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,, 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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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.


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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Art, Maps, Portfolio

Haiti Earthquake Tree Trunk Map


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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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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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.


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.


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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:



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.

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.


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.


My Apache Flex Logo Contest Submissions

Now that Flex is being moved to the Apache Software Foundation, it’s time for a new logo. A logo contest is currently underway (ends today I think). Here are my two submissions. Each one has more detailed variations and explanations of the thought process if you view the full submission.

Logo 1

Main Themes: Cross-platform, progress, advancing forward, new beginnings

This logo is meant to combine the symbols of an arrow and an X. The arrow means “moving forward”, which has a number of connotations (moving forward with Apache, a fresh start for the project, advancing the state of the art in web/desktop/mobile development). The X means “cross platform”, which should be pretty self-explanatory to anyone who uses Flex. The combination of the two symbols means “Advancing cross-platform development.”

See the full treatment with explanation.

Logo 2

Main Themes: Stability, strength, enterprise

The second logo tries to capture the enterprise story. Flex is the foundation of many enterprise applications. It provides a core set of components and tools, on top of which we build stable, powerful, robust applications that drive real businesses. This logo has Flex as a strong base. Built on top we have a symbolic chart, but this symbol is also meant to represent a skyline of skyscrapers. Our apps power large enterprises and drive business. Flex is the foundation of enterprise development.

See the full treatment with explanation.