A busy summer in the GIS Center…

It was a busy 2016 summer in the GIS Center. Connor Christoffersen was the lab assistant, and was instrumental in the projects accomplished. The main projects were working on our Community Geography initiative in partnership with the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, supporting 3 faculty summer research teams and their 6 students, and making progress on individual campus research projects. Here’s a quick summary of our summer 2016 accomplishments.

With Wilton Wildlife, the GIS Center:

  • Met with Wilton Wildlife interns and discussed their needs
  • Set up Wilton Wildlife with GIS software to help build GIS capacity in the organization
  • Acquired and created database of GIS data layers for Wilton Wildlife from public sources and the Nature Conservancy
  • Developed new maps of all Wilton Wildlife trail areas

In supporting other community research, Connor worked with LIDAR data to support the Sustainable Saratoga Urban Forestry Project:

  • Investigated LIDAR methods for developing a new Tree Canopy model for tree counting and identification
  • Researched LIDAR methods for potential campus tree counts and tree differentiation

The summer was busy with summer research projects. Chris Mann had most of the computer in the GIS Center running statistical analysis for a good portion of the summer, working with his two research students, Henry Jaffe and Chloe Singer. They presented their summer research titled: “I Voted” Stickers at the end of the summer, an prepped data and used geospatial demographic data to prepare for a fall course on polling places.

Kurt Smemo, and his two research assistants used GIS to determine sites in the Adirondacks with unique tree canopy composition to establish longitudinal study sides relating to microbial communities and their relationship to climate change. Dan Casella and Jen Cristiano used GIS raster modeling to determine optimal study sites, which fueled their field research agenda in establishing these baseline plots.

Joshua Ness worked with his two research students, Rafaela Iturralde and Lukas Harvey (St. Lawrence) as part of the NY6 Upstate – Global Collective Summer Research Fellowship program. The research project was titled “Riparian Invasion in the Context of Landscape Change”. The project analyzed the spread of the invasive, Japanese Knotweed, and included species identification and mapping, as well as mapping simulated downstream spread of the species as impacted by stream meander and current.

In supporting course lab development, there was a couple projects that were undertaken and completed relating to courses:

  • A continuation of Connor’s spring course work redesigning a lab for ES105 relating to Watersheds
  • Using OpenNspect and MapWindow to look for new course related watershed modeling methods
  • Reviewed the GE101 GIS Lab for improvements

On campus, in partnership Campus Safety new map products were developed:

  • A large campus safety map of adjacent Skidmore properties to assist in Clery Act reporting
  • A large North Woods map showing trails and features
  • A well-labeled campus map to be used in emergency response drills and activities

Overall, we had an extremely busy summer with regard to research in the GIS Center, as it served as a hub for community and faculty research projects, and provided a great location for students to learn from one another while working on their projects. Thank you to all the faculty and students who worked in the GIS Center this summer.

The Skidmore Geoscience Augmented Reality Sandbox

By Alex Chaucer and Connor Christoffersen

So, you may have heard the term “augmented reality” (AR) lately.  It is gaining in name recognition due to the new Pokémon GO game that many are playing, even here at Skidmore. Did you know that augmented reality can be used as an instructional technology in the college classroom?

A view of the augmented reality sandbox at Skidmore College.The most recent addition to the lobby of the Dana Science Center is an interactive attraction combining geomorphology and augmented reality. The ‘Augmented Reality Sandbox’ is a project created by Alex Ng-Yow (’16) under the advisement of Dr. Amy Frappier that shows topographic change in real time. Using a Microsoft Kinect and a projector, this installation projects topographic lines onto the sand below it as the sand is reformed, as well as shows hydrologic movement across the surface of the sand’s landscape. The sandbox, based off of designs from researchers at UC Davis is open for use at any time (just press the power button on the projector twice).

A view of the entire Augmented Reality Sandbox including the projector/kinectNg-Yow intends for this project to aid in academics, particularly in labs in the geoscience department. He believes that “(the) potential of augmented reality will push (technological) advances forward” and that teaching devices like this can be good learning aids for kinesthetic learners like himself. Instead of showing topographic maps in a 2D format on a piece of paper, students are able to manipulate and change the landscape and see how different geographic formations can affect contours as well as A description of the Augmented Reality Sandbox that is posted next to the installationwater flow throughout a landscape. As a combination of his passions for technology and the geosciences, Alex thought of this project as a good way to give back to the school, as well as provide a good example of Skidmore’s interdisciplinary nature.

 

This isn’t the first time we have seen augmented reality in action here at Skidmore College. In fact, Academic Technologies will be holding a discussion on Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality/Mixed Reality this fall. Watch your email for updates!

Note: The video at the top of this post is a timelapse of two people manipulating the sand in the Augmented Reality Sandbox, highlighting the regenerating topographic line projection with the digital water “flowing” over the landscape. Video and image credits: Alex Chaucer, CC by 2.0

Gotta map ’em all

A map of the pokemon gyms and pokestops at Skidmore College

Pokémon GO is a new augmented reality, location-based game. As it has been dominating the news since it’s release, we thought it might be a good idea to help campus visitors who might be searching the campus for digital goodies. The GIS Center analyzed the campus and found the key Pokémon resources that folks might be interested in. While Pokémon GO is very new, the location-based gaming platform it is built upon, Ingress, has been around for a while. Many of the Pokémon GO gyms and pokestops were previously used in Ingress game play. Interestingly, the folks behind Pokémon GO are the same folks that made Google Earth and Google Maps. And, they used GIS to map Pokémon to their appropriate habitat. Map credit to Connor Christofferson, who developed the map in collaboration with the Skidmore Communications team. If you have any feedback on the map, please post a comment on Instagram.

Top Ten Geo Stories of 2015

flickr photo shared by Calsidyrose under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

My mind has been brewing for some time (since early December) on how to summarize and capture the year in “geo.” I deliberately cast a wide net with “geo” mainly to capture my personal interests in geospatial technology and also geography.  As I’ve been marinating and doing research on this post, I’ve had some great conversations with some folks in the great state of New York (Bill Johnson, Frank Winters, Eric Herman, Jeff Herter, and others on the NYS GAC. Additionally, a great #geowebchat on #topgeostoryof2015 with Alan McConchie helped to broaden my perspectives as well. I’m a GIS Instructional Technologist at a small Liberal Arts College in upstate NY, so my geospatial focus tend be more academic, but also focused on emerging technologies. My goal is to put together an interesting list and I’m hopeful that it helps someone who may have missed one of these stories over the past year. Additionally, another goal for would be some interaction with other like minded folks about these stories to further our collective thinking and understanding (either on Twitter or elsewhere).

Enough small talk folks, let’s jump right in.

10. First Ever GIS Analyst In A Hollywood Movie

That’s right. A character in a movie actually is a “GIS guy.” He also tries to explain what he does a couple times in the movie. If you are involved with GIS or mapping, you know how difficult it can be to describe what you do to others. The name of the movie is “What We Do In The Shadows.” (I watched it on HBO Go). Spoiler alert: you can also see all the parts where Stewart describes his job in the youtube clip above. I personally think he does a good job describing GIS, and is treated a little unfairly by the crowd of vampires. Definitely check out the entire movie.



flickr photo shared by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

9. Register Your Drone

The big news in drones for 2015 came late. It came in the form of a “drone registration” program, which, as of this writing, 45,000 people had registered. Folks to pay stiff fines if not registered by Feb. 19, 2016. Interestingly, the AMA (Academic of Model Aeronautics) is recommending to their members, primarily hobbyists, to hold off on registering. In other drone news, 2,672 folks were approved for commercial uses of drones as of mid-December. This approval takes the form of a section 333. Overall… 2015 was a huge year for drones and the emergent regulatory environment.



flickr photo shared by dno1967b under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

8. National Geographic Sells Out

In 2015, Fox became a 73% stakeholder in National Geographic Partners. While this was a long time coming for NatGeo due to decreased readership, the layoffs hurt, and the brands’ integrity has been brought into question. There was quite a bit of chatter online when this all happened, and I am curious what the future holds.



flickr photo shared by Javier Arce ☄ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

7. Mapping Startups Rule 2015: CartoDB, Mapbox, & Mapzen

Mapping based startups made some real strides in 2015. A lot of folks were hired this year and these companies are picking up some serious talent. Other location based companies made great strides in 2015 as well: Waze and Uber all showed the world that there is still room for innovation in Location Based Technologies. Make sure to check out the offerings from CartoDB, Mapbox and Mapzen.



flickr photo shared by Ben Husmann under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

6. Google Kills Some Mapping Solutions

Google Earth Enterprise and Google Maps Engine are shutting down. Esri, CartoDB, and others were quick to partner and announce transition programs for former Google customers. My understanding is that some of these enterprise solutions require a lot of Google employee handholding, and perhaps focusing on API’s makes more sense for Google’s hands-off business model.



flickr photo shared by U.S. Department of the Interior under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

5. Obama Signs Funding for a Well Rounded Education, Includes Geography

I’ve long known that geography was an unfunded mandate under No Child Left Behind (interpretation…it’s important, but not important enough to fund it). I dug up this post from 2003 to show it. Long story short, after 12 years, president Obama signs the “Every Student Succeeds Act” which gives some opportunities for funding geography education. The Association for American Geographers (AAG) is optimistic about the inclusion of geography and potential funding opportunities, as outlined here. You can see some of AAG’s work to support Geography Education here.



flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

4. Digital Map Storytelling

It seemed like everywhere I was seeing story maps in 2015. Esri provides some nice tools for story maps, story journals, and ArcGIS Online is making this type of data exploration and storytelling even easier. But, they are not the only platforms around. Map Story continued to make strides in 2015, and a student of mine did a comparison on some of the other platforms for digital map storytelling as well, featuring Storymap JS, Odyssey.JS, Omeka Neatline, and the Esri Story maps. I’m impressed with the new interfaces and ease for building map based story websites that I saw over the last year.



flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

3. New Indexing System(s) for the World’s Locations

In 2015 we saw What3Words emerge as a new way of describing locations in the world. Move over Lat/Long, because 3 random words are here to reference every 3 meter by 3 meter square on earth. In 2015 we started to see w3w integration, and you can browse industry applications examples. While a three word indexing system is an innovation in itself, we also saw the truly universal language of emoji applied to a global reference system as What3Emoji also emerged in 2015.



flickr photo shared by velkr0 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

2. The Promise of Open Source

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but QGIS hit some sort of tipping point in the last year, and it is becoming a standalone viable a solution as GIS desktop software, and even a useful teaching tool. Here’s a great comparison of ArcGIS and QGIS that was done in November this year. Open source geospatial technology is not new, but in 2015 I saw some great strides in application. Not just in desktop, but in the deployment of maps on the web. A workable geospatial stack can produce beautiful, and functional, web-based mapping solutions. FOSS4G continues to grow and it’s not going away. Look for more growth and more beautiful maps on open platforms in 2016. Mapbox released Mapbox Studio, based on Open Source GIS and featuring some smooth vector based maps. OpenStreetMap volunteers and professionals and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) came out in a big way to help map after the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. Was 2015 THE year for Open Source Geospatial? Perhaps.



flickr photo shared by archer10 (Dennis) (63M Views) under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

1. The Auto Industry Embraces Geospatial

I’ve been hearing about Google’s Self Driving Cars for years, but it was a little bit of a surprise to see a German auto group consisting of Audi, BMW, and Daimler purchase a geospatial company in 2015. The company is called HERE, and they have roots in Navteq via acquisition by Nokia, and they were purchased for $3.1 billion. The German automakers aren’t the only ones, as Toyota plans their own realtime digital video maps. So who is Google working with? It looks like it’s Ford. And it looks like we may see an Apple self driving car announcement in 2016. Don’t forget that Tesla is creating their own maps as is Uber. As self driving cars and super accurate, realtime, photo and sensor based maps are created of the world’s roads, I wonder what the long term impact on geospatial technology will be?


 Summary

Did more happen this year in the geospatial space than in other years? I think so. An auto company buys a GIS company, and drones now have to be registered like cars. Cartographic expert Natgeo stumbles as new companies focus on beautifying digital maps. Google kills mapping applications as Obama includes geography in a well rounded education. You can find me in January learning more open source GIS at stability.peanuts.think. :)

Special thanks to Joseph Kerski, Adena Schutzberg, and Doug Belshaw for some thoughts about how and where to publish my first blog post of 2016.

You can find this original blog post at alexchaucer.com.

Now Hiring for Spring 2015

Now Hiring Text

Get yourself a job for next semester and continue growing your GIS, Mapping, and Data Visualization skills while helping others! (Also, we will be working on some great applied community geography mapping projects this spring, so join the team to be part of that work!)

The GIS Center is currently accepting applications for 2 lab assistant positions for Spring 2015. Interested? Apply now! We aim to hold some interviews in person this week and get folks hired before winter break.

Job Requirements:

Hands on experience with multiple software and hardware applications, specifically ArcGIS and QGIS. Communication skills for working on a team and assisting others are essential. We are looking for an independent, self motivated, student who is able to learn and adopt new technologies. The student must be reliable, able to manage their time, and be interested in expanding their software knowledge, specifically around geospatial technology.

 

Job Description:

The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the GIS Center while also working on independent projects. Projects may involve spatial analysis, web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community geography project work.

Study Break – GeoGame Night in the GIS Center

Flyer showing image of game and text

For more information, see the Facebook event page.

Celebrating GIS Day at Skidmore College

 

World Map and Happy GIS Day written on a whiteboard
GIS Day is celebrated every year on the 3rd Wednesday in November

The Skidmore College GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Center for Interdisciplinary Research hosted a series of “open to the public” GIS Day events on November 18th and 19th, 2015. Geographic Information Systems is the platform for mapping data analysis and visualization for decision making. GIS Day, according to the gisday.com website, “…provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.”

The Skidmore events kicked off with a webinar on “The Future of Mapping with CartoDB” (see CartoDB webinars here).  Andy Eschbacher highlighted some of his favorite CartoDB maps (such as tweets mentioning sunrise) showed us how to visualize Twitter data, and walked us through an exercise visualizing sea surface temp.

The next day Richard Welty, former Board member of the OpenStreetMap US Foundation, presented to students about the OpenStreetMap project and HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team).

At 5:30pm Alex Chaucer introduced the GIS Center and welcomed a group of over 30 students to Skidmore’s GIS Day Program. He introduced the GIS Center and spoke about a new initiative called Community Geography, which will be focused on using GIS tools such as GPS and Census Data to aide non-profits in Saratoga County.

Don Meltz presenting at GIS Day
Don Meltz presenting at Skidmore College GIS Day

Shortly after, Don Meltz, a planning and GIS consultant, presented on the types of work he does in the region. As a planning consultant with his firm, he mainly works with government officials in mainly rural small towns. His “day in the life” presentation was geared to help students understand what’s it’s like to do GIS and planning as a consultant.

After Don’s presentation, Devin Rigolino from Saratoga PLAN presented on the benefits of utilizing GIS as a non-profit for land conservation. Specifically, he showed how GIS was used to prioritize lands to save, like connected farmlands, but also how GIS and mapping is used as an outreach tool on Saratoga PLAN’s website.

Finally, the end of the program featured some hands on emerging geospatial technology, such as a toy drone, a mapping robot named “Ozobot” and some augmented reality with the durovis dive. Folks who stayed until the end enjoyed hands on experience with these new “geospatial” technologies.

Special thanks to CartoDB for providing some amazing swag and to Skidmore College’s Office of Community Service for providing pizza for this event.

Skidmore College GIS Day Is This Week!

Skidmore College GIS Day Schedule of events for Nov. 18th and 19th, 2015

Come stop by the GIS Center in Scribner Library 227 this week to learn more about GIS and mapping! Here’s the link to the FB event to share with others.

Which Story Mapping Platform is Right For You?

Storymap Smackdown

I’ve been working on comparing varying story mapping platforms over the past few weeks on my blog, with the end goal being to create a guide for folks who need a story map but aren’t sure which platform will work best. Four of the most popular story mapping platforms available–Esri Storymaps, StoryMap JS, Neatline, and Odyssey.js–can all give your narrative a geographical context, and each one has perks and features that can further elevate the story you want to tell.

StoryMap JS
If your project simply needs a generic map with a narrative, then StoryMap JS is hands down the easiest option. There is little in the way of customization (the only real choice is the base map), but the authoring tool is very easy to use. One possible complaint about StoryMap JS is that there is no way to change the color of pins that are used, but to be honest, the color palette that StoryMap JS comes with is really attractive. If you don’t need complex functionality, this will probably be the best looking option. It also scales well on small screens, so it can be embedded on sites that are intended to be used on mobile devices.

StoryMap JS

Odyssey.js
Odyssey.js is another option if your project is simple; like StoryMap JS, it doesn’t allow much in the way of customization. The difference is that Odyssey.js uses a markdown language, which can be a real turn off if you don’t like working with anything resembling code. However, you can add multiple points and images for a single portion of the narrative, so if HTML and CSS don’t seem scary, then Odyssey can be pretty useful. Additionally, Odyssey is the only platform with support for Torque, so if you need time-based animations then Odyssey is worth considering.

Odyssey.js

Omeka/Neatline
Neatline, unlike Odyssey.js and StoryMap JS, has many more moving parts. If you’re familiar with Omeka–or even better, if your resources for your project are already part of an Omeka exhibit–then Neatline is an excellent choice. If you want to incorporate a timeline, or when there is a ton of metadata involved that you would like to feature, then Neatline shines. It has the added benefit of allowing the use of historical maps laid over the base map for reference, and has support for vector data. A drawback is you may need web hosting which supports Omeka and Neatline if you don’t already have it up and running.

Neatline

Esri Storymaps
Esri Storymaps are the most heavy duty platforms of the bunch, mostly due to their robust GIS roots and well fleshed out feature list. The Esri web apps can all be built on an Esri Web map, meaning that all of the processing power available from ArcGIS Online can make its way into the final project. There are a few different platform layouts available from Esri, such as the Storymap Tour, the Storymap Journal, and the Storymap Series, as well as a wide variety of other web apps that may end up being more useful to your project than a story map.

Esri Storymap

When I tested these platforms, I used a basic narrative and picture combo about the history of jazz music, which had four essential components: locations, a text based description, a general time period, and an image for each. My goal was to use the exact same data and put it into each of the platforms listed above for an apples to apples comparison, and then share my experiences, which you can find here.

So what about your project? Let’s dive into a hypothetical story map in which you toured Europe and decided to make a story map detailing the trip.

I want to…

Just tell a story with some map pins and pictures
Since this is a fairly simple project, Odyssey.js would work very well, as the markdown would not be too complicated. Alternatively, if the markdown language Odyssey.js uses is still a little too intimidating, the StoryMap is a great bet, due to its user friendly authoring tool.

Tell a story using some other media that I hosted elsewhere
StoryMap JS allows users to embed media from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, so you can easily include video taken during the trip. StoryMap JS even allows the use of SoundCloud files, so you could record and include audio narrations, or recordings taken on location.

Use my GPS data to tell the story
If you used a GPS tracker during your trip (or even tweeted plenty of geolocated tweets), then you can use that data to create animations of your route using Odyssey.js and Torque. The process of grooming information into something that CartoDB can use for Torque is a little more technical than the previous scenarios, but the end result can look very cool.

Craft a narrative around items that I stored in an Omeka database
What if you have an Omeka database with various paintings that your viewed during your trip? Neatline is an extension for Omeka, which has the downside of being very complicated if you don’t already use Omeka; however, it becomes a natural choice if you already have an Omeka database. Using the items from your Omeka database is as easy as loading Neatline and linking it to the database.

Tell a story, but with some harder data
Imagine that during your trip you decide that your story will focus on the economic differences throughout the Eurozone; being in Greece was much different than being in Germany. Esri offers many datasets through ArcGIS Online that can augment your narrative, and it’s easy to bring your own data in from the ArcMap desktop software. That way, heavy analysis can be done in ArcMap, and then when that data is brought into ArcGIS Online a story map can be made to help explain that analysis.

Do something else!
If you have some other story map that you’d like to make and aren’t sure of how to go about it, get in touch with us through our Facebook page, and we’ll help you get started.

Building a better trail map…

 

Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map
A map of the Skidmore College North Woods trails that was updated in Summer 2015

For a long time, the trail map for the old Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map has been not up to my personal cartographic standards. Originally developed by Bob Jones and Alex Chaucer a few years ago, multiple versions had been edited and what was the North Woods map had lost it’s original lustre and shine. But today, we have a new map that we all can be proud of.

Working the North Woods Steward, Katie Cuthbert, we took on the challenge of updating the old map. Features we have added: consistent fonts, iconography for kiosks and parking, stakeholder logos, simplified layout, clean trail marker numbers for on trail location, and trail length estimates. We hope you find the map useful.

Can you think of anything else you would like to see on the map? Feel free to add a comment or send a suggestions to achaucer AT skidmore.edu. I’ll also post a copy of the map on our GIS Center Facebook page if you want to comment there.

Happy Trails!

 

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