Google adds Biking Directions

Apparently lots of people have been asking Google for biking directions and now they get their wish!  The directions get added right along with the driving and walking directions we’ve all come to know and love.  They’ve even added the ability to avoid hills (good luck with that in West Virginia)!   Like the walking and driving directions, the biking directions report total miles and estimated time.  I’m not a biker, although I’ve considered trying to bike part-way to work this summer.  It’s nice to know how many miles it will take and how long I should budget in the morning to do so.  It also seems to do a pretty good job of planning the route to avoid major roads with no real bike support.  I did my house to work and a large section of it is basically a county highway with little to no shoulder.  It routed me through a residential area for part of it so I avoid the traffic.

Human Movement Can Be Predicted by Cell Phones

This shouldn’t come as any huge shock to anyone familiar with LBS, but researchers have shown that 93% of human movement can be predicted by cell phone.  In an article published in Science, the researchers suggest that most human movement is fairly limited in area.  They actually say most customers stay in a 6 mile radius most of the time.  They go on to suggest this sort of aggregate data would be great for city planners (or cell phone companies, presumably)  The findings were broken down by hour and unsurprisingly, tended to be highly volatile during ‘transition’ times.

Enduring voices

Sue came across another great National Geographic project for this week’s web corner called Enduring Voices. The project seeks to document those languages that are disappearing through disuse or death of a culture. They estimate that we lose a language about every 14 days! From the project website:

Under the National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices Project, the team will journey to meet with last speakers, listen to their stories, and document their languages with film, pictures, and audio to help communities preserve their knowledge of species, landscapes, and traditions before they vanish.

While NatGeo is supporting this effort it is Drs Gregory Anderson and David Harrison who are the linguists who are behind the project and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. In addition to the NatGeo project they are also the heart of the 2008 film “The Linguists” which follows them in some of their early work and which is availalble from the film’s website. If you have seen the film, please leave a comment since people seem to rave about it.

Does GIS Make Kids Gullible?

I just read a weird article about “Some Ways to Make Children Think Santa Exists” that includes children follow Santa’s journey on Norad all the way up to a voice transmorgified phone call from Santa. Like “How to Lie With Maps“, it unitentionally raises some questions about how kids are influenced by technology. I would consider kids today to be more savvy than 1897 “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” or the kids (and adults) who believed in the Cottingly Fairies that were created using the new “photograph” technology. I think that GIS can enhance holiday experienes by tracking Santa, making family trees, showing hometowns, and generally intergrating it into everyday life. I am not so sure about voice changers.

Amazing film footage of San Francisco in 1905

When the main focus of your work is historical landscapes, like mine is, your biggest obstacles is finding good data about what that landscape looked like. I know I would do almost anything to find a source for my project like this amazing film footage of Market Street in San Francisco in 1905, before the huge 1906 earthquake. The footage was taken from a camera in the front of a streetcar moving down Market Street toward what looks to be the Embarqadero. Besides providing a great look at a typical day in a bustling city, you can see all kinds of cool things, including how nonchalant everyone is about the streetcars, horse-drawn carriages and wagons, and even automobiles coming at them from every direction.

This version of the footage is being used as a music video for an instrumental group called Air, but you can also download the video from the Library of Congress American Memory site

Broadband Stimulus Money Going, Going, Almost Gone!

Ars Technica is reporting that the Obama administration has decided to ramp up the broadband stimulus money outlays into one more round instead of the planned two.  The monies appear to be a different pool than what is funding the broadband mapping work, but the article is a tad unclear on that point.  All in all around seven billion dollars are being invested, largely to tackle the “last mile” issue in US broadband.  Interestingly enough, I think, most of the project seem to be focused upon projects that will help stimulate private companies toward developing that last mile, not so much making the last mile itself.  I guess time will tell if this is a good strategy or not.

Cops Can’t Track Car with GPS Without Warrent

The Electronic Frontier Foundation had an interesting piece about two weeks ago that I just ran across.  The Supreme Court of Massachusetts recently ruled that it is against their state constitution for the police to track a vehicle using GPS without court approval.  The interesting thing here is that the crux of their rationale is that the scale of GPS is too great that it interferes with the owner’s “possessory interest”.  To be honest, my understanding of the law is weak enough that I’m not sure what “possessory interest” means and why GPS violates it.  However, older US Supreme Court cases from the ’70’s ruled that beepers were permissible by the police without owner permission.  Basically because GPS is more powerful and more exactly, it is a bigger threat.  New York has similarly ruled that as well.

All in all, the case only has jurisdiction in Massachusetts, but it might set a precedent that Federal courts could follow.

California Fires from Space

NASA California Fires from Space 2009

In case you haven’t seen this around, BoingBoing.net has a nice link round up for NASA’s photos of the current California fires as seen from space.  The smoke cloud is impressive in the most depressing way possible.  The BoingBoing link has links to NASA’s original image and large version, a NYT piece on the fires featuring the image, and some detailed information about the fires from the JPL at NASA.

Eight Most Dangerous Places to Live on the Planet

If danger is your middle name and you like to eat, breath, and sleep in danger, then you might want to check out this Popular Mechanics article.  Whether you like the extreme cold, fiery mountains, potentially getting drowned by global warming, living in the eye of hurricanes, there’s a place here for you.  I’m no expert in real estate, but I have to imagine at least a couple of these places would be housing bargains.  I can’t imagine, “Scenic views of lovely lake housing billions of cubic feet of methane and carbon dioxide that can potentially be released and kill you with a toxic cloud” is a big selling point in most “For Sale” ads.  Then again, I’m not in marketing, so I could be wrong.

Want more jobs in the US? Get rural broadband

Here’s an interesting bit of geographic news from the USDA – rural counties with broadband tend to have more jobs and those jobs are better paying.  Another fascinating finding is that households above the same income level tend to have broadband.  Rural-urban differences become non-existant above a certain level.  There are also some regional differences, with the south east unsuprisingly being behind the times relative to the rest of the US.  The article contains a link to the full report if you want to check the nitty gritty.  To me the whole report highlights the critical importance of our rural areas adopting broadband and doing so quickly.