Category: ITP

Printing Code Final Project

I have a huge set of personal data that I want to visualize for my final project. This work will be part of my thesis as well. The data is for my Databetes project. I did a quantified self project through all of 2012. I collected every data point that influenced my type-1 diabetes. This included blood sugar readings, food (carb counts, meal descriptions, photos, Foursquare restaurant check-ins), exercise (i trained and ran a marathon, used RunKeeper, a FitBit, Nike FuelBand, heart rate monitor), location information (OpenPaths data), and insulin dosages.

For thesis, I have proposed three sets of deliverables: A mobile phone app (our MVP called Meal Memory), a website (our demo of Databetes) and a set of data visualizations. I would like to tackle the third deliverable with my Printing Code final project.

I have conflicting instincts on the nature of this work. Part of what I want to produce falls into the realm of data as narrative. I’ve always loved Nick Felton’s work. Yet it will be interesting to try and do work that is inspired by him but manages to present the data differently. I also hope that this style of work will be educational for the patient, allowing them to learn something from their data, adjust their treatment and get healthier. I’ve always felt there are two questions that are most important to a patient and should be answered when the data is being displayed in a more utilitarian way: “How am I doing?” and “Specifically how could I do better?” This is relevant to the first style of data I referenced.

The other instinct I have is more artistic. Can I create something more abstract that uses data as its source, that draws someone in and works as good design. I want this work to be engaging, so that there if you know how to read the work, you realize that it too could be educational even though it works well on its own.

I feel like Databetes has a few different audiences as a project started at ITP. People in the diabetes community get it because they understand blood sugar levels, carbohydrate counts and all the other factors relevant to this condition. They are also familiar with the existing visual styles out there to present this data and how my work is different. But at ITP, most people don’t understand this context. And fair enough, there are a lot of conditions out there that I don’t understand in detail. I only have about 10-15 minutes to present at thesis. I have been iterating on this project for two years and have already produced a lot. But I still have a lot more ideas on visualizing this data that I would like to explore.

I do think there is overlap in the two approaches I mentioned. The simple thread is that I want to produce something engaging. The existing medical devices and software are designed in such a way that it’s a bit of a challenge to get your data off of them. As a result, a vast majority of patients never interact with their data. I think that is unfortunate for several reasons, most importantly because I think they could live healthier if they did. Using my own data, I am trying to show both patients and these companies the value in being more engaged, in loosening the controls on the information so that innovative new approaches on using this data could take hold. It is also a challenge for me as a designer and a programmer to expand my skills.

As for the output, I have several ideas. I am thinking about producing a foldable poster to print and hand out at thesis. It would have one big image on one side and a selection of smaller images on the other side. The big image, I am thinking it should either be a simple and abstract (i.e. more artistic) image, potentially of  90,000+ blood sugar readings. The other idea is that in one image it presents all the different data types together.

For other types of deliverables, I thought about producing a poster for each month of the year. Data could also be presented in week formats or with one image that shows all 366 days of the year. These displays can also look at the relational connections and how things like exercise influence blood sugar control, either during the actual exercise, or in a broader context (when you’re in better shape, your body becomes more efficient and needs less insulin).

It is not lost on me that this is a lot. When I launched this project a year and a half ago, I assumed this data visualization would be the main focus of thesis. Instead, most of my time has been spent getting our software working. This is because we want to make this into a business and also because we are currently competing in the Stern Entrepreneur Challenge. Nonetheless, I am still very interested in diving into the data and seeing whether some of these ideas I have for presenting the data will actually work graphically. And most importantly, I am also interested to see if I can learn more about my diabetes through these designs and get healthier.

Data Without Borders final project

The Data Without Borders class was described as “Data science in the service of humanity.” It was led by the amazingly talented and enthusiastic Jake Porway, founder of DataKind. The main technical focus of the class was learning to use the software R Studio to analyze data. DataKind connects data analysts and visualizers with not-for-profits that have a lot of data, but  don’t know what to do with it.

I took this class in large part because of my Databetes project and an interest in learning about ways of analyzing all the data I am accumulating. Quite obviously, I chose some of my medical data to analyze for the final project. I looked at one month’s worth of blood sugar readings from my Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM). My goal was to look beyond the ways that this data is normally analyzed based on the day’s average blood sugar. Instead I wanted to look at the volatility of the readings. As a patient, I know there are days with great average blood sugar readings but big swings from high to low blood sugars. On those types of days, you definitely don’t feel like you are achieving good control, even though your average daily blood sugar reading says you are. This project gave me the opportunity to explore ways of spotting those days, measure the volatility and creating a metric for determining acceptable/standard versus troubling volatility.


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Understanding Mesh Networks

I produced this video on mesh networks along with my classmate Sean McIntyre as the final project for Tom Igoe’s Understanding Networks class.

We interviewed Tony Schloss, Media Programs Coordinator at the Red Hook Initiative, and Jonathan Baldwin, Field Analyst with the Open Technology Institute, about the mesh network that has been built in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This network received greater attention after Hurricane Sandy left Red Hook largely without internet access in the Fall of 2012. They were able to expand their network during the recovery and provide greater assistance to the community.

Take a look!

The Purple Phone

Our midterm project for Clay Shirky’s Designing Conversational Spaces class was called the Purple Phone. I worked on it with ITP classmates Amelia Hancock and D. I. Shin, as well as Journalism student Ana Maria Benedetti.


The Purple Phone is actually two purple phones, one on the floor of ITP on Broadway and one on the floor of the NYU Journalism department a few blocks away on Cooper Square. We hoped to address a problem people often discuss at NYU, that people in different departments or schools do not know each other or interact enough. We chose purple because it is NYU’s school color. The phones were plugged into iPads using Skype, with a video call in progress all day long. The idea is that the monitor would serve as a window into the other school. If you saw someone on the other end, talking with them was as easy as picking up the phone.

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Citizen Cyberscience – CarbMap

CarbMap aims to provide users with easy access to nutritional information when eating out at restaurants. This type of information is valuable to many health conscious people, especially patients with diabetes.

This location-based app will aggregate carbohydrate totals in two separate ways. First, it will compile official nutritional estimates from chain restaurants. This information is already public, but not accessed as often as it could because it requires users to load the websites of each restaurant they may visit.

CarbMap also looks to provide nutritional estimates from small, independent restaurants as well. This will rely on individual users providing information about the menus and portion size from restaurants that do not provide this information themselves. This citizen cyberscience project thus looks to tap the “wisdom of the crowd” and network the insight of people who have already visited these restaurants, providing a knowledge base where there currently is none.

The process of estimating carb counts of menu items is in itself beneficial for patients with diabetes and other users. CarbMap will provide an educational guide to help users learn how to accurately estimate these totals. This will include a breakdown of common ingredients as well as general estimates of standard menu items. With local participation, a user will help judge how a particular dish at a particular restaurant falls within these general guidelines. The site will also allow users to upload pictures of their food. As a registered user, this will allow them to create a personal log of their eating history.

While the process of estimating carb counts requires human intervention at this time, there is interesting research being done at such places as Purdue University that could simplify this process. Their TADA (Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment) project uses photos from mobile phones and translate it into nutritional breakdowns.

Nonetheless, the current process of manually estimating carb counts is beneficial because it gets users to be more self-aware about the food they are eating. The simple behavior of either taking a picture and recording the carb count or loading a saved reading from the site is a valuable moment of reflection.

Citizen Cyberscience: BOINC & Zooniverse

For our first assignment in Citizen Cyberscience, we were asked to try using two examples of web-based citizen scientist projects.

The first was BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure Network Computing. This software provides scientists with a platform to harness the power of interested volunteers. Downloading and installing the software was easy enough. But in general, the service is not that polished or user-friendly for volunteers. When browsing through the projects, most groups have made little effort  to determine whether a potential user’s computer is up to the task. For instance, the GPUGrid project has too complicated a process. In asking people to determine GPU compatibility, I think they lose many potential volunteers. Instead I think they should write a small script to check a volunteer’s computer and automatically complete what is now a manual task.

There are many more examples of these types of interaction issues throughout the whole experience. In doing so, they have limited their pool of potential participants to just those with better computer skills.

Zooniverse provides a much more user-friendly experience for volunteers. The site has a nice design, easy navigation and a good feedback loop. I chose the MoonZoo project, where I was asked to help identify craters and compare the amount of boulders in pictures.

Two YouTube videos explained the process effectively and I was able to get to work within minutes. The tasks each take just a few seconds up to a minute to complete and submit. The site then provides another similar task. Providing these bite-sized pieces is a good solution and keeps the experience rather light. As a result I clicked through tasks for a while.

Crater survey

Boulder Wars

For BOINC, the first task is to choose a project on the platform. I went with the World Community Project, which has some support from IBM. I was curious to see how this combination of corporate sponsorship and community effort is hashed out.

With that, I launched the BOINC software. This brings up a window that starts a task which runs for about 8 hours. No action is required of me other than allowing for the project to use my computer’s process power.

It is a pretty uninspiring experience, outside of the knowledge that this small role is helpful. To be quite honest, I doubt I will return to this software much after completing this assignment.

In designing projects for the rest of this term, I will certainly lean towards creating an experience modeled on Zooniverse. I expect that most people at ITP would make the same choice since our program is more focused on design and user experience than producing a processor-heavy big data project.

Finally, we have been asked for this assignment to share which skills we can bring to citizen science projects this term. I have made data visualization a large part of my studies at ITP. I hope to integrate that experience into my classwork. I also bring a deep personal interest in tapping the energies of a specific community, namely the millions of diabetes patients in the U.S. (and potentially the world). I want to ask them to participate in ways that share their knowledge so that we as a community can aggregate our collective wisdom about managing the disease. Together, I believe we can provide better self-management support and help educate fellow patients.

“Ready to Start”

My final project for my Collective Storytelling class at ITP is called “Ready to Start.” We collected stories about people completing their first long distance race, be it marathons or triathlons. I worked with my classmate with Ryan Viglizzo, who is often my running partner for 9-15 mile runs on the weekend. He’s completed an Ironman and several marathons. I have finished two marathons myself. We chose to do audio interviews focused on why people decide to take on this big challenge for the first time.

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ITP – Be Here Now final project

I worked with Courtney Mitchell and Chris Egervary on Windowsill, our final project for the Be Here Now class. The idea was to design a flower pot that also contained a bird feeder and a web-enabled camera. The camera would take pictures either at scheduled times (sunrise, noon and sunset) or when a bird came to the bird feeder (triggering a PIR sensor & the camera shutter). The pictures would then be sent to a digital picture frame. Continue reading

Insulin on Board – Data Rep Final Project

I have completed Insulin on Board, my final project for the Data Representation class at ITP. Insulin on Board is a part of Databetes, my project focused on using data to improving diabetes health outcomes. As a type-1 diabetic of 25 years, I know first-hand that patients need greater support in making all the daily decisions that affect their blood sugar control. A PDF version that shows the whole piece can be seen at

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