, can we see areas that are being disproportionately hit by diseases (ebola?) and do those deaths really seem to be a large percentage of deaths worldwide? Can we see where programs for abstinence versus family planning are in effect? How about trends in births or deaths–can we see where one country has many births in one streak, and then few for a while, and can this tell us about events that may have marked conception (a.k.a. can we see February 14th popping up in the U.S.A. if we look around Nov 14th?).

In the meantime, enjoy the simulation. It’s quite hypnotizing.

Here’s the link: http://worldbirthsanddeaths.com

Flocking: watching complexity in a murmuration of starlings

My father is a bird watcher. One of my earliest memories is watching a giant flock of wild geese in ponds in eastern Oregon. The way the individual birds would react and interact to form what seemed like an organism was breathtaking. I bet my dad didn’t realize that this formative viewing of a flock of waterfowl would influence the way I study science.

This is a video shot by Liberty Smith and Sophie Windsor Clive from islands and rivers that shows, in exquisite beauty, how individual decisions can have cascading effects on the system. By each bird trying to optimize its distance to the bird in front and on the sides, these birds form a flock of birds. Flocking behavior, shoaling behavior in fish, and swarming behavior in insects all have similarities.  Mammals, too, exhibit this behavior when they herd.

Craig Reynolds first simulated this in his “Boids” simulation (1986). The agents (the boids themselves) want to remain aligned with the other agents around them, want to retain separation from the other agents around them, and will steer their heading toward a perceived average of the headings of the other agents around them. These three simple rules produce the complexity of the flock.

Who can forget the iconic scene of the herding wildebeest in the Lion King? My understanding is that this was one of the first uses of computer graphics in an animated film, and the animation followed similar rules to Reynolds’ simulation.

While my father would likely be appalled that I would promote starlings (their negative effects on biodiversity in the Americas is well documented) this video shows flocking behavior perfectly. Enjoy the beauty of complexity.

(And thanks Joshua Garland and Brandon Hildebrand for pointing me toward this video!)

–Stefani Crabtree