Podcast note

In episode 373 I talked about the US Census Bureau defining ‘city’ as 2500 or more, but that isn’t exactly correct. It is actually the ‘urban’ transition point. While we often equate urban to city, as we discuss in the podcast there are many other variables that play into the description.

OK, that is all. I just wanted to say something after editing the podcast. Easier than rerecording 🙂

Pins on a Map: Geospatial Here, There, and Everywhere

When we were brainstorming what my column title and topical area should be, everyone knew that it had to be like my posts – seemingly unrelated but always connecting back to the geospatial. The titles we tried out were All Over the Map; funny because it was so accurate, Pens on a Map; which was a great visual, and Pins on a Map. I chose Pins on a Map because I felt that I am pinning down the geospatial in everyday life around the world – “Pin Pointing” the geospatial in people’s lives and professions, if I can use another pun.

But my pin pointing doesn’t stop at VerySpatial, I am lucky to have jobs where I work on interdisciplinary projects and meet a cross section of people from different countries, professions, and ages. Throughout my day when someone says something like “I only have 5 pages to get my point across for this grant and I need to fit in my ROI and demographics”, I point out that what they are asking for is a great visual analysis or a map. I then put them in touch with the appropriate GIS team and encourage them to get GIS training. If I am working with capstone students who are trying to boost their resumes, I make sure to mention the university’s Esri site license that allows them free access to Esri online training courses. Later that day when I am talking to someone about city planning, I will talk about participatory GIS and community projects.

I learned about geospatial concepts because, even though I wasn’t a geographer or working in a typical geospatial field, someone took the time to explain them to me and to let me know how they impacted my everyday life. This made me realize that although I might not have always known the correct terminology, there was a spatial perspective to my work and interests. Like many of the discussions Sue, Jesse, and Frank have on VerySpatial, I didn’t realize I was a geographer at heart until someone pointed out to me what geography meant in the real world. We live in a geospatial world and many people don’t realize it. I think one of the best ways to address this is to point out the geospatial when we see it and to let people know, “Hey! You might not realize it, but you are using geospatial concepts and geospatial technologies”

This is a big selling point because I have found that a lot of people using these concepts in their day-to-day jobs are in fields like education, business, and service industries, that don’t think of themselves as being in a field that uses technology/science. For example, SEO content writers often play an integral role in location-based services and don’t even realize it. The benefits of knowing about geospatial concepts and GIS go beyond the impact of the analysis or project. I know several people who said that just knowing that GIS was out there and how people used it helped them in a job interview. Each time I hear that I mentally put another pin in the map I keep in my mind.

I think that all geospatial professionals are putting pins on a map as they go throughout their day and that these pins all connect up to create general geospatial awareness. The key to raising awareness is consistency and coverage. You don’t have to use a power point or give a big presentation; sometimes it’s the little reinforcing comments that pin something down the most.

Thanks! Sue, Jesse, and Frank for placing my pin on the map when you first pointed out – “Hey, You know that thing you are trying to do, it’s a spatial concept.” Throughout my columns I will explore geospatial concepts and technologies in different forms.

Space between my ears: There’s A Quality About This Stuff…

I love to cook. My wife says I’m pretty good at it, although that could just be an attempt to not have to cook herself. We don’t have cable so I don’t get to watch many cooking shows. However, occasionally when we travel, I get the Food Network… then I become a couch potato. I’m hooked on watching people compete by preparing different dishes in different ways. I especially love the ‘random box of stuff’ sort of competition where the chef needs to work out something delicious from a collection of ingredients. That’s some real creativity there.

What I don’t love about these shows is the judging part. This collection of experts sits down and looks at their food, smells their food, and tastes their food rendering a ‘this is better than that’ decision. Now I’m no expert (I’m hardly a decent cook, much less a chef or a food expert), but it all seems so arbitrary to me. However, I’ve noticed a bit of linguistic turn coming into the descriptions from the judges. There are what I’d dub ‘axis’ words, such as ‘acidic’, ‘sweet’, ‘sharp’, and ‘bright’. Then there are more descriptive words that seem to modify that a bit, such as ‘tangy’, ‘flavorful’, ‘steep’, ‘heavy’, ‘light’, etc. Finally, there are some comparison words used, most normally ‘balance’ and ‘counter’. So you might hear a description such as, “I like that you balanced the heavy sweetness with a flavorful acidic quality.” To my quantitative ear, it almost sounds like these professional chefs and judges have this sort of equation in their head that moves along the axis of acidic, bright, and sweet. It is as if there is an attempt at an extremely loose quantification of what is basically a qualitative thing. How do you impose a sort of equation on what’s basically opinion? I don’t like raw tomatoes, so anything with raw tomatoes is going to trend ‘negative’ for me personally despite their utility in providing an acidic quality to the food equation. The point being, any one person’s mileage may vary here.

Now let’s jump to geography and GIS. Lately I’ve been straddling the divide between qualitative and quantitative data. We like quantitative data because you can measure it, you can compare it, you can mathematically transform it, if it relates to space you can map it, you can color it…. you can do all sorts of things to it. Not only that, we can represent that in known ways with agreed upon conventions. Things like gradients or relative shape sizes have been reasonably well worked out. We tend to know what to expect, and in fact we recoil when they’re not what we expect. Quantitative data doesn’t present us with much challenges. Qualitative data is a whole ‘nother critter. We don’t always know what to do with qualitative data. We can’t even agree if it has much utility or not (editors note: WHAT? Blasphemy!). We certainly don’t know how to store it in transformable forms, or even how we’d like to transform the information. We don’t know how to compare it, or even if it is comparable. And the issue of representation? That’s so far out there and varied it’s barely on the radar.

You can certainly see why judges seem to be attempting to ‘quantify’ these qualitative measures. With numbers you can work out a ‘winner’ – feelings, emotions, tastes are a LOT harder because of their subjectivity. However, I think we lose so much when attempt to boil down these complex flavors and aromas into a comparable framework. How can we capture that information and still retain the ability to compare, contrast, and represent in agreed upon ways? I’m going to do the thing I hate the most and cop out because I don’t have an answer. To be honest, I don’t think there is ‘an’ answer but a series of answers we have to work out.
Continue reading “Space between my ears: There’s A Quality About This Stuff…”

Today’s College Freshman and the Geospatial World

Beloit College has released their 2012 list of things that new college freshman have known their whole lives, besides making some of us feel very old, it gives a good overview of the geospatial world today. According to the list, today’s freshman class was generally born in 1990, which would put them in the 1990-1999 GIS history timeline created by the GIS Timeline team at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.   The geospatial elements on the list are a mixture of funny and humbling : 3. They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego, 4. GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available, 43. Personal privacy has always been threatened, 51. Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born, and 54. The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.

The Mindset List has been compiled by authors, Ron Nief, Emeritus Director of Public Affairs at Beloit College and Tom McBride, Keefer Professor of the Humanities at Beloit College since 1998 to “reflect the world view of entering first year students” born in 1980. They provide suggestions on how the 2016 Mindset List can be used to start conversations and dialogues with students.  In case you were wondering, the class of 2016 have always lived in cyberspace so to them working in the cloud is the natural progression of the technology they have always known.