A fond farewell to Shuttle Discovery

This morning Space Shuttle Discovery left Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its way to its new home at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and it got a great sendoff in Florida, with tons of pictures out there on the Internet for those who couldn’t be there. When Discover got to Washington, its piggyback carrier plane did a flyby of the city, a cool and touching tribute and welcome. Definitely check out NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Facebook page and the usual social media suspects for images.

  • Image courtesy of NASA
  • Visuals Relieve Brain Overload

    A BBC article, “Pretty Pictures: Can Images Stop Data Overload?” by business reporter, Fiona Graham, supports what many geospatial researchers have argued about the many reasons for business to use GIS and visual images. A neuroscience and psychology lecturer at Brunel University found using images help the brain process large amounts of data because they can use and retain the information more efficiently. They use David McCandless’s Information is Beautiful website as an example of data visualisation.

    One thought that the article raises is the abscence of any spatial vocubulary even though data visualization leans heavily towards geospatial patterns, analysis, and mapping.  GIS and other geo-spatial techniques remain an invisible step in the process between data and visual outcome or “pretty pictures”.  Finding support for the use of images in the business world might be step towards raising awareness of the diverse applicability of GIS and geo-visualization.


    Son Finds Long Lost Family Via Google Earth

    As GIS people, we know we do awesome stuff everyday. However, this may ratchet up the awesome to 11… or maybe 12. A Indian man who had been adopted by an Australian family has found his long lost family via Google Earth. That brief summation doesn’t do the story justice and there isn’t much I can add here besides this – go read it. It’ll make your GIS heart proud.

    Oh, and technology is AWESOME!

    World Bank Joins Open Data Movement

    The World Bank has announced it will be joining the open data movement as of July 1st. All of its research and associated data will be found on a portal called the Open Knowledge Repository. Right now the repository holds a couple thousand of their book and publications for free download. By July 1st, the data is supposed to show up as well. There’s no word if any of the data will be specifically geospatial, but as we all know, it is pretty easy to take spreadsheet data and import it. The World Bank has had a fairly controversial history. Hopefully the movement toward open data will allow more eyes on their activity, whether it’s to critique or support.

    Zombie Survival Map

    Zombies are cool. Period. That’s a non-debatable, empirical fact of current pop culture. Like any good citizen, it helps to know what to do in the case of a zombie outbreak. Lucky for us all, one of the more geographic minded of us has released the Zombie Survival Map. The map shows location where zombies are likely to exist in red (in other words, population centers) and places that are likely to be zombie free in black/grey. On top of that, the map overlays locations for supplies such as food, shelter, hospitals, and oddly liquor stores. Although the map is obviously kinda silly (never mind the Zombie Outbreak Response Vehicle I have on my truck), it does highly some important base information for any sort of widespread emergency response issues. Similar things are being done by state and local governments to help detail routes for evacuation and emergency response. The map hopes to incorporate user generated data and some point, which will make it even more useful in the case of a natural or man made emergency…. or if the zombies ever do rise up and attack…. whichever 🙂

    Via Wired

    Google’s Augmented Reality Glasses are HERE…. ish.

    Google has begun field tests on their new augmented reality glasses.  I have to say, they’re pretty snazzy lookin’ all things considered, especially if you dig the Geordi LaForge look.  The link includes a demo video to show what life is like with the glasses and it’s AWESOME for nerdy folks like myself (and maybe not even no so nerdy folks).  The demo features a sort of combination of Siri, LBS, IM, Foursquare, Google+, phone, augmented reality and the aforementioned all around awesomeness 🙂  Google has even started a Google+ group for it so you can keep on top of the information.  What I haven’t seen much of as of yet is these things on people with glasses.  The beautiful models look fantastic wearing them, but they kinda have to, don’t they 🙂

    Focusing on the New GIS End-User

    We’ve talked in this blog about how mapping in the cloud has gone mainstream. How cloud computing has turned the world of GIS on its head, bringing a flood of new users who don’t even know what GIS stands for, to our websites and desktop applications. It’s more critical than ever to pay attention to these end users and their needs, because they’re dramatically different from the traditional GIS user, and if we don’t understand how our customers are changing, we run the risk of losing them, just as they’re getting to know the virtues of mapping.

    A decade ago, the typical GIS user worked in a fairly large organization that had specially trained GIS staff to service the organization’s spatial requests. All this began to change as more and more industries saw the power of spatial technology and innovated by making intuitive mapping technology widely available to their organization. Then, when GIS moved to the cloud a few years ago, another huge shift took place – GIS moved beyond corporations and into our everyday lives with Google Earth™, Bing© Maps and Google Maps mashups. People were suddenly interacting with maps everywhere: on their mobile phones, iPads and other devices.

    This is incredibly exciting for the GIS world, but these new users bring a whole new set of expectations that geo-developers and GIS companies need to heed.

  • While the new user likes maps, he couldn’t care less about GIS. These users know how to navigate and interact with consumer maps and expect all their interactions with spatial technology to be this simple. They don’t, in any way, want to “see” GIS or have to learn a new vocabulary of terms like vectors, georeference, buffer, and shapefile. They don’t want to wait, even a few seconds, for a map to load. Basically, they want to get to the information they’re seeking in a few clicks and without any training.
  • They are hungry for new apps. The new user expects a constant stream of new functionality. They spend copious amounts of time on their tablets or smartphones searching for new apps and app updates. If you are not delivering regular new features and data, they might go elsewhere.
  • Listen to your user, not other GIS experts. The paradox in GIS technology today is, as developers have made great strides in advanced geo-features and data, the end users’ needs have become more basic. Not only does your user not want to have to figure out how to use an application, he or she is increasingly accessing your app via a smartphone or tablet. Leave off the bells and whistles; keep the interface as simple as possible.
  • Focus your energy on the user interface. The user interface is where you will find the biggest bang for the buck in satisfying these new users. Traditionally, GIS developers have not spent that much time thinking about the user interface. It was hard enough to get GIS working and by the time it was humming along smoothly, there was little time left for the UI. The bar for easy to use applications has been raised and investing in the interface will pay off handsomely.
  • Be obsessed with performance: Your spatial application can never be fast enough. Perhaps more important than building in new features is doing all you can to keep things running smoothly and quickly. That means using every trick in the book to optimize data display and performance.
  • Pay attention to visualization. Today’s end users like pretty, well-designed spatial technology. Using an intuitive color scheme like this one will help users immediately grasp what is going on with the data. And stick to a reasonable number of classes when you are summarizing your data. Once again, sleek and simple is the key.
  • We’ve put a lot of emphasis on map performance and regular updates in the observations above, but don’t be intimidated. Spatial technology is actually getting easier to use every day, and more and more niche companies have come on the scene to help you with continuously updated data streams, speedy mapping functions, and robust and reliable spatial infrastructures. That frees you up to concentrate on those end users in a bigger way than ever before.

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