The View from Here: A Trio of Observations

By Adena Schutzberg

Spatial Orientation and the Overhead Bin

As I boarded the plane the flight attendant reminded me to put my bag into the overhead bin with the wheels out. I assured him I would. I always do because I understand that it means more bags will fit, hopefully enabling quicker boarding and an on-time departure. Flight attendants have been making this request for years and have repeated the pleas more often now that many carriers charge for checked bags, increasing the number of bags needing bin space.

Still, as I watched other passengers push their “rolly” bags into the bins, probably half put them in “wheels to the side” or “the wide way.” That meant the flight attendants had to readjust the bin contents to fit the bags that followed. Why didn’t passengers “get it”? Did they not understand the instructions? Or the pictures posted on the bins? Did they not care? Did they think their bags were “safer” or easier to remove in the other orientation? It’s hard to say, but I think some of it simply stemmed from not thinking about the spatial problem.

I have a suggestion to help teach passengers to consider this spatial problem. I’d love to see a puzzle in the gate area aimed at parents and kids. It would include scaled down toy rolly bags and overhead bins. The challenge: fit as many bags in the bin as possible! How many can you fit? Two? Three? Four? Kids could no doubt teach their parents (and other adults within earshot).

Mapping Things Because We Can

I read today that the editor of another geospatial publication was going to map the comments made to the FCC regarding LightSquared’s proposal for 4G, which as originally written is known to interfere with GPS signal reception. The plan is to map each comment (I guess based on the location of the commenter), tag it as pro or con, and note the organization type (public/private/legislator) and industry (surveying, aviation, consumer, etc). The vision is that this would make it easier to examine the several thousand comments.

I agree this sort of “index” would make it easy to find all the comments from, say, the state of New Jersey or to read all the “pro” LightSquared ones. A decent database or content management system (CMS) could do the same thing. “But,” I hear the geographer in you responding, “the map would highlight the pattern of the comments!” Indeed it would. Where would the high volume fall? Is this distribution significant? Does location matter in these comments?

I’ve been thinking about “mapping the news” quite a bit recently. (We did a podcast on it last month.) My thought is that in some “news” stories, location matters: the earthquake in Japan, the 2008 election, the different prices of gas across the country. In others, especially in tech news, it does not.

Consider these stories: Apple announces (or releases) the iPhone 5. Does it matter that Apple is in Cupertino? Not really. Does it matter when the phone will hit your country or your local stores? Yes. Are we likely to get a map of those important details? Sadly, no.

Esri announces a patch for ArcGIS 10. Does location matter? Not really since users in the U.S. will likely download it from the cloud. The relevant geographic question is how distributors in other countries will make it available. That may differ from country to country. Will we get a map of that? Again, probably not.

Thus I wonder if sometimes we map stories or data in which the mapping adds little value. Does mapping the comments fall into that category? Did anyone map the #lightsquared tweets? Would it be valuable? We need to ask those questions and not, as journalists or researchers, map simply because we can map.

The Geography of Assisted Living

I visited my 81-year-old uncle, Berry, recently. He and his girlfriend Susan suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and live in an assisted living facility on a quiet street with a few similar care facilities. I explained to my cousin that sometimes the same kinds of businesses “clump together.” I used the example of car dealerships. We wondered about the economics of locating these homes together. We had no specific answer, but agreed that moving the pair from one to another a block away was simple for the family, if not for the residents.

Berry and Susan get around the building quite well. They know a well-worn route - from their room to the dining room and back. And, they know where their table is in the dining room, way in the far back corner. Susan notes that if she positions her chair carefully she can only see Berry. The couple, I learned, is not too open to having guests for dinner (unless they happen to be my cousin and me).

Berry and Susan’s world is getting smaller but they do not seem to mind. They find comfort in the known and discomfort in the unknown. Still, if you can manage to combine the two, new adventures are possible. By focusing on the known (the two of them being together, even holding hands in the car, and the promise of pancakes for lunch) an outing to the deli a few blocks away is not too scary. To my disappointment, an invitation to visit, not in their room as usual, but rather in the bright comfortable day room within their building, was overruled. Perhaps it was “too” unknown.

I know Berry no longer can fathom the distance between where I live in Massachusetts and his current home in Florida. And, I know he can’t fathom ever being too far from Susan. But I take great pleasure observing that he takes comfort from the world - small though it is - that makes sense to him.

Published Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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