Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: What I’m doing (page 2 of 10)

Day 1 at ISSRM 2017

Sunrise at 2:15 am, midsommer in north Sweden.

Sunrise at 2:15 am, midsommer in north Sweden.

It’s 2:30 am in Umea, Sweden, and I’m still awake. Why? Because I know this is happening (above). Outside my window the three hour twilight that passes for night this time of the year at almost 64 degrees north has surrendered again to the sun. And my body knows it and wants me up, damn the blackout curtains. So it seems a reasonable opportunity for a day 1 recap here at ISSRM.

The organizers were kind to arrange a 10 am start, which launched with a keynote by Neil Adger. He explored how population challenges our capacity to cope with climate, and not in the “boring” ways like how many people there are. He looked at lifecourse, migration and place, synthesizing across many studies. A memorable line that echoes much of my thinking right now: “identity trumps risk”.

After lunch came a two-part session on Enhancing Private Land Stewardship that I organized with Mike Sorice, of Virginia Tech, though he couldn’t make it to the conference this year. A diverse mix of perspectives on how to understand and influence farmers motivations to engage in conservation. I presented our survey work on Wood Turtle Strides, standing in for Mhari and Simon.

Stefano Targetti checks out the cool traditional fences at Gammli museum.

Stefano Targetti checks out the cool traditional fences at Gammli museum.

The poster sessions were inventively placed in one of those ‘living’ historical museums, the Gammlia, where they kept some buildings open for us and brought in a few reindeer. Seemed cruel to eat reindeer soup while hanging out with reindeer, but so we did, and it was delicious. The fences were particularly novel (right); to avoid weak spots at joins, eliminate joins. Some great posters among those I saw, my favourite being one on an interesting photo survey about urban wetlands by Tanja Straka at the University of Melbourne.

We finished up with a late beer and meal with some of the Canadian contingent at the Bishop’s Arms pub. Tomorrow night…  that is, tonight, I’ll cower inside like a vampire and try to fool myself that it’s dark outside.

Some of the Canadian contingent at ISSRM 2017, about 10:30 pm near midsommer.

Some of the Canadian contingent at ISSRM 2017, about 10:30 pm near midsommer.

Earth Day contrast

Elementary school kids at J. W. MacLeod, Halifax, laugh, hoot and awwww watching an environmental video for Earth Day 2017.

Elementary school kids in Halifax laugh, hoot and awwww watching an environmental video for Earth Day 2017.

I just got back from an Earth Day assembly at my daughter’s school (what in kindergarten she called a ‘dissembly’). It was certainly chaotic, but amidst that there was great beauty, and I teared up a few times. These kids get it. It is simple for them. Of course we know it is more complicated than they think: littering and taking shorter showers won’t keep us thriving here. But the kids are passionate, and I think they believe that we adults are firmly ‘on the job’. If only that were so. I think we’re doing an awful lot of things that they would find dreary and uninspiring at best, and frankly scary and unfair at worst. Anyone making big decisions, for instance undergoing a Faculty level strategic renewal, should imagine having to pitch their plan to these kids.

Berkeley bootcamp over

One conventional photo, and one with side looking Lidar, of bootcamp participants in front of Mulford Hall, UC Berkeley.

One conventional photo, and one with side looking Lidar, of bootcamp participants in front of Mulford Hall, UC Berkeley.

Amid mixed funding news today (one SSHRC Insight Grant funded, one not; one Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship awarded, one not), the Spatial Science bootcamp adjourned with a day of data visualization and web mapping. A blinding array of options and inspiring examples were presented by members of the GIF and iGIS. Clear to see that a conventional Geography degree will not prepare you for this kind of work: programming is critical. We also learned about the risks of using open source, as the software Carto changed versions 15 minutes before class started, leaving all the instructions moot. I wound up with good ideas for my fall Special Topics course, and a wider understanding of what is happening behind the scenes of web mapping services. Special thanks to Shruti for helping me hack the new Canadian Geographic hydroelectricity webmap for GeoJSON files of infrastructure.

At the end of the day, several of us Ubered to the ‘Albany Bulb‘, a former landfill site and homeless encampment, and current dog park, ad hoc gallery of garbage art and graffiti, viewpoint for great sunsets, and general ‘scene’. Afterward we had what seemed like a quintessentially (and comically) Californian time at restaurants Ippuku, a Japanese small plates restaurant, as well as the diner we stumbled into (oblivious that it was vegan) to fill up afterward. How did they made apple pie pastry that flaky without butter?

Looking from the Albany 'Bulb' across to San Francisco (photo: Scott Hatcher).

Looking from the Albany ‘Bulb’ across to San Francisco (photo: Scott Hatcher).

Berkeley Day 3 – In praise of good teachers

In 1995 I was starting my BES Geography Honours year at the University of Waterloo, that bastion of career-driven students. A few of us were looking at our Geography program and feeling ill-prepared for the world, and convinced the generous Dr. Christian Dufournaud to help fill two of those gaps in one special topics course: Spatial Statistics in C+. It was a small, challenging class for we novice programmers, which Christian kindly eased at times with a post-class visit to the nearby Grad House pub. Through deep repetition, while C+ is long forgotten, the Moran’s I statistic for spatial autocorrelation has stayed put. And yesterday, when tireless and gifted teacher Jenny Palomino led us through the process of calculating spatial statistics (using Python as well as programs like GeoDa), I thanked Dr. Dufournaud for giving me a strong place to start from. It also reminded me of another great teacher in my life, Dr. David Lawson, who has recently died. My small New Brunswick school was lucky to have such a math teacher. Dr. Lawson’s gentle, clear and patient math instruction was to thank for my A in first year university calculus – the only one I got in that transitional year. Thank you, to all the good teachers.

Berkeley Day 2 – exploding paradigms

Hilgard Hall at UC Berkeley (note the noble sheep capping the pillars).

Hilgard Hall at UC Berkeley (note the noble sheep capping the pillars).

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
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