Upcoming Hack for Change: National Day of Civic Hacking

Intel Labs is sponsoring a national civic hacking event June 1 -2, 2013 in order to solve community challenges using publicly-released data. They are calling it the National Day of Civic Hacking, probably because national day of collaborative software coding sounds like work.  The event is supported by 20 government agencies including NASA, U.S. Census Bureau, FEMA, NSF and other offices. The event challenges are place specific and are focused on addressing the local needs of each community. According to the Hackforchange about page people, sponsors,organizations, and city, state, federal, government looking to get involved can attend, contribute data, or promote the event in their community.

The concept was created by the same researchers who started  wethedata.org to address grand societal data challenges using open source data. These four topics have often been discussed on VerySpatial in regards to geospatial technologies and neogeography including digital access, digital literacy, digital trust, and openness. However, despite the fact that generally over 75% of local data is geospatial and their specific data is very location heavy, the Civic Hackers identified are engineers, technologists, civil servants, designers, artists…. but no geographers, neogeographers, geospatial analysts, or GIS is mentioned. Maybe everyone from the GIS community should get involved so that next year we all get a shout out.


Mapping Baseball Statues and Google

The Guardian UK online has a media section called, “Data Store: Show and Tell“, which true to its name uses visualizations to tell a story about data. According to The Guardian Data Store team, infographics and data visualization have become the language of the Internet because everyone has access to free tools that make it possible to visualize complex data. In the past few months they have shown, among others, visualizations of  Italian election resultsTwitter’s languages of New York mapped, and an animation of Britain’s new rail network.

Their recent Show and Tell is about “US Baseball stars immortalized in statue-explore our interactive map” that shows how The Sporting Statues Project  at the University of Sheffield  mapped every baseball statue in North America. The mission of the Sporting Statues Project is to record and research statues of sportsmen and women around the world. To date they have collected information on over 600 statues; 249 of them U.S. baseball statues. The interesting part of their website is not just the maps and data, but also that the project itself grew out of a “labour of love”.  Like many GIS mapping database projects, the data was collected and mapped by people who have an interest in the topic, the geospatial skills to map it, and the desire to share that data with other interested users.  They were able to use maps, posters, conference papers, and their website to show that what they were doing was about more than just a physical statue and points on a map, but connected to world history and current events.

The Data Store team mention a disclaimer several times that Google have paid to sponsor this page but all editorial is overseen and controlled by the Guardian Datastore team.”  Google and The Guardian Datastore have a close relationship. In 2012, they hosted a live Q&A debate event focusing on the role data has to play in policy making and transparency around international development and foreign aid. Google has sponsored other journalism events, including journalism skills conferences to educate the next generation of digital journalists.




Visuals Relieve Brain Overload

A BBC article, “Pretty Pictures: Can Images Stop Data Overload?” by business reporter, Fiona Graham, supports what many geospatial researchers have argued about the many reasons for business to use GIS and visual images. A neuroscience and psychology lecturer at Brunel University found using images help the brain process large amounts of data because they can use and retain the information more efficiently. They use David McCandless’s Information is Beautiful website as an example of data visualisation.

One thought that the article raises is the abscence of any spatial vocubulary even though data visualization leans heavily towards geospatial patterns, analysis, and mapping.  GIS and other geo-spatial techniques remain an invisible step in the process between data and visual outcome or “pretty pictures”.  Finding support for the use of images in the business world might be step towards raising awareness of the diverse applicability of GIS and geo-visualization.


World Bank Joins Open Data Movement

The World Bank has announced it will be joining the open data movement as of July 1st. All of its research and associated data will be found on a portal called the Open Knowledge Repository. Right now the repository holds a couple thousand of their book and publications for free download. By July 1st, the data is supposed to show up as well. There’s no word if any of the data will be specifically geospatial, but as we all know, it is pretty easy to take spreadsheet data and import it. The World Bank has had a fairly controversial history. Hopefully the movement toward open data will allow more eyes on their activity, whether it’s to critique or support.

County to County Migration Data Released

The US Census Bureau has released county to county migration for the 2005-2009 period.  The data shows how people are moving around the US between counties.  I was rather surprised to find out that only a bit over 1/3 of people who moved went to a whole new county.  I would have guessed more than that.  Maricopa County Arizona seems to have a lot of action going on.  The received people from nearly 1,000 different counties around the US, but they also sent people to over 1,100 counties around the US.  The realtors there must get a LOT of traffic.  If you’d like to see the migration patterns for any particular county or even any particular state, you can download the excel spreadsheets yourself from this site.

New York City Data Transparency Law Goes Into Effect

New York City has just implemented an open government data law that is now in effect.  The Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications will post standards and then existing data will be converted over the next year to comply with those standards.  Within 18 months, all departments must have a compliance plan in place and all data must be open by 2018 in a common portal.  We’ve talked a lot about federal data portals and a bit about city portals on the blog and podcast, but it’s interesting to hear local governments joining the movement.  Open data standards are increasingly important for transparent governments, but they do create technical challenges for agencies and even industries.  A lot of geospatial data is collected with proprietary license restrictions that are complicated by these open data laws.  Furthermore, there can even be debate about what is ‘open’ when talking about data formats.  Is Microsoft Office .docx format ‘open’?  It’s based upon XML, which is freely readable and adaptable, but it’s a semi-proprietary version.  It’s neither fish nor fowl, as the saying goes.  Open data formats even raise questions about privacy and confidentiality.  If the technical format is well documented, what’s to keep me from deconstructing a file to get private information even if its encrypted or protected?

All of this is not to say I think open data laws are bad, just that they should be well debated and thought out.  I’m personally encouraged by the adoption of open data laws, particularly in large city like New York.

Data Fusion Contest

The 2012 IEEE GRSS Data Fusion Contest is up and running and something that you should think about participating in. While with ever increasing spatial and spectral resolutions in the variety of imagery and elevation data available now-a-days has reduced the need for certain data fusion products, it is also creating new opportunities to fuse the new data options. This year’s contest is based on data made available by Astrium, Digital Globe, and the USGS CLICK.

The Data Fusion Contest is designed to investigate the potential of multi-modal/multi-temporal fusion of very high spatial resolution imagery. This year, participants will download three different sets of images (optical, SAR, and LIDAR) over the downtown of San Francisco and each participant will get to choose their own research topic to work with.

The contest is open to everyone and the deadline for submission (of the paper) is May 1, 2012. The entry details and prize list are available on the contest website.

Good Luck!

Project Bird Feeder Watch

It’s that time of year again in North America, Project Bird Feeder Watch for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.  It is a great opportunity for an easy to do citizen science activity.  Citizen scientists count the count the birds they see at their bird feeders. The data is used to map bird migration and bird populations.  Because it comes with a kit to do the bird count, there is a $15.00 participation fee which supports the project. Project Bird Feeder Watch has been around for more than 25 years making its data extremely important. You can explore some of the data and maps on their site.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada along with the Audubon Society are also sponsors of the Great Backyard Bird Count which starts in February and is free for participants. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a list of other citizen science projects that people might be interested in doing such as urban bird count, pigeon count, and migratory birds. Bird Studies Canada has citizen science projects such as The Christmas Bird Count, Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, and the nocturnal owl survey. I think these would be fantastic school, family, or even team-building exercises that involve geospatial data and the local community.


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.

Royal Society Opens Its Archives

Prepare to watch today’s productivity sink like a log tied with rocks and encased in a block of cement. The Royal Society in the UK has thrown open its archives of papers that date back to the 17th century. There are some seriously amazing gems in that collection. Newton’s first paper? It’s in there. Ben Franklin’s kite experiment? It’s in there. Kinda curious what Darwin was publishing before his famous book? Guess what? In there. What to know what the first mention of ‘geography’ was in the collection? That would have been all the way back at the beginning in 1686.

Let’s be honest – I could spend weeks and weeks in this collection and still only scratch the outer coating of the packaging for the surface. All you have to do it begin your journey into the history of science is click this little link.