Friday, August 29, 2008

Gustav-Reality and Prognostications

Maps can tell a story. They can also hype a story and in almost every map I've seen illustrated by the media of the projected path of Tropical Storm and potential hurricane Gustav, it places the storm on a track to make a direct hit on New Orleans. For example, the map at right published by the McClatchy newspapers is a prime example. Only one TV reporter I heard emphasized the "cone" denoting the "possible" path of the storm. No doubt citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region should be concerned and watchful but I must question some of the prognostications. Even the map of the storm path from NOAA is not quite ready to predict such a direct hit. As a nation, we don't want another Katrina, but we also need to be cautious on how we report threats. The city of New Orleans was accused on not preparing ahead of time. We don't want that this time but weather prediction is not an exact science and some of these maps may show more than what we know currently. We'll be watching.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Geography Lession from 1980

In researching the previous post on the map of the former Russian Republics ("Cant Run from Geography"), I found an article, also in Time Magazine, from January 21, 1980, shortly after Russian invaded Afghanistan. President Carter, in an address to the nation, used a map to communicate the importance of the threat posed to this region. From the article, "as Carter talked about the strategic importance of the attack, a color-coded map of the embattled region flashed on the screen. It illustrated his warning that the Soviet jackboot was now firmly planted on 'a stepping stone to possible control over much of the world's oil supplies.'" The resemblance of this situation to the current events in Georgia is uncanny: Russian invades poor country to gain access to oil supplies and presents a geopolitical crisis for the U.S.

"You Can't Run from Geography"

In a Time Magazine briefing, the juxtaposition of the Caucasus, the Baltics, Central Asian and Eastern European countries is starkly revealed in a map as the former Russian republics form satellite nations that now feel threatened after the crisis in Georgia. Author Gilbert Cruz puts it succinctly as he notes that, "you can't run from geography." If you are not familiar with the region, the map is illustrative of the threats these nations have and will continue to face. The map appears on page 20 of the September 1st issue but is not shown online.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Congressial Quarterly Has Your DNC Parties Mapped Out

Partying at the Democratic National Convention? Check out Congressional Quarterly's map of all the nightlife in Denver.

"Now that I know where my house will be swallowed by the earth..."

The East Valley Tribune published a map sourced from the Arizona Geological Survey showing major fissures in the Chandler Heights neighborhood on the border between Pinal and Maricopa Counties. The fissures have been widened by groundwater runoff and cause a major threat to home owners and home buyers. The maps are quite accurate, down to the street level, and provide excellent information on the location and extent of the fissures. What is doesn't provide is an appreciation on how home values might be affected. A cursory look at the same area on Zillow, indicates the obvious surface geology (if you know what to look for - fortunately I don't play a geologist on TV; I am one in real life) but I don't think the home values necessarily reflect the potential property damage that could result if one of the fissures should be extended further or bifurcate into your neighborhood. Let the buyer beware.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reuters, PBS Miss Mark on Arctic Mapping Mission

Reuters, USA Today and PBS filed stories based on a press release issued by NOAA that provided information on a mission to map the continental shelf in the Arctic to establish mineral rights areas. Though PBS provided a wonderful photo of a Coast Guard cutter there was no ancillary map to support that areas to be mapped or that had been mapped in previous missions. The mission this year will seek to create a 3D map of a little explored area known as the Chukchi Cap. The Canadian American Strategic Review provides a map of this region...see graphic above.

Reuters: Russians Trickle out of Georgia, but from where?

Reuters filed a story of how the Russian army was beginning to leave Georgia. But from what positions they left and to which regions they were headed was not indicated in the story. No map accompanied the story and therefore offered no context. In the case of this particular story, the location of the primary departure routes would help to better understand if the Russians were abiding by the agreement. In addition, it would indicate areas that may be returning to normal and aid journalists with the ability. 

Geo-broadcasting: Geotagging Video News

Much of news is not static; it moves; it is captured in motion; along a highway; in flight...on a dark dusty highway. The move from geotagged photos to geotagged video was only a matter of time and Seero is a company that describes itself as "putting video on the map."

Wired Magazine's Keith Barry blogged about Seero and how it asks users to several things to enhance locative media:
  1. Track GPS position in real-time and archive a course for playback
  2. Geo-tag videos to showcase the destinations where they took place
  3. Experience location specific factoids and feeds with a video broadcast
These area all items that are missing from online news coverage today. I go back to my comments about the Russian-Georgian conflict. Some many videos were uploaded to YouTube but they had only point-based context. That's fine only to a point. What Seero allows the media to do is create more of a vector-based route map of news that occurs over distance and to offer a live feed that is geotagged. Though much of the coverage during the Iraqi war with embedded journalists was censored regarding the location of the journalists' movements, other such stories will not be so filtered. And that's where I see Seero and others providing tools to the media.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is New Media Failing the News Media

The new media embraces location technology. YourStreet, Topix, YouTube, have taken to geotagging news, graphics, photos, and video. But in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian conflict my search for context to the news has come up relatively dry among the mainstream media. I've searched many news media sites and print publications but most reuse the same old maps. Where's the use of the new media to exploit location technology to tell the story? At least I can point to Google Earth, which has a variety of geotagged YouTube videos from a variety of international media, that help to pieced together the events of the war. But the mainstream media seems completely oblivious to using the new locative media.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Documenting Caucasus War Missing in Maps + Photo Coverage

The war in Georgia is being played out in the media with maps but what's missing is a closer documentation of the fighting using geotagging and tools like Flickr. A diligent search to find photos of where events were taking place resulted in little coverage. Flikr had photos but few were linked to the map. Competing viewpoints are being played out by Georgian or Russian sympathizers on Flickr but they have not tied their images to maps.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Look at a map..." - WSJ on the Geopolitics of the Caucasus

In one of the most cogent essays on the geopolitical instability of the Georgian-Russian conflict, Melik Kaylan, writing in the Wall Street Journal today implored readers to better understand the narrow land bridge between the Black Sea and Caspian Seas that comprises the lower Caucasus region, which includes Georgia and Azerbaijan. "Look at a map...," he said. At issue is the Baku-Tblisis-Ceyhan oil pipeline that runs through both former Russian-controlled countries and the ability to supply oil to the west without interference from Moscow. In what he called the "Grand Game" is the desire by the Russian Federation to exert much more control over the Middle East by "Findlandizing" the former Soviet republics turned independent countries. By doing so, they control regions of rich natural resources and direct access to Iran and Afghanistan. These are chilling thoughts but best understood with a better appreciation of regional geography.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Washington Post Launches Election Map for '08

The Washington Post today introduced an interactive map for this year's presidential election. Like the map offered by the Congressional Quarterly, it is a tabbed-based map that provides the user the option to view the races for the Senate and gubernatorial races along with the presidential race but did not include races for House seats. The drill down to the state level provides just the basic information on the candidates and primary results and also links to archived stories related to that state. Limited demographic information is also offered and the Post does show a few more swing states in play than does the CNN map. And the Post does a good job of showing the potential electoral votes attributed to each candidate but fails to let the viewer to "play" with the map like that afforded by the USA Today interactive map, which is still the best so far.

CNN Offers Stellar Report on Georgian Conflict

Finally, a reporter who took the time to explain the impact of the Georgian crisis by taking the viewer on a tour of the country using a touchtable screen of the war-torn region. On CNN this morning, the conflict was explained in detail showing the Russian troop advances, the location of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and why this region was important geopolitically. The map at right was used during the broadcast and can also be seen online. Kudos to CNN for taking the time to report the story in the context of its geographic significance.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Huffington Post Maps Political Donations

If you are totally amazed at the amount of money raised by the political candidates, you may be surprised at who is donating and from where. The Huffington Post's map of the contributions, FundRace, to each candidate is a full disclosure account of the money machines and strongholds of the political parties. As the website indicates, you can find out if that new friend is truly a died in the wool supporter or playing both sides of the field.

Georgian Conflict Shows Why Geography is Important in Reporting the News

Do you know where South Ossetia is? How about Abkhazia? In reporting the news from these Georgian provinces, it's important to have an understanding of their location. Most don't even know where Georgia is let alone these war-torn provinces. Some news accounts that I've read had very simplistic maps. Others were better at indicating the geopolitical nature of the conflict such as the location of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that leads through Georgia from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean via Turkey. It is essential that a map(See Wikipedia for a fairly good map) accompany the accounts to better inform the reader as to the nature of the conflict and why it could draw other neighboring countries into the conflict. What I've seen so far in publications ranging from the WSJ, CNN online, and USA Today, fall short of my expectations. CNN TV did show the pipeline route but the thickness of the line on screen obscured the country and provincial borders. In regions where republics once within the control of the USSR are now separate states, it is essential that the reader be provided every opportunity to understand where they are located and also about the geography of war.

Friday, August 8, 2008

NBC's 3D Models of Beijing

NBC is using imagery from DigitalGlobe and simulation software from AEgis Technologies to render 3D models of the Olympic venues as well as some of the historic sites around the city. A separate website has been set up by both companies to provide examples of the technology.The models are rendered at 60 frames per second. Some examples of image can be downloaded free of charge.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mapping Tips for Newspapers and the Black and White Map

Newsprint is not the most favorable medium for reproducing maps and the cartographic quality most often found lacks for a certain "understandability" as a result. As we head into this season of politics, here are some tips for newspapers just in case they haven't figured it out yet:

  1. If you have to use black and white for maps, limit the thematic categories to only three. While you think the human eye can differentiate more shades of gray, you would be hard pressed to convince an 70-year old lady of that fact.
  2. Even if you use three shades of gray, it might help to use a thicker black border on boundary or polygon data for that third category, just to make certain of the differentiation. (The Wall Street Journal used a map in today's edition (page A9) to show the Democrat's southern strategy and they were well advised to use this heavy black line when using just two themes.)
  3. Know your street classifications. Don't get carried away with too much detail on showing the finest details of residential streets. It just obscures other features especially if streets are only there for reference.

    That's it for now...more to come in future posts.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Congressional Quarterly Maps the Basic Info for Federal Elections

The Congressional Quarterly via their CQ Politics online portal is providing all the information about each Senate, House, and gubernatorial election for 2008 as well as the presidential race in a fairly basic, tab-based map that allows the viewer to drill into some of the specifics of each race. For example, if you are not familiar with how the congressional districts are drawn, just choose the "House" tab on the map and you will find a map with the current boundaries. Clicking on a state will display that state and the congressional district boundaries; clicking on a specific district will bring up a separate page with a preview of the race in the district. Included on that page provides great demographic summaries of the district, how the district voted in past presidential elections and campaign finance details. Not great mapping technology but just the basics is all you need sometimes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

BBC Explores OneGeology


The BBC was first to cover in detail the announcement of OneGeology, a web portal that attempts to put the world's geological information onto a single, seamless map at the fingertips of policy-makers and the average citizen. Most news like this might go unnoticed but as the British Geological Survey was leading this project of which many of the world's geological surveys contributed, they had good reason to break the story. The OneGeology portal allows the users to drill down (though not literally!) to see the subsurface formations of about 36 different regions of the world.