UC Berkeley is the original land grant university in California, which means it gets federal money for agricultural research and extension. The motto on Hilgard Hall demonstrates this heritage: “To rescue for human society the native values of rural life.” Since arriving, I have been lucky to meet and eat with some of the impressive folks who carry this out. Today I had lunch with Nathan Sayre, geographer, historian and qualitative scholar of rangelands, and had a wide-ranging chat about the many intersections in our interests. I’m looking forward to reading his new book, The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science.
Day one at the boot camp is done and I am already getting what I came for, which was a reboot in my thinking and teaching about spatial methods. The acronyms are flying fast – typical of the nature of open software which emerges chaotically and in parallel – all of which are variously interoperable building blocks for those with nimble minds. Today came with three particularly mind-blowing ideas for me:
- From Maggi Kelly: the days of the cartoon ‘desktop’ model of GIS (we’ve all seen the clipart) is over due to multiple stressors such as the explosion of data sources and open software, including new sensors. News to me were platforms such as the hundreds of nano and micro ‘cubesats’ launched in ‘flocks’ in low earth orbit (see Planet) to achieve high spatial and temporal resolution.
- Nancy Thomas demystified open data terminology and data types, including introducing the lightweight GeoJSON* format, which – prepare yourself – can hold points, lines and polygons in the same file and readable by human brains.
- Jenny Palomino introduced another paradigm shift in the kind of databases being developed to deal with big data. Once we used forms (graphical user interfaces) to place data into relational data tables, each linked through primary and foreign keys. This system breaks down with the amount and pace of data produced in environments like social media. New NoSQL document types store data the same way it is created (i.e. in the form, with all its mixed kinds of things, like an Instagram post). (*GeoJSON is another example of this kind of mixed format.)