Fun With Data

I started work on a project a little while ago, and it’s probably past time I started blogging it. My intention was to produce a population map of the United States, county by county — essentially, a map of the country’s other topography.

Each cylinder represents one county or equivalent (e.g. an independent city, Louisian parish, or Alaskan census area). The circular area represents the land area, the height its population density, and the volume of each cylinder its population. The cylinders are instanced Animation:Master models generated by a script.

The population and land area data come from the U.S. Census Bureau web site. Location data is approximated from Census Burea .bna outline files made available on the Princeton web site by Robert Sedgewick and Kevin Wayne of the 2004 Election “Purple Map” fame.

The first version of the script could build one state at a time. With 254 counties, the most of any state, this is Texas:

The second could produce an arbitrary number of states with random colors, but each had to be loaded by hand as soon as the script finished with the previous. This is New England, where I was born and raised:

The first version of the script that could construct the entire United States took over 14 hours to run and had several bugs, one of which limited it to 99 counties per state. This is its first output:

Right now, I have debugged the script, analyzed its output for missed counties, and am working at sanitizing the input data to avoid screwups. I hope to have a complete work in progress by the end of the weekend.

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