March 20, 2009

Gearing Up For The Maker Faire 2009!

It's official! GalaxyGoo is taking The Cell Project to the Maker Faire again! We got our acceptance notice today.

So, now the planning and preparations begin! We had so much fun last year!

Would like to get involved? If so, please contact me at galaxygoo -at- gmail -dot- com, with "GalaxyGoo Cell Project" in the subject line. We're getting ready to move to a new web hosting company, so please use our gmail account until we're all settled into the new server.

Some of the things we need help with:

  • Volunteers to help set up and take down the booth
  • Volunteers to help staff the booth and help with the activity. We were very busy last year, and had a hard time keeping up with all the visitors to our booth.
  • photography during the event
  • Have you done the activity yourself? Take pictures of your cells and share your photos with us on flickr.
  • Donations are always welcome
  • Give the Cell Project to a teacher or a whole classroom!
  • Got an idea? Tell us about it!

February 11, 2008

The Color of Spam, continued

I've made progress with Mathematica, and now have my code extracting ip addresses and dates from a mailbox and exporting the formatted data as an xml file. On the Flash side, I'm playing around with some display ideas. I'll post more on that later.


For an explanation of this code, please visit my new code-centric blog: underground flash.

December 10, 2007

Chaos Game

We're going to start with a fantastic piece by Keith Peters. What a great way to kick off the Flash-a-thon! ~Kristin


Author: Keith Peters
Author's comments:
The Chaos Game is a simple algorithm that can produce some surprising fractal forms. This one has been done in 3D. More info here:

Support the educational projects at GalaxyGoo, and make an online donation through Network for Good or Facebook Causes..

For live version, and source files, continue reading.

Continue reading "Chaos Game" »

October 25, 2007

Moo Cards! Flash on the Beach! and Mathematica!

The moo cards I ordered, to take to FOTB, arrived today! Yeah!


Looks like the conference is completely sold out! Wow! Really looking forward to it! I just hope my presentation stands up to all the other great sessions on the schedule. I'm having a great time preparing it! Atoms, and fractals, and algorithms...oh my!

Thanks to a temp license from Wolfram Research, I now have a copy of Mathematica installed on my laptop. Yeah! If you're going to FOTB, and you're curious, look for me at the conference.

August 09, 2007

Keep It Simple -- Building Complexity From Simple Structures

My session description for Flash on the Beach is up. I'm going to have a lot of fun with this one!

The complexity of the universe and all of life is based on simple building blocks. A metal is a metal, no matter how many times you melt or pound it. It's the sub-atomic particles of each atom that determine its character, and how it interacts with others.

Computational objects can be modeled on this simplicity, and in this session we will explore examples from nature
and computational art, including the atom and fractals.

We'll look at some basic objects (both visual and code) and ask "what are it's sub-atomic particles?" Starting with these objects, we'll build up models of increasing complexity.

Attendees will get:

  • Inspirational examples from nature and science,
  • Confidence to jump in and start playing with AS3,
  • An appreciation for well encapsulated code and simplicity in code and design,
  • An introduction/overview of AS3 code samples that will be available online.

July 30, 2007

About the Blue Marble


While it looks a lot like the photo taken by Apollo astronauts, you may be surprised to know that this popular image of Earth is not actually a snapshot. Robert Simmon, who worked on this for NASA's Earth Observatory, was kind enough to answer a few quick questions about this image from the Blue Marble project.

KH: What's different from the picture that the astronauts did take?

RS: Instead of being a snapshot, this picture is a composite: one month of images taken from a satellite were combined together into a single map.

KH: How did you create that image?

RS: I used a 3D program (Electric Image) to render out separate "layers" (surface, clouds, fake atmosphere, and a fake specular highlight (the shiny spot)). I then combined the separate layers in Photoshop, which gave me individual control over opacity, brightness, contrast, color, and saturation. Source imagery and the high-resolution final results are here:

KH: How much science goes on before you do your part?

RS: Lots! The raw data--collected as individual pixels from 440 miles above the Earth--need to be processed to account for everything from the curvature of the Earth to influence of the atmosphere and optical properties of the instrument. These are then stored in a data archive as thousands of individual images, called scenes. Literally hundreds of NASA workers are involved in this part of the process, which is automated and goes on continuously, day and night (about a terabyte a day of data are processed for a single instrument). A colleague of mine, Reto Stckli, then processed one season's worth of these scenes to remove clouds, snow, and other things blocking the satellite's view of the surface, and built a single composite image of the surface. He also made an image of the clouds from two days of data. We've subsequently developed a series of even more detailed maps for each month of 2004:

KH: Why are clouds hard to get right?

RS: The hardest part (for me) of creating the image was getting the cloud to look realistic. The color and brightness of a real cloud is due to a combination of its thickness and the angle of the surface to the sun. Unfortunately our cloud map is only a two-dimensional approximation of the cloud's opacity. It took many hours of experimenting with brightness curves and layer transfer modes in Photoshop to get clouds that looked right, and I'm still not happy with the final result.

KH: Why didn't you get credit for it?

RS: I work (through a contracting company) for NASA--part of the federal government, so the image is in the public domain.

KH: What does it mean that the image is in the public domain?

RS: Anyone can use it however they like, with the exception of using an image form NASA to imply that NASA endorses your product or service.

KH: What other images have you worked on?

RS: The most widely-seen is probably an image of the Earth's city lights at night. I also create images on a daily basis for the NASA Earth Observatory.


For more information on the Blue Marble, visit the History of Blue Marble: BlueMarble_2002 and BlueMarble_history.

July 03, 2007

Visualizing Science

It really is a small world. I'm sitting next to Rob Simmon, here at the GRC on visualization in science and education...and I find out that one of our fellow attendees has a great blog: Visualizing Science, by Ryan Wyatt. It turns out that Ryan is at the California Academy of Science, in my home base of San Francisco.

Another highlight of the conference has been meeting David Goodsell. I've been a fan of his work for a long time, and he even contributed a piece to the GalaxyGoo Art Intersect Science show a couple years ago.

In other news...Rob Simmon showed up with a brand new iPhone, which in itself was a very cool thing. You might wonder what could top that? Well, it seems that apple chose a public domain image that was near and dear to fact, he's the creater of the globe image they selected for the initial boot screen. Rob developed the image as part of his work at NASA Goddard, for the Earth Observatory's Blue Marble.

June 26, 2007

What is Flash?

Flash! What is it?!

An vector illustration and animation tool?
A video format?
A programming paradigm?
AS3 + movie clips?
Endless font frustrations?
A tool for developing specialized Flex components?

I'm heading out for the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education this week. While there, I will undoubtedly be talking about Flash a lot...about what I do with it. About interaction, and dynamic animation, ...

A lot of people have an idea of what Flash is, and what it can do. Do they have the complete picture? What would you say, if someone asked you what Flash is?

June 13, 2007

GalaxyGoo Flash-a-thon?

GalaxyGoo has participated in the Blogathon twice now. It's been a lot of fun and we posted some great experimental Flash projects.

It's time for us to spin off on our own, with a less hectic schedule and more community participation. I'm thinking that we should spread the posts out over a few weeks and encourage the community to post links to their adaptations. Perhaps we should arrange some nice prizes.

We need a name! Current candidates are "GalaxyGoo-a-thon" and "Flash-a-thon". Obviously, we need more ideas.

June 12, 2007


If you are as interested in data visualization as we are, then you'll look at this video and love it. It's quite exciting to watch altho I can see it becoming hard to navigate, but hey... :)

You can also try one aspect of what is shown in the video yourself if you want, just go here. I tried running it on my laptop and it is quite fun to play with. Unfortunately the demo is only for XP SP2/Vista at the moment (it *is* Microsoft after all) but it did run from Firefox without a hitch.

May 23, 2007


I just stumbled upon this site by Nikon Japan from 2005 called Universcale. As the name implies, it is about the universe and about scale. It is a nicely executed, interactive, Flash-based website where you can navigate thru objects of differing dimension, from the smallest to the largest. Not something that hasn't been done before, I know, but I quite like this particular execution. Enjoy!

May 14, 2007

My First Export to SWF, From Mathematica

A little while ago, I briefly posted about Mathematica 6 exporting to SWF. Well, I've had a little time to play with it, and must confess that I'm finding it difficult to focus on finishing a project, because there is always something interesting in the documentation to distract me.

I've set myself the task of exploring the export to SWF feature, and here's an early example. AT this point, all I've done is make some small modifications to provided examples.

My impressions, so far:

Some Good stuff:
1. A lot of power in a few lines of code! This example was created in about 4 lines.
2. Wonderfully simple programming interface--I've always loved that about Mathematica.
3. Amazingly easy to go from evaluating a function to producing an interactive animation of it (even if the swf export doesn't have the interaction part).
4. Nice range of color palettes to choose from, and easy to apply. (I need to research how to add custom palettes).

Some Problems:
1. The resulting swf is huge! 3.27mb!
2. There is no interactivity in the swf - it runs automatically, even though there is a slider visible. (within Mathematica there is a lot of interaction with the example).
3. The swf does not support the 3d rotation of rendered object, which is present in the Mathematica interface.
4. The swf appears to be frame-by-frame animation of stills, rather than making use of any of the Flash drawing api.

Because the file is so big, I've posted it to the extended entry, instead of the main body, of this post. I've also posted a screenshot of the Mathematica notebook file, used to create this swf.

Continue reading "My First Export to SWF, From Mathematica" »

March 06, 2007

Visualizing math problems

It can really help for people to see a visual representation of a problem and its solution to understand it. But coming up with visual ways of descriving a problem and especially the solution, can be hard.

For some great examples of this tho, see this page.

February 09, 2007

Visualizing DNA

DNA... Everybody's heard of it and I think most have seen these spiraling coil-type visualizations of DNA (like this one). However, that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to visualize DNA. Take for instance DNA Rainbow. The idea is simple: assign a different color to each type of DNA-base and use that to display strands of DNA. The result is a different kind of visualization, one that allows one to see patterns and strange structures that you wouldn't see using the aforementioned coil. Fascinating!

February 07, 2007

How did you learn Flash?

Often, I'm asked how I "learned Flash". I don't always know how to answer, since I don't think the way I learned it would work out for others. I also started programming before I even knew Flash existed.

People learning Flash, have a big challenge in finding good material amid all the noise. Some of the material really frustrates me. In fact, I recently had an "argument" with someone who wants to teach the old "on()" event model to high school students, instead of teaching best practices. For a lot of people, ActionScript is their first programming language, and I don't think it's a good idea to teach an outmoded event model that they will have to unlearn before they can make real progress in Flash.

What resources do you point people to, when they're starting out? Do you think there is a shortage of online resources that help people start out, with a solid foundation that prepares them to continue on?

February 05, 2007

Reflecting on IM2.3 at Apple

I'm still recovering from the Image and Meaning workshop I attended last week. Gotta say that our hosts at Apple took wonderful care of us. It's very heartening to know that a big company like Apple, is taking an active role in supporting this work. But then, with a visionary leader like Felice Frankel, it's only natural that Image and Meaning is attracting such support.

The Image and Meaning phenomenon is unlike anything I've ever experienced. My brain will continue percolating this intense, and extremely positive collaborative experience for quite some time. I think it's safe to say that all of the participants are passionate about visually communicating scientific information, and that we are equally concerned with the accuracy of that communication.

The workshop was remarkably interdisciplinary. What does that mean? In my workshop group, we had physicists, artists, biologists, computer scientists, and more. Many of us fell into multiple disciplines, as individuals. To me, "interdisciplinary" also means that I rarely got the "I have a PhD" dropped on me, when someone wanted me to take their words as more heavily weighted than anyone else's (including my own). We were all participants, and were not segregated into groups of "speakers" and "listeners".

It doesn't seem possible that it all took place in under two full days, and I can't wait to do it again! I'm all fired up and eager to take on new challenges.

January 09, 2007

Saturn, Earth, and the 10 Best Astronomical Pictures of 2006

One more best of list from the past year: Top Ten Astronomy Images of 2006. Including this fabulous backlit image of Saturn from Cassini, with Earth shining faintly from behind the rings.

Cassini composite image of Saturn backlit by the Sun, including Earth visible through the rings

Continue reading "Saturn, Earth, and the 10 Best Astronomical Pictures of 2006" »

January 02, 2007

Image and Meaning Workshop

Next month, I head down to Cupertino for a great workshop: Image and Meaning, A collaborative exploration to discover new visual expressions in science and technology.

If you saw me typing this, you might get the impression that I'm very calm about's just that I'm thrilled, beyond excitement and into calm, about getting accepted to the workshop. In case you're curious, for my application, I submitted my bird flu project.

August 26, 2006

Historic Mississippi River Channels

A successful visualization is informative, clear, and accurate, and as a result, often beautiful. With my entries I intend to show examples of good data visualization, and describe the elements that go into an elegant design.

Map detail of historic and prehistoric meanders of the Mississippi River by Fisk, 1944

Continue reading "Historic Mississippi River Channels" »