Monday, January 21, 2008

Maps on the Web

When I'm asked to help people (read: college professors) make maps in classes, increasingly I refer to web mapping sites. I've mentioned some of these before in this blog, and if you want to know of some of the great ones, look on this blog's links under Web Mapping Tools. I was asked again for demo-ing the use of GIS software to show some world demographic data, but I have to say that the best way to show these data, in my mind, is with some of the slick web mapping sites out there.
Remember the days when web maps were very clunky because they drew so slowly? Web maps have alwasy been pretty cool because you could see mapped data and sometimes you could download those data, but the effect was lost with the slowness and unattractive visual display. Maybe it’s the advent of virtual globes or map mash-ups, but I'm finding more and more web mapping sites that are fast, have loads of data to play with interactively and look very pleasing when you are in the map interface. Here are some I like.

GapMinder is a web mapping site that Diana Sinton mentioned months ago, but I keep coming back to it. Easy to use and visually striking, it really makes the world of encouraging academics to use maps in classes a lot easier (than teaching them GIS software or finding the data myself and making the maps for them in class). As shown above, click on the Map tab to look at global maps or use the Chart tab to plot variables. For more ideas, you can view the video below.

Use the Chart feature (circled in red above) and you can do things like this map which shows the life expectancy per percent women in the workforce. Press the Play button and you'll see the how the variable for the countries changes through time; GapMinder makes trails of the country. I've highlighted the U.S., Bangladesh and Nigeria which shows that life expectancy trends upward for all countries, but the biggest gain in life expectancy of these three is Bangladesh.

Again, see the video below of GapMinder in action at a 2006 TED conference.

"Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen"
posted June 2006 (thanks Beth Feingold for pointing this out to me.)

“You've never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called "developing world" using extraordinary animation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation. The Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop. Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid -- toward better national health and wealth …"

I couldn't figure out how to embed the video, sorry.

DataPlace has a wealth of US Census data. When you first see the page, it isn't all that attractive. But search on a city and press go and then click on Maps (circled in red above) and you have so much data at your finger tips. Seems you can plot 2000 or 1990 Cenus data for the whole country and for what seems like any variable you might want. The data sources and coarseness (no blockgroup data) are listed.

The World Freedom Atlas "is a geovisualization tool for world statistics. It was designed for social scientists, journalists, NGO/IGO workers and others who wish to have a better understanding of issues of freedom, democracy, human rights and good governance. It covers the years 1990 to 2006." Click on Take me to the maps. On the left side you'll find loads of data and the sources, and an explanation of what the numbers mean. If the data for that variable exist for past years, you can change the map.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cool Google Earth Video

Came across this nice Google Earth video by EarthOutreach. When you mouse over the bottom of the video, you'll see there are different "chapters" on the different and most interesting Global Awareness Layers in Google Earth.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Geospatial Technologies in K-20 Education

In eSchool News I noticed that one of the literacies being promoted or supported, along with Reading and Math and others, is GIS and Geographic Inquiry. It seems like ESRI has a bit of an influence on the page, but there may be some useful resources here for promoting and supported geospatial technologies at all schools. From the GIS and Geographic Inquiry page:

"The growing use of these tools in an array of social studies and STEM subjects supports authentic, problem-based instruction, helping students tackle real social and environmental research projects in their communities."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

U.S. Politics and Campaiging: The Game

My nine year old showed this game to me. (Actually, he was playing it and I looked over his shoulder and was pleased to see that my interest in maps and in politics has rubbed off on him.) It's on the on-line game site MiniClip and it's called Campaign.

The game is about the current U.S. presidential campaign; you choose players who are currently campaigning for President. Then you choose your staff--Spinmeister, Operative, Hatchet Man, or Fundraiser. When you play, you need to choose your moves wisely because each one (attack ads, rally, new hire) costs you money.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Skidmore Regional GIS Conference for College Educators

As mentioned before, Skidmore College is holding a regional GIS conference geared towards colleges and universities on January 11. The agenda looks terrific. Get in touch with Alex Chaucer, if you're interested in attending. He can send you directions.

Skidmore Regional GIS Conference for College Educators
Friday, January 11th, 2008
Tentative Program

9:30 AM Welcome (Dana Atrium)

10:00 AM Todd Fabozzi: The Challenges of Sprawl and Smart Growth in the Capitol Region

11:15 AM Jonathan Cobb: GPS in the 21st Century - An Overview of Current GPS Capabilities, Modernization Efforts, and Complementary Networks

12:00 Noon Lunch Break

1:00 PM Robert Jones: GIS and the Time Dimension

1:30 PM Sharron Macklin and Jenni Lund: ArcGIS and Google Earth: Rules of Engagement

2:15 PM Discussion: Fostering a GIS Community: On Your Campus and Among Liberal Arts Colleges

3:30 PM Session Ends

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Replacing the Tablet PCs of our Mobile Mapping Lab with Newer Tablet PCs

We received our HP tablet PC grant in summer of 2004. What we got were the early addition of the ‘convertible’ tablet PC, the TC1100 (shown above). To get an idea of how we use tablet PCs with GIS software and GPS receivers (shown below), please check out our project web page. We also had a paper in Journal of Geoscience Education on our use of tablets in a geomorphology class.

For the past seven months or so, I’ve tested out new tablet PC options for replacement of our original HP/Compaq tablet PCs. The following are my thoughts on the tablet PCs we tested and what we decided to get, so if you don’t care to ever use a tablet PC for GIS mapping, you can skip this entry.

What we were looking for in a replacement tablet PC were these key improvements: 1) a brighter screen, 2) lighter weight, and 3) longer battery life. Ease of use of the pen and screen conversion (when you flip the screen around and write on it) is a plus. If we could also get a rugged option, that would be great, as we use these tablets in the field and, we all know, “stuff happens.” Also, with each choice, we wanted the most RAM available. Our original TC1100 tablets are 1.876 kg or 4.13 lbs. and came with 512 MB RAM that we never upgraded.

On each of the tablets listed below, I loaded ArcGIS 9.2 plus the GPS software that we’ve been using with our little Rayming receivers (these are no longer available under that name). This is what the GPS receiver looks like. All loaner tablets were the standard units and did not have extra RAM installed.

HP TC4400 (daylight viewable model) with Windows XP (I forgot to weigh it but the web page says 4.6 lbs. 0r 2.08 kg, which seems heavier than I remember) I wanted to be loyal to HP, since they so kindly gave us the original grant and I feel forever indebted to those guys, we tried the TC4400 (shown above). This model tablet PC is like a ‘real’ laptop, very business-y. It’s black and sleek, it looks nothing like our funny little TC1100 (overheard by an anonymous Vassar computing support person, “these are just novelty items” when referring to our new tablet PCs. Ha!) The price for the TC4400 I was quoted was around $1300 (including extra RAM). These seemed pretty good to me and to my colleagues in Earth Science and Geography.

Lenovo ThinkPad X41 (and X61) with Windows XP (X41 - weight 1.889 kg or 4.16 lbs.; X61 - weight 1.765 kg or 3.89 lbs.) When Vassar replaces Intel machines, we use Lenovo/IBMs, so I figured that a ThinkPad tablet (shown above) should be tested because our in-house support might be better. In addition there are ten ThinkPad X41 tablet PCs already on campus in Biology (used for field work also). But I was not sold on the ThinkPad. The weight, the laptop-like quality and our past lack of conviction that ArcGIS plays nice with the ThinkPad, turns me away from this option. Plus the price was around $450 more (similar specs to the HP). There seems to be no daylight viewable model available but I could be wrong about that. Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 with Windows XP (weight 2.341 kg or 5.16 lbs.). Sure these are monsters, but wow, they’re beautiful (see above). These are the Hummer of tablet PCs. If you want a piece of field equipment that won’t sneeze at inclement weather, or balk at dust and heat, the Toughbook CF-19 is your soldier. They even have a model with embedded GPS receivers! It was a little awkward to get a loaner, but when you’re a little school with only a little bit of money, and you want to make an educated decision, you need to actually hold the equipment in your hands and give it a thorough test. If you want advice on getting a Toughbook loaner, contact me ( and I can let you know what I went through so maybe you can avoid some of the pitfalls. The price, including GPS and extra RAM is a whopping $4,000+ each. We cannot justify buying 10 or more of these rugged tablet PCs for teaching purposes, plus the weight alone could make students a little cranky. But the faculty members who routinely use the tablet PCs for mapping loved the ruggedness and know the hardship of heavy field equipment. They wanted a couple to have around for their summer field projects. Who am I to argue?! HP 2710p with Windows Vista Business and daylight viewable option (weight 1.68 kg or 3.7 lbs.) I was about ready to order fifteen TC4400 tablets, I was on the phone with my sales rep and he said are you sure you don’t want to try out the newer 2710p? (Shown above) I didn’t want to. I was quite tired of trying out tablet PCs and felt like I was annoying everyone around with, ‘here, try this one out!’ exuberance. But when the sales rep said that they’re a good ½ pound lighter, I thought that I better give a test. I am glad that I did. The 2710p is terrific, light-weight, sleek, easy to use, great screen for outside use, it is exactly what we need to replace our older TC1100 tablets. The 2710p tablet has a metallic case, so it doesn’t seem like a standard laptop and it doesn’t seem frail. I doubt that it can stand a drop from a second story window, but at least it looks like it could handle it. The price I got was a little over $1,300 each, but I think we will go for the 2710p. It reminds me of our TC1100 tablets, only more rugged, more serious, less ‘novelty item.’ I might look into getting the embedded camera that takes still and video pictures; might be great for field work. Note that this model comes with Vista Business operating system and ArcGIS 9.2 needs service pack 4 to work with Vista. It seemed to do fine in my test.

Added 2/12/2008: We bought 2 CF-19 Toughbooks, and they're working great, and have on order 15 HP 2710P tablets. By the way, in addition to a daylight viewable screen, we are getting the 2710Ps with an embedded camera, all for a fabulous price. Would really like to have an embedded GPS receiver (I know I'm not the only one) but will have to wait until more people shout about this to the vendors.