Monday, December 31, 2007

Web Mapping for Educators

I missed the live version of a really terrific webinar put on by Wiley publishing. I know it was good because, fortunately, Wiley sent to link to me since I was signed up to listen to the presentation. Joseph Kerski, of Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. Education Team, gave a great overview of useful mapping web sites on a variety of educational topics and the importance of bringing geospatial technologies into the classroom. He also gave ways to use these web sites for class exercises, examples are shown below. The slide show is called “Geo Tools: Spatial Inquiry Using Web Mapping Tools.” It’s really worth checking out in 2008.

Using the MLA site to map German speakers in the U.S.

Using the National Atlas to map multiple births.

If you’re interested in finding out about and signing up for more of these webinars, visit Wiley Faculty Network where they “provide technology training, live workshops, a one-on-one mentor program, and other valuable resources designed to help you collaborate and communicate with your colleagues to create a more proactive, enjoyable classroom experience for all.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007

(Google) Earth at Depth

Using Google Earth and SketchUp, professor Declan De Paor has found a way for geologist, geophysicists, archaeologists and others to display what they interpret to be happening below the surface of the earth. De Paor gave a presentation at the recent American Geophysical Union meeting on his use of Google Earth for subsurface investigations. I wasn't there. It was reported in Google Earth Design, Google Earth Blog and Ogle Earth. Sounds like AGU 2007 had many good virtual globe presentations plus the presence of a Google Earth booth.
Because it's still holiday break, I haven't tried this yet, but it should be rather simple to do, and if I'm successful, I'll report back.

An added note about De Paor, he is a structural geologist, just like the developers of the other cool geology application of Google Earth that I talked about before.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wildfires and Computer Modeling

An interesting story appeared in the New York Times today about how the US Forest Service and others are enlisting a "one-of-a-kind" computer model to help with fire prediction. They're using slope, prevailing wind, soil moisture, locations of trees killed by a bug, and other geographically identifiable attributes, so why didn't the Times call this high-end computer model a GIS? This is a long-standing frustration I've had with Times reporting; they don't usually call something that is GIS...GIS.

There's even a slick figure showing a time series of relative numbers of lodgepole pines trees killed by beetles. It's all GIS! (In the Times article, click on the map like the one shown below.)

Nor did they fully report the story. The project is the result of an inter-agency collaboration. In the paper version of the Times, no mention was made of this really great web site, that anyone with a browser can use.

From the GeoMAC (Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination) web site:

The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group or GeoMAC, is an internet-based mapping application originally designed for fire managers to access online maps of current fire locations and perimeters in the conterminous 48 States and Alaska. Using a standard web browser, fire personnel can view this information to pinpoint the affected areas.

They've got Google Earth layers and a web mapping application with current fire status data. This is terrific, useful and powerful information made available for everyone and it's not some kind of inaccessible data or something only scientists can view.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Digital Tours in 3-D by EveryScape

This could be an interesting way of looking at a place. A company called EveryScape has started creating (for $$) 'tours' of cities and businesses within the city. As mentioned in a recent New York Times article, EveryScape uses a car mounted with four cameras and takes pictures every 50 feet or so to create a somewhat seamless tour of Boston, Miami, Laguna Beach, Aspen and NYC. Shown above is Harvard Square, where you will find a driving tour on the left and a Google Maps view of where you are in the world on the right. If you click on the street scene, you can look up at the sky and down at the gray car they used to shoot the film. It's a little slow and a little clunky. Eventually, you will be able to 'walk' into businesses and take a look around like the lower picture.

Thanks Andy Anderson for mentioning this.

Monday, November 19, 2007

MapInfo Files Into ArcGIS 9

We have some old MapInfo files floating around from the days when we ran MapInfo on Macintosh computers. Whew! That was a long time ago, but here's how you get to view and use those old files. In ArcCatalogue, use the ArcView 8x Tools toolbar (View -> Toolbars -> ArcView 8x Tools). Then use the MIF to Shapefile function shown circled in red above and navigate to the MapInfo MIF file(s) and save them under a new name. This can also be done as a batch process, as well.

This might require a projection transformation of some sort. Keri, let me know how this works.

Friday, November 16, 2007

TouchTable and Geography

There was an interesting piece on PBS's Wired Science on the TouchTable...a cross between a SmartBoard, a Tablet PC and a coffee table. Thank you, Matthew, for clueing me into this. Claimed to be designed to teach kids about geography, the demonstration of the TouchTable was using Google Earth (love that) and then they switced to the "really cutting edge virtual globe," ArcGIS Explorer. Hum. Sounds like a suspicious link to ESRI. It is a pretty good bit of neo-geography, though, but at $59,000 per TouchTable, seems a far stretch for most regular people to ever afford one.

Then there was an additional link on the PBS site to a TouchTable demo video clip from the ESRI 2005 Users Conference, where the demo guy takes us to Las Vegas using ArcGIS Explorer, which must have been in development back then. This video is a really cool sandwiching of two geo-geeks and lets you know what you're missing when you DON'T make it to the conference. But then there's Derek, who comes on at about 3 1/2 minutes into the demo and you get to see something you might actually be able to do in your own lifetime...Derek demos using a tablet PC and "ArcGIS Server Smart Client Framework" to do GIS. Nice.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mapping and Carbon Emissions

As heard on NPR this morning, there's an informative and interactive web site available showing global power plants. A description from the Carbon Monitoring for Action web site: "CARMA provides the world's most detailed and comprehensive information on carbon emissions resulting from the production of electricity. Power sector emissions make up 25% of the global total, 40% of carbon emissions in the United States CARMA provides the world's most detailed and comprehensive information on carbon emissions resulting from the production of electricity. Power sector emissions make up 25% of the global total, 40% of carbon emissions in the United States"

Look for the Dig Deeper blue button and download data, if you like.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ArcInfo Installation, Continued

Back in June, I thought I had ArcInfo loaded and ready to go, but there were issues. I created my blog entry and walked away for the summer.

Number one...don't remove the ESRI sentinel key from the USB drive. And number two, set-up the license manager as follows.

Click on the Configuration using Services button and then go to the Start/Stop/Reread tab and Start the server. Very simple, of course, but if you don't do this (and it's not clearly stated in the software installation instructions), then when your colleagues come back to use ArcInfo you get this unfriendly error message: FLEXlm Error: Cannot connect to license server. The server (lmgrd) has not been started yet, or the wrong port@host or license file is being used, or the port or hostname in the license file has been changed. Feature: ARC/INFO

Monday, November 12, 2007

GIS and Tablet PCs - from GottaBeMobile

I stumbled across this link on today with a short video clip of someone using a tablet PC and ArcMap to digitize a stream...inking in a GIS application. Says Matt Faulkner, "This is an application that many of you have probably never seen and what you see in this video isn't even scratching the surface on what it can do."

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Teaching Geology, Google Style"

Linking two of my joys--geology and Google Earth--The Wired Campus announced that a new textbook will be coming out knitting structural geology (!) and flying to locations in Google Earth. Written by structural geologists Stephen Marshak and M. Scott Wilkerson, Earth: Portrait of a Planet, 3rd ed., is due this month from W.W. Norton & Company.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ANNOUNCEMENT - Call for Presenters for the Skidmore GIS Conference

This just in from Alexander Chaucer up at Skidmore College...

The Skidmore College interdisciplinary GIS center (iGIS) will be hosting the 3rd annual regional liberal arts GIS conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, on Friday, January 11th, 2008. We will be focusing on creative new applications of GIS, for example, applying the time dimension to GIS, and also discussing new low cost GIS distribution/viewer options available for today's liberal arts classroom. The afternoon session will focus on GIS community building, both on campus and between campuses.


9:30 AM: Welcome and refreshments

10:00 AM to Noon: Space and Time - GIS and the time dimension, low cost GIS distribution/viewer options for the classroom, and other creative new GIS topics and applications.

Noon to 1:00 PM: Lunch

1:00 PM to 3:00 PM: How can academic GIS programs form a community of GIS users on their campus, so that GIS use becomes more interdisciplinary and exposes new students to GIS as a tool/area for research? Additionally, what can be done to help create a GIS user community between liberal arts colleges, for the sharing of ideas and best practices?


If you would like to give a brief presentation on GIS and the time dimension, low cost data distribution/viewers for GIS data in the classroom, or if you have another new creative use of GIS that you think might be appropriate for this forum, please let me know so I can put you on the schedule.

Please send your thoughts to me at More details to follow in a couple of weeks.

We look forward to seeing you on January 11th.

Alex Chaucer - Skidmore College

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Google Earth Lunchtime Demonstration

This lunchtime demo will highlight how to use Google Earth for an academic audience. Like having a globe on your computer, Google Earth is an easy-to-use tool for showing places around the world while in the classroom. With Google Earth you can zoom in to any location and view the landscape, cityscape, topography, photographs taken on the ground, and so much more. You can create place marks to prepare for class or share with students to bring a geospatial context to the lecture.

Getting started with Google Earth

Before you do anything, make sure you download Google Earth.

And if you have Google Earth already installed on your computer, check to get the latest updates. Those updates mean more terrific layers of information at your finger tips.


Here are the basics. With Google Earth you can zoom in and zoom out to anywhere on Earth. In the upper right hand corner of Google Earth you’ll see what you see in the picture above. To Zoom use the vertical slider bar by pressing on the ‘plus’ sign at the top (for zoom in), or the ‘negative’ sign at the bottom to zoom out. Use the LOOK joystick to look around from a single vantage point, as if you were turning your head. Click an arrow to look in that direction or continue to press down on the mouse button to change your view. If you click on the ‘N’ in the compass, you can drag North to whichever way you want North to point. Double-click 'N' and the map orientation will place north up. Usually, we want North to be up at the top of the map window, but sometimes (often, really) Google Earth’s North goes astray and you have to make North go up again. And finally, you can use the MOVE joystick as a means to pan around, sort of like a video game. You click on the hand and hold down the mouse clicker and move to where you want to go. Here's the Navigation page from Google Earth.

Or you can just navigate (spin the globe) by panning with the hand tool.


You can zoom to most any location by using the Search or Fly to area on the left side of the map window. In the text line shown circled in red above, type in either a place name (city, country, geographic feature, for instance) or type in a longitude and latitude, (you can get those from Wikipedia, for example look at Rio de Janeiro and the Coordinates on the right hand side.) Copy and Paste the latitude and longitude into the Search line and click search.

Viewing Layers

On the lower left hand side of the window you will see Layers. There are many intriguing layers to click on and off, some of which are really worth exploring. Here’s what to look for:

Under Geographic Web (next one under Terrain), take a look at Panoramio and Wikipedia by zooming into an area of interest and checking these boxes. If you do not see Panoramio and Wikipedia, click on the plus sign next to the name Geographic Web. Panoramio refers to the web site that houses millions of geo-located photographs that show up as little blue squares on the map. When you click on them, you get to see what the scene looks like on the ground. These photographs are not taken by Google but by people like you and me - user-generate content. Wikipedia, which are white square with a 'W' inside, will refer you to a web page with information about a variety of things.

Check out the Gallery layers (circled in red above). Don't click them all on at once! Click on and off the things that interest you and see what you see. One of my favorites is the David Rumsey Historical Maps site. Double-click on Map Finder and check out London in 1843. Click on the icon that pops up in London, then click on the old map in the balloon.

When you click on the circle next to London 1843 under the Rumsey Historical Maps layer, it can take a few seconds to draw the map. Zoom in to a part of London, highlight by clicking once on London 1843 (you'll find the map in the Places layer, under Temporary Places (circled in red), and then use the slider bar (shown circled in green above) to set the transparency. You can see what London looks like today and what it looked like in 1843. Turn off and on the Panoramio photograph layer to see what has changed, as well.

The last layer that I want to mention is the Global Awareness layer. Rich with data and projects, and one of great interest shows on-the-ground information on Darfur. The layer is called USHMM: Crisis in Darfur.

Measure Tool

The ruler tool (circled in red above) can be useful for measuring distances. The Google Earth standard version (the free version) allows you to measure a line or a path. If you measure a path, you click along the path that you want to measure. There are a variety of measurement units to choose.

Setting Up Placemarks

You can easily set up a ‘tour’ ahead of class time by using place marks. Find a location that you want to discuss and then click on the thumbtack icon from the toolbar (circled in red above).

Before you begin setting up Placemarks, create a folder by right clicking on My Places and then select Add -> Folders. You'll place all of your placemarks in this folder, so give it a name. As a default, a yellow pushpin thumbtack icon will be placed in the middle of your map window. This image below shows a purple arrow. You can change the icon.

While you are in ‘edit’ mode, there will be a yellow frame around the place mark icon. Type in a title (if you like) for the place mark and type in a description (also optional) and click OK and you then have a place mark saved of the location that you chose. You can always get back to edit mode by right-clicking on the placemark icon and choosing Properties. The yellow edit frame will show up again.

From the New Placemark window, if you click on the icon button at the top right, you will get a variety of different icons. You can change the size, transparency, color, type, you can add your own custom icon. You can also use on icon which is nice too.

Sometimes the best way to view a place is not like a bird, flying over a flat-lying map and with North as up. If you zoom in a little, tilt the view and rotate the angle, sometimes a place is much more interesting.

When you are done with your placemarks, you can save the folder with your place marks as a KMZ (stands for Keyhole Markup Language Zipped file) file and show it in class on the classroom computer or share it with students through Blackboard or Vspace or email or on the Google Earth BBS. Click on this link to see how saving place marks is done.

Adding a Polygon

You may wish to create your own map of an area. You can use the Polygon function (circled in red) to outline an area that you're interested in sharing. Above I have created a polygon and placed it in a folder called Look at This and called the polygon Problem Area (circled in green). You can now send this to whomever you wish. Notice that the line follows the shape of the topography.

Adding Your Own Map

Sometimes you have a scanned map or some other map that you found on the web or that someone sent you and you want to place it into Google Earth. This is called creating an Image Overlay. It takes a little practice, but it is a really powerful way to display a simple static map.
To get a real thorough description of how to add an Image Overlay to Google Earth, you should go to the Google Earth Image Overlay help section. Here is a very brief explanation of a feature that I think is one of the coolest things about Google Earth.

First, create a folder in My Places and give it a name. Then click on the Image Overlay icon.

Let’s practice with a map of Israel. If you Google search ‘Israel’ and then click on Images, (not Maps!) you will get plenty of maps in the first few entries. Take one of those and save it to your desktop. You could also save the URL and use it in your Image Overlay, but for this example we will ‘pretend’ that this is your own map that you scanned from your own scanner because the steps are exactly the same.

In Google Earth zoom to Israel and orient your window to align at about the same geographic extent as the map of Israel that you have. Click on the Image Overlay icon in the tool bar (circled in red above).

You will get a new window (like the one you get when you add a Placemark) and you will get some green lines; these indicate where your map will be placed.

Give the map a name, then click on Browse and go to the place on your computer where you saved the map image and add it by clicking OK. The map is now within the green lines.

Use the Transparency slider bar to make the map slightly transparent; sometimes that makes this process easier. Use the cross hair in the middle of the map (number 1 in the map above) to move the whole map to a new location (your cursor will change from a panning hand tool to a pointing finger tool). Use the diamond on the left side of the map to rotate your map (number 2 above). And use the edge lines and corner lines to stretch the image to the proper orientation (numbers 3 and 4 above). Remember, your original scanned map or map that you got from the web will not change; you can always go back and re-do an Image Overlay.

After you’ve moved, rotated and stretched your map to be just the way you like it, you can also add some content in the description area, move the Transparency bar back to Opaque and click OK. Now you have a map to share. Similar to the Tour above, you can share your map with students and colleagues as a saved KMZ file. Save the folder that contains your map.

Web Resources

Finally, if you want to find out some more information on Google Earth, there are many terrific resources out there for educators created by educators. Sometimes, you do not need to reinvent the wheel when creating a place mark. A good place to start is Vassar’s GIS blog where we’ve compiled many links to Google Earth and other virtual globe materials and information.

Scroll down this blog page and you can see that there are links to the variety of virtual globes available (at least the ones I’m familiar with) under the Virtual Globes heading.

Right under the Virtual Globes links are the links to Tools for Teaching with Google Earth. Here are some great links. The first one listed include all the KMZs I’ve made for faculty members.

And you should check in with the larger Google Earth BBS and do a search of a place or subject you are interested in. There might be something already out there.

All the rest of the links are still active, I checked them when I wrote this short tutorial, and I highly recommend them. There are too many great educational Google Earth links to go into detail on each.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with me, Meg Stewart. I’ll help you out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

GIS and Second Life at the University of Texas at Arlington

The GIS Librarian at UT at Arlington, Joshua Been, posted about their need for a GIS Research Assistant for Second Life. He says, "our library is making the move and has decided to test the possibility of providing research assistance in Second Life (SL). The pilot project will focus exclusively on GIS research assistance, after which we will examine its outcomes and decide how to proceed."

Worth taking a look at, perhaps? Maybe a pilot project for one of our Media Cloisters students?

Monday, September 17, 2007

How to Measure Area in ArcMap

Thanks to web tracking data, I see that there are many searches with the key words "measure" "area" and "GIS" or some variation of that theme and sometimes people stumble upon this blog. How to measure area in GIS has been a difficult undertaking, for some odd reason that I haven't yet discovered the answer.

Recently and by pure chance I found that ArcMap DOES in fact measure area very easily. Perhaps it was with ArcGIS 9.2 upgrade, but here is how you do it. I guess if you do not have the 9.2 upgrade then you need to ignore this entry because I don't believe this worked for 9.1 or earlier. As shown in the Tools toolbar above and circled in red, click on the Ruler icon which brings up the Measure tool.

As shown above, choose your units for your Distance and for your Area.

Choose the polygon icon in the Measure window and click the perimeter of the area that you are interested in measuring (shown in light gray above). You will get a linear measurement and an area, in units that you specify.

Finally, as all things ESRI, there was a little glitch when I tried this on two different data sets. I think you need to define the projection of the entire map for this to work. For instance, this technique worked beautifully with data in the above coordinate system (NY State Plane feet), but the area units were grayed out for a set of data in Geographic Coordinate System. If you figure it out, let me know because there's a world of people out there who are interested in the (easy) answer.