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Last week, I found data from The Health Inequality Project detailing the average life expectancy for people who live in various states in America, male and female. I took the information from that dataset and plotted it into an interactive map of the United States.

Check out the interactive map here. 

I’m still troubleshooting some problems with the tooltip, which allows users to hover over each state and display the data from that particular state. I seem to be having trouble pulling the data from the corresponding CSV.

You can see my full GitHub repository here.

Here is the full index.js code:

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plastic in paradisum is a digital, interactive archive of plastic objects I found washed up on the beach at Dead Horse Bay. It’s a creative interrogation of the social processes that confer value on the objects that surround us.

You can visit the full collection & project website here.

To be honest, I was surprised by how much information about each object was available online. I was able to track down full histories of most objects, including information about the manufacturing company, the material, original newspaper advertisements, and other details I did not expect to find.


Winthrop pHisoHex bottle
Date: 1930-1950
Manufactured: New York, NY
Material: Low density polyethylene plastic

Winthrop-Stearns Inc. was a pharmaceutical company that underwent several mergers. A 1922 merger resulted in Sterling Drug, an American global pharmaceutical company that was later divided and sold to other pharma companies.

This particular bottle contained pHisoHex (pHisoderm with hexachlorophene), a preoperative cleansing agent for eye surgery. Initially used exclusively by surgeons, the product was later re-marketed to the public as a skin cleanser in the 1950s.

Polyethylene was first manufactured on a commercial scale during the Second World War by the British company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and eventually American companies began to manufacture polyethylene in the U.S. After the war ended, polyethylene was used to create squeezable bottles for antiperspirant. The flexible squeeze bottle emerged in the 1950s as a high density form of polyethylene.

Here is the final presentation I shared with the class:

The feedback I received from the class was extremely helpful. Most notably, our instructor Stefani pointed out that this project invokes feelings of nostalgia, but perhaps not the disgust that we associate with trash. In short, by decontextualizing the objects we tend to forgot that all this stuff was trash when I found it. Another student suggested adding more objects that are identifiably “trash” – a take-away container, a bottle, a plastic bag, etc. I plan to make adjustments to the project as I prepare the project for ITP’s Spring 2016 show.

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For this week’s assignment, we were to use d3.js to create a simple graph. I decided to work with a data set I found at R Data Sets that included information about the highest points in national parks.

See the interactive graph here. 

I decided to start with a simple animation using the .transition() tool in d3.js. I also created two functions, mouseenter and mouseleave, that are triggered when you hover your mouse over each bar of the graph.

See my full code here.

And here is the index.js file:

What counts as the material of vital materialism? Is it only human labour and the socio-economic entities made by men using raw materials? Or is materiality more potent than that? How can political theory do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in every event and every stabilization? Is there a form of theory that can acknowledge a certain ‘thing-power’, that is, the irreducibility of objects to the human meanings or agendas they also embody?

– Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

This week I continued making 3D scans of the pieces of discarded plastic that I’d found. I need to continue making the 3D scans and figure out the best way to catalogue each item, including information about where and when the item was manufactured, where the item was found, and how long it will take to disintegrate.

A baby doll:

Discarded baby doll

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Unknown
Material: Synthetic rubber (plastic)

A blue bottle:

Discarded hairspray bottle

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Helene Curtis Industries, Inc., Chicago, approx. 1953
Material: Plastic, most likely High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Est. date of decomposition: 2403



A pink bottle:

Discarded pink bottle

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Helene Curtis Industries, Inc.
Material: Plastic

Welcome to SmartPharmacist, Rebecca.

Based on our analysis of your condition, we would suggest you start with a low dosage of Levodivdivphine to treat your bipolar disorder.

Levodivdivphine is a antiparkinsonian drug that is prescribed for bipolar disorder and inflated asshole cancer.

Suggested daily dosage is 5 pills a day taken orally, or rubbing the gel form of the drug on your testy lower thigh.

Once upon a time, individuals suffering from bipolar disorder syndrome were prescribed Concerta and AndroGel, but new advancements in the field of fist Physics has helped doctors better remedy this disorder.

Side effects of Levodivdivphine may include: bloody urine, effective toenail, kidney duplex, penile torsion, prideful asshole, and weight increase.

This week, we learned how to write functions in our Python programs. For my assignment, I revisited last week’s SmartPharmacist .py program I wrote, which gives terrible drug advice based on your symptoms. The outcome of the program is the same, but the code I wrote streamlines a lot of the action that takes place.

I wrote two functions – one that streamlines random.choice() and one that more cleanly creates the drug name.

Here’s the rewrite of the code:

You can find the full repository on GitHub.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 6.58.20 PMFor this week’s assignment, we were to use SVG graphics and data from Gapminder to create a simple data visualization.

I created two simple data visualizations of this data set that shows, by country, private spend on health as a percentage of the total spending on health. Private health expenditure includes direct household (out-of-pocket) spending, private insurance, charitable donations, and direct service payments by private corporations.

The bubble chart

The first visualization was a bubble chart in which the size of each bubble corresponded to the percentage of the share (see it here). While I thought this method was visually compelling, I also felt that the information could be conveyed more accurately through a different visual. Instead of displaying the countries alphabetically, I thought it would be more informative to display them according to spend.

The bar chart

For the second visualization, I made a bar chart that showed the % private health spend for each country out of the total. I ordered the countries from those that had the highest private spending to the lowest. Check it out here.


Visualizing this set of data gave me the ability to quickly compare private/public spend between countries and draw some conclusions.

private-1 spend-2

You can check out my full GitHub repository here.

Other (unrelated) thoughts

We were also asked to respond to a graphic/chart/visual from the website Wait But Why, a popular resource for explaining complex subjects in a simple way. I decided to look at an article that explains the history of Iraq and ISIS. I studied Arabic language/Middle East Studies in college and my undergraduate thesis explored neo-tribalism in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq so I was curious to see if the author of the article got the history right.

I was surprised – the author did a very thorough job explaining the last 100 years in Iraqi history, with particular emphasis on the factors that led to the rise of ISIS. The Sykes-Picot agreement, which is responsible for diving up Iraq and much of the Middle East, is summarized pretty accurately in these two maps:



Source: Wait but why




We are the garbage, the waste, we make it and dump it, to be separated from it is a cancer causing delusion…we cannot separate ourselves, clean and perfect, from the trash we dump out back into the can. Clean is a vision of internal trash, not a mere separation.

– Gerald Vizenor, “Landfill Meditation”

Inanimate things have a life of their own, that deep within them is an inexplicable vitality or energy, a moment of independence from and resistance to us and other things.

– Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

In keeping with my project timeline, I visited Dead Horse Bay this week to collect the plastic debris that had washed up on the shore for my project. The beach is so littered with debris from the past 200 years that you are unable to walk without stepping on a broken glass bottle or a piece of china. I walked along the shoreline for about three hours in a kind of meditative state, scanning the ground for shiny, colorful plastic among the mounds of discarded objects.


I documented my trip to the beach with this short video filmed on a handheld DSLR.

Once I had collected around 30 pieces of plastic, I started photographing some of the objects in order to create photogrammetric, 3D models of the debris I found. To create the models, I used Photoscan and Meshmixer to clean up the scan, create dense clouds, and add the appropriate texture.

Here’s a snippet of the editing process with a red toy gun that I’d found.

So far I’ve created 3D models of two objects: the red toy gun and a red plastic bottle. Here’s a photo and the final 3D model of the bottle:


Discarded plastic bottle from Dead Horse Bay by Becca on Sketchfab


On a very personal level, the physical rituals of “cataloging” the discarded objects with attention and care — scanning the beach for plastic, picking up each object, washing and scrubbing them one by one, taking between 100-200 photographs of each object — helped me see these objects in a different light. Instead of something to be trashed and forgotten, each object revealed its own energy and vitality (to steal a phrase from Jane Bennet).

The poet A.R. Ammons once remarked that maybe garbage was the “sacred image of our time.” When asked about the religious undertones in his book-length poem Garbage by The Paris Review, Ammons said: “My hope was to see the resemblances between the high and low of the secular and the sacred. The garbage heap of used-up language is thrown at the feet of poets, and it is their job to make or revamp a language that will fly again. We are brought low through sin and death, and hope that religion can make us new.”

Waste isn’t meaningless; waste is saturated with meaning. It’s subject to the same value-creation processes that we apply to all the objects in our environment. With my project, I’m aiming to help people really evaluate their own relationships with discarded objects. I want to examine the social processes that confer value on the objects that surround us and put discarded plastic waste in dialogue with religious/magical objects.

Still left to to: scan the rest of the plastic, put all the .obj files on Sketchfab, create a website for the project, finalize and build the physical installation, and build the virtual environment. An overview of the plan of action:



Welcome to SmartPharmacist, Rebecca. 

Based on our analysis of your condition, we would suggest you start with a low dosage of Alalproex sodiumdivum to treat your bipolar disorder. 

Alalproex sodiumdivum is a antipanic agent drug that is used for bipolar disorder and haughty cheekbone syndrome. 

Suggested daily dosage is 3 pills a day taken orally, or rubbing the gel form of the drug on your irritable fingernail. 

Once, individuals suffering from bipolar disorder failure were prescribed Aripiprazole and Crystal meth, but new advancements in the field of cheekbone Geography has helped doctors better remedy this disorder. 

Side effects of Alalproex sodiumdivum may include: abdominal pain, brooding wrist, grand mal convulsion, grand mal convulsion, brooding lip, and drug intolerance.

For this week’s assignment, we had to write a computer code in Python and execute it in a way that would creatively re-arrange text. We also had to use a network-based source like an API/JSON file in our code.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we collectively seek out information about our health. Traditionally, medicine and disease was something you talked about with your parents or a family doctor. Online medical services like WebMD or even informal forums like Reddit’s Ask a doctor have not replaced physical doctors or pharmacists, but typically the first place an individual turns to get information about his/her health condition is online.

With that in mind, I decided to create a computer program in Python that would automatically generate medical advice based on the user’s health condition.

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I checked out a few different APIs that had extensive documentation, including Infermedica and APIMedic, but those sources proved either too costly or had very limited access to the data (i.e. the site would not allow access via JavaScript so you would have to use a Python client). Finally I settled on the FDA’s OpenFDA API, which provided a really comprehensive repository of every “adverse event” (i.e. side effect) associated with a particular pharmaceutical drug, along with dozens of other endpoints.

The JSON file I generated was very complex. In order to construct the URL, I had to write these lines of code:


After getting the data into my program, I decided I wanted the user to be able to search for their medical problem [‘drugindication’] and my program would yield the name of a drug [‘generic_name’]. I wanted the name of the drug to be humorous and fictional, so I took the name of the REAL drug that the user would be prescribed, and cut it in half and mixed in some other syllables so that each drug name is unique.

I found some lists of words online and played Mad Libs with the prescribed “script” for the SmartPharmacist, adding in some body parts and medicine-related adjectives. I liked the fact that this particular API was centered around monitoring the harmful side effects of pharmaceutical drugs because it would add some humor to the medical suggestions made by my SmartPharmacist program. I view my program as basically a terrible doctor. 

Here are some examples:

Welcome to SmartPharmacist, Rebecca.

Based on our analysis of your condition, we would suggest you start with a low dosage of Lidorisentanambphine to treat your Pulmonary Ebolism.

Lidorisentanambphine is a sedative drug that is prescribed for Pulmonary Ebolism and narcissistic tooth disease.

Suggested daily dosage is 2 pills a day taken orally, or rubbing the gel form of the drug on your brassy hairline.

Conventionally, individuals suffering from Pulmonary Ebolism disorder were prescribed Heroin and Gabapentin, but new advancements in the field of tooth Gelotology has helped doctors better remedy this disorder.

Side effects of Lidorisentanambphine may include: impairment of daily activities, astir buttocks, chest pain, plummeting blood pressure, efficacious asshole, and local swelling.
Welcome to SmartPharmacist, Rebecca.

Based on our analysis of your condition, we would suggest you start with a low dosage of Burisentanambphine to treat your Sleep apnea.

Burisentanambphine is a aphrodisiac drug that is used both recreationally and clinically to treat Sleep apnea and contentious upper arm disease.

Suggested daily dosage is 2 pills a day taken orally, or rubbing the gel form of the drug on your bustling ankle.

Once upon a time, individuals suffering from Sleep apnea cancer were prescribed Welbutrin and Lisdexamfetamine, but new advancements in the field of upper arm Neurology has helped doctors better remedy this disorder.

Side effects of Burisentanambphine may include: nausea, cheeky middle finger, penile torsion, weight increase, opinionated arm, and emotional distress.
Welcome to SmartPharmacist, Rebecca. 

Based on our analysis of your condition, we would suggest you start with a low dosage of Desliplatinoxarane to treat your appetite loss. 

Desliplatinoxarane is a ovulation inducer drug that is approved for treatment of appetite loss and congenital hip cancer. 

Suggested daily dosage is 5 pills a day taken orally, or rubbing the gel form of the drug on your introverted knee. 

In the olden days, individuals suffering from appetite loss cancer were prescribed Geodon and Oxycodone, but new advancements in the field of hip Geodesy has helped doctors better remedy this disorder.

Overall, I was pleased with the text the program had generated. It sounded realistic enough so that it didn’t seem like a strict cut-and-paste Mad Libs and I think it successfully mimicked the language we associate with pharmaceutical labels. In the future, I think I could think more creatively about how to cut up the text while using the API in a meaningful way.

Here is the Python program I wrote. You can access the full repository over at GitHub.

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See my data visualization here.

For our first class assignment, we were to create a simple data visualization using a data source found on NYC Open Data, a repository of public data from various NYC organizations that is part of a broader initiative to make city data more accessible to the public.

I found a data set that is a directory of all the public toilets in public parks in New York. I decided to filter the data by borough and visualize the findings using the API to generate the json file.

Brooklyn appears to have more toilets in public parks than any other borough, but keep in mind that these are raw numbers. It very well may be the case that Brooklyn also has more public parks or larger public parks overall.

See the final data visualization here. You can check out my full code over at its GitHub repository.


Over the past few weeks, we’ve been introduced to individuals and organizations working within what has been termed “citizen science.” GenSpace and Public Lab are two examples of community spaces that have been created for the purpose of educating the average layperson how to conduct his/her own experiments.

As a non-scientist who is seeking to understand what is happening to marine debris on a microscopic level, I’m excited to see communities in which individuals are taking a DIY approach to citizen science.

Project update: plastic debris altar & archive

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on developing my concept for the final project. As I mentioned in previous blog posts, I’m most interested in the materiality of waste and the ways in which social processes determine the value we place on the objects around us. In the case of plastic debris, we do not endow trash with value the way we would other objects, like religious relics.

I thought about the kinds of objects that we culturally have esteemed and valued, and immediately I was drawn to the kinds of religious domestic altars we find in people’s homes. I was also drawn to the aesthetic of the street vendors who sell religious artifacts (in Jerusalem, for example). These are spaces we have created for objects we venerate.

I intend to build a small altar or vendor cart in which I will display plastic debris I have found on the beaches in New York. Each item will be catalogued and labeled, with an accompanying card that lists the item’s origin, where it was found, and an invented “power” that the object endows on its owner (e.g. healing powers).IMG_3967IMG_3969 Above are several options for the altar/cart.

In addition to the physical installation, I will also create an online archive similar to the kind found at a museum or on e-commerce sites in which each item is catalogued. I itend to create high-resolution 3D scans of each object as well as the actual altar/cart.

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An example of an item in an online archive from the Met Museum.

Of course, a lot of this project is dependent on the kind of marine debris that I am able to collect. If I’m able to find tiny microplastics, then I would like to create a kind of miniature altar/cart to display the plastic confetti. If the objects are larger, then the installation will likely be larger.

lisbon-portugal-shop-selling-religious-artefacts-and-iconography-ewbg0aI was very much inspired by Hong Kong-based artist liina klauss, whose project “Lost ‘N Found” helped me articulate my own project. She set up vendor carts on beaches in China and sold plastic debris to people walking by.

exp-lostnfound-11 liinaklauss 2014 lost'n'found hawker stall