data viz


Minimal Maps, Big Data: Michael Pecirno Makes Data Visualization Both Beautiful and Illuminating

Michael Pecirno is a multi-disciplinary designer based out of London, England. Originally trained as an architect and later working as an art director, his practice focuses on storytelling through visual and built experiences. Minimal Maps is an ongoing project by Pecirno that explores how richly-detailed single subject maps can give us new imagery to understand our landscape. For example, corn fields take up 91 million acres of the American landscape, a staggering 4.83% of the contiguous United States. Though the value sounds astounding, visualizing what 4.83% of the American landscape looks like, or furthermore, where this land is, is extraordinarily difficult. These maps, which use tremendous amounts of raw data provided by the USDA, attempt to accurately and explicitly convey this information. Pecirno’s maps and research, the latest of which will be shown at the Chicago Architecture Biennial this fall, provide an alternative to the often information-poor data visualization maps that have become ubiquitous today. 

languages are you

just as the family in the swiss family robinson was not named robinson in the book, the 7 dwarfs from snow white and the 7 dwarfs also had no names until disney got involved. these now iconic dwarf aptronyms have since been translated into every language in which disney has found a market and i have made it my morning’s duty to translate them back.

i was reading an old book once that had the very curious phrase “translated out of german” on its title page. i assumed “out of” was just a colloquialism for the much more standard “from” but it wasn’t until i was discussing it with a friend that i learned what it actually meant. apparently the original text was written in latin, then translated into german, and the book i was reading was a translation out of it [into english]. it was the whisper-down-the-lane method of literature!

this dwarf chart is thus a translation out of various languages back to english.

ie. dopey (english) > cucciolo (italian) > puppy (english)

i used google translate for all the terms and was pleased at the proficiency of its engine. when i entered the list of 7 names, it would immediately recognise them as disney’s dwarfs and give me a perfect translation. entering each name separately, without context was the only way to get google to stumble.

you wonder how the utopian present leads to the dystopian future? i’m not totally certain, however it probably has something to do with google robots trying to foil my understanding of forest dwarfs and their associated personalities.


i used this list and other online discussions to determine the dwarf names in other languages. obviously, the lists and my chosen translation service are not without error.

“When residents of Ecatepec, Mexico look to the hills, they now see the faces of crime victims staring back at them. Enormous photographic portraits cover concrete homes as part of a community art project that captures what has become a Mexican obsession: visualizing victimhood or, more broadly, turning cold, mind-numbing data back into real people.”

In the wake of the Orlando shooting — the deadliest in recent U.S. history, with 49 victims — calls for gun control have once again grown louder. In fact, they were shouted on the House floor on Monday. After Speaker Paul Ryan led a moment of silence, Democrats yelled, “Where’s the bill?” at him, asking for new gun-control measures.

This isn’t new. The word “doomed” has become a common adjective to describe gun-control efforts. Mass shootings like those in San Bernardino, Calif., Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and Fort Hood looked like they might fuel efforts to tighten laws, but gun-control advocates have found their efforts perpetually frustrated.

Efforts to pass federal gun control measures often get a lot of press, but state and local laws also play a big part in determining how people can purchase and own guns. After the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting last year, President Obama asked Congress, as well as state and local governments, to take action.

The strictness of gun laws varies widely from state to state. We’ve put together state-by-state maps on some of the most important gun laws. Check out what nine types of gun-safety measures look like in your state, via data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Here’s Where Gun Laws Stand In Your State

Graphics: Danielle Kurtzleben/NPR

raynor ganan signature masala

one of my 2012 goals is to create a raynor ganan signature masala™—a sekrit spice blend that people will want to flavor everything from their eggs to their popcorn with. to do so, i’ve been scouring the local spice markets for exotic ingredients from far off corners of the globe. i have a rudimentary concoction right now but i’ve come to a very important realisation: namely, while i know what spices i like, i have no idea how spices go together. to help me better understand the synergy among turmeric and thyme and coriander and cream of tartar, i developed this chart which breaks down established spice blends into their (sometimes) shared ingredients. and now i am one step closer to inventing the next ranch seasoning.


on another flavor note: if you have any advice for me about what ingredients should go into the raynor ganan signature masala™, i would really really like to hear from you. perhaps you know of a rare local spice that the international flavor market overlooks. maybe you grow a special aphrodisiac mushroom in your basement and want to tell me how tasty it is. perhaps there was a fictional spice in a science fiction novel that you want me to investigate. let me know!


Commutators & Galois

Suppose I had a machine that could quickly solve equations for me and plot the results. What would happen if I wiggled the inputs—how would the answers dance?

Boaz Katz uploaded a video showing Abel’s theorem—that quintic+ polynomials can’t be solved with radicals.†

The idea for this visualisation is apparently due to V I Arnol’d, from the 60’s

Here’s a code sketch in R:

#there’s some bogus R nonsense about c() and list() coming...
swirl <- list(start)

#twiddle the 6 inputs around
for (j in 1:326/8) {
swirl <- c( swirl, list( start + c(0,-8*twiddler(j)*j,0,8*twiddler(j)*j,0,0) ) ) } #change the zeroes to twiddle the other coefficients require(magrittr)    #as if you didn't already! require(animation) #you can replace this with just the 'for' loop for testing saveGIF({  for (swoop in swirl) {    #side by side    par(mfrow=c(1,2));

#organising the plots with aesthetic stuff on a second line; is that more readable? plot( swoop, pch=19, main='coefficients', xlim=c(-3,3), ylim=c(-3,3), col=rgb(0,0,0, 1-1:6/10) ); #polyroot finds the answers for you, and so is in some sense the “main part” of this script. If I feed polyroot(1,2,-3) it solves x² + 2x − 3 = 0. polyroot( swoop ) %>% plot(pch=19, cex=2, col=rainbow(5), main='solutions', xlim=c(-3,2), ylim=c(-3,5) ) }}, interval=.03,'Abel-Ruffini.5.clown-balls.gif', ani.width=700, ani.height=300)

The mathematics lesson, I guess, is that:

  • even though the braid you twirl with the coefficients is pretty simple (mostly just going around the outside),
  • the braid on the right is more interesting.

In Katz’s video you can see the noncommutativity of the commutator: he swaps coefficients a↔b, then b↔a, but the answers (roots) have by then switched.

Anyway, with this code you can twiddle the coefficients of quintic or whatever degree polynomial you like, and get a feeling for the Abel-Ruffini theorem yourself. In making this graphic I played around to several others and hopefully the above code will run without modification, so you can feed 3 numbers into polyroot(-, -, -) for a cubic, 7 numbers into

Here’s a few last code bits: rcomp start for a quartic. Then options(digits=1); (rcomp(4) -> coefficients); coefficients %>% polyroot is your basic pattern before plotting.

Have fun!

They can be solved with elliptic functions, which I understood better after reading parts of (a) John Stillwell’s book and (b) Ash & Gross’ book

On Saturday March 28th NYSCI presented the Big Data Fest, a day long event dedicated to exploring how data is gathered, visualized, what its used for, and how it effects our lives.  

To participate in the Festival the Makerspace hosted a free workshop where visitors created collaborative data visualization sculptures while learning how to use basic wood shop tools.  Each participant learned how to use a tool like a hammer, saw, or drill, to add one bit of ‘data’ to the sculpture, like their height, age, or number of siblings.  

The first sculpture visualized how many siblings visitors have.  They used a drill to create various sized holes according to how many siblings they had. The smallest hole represented 0 siblings and the largest represented 4 siblings.  If someone had more than 4 they used multiple drill bits to add up to the total number and connected the holes with a line.  

The next activity visitors measured their height with a measuring. They translated that measurement in to inches, for example if the visitor was 4′ 5″ that would equal 4.5 in. Then, they measured out and marked 4.5 inches on a dowel and cut it to size with a saw and mitre box.  

The dowels pieces were then initialed and hot glued to a board to represent the data collected. We used square dowels for boys and circular dowels for girls.

The third data visualization sculpture reflected the visitors favorite exhibits. We wrote the names of 4 different NYSCI exhibits (Hall of Mirrors, Bubble Table, Design Lab Sand Box, and the Multiplication Machine) on 4 large boards and asked visitors to rate them on a scale of 1 to 5.  They used a hammer and different sized nails to express how much they liked the exhibit. 

The final activity allowed visitors of all ages, from the Littlest Maker to the proudest grandparent, to contribute.  We had laser cut discs of cardboard that represented different age groups 0-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-30, 31-50, and 51+.  Visitors would then take the disc that matched their age, trace it out onto a piece of craft foam, and cut it out.  While many chose to decorate the front and back it was really the edges of the circles that created a beautiful effect when they were then stacked on top of each other over the course of the day.  

The Big Data Fest was a Big Success!  Thee collaborative data visualization sculptures came out fantastic and allowed the visitors to contribute personal information to create beautiful patterns of visualized data.  It’s always nice to see the excitement in visitors eyes when we offer a new experience in the Maker Space. 

Berlin Wall: A Data Visualization

When we think about the Berlin Wall, despite having an idea of how its length, we can’t easily envisage its real size. With this question in my mind, I decided to create a computer generated 3D model of the wall compiled together in a single frame.

I started by conducting some research on Wikipedia:

The “fourth-generation wall” (Grenzmauer 75) , known officially as “Stützwandelement UL 12.11″ , was the final and most sophisticated version of the  Berlin Wall. Begun in 1975 and completed about 1980, it was constructed from 45.000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 metres high and 1.2 metres wide. The concrete provisions added to this version of the Wall were done so as to prevent escapees from driving their cars through the barricades (“L” shape structure). The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall.“

The next step was to make a 3D model of a single segment from its blueprint and then duplicate it 45 thousand times. At that point I needed to decide how to compose all the pieces, so I ended up placing them together in the same proportions all from of a single segment. Doing this ensured that we are able to see both the shape of a single segment, on a larger scale, with more detail and the entire quantity that makes up the wall (exactly 45K pieces) together.

To envisage the actual size of the wall, the colossal structure (240 metres high) was placed in Alexanderplatz in true scale.

Photograph Copyright : © F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH

Another step of the project is to have a 3D printed version of this fractal design in 1:1 scale (3,6 meters). So the viewer can easily recognise its form from a distance and upon closer inspection the wall can be viewed in its entirety. I am in search of commissions or sponsors to have it printed. Please contact me if you are interested.

To demonstrate the 3D printed structure in real scale, it was virtually inserted next to original wall segments at Berlin Wall Gallery of Newseum in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/Newseum

In this animation you see the whole fractal structure (exactly 45.000 segments) with a collapsing simulation. The original full length animation piece is available in 5+1 editions and FullHD resolution.

Please check my site for more info! >>>

I just got back from a vacation in Oceania (which is why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks). The flight path home included a leg from Melbourne to Los Angeles. During the 15 hours of sitting, I thought to myself that it must be one of the longest flights in the world.  As it turns out, it isn’t even in the top 10; it’s the 12th longest.  I’ve mapped the geodesics of the top 20 commercial flights here. With the recent problems at Qantas (and with airlines in general) some of these may change soon, but these are the current paths. Note that, because I’ve used a Robinson projection, some flights that go over the Arctic Circle appear longer than they are, so I’ve added a color scheme and listed the lengths on the map.

Data source:

movie magic

i was watching sense & sensibility in the back of my neighbour’s minivan while on a stakeout the other night and realized that professors snape, trelawney, and umbridge had each somehow apparated into the cast. my neighbour (who is a former hogwarts alumna) pointed out that cornelius fudge and madam pomfrey were also in it. was this a record for the most harry potter wizards in a non-harry potter film? i decided to abandon the surveillance (there was only one pair of high-powered binoculars anyway) and scrape some data from the imdb.

the project turned out to be bigger than i expected. there were hundreds of wizards and tens of thousands of movies in which they appear. in the end, when the pixie dust settled, i was left with at least 23 movies infiltrated by 4 or more potter people. i made this chart (click to engorgio) to show the tangled relationships among them.

here are a few observations:

  • the movie with the most harry potter wizards in it is vanity fair with an unprecedented 9* wizards. 
  • the muggle that these wizards most like to work with is johnny depp who stars in 4 of these movies (3 of which were directed by tim burton).
  • horace slughorn (a known attention whore) has wormed his way into no fewer than 5 of these movies, the most of any wizard.
  • conspiracy theory: 6 of these movies were in theatres before the first harry potter book was released. there is even historical evidence that 4 wizards worked on crook’s anonymous which was released back in 1962 before magic was invented.
  • the sorting hat and aragog were in king ralph? i’ll have to rewatch that one on tonight’s stakeout.


fwiwthis program works a magic all its own.

update (3/22/2011): hello kottke companions! the last time we bumped into each other was here, and if you don’t mind me saying so, the intervening year has been very kind to your physical appearances. here are some other information visualisation thingy-doos that you might enjoy.

update (3/25/2011): the chart has been updated here to reflect two additional 4-wizard movies (in bruges & nanny mcphee returns). additionally, mafalda hopkirk has been linked to more movies and spelling errors have been corrected. xenophilius now rivals slughorn for appearing in the most films with other wizards. this list is worth a perusal. thanks to sarah, matthew, michael, and jen.

*and also at least one extra who worked on both films.

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak and California's Most Dangerous School Districts for Kindergartners

To attend a public or private U.S. elementary school, children must be up to date with the following vaccinations: Polio, Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Measels-Mumps-Rubella, Hepatitis B and Varicella. 

In this Silk we look at the numbers behind public kindergartens enrollments and the relative immunization statistics. The source of the data is the California Department of Public Health. We’ve focused on public kindergartens, and have aggregated statistics on public vs. private.

Here’s 5 things we found:

  • In 22 Californian schools districts 50% or more of the children are not up to date with vaccinations. Of these, almost a fourth are located in Humboldt County. Explore this fact here.
  • 7.5% of the children in CA public kindergartens are missing the Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis vaccine. Explore this fact here.
  • In 8 public school districts more than half of the kindergartners don’t have all mandatory vaccinations because of parents’ personal beliefs. Explore this fact here.
  • At Big Sur Charter, 10 out of 13 children (77%) aren’t up to date with vaccinations because of personal beliefs. Explore this fact here.
  • Personal beliefs exempt from required vaccinations 6% of grade-K children enrolled in California’s private schools. In public school the number is “only” 3%. Explore this fact here.