Epidemiology, GIS, and Portwenn

I only recently started to watch reruns of Doc Martin on Hulu. The show is about a gruff London surgeon who relocates to the picture book seaside village of Portwenn, Cornwall. Like many seaside towns, the fictional village relies on tourism and fishing for most of its revenue, which makes its reliance on a single doctor to handle track down health outbreaks on a fairly regular basis surprising. In one specific episode (Season 1, Episode 3) entitled “Sh*t Happens” a virus hits Portwenn that the doctor assumes is caused by the community swimming pool, which he announces on the radio and tries to close down before finding out that it originates from someone selling contaminated bottled water. Considering how many outbreaks of various ailments happen on the show, it is surprising that even after this event he never calls a public health official or has an epidemiologist on speed dial.

Anyone who has worked in local government, public health, or other fields that interact with the public will recognize the realistic situation of dealing with a virus or other event that impacts the public health. These situations usually must be handled quickly with a lack of information that makes analyzing the situation difficult. However, they are usually addressed collaboratively with the help of medical staff, state and local government, public health officials, and schools, many times using GIS.

I was therefore relieved to find that in the real world setting of Port Isaac (Port Wenn) there is more than one doctor to handle emergencies. In fact, the Port Isaac Practice, which has been in existence since the 1940’s,  has a Primary Care Health Team including seven doctors, practice nurses, community nurses and other vital personnel.  The South West Peninsula Health Protection Unit, Cornwall Council and the Environment Agency have worked together to create handbooks such as the “Viral Gastroenteritis (Norovirus) Outbreak Guidance for Caravan and Campsites“. While the Combined Universities in Cornwall has several epidemiology professors on staff.

The “Sh*t Happens”  episode would be a great one to use in a geography, geospatial, or public health class when covering the work of John Snow. It demonstrates that because of the work of epidemiologists and other geospatial analysts, doctors no longer have to tackle community outbreaks alone. Doc Martin is enjoyable and it is good that he isn’t  portrayed as a super star epidemiologist. It would be nice for the fictional Portwenn, and the doctor himself, if he had as much support as the real life Port Isaac.


Great Garden Worm Count

The Guardian article, “The Great Garden Worm Count Finds Our Underground Allies are Thriving” discusses the role of citizen scientists in earth worm research. According to the article, “The discovery was made thanks to a series of projects carried out by the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project and has involved more than 40,000 teams of school pupils and homeowners digging up worms and counting them.”  As part of their mission, OPAL has worked with a diverse group of citizen scientists to encourage the public to become engaged with their local natural environment. David Jones, the earthworm scientist from the Natural History Museum who designed the survey, explained how he uses the data the citizen scientists collect for the 2012 worm count. It provides a good overview of the interaction of the public and scientists working together to address interesting and overlapping concerns.

Other organizations around the world, such as the Great Lakes Worm Watch, collaborate with the public to do earth worm sampling.  The hands-on sampling methods they describe will be familiar to many biologists, gardeners,fisherman, and little kids. For example, the flip and strip is used to determine the density of earthworms on an area basis and involves flipping rocks and logs, while the hand sample involves digging up a shovel full of soil and hand sifting it to count and identify earth worms.

Both the OPAL and Great Lakes Worm Watch come up in a project search using the scistarter: science we can do together  science site which allows scientists to post collaborative projects and for interested individuals, groups, and educators to participate in projects.

Geospatial Grocery Store

The Telegraph recently published an article, “How Supermarkets Prop Up Our Class System” by Harry Wallop introducing his book “Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System“. In the article, he discusses how marketers use census data and other location based data to aggregate postcodes into 60 different social groupings that they then repackage and sell back to retailers who use the analysis to micro-target potential shoppers. He believes that instead of creating more opportunities for shoppers, spatial targeting is reinforcing class stereotypes and creating structural inequality.

Geospatial marketing for supermarkets and grocery stores is growing in popularity for industry and public health. The Food Trust documented how Pennsylvania is using geospatial and GIS to target underserved communities for Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution Project.  Job search databases advertise for positions such as geospatial marketing facilitator, interactive marketer, and geospatial marketing analyst.  The Shopper Marketing trade journal lists mobile applications, QR codes, location based shopping, and augmented reality among the trends it uses to both reach and collect data from shoppers.

In today’s society it is difficult for shoppers to take advantage of grocery deals without providing personal information. A LifeHacker article on saving money, “Use “Jenny’s Number” to Get Club Discounts at Stores without Providing Personal Information” jokingly suggested trying to use the phone number from the popular 80’s song. Which semi-seriously raises the question of which social grouping the people who provide her number would fall under or how many shoppers give fake geospatial data.

Flu trackers then and now

Influenza or “flu” is on the rise this month and so are the number of interactive maps being used to track it. Interactive maps have become an integrated part of social marketing, advertising, and educational outreach campaigns. The official tracking site is the CDC influenza map, which is part of their dedicated Flu.gov educational site. Their map shows widespread influenza in all but 3 U.S. states. Although, Google.org has a flu trend site that uses certain search terms to indicate flu activity and aggregates the search data. Currently, every state in the U.S. is red to indicate high intensity. Most sites such as Triaminic children’s medicine are using their interactive flu tracker to increase traffic to their website and boost sales, based upon the CDC data.  Multiple media outlets have reported on the Facebook flu app, “Help, my friend gave me the flu” that supposedly tracks who made you sick. It was created by Help Remedies Inc., a drug company to help increase its profile.

McGraw-Hill publisher has an interactive map of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic  from A Survey of American History by Alan Brinkley.  PBS.org has a complete transcript of their program on the Influenza of 1918 and then views on how it was spread and how to stop it.  Not much had changed more than 20 years after John Snow’s pioneering epidemiology mapping, dynamically described in Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. According to the CDC, while many public officials were advocating quarantine and still believed that the flu was caused by poor body humors, medical professionals were beginning to better understand flu outbreaks and how to track them.

Pins on a map: Networks and Nostalgia

I was exploring the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Association conference website and didn’t get further into it then the 2013 Best of Innovations Awards when nostalgia hit. The first category: Computer Hardware & Components lists Moneual’s Touch Table PC as a tool for restaurant patrons to order, entertain themselves, and pay their bill. As someone who grew up in an area surrounded by diners and hamburger joints (NJ is the diner capital of the world), I fondly remember Mr. Bee’s hamburgers with fake bee hives under glass tables and Ms. PacMan table top games. Attendees at the annual ESRI International Conference in San Diego will probably relate it to the fun themed table tops at The Cheese Shop Deli near the conference center.  The concept of a touch table top for a diner is both innovative and comfortable at the same time, because it is built upon diner history for diner’s providing entertainment and often advertising space on table tops.

I started to reflect on how many of the innovations that the CES highlights this year, such as touch tables, tablets, and 3D visualization feel more comfortable in their environments than the technology that led up to them didn’t. Is one of the signs that a technology has matured that it blends in with its surroundings and daily life? According to the Wall Street Journal, restaurant chains are testing out using small, interactive computer screens at the table. They have found that diners tip more given electronic choices. Some restaurants are even making a profit on table top game apps. The arguments that the apps take away from the dining experience also feel nostalgic, they were the same arguments being used to argue against table top arcade gamappinmes in pizzerias.

3D Visualization was another CES feature technology that had a nostalgic feel because of arguments being made outside CES cautioning against the detrimental impacts of 3D visualization, such as  software creating external corporate control of cities, film making, or other entities that use the technology.  While the technology is new, many of the critiques of it, even when valid, feel retread. The same issues were raised with the use of innovations like office software tools and technicolor movies. Other new technologies that had a nostalgic feel were touch tablets that can be extended to work with one or more monitors to create better workflow. I often use my iPad as an electronic document holder and find that many of the principles for using it are a carry over from word processors and type writer ergonomics. Of course, the most technologically nostalgic device is one like the USB typewriter that modernizes old technology. Even the argument against “retro technologies” that try to fit new technologies into old boxes as nostalgic wallowing applies to today’s Generation Flux and yesterday’s Lost Generation.

A recent article in The Economist delves into the feeling of technology nostalgia, “Has the ideas machine broken down?: The idea that innovation and new technology have stopped driving growth is getting increasing attention. But it is not well founded.” It discusses the fact that this overall feeling of stagnancy and incremental rates of innovation has been going on for decades.  According to the article, this is partly a factor of perception, starting point, and growth rate.  In today’s society, our technological imaginations are bigger than our own reality. This might explain why criticisms of new innovations feel so similar to arguments about older technologies. An User Interface Engineering article, “Designing What’s Never Been Done Before” sums it up by saying that we are often designing new solutions for old or existing problems. An Entrepreneur article, “The New Trends and Technologies Driving Design“, written almost a year ago in February 2012 states that incrementalism and nostalgia are a manufactured part of the design process or a built in constraint.  We have to face facts, in the life cycle of the  grand technological growth curve there isn’t much difference between a manual or electronic document holder.

I haven’t decided if this nostalgia reflects more on my age or the age we live in, but I’ve decided to take the approach of Terry Pratchett, “It’s still magic even if we know how it’s done” or even if it feels like we’ve been here before. I look forward to the new age of space exploration, which Wired magazine’s “Almost Being There: Why the Future of Space Exploration Is Not What You Think”  is trying to tell me won’t live up to our imaginations because technology has transformed space exploration beyond our ken. We sociologically and psychologically feel uncomfortable with modern space travel because it exceeds mental images we have built as a society.  Maybe it is good to have innovations that challenge us intellectually and technologically as a society. I don’t know if Marvin Minsky was partially joking when he chided NASA for being old fashioned and creating 10 year olds jaded of space technology, but I like to think so, because I can’t believe the magic has gone out of technology and innovation yet. Maybe the nostalgia and maturity I am referring to is actually ennui and jadedness that will be overcome when the next big leap happens to wow us in our lifetimes. I hope it happens soon.


AP Human Geography and Environmental Science

The AP (Advanced Placement) College Board has announced that it particularly needs AP Exam readers to score AP Human Geography and Environmental Science exams. Their website states that, “Each June, AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather in the United States to evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams.” In 2012 more than 11,00 readers participated, receiving an honorarium, travel expenses, and in some cases continuing education units.

The purpose of an AP exam is to provide college credit and advanced placement for high school students entering college. According to the AP website, AP placement helps students to qualify for college scholarships. The advanced placement exam for Human Geography uses the National Geography Standards with an emphasis on spatial analysis. They provide course descriptions and practice exams, which would be challenging for many geographers.  The advanced placement exam for Environmental Science is interdisciplinary and includes many elements of the geosciences. They provide an Environmental Science course description and practice exam with questions about physical geography.

For students planning to take the AP Human Geography or Environmental Science exams, there are many practice exams and study guides available in book, website, and even web app format.  The Human Geography exam takes over 2 hours and includes a 75 minute written exam section. Last year, one of the questions  was to identify three examples of walls or other barriers built by countries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Good Luck! to all students studying for the upcoming AP exams.

The ZSL London Zoo

The ZSL London Zoo‘s annual census of every zoo animal as part of their zoo license renewal is an example of how to turn a seemingly routine geospatial task into international news. The media and public discuss the event in a way that evokes the celebration of an annual holiday like Ground Hog’s day. While the zoo keepers use clipboards to count each animal in the field,  it is logged into the International Species Information System (ISIS) software to manage international breeding programs for endangered animals from zoos around the world.  ZSL London Zoo participates in breeding programs for 130 species. An interactive map on the ZSL London Zoo website gives visitors an idea of the animals being counted during the census. It is a great way to highlight the work of everyone involved and introduce them to aspects of zoo management beyond watching animals.

The Zoological Society of London opened the London Zoo as the world’s first scientific zoo in 1828 and continues to add new technology, innovations, and discoveries as they develop.They award a scientific medal, like the one awarded to Prof. Simon Hay for his work investigating the spatial and temporal aspects of mosquito born disease epidemiology and manages the Malaria Atlas Project to improve cartography of malaria.  It is one of several different divisions that fall under the Zoological Society’s umbrella including the Whipsnade Zoo and the ZSL Institute of Zoology. The Zoological Society utilizes geospatial professionals in capacities from Dr. Chris Yesson‘s work on phyloclimatic modeling and classes in GIS to field scientists using remote sensing data donated by GeoEye for gorilla conservation. The ZSL created the EDGE Evolutionary Distinct & Globally Endangered program as a global conservation effort to protect species with unique evolutionary history using Google Earth to create awareness and interest. The ZSL encourages partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities for citizen science and volunteers on their website.

Forever Wild

The National Endowment for the Humanities and SUNY Cortland is accepting applications for two one week workshops at the Great Camps of the Adirondacks exploring the Gilded Age of America and it’s wilderness called “Forever Wild” Workshop.  According to their website, it is open to a diverse group of interdisciplinary and mixed grade level educators from teachers, librarians at any type of school, including home schooling parents. Applications are due by March 4, 2013.  Attendees will be some  of the first educators to also have the opportunity to visit Great Camps Sagamore and Uncas. SUNY at Cortland owns Camp Huntington, where the workshop will take place.

The schedule for the week includes topic areas that are geography or geospatial related. This includes discussions of urban versus rural landscapes, a seaplane ride of the Adirondack’s geography, and explorations of how industrialists used their space. There are also opportunities to integrate geospatial technologies into a group digital stories teaching project and other project development. Although it isn’t specifically stated on the website, educators and librarians with a geography background would be a great addition to the group participants at the workshop.

Free Geography Books

I recently got an Ipad Mini and started to look for free books to download from Kindle, Google, Project Gutenberg, and the many other free resources that are available online. Once I started looking for geospatial and geography related books the list became almost mesmerizing. I found old books from “Home Geography for Primary Grades”  in Google ebooks to The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography by Samuel Butler in Project Gutenberg.  Some of the books are good examples of traditional cartographic methods such as “Terrestrial and Celestial GLOBES: Their History and Construction Including A Consideration of their Value as Aids in the Study of Geography and Astronomy  which was scanned in to Project Gutenberg.  Kindle ereader and Project Gutenberg both have copies of  “Geography and Plays” by Gertrude Stein, which is written in the then modern style of the 1920’s about different countries around the world. Exploring the old geography books online is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

If you are looking for something more recent, Google ebooks and Google Scholar provides a significant number of chapters for more current books and journal articles on GIS and geospatial technologies including from 2013. Google Scholar also includes a patent search, legal documents, Federal and State courts. This is interesting reading even if it isn’t specifically in your industry, because you might just come across a new area of interest.


New York City Transportation Apps

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)  has been in the news this week for it’s new Subway Time app, but that isn’t the only transportation app that they or several other creative individuals have created to use in the city. There are over 65 officially sanctioned MTA apps including the Exit Strategy NYC which allows users to determine the most ideal place to stand on a subway car or platform to real time bus schedules, historic bus tours, and 3d Maps to explore New York City.  One of the most interesting facts about these apps is the backstory of how and why they were created. Most of them begin with someone who has an idea, problem, or need and spends time making a geospatial solution that meets their needs and in doing so meets the needs of a section of the larger population.

The MTA serves North America’s largest transportation network providing over 14.9 million people with 5,000 square miles of inspiration. This inspiration is supported by the fact that the MTA has an in house geospatial technology department and provides a Developer’s Resources page to encourage application development. In the past, the MTA created a Challenge Quest – MTA App Quest to challenge software developers to use MTA developers to create new apps.  The use of the word software developers, highlights its use as an umbrella term to capture anything related to app development, such as geospatial developers, graphic designers, and others.  A review of the plethora of different types of contributers to the over 65 MTA apps indicates that it might be time to begin thinking of a more accurate term to describe app developers.