Edward O. Wilson, famed Harvard professor and sociobiologist articulated the conundrum mentioned in the title of this article, "The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.”
I like to begin all discussions of data by analyzing our Paleolithic emotional brains. There should be more questions in this era of technology and big data. We lack the capacity to comprehend the trade-offs and create governance around what this will mean for society. We engage with systems that create algorithms to market our attention as currency--and we behave like it will all work out in the end.
So the big question of human history, and the first question of human history, is how do you get hundreds and then thousands and finally hundreds of millions of humans to cooperate? Which is our secret of success as a species. This is how we overcame the Neanderthals. They were bigger us. They were stronger than us. They had bigger brains than us. But we ruled the world and not the Neanderthals because they couldn't cooperate in larger numbers then, again, 50 or 100. We could. And what made it possible is not intelligence, it's imagination, and in particular, the ability to invent and believe fictional stories.--Yuval Noah Harari, Your Undivided Attention podcast
Those of us working with technology, beyond our own amusement for our reptilian brains, have a responsibility. We need to be curious and expand our critical thinking. Remember the famous quote from Wayne Gretzky when asked why he was such a great hockey player? He replied something like, “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
We are all evolving into becoming data storytellers. But the part they don’t tell you about the stories we tell--they don’t have to be true. We have seen this play out in our own lives as "medieval institutions” become fodder for isolation, otherness, and quite frankly--become hackable.
One of the main reasons I favor Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping is how we are able to bring location data to the narrative. The actual physical entity is able to be explored and interrogated. Information at the location is called attribute data and it tells about the features unique to that area vs. another location. What is the landcover like? Density of highways or roads? Building footprints? Waterways?
A mountain or a river is an objective physical entity . Y ou can see it. Y ou can bathe in the river. You can listen to the murmur of the waves in the Mississippi. United States is not a physical reality . Y ou cannot see the United States. Y ou can see the Mississippi River, but that's not the United States. The Mississippi River was there two million years ago, the United States wasn't. The United States might disappear in 200 years or 500 years, the Mississippi River will probably still be there. So it's not a physical entity. It's a story.--Yuval Noah Harari, Your Undivided Attention podcast
Follow along for more conversations about location and geospatial data. I mainly use open source resources so you can easily download and follow along.
There will be an O’Reilly media book eventually. Currently it is in early release so you can certainly check that out as well, Python for Geospatial Thinking.
I actually took a request. A reviewer was curious about Open Street Map and Python so--voila--we now have a chapter about OSMnx.
The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind--Albert Einstein
Let me explain. Virtual conferences aren’t all bad. You don’t need to disrupt your life as dramatically, many are free or low cost, and I don’t care what anyone says you can network if you are thoughtful about how. Following the Esri User Conference earlier this week I received dozens of messages.
Many fellow attendees in the chat box alongside presentations would respond to something and want to have a follow-up discussion. As a self-proclaimed autodidact geospatial analyst my career was usually the talking point.
Although I have many years of being employed, I have had many more of being self-employed. You may have heard me state quite emphatically that I am indeed unemployable. This is true.
This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I was more often than not hired right during the interview. Colleagues would find out where I was working and say, “Wow, I wondered who they hired” after they too had been interviewed. I had more work than I could handle but I managed. Until I started asking questions. I became unable to do status quo and deliver “good enough” or “this is what the client paid for” work. I also grew tired of all of the travel and endless meetings that in all honesty--could have been an email.
Even my independent work was problematic. I thought you simply worked with every client that reached out. Some of them were assholes and I just thought that was part and parcel. I silently suffered, worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and missed a Steve Tyler concert. The irony with the Steve Tyler performance (part of a Qualtrics Conference) was that after hitting send on an ironclad deadline I was informed by automatic reply that the recipients would be out of the office for the next several days.
I had a client once (if you are reading this I still adore you but let’s be honest, you always listened to the guys on the team over me) that paid me to leave a conference in Washington, DC to travel to NYC at 3:30 a.m. in the morning for an in-person meeting with his client. When I tried to interject an alternate perspective in another meeting I was jovially but firmly accused of “heckling” and there ended my contributions to the team culture. This one stung because I absolutely enjoyed the team--their culture, mission, and sense of humor.
So I stopped spending the bulk of my days traveling, writing, analyzing, and speaking at private client collaborative meetings. Seth Godin puts it quite succinctly below. Its only 3 minutes so hit play and I will wait.
This is the bit of potential value to the inquisitive types wanting a career not only in geospatial intelligence but data analytics, or writing.
I already went for a run, had a healthy smoothie, wrote a blog (ahem), removed abandoned envs from my terminal (Conda-Forge friends), and created a timeline for what I need to deliver to my editor for our next meeting.
I am writing a book, Python for Geospatial Data Analysis : Theory, Tools, and Practice for Location Intelligence
The free sharing and teaching of open source is incompatible with the notion of the solitary genius
Are you on Clubhouse? I joke that someone left a door open in the hallway and I wandered in. I like the breaks from the computer screen where you can simply engage through your phone. Think of it like a podcast style conversation. Data + AI hosts a room, Data Geek Weekly. This past room was right up my alley.
The panel discussed social (structural) determinants of health with Michael Petersen, MD. I am not sure if it was Michael or Jeff that differentiated me from Bonnie Holub by calling me geospatial Bonny but it made me laugh all day. In the course of an open discussion I mentioned a few data resources that I wanted to share with folks in the room.
Here are the resources I mentioned. They might seem random but I think they were some of the tabs I had open at the moment so here you are...
Google Earth Engine
There is a location for everything so I have to start with Google Earth Engine (GEE) in case there are other interested in location intelligence. Click the button below and watch the glacier retreat. We were talking about climate change and urban heat islands (below) but it can be powerful to start with an upstream view.
IPUMS (CENSUS data and more)
I mentioned a heavy reliance on CENSUS data. I use American Community Survey for yearly comparisons as well as the PULSE Covid surveys. IPUMS is a great resource for a lot of the work I do because of the harmonization and detailed documentation.
The better your data question the more exploration you will need to curate insights and better yet to curate empathy. We need to be open to aligning edges outside of what we view as our penumbra of expertise.
,I tend to use open source or freely available platforms and tools for analyses. I imagine how frustrating it would be to take a weekend workshop only to find out about a hefty price tag for you to continue your data exploration. I use QGIS (open source) but also rely on ArcGIS for quick maps. An ArcGIS personal 1-year subscription is $100 and well worth the investment.
This is an example of an urban heat island. I chose Charleston, West Virginia to highlight patterns not often visualized outside the typical locations such as Chicago or NYC.
I layered the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) neighborhood guides for you to explore. I briefly mentioned how land-use systems were locked in decades ago and continue to impact the temperature differentials in urban environments--and therefore health outcomes.
There is an abundance of federal, state, and community level crime data. One take-home message I will share is that data is collected differently and may not be able to be aggregated. For example, recent work in gun violence demonstrated that many districts were not reporting the data until the crimes were solved. I also realized that unless I requested data on the perpetrator most of the data was only about the victim. I was interested in the demographics of both.
The Crimemapping data below is from my city. The data is only available if your city subscribes to the service but as you can see, the types of crimes in your area are displayed.
The practice of leaving bread on the hook is a beautiful Turkish tradition called, askida ekmek. You buy a loaf for you and an extra loaf that is hung on a hook. When someone in need enters the shop, they are gifted the donated loaf.
This reminds me of my work as a data analyst. We serve our clients while simultaneously giving back to our data community through either mentorship, collaboration, or teaching insights learned along the way.
“It is better to follow your own path, however imperfectly, than to follow someone else's perfectly.”--Bhagavad-Gita
I won’t bore you with the longitudinal path of my pre-existing condition—mitral valve prolapse—but it landed at myxomatous degeneration requiring surgical intervention sooner rather than later. So 1 week ago today, I had open heart surgery.
The team was somewhat gobsmacked how I ran 267 miles just this last January, completed an ultra race in 2019, and hit the trails and roads on most days albeit a bit slower over the years but heck, I am also not as young as I used to be.
If I was to be honest with myself, I think I knew it was coming. Echocardiograms were becoming dramatic and straightforward to read even from my perspective.
“It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
It should come as no surprise that what you see is not determined solely by the patterns of light that fall upon your retinae. Indeed, that visual perception is more than meets the eye has been understood for centuries, and there are several extraretinal factors known to interact with the incoming sensory data to yield perceptual experience. Perhaps foremost among these factors is information learned from our prior encounters with the visual world—our memories—which enables us to infer the cause, category, meaning, utility, and value of retinal images. By this process, the inherent ambiguity and incompleteness of information in the image—what is out there? Have I seen it before? What does it mean? How is it used?—is overcome, nearly instantaneously and generally without awareness, to yield unequivocal and behaviorally informative percepts.--Thomas D. Albright, On the Perception of Probable Things: Neural Substrates of Associative Memory, Imagery, and Perception
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
Reductionism might seem a little hoity toity at first glance but you might be surprised how elegantly it applies to not only the brain and art but to data visualization in general.
The Matisse on the right, “The Snail”, uses swirling color blocks to mimic the swirl or pattern of a snail shell.
This only works if we have seen a snail shell, and our brain knows to compare this image to images stored in our memory.
Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical position that interprets a complex system as the sum of its parts.--Wikipedia
You may be surprised to learn that Neuroscience was not considered a distinct discipline until the early to mid-1960s.
Questions began to surface like these discussed by Eric R. Kandel, “What sort of changes does learning produce in the neural networks of the brain? How is memory stored? Once stored, how is memory maintained?"
Low-level processing occurs in the retina and detects images, intermediate-level processing distinguishes which surfaces and boundaries belong to specific objects, and high level processing integrates information--Reductionism in art and brain science, Eric R. Kandel
I have been thinking about Pulse Surveys examining household data (during COVID 19). The food security issue was part of a client project.
As the only non-monetary variable included in the original definition of poverty back in the 60s we should be familiar with food policy. Surprisingly the agriculture department has plenty of publicly available data.
As the state legitimizes the use of digital and algorithmic decision making, it also creates new data worlds (Gray 2018; Milan and van der Velden 2016) to which few sociologists have access. The inaccessibility of these data is part of their value to state and capital interests. Private data worlds where decision making can be veiled from democratic inquiry fuel economic and political commitment to more datafication. This brings about more secrecy.--Tressie McMillan Cottom, Where Platform Capitalism and Racial Capitalism Meet: The Sociology of Race and Racism in the Digital Society
I needed a minute. Distractions only take you so far and then you need to focus and make a plan. We all go through times of stress--the difference is how we manage these moments.
People overeat, play video games, take walks, smoke, and a wide variety of other positive and negative coping mechanisms. I try to lean in to behaviors that can better serve my goals.
I prefer to go out on long solo runs on the trails. I queue up a list of podcasts that reflect my curiosity in work-related topics, life in general, and creativity.
I have been studying spatial data science and cartography for a large project and I simply needed to clear my brain for the next round of analyses.
Nobody cares that you are looking for a job. What are your unique skills and interests?
Never stop learning. I am taking several MOOCs from ESRI.com. Geospatial analysis is more than just geocoding data onto a map. There is a rich dimensionality allowing data to better inform.
Use data for good. Capture metrics to find out what type of visualizations, topics, or stories resonate with the bulk of your subscribers.
In my case, the poverty data I was capturing from CENSUS data only used location for drop a pin in a spot on a map. I was leaving data on the table.
Exploring geospatial analytics allowed me to pursue suitability models--and learn new tools for spatial data science.
What are some of your new tools?
You are woefully underutilizing the latent potential of LinkedIn. I don’t take it too seriously. I have fun with it and use it as a portal for interested peers to reach me. Period.
Look at the area under my photo. If you aren’t using it to display your personality or special skills, change that today.
There is a saying out on the trails, especially if you are an ultra runner. When you fall, and you will fall, don’t blather about it--rub some dirt in it and keep going.
I am surprised to say this but I think I am in good company. Or a bad omen.
“The unexamined life is not worth living” quoted by Socrates before being sentenced to death does yield some truth.
I don’t know why my blogs trend so well in Metro Manila but there you go. Don’t write for likes but like what you write!
This could be putting a bullet in my own foot but in a world where everyone is an expert--err on the side of foundational learning.
The type of learning that doesn’t become obsolete after the next release. Truths that can stand the test of time. Andy’s book is that for me.
Your mileage may vary but the point is to embrace the tidal seasonality of learning.
We have the time right now and we can all benefit from careful thought and contemplation.