Chicago’s Festival of Maps – a citywide celebration of geography and maps

Kicking off on November 2nd, over 25 institutions around the city of Chicago will be participating in the Festival of Maps, which will include exhibitions, lectures, displays and other events continuing well into 2008. Some of the participating institutions include the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Newberry Library, the Adler Planetarium and even the Brookfield Zoo.

We will be in Chicago for a conference in mid-November, so we will do our best to get some coverage of the Festival, which is a really amazing celebration of geography, cartography, and the history of mapping.

If you’re going to be in Chicago, you can get more information on the participating institutions and events at the Festival of Maps website.

Calling all Owls…….

The MIT Media Lab and Maine Audobon are working on a project that uses cell phones to help study bird populations and habitat. The Owl Project researchers actually use cell phones placed within the forest to call owls, play owl sounds, and then record the responses. Following the success of a pilot project in Connecticut, the researchers are going to expand their work to areas of Maine. The Owl Project site also features some educational information and a Google Maps mashup showing the cell nodes for the project, and you can click on the pushpins to hear what sounds the speakers are sending out. I am sitting in a brightly-lit lab far from the forest and I’m still a little creeped out by all the owl sounds.

‘Lucy’ has her public debut in Houston

One of the most famous fossil finds in anthropology, ‘Lucy’, made a public debut in Houston, Texas today, as part of an exhibit on the cultural heritage of Ethiopia. A key specimen in the lineage of human evolution, ‘Lucy’ is a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia by Dr. Donald Johanson and a team of researchers, and represents one of the most complete hominid skeletons ever found. ‘Lucy’ was also a key specimen in determining that walking upright evolved before larger brain size among hominids.

The decision to allow Lucy’s fossilized skeleton to travel to the US for a public exhibit generated a lot of controversy, and it has taken 6 years to get the exhibit going.

Today’s event was a media preview, and the exhibit opens to the public on Friday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and will run until April 2008. If you are in the Houston area or will be traveling there during the exhibit’s run, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to see the exhibit, as it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see humans’ most famous ancestor. Or, you can catch the tour in other US cities, including, I believe, Washington, New York, Denver and Chicago.

Via MSNBC

LucidTouch – double-sided touch surface

Microsoft Research, in partnership with Mitsubishi and the University of Toronto, is developing a double-sided touch screen surface interface for handheld devices. The idea is that the screen will be partly transparent, so you can see your finger as they interact with the back of the screen. That way, the display you’re working with, such as a mapping application won’t be obscured by your hand, as it can be when you place your finger on the top of the touch surface. Right now, LucidTouch is just an early prototype, so there are no plans yet as to the commercialization of such an interface.

Via Technology Review and Engadget

Most Liveable Cities in the World (and least)

The Economist has an interesting article rating the most and least livable cities in the world. Canada and Australia come out ahead on the most and Africa and the Middle East fall hard in the least. Interestingly (or maybe as one might expect), the US is not on either list. They’re not 100% clear on what they define as “livable”, but it does mention a number of broad metrics considered. There is also a more full report linked at the bottom, but access to that costs money.

Voyager 1 and 2 30 years and going strong!

Happy birthday Voyager 2 (and soon Voyager 1)! Thirty years ago, Voyager 2 was launched into space to start what has been an incredibly successful 30 year mission… and that’s just so far. The long range sensor is still moving out from the solar system and broadcasting data. Imagine, a device with less computing power than a really cheap wristwatch and designed to last only 4 years has continued to broadcast valuable scientific data for three decades! That’s an darn impressive accomplishment. Here’s a hearty “well done” to those scientists and engineers who worked on the Voyager program those many decades ago.

Epidemiologists Turn to Video Game For Help

Ars Technica (an excellent tech news site, by the way) has an interesting article concerning epidemiologists turning to the game developer Blizzard for help. Blizzard is the developer and publisher of the wildly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft (WoW for short). So why are epidemiologists so suddenly interested in games? Turns out virtual worlds with varied populations like WoW are just little social petri dishes for human behavior. This is evidenced by an event that happened a couple of years ago within the game. The developers initially created a virus for high level player areas, which is a very small population, for those unaware of the game. Then the unthinkable happened – it hit the cities where, fairly predictably, all hell broke loose. Oddly enough, this accident confirmed a great many models of disease spread created by epidemiologists. Now they want to take the show in the road, as it were, and test lots and lots of different scenarios and models using the game.

I remember the incident in game as I was on when it struck. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen real panic en mass. I sure don’t want to see the real thing… ever!