An early Happy New Year

While we on the east coast of the US still have about 26 hours to go to get to January 1, some of you are already in the afternoon on December 31 and are probably already preparing for your New Year’s Eve suppers, parties, and other festivities. On this day when the Gregorian Calendar begins anew those of us who follow it to track time make merry and festive, or quiet and contemplative, or some mix there in. And so to those about to meet the new year I wish you a good year full of the things that you seek and maybe even some things that unexpectedly find you.

To those of you on a lunar calendar, take the opportunity to engage in an extra set of festivities and help us make the transition from 2010 to 2011 a great one
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Sustainable Seafood App

There are many restaurant apps around that rely on users to input location on their locale or sites they visit to create a national or international database.

The most recent one I have found out about is The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH Project FishMap which asks users to share information on the locations of restaurants and markets for sustainable seafood. It provides seafood pictures and a list of seafood that is ocean friendly.

According to the Seafood WATCH website, they make
recommendations using science-based, peer reviewed, and ecosystem-based criteria. They state that “Since 1999, we’ve distributed tens of millions of pocket guides, our iPhone application has been downloaded more than 240,000 times, and we have close to 200 partners across North America, including the two largest food service companies in the U.S.”

The downloads and partners are important because voluntary apps are only as useful as the quantity of participants and quality/reliability of the information they enter.

Forensic modeling: then, now and on TV

While searching to find out how closely Bones TV show 3D rendering is to real life forensics, I ran across the history of Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death models which are housed at the Maryland Medical Examiner‘s Office in Baltimore, MD. From the amount of documentaries, stories, articles, and books, as well as the number of fields she touched (medicine,law, law enforcement, education…)I couldn’t believe I had never heard of her before.

Frances Glessner Lee, an International Harvester Co. heiress in the 1940’s is often called the “mother of modern forensic science” because of her dedication and support of legal medical studies and her construction of miniatures to teach inexperiences law enforcement about crime scenes. A 1949 Coronet article from Sameshield.com explains her contributions at a time when her techniques were the height of forensic technology. Frances Lee still contributes to modern forensics modeling through the Harvard Associates in Police Science, Inc. which she founded in 1945.

And back to Bones and modern day modeling… I found lots of exciting and surprisingly reasonably priced geospatial tools for forensics like PhotoModeler photogrammetry software that replaces time consuming surveyor measurements. Modern technologies aren’t the magic geospatial modeling bullet viewers expect from TV but I think Frances Lee would approve.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In 2008, Sue posted about the U.S. Department of Energy‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory Atlas that was in development. I ran across the completed NREL FTP site with geospatial toolkits and GIS data by the NREL GIS team. They analyze wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other energy resources and provide corresponding GIS data. This includes a beta version of their MapSearch of maps created by the team. I had the honor of attending (sitting in the audience) a surprisingly tense and exciting National Middle School Science Bowl many years ago, so it was interesting to find out that NREL manages the National Middle School Science Bowl for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

Cheap Thrills and Virtual Reality

By now, almost everyone has seen the cool You Tube video of the Japanese students fake skydiving using a projector and Google Earth. However, all the posts and comments focus on the skydiving part and how realistic, non-realistic, or just plain awesome it is. When I watched it my first thought was, “that is a really cool way to build a cheap, portable virtual environment.” The closest approximation I could find to what they did are electronic art canvases which cost about $3,000. They are used at the really cool Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio at the Krannert Art Museum/University of Illinois, Champaign. To do truly immersive research and projects, virtual environments such as the EON Icube cost upwards of $50,000 to over $1 million dollars. Which brings me to the other thought I had while watching the Google Skydiving video, “There is no way anyone would let you do that in a commercial virtual environment, especially if there is a chance someone would get motion sick or worse bring down a sensor or mirror.” But I can add this to my list of things I would do if I had my own CAVE, along with play massive multi-player online video games and make my own music video.

Mapping Facebook

Mapping social networks isn’t anything new, but I find this lovely map of Facebook users in the BBC to be incredibly striking. ¬†First, because it’s obviously beautiful. ¬†Second, because you can use it as a proxy for the digital divide. ¬†The map details connections between friends on Facebook with the bright points at the end being conjoined pairs of friends. ¬†The spidery lines are the connections between those pairs. ¬†It’s pretty striking that it creates a pretty good replica of a map of the Earth. ¬†However, there are clear missing points, most¬†notably¬†lower population and lower wealth places. ¬†China is the really¬†interesting¬†hole because of their restrictions and not because of wealth or population. ¬†It would be really interesting to look at a finer scale map with some demographic data on top of it. ¬†Are there places in even populated areas, such as the US, where Facebook just isn’t that popular?