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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