Thursday, December 17, 2009

Show me the Map on Climate Change: Time Magazine Misses Opportunity

Page 60 of the December 14th issue of Time Magazine has a wonderfully useless map of Northern India that focuses on the small city of Leh. I visited Leh in 1979 and it is indeed on the top of the world. The focus of the Time article was climate change and the vanishing glaciers that feed the Indus and Ganges rivers and thus the population of millions of people. Where the map fails is in the type of map it should have displayed. Time should have contacted the USGS where satellite images of the last 30 years showing comparisons of the region and would have allowed readers to SEE the changes. Just a map isn't cutting it anymore. The public is quite familiar with satellite imagery. Just ask any elementary school-aged student and they would be happy to show their parents how to use Google Earth. The USGS's EarthExplorer will allow the public to download imagery, many for free, such as the November 15, 1972 image of Leh and the Ladakhi Himalaya above. Time Magazine should have taken this opportunity to educate the world through imagery and not just a simple map.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Media Ogles Over OnStar After Senator's Daughter's Car is Carjacked

OnStar is amazing technology, simple but amazing. The amazing thing is that it is a single button push for "all things location" at least as far a vehicle is concerned. Need directions? Push the OnStar button. Concerned about traffic? Push the OnStar button. Need help with a flat tire? Push the OnStar button. It's what all high-tech things should aspire to be!

The incident involving Senator Bob Corker's (R-Tennessee) daughter is illustrative of both the advancements and advantages of location-based services (LBS). The Senator's daughter was assaulted and yanked out of her car when stopped at an intersection on the night of December 2, as reported by the Associated Press. The vehicle was equipped with OnStar. Police used OnStar's service to catch the carjackers and return the car later that night.

In a similar incident in October, OnStar's Stolen Vehicle Slowdown feature was used to capture another carjacker in Visalia, California. In this case, OnStar was able to slow the vehicle to idle speed with Remote Ignition Block whereby the vehicle is slowed but brakes and steering remain functional until the police can identify the vehicle.

The media love's these kind of stories but rarely understands all of the possible applications and underlying technology. CNN's Campbell Brown was reporting the story but should have provided some of the statistics such as how OnStar receives some 500 stolen vehicle requests each month. Now, that number seems high but consider that OnStar is usually installed on the more expensive car models. And, according to OnStar, "Subscribers who prefer not to have the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown capability on their vehicle may contact OnStar to opt out of the service at any time." But why? Privacy? Cost? Seems like a small price to pay for security.

Kudos to GM and OnStar. It continues to be the shining "star" of LBS apps.