Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New geoweb mapping sites

My friend Jeremy Crampton reminded me of how rapidly the world of online mapping is changing.  Here are a few sites he mentioned as we chatted over dinner at the Villa Rosa restaurant here in Egham.  All of these platforms have fairly direct compatibility with ESRI software and its shapefile format:

1. Mapknitter

As Jeremy mentioned yesterday when he was speaking in the department of geography at Royal Holloway, mapknitter can take imagery collected using custom methods (such as hot air balloons) and knit it together into one image, with rectification

2. Geocommons

Geocommons is not all that new but it is useful to keep in mind that it is in its 2.0 incarnation

3. Fulcrum
Fulcrum really looks great, and it works on both iPhone and android platforms.  This one is new to me, but it might be making an appearance in GG3090 in the future

In the end it's all about making beautiful maps!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Royal Holloway authors' books on my shelf

Dorothea's book is described on this MIT press page.   I just received it in the mail today.

In case you haven't yet had the chance, it's worth looking at Tim Unwin's edited volume as well (see image below), which will give you all the background you need for reading Technologies of Choice?

While we're at it I'll mention Tim Cresswell's book, which I received just a few days ago (see image below).  

I'm taking some time out between bouts of marking to devote an hour or two each day to properly reading these scholarly works.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cartographies of Life and Death at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

The last two weeks have been excellent.  After a couple of years conference-free, I've enjoyed first a mini-conference at RBG with Doreen Massey; and second another mini-conference that ended a couple of hours ago at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  The name of the school might seem a bit quaint to some but it reflects a time when British colonial interests overseas were contending with some fierce diseases.  Not the least of which was cholera.

Spurred on by one of the presenters I took the opportunity during today's lunch break to walk from the conference location, passing first through the lobby where an exhibit features maps and books from archives as well as art inspired by John Snow.  There are a couple of animated digital maps as well, one of which uses choropleth classifications to depict outbreaks in Africa; and another of which plots occurrences of cholera through time on Snow's original 1854 map base, with a 'central tendency' point that follows cholera cases day by day.

Walking out onto the street wet from that morning's rain (which I'd been pulled up to that morning by an updraft coming from the Senate House Library behind me) I went straight ahead and then left, entering almost immediately the Royal Holloway Bedford Square (which I discovered on the way back has an architectural bookstore).  After arriving at Oxford Street I had to check a map to figure out how to get to Soho Square, just beyond which lie the streets where Snow lived and made observations on cholera so long ago.

This was really my first time going to Soho, and I followed a satisfyingly narrow back street over to Dean Street, and from there it was a short jaunt into a maze of streets with record and art stores and finally to the John Snow pub.  I had just joined the John Snow society too, and I shortly found the famous pump, which is a replica of the original.  Broad Street from Snow's day has been changed to Broadview Street.  There is a 'water bar' set up there (this was the last day), where a person could sample different kinds of water if they were so inclined.

The walk back was brisk, just in time to catch Tom Koch's talk on disease mapping.  He has a book out by that name with the University of Chicago Press.  Tom had the place livened up in no time as he cracked jokes about Sinclair Lewis and The Lone Ranger.  A fellow Canadian from B.C., we had a good chat at the break a bit later on.  He believes that science is never done by one man alone, despite the aura that goes with Snow.  One question from the audience challenged this view, pointing out that Snow was a unique man, going so far as to drink only distilled water (on top of being strictly tea-total).

The debates were wide-ranging and there was a lot of medical terminology.  In large part the conference was about cholera.  One of the best talks was by Christopher Hamlin from Notre Dame.  He is a historian of science who talks about Kuhn, paradigms, and ontologies of disease in a very compelling way.  This is quite relevant to how one views the spread and transmission of ideas; the latter may sometimes operate like viral outbreaks.  These are the memes that Dennett had been discussing in his talk (see previous blog post).

All of this is my idea of fun.  For more information click here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Daniel Dennett on memes at Royal Holloway

Daniel Dennett will be talking about "culturally evolved thinking tools -- memes -- that permit multiple layers of 'software'..." to hear more be there tomorrow:

[From iQuad:

Tomorrow!  Psychology Keynote - Daniel Dennett :

Message No: 7689, Posted: 5/3/2013
Daniel Dennett’s talk is entitled: ‘How thinking tools populate our brains and turn them into minds’ 

On Tuesday 12th March at 2pm in Windsor Auditorium.

Human brains are composed, as other brains are, of billions of semi-independent mindless, clueless neurons. How do they get organized into structures that can take on novel routines of activity, execute novel algorithms, without laborious conditioning? It can take a thousand trials to train a monkey to perform a rather simple cognitive task that a human being can learn to perform in a minute or less. Our brains can implement virtual machines by the thousands. How might this be accomplished? By the installation of culturally evolved thinking tools--memes--that permit multiple layers of "software," creating indefinitely deep stacks of virtual machines that run on the underlying neural hardware.]


The controversial meme concept is alive and well despite claims by detractors that this allegedly 'pernicious' concept is all but dead.  One of the most respected, and controversial, philosophers of our time is speaking tomorrow at Royal Holloway.  Dennett's books include Freedom Evolves, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Brainchildren, and others. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Critical GIS and the Geoweb 4: Writing Worlds

This fourth installment of Critical GIS and the Geoweb (a supplement to GG3090 at Royal Holloway) is an attempt to let my readers know where I'm coming from (as much as that is possible).  As described in the introduction to my book, Maps and Memes (under review with McGill-Queen's University Press) and in my PhD dissertation, I came to the "Ground Truth" unexpectedly, feeling alone as a GIS technician in a world of academics and so-called "high-flying" thinkers.

Around the same time as I'd discovered John Pickles' edited volume Ground Truth, I discovered Writing Worlds, another edited volume that had appeared much earlier than Ground Truth, with essays by Harley, Pickles, Olsson, Curry and others.  The table of contents reads like a who's who in the world of critical cartography and GIS, although there have since been many additions to this world, most notably Jeremy Crampton and Nadine Schuurman.  I referred to Writing Worlds in my master's proposal, and I think that is partly what drew Simon Dalby (soon to become my master's supervisor) in.

When I talk about concepts like geographic information narratives and texts for telling stories about landscape, I am at some level talking about landscape as text.  This deconstructive approach to mapping and landscape has been in vogue for at least two decades in cartography, with mainstream cartographers regularly referring to Pickles and Harley as essential starting points for considering social implications of geographic information technologies (see Longley and Goodchild's text Geographic Information Systems and Science).  

So when I invoke the Ground Truth, or telling stories about geography through text, I am not simply talking about writing as sitting at a desk with a pen or keyboard.  I am talking about embodying mapping by being-in-the-world.  Maps as performances are phenomenological with no clear boundary between the inscription (the paper map) and the process by which that inscription comes to be.  Denis Wood and John Fels book The Natures of Maps is the best place to start to separate epimap from peri- and para-maps.  It is worth looking back some time to Pickles' first book (Phenomenology, Science and Geography), published in 1985, to see where he was coming from when he started to criticise GIS. 

It is a challenge for some to write about geospatial technologies because those technologies themselves are often quite new, and because it is tempting, if one is actively using them, to talk about the mechanics of what they do.  Remaining at that academic "high flying" level, one that is both critical and analytical while maintaining a logical and coherent narrative flow, is a definite balancing (or even juggling) act.  It is the challenge faced by students of GIS at Royal Holloway in all years, whether it is listening to my lectures in first year or writing about geospatial technologies for the first time in second year.  

It is clear however, that engagement with key texts by deep thinkers in critical cartography, GIS and the geoweb, those mentioned above in this blog post (and in course outlines and reading lists I've been circulating), is the best way to get to the place we need to be to begin to perform the high wire act of elucidating original thoughts about geospatially enabled technologies, discourses and worlds.