SpatialTau v1.1 – Why a Newsletter?

SpatialTau is my weekly newsletter that goes out every Wednesday. Archive shows up in my blog a month after the newsletter is published. If you’d like to subscribe, please do so here.

Why a Newsletter?

Earlier this month I turned off Planet Geospatial. It had been in operation for almost 10 years but honestly it peaked about 4 years ago and has been in a very slow decline. Blogs, while still critically important to our communicating with others, have taken a back seat to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Heck, even I have made my blog dormant and moved my posting to Tumblr.

But Tumblr has taught me one thing, a need for longer form writing. Tumblr, much like Twitter and Facebook is really meant for short quick thoughts that you want to get out fast. I originally thought I could move back to my old blog but the whole format seems limiting for me. Clearly what I really need is a format where I can write and get a bit deeper into my thoughts. Oddly enough the format I kept coming back to was a weekly newsletter. It’s a more relaxed format where I can take time to formulate my thoughts on a subject or subjects without that need to hit the publish button on a blog post.

So this is SpatialTau, my weekly Spatial IT newsletter. It goes out every Wednesday and will be more in line with my older blog posts where I had more time to write and share my thoughts. I hope you enjoy it and share them with friends and colleagues.

“What do you do?”

Remember this question? I used to get it all the time and it was so hard to explain. I’d go into maps, databases and then the Internet. People sort of nod and seem to agree they understand just so you’ll stop talking about intersecting polygons and buffering the result. Then when Google Earth exploded on the scene, I’d used to just always say, “You know, like Google Earth…” and the other person would get all excited and say they looked up their hometown and saw their elementary school and how awesome it was that Google could find it.

My fiancée’s mother asked me last week what I did. I started to go in with #opendata, #opengovernment (explaining hashtags along the way of course) and visualization. Unlike that Google Earth moment, lots of what we do is still very difficult for most people to really get their heads around. Sure they understand what it means to share data and make it open, but the process is still so difficult. I mean geospatial data is still locked up in that crazy File Geodatabase format which my fiancée’s mother would never begin to grasp. I was lucky enough to have some data I was working with in Google Drive so I showed her a spreadsheet view of it and she sort of got the idea. But going through the workflow of how I got it there is very foreign to everyone.

I’m not pretending to say that spatial is special again, just that I think we’ve let the technology get ahead of the story. Even sharing a great blog post by the Sunlight Foundation about government data still gets that look that we used to get explaining an intersection of polygons. What really gets me is when you back into what we do from an open government perspective, allowing them to grasp the point of data being free and open, they start getting excited. But the tools we use are still very niche, very technical and very difficult to share. Rather than sharing how we do something, we need to be sharing why we do something. It’s the why that get’s peoples attention. It’s the reason why we do what we do that interests people. Then you can gage how much “what” they can take and decide if sharing the OpenLayers vs Leaflet.js debate is worth it. It’s hard for technologists to “break things down” because the excitement they feel is the touch and feel of the how we accomplish things. But the why is really the sexy part of our jobs.

I really think we’re so lucky that Spatial IT has moved from the backrooms of GIS and into the front and center of the open data and open government movement. But we can’t lose sight that the world could care less about that great NPM module you wrote to massage spatial data. My soon to be mother-in-law gets the picture now and understands why what we do is so important. One person at a time.

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U.S. Maps Based on Where Baseball Players Were Born

Just in time to enjoy during the League Championship Series, Slate a has new maps showcasing where baseball players were born:

Since 1900, the states where the most baseball players have been born are California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and Texas. The states with the least are Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska. Here’s a map of America if we were to divide the country into 50 states with the same number of baseball players born in each:
Baseball State of Birth

Gooseland is an empty wasteland of frozen ballfields and broken dreams. I grew up in Trammellia which probably explains why I’m blogging about this map instead of being in it.

40 Maps That Explain the Internet

I have no idea what a map story or story map is but I do love maps. Timothly Lee over at Vox has compiled 40 maps that show the growth of the Internet since 1969.

The internet increasingly pervades our lives, delivering information to us no matter where we are. It takes a complex system of cables, servers, towers, and other infrastructure, developed over decades, to allow us to stay in touch with our friends and family so effortlessly. Here are 40 maps that will help you better understand the internet — where it came from, how it works, and how it’s used by people around the world.

Nokia’s Here Auto Tries to Innovate

Nokia Logo

Interesting article on Engadget:

The latest version of Here Auto, launched at the Paris Auto Show, has very few rough edges. It’s designed to think ahead of you, learn your habits, work with other devices and present information and options in the least distracting way possible. That’s Nokia’s goal, anyway – to see if it succeeded, I took a tour around Paris in the company’s Range Rover demonstrator.

Self aware in car mapping. Sounds interesting but a demonstrator doesn’t mean care companies are going to jump on board. My 2014 Toyota 4Running has a completely out of date navigation system that I’m stuck with. Toyota seems to have signed deals with Yelp, Bing and Facebook to get POIs which I can’t decide is better or worse than just having a whole Nokia system. Apple and Google are getting car integration but they don’t seem to be doing any better than Nokia.

I suspect most of us will continue to use Google or Apple Maps in the car on our smartphone or tablets for naviagation. At least Siri talks through my bluetooth…

The New York Times College Football Fan Map

The New York Times College Football Fan Map

The New York Times released a new map showing which college football teams the people root for from data it got exclusively from Facebook.

College Rooting Map

Like the other sets of maps, these were created using estimates of team support based on each team’s share of Facebook “likes” in a ZIP code. We then applied an algorithm to deal with statistical noise and fill in gaps where data was missing. Facebook “likes” are an imperfect measure, but as we’ve noted before, Facebook likes show broadly similar patterns to polls.

The map is highly detailed and the accompanying article goes into different rivalries. Teams such as Oregon, Texas and Notre Dame appear in counties all around the country. A fun map to explore this Saturday! At least Arizona is dominated by the better University.

ASU over UofA