Month: January 2013


John Snow Meme

I humbly submit to the geography faithful these two memes I just created




One of our readers, Catholicgauze as he likes to be called, has crafted this in response. Bravo!

snow 2

Let’s keep the ball rolling everyone! 🙂

Epidemiology, GIS, and Portwenn

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.


A VerySpatial Podcast – Episode 393

A VerySpatial Podcast
Shownotes – Episode 393
January 27, 2013

Main Topic: A Newsy Episode

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    Great Garden Worm Count

    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.

    All Tied Up: The 40 Year Old Geographer

    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.

    The Geography of Abortion Access in the US

    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.


    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.

    A VerySpatial Podcast – Episode 392

    A VerySpatial Podcast
    Shownotes – Episode 392
    January 21, 2013

    Main Topic: Some thoughts on our changing world and the flow of information

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    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 educational site. Their map shows widespread influenza in all but 3 U.S. states. Although, 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. 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.

    Pins on a map: Networks and Nostalgia

    I was exploring the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Association conference website and didn’t get further into it then the 2013 Best of Innovations Awards when nostalgia hit. The first category: Computer Hardware & Components lists Moneual’s Touch Table PC as a tool for restaurant patrons to order, entertain themselves, and pay their bill. As someone who grew up in an area surrounded by diners and hamburger joints (NJ is the diner capital of the world), I fondly remember Mr. Bee’s hamburgers with fake bee hives under glass tables and Ms. PacMan table top games. Attendees at the annual ESRI International Conference in San Diego will probably relate it to the fun themed table tops at The Cheese Shop Deli near the conference center.  The concept of a touch table top for a diner is both innovative and comfortable at the same time, because it is built upon diner history for diner’s providing entertainment and often advertising space on table tops.

    I started to reflect on how many of the innovations that the CES highlights this year, such as touch tables, tablets, and 3D visualization feel more comfortable in their environments than the technology that led up to them didn’t. Is one of the signs that a technology has matured that it blends in with its surroundings and daily life? According to the Wall Street Journal, restaurant chains are testing out using small, interactive computer screens at the table. They have found that diners tip more given electronic choices. Some restaurants are even making a profit on table top game apps. The arguments that the apps take away from the dining experience also feel nostalgic, they were the same arguments being used to argue against table top arcade gamappinmes in pizzerias.

    3D Visualization was another CES feature technology that had a nostalgic feel because of arguments being made outside CES cautioning against the detrimental impacts of 3D visualization, such as  software creating external corporate control of cities, film making, or other entities that use the technology.  While the technology is new, many of the critiques of it, even when valid, feel retread. The same issues were raised with the use of innovations like office software tools and technicolor movies. Other new technologies that had a nostalgic feel were touch tablets that can be extended to work with one or more monitors to create better workflow. I often use my iPad as an electronic document holder and find that many of the principles for using it are a carry over from word processors and type writer ergonomics. Of course, the most technologically nostalgic device is one like the USB typewriter that modernizes old technology. Even the argument against “retro technologies” that try to fit new technologies into old boxes as nostalgic wallowing applies to today’s Generation Flux and yesterday’s Lost Generation.

    A recent article in The Economist delves into the feeling of technology nostalgia, “Has the ideas machine broken down?: The idea that innovation and new technology have stopped driving growth is getting increasing attention. But it is not well founded.” It discusses the fact that this overall feeling of stagnancy and incremental rates of innovation has been going on for decades.  According to the article, this is partly a factor of perception, starting point, and growth rate.  In today’s society, our technological imaginations are bigger than our own reality. This might explain why criticisms of new innovations feel so similar to arguments about older technologies. An User Interface Engineering article, “Designing What’s Never Been Done Before” sums it up by saying that we are often designing new solutions for old or existing problems. An Entrepreneur article, “The New Trends and Technologies Driving Design“, written almost a year ago in February 2012 states that incrementalism and nostalgia are a manufactured part of the design process or a built in constraint.  We have to face facts, in the life cycle of the  grand technological growth curve there isn’t much difference between a manual or electronic document holder.

    I haven’t decided if this nostalgia reflects more on my age or the age we live in, but I’ve decided to take the approach of Terry Pratchett, “It’s still magic even if we know how it’s done” or even if it feels like we’ve been here before. I look forward to the new age of space exploration, which Wired magazine’s “Almost Being There: Why the Future of Space Exploration Is Not What You Think”  is trying to tell me won’t live up to our imaginations because technology has transformed space exploration beyond our ken. We sociologically and psychologically feel uncomfortable with modern space travel because it exceeds mental images we have built as a society.  Maybe it is good to have innovations that challenge us intellectually and technologically as a society. I don’t know if Marvin Minsky was partially joking when he chided NASA for being old fashioned and creating 10 year olds jaded of space technology, but I like to think so, because I can’t believe the magic has gone out of technology and innovation yet. Maybe the nostalgia and maturity I am referring to is actually ennui and jadedness that will be overcome when the next big leap happens to wow us in our lifetimes. I hope it happens soon.


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