Monthly Archives: August 2009

Fun with GIS #26: Eyes on the Sky

It’s summer in southern California. It’s hot, and dry, and downright scary. (Contrary to the title of this column, wicked heat is no fun at all.) Though this summer has been generally mild, the last few weeks have seen temperatures in the 90′s and 100′s, with not a drop of rain in the Inland Empire. From my apartment, I can see and hear the media helicopters and big ,orange-and-white, fixed wing fire tanker planes, flying back and forth. There are terrible fires to the west, and now a new fire just to the east. Radio, TV, and internet carry the key info: who needs to evacuate, where to go, where to go with pets, how long folks might need to be away, how the remarkable fire crews are holding up. As I write, the news reports speak of 35000 acres (about 55 square miles) burned and about 2000 firefighters engaged. A news chopper camera shows a fire racing up a hillside, hundreds of yards in mere seconds.

I’ve posted an ArcGIS Explorer project. I’ve included data references for fires from USGS and the web cam on Mount Wilson, from which you can see the smoke from the fire to the west. (I explored weather data but took it out because there was nothing encouraging there.) The project is on ArcGIS Online. Just do a search on “fire” or “socal” or “socal fires”.

Across the U.S., it’s still tornado season, hurricane season, and fire season. Youth clubs (like 4-H) and school service groups are working on cataloguing , mapping, and distributing evacuation information. Help them out if you can, and take heed when they and the authorities present their information.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Mapping Life In The Fast Lane: By City in the USA

We have already mapped the “pace of life” by country as measured by social psychologist Robert Levine in his interesting book, A Geography of Time. Now let’s turn our attention to mapping cities in the USA. Dr. Levine attempts to measure the pace of life in cities by: (1) The speed at which pedestrians in downtown areas walk a distance of 60 feet; (2) How quickly bank tellers give a specified amount of change; (3) the speed at which people converse; and (4) the frequency of wearing watches by the observed population. Levine’s final rank of 36 cities statistically combined these four measures: A lower number indicates a faster pace. After reading the list, as I did with countries, once again my first reaction was “let’s map the data!” My map using ArcGIS Desktop shows the fastest cities in red, middle-speed cities in yellow, and the slowest in blue.

Do any of the results surprise you or your students? Is Levine’s term “The Speedy Northeast” justified? Seven of the nine fastest cities were in the northeast. Boston was the fastest overall, although Columbus set the record for the talking speed, New York City for watches worn, Springfield Massachusetts for walking speed, and Chattanooga for bank speed. Salt Lake City’s #4 ranking surprised me, as did the pace of California cities (including Los Angeles, the slowest of all, at number 36). What other patterns do you notice? What additional cities or methods do you wish Dr. Levine had included? What has been your experience with the attitude about time in different cities?

What is the relationship between pace, population, and growth? Interestingly, a scatterplot generated from the data shows a slight tendency for the slower paced cities to have a lower percentage of people over 65 years of age, not a higher percentage. Does climate or elevation have anything to do with the pace of life?

I invite you to investigate the data for yourself via the lesson in the ArcLessons library.

Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, ESRI.

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Fun with GIS #25: Top Ten Features of the New ArcGIS Explorer

The long-awaited update of ArcGIS Explorer has arrived! And what a slick tool it is! It has so many great features that it’s hard even just to list them all, much less experience everything quickly. (Caution: It has become my favorite new way of losing track of time!) Therefore, I am going to list my top 10 favorite elements of this new tool, and invite you to comment!

10. It takes about five seconds to learn how to create a note on AGX. In that note, you can embed a vast array of resources. Notes are a tremendous way to represent an unlimited array of resources.

9. AGX can use KML files. There’s some terrific data out on the Internet in KML format, and AGX is a splendid tool for displaying it.

8. The new ArcGIS Online presents a owerful new data resource that is wide open to AGX users. Search for free, use on the fly!

7. AGX can be set to use local sources of data only. With a little careful planning using shapefiles, layer files, and layer packages, you can build a great exploration even when disconnected from the Internet. The image below shows a display I created while on an airplane, using only local data.

6. Changing basemaps takes about three clicks and three seconds. The current selection of basemaps can be enhanced by establishing your own.

5. AGX can flip back and forth between 2D and 3D modes. Now users can see in a more integrated fashion how data in one place relates to other places.

4. Classification and symbolization is maintained when exporting layer files or payer packages from ArcGIS Desktop. The results from the infinite capacity for analysis in ArcGIS Desktop can be displayed with fidelity of appearance in AGX. What you see in Desktop is what you can have in Explorer.

3. Sharing data with another AGX user is a breeze! Simply right-click a layer and export, or email direct from Explorer. What could be simpler?

2. AGX is an exciting geo-presentation tool, able to mix prepared story telling with spontaneous exploration. What a great way to get lost in the power of a map!

And the Number One reason to like AGX …

1. ArcGIS Explorer is available for free download. ANYONE running Windows XP or above can work geoexploration magic, for free!

There you have my Top Ten Reasons Why I Love AGX! It took some doing to cut down to ten, and there are some fabulous capacities that I hated to leave off the list. What is in your top ten? Log in here with your ESRI Global ID and describe some of your favorite capacities!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick,
Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Mapping Life In The Fast Lane: By Country

One of the most written-about phenomena in modern society is our fast-paced world. How can one measure the “pace of life,” and does this pace vary in different places around the world?

In his very interesting book, A Geography of Time, social psychologist Robert Levine discusses how his sabbatical in Brazil brought him face-to-face with the different pace of life there than what he was used to at California State University in Fresno. Fascinated, he spent the next decade of his career studying time as a major part of his research. He attempted to quantify the pace of life in 31 countries by measuring three things: (1) The speed with which pedestrians in downtown areas walk a distance of 60 feet; (2) How quickly postal clerks complete a standard request to purchase a stamp; and (3) The accuracy of public clocks. His final country ranking statistically combined these three measures: A lower number indicates a faster pace. After reading the list, my first reaction was “let’s map the data!” and my results using ArcGIS Desktop are below.

This makes for excellent classroom discussions because everyone experiences time and space on a daily basis and has an opinion about them. Do any of the results surprise you? Eight of the 9 fastest countries are in Western Europe, with Japan the lone exception. Switzerland’s #1 ranking surprised me, although its clock accuracy (also #1) made sense. What other patterns do you notice? What countries or methods do you wish Dr. Levine had included? Do you think that countries are too large to be assigned just one number? Do you think that rural areas have a different pace than urban areas? How and why? What has been your experiences with time and the attitude about time in different countries?

I invite you to investigate the data for yourself and compare population, climate, and other variables to life’s pace in a GIS environment via the lesson in the ArcLessons library.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run!

- Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, ESRI.

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Join the ESRI Education Community Group on ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online Sharing is a new Web-based repository through which ArcGIS users can easily search and share GIS data, maps, layers, and tools. ArcGIS Online Sharing is currently in public beta and available to anyone with an ESRI Global Account.

You can join or create groups within ArcGIS Online based on your interests, such as education, history, GPS, or ArcGIS Explorer.

Join the ESRI Education Community Group and share your maps and GIS data with educators and students. Data shared through ArcGIS Online can be used in ArcGIS Desktop and the new ArcGIS Explorer.

I’ve uploaded several data sets (as layer packages) about telecommunications (phones, mobile phones, internet access) from the CIA’s World Factbook for 2002-2008. With these data, you can discover how many countries have more mobile phones than land lines (more than you might think!) or track the growth of internet usage, among other things.

- Angela Lee, ESRI Education Programs

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ArcGIS Explorer: System requirements check

Here’s a handy tool that allows you to check your system prior to installing ArcGIS Explorer. It provides a detailed rundown of how well your current configuration compares with the minimum and recommended configurations, and even let’s you know what version of video card driver you have (we recommend you check for driver updates prior to installing).

Check my system now

Read the full blog at the ArcGIS Explorer blog!

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ArcGIS Explorer: New version now available

A new version of ArcGIS Explorer is now available to download at:

What’s New in ArcGIS Explorer

ArcGIS Explorer is a free, downloadable GIS viewer that provides an easy way to explore, visualize, share, and present geographic information. The latest release of ArcGIS Explorer has many new features and capabilities that make it ideal for providing wider access to your GIS data and capabilities.

The new features are described below and you can also view the online slideshow.

Read the full blog at the ArcGIS Explorer Blog

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Marble-Boyle Undergraduate Achievement Awards in Geographic Science – Application deadline October 15, 2009

The Association of American Geographer’s Marble Fund for Geographic Science is pleased to
announce the 2010 Marble-Boyle Undergraduate Achievement Awards. These awards promote and
recognize excellence in academic performance by undergraduate students in the United States and
Canada who bridge geographic science and computer science in their studies. These awards, together
with the William L. Garrison Award for Best Dissertation in Computational Geography, are sponsored
by the Marble Fund and are supported by donations to the Fund. In the case of the current awards, the
support of Mr. Jack Dangermond and Mrs. Grace Boyle is gratefully acknowledged.

The undergraduate awards are named for Dr. Duane Marble, creator of the Marble Fund, and for
the late Dr. A. R. (Ray) Boyle who was a major Canadian contributor to the early development of both
computer cartography and geographic information systems. Winners of the 2009 awards were Joanna
Merson of the University of Victoria and Kenneth Robertson of Central Michigan University. Both
worked as ESRI Interns during the Summer of 2009 and Ms. Merson will spend the fall in Switzerland
as the winner of the supplemental MicroGIS Foundation for Spatial Analysis (MFSA) fellowship.

For more details about the award including applications and eligibility rules please see the AAG website at:

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Investigating Water Use Patterns in the USA With GIS

Name at least 10 ways in which you use water. What factors influence the amount of water that you use? In what ways do you try to conserve water? Do you use the same amount of water as your neighbor? Why or why not? How does the per capita use of water vary across the USA?

A new lesson in the ArcLessons library invites data users to access and analyze water use data from the USA Census County database within a GIS environment. Learn key concepts in spatial analysis, such as determining the variables that influence water use in an Ordinary Least Squares regression, establishing a Geographically Weighted Regression, and scatterplot analysis. Learn key skills, such as downloading, formatting, joining, projecting, and editing data. Learn content, such as agricultural, industrial, and domestic influences on water use.

Examine patterns of surface and groundwater withdrawal. Why do you suppose that total water use peaked in 1980, despite an increase in the USA population by 82 million since then? Why have withdrawals for irrigation stabilized?

Nearly half (48%) of all water use in the USA stems from cooling in thermoelectric power plants. Is this use of water a wise use of natural resources? Some could argue that power plants near coasts can and do use water from the oceans, but others could argue that this use is another reason why we need to seek alternative sources of energy. Another view is to consider whether the flow through cooling tanks and towers at power plants really a “use” for water? After the water cools off the machinery, nearly all of it is returned (after it cools) to the river from where it is taken. Examine how EPA defines withdrawal, use, and consumption to strengthen your argument. Why has thermoelectric use stabilized since 1980?

The lesson is aimed at the intermediate or advanced GIS user at the university, community college, or technical college level, and by general researchers seeking to use Census data for spatial analysis.

Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, ESRI

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Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship in the Humanities

The Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library is now accepting applications for an NEH-funded “Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship,” to be held in Charlottesville, Virginia in November 2009 and May 2010.

This program will bring together humanities scholars, software developers, and librarians and other cultural heritage professionals to discuss and develop geospatial tools, content, methods, policies, and infrastructure, in the context of open source and open access. Thirty-one leading academics, developers, and higher-ed administrators serve on the faculty and advisory board of the Institute.

The National Endowment for the Humanities will support travel, working meals, and lodging for 40 attendees as well as Institute faculty members. Special funding is available for graduate students.

Three four-day Institute tracks are planned:

15-18 November 2009:
Track 1: Stewardship (for library, museum, GIS and digital humanities center professionals)

Track 2: Software (for Web developers, designers, systems administrators, and information scientists)

25-28 May 2010:
Track 3: Scholarship (for humanities scholars, advanced graduate students, and post-docs)

Application DEADLINES are September 1st (for Tracks 1 and 2) and December 1st (for Track 3).

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