Cheap Thrills and Virtual Reality

By now, almost everyone has seen the cool You Tube video of the Japanese students fake skydiving using a projector and Google Earth. However, all the posts and comments focus on the skydiving part and how realistic, non-realistic, or just plain awesome it is. When I watched it my first thought was, “that is a really cool way to build a cheap, portable virtual environment.” The closest approximation I could find to what they did are electronic art canvases which cost about $3,000. They are used at the really cool Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio at the Krannert Art Museum/University of Illinois, Champaign. To do truly immersive research and projects, virtual environments such as the EON Icube cost upwards of $50,000 to over $1 million dollars. Which brings me to the other thought I had while watching the Google Skydiving video, “There is no way anyone would let you do that in a commercial virtual environment, especially if there is a chance someone would get motion sick or worse bring down a sensor or mirror.” But I can add this to my list of things I would do if I had my own CAVE, along with play massive multi-player online video games and make my own music video.

Mapping Facebook

Mapping social networks isn’t anything new, but I find this lovely map of Facebook users in the BBC to be incredibly striking.  First, because it’s obviously beautiful.  Second, because you can use it as a proxy for the digital divide.  The map details connections between friends on Facebook with the bright points at the end being conjoined pairs of friends.  The spidery lines are the connections between those pairs.  It’s pretty striking that it creates a pretty good replica of a map of the Earth.  However, there are clear missing points, most notably lower population and lower wealth places.  China is the really interesting hole because of their restrictions and not because of wealth or population.  It would be really interesting to look at a finer scale map with some demographic data on top of it.  Are there places in even populated areas, such as the US, where Facebook just isn’t that popular?

Cheese! In! Space!

I love anything space travel related.  I love Monty Python.  And anyone who’s seen me should find it self evident that I love cheese.  This little news item about cheese in space naturally caught my eye and had to be passed on to our good readers.  This week’s podcast features a news item concerning the recent wonderful accomplishment of SpaceX and their successful launch and return of a payload into space.  What was that payload, you might ask?  One wheel of cheese.  Why a wheel of cheese?  Because of Monty Python’s famous (and delightfully hilarious) The Cheese Shop sketch.  Space Travel + Cheese + Monty Python = EPIC WIN!

The Best Landmarks in the US Nobody Visits

When you travel around the US there are lots of interesting landmarks to see.  Unfortunately, only a few get the top billing.  Not to disparage the Grand Canyon’s and Jamestown’s of the country, but there are some great places to see that get lost in the limelight.  Checkout this list from Matador Trips of the 20 Overlooked National Landmarks in the US.  For anyone attending AAG in Seattle this year, note the Seattle Underground if you’re looking for something neat to see while you’re in the city!

I imagine other countries must have similar ‘hidden’ or ‘forgotten’ landmarks.  Put any suggestions in the comments section and I’ll be happy to add them to this post!

New York Times: At this time and place

The New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) is attempting to document Times Square at this moment and time and space by requesting photos from anyone in the public. According to the NY Historical Society guidelines, “The original digital photographs of contemporary Times Square in New York City (from West 42nd to 47th Streets at Broadway or Seventh Avenue) taken between November 21, 2010 and March 31, 2011. Digital photographs must be e-mailed to in either GIF, JPG or PNG format. N-YHS is interested in exterior architectural photographs, outdoor portraits, group snapshots, photographs depicting billboards and advertisements, and interior images of notable area buildings. Images should be at least 1,200 X 1,500 pixels (or 8″ by 10″). Minor color correction and/or cropping is acceptable as long as the original subject matter of the photograph remains in tact.”

If you are looking for inspiration there are many books such as On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square by Marshall Berman, and Where the Ball Drops: Days and Nights in Times Square by Daniel Makagon, which document Time Square through words and photographs. If you can’t get to Times Square to take photos, but want to see what all the fuss is about, EarthCam has a Times Square webcam set up.

To round out our holiday gift ideas….

As most people are painfully aware, the economy isn’t exactly hoping right now.  My gifts for geographers is designed to be easier on the wallet for those looking to keep their expenses to a minimum.

Let me just say I hate ties.  Can’t stand’em.  Unfortunately social conventions dictates they’re necessary from time to time.  If I have to wear a tie, I make sure it’s something I really like.  Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont have some great ties, but their ties of maps and subway lines are particularly handsome.  The quality of their products are top notch.  If you’re looking for something a tad cheaper or a little more historic, you can head over to What Did You Bring Me’s Historic and Geography collection of ties.

Geographers get into the field for all sorts of reason and motivations.  I haven’t met a geographer yet that doesn’t think at least wistfully from time to time about traveling the world and seeing the sites.  While finding the time and the money to travel the world may be prohibitive for most of us, there are a lot of amazing adventures that can be found in your local or regional area.  Check out local travel guides, like this one for West Virginia.  Don’t forget to bring something to document your travels, like the ever popular Moleskin line of journals and notebooks.  They’re a great way to keep a record of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen!

Finally, if you’ve got the means, there’s not much that will excite the average geographer more than having their own personalized Atlas.  A personalized National Geographic’s 9th annual atlas is a great way to make a family gift potentially last a lifetime.  The book isn’t cheap, but it’s a nice tomb for the money.