Citrus inspiration for cartographers

New challenges for the projection-minded. What new types of distortion can be created with these?

The Art of Ornamental Orange Peeling, circa 1905

braids and twists

braids and twists

Geographicity? Say that 3 times fast.

Learned a new word today, geographicity. It’s in the title of an upcoming edX MOOC offered by a group of Swiss geographersExploring Human’s Space: an Introduction to Geographicity. A class designed to “explore how geography, cartography, urbanization and spatial justice play a role in shaping the notion of human space.”  Sounds marvelous and could be, if done well, an interesting entry into the somewhat opaque social-science side of my beloved discipline of geography.

The word itself – geographicity – is unlikely to ever make the OED. It was coined sometime after 1999 by two philosophers, Gary Backhaus and John Murungi. I first saw its definition (geographicity = the spatial component of all phenomena) in the preface of their 2007 book, Colonial and Global Interfacings: Imperial Hegemonies and Democratizing Resistances.  Geographicity also figures prominently in Esoscapes: Geographical Patternings of Relations, and Lived Topographies and their Mediational Forces.

passage about geographicityHere’s a passage from where I first saw the term discussed, from the preface of the Colonial and Global Interfacings books. Go ahead, read it through and challenge yourself to understand. I have, several times, and I’m still clueless.  Absurdly and gratuitously confusing academic-speak.

I really do have much respect for social theorists. Some of my best friends are social theorists. (okay, not really).  I’ve enjoyed the rich dialogue between fellow geographers about just this topic recently.  In this case, it’s philosophers writing and not geographers, but, still, I’d argue that this passage lies at the extreme edge of English-language communication.

Uncommon situations that warrant spontaneous purchases

I’m finding the development of location-based services to be both intellectually intriguing and amusing.  The ThinkNear mobile advertising business endeavor of Telenav intrigues me because I like the ways they’ve grappled with explaining the complexities of geospatial location to business-minded novices. Seeing their current home page ad has been an amusing highlight of my day. Definitely an advertising location_based_services_ad (800x385)idea thought of by a man, but I admit it’s clever. Makes me want to send it to my friends and see whether they get it.

Foo Fighter frenzy

Until this summer, it’s been years since I’ve paid attention to the Foo Fighters. They were always one of Chris’s bands, along with ones like Rush, King Crimson, Sugar, The Charlatans, Urge Overkill. Usually there were a couple of songs from each group that I liked, but for the most part, I couldn’t really listen to some of these bands for very long.  I’d try. How many times I’ve tried to listen to Bob Mould, knowing how much C loves him. But I just can’t, and that’s okay. There are plenty of musicians that Chris and I have in common, and plenty of hours of life for us to enjoy our own favorites.

Summer 2015, the renaissance of the Foo Fighters in my life. It began in July when the internet brought me the story of these wacky Italians who organized 1000 of their closest friends to play Learn to Fly together as a mass invitation for Dave Grohl to play them a concert.  Of course Dave agreed, in his own charming way. I loved the group video and spent some days thinking about what person or group I adore enough to make such an attempt. Honestly, can’t think of anyone. Though I once almost bought a $500 plane ticket to see Rodrigo & Gabriela again.

Anyway, listening to Learn to Fly just reminded me of how much I did enjoy certain FF songs. Which meant some evening sessions playing their old albums, and then Chris brought home a few episodes of Sonic Highways on Netflix. And for 3 nights this week, we learned about the music scenes of Chicago, Washington DC, and Nashville. I now have a fan-crush on Dave Grohl.  Did you know he grew up only about 20 miles away from me, in the greater Washington DC area?  Did you know he’s actually 2 yrs younger than me?  Needless to say, our paths never would have crossed during our adolescent years. His first concert was the Rayguns. Mine was the Beach Boys, followed a few months later by Shaun Cassidy.

Fast forward 40 years. Those first few episodes of Sonic Highways were great. I learned about how clueless I am about the DC rock scene, and all rock scenes for that matter. I’ve only been to the 9:30 Club once in my life, to see Adrian Belew and The Bears, maybe sometime in 1986 or 1987, after his King Crimson years. How did I even know about Adrian Belew, or King Crimson?  Chris, of course.

Sonic Highways taught me too about the Zac Brown Band, and Tony Joe White, and this thing called Go-Go music. Yes, that musical style was being launched during my childhood and teenage years in the DC area, and I was ensconced in my suburban neighborhood.

Zac Brown is playing next week in Saratoga Springs, less than 4 hours from where I live.  Road trip!

Why I’ll Be at Bates College Next Week

I’m a geographer by training, specifically a geographic information scientist. For about 20 yrs I’ve been teaching people how to make maps (via GIS and other digital mapping techniques). Though now I mostly teach undergraduate and graduate students, I’ve also had the pleasure of running almost 100 different professional development workshops for fellow faculty, academic staff, librarians, the general public, and the occasional group of children.

The faculty that I’ve worked with – especially during my years with the National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education (NITLE, 2003 – 2007), and then as the Director of Spatial Curriculum & Research at the University of Redlands (2007 – 2011) – represent a very wide range of disciplines, from probably almost 20 different academic departments. What they all have in common is that they are NOT geographers, and virtually all of them would say they are unfamiliar with a geographic way of looking at the world. So especially during the first few years I was very curious as to why they were all so keen to learn how to use GIS. Though several knew enough to say “spatial analysis,” the overwhelming response was “visualization.”  They wanted to see the patterns of their data, and overlay them with a myriad of other layers of information.

At some point, someone also said to me, maybe back in 2004 or so, that they found “spatial thinking” to be very powerful. I wasn’t even sure what those words meant together, and I was a geographer.  So began my lengthy quest to understand “spatial thinking” better. I started reading the research done by psychologists who specialized in “spatial cognition,” and talking with them at conferences. I sought to understand what and how their assessment of mentally rotating 3-dimensional objects, in abstract or table space, had anything to do with my use of geographical data in landscape-level space. By the time the National Research Council published the Learning to Think Spatially report (National Academies Press, 2006), I’d discovered my tribe. It’s filled with people from all different backgrounds (geography, geosciences, STEM, psychology, engineering, architecture, art, design, dentistry, etc.) with a passion for how spatial informs our world. Together with a few friends, I wrote The People’s Guide to Spatial Thinking (NCGE, 2013), as an attempt to communicate these ideas as broadly as possible.

One dimension of this (no pun intended) that intrigues me is how frequently the term “visual” is used in situations where, to me, it’s clearly a “spatial” situation.  And this is what I’ll be exploring more during a talk I’ll be giving next week at a Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education, which Bates is hosting.

In the absence of visual impairment, our sense of sight is how we perceive the majority of information from the external world. So when someone says to me, “I’m a visual learner,” I can’t help but wonder what exactly they mean by that.  If they show me a sketch they’ve just made of how their Cousin Earl fits into the family tree, or a set of Ikea instructions, or a graph of recent economic data, or a bracket diagram of basketball teams at the end of a season, or a map of how Ebola infections spread over time, it’s actually the SPATIAL arrangement of information through which meaning is extracted, not just the fact that you’re using your eyesight to access the image or representation. Visual thinking, in that you need to write down someone’s name or phone number, and look at it, to give yourself any chance of remembering it, versus just having them say it out loud to you once?  Yes. Visual trumps aural.  But sketching a little diagram on the back of an envelope, to explain something?  Spatial, enabled by vision.

Spatial thinking is an ability to visualize and interpret location, position, distance, directions, relationships, change, and movement through space. STEM learners constantly need to extract meaning through, and communicate with, these internal and external representations, and the spatial thinking necessary to do that well is chronically under-recognized, under-valued, and under-taught.

March Map-Madness at Davidson

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I just heard this story and I felt like sharing it widely.  Undergrad students at Davidson making maps of basketball plays and helping their team – via their coaches – be more successful than ever.  They watch the game VERY CAREFULLY and plot the data.  This is manual data collection, then manual data entry. Not, as the NPR story suggests, the same way that the big guys do it now, with lots of overhead cameras.  And now that Kirk Goldberry has hit the big time in letting the world know about this strategy, it’s surely becoming a more widespread practice.

I like that the guys at Davidson have figured it out on their own. I like that the first time, they turned in a “5-page essay” of the results to the coaches, and discovered how less-than-helpful that was.  So now they produce the much more visually effective “heat maps” and help the team learn about their competition, spatially, before tip-off.  And that they have the work-flow down to 10 minutes?  Give these guys a hand.  And, @NPR, next time – it’s okay to say “spatial analysis” and “GIS” as well.

Of course, smart undergrads have been doing this exact thing for a while. Like the Travis Gingras from St. Lawrence who did this with hockey, almost 10 years ago!

Winter Snow Landscape Art

Check out these snow patterns.  This takes a LOT of planning and significant capacitsnow-4y for spatial visualization in the process!  Especially interesting how only with the curve of the road in the lower right do you have any sense of scale.

h/t to Nag on the Lake.