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Archive for September, 2018

Accessing USGS Topographic Maps on The Internet Archive – Archive.org

September 30, 2018 1 comment

For years, I have used the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/about/) for many things, from archiving multimedia that I created for my story maps to looking up information on historical web pages through their Wayback Machine, (as well as for listening to some old wonderful sound recordings) and through those efforts became aware of the wealth of information on the site.   And when I say wealth, I truly mean enormous – 279 billion web pages, 11 million books and texts, 4 million audio recordings (including 160,000 live concerts), 3 million videos (including 1 million Television News programs), 1 million images, and100,000 software programs. But did you know that The Internet Archive also houses some geospatial data?  The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has existed since 1996, states that its mission is to “provide Universal Access to All Knowledge,” so it makes sense that some geospatial data for the public good is there.

Let’s focus here on the USGS topographic map data on The Internet Archive, also known as Digital Raster Graphics (DRGs).  Start here for a list of these maps by state, and then underneath each state, a variety of search options are available.  It isn’t the most intuitive unless you know the specific map name that you are looking for, so a topographic map index may still come in handy; a scanned version of these is not easy to come by, but one such archive is here.  Formats include GeoTIFF, essential for use in a GIS.

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Interface on The Internet Archive for USGS Digital Raster Graphics. 

While I still find the interface on the other main DRG archive, LibreMap, to be a bit easier to use, LibreMap is not maintained any longer, and is starting to return some errors during certain searches.  The Esri USGS Historical Map Explorer, and the USGS TopoView, reviewed here, is more modern approach to obtaining topographic maps, with the added benefit of historical editions.  USGS topographic maps are part of the set of basemaps available inside ArcGIS Online as data services, which is increasingly part of modern GIS workflows, rather than downloading the data and using it locally.  Still another archive is that from Historical Aerials, which I reviewed here. 

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A section of my all-time favorite USGS topographic map, for Mitchell Indiana, simply because of the intricacies of the depression contours and disappearing streams in the magnificent karst landscape depicted. 

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A review of Google’s search engine for Open Data

September 17, 2018 4 comments

An article in Nature described Google’s new search engine for open data, and since geospatial data is a fundamental part of open data, and after all these years, still challenging at times to find, I was immediately interested in testing it.

The tool, called Google Dataset Search, is accessible on this link.  Like Google Scholar and Google Books both of which I make heavy use of, this is a “specialized search engine.”

The utility of this tool will depend on metadata tagging. Indeed, as the article points out, “those who own the data sets should ‘tag’ them, using a standardized vocabulary called Schema.org, an initiative founded by Google and three other search-engine giants (Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex)”. The schema.org dataset markup is the standard used here, but others are supported, such as CSVs, imagery, and proprietary formats.  I had to laugh at the open-ness of the last line in the list of what could qualify as a dataset, “Anything that looks like a dataset to you.”

Many data search engines and portals have a vast amount of data but very little geospatial data.  But with this tool, in my test searches, I found many useful geospatial data sets, some of which I knew and some that were new to me.  I have had challenges finding stream gauging data services for Australia recently, and with this tool found some new leads to investigate.  Being Google based, the searches were rapidly returned, with what I considered enough information to decide whether or not to investigate more fully (see screenshot below).  The data format was featured prominently, as was the coverage, both of which I appreciated.  NOAA was an early adopter of the indexing, and so it makes sense that I could find many NOAA data sets using this search engine.

I wonder if data in Github, or in Esri’s Living Atlas, or on state, national, and international portals will be findable.  I also wonder how the sheer importance of Google will influence how organizations tag their data in the future, and the influence this will have on agencies that perhaps did not put as much time on metadata as they perhaps should have.  Time will tell, but if Google Scholar and Google Books are any indication, the Google Dataset Search could indeed prove to be extremely useful for many of us in GIS research and education.

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Result of stream gauge search in the new Google data search engine. 

Location, Privacy and Google

September 10, 2018 1 comment

Recent revelations about Google’s continued tracking of personal location information despite the Location History setting being disabled have been widely reported (Business Insider, The Guardian). Google responded robustly, acknowledging incidental location information was also collected under other application settings (specifically Web and App Activity) but insisting they provided clear guidelines on what the various settings entailed. Many observers and users of Google services remain unimpressed by what appears at be the rather insidious tracking of location information. Disabling Location History should mean NO location information is tracked regardless of which Google service was used.

Having just reread their Privacy Policy, Google does make it clear that location information is tracked through a variety of other sources, including public data, business and marketing. The Location History setting means location information is saved to a Google account timeline – if that’s what it means, then perhaps the setting should be Save Location History to Timeline.

All of this leads into a more general discussion on privacy; what do we assume privacy means, what do we expect to remain private and what information about us are we prepared to be in the public domain. I typed define: privacy into Google search and the response was … ‘a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people‘. Clearly this is not the baseline for Google’s policy and perhaps another example where some rewording of the policy headline would help clarify exactly what a user of Google’s services can expect. Maybe Information Collection and Reuse Policy would be more transparent so there is no misunderstanding, no expectation of privacy and users make informed decision at to what personal information they are prepared to handover in exchange for access to online services.

 

 

 

Categories: Public Domain Data