GIS Analysis with PoVRay

Is this “neogeography”? At the minimum, it’s someone seeing a powerful tool at his disposal and pressing it into service, rather than waiting for ESRI to release a suitably branded version. Check out Smathermather, scroll right to the bottom and work your way up. Faaaabulous!

We aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto

No, we aren’t, because I got home last night.

But, the last couple days, I was in Kansas – Lawrence, Kansas, to be precise – a little piece of Massachusetts, cunningly hidden on the eastern edge of the Great Plains. Easy parlor game: find Douglas County, the home of Lawrence, in this map of county-by-county 2008 election results.

The organizers of Kansas University GIS Day were kind enough to invite me out to keynote their event. The talk I delivered, on disruptive technology and open source, was well-received. I also got to meet up with Howard Butler and Steve Lime, two members of the Mapserver community who live in fly-over country and who drove down to Lawrence. Steve came to present on Mapserver at KU GIS Day, and Howard just came for the beer and camaraderie.

Here’s the wordle of my keynote.

The folks at the KU Natural History Museum invited me and Howard over to talk about open source and their plans for open sourcing their collections-management software, Specify. They were also kind enough to give us a short tour of their holdings, which are incredible – four floors of climate controlled racks of bottles of specimens, and that was just the fish and frogs! We also got to see a coelacanth, the “fossil fish”, unchanged over 40M years.

Thanks to Josh Campbell, Xan Wedell and all the other GIS Day organizers who showed me and the other presenters such hospitality.

All in all, a great trip, but click click there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…

Nearest Book

From Sean Gillies. My excerpt:

Automobiles were getting larger as the station wagon and van yielded to the supremacy of the sport utility vehicle (SUV), an expeditionary car based on a light trick chassis and therefore exempt from legislated fuel efficiency standards.

The rules are: grab the nearest book; turn to page 56; find the fifth sentence; post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

I’m sitting next to my bookshelf, so the closest in this case was an artifact of what was where in shelving order: “The Long Emergency”, by James Howard Kunstler. Ground zero of Kunstler reading is “The Geography of Nowhere”, which I would heartily recommend to anyone and everyone – he is still living off the particular style he honed in “Nowhere”. For example, sentence number two on my page 56:

Meanwhile, South Korea, Malaysai, Thailand, Singapore, and especially China were becoming the world’s manufacturing workshops as America “outsourced” heavy industry and focused its energies on hypertrophic suburban land development and the consumer infrastructure that went with it – malls, so-called power centers, and the vast highway strips with their fried food shacks, tanning huts, and muffler shops.

Kunstler translates into visceral language his thesis that the automobile (whether it runs on gas, vegetable oil, electricity or magic) has hopelessly degraded the public realm of most of North America, creating a “cartoon architecture” and a land-use and life-style pattern utterly hostile to normal human relationships.

10,000 Hours

I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” for a plane ride last month, and it was a fun read. About 25% of it I had read before, as he gets double duty out of much of his writing by serializing bits of it into the New Yorker.

Anyways, he has a new one coming out, “Outliers”, a study of exceptional people, and one of the theses is:

This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

Which got me thinking – what skill did I hone enough before the age of 20 to become world class? I did a fair amount of music, but not anything close to 10,000 hours. Then I remembered.

I have all the makings of a world class reader. So, if you want a book read, send it along, I’ve got the mad chops to get it read for you.

Fake Issue

IT bureaucracies have a way of ginning up all kinds of contradictory reasons to keep people from doing things that, while not really impossible, are inconvenient to IT. Take, for example, the issue of providing e-mail service to the Most Powerful Man on Earth:

In addition to concerns about e-mail security, [Obama] faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.

So, on the one hand there’s the problem of maintaining security, and on the other hand there’s the problem that everything said will be on the public record. Hey, wait a minute, those are contradictory objections! Taken together, they are meaningless.

Take them separately then.

Security. Does the Director of Central Intelligence have e-mail. How about his subordinate? How about the subordinate’s subordinate. At some point, someone dealing in highly sensitive national secrets has e-mail already, and is probably using it to transmit those secrets to other people dealing in highly sensitive national secrets. E-mail security in the government is a “solved problem”.

Publicity. Simply attach a .sig to every outgoing Obama e-mail, “Please remember, all messages sent to me are, or will become, part of the public record of the United States.”

Kennedy (and famously, Nixon) recorded his Oval Office meetings, including some pretty blunt discussion. Presidents make pretty blunt notations on the margins of memos they are reading. It all ends up in the public record.

Unless they are saying they think President Obama doesn’t have the self-control to realize that his e-mail is going to be public at some point, I really fail to see how e-mail is a medium so radically different from all preceding that the President has to actually stop using it.

Heck, the most effective argument against email in the New York Times article came near the end. Says Diana Owen, of the Georgetown American Studies program:

It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, “I can’t be on e-mail. “

Truer words were never spoken. Could be worse though, he could be blogger.