June, 2010

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Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

My ongoing complaint is how people allow gadgets to replace thought. I have never complained about how computers can be used to gather, analyze and present geographic data. Technology can serve thought. Geographic information systems make possible fascinating, informative maps that would have been unthinkable in earlier times. (I do complain that the aesthetics are severely lacking in most GIS maps).

Here is a wonderful example of someone taking a ton of data that was just lying around out there and compiling a map that like most good maps can tell a million stories.

Sites of photos posted by tourists are red, Locals blue.

Tourists red, Locals blue.

This was compiled from information about pictured locations and the homes of users who posted them, attached to images posted on Flickr. Clever work! It has gained jokey attention as a means for natives to avoid tourist infestations, but the comments on Flickr show there is plenty more to dig into here.

For instance:

“It’s like Queens and the Bronx have never heard of Flickr! Unsurprisingly, though, Williamsburg and Park Slope are fairly Flickr-friendly.”

“It’s interesting that tourists seem mostly to go to Yankees games, not Mets games.”

I was especially tickled to see that someone placed this label on the map: “5 pointz and/or views of the skyline from the 7 train.” And look how tourists, well represented on the Brooklyn bridge, have yet to discover the Williamsburg Bridge.

My point is the value of prior knowledge. In order to be able to look at this unlabeled yet data rich map and instantly grasp nuggets like these, you have to know the city as only a map reader can. The nuggets are endless.

Some nuggets are a question. What’s up with College Point?

She really oughtta sue…

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Sue the driver, OK, but even I had to wonder about this. My first reaction was in line with the widespread ridicule and disbelief, but after some thought, I wish good luck to a woman who is suing Google because she was injured on a dangerous highway in Park City Utah while following Google Maps walking directions.

In the old days, no one would have thought to sue Rand McNally after an incident like this.  But claims beyond any that paper maps ever made are being made, tacitly as well as explicitly, by high tech navigation.  The suit gains some merit because Google omits the “Use Caution…” disclaimer on the mobile device version of their walking directions website.  But more importantly, who is responsible for the blind faith in Google Maps that the plaintiff, and millions of other people have adopted?  Can Google demonstrate some ongoing dismay that such faith exists?  What have they done about it?  Should the sometimes visible disclaimer be enough to get them off the hook?  What deliberate actions have they taken, through public relations and their carefully nurtured image of omniscience and civic responsibility, to promote the idea “Why hassle with an old fashioned map and thinking for yourself when you can just click and go?”

I am not yet saying she ought to win the suit, but I do hope a trial becomes an opportunity to air these issues.  Should Google get to enjoy the benefits of the people’s faith in their servces while denying they have done anything to foster it?  Where else does the faith come from?

a dangerous walk

a dangerous walk

Any paper street map, or even a look at the Google map that disregards the suggested route, reveals to an actual map reader a route that is slightly longer but follows non-arterial streets for more of its length.  Nevertheless there appears to be no way Lauren Rosenberg could have traveled where she wanted to go without walking at least an eighth of a mile or so on the deadly 4 lane highway.

Here is who she has not sued, but I wish she would, and win big:  Whoever thought it was OK to build a place where it is impossible to walk somewhere half an hour away without placing oneself in a lethal situation.  That is the opposite of any place I would consider worthy of having the word “Park,” or “City” in its name.

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