Aerial Video for Geography Nerds

January 21, 2019 • #

I’ve discovered a phenomenon on YouTube of these types of videos — long many-hour clips of calm scenery or environments for the purposes of relaxation or background ambience.

Like I said in a post about cycling a few posts ago, these aerial views are incredibly pleasing to watch and nerd out over the topography and landscapes they’re flying over. The clip above contains footage over Croatia, but isn’t specific about where. I did some searching around on the web and Google Earth and narrowed it down to Krka National Park (the first 45 minutes or so). Those waterfalls and river valleys are incredible.

I like to put these streams on full screen on the second display when I go into focus mode.

See also:

A Series on Learning

January 20, 2019 • #

This is part 1 of a series on learning, education, and what we can do to improve our systems.

The most effective learning relies on curiosity, a required characteristic to grow emotionally and intellectually over time. Teaching, on the other hand, is the act of steering this process. The best teaching provides fundamental “first principle” building blocks, lays down a breadcrumb trail, and lets the student discover their own path through trial and error. But we don’t teach children the value of curiosity; we often feel compelled to jump straight to direct information transfer. “We already know these facts, here they are, remember them.”

There’s little opportunity for discovery when you deny the satisfaction of dot-connecting as a child understands something new. The ability to synthesize answers for yourself from discrete parts leads to true understanding. Memorizing division tables or the sonnets of Shakespeare doesn’t create that sense of wonder that comes with deep comprehension.

With my daughter now 3 years old, I think and observe a lot about how kids learn, and how we teach. It’s amazing to watch her discover something new on her own. One day we watched her figure out that magnets stick to the refrigerator. We’d then watch her try to stick all sorts of things to the fridge after that — her own gradual trial-and-error process. It was great to see the sense of gratification in her eyes when she discovered that the whiteboard in her room was also magnetic, seeing her move things between her room and the kitchen. Humans are amazing in what can be discovered, absorbed, and extended with little to no guidance, resilient and “anti-fragile” by nature. A sort of discovery-based learning is the most meaningful and long-lasting, and we should be striving to set up conducive environments in schools.

A contentious topic around learning concerns what is being taught. There’s value in being selective about what we teach to children, to be sure — there are only so many hours in the day after all. I’m of the opinion that the “how” of teaching is far more important. Attempts at bringing up collective grades in US primary schools mostly center around tactical changes to the process — common core, standardized testing, FCAT — a long list of mechanical box-checking that leads us to believe a student has learned all they need to know. If we spent half as much energy on creating better spaces for discovery as we do on measuring performance, we’d have incredibly smarter children. I think some strategic questioning on the paradigms of the system itself is in order.

Of course, a key factor creating the system we have now is the desire for total equality in results. Structures are focused heavily around fairness, so it requires us to have rigid measurement regimes to constantly gut-check the system. There’s little room for individualism, for children to have the room to gravitate toward things they show proclivities for. We expend so much energy on trying to pull everyone up to a minimum standard in a comprehensive set of “subjects” we’ve collectively deemed worthy of all our childrens’ attention: math, science, reading, art, et al. Granted, these things all have inherent value, but it’s a stretch to say that the world and their future require them to know about Robert Frost poems or that reptiles are cold-blooded. They’re required to reach a baseline in a spread of subjects because we’ve built a construct that tests them against this, preventing upward motion until they reach the “quota.” A self-fulfilling prophecy.

The relentless assumption that we can produce high school graduates with an equal knowledge level is absurd, and even with the systems we have in place, we think they’re reaching high school with equal measures of comprehension, and it’s patently not true in reality, even if it is on paper.

I find it helpful to peel back a process to its core objectives. What is the mission of K-12 education? To produce a bunch of equal adults? Because it doesn’t happen that way even now, and thinking anything else is pretending. I think the goal of education is to teach children how to learn, as a foundation, and give them the tools to be self-sufficient in absorbing, understanding, and harnessing new information.

I’m not a scholar of education or a psychologist, and I don’t even study a huge amount on the topic. I come at it from a pragmatic, observational direction where I see the output of the education system we currently have. Stack up the system’s results with widespread market needs and it’s obvious we aren’t hitting with a high batting average. That doesn’t mean higher education outputs nothing but unemployed 20-somethings. As I said above, humans are resilient and can adapt to environments quickly if necessary.

This is the first post that I’d like to serve as the kickoff to a series on education. Here are some ideas I’d like to cover in deeper detail down the road that I believe are essential in making headway on new paradigms:

  • Create a system flexible enough to keep up with what markets demand (and I use “market” to mean “any post-education environment”) — our system is too rigid to bend and adapt to demand
  • Make continued education a cultural norm — why would formal learning halt at age 18 or 22?
  • Build on-the-job style programs into schools as early as possible — not to employ 8 year olds, but to as early as we can inform young people what life is like beyond their youth, and prepare them for it

Weekend Reading: CES 2019, Tips for Satellite Imagery, and Shortcuts Archive

January 19, 2019 • #

📱 CES 2019: A Show Report

This year’s excellent report from the show floor from Steven Sinofsky. It’s extensive and covers the products a-to-z, breaking down the trends by category. I’d also recommend the companion podcast conversation between Sinofsky and Benedict Evans.

🗺 Satellite Image Guide for Journalists and Media

A helpful guide with tips and factoids on satellite imagery. Includes a primer on the various sensor platforms, differences in resolution, color correction, infrared, and more. There are also a ton of reference links for data and other things.

📌 MacStories Shortcuts Archive

MacStories’ Federico Viticci is the undisputed king of Shortcuts on iOS. As I’ve spent more time with the iPad as a primary computing device, Shortcuts has become an essential way to create the automations that make repeated tasks easier.

Best Songs, Part 2: My Philosophy

January 18, 2019 • #

In college I’d listened to KRS-One’s solo albums before I ever heard his original work with Boogie Down Productions. One of my top songs is the landmark track from their 1988 album By All Means Necessary:

“My Philosophy” is the opener that sets the tone for the record, just like “Poetry” from their first album.

I love how the verse just keeps coming — no chorus, no language, just a chain of rhyming (even across bar lines) for five and a half minutes.

The Earth in 8K

January 17, 2019 • #

Mesmerizing, hypnotic video shot in 8K pointed straight down from an airplane. It looks like these were originally shot for Apple to use as their “Aerial” screensaver seen on Apple TV.

I could leave this on a loop in my office all day.

Self Reliance and Introspection

January 16, 2019 • #

The nearly 2000 year old Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is likely the first ever entry in the “self help” publishing genre. During his last days as Roman Emperor, reigning from 161-180 AD, he wrote the 12 “books” that comprise the Meditations. It’s a personal journal he wrote to himself, never intended for publication, with thoughts, ruminations, reminders, and short stories from his life, all with the objective of serving his future self as a reminder of how to live and act.

There’s not much of a thematic arc from book to book — each numbered paragraph entry largely stands on its own. Some are single, to-the-point declarations, some are longer stories about people in his life, including things he admired about them.

As a practitioner of Stoic philosophy, many of the original players from the Stoic school are mentioned, and their belief system is present throughout. Aurelius was clearly a devout follower of the Stoics, at least later in life. The writing is full of great quips that are helpful for readers of any age or generation to remember what’s important and to direct attention in productive and meaningful ways. Aurelius counsels to live according to a set of principles, avoid distractions, don’t think about what other people think of you, and to maintain a rational mind without letting emotion overcome you. I doubt that he knew what “mindfulness” was in the way we think of it today, or that the Buddhist tradition has, but much of the writing speaks to the act of being “present” in the moment and not dwelling on the things outside of your control — just like the array of mindfulness practices.

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

One item of note that I didn’t discover until starting the book was how many varying translations are out there of the original work. It was originally written in Greek and has been translated hundreds of times in various languages over the centuries. I started out reading an older translation (not sure the source) that I found difficult to follow, unnecessarily given that there are more modernized versions. I eventually found the recently published translation by Gregory Hays and started over with his much more readable prose. Contrast the versions and see the simplicity of the text from Hays in this part from Book 2:


“Why should any of these things that happen externally so much distract thee? Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing and cease roving and wandering to and fro. Thou must also take heed of another kind of wandering, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no certain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.”


“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.”

The same idea comes across, without the arcane English that muddies the meaning for the novice modern reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed Meditations and it’s a quick read. It’s a great candidate to become regular reference material for self-reflection and meditation practice.

The History of the World on One Map

January 14, 2019 • #

Every year since the pre-Stone Age area, visualized as a time lapse on a map.

This is amazing and puts into context what was developing where over time. I know when I read the history of one culture, like Ancient Greece, it’s hard to keep in the mind what was happening elsewhere in the world during the same time period. This video could be a good reference point to pull up to get a sense of what happened during, before, and after any period in human history.

It’s also hard to believe that in 3000 BC the global population estimate was only 30 million people, or roughly the population of modern Nepal.

Cycling: A Sport for Geographers

January 13, 2019 • #

The UCI World Tour season kicks off this week with the Tour Down Under.

I started following pro cycling closely about 5 years ago, but since it’s fairly hard to get access to on broadcasts, I only get to watch a handful of events each year. With the NBC Cycling Pass you get some big events, like the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, plus some other fun ones in the spring like Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Last season while watching the Criterium du Dauphiné, it dawned on me one of the reasons I got into watching televised cycling tours so easily: it’s a great sport for a geographer. The sweeping views over the Massif Central, Pyrenees, or the rivers of the Alps are incredible. While I’m watching a stage and the peloton is passing through villages or past medieval landmarks, I’ll be on Wikipedia checking out the history of the places they’re racing.

With some top cyclist team moves in the off season, there are a few big things to watch. I’ll try and catch what I can of the Tour Down Under and get a preview. Never was able to watch that one before.

Weekend Reading: RoboSat, the State of Security, and the Equal Earth Map

January 12, 2019 • #

🛰 Buildings from Imagery with RoboSat

This excellent guide shows how to combine take imagery from OpenAerialMap and buildings from OpenStreetMap, and combine to train a model for automated feature extraction. It uses an open source tool from Mapbox called RoboSat combined to compare a GeoTIFF from OAM with a PBF extracts from OSM. Very cool to have a generalized tool for doing this with open data.

🔐 The State of Software Security in 2019

An excellent roundup (with tons of ancillary linked sources) on the state of various parts of computer security, from programming, to browsers, to social engineering.

🌍 The Equal Earth Map

From Tom Patterson, the Equal Earth map uses the equal earth projection to show countries with their true relative sizes. No more ginormous Russia or Africa-sized Greenland.