News Roundup - May 2009

What follows is notable news and happenings that I want to purge from my bookmarks folder. It will be a combination of things you already know spiced with things you probably won’t care about. I apologize in advance.

Paul Ramsey has a good summary of the Where 2.0 conference. A couple of take away points were the rise of real-time location information (Firefox 3.5 beta now enables Google’s location service) and the lack of a big “wow” event since Google Maps came out. Since our training budget is more or less a smoking crater, I have to rely on good summaries like this to find out what I’m missing.

High Earth Orbit noted that the Obama administration is making use of open source mapping and data, including OpenLayers and OpenStreetMap. The data comes from a KML feed. This is nothing new for Obama – he has actively pushed for open source software, and even his web site during the election was running a LAMP stack. Recovery.gov uses Drupal. But it’s good to see FOSS mapping software out there to boot. As pointed out by Terra GIS, the Obama campaign also mapped voters with MapServer, PostGIS, and OpenLayers.

I spotted several interesting maps this last month, one of which was on MSNBC of all places. It calculates your carbon footprint based on driving patterns. It’s a little light in the statistical pants – it doesn’t differentiate between driving a Prius or a Hummer – but it’s still pretty cool. As you might imagine, the map at MSNBC is using Virtual Earth. Spatial Sustain linked to a great topographic map created by Larx Ahlzen using data from OpenStreetMap and MassGIS. The map quality really is spectacular – you can check it out here. Made with nothing but FOSS. But my favorite map this month I first saw on Download.com. As a tribute to fallen American and coalition soldiers, this Google Earth data layer shows you the home towns and places of death of the 5,000+ troops lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a really moving tribute and shows how maps can bring understanding of data to users in ways you otherwise couldn’t. You can get the KMZ here. I wish there could be a similar service showing every life lost in the conflicts, but beyond coalition casualties that data is hard to nail down.

In the free our data department, there are several interesting links I stumbled across lately. The biggest news is the release of Data.gov, a federal site designed to “increase access to high value, machine readable data sets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.” The initial data available is somewhat limited, but they should be adding stuff over time. Search options include both KML/KMZ and “ESRI” (guessing shapefile) formats. Thumbs up for free and open data. For contrast, check out this report from Linux Journal about a California lawmaker wanting to blur Google Earth images or this story from Wired detailing Santa Clara County’s (CA) handling of a public records request – our parcel layer will cost you $250,000 and you’ll have to sign a NDA. When the requester balked, Santa Clara argued it had copyrights on its public data (?!) and also that releasing mapped parcels posed a national security threat. A judge had to beat the government with a gavel to force them to release the data. What is it with California anyway? Hopefully the precedent set by the case will deter other government agencies from trying to sit on public records. For a really good discussion on open geospatial data, check out this post from Between the Poles.

Finally, in news of the weird, Sophos has released Klingon Antivirus, which supplements the usual antivirus algorithms with a bat’leth and a thirst for blood wine. Because sometimes regular antivirus isn’t enough for Windows. Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam! And here’s a final parting video (note KDE is a Linux desktop environment).