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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Birthday Spiral: A Visual Representation of Every Day Lived.

Last year, I attended the Visualized Conference in New York City.  With a such a huge amount of technical prowess and fascinating topics coming at us in presentation after presentation, it was hard for anyone one presentation to stand out. However, one presentation certainly did, and personally.  

Sha Hwang's talk ranged across a number of topics, but his reflections on Lebbeus Woods were exemplary. It wasn't the content itself, but where it led him and the audience. Sha talked about Lebbeus Woods passing away during Hurricane Sandy, he talked about his mother's reflections on the time she had left in her life, and in general, the limited currency of time in our life.  

I was affected and I was inspired. Having made some scary commitments in my own life to start my own practice, to leave a safe but ultimately limiting career where I was producing but not really living, I too had been thinking about the currency of life, and how each day lived was a day less in my own life.  It wasn't a cup-half-empty perspective. It was a cup with a leak.  

But it was more than a selfish thought. The problem I'd had with the path I'd been in was that I was serving such a limited agenda. Sure, helping to preserve the integrity of capital markets operations was important. But it was transient.  Time goes on, management comes and goes, and selfish individuals continue to work around and game the oversight and controls we build until they are (hopefully) shunned and expelled from the industry. Or, tragically, they rob, steal, ruin others' lives, and are imprisoned.    

With this practice, however, I get a chance to serve a bigger and better agenda - changing the lives of many for the better by illuminating and clarifying how things work, how things relate to each other, and why things are important.  By doing so, I can open much more opportunity for human betterment than I ever could by creating rules and procedures in my former career.  

Leading up to the conference - and even more so after - I had been experimenting with some different ways of expressing life calendars. Over almost a full year, and with the collaboration of Adam Vigiano, Adam and I developed a customizable visualization of every day a person has lived. That visualization organizes a depiction of one's life in a spiral framed by the years, months and days that one has lived.  It is annotated by important events; the events can be by themes, such as world betterment, or science, or it can be events in one's own life.  

The rendering involved a lot of technical work. We wanted it to be BIG - the result is a 44" wall art. And still, fitting between 20 and 100 years (or more) on that canvas, along with annotations, created some geometrical and spatial challenges.  Having created an original mockup in Illustrator, I then worked in Processing 2.0 to generate a more automated approach to collecting the data and displaying it. We achieved that, creating a flexible approach that could calculate the spiral size and coordinates needed to accommodate most ages. However, we weren't ultimately satisfied with the resolution and detail that was required to generate truly fine art.  So, instead, we now have Illustrator templates from which we can work and generate any number of spirals. A bit more manual work, but alternatively it adds additional depth and meaning to the work.  

It's meant as a gift from friends and/or loved ones to others, and we hope that it will be a beautiful expression for others to share with people they love. For more information, we've set up a Shopify account that allows us to work with you to render it and ship it to you.

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