NASA Updates Topographic Maps

NASA has teamed with Japan’s Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center to create a new topographic map covering 99% of the Earth’s landmass.  The maps are created using two sets of data from Japan’s ASTER sensor which are slightly offset from one another.  Merging the data creates a 3D look like Google Earth’s topographic display.  The elevation measurements are 30 meters apart.  The real benefit here is that it’s the first global elevation model and it’s freely available for anyone in the world to use.  Furthermore, since it’s using the existing ASTER sensor, new models can be built often, which allows for significant change detection from year to year.  That’s especially important in areas like West Virginia, where mining techniques can have a significant impact on the topography.  Watch the video at the link for more information and some great visuals!

Via Gizmodo

And Another Great Tech Pioneer Leaves Us

The news around the Internet today is that Dennis Ritchie, inventor of the C programming language and the UNIX operating system, passed away over the weekend. I think it’s a mark of his impact that it might not be readily apparent exactly how important Ritchie was to our modern technology world. The fact of the matter is the majority of today’s Internet runs on some form of Unix. If I might steal a phrase from Steve Jobs, Unix largely ‘just works’. We don’t realize how much it’s humming along every single day. Arc was originally released on Unix, and I think it still impacts its current development. ERDAS’s Imagine feels like it still wants to be primarily a Unix program. Heck, even fundamental OS systems like Mac OS X and Android wouldn’t exist withouth Ritchie’s work.

On top of that, he invented arguably the most important programming language of all time. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts parts the upcoming Arc 10.1 was written in the language he invented. If programming languages were tracked like human languages, C would be the Latin of the programming world. C and it’s off shoots (C++, Objective-C, C#, and even Java) drive pretty much every technology device in the last 20 years or longer.

We lost Steve Jobs last week and his visionary designs will be sorely missed. Almost equally missed will be Ritchie’s visionary infrastructure designs. RIPC Dennis Ritchie…. RIPC.

A Story As A Map

I’m a pretty big fan boy of Wil Wheaton (although I still hate Wesley Crusher – SHUT UP Wesley!) I’ve never had a situation when the Venn diagram of my fan boy nerdness (it’s a pretty big chart) has overlapping circles in both ‘geo’ and ‘Wil Wheaton’… until today. In his blog, WWdN In Exile, Mr. Wheaton has a pretty neat post about how he mentally thinks of a story. Rather than try to describe the relevant bit, I’ll just quote it here (and hopefully not violate Wheaton’s Law in doing so):

When I write fiction, the first thing I do is break the story into acts, then into important things within those acts, and then into a few key scenes. Think of it like a map, with some pins pushed into it showing a route from beginning to end. It’s a zoomable map, so some of the pins are closer together on a well-defined path, while others are more general.

The whole thing struck me as rather Google Maps-esque way of thinking about story telling. It’s actually inspired me to pick up the pen a bit more in the future because it gives me a very accessible way to think about story telling. It seems like it’s a mental model that has applications even for those working on non-fiction, so I thought I’d pass it along!

The Geography of the Death Penalty

GeoCurrents has an interesting article on the geography of the death penalty in the US. Most people are aware that Texas has executed the most prisoners since 1976. GeoCurrents does a pretty good job of succinctly detailing a few other geo-facts about the death penalty. They detail the current geography of laws, which are sometimes complex. They detail the complex geographic relationship between murder rates and the death penalty. Finally, unsurprisingly, they detail the relationship between national politics and death penalty policies (although it’s a touch odd since they themselves point out state political leanings have a stronger influence on death penalty laws than national ones). I really enjoy short pieces like this that somewhat catalog the issue with maps and GeoCurrents does a good job of showing geographic relationships of current issues.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t do a quick shout-out to GIS.Com’s Twitter feed (@GISdotcom), since I saw this article on their feed. Check it out if you’re a Twitter user and want to see links to some great GIS articles around the web!

Search For Life on Mars

Ok, not Mars. Not just yet, at least. Researchers have created really cool science project called MAPPER. The idea is to leverage citizen scientists to comb through data and find signs of life on far away planets. For now, they have tapped into a couple of DeepWorker bots currently exploring the depths of two lakes in Canada. It’s more or less a groundwork (or more like underwater groundwork, I guess) project to lay down the foundations for a system that could be used on other planets. The system uses a cool web interface that should be immediately recognizable to anyone who plays games. Taking a clue from modern gaming, the scientists have built in social media and achievements. Let’s be honest – who DOESN’T want to unlock the ‘Found Life On Other Planet’ achievement?

Via Gizmodo

A Post of Extremes in Mapping

Artist Yataka Sone has created what may be the heaviest map ever – a marble carving of Manhattan, called ‘Little Manhattan’. The 3D model map of the Big Apple was carved out of a block of white marble that weighs over 2 ½ tons. The artist used photographs, helicopter rides, and Google Earth to make the model.(Visual News)

If that’s a bit much for you to carry around, then a company called Fluid Forms will make a nice silver pendant of any location you desire (not just Manhattan). The company takes a satellite image of the place you desire to see in a pendant then individually crafts the jewelry for you. You’ll get a copy of the source image with your jewelry so you can compare. They’re not cheap (especially for silver jewelry), but they’re way cool and much easier to cart around than a 2 ½ ton block of marble.(Gizmodo)

Message in a Bottle

I’m thrilled with any post that allows me to make a The Police reference. Harold Hackett has a rather unusual hobby – he puts messages in a bottle and throws them into the sea. If you’re thinking this is a big waste of time, you’d be wrong. He’s put out 4,800 messages and has gotten back over 3,000 messages for his efforts. I’ll bet your response ratio on your latest email invite or forum post wasn’t as good 🙂 He sends out his address, which forces people to respond to him old school via mail. He’s gotten letters literally from Africa, Russia, Holland, Norway, the Bahamas, and a host of other (mostly European) countries. Harold has been doing this since 1996. His weapons of choice? Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice or Orange Juice bottles because they’re bright and presumably yummy. Plus the pun, of course. His messages have taken upwards of 13 years to bear fruit. He’s made a lot of friends doing this and still gets gifts and cards years later.

Always… Never Forget To Check With The Experts

Thanks to Real Genius for the title. Climate scientists are engaged in a little damage control after Britain’s Time Comprehensive Atlas of the World mistakenly claimed Greeland’s glaciers are melting at a breakneck rate. If you compare the ice cover from 1999 and 2011, the Atlas reports a 15% loss in ice coverage. Climate scientists report the real number is closer to one-tenth of 1%. That’s a healthy difference! Scientists have been quick to point out the error and the publishers are attempting to address the issue (although they go through great pains to keep from acknowledging the Atlas is wrong). Nobody’s really sure why the error was made, however one scientist attempted a little ‘cartographic forensics’ and claims someone has confused a thickness for an extent. The publishers deny this happened, but have offered no alternative theory.

Obama Seeks Data Experts

It seems pretty obvious to me this will be a trend in future elections – Obama seeks data experts for edge. The President leveraged social media pretty effectively in the 2008 campaign. As the article points out, Governor Rick Perry did the same in his election campaign in Texas. What I find the most intriguing is the degree and effectiveness the campaigns have in synthesizing and analyzing all of these streams of data. It’s certainly true a Presidential election is about collecting public opinion as much as anything, it’s pretty clear they’re developing a pretty comprehensive factual resource. I really like the nugget in the article that mentions combing both traditional streams of data with social media streams to create more holistic and targeted information. That’s a model we in the geospatial industry are quickly moving to adopt, with greater and lesser degrees of success. It seems to me there might be a lot of lessons to be learned in the geospatial community as to how to gather nuggets of useful knowledge from similar efforts.

Lego and Augmented Reality

I’m going to cop to this not being an overtly geographic post… but it’s Lego. And augmented reality. If I may indulge to my inner child for a moment… SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! In all seriousness, it’s a pretty need implementation of augmented reality in that it doesn’t require any special printing on the box. They simply take the picture in 2D and create a 3D model from its pre-configured library, adding in animation and sound. That works pretty well if you have a set number of known models. I also really like some of the navigation techniques they’ve used.

Via Engadget