Son Finds Long Lost Family Via Google Earth

As GIS people, we know we do awesome stuff everyday. However, this may ratchet up the awesome to 11… or maybe 12. A Indian man who had been adopted by an Australian family has found his long lost family via Google Earth. That brief summation doesn’t do the story justice and there isn’t much I can add here besides this – go read it. It’ll make your GIS heart proud.

Oh, and technology is AWESOME!

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.

Counting the True Cost of Coal

Obviously being a native West Virginian and living in the state, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.  Ars Technica does a wonderful job of summing up a bit of research presented last month at American Association for the Advancement of Science last month.  Here are the bullet points: an estimated 20-30 atomic bombs worth of energy each year to get at the coal; 500 mountain peaks gone; 2,000 miles of streams gone; and the ‘extra’ cost including medical impacts, environmental impacts, and social impacts effectively doubles the energy cost of coal.   There are clear place in these studies to challenge assumptions that arrived at the extra cost of coal.  However, I think its an interesting geographic question to move beyond the cost of raw materials to look at the impacts of surrounding areas.  We don’t tend to think much about our electricity beyond the socket in our wall.  That’s not to say I think coal is evil, nor do I think it’s completely benign.  It’s complicated and any research that can get us to think about the messy state of electricity generation in the US is beneficial research in my book.\

Photo courtesy of DanaK~WaterPenny via Flickr

US World Regional Geography class gets a chance to Skype with Burmese activist Suu Kyi

Professor John Boyer’s World Regions class at Virginia Tech got an amazing opportunity yesterday evening to interview Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who is known the world over for her efforts as a pro-democracy activist in Myanmar (Burma). After Boyer and his class recorded a video interview request and posted it to YouTube, Suu Kyi agreed to the request and answered questions from students and the audience for about 45 minutes via Skype. Here’s local news coverage of the event and congratulations to Professor Boyer on an unbelievable experience for his students!


The Geography of the Death Penalty

GeoCurrents has an interesting article on the geography of the death penalty in the US. Most people are aware that Texas has executed the most prisoners since 1976. GeoCurrents does a pretty good job of succinctly detailing a few other geo-facts about the death penalty. They detail the current geography of laws, which are sometimes complex. They detail the complex geographic relationship between murder rates and the death penalty. Finally, unsurprisingly, they detail the relationship between national politics and death penalty policies (although it’s a touch odd since they themselves point out state political leanings have a stronger influence on death penalty laws than national ones). I really enjoy short pieces like this that somewhat catalog the issue with maps and GeoCurrents does a good job of showing geographic relationships of current issues.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t do a quick shout-out to GIS.Com’s Twitter feed (@GISdotcom), since I saw this article on their feed. Check it out if you’re a Twitter user and want to see links to some great GIS articles around the web!

Message in a Bottle

I’m thrilled with any post that allows me to make a The Police reference. Harold Hackett has a rather unusual hobby – he puts messages in a bottle and throws them into the sea. If you’re thinking this is a big waste of time, you’d be wrong. He’s put out 4,800 messages and has gotten back over 3,000 messages for his efforts. I’ll bet your response ratio on your latest email invite or forum post wasn’t as good 🙂 He sends out his address, which forces people to respond to him old school via mail. He’s gotten letters literally from Africa, Russia, Holland, Norway, the Bahamas, and a host of other (mostly European) countries. Harold has been doing this since 1996. His weapons of choice? Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice or Orange Juice bottles because they’re bright and presumably yummy. Plus the pun, of course. His messages have taken upwards of 13 years to bear fruit. He’s made a lot of friends doing this and still gets gifts and cards years later.

Obama Seeks Data Experts

It seems pretty obvious to me this will be a trend in future elections – Obama seeks data experts for edge. The President leveraged social media pretty effectively in the 2008 campaign. As the article points out, Governor Rick Perry did the same in his election campaign in Texas. What I find the most intriguing is the degree and effectiveness the campaigns have in synthesizing and analyzing all of these streams of data. It’s certainly true a Presidential election is about collecting public opinion as much as anything, it’s pretty clear they’re developing a pretty comprehensive factual resource. I really like the nugget in the article that mentions combing both traditional streams of data with social media streams to create more holistic and targeted information. That’s a model we in the geospatial industry are quickly moving to adopt, with greater and lesser degrees of success. It seems to me there might be a lot of lessons to be learned in the geospatial community as to how to gather nuggets of useful knowledge from similar efforts.

Transportation… OF THE FUTURE!

If you’ve ever heard me chatting with Elvin of the ArcPad team, you’ll know that I can wax poetic about cars almost more easily than I can about GIS. I think an awful lot about transportation (mostly old cars, but still…) It always fascinates me to think how well all get around in the future. How we move about our urban and suburban spaces has a large impact on our cultural and social development, so keeping tabs on this sort of thing could be important. Luckily people who actually have the power to make things happen share this same fascination.

Two European car companies have recently tossed their hat into the ring for personal transportation of the future. Last week Volkswagen showed their NILS single seat electric car. Obviously it’s just a prototype, but I can get behind any moving vehicle that features gull wing doors. Neither the speed or range is anything to write home about, but it might be attractive to those with relatively short commutes. Volkswagen says it could actually go into production. Renault has launched a slightly sexier (at least to my eye) vehicle that has no doors at all! The Twizy will come in two different models, what I’m going to call the ‘slow’ model and the ‘SUPER slow’ one. Unlike the VW, this isn’t a prototype – it’s going on sale in Europe in the not too distant future. One interesting feature of the Twizy is you won’t own your batteries; you’ll rent them from Renault instead at the price of $68/month. At European gas prices, that’s probably a pretty good deal.

VW and Renault aren’t the only one’s exploring this market, as you’d imagine. Check out a slightly old but still interesting video from the British series Top Gear where they explore Toyota’s concept vehicle iReal. Of course if you really want a historical perspective, check out this other Top Gear video showing the smallest car……… in the world!

Adjusting the Nut Holding the Wheel

I really like that quote. The good folks at the Center for Environmental Research Technology (CERT) at the University of California have been engaged in researching new fuel efficiency technology. Their conclusions – fix the driver, not the car. The way we drive has a huge impact on the efficiency of our vehicles. The researchers at CERT estimate you can realize a much as a 30% increase in fuel efficiency with some changes to your driving habits. Unfortunately, we don’t like to change how we drive. The team is trying to develop ways which give the driver feedback on ‘good’ habits that increase fuel efficiency as well as ‘bad’ habits. The trick is doing so without being obnoxious (a trick I’ve never personally learned, as I’m sure Sue and Jesse will attest). They’ve used a variety of techniques, from visual chances on the dashboard to audio clues to force feedback on your gas pedal. The hard part is walking the line between good information and not distracting information. As the research notes, better use of navigation tied to smart traffic networks will reduce start/stop traffic and needless idling, which helps even more.
As a bit of a ‘hypermiler’ from an early age, I can tell you these tricks can really impact your fuel efficiency in a positive way.

Revival of Airship Travel?

I remember reading a science fiction book in the mid-80’s that featured airship transportation on away planets. I had done a report about the Hindenburg a few years before that and thought the idea was daft. Turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) apparently I’m the daft one, as NASA has begun constructing transportation airships for use right here on Earth! The ships are very different beasts than the old Hindenburg models. They feature more aerodynamic designs and high tech structures that make them safer to use. They also have better controlled ballast systems so they can land, take off, and maintain altitudes much easier than models from 70 years ago. One of the neater more immediate usages of the airships is use in remote areas like Alaska where airplanes simply can’t reach. NASA estimates moving to air travel for our cargo transportation needs could save a great deal of unnecessary fossil fuel expense currently spent on trucking and the like. Other improvements could be made to the systems, including the addition of solar cells and the ability to lift incredibly heavy loads – up to 1,000 tons of cargo!