Geospatial Games and Crowd Sourcing a Catalog

It’s never too early to get kids interested in geospatial technologies and geography. I was searching for a fun gift for a young kid and ran across the Daily Grommet, which is an online catalog that practices what it has termed “Citizen Commerce”. The site uses crowd sourcing to identify products and companies that people want to support. Their product lineup is constantly changing, but many of them are geospatial in nature. The ones that caught my eye were a number of games that teach 3D spatial skills such as a 3D maze game, the OGO build set which is basically a point, line, and polygon game, and the spatial 3d Challenge game.

The one that I thought might be really interesting was the  GeoPalz Activity Tracker. It combines a pedometer tracker with an online interactive site that allows kids to earn prizes.  When I initially read the description I thought that kids would be able to upload a map of their daily activity to the GeoPalz website and use it for interactive games, sort of like a mash-up of Google Maps with GPS Tracker and a Family Circus cartoon. The site looks like it uses the actual pedometer count,which is still really cool. It just goes to show how much we have come to expect of our geospatial technology in everyday life. More, More, More even for a kid’s toy.

Americans Use A Lot of Gas

There’s so much going on with this article in Jalopnik that I love. Let me break it down for you in rough order. First…. cars and geography and we all know how I feel about those. Second, the point of the article, which is to show we use a lot of gas in the US. But those are just the superficial, kinda uninteresting bits, especially to geographers.

The really cool part for me rests in a two things. This is an excellent example of how to lie with maps, or at least deceive. We know the US uses a lot of gas, but where and why is a bit of a mystery. One theory is the ‘fly over’ states tend to have older and less efficient cars and most importantly trucks. Furthermore, they tend to drive greater distances because they’re more spread out than an urban area like NY or LA. If you use the swipe bar in the middle (more on that in a second), you can flip between two views of the data. The left map shows annual gallons of gas used per capita and it clearly shows the middle of the country is the worst offenders. Again, the efficiency plus distances would make sense for the average person to use more gas than someone in an urban or suburban environment. However, the picture changes dramatically when you look at the map on the right. Here we see not per capita use, but total use, and it’s the more urban areas that tend to be the worst offenders. As Jalopnik points out in the text, the math is pretty clear – it’s because there’s more people. Even if a large number of people only drive a short distance in highly efficient cars they can still use a lot more gas per year than a small number driving large distances with inefficient cars. So how do you lower gas use? Thus far the focus has been upon fuel efficiency standards, but it looks like that might not be the only approach to take to tackle the problem. I just love the idea you can look at the same data totally differently and get a completely different compelling argument. It’s kinda awesome, I think.

And to round it out, the final really cool thing about this post is the great use of a swipe for displaying two maps. We use it a lot in our professional work as GISers, but I’d love to see more use like this ‘in the wild’ so to speak. It’s such a compelling way to present counter arguments just like this.

Earthscape stamps from the USPS

The US Postal Service has released a great stamp set that highlights aerial and satellite imagery from around the country. The Earthscapes stamp set highlights scenes including cranberry bogs, geothermal springs, log rafts, barge fleets, railroad roundhouse, and others . I am off to acquire a set (or 5) for my future mailings. Click on the image to go to a printable poster-sized image.

Printable carpet

Printed on carpet
Seven years ago our first post on VerySpatial.com was a link to an article on Engadget on the aerial image carpet in Sacramento Airport. At the time the article said that it wasn’t really an economical option for the home, but since then it seems that the options have become much more accessible. Have a plotter? Take a look at some of the options that you may have for making your own custom carpet.

  • CMYUK
  • UltraFlexx
  • Printing Carpets
  • Bob Mats
  • Lego, Australia, and Build with Chrome

    There’s a good 124 (ish) reasons I love this site – Building with Chrome and Lego. The most important are because it’s Lego and a Map. The basic premise is you can grab a plot of land and ‘build’ your lego construct virtually on that plot of land. It can be a house or an abstract sculpture or pretty much anything you can envision in Lego (except those weird Lego Bonicle things my nephew lovs so much). It is also great to see Google really pushing the envelope of what’s possible with Chrome and HTML 5. More ‘food for thought’ is a great thing for near future HTML 5 work that anyone involved in web stuff is going to have to embrace. My only real problem with the site is that even though it is tied to space, it is a space most people won’t know. The constructs are unlikely to represent Australian in any meaningful way. But hey, you can’t have everything!

    Now if Lego would just move the experiment a tad South East and render all their Lord of The Rings Lego, we could recreate the movies in Lego on the map. Maybe that’s just too much awesome for one app 🙂

    Sim City 5 – Virtual cities like you’ve never seen them before

    When I saw the E3 trailer for the next installment of Sim City, due in February 2013, my first thought was – this would be great for an Urban Geography class….or a class on sustainable development…..or a class on government….or a, well you get the picture. Just the short preview that Sim City’s developer released shows a revamped engine for Sim City 5 with nice graphics, physics systems that bump up the realism, and simulation models that really let you see the consequences of your choices in building and managing your virtual cities. For anybody out there who still doesn’t think that the gaming industry has anything to contribute to education or exploring and solving real-world problems, watch this trailer:

    Watch Dogs – Hacking the virtual city

    Every year, the gaming industry teases us with the latest and greatest in new games and technology at shows around the world. One of the biggest shows, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) recently gave us a couple of previews that really wowed. The first, Watch Dogs, is by major game studio Ubisoft, and explores the implications of controlling all aspects of city functions, sensor networks, and even monitoring the inhabitants’ personal technology footprint through a single operating system, a “City OS”, and what would happen if someone had the skills to hack that system. The short preview of the game from E3 showcases stunning graphics and real-time movement, and shows that not only can the gaming world be a great source of inspiration and technology for geospatial applications of 3D and real-time modeling, but the stories played out in games can also explore the questions that arise from implementing this technology. Take a look at the preview here:

    Minute Physics and Geography

    I have this thing where, when I am stuck on a Cultural Geography idea or thought or, more commonly, writing a paper one of the best ways to kick my brain into gear again is to feed it a few pages of a popular Physics book (preferably something quantum’y or maybe a little chaos theory). For me, there are so many similarities between quantum physics and phenomenology that it just gets me be on track…maybe not on the same one, but, you know, Newton’s first and all that.

    So as I was recouping from Maymester (1 semester/10 days) I found that not only had Ze Frank started a new show, but that there is a great illustrated video podcast called Minute Physics. It is a weekly show that walks you through a concept from physics in around a minute with a nice twist of humor (great for physics teachers I would guess). I am only up to the beginning of this year, so I still have plenty of episodes to watch, but they have sprinkled in a good deal of content about the world so far. The GPS episode is a good example from the geospatial side of things:

    But there is even a few episodes for the physical geographer (so far my favorite is Hairy Ball Theorem which is more math than physics, but what are you going to do).