A quick note inspired by the news that the Minecraft community is working on replicating the world at a 1:1 scale in its game. Seems like a good time to post a favourite piece by Jorge Luis Borges, On exactitude in Science, originally written in 1946 as a literary forgery, Wikipedia tells me.
…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
The second paper from Yan Chen’s MES thesis is now out in Society and Natural Resources, Leveraging social media to understand younger people’s perceptions and use of hydroelectric energy landscapes. It is a research note demonstrating the utility of manual coding and conceptual mapping of a year of Instagram images around two hydroelectricity sites to predict how changes might affect young residents. Unlike her first thesis paper in Landscape and Urban Planning, which carried out spatial mapping of value ‘hotspots’–a method widespread in today’s growing literature on cultural ecosystem services–this paper makes statistical links between features, activities and values conveyed through Instagram. The diagrams provide insight to the lifestyle and emotions associated with different landscape features, some changeable with hydro development or removal, and informs our new work on conservation culturomics for social impact assessment. Yan continues to drive this work as an IDPhD student. Congratulations, Yan.
Typical St. John’s streetscape with its cheering paintpot effect.
Thanks to the organizers of Coastal Zone Canada 2018 last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where our NRCan project Making Room for Movement was launched. We ran a back-to-back special sessions to introduce the project and explore its conceptual and practical foundations, with presentations from SMU PI Danika van Proosdij, MPlan student Matt Conlin, Dal Planning prof Patricia Manuel and I. Postdoc Tuihedur Rahman and I put together a presentation on social aspects of nature-based coastal adaptation, as well as some of the conceptual foundations of this concept, proposing climax thinking as our experimental frame for the work to come. Despite an incredibly hot room, thanks to unseasonably warm conditions for Newfoundland, attendance was strong, in the presentations (below) as well as the subsequent workshop session. It was wonderful to be among practitioners, consultants and public servants as well as academics for a few days to explore the challenges along coasts.
Hot ticket: question period at the Making Room for Movement special session.
It was also special to have the opportunity to explore The Rooms at the Tuesday dinner event, including the wonderful Newfoundland Gallery and Museum. I rounded a corner in the gallery and was faced with a great portrait of my grandmother’s uncle, Captain Bob Bartlett by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, and was also moved by the map of the taking of Demasduit, drawn by the last Beothuk, Shanawdithit (her niece), images of resettled island outports (right) and struggling livyers, and the brave young members of the Newfoundland Regiment in WWI.
Three books from my AAG trip to New Orleans
Bookshelf serendipity strikes again! I can’t resist telling this story, though it was awhile ago. Appropriate to the geography conference I was in town to attend, I bought a compelling atlas of New Orleans by Rebeccas Solnit and Snedeker, Unfathomable City, part of a series at UC Press, at a small bookstore behind the Cabildo. Each map and essay tells an idiosyncratic story about the place, including human and river channel migrations, social and landscape erosions, including social clubs, seafood and sex. While excellent, it wasn’t an easy one to tote in my bag for idle moments.
The ‘take a book, leave a book’ shelf at my hotel filled the gap with But What if We’re Wrong, by pop seer Chuck Klosterman (sorry Columns Hotel, I’ll leave one next time). Klosterman is talking about the same thing that I was at AAG to talk about: climax thinking. He asks how we can learn to make decisions anticipating the many ways that we might be wrong, so we don’t box ourselves in. Instead we denigrate the people who made decisions or assessments we reflect upon today as folly, but assume against evidence that we’re going to be right. There is something to be said about doubt.
Having finished both of the above, I needed another book for the flight home. During a layover in Toronto airport I bought Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowicz. He is a computer scientist who thinks data mining has replaced social science, so a few sections (particularly the conclusion) grated, but this was a fun (and surprisingly dirty) introduction to how secondary online datasets like our Google queries help us learn what people are really thinking and feeling. I have since brought up his examples in a few social science contexts, like the energy incubator at Cornell. I’m loathe to hand it to students, given some of the icky content (people are, it turns out, gross), but as survey response rates drop, offensiphobia rules, and questions around sustainability cross the sociology/psychology boundary, such datasets may well be the only way we can really understand what kind of society we are really working with.
See the difference?
I’ve been enjoying peripheral involvement with Peter Tyedmer’s students working on pollination ecosystem services. First, Andony Melathopoulos showed how tenuous ecosystem service valuations are, using pollination services as an example. Now, Caitlin Cunningham has shown how critical it is to get local field data. The first paper out of her MES thesis uses the InVEST model to explore the carrying capacity of several Nova Scotia counties for honeybees, and shows how important it is to get boots on the ground rather than rely on proxies such as ecological land classifications and other such base spatial data infrastructure. The good news for the bee industry is coming in the next paper. Congratulations, Caitlin.