Archive for December, 2008

Japan Harnessing Foot Energy In Train Stations

Sunday, December 14th, 2008


Experiments have started this week at two of the Japanese capitals’ busiest stations, with special flooring tiles installed in front of ticket turnstiles. Every time a passenger steps on the mats, they trigger a small vibration that can be stored as energy.

Multiplied many times over by the 400,000 people who use Tokyo Station on an average day, according to East Japan Railway, and there is sufficient energy to light up electronic signboards.

Read the whole story here

I can hear the complaints now:

    Passenger: “Oh, I missed my train because I could not find the platform.”

    Conductor: “You have shamed Japan Rail by not expressing enough kinetic energy.”

texting elephants

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Kenyans have been very creative in using geospatial tools to track animals and manage parks. One challenge is to handle the increasing numbers of human-elephant conflicts, such as trampling gardens and raiding food supplies. In this most recent example of creativity, elephants have been fitted with collars that text local residents when the elephants approach humans’ food.

The text message from the elephant flashed across Richard Lesowapir’s screen: [the elephant] Kimani was heading for neighboring farms.

The huge bull elephant had a long history of raiding villagers’ crops during the harvest, sometimes wiping out six months of income at a time. But this time a mobile Relevant Products/Services phone card inserted in his collar sent rangers a text message. Lesowapir, an armed guard and a driver arrived in a jeep bristling with spotlights to frighten Kimani back into the Ol Pejeta conservancy. [link added

According to the AP story, in addition to the texting, the elephants can be tracked through Google Earth, helping to map and conserve the corridors they use to move from one protected area to another. The technology also can be used to prevent ivory poaching because park managers know where to send resources.

Software helps traditional tracking practices move into the future!

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Thanks, WR, Intro to GIS

Cyber Tracker is downloadable software that can be used on a smart phone or any handheld computer device to record a variety of observations, everything from infected gorillas in the Congo to alleged criminals in the Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Cyber Tracker was created by the South African non-profit group, Cyber Tracker Conservation. The software was originally developed to aid semi-literate to illiterate traditional animal trackers in southern Africa. It allows conservationists to record their observations in the field on handheld computers linked to global positioning system, or GPS. The program’s visual components allow non-experts to accurately map any animal’s movements and display using icons and/or text. The software also includes a simple interface for viewing data in tables and charts.

Originally developed in 1996 by CyberTracker Conservation founder Louis Liebenberg and computer scientist Lindsay Steventon, the software continues to improve and is currently running its third edition. The idea for CyberTracker was born while Liebenberg was hunting with the indigenous Bushmen tracker in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa. Liebenberg has been fascinated with tracking since childhood and hopes the CyberTracker will be able to retain much of this traditional knowledge that often times cannot be stored on other, more text based, tracking systems.

It has been used in tracking the spatial distribution of disease for gorillas in the Congo, to plot the migratory patterns of birds in the Kalahari, and is currently being developed for more extensive conservation use in the United States.

For further information, see the article in Wired.

“The Biggest Drawing in The World”

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Thanks, MM, Intro to GIS

Artists love to innovate and create new mediums with new technology. GPS has provided another opportunity. GPS has enabled artists to discover a new canvas, the Earth. The technology has inspired artists to create the catch phrase: “The GPS is my brush and the world is my canvas.” One individual, Erik Nordenankar, determined to create the largest drawing in the world for his graduation project, in Advertising and Graphic Design at Beckmans College of Design. The artist created a GPS unit, which he placed inside a durable case. He then plotted an extremely detailed navigational course that would trace the picture with connected GPS points, taken at periodic intervals. Erik arranged to have his GPS case shipped around the world by DHL on a detailed journey that would take 55 days.

The resulting image would be comprised of one giant line that was 110 664km long and pass through 6 continents and 62 countries. The canvas would be 40,076,592M by 4,009,153M to produce the largest drawing the world has ever seen. The drawing would be of Erik’s face. This new form of art is known as “Positional Art” and proposed an interesting idea: the globalization of art.

Unfortunately (and unbeknown to many people) Erik’s GPS unit was never shipped around the world because the fees needed to ship his package exceeded his $3,370 USD budget. In addition there were, um, several flaws in his process. Perhaps the most major flaw would be the case he constructed to transmit the GPS signal. The GPS device would be protected in a heavy-duty case, but the problem was that it would block the GPS signal and render the equipment useless if the case was closed (which was for the duration of the journey). As Erik suggests, there is more that the artist needs to learn in to technologically participate in the new artistic field of GPS.

Many considered this project a failure and a hoax because the drawing was never completed. Erik addresses this issue with a disclaimer that his project is fictional. People fail to realize that Erik was not necessarily trying to make the biggest drawing in the world but to create an advertisement. After all, Erik’s project was for his degree in advertising and graphic design. Also DHL has seen a huge increase in press as a result of this project, which makes Erik’s work a big success. In this respect critics should open up their minds to great idea, whether it be acted on or not.

To see images of the drawing, the case Erik constructed to hold the GPS unit, and the detailed navigation instructions, visit Erik’s website. Erik also created a YouTube video on the making of the drawing:

GIS applications: Providing a better understanding of San José’s, CA infrastructure

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

From TRS, Intro to GIS

Geographic Information Systems is useful in a broad range of domains because users can acquire, display and organize layers of spatial and non-spatial data. GIS has been used, for example, in environmental conservation or population demographics, and is even used in more restrained areas such as military or government usages. GIS is also very commonly used in city related projects to access an urban problem or any form or urban development. In this case, I will elaborate on GIS and its applications and what they bring to the capital of Silicon Valley, San José, California. There are many situations in which GIS provides a clearer understanding of city related issues in the San José area, such as infrastructure inventory, sewer flow analysis, and emergency responses. Specific applications will now be accessed in more detail.

One of the applications GIS brings towards the San José community is providing a vector data on parks and recreation in the city boundaries. There are a multitude of maps available on the city’s website representing closed, open and developing green spaces in and around the city. I think this is a great way to use GIS, because maps under this tool can be modified to appeal to different audiences and provide essential information to citizens and/or “out of towners”.

Another very interesting application I discovered was the urban redevelopment projects in San José and how GIS provided in-depth maps on the various neighbourhoods or districts that will or who are currently under a process of renewal. Evidently, maps found on the website’s database range in a multitude of topics. Downtown project areas undergoing redevelopment, business districts, redevelopment of downtown housing, and industrial projects are all acquired, organized and displayed with the help of geographic information systems. The department of planning provides traditional GIS based maps and Google Earth/Maps related kmls on, for example, particular zoning areas (city limits), census blocks, and city council district maps. I believe these are very useful for observing the current urban structure and infrastructures of the San José area.

To conclude, GIS can have applications in many different sectors, and this short text provided an insight on what GIS can provide and benefit for a city and urban planning.

worried about eco-certification?

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Of e-goods? You’re not the only one.

Among other findings from a survey released today by the Consumer Electronics Association [Going Green: An Examination of the Green Trend and What it Means to Consumers and the CE Industry (December 2008), which is the correct link, not the one on the nytimes site], an industry group representing computer and gadget manufacturers, 89 percent of consumers said that energy efficiency would be a factor in choosing their next television — even as less than half of the 960 people surveyed said they’re generally able to make sense of the environmental attributes attached to electronics on the market.

Consumers don’t trust the companies or they can’t understand the standards or haven’t been made aware of industries’ eco-efforts. Whose fault is that?

La Géocriminologie

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Merci pour la post, SD.

Qui aurait cru un jour que la sécurité publique serait en grande partie entre les mains des cartographes? De nos jours, les agences gouvernementales en matière de sécurité publique font souvent appel aux professionnels des systèmes d’information géographique. Leur dessein principal est simple: mettre la technologie à leur service afin d’augmenter la sécurité publique. Compte tenu que nous sommes présentement dans un contexte international instable où le terrorisme effraye beaucoup de gens, les sommes investies dans la géocriminologie atteignent à notre époque des sommets. Mais ces investissements en valent-ils vraiment la peine? Lumière sur la géographie criminologique, communément appelée «crime mapping».

Avec l’arrivée des micro-ordinateurs au cours de la décennie 1980, la géocriminologie a pris une ampleur sans précédent. Définissons d’abord ce terme: la géocriminologie est grosso modo l’utilisation de systèmes d’information géographique et de la cartographie au sein d’une recherche et analyse criminologique. Comme l’affirme Claire Cunty, géographe et chef de conférence à l’Université Lumière à Lyon, on peut scinder sa définition en deux spécialités distinctes. La première n’a trait qu’aux résultats généraux d’ordre statistique (cartes synoptiques). La seconde utilisation concerne plus spécialement la traque individuelle (analyse comportementale facilitant l’appréhension du criminel en question). Habituellement, trois variables géographiques sont utilisés: le lieu du crime, l’origine de l’agresseur et celle de la victime.

Ainsi, en pratique, l’utilisation du «crime mapping» peut s’avérer extrêmement avantageuse et profitable pour les corps policiers. Toutefois, il n’en est pas ainsi dans tous les pays. À titre d’exemple, la législation française interdit la divulgation publique de l’adresse d’un criminel potentiel. En conséquence, seule la localisation des faits est l’objet d’analyses et de recherches. En opposition, aux États-Unis, où l’État ne limite pas l’accès aux adresses des criminels, des études ont conclu que les auteurs d’infraction, afin d’éviter d’éventuels soupçons, commettent que très rarement leurs mauvaises actions près de chez eux, sans toutefois se déplacer à plusieurs kilomètres de distance. L’exploitation maximale des données fournies permet donc aux cartographes, conjointement avec les criminologues, d’analyser les données spatiales qui, au final, résulte en un polygone délimitant une zone dans laquelle la résidence du criminel est susceptible d’être. Par ailleurs, en perfectionnant les analyses, en les comparant les unes aux autres et en établissant des corrélations liées à la criminologie, il est possible de dégager une certaine topographie caractéristique à chaque type de crime, de sorte que la véracité ainsi que l’exactitude des polygones sont de plus en plus justes.

Néanmoins, alors que l’utilisation des systèmes d’information géographique en criminologie semble avoir des conséquences miraculeuses quant à la résolution de crimes, une question d’ordre éthique me vient à l’esprit. Bien que l’exploitation des données spatiales géographiques soit très utile aux corps policiers, va-t-on trop loin dans la diffusion d’information personnelle? Par exemple, les autorités gouvernementales de plusieurs états des États-Unis ont pris la décision de rendre publique sur le web, dans l’optique de protéger leur population, des cartes géographiques indiquant clairement le lieu de résidence de personnes ayant été condamnées de viol, des « sex offenders ». À quel point pouvons-nous divulguer des informations personnelles au nom de la prévention? Je crois qu’il faut garder en mémoire que la géocriminologie ne détient pas la vérité absolue. Les logiciels informatiques peuvent indiquer des corrélations, susciter des réflexions ou des interrogations, mais ils ne peuvent en aucun cas servir de preuves uniques, certaines et indubitables.

Alors que l’utilisation et surtout la diffusion publique de la géocriminologie ne fait pas l’unanimité, les progrès dans ce domaine, quant à eux, sont tangibles. Maintenant, la géocriminologie n’est plus seulement une affaire concernant les cartographes ainsi que les criminologues, elle met dorénavant en scène des acteurs tels que des sociologues, des psychologues, etc. Le travail d’analyse et d’interprétation des données spatiales dépassent désormais les cadres de la géographie.

Canada sucks when it comes to the digital innovations

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

h/t to gizmo for pointing this out to me. For a mild-mannered broadcaster, one of their blogs is blunt and absolutely correct.

Here are three things that suck about being Canadian right now:

  1. Last week the CRTC sided with Bell against a group of small Internet Service Providers who want to offer their customers unthrottled connections where what they download is their own business and not subject to interference.
  2. In last week’s throne speech the Conservative government renewed their intention to “modernize” Canadian [Crown] copyright law. Their effort to do so last session was Bill C-61, a woefully unbalanced and retrograde piece of legislation that led to the greatest citizen backlash to any proposed bill in recent memory. Yet there has been no indication from new Industry Minister Tony Clement that a much-needed public consultation will take place. The best he has offered is the possibility of a “slightly different” version of the bill.
  3. Twitter has just announced that they are killing outbound SMS messaging in Canada due to exorbitant and constant rate hikes from Canadian cell providers (former Industry Minister Jim Prentice vowed to get tough on SMS price gouging, then backpeddled). Cell phone rates in Canada are among the highest in the world, and the result is that mobile penetration is pathetically low and that emerging new cultural platforms like Twitter are being hobbled.

These decisions absolutely blow my mind. In this post, I’ll address the implications for #1. Our weakling telephone companies are able to restrict trade in a massive way, squeezing out third party purchasers of broadband. So much for the mom-and-pop ISP. The telecoms can use existing deficiencies in fibre optics as an excuse to packet-shape. But they’ve eliminated the incentive to ever increase the transmission pipes. More importantly, the CRTC action has enormous free speech implications because Bell/Sympatico can sloooow down any criticism of its practices. Additionally, telecoms essentially can eliminate innovations in P2P. Sure the overwhelming use of P2P always will be illegal activities. However, P2P is also becoming a standard for sharing large and legitimate datasets. Climate change or bioinformatics information are good candidates for P2P. Has the Canadian federal government been deaf to the whole net neutrality debate?

Mobile Positioning – A Useful Tool or a Breach of Privacy?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Thanks, AM for a thought-provoking post.

Ten years ago, few would have imagined that almost every person on the street would be walking around with a cell phone – or two. Even five years ago, few would have imagined that cell phones could be more than simple communication devices: location based services (LBS) for phone-users such as GPS-assisted navigation, location-based business searches and more are becoming even more mainstream. LBS are possible because mobile phones must be in constant communication with nearby cell towers to be able to receive calls or other information. Knowing the location of towers, the time and the strength of the “ping” (communicated signal), one can calculate the location of the cell phone user at a given moment. Newer phones, particularly “smart phones”, have built-in GPS chips that give even more precise and rapid mobile positions.

Mobile positioning, however, is becoming increasingly used in less traditional ways that extend beyond simple navigation-based services. Cell phone companies are selling locational information to parents, emergency response services, governments and the police (for investigative purposes). Verizon, for instance, offers a “Chaperone” service, whereby “parents can set up a ‘geofence’ around […] a few city blocks and receive an automatic text message if their child, holding the cellphone, travels outside that area” (Nakashima 2007). While this example in and of itself raises many controversial issues of privacy, the scope of the controversy is small in comparison to the more ‘professional’ uses of geospatial information.

In the monumental O.J. Simpson case in the late 1990s, engineers, on the fly, were able to triangulate Simpson’s position and movement patterns using his cell phone pings (Brandt 2004). This was the first major use of mobile positioning for any other reason than to provide cell service and many argue the point at which more interest grew in the power of LBS. The evolution of the use of mobile positioning for non-communicative uses has continued. In 2006 when a family in Oregon disappeared on a road trip, emergency services used a message sent to the father’s cell phone to locate his stranded vehicle (Reardon 2006). However, the most publicly known use of this technology has been of late, in a murder/disappearance case that has been swarming the news of late and caught my attention.

On July 15, 2008, 2-year old Caylee Marie Anthony was reported as being missing for a month by her mother, Casey Anthony. Dubious information surrounding the disappearance of the child has led authorities to investigate Casey for murder charges, and mobile positioning has been a key investigative tool. Authorities accessed the records and discussions of Casey’s cell phone calls prior to Caylee’s disappearance and used the cell phone pings in the time around those calls to delineate a search area for what they believed would be the child’s body. The story has gained momentum, as thousands of concerned citizens banded together in October to search for Caylee’s body in this area. (Orlando Sentinel ND)

These uses of mobile technology ten years ago would have been unconventional, but are becoming increasingly more mainstream – a situation that raises a lot of concerns. While it is obvious that mobile positioning is an incredibly powerful tool, its use is of concern for individual privacy rights. Moreover, as the information related to mobile positioning and GPS technology is highly personal and real-time the ownership of this information and its availability to institutions is a hot debate. Who owns geospatial information and what they choose to do with this information is a key issue in geospatial information ethics. In a worst case scenario, the image that readily comes to mind is a “Big Brother” type of society in which geospatial technology can be used to track the movements of individuals (think of the “Chaperone” service gone wrong), spy on their activities by linking this information to cameras and other recognition technology and consequently be used against them. This possibility, unfortunately, is not far off. In terms of the judicial use, as in the Caylee Anthony case, at what point is the use of this information considered too much or unethical? And as this data is considered by many to be unbiased and veracious, what then, when hackers and other technology manipulators start to interfere? To prevent this situation, governments must place stringent privacy laws on industry and think ahead of the current technological developments.

Ellen Nakashima. 2007. Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request. Secret Warrants Granted Without Probable Cause Friday, November 23, 2007; Page A01.

Andrew Brandt. 2004. Privacy Watch: Soon, Your Cell Phone May Be Tracking You. Feb 25, 2004.

Marguerite Reardon. 2006. Turning cell phones into lifelines. ZDNet News: Dec 5, 2006.

Orlando Sentinel. ND. The Caylee Anthony Case WebsiteOrlando Sentinel. Last Accessed Today.

GIS: Helping People with Dementia-Related Disorders

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Thanks, MT, Intro to GIS, for an interesting post.

A joint Israel-Germany research is planned on the subject of the well-being of elderly people with dementia-related problems. Specifically, it will look at the challenges of out-of-home mobility, as it is not uncommon to find people with disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease to go missing, or be found injured or dead. The project’s stated aim is to “address the measurement of mobility in Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders in an innovative way, by taking advantage of advanced tracking technologies,” such as GIS and GPS. Traditionally, out-of-home mobility of individuals with dementia-related disorders is measured by “observational approaches, activity monitoring, or behavioural checklists, “and is done by caregivers or institutional staff. This alternate approach using tracking technology would help to better understand the mobility patterns of these individuals; the research wants to develop a typology of out-of-home behaviour. Such information would be helpful for ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), which aims to assist people with dementia or disabilities on public transportation (RITA). In addition, the research states its intention to use statistical analysis to discover the differences in mobility patterns based on “socio-cultural, personality-related [and] environmental variables.” Basically they will attempt to tie together non-spatial, socio-psychological attribute data with spatial, mobility-pattern data to discover mobility patterns. In this way it is hoped that individuals afflicted with such diseases as Alzheimer’s could have an enhanced quality of life.

The research recognizes as well this approach’s potential as a diagnostic tool; if unique patterns are discovered, it could help identify dementia disorders in previously-undiagnosed individuals.

Interestingly, they want to also consider the ethical aspect of such an approach to helping people with dementia. The patients’ and caregivers’ quality of life of can be seriously impacted by the tracking technology.

In holding with the GIS tradition, this research is wholly interdisciplinary, with researchers from the Geography, Social Work, Gerontology, Psychology, and Medical fields.


      1. Sentra. The Use of Advanced Tracking Technologies for the Analysis of Mobility in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Cognitive Disorders
      2. RITA, The Research and Innovative Technology Administration.
      3. Noam Shoval, Gail K Auslander, Tim Freytag, Ruth Landau, Frank Oswald, Ulrich Seidl, Hans-Werner Wahl, Shirli Werner, and Jeremia Heinik. 2008. “The Use of Advanced Tracking Technologies for the Analysis of Mobility in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Cognitive Disorders” BMC Geriatrics


Sunday, December 7th, 2008

From JM, Intro to GIS

SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. It is a disease that originated in Southern China and has spread quickly throughout the world. Outbreaks included countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, Germany, France, Kuwait, Romania and Spain. This virus is incurable with antibiotics, as they have no effect on the disease; therefore, many deaths occurred without any possible treatment. A vaccine was later found with a 67 percent chance of the patient developing a special type of antibodies against this disease. The symptoms include coughing, fever and shortness in breath. This deadly viral disease started in November 2002 as statistics show that 8,096 people were infected and 774 deaths.

Looking at this tragic incident, GIS was used by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization. People and citizens had questions such as “where were infected cases located?” or “which areas or buildings were free of the disease.” To answer these questions, China used ESRI’s ArcIMS to provide the most up to date data of the spatial distribution of the disease. Additionally “updates [from] the China Center for Disease Control” were geocoded and posted online so they could be analysed by various agencies and individuals. Like John Snow’s Cholera map, GIS users mapped every single SARS incident that occurred, examined the spatial patterns, tried to correlate them with other factors, and attempted to understand why the viral disease was occurring more frequently in some places as opposed to others. Using GIS, they were able to see both the rate and where it spreading throughout the world. GIS appears to offer a powerful tool to help people organize data and find a solution to a problem that can help save many lives.

The first website gives example and demonstrates how GIS is used to track infectious diseases. These other links provide statistics and graphs about SARS.

Tracking a New Player in the Indoor-Positioning Industry

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Comic books and geospatial technologies. The link has been revealed! (Unless it was all a dream.) Thanks, OF, Intro to GIS.

Remember the scene in the Dark Knight, when the police were evacuating all the hospitals in Gotham City because the Joker threatened to blow one of them up?

Well, perhaps what they really needed was not some dark, mysterious caped hero, but in fact Sonitor Technologies. Sonitor is one of the new entrants into the rapidly growing indoor-positioning industry. While most indoor-positioning technologies use either infrared or Wi-Fi electronics to quickly and accurately track the movement people and objects in an indoor environment, Sonitor has upped the ante: it has introduced the use of ultrasound tracking systems.

How does this all work? Well, each and every person and object that needs to be tracked has a small ID tag attached to it. The ID tag constantly emits a unique ultrasound wave that is picked up by receivers that are located in each room of the building. These receivers then send all of this information to a central computer, which displays the movement of the tracked people and objects. All of this is, of course, in real-time. Sonitor claims that because it uses ultrasound waves, it can locate objects down to the centimeter in any given room. Clearly, this is a lot more accurate than most GPS devices. Then again, that’s to be expected when we’re working with the size of a building rather than a country.

Right now, Sonitor is selling this technology mainly to hospitals, and it is easy to understand how valuable real-time tracking would be. Imagine urgently needing an extra hospital bed, or having to know exactly where a given patient is, or having to evacuate an entire city’s worth of hospital patients and you’ll see why. Then think of the new super-hospitals being built here in Montreal, and it seems odd that no one had thought of this earlier.

It is important to note how powerful this technology is, not only right now, but will be in the future. GIS can be used for a whole range of commercial and even malevolent purposes, and indoor-tracking is certainly part of this.

Hopefully, all the villains won’t be as evil as the Joker ( 🙂 )

GIS in Disaster Management

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Thanks, MM, Intro to GIS

Emergency management is a crucial task that often does not receive adequate attention from both government and society. In the recent years, many nations have suffered from disastrous aftermaths of natural disasters that could have been prevented had there been more preparation and funding. Although damage and destruction is inevitable, it is possible to minimize the effects by having a well-developed disaster management plan. Now more than ever, GIS has become a key tool in disaster management. The first step to producing an emergency management plan is gathering data from variety of sources. While branches of government agencies releasing certain data is necessary to build a foundation for a plan, it is also essential to integrate these different data. Merging and display of multiple data becomes possible with GIS. GIS can produce visual outputs, such as a map, from numerous data inputs various information derived from government agencies.

The Sichuan Earthquake, which devastated the Chinese population this May, is a prime example of how damage can be minimized by the usage of G.I.S. in disaster management. Rescue teams were able to rapidly locate and transport people and food aid and other supplies reached where needed. Data, provided by the National Geomatics Centre of China, were used for base maps for numerous purposes. The Centre also was able to access satellite imagery from other sources. Finally, ESRI China played a crucial role in aid and support by integrating government information with their technologies. Situations such as these truly enlighten the society as to the importance of sharing and storing data.

Learning from benefits of a well-planned relief strategy, increasing numbers of governments have began devote resources to disaster management. The most recent development in this field is The Great Southern California ShakeOut Drill, which was the largest earthquake preparedness exercise in U.S. history. An imaginary earthquake was situated along the San Andreas Fault, where a large earthquake would most likely occur in that area, with a significantly large magnitude of 7.8. GIS technology was used to build a base of information where the location of resources and aid could be determined immediately in case of a natural disaster. Furthermore, it helped to predict the extent of potential damage by simulating the real-life geography of the area and how the landscape would be affected by the earthquake.

The Galileo Positioning System

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

From AK, Intro to GIS

Increasingly, it will become necessary to ascertain one’s precise position in space and time in a reliable manner. This will be possible with the GALILEO satellite radio navigation system, an initiative launched by the European Union and the European Space Agency. This worldwide system will complement the current GPS system.

Satellite radio navigation is an advanced technology. It is based on the emission from satellites of signals indicating time with extreme precision. This enables any individual to determine his or her position or the location of any moving or stationary object (e.g. a vehicle, a ship, or a herd of cattle, etc.) to within one metre thanks to a small cheap individual receiver.

GALILEO is based on a constellation of 30 satellites and ground stations providing information concerning the positioning of users in many sectors such as transport (vehicle location, route searching, speed control, guidance systems, etc.), social services (e.g. aid for the disabled or elderly), the justice system and customs services (location of suspects, border controls), public works (geographical information systems), search and rescue systems, or leisure (direction-finding at sea or in the mountains, etc.).

Galileo will be a cornerstone of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). This system will be under civilian control and will allow positions to be determined accurately for most places on Earth, even in high rise cities where buildings obscure signals from satellites low on the horizon.


What’s Going On In Your Hood?

Friday, December 5th, 2008

From SH, Intro to GIS

State: District of Columbia
Neighborhood: Logan Circle-shaw
Date: November 22, 2008

“Malia and Sasha Obama Will Go To Sidwell Friends School” – Logan Circle NW
“D.C. Churches Hope to Attract First Family” – 16th Street and M Street NW
“Grinch Opened at Hippodrome” – 9th Street NW
“Judging Restaurants- El Sol” –1930 9th Street NW

As GIS students, we know that location matters; things that are located closer to you carry more weight than things are far away from you. YourStreet has simply applied this fundamental principle to the arena of News by connecting people to stories that are most likely going to impact their lives the most– stories from their own backyards.

YourStreet recently launched their new layout:

The mechanics behind YourStreet is a very sophisticated algorithm that is able to extract key locational words from city names and neighborhoods right down streets addresses. And with a little help from the entities database put together by the U.S. Geological Survey, the algorithm is also able to recognize words that are associated with public places within a particular region such as Churches, Schools, and Stadiums. In fact, it is this precision that sets YourStreet apart from its major competitors. The system then proceeds to geo-code the article according to longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates and plots it on a map. The site covers stories from over 50,000 locations throughout the United States (unfortunately, the service is not yet available for Canada) and collects its news from tens of thousands newspapers, local blogs, and RRS feeds, all of which the algorithms scans daily. As James Nicholson, the founder of YourStreet, points out, this is another aspect that sets it apart from other hyper-local news sites, as they do not heavily depend on their users as news sources.

After reading all this new innovative stuff about YourStreet I decided to give it a try. My experience with Yourstreet began with a geographical search by City, ZipCode, or Neighborhood. Once that was done I was prompted a Google Map, along with its friendly user interface that enables pan and zoom functions, of my search area filled with a myriad of pinpoints displaying news items from all categories from robberies to school plays to politics. However, if you register and sign in as a member, YourStreet apparently shows the general region you are located automatically by a search of your IP address I am assuming. Pinpoints on the map were comprised of three groups: News, Member Profiles, and Stories and Discussions, each of which is a separate layer that the user can turn on or off. News items featured whether on the map or in a list form are merely teasers, which you can click to be linked back to the original source, just in case you wanted to read the full articles. A cool aspect of YourStreet is that any member can point to any location on the map and start a discussion: review restaurants, voice your opinions on local affairs, or even publicize your hosted events. Further, Members Profiles lets you know who and where your possible neighbors are. One major downfall I experienced was that I was often unable to access the full news articles I was wanted to read because I did not have subscriptions to the online source. I think this really detracts from the main purpose of YourStreet unless it is willing to become just a big advertising block for newspaper subscriptions. Nevertheless, I feel YourStreet have much room to grow and does offer a different kind of social networking worth checking out. It not only has the potential to motivate community solidarity but also provide an interactive and visual experience of local news.

The United States Postal Service is Now a Crime Fighting Squad?

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Submitted by TP

GIS technology is now being used by the United States Postal Service (USPS) Bank Service (BSA) Compliance Office to detect suspicious activity, using sophisticated analysis and mapping to monitor millions of money order transactions across the United States. How do they do this? Using GIS maps, they can monitor where suspicious activities may be occurring and link transactional data to show potential criminal patterns. The reason why they’re doing this is because the Postal Service is an issuer of money orders and a number of federal anti-money-laundering laws and regulations directly affect the Postal Service because of this.

The BSA Compliance Office can identify post offices that may be suspected as being used in criminal activity by tracking if any of the offices have an unusually high number of suspicious money orders over a certain period of time. They can also view money orders that look suspicious or see where unusual money order transactions have occurred. The office can also determine whether a number of money orders have been purchased from numerous locations and have been cashed at a single location which can be used to investigate suspicious activity and apprehend suspects and also to prosecute criminals.

The USPS BSA Compliance Office’s use of this technology is somewhat controversial. It raises issues of privacy, accuracy, as well as power. Issues of finance are a private matter that should be dealt with discretely. By making this transaction information available to the USPS BSA Compliance Office, it is possible for certain individuals to take advantage of this and use this information for their own benefit. In addition, this could also lead to numerous cases of wrongful accusations. This is a serious undertaking for the Compliance Office, yet, how effective will it actually be in fighting crime?

Blog-Google Book Search and Geo-referencing

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

A great post from SJ, Intro to GIS

Google Book Search is a service offered by the search engine company Google. Basically, you can search the contents of books. But you can also use it to geo-reference and map the content of books. It is an interesting concept based on the idea that everything on the web can be geo-referenced. What this service essentially does is it allows you to answer the question “Where are the places in my book?” The collection of books that are geo-referenced is expanding. Genres include travel, fiction, non-fiction and books from all ages.

This feature is fun because it allows the reader to “visit” the places they read about in their book. While this option is not yet offered for all book searches, it opens up a whole new world for book lovers alike. Google is still in the midst of scanning as many books as possible from university libraries and other sources all across the US, so it may take some time for the new partnership between Google Book Search and GoogleMaps to mature.

However, if this new partnership is successful, the road towards a geo-referenced search engine may not be so long. Google is already able to scrape the web for all sorts of specified information. Google has already categorized searches into “news”, “web”, “blogs”, “comprehensive”, “video” and “groups”. Under these categories, you can ask Google to alert you when your search appears in the top ten or twenty searches under that topic. This service is called Google Alerts. You can see that it is possible to search all these categories for “places”. Whether, you are tagging places in books or on web sites, it all stems from the basic idea that in every piece of information that is displayed in print or on the Internet, it is possible to geo-reference that information.

Hopping to the Rescue

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Thanks, KG, for the post

One of the major obstacles in using robots for search-and-rescue is the fact that most cannot navigate uneven, rocky terrain. Luckily, a Swiss robotics lab has developed the world’s smallest hopping robot, which can propel itself eight feet into the air, a record-breaking 27 times its own height. It uses “two spring-loaded feet powered by the same type of motor that vibrates your cellphone.” This technology is much quicker and more effective than walking or rolling robots; standing two inches tall and weighing only seven grams, it can still carry half its weight in cameras and sensors. The best thing about it? The inspiration came from nature.

Engineers Dario Floreano and Mirko Kovac, of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in Lausanne, modeled this hopping helper after grasshoppers, which can easily cover up to three feet on uneven ground in a single bound. Cameras and global positioning systems will enable swarms of these little robots to perform search-and-rescue operations, as well as possibly mapping environmental disaster areas, and even surveying other planets.

Before you venture out into the woods with complete insouciance, there are still improvements to be made. The mechanical grasshoppers still have some trouble sticking landings, and are unable to direct themselves. Floreano and Kovac may attach wings to the machine to help stabilize the hopping robot much in the way grasshoppers’ wings do. The attachment of solar panels, simple sensors and a microprocessor could allow the robots to control its hopping, recharge its battery, and possibly even communicate with other robots in the swarm. This technology still has a few hurdles to jump, but someday it may help to make the world a safer place.

Application of GIS in Elections

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Thanks, AA, Intro to GIS

As we saw in the elections in US and Canada, the use of GIS applications in elections can easily transmit information to the residents. This system was used in Washoe County, Nevada on November 7, 2006 for the general election in Nevada (Harkins et al., 2007). As the polls closed, the map was broadcast on television and updated when new results came in. The application incorporated the county of Washoe that displayed various map symbols including roads, urban areas and water zones. For every question on the ballot, an individual map of the county was displayed with the results. The county was symbolized with different colors, charts, and graphs that explained the results from the ballots. The same method was also used in the 2008 U.S. presidential election as voting results were displayed on maps of counties, states and the country of the U.S.A. (Geographic Information Services, 2008).

This application of GIS for elections is an ideal system that is being used more often throughout elections. This new system enables residents to be more aware of what is occurring at a small grain of detail around their neighborhood during election time. It is also an ideal method to give political analysts an overview of the election progress without much additional work. This method is also useful for television or the Internet because it can show residents who have have not yet voted the election activity of nearby precincts. Using GIS in elections is the most efficient way to broadcast the results because it is fast, clear and can be updated and broadcast immediately to the public.

Harkins, Kobe and Lawton, Matthew. Real-Time Tracking of the Washoe County. Technology Services Department. Nevada. 2007.

Geographic Information Services. Election 2008.

GIS for Strategic Renewable Energy Planning

Monday, December 1st, 2008

H/T AM, Intro to GIS

The current increase in levels of consumption but decrease in fossil fuels stock is propelling the transition to more renewable energies. Modernizing the energy sector by incorporating a share of clean sources would also mitigate the effects of climate change. To complement the already existing energy plants, windmills constructions are rising all over the world.

To develop a strategic energy plan, the use of Geographic Information Systems is of great help. The current way to identify potential windmill sites is centered on spatially mapping the wind energy sources. The potential power of the windmill is determined by the wind velocity, which varies according to seasons, and the spatial aspect, depending upon the variations in landscape. Experts are using Remote Sensing and GIS to identify suitable locations. On land, elements such as the flatness of the region, tree canopy cover and height are recorded and mapped.

Aside from assessing the availability of the wind energy resource, GIS would be extremely useful in analyzing the optimal areas according to environmental and anthropogenic constraints. In the site selection, the results of impact assessments in terms of vulnerable flora, fauna and more broadly ecosystem services could be incorporated. Buffer zones around vulnerable areas could be drawn. The population’s willingness to participate in a windmill project might also influence its success; this, the acoustic issues and feelings for historical landscapes could be mapped too. Each concern would be represented in a layer and given a value. Their layering would result in the best sites for erecting windmills.

GIS constitute a powerful analytical tool for decision makers, and the scope of its applications has only begin to be explored. Integrating the people and environmental concerns into the first step of site selection is important in achieving a more ethical process.


Hirematha, R.B., S. Shikhab and N.H. Ravindranath. Decentralized energy planning; modeling and application — a review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 11 (2007) 729–752.

Ramachandra, T.V. and B.V. Shruthi Wind energy potential mapping in Karnataka,India, using GIS Energy Conversion and Management 46 (2005) 1561–1578.