Maps, Mazes, and Cartography

Like a good maze, the connection between mazes and cartography might not be self-evident on first glance but from then on it seems obvious.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “This Is Amazing: Maker of Puzzle Finds Few Wanting to Try It: Creating the Largest Hand-Drawn Maze Presents Challenges; Dead Ends, Pancakes” by John Miller interviews Joe Wos, Director of the ToonSeum, a Pittsburgh cartoon museum, and creator of the world’s largest hand drawn maze – almost. It can’t be made official until someone actually solves it.

One person who declined the challenge is maze expert Adrian Fisher, the world’s leading maze designer, 600 mazes (43 of them mirror mazes) in 30 countries, and holistic city planner. He applies his spatial skills to physical mazes, labyrinths, landscape design, town planning and development, transport map concepts, and inventions such as the Mitre Tiling system and the 7-sided Fisher Paver system. According to the website, MirrorMaze, some of his designs are large enough to be seen on Google Earth.

In her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, landscape author Rebecca Solnit writes that ““A labyrinth is a symbolic journey or a map of the route to salvation, but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.” However, functionally, a maze and a map both give a bird’s eye view of the world and involve similar geographic ideas.  Dr. Joseph J. Kerski, USGS takes this concept further in his article, “Corn Mazes are Maps” for  the Fall 2011 Connecticut Geospatial Newsletter. He believes that corn mazes allows people to experience scale, relative and absolute location, land use, and other foundations of geography. In fact, the USGS published a 2012 handout on ” Ten Lessons for Teaching Geography Using Corn Mazes“.

A geographer might never look at their local corn maze, garden maze, or contemplation labyrinth the same after realizing the spatial connections between a maze and a map.


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.

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.

The top 10 fictional organizations that need to use ArcGIS online

After the ESRI User’s Conference Plenary, I began to think about the many fictional organizations that would benefit from using ArcGIS online and other GIS technologies. So I began compiling a top 10 list by asking other attendees, ESRI employees, and organizations at booths on the conference center floor. Which fictional organization do you think is in the most dire need of using ArcGIS online or GIS in general.

Top Ten Organizations that need to use ArcGIS online

1. Eureka!/Warehouse 13

The overwhelmingly number 1 suggestion, which is also the first one I thought of, is the parent organization that runs the town of Eureka and Warehouse 13.  They are both awesome tv shows which showcase the power of science and technology, but they are desperately missing any form of GIS.  Most of the problems they face fall into two categories: 1) Scientists didn’t realize that projects they were working on individually, usually within proximity of each other, would interact in a way that would spell DOOM., 2) Scientists didn’t realize that projects they have been working on individually could have been integrated and collaborated together to prevent The End of the World, until the very last minutes of the show.  They could be a case study in why a large organization spread out over the world needs ArcGIS online.

2 – 4. The number 2 suggestions all fell into the realm of, all ethics aside…, because these organizations are not working towards the good of mankind, like all the organizations showcased in the ESRI plenary. Instead, they are organizations that could use ArcGIS online to make their nefarious organizations more effective.

2. District 9

3.  The Hunger Games/ Panem Districts

4. Lost/ Dharma Initiative

5-6. These organizations and some not listed (Like the IMF from Mission Impossible) are intelligence related agencies that have a habit of losing people or things that lead to big problems. Cloud mapping or on-line mapping would be very useful to them to keep track of all of their differenct cells, groups, and projects.

5. The Bourne Legacy/  Operation Outcome

6. Phineas & Ferb

7. & 8.  Daily Planet (Superman) /Daily Bugle (Spiderman).   For internationally recognized newspapers of record, the Daily Planet and the Daily Bugle operate like old gumshoe type newspapers instead of the technology driven newsrooms of today’s modern media – news is location driven. They need to use ArcGIS online just to collaborate on stories about Superman and Spiderman alone. Speaking of which, wouldn’t the Justice League operate more effectively using it as well?

9. The Day After Tomorrow. There is a special place in the heart of scientists for the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow because on one hand it is an enjoyable movie, but on the other hand, they got so much of the science wrong. They could have used ArcGIS online and ArcPad several times throughout the movie, especially when they would hold up a handheld device, look at a sky map, and declare  – “I know where I’m going. The library is that way!”

10. Caddy Shack/ Bushwood Country Club . The top 10 fictional organization that needs ArcGIS Online is the Bushwood Country Club from Caddy Shack.  There wouldn’t have been so many extra holes on the golf course, if they had used cloud computing to report any unusual gopher activity.

Honorable mentions: I would like to mention another two organizations that people mentioned could benefit from ArcGIS online or other product.

11. The Big Bang Theory/Harold Walowitz. It has been pointed out that Harold Walowitz spends a lot of time developing technology for space. It makes sense that he would be working with remote sensing.

12. Diablo III.  Would there be a Diablo III video game if Cain was able to hold onto his knapsack that contained important information or if people could report finding Cain’s knapsack and uploading the location and his research. They could have analyzed it all via ArcGIS online and solved the game in half the time. Or maybe that is just my own frustration at being stuck on Level 11.

Do you have any suggestions for companies that could have benefited from using ArcGIS online or other GIS products?


The Modern Yard Sale

Yard sale, garage sale, boot sale, trunk sale.. no matter what it is called, the idea of selling stuff someone doesn’t want out of their house isn’t something that is normally thought of as being geospatial. Yet, most yard sale pro’s think geospatially in terms of neighborhoods in order to get to the most yard sales in the short space of time they are open, usually from 8:00 a.m. – noon. It’s common to be asked at one yard sale, if anyone knows of any other yard sales on the same road. Jokingly, First for Women Magazine says that one of the “7 Signs that You’re Queen of the Yard Sale” is that ” 3. You’ve programmed the addresses of all the best houses into your GPS – and grouped them by neighborhood.”  This isn’t your grandma’s yard sale planner using the often vague directions from the newspaper classifieds.

The Yard Sale Treasure Map is a free online geospatial tool created in 2009 that combines Google Maps and Craigslist to identify yard sales within a certain area. There are several Smart phone garage sale apps including which combines a garage sale locator with turn by turn directions. Garage Sale Finder is another app that  makes it possible to download garage sale locations to your GPS. Some local community websites and newspapers, such as the, Orlando Sentinel  and the Town of Falmouth are providing online yard sale maps along with their classifieds listings. There is obviously a big market for geospatial tools that make getting to yard sales easier. If only there was some participatory GIS going on that would tell you the status of a yard sale. One of the big banes of yard sailing for everyone is when it closes early and there is no way to know not to stop by.

Geospatial Dolls

The Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper has an interesting article asking, “Do these dolls perpetuate Canadian stereotypes?” It raises the question of Maplelea Girls, which are a Canadian version of American Girls, both doll lines created to interest children in their country’s geography and history. The dolls represent Canadian provinces and backgrounds, but Amanda Kwan asks “But as a whole, do they represent what it means to be Canadian? Can you define a national identity in a 46-centimetre plastic doll?” It is the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) in doll form.

Using dolls to teach cultural geography is a long standing tradition and there are many sites online which specifically focus on dolls to increase geographic awareness. These range for the ubiquitous Barbie’s interactive map of dolls of the world to Langley’s Letter Dolls inspired by Kokeshi Dolls from Japan, and the lifelike Your Cultural Gifts geography dolls.  Elementary school teacher, Supattana Bolger, in The Review says that “This was a really great way to teach the students some history, geography and information about different cultures,” she commented. “You’d be surprised at just how much you can learn from a doll.”  The Smithsonian in Your Classroom used Native American doll lesson plans to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. because dolls have a universal appeal across cultures.

It is interesting to note that when Mattel created an early 1965 Student Teacher Barbie, she was a geography teacher complete with now rare geography textbook and globe. It was so popular they even made a hinged box stating that “Student Teacher Barbie looks very scholarly as she teaches her 6th grade geography class.” Barbie digression aside, it would be interesting to see a geography doll that represents modern geography and geospatial careers, not just one that portrays historic costumes or traditional concepts of globes and dusty books. Imagine a doll outfitted with gps to track all of its travels. The infamous Flat Stanley paper doll project has already gone mobile, tracking his travels around the globe. Why can’t other dolls join in?

Wonderland Transit Map and other fictional places

Thinkgeek has a “Wonderland Transit Map” t-shirt, although they do add the caveat that static maps would probably be useless in the amorphous Wonderland.  It got me searching for t-shirts for fictional places that would be equally as useless for navigation.

I found a t-shirt for Neil Gaiman‘s “Neverwhere” which is a story set in a London Underground that is always changing. Of course, Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld is another constantly changing world, where maps don’t help.  A t-shirt map of Garrison Keillor‘s Lake Wobegon, a town so small it doesn’t need a map.   I couldn’t find a t-shirt but Catan from the Settler’s of Catan would be another place that a static map would be useless.

Several Scales of the Universe

You have probably seen this everywhere by now. Cary Huang and his brother Michael Huang have an updated Scales of the Universe 2 which puts the scales of a surprising many entities from countries to geographies to planets, people, and protoplasm into perspective. I also enjoyed the many variations of their scales, such as the original Scales of the Universe with the ability to swirl objects or make them fall. It is like being on a roller coaster of scale. On their website,, they have other interactive simulations like a Tidepool. According to ABC News, Cary and his brother Michael are brothers who created this projects as a fun activity. It took them a year and a half to collect all of their data and put together the graphics. They were inspired by their biology class teacher to do citizen science.

One of the reasons I enjoy going to the ESRI plenary is the chance to see the great ideas and projects that young geographers pursue after being inspired by people around them. Many organizations have mentoring programs such as ESRI’s GeoMentor Program and the Annual Association of Geographer’s (AAG) Ask a Geographer and other mentoring programs.  When I first used the Scales of the Universe 2, I expected the creators to be college students or adults. The fact that they are young adults, who were inspired to do it by an educator, and then have it go viral, in turn educating many, many other people around the world who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in geography, science, or technology makes it bigger than the interactive simulation itself. It highlights the impact of readily available technology, the importance of mentors, and the one of the roles of citizen scientists in science diplomacy. The Huangs and other young people act as ambassadors for the fields that their projects touch on to the larger world.

I hope that they think about attending the many geography programs for young adults that are available and one day see them up on the ESRI plenary talking about their next big project.

Spatial role-playing and virtual immersion

It is interesting to find that there are many types of spatial immersion projects going on this summer. They provide a good contrast of how creative people can be with spatial immersion as an educational tool and the importance of experiencing an environment to understanding it in a new way.

The original Virtual Trillium Trail was a virtual ecological environment created by Maria C.R. Harrington as part of her dissertation research in Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. It is represents real world field trips offered by the Audubon Society of Western PA and uses the Pennsylvania Department of Education Ecology Standards. Virtual Trillium Trail has been posted on KickStarter to try to get funding to make it into an online game.

School of Architecture for All (SARCHA) Polypolis is a role playing social simulation that covers different areas of current events. They are currently presenting “Polypolis Athens: Become an Athenian and experience a city in crisis” for the upcoming London Festival of Architecture on June 23-July 8. The theme of the festival is The Playful City and Polypolis is billed as a Playful social simulation, but is playful in the way that serious games allow users to play in a immersive sandbox.

Role-playing and immersion are always great educational tools; virtually or in real life. I have always enjoyed having students create their own role-play activities to share with classmates. I think that both k-12 students and adults respond well to role-pay as an educational activity. A paper on role-playing as an educational technique from 1958 sums it up well, ” Dramatic play has been enjoyed by children- and adults too, if you will — throughout the ages. It is a natural and spontaneous way of learning, but only comparatively recently have educators come to realize its worth as a teaching device.”

Of course, Sue Bergeron and Jesse Rouse have done more than talk about the role of technology, such as the contributions of GIS, to making what educators dreamed about in 1958 possible. There is a good quote from  “Engaging the Virtual Landscape: Serious gaming environments as tools in historical landscape reconstruction and interpretation ”  that says, “Utilizing game functionality we can add sounds, smells, and other sensory input that would be part of such landscapes, and users can begin to experience phenomena that in combination creates a sense of place. ”  It is nice to see how role-playing has evolved as technology and spatial knowledge has evolved. It will be interesting to see what people come up with next.


U.K. and the summer of GIS

The U.K. is experiencing a summer of GIS with several overlapping large and unique events taking place that use geospatial tools for planning, management, analysis and public outreach. Like many instances of GIS integration for event planning, it might seem as if it happened overnight but in fact took more than five and in some cases ten years of planning and cooperation between many different organizations and agencies.

Olympic Torch and the 2012 Olympics

According to Public Service UK,  The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) Learning Strategy Department has trained all 250,000 police officers and staff in the UK to use geospatial tools for safety operations for the London Olympics and Paralympics. This would be a big enough job, if the London Olympics only took place in London. However, the Olympic Torch Relay travels within an hour of 95% of people in the UK. The training was available through a GIS e-learning module and provides maps and plans of venues and locations for use in operational planning, briefings and deployments.

Transportation is another big area of concern for the upcoming Olympics. The interactive map website, Get Ahead of the Games, is a collaboration between the Mayor of London, National Rail, Department for Transport, Highways Agency, and Transport for London to make planning and travel easier during the Olympics and Paralympics. It includes travel by public transport, National Rail, road and river services.

The Ordnance Survey has documented the creation of the 2012 Olympics siteusing detailed ariel imagery from 2001 through to 2010.  The planning and construction of the London 2012 Games was funded by the National Lottery, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Mayor of London and the London Development Agency. They presented about the “Learning Legacy: Lessons Learned from the London 2012 Games construction project“. A web-based GIS viewer and spatial visualization tool was created to all contractors to access and share information. Over 2 million individual pieces of data were created and are part of the infrastructure planning and continued venue management.

The Queens Diamond Jubilee

The Olympics aren’t the only event that has had an impact on geospatial awareness in the U.K.  this summer. The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) also had to prepare for The Queens Diamond Jubilee, along with routine events such as Wimbledon Tennis, Notting Hill Carnival, and football. According to a presentation entitled “Securing the 2012 Olympics: A Milestone in the UK Policing Improvement Programme”  geospatial planning and integrated situational awareness has been happening behind the scenes for years before being implemented in time for the U.K.’s summer of GIS.

ESRI UK have created interactive map of the over 41,000 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Beacons being lit on Monday, June 4th, throughout the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, along with Commonwealth and UK territories overseas. The beacon chain itself has been used for communication and celebration for hundreds of years making it a very old form of geospatial communication.