August 29, 2014

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This year we held a mini-conference in Portland, Maine with local friends and neighbors Sosolimited and  Design I/O for an opportunity to review projects, exchange ideas, and share working methods.

Our first glimpse of Maine

Portland, Maine became our destination because of its two hour separation from Boston, its small town atmosphere, and its many gastronomic choices. Besides, co-founder of Sosolimited, J-roth, a.k.a. John Rothenberg, has some good friends up there, and these good friends had great recommendations on where to go to enjoy the best of Portland.

Eric Gunther, of Sosolimited, presenting Project Ara

When we arrived at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, we dove right into our agenda.

Fathom’s Terrence and Alex discussed the recently released, an application created in conjunction with the City of Boston that provides zoning information on where urban commercial farms can be developed.  The app’s release coincided with the groundbreaking of the city’s first commercial urban farm, the Garrison-Trotter Farm in Roxbury.

Next up, Sosolimited presented Project Ara, a collaborative effort with Google to create a holistic approach to personal cell phones. The project reimagines the current one-piece model, and revamps it for a more intuitive approach with several pieces that can be customized for the user.

Lastly, Design I/O discussed their work on John Lennon: The Bermuda Tapes, an immersive app that tells of John Lennon’s sailing journey to Bermuda, which allowed him to fully realize his artistic vision with the help of written letters from his wife, Yoko Ono.

Group lunch at Congress Squared

After the long day we spent inside a dark hotel conference room, we were excited to hit the town and partake in some of Portland’s bar and restaurant offerings.

The overall vibe of this retreat was lighthearted, fun, and engaging. Moreover, we had the opportunity to enjoy mouthwatering food at Congress Squared, some exquisite wood roasted espresso at the Speckled Ax, delightful cocktails and snacks at Alpine & Hunt, and superb Sicilian food at Slab. We were also lucky to have been able to fit this trip into all of our busy schedules, and to have had the chance to be in the company of our talented and multifaceted friends.

No dumping into the city’s drain system as it could affect the availability and taste of the lobsters


August 20, 2014

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In June we released Mirador, a tool for visually exploring complex datasets, enabling users to infer new hypotheses from data and discover correlation patterns. Mirador is a collaboration between Fathom and the Sabeti Lab, which is part of the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University.

This past month, a group of infectious disease researchers from Nigeria and Senegal have been working with the Sabeti Lab, as part of the ACEGID Genomics Training Program in genomics and pedagogy. Andrés introduced Mirador to them and led a workshop to have the scientists start interacting with the tool. I had a great time assisting in the workshop; listening and observing for ways in which we could further tailor Mirador to help the team in their work.

Andrés shows the researches that Mirador is available for them to visualize data from epiSampler, a tool they are already using in the field to collect data from patients with infectious diseases. epiSampler was also developed by the Sabeti Lab and has been used to track samples back to their lab in Cambridge, MA.

photos courtesy of the Sabeti Lab

The Sabeti Lab studies infectious diseases, and has initiatives focused on hemorrhagic fevers like Lassa and Ebola. Colleagues at facilities they have established in Sierra Leone and Nigeria have given them a jump start in caring for Ebola victims. Currently, no ideal treatment exists for Ebola and sterile and contained environments for taking care of people are difficult to come by. One of their labs, at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, is able to collect samples and deactivate the virus before shipping it to the Sabeti Lab where they carry out full-length genome sequencing. The data is then made available in an effort to create more collaboration.

After the workshop, Dr. Pardis Sabeti gave a talk titled “Genomic Surveillance of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak,” which was an overview of her lab’s ongoing work with Ebola that they have been tirelessly combating this summer.

Pardis modestly reminds us that her lab is playing a small part, which would not be possible without the collaboration with colleagues on the ground in West Africa who are risking their lives to care for their families, friends, and neighbors.

At the last minute Pardis’ presentation had to be moved into a larger auditorium to accommodate the turn out. There was a lot of interest and excitement, and many words of praise from the audience as they asked questions afterwords.

While the Ebola outbreak is a tragic story, we are enthusiastic about the research the Sabeti Lab is doing. In the coming months we will be working to visualize the spread of disease and navigating the many variables that could be affecting its reach.

August 08, 2014

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There is a core pedagogical foundation here at Fathom. Whether it be through our fascination to learn new coding languages, adapt the ones we know, or critically reflect on our design work or that of others. We also love learning from our fellow colleagues in the field, as we did recently on a creative retreat with sosolimited and design I/O — more on that soon. This summer things got a bit more formal in terms of teaching and learning, for myself, and for the studio.


This summer we started a Fathom code workshop on Friday mornings. The first session was designed for those of us who are a bit more novice; we have been learning the beauty of python and it’s new mode in Processing. This class has been led by James Gilles (aka High School Genius) who is working at Fathom on the development of with Jonathan Feinberg. James is also preparing for his first year at MIT in the fall so keep an eye out for that kid. It’s been really great working in the Processing environment with the Python syntax. I’m also reading Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed Shaw, to supplement my learning. Things are going really well and we’re all excited to continue with the workshop this fall. I know many of us would love to start using the recent release of p5.js and are jockeying to get Lauren or Dan in the office to teach more workshops.
Dan Shiffman –

While a student in the Fathom code workshop, I also experienced the other side of the classroom. For the past six weeks I have been teaching an Interactive Design course at Boston University. This class met on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-9pm, and it focused on interactive design methodologies, design thinking, authorship and prototyping. Here is a caption from the syllabus:

This course — Interactive Design — explores interactivity between people and designed objects. Projects address how to create conditional experiences, responses, and/or exchanges that rely on a user’s input. Solutions will be pragmatic and speculative.

BU Interactive Design class photo
BU Interactive Design class photo

This course has been incredibly rewarding and challenging. It has helped me understand my own process and has helped others articulate their design process. It’s been a delight to see formal and intellectual progress in an accelerated 6 week class. Students ranged from having little to no experience with design principals, to students who are heading into their senior year in the design program and thinking about their thesis. I was thrilled to see the learning trajectory in each of the students’ final presentations. They showcased self-authored content that reconceptualized the mobile operating system on phone and tablet devices and then translated those concepts into a large scale interactive installation. I saw great breakthroughs in design thinking beyond traditional models of interactivity. Students explored themes from contextual awareness to object detection to multi-sensor computer vision.

I am looking forward to more teaching and learning opportunities at Fathom and beyond. Keep an eye out for new workshops at Fathom — there are also rumors of us expanding workshops to the public or in some type of MOOC format. Stay tuned…

July 23, 2014

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Despite unprecedented economic growth over the last fifty years, India is still home to one-third of the world’s poor. Our latest project with the World Bank Group explores the Country Partnership Strategy for India (CPS) — a multi-billion dollar investment aimed at ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity in one of the world’s most populous countries over the next five years.

India’s economic and social growth have been strong for many decades, but the nation still faces a number of development challenges. The economic infrastructure can’t yet support the growth needed to lift the population out of poverty. City and municipal services are strained as India experiences one of largest rural-to-urban migrations in history. Many states still face challenges related to health and nutrition, education, social protection, and skills development.

The original CPS strategy was published as a book

The CPS began life in the form of a book. Our task was to create an experience that highlights the progress and obstacles facing the nation as it seeks to lift one-third of the world’s poor out of poverty. We were excited to take on the challenge of navigating the strategy’s complex structure, and finding a way for users to understand the progress that has been made, and the goals the country still faces.

Open India on iPad

The CPS is organized around three areas of engagement — integration, transformation, and inclusion. Nineteen country-level outcomes are grouped loosely within these areas, and represent high-level objectives within the World Bank Group’s strategy. Each outcome is measured by one or more results indicators, and the app is designed to change over time to reflect progress in each of these metrics. These outcomes and indicators help the World Bank Group track the progress of  hundreds of projects and knowledge activities taking place across India.

The tool enables users to measure progress by exploring the number of projects, the amount of funding, and the set of states influenced within each engagement area, outcome, or indicator. Further, the site contextualizes the World Bank Group’s goals through the lens of existing challenge areas, focus states, gender equality, and urbanization.

July 11, 2014

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Lo and behold, on the first official Urban Agriculture Day in the City of Boston, we are excited to release our latest project, The tool enables users to find locations where they can pursue different urban agriculture activities around the city. By selecting a specific location, you can see which farming opportunities are available, and which actions you’ll need to take to start a commercial farm in Boston. 

Thanks to the Knight Prototype Fund, today we announced the release of our latest site,, alongside the Groundbreaking celebration of Boston’s first commercial urban farm.

Whether you’d like to keep honey bees on the roof, hens on the ground, or a freight container garden, the site describes the steps needed to start any type of commercial agriculture activity. Here at Fathom, we’re seeing what we can do to start a rooftop hydroponics system (though we’ll have to run this by the Boston Landmarks Commission because we’re located in a historic district, and probably by our landlord because we’re not especially wily).

By toggling between roof and ground levels, selecting different structures, and choosing various activities– soil plants, aquaponics, aquaculture, hydroponics, beekeeping, hen keeping, and composting– you can see the zoning considerations that apply to each lot, the permitting applications you’ll need to complete, and the commissions you’ll need to contact to get the ball rolling.

We celebrated the site’s release today alongside Urban Agriculture Day, and the groundbreaking of the city’s first commercial urban farm, the Garrison-Trotter Farm in Roxbury. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was there to celebrate and announce the occasion.

The project actually began with a tweet from former Boston mayor, Tom Menino a year ago. Terrence, our in-house farmer/ professional pickle maker, shared the tweet with the rest of the team, and we decided that the legislative changes taking place opened a tremendous opportunity to improve local engagement with urban farming. We partnered up with the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and other folks from the City of Boston to integrate municipal zoning code with the recent legislation, Article 89. After receiving support from the Knight Prototype Fund, we set out to make the legislation more navigable and transparent to those interested in urban farming.

Grab your phone, tablet, or open up a (narrow) screen on your browser to find the nearest location to start a commercial farm. We’ve optimized the tool for mobile and tablet devices, which forced us to prioritize the information that ‘s most important for users. Try it out, and get growing!


June 25, 2014

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We have been very busy lately in preparation for the upcoming Tau Day. Last week, the whole office gathered around two pies to honor our favorite mathematical constant!


No matter your numerical orientation, at Fathom we are open to all kinds of mathematical beliefs and points of view.

During the development of Peek in Pi, I pointed out the ongoing debate about the circle constant. The current standard relates the circle’s circumference to its diameter (which is what π stands for), though many people claim that it would be more convenient to relate the circle’s circumference to its radius (also referred to as τ). When I discovered that TAU was already a constant in the Processing ecosystem, though, the nerd in me couldn’t have been any happier.

Last week (or half tau months after the Peek in Pi release), we hosted a FiesTau party in our office to prepare for the advent of Tau Day, and to honor the enlightenment of this constancy with the same rejoicing and delight we embrace it with.

Mark and his wife Kim were kind enough to provide us with two whole pies for the event, because we simply couldn’t have a Tau party without lavish food and libations. Fortunately they didn’t use a certain pie pan they own that has an imprint of the digits of half tau…

Two pies for a full tau day
Mark seemingly confused by the math…

We took this opportunity to release the latest creation from the Fathom foundry: Peep in Tau, a new take on searching numbers within the digits of well-known mathematical constants.

Official release of our new Peep in Tau app
Peep in Tau on Google Play
Peep in Tau on an Android tablet

But the climax of this soirée began when we started playing Taupardy!

Main Taupardy! panel, with categories: “Digitaus”, “Geometrau”, “Dusting off the books”, “Rationalitau”, “Feynman point” and “Popular culture”
“Alex, ‘Feynman point’ for $1000 please!”
The correct answer, now OEIS sequence A243955

We took one of the questions (or answers), “The sequence of positions of consecutive 9′s in Tau’s decimals”, as an opportunity to play around with our new app, learn more about the Feynman Point, and submit the sequence as an entry to the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. After an exhaustive review process, the sequence was accepted, though sadly it was stripped of most references to Tau as an independent constant.

The evening finished with a mandatory team photo shoot, with everyone properly attired in brand new Tau-shirts gracefully designed by James. Yes, this is how we roll.

The Fathom team
A new 3*Tau constant…?

I have to say it was a memorable evening, full of joy, fun facts, gracious tau-puns, and lovely geekiness.

Just remember, it is never too late to reconsider which dimension of the circle you advocate for.

Happy Tau Day from the Fathom team!


June 18, 2014

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Fathom received a Knight Prototype grant which provided us the opportunity to embark on a collaborative project with the City of Boston. Last week, we traveled to Pittsburgh to present our Urban Agriculture project at Knight Demo Day.

Chris Barr and Megan Zimroth from the Knight Foundation kick off the “ignite” demo talks, where each team has 5 minutes to present with 20 slides auto advancing every 15 seconds.

Demo Day was a chance for all participants of the Knight Prototype Fund to present their projects to each other. There were 21 presentations in all, and it was great to see what other teams were working on. To name a few, Kids Making Sense was a project that gave kids air quality monitoring sensors to measure air quality around their cities; Ride Louisville identified biking arteries through a mobile app and referred to them as metro lines to encourage more biking infrastructure; and Market Metrics gathered and summarized key metrics for farmers market managers through a visual report tailored to the interests of their community.

For our project, Alex and I built a user-friendly app that integrates zoning data with new legislation so Boston residents can identify spaces that can accommodate commercial agricultural ventures within the city (stay tuned for the app release at the end of this month).

Alex talks about the areas with no zoning designation that we sought to identify with the awesome folks at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Last year we completed a project for Knight around the growing Civic Tech market.  Now we have found ourselves involved in that very market, helping to make government data more open and accessible for the public.

Pittsburg is the best city in the U.S. according to multiple cab drivers we met. For example their ballpark stadium (PNC Park) was rated number one.

June 17, 2014

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Today Mark and I took another trip to Harvard to speak at Beautiful Data, a two week summer institute hosted by metaLAB at Harvard University. The institute is supported by the Getty Foundation and is a workshop to help curators and historians tell stories with open art collections.



We discussed a wide range of projects and processes from Nike to GE to Miles Davis to convey our understanding of audience, authorship and archives as it pertains to storytelling and data visualization. We were able to enjoy most of the morning sessions and engage with some really interesting dialogue from art historians and museum professionals. It was interesting to hear their perspectives on how they work with data.

Thanks to Yanni Loukissas for inviting us. Enjoy the rest of the workshop.

June 13, 2014

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When Andrés isn’t contemplating the future of Processing or writing about OpenGL shaders, he has been leading the development of Mirador, a tool that provides an overview of large datasets, by visualizing their underlying dependency structures and identifying groups of explanatory variables.

So far Mirador has been exploring health datasets beginning with NHANES, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Every other year, they travel the United States with a fleet of mobile examination rooms to survey 10,000 participants on hundreds of questions and factors. The result is an enormous, but well-developed database used by medical researchers in a number of fields. As a result many research papers are based on NHANES data. Using Mirador within a couple minutes you can take one of these research papers, adjust the variable parameters, and see the correlation that the paper is discussing.

Some of the powerful features of Mirador are the algorithms running behind the scenes and the speed at which parameters can be adjusted, sorted, and browsed simultaneously.

As a simple example, let’s look at the Titanic. By adjusting outcome (i.e. “Survival”) we see how the correlation between gender and class of the passengers changes.

The best way to get started is to read the manual and open one of the examples after downloading the app from the homepage.

June 05, 2014

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Last week Ben spoke at the Thomson Reuters Knowledge Worker Innovation Series. Hosted by Mona Vernon, Vice President of the Data Innovation Lab at Thomson Reuters, the series is intended to bring together innovators and entrepreneurs who are interested in understanding how knowledge work is evolving.

To name just a few topics that were covered, Ben talked about how insight can be gained from large data sources through dynamic and interactive visualizations; the integrative process the folks at Fathom use to navigate, explain, and visualize information; and how each visualization conveys the unique properties and stories of the data it represents.

Check out the full talk when you have time, or get a sneak a peak from the highlight reel. You can even make yourself some finger sandwiches to pretend you were at the real thing!