July 2010

Why More Cameras Don’t Come with GPS

On the New York Times’s Gadgetwise blog, Rik Fairlie asks why more digital cameras don’t come with GPS. “[C]amera makers say they haven’t adopted widespread use of GPS radios in cameras because it’s expensive — it can add almost $100 to the cost of a camera — and because users haven’t really demanded the feature. Camera manufacturers see GPS as a niche market.” Via Richard.

Ottawa Citizen Profiles Tomlinson

With “father of GIS” Roger Tomlinson receiving the National Geographic Society’s Bell Medal earlier this month, the “local-boy-makes-good” story is inevitable: the Ottawa Citizen has a profile. (This is not his first major award; he’s already got the Order of Canada, which, for those of you who are not Canadians, let me tell you, is as big a deal as it gets up here.) Via Matt Artz.

Previously: NGS Awards Medals to Tomlinson, Dangermond; “Data for Decision”: GIS on Punchcards; Roger Tomlinson: The Father of GIS.

An Astronomy Roundup: Mars, Microsoft and More

Three related astronomy-related items:

WorldWide Telescope: Mars (screencap) Microsoft’s Terapixel project reprocesses images from the Digitized Sky Survey and makes “the largest and clearest image of the night sky ever produced” available in Bing Maps and WorldWide Telescope. More at HPCWire. Via Gizmodo.

Staying with Microsoft, a high-resolution 3D map of Mars, based on imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera and less-high-resolution imagery and elevation data from the Mars Global Surveyor, is now available on Bing Maps and WorldWide Telescope: Bing, Microsoft, NASA. There are 13,000 images from the preposterously hi-res HiRISE camera, all geolocated, but that’s still only one percent of Mars so far. Via Gizmodo and Universe Today.

THEMIS image of Valles Marineris

Staying on Mars, a new global map of Mars, produced from data collected from the Mars Odyssey orbiter, is now available online. “The map was constructed using nearly 21,000 images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, a multi-band infrared camera on Odyssey,” says the NASA press release. “The pictures have been smoothed, matched, blended and cartographically controlled to make a giant mosaic. Users can pan around images and zoom into them. At full zoom, the smallest surface details are 100 meters (330 feet) wide. While portions of Mars have been mapped at higher resolution, this map provides the most accurate view so far of the entire planet.” Emily Lakdawalla has more. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University.

Darker Than You Think

Last year, Sky and Telescope’s Tony Flanders questioned the accuracy of the standard light-pollution maps, noting that in certain areas, local conditions were considerably darker than the maps indicated. Now Tony reports on some new developments:

In a recent post in Cloudy Nights’ Light Pollution Forum, David Lorenz published data that very strongly suggest that the original Light Pollution Atlas was systematically biased by the fact that snow was on the ground when the underlying satellite measurements were taken. Lorenz recalculated the light pollution for the U.S. and southern Canada based on snow-free satellite observations, and the whole northern part of the area came out roughly one full zone darker. That means that the original atlas overestimate the skyglow in this area by a factor of three.

Lorenz has put together maps of the U.S. that show the corrected skyglow zones; they include my location in Canada as well, which is apparently a lot darker than I thought it was.

Previously: Light Pollution Maps; Testing Light-Pollution Maps; Testing Light-Pollution Maps Redux.

The Washington Monthly on Google and Disputed Maps

Read The Washington Monthly’s article on the troubles Google has encountered when presenting disputed names and boundaries in Google Earth and Google Maps. The problem, it seems, is that governments and people protesting various boundary and name disputes (Arunachal Pradesh vs. South Tibet, East Sea vs. Sea of Japan, Persian vs. Arabian Gulf) are treating Google like a cartographic and toponymic authority, and Google doesn’t want to act like one.

What is Google? Is it a repository for all of our mutually exclusive claims, or is it a higher power to which we appeal? It cannot be both, and yet we seem to treat it as both. This tension may only heighten going forward. “In a world where mapmaking is cheap and anyone can do it,” [geographer Michael Frank] Goodchild says, “you would eventually expect things to become more and more local.” In such a future, either we will reconcile ourselves to the lack of a central arbiter, or the conflicts will be all over the map.

Via many sources, including Geospatial News.

Free as in $2.99

A new twist from the company I posted about earlier this month that was flooding the iTunes app store with hundreds of $1.99 and $2.99 offline map viewers that use OpenStreetMap tiles. All Points Blog reports that they’re now offering an app called 550 City Maps, which switches the process to in-app purchases. In other words, the app itself is free, but it costs $2.99 to download a map of a city. Based on OSM tiles. Which are freely available online, and can be downloaded for offline use for free in many other iOS map applications, including some free ones.

This is exactly the same as offering a Wikipedia app for free, but charging for each article downloaded. I mean, you could do it, but even if it’s allowed under the licence, it’s, well, ignoble: it exploits others’ volunteer labour for private profit and trades on your customers not knowing that there are better and freer alternatives.

Dubbele.com has things precisely backwards: they could charge a few dollars for the app itself and make the map data free — a business model followed by other paid map apps in the store that I’ve seen — and I wouldn’t have cause to complain at all. I’d be able to look at the app in terms of whether it was good, not whether it was right.

Previously: 976 Map Apps and Counting. (P.S. They’re up to 1,061 apps.)

New Map of Global Forest Heights

Map of global forest heights

Scientists have released a global map of forest canopy heights based on NASA data. “Although there are other local- and regional-scale forest canopy maps, the new map is the first that spans the entire globe based on one uniform method,” says the NASA press release. “The work — based on data collected by NASA’s ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites — should help scientists build an inventory of how much carbon the world’s forests store and how fast that carbon cycles through ecosystems and back into the atmosphere.” Via Boing Boing.

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Douglas Knox writes, “Thought you might be interested to know the Newberry recently completed the digital Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. It has historical boundaries for every county in the U.S., dated to the day, freely available online for noncommercial use in a number of forms.” Those forms include online interactive maps, shapefiles, KMZ for Google Earth, and PDFs; they cover every county since the first one was created in 1634.

Why Your GPS’s Voice Is Annoying

CNN’s article, Why GPS voices are so condescending, is more ambitious than its headline: it looks at the limitations of computer speech in general, and why it has the limitations it does. For GPS navigation devices — which is where, I think, most people encounter voice synthesis — hardware is a major limitation: “Mobile phones and GPS devices, in particular, just don’t have enough computing power or storage space to thumb through mountains of voice files in order to sound as realistic as possible with current technology.” And then there’s the “emotional mismatch” (think Eddie the Computer from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy): “if you’re having a groggy sort of morning, instructions from a GPS device that sounds like a caffeinated cheerleader might just push you over the edge.” Via Geospatial News.

GPS Tracklog Reviews the Garmin nüvi 3790T

Garmin nüvi 2790T Now that I’m using GPS receivers on a regular basis, I seem to be linking to Rich Owings’s reviews on GPS Tracklog on a regular basis. Here’s his review of the new Garmin nüvi 3790T, part of a series that basically straps nüvi guts into an iPhone-like shell (thin, multi-touch, accelerometer-based rotating screen). Rich thinks it’s the best nüvi yet:

The 3790T feels like a work of art; the screen is drop dead gorgeous. Routing has been significantly improved with the addition of historical road speed data (trafficTrends). I expect that a couple of my complaints (the missing Near option for voice commands and multi-destination routing bugs) can be fixed with firmware updates, but the core functionality is very good.

iPad as Navigation Tool

Working from the idea that it’s counterintuitive to use the iPad as a navigation device due to its size, Forbes.com looks at users and software developers who are nevertheless gravitating to using the iPad in just that manner. There’s more to navigation than dashboard mounts, after all, and let me tell you, I’d much rather look at maps on my iPad’s screen than on something iPhone-, eTrex- or nüvi-sized. The 3G model is essentially a GPS with a 9.7-inch screen — of course people are going to want to use it for navigation! Via geoparadigm.

NGS Awards Medals to Tomlinson, Dangermond

Last week, the National Geographic Society honoured two giants of the GIS fieldRoger Tomlinson, who practically created GIS in the 1960s while working for the Canadian government, and Jack Dangermond, and ESRI/Esri founder/president/CEO Jack Dangermond — with the Alexander Graham Bell Medal. Awarded for “extraordinary achievement in geographic research,” the medal has only been awarded once before (to Bradford and Barbara Washburn in 1980). See also Gadling.

Previously on Roger Tomlinson: Roger Tomlinson: The Father of GIS; “Data for Decision”: GIS on Punchcards. On Jack Dangermond: Forbes Profiles ESRI.

No Dig, No Fly, No Go Reviewed

Book cover: No Dig, No Fly, No Go Mark Monmonier’s latest, No Dig, No Fly, No Go, is reviewed on the H-HistGeog mailing list by Richard Harris. “Had this book arrived without its cover, the author would have remained obvious. This is a Mark Monmonier text through and through: well written, engaging, mildly provocative, quirky at times, lavishly illustrated (albeit in black and white) and underpinned by a dry but generous sense of humor. It is full of interesting examples of how maps are used to naturalize claims to territory and then to restrict access.” Via MapHist.

Previously: New Book from Mark Monmonier: No Dig, No Fly, No Go.

Traverse Me: Jeremy Wood Walks Warwick Campus

Traverse Me Jeremy Wood has been creating maps from his GPS tracklogs for years. His latest project, a work commissioned by the Warwick Arts Centre’s Meade Gallery, is an intricate map of the University of Warwick’s 300-hectare campus, which he walked over 17 days, creating 383 kilometres (238 miles) of traces.

“I responded to the structure of each location and avoided walking along roads and paths when possible,” Wood writes. “Security was called on me twice on separate occasions and I lost count of how many times I happened to trigger an automatic sliding door.”

At the bottom of the map, he paced out a title, scale, compass and his name — creating a virtual cartouche in open fields.

Via Gizmodo.

Previously: GPS Drawing Maps.

MapQuest Embraces OpenStreetMap

In an interesting development, MapQuest has launched a site that combines OpenStreetMap mapping data with its user interface and routing directions. MapQuest Open is limited to the U.K. for the time being (a wise decision considering the state of OSM elsewhere). “The beta platform,” says AOL’s press release, “will be a stand-alone offering and will live alongside MapQuest’s existing UK platform, which is based on commercially available map data.” It was announced at OSM’s State of the Map conference in Spain, along with a $1-million fund to improve OSM maps in the United States. More coverage: the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog, Wired’s Webmonkey.

James thinks that AOL is “probably happy to spend their dollars on funding OSM than shipping them off to Navteq (er Nokia) and their competition” — which suggests that map sites’ moves toward OSM, and Google’s move toward its own map data, is a consequence of TomTom and Nokia’s takeover of the two major map data providers (Tele Atlas and Navteq, respectively). Considering the present state of Google’s and OSM’s data, long-term strategic moves at the corporate level may result in short-term excitement in terms of map data.

Google’s Oblique Imagery Graduates

Google’s bird’s-eye oblique imagery has graduated from the API and Google Maps Labs to a spot on the main Google Maps page, at least for a few locations (a couple in Europe and a bunch in South Africa and the west coast of the U.S.). Zoom in enough in satellite view and you can toggle between normal imagery and 45-degree imagery (which is what Google calls it). Unlike Bing, you can’t rotate your perspective, and from what I’ve seen the imagery isn’t as good as Microsoft’s. Google has a long way to go, but it also has a tendency of doing just that.

Previously: Bing, Google and MapQuest Add Each Other’s Features.

Mapplers, an Online Atlas of Hand-Drawn Maps, Seeks Contributors

Mapplers.org screenshot Tara Pattenden writes, “I am working on a collaborative atlas made entirely of handdrawn maps. You can see the current results here: www.mapplers.org. I am looking for other people who are keen to be involved in this project. Either by donating maps, drawing maps or being responsible for collecting maps from their location. In the future this site will allow people to upload their maps straight away (and ideally add them to the right location).”

ArcGIS for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch

ArcGIS for iOS icon ESRI’s ArcGIS for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch is now available in the iTunes app store. It’s a free download that, among other things, provides access to ArcGIS Online. I’ve installed it on my iPad and have been poking around with it for a bit, but I really don’t know all that much about GIS in general, or ESRI’s software in particular — in point of fact, this is the first ArcGIS application I’ve so much as touched. Fortunately, there are people who do know about this sort of thing. James Fee has a pretty in-depth look. (Anyone else?)

Since it’s free, if you have an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch and any experience with ESRI software, I can’t imagine you not installing this app to see for yourself.

Mark Monmonier on Restrictive Cartography

Mark Monmonier has an article in New Scientist about “restrictive cartography” — the same topic as his latest book, No Dig, No Fly, No Go (see previous entry).

What I call “restrictive cartography” is not in itself new. Property maps are at least as old as Roman times, and boundary maps no younger than kingdoms and nation states. What is new, however, is the substantial increase in both the number and diversity of restrictive maps. A comparison of mapping in 1900 and 2000 underscores my point.
Since 1900, we have used maps to exclude industry from residential neighbourhoods, ban new construction on floodplains, help delineate “historic” districts that constrain a homeowner’s choice of paint colour or replacement windows, put limits on where and with what weapons we can hunt game, restrict travel by foreign diplomats and journalists, prevent sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds, and keep aircraft a nautical mile away from a vice-president’s weekend retreat.
The public tolerates these cartographic restrictions because many, if not most, are not only benign but essential.

Via All Points Blog.

Previously: New Book from Mark Monmonier: No Dig, No Fly, No Go.

Strait Through: Exhibition at Princeton University

Strait Through: Magellan to Cook and the Pacific, an exhibition from July 17, 2010, to January 2, 2011, in the main gallery of Princeton University’s Firestone Library, documents “the drama of the unfolding exploration of the Pacific Ocean that followed the discovery of the Strait of Magellan. In rare historic maps and the original printed narratives of the main European explorers, the exhibition traces 250 years (1520s-1770s) of both national and personal maritime achievements, as the map of the Pacific slowly developed into its present shape. Chronological maps of the Magellan Strait, Pacific Ocean, and Spice Islands (Moluccas) form the backdrop to exhibition cases devoted to individual explorers.” Via MapHist.

Twenty-Five GPS Devices, One Windshield

Crossroads, a short video by Garvin Nolte, is a piece of installation art in which a driver drives around with 25, count ’em, 25 GPS navigation devices giving voice directions — a comment, says Nolte, on “the influence of others onto one’s own path of life in an abstract way.” Technabob comments: “What I’m most impressed by in Garvin’s video is the fact that he managed to get all the suction cups to stick on his windshield for 9 minutes straight.” Via GPS Tracklog.

976 Map Apps and Counting

I’m trying to decide whether this passes the smell test.

While searching for navigation apps for the iPad to check out for possible review, I came across scores and scores of street map apps that were identical except for the area they mapped. They’re all made by Dubbele.com (iTunes link), and at the moment there are a total of 702 for the iPhone and iPod touch, most at $1.99 apiece, and 274 for the iPad, at $2.99 apiece. They’re all little more than offline viewers for the OpenStreetMap map tiles of a given city — pay a few dollars, get an OSM map that can be used anywhere without incurring data charges.

I don’t doubt this is allowed by the OSM licence, and I don’t necessarily object in principle to for-pay apps based on OSM data. But I’m not sure I like the fact that the iTunes Store is being flooded with a lot of nearly identical apps. I’m also uncomfortable with the fact that a number of these city maps are still very much works in progress on OSM — I know, because I’ve been working on some of them — and can’t see any indication, short of buying one or two of them (which I won’t), that these apps’ maps will be updated on a regular basis. And, at the same time, there are other OSM apps for the iOS platform — free apps — that will download map tiles for offline use: I have two of them.

A single offline OSM viewer that allows you to download map tiles for offline use from hundreds of bookmarked cities and that costs a few dollars — that I wouldn’t have any problem with. But this seems a little bit hinky — the map equivalent of 99-cent book applications that contain works you can download elsewhere for free. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s not necessarily good either.

You Can’t Use Your Cellphone’s GPS to Navigate Your Car in Massachusetts

A new Massachusetts law signed by Gov. Patrick on Saturday bans using a cellphone for navigation; standalone GPS receivers are still okay. In other words, using a TomTom device is okay, but using TomTom’s iPhone app while in the car is now illegal in the Bay State. Weird. (The law also bans no-brainer things like texting and driving.) Via GPS Tracklog.

The Making of the Atlantic Neptune

We’ve heard about The Atlantic Neptune, an 18th-century multi-volume atlas of the eastern shores of North America produced by J. F. W. des Barres. Jeffrey Murray returns to the pages of Fine Books and Collections magazine (see previous entry) to explore the making of The Atlantic Neptune, including Des Barres’s surveys of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Thanks to Rebecca Barry for the tip.

Previously: The Atlantic Neptune; Rare Book Auction Features Copy of Atlantic Neptune; Atlantic Neptune Auctioned for C$900,000; Spacing Atlantic on Mapping Halifax.

GPS Tracklog Reviews the Garminfone

Garminfone GPS Tracklog has a hands-on review of the T-Mobile Garminfone; Rich is impressed with Garmin’s GPS-enabled entry into the U.S. smartphone market, but is concerned that the phone, which runs Google’s Android OS, is stuck at Android 1.6 and will be more difficult to upgrade. And he wouldn’t give up his Motorola Droid for it, though that’s as much due to T-Mobile’s poor coverage in his area.

Previously: Gadling Reviews the Garminfone.

GOCE Satellite Maps Earth’s Gravity

GOCE map of Earth's geoid

The GOCE satellite has produced a highly detailed map of the variations in the Earth’s gravity field. It shows the difference between the regular ellipsoid shape that is used to represent the Earth’s shape and the geoid — a hypothetical surface of the Earth on which the surface is perpendicular to the gravitational pull. See BBC News and Universe Today for more information.