Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

I've been fortunate to do a fair amount of international travel over the past few years.  This past week I booked a trip for March of 2012 in the Czech Republic.  Once again I'll be participating in a run, although a half marathon this time, the Hervis Half Marathon. The course looks amazing, for the most part hugging the Vltava river. 

So hopefully the trip will mirror what I was able to do in London and Scotland.
westminster Picture 036 Arthur's Seat

Take a look around at our hotel and where we'll be staying
View Larger Map
Also exciting is the fact that we'll be right across the river from the Dancing House.

Yes, photographic opportunity everywhere.

I'd love to hear your stories if you've been to the Czech Republic.  Feel free to post a comment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Update Yourself on Africa

Africa has been in the news a lot in the past couple of weeks.  Sure, the biggest story is the death of Gaddafi, but the news wire is buzzing with major events all over the continent.  As I've mentioned before, you should keep yourself up to date on these current events, because they impact us, and will continue to impact us and our foreign policy for years to come.

For social issues perhaps the biggest story is Morgan Tsvangirai's about-face on gay rights.  Gay rights is a really hot topic across Africa, particularly because of the harsh punishments, including death to the openly gay.  Not only has the Zimbabwean Prime Minister changed his tune, but he is referring to sexual choice as a human right.  Now, if we could only get rid of the nemesis, Mugabe.

Earlier today there were two bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, one at a bar and one at a bus stop.  This is particularly concerning because they come just days after threats from al-Shabab, the al Qaeda linked terrorist extremists.  The group has had a strong hold on much of Somalia, including Mogadishu but an African alliance of troops has recently made significant gains in the area.  In fact, they've almost completely forced al-Shabab from Mogadishu.

And we recently heard the US was sending a small cadre of troops into Uganda to fight the Lord's Resistance Army.  The LRA are a scary bunch of brainwashed central Africans led by a mad man.  I was unaware of the extent of their terrorist reign over the region.  I came across a fantastic website that you should visit  These folks are doing amazing work assembling critical information and attempting to spread the word.

Take a look at one of their videos. It's powerful stuff

Monday, October 17, 2011

ESRI Uses Preemptive Strike Against Google Earth Builder

A few months ago, the GIS world went gaga over Google's announcement that they were moving into the professional realm of GIS with Google Earth Builder.  The thought of Google competing directly with the big dog - ESRI was exciting.  I could almost hear the prices falling. 

Google Earth Builder is attempting to merge cloud computing and GIS functionality.  A mix appealing to government and non-profit agencies - a market ESRI has had a strangle hold on.  They wowed us with this teaser video.

With a history of making GIS so simple and accessible, it seemed  that Google was making a statement - thank you for holding the reigns, but we got it from here!

That might have been a bit premature.

I don't talk much about ESRI products on this blog BECAUSE they are not as simple and accessible as Google products.  That appears to be changing thanks to ArcGIS Online.

"Maps and Apps for Everyone" - that's the first thing on their website.  ESRI has made map making, hosting and sharing free. Up to 2GB of free storage are granted simply by registering an ESRI global account, which takes about a minute. Once you have that account you can leverage thousands of available layers, upload OR create your own from scratch. Once you've created maps you can add them to a gallery and share them all around the world. ESRI has taken things one step farther by providing website templates that can be used to showcase your map galleries right in your own web domain.

And they didn't stop there. They have added single click web app publishing. That means you can create webpages and maps for use on any mobile device instantly. This is more than just something that will open on an iPad, we're talking about templates built to work across multiple mobile technologies.

The point is, ESRI is attempting to bring GIS data to everyone. It's free and it's easy!

So far, me like!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secondary Data

Tomorrow I'm speaking as a guest at an Urban Planning class at Eastern Michigan University. I've been asked to speak about secondary data and how it relates to my job and the jobs of other transportation planners. As I was assembling a list of topics and sources it dawned on me that a few of these might work well for readers of this blog.

Remember the Census long form? I bet you were glad you didn't get one as part of the 2010 census! How do I know that? There is no census long form anymore. It's been replaced by annual data collections that are packaged into 1, 3 and 5 year data sets. We now call it the American Community Survey. I suppose the thought is that if you call it that, people won't realize it's sort of just the census long form. This means your odds of having to answer the in depth questions of what used to be the census long form are less during the full census count, but higher during any other year.

It's taken the folks at the Census a while to get this data packaged appropriately but the factfinder2 website is finally working fairly reliably.  From there you can access just about any information you'd like, depending on the size of your community.  If your community is larger than 60,000 you can get the 1 year data sample, but if you live in a rural area, you'll need to rely on the 5 year data.  The feds are quick to say it's NOT a five year average but rather, a representation of the five year period.  Tomorrow we'll be looking at means of transportation to work by age.


Unlike the Census, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) mashes up tons of data into ways that help planners.  Our office started keeping them on our radar about a year or so ago.  My favorite mash up is a household and transportation affordability index which puts together household costs and transportation costs as a percentage of income.  We refer to this visualization as the "drive to qualify" map because, despite being approved for mortgages in suburban areas, an alarmingly high number of people spend more than 45% of their income on household and transport expenses.  With a percentage that high, there isn't a lot left to support this "creative class" we pride ourselves here in Southeast Michigan.  Check it out in more detail by clicking below.  You can start here and zoom right into your own community.

H+T Affordability Index: Ann Arbor, MI: Comparing Housing Costs - % Income to Housing and Transportation Costs - % Income

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
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And now, you don't have to go to class tomorrow!