Category Archives: geography

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.

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.

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.

Future of R with GIS

I was a total newbie to R before spring 2014. Then it was a little trial by fire, trying to learn just enough to keep up with grad students in a class I was co-teaching. Thank goodness for the “co-” part, as my partner was an expert in the topic, and I could contribute in my own areas of expertise, which were/are not R!  But I finished the semester with a new-found respect and, frankly, awe for what is possible with R. I have much to learn, and maybe, someday, the time.

Fast forward a few months and the topic keeps cropping up.  I shared a beer in Salzburg with Lex Comber and learned about one of his forthcoming publications, an Intro to R for Spatial Analysis and Mapping. Haven’t got my own copy yet, but if it’s what it seems to be, it’ll be one of my assigned texts in the future. In one of our webinars, Trisalyn Nelson spoke about her use of R with her graduate students. And today, I silently scanned through Alex Singleton‘s recent presentation on the Changed Face of GIS, in which R figures prominently for him.  There’s something going on here that some smart people have figured out.

On using ArcMap Collector as a mobile app for SSV

Experimenting with reblogging some worthwhile posts.

Katie Faull

Since its inception, Stories of the Susquehanna has been a collaborative, interdisciplinary Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.41.18digital project that has at its core a geospatial interface. What started out as historical/cultural mapping of the Native American landscapes of the Susquehanna in ArcMap Desktop with maps published in static image format (as discussed in the interviews of me and Emily Bitely) has evolved through the iterations of ESRI’s software development.

About a week ago, one of our Digital Scholarship Coordinators and SSV  project manager, Diane Jakacki pointed to to the fact that ESRI was now publishing apps. photoAt first skeptical, I proceeded to delve further into the Collector app and battled my way through tutorials designed for insurance adjusters gathering data in the field (no, I don’t need fields labeled “Habitable” or “Partially Destroyed”) to create a feature layer that could be added to any map in ArcMap online. This feature layer was supposed to be…

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use geography to add fun meaning to meetings

Sometimes after a long day, especially at the end of a long week, one’s mind turns to geographic amusement, or geo-musings.  Here’s mine for the day – courtesy of Emily.  Use a digital map to help you find the middle ground to meet a friend. This brings veracity to meeting in the middle! Two guys played with this idea as an art project and first met somewhere in the Czech Republic, then later up a tree in Westchester County. Emotionally appealing idea of making the commitment and then trusting each other to follow through, come hell, high water, traffic delays, or GPS errors.

I like this definition of art works by Roy Ascott, as a “trigger of experiences” rather than an “object.”

Wanted to play with different approaches for calculating exactly what “the middle” is?  Of course, it’s a geospatial question!  Try this Geographic Midpoint app.

Thanks, Emily!

Maps as Organizational Templates

There’s a hip trend going around, making simple maps with labeled spaces. At least one or two a week have been crossing my computer screen lately. I’ve always referred to this approach as using maps as organizational templates. In most cases the map-makers don’t go into telling a story about why the data are where they are. They’re just labeling a place with its information, and leaving the rest up to us. The map is serving as a way to represent data by virtue of its geographical location. That is, we start with some data, and that data happens to have a 1-to-1 relationship with some location, like a state in the US, or a country in the world.

We could use a spreadsheet as an organizational template instead. In fact, many of these maps started that way. Start with a spreadsheet with an alphabetical list of all 50 states (plus D.C., which often gets overlooked), and then another column in the spreadsheet has some information about each state (let’s call it an “attribute” of that State).  And maybe we know different attributes for different years.

Problem: looking at an Excel spreadsheet is boring. And it’s virtually impossible for us to envision a “pattern” from a spreadsheet. States or countries arranged alphabetically tells us nothing about the geospatial relationships among those places. Did I already mention it’s boring. Our eyes glaze over. Who wants to have glazed eyes?

Instead, by labeling each state – or country – or region – with the attribute, we can appreciate the geographic pattern of said information.  When the data are categorical or nominal, you might get a map like what the most popular boy’s name has been in each state over the last 60 years, or the girls’ names, or surnames in Europe, how the Russian language engenders the names of world countries, or what each world country is “best at” (which is a wonderfully subjective way to begin a discussion), with the label being a word or a phrase.

Such data can often be represented pictorially or through icons, like the “most famous book” in each State (again, who gets to decide that?!), or the Food of the States. At least they remembered D.C.!

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But I’m seeing these maps all over the place these days.