26 Jan 2011
Mormon Trails in Processing

 Update - Now available online!

Not going to be pretty unless on a desktop... not mobile optimized

At the time I originally created this visualization, I did so in Processing "proper". I just recently ported the original visualization over to processing.js a javascript port of the original java based environment that uses the HTML canvas element. I had used java.util.Date and a few other java specific classes (which Processing allows) in the original "sketch". These java specific references in my code needed to be replaced with javascript equivalents which processing.js gracefully permits.

Someone sent me a link to the GE Healthcare visualization and I thought it was awesome! I entered into a slight man crush of Ben Fry and read his book Visualizing Data. Along with some solid data visualization concepts, the book introduces Processing a language/environment tailored for creating data visualizations created by Ben Fry and Casey Reas. I decided to give Processing a whirl in an effort to make myself my “data visualization” savvy.

I always find it best to learn a new tech by finding some non-trivial application to apply it to. In this case I took a shot at visualizing (with permission) the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. This database contains details of all known Mormon pioneer companies who traveled to Utah between 1847 and 1869. One of my ancestors, Denmark Jensen, was born in the middle of one of these journeys.

With my personal connection (noted above), seeing some of this data visualized (albeit by a rookie) was personally satisfying. It was also entertaining at a technical level. Here’s a couple of the fun tasks involved:

  • I wrote a C# console program to:
    1. scrape data from the [source website](http://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/companydatelist)
    2. automate the geocoding (thanks Bing!) of the departure locations
    3. write the results out to a .csv file
  • I got wrap my head around the formula for quadratic bezier curves to figure out how to animate them in the visualization

I’m happy with some things while still unsatisfied with others. I intend to critique the outcome in a future post.

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