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Aug 24, 2012

New Hurricane Tracker for the Weather Channel

In 2008 we designed a hurricane tracker for MSNBC, right as Irene was "bearing down on Louisiana like a shotgun full of wind and rain." The project worked fine for several seasons of hurricanes and tropical storms, until Apple killed Flash in 2011 and the world of interactive mapping and data visualization turned its attention to HTML5 and mobile platforms.

Here's what I said about it at the time:

I'm really pleased with how this project's turned out; in particular I've not seen a map like this before that gives a sense of the relative speed that a storm moves at (take a look at how Gustav slows down as it passes over the southwest coast of Haiti). It's not something I've really ever thought about before, but now that I've seen it, I'll be looking for it in every other map like this I see—which is just how I like to change the world. Congratulations to Tom and Geraldine for pulling this one together.

This is the first time that we've released something this concrete. At dinner last night Lane told me that it was the first time he'd seen something that Stamen had done that was going to really matter to him in 72 hours. We've historically shied away from doing work that's overly predictive and analytical, preferring to focus on the lyrical and metaphorical aspects of visualization. This is the first time you can make a decision based on something we've built, and I'm glad we seem to have crossed that barrier without fretting too much about it. Just about every big decision I've ever made that's turned out well has been made in lightness and in haste; no sense stopping now!

Much of this carries through in the new version of the hurricane tracker that we released earlier this week. What I said about making important decisions in lightness and in haste still stands (if anything it's gotten worse), but there are a couple different things about this project worth drawing attention to:

  • The client is the Weather Channel (previous work for them here), and we're working directly with meteorologists to ensure that the representations meet their standards.
  • It's in HTML5, so you can view it on an iPad. Which is good!
  • We've made some improvements to the interaction that I never got to take care of in the previous version. The entire histogram (chart at the top) is an active thing you can roll over, for example; the previous version only popped the rollover when you were over the lines.
  • The histogram and the map have a much tighter relationship now. If the whole hurricane path is visible on the map, you'll see the whole thing on the histogram, and visey versey. Conversely, if you change the map so that 1/2 the hurricane is visible, you see 1/2 of it on the histogram. You can see this happening in the images below.

View Project: Hurricane Chris

View Project

Aug 21, 2012

Announcing Burningmap

Every year around this time in San Francisco things start to feel a little rushed, and there's anticipation in the air as a whole slice of society hauls itself out to the middle of the Nevada desert for the annual Burning Man festival. I'm not going myself this year, but my good friend Zach Coffin has been working out of an office here at Stamen on his latest song in steel and stone, The Universe Revolves Around YOU and it's been great fun seeing it come together:

Given all the Burning Man energy in town, it's probably no coincidence that our latest exercise in pushing the boundaries of online mapping would tend towards the, well, combustible side of things. We've pulled together the latest in web browser capabilities and layered them on top of toner-lines from Citytracking, and it's called Burningmap.

Here's Black Rock City:

It works in New York as well:

And pretty much anywhere else in the world you'd like to point it. Enjoy!

Jul 25, 2012

Visualizing a day of financial transactions on NASDAQ part 2

This is a followup to yesterday's post on the visualization of a day's worth of trading data on the NASDAQ stock exchange. We've taken another look at the same dataset a bit more closely. In the examples that follow, each of which represents a single minute of trading, the image on the left uses a unique color to represent each trader, and the image on the right uses a unique color to represent each stock. So on the left hand (trader) side, a big grouping of the same color means that a single trader is buying or selling stocks. And on the right hand (stock) side, a big color block means a single stock being purchased in lots of different transactions.

In this first example, we see that a single trader (UBS, in this case) is responsible for the majority of the shares in this minute:

and that they're regularly trading a single stock at a single price at the same amounts (the yellow dots in a row):

Here we see that UBS buys a fixed amount of a stock at a fixed price, very steadily, stops abruptly, and then starts trading a different stock at a slightly lower price (the dark green and then blue dots on the right):


Here we see a single trader (the orangish square at left) perform a burst of concentrated activity within precisely deliniated margins, making small trades across a wide range of stocks (the kaleidosopic square on the right)


And here we see a similarly trader-centric burst (in blue, at left) spread across a multiplicity of small stock trades, just before the market closes for the day.


Jul 24, 2012

Visualizing a day of financial transactions on NASDAQ

Earlier this year Zach Watson and I spent some time visualizing financial data. It's time to make that work public. The following images represent visualization of buy/sell data during a single day of NASDAQ trades.

We mapped a small subset of the variables for each transaction:

  • time of the transaction, to the second
  • whether it was buy or sell
  • price of the transaction
  • number of shares traded

Each of these variables is represented in the diagrams below. Each image represents a minute of time, and shows every trade that happens in that minute. Each trade is shown as a circle:

  • Every vertical row is a second in time. So the left hand side of the screen is the beginning of the minute, the middle of the screen is 15 seconds in, and the right hand side of the screen is the end of the minute, with 60 seconds in between.
  • Blue dots are buys, yellow dots are sells
  • The vertical axis is the price of the transaction; the top of the screen is cheaper stocks and the bottom is more expensive stocks.
  • The size of the dot is the number of shares traded; small dots are for a few shares and larger dots are for a larger number of shares.

NASDAQ opens for pre-trading hours at 7am, and for public trading at 9:30am.

7:00-7:01 AM:


The market opens. Fairly light activity in the first minute. Most of it is contained within the middle band.


7:30-7:31 AM


Slightly more trades are happening, and they're for smaller amounts.

Someone seems to be buying shares at a low and high price, simultaneously - hence the lines at the top and bottom of the screen that match each other perfectly. We're not representing who's making these simultaneous buy/sell moves, but it would be easy to find that out or build it in.


8:30-8:31 AM


This is about the pace we see for the next 2 hours, with the exception of a few bursts like this one right at 8:30am.


9:29-9:30 AM


There's an incredible burst of activity just before public trading starts. It's completely unlike anything that comes before it. Our theory is that these are algorithms getting in one last set of tiny flurrying trades before the great unwashed masses come on board.


9:30-9:31 AM


Right at launch, there's a giant burst of selling and trading, within seconds of the bell ringing.


And then the day starts:




Here's a video of what the data looks like when it's animated:

Untitled from Stamen on Vimeo.

There are literally thousands more where these came from. It's surprising us how much loveliness is in this financial data, which is generally perceived dry and boring, only interesting to bean counters.

What I like most about what's come out of this exercise is this idea that you can visually start to detect a difference between normal and anomalous data, even for what's normally considered data that lay people can't understand. If we could find a way to make it easier to understand what's happening in the markets, there's potential here for a kind of literacy in financial data that could help to offset some of the damage done by unscrupulous experts over the past few years.

Jul 3, 2012

Just the streets, ma'am.

The first thing I thought after we hung a copy of London's Kerning, a printed map showing only the street names in London, in the studio, was: I want one of those for the rest of the world. "How hard can it be to just (people here love that) show the streets?"

As part of the CityTracking project, we've released six new map flavors that get pretty close: Terrain and Toner both now include layers with streets only, labels only, and background only.

C'est voila:

Toner: just streets

Toner: lite

Those finding Toner a little too, well, stark for their purposes (it can be a bit heavy on the printer cartridges, we've heard) will hopefully find Toner Lite a bit easier to work with.

Terrain: just streets

Terrain: just labels

Terrain: just background

We'll follow up with some more detail about how to incorporate these into existing projects soon—many of the styles have transparent backgrounds, for example, so they can be used as layers on other maps—but for now: enjoy!

Jul 3, 2012

Toner V2 is live, and there are historical versions

We've got some new additions to Toner, the black and white style that Geraldine started and that Nathaniel and Mike have been gradually improving this year. There are some fairly significant changes to the cartography stack all the way through, which you can read about in detail at the project's visual changelog on GitHub. And of course everything's open source and available for download as per the terms of the Citytracking grant.

We promised to do this work in public, so here goes. One significant thing we've decided to do is to keep older versions of the project around, so that we (and, hopefully, you) can compare the different versions of the maps. So when Nathaniel talks in his post about "shaving San Francisco's Mohawk" from how it looked in 2010:

to how it looks in 2012, with a better coastline:

you can see it in situ. It's pretty simple to change the urls:




The changes can be fairly visually dramatic, as in the addition of non-Roman scripts to places like Tokyo:

The thing about designing maps is that you're never designing just one view. For one thing, it's important to account for all the different zoom levels: it's about showing more as you zoom in, but it's also about showing different things at different scales. Choices need to be made at every level about the thicknesses of streets, which buildings to show, which city name to show, and so forth. Different places have different characteristics spatially; some are more dense than others, and you have to keep the whole system in mind. These two versions of the zoom into DC, from different years, gives a sense of the range of choices involved:



I'm not aware of any other mapping projects that let you look back in time as a design evolves this way.

Jul 2, 2012

Stamen in Icon 109

We're the cover story (!) of this month's Icon Magazine, featured alongside my longtime heroes at the Center for Land Use Interpretation as part of the maps issue. Ari Messer did a terrific job on the interview, and R.C. Rivera spent an afternoon photographing our plant- and map-filled studio with some lovely results. Unfortunately Shawn wasn't here for the photographing (I think he got married or something, whatever) so it's just Mike and I on the front spread, but overall I'm super happy with the resulting portrait of where the studio is now: 13 people, working in a garden in the middle of a vibrant city, a strong ethic, and maps and visualizations in active use by the public.

There's a lot in the article, but this bit is one I like enough to want to post here. I think it was me, who said:

Stamen finds inspiration everywhere, but Rodenbeck hopes that the public will stop conflating infographics with data visualization. "The rise of the infographic as a genre is a little depressing. Back when desktop publishing started, people were worried that there would be no more room for designers, that computers would do all the work for you. But this clearly didn't turn out to be the case." While someone without design training [or skill -- E] could make use of desktop publishing to create a holiday card or office leaflet or company newsletter, the band at the top for good designers actually grew. In a similar way, he says, "infographics have become the mother's day cards - the company newsletters - of data visualization."

Luckily, my office was a total wreck when R.C. took some pictures of it, but it gives a pretty good sense of what it's like around here these days:

Jun 25, 2012

Kelso at MIT for 2012 Knight News Challenge Winners

Nathaniel showcased nearly two years of City Tracking in Boston last Monday at the MIT/Knight Story and the Algorithm conference. You can read about this years' winners here, as well about the changing nature of the grant: shorter cycles, more opportunities to apply, that kind of thing. It's worth a look.

The City Tracking project started off with, which allows mapping of data spreadsheets. The project still sees active use, but after we made the Toner tiles available for download we started to notice that more people were expressing interest in the background maps than in the ability to put dots on them.

Responding to public feedback while the project happened was something we were interested in from the start, and is the result: a browsable, embeddable, and otherwise immediately usable map of the whole world that can be used in Google Maps, Modest Maps, and other mapping APIs without having to download all of OpenStreetMap or tinkering with servers and technical code.

Nathaniel closed with a project we launched in March showing how climate change can be made personal on the street level, instead of the usual course brush strokes, with Climate Central's surging seas project.

These thin slices of big data are bite size morsels of aha. We hope you like them!

Jun 15, 2012

Weather weather everywhere

We've been working on a travel planner for the Weather Channel that tells you a bit more than just how long it'll take to get from point A to point B. This one predicts what the weather's going to be like along your drive, when you get there.

So let's say you're driving from New York to San Francisco, and you're trying to decide whether to go straight across or loop up or down a bit; this will give you a sense for whether it's going to be rainy or sunny when you plan to be in the middle of Nebraska. You can drag around the rainy bits if you like, and also along the way maybe you'd like to stop for a bite to eat, so we're hitting the Yelp API to give you a sense of where to go and what to see.

As is often the case, the research that goes into building one of these pieces can be as interesting as the final product. As an early stage proof of concept, we put together some images showing all the predictions for weather searches offset by time and location, with some (I think) lovely results:

They start to put me in mind of an early project we did here at Stamen, a set of travel time maps for MySociety that plotted the time it would take to get from one place in London to every other place in London:

I start thinking of weather maps that flow and ebb across the country, where different sliders open and ebb various kinds of other axes: time for sure, but maybe population density, maybe altitude, maybe temperature, maybe how many farms there are, maybe distance from a weather station or a McDonald's—all the different kinds of things that affect people's sense of place and space and time, organized by what's above our heads.

Stay tuned!

View Project

Apr 2, 2012

There are cupcakes with Stamen maps on them.

There are cupcakes with Stamen maps on them. Each one has a single tile printed on it. Cups and Cakes Bakery baked and prepared them. They were made for the Where 2.0 conference, where Mike is talking about how Old Is The New New and I am talking about Drawing Outside the Lines, which taken together is a pretty good indication of where Stamen's collective thoughts are.


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