New Scientist: Computer learns "mapmaking"

New Scientist is carrying a report that a computer can learn mapmaking:

Walter Bischof and Jun Zhou, computer scientists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and Terry Caelli from the Australian National University in Canberra, created the new computer program, which learns to detect and track new features such as roads on standard aerial photographs.

Initially, a human mapmaker proceeds manually, using mouse clicks to trace a road on a photograph. The computer program tracks the operator's steps and compares them to its own analysis of the aerial image.
It's interesting that the report calls what is essentially digitizing "mapmaking"! Whatever happened to all the other aspects of mapping, such as design, projection choice, scale, generalization, etc, just to name a few of the technical issues?

Also, if maps are essentially propositions, as John Krygier and Denis Wood argued at last week's NACIS meeting, can a completely computer-made map still be a proposition? A little devil's advocate question for Halloween!


BBC: Power of maps

BBC posting about the power of maps notes how useful mapping and aerial imagery can be, as well as the usual worries about invasions of privacy.

One police department in the US would like to superimpose GPS coordinates of its officers on maps.

"We have found what we believe is just the right balance between being able to see the things we need to see to save lives, and not being able to invade privacy in any way," said Dante Pennacchia from Pictometry.

"So we can't see faces, we can't see number plates, we can't identify a person. And we don't want to."

I have been arguing for a while that opposing privacy to functionality/security is a losing battle but you do notice that that's the way it's always framed.

NACIS video

A bit of a Ubikcan experiment... here is Susan P. from NACIS as Glenda the Good Witch!

Tradesports update, Oct 29: 36.3%

The latest Tradesports figures indicate a hold at about the same probabality as last time:


As always, this means the chances that the GOP will retain control of the House of Representatives are 36.3%.

Interestingly, they are now offering bets on the number of seats to be gained by the Democrats. For example, will the Dems. win over 15 seats? Closing price: 67% (the market says there is a 67% chance they will gain 15 seats or more; the number required to achieve control of the House).


NACIS pics!

Finally, here are the NACIS pics.

Click the sleeping Executive Director picture!

Tradesports Update: 35%

Tradesports update for October 24.

Chances of GOP retaining the House of Representatives:


"Axis of Evil" projection

Back from NACIS, but where are the pictures? Still to be uploaded and sorted. I also got some footage of Lou Cross, the Executive Director snoring in a chair.

Anyway, on the way up we were discussing a new projection which should be made, but, as far as I know has not yet been done.

This is the "Axis of Evil" projection. A close approximation is given above, but on the proper "AxE" projection, the line connecting the three evil states (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) should be absolutely straight.

Furthermore, the "Outposts of Tryanny" should be placed on either side of the line. Unfortunately, the "Outposts" include Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar (Burma) so this would be quite a distorted map.

It would be nice to see it though.


Off to NACIS

Tomorrow I leave for the NACIS conference, held this year in Madison WI. This will be my 20th anniversary of attending NACIS conferences (my first was Philadelphia in 1986) although I haven't gone to all 20.

I'll try and take some pics of famous NACite people, let you know the "state of the beer" in Madison and attend something called a "fish-fry" on Friday...

Geowankers gather in San Francisco

Heh. When I saw this headline from Adena I thought she was referring to the upcoming AAG meeting.

Tradesports update for Thurs Oct. 12: 39%

Conventional wisdom on the GOP retaining the House of Reps. is currently trading at


on Tradesports.

Cyberspace shock horror! Blogger and Ubikcan go down!

Shockwaves spread through cyberspace today as Google-owned Blogger went down for over three hours! Ubikcan and many other blogs were knocked out.

Google later blamed the outage, which affected Ubikcan and many of the blogosphere's most popular blogs on a database error.


ESRI losing out to open source?

As I blogged about a year ago (here, and later here and here) open source software represents a potentially more democratic and well, open means to pursue mapping.

In this context James Fee's post today stating that four ESRI "MVPs" are turning from ESRI web-related software to open source software is significant. He seems pretty clued in to the inside story of ESRI usage. Although 9.2 has some interesting features it seems it's just too late and people have gone open source, or people are actually finding open source to be better. (They've not rejected ESRI, just the web 2.0 stuff, ArcIMS etc.).

So here we have a data point about GIS being behind the curve on the new mapping trends; open source, map mashups etc.

More examples and discussion of this would be good.


Tradesports update for Sun. Oct 9: 44.3%

Between now and the election it might be fun to have a Tradesports update on Dems taking back the House of Representatives. Last time (Sept. 19, 2006) there was just over a 50% chance of GOP retaining control.

Today that's down to 44.3%
. Anything below 50% indicates a Dem take-over of the House:

The fall-off started on Sept. 30th, before the Foley (R-FL) sex scandal, and continued through it:

There's a slight uptick yesterday.

I also noted several weeks ago that odds on GOP retention of the Senate were at 80%, where they've been all year, and wondered if anything could break that. Well looks like Foley has:

The Senate is now at 71.7%

(They've also started a line of whether Hastert will resign before the election: 10% chance right now if you want to get in!)

Does it matter where you get your news?

How much does it matter where you get your news? Aren't all news outlets equal in the grand scheme of things--providing reporting and facts while we make up our own minds about things from an informed perspective? This is the common view of many people, but it's hardly true at all.

Most media markets provide only one choice of newspaper these days, which in turn are usually part of a larger chain. And those chains are themselves owned by an even smaller group of mega-corporate companies (eg., Viacom, Bertelsmann, News Corp.).

For example, the Atlanta Journal Constitution is owned by Cox Enterprises, a private company owned by two of Cox's daughters (and two of the richest women in America, worth over $10 billion each). It also owns 15 TV stations (ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC etc.) and of course cable/Internet (Cox Communications).

Well, perhaps like me you don't subscribe to a newspaper. What about TV/cable? There's more choice here right? Yes, to some extent. But there are two problems: 1) not all TV is watched equally (ratings) and 2) we find the same damn companies again (GE, Viacom, AT&T)!

An interesting article in yesterday's Independent provides some insight into the most popular TV news stations, Fox News. As you know, Fox plays a little game whereby they claim to be impartial while actually being ideologically Republican (their anchor on election night 2000 was Bush's first cousin!). Fair enough, most press follows some line or other (although unlike Fox they don't usually try to dupe their viewers).

Turns out though, that Fox News viewers are not only getting an ideological slant, but they're not even getting informed:

The Fox News formula may be good for ratings, but its effect on the public has been little short of toxic. A University of Maryland poll taken six months after the Iraq invasion demonstrated that Fox News viewers were more ignorant about world affairs than any other category of news consumers, but also had a stronger belief than anyone else in how well informed they were.
It's this kind of thing of course that gives legs to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (who invented the idea of "truthiness"--things that aren't true but should be, such as a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda--as a direct outcome of Fox's style). So if you watch Fox News, you're actually becoming relatively dumber and less competitive on the job market.

There's a small bit of hope however:
Interestingly, the pendulum is now starting to swing against Fox – both the style and the content of the station. Its ratings are down 28 per cent on last year, and its hard to conclude that its hard-charging ideological support of a now deeply unpopular President Bush is not at least partly to blame....
The zeitgeist has moved against Fox in other ways, too. Its non-stop cheerleading for Bush has made it an easy target – almost too easy – for a new generation of news satirists who have popped up on another cable station, Comedy Central. First Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show, and then his acolyte Stephen Colbert, who has broken out on his own and also delivered a brilliantly subtle anti-Bush routine at this year's White House Correspondents' dinner, have made regular and merciless fun of the most prominent Fox News hosts.
(To paraphrase Katha Pollitt in the Nation: "live by Jesus, die by Jesus".)

So not all news is equal--and not just in perspective, but in quality and informational content. Even if Fox News does go in decline (as one would hope) we're still left with the problem of the narrow overall range of the major news providers.

While the Internet obviously provides a much wider range of perspectives (just about as wide as the number of people with access to the Internet) there are no equivalents to big media (of course this may be a good thing). While some sites do attract major league numbers of visitors (Daily Kos for example attracts about 16 million people per month), most are in the infamous "long tail" pulling in maybe dozens of visitors (this blog included!).

Those enamored of the long tail like to argue that it is the collectivity that counts. While no single blogs attract large numbers, collectively they do. And presumably collectively they can influence political opinion. This might be true, or it might not be. How many people read blogs, and of those people, how many confine themselves to the meat of the long tail, to the top blogs such as Daily Kos, the Huffington Post or on the other side, Instapundit?

I'd also like to see a study of how much the top blogs remain constant. Daily Kos has been a leader since I've been looking at ranking sites such as Technorati, but Instapundit seems to have fallen down (now at #27 from a place in the top ten). Also, left and liberal blogs seem to dominate the list more than right or conservative blogs.

I love blogs and think they represent a powerful potential change in the way politics is carried out. I especially love the "people powered" notion of more realistic choices of politicians, ones who aren't run by consultants and, on the left, not just being Republican-lite (eg Lamont and Tester).

But I think this is a potential change, and even if it happens may be more like the insertion of additional perspectives rather than a wholesale sea change. I hope it happens. But there's a lot of institutional weight stacked up against it, not least because of the flabby opposition offered by the Democratic Party, so that blogs can't leverage much support there, they have to do it all themselves. Romantic, perhaps, but also way, way more difficult.


Keeping track of developments in Washington DC

If you find it difficult to keep up with all the news coming out of Washington DC, there's a great website you can use.

It's called Talking Points Memo and is run by Josh Marshall and a small staff. They have good contacts in DC and focus unabashedly on "muckraking" and uncovering wrong-doing (as you can imagine they have their hands full). Think of them as aggregating news just like Planet Geospatial does!

I've been reading it for about a year and their liberal perspective and balanced approach make them very attractive. They also have a site covering the latest polls and developments in elections (Election Central).


Mapping the War on Terror: Social Design and Trevor Paglen

Jonathan Crowe at the Map Room notes that the Social Design website (see previous entry) has another entry in its "Mapping the War on Terror" series. This one is a billboard mapping selected CIA flights of the process known as "extraordinary rendition" which is the process where the USA transports people for interrogation to foreign countries where torture is legal.

The billboards were made along with Trevor Paglen, a PhD student in geography Berkeley. Paglen presented at the AAG Philadelphia meetings a few years ago, in a session organized by Derek Gregory (UBC) on 9/11 and terror. Paglen engages in something called "limit telephotography" in which he gets as close as he can to secret military installations and takes pictures.

He compares this process to taking pictures of Jupiter (the same kind of equipment is involved), but more difficult:

The cliché “out of sight, out of mind” often applies to human activity. And this is why many interesting sites are in exceptionally remote areas, often buffered by miles of restricted land. Some sites are so well hidden or cordoned-off that they are simply impossible to see with the unaided eye.
Paglen's work appears in two recent books, one of the CIA flights called Torture Taxi, and one in an edited volume by Gregory and his colleague at Berkeley, Allan Pred.