Archive for December, 2005

Globes, GIS and Art

Monday, December 5th, 2005

Geographic information systems are most often utilized for functional cartographic and spatial analysis purposes. Seldom is it remarked for its aesthetic and artistic capabilities. Whereas GIS is a valuable and functional tool for industries, environmental research, resource management, engineering and the like, seeing GIS displaced from its functional realm as a creative force is surprising. How do these tools for visualizing spatial functions, normally embedded in a language of complex algorithms and numbers, have any relevance to the world of art?

Ingo Ghunter has been making ‘map-art’ for nearly a decade. His globes illustrate the spatial interpretation of some rather mundane statistics on global wealth, environmental issues, and trade. Certainly, the art is appealing on a visual level, but it also serves as a critique of the Western world and the globalizing economy. Many of the globes illustrate the geographical disparity between rich nations and poor nations of the world, where geographical scale and colours assist in illustrating the point in a more profound way than by way of any statistical table or graph. These exaggerations in scale and colour effectively illustrate the capacity that cartography has in revealing a function, and divulging information to its audience beyond the simple purpose of representing space.

Of course, these representations might not be entirely useful for analytical purposes, but beyond their aesthetic appearance, they do illustrate some important observations created through exaggerating and distorting space and scale. There are installations of his work in Bonn, Germany and a recent publication in Wired magazine.

This art could be considered to represent the convergence between GIS and psycho-geography, where GIS is a system for creating awareness in a creative way of the global landscape. As a purposeful device for spatial analysis, and as an innovative and artistic device for social commentary – GIS is a broadly utilized tool that has a great capacity for visualizing many different spatial and aspatial phenomena.

See also

Juan’s Freire’s blog postings on GIS
Radical Cartography

Hat tip to Roy for the post.

GIS and Restoration Scenarios of Salt Marshes

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Thanks to a student in the Intro GIS course.

Landscape ecology is a field that focuses on understanding processes at the landscape level. Due to the inherent spatiality of this field, GIS is especially well placed to make a contribution in terms of predictive research and thus enhance conservation management and policy-making. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO), makes extensive use of GIS. Founded in 1965, PRBO has accomplished many feats in terms of bird ecology research, using partnership with other private and public institutions. It has initiated a division whose goal is to integrate GIS into its research and into monitoring activities of birds and their habitats.

One interesting project launched by PRBO has been to predict how wetland birds in the South San Francisco Bay could be affected by changes in their habitat. Over time, the original salt marshes of the area had been converted to salt ponds. This has diminished habitat space for certain migrating fowl species. There has been a recent push to convert the space back to its original form. The PRBO is working to create a habitat conversion model to plan the optimal means of achieving this goal.

The GIS staff at PRBO combined data from bird surveys, aerial photos, statistical analyses and spatial modeling. They were able to discover useful knowledge concerning the possible effects habitat conversion would have on the wildlife. They quantified preferred variations in terms of size, location, as well as certain physical attributes of salt ponds, channels, and tidal marshes. Analysis of this information has allowed PRBO to create different restoration scenarios. As such, they have contributing to the management of the area.

GIS can thus be quite useful in terms of furthering knowledge of landscape ecology, and on all the impacts this field has on the management of different species worldwide.

[PRBO is also notable for its real-time implementation of GIS during a fire at the park. It’s a great story of what GIS can do in crisis situations as well as the strong support by GIS vendors of conservation efforts. To give you a sense of the short-time horizons of the project, plotters were air-lifted into the newly formed PRBO GIS office while the fire was raging.–Sieber]

A New Diagnosis: Internet Addiction Disorder

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Mental health professionals have identified a new addictive disorder in people they refer to as onlineaholics. According to the estimates of these professionals, “6 percent to 10 percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in this country have a dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction” (reported in the New York Times, 12/01/2005.) In response to critics calling this a “fad illness” professionals insist that many online addicts are furthering other addictions to pornography or gambling and have become much more dependent on such addictions due to the presence of the internet. Many people that become addicted to the internet already suffer from another disorder like depression or anxiety, however there are millions of healthy people that get lured in by “the Internet’s omnipresent offer of escape from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for anonymity.” Symptoms of the disorder include cravings for the computer, lying about time spent online, withdrawl from hobbies and social activities, back pain, and weight gain. Withdrawl symptoms are similar to those that are experiences by alcoholics and drug addicts and include abnormal sweating, extreme anxiety and paranoia. Unfortunately, insurance companies do not recognize this as a psychiatric disorder, so people seeking treatment have to pay out of pocket.

Hockey at the UNFCCC

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Activists from numerous organizations played hockey today in front of the Palais de Congres. To illustrate the plight of global warming, the hockey rink was slush instead of ice. Good thing it wasn’t too cold today–the activists were playing in bare feet.

Once again, the demonstration attracted the news media and not the attendees. Did it reach the TV audience? Even though hockey is Canadians’ national past-time, I’m not convinced this make climate change more pressing of an issue. On TV it looked kind of silly but that’s what happens when you rely on the media to transmit a message the way you want it conveyed.

GIS in Fashion Retailing

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

From Ariel:

Fashion retailing is a large business in Hong Kong. Due to expensive rents, retailers want to choose store locations where they will earn the highest profit. When retailers choose a good location for the store, it allows for a greater chance of success for the company both in growth and finance. In Hong Kong, GIS is usually applied in areas like construction engineering, environmental science and land development. Recently, there have been more businesses using GIS because it helps promote business decision making capabilities.

One new application of GIS is in fashion retailing. A study was conducted in Hong Kong between two shopping plazas with the aim to model a shopper’s walking pattern through a mutli-storey plaza by identifying “a set of environmental or spatial variables, correlating them with non-spatial ones like frequency of passing-by, degree of familiarity.” The two shopping plazas that were chosen had different characteristics. One of the plazas, the Grand Century Place is modern and 7 – storey high while the second plaza, the Prudential Center is 6 – storey high.

To model walking patterns, nodes represented the facilities and entrances, exits, and escalators; whereas the plaza stores were represented by polygons with their entrances represented by nodes. Line segments represented the paths and feasible walkways between the nodes. Then attribute tables were created to associate the spatial entities such as a store table and a path attribute table.

The study concluded that the stores next to key entrance points, especially next to bus terminals or the transit system, were most advantageous. The study also found that shoppers walked through spacious, open passages more then narrow passages and there were indications that there was a concentration of shoppers on the lower level in the Grand Century Place. The concentration of shoppers may be due to the fact that the plaza is extremely big and it would cause the shoppers fatigue if they walked through the entire plaza.

This application demonstrates that GIS can be valuable to the fashion industry because it can help retailers select a profitable location when deciding where to situate their stores. Choosing a good store location increases the stores’ profits because within a plaza: there are many stores that sell similar products so shoppers have a variety of choices. This creates competition among the stores since shoppers can compare the products sold. With the use of GIS, store retailers can better determine the variables that could affect their profit. It would be inappropriate to rent an expensive location if a profit will not be made and with GIS, retailers can make determinations before they rent the location. By routing the pattern of plaza shoppers, the study also provides the fashion industry with shoppers’ preferences. The shoppers’ preference will give the fashion industry an indication as to which type of store would earn profit if it was situated in that location. Although this study was conducted in Hong Kong, GIS could benefit the fashion industry in other countries as well.

Protest and theatre at the UNFCCC

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

There is little apparent NGO protest within the UNFCCC/COP. After all, NGOs are significant players in the negotiations (either directly because they are part of a country’s delegation or indirectly because they are attempting to influence a country’s delegation). There is a bit, however. This morning I saw a sign from Environment Jeunnesse, saying “The Children of the World Say: YES to Marrakech” (the sign asked delegates to support the Marrakech accords created at COP 7). And later that day, WWF staged a little inside theatre: a guy dressed in a polar bear outfit wandered around a small set kitted out in the trappings of a tropical island (very nice backdrop, BTW). The polar bear kept looking for an iceberg, finally fell to ground, and ‘died’.

The attendees of the conference just walked by these demonstrations. Of course, these may not have been for the attendees at all but for the media. And the media was attracted to these demonstrations like flies on…flypaper. Which leads me to wonder: can the press be so easily played? (Yes, that’s why NGOs do this.) Does the press assumes that this is the sum total of what’s going on at this conference? (No, but it’s easy and it makes for ‘good’ TV.) It’s also part of the mnemonics of the press: “Climate change conference? Protest. Flash. Police presence. Flash. Serious people talking. Flash. Some kind of chart or map. Flash. Politician. Okay, got it.” Kind of difficult to insert some nuance into this.