Secular Products

by Shawn Allen

Emerging from the Cocoon

At the end of last year I wrote my first post on this blog about my departure from Stamen. I’ve enjoyed my much-needed downtime, but I’ve also been keeping myself busy making things and plotting my next move. Here’s what I’ve been up to so far in 2014.

Pain Management

This spring I started seeing a craniosacral specialist who appears to have pinpointed at least one source of my mysterious pain. He thinks the primary culprit is a sprained sacroiliac (SI) joint, and the healing has involved lots of walking and icing my butt. I’m not 100% healed yet, but it’s definitely getting better. It may be many more months before I’m back on a bike, but I’m confident that I will ride again one day, and I look forward to being pain-free some day soon.

Leaving Stamen

In August I signed a piece of paper that ended my membership in Stamen, LLC. Eric has since brought on a new partner, Jon Christensen, and I’m very excited to see where they take the company together in the years to come. It has been my honor and pleasure to work alongside this talented team of wonderful people for the last eight years, and I wish them godspeed and good luck.

Leaving Stamen has been bittersweet, and made all the more so by the tragic death of former colleague Zach Watson, who was struck by a car thief while walking in the Tenderloin on July 28. He was recussitated on the scene and taken to SF General, where he survived on life support until August 16th. I worked with Zach for over two years, during which I came to know him as a gentleman and a scholar: a man of intensity and process who, given the time and resources, could have accomplished anything that he put his mind to. Zach will be missed by many; if you can find it in your heart, please make a donation in his memory.

Contract Work

In May I worked with my old Stamen colleague Tomas on an interactive map and listing of candidates in the 2014 national Indonesian elections paid for by the Asia Foundation. The code is all on GitHub.

In June, July and August I worked with Sam Borgeson on an interface for visually analyzing and exploring PG&E Smart Meter data for Ram Rajagopal’s lab at Stanford Energy. The work is all private for now, as the interface is intended for utilities and the data is highly sensitive, but I’ll add it to my portfolio as soon as it can be shown.


On August 21st my wife gave birth to our son, Milo Claiborne Nelson. His birth was the most intense and truly awesome experience of my life, and I will never forget grabbing him under the armpits and pulling him out, all blue and wrinkled and crying for the first time, and bringing him to rest on his mom’s chest. Andi was incredible: she went into labor on Tuesday evening, worked through contractions at home until 2:30 in the morning, labored at the hospital for another 20 hours straight, then pushed him out at 2am on Thursday—all without drugs. I am forever indebted to her strength and resilience.

Milo spent his first night in the newborn intensive care unit at UCSF, but was quickly downgraded to “high observation” status and moved to the nursery for monitoring. Andi was discharged 48 hours after giving birth, but a social worker found us a tiny room to stay in for the next day so that she could continue breastfeeding every three hours without having to leave. On Saturday evening he was disconnected from his tangle of monitoring leads and spent the night with us in what we affectionately referred to as “the closet”:

The closet at UCSF

A 6.0 earthquake struck at about 3:30 that morning, and the 15th floor of UCSF shuddered and swayed. Andi and I jumped out of our beds, but Milo slept right through it. That afternoon we all went home together and started the next chapter of our lives as a family of three. The first two weeks have been everything all at once: stressful, tiring, emotional, hilarious at times and, overall, wonderful. Parenthood promises to be the most challenging undertaking of my life, and the most rewarding by far.

Planning my Next Move

I was more than happy to have spent the first five months of 2014 without a job. It was my longest period of unemployment since I was 18, and I relished in oversleeping, going for long walks around the city, and meeting up with friends for meals in the middle of the day. With a baby on the way, though, I eventually decided to pick up the search for gainful employment.

I spent the better part of this year talking to a very new media organization about becoming their director of information design. This is indefinitely on hold while they grow and better define their structure and process, and I wish them lots of luck in doing so.

More recently, though, I’ve been plotting something completely different. It would be premature to announce while I’m still in the paperwork-filing stage, but suffice it to say that I’m very excited. More on that soon.