Visualizing Cambridge Bicycle Accident Data

In October, a Lexington cyclist was killed by an 18-wheeler in Porter Square. In June, another cyclist was killed in a collision with a landscaping truck in Inman Square. This follows a fatal crash last year in Cambridgeport. After a cyclist was killed by a truck at BU in 2014, the Boston Area Research Initiative release a bicycle crash map.

Cambridge, which is at the forefront of Open Data, has made accident data (involving motor vehicles, bicycles, and/or pedestrians) available through its Open Data Portal. I thought I’d have a look at what I could learn by visualizing this data using Google’s “My Maps,” first with the 2014 accident data and then with a larger data set that I found on the open data portal.

Google’s default view (of the 2014 accident data) is single-colored points, which doesn’t tell me much.

I decided to assign custom icons (and colors), but this was way too jumbled, with the icons crowding each other out (here you can kind of see car, pedestrian, and bicycle icons) . . .

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 9.22.34 AM

I thought that using smaller (16px) images with a transparent background might help my situation, but it really didn’t much. To me this looks way too busy, there are so many points that the individual outlines create moss/mess rather than adding to the picture . . .

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.19.56 AM

Using smaller points (and a legend) cleaned up the space a little, but I feel like it deemphasizes the bicycle and pedestrian data that most interests me (here, yellow are car-only accidents, orange dots involve bicycles, and red dots involve pedestrians) . . .

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Enlarging the bicycle icons does allow me to see “problem areas” for cyclists, but the icons are too big, requiring me to spread the map way out to see the patterns (and making me lose a bunch of my map . . . ).

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Bringing back my transparent orange cyclists helps a little bit . . .

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Here’s another try with similar larger icons for bicycles and pedestrians . . . Still very messy . . .

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.27.39 AM

At this point, it’s time to look at bicycle accidents only. Here, I got a hold of a larger data set (accidents from January 1, 2010 – June 30, 2016). I like having more data. This map (below) shows only bicycle accidents, but is still quite jumbled using the standard-sized dots (after all, there are 881 data point here, alas).

The visualization I was most happy with is below. It’s bicycle accidents only and I shrunk the size of the dots down significantly.

The graph above isn’t perfect, but it gives me a lot of information. For one, after making this map I stopped biking on Mass Ave. Period. I’d also avoid Broadway and Cambridge Streets. For my route from my son’s school (in Fresh Pond) to work (in Central Square) I’ve adopted a path similar to the one Cambridge recommends. I’ve read up on bicycling rules of the road and try to wear reflective gear during the day and always use lights at night (the brighter the better). I also stay on sidewalks (where permitted and appropriate) and bike paths.

Please cycle safe.

Teaching Scratch to Elementary and Middle School Kids

I signed up to teach Scratch to some kids at my son’s school for “project days”. Rather than make a video game, I wanted to introduce projects that could be useful to the everyday curriculum. Here are a few of the projects I came up with. We’ll see how it goes!

In 3rd and 4th grade, students frequently survey each other about different topics, then graph that information. Here’s a survey, minus the graph.

3rd and 4th grade is also the time when you want to internalize (i.e. memorize) your multiplication tables, perhaps with the assistance of a friendly dinosaur, below:

Here’s the basic outline for this 75-minutes class.

I. Intros (to each other).

2. What is Scratch,where do you find it ( Who has used it before? What have they done/made? When was scratch created and where, by whom? [At the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarten Group, headed up by Mitch Resnick, first in 2002 and then official release in 2005]. Who was in 2005? Before 2005? After 2005?

3. What are some of the things you can do with scratch? [Show projects above, as well as M’s maze game and the secret messages sender (if relevant) and have kids share other things they’ve made. Also possibly show some of the expert projects saved in my favorites, like the Fibonacci Flower or Powerpuff’d CB Takes Flight (after exploring this particular animation, I couldn’t resist Powerpuffing myself — see end of this post).]

4. The Scratch site [this section can happen at the end or at this point, depending on how excited kids are to get going].

  • Explore other people’s projects and Studios (by topic, most loved, 30 days).
  • Help section (including Scratch Wiki — what to do if you need help).
  • “See inside” and “Remix” other people’s work, “favorite” and “love” other people’s work, “follow” people.
  • Submit your projects to Studios, share projects with links or embed them on websites.

5. Get Started! Choose your own projects, or, to get started: choose a sprite, choose a background, have your Sprite glide into the center of screen, ask your name, and then greet you by name. [At least 30 minutes, ideally 40 minutes of work on individual projects, assisted by instructor and each other, as needed].

6. Recap [10 – 15 minutes]. Everyone shares their projects with the group, in whatever state they’re in, and talk about what they’d like to do next.

7. [Optional] Where do we go from here? The limits of Scratch. How Scratch compares to other programming languages. Controlling Scratch with Makey Makey.

Notes: First group was particularly interested in animation, making sprites dance, and music. One boy made a “going away/I’ll miss you” card for a friend who is moving at the end of the school year — it was super sweet.

That’s it for now. Next class on Monday.


Moves in Greater Boston

I’ve been working with some visualization tools lately. This one uses Venngage and data from the Census (American Community Survey). You can scroll over the image to get detailed data.

May marks the beginning of the peak rental and buying season. But people move more in some places than in others. Cambridge tops the list, with 27% of residents moving in the last year, followed by Somerville at 23% and Brookline at 19%. Last on the list are Winchester and Lexington at 9% and 8% respectively. Cambridge and Brookline also lead in the percentage of residents who moved from abroad (5% and 4%) with Malden at Waltham following close behind (at 4% and 3%). Lincoln, at 9%, has the largest percentage of movers from out-of-state, followed by Cambridge at 7%. Everett and Melrose have the lowest percentages of out-of-state movers (1.1% and %0.5%). In-town moves are led by Cambridge and Somerville (8% and 6%) while Winchester and Concord have the lowest number of in-town moves (1% and %0.2).

Random Basho Haiku Text Message Generator

I’ve just completed my first very simple Ruby app using Sinatra and the Twilio API, using Git and Bitbucket for version control and deploying with Heroku (I think only Hien will know what this means!). It was a slog but I am very excited. The assignment was to make a form that sends someone a text message to a user-input cell phone number. Not wanting to send random text messages, I chose a carefully curated list of Haikus by the 17th-Century Japanese poet Basho. Enjoy! (I did not choose the fathomless dawn name, but it seems to go well with the Haikus).

P.S. I’m sorry only US cell phone numbers right now (I think).
P.P.S. You can use this app to send text messages to other people’s phone numbers, but you might want to give them a heads up if you do this, and the text won’t come from a recognizable number . . .

Fleece Wonders from MLK Day “Many Helping Hands” Event

Look at the amazing fleece creations (blankets and scarves) that Many Helping Hands Volunteers came up with at the Cambridge YWCA today! I was astonished by the creativity and joy of these folks. Thanks, all!

For this year’s projects, we tried to have more of a focus on no-sew designs because we always have so much work left over for our sewers. I put out a few very basic examples but people really took it to the next level. I’m really in awe . . .

No-Sew Fleece Scarves and Blankets

I’m looking forward to helping with the Many Helping Hands event in Cambridge again this year on MLK Day, January 19th. I’ll be helping make fleece blankets and scarves and despite the presence of many devoted sewers there’s always a lot of sewing left to do afterwards. With this in mind, I looked around for some interesting no-sew scarf (and blanket) ideas. See my comments below each image and click on any image to get more details.

A nice twist on the "tie" method with two colors -- could also be down on the horizontal
A nice twist on the “tie” method with two colors — could also be down on the horizontal
A nice "threaded" technique using a double heart, leaf or diamond template
A nice “threaded” technique using a double heart, leaf or diamond template
An alternative to the tied border -- perhaps less bulky
An alternative to the tied border — perhaps less bulky
Another border technique, using a single piece of fleece
Another border technique, using a single piece of fleece
A "woven" idea (would not implement as an infinity scarf). A thin piece of fleece could also be threaded through a scarf for a rushed effect
A “woven” idea (would not implement as an infinity scarf). A thin piece of fleece could also be threaded through a scarf for a ruched effect
Ruched scarf. This one is sewn but rushing could be accomplished by weaving through a thin piece of fleece and tying or threading into the ends of the scarf
Ruched scarf. This one is sewn but rushing could be accomplished by weaving through a thin piece of fleece and tying or threading into the ends of the scarf

For those of you who are on Pinterest, here’s a link to the board with additional images/links below.

Follow Rachael Burger’s board No-Sew Fleece Scarves and Blankets on Pinterest.

Thanksgiving-Time Volunteer Opportunities with Children (Cambridge/Somerville)

Several of us have talked over time about finding volunteer opportunities that involve children. Here are a couple ideas for Thanksgiving time . . .

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) organizes volunteers to deliver meals on Thanksgiving morning. You use your own car and go in your own team or get paired up with one other person. I think these are the meals-on-wheels routes/recipients, but this is for the Thanksgiving meal. We have done this as a family since 2009. We’re generally finished by noon. For this opportunity, you need to have a criminal check (CORI) which as I recall isn’t too complicated. You can contact Marie Mazzeo at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services if you’re interested: 617-628-2601 x3051 or

In the past, we have also delivered food (not on Thanksgiving day, but a few days before) with the Salvation Army in Central Square, Cambridge (my car, with my son, and a volunteer from the Salvation Army). In this case, we were delivering a box of food (frozen turkey, etc.) also in Somerville. The volunteer was very nice. There was a short talk about church up front but then we moved on to other topics. I didn’t have to have a CORI check for this opportunity. Salvation Army (Cambridge) phone is: (617) 547-3400

In addition, The Little Sister of the Poor (Highland Ave in Somerville – Spring Hill) welcomes donations of pies on Thanksgiving. This is a center for low-income elders. Very nice folks. They particularly enjoy pecans! 617.776.4420

Please note that SCES (Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services) has a number of excellent volunteer programs. I work as a Money Management volunteer and they always need more volunteers for this important program. Happy to talk with anyone about this too.

I am also a fan of the food pantry at the Unitarian Universalist Church near Medford Square (on High Street). More information and drop-off donation times here:

Jam Jam Jam


On Friday, my 9-year old and I made jam using strawberries and rhubarb (with a little mint thrown in) from the garden. We got seven pints of delicious jam! He took the lead, hulling strawberries, sterilizing the jars, cooking the jam and preparing the pot for the canning. I made green soup at the same time. It was fun and all came out great.

Here’s our basic jam recipe which seems to work pretty well with the different fruits we’ve picked (strawberries, rhubarb, plums, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and tomatoes!). 


2 c. fruit
1 c. sugar
1 t. Pomona’s Universal Pectin*
1 t. Pomona’s calcium water (come with the Pomona’s packet and you mix it up)
Thai or italian basil or mint to taste, finely chopped (we like basil in blueberries, mint in strawberries and rhubarb, ginger/clove/cinnamon in tomatoes). 
Some people also add a bit of fresh lemon or lime juice but I haven’t bothered with this as of late.

(normally I do 6 – 8 c. of fruit in a 3 quart pan, but these — above — are the base proportions).


1) In a large pot, boil water and sterilize jars and lids (this is the same pot that you’ll boil the jam in after it’s ready). 

2) Heat fruit and calcium water at low heat until they get mushy and star to break down and bubble.

3) Add sugar (with pectin mixed in) to fruit and cook at a medium boil for at least 3 minutes. If you’re adding basil or other flavoring, add it with the fruit. Stir only as necessary so jam doesn’t settle on the bottom.

4) Take a bit of your jam and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and test to make sure it sets up. (It usually does, but better test up front then have to redo your jam later). If it has not set, boil longer and/or add pectin to your mixture. You can also sense whether your jam is setting by observing the extent to which the jam from your stirring spoon (once it’s sitting for a minute or two while you’re not stirring firms up).

5) spoon the jam into jars (with a sterile implement and clean hands), leaving 1/4” of space at the top. If there’s jam on the rim, outside, or in that 1/4” space, wipe it off with a super-clean cloth in hot water or with a super-clean finger.

6) close lids firmly and boil (with 1” of water at least over the tops) in your large pot for 10 minutes. (I use a vegetable strainer at the bottom of my large pot to support the jar and boil 4-5 jars at a time).

7)  remove your jars and let them cool — you’ll hear the tops pop. 


This method has worked quite well across a variety of fruits. I have never had spoilage. I have had batches that didn’t take (or didn’t take very well) but the testing in the freezer seems to eliminate this. I tried making all sorts of jams without pectin (in this case, I usually add lemon or lime juice and have tried making natural pectin from citrus seeds, as I recall) and it worked sometimes and sometimes not. In any case, requires more boiling and I guess I like my fruit not to be overdone (though it is thoroughly cooked). You can always try a little less pectin for fruits that naturally have more pectin. Enjoy!

* I use Pomona’s pectin — it’s supposed to be a natural, low-sugar pectin, though my recipes are not really low sugar. You can also use Ball pectin but I find I have to use more to get a batch to thicken.

First Harvest


Picked the first fruits of the garden this weekend and cooked them up into a vegetable sautée and a rhubarb crumble. Delicious!

Above: bok choy, pea tendrils (both bought from Russos as plants about a month ago), asparagus, chives, and rhubarb (all perennials).

This year, I’ll be adding some new vegetables — okra, watercress, brussel sprouts and lebanese squash (similar to kousa squash) — to accompany lettuce, spinach, cauliflower (you can eat the leaves too and they are abundant), tomatoes, long green and purple beans (an easy-growing favorite), peas, and peppers. I’ve also put verbena, lemon balm, and a new kind of mint into the garden. The thyme bush is going gangbusters: did you know you can make tea out of thyme? More pics to come.

A Salad a Day

About November when temperatures drop, my mood seems to drop with them. A number of years back I tried an all-raw diet, but found it difficult to maintain and very high in oil and nuts. I found that a salad a day was enough to keep my spirits up and made me feel both vital and nourished. Having done this now for a number of years, I thought I’d chronicle these salads in all their beauty.