Archive for the ‘San Antonio’ Category

Local GeoPolitics and EveryBlock

“All politics is local.”
-Tip O’Neill

With so much attention going on in the primaries, it’s easy to forget that most of what really matters is local. I’ve decided not to tell you who I think should be the next president. Instead, I’d like to encourage you to campaign for more local government transparency. We should be examining Everyblock, and it’s implications on local government.

A lot of the work done by Everyblock involves sifting through on-line documents for geotags. Everyblock says they are publishing data from city governments:

“building permits, crimes, restaurant inspections and more. In many cases, this information is already on the Web but is buried in hard-to-find government databases. In other cases, this information has never been posted online, and we’ve forged relationships with governments to make it available.”

What if we lobbied our local city governments to publish RSS (and GeoRSS) feeds for all of their activities? Why should Everyblock be given a special treatment?

Not only would this would greatly increase transparency, but would also allow us in the geocommunity more opportunities for doing value-added analysis. (No we’re not a gang (or special interest group) – we’re just a club.) City staff is already required public notification for lots of things like zoning variances. We just need to push them to do it with RSS.

Here in San Antonio the city has gone to great efforts to streamline the process a real estate developer must go through to gain approval of a project. I would really like to see a map of pending projects in my area, and get notification when the project’s status changes.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Plumber

In his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera makes an interesting case that kitsch is the absolute denial of shit. Lately I’ve wondered if this implies other activities that deny the existence of shit are really exercises in kitsch creation.

Is Linq Kitsch?
Google for linq and plumbing and notice how many hits you get. Plumbing code is discussed with a sort of subtle condescension. The message is that plumbing is dirty, uncreative work – something better not thought about, hidden below the surface.

While Linq looks exciting, I wonder if we run the risk of abstracting the database to the point we overlook solutions requiring an understanding of internal design. Will someday our children forget the obvious solution: sometimes you just need to jiggle the handle after flushing objects (rows). Linq must be smart, but I can’t help but think there must be cases where plumbing your own O/R mapping might work better. It’s really not that bad, if you’ve ever played around with piecing together PVC pipe you probably realize that plumbing can actually be fun, with lots of room for creativity.

And it’s not just programming, but other aspects of GIS. Physicians seem to get credit for the longer lifespans we enjoy these days, but I wonder if more credit is due to plumbers. John Snows’ cholera maps revealed a plumbing problem. As far as I can tell he wasn’t using medical knowledge so much as taking on the role of a plumber and recognizing that, yes, shit does truly exist.

But beyond Snow’s maps, sewer datasets receive little attention. Could it be our kitsch sensibilities prevent us from publishing them on the web? Where I live there is a sign saying “Entering Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone”, but never a sign that says “Warning Sewer Line is Here”. Last year a road construction crew broke a sewer pipe over the aquifer. They reported it twice. It leaked for a couple of weeks as the bureaucrats bungled through what could best be described as kitsch performance art: two different agencies denying the existence of the sewer line. Maybe we need more sewer museums to combat the kitsch, and give plumbing the respect it deserves.

More about Time and Geography


Normally San Antonio has a leisurely pace, but with only a few shopping days til Christmas, its been a bit more hectic. Part of the reason we chose to live in San Antonio was for the pace of life. Other places seem more rushed. The recent cold weather also seems to a factor, perhaps triggering some hunter-gatherer hoarding behavior buried in my nordic evolutionary memory.

I wonder if the perception of time is somehow related to latitude? The sense of time doesn’t seem to get much attention from geographers. Which one of our five senses is used for time? How many San Antonio Minutes = one New York Minute?

In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen describes an experiment he conducted in Vermont. This seems like an easily reproducible experiment – very quantitative. He suggests class perceptions are the only factor here, but I think geography (latitude?) is also big factor.

Several years ago, two students of mine provided a demonstration: they drove around Burlington, Vermont, in a big, nearly new, shiny black American car (probably a Lexus would be more appropriate today) and then in a battered ten-year-old subcompact. In each vehicle, when they reached a stoplight and it turned green, they waited until they were honked at before driving on. Motorists averaged less than seven seconds to honk at them in the subcompact, but in the luxury car the students enjoyed 13.2 seconds before anyone honked. Besides providing a good reason to buy a luxury car, this experiment shows how Americans unconsciously grant respect to the educated and successful. Since motorists of all social stations honked at the subcompact more readily, working-class drivers were in a sense disrespecting themselves while deferring to their betters.

VGI Mobile Traffic Cams for Time challenged Parents?
Michael Goodchild writes about where we might be headed:

A third type of sensor network, and in many ways the most interesting, consists of humans themselves, each equipped with some working subset of the five senses and with the intelligence to compile and interpret what they sense, and each free to rove the surface of the planet.

Are we there Yet Daddy?
I think cars as sensors will happen first, specifically as mobile traffic-cams. I don’t think much intelligence will be required to collect the data, and the data will be most valuable when freedom to rove is restricted (i.e. stuck in traffic). It would be great if I could click on a map and get real time video feed from cars ahead on the map I could decide which alternate route to take to the mall. I read somewhere that people often prefer paths that allow them to drive faster instead of paths that get them to their destination slightly sooner. I bet even more so when they have kids in the back seat.

That’s all for now, someone’s honking so I better go.