Chicken in the cornbread


We are huge fans of Caspar Babypants at this house. In fact, Alma’s first concert was a Caspar Babypants free show at Pike Place Market in Seattle before we moved east! One of our favorite songs is Chicken in the Cornbread. The lyrics are catchy and silly and I thought that sneaky chicken was the perfect muse for some iPad art.

Caspar Babypants at Pike Place Market in Seattle
Caspar Babypants at Pike Place Market in Seattle

I used the Procreate iPad app to create this. Here’s a little video showing how this illustration was made (music: Happy Whistle by Scott Holmes).

Teaching statistics, one comic at a time


Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to learn something complex if you already know a bit about the topic in general? There’s a word for this: elaboration [1]. It’s the process of linking the things you already know with the things that you’re learning, and one of the ways teachers can help that process along is by using analogies. Analogies and metaphors rely on the fact that you already have neural pathways setup that can be applied to a new situation [2].

With analogies, you can learn something totally new by comparing it to something you are familiar with. That’s what Dax and I are trying to do in a series of “statistical vignettes”. It’s all part of a larger education project called Project EDDIE. Our approach involves using comics and stories to give undergraduate students a framework to build upon when they’re learning about new things like correlation, p-values, and probability. Project EDDIE modules give students a chance to learn scientific concepts by analyzing real-world datasets, and the statistical vignettes are mini lessons that can be used as needed to support the main topic.

The sample comic at the top of this post shows a very abbreviated version of how we might build a statistical vignette on the concept of correlation. Of course, there’s a lot more to correlation than what’s shown here, but we’d just like to introduce Rita because we’re planning on including her as a character for many (all?) future vignettes.

I’ll probably keep posting ideas, sketches, and examples here. Feedback is welcome!


[1] Ancker, J. S., & Begg, M. D. (2017). Using Visual Analogies To Teach Introductory Statistical Concepts. Numeracy10(2), 7.

[2] Oakley, B. A. (2014). A mind for numbers: How to excel at math and science (even if you flunked algebra). Tarcher.

A knife fight with a shark

A dear friend of mine has been battling cancer, and along the way she’s accumulated a fair number of scars from various surgeries. She joked that she looks like she’s been in a knife fight with a shark, so I made this for her. She’s amazing. Oh, and f— cancer.


Life after grad school

For a while there, it seemed like I was going to be a graduate student forever…then I graduated and got a job. And then I decided to go *back* to grad school (oh, Michelle…). But then, in December 2016, I successfully defended my dissertation – Huzzah! (I like to tell my nieces I made it to grade 22, how funny/terrifying!) Then about a month and a half after wrapping up my PhD, I started working (remotely) for JASCO Applied Sciences. (oh, and a couple of months after that I had a baby.)

JASCO is a company that does consulting and research for assessing and mitigating underwater noise. They sort of do it all – they design and build super cool underwater acoustic sensors, install those sensors and collect data all around the world, often in remote and dangerous locations. They measure sounds produced by marine animals like whales, dolphins, seals, fish, crabs… basically if it makes a sound and lives underwater, JASCO is probably gonna record it at some point. They also record sounds from noise sources like ships and seismic experiments. Then once all those data are collected, JASCO scientists crunch through it – signal processing, acoustic propagation modeling, interpretation, whatever needs to be done to understand what’s happening in the world of underwater sound.

My job at JASCO is a blend of things – data analysis and visualization, but also education and outreach. Here I am at my home-office, working on a comic about marine noise, and how we can measure it:

Communicating science + baby wearing, for the win.
Communicating science + baby wearing, for the win.
Hopefully I’ll have more posts to share soon, so stay tuned!

Simple Fourier Transform demo


(Go here to access the interactive visualization:

This little project has kept me entertained over the holidays! I thought it would be useful to come up with a really simple interactive web visualization to illustrate what a Fourier Transform is. And of course, it’s also been a great way for me to get some javascript practice.

It’s a really simple example, and could definitely be improved – with the ability to add more signals, for example. And design improvements.

If you want to check out the code, it’s up on my Github page. I decided to try out Plotly for the graphs, and used bootstrap for the layout.

Wave interference

I’m TAing a marine GIS/ocean mapping course this quarter, and will be teaching a lecture on some aspects of multibeam sonars and the data that you get from them. Which is fun since I haven’t really thought much about multibeam sonars since I worked at a sonar company about 6 years ago.

I was trying to figure out how to explain how a longer array means you can get a narrow beam. It’s all about interference patterns, right? So I wrote a little script in Python (you can access the script directly on my Github page).

Let’s say you have two elements spaced a half wavelength apart. You get something like this, with one main lobe:


Cool – there’s just one main lobe of higher amplitude. But then if you pull those elements just a bit further apart – I’m showing a 5 wavelength separation here – you can see a completely different pattern:


So: the wider separation made more beams and and those beams were narrower. Interesting…. What if we wanted to have just one main beam that we could maybe steer around? (ahem. maybe a little like a multibeam sonar??) The next picture shows a single beam produced by a line of 20 elements, all spaced at half a wavelength apart from each other. This time we’re zooming out a bit – showing 30m x 30m this time. Also this simulation shows what it would look like with a 200 kHz signal – which is a pretty common frequency for a shallow water multibeam sonar.

Beam pattern example

Adventures in javascript


After about two frenzied weeks of muddling through javascript and D3 (and html and css) Helena and I managed to wrap up what I think is a pretty neat D3 visualization of oceanographic data for the class we’re taking.

Check it out here: – just click on the map to see the temperature and salinity profiles. And if you’d like to see what’s going on under the hood (or re-create it from scratch), the whole thing is up on our github page (along with a fairly detailed readme file describing our process).

Helena has done some neat D3 stuff before – check it out on her site here.


I’m back! Maybe?

Let’s see, it looks like my last post was in November 2014. What can I say? Sometimes life gets crazy for a bit. It’s still crazy now, but I’m excited about some things that are happening. For example: I’m nearing the end of my PhD! I’m tentatively planning to defend in the next few months. Also, I’m taking a really fun (and very intense) data visualization class. So far I’ve had a chance to play around with Tableau and Trifacta Wrangler. But the biggest learning curve, but with perhaps the biggest reward (ie. awesome interactive web graphics) is D3. I’m hoping to post some stuff as I learn…

For today, I’m not making my own comic. But Helena sent me a link to this xkcd comic that captures my experience with git so far.


Making a comic: Whale Scout edition


I’ve been working on a little comic for It’s taken me a while, but it’s finally done, and will be up on the Whale Scout website soon! Woo!

I used the iPad app Procreate, which I’ve been a fan of for a while now. Years, maybe? I loved it from the get-go, and it really just keeps getting better. I’ve tried a lot of different drawing/painting apps, and this one is by far the best. Highly recommend!  As for ancilliary tools: I used an iPad 3, a Bamboo stylus, and Premiere Pro for some minor editing. I might as well also reveal that I got my best work done while sitting on the couch with Modern Family playing in the background. Don’t question the method people!

One of the features in the Procreate app allows you to export a video that shows the progression of your artwork. I’m actually not sure anyone other than me will be even vaguely interested in watching it, but here it is anyway.

Making a comic: Whale Scout! from Michelle Wray on Vimeo. Music: Something Elated (Broke For Free) / CC BY 3.0