Why Red States Are Red And Blue States Are Blue

Has anyone else given this a lot of thought? Why does red = Republican and blue = Democrat in the US? Would it surprise you to find out that convention really didn’t fully catch on until as late as 2000? I can remember as a kid seeing a sea of blue on TV when Reagan got elected in 1980. Then I remember seeing a sea of red when he won again in 1984 with 49 of the 50 states and it kinda confused me. Well my confusion has been cleared thanks to this wonderful article by The Smithsonian. Take a few minutes and read all about the history of this cartographic phenomena in US political mapping. I personally really enjoy the side stories for the ‘why’ that are easily debunked. It makes for fun reading!

Also – if you’re eligible to vote in the US, go out and vote!

Sandy Explained

NASA has given a great explanation of how and why Sandy behaved the way it did. Score several for remote sensing, climate science, and meteorology!

Via Gizmodo

Google Adds Amber Alerts to Maps and Search Results

Google has started adding Amber Alerts to its map and search results. They’re doing this through a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Basically, they’re combining the local search information with NCMEC’s Amber Alert system. It should include any descriptive information and how to contact the system if you happen to know anything about the missing child.

It’s good to see companies using their technology to help communities and I hope other companies help these efforts in any way possible.

Hurricane Sandy and Metadata

Many online news outlets are posting real-time or interactive maps of the impact of Hurricane Sandy.  It is nice to see that many of them are including meta-data on the source of their information. It is something that is often missing from online news maps, which is strange because of the normally strict rules about citing sources in news articles. The Guardian UK has posted interactive Google Map of every verified event along with a downloadable Google Fusion Table of citations. Mashable U.S. & World has provided an article on How to Follow Hurricane Sandy On-line including webcams, interactive maps, and apps. Many news sources such as the New York Times are using information from the National Weather Service or Google’s Hurricane Crisis Map. Being able to verify the source of information is important, but especially during a disaster event.


Space between my ears – Sometimes We Need A Grade School Refresher

Occasionally there is a national news item that bubbles up to take headlines and starts a dialogue about a formerly fringe-ish topic. This week, there were two. In order of occurrence, the first is that an Italian judge has declared six scientists criminally negligent in predicting an earthquake and has sentenced them to six years in jail for manslaughter. The second is a US Presidential candidate thinks Iran is connected to Syria and that connection is what gives Iran a link to water (and thus shipping). Those two might not look connected, but they are. Let me take them in reverse order.

Let’s not get all political here about the relative merits of one party over another in US politics. We at VerySpatial don’t profess to know the intricacies of political policy, economics, foreign policy, and all the other issues surrounding US Presidential Politics. But we do profess to know at least thing or two about Geography, which apparently one candidate forgot. Mitt Romney said, “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” This is false as Iran has miles and miles of coastline, not to mention it isn’t even connected to Syria. You have to go through Iraq to get there, and its not like Iran and Iraq have a history of being buddy buddy. Obviously this is a major gaffe from a Presidential candidate, but the real issue here is that a surprising large number of journalist and general public do not even recognize it as such a gaffe. An error, sure, but do they think it is a big error? Not nearly as much. I think this speaks more to the lack of geographic literacy in the US as much as anything. More deeply, I think it speaks to the apathy of facts prevalent in US public discourse today. We need to remember that facts are the bedrock under which decisions are made. If we can’t get our facts accurate, how can we expect to make decent decisions or analysis?

This leads to the second news item, which is that Italy has convicted six scientists of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake. The punch line to the story is that these six scientists were unable to predict an earthquake and, in the eyes of the court, they failed to adequately predict the degree of danger and are therefore legally culpable. The obvious problem here is that earthquake prediction is a tricky endeavor at best. There are so many variables to contend with in earthquake prediction – time, location, magnitude – and each of those has so many sub-variables true earthquake prediction basically is a bit dodgy (editor – as the Itialians should say, impossibile). Further complicating this process is the fact that it is almost as bad to falsely predict an earthquake is going to happen as it is to fail to predict an earthquake is going to happen. Call it the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ effect, if you will. The reality of earthquake prediction today is that we are simply ill equipped to adequately predict the future, only measure that which has already happened. Facts are important in this case, but we also have to know the limitation of facts. We have to have a good idea of what a fact is capable of telling us and what it isn’t. In my opinion, the Italian judge in charge of this case has made a grievous error in assuming facts that simply aren’t there, or at least aren’t predictable from known facts. How can we make decent decisions or analysis if we can’t understand the limits of what we know?