A VerySpatial Podcast
Shownotes – Episode 395
February 10, 2013
Main Topic: Our conversation on public mapping portals
Click for the detailed shownotes Continue reading
In the first half of my column a while back on the changing ways in which we interact with our computers, I focused on touch and its increasing adoption as an interface of choice, driven by the rapidly growing use of smartphones and other mobile devices. But as computers and digital information weave themselves deeper into the fabric of our daily lives, there is growing interest in new ways to interact with them, and an equally growing number of research projects, prototypes and even consumer products that are focused on making these interfaces a reality.
Microsoft’s Kinect is a great example of a new user interface device that is picking up traction, first in the gaming console space, but increasingly getting attention in the broader computing world. The Kinect interface is based on tracking the user’s body and movements, which Microsoft refers to as a Natural User Interface (NUI) or Human Interface. So far, there have been a number of commercial and indie video games that have utilized the Kinect, with varying degrees of success, but the real excitement, I think, with the Kinect is that Microsoft is not only allowing, but encouraging, the community of users and developers to come up with new ways of using the Kinect to interact with the computer by offering an API to allow anyone to develop an application that uses the Kinect sensor. I’ve begun working with the Kinect API myself, and can already envision lots of ways that the interface could be used for virtual world navigation and interaction.
At this year’s recent E3 Conference, Microsoft gave more detail on their vision for how our human-computer interaction mechanisms will evolve with their presentation on Project SmartGlass, which includes Kinect navigation for Xbox Live entertainment in addition to the use of the Kinect as a game controller. Now, you don’t need to hold an interface device, like a controller or mouse, in your hand, and your body itself becomes the mechanism for you to interact with your computer. Now you can use hand motions, head movements, and yes, even a lean to the right or left, to execute commands on your computer.
In addition, some might not know that the Kinect offers audio input capabilities as well, meaning that you can create a custom voice commands for interacting with your computer, your game console, or really any other computing device. This can be a powerful interface combo, as you can use voice commands to navigate menus, for example, and combine that with gestures or tracking hand movements to create a complex navigation scheme for a wide range of software applications.
There are limitations, of course, including the sensitivity of interface devices like the Kinect. How does it know whether I want to lean forward to move my avatar or whether I just sneezed and fell forward? There is still a lot of work to be done in the areas of ergonomics, gesture libraries, and other technical issues that can negatively affect a user’s experience with natural interfaces and lead to their rejection as a preferred alternative to the comforting familiarity of the keyboard and mouse. And audio input can suffer from similar issues of precision, as a multitude of users have experienced with that iPhone-encased voice vixen Siri.
And then there’s the issue of how to change people’s perceptions and habits, especially in the working world. Kinect for Windows, a Kinect device which is calibrated to allow the NUI to work for desktop computing applications, is designed to encourage developers and users to think about incorporating gesture-based interfaces and audio into everyday software applications, including productivity software like word processing programs and data and spreadsheet tools. But the complex software interfaces full of menus, buttons, and text will be a tough nut to crack for broad adoption. But, think of all of the advantages if it can. With all of those studies that suggest spending our days sitting down in front of a computer is shortening our lifespans, think about how a natural user interface could get us up on our feet and make collaborating around a computer or working together with our mobile devices projecting on to all kinds of surfaces. Minority Report, Total Recall, you name it, we’re seeing the tech in prototypes from projects all over the world.
Why should we in the geography and geospatial community be interested in what’s going on with these new technologies in human-computer interaction? On a general level, there is an inexorable movement toward the demise of the mouse and keyboard as the monopolistic gateways to our relationship with our computer. As a familiar analogue to the typewriter, the keyboard has served us well as we have grown up and into our professional lives in front of a computer. But its analog physicality is now limiting in a world where there’s a race to build and distribute faster, lighter, thinner, smaller, more powerful computing devices that can travel with us anywhere. It’s also limiting when new interfaces like an NUI mean that we could gather around our monitor or projection screen with our GIS open and have discussions, with multiple users moving the map view around, adding and removing layers, performing analyses, etc., all while comfortably interacting and not tied to a physical input device. With that visual of the geospatial collaboration lab I now want to build for my teaching and research, I’ll sign off for now and wander off into the virtual fog until next time.
I am pondering a purchase in the future to replace my soon to be 3 year old 15″ Macbook Pro. I have generally narrowed my options down to another Macbook or a Windows 8 touch enabled device. I like MacOS, but I am going to dock my current workhorse at my desk at home and still have my iMac at work, so I am not walking away from those workflows. On the other hand, I am happily tied to various proprietary Windows applications, especially geospatial, which I often have to wait and work on when I am at home or run at reduced speed virtually.
All of that said, here are the 5 finalists.
So, what are your thoughts? Share on the poll on the right of VerySpatial.
I only recently started to watch reruns of Doc Martin on Hulu. The show is about a gruff London surgeon who relocates to the picture book seaside village of Portwenn, Cornwall. Like many seaside towns, the fictional village relies on tourism and fishing for most of its revenue, which makes its reliance on a single doctor to handle track down health outbreaks on a fairly regular basis surprising. In one specific episode (Season 1, Episode 3) entitled “Sh*t Happens” a virus hits Portwenn that the doctor assumes is caused by the community swimming pool, which he announces on the radio and tries to close down before finding out that it originates from someone selling contaminated bottled water. Considering how many outbreaks of various ailments happen on the show, it is surprising that even after this event he never calls a public health official or has an epidemiologist on speed dial.
Anyone who has worked in local government, public health, or other fields that interact with the public will recognize the realistic situation of dealing with a virus or other event that impacts the public health. These situations usually must be handled quickly with a lack of information that makes analyzing the situation difficult. However, they are usually addressed collaboratively with the help of medical staff, state and local government, public health officials, and schools, many times using GIS.
I was therefore relieved to find that in the real world setting of Port Isaac (Port Wenn) there is more than one doctor to handle emergencies. In fact, the Port Isaac Practice, which has been in existence since the 1940′s, has a Primary Care Health Team including seven doctors, practice nurses, community nurses and other vital personnel. The South West Peninsula Health Protection Unit, Cornwall Council and the Environment Agency have worked together to create handbooks such as the “Viral Gastroenteritis (Norovirus) Outbreak Guidance for Caravan and Campsites“. While the Combined Universities in Cornwall has several epidemiology professors on staff.
The “Sh*t Happens” episode would be a great one to use in a geography, geospatial, or public health class when covering the work of John Snow. It demonstrates that because of the work of epidemiologists and other geospatial analysts, doctors no longer have to tackle community outbreaks alone. Doc Martin is enjoyable and it is good that he isn’t portrayed as a super star epidemiologist. It would be nice for the fictional Portwenn, and the doctor himself, if he had as much support as the real life Port Isaac.
The Guardian article, “The Great Garden Worm Count Finds Our Underground Allies are Thriving” discusses the role of citizen scientists in earth worm research. According to the article, “The discovery was made thanks to a series of projects carried out by the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project and has involved more than 40,000 teams of school pupils and homeowners digging up worms and counting them.” As part of their mission, OPAL has worked with a diverse group of citizen scientists to encourage the public to become engaged with their local natural environment. David Jones, the earthworm scientist from the Natural History Museum who designed the survey, explained how he uses the data the citizen scientists collect for the 2012 worm count. It provides a good overview of the interaction of the public and scientists working together to address interesting and overlapping concerns.
Other organizations around the world, such as the Great Lakes Worm Watch, collaborate with the public to do earth worm sampling. The hands-on sampling methods they describe will be familiar to many biologists, gardeners,fisherman, and little kids. For example, the flip and strip is used to determine the density of earthworms on an area basis and involves flipping rocks and logs, while the hand sample involves digging up a shovel full of soil and hand sifting it to count and identify earth worms.
Both the OPAL and Great Lakes Worm Watch come up in a project search using the scistarter: science we can do together science site which allows scientists to post collaborative projects and for interested individuals, groups, and educators to participate in projects.
OK, this month I have reached the second (or fourth, depending on your reckoning) milestone in terms of birthdays. The first, of course, is 21, where in the US you are legal to do pretty much anything except rent a car. The other two, if you are using the looser reckoning, are 16 (OK to drive on your own) and 18 (you are an “adult”).My preferred second milestone doesn’t really come with anything added to your capabilities, and I am pretty sure that for me it will be just any other day (I will be sure to tweet if something spectacular occurs). This month, I turn 40.
Normally, I wouldn’t talk about my age, I don’t even have my birthday listed on Facebook, but this year has me thinking. I am younger than Esri and Intergraph by a few years, older than Imagine and ENVI by the same number of years, and I am only a few months behind the launch of the Landsat program. And this is really where my forty years comes in. As I look at the Landsat program I can see the life moments that it has gone through: the starts and stops, the reimaginings, the times when perseverance was all that kept it going, and the times that everything came together.
Unlike most of us when we reach 40, however, the Landsat program can look back at its life so far and see that it has changed the way we look at the world. And with continued support beyond next month’s launch of the LDCM, we can hope that the program is nowhere near middle-aged (fingers crossed for no looming midlife crisis…for Landsat or me).
Looking back at the Landsat program, it began as most, a newborn that no one was sure where it would go. By the time it was three, it gained a new awareness of the world (Landsat 2 – 1975), but continued grow. Just after it turned five, Landsat showed its precociousness (Landsat 3 – 1978) with the addition (though short lived) of a thermal band. By the time the program turned ten, Landsat was ready to move to middle school (Landsat 4 – 1982). It kept many of its friends (MSS) from its previous school, but made new friends (TM) as well and was getting better at seeing what was around (30m max resolution). As junior high came around (yes, we used to have those in North Carolina at least) the program hit its stride. It wasn’t necessarily the most popular kid in school, but all of the geeks thought it was great (Landsat 5 – 1984) and was willing to work hard.
In the college years, Landsat had some setbacks, it tried to reach orbit, but it just didn’t happen (Landsat 6 – 1993). In fact, it was kind of shaken by this and didn’t try again for a few years (Landsat 7 – 1999). It made it this time, complete with new glasses (ETM+). It found its stride; it wasn’t just the geekiest of folks looking at it anymore, it began to make new friends and was always willing to share. The Landsat program had some problems with technology and financing like anyone in the 2000’s, but the program stayed its course and persevered, with its two trusty workhorses, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7. Right now, it is overcoming some issues, but looking at the potential for a great promotion this year.
In this description, I can see any number of people that I grew up with. The only difference is that most of my friends haven’t switched whisk-brooms for push-brooms, or even want to deal with brooms I would guess.
On a side note, I can imagine how excited and nervous the Landsat team is right now with less than a month to go before the long-awaited LDCM launch, and not much more before the highly anticipated first test images are released, and I hope they remember that they have the support of a community that continues to grow and relies on their great efforts and achievements.
Obviously abortion is a hot button topic in the United States. It has become even more so with the recent passing of the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that largely made it legal in the US. I won’t touch the political bent to this with a 10′ scale bar, but I do think it always helps to know the geography of the landscape, no matter your bent on an issue. The Daily Beast has a nice interactive map that shows access points and driving times for women to reach those points. You can even turn on a layer showing the female population over 15. As you mouse over the map to different clinics, the map reports the driving times for a radius from that point, and it reports the legal constraints of that particular state, as they vary greatly from state to state. If you want to see a more holistic view of those restrictions, you can click on the buttons on the left to see layers showing things like average wait times, ultrasound restrictions, or insurance issues. Again, no comment on the political issue itself, but I think it is important to be aware of the landscape.