Zebra Stripe App

A  short article in this month’s National Geographic magazine gives me a chance to tell a funny kid’s joke about zebras.  “There were two chickens standing at crosswalk. One says to the other: Should we cross the road?  The other one says: No Way! Look what happened to the zebra!”  According to the National Geographic article,”Scanning Zebras“,  zebra stripes are like a fortuitous blend of fingerprints and bar codes. This means that each black and white stripe pattern is unique to that zebra  and is patterned in a way that makes it possible to be scanned like a bar code.  McDermott reports that scientists and citizen scientists can use an app called Stripe Spotter created by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University to upload the zebra’s identity into a database.  Researchers involved in the project have recently written a paper, ” Biometric Animal Databases From Field Photographs: Identification of Individual Zebra in the Wild“. They think that in the future it could be used to identify other animals with strong patters such as tigers, giraffe, and kudu. This is another great example of how ingenuity in geospatial technologies can make it easier for citizen scientists to get involved in research, lessen the workload on scientists in the field, and improve the scientific process.

National Geographic Challenge for PS3, XBOX360, and Wii

As you know, many of our discussions here on VerySpatial have touched on the increasing convergence between geography, geospatial technologies, and games and gaming technology. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the announcement and trailer for National Geographic Challenge, a new console game that will be available for all 3 of the big gaming platforms – PlayStation 3, XBOX 360, and Wii. It will be released on October 25th, and is available for pre-order now. It’ll cost you $29.99 for the PS3 or XBOX 360 version, and $19.99 for the Wii. (The National Geographic Challenge webpage shows a PC version, but I couldn’t confirm that on any of the retail sites I checked.)

It’s a single or multi-player quiz/challenge game that asks players to explore and answer questions about the world, and will draw on National Geographic’s great multimedia resources. I know I’m going to be grabbing a copy for the VerySpatial crew, and we’ll let you know what we think!

Here’s the official trailer if you want to see a glimpse of the game in action:

Tracking Happy Feet

National Public Radio (NPR) has been closely following the story of Happy Feet, the penguin who got off course and ended up in New Zealand. They recently posted a heart warming story about the NZEmperor website created by SIRTRACK, the makers of the Sirtrack KiwiSat 202 Satellite Transmitter donated to keep tabs and map Happy Feet’s location. Dr Gareth Morgan, a scientist raising New Zealanders’ awareness of the importance of the area between Stewart Island and the South Pole, is sponsoring the satellite costs. He has a Happy Feet tracking page on his Our Far South website. Everyone interested in the story is waiting with baited breath to see if Happy Feet’s tracking system starts working or why it might have stopped. No matter what happens this was a great news story that might get many citizen scientists involved in learning more about the issues and technology involved in a part of the world they might not normally think about. Dr. Gareth Morgan’s website also discusses his upcoming trip to raise awareness of the region and features a very diverse crew of researchers, conservationists, and others, who are going to be on the trip as well.

ESRI EDuc Plenary Session – ArcGIS Online Improvements

At the ESRI Education User Conference Plenary this morning a few things struck me as significant for GIS use in the classroom.  Bern Szukalski reviewed some of the ArcGIS.com revisions that occurred last Wednesday and these are what I thought could enhance the use of GIS in the classroom:

Intelligent Mapping – Essentially pop ups that display data in graphical formats about the feature selected ( fun stuff like pie, bar and line charts).

Time enabled mapping – The ability to connect to time aware services and bring them into the ArcGIS.com mapping environment and have a time slider available.

And what I feel is the most significant advance, “Drag & Drop Mapping” where a text or Excel file can be dragged directly into the mapping environment to add features and their associated data.  Remember creating an Excel sheet with Latitude and Longitude fields, displaying events, and then exporting that event as a layer?  Not anymore, just drag that excel file over the map and drop it!

While the emphasis of the plenary was to enable GIS education, the undertone was that of increasing the capabilities of web mapping and the continued integration of cloud services.  The Pennsylvania State University also announced today for the first time publicly that it will be offering an open course tentatively titled “GEOG 8xx – Cloud/Server GIS“.  Enrollment for this course will be open on November 7th 2011.

In the GIS summer time

Pack your bags and your GPS, June – August are GIS Summer camp months! All over the world GIS themed summer camps, summer internships, and classes are taking place for everyone from kids to adults. The Harbor Discovery Camps, an interactive marine and environmental science program that teaches GIS among other skills is hosted by the New England Aquarium. This summer, the Hip Hop Scientist’s Summer Science & Technology camp in NC is focusing on the achievements of African Americans in robotics, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Washington College is offering a Geospatial Technology Summer Camp for students in grades 7 -12 where kids will make a 3D model of their local town and help preserve its watershed. If you wonder where traditional camp crafts like macrame and bead work have gone, you can always create a bead work map like the one created by Har­al­dur Thor­leif­s­son.

For “big kids” or adults who miss going to summer camp, there are many GIS summer camp opportunities. GIS Taiwan is one of many GIS symposium going on this summer for undergraduate and graduate students. GIS Taiwan theme is global initiatives. Like many summer courses taking advantage of teacher’s being out of school during the summer, The WV GIS Technical Center is offering GIS in K-12 summer camp for educators in August. Don’t forget the biggest GIS summer camp of all the ESRI User’s Conference and Education User’s Conference.

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: MyFoxDC.com


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,

On The Line

I’ve been fortunate enough to look over the shoulders of  a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The project titled “On The Line” is an online, interactive history of schooling, housing and civil rights in the city of Hartford, Connecticut that was created by Jack Dougherty of Trinity College.  What makes this online text ‘spatial’ is the series of interactive Google Maps linked to historical redlining documents, as well as view historical photos in Historypin,  and examine historical data in linked map viewers.

The site also provides a series of excellent lesson plans ready for educators to use in the classroom.

Where on Earth?

I just played a fun online game called, “Where on Earth” by Point 2 Explore.com which was developed for educational museums and science centers. It shows landmarks from across the globe using NASA satellite photos and a player has three guesses of the location. If you have ever attended any geo-spatial related conferences, it is a computer version of the raffles they often hold to see who can guess the location of printed satellite imagery.

Other fun remote sensing games online include several from NASA such as the adventures of Amelia the Pigeon and Echo the Bat and an older short one called “LandSat Game” from an extensive remote sensing tutorial.

Observing the Earth – Episode 1

So, yeah…a little something to round out Earth Observation Day 2011. Can I just say it is WAY harder to do a single take 5 minute video than it is to do an hour long audio podcast that ends up as 30 minutes.

I am releasing a series of 10 video podcasts over the next three months to support an NC Space Grant I received last summer. The grant, of course, is through the day job, but since it is being released under a Creative Commons license why not plaster everywhere, right?

The series’ home is at ObservingTheEarth.com which has already gone through many themes and layouts in the week and a half it has been around. After the AAG, the Observing the Earth site will be finalized and the accompanying materials for the podcasts (maps, data, lesson plans, etc) will find there way on to the site. I also plan to do an online workshop in June that pulls together the content topics that will be covered in the podcasts and more for educators (formal and informal).