NYC Streets in Chinese AND English

Yesterday I heard an intriguing and amusing story on This American Life about the multiple names and nick-names used by native Chinese speakers for NYC streets, all informed by cultural and linguistic know-how. My favorite bit was how Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge is known by the dispatchers and customers to be “the Japanese Guy Bridge”  – because its numerous vowels and consonants are suggestive to them of a Japanese name.

The dispatchers – and their clients – are taking ownership of the geography in order to make it work for them.  I crack up trying to imagine how I would relish this same help when I’m spending time in places where I’m completely lost in the language. In Vietnam, Jordan, and China, I did my best to memorize the letters and shapes of words to help me find the (correct) bathroom.  These ad hoc strategies and solutions that people create on a larger scale are fascinating.

The story is only 6 minutes. Listen for yourself and enjoy.

Live ocean mapping in the South Pacific

Just today I learned about NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer current trip in the Pacific. Apart from the live (and previously recorded) narration that I’m finding mesmerizing, I can’t stop watching the “live” mapping taking place on one of the media feeds.  For someone who has spent her entire professional career accessing geospatial data to use in mapping projects, that fact that I’m watching new digital data being produced – LIVE – where there was no data before – is blowing my mind.  About 8 or 9 yrs ago, I actually watched people buy shoes from Zappos in real-time. We’ve come a long way, baby.

That time of the semester again

This week we’ll broach the topic of datums, coordinate systems, and map projections in the GIS class that I teach at Cornell. It’s week 5+ of the semester, just enough into this stuff so that there’s some sustained knowledge growing and they now have enough of a framework onto which to hang the obvious-but-abstract-and-necessary-but-confusing-and-powerful topic.  I used to be more GIS-traditional about this stuff and dive in during weeks 2 or 3. Not any more. Much more and deeper learning taking place now that students are more confident and competent at managing and manipulating spatial data. T

Just in time, XKCD has come up with another inspired projections example to share with the class.

Sharing the GIS Gospel in Belize

For the last few days I’ve had a chance to serve as an “Ambassador” for GIS – on behalf of Esri – in Belize City.  We’ve held two workshops for educators, one yesterday for primary school teachers and the second today for secondary school teachers. At both workshops, teacher educators (faculty who teach pre-service, future teachers in schools of education) were also participating. These experiences are both inspiring and humbling, encouraging and frustrating. Passionate teachers who want to learn new technologies and are committed to their students’ learning, often stymied by lack of computers and unreliable or absent Internet.

I’ve been interviewed twice by local TV stations, first yesterday on The Morning Show on LOVE/FM, and today by Channel 5 (video can be seen via Facebook, and here’s a link to just our story itself). One of the highlights for this trip so far has been connecting with a new friend and colleague Loretta Palacio, the epitome of beautiful and wound-up GIS energy. Loretta runs the Esri distributorship for Belize.

Interested in sharing your #GIS passion with other educators?  The Ambassador program is one way to gain experiences.

Tomorrow, onward to a big Expo for GIS Day. Over 700 children will be there! I’ll be helping teachers and students explore mapping tools.

Mountcastle’s spatial cerebral discovery

For many months I’ve had a magazine clipping on my desk, an obituary of Vernon Mountcastle.  The late Dr. Mountcastle is best known for his 1957 publication that contains the words “topographic” and “cats” in its title: “Modality and Topographic Properties of Single Neurons of Cat’s Somatic Sensory Cortex.” What did these poor cats help Vernon figure out?  That the brain cells (i.e., neurons) that react to a particular stimulus (i.e., a touch) are themselves aligned in a vertical pattern (rather than randomly located, or arranged horizontally). We now know this as the columnar organization of our cerebral cortex.

Like when Watson and Cricks (after work of many others) were inspired to envision a twisting double-helix. Spatial thinking contributes substantially to all knowledge, in one way or another.

the spatial thinking of staircases, horse mounting, and needle work

Every so often, things cross my computer screen that remind me of how fascinated I continue to be with spatial thinking. It started with my friend’s Facebook sharing of how needlework helped her with calculus, just like this article says. Next thing you know, I’ve tumbled down the Internet rabbit hole and learned that castle staircase designs were not random, nor were other elements of medieval defense. Maybe it’s not as obvious now that we’re all driving motorized vehicles but road-side-driving-preference also has historical rationales. What do these all have in common?  Spatial thinking, of course.

Sea Hero Quest: game to aid in spatial cognition tasks

Here’s a new mobile app game that simulates virtual navigation: Sea Hero Quest. It’s been developed by researchers interested in spatial navigation, including Hugo Spiers. I got a chance to meet Hugo during a workshop on education for spatial thinking last year.

They aim to test this on patients with dementia and assess its effectiveness as a diagnostic tool. They’ve had 600,000 downloads so far, especially young teenagers, and want to sample the population across age groups. I’m looking forward to giving it a go. Anything to help ward off dementia, and for the sake of research too.

You can find it here at the Apple Store and here at Google Play.