Getting Your Bearing In A Digital World

There is no doubt we live in a geospatial age. We are inundated with location based data wherever we turn. While some mapping applications like OpenStreetMap appeal to targeted users, others such as Google maps, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps and MapQuest are main stream and are accessed by millions of users every day. But are people any more spatially aware of surroundings even with these tools and GPS units in every car and smartphone?
North
North is up there
I run into people all the time who can follow a GPS that says turn right on Smith street but couldn’t tell you what directions Smith street runs to save their lives. It could be said that we are actually losing our directional abilities. Google maps doesn’t even give bearing throughout your route. There is only one bearing at the beginning of the directions. The rest of your route is made up of “Left”, “Right”, and “Take Exit…”
Okay, so what? If we have the tools to get us from point A to point B, why should we care if our driving map has a compass rose on it? Well, here are three reasons I think directional aptitude is still important:
  1. Mapping technology is unreliable. Online maps are only as good as the data human beings put into them.
  2. Data may not always be available. Even with mobile technology there are times when digital maps and directions will not be at your fingertips. Batteries die, charging cables are forgotten and phones are left behind on counters.
  3. Having your bearing is a safety issue. Knowing your location relative to another location can be a matter of safety. Emergency services can find you easier if they know you are north or south of a particular intersection.
So how can directionaly challenged individuals build back their sense of bearing? Here are three things that might help:
  1. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Knowing just this piece of information can help a person get their bearing for a good portion of the day. Face a rising sun and west is behind you , north is to your left and south is to your right. With practice, directional orientation will become second nature.
  2. In town, pay attention to N,S,E,W on street signs. That paired with increasing or decreasing block numbers will give you a direction.
  3. Get in the habit of using paper maps. You will remember street names and landmarks in relation to a map’s compass rose.
Modern computer mapping has revolutionized our world today. While the internet and geospatial technologies are indispensable in much of our daily lives they have also taken away some of our ability to think for ourselves. Fortunately it is not difficult to reclaim that lost territory.

What is in Your Office Desk Drawer?

So the other day I took a look in the top drawer of my desk at work. I’m not talking about the glance you give when you throw something in that you might need “someday”. I actually looked at what was in there. It was kind of scary what I had let accumulate. Here is a partial list of what I found:
  • Box of pushpins
  • Obsolete Autodesk, ESRI, and Trimble trial software and drivers from 3 years ago.
  • Short, flathead screwdriver
  • A Spaceghost Christmas ornament
  • Organic white tea bags (about 6 of them)
  • 12 inch ruler (I actually use this from time to time to measure margins, boxes, icons and other elements on printed maps)
  • 2009 statistical abstract of the United States
  • Four USB cables from unknown hardware purchases
  • Engineering ruler
  • Box of plastic forks
  • Bottle of instant Krazy Glue
  • More than eleven pens from geospatial conference vendors
  • Scissors
  • 12 volt power supply to something I probably threw away in 2010
  • Crossword puzzle book
  • Seven lip balm containers (Six were empty)
  • PS/2 to USB adapter
  • Sunscreen
  • Some flashy button thing from a conference
  • Various sizes of sticky note pad
This was just the top drawer. I’m kind of afraid to get into the bottom two. It looks like I am going to have to do some winter cleaning pretty soon.

I am sure there are plenty of more interesting desk drawer content lists out there so leave a comment and let me know what’s in yours.

Social Media Speaks and the Government Listens

The idea of social media command centers is not a new one. The best known centers might be from Gatorade and Dell who each use theirs for brand monitoring. But businesses are not the only ones accessing large amounts of social media data. Carahsoft, a private government solutions company currently markets the InTTENSITY Social Media Command Center, by the InTTENSITYCorporation, to the US Government intelligence community. According to InTTENSITY, their web based SaaS product officially launched in September of 2011, has the capability to anticipate and measure events as they happen or even before they happen, based on social media monitoring.
It could be like a real life version of the TV show Person of Interest. With this software, upcoming events mentioned in the social media cloud could be monitored and even interrupted as they occur. If your tweets and updates happen to be tagged with a geospatial reference (address, city, lat/long) social activity could be pinpointed with precision.
Since much of social media is by definition public communication (as opposed to a private phone call or email) there doesn’t seem to be a barrier to a government entity watching what flows through Twitter to monitor actions, speech or ideas it doesn’t approve of, then affecting it in some way.
InTTENSITY claims its software is capable of tapping into the entire Twitter stream as well as Facebook and blog sites and can monitor in up to thirty-two languages. Is software like the InTTENSITY Command Center just TweetDeck on steroids? Is it an innocuous use of social media technology? Or does its potential as a social monitoring tool pose a threat to individual and community liberty?
I am not suggesting that our government is using or will use this software for anything other than monitoring real threats to the American people. However, as our government is further enabled to follow our daily personal lives, we the people must follow them even closer.

Just Another Haphazard Recording Studio Thrown Together Using Parts from eBay and Craigslist

I spent weeks meeting strange people from craigslist in parking lots all over town, searching eBay and cruising garage sales to find the best (read: whatever I could afford at the moment) equipment for putting together a sound recording studio at home. I don’t know exactly what prompted me to set up a studio. I guess initially I had thought I wanted a voice studio to read some of my own writing into an audio file for fun. I also mess around playing the banjo, Irish tin whistles and various other instruments and thought it would be interesting to see what I could do with a microphone and free audio mixing software.

When I wasn’t trying to buy equipment I was trying to figure out what the next piece I would need should be. I read plenty of how-tos on the subject of how to set up a studio at home. There were as many opinions about equipment as there were discussions. For that reason, this post is not about what to choose or how to choose it. Of course I will list out what I got and what I hope to replace it with, but I am just a hack at this so don’t take what I did as a serious recommendation.  So here is what I have:
Along with those purchases came a Radio Shack dynamic mic and an MXL 990/991 condenser mic set. I might try to use the MXL 991 to pick up the banjo. I decided to put it in the closet under the stairs since it is a small space and wouldn’t take too much to soundproof it. I can tell there is a little echo off of the closet door so I might have to get some egg crate foam or something to glue to the back of it. I only hope now that I won’t lose interest in the project before I get something recorded. Since I originally bought all of this stuff six months ago and only just finished setting it up, that is a distinct possibility.
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
MXL 990/991 Microphones
MXL 990/991 Microphones
AT2020 with Voxguard
AT2020 with Voxguard
If I do get something recorded I will put it on the blog.

Amazing Discovery! Presidential Candidate Website Color Trend

I was visiting presidential candidate websites the other night in hopes of finding sentient thought in our nation’s leaders when I discovered something peculiar. On almost every major Republican presidential candidate website the background is blue. Okay, it might not sound that amazing when you first read it but it does cause you to think. Why is blue such a primary (Wow, multiple puns intended with that one) background color for these people? It makes them all look strangely like Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaign websites. Was there some study done on the color of a candidate website or did everyone just think that it worked for him so it might work for someone else?

The colors blue and red are strongly associated with our two parties. Blue represents Democrats and red represents Republicans. So why are Republicans associating themselves so strongly with a color that practically screams Obama?  Perhaps they are politically suicidal? Perhaps they secretly want Obama to win so they can complain for four more years? If you watch their debates and how they give dumb answers to even dumber liberal media commentators (read: Anderson Cooper in Las Vegas) you might be convinced of this theory.

Whatever the case may be, I am going to keep digging into this and see if there is method to the color madness. In the meantime, take a look at the front pages for these guys and see for yourselves there is a major internet background movement afoot.



www.hermancain.com
www.rickperry.org
www.mittromney.com
www.michelebachmann.com
www.barackobama.com

Interop 2011

If you have ever had the opportunity to attend the Interop conference you know that it is the premier place to be for the hottest new IT gadgets. Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, NV was no exception. Now you might be thinking I am referring to servers, firewalls and switches but you would be wrong. I’m talking about the great swag the vendors give away by the truckload. In addition to the bags, flashing pens and USB lights, it seemed like every other vendor was entering you into a contest to win an iPod, iPad or iPhone. The biggest crowd of hopefuls I saw was at the Dell booth when they were giving away a 55 inch flat screen LCD TV from Visio.
Most vendors just asked to scan your RFID enabled attendee badge and that would enter you to win, oh I don’t know, maybe an iPod, iPhone or iPad. One vendor got creative and brought a couple of claw crane games where attendees try to grab small white boxes that could contain anything from a bouncing ball to an, you guessed it,  iPhone, iPad or iPod.
McAfee went so far as to have a cash grab booth. You listen to the sales spiel and if you can quickly answer questions asked about the presentation you get to climb into a booth, strap on goggles and look like a dork trying to grab a couple of dollar bills swirling around you.  Of course you are a dork with a few extra dollars, so maybe it can be worth playing the fool.

Is This Love or Bacon?

Is there anything better than that sweet, heady smell of bacon frying? The only thing I can think of is the rich smell that wafts into my nostrils the next morning when I unwrap a package of cold bacon. There is something about day old bacon that sets my taste buds dancing. I think I have found kindred spirits over at Bacontoday.com . There you can find news, recipes, and events all related to sliced pig flesh. Could it be that there is even a bacon convention? Yes, and you can be more knowledgeable about when and where by visiting the convention web site at http://www.ba-con.org/ . If you are worried that all of these militant bacon lovers will deplete the world’s supply before you can make that next run to the store, you can always visit the guys at Thinkgeek.com and stock up on tactical bacon. Remember, the best defense is a good offense.

Being a Geek Has Never Been So Fun

I love geeky things that the masses don’t grab on to. One such thing is the game Khet. I had wanted the game since seeing it on one of my favorite online shops ThinkGeek.com a couple of years ago. Last Saturday I was out garage saling (one of my favorite weekend activities) when I came across the original version of the game. It was in almost perfect condition and I got it for a song along with some computer stuff. I couldn’t believe that I had such luck. I brought it home wondering if I could ever convince my wife to play a game where you bounce lasers off of angled mirrors to try and kill your opponent’s plastic Pharaoh. It turns out I didn’t have to. My six-year-old son not only decided to be my opponent but he also taught himself and me how to play the thing. He didn’t seem to mind that the game is MENSA award winner and for ages 9+.

Of course, now that I have the game I want the updated version Khet 2.0. For now though, I will pat myself on the back for being in the right place at the right time and try to perfect my strategy on the version I have. I had better because my son is too smart for my own good. You can visit http://khet.com/ to buy or learn more about Khet 2.0 . They even sell Khet t-shirts so you can impress the general public by advertising something they’ve probably never heard of.

Gateway Dynamite Shoot

That’s right, you too can take a pot shot at a can stuffed full of dynamite. Gateway Colorado is the place to do it. I’ve only been once but lately I have been getting the itch to go back. You see, I didn’t hit the can and didn’t get to feel the rumble of a high power explosive that I caused to detonate. Trust me, you will always want to go back and see if you can do it. I can only imagine the intense magnetic draw back to that little canyon in Western Colorado when you do hit the can.

The shoot happens two times a year. The next one is April 30, 2011 and there will be another one in the Fall.

Visit the Gateway Fire Department website for more information.