Scientists Convicted of Manslaughter for Failing To Predict Earthquake

We’ve been following this news item for some time, and I have to say I, for one, never dreamed these scientists would be convicted. An Italian judge has decided six scientists and one government official are criminally negligent for failing to predict the L’Aquila earthquake. They face up to 6 years in jail for their actions. The judge was quick to point out the verdict isn’t based so much on the lack of prediction as their failure to adequate phrase their warnings in a sufficiently alarming way. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say this is going to have a drastically chilling impact on scientific reporting, particularly in Italy. I’d like to say something hopeful out of this, but frankly it is all quit too depressing.

Geospatial Games and Crowd Sourcing a Catalog

It’s never too early to get kids interested in geospatial technologies and geography. I was searching for a fun gift for a young kid and ran across the Daily Grommet, which is an online catalog that practices what it has termed “Citizen Commerce”. The site uses crowd sourcing to identify products and companies that people want to support. Their product lineup is constantly changing, but many of them are geospatial in nature. The ones that caught my eye were a number of games that teach 3D spatial skills such as a 3D maze game, the OGO build set which is basically a point, line, and polygon game, and the spatial 3d Challenge game.

The one that I thought might be really interesting was the  GeoPalz Activity Tracker. It combines a pedometer tracker with an online interactive site that allows kids to earn prizes.  When I initially read the description I thought that kids would be able to upload a map of their daily activity to the GeoPalz website and use it for interactive games, sort of like a mash-up of Google Maps with GPS Tracker and a Family Circus cartoon. The site looks like it uses the actual pedometer count,which is still really cool. It just goes to show how much we have come to expect of our geospatial technology in everyday life. More, More, More even for a kid’s toy.

Clever Google Maps Manipulations by Christoph Niemann

The Path to Rebates

Anyone who spends more than an hour around me knows I like clever word manipulations. Yep, I find them punny. Christoph Niemann has just taken this to a whole new level with Clever Google Maps Manipulations. Some of them are funny (like My Way or the Highway) and some of them are pretty nifty visual illusions. I personally like the one above best as I’ve gotten HORRIBLY lost on Mail-In Rebate Way on more than one occasion. Either way, they’re a good reminder that maps can be as much art as information.

Americans Use A Lot of Gas

There’s so much going on with this article in Jalopnik that I love. Let me break it down for you in rough order. First…. cars and geography and we all know how I feel about those. Second, the point of the article, which is to show we use a lot of gas in the US. But those are just the superficial, kinda uninteresting bits, especially to geographers.

The really cool part for me rests in a two things. This is an excellent example of how to lie with maps, or at least deceive. We know the US uses a lot of gas, but where and why is a bit of a mystery. One theory is the ‘fly over’ states tend to have older and less efficient cars and most importantly trucks. Furthermore, they tend to drive greater distances because they’re more spread out than an urban area like NY or LA. If you use the swipe bar in the middle (more on that in a second), you can flip between two views of the data. The left map shows annual gallons of gas used per capita and it clearly shows the middle of the country is the worst offenders. Again, the efficiency plus distances would make sense for the average person to use more gas than someone in an urban or suburban environment. However, the picture changes dramatically when you look at the map on the right. Here we see not per capita use, but total use, and it’s the more urban areas that tend to be the worst offenders. As Jalopnik points out in the text, the math is pretty clear – it’s because there’s more people. Even if a large number of people only drive a short distance in highly efficient cars they can still use a lot more gas per year than a small number driving large distances with inefficient cars. So how do you lower gas use? Thus far the focus has been upon fuel efficiency standards, but it looks like that might not be the only approach to take to tackle the problem. I just love the idea you can look at the same data totally differently and get a completely different compelling argument. It’s kinda awesome, I think.

And to round it out, the final really cool thing about this post is the great use of a swipe for displaying two maps. We use it a lot in our professional work as GISers, but I’d love to see more use like this ‘in the wild’ so to speak. It’s such a compelling way to present counter arguments just like this.

From Hereford Mappa Mundi to Google Maps

The Observer Arts & Media section has an interesting review of several upcoming books and exhibits that discuss the continued power of maps and cartography. Vanessa Thorpe’s article, “From Shopping to warfare, why maps shape our minds as well as our planet” provides a review Simon Garfield’s new book On The Map, Jerry Brotton’s new book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, and an upcoming exhibition of globes at the Royal Geographical Society in London. She succinctly discusses how cartography helps to shape commerce and politics from ancient times until today.

What I found most interesting were the World Views at the end of the article because of the way they were truncated. The history of mapping jumps from Atlas Maior (1665) to Google Maps (21st Century). It made me ask myself, “Is Google Maps really the biggest cartographic world view of the 21st century?” and “What would I think of as significant between 1665-today?”  It raises many interesting questions for geographers to discuss.

Earthscape stamps from the USPS

The US Postal Service has released a great stamp set that highlights aerial and satellite imagery from around the country. The Earthscapes stamp set highlights scenes including cranberry bogs, geothermal springs, log rafts, barge fleets, railroad roundhouse, and others . I am off to acquire a set (or 5) for my future mailings. Click on the image to go to a printable poster-sized image.

CAFE Standards for Cars in the US

We all know greenhouse gases are all in the news the last decade or so. On top of that, fuel dependency gets a lot of airplay. Those two things drive a lot of the decision making for car fuel economy standards. In the US, that’s translated into a rather arcane system called the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. Jalopnik has a pretty good breakdown explaining the logic and implications behind CAFE standards. CAFE regulations have had a huge impact on car development around the world, particularly in the US. Ever wonder why small trucks like my personal favorite, the VW Rabbit Truck aren’t made anymore? Completely counter to logic, it’s actually the CAFE standards that have driven these more efficient vehicles out of production. Ever wonder why modern small cars go from pristine to ‘totaled’ even in relatively small wrecks? Again, CAFE standards drive much of this. Yet most people really don’t understand how and why CAFE standards work.

If you’re even remotely interested it either fuel economy, greenhouse gas issues, or cars, check out the link for a great breakdown. It’s really worth your time.