Maps in Disasters, Revisited

Last month I posted about the evolving maps during the San Diego Firestorm 2007. Yesterday as I was sitting in a waiting room, I was browsing the Union-Tribune, and found this article going into a bit of the detail of how those maps were created. It still doesn’t talk much about what advances were made, but does describe the players, basically San Diego State University, a team from Google, a prof from UCSD, and a collection of worldwide researchers who focus on imaging all got together. Form the U-T article, I mainly glean that the map images were the result of taking map images from a wide variety of sources (satellite, aerial footage, thermal imaging), and using “geo-referencing” to align them all onto the same map.

Evolving Technology in Crisis

Flash crowds are something that I think about a lot. This is mainly because it’s one of the prime challenges of building distributed systems.

Consider what happened in 1999 when Victoria’s Secret ran a Super Bowl ad announcing an online webcast of its Spring Fashion Show. The result was a sudden large volume of traffic to their site to view the webcast, so much that many customers were unable to view the webcast because the server could not handle the flash crowd.

A similar problem occurred after 9/11/2001, when everyone went to their favorite online news outlets for the emerging story.

What separates the two, of course, is that Victoria’s Secret planned their webcast (but failed to forsee the limits of their servers), where crisis situations are unpredicted, and generally not provisioned for.

This was clear in handling the San Diego firestorm last week in several ways, two of which I’ll mention here. What I find fascinating is how the people involved here had to adapt their technologies to handle the Crisis. In general, unexpected situations may always lead to this, and the people involved should largely be applauded. But at the same time, this presents us an opportunity to look at what happened to try and prepare automated systems for next time. Specifically, we need to improve or GIS/Mapping techniques, and our transparent web-content scalability techniques.

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Trying to understand SiteMap(s)

So for some time I have been using Gallery as my picture site, and I’ve been quite happy with it overall (my prior post about it notwithstanding).

In recent versions, I have noted a reference to a “Google SiteMap” in the administration pages. Being ignorant of them, I ignored it. Yesterday, I decided to look a bit further into it to understand them. This was partly because lately I’ve felt like a large amount of my server bandwidth has been taken by search robots, and I wondered/hoped that the sitemap would make the crawler use less bandwidth.

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3-D IMax Movies

So I went to see “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: An IMAX 3D Experience” Saturday. I was a little disappointed that only the last 20 minutes were in 3-d. Perhaps if I’d read up before, I would instead have been excited that a whole 20 minutes were in 3-d, but such is life. Those 20 minutes were quite impressive, and I did appreciate seeing them in 3-d.

So since then, I’ve been wondering why the rest of the movie wasn’t in 3-d. I tried to search Google for the answer, but only came up with stories about how there would be 20 minutes, and nothing about why not the other minutes.

What’s the reason? Possibilities I’ve come up with are:

  • Perhaps it’s too expensive
  • Maybe the technology doesn’t work as well on non-action scenes
  • Possibly people become disoriented with a full-length 3-d feature

I also found a nice article describing the different IMAX varieties, and in particular how the 3-d technology works [Wikipedia’s IMAX page]. First, the scenes are filmed simultaneously by two different cameras, about 2.5 inches apart (mimicking our eyes), and then project both images simultaneously. To keep it from confusing your eyes, the two projections are polarized at perpendicular angles. Then the glasses you wear cancel out one of the two images for each eye, reproducing the depth of feel. Of course, for a movie like HP, they are actually dealing mostly with animations, and use the patented computer graphics technologies to artificially create the two projections. This gives them the further advantage of being able to correct imperfections in the dual recording to give a more natural depth of feel. To read more about it, I recommend reading the linked Wikipedia page. I think it would be fascinating to find people who work on this kind of graphics to hear more about the technology.

Whatever the reason they only ran 20 minutes 3-d, I for one am looking forward to the day when watching movies is a full 3-d experience, whether through glasses, holograms, or otherwise.

Spam: Winning or Losing?

So from a research perspective, I am curious— are we winning or losing the battle against spam? On the one hand, there are reports that upwards of 80% of all email is spam. But only a small fraction of that ever sees our inboxes. Sometimes I feel that the fraction is shrinking, but other times (like now), I feel that everything is just a stop-gap, and that this is really an arms race with a huge amount of wasted resources, both in bandwidth and in person-hours.

I was discussing this with a group of colleagues, and one made the claim that this is a “solved problem” for corporate America. That is to say that when you are working at a big corporation, you don’t get spam email in your inboxes. Is it true? If so, do you know why?

What about personal mail? Does the answer change depending on whether it’s an ISP mail or a webmail? What about for preventing spam from being received by young children? I’m just not convinced we’re anywhere close to a good solution on spam. Of course, there are others who argue that spam is fundamental. I hope not.

Web scrapbook

For some time I’ve used Gallery as my gallery software of choice. (And I still do–you can find the link to my gallery along the page header). But more recently, I’ve started to think that what I’d prefer to have is software which makes it easy to create scrapbooks online. I think the key difference here is the focus on narrative instead of the pictures themselves. Pictures are used to tell the story, not to be the primary point of the content. I’m happy to have a gallery at the same time which is highly integrated with the scrapbook, but I’d like the narrative (with collections of photos related to narrative parts) to allow presentation in a scrapbook format.

If anyone is aware of such software (particularly, but not strictly, free software), please let me know.