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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Halloween is a holiday that has often been associated with maps… treasure maps, spooky house plans, escape routes, and trick-or-treat routes. I think it is also the holiday with the most spatial app maps. Useful Halloween maps include the No Trick Treats interactive map to identify houses handing out treats for kids with dietary restrictions, The Patch sites such as RosevillePatch created a map of the best neighborhood Halloween decorations in Roseville, CA and Benicia to let visitors add to the map. I tried to make my own tree map using Many Eyes from IBM to determine Halloween candy with the most bang for my buck. Looking at it though, it is more of a surefire way to get our house toilet papered —- handing out one Hershey’s Kiss per Trick or Treater. … but more candy for me after Halloween .
You have probably already heard about the U.S. Center For Disease Control’s unique outreach effort to educate the public about being prepared for a large scale emergency. They used the public’s interest in zombie movies like Zombieland and books like World War Z to create a zombie comic based on actual preparedness training. The Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic comic was unveiled at last weeks NYC Comicon and is free for download according to the ComicsAlliance who provide a link to the site. CDC scientists in the comic are shown using many geospatial and GIS tools to handle the zombie threat to public health.
The CDC is not the only institution using comics to get across their message. The Smithsonian recently create several Women in Science comics available on their Women in Science Working Wonders Website (Try to say that three times fast). They have a quiz to discover what type of scientific superheroine you are that includes many scientists who use geospatial technologies in their line of research. Maybe the American Association of Geographers (AAG) should create a similar comic book series with a quiz about what type of geographer are you?
Sketch Up has announced their first annual Halloween Challenge. You can pick three categories: 1:Jack 0′Lantern, 2: Haunted House, 3: Both together. You need to fill out a challenge submission form and upload your model to 3D Warehouse in publicly downloadable format. The SketchUp team will judge the entries on October 28th. Here is a link to Googlemeister’s Amazing Haunted House Walk Through Collection from last year in 3D Modeler.
National Public Radio (NPR) has been closely following the story of Happy Feet, the penguin who got off course and ended up in New Zealand. They recently posted a heart warming story about the NZEmperor website created by SIRTRACK, the makers of the Sirtrack KiwiSat 202 Satellite Transmitter donated to keep tabs and map Happy Feet’s location. Dr Gareth Morgan, a scientist raising New Zealanders’ awareness of the importance of the area between Stewart Island and the South Pole, is sponsoring the satellite costs. He has a Happy Feet tracking page on his Our Far South website. Everyone interested in the story is waiting with baited breath to see if Happy Feet’s tracking system starts working or why it might have stopped. No matter what happens this was a great news story that might get many citizen scientists involved in learning more about the issues and technology involved in a part of the world they might not normally think about. Dr. Gareth Morgan’s website also discusses his upcoming trip to raise awareness of the region and features a very diverse crew of researchers, conservationists, and others, who are going to be on the trip as well.