Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Modern Approach to Some Historic Landscapes

Expanding on my previous post about online mapping, I thought I'd share a more lighthearted project.

Google Maps has teamed up with The National Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving historic sites throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to provide viewers with virtual tours of some of these countries' preserved locations.

"Trike riders" have peddled around the United Kingdom, documenting 20 historic sites including Corfe Castle in Dorset, Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, Plas Newydd in Wales and Downhill Demesne in Northern Ireland.

While Google Maps has previously only provided street views of roads, this project allows 360-degree views of the UK's iconic landscapes.

This is perhaps my one way to view the rolling hills and centuries-old castles in the UK for now until I get the chance to head back at some point to see everything I didn't get to while I was over there.

I'm not much of a cycler (well, who am I kidding, I'm not one at all) but I'd give it a try if it meant I got to have the full access that these trike riders get.

Now that's a decent gig.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Online Mapping: From Haiti to Kenya

In the recent tragedy that came from the earthquake in Haiti, it is interesting to see the role that technology has played in communication during the chaos that has ensued.

Many, many posts ago, I discussed the online mapping project, Ushahidi, which served as a portal for Kenyans to report the violence that erupted after their presidential elections in December 2007. Since then, Ushahidi has expanded to document crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the War on Gaza and violence in Pakistan. Its latest project has been helping those in Haiti.

With phone lines collapsed and many anxious over the fate of their loved ones, Ushahidi teamed up with Digicel, a local mobile phone operator, and established a way for people to send text messages.

Here's how it works:
  • People can send their message to text number 4636 via cell phone or through the Web site
  • The message is then translated by volunteers
  • Once the volunteer finds more information and verifies it, the report is mapped
  • Aid agencies are then able to directly act on the message
Here's a full report from the BBC.

Additionally, online mapping is being utilized to help Kenyans in a different way than Ushahidi once did. In response to the massive droughts from last year which made it increasingly difficult for herdsman to insure their livestock, satellite imagery is making it possible to get insurance. These images can gauge the severity of drought allowing herdsman to receive automatic payment for any losses. This will help replace the expensive process of insurers having to check reported livestock deaths before making any payments.

The potential for online mapping is diverse as seen by the projects mentioned above. If it can already be used in a variety of different ways from communicating during an environmental disaster to creating a more efficient way to earn a living, there will be vast opportunities for this technology to be utilized in even more productive ways as it continues to evolve.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Focus Fail: Confessions From the Distracted

As a former journalism student, I'm embarrassed to even admit to this--I'm horrible at reading the news.

Growing up, I remember watching cartoons and eating my breakfast on the weekends while my parents sat at the kitchen table with our local newspaper spread out in front of them. If they weren't able to read it in the morning, as they often didn't during the week because getting two children ready for school while trying to get to work on time was time-consuming enough, they always made the effort in the evening.

Now both retired, they still sit every morning, reading each news article, discussing them amongst themselves. I noticed while I was visiting them for the holidays how different their habits of absorbing the news are from my own.

I always thought that one day, when I was old(er), I'd be doing the same exact thing because sitting down and reading the news is an adult thing to do. Well, now in my mid-20s, I say with reluctance, that I'm a legitimate adult but I sure don't have the focus that my parents seem to have.

Given I studied journalism during my undergraduate days at Northeastern, I understand the importance of the news and knowing what is going on around you but as the industry has shifted from print to digital, how I receive the news has also affected how I absorb the news.

Let's just say, I'm a bit distracted. And I'd be willing to bet that the rest of my generation may be experiencing some of the same struggles.

I became remotely aware of it within the last couple of months. Specifically, when I was reading an article about Sudan on the New York Times Web site and my eyes happened to stray away from the text to catch a teaser about traditional food for Rosh Hashanah (I'm a bit of a food enthusiast). I immediately clicked on the link to that article and soon forgot about Sudan.

Because the digital age of online journalism and social media offer so many options for obtaining news, I tend to feel a bit of information overload. Web pages are riddled with advertisements and links galore tempting readers with instant gratification for anything that grabs their attention. I never seem to have enough will power to resist those temptations and just finish the article I originally started reading.

In other instances, I have been in the middle of reading an article online, only to become distracted by another thought that I instantly feel the need to exlpore by searching on Google. Instant gratification at its best yet again.

It is not to say that the interest is not there--it is, unfortunately, a short attention span that seems to be the culprit. Information is coming at us in all directions and for me, the news has become a mish-mosh of scattered headlines that give me just enough information to have a general idea of what is going on in the world. My main source of news is through the Internet, whether it is browsing headlines on different news sites or through random items posted on Facebook and I can't help but wonder if my abundant sources for information have left me over-saturated, dwindling my patience for in-depth news.

I find this disheartening, considering my previous studies and my current studies in global and international affairs but I figure the first step to overcoming such obstacles is confronting them.

I've managed to stay informed on current events despite my failure to focus--just not to the extent that I should. So as the new year has come upon us, I guess if I had to make any type of resolution, it would be to train myself to be a bit more patient and shift away from my current distracted mentality.

Perhaps I'll take a note or two from my parents.