Monday, November 19, 2007

Google Earth locations now editable.

It was only a matter of time really. You can now edit points on Google Earth. To prevent people from trashing what is a pretty decent database of locations, you can also immediately view the original location as an option. I'll probably have a lot to say about this when I get done with work, but my immediate thought is how much more open will it get (user uploaded polygons? lines?), what will be the synergy with Android (mobile computing will no doubt integrate GPS technology), and if you can add points/lines/polygons willy-nilly, when is the government going to take a keen interest in semi-anonymous, amateur members of the general public plopping down points on things they'd prefer wasn't easily searched for? Update: My comments above are probably premature. You cannot, as far as I can tell, add points to Google Earth (in the sense those points are immediately and automatically shared with everyone else). Though I will admit I haven't played with GE for a while. If you could add points like that, you would likely start having the Wikipedia effect - vandalism and advertisement would become quite rampant without dedicated administrators and probably a secondary staff of trusted volunteers. Since Wikipedia hasn't and quite honestly are unlikely to solve that problem, it becomes a question of the costs vs. the benefits. I would say it would be worthwhile if such user-created features were implemented such that the whole of them would be turned off as default. Some basic/super popular layer categories could be created ("good neighborhoods", "pleasant views", "hiking trails"). Anyone entering it of course could add dynamic tags that you could search for in another search tool. Update II: From CNET
To curb potential abuse, users aren't able to edit the location of a business that has already verified its location via Google's Local Business Center. There's also an official review system that has to double check your edit if it's more than 200 meters away from the original location.
Update III: Well check out how ridiculously behind the times I am. This is pretty neat. Although a lot of the entries are clearly advertisements and and some vandalism, but that is the double edged sword of public created data.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nature Conservancy and the Cumberlands

The Nature Conservancy has just completed a massive land deal to save the Tennessee Cumberland from development. For those not familiar, the Nature Conservancy is the most successful conservation group you'll never hear about. The reason? They are not a very political group. What they do is purchase land development rights (or just outright buy the most important/endangered land). By that and other land protection mechanisms which are rarely legislative in nature, the Conservancy can achieve its goals (open space, environmental protection, biodiversity, etc) without being bent to the fickle will of legislators and election cycles. In terms of conservation, it doesn't matter who is in office as long as the property rights are enforced (and we will be having bigger problems if that isn't the case). This kind of thing is especially handy in situations where agriculture is being forced out by sprawl. Farmers see their property value rise and they can't pay the resulting taxes. Many enjoy farming but are simply forced to subdivide and sell some or all of their land to survive. Here is where the Nature Conservancy can step in and buy up development rights, which devalues the property and massively reduces the taxes. This is an amazingly simplified example, but one that is easy to conceptualize and I can't think of anyone that could possibly be opposed to such things. Everyone wins in such a scenario. Property rights are commonly referred to as a bundle of sticks. In the case of the Cumberland, the sticks the Conservancy have bought are often very specific. Logging companies were part of the deal and still own a lot of land - but they can by condition of contract only harvest new growth and must allow public access for recreation. The Conservancy retains the right to do any other kind of harvesting by what is called an easement (essentially a very specific property right) and it isn't too likely they'd ever give it up. This kind of "everybody wins" attitude coupled with sustainable practices and the preservation of natural beauty is why the Nature Conservancy is, if they needed some more GIS expertise, a job I would be willing to take a pay cut to accept.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spending Iraq conditioned on withdrawl by Dec 08

It seems the more centralist DLC Democrats have finally bowed to pressure from the rest of their party regarding Iraq. Having capitulated on or ignored every other issue - torture, wiretapping, habeas corpus, executive authoritarianism - the more pragmatic needs of being reelected in 2008 have edged out previous reservations on Iraq. I was always amazingly unconvinced regarding the excuses of this group of Democrats in failing to preform as they suggested they would in 2006. They must realize how unpopular their opposition is, and how they could stop the war instantly with the "power of the purse" invested in them by the Constitution. Even if you do not believe this is the right course, you must concede that the Democrat's in Congress deception on this issue lacks the transparency and honesty they had promised. For as defeated as the Republicans seem to be, their libertarian-authoritarian breaking points do not seem as wide as the gap between the DLC and the masses that elected them a year ago. As a side note, I would just like to add Harry Reid is a vapid, corrupt legislator. His continued support of the Pirate Act - demanding stiffer and criminal penalties regarding copyright infringement - demonstrates his surrender to special interests whose motives are entirely counter to the public good. Similar to how taxes work (at a very high tax rate, you can lower it and actually increase revenue by reducing the incentive to cheat and because there is more consumption and growth in general), extremely protected copyright rules are unenforceable and actually reduce the innovation they are meant to encourage. Wow that was a long side note. UPDATE on copyright sidenote: In his talks, Cory Doctorow has repeated one of his many complaints of the current copyright legalism - everyone is guilty of copyright infringement, intentional or otherwise, and (to quote him) "Once everyone is a criminal, no one is free." If you criminalize normal behavior there is no need to trump up charges to quash dissent. I'll admit at first I was skeptical of such rhetoric. The first part is undoubtedly true. In a very technical sense humming a few bars for a friend or the mere act of your computer passively caching pictures on websites as you surf could be considered copyright infringement. The second part - that it would be used to suppress free speech - I felt needed an example. The Russian Federation has generously provided one. Unquestionably this is simply the start, and you should take care not to fool yourself. This will happen in the United States. It wouldn't need to be by government, the private sector would have no problem causing a similar chilling effect on free speech.

Happy GIS Day

An excellent post on Vector One

You may not realise it, but GIS is not just a technology; but it is built on the concept of integrating spatial thinking into everything that we do. This enables us to quantify and qualify how we live more closely, and to understand it. This is why you are seeing GIS embedded into the decision making processes of so many businesses around the world and reaching billions of people.

It is rather interesting to consider the future of GIS. Typically I do so to aid in my future employability or general usefulness at work - like learning Python and exploring new GIS software.

But a step ahead of all that is the implications of having very easy to use GIS technology available to everyone, even passively gathering useful data though ubiquitous GPS receivers now found on basically any consumer electronic device. Ignoring for the moment the massive impact on privacy - in an ideal world such data would be gathered in an entirely aggregate anonymous fashion - the possibility of harnessing crowdsourced information is stunning.

How much more accurate will traffic monitoring, supply chain management, and store spaces be? The applications of such masses of data are huge for site management and land planning as well; in addition no doubt to hundreds of other applications that we can't really begin to imagine.

One constant will be, baring a nuclear war or increasingly stupid stances that are being made on the freedom of the Internet, most of these applications will make their way online. Maybe not in browsers, perhaps to start in an open source application similar to how PDF files can be opened upon data retrieval by Adobe or Foxit or whatever else is out there.

I'd honestly write more on GIS but my current efforts are directed primarily at finishing my thesis. I eagerly await the time I will have after I finish it to read some GIS/Planning/Project Management literature.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Nanisivik chosen for Canadian Deepwater port

Picture from the CASR.

A excerpt from my thesis in progress:
Canadian claims to the Arctic Ocean hinges on their retention of the massive northern archipelago ceded to them by the British in the 1880s. Efforts to enhance the strength of said claims include making the area a separate territory (Nunavut) and subsidies that drive population growth and the economy in the strategically chosen capital, Iqaluit. This falls under the stipulation by international treaty that remote islands and their coastal waters have their title established by a “continuous and peaceful display of state authority”. Besides perhaps Russia, Canada has been most visible with its Arctic claims due to the possibility of controlling access to the newly opened Northwest Passage. The Harper government has commissioned new armed icebreakers and a new deepwater port is planned for the military base on Nanisivik (CASR, 2006). Such shows of force combined with withdrawal from international judicial bodies are an attempt to compensate for the precariousness of Canadian arctic claims.

Land is one thing - comparatively easy to defend a claim on, but the extent of Canadian exclusive claims to the Northwest Passage are going to be difficult to sustain in the face of pressure from every other state with an interest.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Churchill isn't the only likely boom town

They don't get as much press as I would like, and finding the ones I did took forever due to lack of easy to obtain data; fast growing arctic communities manage to occur in multiple nations and for a variety of reasons. One generally ignored player in the Arctic is the Danes, who have sovereignty over all of Greenland. One of its territories, according to The Economist, is exploding:

...warming is good for business. Unemployment in the town is zero. A glacier next to a nearby zinc and lead mine has retreated since the site closed in 1990, exposing an outcrop of metal-rich ore, where drilling will start again soon. Ships supplying the only factory in town, which processes the local catch for Royal Greenland, a huge state-owned prawn supplier, can now use the harbour throughout the winter (it was previously inaccessible for three months of the year). The warmer water seems to be bringing back the cod fishery as well.

Also greatly effected is the tourist industry. This is of particular importance to my thesis as it is currently the major base economic activity in Churchill.

But the tourist industry is warming fastest. Around 15,000 tourists visited last year and twice as many are expected this summer. Hotels are booming and additional tourist guides are being trained.

I do not expect this will happen in Churchill. The glaciers are long gone and the bears simply can't survive as they are accustom when the ice disappears. They can live like their extremely close grizzly cousins (whom they can mate with and produce viable and fertile offspring in the wild), but then they are not nearly so viable for ecotourism. That is, assuming the land-based environment can support the influx of suddenly starving bears. Perhaps whale watching and historic tourism - Fort Churchill and the old Cold War sites - will supplant the bears in the future. Greenlanders are also farming as their doomed Viking ancestors did during the medieval warming period, but it is rather unlikely the people will suffer a similar fate. The other side of the coin for Greenland is this screws the Inuit hard. Of all of the indigenous people's of the new world, they have perhaps been the safest due to isolation and the otherwise lethal climate they've adapted impossibly well for. The while the Vikings mentioned above starved to death, they lived comfortably in the same climate. You need not match the technology or organization of a group if they cannot survive in the very ground they live on. Or as Dennis Miller once put it, "Sure, the lion is the king of the jungle. But throw him in Antarctica and he is just some penguin's bitch."