April 25, 2007

 

'Worldly' News

I was just thinking about how I really like maps. I have since childhood. Above my desk are various National Geographic maps of the world that I collected when I was a child. I used to sketch my own detailed maps of kingdoms, castles, amusement parks (complete with restaurants, bathrooms, and ticket windows). One of my favorite maps is a map of every individual building in midtown Manhattan from the Empire State building to Central Park, in amazing detail. The more character and individuality a map has, the better. Growing up I would pull out my collection of theme park maps and look at them for hours; it was almost as if I was there experiencing the excitement of the park in person. For some reason I never felt the urge to go into cartography. Still my interest in maps never really went away as I grew older.

Recently I purchased an enormous map (four feet high, by six feet across) of the world by National Geographic from a local Charlotte map business, named appropriately: The Map Show. They have an amazing assortment of maps, globes, and flags for pretty much every part of the Earth. If you're local to Charlotte and you can bear to listen to some pretty terrible elevator-music renditions of songs from The Phantom of The Opera, then you should check out this unique store; otherwise, you can buy their maps online at their website: mapshop.com

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In this day and age of ever advancing technology, one wonders if paper maps will be going the same direction as paper mail...becoming a thing of the past.

As I like to blog about software I think is cool I think I'll write a little about some of the free software apps you can use to look at our world with beautiful 3D graphics. Some of which allow you to include all different kinds of extended user-generated content (pictures, 3D renderings, etc.).

I'm sure by now, most people reading this have heard about or experienced Google Earth (originally named Earth Viewer, a product of KeyHole, Inc until it was acquired by Google). With the movement of a computer mouse you can do so much more with Google Earth than you ever could with a globe that spins on your desk, except hold it in your hand. And as far as user-friendliness goes, it's probably the best virtual globe out there.

One recent development with Google Earth that has really impressed me,is it's inclusion of information about the atrocities that are occurring in Darfur right now. I first heard about this partnership with The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the BBC's The World program, you can read more about it here on BBC News. In a way, this puts a face to a name for the conflict that's happening in Darfur; it draws attention in a way that really demonstrates the power technology has for good. This kind of relevant social information is something that I'm sure educators would find very useful.

There is however another notable 3D earth simulator I tried recently, NASA's World Wind software. World Wind will likely amaze you with the gorgeous imagery of the earth. This is because World Wind takes advantage of NASA's Blue Marble satellite imagery. World Wind has other features such as real-time sun-lighting and weather patterns. And World Wind allows you to also look at Mars, The Moon, and more in vivid beautiful detail. If you thought Google Earth was nice, you really should check out NASA's World Wind.

There are other 3D Earth applications, such as Microsoft's Windows Live Maps, which allows you to download software so you can convert the 2D maps on the Windows Live website into a 3D variation. For more information, Wikipedia has a good list of various Virtual Globes.

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If your computer can't handle the demands of a powerful 3D virtual Earth, then there are a lot of two-dimensional map websites to check out, and lots of interesting 2D Map Mash-ups worth looking into as well.

I have probably spent hours looking at Google Maps, Google's page that combines all the features of a good map search, with the same composite satellite imagery that Google Earth uses.

Microsoft's Windows Live is very similar to Google Maps (and Earth) but it attempts to be more useful be including extra features. I'm slightly partial to Google Maps just because it's a little more streamlined and easy to use.

Cool 2D Map Mashups...

Wikimapia, a mashup that combines Google Maps with the Wiki concept of editing pages--Allowing you to label actual places. Another advantage of Wikimapia is that it allows you to very easily generate HTML to embed sections of it in your website--See example below...


The other cool map mashup I like is FlashEarth. Flash earth is a mashup of Google Maps, Windows Live, and other map services, combined on one flash page. Besides making it easy to switch between different map services, this site allows you to pivot the the direction the page is aligned with, which effectively eliminates one of the biggest discrepancies between the 2D and 3D versions of map searching software (ie. Google Maps vs. Google Earth). The other advantage I have noticed is that, oddly enough, Flash Earth loads much faster than the host map services its mashing together.

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So with all this digital technology, why would I buy an old fashioned paper map?? Well, just as an ipod, as innovative as it is, can't truly replicate the sound of a record and a good set of speakers, maps on a computer screen will likely never truly replicate the folded and worn map you hold in your hand. In both cases however, they very nicely supplement there more tangible counterparts.

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April 22, 2007

 

Happy Earth Day!!

I was going to celebrate this day by cutting down some trees to make a path behind the building I live in to make a fun place to hang out, but some friends convinced me to help out with another project instead. Anyways, I'm pretty sure our planet is cool enough not to need an arbitrary holiday, but just the same, it is a pretty amazing and precious gift that I know I often take for granted...So in honor of Earth Day, I've included some Environmentally-friendly related links to check out...

Greenwire – A reporting agency about energy and environmental policy related news

Union of Concerned Scientists – An organization, started by MIT, of scientists and citizens alike who share many environmental ambitions. There is a lot of relevant information to look into on their site, and the way it is structured makes it helpful to categorize the issues that face our world.

UCS Hybrid Center – The most comprehensive independent source on the web about hybrid electric cars, a branch of the Union of Concerned Scientists

The Automotive X-Prize – Maybe you've heard about the X-Prize before--Essentially it's a multi-million-dollar prize offered to individuals who accomplish a breakthrough of some soft that is significantly beneficial to humankind. I first heard about it a few years ago when it was offered for the first private/non-governmental individual(s) to successfully create a spacecraft that could be launched into space at least two times. This was accomplished by SpaceShipOne by a private individual and as hoped the private sector has joined in supporting this cause—Virgin Group has started a space-flight branch known as Virgin Galactic, which will someday soon begin taking people into space.

The Automotive X-Prize however could have much greater impact on our society. It's offered to the first individual(s) who can create an automobile that gets at least 100 miles per gallon of any fuel type but equivalent to a gallon of gasoline. Just imagine how this could change our world, once that goal is achieved, companies will hopefully be competing to develop better and more enegy efficient modes of travel. According to an interview I heard on NPR, the reward will be significantly more than the 10-Million dollars given for the Ansari X-Prize.


April 21, 2007

 

A couple more...Haiku

A book should be read
if you like what you're reading
unless you can't sleep

I've written a poem
about a certain lady
where are my glasses? ...

“The earth needs the rain
the mountain needs the river,
love's hard to explain”


 

Another Haiku

Whispering old trees
telling me life isn't free
but love is silly


 

a haiku...

Perhaps I will see
the leaves in the trees stirring
and water flowing...


April 12, 2007

 

Appalachia trip

The Weekend before Easter I went on a trip with friends to the real heart of Appalachia in the mountains of Kentucky. We were volunteering with Appalachia Service Program (ASP) and it was a great trip, and a contrast to life in an urban setting. Check out these pics...

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post Easter

Holy Week has come and passed. There was a lot more eating than I ever would have anticipated, which I guess means I have developed good friendships, and there was also some time for reflection about what is significant in life.

When I was a kid I used to dream and wonder about heaven a lot. The concept of a spirit I was developing at the time was such that I had the idea that after death a spirit gets absorbed into God, the creative force of the universe, and recycled into some sort of happiness somewhere else in the God-o-sphere. But that concerned me some because I appreciate my individuality to a degree; it's not that I wouldn't have wanted to truly connect with the creative force behind the universe, and I don't think it was necessarily a selfish feeling, but I was, and am, just barely starting to get a grip on how to make sense out of my life. I mean, I have always felt like I am more than just the chemical substances and reactions going on in my body. And I don't just want to believe in God, I want to believe there is a God who intentionally made me to be me, as a buddy. You think that if you exist and have this ability to think and feel emotions such as love, that those characteristics above all else you would want to transcend this existence in the form of an essence, right?

But according to some scientists and existentialists, thats all wrong! Instead, my essence is just wishful thinking and certainly does not precede my existence. Or does it? Because even if this world operates purely by the rules of nature, which may be as arbitrary as the sky being blue, and perhaps even if freewill and natural selection have presided over who I have come to be friends with rather than the notions of fate and destiny, it's still quite logical that there may have been an initial intelligent (and I presume benevolent/loving) force involved in, at the very least, the allowing for the possibility that such a randomly-appearing universe could exist. And if such a force could exist (and it must in my view) then probably it's involved not just in making everything possible, but intimately with all things, and in all aspects of existence. So I guess I didn't need to worry about my individuality so much when I was a child. And while I guess it may be impossible to truly know anything absolutely about anything more than our human experience while we are experiencing it, just the experience itself of having our experience may be enough verification of “a higher power” or some essence other than ourselves that, more than likely, had something resembling a thought that would have sounded like “let there be...”.

Getting back to Holy Week...being raised with a Christian background, while growing up the emphasis of this special time of year always seemed to be placed on Easter Sunday, the happy ending part of the story, which honestly is also the part that has always been the most difficult for me to literally accept. Rather, for me Good Friday has become the most significant of any day that is celebrated by Christians, because, according to the stories, a man who loved all of humanity so much believed that if he gave not just everything he had, but presumably all that anyone ever could give, that everyone who ever has been, and ever will be, would be able to experience all the love that he felt, without regard to the apparent finiteness of life. And this feeling, more than anything else about Holy Week, resonates with me because I can wholeheartedly believe that a person could save the world with love. Many of the greatest people who have ever lived have had that same feeling.