One Map to Rule Them All

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Columns

By: Frank, September 17, 2005

Maps are cool. Geographers have known this for years. The rest of the world is just figuring this out. Stuff has a spatial relationship to other stuff and we can easily show what it is – with a map! Luckily there has been an explosion in online map making tools in the last year. No headline here – online mapping is hot. Hotter than hot. Everybody and their brother is putting out an online map now. We have maps for subways, for byways, for houses, for apartments, for looking for love in all the wrong places, for pictures, for pictures of looking for love in all the wrong places… You can hardly swing your web browser around without hitting a map these days.

For all their coolness, the downside to maps is that they have to be accurate to be of any use. Sure, pictures are worth a thousand words, but you want to make sure you’re saying the right ones. Otherwise we’re just talking about a picture with some lines and photos and stuff, and that’s art. The cold hard truth is that, with the exception of certain places on the planet, most of our current online maps aren’t that great – either because the data they’re based upon is inaccurate or the tools they used to make’em are entirely too difficult to use.

Data is a tricky subject. People more knowledgeable than I am spend their entire careers on the stuff (God love’em, someone has to). What we do know about data is that normally the people with the best view are usually closer to the ground. Think about it – you probably know more about where your garage is than the mayor of your town. The mayor knows better than your governor and he knows better than your US Senator. We also know that data is useless sitting around. You have to be able to DO something with it to make it worthwhile. The toolset matters – if the tools aren’t robust enough or they’re too complicated, you can’t make the maps you want to make.

Right now, the world of online maps is dominated by two major groups – your data people and your tool people. Data people are focusing on getting the best data from the best sources and serving it up to the public. Tool people are trying to make the best tools to get the maps produced. Data people and tool people talk together about as much as mountain lions and cruise directors do…. Which is to say not at all.

What needs to happen is the tool people and the data people need to go have a group luau or something. They need to go get good and sloshed together, just kick back and have a good old time. Then, in the morning, they need to sit down and figure out how to get their approaches to making maps work together. Good tools need to sit on good data. Distributed data systems can feed good cartographic tools to make great online maps. On top of that, those tools don’t have to be complicated and difficult to work with.

As hot as online maps are right now, they’ll be kicked up twenty or so notches when these two groups can get together. An accurate, locally stewarded data source driving robust simple tools could become a development platform for so much more than just maps. That’s when it will be time to get excited.

The VerySpatial Classroom 01: Geography Matters

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By: Jesse, August 19, 2005

This is the first installment of The VerySpatial Classroom, a column on intended to provide information on, and answer questions regarding, Geography and geospatial technologies. While the main goal of the VerySpatial Classroom is to support the Classroom Podcast Episodes that are coming in the future, we will also be offering some insight as to why Geography matters. As has been discussed in the VerySpatial podcast there has been a boom in the last few years in spatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), web mapping, location-based services (LBS), and global positioning system (GPS). This boom comes as these technologies, previously available only to professionals, are now being made more accessible to the general public. However, as these technologies gain in popularity, it becomes increasingly important to try to give non-expert users at least a basic knowledge of their appropriate use.

Geospatial technologies enable users to easily access information about spatial relationships, but the ability to understand and interpret the data and information that is being represented requires at least a basic familiarity with the concepts of Geography. Everyone uses spatial information in their day-to-day lives, from deciding on the best route to get to the grocery store to choosing a home that does not sit in a flood plain. It is important, however, that adopters of geospatial technologies understand the assumptions that go along with them. Issues of abstraction, scale, resolution, and data capture lie at the basis of this understanding, along with more general information regarding spatial relationships. The ability to find important spatial features or patterns in this information allows Geographers to make interpretations.

One of the keys to the professional use of these geospatial technologies is its holistic aspect; the potential to bring together mapped, tabular, even multimedia information in one place. It is the ability to access all available and pertinent information at once that makes geospatial technologies so useful, not only to Geographers, but to anyone who uses spatial data, from biologists, to landscape architects, to historians, and on to any number of researchers or professionals in a wide array of fields. A couple of examples of non-traditional maps would include the mapping of the human genome, a project that has been ongoing for decades now, to a newer example such as mapping the data traffic of the internet.

Geography can be seen in areas throughout our lives, even in areas where it is not expected, supporting us in our day-to-day activities. While it is important that non-experts learn, at least to some extent, about the background of the data they use, we can still learn a great deal about the world around us either through the use of geospatial technologies, a map, or just by observing our surroundings. In the end it is important to understand, as we will show through this column, that Geography matters.

Keychain size personal GPS device hits the market

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in General

Yes, that’s right. According to the press release, this new personal GPS unit has full GPS capabilities, e-911, two-way voice speaker phone, and programmable buttons for one-touch dialing, and is the size of a key chain. However, it costs almost $500 and, after the first year, loos like you have to pay for the GPS services. Still, if money is no object….

Here is a link to the article:

and the NOWTRAQ website

(Via at GeoCommunity)

BBC – Voices – The Voices Recordings

Posted on Posted in Cartography, Human Geography, WebMapping

This is another in the line of UK sites we have pointed out this week. Voices maps recordings of interviews with British residents from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Through these you can get a sense of the linguisitic and cultural differences as you move through the country. Some of the recordings include colorful langauge, but these should be marked.

This gives insight into the linguistic landscape of of the islands along with some cultural flair and aural and oral cartography.

BBC – Voices – The Voices Recordings

BBC NEWS | Ancient humans ‘altered’ climate

Posted on Posted in General, Physical Geography

This is an interesting note on how we have been altering the climate for quit some time. Carl Sauer was conducting research in the early part of the last century on how prehistoric peoples in the New World have been altering the landscape by clearing large areas. This of course can be linked to altering the climate through deforestation as is mentioned here.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Ancient humans ‘altered’ climate