Landscapes - People - Global change

Month: March 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

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.)

Berkeley arrival

A Berkeley snow storm - trees in bloom.

A Berkeley snow storm – trees in bloom.

Very happy to be in Berkeley, east of San Francisco, for a few days at the Spatial Data Science for Professionals ‘bootcamp’. It is a welcome opportunity to reboot my own spatial skills to include open data and software. It is term break here, so quiet, and thus a lovely time to explore the campus and environs. Despite the fact that yesterday was a snow day at home, everything is blooming here: when the wind blew the white blossoms (left) across the road, the contrast was cruel. The similarities between the climate in California and parts of Australia were evident in the prevalence of eucalupts, including a grove of tall gum trees.

Closeup of bluegum bark in a grove at Berkeley

Closeup of bluegum bark in a grove at Berkeley

Met rangelands scholar Lynn Huntsinger for a lovely early supper of French cuisine, including a giant Nicoise salad, at Bistro Liaison. An early jet-lagged night meant an early morning, so I’m killing the pre-dawn hours with catching up on Trump’s most recent executive order to dismantle environmental controls (Thank you, Gina McCarthy), and a paper review for Rangeland Ecology and Management.

Riparian management survey in prep

Mhari Lamarque prepares our new landholder survey on Riparian Management practices for mailout.

Mhari Lamarque prepares our new landholder survey on Riparian Management practices for mailout.

Great to see things have gotten moving towards our new Nova Scotia farmer survey. Today, lab team member Mhari (MREM 2016) started placing selected farmer addresses on the outgoing envelopes. These envelopes will be filled with copies of surveys when those are finally approved next week by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. This is the first time we will also be including a sort of incentive in the package: an individually wrapped teabag. We mean this as an indicator of how long the survey should take (i.e. steeping time), but also our hope that farmers treat themselves to a nice cuppa afterward. We’ll see how that plays out.

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