A New Name, a New Mission

CDA-02-tagThere have been a few changes happening that we’re excited to share. Parsons Institute for Information Mapping is now known as the Center for Data Arts. With this new name comes a revitalized mission that is focused, more than ever, on our commitment to pioneering radical new techniques for transforming data into meaningful narrative experiences. Part of this change comes from the appointment of our new director, artist and designer Ben Rubin, who we were thrilled to welcome aboard in January of this year. Ben will be building on our history of innovation, developing a new world-class laboratory for information design, visualization, critical thinking, and experimental data art practice.

From the Provost’s Office announcement:

This appointment, the result of an extensive international search, will revitalize the center’s mission, emphasizing public programs and new research collaborations with faculty and students across the university. “We are increasingly digitizing our actions and ourselves, and that data is changing our lives,” says Ben. “The Center for Data Arts will be a laboratory for inventing new ways to perceive and engage with data, as well as an intellectual hub for discussions about the new roles information plays in society.”

Ben is an internationally renowned artist whose work centers on critical encounters with data. His pieces incorporate information from literary works, legal documents, news, financial data, and other traces of human communication, recasting these data streams into immersive installations. His commissioned work includes the Public Theater’s site-specific sculpture Shakespeare Machine; And That’s the Way It Is for the University of Texas, Austin; and (with Mark Hansen) Moveable Type, for the lobby of the New York Times Building, and two editions of Listening Post, which were acquired by the London Science Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art. Ben’s artwork was recognized with a Webby Award in 2003, the 2004 Golden Nica Prize from Ars Electronica, the 2012 PAD Award for achievement in the field of public art, a Design Excellence Award from the New York City Design Commission in 2013, and an Obie Award in 2014.

With this new direction comes a few other changes; under a grant awarded by PressForward, an open-source software initiative housed at George Mason University, CDA is part of an 11-partner pilot program aimed at expanding the reach of scholarly work. Under this award, we launched our blog, and will revamp our quarterly publication, the Journal for Data Arts (formally Parsons Journal for Information Mapping).

We’re excited about our new direction and all of the possibilities ahead. Please check out our new website to learn more about our future plans.




Cover Story

MIT PressWe’re pleased to announce that CDA Director Ben Rubin’s piece “Listening Post” is gracing the cover of the upcoming release Information (MIT Press) edited by Sara Cook. Continue reading “Cover Story”

New York City's Rising Sea Levels, Visualized

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation website notes:

“New York has experienced at least a foot of sea-level rise since 1900, mostly due to expansion of warming ocean water. Certain conditions along New York’s coast make sea-level rise here somewhat higher than the global average.”

Scientists project that  by 2100, our sea levels will be anywhere from 18 to 50 inches higher along the coastlines. It’s not so much a matter of if, but when and how much.

Landscape MetricsA recent CityLab article outlines the ways that data visualization is helping New York City respond to these changes. The rising sea levels are a particularity pressing issue here in the city, as noted in the article:

A 5-foot rise would affect nearly 1,500,000 people and 350 schools. [. . .] A new interactive visualization by Landscape Metrics illustrates exactly what that means for the city’s residents and its infrastructure.



Using data from data from the 2010 Census, the National Elevation Dataset, and the NYC Selected Facilities and Program Sites datasets, Landscape Metrics created interactive maps to visualize the impact of rising sea levels on New York City. The maps track the impact of the rising waters on people, schools, transportation, and waste treatment. Put simply, the higher the water, the higher the impact.

So what does this mean for the city? Is our infrastructure prepared for these changes? The city is a part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which looks at how cities can respond to, not just disasters, but economics, transportation, and environmental issues. The initiative is looking at financial as well as design solutions for this problem. In the end, clear visualizations of the problem can help our government and our citizens realize that solutions need to be found. CityLab spoke to 100 Resilient Cities president Michael Berkowitz:

“[C]ities are piloting different solutions to different problems all the time.” The hope now is that these city-driven solutions are readily accepted and implemented in time.


Open Data to the Rescue

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to press pool after a meeting with members of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 2, 2015. (Official White House by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to press pool after a meeting with members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 2, 2015. (Official White House by Chuck Kennedy)


The accessibility of open data has made its use possible in so many fields, from policing, to commuting patterns, to jazz music. It’s making our world more understandable and more connected. Its latest use comes from Ben Wellington from the blog I Quant NY. Using NYC’s Open Data Portal, Ben was able to find how many drivers in NYC were being ticketed for parking in legal spaces.

A little-known 2008 law allowed drivers to park in front of sidewalk pedestrian ramps that weren’t connected to a crosswalk. Unfortunately, Ben and many like him found tickets on their cars despite parking in perfectly legal spots.

I’ve got a pedestrian ramp leading to nowhere particular in the middle of my block in Brooklyn, and on occasion I have parked there.  Despite the fact that it is legal, I’ve been ticketed for parking there.  Though I get the tickets dismissed, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. And that got me wondering- How common is it for the police to give tickets to cars legally parked in front of pedestrian ramps?  It couldn’t be just me…

Using the city’s open data, Ben was able to find out it wasn’t just him; he found 1.7 million dollars in fines were levied against cars that were legally parked. So what does that mean for the good people parking on the streets of New York? Well, because of Ben’s work it actually means that something might change. In a response from the NYPD it was noted:

[T]he department sent a training message to all officers clarifying the rule change and has communicated to commanders of precincts with the highest number of summonses, informing them of the issues within their command.

Thanks to this analysis and the availability of this open data, the department is also taking steps to digitally monitor these types of summonses to ensure that they are being issued correctly.

Here it is, open data and transparency in action. Very exciting.

Check out the data and Ben’s mapping project on the ticketing hotspots at I Quant NY.


High Tech Meets High Fashion

l1Ni1rE5At our visit from IBM Watson specialist Armen Pischdotchian last month, we learned about all the ways that cognitive computing was changing our world. And while Armen was pretty thorough in his workshop, we were still surprised to see Watson on the red carpet. But there it was, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual gala, in the form of a “cognitive dress” designed in partnership with Marchesa. The designers used  the technology to create a dress embedded with color-shifting LEDs that responded to followers emotions.

From Quartz:

Prior to the gala, Watson analyzed Marchesa’s social media to translate followers’ sentiments into colors. It turned emotions into information, and created a color palette for the LEDs from that analysis. In real-time during the gala, Watson processed the huge volume of tweets surrounding the event, and changed the color of the dress according to the emotions in them. Rose signified joy, coral meant passion, aqua was excitement, lavender denoted curiosity, and butter indicated encouragement.

The project, which IBM describes as “a partnership between man and machine” required Marchesa designers to feed hundreds of images to Watson; the technology responded with suggestions for design and color. In the past, Watson’s forays into fashion have mostly been on the back-end, helping brands like North Face and Melborne Fashion Week better serve the needs of their customers, so this shift to the design side of things marks an interesting shift.

We are constantly quantifying our days-our steps, our sleep patterns. To that end, this dress feels like a natural extension of that; another way to make sense of the flow of information that washes over us. Data has always been at its best when it’s telling a story, when it’s something more than charts and numbers, so the blend of data visualization, fashion, and emotion seems natural in a way. It’s another story to tell. I suppose that we can’t know right now just what story partnerships like this will be telling in the future.

Issey Miyake (Japanese, born 1938) for Miyake Design Studio (Japanese, founded 1970) "Flying Saucer" dress, spring/summer 1994 Courtesy of The Miyake Issey Foundation Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Issey Miyake (Japanese, born 1938) for Miyake Design Studio (Japanese, founded 1970)
“Flying Saucer” dress, spring/summer 1994
Courtesy of The Miyake Issey Foundation
Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02:  Karolina Kurkova attends the "Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology" Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 02: Karolina Kurkova attends the “Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology” Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Classic Films for the Internet Age

In a world where the eyes on the back of your head are probably a camera, one artist re-imagines iconic movies for the internet age.

Continue reading “Classic Films for the Internet Age”

Immersive Video for All

surround-360-insideYou wouldn’t happen to be in the market for a video camera that films in 360-degrees and produces video that can be viewed in VR headsets and on any number of other screens you might have handy? You are? Well, good news. At the F8 conference for Facebook developers, the company announced the Surround360. Wired Magazine describes it:

Built from off-the-shelf hardware worth roughly $30,000, this black circular camera—with its 17 evenly spaced lenses—looks kinda like the flying droid that descends onto the ice planet at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back (though it lacks those insect-like dangly legs). Drawing images from all 17 of those lenses, it produces 360-degree spherical video

$30,000 a bit out of reach? No worries. The company is giving away both the hardware designs and the software. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks at the Surround360 as a tool for community building noting, “the best way to advance the technology is to work on it as a community.”

Facebook plans to share the plans for the technology this summer on GitHub.

Read more at Wired Magazine


Making Public Data Accessible

We’re living in an age of open data. Every day, new swaths of information are made available to us in any number of ways from crime statistics to marriage rates. And while it’s important that this information is available, what does it really mean for the public? If the available data then requires a trained eye to decipher and then tell the stories behind the numbers, is that data really public? It’s available, yes, but available and accessible are wildly different things.

Enter DataUSA.

DataUSA, a project housed at the M.I.T. Media Lab, is providing the public with comprehensive state data and accompanying visualizations on an open-source platform:

Cesar A. Hidalgo, an assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the M.I.T. Media Lab who led the development of Data USA, said the website was devised to “transform data into stories.”

Continuing reading at New York Times


The Online World: A Map of Countries' Domains

If a real world map were made with the number of web domains per country, the United State’s size would change dramatically. Nominet produced a map with each country’s domain represented as land, and .us makes up a very small part of the online world.

Continue reading “The Online World: A Map of Countries' Domains”

Introduction to IBM Watson

On April 13-14, we are pleased to welcome IBM Watson Group Academic Engagement Specialist Armen Pischdotchian for a a two-day demonstration/workshop on the IBM Watson cognitive technologies. Using natural language processing and machine learning to provide insights into large amounts of data, the Watson technologies are finding a home in a number of diverse fields, from medicine to retail. This hands-on workshop will introduce you to the Watson technologies and show you can bring them into your own work. The event is free, although space is limited.

Workshop registration