Very sobering

Donald Clark gives a thought provoking post about a recent talk by psychologist Philip Zimbardo on what makes ordinary people evil. Note that this video contains graphic images through examples from Abu Graib prison, however it does end on an uplifting note.

Forgotten Heroes

My local school had a vote last academic year to name each of the buildings on their campus. This was based around “inspiring” people (or even “heroes”) and the following won the vote:

1. Edmund Hillary
2. David Livingstone
3. Ellen MacArthur
4. Christopher Columbus
5. Neil Armstrong

An intriguing list of names for sure and not necessarily what you might expect, however it got me thinking about those that you might call “forgotten heroes.” Similar exploits, but not the fame. So from the list above, I’m building the “alternative” list below and wondered if anyone else had forgotten heroes to add.

1. Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lt. Donald Walsh: first descent of the Mariana Trench, the deepest location on the surface of the Earth’s crust (~11,000 m), January 23 1960. Intriguingly in the same timeframe as the ascent of Everest.
2.
3.
4.
5. Surely Yuri Gagarin was ranked a fair bit higher. First person in space and all. A very big moment.

Top 5 Entries

Curiosity got the better of me and I dug out the log files for the web server and, using Web Log Explorer, ran a quick analysis of the blog page requests since I started blogging back in September 2005. And the top 10 are:

AGI Tat: 3852
Einstein says it all: geography is much harder than physics: 1403
…. and Whipsnade respond!: 829
The Journal of Maps: rationale for its establishment and review of initial operations: 468
Copyright or database right… Does it matter?: 423

So there you have it, “AGI Tat” wins by, well, a long margin (proving why The Sun is such a popular read!). The good old fake Einstein quote does brisk trade, whilst, bizarrely, a verbatim letter from Whipsnade Zoo comes in at a respectable third. And somewhat satisfying to see my Cartographic Journal article about the Journal of Maps coming in fourth.

Enormous Google Earth images

If you haven’t come across Super Googer before then it is well worth a look. This is a simple hosted PHP script that uses Google’s tile encoding system for Google Earth imagery to download as many tiles as you want.

Do you want a 200x200 super image London? Easy to do. The one parameter you do need to know is the upper-left tile from which the image will start. There are some useful instructions here. Once you know the start tile, specify the size of the image and it will download in to a new window. Of course the problem is what you actually do with this once its downloaded as its only in your browser. You could print it or try to stitch all the tiles back together (and there are some shareware products that do this). However the easiest solution is to use the ScreenGrab! Firefox extension which, as the name suggests, does a browser screengrab. However it’s a bit cleverer than that and can output the entire browser page as an image. Great solution to extracting very large Google Earth images.

Using QGIS

I was at a meeting today where I need to show some GeoTIFFs and Shapefiles. I had my laptop on me so went to run up ArcGIS and then remembered that I didn’t have my dongle with me. So then loaded ERDAS Imagine and got a license server error (out of date license). I was just about to give up and then remembered that I had a portable version of QGIS as part of PortableGIS. It is more than usable for this type of activity and certainly alot quicker than ArcGIS. Its really very tempting not to bother with ArcGIS when out and about any more. Its slow, bloated and uses draconian licensing.

The iPod, another great British invention (that we didn’t make any money out of)

This really seems a recurring theme for us Brits; hover craft, jet airliners…..

Google Power Tips!

This article is worth a look at power tips for using Chrome. Note the startup options, about: keywords, portable USB version and anonymizer. Very useful.

Location is important

Came across this nice editorial from Nature earlier this year bemoaning the fact that many scientists don’t bother to record location when depositing their data or reporting in research publications. “Spatially enabled” is fainlly hitting the mainstream.

How to do well in a PhD viva

After a brief chat this week with a student about an upcoming viva I thought I would list some of the useful pieces of advice from my own viva (thanks to Ian Evans for a pleasant experience!) and some recent students:

  • be honest
  • its a 2-way conversation. Talk about your work
  • its better without your supervisor. It also means that if theyve made a bad project decision you can happily blame them!
  • its quite nice at the beginning of discussing each chapter to actually point out any mistakes you’ve spotted
  • make sure you references are totally spot on

Im sure there are others so feel free to add to them.

Sony London Underground

These images did the rounds a few weeks back, but I really like them. As part of Sony’s advertising campaign for the Walkman they have produce various underground maps in the style of a set of headphones. In Sony fashion, they are understated but really rather pleasing on the eye. Worth a look.

Maps that Matter

Martin Dodge and Chris Perkins had a really good PPT running in the foyer of the RGS-IBG last week (related to the “Maps as Method” session) called “Maps that Matter.” Have a look at their blog which discusses a really interesting lists of “maps” that have played a vital role in geographical thinking. Note that this is not a list about “good” maps and that they use the following criteria:

  • significant impact on geographical knowledge: advanced geographical theory or practice
  • abstract visualisation with core spatial element (could be conceptual or data driven), including maps, charts, diagrams, graphs. (Generally excludes other visual media - paintings, photographs, etc.)
  • widely recognised amongst peers as a ‘classic’
  • produced in last 120 or so years (taking 1887 appointment of Mackinder at Oxford as start of academic geography discipline)

I’m sure that there will be more added to the list (my bet being William Smith’s geological map of the UK).

Google Chrome

If you’ve been living on another planet for the last 24 hours then you might just have missed Google’s typically understated announcement that they are releasing a new web browser called Chrome, designed to meet the deficiences in Firefox, IE and Opera. In particular a simple interface and much faster Javascript engine for running web applications. Only on Windows at the moment, but a Mac and Linux version are currently brewing. Some initial reactions but expect a whole slew of reports tomorrow. However it is fast, Google Mail and Documents are slick and the whole browser experience much more immersive. The download is only 0.5Mb, but this is just an installer program that then downloads a 22Mb data file. Interestingly it installs into the users profile (NOT Program Files). Chrome uses Apples WebKey technology and bits of Firefox. Notably there is no facility for plugins, yet, but this appears to be part of Firefox, using the Google Gears plugin to support offline use of GMail and Documents. So it will interesting to see if this is opened up at all. Also note that the compressed installer is also saved with the installation. Finally, I do wonder how wise installing into a users profile is. Profiles often get corrupted, whilst this appears to mean that each individual user on a PC will need to install Chrome separately.

No doubt Chrome will be picked apart of the next few weeks, however Microsoft should be worried because the OS is becoming more and more irrelevant as browsers provide the channel to SaaS (Software as a Service).

Google Maps and Academic Mashups

During the “Maps as Method” sessions at the RGS-IBG last week, there were a surprising number of people talking about using Google Maps and Google Earth in mashups. In particular, using them to leverage visualisation, data serving and data exploration. All admirable goals, except I couldn’t understand why there was such a focus on Google products. What blew people away with Google Earth was the access to imagery, but none of these talks were focused on imagery. Google Maps provides a nice “slippy maps” interface, but there are other vendors. In fact the biggest negative to Google Maps (and Earth) is the proprietary interface and commercial data. Compare it to OpenStreetMaps and perhaps using OpenLayers. An open source interface with non-commercial data. Is anyone working along these lines at all?? Why all the fuss with Google Maps?? Is the API really that much better? Or have I missed something painfully obvious?!