New Year Trivia and Tweets

There are many sources for New Year’s interactive maps for 2012. The Glencoe/McGraw-Hill Education site has an interactive map and social studies quiz on “Celebrating New Year’s Around the World: Understanding Time Zones“. If you get stuck on the answers, point flags pop up on the map with additional information. Maps of the World has an interactive map that counts down the time to 2012 for each country. The BBC news online also has an interactive map which shows the most popular news stories for the day in real time. So far, New Year’s Eve Celebrations Start has remained the most popular in world traffic to the site. Last Year, Twitter posted an interactive map of Tweets on New Year’s Day calling it an “epic Tweet Day”. It will be interesting to see what 2012 holds.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

It’s always fun to compare the modern marvels of yesterday to their technological equivalent today. I spent about an hour on Charles Shopsin’s blog  “Modern Mechanix: Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today” reading all of the old geospatial related articles I could find. A short article from a issue of Popular Mechanics extols the convenience of a Dashboard Map that Holds a Roadmap from November 1950.  Just like the GPS units today it plugs into a cigarette lighter socket. Unlike the Garmin Nuvi lighter socket mount, it probably cost a lot more than around $10.00.

In another article from the early 1950’s, the author creates a business building 3d models for industry and business such as scale models of factory lots and contour maps of real estate property.  The support and criticism of 3d models is very similar to those still being argued about geospatial modeling today. From  “Isn’t there some easier way of selling those mountain lots than driving prospects 90 miles to see them?” to “Build little models,” he scoffed, “and you’ll have an income about the same size.”  There are articles  from old National Geographic’s on The Earth as a Satellite Sees It (1960),  Modern Mechanix’s on Amazing Robots speed Check of Nation (1930 Census), and advertisements in Scientific American for Texas Instruments micro processors for data loggers (1977).






Project Bird Feeder Watch

It’s that time of year again in North America, Project Bird Feeder Watch for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.  It is a great opportunity for an easy to do citizen science activity.  Citizen scientists count the count the birds they see at their bird feeders. The data is used to map bird migration and bird populations.  Because it comes with a kit to do the bird count, there is a $15.00 participation fee which supports the project. Project Bird Feeder Watch has been around for more than 25 years making its data extremely important. You can explore some of the data and maps on their site.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada along with the Audubon Society are also sponsors of the Great Backyard Bird Count which starts in February and is free for participants. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a list of other citizen science projects that people might be interested in doing such as urban bird count, pigeon count, and migratory birds. Bird Studies Canada has citizen science projects such as The Christmas Bird Count, Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, and the nocturnal owl survey. I think these would be fantastic school, family, or even team-building exercises that involve geospatial data and the local community.

Reasonably Priced “Vintage” Geography Gifts

If you are looking for some nice looking gifts for the geographer in your life that are wonderfully unique, look no further than the Steam Punk Emporium.  What they call Brassy Bits: vintage looking compasses, sextants, telescopes, magnifying loupes, pocket sundials… I would call old fashioned geography and cartography tools. Most of them range in price from $5.00 to around $50.00  There are even some vintage looking geography and globe themed necklaces and pocket watches.


Grapheur is a new business intelligence and visualization tool that includes an easy to use geovisualization function. It has a free trial, but the software itself isn’t free. I was a little dubious at first at a software company that claims its software is “Sexy: Use space, time, color, shapes, blinking, sweeps, synchronization… for amazing results.” However, the amazing graphics it produces are in fact just that. Plus, most of those descriptors also describe geospatial science in general so who am I to complain?

They have a Doubting Thomas tab for people who are having trouble visualizing their data in the free trial. You can send them the data and they will do a free basic analysis and walk you through the steps. Their geovisualization capabilities aren’t as robust as ESRI or other GIS software but that might change if more people find it useful for geospatial work.


Kaggle is a website company that holds predictive modeling competitions for prize money. It’s premise is that there is a lot of data out there that needs to be analyzed and not enough skilled people to do it. They use crowd sourcing to attract smart competitors and interdisciplinary scientists from over 100 countries. Although they seem to have a math and statistics focus, many of their datasets are geospatial and could effectively be analyzed using geospatial approaches. This would be good for organizations with large geospatial datasets who want to host a competition through Kaggle’s Host-a-Competition wizard. You can also use Kaggle in the classroom . For example, a statistics class at Rice University used it to recommend jokes based on previously rated jokes.

Is Geography realism on greeting cards important?

A recent article in The Guardian, “Your Moons are Rubbish, Astronomer tells Christmas Card Artists“, by science Ian Sample was entertaining but also raised several serious scientific questions. Peter Barthel from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands wrote an article for the  journal Communicating Astronomy with The Public on astronomical realism in holiday cards.  He found that many cards depicted the moon in ways that were not realistic for the time of night being portrayed.  When asked “so what?”, he thinks that realism adds to instead of detracts from the wonder and “Moreover, understanding leads to knowledge which lasts”.

His remarks started me thinking about how geography is portrayed in greeting cards and what are the most common themes. The National Environmental Education Foundation has a good handout on the difference between the North Poles,  the Antarctic, the Artic and how polar bears and penguins don’t live together in the same place.  In order to conduct my own informal research, I went to Blue Mountain Cards and Hallmark Cards online to review all of their cards for geographic fallacies. I gave up after the first few pages because of the predominant lack of geography in the cards.

The News and Geography Awareness

Matthew Erickson, deputy graphics director at The New York Times, has a great post about  “When Maps Shouldn’t Be Maps” or how location can be represented by a broad range of geovisualizations. He discusses that while using a map is often the right choose when presenting information that geovisualizations can add to the story. He has some great examples with explanations.  His blog post is timely because the theme of Geography Awareness Week this year is about geography in your community. Reading or watching the news is often the easiest way for people to get involved in their local geography, so it is nice when journalists understand the many ways they can present geospatial information. I think journalists are often an overlooked source for great neo-geography.

Zebra Stripe App

A  short article in this month’s National Geographic magazine gives me a chance to tell a funny kid’s joke about zebras.  “There were two chickens standing at crosswalk. One says to the other: Should we cross the road?  The other one says: No Way! Look what happened to the zebra!”  According to the National Geographic article,”Scanning Zebras“,  zebra stripes are like a fortuitous blend of fingerprints and bar codes. This means that each black and white stripe pattern is unique to that zebra  and is patterned in a way that makes it possible to be scanned like a bar code.  McDermott reports that scientists and citizen scientists can use an app called Stripe Spotter created by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University to upload the zebra’s identity into a database.  Researchers involved in the project have recently written a paper, ” Biometric Animal Databases From Field Photographs: Identification of Individual Zebra in the Wild“. They think that in the future it could be used to identify other animals with strong patters such as tigers, giraffe, and kudu. This is another great example of how ingenuity in geospatial technologies can make it easier for citizen scientists to get involved in research, lessen the workload on scientists in the field, and improve the scientific process.

Tweets of a Different Kind

I have subscribed to the wonderfully informative eNature website and email list for years because of the kid in me loves that it is a grown up Ranger Rick. They provide Zip Guides that map animals and plants in your area by zip code. I like when they post information on native bird species because even though I’m not a birder, I participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count every February. This month eNature has a Bird Call Challenge,which would be a great activity for a geography or science classroom or fun home activity.