Art, Maps

A City Cut in Two by a Tornado

This is a map of Moore, Oklahoma. On May 20, 2013 an EF5 tornado struck this city of 58,000 people, killing 24 and injuring 377 others. The destruction within the direct path of the storm was near complete.

moore_tornado_1

This piece focuses on the city boundary of Moore and the destruction that ripped right through the center of the town. The tornado track has been removed from the map, and the city has been split open.

Moore lies just south of Oklahoma City. The city boundaries are shown below.

moore_boundaries2

The path of the tornado was published by NOAA after the event.

moore_track

The center of the tornado path left only debris. The aerial imagery alone makes the path extremely clear.

moore_tornado_satellite_google

Google Crisis Response

FEMA/Jocelyn Augustino

FEMA/Jocelyn Augustino

To capture the concept of a city cut in half, this piece is a 3D printed representation of the boundary of the city with the tornado track cut out, splitting the city in two. The city boundaries are 3D printed with white plastic mounted on wood.

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Iterations

I went down a few paths prior to settling on the simpler, more abstract map. I first attempted to map the population within the city to show that the tornado struck right directly through populated areas. These images show the initial prints I made that show population.

I found the population data interesting, but it muddled the narrative. Instead of focusing on the visceral reaction of a town split down the middle, you start trying to quantify the data. The next attempt was to manipulate the tornado track in various ways. These versions show the “splitting” by ripping the model in three parts and pulling the tornado track out a bit. You can see that I eventually opted to drop the population data entirely.

That got me closer to the result I was looking for, bringing the focus to the track. But I wasn’t really trying to focus on the area that was damaged. What hit me hardest when looking at the maps of the path was how such a hole was left in the middle of this city. How there was simply nothing there.

moore_tornado_2

And so I ended up removing the track entirely, leaving a giant gash through the middle. The result finally got me the kick in the gut I was looking for. A city split in two.

Personal Thoughts

I created this immediately following the tornado, but it didn’t feel right to blog about it in the immediate aftermath, hence the delayed writeup.

My job involves mapping events like the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma. But in doing so I often lose the ability to see the real human impact these events have. I sell software to insurance companies. When a tornado tears through a town, or when a hurricane hits the coast, the usage of our software spikes. Our business benefits when these things happen. Our customers are trying to estimate the damage, calculate the losses, and understand the financial impact. So much of it is about numbers. It’s too easy to see these maps and not recognize that people are dead and an entire city has been shaken to its foundation.

So when the next tornado hits, or the next earthquake, hurricane, or fire, I hope to remember that what really matters are the people. It’s not about the interesting maps, or the buildings destroyed, or the dollars lost. It’s always about the people.

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Maps

Woodcut Map of Golden Gate Park

This is a custom-made map of Golden Gate Park created by the people at Woodcut Maps. I met Gabe Smedresman nearly two years ago at some SF meetup group. He had just launched his new project, woodcutmaps.com, and once I heard about it I was determined to get something made. I had just bought a house on the north side of Golden Gate Park, and I wanted something personal to commemorate our new home.

The map I had made focuses on the park, but includes streets to the north and south to provide context.

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The Woodcut Maps folks made a few customizations to the design for me. The entire map was rotated a slight bit to get the streets running east-west to be perfectly horizontal. The actual streets in San Francisco run at an ever so slight diagonal, but to give the map better symmetry I wanted things to line up perfectly. They also added a small marker for my home on the north side of the park.

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I had originally intended this to be the top of a coffee table. It measures 34″ by 18″, and I believe for a very brief period right when I had it made it was the largest map Woodcut Maps had created (but that record was quickly broken). But instead of mounting it as a tabletop, my wife decided it was so gorgeous that it deserved to be front and center in our living room. So we mounted it on a wood frame and put it above our fireplace.

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I was amazed at how manual the process was to construct these maps. The pieces are all laser cut, but then they are assembled by hand. Here’s a shot of the assembly process. Some of the pieces are really tiny, and it takes a lot of patience working with tweezers to get it all done.

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Since Woodcut Maps is a local San Francisco startup I was able to meet up with them in person to see the process. They even saved a few parts of the construction for me to complete. Here’s a few shots of me putting the last bits of Stow Lake together.

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One last detail shot to show the walking paths around the De Young museum and the Academy of Sciences. I love this park!

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If you want to support a cool local San Francisco business, go check out what they’re doing at Woodcut Maps.

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Art, Maps

Point Nemo Wood Map

The most remote spot on Earth sits in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, over 1,600 miles from land in any direction. It is quite literally the middle of nowhere. And yet, because it’s exactly the middle of nowhere, it’s actually an incredibly remarkable somewhere. This beautifully unique spot is called Point Nemo.

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This map brings focus to this distant pole of inaccessibility. Centered on Point Nemo we have a much simpler map than we’re used to. Instead of focusing on complex land features, we shift to look at the expanse of nothing. The islands closest to Point Nemo, Ducie Island, Motu Nui, and Maher Island, are marked and the 1,670 mile radius around the pole is delineated.

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Continents just barely peak out from the edges with Antarctica to the south and the tip of South America to the east, bringing just enough context to the nearly limitless expanse of sea.

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Creating the Point Nemo laser-cut map

I created the map by first using GeoJSON and D3, which provides enough flexibility to create arbitrary map projections. In this case I needed an equidistant projection centered on Point Nemo. Mike Bostock, the creator of D3, created two examples (here and here) that use the azimuthal equidistant projection that were incredibly helpful.

By modifying those examples to center the location on Point Nemo I was able to create the perfect map with code (click through and view source if interested). The map below draws the continents, then layers on the four points of interest (Point Nemo and the three closest points of land) and draws a circle for the radius around the pole.

nemo_d3_output

And since D3 just produces SVG, it’s easy to save the SVG and open it up in Illustrator to tweak it. A few quick edits and I was able to get the vector file ready for laser cutting and etching. I used Ponoko to cut and etch the design out of wood. If you’re interested in recreating this map, you can download the full vector file I sent off for laser cutting.

point_nemo_ponoko

Once the laser cut parts came back I used a light wood stain to stain the inner radius of the map to visually set it apart.

Geo, D3, Lasers, X-mas, oh my!

This map was my Christmas present for my dad this year. He’s a sailor, and I mean that not in the “day-sail with your buddies” type of way but rather the “single-handedly sail across oceans” kind of way. He hopes to make his way to Point Nemo one day, and this map was my little reminder to him to make it happen.

point_nemo_wood_map4

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Art, Maps

Haiti Earthquake Tree Trunk Map

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This piece is a representation of the January 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti. Laser cut out of different kinds of bamboo, it shows the shake intensity data radiating out from the epicenter near Port-au-Prince.

This devastating earthquake caused massive damage and an unknown number of deaths. Estimates were anywhere from about 80,000 to 300,000 casualties. Even this many years later it’s hard to know the full impact of this event. I remember watching the news for the weeks after this earthquake as they tried to find the dead and survey the damage.

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This is the data from the USGS for the shake intensity. These lines are contour lines showing how strong the shaking was. Looking at this you can almost feel the ripple out from the center.

I was sitting my computer, looking at this data, and I was struck by the pattern here.

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If we look only at the contour lines alone you get this really interesting image. While I was staring at this it occurred to me that his image looked just like the rings of a tree.

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I certainly don’t want to trivialize the Haiti earthquake. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives were lost. But there is something oddly beautiful to think about this one destructive natural process, an earthquake, and the visual similarity to this other natural process, the growth of a tree. A growing tree is something we universally consider beautiful and organic, and representative of life. But both of these are nature doing its thing. One has horrific consequences for us, one is wonderful. But fundamentally they’re just nature running its course. I wanted to create a piece that tried to connect those dots.

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Which is how I ended up with the final piece. It’s made out of two different kinds of wood, and meant to evoke that same beauty that we see when looking at a tree trunk. That same sense of a natural process.

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This serves as a reminder to me. It’s a reminder that sometimes there isn’t much of a difference between something horrific and something beautiful. Deep down the same natural processes were responsible for the destruction in Haiti and the growth of this planet. And these forces, for better or worse, are completely outside of our control. To me there’s a certain beauty in that.

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Data Visualization, Maps

Hurricane Blueprints

As we begin the 2013 hurricane season, I wanted to share something I created after last year’s monumental Superstorm Sandy. After the 2012 hurricane season I was trying to wrap my head around how large Sandy was and how that compared with prior storms. In particular, I wanted to understand how Sandy compared to 2011′s Hurricane Irene.

I thought a blueprint was the appropriate metaphor for comparing these storms. The windfields of the storms are mapped side by side so you can see how large the areas of severe winds were in each event.

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Larger version | Even larger version

All the storms shown are drawn to scale and have their original orientations preserved (so north is up in all the storms). You can see that Sandy, at almost 1,000 miles wide, is nearly twice as wide the prior year’s Hurricane Irene.

To show more detail, here’s a closeup of Sandy:

sandy_blueprint

And Hurricane Irene:

irene_blueprint

We ended up sending prints of these out to our SpatialKey customers who use our hurricane mapping software.

Credits

All storm data is directly from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. The blueprint background is from psdGraphics.

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Art, Maps

Hurricane Coasters

I’ve been creating maps of hurricanes for the last few years. My job involves writing software to assess the impact of an approaching storm, so during an active hurricane season I become a bit obsessed. When you watch these things so closely and so constantly they get burned into your memory. They almost enter your subconscious. They become inkblots on a Rosharch test. Irene, Isaac, Sandy. I started seeing hurricanes everywhere.

hurricane_rorschach

I decided to create something that took these shapes that I was so familiar with. These shapes that were burned into my head. These shapes had become such a constant presence in my mind I figured it was only fitting to make them a constant presence in my home as well, so I created a set of coasters.

hurricane_coasters

The hurricanes on these coasters are all to scale, so you can look at one storm next to the other and compare the sizes or orientations. The image below shows Irene compared with Sandy compared with Isaac. You probably remember Sandy from 2012. Irene was the big storm the year before. And Isaac was the one that swept by Florida during the Republican convention in 2012.

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These shapes now sit on my coffee table. You can compare the sizes to see that Sandy was so much wider than the other storms. And they even work well to hold drinks:

hurricane_coasters_in_use

Laser Cutting with Ponoko

I used Ponoko, which provides laser cutting as a service. I cut my designs out of two different kinds of bamboo, which gave me the two-tone look. Unfortunately, Ponoko seems to have discontinued one of the kinds of bamboo, so recreating coasters like this is a little more difficult now.

I used the Ponoko design template, and sent this design off for laser cutting:

coaster_designs

If you’d like to modify this design and use it yourself, feel free to download the vector EPS file.

I sent that same design off for laser cutting out of two different sheets of bamboo. Once I got the laser cut pieces back, I assembled them and glued them onto a base of corkboard (also ordered from Ponoko).

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Overall I love Ponoko. It’s safe to say I developed a bit of a laser cutting habit (which can certainly start getting expensive). I’ve done a lot of work with Ponoko, and what I get shipped back from them always matches my designs exactly.

Why?

I love the idea of taking these massive things, like Superstorm Sandy, and shrinking them down to such a small scale. Bringing them down to coaster scale.

sandy_coaster

Hurricane Sandy was a huge force of nature. It was 1,000 miles wide. And in its path it left 285 people dead. There’s something I’m trying to get at here, a cognitive dissonance of sorts. We watch these massive events, these things that kill people, and it’s so incredibly hard to really understand that. And so we don’t. We watch the news and we track the data, but we don’t really understand what a thousand mile wide path of destruction really means. These coasters are an attempt to physically embody that discordance.

 

 

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Art, Data Visualization, Maps

Physical Maps – My 360|intersect Presentation

I recently had the privilege  of presenting at 360|intersect in Seattle. My talk explored creating physical map using various techniques like 3D printing, laser cutting, etc. This was a much more artistic exploration than a lot of my previous work, and I am incredibly proud of the pieces I produced. The full video of my presentation is embedded below. I’ll be documenting each of the projects I created in future blog posts, but for now here’s the 45-minute long presenation:

And if you just want to see an overview of the various projects before watching the video, here’s a quick preview of all the projects that I talk about in the presentation:

360_intersect_projects

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Uncategorized

Hackers and Depression: Inform Yourselves About CBT

My wife is a clinical psychologist. Over the past week we’ve had long discussions about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a certain type of therapy that is focused on using evidence-based methods (read: there have been studies showing effectiveness), with a particular emphasis on rational reasoning and pragmatic ways to tackle issues like depression and anxiety. The overlap with programming in terms of the way of thinking is astounding.

As a community, we rarely talk about mental illness. It takes high profile cases like Aaron Swartz’s suicide to get us to even bring up the subject, but more than likely we’ll revert back to our isolation and pretend like depression isn’t a serious issue in the tech world. We need to face depression, not sweep it under the rug.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with depression, please take a look at CBT. This article is a joint effort between a programmer (me) and a psychologist (my wife). I bet it’s the first article about therapy you’ve seen that uses code snippets to illustrate points.

CBT is for Hackers:

The tragedy to me is this: one of the most effective and scientifically-backed treatments for depression appears to be a stunning fit for hackers, and yet few people know about it. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and it has some of its origins in computer science.

Born out of the cognitive revolution of the 1950s, a key idea within cognitive psychology is that by studying successful functions in computer science, it becomes possible to make testable inferences about human psychological processes. Cognitive behavioral therapists mirror hackers in how they see the world and approach problems. They share the same core values: an emphasis on problem solving as efficiently and effectively as possible, using logic to debug a system, gathering data to test out what works and what doesn’t, and implementing transparent methods that others can understand and replicate as opposed to simply putting your faith in a “magic black box”. CBT and hackers are long lost kindred spirits, yearning to be reunited.

Read the full CBT is for Hackers article.

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Data Visualization

Drug Side-Effect Warnings as Word Clouds

I’m always amazed at how happy the voice on TV commercials sounds when describing a litany of horrible-sounding side-effects from a prescription medication. I was just watching the nice cartoon lady telling me about Abilify when I overheard this:

<queue birds chirping> <nice music playing> Contact your doctor if you have uncontrollable muscle movements, as these could become permanent. Other risks include decreases in white blood cells, which can be serious, dizziness upon standing, seizures –

Errr, wait, what the fuck? Can we not have the nice guitar strumming along with a quaint melody in the background while you tell me that if I take this pill I might not be able to control my muscles and might start having seizures? Your soothing, monotonous tone is both putting me to sleep and freaking me out at the same time.

We’ve all heard these side-effect warnings in commercials, or seen them on packaging in the tiniest tiny print. It’s not uncommon to hear some soothing voice say something like “Side effects include headache, drowsiness, sore throat, and death.” Uhhhh. I’m ok with most of those, but one of these things is not like the other.

And yet the commercials or fine print don’t really tell you what’s likely to be a side effect versus what’s unlikely. Turns out, though, that if you do some research, the significance of the side effects of various prescription pills are available online. You just have to dig. For example, here’s the product sheet for Zoloft. And it has a section about side effects that looks like this:

Now we’re getting some real numbers. If only there was a way to quickly see what the most common side effects of various drugs were at a glance.

Here’s my take on redesigning the information presentation. We’ll start off with a fun one, which is the popular anti-depressant Zoloft:

Ain’t that a bitch? I guess the good news is if you’re nauseous, then ejaculation failure might not be that big a concern. The side-effects are sized by computing the difference in the percentages between the placebo group and the group taking the medication. In this case 14% of patients taking Zoloft experienced ejaculation failure, versus only 1% in the control group.

Here’s another anti-depressant, Abilify (source data):

And now of course we have other drugs to counteract some of these side-effects, so why not trying to counteract the negative Zoloft effects by popping a Viagra? Here are the new side effects you get to enjoy (source data):

And once that Viagra’s worn off you might be looking for a cigarette. But try Nicotrol (details) instead, you’ll get to take your chances with the following side effects:

Now at a glance you can see what you need to worry about and what you don’t. I imagine these beautiful labels on the side of the prescription boxes :) Well, at least I can dream.

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Uncategorized

RIP Aaron Swartz

I’m in academic publishing. My grandparents founded a publishing company. My father ran it for a decade. I sit on the board of directors. You could say academic publishing is in my blood.

Today I am nauseous. Aaron Swartz is dead. I don’t know whether or not he would be alive today if he wasn’t prosecuted so aggressively for “stealing” academic journal articles. But what I do know is that this is a dark day in our history. It is a stain on the entire academic publishing industry.

I fiercely believe that as academic publishers we make the world a better place. We do good. I also believe there is a place for publishers in the Internet age. We’re working hard to figure out how to navigate these times. But everyone involved in this industry should be ashamed today.

We lost a genius. We lost a rebel.

I’m proud to be in publishing. But today I am nauseous. Today I am deeply sad. Today I am ashamed.

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