National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In 2008, Sue posted about the U.S. Department of Energy‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory Atlas that was in development. I ran across the completed NREL FTP site with geospatial toolkits and GIS data by the NREL GIS team. They analyze wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other energy resources and provide corresponding GIS data. This includes a beta version of their MapSearch of maps created by the team. I had the honor of attending (sitting in the audience) a surprisingly tense and exciting National Middle School Science Bowl many years ago, so it was interesting to find out that NREL manages the National Middle School Science Bowl for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

Cheap Thrills and Virtual Reality

By now, almost everyone has seen the cool You Tube video of the Japanese students fake skydiving using a projector and Google Earth. However, all the posts and comments focus on the skydiving part and how realistic, non-realistic, or just plain awesome it is. When I watched it my first thought was, “that is a really cool way to build a cheap, portable virtual environment.” The closest approximation I could find to what they did are electronic art canvases which cost about $3,000. They are used at the really cool Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio at the Krannert Art Museum/University of Illinois, Champaign. To do truly immersive research and projects, virtual environments such as the EON Icube cost upwards of $50,000 to over $1 million dollars. Which brings me to the other thought I had while watching the Google Skydiving video, “There is no way anyone would let you do that in a commercial virtual environment, especially if there is a chance someone would get motion sick or worse bring down a sensor or mirror.” But I can add this to my list of things I would do if I had my own CAVE, along with play massive multi-player online video games and make my own music video.

New York Times: At this time and place

The New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) is attempting to document Times Square at this moment and time and space by requesting photos from anyone in the public. According to the NY Historical Society guidelines, “The original digital photographs of contemporary Times Square in New York City (from West 42nd to 47th Streets at Broadway or Seventh Avenue) taken between November 21, 2010 and March 31, 2011. Digital photographs must be e-mailed to in either GIF, JPG or PNG format. N-YHS is interested in exterior architectural photographs, outdoor portraits, group snapshots, photographs depicting billboards and advertisements, and interior images of notable area buildings. Images should be at least 1,200 X 1,500 pixels (or 8″ by 10″). Minor color correction and/or cropping is acceptable as long as the original subject matter of the photograph remains in tact.”

If you are looking for inspiration there are many books such as On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square by Marshall Berman, and Where the Ball Drops: Days and Nights in Times Square by Daniel Makagon, which document Time Square through words and photographs. If you can’t get to Times Square to take photos, but want to see what all the fuss is about, EarthCam has a Times Square webcam set up.

Pluto, revisited

The news that NASA discovered a new type of microorganism has overshadowed new findings on Pluto. The Christian Science Monitor presents both sides of the debate, “Should Pluto be Restored as a Planet?” According to Mike Wall from, Pluto was found to be slightly larger than Eris, the entity that supplanted it, re-opening the debate if it should be restored as a full-fledged planet. Discovery News details the method used to compare the size of Eris and Pluto. In several articles Mike Brown, who discovered Eris and wrote the appropriately titled book, “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming” states that the most important part of the discovery isn’t about size but the fact that Eris is much denser than Pluto and thus a totally different composition and origin. In his posts on Mike Brown’s Planets he describes the Skymapper project to survey the whole southern skies by Australian National University.

Day 2: Sneaky Geography Gifts

There are some cool GEOGRAPHY gifts like map jigsaw puzzles, cool Harry Potter marauder map pillows, or antique maps and reproductions. Then there are some gifts that scream, YOU like geography. Here’s a globe!, like an etched glass globe fish bowl, Earth globes, and even snow globes. However, if you are looking for a less geograph-y geography gift there are some good books written by geographers such as one of my favorite fantasy books, Across the Face of the World , or kid’s books like The Lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish, or even cookbooks like The Art of Scottish-American Cooking. They bring the expertise and enjoyment of geo-spatial concepts without the word geography in the title.

I think the sneakiest geography gift of all is one that can’t be wrapped in a box -travel. It doesn’t have to be Disney’s It’s a Small World exhibit but a geographic destination. National Geographic has a list of top ten places to visit far away and probably close to home. According to The Happiness Project memories of special locations make people happy like visiting grandparents, a hometown, or other special place. If you can’t go to a special place, why not bring it closer to home by subscribing to a hometown paper, or some virtual armchair traveling.

Old Map Making Shortcuts Still Used Today

Map making used to be an arduous, time-consuming, and often dangerous process. Although modern map-making is often still an arduous, time-consuming, and in some instances, dangerous process, new technologies are continually invented that make it easier. Modern Mechanix from July 1946 features a Coe-graph invented by Australian Lt. Col. H. J. F. Coe. It is a calibrated ground wheel attached to a paper roller and pencil. The design is still around in the form of digital rolling measurement wheels. It made me think of how technology and tools often remain the same, even when alternative technologies are available. A 2004 ESRI presentation by GeoSpatial Innovations compared the use of GPS versus measurement wheels for rural line design. A Civil Engineering Group posted a recent article on all of the methods for measuring area of land and a brief history of technology including GPS, measurement wheels, planimeters, and graph paper.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and GIS

Fifty million people are expected to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tomorrow. If you can’t be there in person, you can join the on-line Thanksgiving Day Parade community and experience the parade route through the Macy’s website. I have fond memories of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade route. Digg, of course, has already posted a Product Reviews Google Earth Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route. However, I really like all of the walks included in the “Walk the Big Apple” site including their Autumn walks for the unofficial parade route and the ” An Advanced Self-Guided Walk into the New York Holiday Vortex“. At Daggle, Danny Sullivan has updated his article on how to watch the parade from outside the United States. He says your best bet is Earthcam’s live streaming broadcast,which gives you a “feel” for what is happening. If you are wondering how the parade and other huge crowd events are handled each year, ESRI has an article on how the FDNY GIS Unit get organized before events such as parades. New York City also has a Thanksgiving Day Task Force which among it many duties, “Developed a wind testing system that provides wind speed measurements from anemometers at key points along the parade route and transmits the information to balloon operators who adjust the flight heights of their balloons accordingly.”

Save a (Geography Related) Word

The Oxford Dictionary is launching a campaign to save words that are being dropped from the English Language. According to their website, 90% of everything we write is communicated by a 7,000 word vocabulary. The Save The Words website, which allows you to “adopt” a word and keep it in use, has a hodge-podge collage of words to choose from many of them geography or location related. I located bimarian (relating to two seas), poliadic (of the nature of a local god), telligraph (charter outlining boundaries of landholdings),montivagant (wandering hills and mountains), cosmogyral (whirling round the universe), and ruricolous (living in the country or field). It an be argued that some words are just not used as often, such as ten-cent store, but it seems sad to lose them. The British Council asked “7,000 learners in 46 countries what they considered to be the most beautiful words in the English language.” The top five words were Mother, Passion, Smile, Love, and Eternity. I haven’t chosen the word I want to save yet, but I will in order to demonstrate my sodalitious (adj. belonging to society or fellowship) nature. (Wait — spell check don’t change it to seditious nature that isn’t what I meant.)

The music of geography

One of my favorite geography related songs is “Yakko’s World” from the Animaniacs Cartoon Series. When I went to find they lyrics recently, I was surprised to find that there was a Facebook page devoted to “I know all the lyrics to Yakko’s World” and a spirited debate about the countries referenced in the song. Obviously, song is a time-honored way to learn countries, planets, presidents, and even U.S. States. Erik Ribak is the goldmine of geography related songs up until 2009. National Geographic Xpeditions has a wonderful “geography and history through music” lesson plan. NatGeo Music also has an “aural tour” of the world through music which is frequently updated.

Virtual Veteran’s Sites

The Guardian UK interviews volunteers and family members who have used an digital library of war graves around the world in their article, “How to visit a virtual grave: A digital photography project allows families to see the final resting place of relatives who died in battle for the first time.” The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP), is an online “library” of war grave photos documented by volunteers worldwide. The mission of The War Graves Photographic Project is to photograph every war grave, individual memorial, MoD grave, and family memorial of serving military personnel to the present day and make these available within a searchable database. They accept images from anywhere in the world where military personnel were based or conflicts occurred. Other on-line war data searches include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall website and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Many countries have online databases of war memorials including the U.K. National Inventory, which includes all memorials including bus shelters, sundials, park benches; Queensland War Memorial Directory, Australian War Memorial Directory including war diaries; and Canada’s Virtual War Memorial Directory.