The Apostrophe’s Last Stand

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting, spatially relevant article on regulation and standardization of place names and the disappearing apostrophe in U.S. signage, “Theres a Question Mark Hanging Over the Apostrophes Future: Its Practically Against the Law to Use the Mark in a Places Name; Sorry, Pikes Peak.”    Read the title again to catch the humor that Barry Newman uses to construct a brief history of place signage.

He states that the U.S. is the only country that standardized out apostrophes because they were seen as conveying private ownership of a public place. The USGS Board on Geographic Names set up in 1890 by President Harrison has eradicated around 250,000 apostrophes from federal maps. In contrast, the Apostrophe Protection Society kept the Mid Devon council in England from banning the use of apostrophes in street signs.  According to an in-depth article on the loss of the apostrophe and the history of Fell’s Point or Fells Point, Maryland, “What’s the Point?” from the Underbelly: From the Deepest Corners of the Maryland Historical Society Library, only five natural features have official license to use the possessive apostrophe in 2013.

The quoted arguments for the apostrophe is that it is part of proper English language usage, that it connotes information about the history of a place, and that not using them can cause confusion and miscommunication. What is most interesting about the WSJ article is who isn’t quoted – cartographers. How do cartographers feel about the vanishing apostrophe in place names?

 

 

 

 

 

Build Your Own Cicada Sensor

NPR had a  March story on “The Cicadas are Coming! Crowdsourcing An Underground Movement”  about the public’s involvement in predicting cicada emergence, and the time is now. If you live on the East Coast, where the Magicicada Brood II is making its “squishy and crunchy” 17-year reappearance according to Radiolab’s Cicada Tracker, be a part of citizen science tracking cicada’s. Research Scientist’s at the University of Connecticut Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department provide a tracking form, Radiolab provides instructions for a cool home made cicada sensor or a cheap soil thermometer detection method to map “Swarmageddon”.

Other cicada projects include:  The Mid-Atlantic Cicada database project is collecting brood reports to map for the mid-Atlantic region. The College of Mount St.Joseph and the Indian Academy of Science have a self-report site for mapping the Indiana brood at the IAS Cicada Web site.  According to the IAS website, Gene Kritsky, author of the Indiana Academy of Science’s book “Periodical Cicadas, the Plague and the Puzzle” found that Magicicada Brood II was mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1724 and are still found in the same place today. Leon Weinman’s poem, “Cicadas, Monticello” for Cerise Press begins, “Numberless, in cradled isolation, they nurse their common fate. Years, beneath cool pines, they wait in their white silence, emerging finally, at once, in thick surrender to the air.” While I am not sure if it refers to Jefferson’s Monticello, Georgia‘s, or somewhere else, it captures the spirit of a cicada emergence.

If you want more information on cicadas, Cicada Mania is a website “Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world”! with detailed information, maps, videos, photos, songs and a gift store. Other sources for information include:  National Geographic provides information on Cicadas at it’s website, Animal Planet explains “Why are Cicadas so Noisy?”, and University of Maryland the Cicadamanics reveal “Cicada-licoious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas” for the exceptionally curious.

 

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.

 

 

 

Geospatial Grocery Store

The Telegraph recently published an article, “How Supermarkets Prop Up Our Class System” by Harry Wallop introducing his book “Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System“. In the article, he discusses how marketers use census data and other location based data to aggregate postcodes into 60 different social groupings that they then repackage and sell back to retailers who use the analysis to micro-target potential shoppers. He believes that instead of creating more opportunities for shoppers, spatial targeting is reinforcing class stereotypes and creating structural inequality.

Geospatial marketing for supermarkets and grocery stores is growing in popularity for industry and public health. The Food Trust documented how Pennsylvania is using geospatial and GIS to target underserved communities for Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution Project.  Job search databases advertise for positions such as geospatial marketing facilitator, interactive marketer, and geospatial marketing analyst.  The Shopper Marketing trade journal lists mobile applications, QR codes, location based shopping, and augmented reality among the trends it uses to both reach and collect data from shoppers.

In today’s society it is difficult for shoppers to take advantage of grocery deals without providing personal information. A LifeHacker article on saving money, “Use “Jenny’s Number” to Get Club Discounts at Stores without Providing Personal Information” jokingly suggested trying to use the phone number from the popular 80’s song. Which semi-seriously raises the question of which social grouping the people who provide her number would fall under or how many shoppers give fake geospatial data.

Flu trackers then and now

Influenza or “flu” is on the rise this month and so are the number of interactive maps being used to track it. Interactive maps have become an integrated part of social marketing, advertising, and educational outreach campaigns. The official tracking site is the CDC influenza map, which is part of their dedicated Flu.gov educational site. Their map shows widespread influenza in all but 3 U.S. states. Although, Google.org has a flu trend site that uses certain search terms to indicate flu activity and aggregates the search data. Currently, every state in the U.S. is red to indicate high intensity. Most sites such as Triaminic children’s medicine are using their interactive flu tracker to increase traffic to their website and boost sales, based upon the CDC data.  Multiple media outlets have reported on the Facebook flu app, “Help, my friend gave me the flu” that supposedly tracks who made you sick. It was created by Help Remedies Inc., a drug company to help increase its profile.

McGraw-Hill publisher has an interactive map of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic  from A Survey of American History by Alan Brinkley.  PBS.org has a complete transcript of their program on the Influenza of 1918 and then views on how it was spread and how to stop it.  Not much had changed more than 20 years after John Snow’s pioneering epidemiology mapping, dynamically described in Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. According to the CDC, while many public officials were advocating quarantine and still believed that the flu was caused by poor body humors, medical professionals were beginning to better understand flu outbreaks and how to track them.

New York City Transportation Apps

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)  has been in the news this week for it’s new Subway Time app, but that isn’t the only transportation app that they or several other creative individuals have created to use in the city. There are over 65 officially sanctioned MTA apps including the Exit Strategy NYC which allows users to determine the most ideal place to stand on a subway car or platform to real time bus schedules, historic bus tours, and 3d Maps to explore New York City.  One of the most interesting facts about these apps is the backstory of how and why they were created. Most of them begin with someone who has an idea, problem, or need and spends time making a geospatial solution that meets their needs and in doing so meets the needs of a section of the larger population.

The MTA serves North America’s largest transportation network providing over 14.9 million people with 5,000 square miles of inspiration. This inspiration is supported by the fact that the MTA has an in house geospatial technology department and provides a Developer’s Resources page to encourage application development. In the past, the MTA created a Challenge Quest – MTA App Quest to challenge software developers to use MTA developers to create new apps.  The use of the word software developers, highlights its use as an umbrella term to capture anything related to app development, such as geospatial developers, graphic designers, and others.  A review of the plethora of different types of contributers to the over 65 MTA apps indicates that it might be time to begin thinking of a more accurate term to describe app developers.

Mapping defibrillators

The Wall Street Journal featured a health article on the need to map automated external defibrillators for heart attack response, “The Device that Saves Lives, But Can Be Hard To Find”.    Like many health saving devices, such as fire hydrants, many locations aren’t compiled in one easy to access location. The University of Pennsylvania and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation used crowd sourcing and public participation to map AED locations. The  project was called The My Heart Map Challenge , which utilized cash rewards to develop a smartphone app. They are currently creating a toolkit that other municipalities and cities can use to hold their own challenges.

Geography of U.S. Charity

NPR’s Pam Kessler has an interesting story about a study done on the geography of charitable giving in the United States by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She provides an audio story, text, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s interactive map. The finding that is highlighted by the study will be one that is common to geospatial analysts, people with more money tend to give more if they live in an economically diverse neighborhood. To paraphrase Tobler’s First Law of Geography, the First Law of U.S. Philanthropy is that anyone can give to any charity, but charity tends to begin at home and moves out from there.

The study itself was compiled using data from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service,  the U.S. Census by zip code, and data from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics among others. The National Center for Charitable Statistics also created the Community Platform, a crowd-sourcing interactive map application designed to help communities and nonprofit organizations match community resources and needs.

Interactive Greenbelt Map

The Telegraph UK has an article on England’s Green Belt which provides an interactive Google map for residents to determine if they are in an area classified as green belt land. The most interesting part of the article is that it makes the data available to the public and states that in the past the data would have cost thousands of bounds despite the fact that it is funded using taxpayer money. It then provides a link to the downloadable data provided by The Department for Communities and Local Government.  This is a common debate among the GIS community, but not one that is normally brought up in popular media. It will be interesting to see the comments left by the public about the article and if the topic of available data comes up.

 

 

 

 

Google Adds Amber Alerts to Maps and Search Results

Google has started adding Amber Alerts to its map and search results. They’re doing this through a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Basically, they’re combining the local search information with NCMEC’s Amber Alert system. It should include any descriptive information and how to contact the system if you happen to know anything about the missing child.

It’s good to see companies using their technology to help communities and I hope other companies help these efforts in any way possible.