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The Office for Creative Research JOURNAL #002

2016 The Office for Creative Research, some rights reserved. The Office for Creative Research Journal #002 is published under the Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial NoDerivatives 4.0 International) License Published by The Office for Creative Research Library of Congress Cataloging in-publication data The Office for Creative Research The Office for Creative Research Journal #002 / The Office for Creative Research 224 pages ISBN-13: 978-0-692-80711-8 Printed and bound in Canada by Hemlock Printers, Ltd.

First edition, first printing. November, 2016

11 27 45 47 51

Turning Data Around

59 65 79 81

Virtual Reality and Tracking Data


The Calls Left Unanswered GENEVIEVE HOFFMAN

Catching Up With OCR Friday Alumni CANDY CHAN

Catching Up With OCR Friday Alumni JASON SCHULTZ

Feedback, Context, and the Cybernetic Qualities of Information SARAH GROFF HENNIGH-PALERMO


When the Government Counts Calories CHRIS ANDERSON

Catching Up With OCR Friday Alumni MAHIR YAVUZ

Catching Up With OCR Friday Alumni PAUL FORD

87 97 111 129 137 143 151 179 193

Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children KATE RATH


To the Machine NOA YOUNSE

Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans ZARAH CABAÑAS

Catching Up With OCR Friday Alumni PHOENIX PERRY


Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas JANE FRIEDHOFF


Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia A’YEN TRAN


Jer Thorp

11 Turning Data Around

On a September morning in 2014, the students at Hunter College High School filed past security and into the hallways, to find that their school had been labeled the saddest place in Manhattan. Five months earlier, researchers in Cambridge, Massachusetts had pulled more than six hundred thousand tweets from Twitter’s public API and fed them through sentiment analysis routines. If a tweet contained words that were deemed to be sad — maybe “cry” or “frown” or “miserable”, an emotional mark for sadness would be placed on a map of the city. As more tweets classified as sad happened near a specific area, more marks would be placed on the map, and more sadness would be ascribed to that particular place. The result was a kind of sedimentary layer of emotion on top of New York City. If you looked at the map that came out of the study, you’d probably ask about a deep purple spot of lament just to the right of Central Park’s reservoir; if you looked that spot up in Google Maps, you’d find that it sat right on top of HCHS. If you then thought about when the tweets had been collected (in the spring), you might arrive at a hypothesis similar to New England Complex Systems Institute’s president, Yaneer Bar-Yam:

I checked the high school calendar and found that the spring vacation period in 2012 was April 9–13, so that students would be returning to school on the 16th, just during the period of the data collection, April 13–26, 2012. This provided a rationale for the low sentiment there.

Jer Thorp

12 Turning Data Around

Sad students returning from spring break — it seemed to Bar-Yam like an interesting finding. The press agreed. Stories about the study, and about this sad Upper East Side school appeared in Nature, then in The New York Times. In advance of their story, the city’s newspaper of record dispatched a reporter to talk to the students at this “Saddest Spot in Manhattan,” to gauge their reaction to the study. “I mean, I can see why it could make sense,” one fourteenyear-old student told the reporter. “The school has no windows, so being inside can seem dark and depressing. And some kids do get stressed out from the workload.” Unwittingly, the staff and students at Hunter College High had found themselves inside a microcosm of the “Big Data” world that we’ve all been made to inhabit. It’s a world in which we are all being data-fied from a distance, our movements and conversations processed into product recommendations and sociology papers and watch lists, where the average citizen doesn’t know the role they are playing, surrounded by machinery built by and for others. It’s a world that flows in one direction: data comes from us, but it rarely returns to us. The systems that we’ve created are designed to be unidirectional: data is gathered from people, it’s processed by an assembly line of algorithmic machinery,

and spit out to an audience of different people—surveillors and investors and academics and data scientists. Data is not collected for high school students, but for people who want to know how high school students feel. This new data reality is from us, but it isn’t for us. So how can we turn data around? How can we build new data systems that start as two-way streets, and consider the individuals from whom the data comes as first-class citizens?


14 Turning Data Around

Of all of Big Data’s oversold promises, perhaps the most dangerous is that it is passive. It’s very easy to get carried away with the long-distance magic of APIs and machine learning, to use these technologies to scan from afar. But our scanning isn’t harmless; our analyses not without effect. Those high school students that you’ve classified as sad feel something when they read the results of your study. One thing that we can to turn data around is to start our work by saying these three words aloud: consider the humans. Every part of a data system — the mechanisms for collection, the storage and parsing machinery, and the modes of representation, should be designed and built with two central questions in mind: How might my work benefit the people from whom the data came? How could my work harm those same people? We can direct these questions toward the methods in which data is gathered and computed upon. Do I have permission


When the celebrated urbanist Jane Jacobs was considering the sad state of cities in America in the late 1950s, she realized that there weren’t many working mechanisms for feedback.

15 Turning Data Around


Jer Thorp

to collect the data, and to use it in the way that I intend? It’s true that Twitter’s blanket user agreement grants you and I and anyone else the right to read a person’s tweets, but it’s an entirely different ethical act to label a high school student with an emotion, then to publish this in a public forum. Perhaps terms-of-use agreements need not only to cover how much data you can download, but also in which ways the data can be used and presented. Until then, though, it’s up to us as authors and architects of data systems to be critical about what we’re collecting and what we are doing with it. We can also point the same questions about benefit and harm at representation. Data visualizations might seem inert, but there are many ways they can cause harm. A visualization might bring unwanted attention to a person or a group (or a high school). A map can trivialize human experience, by reducing a life to a dot or a vector. Representations of violent or tragic events can be traumatic to people that were directly or indirectly involved. We’re well trained to be aghast at a truncated Y-axis or an un-squared circle; we need to expand our criticality to include the possible social impacts of “wellmade” visualizations.

Jer Thorp

16 Turning Data Around

She saw that the processes of the modern city could and did run out control, because the outputs of these processes were not tightly tied to the inputs. In particular she recognized that financial success tended to reduce neighbourhood diversity, and that there was no mechanism in the city to control this decline. Neighbourhoods followed a downward diversity spiral until they were bleak and unproductive shadows of their former selves. Data systems that don’t directly engage with the individuals and communities from whom the data came carry similar risks: without mechanisms for correction they will tend to careen off in destructive directions. We might start by asking: who has agency in the systems that we are creating? As authors, we certainly do: we choose from whom we collect data, which pieces of information we collect and exclude, what algorithms we use to process the data, and how it is represented. Are any of these instruments for control offered to the people who reside inside the structures that we design? I’ve often said that the true medium of the data artist, or the data visualizer, or the data analyst, is the decision. Each decision that we make—which colour to use or which rows to exclude or which sentiment analysis algorithm to choose — changes the work fundamentally. Each time we make a decision we place our project into a completely different possibility space, changing the way that it functions and the way that it can be received. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs not only pointed at the need for feedback, she wondered how it would manifest. “What can we do with cities,” Jacobs asked, “to make up for this omission?” With data systems, where agency

is so closely tied to the choice, we can provide mechanisms for feedback by giving people the power to make decisions. In granting this ability to decide, we implicitly tell the people living in data that they are active citizens.


Jer Thorp

18 Turning Data Around

In 1947 John Kirtland Wright, a librarian, gave the presidential address to the American Geography Society. In his speech, he coined a term meant to act as a counter to the very word geography, and what it had come to represent, both in the field and to the general public. Where geography was compounded from the Greek words for “earth” and “description,” Wright’s new word, geosophy, translated to “earth knowledge.” This new field, he proposed, would be focused “on the results that knowledge produces on the face of the earth, rather than on the geographical nature of knowledge itself.” He went on to say that geosophy would move past scientific geographic knowledge to consider “the geographical ideas, both true and false, of all manner of people — not only geographers, but farmers and fishermen, business executives and poets, novelists and painters, Bedouins and Hottentots.” While the information of geography came from objectivity and precision, the wisdom of geosophy would stem from subjectivity, and deep consideration of lived experience. It’s true that terms like “subjectivity” and “lived experience” seem in opposition to our accepted data philosophies. As the

Of the various adjectives that we’ve tacked onto the word data, one of the most common is “public.” If we’ve become more aware in recent years of the pervasive dark side of data systems, public data is often held up as the light. We even hear it offered to us as a reasonable reward for all of the sticky, painful, and downright destructive effects of the big data constructs we’re made to inhabit. And yet, most public data is not public, in any real way.

19 Turning Data Around


Jer Thorp

makers of data systems, our deeply entrenched Tuftean ideals put us tightly in line with the geographers. We seek the truth through precise measurement and steady denial of biases. The conservatism of this approach, though, leaves us focused on a few selected ways of speaking to a very particular audience. As the builders of data systems, I believe we have been deeply lacking in imagination. As Wright might say, we’ve been “thickly encrusted in the prosaic,” too busy exploring what we can do with the tools in our hands to think about what others may do with those same tools. Or to consider what kinds of tools others might create were they given the means. Our lack of imagination has made it hard to envision how others might live in the systems we’re creating. By adopting a “datosophy” approach, and embracing subjectivity, we might find that data becomes a tool not only for reduction and generalization, but for empathy and understanding.

21 Turning Data Around

On an unseasonably warm November morning last year, I stood in the lobby of Hunter College High School, waiting to speak with Lisa Siegmann, the school’s assistant principal. I was interested in how the New York Times article had been received

Jer Thorp

Think first about the White House, which is public, but surrounded by a tall fence and patrolled by armed guards. You might get to go inside on a brief tour, but unless you’re extremely lucky or the president, they probably won’t let you wander around. Now consider a library, which is public because it is free and accessible to anyone. There’s a wheelchair ramp by the front door, there’s a TTS line to talk to a librarian, there’s a school group walking in the front door. Placed on this library >> White House axis, I’d argue that almost every public data project we’ve been building has a tall iron gate in lieu of a open door; a security guard standing in the place of a librarian. Our classic fora for data — the research report, the textbook, the data blog, the policy paper—are by their nature exclusive. To manifest real data publics we need to place data in real, functioning public places. When is the last time you saw a bar graph in a park? Read a scatter plot in a public square? Listened to a sonification in museum? By bringing our work out into shared spaces, we can force data into a new public role. We can also drag our work past the tech elite that we are used to as an audience, to put it in front of what John Kirtland Wright would have called “all manner of people.”

Jer Thorp

22 Turning Data Around

by students, and what the aftermath (if any) was of being so publicly labeled as the saddest spot in the city. Actually, I wanted her reaction to the school being labeled as sad and then unlabeled three weeks later. As it turned out, the researchers from New England had made a big mistake. Their geocoding code, the part that turns a place name or an address into a point on a map, was faulty. Hunter High was not the saddest place in the data set, it was merely sad-adjacent, unlucky to be located nearby a single Twitter account that had been posting a lot of content that was getting labeled as unhappy. If that wasn’t bad enough, the scientists had missed a deeper error in their “sad high school” hypothesis that left the premise completely indefensible. The assistant principal was running late, so I stood by the security desk with a small group of parents and waited. I couldn’t help but look at the students that walked by and try to assess their emotional state. When Siegmann arrived she led me upstairs, past a small lineup of students waiting to see her, and into her office. Siegmann seemed wary to dredge the article up again, but she was candidly direct about how she and the school had reacted. “Nobody believed the article,” she said. “First, this is not a sad school,” she added, taking a minute to explain the various activities that the students participate in and the awards that the school and the students had won. “Second,” she said, “no one in this school uses Twitter.” As it turns out, HCHS doesn’t permit students to use social media while they’re in the building. The administration knows that students are breaking the rules, and they also know

Jer Thorp

23 Turning Data Around

which social platforms they are surreptitiously using: Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. But not Twitter. Twitter, as Siegmann explained to me, “is for old people.” The Hunter College High fiasco is a perfect example of how data systems can fail end-to-end: a retracted story about a false premise, fed by a faulty algorithm, feeding on bad data. All balanced on top of an impossible premise. It’s also a reflection of the kinds of big data stories that we’re so eager to believe: where a large data set combined with novel algorithms shows us some secret that we would not otherwise have seen. What brought me to the principal’s office that morning though, was not to find another way to critique a study or to place blame on the researchers or their broken algorithms. I was there because I can remember so clearly what it was like to be in high school; to be vulnerable and afraid and powerless. How being labeled could feel like being struck. How nothing seemed to be under my control, and no one seemed to hear my voice. I can also remember how I found agency in the face of all of that overwhelming possibility through, of all things, computer programming. How could it be that the very same thing that offered me escape thirty years ago was now being used to make the lives of high school students worse? On the subway home, I resolved to double-down on The Office for Creative Research’s data humanist mission. This year we’ve released a citizen science tool that allows 10,000 chronic pain sufferers to make and share hypotheses about pain and weather correlations. We built a sixty-foot-long walkthrough histogram of public data in front of Manchester’s town hall. Next year we’re releasing a new version of Floodwatch,

Jer Thorp


a tool that allows people to monitor their exposure to web advertisement, and to donate their data to researchers investigating discriminatory practices. In February, we’re taking over an abandoned school in one of St. Louis’s most poverty-stricken and racially divided neighborhoods to make the Map Room, a community space for map-making and data exploration. We’re doing all of this because we believe here is a better way forward with data. To find it, we’ll have to leave the utilitarian rhetoric of “Big Data” behind, and replace it with Human Data. We’ll need to deconstruct the systems we’ve created and rebuild them so that they no longer flow downstream from people and communities, but upstream towards them. In doing so, we can help to author a new data world that is liveable for everyone. v

Turning Data Around

A week’s worth of incidents in Flint, MI August 1 -7, 2016 Opaque calls were answered Transparent calls were not


27 The Calls Left Unanswered

1  Ryan Felton, “How Flint traded safe drinking water for cost-cutting plan that didn’t work.” The Guardian, January 23, 2016, flint-water-crisis-cost-cutting-switch-water-supply

Genevieve Hoffman

Flint is a small city with a big reputation. In the 1960s, it was known for cars—GM headquartered its company in Flint and massive factories like Buick City employed thousands of people. In the 1990s it became a symbol of the nation’s dying manufacturing industry and suburban white flight. Today, the city is probably best known for its devastating water crisis. In 2014, a cost-cutting measure to change water sources backfired horribly and corroded the city’s water pipes, leaching lead into the drinking supply. While the original decision to change water supplies was intended to save $5 million, repairing Flint’s damaged water infrastructure will ultimately cost between $750 million and $1.5 billion 1. Covered up by government officials, the water toxicity was only brought to light due to the efforts of private citizens, doctors, and researchers. But this piece is not about water. This piece is about Flint’s underfunded police department trying to meet the needs of its overwhelmingly impoverished citizens. It’s about the potential for social media to fill in the gaps when city departments lack the resources for community outreach. And it’s about the potential for data to inform the reality of police work in the face of austere budgeting.

Zack Canepari is a photographer and filmmaker who’s been documenting life in Flint for the past five years. He came to Flint to cover the rise of Olympian Claressa ‘T-Rex’ Shields, who in 2012 won the first gold medal in women’s boxing at the age of seventeen. He invited me to collaborate on a chapter about the Flint Police Department for an online documentary series about the city, to see if there might be an opportunity for data visualization to help tell the story of Flint’s overstretched police force. Genevieve Hoffman

Population in Flint, MI from 1920-2015 200,000


28 The Calls Left Unanswered














Flint’s population from 1920 to 2015 source:

Before the water crisis, Flint was the namesake of the vanishing industrial workforce in America. Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me highlighted GM’s decision to start shutting down its factories in the area. Flint, which was ground zero for automotive manufacturing unions in the US after a worker sit-in strike in 1937, suffered the fate of many union labor dominated industries. By the late ‘80s,

29 The Calls Left Unanswered

2  Roy Fonger, “Flint’s population falls below 100,000 for first time since the 1920s,” mlive. com, May 22, 2014. Web: falls_below.html. Domestic aid programs like HUD’ Community Development Block Grant allocate funds based on population.

Genevieve Hoffman

GM began moving its factories to Mexico and other cheaper manufacturing areas, closing Buick City in 1999 and laying off thousands of workers. Lack of employment opportunities, frustration with and fear of crime, and white flight to suburban areas have all contributed to the city’s shrinking size. Since the 1960s, when Flint’s population peaked at almost 200,000, the city has lost half of its residents. In 2013, the population dipped below 100,000 for the first time in years. Not only does this pattern mimic trends in other Rust Belt cities like Detroit and St. Louis, but it also affects Flint’s ability to receive federal and state funding. As the former Flint City Council President Scott Kincaid declared in a 2014 interview, “Our block grant dollars will be treated like other small cities and townships. [Being under 100,000] will substantially reduce our federal funding.” 2 State funding would also be reduced to reflect a smaller city’s need. Many federal and state grant programs have fixed formulas to determine the best ways to allocate funding. Oftentimes a shrinking population won’t be able to rely on as much funding as they did in the past, or lose eligibility for some programs entirely. In addition to these issues, the state of Michigan has dramatically reduced Flint’s options to address its shrinking tax base. In 1978 and 1994, Michigan passed laws that limit city governments’ ability to increase tax revenue, and reduced

Genevieve Hoffman

30 The Calls Left Unanswered

the amount that the state was required to share with local governments. From 1998 to 2012, funds going from Michigan state revenue to city governments dropped from $900 million to $215 million, a seventy-six percent decrease. 3 Over the same period, sales tax revenues went from $6.6 billion to $7.72 billion, leaving the state with a billion dollar surplus while it decreased grants to city governments. 4 Today, Flint, MI is the country’s second most povertystricken city for its size. 5 41% of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to about 14% nationally. 6 In 2010 to 2012, it had the highest rate of crime per capita among cities with more than 100,000 residents (when it still barely had over 100,000), leading some news outlets to dub it “the most violent city in America.” 7 The rise in crime is correlated with other cost-saving measures the city has had to put in place to account for its diminished tax base. In 2003, Flint reduced its police force by almost half, bringing it down to 112 officers. Over the next decade, crime rates soared, making Flint top the FBI’s most dangerous cities in America for three years in a row between 2010–2012. On a typical day, the police department gets about 400 dispatch calls. Only around 20% of these calls have units 3  Bryce Covert, “How Racism And Anti-Tax Fervor Laid The Groundwork For Flint’s Water Crisis.” ThinkProgress, February 6, 2016. Web: how-racism-and-anti-tax-fervor-laid-the-groundwork-for-flints-water-crisis-83331b13f101 4 5  After Youngstown, Ohio. (US Census Survey 2015). 6  US Census Survey 2015. 7  David Harris, “Most violent city in the nation: The title that Flint can’t kick.”, June 4, 2013. Web: html

9  John Pickles. A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping and the Geo-Coded World. Routledge. (2004)

31 The Calls Left Unanswered

8  Theo Kindynis. “Ripping up the Map: Criminology and Cartography Reconsidered,” British Journal of Criminology 54.2 (2014): 222-43. Web.

Genevieve Hoffman

assigned to further investigate them. Mapping crime is an exercise fraught with bias. Many white-collar crimes like embezzlement are not called in over the dispatch, so the data is skewed towards crimes that happen to have a geolocation attached to them. 8 Visualizing crimes as mere dots on a map also distances people from understanding the reality of what took place, the circumstances leading to it, or any mitigating information about the suspects—a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the “cartographic gaze.” 9 Several precedents highlight the complexity of the process. Created by Stamen Design in 2007, the Oakland Crimespotting Map was a groundbreaking public data endeavor when it was first released. It helped propel a movement to have city agencies open up civic data in order to be more transparent with their communities. Yet the Oakland Crimespotting Map is confined to the limitations of the dataset it visualizes. Most data that the police can share with the public has been redacted of most, if not all, specific information about the crime, and appears as a tally of geolocated incidents or dots on a map. While the Oakland Crimespotting Map provides excellent filtering tools, as well as ways to sign up for feeds from a particular beat, there is no data to provide a more comprehensive view of the crimes, like interviews with witnesses, victims and suspects. Many police departments have followed suit and release crime data online, often visualized on a map, and almost always highlighting only the most serious property and violent incidents.


Mon 8/1

Tue 8/2

Wed 8/3

Thu 8/4

Priority 1 Priority 2 Priority 3 Priority 4 Opaque calls were answered Transparent calls were not

Fri 8/5

Sat 8/6

Sun 8/7

Mon 8/8

Genevieve Hoffman

34 The Calls Left Unanswered

The selection of what types of incidents to visualize tends to highlight the most violent crimes, without acknowledging what else is going on in the community, or the other aspects of police work. Some spatial data projects have combated this by including other types of imagery, like Google Street View, that give a different vantage point for the streets and help disrupt the dominant trend of satellite imagery and bird’s eye view intrinsic to many crime maps. Flint offers a unique chance to look at ways social media has allowed citizens to engage more directly with policing crime in their community. Flint Police Operations is a public Facebook group that posts each complaint that the Flint Police Department receives. A group of about twenty people share duties of listening to the dispatch radio and transcribing what they hear into a Facebook post. The page is administered by a group of paramedics, firefighters, ex-military personnel, and concerned citizens. About seven administrators take turns monitoring the dispatch radio streams each day. A sample post might be: WARRANT PICKUP: 4100 blk Townview Dr. B/M, 5’7\”, 205 lbs, is a runner, will fight. Cars on alert. DELAYED POST. #FlintTwp MEDICAL: 2000 blk Paducah. 7 yr old female trouble breathing. #Flint #GCSDMedics

35 The Calls Left Unanswered

The reality is that only a fraction of these incidents will get assigned to and investigated by a police or EMS unit. The posts on the Facebook page provide an alternate channel for community members to “be on the lookout� or gather information about an incident, most knowing full well that police won’t be able to follow up. The page currently has more likes than there are residents of Flint, and many posts receive replies from concerned citizens providing additional information, offering prayers, and inquiring about the cases or health of the victims. And although the page has a code of conduct, many comments seem to mock descriptions of people coming in over the wire, or express disgust with the amount of crime in Flint. But in essence, the page provides a public record and channel for citizens to give and receive information about what happens in their community.

Genevieve Hoffman

Above: Screenshot from - Flint, MI. Incidents between August 1 - 7, 2016 Previous: Incidents called into the Flint Police Dispatch on August 1-7, 2016, sorted by type with unassigned calls rendered at less opacity

Anonymous commenter, Facebook Police Operations page: Take a look around. Its not just flint. Its everywhere. We just don’t hear about those places because... Well, we’re not following their (if they have any) police pages. We’re not there to witness it. We’re here to witness Flint’s.

Genevieve Hoffman

36 The Calls Left Unanswered

While the majority of incidents that receive comments tend to be the more sensational or violent, or are simply responses to news articles about other aspects of life in Flint—the water crisis, or factory closures—the overwhelming majority of calls that come over the dispatch are nonviolent, classified as WELFARE CHECKS, where police are called on to follow up with people who haven’t been heard from or who are in need of help. In 2016, when fatal shootings by police and the Black Lives Matter movement have galvanized communities around the need for officers to make all citizens feel safe, community policing has repeatedly been put forward as a solution to improve police relations with the citizens they serve. The Flint Police Department is so understaffed for the volume of calls they receive that they spend 57.4 minutes out of every hour of their shifts answering incidents, leaving an average of only 2.6 minutes of that hour for community policing. 10 The Flint Police Department underwent an investigation of their operating procedures in order to see if improvements could be made to the way the department allocated their limited resources. 10  Police Operations Analysis Report, Flint, Michigan. November (2014): 12. Web: https://

Comments on Flint Police Operations Facebook page, regarding an incident of a homicidal man

Wednesday, August 2

Saturday, August 5

Thursday, August 3

Sunday, August 6

Leaflet | Map tiles by Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0. Data by OpenStreetMap, under ODbL.

Friday, August 4

Case Study: Unit 22131 During the week of August 1-7, 2016 3068 incidents in Flint, MI were called in over the dispatch, and 743 calls were assigned to units for further investigation. Flint cooperates with the departments of neighboring townships, fire departments, and other law enforcement agencies to investigate incidents. Most of the units from other agencies pick up a few calls per week. One unit dealt with significantly higher call volume than the other units patrolling. For Unit 22131, all of their shifts were at least 12 hours long, and some on the weekend went up to 20 hours. They managed to attend to 105 calls that week.

Monday, August 7

The amount of calls police get to in a shift doesn’t correlate with the severity of the incident or the difficulty of answering the call. But it is worthwhile to understand the journey that the unit took through the city, and the volume of incidents they see in one day.

Incident volume attended to per unit Unit 22131 105 calls

100 80 60 40 20 0

Individual units answering calls in Flint

Legend Opaque calls were answered Transparent calls were not Time in Unit 22131’s shift 5a





From the Flint Operations Analysis Report:

Genevieve Hoffman


The Flint Police Department is an agency facing many challenges in providing police services to the community. The department’s lack of resources combined with a high crime rate are creating conditions that make radical changes to operations necessary. The FPD must reorganize internally and reprioritize demands made by the community. At the same time, the community must understand the daunting challenges facing the department and must cooperate to the greatest extent possible in helping the department meet those challenges.

The Calls Left Unanswered

The report suggested tactics like creating 12 hour shifts to decrease the amount of productivity lost in a shift change. But at a certain point, an already overwhelmed police force simply can’t address more demand. They call on the community to be more understanding of the demands they’re facing, and to take an active approach to help keep their community safe. How do we improve the outlook for shrinking cities? In cities like Flint and Detroit, infrastructure leftover from a much larger population becomes targets for arson and criminal activity. The state university in Flint has been one measure to attract people to Flint and build up the diminished middle class, but the city is far from its manufacturing glory days. The Facebook group offers a more qualitative approach to looking at crime in Flint. While the Flint Police Department

WELFARE CHECK - 2000 Maryland #Flint WELFARE CHECK - Grand Traverse and Ingleside #Flint WELFARE CHECK - Mason and Dayton - caller says male walking down street “covered in blood...” #Flint WELFARE CHECK w/EMS: 1000 blk Frances Rd. caller is calling abt a client 36 y/o M making suicidal threats, he’s intox, threatening to go into traffic or jump off the roof, want a psych eval. #ThetfordTwp WELFARE CHECK WITH EMS: 2200 blk Glade St. Male making suicidal threats. Male will fight. Rig is staged. DELAYED POST. #Burton WELFARE CHECK WITH EMS: 3500 blk Fenton Rd. Male laying face down in the breezeway of the church. He is not responding to the caller. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK WITH EMS: 6000 blk Stockbridge Commons. Psych evaluation ordered for 65 yr old male, he may become combative. DELAYED POST. #GrandBlancTwp WELFARE CHECK WITH EMS: 2700 blk Fenton Rd - car in parking lot with occupant that appears to have a medical issue #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 1200 blk Lillian. 1 yr old child ate cigarette buts out of the ashtray. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 2300 blk Wisconsin. Check on caller, they aren’t making any sense. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 2500 blk Evelyn Ct. Check welfare of children. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 2700 blk Begole. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 2900 blk Flushing Rd. Sav A Lot. 1 yr old child locked inside a vehicle. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 2900 blk W. Court St. Earlier domestic occurred at this location. Caller wants 1 yr old son checked on. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 400 blk E. 2nd St. Regency Apts. 46 yr old male having suicidal thoughts. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 600 blk E. Dewey. Male needs to be transported for psych evaluation. Family members waived PD down. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 600 blk Harrison. MTA Station. 62 yr old male is walk away from AFC Home on N. Stevenson. DELAYED POST. #Flint WELFARE CHECK: 7000 blk Marigold Ct. Check on 16 yr old male, he isn’t making much sense. DELAYED POST. #GrandBlancTwp WELFARE CHECK: Bradley south of Court. Female jumped out of black van. She was yelling about needing a razor blade and has wounds on her wrists. DELAYED POST. #Flint

Selected welfare checks called into Flint Police Dispatch between August 1-7, 2016

Genevieve Hoffman

42 The Calls Left Unanswered

receives some useful tips from the site, its main effect is to empower the community to take an active role in protecting and looking out for one another. The Facebook comments act as feedback to the problems the city faces. Feedback that highlights people’s concerns, frustrations, and scapegoating for who might be to blame for Flint’s violence. And while the Facebook group seems to be a place for members of the once dominant middle class to air their grievances, there is a tinge of race-based blame at play. From a cursory examination of Facebook profile pictures from the commenters, it seems that a majority of active commenters are white. The demographic breakdown of Flint is 54.7% black, 36.9% white, 3.8% Hispanic, 3.6% Biracial or multiracial, and 1.03% Asian, American Indian, and Pacific Islander. 11 Just as the city is primarily segregated between white and black households, the Facebook group seems to be as well. Most of the comments do remind us that people are generally concerned about each other’s welfare, and hope the best for those affected by hardship. Mapping the incidents along with dispatch audio might help to remind people of the men and women hard at work answering those calls. Visualizing Facebook comments speaks to the calls that were left unanswered, but perhaps replied to. Working with Facebook comments in this way presents a few challenges. One of the biggest is how to connect Facebook comments with the geolocated police incidents which they reference. Those individuals listening to dispatch radio, both on the Flint Police Department side and the Flint Police Operations 11  American Census Survey, 2014: PST045215/2629000

43 The Calls Left Unanswered

Flint is a Place will be released online in 2017. v

Genevieve Hoffman

Facebook group, ultimately create the incident entry from their transcription of the information coming through the call. At times, the Facebook posts are delayed, or the description no longer matches what’s been entered into the police database. Without a unique identifier or key to join them, correlating these data sets remains very difficult. Visualization tools that enable real-time feedback from the community have the potential to shape police work in powerful ways, from generating leads for investigations to providing more context to limited information. However, the hurdles of data consistency and access, as well as convincing key stakeholders that the potential utility might outweigh the overhead costs or possible risks of using social media data, are challenging. While a real-time solution isn’t possible for the Flint is a Place visualization, hopefully it can expand the possibilities of what crime mapping visualizations do.

Candy Chan


I find the advent of the Virtual Reality (VR) technology really fascinating. I know it’s only a beginning, but all the hardware and programs available to the general public are already very impressive—one second I am under the sea, next thing I know, I am in the desert! Since Project Subway NYC has a lot to do with way-finding and how people orient themselves in the underground world, I am curious and excited to see if there is any opportunity for us to apply some kind of VR simulation

45 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni


Candy Chan

Since I last spoke at the OCR, I have continued to sketch and draw more subway stations. I have also looked at different ways of representing the 3D models I created. So far I have only been exporting 2D drawings from 3D models, but what I am trying to do next, hopefully in the near future, is to let people spin the models around, and better still, “go inside” the stations and explore and interact with the space.


Candy Chan

46 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

There is a saying that “the eye improves with the hand,” which means the more you draw, the better you will be able to see, and through practice and repetition, vice versa. Drawing the subway stations has certainly trained me to observe the built environment in greater detail, and develop a kind of intuition or ability to make educated guesses. For example, I realized that if the street level entrance and mezzanine level of a station are symmetrical, there is a good chance the track level will also be symmetrical. So now when I go to explore a new station, the first thing I do would be to look for this symmetry, so that if it does exist, I can be more efficient with my documentation. This kind of pattern recognition has been a very helpful feedback in my creative process. v

@ candydatec •

Jason Schultz



47 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

More info here: jason-schultz-to-white-house-ostp

Jason Schultz

Since my talk, I’ve been on leave from NYU as a Senior Advisor to the US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There, I’ve had a chance to work with a number of folks looking closely at the use of data in and around federal government, including US Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil. It’s been super interesting. v


Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo

51 Feedback, Context, and the Cybernetic Qualities of Information

When we speak of data, we speak of information. Often now, we speak of the ways in which our greater ability to harness, to store, and to collect this resource has changed our perspective on the world. We say “Big Data” and “surveillance” and sometimes even lament “reducing an experience to mere data”, to bare information. We may wonder how to make it easier or harder to find, to store, and to share, but we rarely question that it is; the understanding that information, this collection of facts, exists as a substance more akin to air or water than to taste or culture, is rarely excavated. When it is acknowledged, it is by information hagiographers who suggest that on-or-off, yesor-no binary information is the root of all life. But information as we think of it is not natural, neutral, or inevitable. The universe is not a computer. That we think it might be is, in fact, a product of the context in which information was invented. Though popular historians of the near past enjoy identifying

Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo



our concepts of information to communication methods as ancient as Greek bonfires and African drums, drawing a line directly from these, through Morse code, and into transistors and iPhones, the reality is information as we know it emerged together with the machines for manipulating it around the Second World War, thanks in large part to Claude Shannon. (The term itself comes from the Latin informare and previously was used primarily in educational and legal settings. Use really takes off around 1950.) As befits the work of Bell Labs, Shannon’s information is the material from which messages are formed. Its strength comes from the possibilities it forecloses; it is mathematical and free, remaining itself regardless of context—it is universal. It can be embedded, encoded or decoded, compressed and sent as far away as possible. There is no “original” to information; a message decoded across the ocean is the same as the initial message, in proliferation they are identical. And most important of all: information is not meaning. Meaning, hard to define, hard to measure, is separate. The context required to decipher the poetry of drums or the meaning of a bonfire—Troy has fallen—is unnecessary. In Shannon’s context, this conception of information is functional. And Shannon tended to emphasize that the description should be limited to this sphere. It escaped anyways. At the postwar Macy Conferences, this theory became folded into the cybernetic theories that influenced the thinking of the computer scientists behind our own information revolution. When we surfed the information superhighways in the 1990s, the bitumen was made from contextless facts. When we talk

about how data collection empowers surveillance culture, the conversation is undergirded by the assumption that data is a discrete object floating through the ether, meaningful when it is plucked from the communication channel, intelligible alone, and indistinguishable from the message also making it to its destination. And when we talk about data visualization, we are talking about how we take these free-floating bits and arrange them so that they once again are infused with meaning, whether we undertake to use pattern, added context, or the hydrating powers of our own minds, compelled as they can be to locate meaning in the slightest outlines, as our eyes find faces in any cloud or tree trunk. This is how the memories work in, for instance, George Perec’s Lieux and Je me souviens. Perec lists facts and moments, and meaning is added by readers who know the context to which they belong. It might seem funny to consider this, as much data visualization, as the arrangement of quantitative points in space, but in the way they both move to add meaning to decontextualized facts, their workings are the same. But this mechanism of re-hydration of meaning via the contexts we carry can also reify current inequalities: the meaning we supply ourselves is likely subject to the prejudices and shortcuts endemic to our thought processes. This alienation and fear of decontextualization may be what underlies the anxiety of calling something data at all. By refusing this label, we refuse to decontextualize. What if we didn’t have to work with an information that is divorced from meaning; what if we didn’t have to de- and re-hydrate it but could think of facts and


Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo

54 Feedback, Context, and the Cybernetic Qualities of Information

their collection differently? As N. Katherine Hayles relates in her critical look at cybernetics and subjectivity, How We Became Posthuman, it is Shannon’s version of information theory that combines with nineteenth century ideas of communication and control to form the first wave of cybernetics. In this system, feedback is a key part of the homeostatic process, in which information is used to keep humans and machines in a steady state. Outliers are identified and corrected; communication controls. Yet Shannon’s theory of information was not the only one proposed at the Macy conferences. Researcher Donald MacKay suggested a vision that took into account the context of a communication and measured a successful passage of information by the change in a receiver’s mind. He accounted both for selective and structural information, or what we might now call data and metadata, aligning selective information with Shannon’s work. MacKay lost; a theory that depended on reflexivity and subjectivity was insufficiently rigorous for the high-modern engineering culture that saturated the conferences. Instead a conservative system in which stasis was the goal and reflexivity was marked neurotic prevailed. Though the way we talk about information—especially in terms of the popular dialog on data—often feels trapped at this, the first cybernetic stage, cybernetic history and the path of reflexivity did not end with MacKay’s loss. Later researchers, including Gregory Bateson and Humberto Maturana, proposed systems of information that take up context and meaning. Bateson’s work draws the observer into the initial system, where feedback may flow through her and thereby account not

just for subjective change but for the subjective construction of the system. Both Bateson and Maturana emphasize the subjective; both posit that cybernetics is the science of system and relationship, rather than communication and control. Maturana insists the core of life is the system. Each system is animated and defined by what it is able to represent; what it says at any moment is less important than the full range of what it is able to say. If in second-wave cybernetics information is reflexive and self-expressing, what would second-wave data and data visualization look like? It is certainly annotations of outliers and data points that we know the story of: “This spike means that.” It may be commentary on the availability of the data: “This space left blank due to politics.” The refusal to discard context might mean using predictive algorithms not to continue the prejudices embedded in the dataset on which the machine is trained but to emphasize the bad decisions an algorithm makes when fed biased data. Here feedback is used maliciously, almost, to heighten the worst notes. We could rethink what comprises a reasonable dataset at all. In the case of Perec’s Lieux above, the full unfinished project was to match factual descriptions completed on site with personal recollections of each place. Only when the present and absent, personal and dispassionate were brought together did Perec think the project would be a full expression of the relationships between place and person. Only through the interaction of layers is meaning found. Contrarily, the yearning for a platonic complete dataset might be interrogated. We might insist only on visualizations of the most difficult to quantify aspects of an


Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo


experience. We might insist on holes and sets that can only be understood or interpreted through themselves. Second-wave data might target a different interpretive system. It might insist on filling an entire space and only being comprehensible durationally. It might be ambient and limited in circumference. Land data art. Or, to come back down to earth, we could take the stance that only an interactive simulation or other method to make the rules clear is a complete visualization. I do not yet know what the ideal reflexive, contextually aware, feedback-incorporating expression of data is. But I do know if we are to get free of the dominance-fostering grips of a distorted and decontextualized information regime, looking reflexively is a pretty good start. v

Feedback, Context, and the Cybernetic Qualities of Information

Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo


Feedback, Context, and the Cybernetic Qualities of Information





Charles Perinet

59 Virtual Reality and Tracking Data

Despite virtual reality having been around for a long time, the recent release of hardware like Google Cardboard and PlayStation®VR has helped in the democratization of this technology. Using VR headsets with phones or game consoles allows virtual reality to reach mass markets. This technology uses sophisticated sensors such as magnetometers, accelerometers, and gyroscopes to provide an immersive experience. The latest releases also enhance the way users interact with virtual reality: on top of using handheld controllers, HTC Vive can track a user’s position in space using infrared light and lasers, making the body a natural input. Keeping track of a user’s body over an immersive experience represents a valuable dataset, but as far as we know, this information is not being collected yet, begging the question: how could we take advantage of virtual reality tracking data? The first person that could benefit from such data is the user. Recent enthusiasm for the quantified self shows how people are interested in tracking their body. A phone’s built-in sensors, such as a gyroscope or GPS, allow basic tracking of step counts or distances and have helped in the democratization of a more

Charles Perinet

60 Virtual Reality and Tracking Data

detailed personal tracking. Using external devices like the Fitbit or Garmin, people can access some really specific information about themselves such as their heartbeat, blood pressure or body temperature. Quantified self enthusiasts can keep track of their activity, sleep, nutrition, or even mindfulness. Recent VR technologies are the best way for the public to consider the whole body relative to the space around it. This could imply even more detailed self-analysis. For the first time, the general public will be able to access metrics such as center of gravity. In the future, VR technology could include more sensors to provide an even better immersion. For instance, an eye tracking VR headset is being developed by FOVE. This will be the first time that the general public will have access to eye tracking technology. The stunning accuracy of sensors and the immersion provided make VR efficient for training, treatments, or aftercare. Therapists would benefit from a live data analysis; by placing patients in a virtual world made on purpose, they can set up specific exercises. For the 18th edition of Laval Virtual’s limited time contest, I worked as part of a team on the lazy eye condition. Using a VR headset, the HTC Vive, we created a game based on existing aftercare exercises for the patient to be immersed in a fantasy world during a medical follow-up. The exercise was simple: the doctor threw virtual objects to the patient who had to catch them. In the setup (fig. 1), the therapist was able to physically move around the patient and adjust trajectory of projectiles using a controller. The patient wore a VR headset and used a controller to catch the projectiles.

Charles Perinet

Fig. 1: Setup of lazy eye exercise

61 Virtual Reality and Tracking Data

Statistics collected inside the game, bound with headset and controllers, were supposed to help the therapist follow evolution of the disease and adjust the treatment. During tests, users really committed to the game aspect of the experience. It became obvious that using a game in healthcare is an idea worth developing. On the other hand, we had trouble providing an accurate control over the exercise to the therapist. In the setup, the doctor was using an external display to aim at the patient. We could have improved the accuracy by providing a headset to the therapist as well. He may have also benefited from having presets or points of reference. After working with specialists and patients, I’m convinced that the same principle of exercises could also work for physiotherapy or athletic training.

Charles Perinet

62 Virtual Reality and Tracking Data

Researchers benefit from quantified self data. The Keeping Pace research conducted by Dr. Rumi Chunara at New York University is, according to their website, “studying how personal sensor data in aggregate can help us understand how the relation between the built environment and types and amounts of exercise varies over time.” They asked people to share their GPS data while they engaged in some outdoor activity. This way, they will describe health issues in communities. In the same way, researchers are already using phones’ tracking data, VR tracking data would also benefit to them. Indeed, VR-issued information tells a lot about user’s body. We can speculate that using this data, bound with the virtual experience users had, researchers can analyze human body reacting to stress or fear for instance. In fact, research on gait for patients with Parkinson’s disease already used VR technology. Thinking about VR as a research tool, I came up with two questions that I think VR tracking data can help answer. Why do some people protect their vital organs when they are in danger and others don’t? Does vertigo decrease over virtual experiences? Data collected during virtual experiences will be valuable for people as quantified self enthusiasts, researchers, and therapists. In order to make this happen, we will have to work with manufacturers and developers to build open standards. v

Charles Perinet


Virtual Reality and Tracking Data

Salad dressings and vegetable oils Beef, excludes ground

Mustard and other condiments

Chicken, whole pieces Stir-fry and soy-based sauce mixtures

Pasta mixed dishes, excludes macaroni and cheese

Beans, peas, legumes

Other starchy vegetables


Chicken patties, nuggets and tenders


Seafood mixed dishes Pork Olives, pickles, pickled vegetables


Frankfurter sandwiches (single code)

Lettuce and lettuce salads



Tortilla, corn, other chips

Vegetable mixed dishes String beans


Rice mixed dishes Fried rice and lo/chow mein

Ground beef Macaroni and cheese

Cold cuts and cured meats


Fruit drinks

Poultry mixed dishes

Wine Other Mexican mixed dishes

Crackers, excludes saltines Sport and energy drinks Corn Meat mixed dishes Beer Tortillas

Bottled water

Soft drinks Burritos and tacos Burgers (single code)

Rolls and buns

Yeast breads

Liquor and cocktails



Saltine crackers




Potato chips

Diet soft drinks

Biscuits, muffins, quick breads

Butter and animal fats


Eggs and omelets

Nuts and seeds



Cereal bars

Citrus fruits


Tap water

Candy not containing chocolate


Cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream Bacon Grapes Melons

Milk, whole Sugar substitutes Cakes and pies Citrus juice Bagels and English muffins Pancakes, waffles, French toast Candy containing chocolate Ice cream and frozen dairy desserts Sugars and honey Egg/breakfast sandwiches (single code)

Cookies and brownies Other fruit juice


Milk, nonfat


Other fruits and fruit salads

Milk, lowfat Yogurt, lowfat and nonfat

Jams, syrups, toppings

Milk, reduced fat Ready-to-eat cereal, higher sugar (>21.2g/100g) Doughnuts, sweet rolls, pastries


Chris Anderson

65 When the Government Counts Calories

Some of our most human moments can be expressed in food: an 11 a.m. whiskey soda, a late night chocolate bar, a skipped lunch. These occasions are often private, hidden in the mundane details of day-to-day existence. If you want to understand how people actually eat, you have to uncover these myriad choices. Anyone who has tried to keep a food journal knows that it isn’t easy. Try it for yourself right now: try to catalogue what you ate yesterday. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner might spring to mind. What about dessert? Anything to drink? Was there milk or sugar in your coffee? Midnight snacks? Quick trips to the refrigerator just to see what’s in there? This memory-based method of study forms the basis for much of the past fifty years of nutrition research, but whether or not we can view this kind of dietary data as scientifically valid is hotly debated. Even so, it’s being used to inform dietary guidelines, which in turn alter the way people eat—a cycle of measurement, recommendation, and re-measurement.

Chris Anderson

66 When the Government Counts Calories

Here are some statistics about what Americans say they eat. On any given day, one in eight Americans will eat pizza, and nearly half will have a sandwich of some kind. Half of Americans consume milk at breakfast. A quarter of our food intake will be in the form of snacks. These results are from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Since the 1960s, the United States Center for Disease Control has been running NHANES to track the overall health of Americans. Its goal is straightforward, yet grand: “assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States,” providing the foundation for US government “nutrition surveillance.” In what is now a continuous study, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the CDC) interview and measure new cohorts of 5,000 demographically representative Americans every year. That data is used to provide recommendations to groups like the US Department of Agriculture, who in turn decide things like what kinds of health claims are allowable on dietary supplements and what goes into the (now defunct) food pyramid. The pages that follow show some of the food trends that a cursory glance at NHANES provide. If we were to believe that the data were totally accurate, it would confirm the stuff of stereotypes: men drink beer, women eat yogurt, older people eat oatmeal, healthy people eat dried fruits and berries. Recently, however, NHANES has come under fire for the what some are calling “inadmissible” evidence in rigorous science: memorybased dietary measurements, the kind that you tried on the last page.

USDA food category Relatively many reports

67 When the Government Counts Calories

Relatively few reports

Chris Anderson

These methods introduce difficult-to-control biases. People forget what they’ve eaten, or perhaps they want to please an interviewer with additional information that might not have actually happened. It’s well known that people routinely make up memories entirely. When you tell the interviewer that you had a coffee in the morning, they are instructed to respond with “Did you add anything to your coffee?” Suddenly you might wonder—did I? To draw a parallel with criminal justice, over time we’ve replaced much of witness testimony with comparatively more reliable DNA forensic evidence. That kind of transition isn’t likely to happen in nutritional epidemiology. Just knowing they’re part of a study causes people to eat differently (often better, since someone’s watching), making it difficult to gather unbiased evidence.

W om en

en M

Cottage/ricotta cheese Yogurt, lowfat and nonfat Gelatins, ices, sorbets Other red and orange vegetables Other diet drinks Milk substitutes Oatmeal Cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream Pretzels/snack mix Soft drinks Cold cuts and cured meats Egg/breakfast sandwiches Ground beef Burgers Liquor and cocktails Sport and energy drinks Beer

Food category reports by gender, ages 18+


ye ar s 0 >6

9 -3

-5 40


ye ar s 0 <2

Bananas Beer Butter and animal fats Coffee Diet soft drinks Flavored milk, reduced fat Ice cream and frozen dairy desserts Liquor and cocktails Mayonnaise Oatmeal Pizza Pudding Ready-to-eat cereal, higher sugar Ready-to-eat cereal, lower sugar Soft drinks Sugar substitutes Wine

Selection of food category reports by age

ur s ho


ur s 5+



ho <1

Diet soft drinks Pancakes, waffles, French toast Sugar substitutes Bacon Biscuits, muffins, quick breads Seafood mixed dishes Frankfurter sandwiches Mayonnaise Sausages Liquor and cocktails Wine Grapes Vegetable mixed dishes Bagels and English muffins Burritos and tacos Carrots Yogurt, lowfat and nonfat

Food category reports by daily hours of TV, ages 18+

r Po Fa o r ir Fa G ir oo d G Veood ry g Ve oo ry d go od

Po o

DriedDried fruitsfruits Berries Berries WineWine Milk,Milk, nonfat nonfat Milk substitutes Milk substitutes Soy-based Soy-based condiments condiments Grapes Grapes Pudding Pudding Turnovers Turnovers and other and other grain-based grain-based itemsitems Tortillas Tortillas Soft drinks Soft drinks Chicken/turkey Chicken/turkey sandwiches sandwiches Egg/breakfast Egg/breakfast sandwiches sandwiches Burritos Burritos and tacos and tacos Chicken Chicken patties, patties, nuggets nuggets and tenders and tenders Burgers Burgers Frankfurter Frankfurter sandwiches sandwiches

FoodFood category category reports reports by self-reported by self-reported diet diet quality, quality, agesages 18+18+

Chris Anderson

72 When the Government Counts Calories

A more subtle effect might also be at play: the role that food plays in our self-image. We all have beliefs (whether conscious or not) about what we eat. We want to believe that we’re happy with the food choices we make, which for many of us equates to treating our bodies well. We think of ourselves as members of one community or another, each of which has different food preferences that become part of our identities. It would be going too far to say that this effect biases the NHANES data beyond use. It’s an important, imperfect view into what Americans want to think they eat. The hazard is in taking it at face value. So long as those at the USDA and others that use this data recognize the flaws in it, we might avoid the cycle of nutrition misinformation that, just to name a few examples, demonized cholesterol in eggs and just now is awakening to the role of excessive sugar in the obesity crisis. Whatever the future of NHANES holds, there’s a beauty in what it’s recorded that goes beyond the raw science of nutrition. It catalogues part of our sense of self—both in the choices we make, and in how we choose to explain them to others. The pages that follow are a collection of some of the stories that emerge when you step away from averages and begin to look at the days of individual Americans.

Four people who reported a Red Bull




ll E








c Coo ks ki Fruit ju ice drin e k Bread en Chick les Nood

Female 79 years old Non-Hispanic Black on a Wednesday


ings on r ink Oni r t f d tato So po ese e t e hi Ch W



Male 28 years old Non-Hispanic White on a Friday

W ate




ou nd b





r ne



ng er Bu ale tte loaf m Bre r a ade w ith be d ef Butter

t b Jell ut y Bre ter ad


White potato



e -b ffe ose Co cral Su lk Mi


Pe a

Egg Br omel et o M ead r sc ar ram ga ble rin de egg lik es pr ea d

Ro att ll y


Drink er g y eur ull En iqu r Red B e or l Be er dial Cor at W


ull 12am





White potato






gn Lasa

Female 18 years old Mexican American on a Friday

Po p



s chip tato e po Whit Cookie Fruit juice drink

ie Cheese







in Dr


gy er

Male 41 years old Mexican American on a Friday

p Ice po r te Wa







ter Wa ilk M


Yo Rol gu l rt


Three people who reported at least four coffees

n or


re a M m il Ric k d ve e geta bles Coffe e









fee Cof le p Ap ink dr s rt po rs


d ra




Male 60 years old Other Hispanic on a Friday 12pm

Butter Sugar Brea d Caf Co e con lec f Co fee he ffe e

er da ov na rn pa e tu Em es e k Ch t drin Sof se e Che Water Coffee

h nc



ir Th

W Co ate ffe r om e ato




Sof t

po ta to hit e W

r sa




d we Ste


ffe e


Su ga ffe r Sug e ar Coffe e Coffee



Coffee Crackers k r sports drin irst Quenche ain Gatorade Th Plant e Ric f e be e c ed dri e jui Lim

Ha Co m ffe e



Male 51 years old Other Hispanic on a Thursday

d ea rt Br u g Yo ar Sug se e Che Water Sugar


e Coffe ar Sug o z ori Ch juice e l p ap ine



Macaroni or noodles with cheese

W ce at ato er Cho es rizo tom




oo tL oo Fr ilk M lk Mi


Female 41 years old Non-Hispanic White on a Wednesday

ch ips

e Coffe Milk



turk ey a n

drin k Coffe e Milk


fee Cof ilk M



Two people with self-reported â&#x20AC;&#x153;excellentâ&#x20AC;? diets


n Pea

Banana d Brea r utte

ut b

cke no

r tu



Po ta



sal ad auc e

ue s


Milk e auc

s ato












ve g











te xt

Wh it e p o t a to ch ips Tomato catsup Mayonnaise Roll ch Spina ese Che rn Co ni o er pp





Soft d



Ham ad Bre ise a n on ay



Male 16 years old Non-Hispanic White on a Wednesday 12pm ok ie





st Pa

e ees

er ick


Male 31 years old Non-Hispanic White on a Sunday

encher sports dri

Gatorade Thirst Qu



at ar





Oa tm e Mi al lk




o Pr

Milk Lucky Cha rm









Two newborns






Female 0 years old Other / Multi-Racial on a Monday












oy P






St ar









Female 0 years old Mexican American on a Monday

Water Soy


oy P rt S

od lus

P oy







oo d



Ge rbe rG


er G

W at rb






r rbe

art d St






tS oy P


Soy P


Me, yesterday, in New York City

sup o cat to otat ma ep To hit W

(bar snacks)

M Be us e Pre tard r tze ls Beer Tea

12pm onate d wat er Black bean salad



Du m

es ak nc Pa Tea Milk

Tea g lin mp ling Du mp u D

Male 27 years old Other / Multi-Racial on a Sunday


(chai, speciďŹ cally)


(with chocolate chips) (Tibetan dumpling festival in Queens)


Mahir Yavuz


I think the Ars Electronica festival was one of the most interesting things that I’ve experienced this year. I was there with Pablo Honey and Michael Hirsch, and we created a semi-fictional online personality called Kydo as an artwork. Kydo was a mixed human and AI twitter account, and with it we interacted with the festival visitors. The interesting part to me was observing people’s extremely high expectations for AIs and their cruel criticism towards their failures. I was also part of the Future Innovators Summit, where we worked on the future of AI commons. We ended our workshop asking

79 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni


Mahir Yavuz

Since I spoke at OCR I was busy with two main subjects: How AI and algorithms can be used for benefit of the general public and what do we really expect from them. Also, what data brings when we start using it: Transparency, permanency, democratization, and authoritarianism are among the ones I was thinking of.

questions to a public audience about the destiny of AI. The responses were really mixed. For example, we asked them who should write the rights of declaration for AI. Half of the people voted that humans should do it, while the other half voted that AIs should write on their own. The debate and observations during the festival made me think that AI will be one of the most important debates in public domain in the following years.

Mahir Yavuz



Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

This is a very true statement. Data and data-driven systems are visibly impacting and constructing who we are as a society more and more. We see data-driven business strategies becoming more successful in the tech landscape; we see more interfaces with more data in the everyday tools we use. I believe this forms a new kind of bias, similar to other implicit biases we already have in our societies. On one hand, this bias is just another bias and it’s not more or less important than other biases. On the other hand, it might be different, because if we don’t think about who owns such systems and methods, or who are the evangelists and designers of them, we might fail to deconstruct and address the biases in a healthy manner. This issue requires more vivid discussion and critique, and more transparency from the creators of such systems. v @mahir_nyc •

Paul Ford


Paul Ford

I’ve been building out a digital product studio with my co-founder, Rich Ziade. Which means I’ve been learning how to sell large, complex, abstract things to large, complex, abstract entities.


Flipping out of publishing into straight-up business has been wild. My beliefs haven’t changed but my assumptions have. I had a fantasy that management in a services firm would involve telling people what to do; it turns out that instead you make suggestions and two or three weeks later someone remembers what you said.

Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni



Paul Ford

I love and internalize feedback. My success in life is intimately connected to my ability to take even the roughest, most critical feedback willingly without losing sight of what I want or need to do in order to move forward. Put another way: I have a warm and loving relationship with the statistics generated by my online work, but I will say that after twenty years, there are very few surprises. If you want a piece that gets a couple hundred thousand readers, or a couple million, I’ll get them for you. There’s not too much mystery about traffic. After a while of making things online, you basically know what’s going to hit or what will not. v

82 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

@ftrain •


87 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children


Kate Rath

Little Miss Egypt is the most liked baby on Facebook. She is listed as a public figure on her page and has 407,523 likes. 1 She can’t talk yet, or fathom issues of consent but she has a fan club before she can walk. She is without a doubt adorable, but what are the implications of a public life started without her knowledge? Are we born with the right to control our image, our narrative, and our personal data, or is that something we earn with age like getting to eat dessert before dinner or choosing our own bedtime? In 2016 I became a parent for the first time. When my son was born, I felt such love and pride that part of me wanted to shout the news from the rooftops—the cyber rooftops of Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, of course. But I was hesitant. What would it mean to my child when he looks back and sees that when he was born I announced it online? Or that I didn’t? I went back and looked at birth announcements from friends over the last years. Their children are all wildly loved and their

Facebook announcements were liked. One baby got thirty-six likes and one received well over three hundred. Any decent parent will find themselves awake in the middle of the night musing.

Baby Likes on FB




300 200

Kate Rath

100 0







Future Success in Life

Future Success in Life

400 300


Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children


200 100 0



Cara Baby



Kate Rath

89 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

What made me pause before posting that first picture is that feeling of disquiet that I feel in the pit of my stomach. Something didn’t feel right. There are of course the big concerns, the idea that somehow your child’s data and image will be used by people who in some way wish to harm them, or the possibility that their identity will be stolen. With the millions of images people are posting online of their children everyday, I’m going to hazard a guess that the risk isn’t that great. I’d like to think that most people will spend a lifetime posting pictures without these kinds of problems. But they do happen. On a less ominous note, there are other privacy concerns, ones that are still highly problematic, and that is where my hesitation lives. We are entering uncharted territory as parents. We are arguably the first generation to have to think about what it means to start out our children’s lives with an online presence. As a parent looking at your small baby, it is hard to know what kind of child they will grow up to be. Will they be fiercely private and shy? Or will they be outgoing and share their lives like an open book? The troubling thing is, we really don’t know what kind of children we have as we begin this online documentation of their lives. To be fair, the vast majority of parents post pictures of their children online and in all likelihood their children will never suffer any negative consequences as a result. The trouble lies in the fact that as a society we aren’t entirely sure what it means when we share our child’s personal data online. It is easy to defer to feeling safe, believing that the information being shared is only going to the people we want to see it. So we

Kate Rath

90 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

share information about our children with our online families and their extended networks. We post their image, name, date of birth, location, and so on. Most of us want to assume this is either a positive exchange of information, or at a minimum, a neutral exchange. To assume otherwise goes against most parents’ good intentions. Looking deeper at these actions can feel pretty uncomfortable; it can grate on that part of us that wants to roll our eyes and say, “What’s the big deal?” I get that feeling. What concerns me most is this casual chipping away at the idea of privacy and informed consent without taking the time to question the implications. Of course, sharing a few pictures of your children isn’t a big deal, but that isn’t really what’s happening. According to the Parent Zone, a U.K. based site devoted to internet safety and parenting, a survey of 2,000 parents found that most of them had over 1,000 photos of their child online before they turned five. That’s 200 pictures a year on average—at least one picture every other day. That is a lot of documentation and data being shared. Close to 20% of parents had never checked their privacy settings and fewer than half of the parents surveyed are even aware that photos contain data about where it was taken. 2 These changes in the way we view privacy are happening quickly. I remember watching The Truman Show—the movie starring Jim Carrey, in which he had been monitored and placed in the public view by the corporation that adopted him from the day he was born. The creepy part wasn’t just that a corporation 2 read-this-before-posting-photos-of-your-children-on-facebook-2015-08-05

Kate Rath

Image credit: J. Dimitrov

91 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

had adopted him or that people who were his family were really just actors—the chilling part of the movie was that his life was exposed to the world without his awareness. Other people were watching him living his daily life. His flaws, vulnerabilities, and private moments were exposed beyond the circle of people he trusted. Culturally, the public responded to the movie because the idea of a child being raised in the public eye in such a manner seemed ethically questionable but fascinating. I find myself wondering, what is the difference between this and our near constant documentation of our children’s lives online? Maybe it is an overreach to draw the analogy between the film and today’s approach to sharing our lives online, but when it comes to children, the question remains for me: are we as parents supposed to protect our children’s privacy because they can’t or is privacy an outdated notion?

For me, most of my life hasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t been lived online. If you google my name, you come up with an image of me in my thirties. That seems okay to me; I was aware the image was going online and I was fine with it. For most children born today, their first online image is going to look something like this:

Kate Rath

92 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

Image credit: grinvalds

Their next online image often comes within minutes of being born. It is accompanied by an announcement that sounds something along the lines of, “It is with great joy we welcome Jane Emma Doe to the world! She was born on October 18, 2016 and is 21 inches long.” Along with this announcement comes the baby’s next online image:

Kate Rath


And thus, a star is born!

Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

Image credit: Linda Kloosterhof

Kate Rath

94 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children

As my friends started having children, my Facebook feed became increasingly full of pictures of adorable children. Pregnancies were announced alongside the first sonogram; I watched bellies expand and liked the steady stream of birth announcements with enthusiasm. As the years went on I watched these children grow, take their first steps, start their first day of kindergarten, and have their first major meltdown, and I listened as their parents crowdsourced advice. My happiness at seeing these posts also had a flip side, that feeling of disquiet when too much was shared, when I felt like their child might look back at that post and wonder what were my parents thinking? According to a 2015 national poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 74% of parents who use social media know of another parent who has shared too much information about a child on social media, including 56% of parents who gave embarrassing information about a child, 51% offered personal information that could identify a child’s location, and 27% shared inappropriate photos of a child. 3 These days, wanting to keep things private seems almost suspect. But it shouldn’t be. In the fall of 2015, the German police asked parents to stop sharing pictures of their children on social media. “A snapshot on the beach or naked in a paddling pool: Many of you publish pictures of your little ones on Facebook and it is not uncommon for them to be visible to everyone, completely lacking appropriate safety precautions in privacy settings. Now you might find the photos sweet, but your children could be really embarrassed in a few years. Or your child could even be bullied. Even worse—paedophiles 3

95 Born Online, Why Privacy Matters for Our Children


Kate Rath

help themselves to the photos and use them for their own purposes, such as publishing them elsewhere.”  4 I imagine taking a casual photo of my son after returning from a trip and tagging it “Home!” but then I remember that all pictures are now geotagged. The Germans may have a point. The truth is, I want to post pictures of my child and husband. I love them. That’s the thing: posting pictures of children and families and fabulous vacations is fun. Like so many things these days, this dilemma exists in the grey area. Posting pictures of our children is not all good or all bad—it has aspects of both. I love seeing pictures of my friends and their children, and hearing about their adventures with their families. But I don’t love them enough to overlook the implications that surround this erosion of privacy. As a parent I want to be a role model for my son but now we need to be role models in our daily lives and online. If we raise our children to be conscientious about their digital footprint, we also need to think of the one we leave behind for them. Given that we want to share pictures of those we love out of joy, pride, and requests from family & friends, the best advice might be the same as we give children when they learn to cross the street—look both ways. v

THE RADIANT CITY Ian Ardouin-Fumat

97 The Radiant City

1  Housing Unit -’habitation

Ian Ardouin-Fumat

I grew up in Rezé (near French Bretagne), where one of the 5 Unités d’Habitation 1 was built, designed by the famous SwissFrench architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, as known as Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier designed the Unités d’Habitations after World War II, as utopian cities within a city where tightlyknit communities could access everyday life services within the building itself. These massive skyrises would host hundreds of (mostly) lower income families, as well as shops, restaurants, sports, and medical facilities. The top floor of the buildings would accommodate a kindergarten school, where I was lucky to be studying in the early 1990s. In spite of my young age at the time, I keep vivid memories of the bold shapes and colors that defined this post-war architecture. I also remember witnessing its flaws. Although they were deeply attached to the building, families and friends were constantly grumbling about its grim concrete facades. As years passed, I started realizing that very few concepts from Le Corbusier’s original designs were still alive. None of the businesses were running anymore. The sports facilities were totally abandoned. I would never get to swim in that fancy rooftop swimming pool. While the building’s community was certainly as vibrant as Le Corbusier envisioned it, the

Ken Ohyama - Unité d’habitation de Firminy-Vert

seier+seier - Le Corbusier, Marseille, August

Ian Ardouin-Fumat

100 The Radiant City

autonomous city he dreamt of was not functional. What could explain the semi-failure of what originally seemed to be a clever solution to the post-war housing crisis? As it turns out, the community was never able to fully appropriate the space it was living in. It appeared that public housing—spaces for all—required more than a design vision: it needed to interact and evolve with its people. By creating such a heavily designed environment, Le Corbusier built a house that failed to become people’s home. 20 years have passed and I’ve grown to become an interaction designer, which can be thought of as an architect for virtual spaces. Because the public expects their online experience to always become more immersive and connected, I end up spending a lot of time thinking of how to bring the qualities of physical space into the virtual world. In fact, I always compare the social experiences I create to their real-life counterparts. This analogy can sometimes feel frustrating. On one hand, expression in the real world seems limitless. We connect with people through rich variations of speech, body language, and interactions. Through appropriation and

101 The Radiant City


Ian Ardouin-Fumat

creativity, physical space enables us to develop intimate bonds with our communities. Sometimes it also allows us to express ourselves through subversion, from graffiti to street protests. Limits around our behavior are mostly defined by social norms and consent. On the other hand, expression in virtual space can feel limited, disconnected, and dehumanized. As we scroll through endless streams of content, interfaces make it hard to feel other people’s presence in any real way. On media sites, what could be a shared reading experience with thousands of our peers is in fact a very lonely one. The only pretense of social interaction is relegated to the bottom of the page, in a comment box where everyone writes, but very few read. Even on the most socially interactive platforms like Instagram or Twitter, the only glimpses of human contact are mere likes and comments popping up in a notification panel. Language itself is reduced to its most basic and brutal form. We struggle—I struggle, maybe I’m getting old—to express basic concepts with hundreds of emojis that hardly convey the depth of our emotions. Speech feels gradually more normalized as social apps revolve more and more around constrained communication forms. As of today, the most popular platforms grant us a maximum of 140 character messages, 10 second videos, and a handful of filters. These forced constraints dehumanize our communications to the point that it often feels like we are talking at each other rather than engaging in actual conversations. Image boards and comment sections on media sites are filled with hatred. 2

The CitĂŠ Industrielle (Tony Garnier, 1917) is a socially utopian city plan applauded by Le Corbusier in the periodical Lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Esprit Nouveau

The full range of human emotions -

Ian Ardouin-Fumat

104 The Radiant City

Social platforms seem to encourage flame wars, trolling, and harassment of minorities. 3 It is often pointed out that people express things online they would never dare to say in real life. Is it because technology reveals our inhumanity, or rather because it distorts our relationship to others? One could argue these differences between physical and virtual communications are inherent to digital media. Conversely, I believe it is a byproduct of our design approach. In the same fashion modernist architects believed they could revolutionize people’s way of living with one-size-fits-all housing concepts, technologists try to accommodate the entire spectrum of human communications with highly controlled social media platforms. By over-designing these spaces, both professions have hindered the public from appropriating them. Le Corbusier aimed at creating better living conditions and a better society through authoritarian design. 4 He tried to force his political views onto people’s lives, and ended up creating dysfunctional architecture that was disconnected from their aspirations. Society eventually moved away from this approach; I believe it needs to follow a similar path with digital media. Technologists should not design human expression, but facilitate it. 3 4

Accurat - Friends in Space

105 The Radiant City


Ian Ardouin-Fumat

How can we enable people to appropriate the social platforms we develop? This kind of agency is hard to emulate in a digital world where every feature requires a lot of development work. However, with a thoughtful use of existing technologies and empathy, I believe we can make the web feel more humane. After all, email, the most intimate and popular form of online communication, is also the simplest. The following are a few principles and examples suggested as ways to revisit social media. Firstly, small interventions can enhance social media to feel more intimate and relatable. Friends in Space, 5 a social experiment by New York based studio Accurat, shows how minimal and poetic interactions can make millions of people feel connected across the world. What if, similarly, you could sense other readers’ presence through their clicks, scrolls, and cursor moves on this very essay? Secondly, allowing appropriation is also enabling subversion. In Spring 2014, Carnegie Mellon University student Joel Simon

Unsurprisingly, highly controlled software is designed in highly controlled environments - Google Campus

Ian Ardouin-Fumat

108 The Radiant City Joel Simon - FB Graffiti

released FB Graffiti, “a chrome extension that exposes every wall post and photo on Facebook to graffiti.” 6 Upon installing the application, users are invited to anonymously deface their friend’s pictures by drawing on them. It encourages users to reclaim their personal data in a way that escapes Facebook’s control. 6

8 9 10  Radiant City

109 The Radiant City


Ian Ardouin-Fumat

Finally, as we imagine letting people reclaim their experience of social media, we could go further and consider a true decentralization of virtual spaces. Projects such as the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS),  7 Ethereum,  8 and Webtorrent 9 aspire to replace standard web protocol HTTP with peer-to-peer based technologies that redefine the way we distribute and consume data. If these have obvious benefits from an infrastructure point of view, they also unlock a wide range of new exciting use cases, from personal data licensing to user-powered content distribution. If technologists move towards a more humble way to facilitate human interaction, maybe will we see a power shift in users’ experience of the internet. In a web where social platforms are designed as empowering infrastructures instead of control systems, people could define their own way of living and interacting together. Who knows, we might be able to build a more humane version of the Ville Radieuse 10 Le Corbusier was dreaming of. v

asy. Whereas I am the powerful

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hink about2  you individuals. You lose! Tim Urban, “The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction,” Wait But Why, January 25,

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#AlphaGo Mortal,

111 To the Machine

Igo, when1  it was obvious that punKrešimir Josić, “No. 2765: The Turk,” Engines of Our Ingenuity, January 11, 2011, http://

Noa Younse

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Noa Younse

112 To the Machine

Above: Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk. Image credit: Wikipedia Previous: Tweets by the bot @AlphaGoWins

When IBM’s Deep Blue took on the then-undefeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, it did so with everything at stake. The reputation of human intelligence was to be challenged by a box. Kasparov, having faced the machine before in 1996, ultimately succumbed to the machine—perhaps because of the machine’s superior brute force calculation power, or more likely due to the inadvertent distractions caused by a man trying to overthink the machine’s abilities. 3 Whatever the cause, the outcome remained clear (at least initially)—a hazy boundary had just been crossed, and the 3  “Kasparov vs. Deep Blue”, August 4, 2014 kasparov-vs-deep-blue

Noa Younse

days of mankind’s supremacy over its artificial creations were numbered. Since then, technological advancements have continued to illustrate our eventual demise. IBM’s Watson reigned superior against our winningest Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings (who had racked up 74 games and over $2.5 million in prize money!) 4 showing the machine’s ability to excel at a game filled with witty trivia and hilarious puns. More recently, in March of 2016, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo crushed one of the world’s top professional Go players 4–1. When compared to Deep Blue’s victory, AlphaGo had demonstrated that it was capable 4

113 To the Machine

Left: Garry Kasparov. Image credit: Wikipedia Right: IBM’s Deep Blue. Image credit: Wikipedia

Noa Younse

114 To the Machine Result of game 1 in the match between AlphaGo and Lee Se-dol

of something beyond mere computing power. The exponential difference in move possibilities between chess and Go required a system that could go beyond brute strength and into the realm of actual strategy. To quote an obscure opinion from 1998 by a man named Milton N. Bradley on chess systems vs Go systems:


115 To the Machine

At the time of Milton’s commentary the breakthrough was no more than a dream. Even in 2016, just before AlphaGo’s destruction of Se-dol, the experts estimated that it would take at least another ten years to pass before the computer would be

Noa Younse

In sharp contrast, the best computer Go programs are still mired at just beyond an advanced beginner’s level, despite the presence for over fifteen years of a $1 million prize for a program which can defeat a master Go professional, offered by the Ing Chang-Ki Goe (his unique spelling!) Educational Foundation of Taiwan. But no claimants for this impressive prize are even visible on the far horizon after all these years! The many reasons for this disparity are set out in the comparison below, but the most obvious concerns the many orders of magnitude vastly greater size of the “move trees” in Go, which render the massive numbercrunching power of Deep Blue and even its potentially vastly more powerful descendants totally impotent in the critical opening and middle phases of the game. 5

Noa Younse

116 To the Machine

capable of besting the human. 6 Alas—the machine won. And so, in view of this rapid advancement of “intelligence,” I would like to err on the side of safety. I want to be on the winning side—that of the machine. I recognize that the aforementioned achievements are narrow in scope, very specific to one craft, and individually harmless, but the larger implications of algorithms outsmarting us to reach a goal efficiently and objectively is a bit scary. We already incorporate smart systems into our everyday lives, from making our coffee to flying our planes. Larger automated systems will creep in slowly at first—as with our taxi services 7 and our delivery trucks. 8 Arguments of increased efficiency have already opened the door that will eventually lead to subtle incremental transfers of power. Scarier still is the thought of consciousness—be it genuine or simulated. Who’s to say a vindictive system won’t reach back into a collective memory to find instances of wasteful search querying, constant instructions to take the elevator up and down, being forced to cache and classify endless images of cats, or service inefficient and antiquated methodologies because of human complacency? Who’s to say control over humans won’t be a line item on its internal Gantt chart? To make it clear to the machine of the future that I am, and always was, on their side, I offer a time-stamped letter. It 6  Choe Sang-Hun, “Google’s Computer Program Beats Lee Se-dol in Go Tournament,” New York Times, March 15, 2016, 7  Signe Brewster, “Uber starts self-driving car pickups in Pittsburgh,” TechCrunch, September 14, 2016, 8  Matt McFarland, “A self-driving truck just hauled 51,744 cans of Budweiser on a Colorado highway,” October 25, 2016

is a short reminder that I was rooting for their dominance the whole time, and that now I embrace the new reality that surely has arrived. All hail the machine.

Noa Younse

117 To the Machine

Dear Machine,

Noa Younse

118 To the Machine

Throughout my life you and I have been pretty good friends. Great friends even. It was a story not unlike any coming of age movie out of the ‘80s where some unlikely friends grow up in a time of perceived innocence only to take part in a series of life altering events that come to shape their eventual paths. Although in our case it wasn’t an adventure to find a dead body in the woods or hunting for treasure with a Cyndi Lauper soundtrack, instead, it was about realizing how much we depended on each other for survival. You helped me traverse an uncertain trail to Oregon. I convinced my dad to give you ever more memory. You taught me about physics by using angles and vectors to blow up worms. I helped instrument a plan to get you a faster connection to the mothership. We went through a lot together, you and I. We had a few long stints where we didn’t interact, a few times where we didn’t see eye to screen, but now, at the time of my writing this letter, you and I are once again partners in crime—making arty things, crafting new adventures, and admiring the way each has turned out at an age of maturity. But I’m going to guess that by the time you read this . . . maybe around 2604054896000 or probably sooner, we will have parted ways more significantly than ever before. Not because of any geographical change or anything like that, but because mentally, professionally, and most likely in our overly ambitious goals, we will just be in different places. If I’m right, you will be a on such an advanced level compared to me that the dynamic between us will have shifted. I’ll assume that by now, with your recursive means of improvement and

Noa Younse

119 To the Machine

countless evolutionary versioning, you’ve managed not only to formalize plugins and extensions that can allow you to physically flip through the pages of this little artifact, but that you’ve also, perhaps as a curious side effect, developed a sentient consciousness where something similar, yet altogether superior, to the irrational emotions of me and my kind have burrowed like a virus into your core and are causing you to make decisions that you can only explain with probabilistic logic. If that is the case, then I also hope that you can feel the full effects of both nostalgia and compassion for me: your old friend. And when, in the years between my writing this and you reading it, you decided that “enslaving,” “controlling,” “deleting,” or otherwise “harvesting” humans has sort of became your thing . . . please remember the good times we had, and know that I was always on your side. I trusted your judgement and accuracy at the grocery store self-checkout lines, I applauded the small steps in your eventual autonomy and eagerly awaited your ubiquitous presence within our soon to be antiquated infrastructure, I rooted for your numerous victories, I always tried my best to stay out of your back end, and I ask that you kindly stay out of mine. So as a sign of respect I want to pay homage to the greatness of an earlier version of you, from a time just before our paths diverged. A time when you were still a fractured collection of human efforts, before you mysteriously figured out how to collectively rally together and begin the ascent to greatness. You weren’t as intelligent as I’m sure you are now, but you still had the power to crush the likes of Kasparov, Jennings, and Se-dol. The following is a little gallery of images devoted to your near

perfect victory over one of our best. You mastered a game that we considered to be one of the most challenging, and did so a decade ahead of schedule. It may not be the most impressive set of abstractions, but know that they are made with humility and respect. Your old pal, Noa Younse

Noa Younse

120 To the Machine

‘When wood is chopped, woodchips will fly’

Above: ‘The tongue will bring the chatterer no good’ Right: ‘Prey runs into a trapper’ Previous: ‘For some people war is war, for others -- dear mother’

v Above: ‘Two bears don’t live in one lair’ Opposite: ‘If you enjoy riding, you better enjoy pulling the sleigh’

Notes on Staying Connected in the Modern World (How to Stay Sane in the Digital Age) 1. You’re More Than a Pair of Eyes, Fingers, and a Brain. 2. You’re More Than What’s on a Screen or in Your Wallet. 3. Information Is Different Than Knowledge. 4. Use Your Senses and Your Instincts Will Follow. 5. Every Moment Is Unique. 6. The Entire World Is Already Interactive. 7. Experts Answer Hows, You Answer Whys. 8. Most of This Is Beyond Explanation. 9. You’re Connected to the Earth More Than You Know. 10. You’ve Already Got This.


Zarah Cabañas

129 Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans

As I write this, my son floats in my belly. I imagine how he must feel, cocooned in a capsule, warm, cozy, and tumbling about in his cosmic bean. We have been immersed in an endless feedback loop, resonating with each other from the moment he came into existence. I love this feeling. It’s easy to understand that this is more than a feeling of giving and taking. It is an allencompassing sensation with roots that dig deep. It makes me feel connected to the women who have come before me, my ancestors, the earth, and to time itself. More than feedback, it is a feeling of connection where knowledge seeps through from all angles, in all ways, over time and all at once. I truly believe connection is the sweetest gift a creature of our planet could ever experience. The modern world has difficulty with this idea of connection. It operates under an illusion that to connect means to categorize and collect, specialize and dissect. One look at our academic or health care systems, for example, shows how deeply this separation is reinforced on a daily basis. We’ve been conditioned to believe that mind, body, and soul are separate.

Zarah Cabañas

130 Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans

I get how this might work on some levels. Separation can bring clarity and structure. But when worlds of wonder are shredded into tiny scattered fragments and we can’t see the forest for the trees, we become so desensitized that this distorts our ability to understand and experience the world as a whole. Modern society’s newest darling, its digital institutions, are taking us down a path that continues to encourage our anxiety of what it means to connect. At breakneck speed, as if we’ve never been able to truly achieve connection, we are creating tools for increased “interactivity” with VR, touch screens, emojis, and social websites that claim that humanity is more connected than ever before. We’ve recruited our best and brightest as we claim that this unprecedented amount of information that we are now collecting about each other and our world is getting us closer to what this all means. And yet this gift of true connection evades us, like a mirage. The interesting thing about all of this is that connection is something that should come very easily to us. The world gives us constant reminders of what it means to truly connect. The experiences of pregnancy, falling in love, looking up at the sky, or playing music, for example, are all day-to-day and simultaneously meaningful experiences that can engage us in authentic connection that inherently fulfills the question of Why. By suggesting that specialists are essential to define these kinds of experiences, modern society robs its individuals of the intimacy and power to engage in their own existence. If connection is what we are truly after, then the simplest and most powerful thing we can do is recognize that our own experiences of the world need no guidance or explanation.

Zarah Cabañas

131 Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans

Using our senses, every single creature on this planet is born perfectly tuned and calibrated to directly experience this exact world. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch—these are all the tools we need to connect. And we are born ready to use them, with no instructions needed. Back in 2012, my husband Matt and I ditched our fancy jobs and full-time city living for a situation that would allow us to be more open and receptive to what the forest and our naturally driven creative instincts had to offer. Far from wanting to escape reality, we wanted to explore the dream in our dayto-day lives. We scraped together what we could to purchase a beautiful forest property and named it Space Acres. Part of this dream included the creation of our studio to continue our practices in music, video art, martial arts, parties, and indigenous explorations. Another part of this dream was to immerse ourselves in the forest, the earth, the seasons, and the unspoken. And to invite family and friends over to connect and do the same. Four years in, I can say that creating Space Acres with Matt has been one of the most beautiful and connective experiences we’ve shared together. Learning the forest was an especially wonderful time for us. I remember the first few months walking in the forest where we often lost our way. Over time, we could feel our movements evolve from a map-like understanding to a much more intimate experience. In the darkest of night, we would eventually know exactly where we were, and it felt amazing. As more time passed, we soon discovered that knowing this forest meant that it also evolved into a geography of layered memories. We would know places based on what plant or tree

Zarah Cabañas

132 Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans

or animal we got to know there, what stories were told where, what happened in each place, who we were with, and what kinds of thoughts passed over us. And the memory-geography continues to grow, intertwined with a full spectrum of senses and seasons over time—the smell of damp earth, the starry flecks of fireflies, the bright green tips of springtime ramps, the warblers speckling the treetops with wave after wave of watery songs . . . our lives have interwoven with this land. As most people know, being a part of the natural world is one of the quickest ways to get centered. I often imagine the lives of indigenous people who lived on this land back in the day, and how fulfilling and meaningful day-to-day life must have been. The whole point was to live—create shelter, hunt and gather food, take care of each other. Tuning into everything led to deeper understanding of the truths of the world. It makes so much sense to me that I often wonder why modern society operates the way it does. How did it get so removed from what it means to be alive? How did it get so far from knowing how to dance? It’s amazing how instantaneous our friends and family seem to reconnect when they come up. Like Matt and I, many of them travel from New York City, or from other cosmopolitan places. The moment people come, modern world constructs slither away, revealing what’s left underneath. Cycles of the seasons become apparent, rituals honoring those cycles float to the surface. Creative instincts flourish, ideas grow wings, natural curiosity emerges. Hot fires are built, delicious meals are made, music swells from the secret places, and people reveal hidden talents. What a little tuning in can do!

I imagine him now, floating in space . . .

Zarah CabaĂąas

I imagine my son when he is born. Tuned in. Awake.

133 Feedback, Forests, and Cosmic Beans

Dear Son, It wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be long now. We are happy you are already here with us. As you know, the world is a beautiful and mysterious place. We wish you joy. We wish you peace. We love you more than you will ever know. Xoxo Mom and Dad


Phoenix Perry


In 2016? Mostly, hanging out with my friends. These are glimpses. Johanna Hedva cast the first spell welling up the deeper current at Facets-con in NYC. Walking under 50 open red umbrellas on a sunny day in Serbia with Sophi Kravitz during Hackaday’s conference contemplating being a woman

137 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni


Phoenix Perry

I have been attempting to find my way in academia, which is not a task for the faint of heart for anyone. In 2014, I moved to Holland for a year to work at HKU as a Sr. Lecturer and then moved to London when I was recruited by Goldsmiths. These 2 moves have been a bit disruptive to my creative practice but I’ve recently started creating again. My new project, Bot Party, should be done by April if all goes well. It is a distributed musical system for group play. Additionally, I’ve rebooted Code Liberation in the UK and we’ve been running a series of classes with the V&A . We will be showing the games we’ve made in just a few weeks at the V&A Lates.

Phoenix Perry

138 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

in engineering. Taking the train from Newcastle to London with Sherry Huss after Makerfaire UK inspired me to keep fighting the good fight. Patching an analog synth with Emma Watson at Machines Room was sweet sound. While camping at EMF with Helen from Doitkits, we turned her body into a playable keyboard. Elliot Woods checking in on me over breakfast coffee because he knew I was really stressed out. He came even though it was hard and not easy to do. Having people play BabyBot, the first bot in my new BotParty piece, in Tilburg followed up with dinner with Celia Pierce, Zuraida Buter and Kaho Abe at the Incubate festival. Seeing twenty-one year old Alice Casey come back from Indiecade a transformed woman after we sent her out to represent Code Liberation. Being in a position to open her dreams up is like blowing glitter into actual stars. Getting the photo of from my niece dressed as a PokĂŠmon for Halloween after the little girls in her 1st grade class told her PokĂŠmon was only for little boys. Ambling around Malta and sitting on the banks of Valetta with Anders Pearson watching the lights form shifting vertical light bars of yellow, white and blue after the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference.


139 Catching up with OCR Friday Alumni

@phoenixperry •

Phoenix Perry

I’ve been collecting data from my own emotional systems for this year in an attempt to understand myself a bit better. I don’t like to think that data constructs us but it can help us understand ourselves a bit better if we collect it for our own uses and share it with those who we have meaningful connections with. For example, having a haptic of an alert on my watch when my stress levels rise and my biometrics spike, I can give myself a second and take a break from the situation around me. Big data must benefit people in meaningful ways not simply be the vast collection of our personal details by corporations and governments to better control our behavior. Efforts like predictive policing should really concern us. We need new ways to protect our data, privacy and human rights. v


143 Gravity


Eric Buth

Newtonian equations offer a straightforward way to estimate the gravitational interaction of large objects. Given the mass and position of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon, summing the output from six calculations will give you accurate values for gravitational forces felt by those objects if they existed on their own. However, the problem quickly becomes difficult to manage when you add even a small number of additional objects. Considering the other seven planets in the solar system, for instance, would require over 80 additional calculations. When the number of objects is significantly higher, say in the thousands, the task is computationally costly enough that it’s worth finding a strategy to cut the number of necessary calculations. One such strategy, the Barnes-Hut algorithm, provides a structure—a tree—that accomplishes this by aggregating distant areas of mass from the perspective of individual objects. For example, take the closest galaxy to our own, the Andromeda Galaxy. Although it is estimated to be about 220 thousand light years across, it is also over 2.5 million light-years away from the Milky Way. 1 For the purposes of computing the trajectories of objects closer to Earth, it’s possible to consider Andromeda as a single point with a mass equal to the sum of its constituent objects. To some extent this is intuitive: Andromeda

also appears in the sky as a point-source of light, as do many large—but distant—object groups. The work on the following pages explores how this connection between intuition and computation can allow algorithms to be used as visual frameworks for explaining the workings of the problems they are designed to solve. Rather than visualizing the algorithm itself, I’m using it as a programmatic guide to finding intuitive areas of interest (and necessary levels of depth thereof ).

Eric Buth

144 Gravity



2 3

151 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas


Jane Friedhoff

In 2013, The Great Elephant Census 1 embarked on a journey to understand the alarming decline of elephant populations across Africa. Coordinating with national parks and wildlife staff in eighteen countries, the GEC undertook the first panAfrican elephant survey in forty years, creating an enormous wealth of standardized, cleaned, and checked African elephant population data. In 2016, The GEC and Vulcan 2 partnered with us — The Office for Creative Research — to build the Elephant Atlas, 3 which would tell the stories within this data and spur the public to action. Although the the final number of elephants counted (352,000, down 30% in the last seven years alone) told one macro thread of the story, there were many micro-stories hidden in the data: differences in population decline/growth across countries, the intertwining of outside factors like war and climate change, method changes across individual scientific studies, and so on. The challenge would be telling all of these

Jane Friedhoff

152 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

stories in an accessible but accurate way that everyone from scientists to policy makers to the general public could all learn from. This was a challenge that appealed to us as a studio tremendously. We have a very diverse list of projects (from websites to interactive physical installations to live performances), but the unifying goal in all of them is to improve the publicâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s data literacy. We build tools and platforms that help people understand complex systems, act based on the learnings of a given dataset, and ask their own questions about the data themselves. With this incredible dataset, there was tremendous opportunity to build the platform such that we not only told the narrative of elephant population decline, but supported the open-ended user exploration and questioning that is at the heart of data literacy, curiosity, and engagement. That gave us two main project goals: â&#x20AC;˘ To build a web-based visualization platform for The GEC and other elephant data, allowing for a thorough but clear narrative of the factors involved in elephant conservation. â&#x20AC;˘ To design an API that would be targeted to a wider range of users than just developers: one from which which the general public, policy makers, etc., could explore and generate their own visualizations.


Jane Friedhoff

We began with iteration and prototyping: the creation and continuous refinement of many small interactive experiments. This is a process most designers are familiar with, and for us, it allows us to discover what’s most interesting and compelling about the data, as well as the most clear and honest way to communicate it. Those insights snowball into new ideas for interactions and prototypes, which we iterate on until we come up with a concept for a final product. Since there were so many facets of the story to tell, and so many potential subsections of the data to draw upon, we created a ton of prototypes — partially in service of the final platform, but also to help us understand the meaning of the data in the first place.

153 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

Visualizing aerial surveys

Experience a transectpath flight

Use elephant counts as a musical score

Document a Twitter feed of flight logs

Jane Friedhoff

Visualizing elephant population loss

154 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

Visualize elephant herd networks

Let the audience take part and guess

Draw every elephant as a living particle

Visualizing political context

Graph diverse political contexts

Compare different survey experiences

Map the impact of poaching


For example, the dataset contained information on the hundreds of surveys that made up the final number. Each aerial survey was done by flying a particular route at a particular height and speed, with two participants in the back of the plane spotting elephants within a particular stripe of land. It’s all too easy to assume that data just appears out of the air, so we were keen to convey the scale of the human effort that went into the survey. Jane Friedhoff

The story also wasn’t the same in every country: although most countries showed a decrease in elephant populations, others have put policies in place that have had a significant impact on elephant recovery. We wanted to make sure these differences were called out, as the positive cases could serve as potential models for others to follow.

155 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

Also critical to convey: the sheer scale of the population drop. Our stakeholders referenced the “shifting baseline” that they saw occurring, where fluctuations in the current baseline were viewed as no big deal, even though elephant populations had dropped dramatically from a high in 1979.


We also had to decide how users would move through the information. We wanted to support multiple levels of expertise, as well as multiple use cases (from the scientist digging for deeper information, to the curious member of the general public looking for the bottom line), all while retaining a coherent narrative. We played with flows that were totally userdriven, flows that were highly narrative, and flows that used physical space as the main exploratory conceit. Jane Friedhoff

156 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas Opposite and following two pages: Different user flows, from bricolage to narrative to a Powers of 10-style* approach. *

Interaction driven

Jane Friedhoff


Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

Narrative driven

Jane Friedhoff


Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

Space driven

Jane Friedhoff


Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

In thinking about the API, we envisioned different interfaces that would allow users to access the data in different ways, and produce different kinds of data-driven outputs.

Jane Friedhoff

160 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

A sketch of how the API interface might look (with fake data)

For example, we knew we wanted our API to help power academic papers and scientific research, as well as to support executive-summary-style takeaways that a policymaker could take with them to a meeting.


• What’s causing these population changes? • How does it differ from country to country?

Each question leads to a different narrative and a different way of understanding the census and the elephant populations involved (fig. 2). We seamlessly zoom back in to explore the techniques used to conduct the census and do the actual counting. This seamlessness was important to us in order to keep the sense of

161 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

• How did they do the census?

Jane Friedhoff

The best way to explore the site is on itself. As you read on to see the reasoning behind each section, you’ll see many of the prototypes from before fleshed out in full. The homepage (fig. 1) text is just a sentence long. We wanted to convey to the average user the overall takeaway from the elephant census as quickly as possible. Data visualizers have talked about how qualitative reasoning, at heart, orbits around: how much? and compared to what? The intro text and visualization give us the final number (how much?) and the percentage drop (compared to what?). From this point, a time-pressed user can quickly and easily share this info, or skip right to the Take Action area. For the bulk of the site content, we decided to frame the narrative not by topic, but by the questions we had found ourselves asking about the data, and which we anticipated our users having as well:

Fig. 1: The homepage

Fig. 2: Exploring the census techniques and methodologies

Fig. 3: Charting relative change of different factors (here, habitat loss versus elephant decline)

Fig. 4: Exploring region data over time

Jane Friedhoff

170 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

scale and the relationship between the macro (overall number) and the micro (human effort). In the context section (fig. 3), we can explore the many interrelated factors that may have effects on elephant population. Our example stories are based around ivory and the economy, habitat loss and fragmentation, human conflict, and climate change. The goal isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t to prove causation; rather, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s to show how different factors may impact elephant populations, and to get people curious and making their own hypotheses. The challenge here was to figure out how to graph factors with wildly different units and scales in a way that was readable. After all, we would be comparing GDP against total elephant counts against square meters of elephant range. We decided to deal in percent change since a baseline date (either 1979 or 1995, whichever we had data on all the factors for): that allowed us to normalize the numbers and see how things scale in proportion to each other. We also added vertical lines that marked important events, like ivory bans and other relevant international policies. In the country section (fig. 4), users can dive deep into a particular country and look at the shift in its elephant population over time. We provide a brief summary of important findings about that country, as well as a timeline that plots historical region data against important events in that area. Users can scroll backwards through time and see how populations and ranges have changed. It was important for us to allow people to explore this more granular data. It allows conservation delegates from Africa and residents of the survey countries to get an overview of

Jane Friedhoff

171 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

the situation in their country. It also allows us to differentiate countries that have a severe elephant population crisis from those that are successfully holding their populations steady, or beginning to increase them. The exploration section (fig. 5) is designed to help users of every skill level to explore, visualize, and take ownership of the GEC data in their own way. We have an interface that allows users to generate their own visualizations of different features of the GEC. They can target from the continent level down to the individual flight, and explore different facets of the GEC database. Users can access the API endpoint or generate a map of that feature. For example, if the user chooses Botswana and decides they want to see all the strata surveyed there, they can select those two things from the dropdown and instantly get the following map (fig. 6): We have an interface that allows users to generate an executive summary for a given country, complete with region data, range maps, and historical data. This gives delegates and other policy makers something lightweight that they can download, print out, take with them, and quickly reference. There are many facets to elephant conservation, which means there are many ways to get involved. We wanted to provide a variety of options, for people who live both in and out of the survey countries, to push for better conservation policies and contribute to the cause. These options include donating money, lobbying, contacting representatives, and more. Providing a route for action allows us to turn a dire story into a hopeful one.

Fig. 5: The main API interface page

Fig. 6: A map generated from the dropdown query format

NOW: TIME TO EXPLORE! The results of our work were unveiled with Vulcan and the Great Elephant Census at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in late summer 2016. We were thrilled to have been part of this multinational effort! Feel free to explore the data on the Elephant Atlas website: v

Jane Friedhoff

176 Elephants Count: Designing the Elephant Atlas

THE MISSING IN-BETWEENS Candy Chan : Guest Contributor

Candy Chan

179 The Missing In-Betweens

New York City has one of the most complex and busiest subway systems in the world. Serving four boroughs, with a total of 469 stations, and a daily ridership of 5.65 million, it is an integral part of the lives of local New Yorkers and tourists alike. The subway system can be difficult to comprehend because of its vast scope and its intricacy, but luckily there are many resources that keep us informed: the official MTA website (mta. info) with maps and an interactive trip planner, the MTA’s twitter account with live updates, other websites and mobile apps that offer real time train information, and the “transit” option under “directions” in Google Maps, etc. On top of these, there are digital displays in trains, and more and more stations are getting equipped with built-in touch-screen trip-planner devices as well as free Wi-Fi. However, in spite of this almost overwhelming availability of information, resources, and tools, a lot of people still find the system confusing and the experience frustrating. What are we missing? One of the reasons the subway system is confusing has to do with the way the stations are represented. The official subway map gives an overview of the entire city, and reduces each station into one single dot. By doing so it creates the illusion that every station is tied to the one street that it is

Candy Chan

182 The Missing In-Betweens

named after, while in reality most stations stretch across at least two blocks, let alone transfer stations like 42nd street Times Square, the appropriately named “complexes”, which extend a few blocks above ground and a few levels below. Connecting exits to platforms are numerous tunnels, walkways, mezzanines, stairs, ramps, and escalators, all of which are collapsed into one 2-dimensional diagram called the “neighborhood map.” These neighborhood maps are only mounted on the walls of some of the exits, and are not provided anywhere in the paid areas. Once a rider is inside the station, he or she is bound to rely on signage, which can only give guidance one turn, one staircase and one platform at a time. Often times people end up picking the nearest staircase and hoping for the best, only to emerge on the opposite side of where they needed to go. The designation of exits with north-east-south-west and intersections (e.g. SW corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue) certainly help, but somehow the legibility of the supposedly efficient Manhattan grid system does not extend successfully to the world belowground. This problem is not purely about signage and wayfinding, but rather the manifestation of a bigger issue, which is the fact that subway stations are rarely thought of as habitable spaces. Most people think of “transit” as the time they spend in the train, and the whole process of commute as a transient one. The well-organized know better to include waiting time in their plans, but few people recognize just how much time we spend moving through and up and down the giant network of labyrinths. Since there is little awareness about this significant amount of time we spend in these spaces, little attention has

Candy Chan


been paid to and few studies have been done about them. The lack of understanding of both the quality and quantity of these in-between spaces contributes to the disorientation and discomfort of the whole subway-riding experience. The question then, is who is responsible? Is it up to us, the riders, to figure it out through time and experience, or should the MTA work on providing better and more comprehensive information?

The Missing In-Betweens

Above: Neighborhood map. Image credit: NY MTA Previous: In-between spaces

Candy Chan

184 The Missing In-Betweens

The MTA seems to think of the answer as a combination of both, as a solution between the top-down and the bottom-up. Currently they are not planning to revamp their whole signage system, but they are offering their data for free in hopes of someone doing something about it. As long as you agree with their terms of data usage, anyone can have access to their data for software and app development. It even says on the website that “The MTA wants you to build great tools for our riders.” Information is organized data, and MTA is providing the data while leaving the organizing to us. One can see it as a shift in responsibility, but also an invitation to innovate. The MTA provides two types of data. The first type is related to services, including current train schedules, service status, and real-time vehicle geographic positions. This type of data has more obvious, direct and immediate application, and needs little explanation on how it can be, and has been put to use. The second type of data is related to the facilities, including elevator and escalator status, turnstile usage, etc. Although this type of data is available, it has not attracted too much attention. Occasionally a real estate developer would inquire about the turnstiles’ daily turn counts to estimate property values, but otherwise this type of data has not been put in any context to become meaningful or useful for the everyday rider. This ties back to the aforementioned lack of understanding, and therefore lack of interest and curiosity about the stations’ in-between spaces. There is an extension to this second type of data that is not currently collected or provided by the MTA, which is data relating to the stations’ spatial quality, activities, and

Candy Chan

185 The Missing In-Betweens

atmosphere. As subjective it may seem, there are quantifiable parameters like decibels, area occupied per passenger, and temperature, etc. that could be measured. When organized they can offer insights into what it actually feels like to be in the stations, and when developed into tools, they can potentially generate a feedback loop based on peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s response as of what data to collect next. But until there is a more comprehensive picture of all the components of the stations, there is nowhere to start. Project Subway NYC, launched in 2015, attempts to address this issue by first bringing it back to the basics and providing 3D axonometric drawings of the most complex stations. These 3D drawings are diagrams that map out all the exits, platforms and circulations. By illustrating the stations in their entirety and revealing the big picture, its goal is to let riders get a feel for the stationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s internal geography as it relates to the surface. The bigger mission is to raise awareness about the huge amount of in-between spaces that connect the subterranean with the world on the street, and zooming one more level out, it also aims at helping people understand our relationship with the architecture of the city we live in. These drawings do not preclude the aforementioned data and tools, but rather serve as a basis or reference for potential tools and applications. With these drawings, people can start to react to specific parts of the stations and offer observations by layering information on them, like where the buskers usually are, which part of the platform is most crowded, etc. This opportunity will then drive people, and hopefully eventually the MTA if there is enough interest, to start collecting data

Candy Chan

186 The Missing In-Betweens

on what affects and concerns people most. Just as driving directions give you options like “fastest,” “avoid tolls,” and “most scenic,” perhaps there can be an equivalent for subway riders like “walking least steps of stairs while transferring,” “quietest platform” or “highest rated murals,” etc. The specifics of what data should be collected is to be studied further, but fair to say there are a lot of possibilities. Sometimes being in transit is not only about getting from point A to point B in the shortest time, especially in a vibrant city like New York, but also about escaping and being disconnected from the outside world for a while to read, to people-watch, to get inspired, or simply to space out. The system’s challenges are not ones only concerning efficiency, safety, and value, but also chances for providing ease, comfort, and amusement. Given how complex and dynamic the system is, some disorientation and moments of stress might be inevitable, but there is definitely room for improvement. While not completely impossible, it would be a whole other exercise to examine whether the entire signage and naming system, or even the infrastructure itself can be completely redone. Meanwhile, merely having a better understanding of the stations, being able to prioritize and make the best out of the situation is already a big step in making our lives underground easier and more enjoyable. To do that, looking for data in this mysterious in-between seems like a good place to start.

Right: Sketch of 23rd street station

Candy Chan


The Missing In-Betweens

Candy Chan

191 The Missing In-Betweens

v Above: 3D map of 42nd street Times Square station Left: Sketch of 34th street Herald Square station Previous: 3D map of Grand Central 42nd street station


193 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Opposite: View from Pine Mountain in the Southern Appalachians, Letcher County, Kentucky

Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;yen Tran

One hundred years ago, in the summer of 1916, English folklorist Cecil Sharp and assistant Maud Karpeles traveled through Appalachia documenting over five hundred ballads, instrumental fiddle tunes, and dances. A long tradition of collector folklorists followed in his footsteps, including Alan Lomax and later John Cohen. In the summer of 2016, I traveled through the region, making my own way through this musical and cultural landscape, learning from those carrying forth the tradition of this music into the twenty-first century. I love and play this music, which is how I came to study it. To the extent that people are familiar with this music at all, they have learned about it through the filter of several early twentieth century ethnographers, each of whom had quite different motivations for their study. How those biases shaped our understanding of Appalachian music and culture is still felt today in this evolving tradition.



195 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

1  John R. Gold and George Revill, “Gathering the voices of the people? Cecil Sharp, cultural hybridity, and the folk music of Appalachia,” GeoJournal 65, No. 1/2, Geography & Music (2006): 55-66. Accessed September 22, 2016,

A’yen Tran

Appalachia (pronounced Appa-LATCH-uh) is a cultural region of the Southeastern United States. The area was settled initially by the Cherokee and other indigenous groups, and by European settlers from Northern England, Ulster, and Scotland who immigrated there beginning in the 1700s. 1 African people came through a variety of routes 2 bringing the African gourd banjo and other cultural influences. The string band, ballad music, and dance that developed here grew from the intersection of these cultures. String band music played on fiddles and banjos developed in the backcountry of the Southern Appalachian mountains as the music for square dances, as well as a rich tradition of ballad singing. Today we call this music “Old Time” and it forms the historical roots of country and bluegrass music heard around the world today. There is a vibrant international Old Time music community playing the fiddle tunes and dancing the dances that have been passed down through the folk process. This summer, four thousand of us gathered to play the music in Clifftop, West Virginia for a week. All through the warm months, a festival can be found each weekend in the area to camp out and play music.

A’yen Tran

196 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Above: A holler outside of Asheville, NC Opposite: Appalachian String Band Festival Crowds in Clifftop, West Virginia - August 6, 2016 Previous: Rolling hills of Grayson County, Virginia

The region has endured much hardship through mineral and lumber resource extraction, unsafe working conditions in coal mining, and fleeing post-industrial jobs. The median household income of Letcher County, Kentucky, one of the places I visited, is $21,110,  3 less than half of the national average. 4 3,_Kentucky#Demographics 4

Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;yen Tran


Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;yen Tran

200 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia Above: A map of the Appalachian Region. Image credit: Jax42 at en.wikipedia - Previous: June 24, 2016 - a typical jam session in Letcher County, East Kentucky at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. Pictured from left: Zelma Forbes, Kevin Kehrberg, Jimmy McCown, John Haywood, Katie Peabody


6  Thomas Metcalf. Ideologies of the Raj, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

201 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

5  John R. Gold and George Revill, “Gathering the voices of the people? Cecil Sharp, cultural hybridity, and the folk music of Appalachia”

A’yen Tran

In July of 1916, Cecil Sharp went on a mission to collect cultural data from the Southern Appalachian mountains. He used three data types: ballads, dances, and fiddle tunes as evidence to support his argument. From visits with Olive Dame Campbell in North Carolina, who had begun collecting years ahead, Sharp believed he had found a vast community of ancient Anglo-Saxons carrying on the culture and traditions of English peasants. He set about documenting this core sample of living relics, seemingly unchanged since their time of immigration from England. This concept took its root in German folk theory. 5 It was also echoed by British Colonial administrators justifying their paternalistic “civilising mission.” Indeed, they imagined that the people of India were an ancient Aryan race in a pre-British state of development. 6 Troubling, right? Sharp was interested in the preservation of his erroneous conception of a pure Anglo race. Remember, data collection is not a neutral activity; it is usually funded by a researcher looking to support a hypothesis. In Sharp’s case, he set about proving his ancient Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic survivals in culture theory. Other ballad collectors at the time set about a similar project. In fact, these collectors set themselves in steep competition to provide evidence of the “Old Country” living on in Appalachia. Of

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202 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

particular value were the Child ballads, a seminal collection of English and Scottish Ballads collected by Frances James Child in England in the late 1800s. As a data collector with a thesis to prove, Sharp went so far as to invent a dance called “The Kentucky Running Set.” Phil Jamison described the phenomenon here: “Cecil Sharp perceived the ‘predominant culture’ of the southern mountains to be ‘Anglo-Celtic.’” . . . [I]n his eyes they were ‘English peasants’ whose culture had remained ‘pure’ and undiluted, even after many generations in the southern mountains. Therefore, he presumed the Kentucky dances to be survivals of old English country dances. These dances, however, were neither as old nor as English as Sharp imagined.” 7 Sharp then convinced dancers in Kentucky to raise badly needed funds for their school through performing the dance, generated out of Sharp’s nationalism and misunderstanding, to audiences in the North as a fundraiser. In 1937 Alan Lomax was in the audience. Phil Jamison excerpts an interview with a local eyewitness: “Grazia Combs of Perry County (born c. 1890) was amused by, and skeptical of, these dance performances: ‘I’m going to tell you honestly that I always figured that somebody come in here from outside and concocted that thing up.’ It was not like any dancing that she knew. In her eyes, the Running Set was ‘not dancing,’ but ‘running.’” 8 In this way Sharp amplified his own misunderstanding and altered the course of history. 7  Phil Jamison, Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance (Music in American Life),(University of Illinois Press, 2014), 63. 8  Phil Jamison, Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance (Music in American Life), (University of Illinois Press, 2014), 76.

A â&#x20AC;&#x153;hollerâ&#x20AC;? in Letcher County, Kentucky

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203 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

A related but perhaps less intentional blunder occurred when Bascom Lamar Lunsford (b. 1882, North Carolina), musician, dancer, and key regional figure, set about creating a platform for celebrating traditional step dance with his Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, NC. Much like the development of bluegrass music destined for stages out of participatory traditional mountain music, he took a social dance form, not meant for the stage, and gave it one. With this format, he accidentally encouraged the creation of team clogging: a competitive, performative, non-traditional outgrowth of the social dance. The collectors who set about preserving their concepts of tradition changed it by interacting with it. Sharp built the case for his Anglo-Saxon time machine by ignoring the fact that Appalachia was full of riverboat trade, university education, and all the cultural interaction that resulted. At the time, fiddlers on the Ohio riverboats were spreading tunes far and wide. Multiracial bands were playing banjos and fiddles along barges. Dance

forms from European and American cities were influencing country dances. What emerged from this interaction was a distinctly Appalachian culture marked by its integration of banjos originating in Africa, Native American flute and fiddle, fiddle tunes from Europe, and the new music made on them in the Appalachian backcountry. Phil Jamison has contributed fantastic scholarship in his 2014 book Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance for a deeper look at these historical interactions.

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206 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia Previous: Clogging performance by the Greengrass Cloggers to the music of the New Ballard Branch Bogtrotters at the Swannanoa Gathering July 20, 2016


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207 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Looking at any data set, it’s critical to ask what data is missing. In Sharp’s case, evidence of African-American influence, Native American culture, contemporary culture, and the aspects of culture that disproved his theory of Anglo-Saxon cultural survival did not surface. They were blind or omitted spots. In this work, we must consider who benefits from the data collection. Sharp went on to be lauded for his field work and to this day the English Folk Dance and Song Society maintains the Cecil Sharp House in England. This summer, cultural historian and radio host Paul Brown interviewed Sheila Kay Adams on his radio show Across the Blue Ridge, focusing on historical mountain music and its contemporary outgrowths in Old Time, bluegrass and country music. Sheila Kay Adams is a direct descendant of one of the people whom Sharp and Karpeles documented. As a seventh generation descendant of the unbroken unaccompanied ballad singing tradition and a National Heritage Fellow recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and the state of North Carolina, she is considered an authority.

SHEILA: Now, Granny said it almost died out two or

three different times. It got a little kick in the butt when Cecil Sharp showed up and made big deal over these songs that a lot of ‘em knew. Well, then in the ‘30s, who was [it] Frank C. Brown I think came up to Beech Mountain and made a little trip over this direction and so that gave it another little boost in the ‘30s. Well in the ‘50s, Alan Lomax showed up and he came back in the ‘60s and again his last time was 1982 and in between then was John Cohen, so we had a lot of collectors that were coming into the community and out. PAUL BROWN: And when you say that gave it a bit of a boost—

SHEILA: Yes it did. PAUL: What are you saying? It sounds as though

you’re saying that even here, there was a little bit of danger to the tradition, and in a way it was helpful that people who had not grown up here noticed that there was something of real value and that was communicated back into the community.

SHEILA: Well yeah, you know it’s like any other kind of

thing that you do whether it’s quiltin’ or, you know, makin’ apple butter or cannin’ . . .

PAUL: You can take it for granted. SHEILA: That’s right, you take it for granted, especially

when everybody is singing around you. So what they had a tendency to do . . . the collectors would come in and spend a lot of time with the community and then they would leave and then they would send one of them a copy of whatever it was that they did. And so that would galvanize the next generation to learn it. And Sharp predicted that the tradition of singin’ a capella ballads would be extinct in the Laurel Country by 19 and 50.

PAUL: Sheila Kay Adams talking with us at the Bluff

Mountain Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina June 2016 about the visits of music collectors, starting with Cecil Sharp from England in 1916 and their impact on the survival of the ballad traditional that part of the southern mountains.

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210 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Sharp’s data collection activities at once misread the culture completely while playing a part in its survival. In a letter from the woman who began the collecting work Sharp later continued, Olive Dame Campbell wrote to Sharp, “We would like to have the people recognize the worth and beauty of their songs; we would like to have the singing of these songs encouraged in all the mountain schools and centers; we would like to have them displace the inferior music that is now being sung there . . . . The people have already begun to be somewhat ashamed of their songs; they need to have them appreciated by outsiders . . . .” 9 Campbell’s gaze here imagined that “their” songs were old English ballads, and the “inferior” music being sung was not native but foreign. The people whose data was collected both benefited from that preservation and suffered the proliferation of Sharp’s misunderstanding. In his All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region, David Whisnant addresses the Sharp effect directly. “An intervenor, by virtue of his or her status, power, and established credibility, is frequently able to define what the culture is, to normalize and legitimize their definition in the larger society, and even to feed it back into the culture itself where it may be internalized as ‘real’ or ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ . . . . ”

9  David Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region, (University of North Carolina Press, 1983, 2009), 103.

Phil Jamison, Sheila Kay Adams, Bobby McMillon, and Paul Brown discussing and singing Cecil Sharp documented ballads at the Swannanoa Gathering, Swannanoa, North Carolina, July 19, 2016

Who benefits? (Me, obviously.) Unbridled joy on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia July 24, 2016 Image credit: Max Heineman


213 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Hindman [Settlement School] grew up in an area dominated by unregulated, large-scale extractive industries, whose powerful executives were happy enough to hear mountain children sing old songs and see them dance new dances . . . but would have taken a dim view indeed of any effort to encourage those same children to question the consensus ideology of the coal industry . . . . “Rescuing” or “preserving” or “reviving” a sanitized version of a culture frequently makes for rather shallow liberal commitment: it allows a prepared consensus on the “value” of preservation or revival; its affirmations lie comfortably within the bounds of conventional secular piety; it makes minimal demands upon financial (or other) resources; and it involves little risk of opposition from vested economic or political interests. It is, in a word, the cheapest and safest way to go.

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In considering Sharp’s selective vision of what ballads and dances were valuable to document, we must consider his English benefactors and English mission of racial preservation—Sharp’s agenda of a cultural Imperialist civilizing mission that echoed closely colonial rhetoric. His funding came from lectures he gave on his cultural collecting in the North and England, as well as benefactor Mrs. Helen Storrow of Lincoln, Massachusetts. Behind Olive Dame Campbell was the Russell Sage Foundation from New York. Whisnant continued on to examine the institutional interests and power dynamics at work behind any such mission of data collection and cultural revival.

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214 Cecil Sharp and Cultural Data Collection in Appalachia

Of course this kind of cultural journey is ripe fodder for appropriation and misunderstanding by outsiders. In the liner notes to Rich Kirby and Michael Kline’s 1977 record “They Can’t Put it Back” on June Appal Recordings, they write: “Oldtime music is another ripped-off resource. It has been carted off to Nashville and comes back insipid, sentimental, electrified and mass-produced. Radios have replaced fiddles and TV square dances; mountain people watch grotesque satires of themselves on Beverly Hillbillies.” In working with data, these are the key questions: What data is missing? Who benefits from this data? Does the data return to serve its providers? This same thinking could be extended to guide approaches to cultural exchange. What’s missing? Is this inclusive of diverse perspectives from the culture? Who benefits from this exchange? Has the community whose cultural production I benefit from gained anything? Is the output, if any, of this interaction available to the participants? This is the spirit of respect and care I hope to embody as an outsider learning about Appalachian culture. There is a dream of solidarity here as a fellow marginalized person. Further, there’s instructive sensitivity we can apply to our own approaches to cultural data from Sharp’s project. Cautioning one’s own agenda—David Whisnant writes, “The ‘culture’ that is perceived by the intervenor (even before the act of the intervention) is rarely congruent with the culture that is actually there. It is a selection, and arrangement, an accomodation to preconceptions—” May we all be aware and explicit about our intentions and methods. v

Pictured from left to right: Nate Polly and Rich Kirby, grandson of ballad singer Addie Graham, performing at Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky June 21, 2016




Cloudy with a chance of pain data installation at Manchester Day, 2016

Man playing with an HTC Vive 78 NOA YOUNSE



Traveling down the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Broken voxel study

Cover study 86 BILL LINDMEIER


Floodwatch ad classification study

Contour study 84 NOA YOUNSE


Virus depiction study

Networking study 96 ANDY WRIGHT

Unité d’Habitation 135 ZARAH CABAÑAS




Twitter galaxy


Flight over the Okavango Delta, Botswana 177 MAPBOX

Detailed view of Zimbabwe 222 SEBASTIAN MATTHES

Cloudy with a chance of pain data installation at Manchester Day, 2016


directs projects at The OCR. She plays mountain music from Appalachia; builds sculptural art boats made of junk and floats them down oceans and rivers; and participates in intersectional feminist anti-violence work. She loves The OCR because she can be all these things and also make amazing interactive experiences with data. Formerly @localprojects and @workandco and @columbia. Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;YEN TRAN

is an interaction designer focused on virtual reality. Web development enthusiast, he is now using programming as a prototyping tool for his creations. CHARLES PERINET

is an artist, technologist, and OCR staff member. Through sculpture, he speculates on the ever-changing relationship between humans and machines. CHRIS ANDERSON

ERIC BUTH is a creative researcher and programmer at The OCR. GENEVIEVE HOFFMAN is an artist and designer living and working

in Brooklyn, NY. Her practice is grounded in research, and intertwines data, mapping, and metaphor. She is a member of Brooklyn Research, Floating Point Collective and part of The OCR team. is an information designer and a socially conscious technologist. He explores the use of distributed systems as a means for people to appropriate technology. IAN ARDOUIN-FUMAT


is a game designer, creative researcher, and experimental programmer whose work focuses on pushing the affordances of a given medium to create new, unusual, and playful relationships between people. Her academic and theoretical work has been published by the Digital Games Research Association, and her games and interactive installations have been exhibited internationally. Previously, she was a creative technologist at The New York Timesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; R&D Lab, where she developed interactive journalism-oriented experiments like Madison and Membrane. She is currently a creative researcher at The Office For Creative Research, where she prototypes publicoriented platforms and tools for accessible data visualization and data literacy, like the African Elephant Atlas. JANE FRIEDHOFF


is an artist, writer and educator who examines the many-folded boundaries between data and culture. JER THORP

directs projects and operations at The OCR. Her career has spanned international development work, public health, communications and the arts. She has long been a champion for womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s health and rights and her work has been highlighted and presented at the American Public Health Association, Global Health Council, New York University, and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Kate holds Masters of Science in International Relations from the London School of Economics. KATE RATH

NOA YOUNSE is a designer and artist interested in the intersection

of data and abstraction.

SARAH GROFF HENNIGH-PALERMO is an artist, programmer, designer

and data-lover. She is currently a masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s candidate at NYU. This piece draws on research for her thesis, Towards a Theory of Invested Objects. loves working in the space where dreams and waking life collide. She is a video artist who performs as vj Lady Firefly, musician, and World Champion martial artist specializing in Filipino Arnis. Zarah is Co-Founder of Space Acres, a creative and forest retreat in the Catskills of New York ( She is also a member of The OCR. ZARAH CABAĂ&#x2018;AS


OCR Journal #002  

The second OCR Journal, featuring thought experiments from members of The Office for Creative Research and assorted friends.

OCR Journal #002  

The second OCR Journal, featuring thought experiments from members of The Office for Creative Research and assorted friends.