Afghanistan IED Data Visualization (plus my life)

The first thing I need to mention is this video I made based on the Afghanistan IED data that got published via Wikileaks. Others have already been doing their own visualizations (which is how I got started), but I decided to brush off my memories of the tool I wrote ages ago (that link just gives you the idea, I didn’t bother tracking down anything better) that built animated geolocated-data map videos that showed web usage around the world and so on (it was sort of neat watching the users swing around the globe, sync’d with the sun) and apply it to bombs in Afghanistan.

You can watch the video here, but do yourself a favor and view full-screen it at 720p over on YouTube — I rendered it at 2560×1440 so the bigger you can view it, the better it will look, and it will be so much easier to see map details like roads. If you don’t have time to watch it all, then you should watch the last bit, because in 2008 and 2009, the bombing gets much more intense…

The map itself is a modified version of one that I grabbed from the NATO website that was easy to work with because it has clearly labeled lat/lon markings, and more importantly, the projection is flat and aligned with a grid, so setting up a scaling system to translate the points is easy. When the bombs go off, they can be green (no casualties of any sort), yellow (injuries only), or red (people were killed), with the casualties being recorded both in terms of “enemy” kills, and everyone else (both allies and civilians — in hindsight I should have had three columns).

Anyway, hope it’s interesting to someone. Feel free to repost it, feel free to modify it, feel free to ask me for data sets and source code… whatever… As always, enjoy. Hopefully it is not too buggy, and double-hopefully if it is, the bugs are not of the visible sort!

Edit: I just saw (thanks Lou) that the Guardian has posted a similar and in some ways much better visualization of this same dataset, which you can view here. That said, I’ve downloaded the full dataset (the entire war, not just IEDs), so I’m analyzing that as I find time and energy, so I’ll post something much more interesting when I can.

* * *

I’ve been doing loads of programming. My carving/bump-map editor is coming along very nicely, with a great number of the routines written. At this point I just have a couple to do and I’ll have something quite useful that I can begin physically testing. I must concede that the work goes more slowly than I’d like, and some days I get almost… no… literally nothing done because I just can’t think straight. The positive synchronicity there is that Nefarious has been visiting her grandmother for the last week, having a great time with her, her cousins, and her great-grandmother as well. Before we dropped her off, we spent the day hitting the beach and then the hotel pool and waterslide when we retired for the day.

prince-edward-point-trip--ari-and-caitlin-swimming-at-little-bluff-1 prince-edward-point-trip--ari-and-caitlin-swimming-at-little-bluff-3 prince-edward-point-trip--ari-and-caitlin-swimming-at-little-bluff-4

prince-edward-point-trip--ari-and-shannon-at-light-house-1 prince-edward-point-trip--ari-with-a-captured-snake prince-edward-point-trip--caitlin-and-shannon-at-light-house

I’m quite curious as to what I was looking at in the final photo.

When Nefarious got back from the County today, one of the the things we did was to go and visit Shane so he could take some final measurements of my left leg since we’re starting the tattoo this weekend. I’ve mentioned before that’s it’s a sort of Iron Sky (Nazis UFOs) meets Hell Boy (Nazi Occultism) meets Blood and Snow (Nazi Zombies). It’s a big project, and it’s been some time getting started, so fingers crossed that Shane, who has a new child occupying his attention much more than my leg, will be able to find time to get it done this fall. Here’s a couple teasers of the sketches that don’t at all do it justice, but continue to give you an idea of where we’re going.


Of course effort is being taken to be clear that this is a sci-fi tattoo, not a neo-nazi tattoo!

When we were at his studio (after a long walk through Kensington market and China Town because my mental map had him at the opposite end of the Dundas-College/Bathurst-Spadina rectangle than in reality), Nefarious was quite interested in the skulls and which ones were real and which were not… Shane inherited some of my skulls when I stopped selling them (I think with BME’s redesign, my old “Skulls For Sale” webpage is finally dead — which reminds me of what an incredible resource is), and it’s quite amazing how these skulls went from enduring a dubious start, being most likely grave-robbed, passed around academia for a while, and then ending up on my particularly trashy, tacky webstore… and then finding their way into Shane’s hands, who has worked to “purify” for lack of a better world, and by inserting these exact skulls, with care and respect, into places of honor in dozens if not hundreds of custom tattoos, he’s added a fascinating end stone to these mystery men’s biographies.


  1. christen wrote:

    Do you know if he ever sells any, or where one could purchase one?

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Shannon wrote: I think still sells human skulls… If not, I’m sure they could direct you to someone who does.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:49 am | Permalink
  3. Nygaard wrote:

    Why didn’t you upload the video in 1080p now that it is already rendered in 2560×1440?

    And I’m very excited about seeing photos of the new tattoo project!
    Reminds me of one of my all time favorite games; Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  4. Shannon wrote:

    Oh, I didn’t realize you could — I thought the current max was 720p… Next time I do something with HQ source, I’ll upload it larger. Hell, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have rendered it at 4096 x 2304 (which YouTube seems also to support), assuming I was willing to spend the render time and upload time. Thanks!

    And you’re right — the tattoo is very Castle Wolfenstein!

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  5. Sean wrote:

    I posted your video on reddit, enjoy the commentary (I assume there will be some).

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  6. Shannon wrote:

    It’s interesting to me that the problem gets worse over time, not better. Not sure what this indicates though.

    It’s also interesting to me that when you look at Obama’s politics, he’s still way more right wing on many issues that Reagan, Nixon, and the “classic” conservatives, and in some ways even more right wing than Bush Sr (and in a tiny number of ways, Jr as well)… It’s amazing how far right the US continues to swing.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  7. Lou wrote:

    The Guardian has a similar page with a bit more granular data- worth a look.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  8. Shannon wrote:

    Cool, I had only seen their earlier visualizations off the data… That one is great.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  9. peteD3 wrote:

    firstly, re: the last pic, its great to see you smiling & nice Tshirt!

    i had no idea you were selling skulls, ive wanted a real one (besides the one in my head) for many years!

    so, if i may ask, whats your interest in nazis that you would have them permanently on your body?

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  10. Shannon wrote:

    PeteD3 – It’s not my Nazi ancestry, don’t worry. I think that because nazism was in part an aesthetic movement, it’s an excellent vehicle for story telling and fantasy. That’s the simple and partial answer anyway.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  11. Sounds like an absolutely EPIC tattoo, I can’t wait to see the end results.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  12. bonnie wrote:

    Shannon, you are looking positively thinner and thinner! I know you said something about your beard hiding it before, but not anymore. Hope you are keeping as well as possible! : )

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  13. peteD3 wrote:

    Damn, i certainly didnt mean to bring up ancestry. i know being German doesnt mean someone is pro-nazi.
    My apologies if you took it that way.

    i have to disagree that nazism was an asthetc movement. it was just plain shit, another example of how disgusting humans can be.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  14. Shannon wrote:

    I don’t think that’s fair to say about the significant achievements that were made in architecture, aeronautics, and science in general… to say nothing of general forward thinking on environmentalism and so on. If it weren’t for the unfortunately obsession with Jewry, history would be remembered very differently.

    I think it’s reasonable to say that the Nazi’s “good” work was pretty much invalidated in people’s minds by the serious genocidal errors they made — that said, I also think it’s reasonable to say that Europe of the time was no friend of the Jews, and that Hitler’s mistreatment of the Jews was what kept America out of the war as long as it did (see: Charles Lindbergh et al).

    I think the world is too complex to write off anything (even North Korea) as “shit” across the board… Very few powerful movements that turn out to be seen as “evil” in the eyes of history don’t have a significant set of remarkable traits as well as the ones we hold against them.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  15. peteD3 wrote:

    WTF Shannonn, you know damn well nazi scumbaggery goes way beyond the Jews. but that would be enough in my opinion. sure its complicated, but that doesnt make what they did any better.
    it sounds like you are defending the nazis! i sure hope not!

    Health and happiness to you and yours.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  16. Shannon wrote:

    I’m not defending (or villifying) any group… What I’m saying is that history is much more gray than it is recorded as being, and that one should not make the mistake of ignoring the achievements of a “bad” culture. And as “bad guys” go, the Nazis had more significant achievements culturally and scientifically than most. Recognizing that is in no way an across the board support of the beliefs of troubled members of the Nazi leadership.

    It gets even more morally difficult when you start considering that the American and Russian space programs were made possible not just by German rocket scientists, but also by the horrific research done at concentration camps run by both the Germans and the Japanese.

    Also, it’s important to get that there was plenty of evil to go around in that war — and in all wars I think. Even Canada committed a rather endless string of attrocities, both domestically and in the war proper.

    Finally, it’s also important to understand that the winning side is not the one in the right, and the losing side is not the one in the wrong. As a general rule, war is wrong from top to bottom, and benefits only the ultra-rich on each side, and has more to do with classism than with international conflict… But that gets us into a whole different debate.

    The Nazis are no better and no worse than the Americans, the Russians, the Japanese, the Chinese, or any other major force in that war. There’s plenty of evil to go around.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  17. bonnie wrote:

    Shannon, if you were just talking about the atrocities committed DURING all wars, I’d have to agree with you…but I think it’s pretty clear that Hitler’s atrocities go well beyond that. The man was a monster. He put men like Josef Mengele in power! I remember reading a line in a Steven King book that asked “If you could go back in time to 1932 and kill Hitler, would you?” I have to be honest, even though I feel that murder is WRONG, even if I knew I’d be caught and killed, I would.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  18. Shannon wrote:

    As I said, the Americans and the Russians totally loved Mengele’s research and had no problem using it. The Japanese also had similar camps with similarly monstrous doctors (working on the Chinese, not the Jews). The Russians committed a zillion attrocities against their own people. The civilian attacks that every country was doing were arguably war crimes (if those laws had been in place, as the Geneva Convention started something like half a decade after the war). America has things like the Tuskegee Experiment in addition to its own roster of war crimes. There are horrible genocides currently going on in numerous countries, and Africa is a mess on every level (as I mentioned with the anti-gay nightmare there). Just awful stuff.

    So I don’t agree that Hitler was special from an atrocity point of view.

    Not only that, but I think we do ourselves a disservice by thinking that Hitler was in some special category, because it fools us into thinking that his “evil” was unique. Sadly, it’s not. And even more sadly, similar things are still going on, and I expect will continue to go on for a very long time. Believing Hitler was an evil we’ll never see again is one of the things that lets these evils keep on repeating…

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  19. Shannon wrote:

    And that’s not a defense of any of these groups — it’s a condemnation of them all.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  20. Jens wrote:

    Shannon, you opened a can of worms there. First of all, I’m not familiar with the originals, and I do understand it’s science fiction, but I still cannot relate to the concept of getting Nazi swastikas, SS-runes and Reichsadler (on the Nazi zombie’s hat) tattooed on one’s body. I guess, being German, it’s much more of a taboo to me and I’m significantly more sensitized toward those issues than a North American-born person could be, not to mention that displaying swastikas is illegal in Germany.

    You’re right in stating that the Nazi era had its own aesthetic (a neutral term), but I seem to get the feeling, from what you wrote, that you are quite fascinated by that, which I find a bit disturbing. Even more so is your argument about the Nazi’s “achievements”, which I’d usually only hear from old people who lived through the war and didn’t learn anything afterwards (“Ach, it wasn’t all bad back then”), or from neo-Nazis. So what exactly are the achievements you’re referring to? Maybe there was some groundbreaking scientific work done, but even more horrible, pointless, pseudo-scientific experiments were conducted during that time, mostly on Jews, gypsies, and POWs. You cannot praise them without relativizing their atrocities.

    “Nazis had more significant achievements culturally…” Are you serious? What were those achievements? Militarization of a whole nation, leadership cult, racism, revisionism, hate and fear-mongering, euthanasia, banning of ‘Degenerate Art’, propaganda films and music, public burnings of books, building of grandiloquent, intimidating concrete palaces, reducing women to birth machines, censorship, keeping the ‘Aryan’ blood pure…? Nazis didn’t contribute anything at all to German culture, as in its essence, it was an un-German movement.

    And please, people, stop saying Hitler is evil or a monster. It’s a childish and primitive statement. He was a frustrated, failed Austrian artist who became a politician in Bavaria. He was a product of his time, and couldn’t have got to power without the petty vengefulness of the Treaty of Versailles that humiliated and crippled the country, and couldn’t have upheld his power without the fatal Appeasement Policy, which made him increasingly popular in Germany, and helped casting doubts about him aside. The incredible arrogance of the Allieds, who didn’t take him seriously and thought they could keep him in his place with concessions, backfired when he started WWII and they finally realized that he’s out for world domination.

    Shannon, you seem to be a reasonable and intelligent fellow, and I do realize you’re not a Nazi supporter or a fascist, but I think you’re out of line with some of your statements on this issue. It’s like me saying that Hitler and me have a lot in common because he was vegetarian and animal-friendly. It may be true, but would I want to make such a statement in earnest? Of course not!

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  21. Shannon wrote:

    Yes, Jens, I agree that your experience growing up German in Germany, versus my experience growing up German in Canada, are very different, and resulted in very different attitudes toward this history, and I certainly was never exposed to the taboo in the same way…

    I don’t think you can say “maybe” some groundbreaking work being done. There definitely was. And while I’ll give you that in the madness of the camps there was definitely some pseudo-science going on, the research was deemed extremely valuable by the Allied and Soviet forces who scooped it up as spoils of war — along with many of the German scientists — and used it to leapfrog their own nations into the future.

    I agree with almost everything else you’re saying, other than the last bit — I think that whether you or Hitler have a lot in common should be answered on a factual level, not an emotive level… Because as I think you’re pointing out in the second last paragraph, he was a relatively normal person who was a product of his time, and I think that tells us something that we should never forget — that it doesn’t take some anti-christ to bring these things about.

    That said, I think a lot of this conversation has moved past the scope of the tattoo, which really is just sci-fi, and that’s pretty much the beginning and end of it.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  22. Shannon wrote:

    BTW, some of the influences on the tattoo can be seen if you check out the various trailers and making-ofs (some of which I think include discussion of the above issues, including things like usage of the nazi-specific swastika in entertainment):
    1. Iron Sky
    2. Worst Case Scenario
    3. Dead Snow

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink
  23. Mimi wrote:

    I watched Dead Snow last night on netflix and LOVED IT. The perfect balance of gore and humor :)

    But back to the tattoo – you say “Of course effort is being taken to be clear that this is a sci-fi tattoo, not a neo-nazi tattoo!”. In what way will you be making that clear?

    To be perfectly frank, if I saw those images on someone, I would deem them quite inappropriate. You can’t possibly explain your reasoning to everyone that would see them and be offended.

    They’re fascinating images without the swastikas in my opinion.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  24. Shannon wrote:

    The swastikas were not intended to be in the tattoo, they’re just on the initial sketches.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  25. Mimi wrote:

    Fair enough :) I really love the zombie and the robot. Makes me think of both Dead Snow and Iron Giant – two fabulous films!

    Also, I just used the to look up my old IAM page. Brought back some serious memories!

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  26. Chris wrote:

    I do think omitting the swastikas is a good idea for sure but the tattoo itself (as with all tattoos) is the meaning it has to the bearer. There’s no way one can make it obvious that a tattoo has no other undertones. For instance, if a person had a confederate flag tattooed on them it could easily be taken as being “racist”. However, maybe the person is proud of their southern heritage. Let’s not forget symbols like that flag were purely meant to be a representation of their “country” the flag itself doesn’t necessarily cry slavery. And also, let’s not forget that the swastika was adopted by Hitler because he had a fascination with the occult and the swastika historically was a symbol for good luck. The swastika is also used presently in the Hindu religion. Basically, I apologize for the rambling because I went way beyond the scope of the tattoo but just some food for thought. Best Regards!

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  27. veg wrote:

    Are you referring to that Iron Sky movie? It hasn’t ome out yet; or is there another one?

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 4:16 am | Permalink
  28. bonnie wrote:

    Websters defines Monster as:


    Main Entry: 1mon·ster
    Pronunciation: \ˈmän(t)-stər\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English monstre, from Anglo-French, from Latin monstrum omen, monster, from monēre to warn — more at mind
    Date: 14th century

    1 a : an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure b : one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character
    2 : a threatening force
    3 a : an animal of strange or terrifying shape b : one unusually large for its kind
    4 : something monstrous; especially : a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty
    5 : one that is highly successful
    I think Hitler and many other petty evil tyrants (Idi Amin Dada, for example) would fit into several categories of this definition.

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  29. Thomas Moore wrote:

    There are also a
    number of especially interesting skeletons available for
    bids, but they will not available for purchase until the
    subject dies. Contact us via email if you are interested

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember reading this almost a decade ago and being oddly fascinated, thinking: “Hey, i’ll never get to know the full story behind this…”

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  30. I posted about your video on my site, at

    with lots of well deserved praise for your work. Many thanks for doing this and sharing it.

    Very best wishes,


    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  31. starbadger wrote:

    holocaust denial
    nazi denial
    tragedy is best explained as comedy
    watch Woody Allen’s latest
    “Whatever Works”
    his body of work
    a walk in Central Park
    it’s alright it’s alright

    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] meant to aid in conveying drama. Two other versions exist: one, the original by this video master, Shannon Larrat at, accompanied by the song by Iron Maiden, “Run to the Hills,” about the [...]

  2. [...] Afghanistan IED Data Visualization (plus my life). Shannon Larratt is Zentastic. [...]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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