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.

Boldly Going Where No Maps Have Gone Before

Some critics say the online mapping tools and free mapping tools are like chasing a moving target.  Well, warm up your running shoes and pack extra arrows in your quiver, because the latest version of ArcGIS Explorer Online is worth the effort to chase it down!

Those of you who have been involved with the effort to integrate geospatial technology (GIS, GPS & Remote Sensing) into the classroom environment for the last 10 years or so know we’ve been through many changes in terms of viable solutions.  Didn’t you love ArcVoyager and it’s prescribed modules…so nice, and then AEJEE with it’s closer-to-the-real-thing features.  We began to embrace ArcGIS Explorer (now ArcGIS Explorer Desktop) virtual globe with it’s improving features.  As new tools came along, old ones die away…rules change.  The pursuit could be frustrating or invigorating depending on your tendency towards a glass half-full or half-empty mentality.  As things changed, you had to remember that these tools weren’t always built with educators and classrooms in mind, rather designed for business, industry and the general public.  The creative educators were utilizing the cools tools.  Well, the game is changing again.  Gone are the concerns for whether you have a Mac or a PC! (cue those hilarious commercials  Run it all in your internet browser!  Woohoo!

So what’s possible?  Queries and shapefiles and map notes…oh my!

I’ve created some examples and posted a collection of links to maps and data that are residing in my account space (for free) at There are samples of old lessons that are still on my website and in ArcLessons as well as some new ones, such as T.S. Spivet and Plessy v. Ferguson.

I think the real treasure in these tools is more flexibility. As an educator, I can create the beginnings of a map and prompt students with the expected handouts; then, my students access that map, add more data and analysis to it AND…(drum roll, please) create a presentation using the built-in presentation features to assess their knowledge, thinking and communication skills.  We’re teaching many more skills than GIS with this tool and its features.  We expose students to course content, subject analysis, directed research, critical thinking, problem solving, story telling, persuasive writing and public speaking.  I challenge you to find me a tool that does all of that…in a web browser!

There are great tips and information at the Esri blogs for each product.  Also the Esri Education Team’s blog has great educational insights and some step-by-step entries on using the tools as well as implementing the tools.

Check out the blogs:
Esri Education Community
ArcGIS Explorer Desktop
ArcGIS Explorer Online

Thank you to Bernie Szukalski & the Esri team for bringing us a great set of tools!

Investing in Farmville

The Globe and Mail has an interesting Vox article on investing in Zynga, which has created free online social media games such as Farmville on Facebook versus other social media applications. It hearkens me back to the Internet investment boom of the 1990’s when investors took the first steps and risks to invest in new online companies such as Amazon. The title is accurately, “Zynga’s virtual items may turn into real cash for investors“. Market Watch by the Wall Street Journal has an article, “How to invest in the social-networking IPO boom: What to know about Groupon, Twitter and Wall Street’s next tech craze” which further explores the question if the tech world is setting itself up for another bubble with social media apps. It will be interesting to see what happens as more and more apps reach broader audiences.

Animated Maps on Memorial Day Weekend

On this memorial day weekend the History Channel is kicking off a week of Civil War themed shows.  While watching I thought I’d see if there were any interesting maps available on the intertubes.  What did I find? Some wonderful animated maps from the Civil War Trust ! The maps are flash based and progress through some key battles of the war.  The site also provides users historical maps and new digital maps that are static.

Additionally, the site has available BattleApps. The BattleApps are virtual Civil War tour guides for the war or specific battles for the iPhone or iPad.  The apps are location aware and throughout the tour one could view video clips from the national park service and see locations of troops of both the North and South.  Another great example of giving old paper maps a new lease on life with digital innovation!

Fredericksburg Gets Civil War App:


Cicadas, Locusts, and Mapping

Throughout history, cicada and locusts have produced fascination, food, and frustration, among other f words. The Cicada Mania site “Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world.” provides TONS of information on cicadas. Other calls for citizen scientists include those of University of Georgia, Dept. of Entomology, asking for pictures and locations of cicadas and shed cicada skins. Their call recommends that parents participate with their young children because their children will not see this amazing event again until they are adults.

Many countries have set up citizen science watches to keep tabs on what is happening this year. According to a Charlotte news report, the 14 state Cicada Watch citizen science project had hundreds of volunteers in Mechlenberg County, NC alone this year. Other watch projects across take place across the globe. The Australian Government of Agriculture,Fisheries, and Forestry has an up to date section for “Current Locust Situation and News“. The Desert Locust Watch is produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for desert regions such as the Sudan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia,

The Royal Wedding and Neogeography

One of the most fascinating aspects of how the media is covering the upcoming U.K. Royal Wedding, is the use of geospatial tools, social media, and almost every bell and whistle they can think up to build interest and momentum in the event. It is a good contrast to the way huge media coverage was done for previous royal weddings and shows how much geospatial technologies and public participation have become embedded in the media. I can’t think of a recent news story that has used so many multiple sources of new geospatial technology to cover one event. Although I suspect the next presidential election might come close.

CNN’s press room states that “CNN’s global coverage of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will uniquely incorporate Facebook, Twitter and iReport, the network’s global participatory news community, into its television programming. These on-air integrations will enable consumers to share in the experience with their family and friends in real-time, as well as contribute first-person perspectives on the day’s events – all while witnessing the biggest royal wedding event since Charles married Diana.” While the Royal Channel, the official channel of the British Monarchy provides an interactive procession route map and live video among other coverage. According to, several official royal wedding tweeters will include Prince Harry and royal staffers.

iPhone Tracker

There have been a number of posts today about the fact that the iPhone is storing cell tower connections in its backups and that you can get access to that data using the iPhone Tracker app (for Mac). The image here shows my trip last week to Seattle. Since I am generally streaming my location on Latitude or checking on Whrrl (though that is another issue with their purchase by Groupon), the fact that phone is saving tower data is not terribly bothersome to me. The fact that someone would have to have access to my computer to get to my phones backup data means it is more secure than any of the cloud services that we use (as long as I stay away from the hackers. I, for one, plan to take advantage of this security flaw for my own entertainment purposes.

Caching into Writing

Geocaching isn’t just for science class or the serious geography geek! A cache is simply a hiding place, and caching is hiding something like a treasure. Nature is full of treasures waiting to be explored. A popular movement called “geocaching” gets folks outside with their GPS units to find treasures hidden by other geocachers. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s great fun! ( Folks are geocaching all over the world!

Many educators are taking that idea to the classroom to do campus investigations. Now you might expect that it’s the science teacher out looking at nature, but surprise your students in English Language Arts class with an outdoors writing assignment! Realizing that not all classrooms are created equally, here are some low-tech options as well as the spiffy high-tech ones. Either have students locate specific cached items or let them explore the landscape for surprises. Anyway you do it, get creative and allow the students to explore their creativity.

Low-Tech1. Create a map of your site with destinations. Use a hand-drawn map with destinations or use a tool like Sketch-A-Map ( to create your map for students.
2. Students can create a poem or story based on the destinations on the map. Nature is an excellent way to pull more adjectives out of a student. I used a similar activity with my students in my book, Reading, Writing and Thinking around the Globe: Geospatial Technologies for English Language Arts Classroom and Beyond ( where students create topographic and geographic definitions for words. Visualizing vocabulary can help cement those words into a student’s personal dictionary.
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