Today on Martin Luther King Day, I participated in Day On, yet another great Portland tech community event: local geeks gathered at CubeSpace to volunteer to help non-profits with technical issues. A couple of dozen folks showed up to offer help, and though only a few folks came by to ask for assistence or asked using the Day On website, a great time was had by all, and we hope the event will continue and grow.

I was one of several folks who got to help Dean Suhr of the MLD Foundation, a resource for families affected by Metachromatic Leukodystrophy; one page of the Foundation’s website displays a Google map showing families affected by the disease, and the map display wasn’t working right. I was able to find a workaround for a problem in a map-display library, and I’m hoping to work with the library’s developer to help fix the underlying problem.

After I showed Dean my fix, I got an unexpected bonus: Dean mentioned that he was considering using Google Maps’ “clustering” feature, which allows a single symbol to represent many individual map tacks when zoomed out to show a large map area — it’s a feature that helps reduce map clutter when a map holds a lot of symbols.

Dean had thus far elected not to use this feature — instead, when zoomed out, he’d used a smaller version of the butterfly symbol that represented each family, to help each individual family show up better on the big map. As he told me this, I thought about the effect of the disease on Dean and his family, multiplied by each of these families, and thought that Dean had already chosen the perfect representation (and said so).

I was lucky to be able to volunteer today, lucky to meet Dean and help a little with the Foundation’s site, and especially lucky to make that connection between the work today and groups like Dean’s who help so many people. Tomorrow I’m getting up early to head back to CubeSpace to watch the Inauguration with more of my Portland tech community friends, and I feel even more strongly that I’m lucky to be part of such a terrific community.

Update, July 20, 2016: I’m reworking this site in a way that no longer supports comments, but I’ve preserved this special one that Dean left for me –

Bryan - your work was a huge help to me and will have a direct affect on hundreds of families throughout the world as they struggle to connect with others with MLD. Thank you for your help. You can see the map here.

The butterfly symbol we use instead of the standard Google pin has its own special meaning and history. The colors are random right now but now that the map is working will be updated to reflect one of the three forms of MLD each family represents.

Ironically, my wife - while thrilled by the now functioning map - asked about symbol clustering (coupled with sizing) when I got home last night so we may have some more things to do together!

Thanks again - It was good to chat after the event, too - I look forward to keeping in touch!