Archive : März

Zipflbob Riding for Kiwis 101

Glad to welcome Aaron, a friend who came for a short visit from Aotearoa.

Two years ago, I did some experiments with Christian and Rob, another Kiwi who came over from New Zealand for a visit. Back then, we thought that proper winter pants were fully overrated. We also thought that a rubbish bag is good enough for getting down a mountain. I guess this is still true, but if you do have a Zipflbob, why would you want to torture yourself? Kudos to Rob though – true explorer spirit riding a rubbish bag down a world cup run in shorts!

Rubbish bag Riding

Anyway – today, two years down the track, we have learnt our lessons and wanted to pass on our experience. We got Aaron dressed up and introduced him to Zipflbob. They immediately made friends with each other and Zipflbob promised he’d give everything on the descent.

Zipflbob, Zipflbob god and Aaron make friends

But first, it was time do some climbing. Inspired by the Kiwi experience, Zipflbob made his way through the fresh and deep snow.

Zipflbob tracks

This is when you feel like a true explorer.

Make your own track

Zipflbob on untrodden ground.

Zipflbob Explorer

You have to admit, Aaron does look a bit like Jack Nicholson preparing for a Zipflbob ride.

Zipflbob Jack

Lift your feet and lean backwards to increase speed. Press you feet into the snow and pull the Zipflbob back to break and get your face covered in snow.

Zipflbob Riding Technique

I reckon there is some business case potential in developing little solar powered goggle wipers.

After breaking

Google Maps and the Crowdsourcing Geocoder 2.0

The Google Lat Long Blog posted some exciting news today. People can now edit locations on Google Maps and, for example, adjust the position of a marker on the map to provide more accurate positioning information. Some of the interesting questions that arise in context with this new feature concern Google’s backend geocoding database. Google need reference geo-datasets to do their geocoding. Let’s assume that almost all of the marker positions are at least slightly off – let’s assume that heaps of people will love to help out and correct these marker positions. When Google serves geocoding requests, they will use the updated information to provide more accurate results for the user. Some of the businesses that sell geocoding reference datasets charge customers by the amount of geocoding requests to the reference database. Does Google have to count when someone searches for an address that has been manually corrected? Does this need to be logged as a normal geocoding request? Will this „enhanced“ and crowdsourced geocoding reference information flow back to the original data providers? Who owns the coordinates? Besides the issue of reliability, isn’t that a great new dataset that will emerge? Or am I missing that the providers of geocoding reference databases still have street name information and the like, which kind of „belongs“ to them and is still needed for geocoding? Any chances of Google freeing themselves more and more from huge geocoding bills?

More details about the new feature can also be found in a post on the Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search Blog

Free geodata for marketing the long tail of tourism

Today, I came across an article called Free Entrance, Free Coffee, Free WiFi…Free Rooms, which was posted on the Tracking Tourism Blog. Stephen, the author, picked up on Chris Anderson’s article Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business, which was posted on Wired about two weeks ago. Steven offers some thoughts on how the idea of Free may apply to the travel and hospitality market, for instance, in the case of accommodation providers, who may decide to offer you a bed for free. Something along the lines of „Stay for free, but please spend enough money on food, drinks and activities that in the end, it will pay off for me“ may best describe the guts of tourism service providers‘ prayers then.

As I continued reading, I thought that the whole travel and hospitality industry is already making great use of the idea of „free“. How about Google Earth, Google Maps, Microsoft Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps… I could go on and on. I work in the geospatial industry and I can assure you that the costs of geodata offered on these virtual globes and mapping sites are very high. I guess most people using these earth viewer applications may not even think about this, when they zoom and pan around to view the beach resorts around the world in sub-meter resolution, with all the roads and nearby points of interest, which are also just a click away. It’s all for free – doesn’t cost a penny – just enjoy! Sponsored by some companies with big wallets and business models that somehow make it possible to fund the construction of the digital tourism earth. For the geospatial industry, which lived a cosy niche life for a long time, it was an earthquake welcome to the world of disruption. Disruption for free!

The companies, which pay the bills for geodata, the technology to make it available to a world-wide audience in a user-friendly way, and the staff to actually make it happen…. – these companies provide people with the tools to put stuff on the map and to tell map stories. The tourism industry was among the first to embrace this offering and began to put hotels, tourism activities, photographs of tourism places and many other tourism related content on the map – for free. No payment required for geodata. No payment required for technology. Anyone who could do it by himself or herself even got the mash-up for free. Great, isn’t it? Especially for the Long Tail of tourism – places, which were off the map until just a few years ago – the white spots on the tourism maps you may call them – are now filled with a wealth of geo-content. Want to know what the most remote places on earth look like? Go and see on Flickr, Locr or Panoramio. No big deal – for free! Want a route description to prepare and print out, to help you find your way around? Easy and free! Travel tips, recommendations, travel podcasts, travel videos… all free. How many tourism websites did you come across recently, which had a map embedded in one way or another.

So how can these companies afford to pay for all this free stuff? Have you noticed the almost hidden advertising links that you get when you search for a place to stay or even just a website, which will help you find a place to stay. What a fantastic money loop!

I am sure that the travel and hospitality industry will find many more ways to pick up on free. Free-based business models are somewhere out there – waiting to be found, to be talked about, to be realised – and I’m sure not all of them will depend on advertising. Leaves me curious to hear where they are, how they work, if they are digital and if they are real yet!

Big Day Out for Zipflbob and Zipfljo

After we already had spring temperatures up to 19 degrees C last weekend, winter thought this really is pathetic and decided to come back for some extra time. It was snowing pretty hard for about 2 days – then we got a bloody cold night with temperatures around -15 degrees C. When I got up the next day and drove to work, the landscape just looked fantastic. All trees were coated with ice crystals, the sun was shining and the sky put on the best blue in stock.

Morning after snowfall

Now there was something really interesting I discovered on that day as well. I had taken a banana to work the day before, but had forgotten it was still in the car. Trust me, the banana was yellow. Not green, not brown – it was yellow. However, during that freezing night, an interesting metamorphosis must have been happening. The banana turned dark brown – or to be honest, it almost turned pitch-black. It looked pretty much like the bananas you get when you wrap them in aluminium foil and chuck them into the fire for a while to enjoy them with vanilla ice cream and honey afterwards.

Frozen banana

On the weekend, we took Zipflbob and his girlfriend, Zipfljo, out for some winter hiking. We thought it would be a good day to show them the Zipfbob god monuments. They are really famous, but Zipflbob had never seen them before.

Zipflbob god monument

We continued our walk and came past a huge caterpillar, which was parked next to the track.


Zipflbob got very excited and in the 5 seconds when we didn’t pay attention, Zipflbob was already on his way.

Zipflbob Caterpillar

Luckily, there were no keys left, so we got him off the drivers seat before he could do anything stupid. A little further on our way, we discovered some snow-capped conglomerate rocks, which are called Nagelfluh. We explained to Zipflbob that these rocks were formed long before he was born. I think he was very impressed when he heard that a nature reserve called „Naturpark Nagelfluh“ would be created soon.

Nagelfluh rocks covered in snow

After about an hour and a half, we got to the top and Zipflbob took in the view.

Zipflbob summit photograph

He loves the mountains and he was happy to come up here and enjoy the 360 panorama with his girfriend, Zipfljo.

Zipflbob and Zipfljo

They moved close together and Zipflbob told Zipfljo that he loved her and wanted to be with her for his whole life. He said that he wanted to have many many Zipflbob kids with her and then also take them up here. They kissed and then prepared for the downhill ride home.

Zipflbob downhill action

The runs were in top condition and since there were few people on the slopes, we allowed Zipflbob and Zipfljo to go full speed. It was heaps of fun and some of the best Zipflbob riding we’ve done this winter. Zipflbob, Zipfljo – YOU ROCK!

GeoNames navigation tree for administrative regions

If you ever thought about building a hierarchical navigation tree menu for administrative geographic regions, you should really have a look at GeoTree (via GeoNames Blog) Will save you a lot of time. It would be cool if you also had the polygons for each of the nodes in the tree, basically a complete, non-overlapping hierarchical polygon structure that you could use to select all objects that lie within a specific region that you pick from the tree. This would actually be quite a nice case of geographic brushing again. Mouse-over France in the map and highlight France on the navigation tree at the same time – and vice versa. How about a non-administrative tree? A tree which is built up of natural areas? It would probably be a lot harder to draw sharp boundaries, since mountains, and natural habitats have rather fuzzy boundaries. But this gets us into the „where do mountains begin“ question and it means we’re drifting off. I guess we wouldn’t mind overlapping natural habitats and just select all objects in boundary regions more than once then.

Geographic brushing 2.0

Quite a while ago, in 1989, Mark Monmonier used the term „geographic brushing“ in the context of exploratory geostatistical analysis. When one specific representation of data is highlighted, another representation of the same data also gets highlighted. While Monmonier can be regarded as a pioneer, working with scatterplots and maps to reveal insights, today the geographic brushing and linking method is widely used in the Geoweb-World of Google Maps mashups and virtual earth applications – Try either or both of the websites and locr – you can bring up a set of thumbnails and a map with markers for each of the images on it. By moving your mouse over any of the thumbnail photographs, the corresponding location marker gets highlighted and you gain a much better understanding of how the images relate to the map and different places on that map. The same idea works for videos, comments, panoramas… Now if I am planning a walk and want to prepare myself by studying the route, I quite like to have a view where I can get the full context. I want photographs to give me a vivid idea about the landscape I can expect, I want to know where the photographs were taken by having the location markers highlighted on the map. Then, I want to see the location of the places on an elevation profile line to give me an idea whether I will be about to climb or descend when I get to the viewpoint. I also want to hear a sound taken at that location and how about some comments that other people left there? I want the full context and I want it all in one place, all in view! – I want geographic brushing to the max!

Digital Earth, now with its own international journal

After the metaphor turned into something real that we can witness growing bigger and bigger every day, a dedicated journal was well overdue. So here it is: The International Journal of Digital Earth. Some good reading by Prof. Michael Frank Goodchild and Timothy W. Foresman.

These two were among the first to deal with the digital earth topic way back, when Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth and the increased public interest in the digital earth idea hadn’t taken off yet. Well worth having a look at some of Goodchild’s previous presentations, in which he covers the subject. For example, have a look at Digital Earth – Recent Technical Progress or What does Google Earth mean for the Social Sciences. A more recent presentation to look at is The Spatial Web – Visions for a Geographically Enabled Future.

You can also read one of Goodchild’s earlier papers on the topic. In Discrete Global Grids for Digital Earth Goodchild already envisions that the digital earth will provide a „one-stop shop for geospatial data„. We aren’t yet shopping for geodata in Google Earth, but who says we won’t be soon…?