Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

My WhereCampPDX keynote presentation (Kelso)

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I presented the keynote last month at WhereCampPDX, a fun, free “unconference” in Portland, Oregon focusing on all things geospatial. Lots of discussions and met great people. The PDF of my presentation can be downloaded at kelso.it/x/pdx.

I talked about “cities and the people that live them” with particular focus on how do we count people, how grouping thematic and enumeration unit size changes with map scale and has specific impact on geofencing and choosing which cities to show at different web map zoom levels. The biggest hole in GeoNames.org and other gazetteers is the 3rd world, primarily in India and China but also Africa, also where most population growth will occur the next generation.

Here are some preview slides:

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German dialects and migration: How linguistic variations affect where Germans choose to live (Economist)

Friday, August 13th, 2010

201012eum978[Editor’s note: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? I keep returning to this article from the Economist from earlier this year in March. You might also enjoy: What’s the point of counties? (UK) and The English apple season starts – though they’re hard to find.]

Republished from the Economist.

FEW Germans now say Appel rather thanApfel (apple) or maken instead of machen(to make). The north German dialects that use such variants are mostly dead or dying. But the cultural differences that they reflect still govern behaviour today, says a paper from the Institute for the Study of Labour, in Bonn*.

Acting on imperial orders in the 1880s, a linguist called Georg Wenker asked pupils from 45,000 schools across the new Reich to translate standard German sentences into local dialect. The results were used to compile an atlas of linguistic diversity. The new paper shows that Wenker’s dialect regions still define the comfort zones in which Germans prefer to live. When people migrate within Germany, they tend to go to places where dialects resemble those spoken in their home region 120 years ago.

German dialects, formed by geography and political and religious fragmentation, express deep-seated cultural differences. These persist even though borders between petty princedoms are invisible (and often no longer audible). Even small differences count. Swabians share Baden-Württemberg with Badeners. Both spoke Alemannic dialects. But Swabians, who say Haus (house), have a bias against living in the neighbouring old grand duchy, where they say Huus.

That trade is livelier among regions that share a language is well known. The paper’s authors think they are the first to find a similar effect within a single language in one country. They measure migration not trade, because the data are better and cultural factors matter more. The best predictors are still Wenker’s maps. “Even when we don’t speak dialect, the cultural territory is still there,” says Alfred Lameli, one of the authors.

Does this confuse cause and effect? Regions may have similar dialects because earlier generations migrated and their descendants follow suit. To rule this out, the authors looked at the way communist East Germany weakened social links that encourage migration. After unification, they found, the old migration patterns came back, suggesting that migrants respond to cultural factors more than to social ties. It seems that neither television, nor the autobahn, nor even the Kaiser, has created a single country in Germany.

*“Dialects, Cultural Identity, and Economic Exchange” by Oliver Falck, Stephan Heblich, Alfred Lameli and Jens Südekum, IZA, February 2010

Food Photos: Around The World In 80 Diets

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: A new coffee table photo book from Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. “Menzel’s photographs are accompanied by D’Aluisio’s text, which delineates each diet but also gives cultural context.” Above, a camel broker in Egypt. Thanks Aly!]

Republished from NPR.

How many calories do you consume in a day? Is it more or less than the recommended 2,000? How does it compare to the butter-rich 4,900 of a Tibetan monk — or the scant 800 of a Maasai herder in Kenya? These are the questions asked by photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, in their new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

“I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology,” Menzell tells NPR’s Michele Norris. “And make better decisions for themselves.” To do that, he and D’Aluisio decided to lay it all out. Literally.

Continue reading at NPR . . .

Steps into Mapping the Unmapped (Rural Focus) – Mapping on Mount Elgon (Mapping: No Big Deal)

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Humorous take on surveying and ground truthing from the neogeography perspective in Africa. Topics include season planning, mental maps, asking for local knowledge, keeping a trip diary, and sharing results back with the surveyed community.]

Republished from Mapping: No Big Deal.

Mapping hardly accessible, rural areas, is always a challenge. Each area differs so you have to tackle it in its own special way. Yet some basic steps are always the same. I have written some of them down.

In July, Mildred and I went mapping on Mount Elgon as contractors for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on behalf of Map Kibera. They needed information regarding polling stations in the area for their work on election monitoring. The information included geographic location, accessibility – both physical accessibility and the availability of cell phone service, information related to infrastructure of these stations, and speed of travel to each individual station.

Here is how we tackled the problems step by step:

1. Season planning.

The first and most important step in planning the mapping project is season planning. Obviously you want your work to run smoothly, without too many interruptions which is most of the time not the case. Season planning saves time, energy, money and nerves, takes the nature out of the equation, and lets you focus on other – project related problems.

While mapping on Mount Elgon we overlooked this very crucial step because the results were urgently needed. In an ignorant human and naïve researchers manner we  thought we could conquer nature or at least go over every obstacle it put on our way. We should have known better. June and July being the peak of winter, it was cold and raining all the time. We only had a window of six hours per day when we could work, and the other eight hours we tried to save ourselves from the mountain. Because of the rain, roads became impassable and everything came to a standstill. I can comfortably say we lost at least two to three days of mapping because of the rain and as a result we lost money.

Continue reading at Mapping: No Big Deal . . .

Exploring Place through User-generated Content: Using Flickr to Describe City Cores (Spatial Info Sci)

Monday, August 9th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: Good focus on vernacular geography, on how we name and describe space, with a particular focus on downtown city cores explored thru millions of photos on Flickr. “Importantly, it deals with regions which are typically not represented in formal administrative gazetteers and which are often considered to be vague.” Never seen Flickr geography before? Check out Aaron’s flickr shapetiles (map), shpfile browser, and geotagger world atlas.]

Republished from the Journal of Spatial Information Science.
By Livia Hollenstein and Ross Purves

Terms used to describe city centers, such as Downtown, are key concepts in everyday or vernacular language. Here, we explore such language by harvesting georeferenced and tagged metadata associated with 8 million Flickr images and thus consider how large numbers of people name city core areas. The nature of errors and imprecision in tagging and georeferencing are quantified, and automatically generated precision measures appear to mirror errors in the positioning of images. Users seek to ascribe appropriate semantics to images, though bulk-uploading and bulk-tagging may introduce bias. Between 0.5–2% of tags associated with georeferenced images analyzed describe city core areas generically, while 70% of all georeferenced images analyzed include specific place name tags, with place names at the granularity of city names being by far the most common. Using Flickr metadata, it is possible not only to describe the use of the term Downtown across the USA, but also to explore the borders of city center neighborhoods at the level of individual cities, whilst accounting for bias by the use of tag profiles.

Continue reading via their PDF . . .

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (The Newberry Library)

Friday, July 30th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: Completed this June, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries compiles the day-by-day change in county-level administrative boundaries in the United States from 1776 to 2010. Files are available in high-resolution GIS shapefiles and KML with full metadata on legal descriptions, online preview available. Thanks Andy!]

Republished from the Newberry Library.

A project of the William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at The Newberry Library in Chicago, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is a powerful historical research and reference tool in electronic form. The Atlas presents in maps and text complete data about the creation and all subsequent changes (dated to the day) in the size, shape, and location of every county in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia. It also includes non-county areas, unsuccessful authorizations for new counties, changes in county names and organization, and the temporary attachments of non-county areas and unorganized counties to fully functioning counties. The principal sources for these data are the most authoritative available: the session laws of the colonies, territories, and states that created and changed the counties.

What makes this Atlas stand out?

Over a dozen features distinguish the volumes and files of this atlas from other compilations.

  1. All boundary changes in states and counties-unrivaled historical and geographic coverage.
  2. Non-county areas-never before compiled or mapped.
  3. Attachments to operational counties (non-county areas and unorganized counties)-never before compiled or mapped.
  4. Separate map or polygon for every different county configuration-clarity and ease of use.
  5. Based on original research in primary sources-unlike most reference works.
  6. Primary sources cited for every change-unmatched documentation.
  7. Information organized by both date and county-unmatched flexibility.
  8. Locator maps for all county maps-show each county’s location within its state.
  9. Area (sq. mi.) for each county configuration-available nowhere else.
  10. Polygons available in two formats: shapefiles and KMZ-broad applicability.
  11. Interactive map has many options for background-unmatched convenience.
  12. Supplementary bibliography, chronologies, and commentary-unusually complete and thorough data presentation.
  13. Short and Long metadata documents for each state dataset-convenience and completeness.

Digital Products

The Newberry Library makes these data available without charge over the Internet in two digital formats: as shapefiles that users can download for use with geographic information system (GIS) software and as interactive maps, derived from the shapefiles, that users can view and manipulate (e.g., pan, zoom, add or subtract modern boundaries) at the Newberry’s Website

Download the data from Newberry Library . . .

The Agnostic Cartographer: Google’s maps are embroiling the company in the world’s touchiest geopolitical disputes

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: Like other mapping company operating internationally, Google has to meet multiple objectives when delineating national frontiers.  This article from the Washington Monthly discusses some of the hot water the company has gotten itself into. Google recently rolled out higher-precision boundary lines in it’s Maps and Earth products to address some of these concerns. Image above: Picturesque but contentious: Google Maps made this village Chinese, temporarily. India wasn’t pleased. Photo: Annabelle Breakey. Thanks GeoStuff!]

Republished from Washington Monthly.
By John Gravois

One fateful day in early August, Google Maps turned Arunachal Pradesh Chinese. It happened without warning. One minute, the mountainous border state adjacent to Tibet was labeled with its usual complement of Indian place-names; the next it was sprinkled with Mandarin characters, like a virtual annex of the People’s Republic.

The error could hardly have been more awkward. Governed by India but claimed by China, Arunachal Pradesh has been a source of rankling dispute between the two nations for decades. Google’s sudden relabeling of the province gave the appearance of a special tip of the hat toward Beijing. Its timing, moreover, was freakishly bad: the press noticed that Google’s servers had started splaying Mandarin place-names all over the state only a few hours before Indian and Chinese negotiating teams sat down for talks in New Delhi to work toward resolving the delicate border issue.

Google rushed to admit its mistake, but not before a round of angry Indian blog posts and news articles had flourished online. Some commentators posited outright conspiracy between Beijing and the search engine. “Google Maps has always been more biased towards China over the Arunachal Pradesh border dispute,” surmised an Indian blogger. Even more ominously, one former member of Parliament told the Times of India, “The Chinese know how to time their statements ahead of a bilateral meeting.”

Google responded in a manner that radiated chilly omnipresence—by posting a statement in the comments section of what appeared to be every single Web site that had discussed the mix-up. “The change was a result of a mistake in our processing of new map data,” Google announced. “We are in the process of reverting the data to its previous state, and expect the change to be visible in the product shortly.”

One mystery remained, however: how did such an error happen in “the product” in the first place? Why did Google have that perfect set of Chinese names lying around, ready to swap in for the Indian ones?

Continue reading at Washington Monthly . . .

Maybe places are more about time than location: Retrofitting Geo for the 4th Dimension (Fekaylius)

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: Thanks Sylvain!]

Republished from Fekaylius’s place.

We are in a period of mass-market place ambiguity.

Places drift, jump, and fade, physically. Some places have a much higher propensity towards noticeable drift than others, but location, in general, is not stable. The geo-web of the past few years has mostly ignored this as a low impact edge case. The era of the Google Maps API dramatically boosted developer productivity and interest within the geo space because it simplified and lowered the barriers to entry, while simultaneously reinforcing a few paradigms that find easy adoption within rapidly moving startups and business, ideas like “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and “solve for the 80% use case”. Startups are constantly faced with a to-do list that can never be 100% complete, but these catchy ideas formalize and automate the painful process of deeming some desires unworthy of your attention. Since 80% of the places that most people are searching for, or reviewing, or visiting feel relatively immune to change (at least in the “several years” lifespan much of today’s software is being designed for), we have very quickly built up a stiff and rigid framework around these places to facilitate the steep adoption of these now ubiquitous geo-services. The rigidity is manifest in the ways that place drift isn’t handled, places are assumed to be permanent.

Continue reading at Fekaylius’ place . . .

TRAVERSE ME: Warwick campus GPS map (gpsdrawing.com)

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: One step closer to Johnathan Swift’s 1:1 map of the world. “Walking 238 miles with a GPS generates a beautiful, freehand-looking map of college campus.” Thanks amproehl!]

Republished from GISdrawing.com.

Traverse Me is a map drawn by walking across campus with a GPS device to invite the viewer to see a different landscape to that which surrounds them. It questions the possibilities of where they are and inspires a personal reading of their movements and explorations of the campus.

I responded to the structure of each location and avoided walking along roads and paths when possible.
The route was recorded with GPS technology and was walked in stages over the 300 hectare site.

Continue reading and view photos at GISdrawing.com . . .

Map: Top Secret America, A Washington Post Investigation (Kelso via WaPo)

Monday, July 19th, 2010

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[Editor’s note: The government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex, and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping citizens safe. Discover the top-secret work being done in your community via our map and search relationships within this complex world on our network diagram. Monday’s story focuses on the growth in Top Secret America since 9/11. Next up we cover the government’s increasing dependence on contractors and delve into the Top Secret America neighborhood around Ft. Meade, Maryland. The map is constructed in Flash using the Google Maps API with custom map tiles for zooms 0 to 5. The government and company locations and work relationships are gathered from publicly available records. This project has been in the works for over a year, I hope you enjoy!]

Republished from The Washington Post.

A hidden world, growing beyond control

By Dana Priest and William M. Arkin

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

Watch the intro video at The Washington Post . . .

Read the article . . .

Interact with the map . . .