avsp howto videocast

I am thinking about putting together a series of 5 minute howto videocasts for beginners. These would be screen grabs and voice overs of common computer related activities in Geography such as GIS, RS, stats, and some scripting and entry level programming that could help steer folks in the right direction. What I would like to find out from our readers and listeners are two things:

1) what topics/activities do you think we should cover.
2) does anyone think they would like to submit a howto on a specific topic

If you have any ideas please email me at howto@veryspatial.com and we will see how things go. I hope to have a demo episode of what I have in mind up by the middle of January though I don’t think we would go live until February based on the other things going on right now.

Magic in the Muggle World: The Marauder’s Map

By: Jesse, November 14, 2005

With only a few days left before the release of the 4th movie in the Harry Potter series, The Goblet of Fire, I thought it might be time to follow in Mapz‘s lead and look at how an item from the magical world compares to our muggle technology. The Marauder’s Map is a piece of parchment enchanted by four rapscallions in their younger days at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which finds its way into the hands of Harry (thanks to the boundless generosity of the Weasley twins). This magical map is a detailed representation of the school: the different rooms, hallways, floors, and many of the objects within the school…all of these things AND a “real-timeâ€? tracking of the location and movements of each person (even pets!) within the school.

This is similar in concept, if not operationalization, to the current vision of the use of RFID tags on students and employees to track their movements. In the “muggle� (non-magic users) world, we have a GIS, desktop or mobile, a way to map the features of our own castle and grounds. We also have a GPS to track ourselves and others wirelessly as we wander the grounds of our castle. But what about inside, indoors within our castle, how do we know and therefore show where we are? No matter the size of our castle (or shack) we can’t reliably use standard GPS-enabled devices. This is tied to issues of signal strength and in our courtyard there is the issue of the urban canyon, or signal bounce. But there are options, as we walk into our castle. Our RFID tag embedded in our wand, I mean wallet, is read as we walk through a doorway. If each doorway has a reader we can know what room we are in. Brilliant, … but not yet a true Marauder’s Map. We do not yet have the accurate real-time tracking.

So, let’s toss our RFID aside for the moment and use our wireless connection. MIT’s iSpot gets us close to a user’s location, gives us a building, a floor, probably a room. If we switch over to Ekahau’s approach, then we can get fairly close to our real-time location through wireless, but the problem is that someone has to wander through prerecording relative signal strengths in order to use later. Good, but time consuming, and it may not be reliable if you add different hardware to the system. I think the closest we can get right now, outside of the DOD, is probably Qualcomm’s GPSone. This assisted GPS solution integrates GPS information with wireless network signals to yield a pervasive location solution. Now, I speak from the documentation on GPSone not the use of it, and we all have a cell phone after all. Your first grade child or niece or nephew has one right?

Marauders MapSo, let’s see, we have our magical tool, the Marauder’s Map, and our muggle options to make it happen. We don’t have to do it just one way; we have choices to make based on what we really want (I, for one, do not wish to know which stall you are in). And with our results I think it is safe to say that we could convince all but the most jaded that any of our muggle ways of creating a Marauder’s Map Lite � really is magic. Of course, now that we have it, the question is: who will get to use it and what will they use it for? Important questions to be sure, but maybe we will leave the issue of “Big Brother� and civil liberties to another day.

How we put together the podcast

This is the first of 2-3 columns I am going to write on how we put the podcast together. The column is primarily on the more technical aspects (equipment & software) where as the next one I will write more about the scripting that we should do for the podcast and some of the postproduction details after we have recorded but before we have posted the podcast. The third column will reflect our attempts to advertise the podcast and a little marketing to help defray the costs involved.

How we put together the podcast

One Map to Rule Them All

By: Frank, September 17, 2005

Maps are cool. Geographers have known this for years. The rest of the world is just figuring this out. Stuff has a spatial relationship to other stuff and we can easily show what it is – with a map! Luckily there has been an explosion in online map making tools in the last year. No headline here – online mapping is hot. Hotter than hot. Everybody and their brother is putting out an online map now. We have maps for subways, for byways, for houses, for apartments, for looking for love in all the wrong places, for pictures, for pictures of looking for love in all the wrong places… You can hardly swing your web browser around without hitting a map these days.

For all their coolness, the downside to maps is that they have to be accurate to be of any use. Sure, pictures are worth a thousand words, but you want to make sure you’re saying the right ones. Otherwise we’re just talking about a picture with some lines and photos and stuff, and that’s art. The cold hard truth is that, with the exception of certain places on the planet, most of our current online maps aren’t that great – either because the data they’re based upon is inaccurate or the tools they used to make’em are entirely too difficult to use.

Data is a tricky subject. People more knowledgeable than I am spend their entire careers on the stuff (God love’em, someone has to). What we do know about data is that normally the people with the best view are usually closer to the ground. Think about it – you probably know more about where your garage is than the mayor of your town. The mayor knows better than your governor and he knows better than your US Senator. We also know that data is useless sitting around. You have to be able to DO something with it to make it worthwhile. The toolset matters – if the tools aren’t robust enough or they’re too complicated, you can’t make the maps you want to make.

Right now, the world of online maps is dominated by two major groups – your data people and your tool people. Data people are focusing on getting the best data from the best sources and serving it up to the public. Tool people are trying to make the best tools to get the maps produced. Data people and tool people talk together about as much as mountain lions and cruise directors do…. Which is to say not at all.

What needs to happen is the tool people and the data people need to go have a group luau or something. They need to go get good and sloshed together, just kick back and have a good old time. Then, in the morning, they need to sit down and figure out how to get their approaches to making maps work together. Good tools need to sit on good data. Distributed data systems can feed good cartographic tools to make great online maps. On top of that, those tools don’t have to be complicated and difficult to work with.

As hot as online maps are right now, they’ll be kicked up twenty or so notches when these two groups can get together. An accurate, locally stewarded data source driving robust simple tools could become a development platform for so much more than just maps. That’s when it will be time to get excited.

The VerySpatial Classroom 01: Geography Matters

By: Jesse, August 19, 2005

This is the first installment of The VerySpatial Classroom, a column on VerySpatial.com intended to provide information on, and answer questions regarding, Geography and geospatial technologies. While the main goal of the VerySpatial Classroom is to support the Classroom Podcast Episodes that are coming in the future, we will also be offering some insight as to why Geography matters. As has been discussed in the VerySpatial podcast there has been a boom in the last few years in spatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), web mapping, location-based services (LBS), and global positioning system (GPS). This boom comes as these technologies, previously available only to professionals, are now being made more accessible to the general public. However, as these technologies gain in popularity, it becomes increasingly important to try to give non-expert users at least a basic knowledge of their appropriate use.

Geospatial technologies enable users to easily access information about spatial relationships, but the ability to understand and interpret the data and information that is being represented requires at least a basic familiarity with the concepts of Geography. Everyone uses spatial information in their day-to-day lives, from deciding on the best route to get to the grocery store to choosing a home that does not sit in a flood plain. It is important, however, that adopters of geospatial technologies understand the assumptions that go along with them. Issues of abstraction, scale, resolution, and data capture lie at the basis of this understanding, along with more general information regarding spatial relationships. The ability to find important spatial features or patterns in this information allows Geographers to make interpretations.

One of the keys to the professional use of these geospatial technologies is its holistic aspect; the potential to bring together mapped, tabular, even multimedia information in one place. It is the ability to access all available and pertinent information at once that makes geospatial technologies so useful, not only to Geographers, but to anyone who uses spatial data, from biologists, to landscape architects, to historians, and on to any number of researchers or professionals in a wide array of fields. A couple of examples of non-traditional maps would include the mapping of the human genome, a project that has been ongoing for decades now, to a newer example such as mapping the data traffic of the internet.

Geography can be seen in areas throughout our lives, even in areas where it is not expected, supporting us in our day-to-day activities. While it is important that non-experts learn, at least to some extent, about the background of the data they use, we can still learn a great deal about the world around us either through the use of geospatial technologies, a map, or just by observing our surroundings. In the end it is important to understand, as we will show through this column, that Geography matters.

webmapper review of Mapping Hacks

Edward Mac Gillavry, over at webmapper.net, has a review of Mapping Hacks. I haven’t read it since I still haven’t finished going through it to write my own review. I tell ya, working on that pesky dissertation just keeps getting in the way. 🙂 Head over to the review to find out about it well before I will actually get to writing anything up.

webmapper | blog archive: August 2005

Column…the first

Our first column, an introduction to our VerySpatial Classroom column, is now up. This column will probably be a monthly posting for the foreseeable future and it should be joined next weekend by our second column. This month we begin by pointing out that behind all of the geospatial technologies that are drawing interest lies Geography. Check it out at over in the columns section.