geography, multimedia

Mapping Photos using GeoRSS

As I was finishing up my earlier post on the geotagging tutorial, Pankaj Garg of ZeeMaps sent me an e-mail. We had previously been in touch about the possibility of using a GeoRSS feed to map photos in ZeeMaps.

GeoRSS is exactly what it sounds like, an RSS feed for geo-encoded information. More people have GeoRSS feeds than they realize— Flickr assigns each user a GeoRSS—although most of those feeds are probably empty since geotagging images is still not a habit for most people.

georss link on flickr page

Flickr enables GeoRSS only for each user’s primary photostream and for individual tags (as in the image above). I mapped the same photos as in the earlier post. The difference this time in the process is that I exported directly from HoudahGeo to Flickr (after enabling geocoded metadata in Flickr) and assigning a unique tag to all of the photos; in this case, I tagged them with the date. (I suspect sets are not available for GeoRSS because you can rearrange image order, unlike in the photostream or tag streams.) This skips the .csv steps in the original tutorial I wrote. But Flickr may limit the number of entries in the feed, limiting the number of datapoints that will go on the map.

As mentioned previously, the advantage of mapping these in something like ZeeMaps is the ease in customizing and embedding the map. While Flickr can map my geotagged photos, all I seem to be able to do with it is link to the map. Here’s the rough workflow I used:

1. Copy the GeoRSS link from the 2008december4 tag page.

2. Create a new map in ZeeMaps and choose “KML, GeoRSS Add” from the Advanced menu:
menu item to add georss link

3. Paste in the GeoRSS link:
pasted georss link

The resulting map:

China, corruption, crime, development, disaster, earth, environment, geography, international, life, lost, unfortunate

An Unquiet Earth

Hard times around the globe these days. Earthquake in China. Cyclone in Burma. Tornados in the U.S. An enormous volcano on the verge of collapse in Chile.

Over the past several months, I’ve been working on a story about a possible earthquake here in the Bay Area. One thing I’ve learned is starkly visible in Sichuan right now: When an earthquake strikes, it’s not the earth that kills you. It’s everything else around you.

In the short term, this typically means buildings.* In China, construction quality will be a part of the discussion about what happened. Corrupt developers, local officials, and cut corners should come as no surprise–I’ve seen alleged evidence of it firsthand. The Guardian covers that angle. As one angry parent told a reporter:

“These buildings outside have been here for 20 years and didn’t collapse – the school was only 10 years old. They took the money from investment, so they took the lives of hundreds of kids. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don’t have money for our children. This is not a natural disaster – this is done by humans.”

In China, some call it “tofu” building. Or, as Josh Chin notes:

“Toufu dregs”-style construction (豆腐渣工程) has long been a source of public anger in China, and a potent symbol of corruption at the local level. (Witness the fuming controversy over shoddy electric poles during this winter’s freak snow storms in the south.) And now it appears the widespread practice whereby officials and developers profit through architectural corner-cutting may have cost a few extra tens of thousands of lives.

An erupting volcano can kill–namely through a phenomenon known as a pyroclastic flow. Cyclone Nargis was accompanied by a storm surge–this is what caused much of the destruction in the Irrawaddy Delta. But that damage was magnified by the loss of mangrove forests, which provide some resistance to these forces. The mangroves have been cut away to make room for development. This time, the initial round of damage was increased not by what humans have built, but by what they’ve taken away. And in Burma, human intention contributes to the continued suffering.

Boulder in the city of Mianyang, Sichuan. Kyodo News.*Update: Robert Siegel reports that the village of Gui Xi, in a steep-sided valley, was heavily damaged by displaced boulders and large landslides. (The photo at left, by Kyodo News, is from the city of Mianyan, Sichuan.) The most vivid and gripping English-language reporting from Sichuan is coming from NPR. All Things Considered was originally planning to broadcast features from Chengdu next week. When the earthquake struck, they had many resources in place.

China, geography, history, international, irony, really?

A little torch history.

I’ve been throwing ideas around lately to all kinds of people. They haven’t stuck, which is too bad. But one of them was to look at the history of the torch relay after reports that the IOC and Britain may forgo the tradition in the runup to the 2012 games. I kind of knew the answer to the question about how the modern torch relay started, but the LA Times editorial page beat me to it:

The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis. According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

We bring you this brief history lesson because, as the Olympic torch makes its only North American appearance today in San Francisco, it will be met by thousands of protesters decrying China’s human rights record. In response to similar demonstrations Monday in Paris, the Chinese government complained that a “small group” of Tibetan activists was seeking to politicize an event that should have been a tribute to the love of sport.

Nonsense. From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political, a promotional extravaganza for the Games’ host country. Chinese officials are well aware of this, having designed the longest relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, six-continent tour, meant to highlight China’s vast economic and political might. The protests are a welcome reminder to Beijing that it can’t tailor public opinion in the rest of the world the way it can at home.

Alaska, animals, anticipation, environment, food, geography, life

Spotted: Whale Hunting

The Whale Hunt is worth a look. It’s a high-production slideshow (come on, that’s what it is) created by Jonathan Harris, who is a mere 10 days younger than me. He spent a week on the northern shore of Alaska, photographing a group of natives. Some of the photos are really great, others are just pictures–the conceit was that he took a photo ever five minutes. The whole thing is an impressive construction.
Alaska, geography, history, really?

A Special Geographic Diversity

A North Carolinian correspondent of a colleague of mine recently noted that the outhouse is “quintessentially southern.” This aroused a peculiar response, and, possessed of some form of outhouse inspiration, I felt compelled to share the following (in a germinal form) with my entire department, and now (in a sort of sprouted form), with you:

In light of Ms. Diggins’ assertion that outhouses are “quintessentially southern,” I am compelled to note that although the outhouse may be the image that she believes crystallizes in our minds when we think of the South, their cultural significance is characterized by a special geographic diversity.

They are ubiquitous in Alaska, which in some key ways is quite the opposite of the South. And in the late winter, just about every tenth town hosts outhouse races in the snow (probably because it would take the canvassing of at least ten towns’ worth of people to field a competitive set of outhouse racers). The outhouse race is enough of a cultural marker to be listed in the calendars of publications in the state. Even our landed aristocracy take part, appropriating the outhouses of their serfs—a necessary price paid for the all-consuming drive to accumulate accolades.

The most famous race, from my parochially Interior point of view, is probably the Chatanika Days Outhouse Race, in the busted gold-town of Chatanika, a surprisingly scenic 28 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Feast on the visual wonders of Chatanika here (unfortunately, there are no outhouse race photos).

That said, as a (lapsed) Alaskan, I’m happy to cede the platonic outhouse to North Carolina, and we Alaskans will cling to our idealized visions of imposing mountains, abundant wildlife, bonanza oil fields, and rampant political nepotism, even in the face of imperfect realities.

I did finally find a picture of the races from none other than the Army post Fort Wainwright’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation [Program, presumably]. Looks like the races are scheduled for March 11 and 12 this year.

(Bodie Outhouse photo at top by Flickr star Sara Heinrichs.)

geography, light, photography

We Need More Aerial Gold On This Page

In my constant struggle for content* and my constant struggle against too much content, I present the above photograph. I believe it’s the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border (no one posted any signs that I could see). Sunset from about 30,000 feet. I grouped it with a bunch of other aerial and from-above photos on Flickr. See them here.

I am partial to photography taken from a high place. A few people have made cottage industries, of sorts, out of the practice of aerial photography. (As well as an aerial photography agency that I don’t know too much about since its site is mostly in French.) Some favorites of mine include:

Bernhard Edmaier
Yann-Arthus Bertrand
George Steinmetz
Vincent Laforet
Subhankar Banerjee

And some older favorites:

Andre Kertesz
Rene Burri

*I have a backlog of posts-in-progress, but am reluctant to publish them for outside reasons.