Posts Tagged ‘geography’

The Geography Of Talking

Apart from being a damn fine Trance album, German DJ Paul Van Dyk’s The Politics of Dancing would definitely make my top 5 list of album titles, if I had one. I love the way the two normally diametrically opposed ideas of politics and dancing are used together to make something new.

Here’s another example which is much more geo related; the geography of talking.

A group of researchers have redrawn the map of Great Britain using human interactions, in this case people talking to each other on the telephone, to show how little the way in which we communicate and the relationships we have bear any resemblance to the formal boundaries that governments draw on a map. In the map below, the total amount of talk time is shown, with the maps areas being more opaque the more calls and interactions are made.

Another view of the data is revealed when the concentration of calls made are plotted against the UK Government’s regional boundaries, which apart from any other insights, shows just how many people live in London and its environs and how much of a chatterbox we all are.

Sometimes I read arguments against using a map for visualising data, usually prefixed by words to the effect of “just because you can put something on a map”. Sometimes those arguments are justified, but sometimes the map remains the best way to view data and to draw insights from that data. Regardless of which point of view you subscribe to, I always like maps that allow you to look at the world in a different way.

You can read the full text of the research article at PLoS one; Redrawing the Map of Great Britain from a Network of Human Interactions – Ratti, Sobolevsky, Calabrese, Andris, Reades, Martino, Claxton and Strogatz.

Written and posted from the Palomar Kimpton Hotel, Midtown, Atlanta GA (33.778291, -84.38742)

What Happens When Geography and Innovation Collide

It’s taken a while but the consultation into opening up the Ordnance Survey’s United Kingdom mapping and geographic data is out and is no doubt being debated, looked at, discussed, pulled apart and opined on. Whilst every Ordnance Survey employee I’ve ever spoken to is utterly in favour of this move there’s still continued resistance to openness, though the gap between the two extremes of FreeOurData and the UK Government’s Cabinet Office is closing and closing fast. Of course, it doesn’t help when the Ordnance Survey asserts rights over the crime maps produced by London’s Metropolitan Police either.

But baby steps, as my friends in the United States often say. One such step is GeoVation, a Wikiword style merging of geography and innovation.

Last year I was approached by the organisers of the GeoVation challenge to be a judge in an endeavour that  “allows innovative thinkers and geographic data to come together for social, environmental and economic benefit through the use of geography”. It looked like an Ordnance Survey public relations exercise to provide a seed fund to encourage entrepreneurs to use Ordnance Survey data.
But the organisers had good credentials, I knew most of them and respected them and so I actually read the small print. Yes, GeoVation was funded and supported by the Ordnance Survey. Yes, the seed fund pot, some £20K, came from the Ordnance Survey. But using Ordnance Survey data was not obligatory, mandatory or even strongly encouraged. I heard the phrases “what about GeoNames” and “what about OpenStreetMap” enough to accept the offer and become a GeoVation judge. Not everyone thought this was a good idea or saw beyond the Ordnance Survey involvement. It wasn’t just me either, I was joined by Steve Coast the founder of crowd-source mapping project, OpenStreetMap; James Alexander, CEO of Green Thing, the online service that encourages people to lead greener lives; James Cutler, CEO of eMapSite, the incredibly tall Peter ter Haar from the OS and we were helped by chairperson Steven Feldman.
There were a lot of submissions and ideas to look through. 380 people signed up, 170 ideas were submitted and almost 70 ventures were formally proposed to be entered into the award. We had some reading to do.
Let’s briefly mention the venture submissions for a moment. They varied. Oh how they varied. It’s unfortunate to say that a 15 minute video submission, a one page submission which doesn’t actually tell you what the venture is and a 20 page submission which still doesn’t tell you what the venture is are unlikely to engage the attention of the judges. But in the end we came up with a shortlist of 9 ventures and descended on the Ondaatje Theatre in London’s Royal Geographical Society for the final showcase. Each venture had 4 minutes to pitch their idea to the judges, followed by brief questions from the judges and from the audience. It doesn’t sound easy and it wasn’t, but each pitch put their heart and soul into it. After all the pitches were over, the judges retired to a back room for plenty of coffee and some animated voting and discussions. After 45 minutes we emerged, blinking, into the light, still friends and still talking to each other.
In first place and walking away with £10K were MaxiMap, a large scale education floor map of the British Isles which helps children understand the geography of where they live.
In second place, accompanied by a fetching gorilla suit, and loping away with £7K were Mission: Explore London, a team of geography addicted teachers, designers and artists who wanted to help children explore the city.
And in third place with £3K was London Blue Plaque Search, dedicated to making the iconic GLC/GLA/LCC/English Heritage blue plaques open to everyone.
After almost 6 months of meeting, discussing, debating and geopontificating GeoVation was finally over. At least for 2010. The challenge and awards will be returning in 2011 with even less Ordnance Survey involvement, though hopefully they’ll still contribute towards the seed fund. And as I seem to be quoted as saying in several places …
“One of the judges, Gary Gale, Director of Engineering for Yahoo! Geo Technologies, said: ‘The standard of entries was fantastic and the scope of them far-reaching and varied. Each of the finalists can and should be proud of getting to the finals and being able to showcase their geo-vision. But in the end, the judges decided that MaxiMap was the one idea that could make the most impact and had the greatest potential.'”
… and I can’t really sum it up better than that.
Photo credit: pomphorhynchus on Flickr
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Is it Great Britain, the United Kingdom, the British Isles or what exactly?

In February 2009 I wrote a post for the Yahoo! Geo Technologies blog about how people outside of the United Kingdom are sometimes confused by the vagaries of how to correctly write street addresses in the UK and if the United Kingdom is a country and if England is a country then how can England be part of the United Kingdom. Some pointed comments to the original post ensued from the likes of Ed Parsons from Google and Andrew Larcombe from the British Computer Society’s Geospatial Specialist Group.

And so almost a year later I went back and started to research exactly how the United Kingdom, Great Britain and the British Isles are actually put together. It was an educational journey because, even with being born and bred in London, it turned out that even I didn’t fully understand this subject. So I tried to codify it with a variation on The Great British Venn Diagram, which looks something like this:

United Kingdom Venn Diagram

Let’s start with the easy bit. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are constituent countries at an administrative level; they’re shown in yellow on the diagram above.

Great Britain, so named as to distinguish itself from Brittany, is a geographic island which comprises the countries of England, Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom is a sovereign state, shown in red, which comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ireland, also a geographic island, contains the administrative country of Northern Ireland and the sovereign state of the Republic of Ireland or Eire.

So far so good, but what about the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands? Both of these are not part of the United Kingdom, instead they are both Crown Dependencies, shown in purple, and are part of a federacy with the United Kingdom. And a federacy? That’s a type of government where one or more of the member administrative units have more independence than the majority of the member administrative units.

Finally, there’s everything else; those remnants of the British Empire scattered across the globe which enjoy the slightly nondescript appellation of British Overseas Territories (or British Dependent Territories prior to 2002 or Crown Colonies prior to 1981).

To be more precise, these are parts of the British Empire that did not gain independence and that the United Kingdom asserts sovereignty over. They take in Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Of course not everyone agrees with these definitions

Britain Venn Diagram

Image Credits: Nanci.
Written and posted from the Kempinski Hotel Bristol in Berlin (52.5052405, 13.3280218)