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July 20 2011

14:31

Dotspotting + Embeds = Great Maps of Prisons, Crime, Pavement Dots

There are three basic parts to working with online representations of urban civic data in Dotspotting: collating the data, manipulating it, and then sharing and publishing it. Up until now, we've been focused on the first two, which makes sense. Obviously you need to be able to gather and work with the data before you can share it.

Today we're announcing the inclusion of the project's most requested feature: embedding the maps that people make into sites of their own.

Dotspotting makes tools to help people gather data about cities and make that information more legible. It's the first project Stamen released as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge.

Dotspotting's "embed/export" feature has been reworked to include the ability to generate HTML code that you can configure to your own specs, depending on how your site is formatted. Basic embed code is available in default mode, which will generate a map that looks pretty much the way it does on Dotspotting:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

There are a couple of different options in embed; so, for example, you can swap out the normal toner cartography for Bing's new (awesome) map tiles:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

We've been working with Mission Local, a news organization that reports on our home base of the Mission District, to find ways to take the lessons learned from the Crimespotting project and give this ability to local publications and advocates. The crime theme we've developed with them lets you generate maps that look like the one below, if you provide a "crime type" value in your data:

Crime June 21-28 updated on Dotspotting

And my favorite so far is the photo theme, which takes a "flickr:id" or "photo_url" field from your data (say, a set on flickr) and generates a visual mapping of where the photos are:

Dots on the pavement from flickr on Dotspotting

We're planning on releasing more of these as time goes by; if you've got ideas for a theme you'd like to see, please upload some data and get in touch!

October 19 2010

14:14

Basetrack Pushes Off to Follow Marines in Afghanistan

Safi Airways flight 4Q-52. Sept 28, 2010 at 20:00 GMT-Zulu -- I'm airborne and en route to link up with First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment (a.k.a. "one-eight," the subject of our Knight News Challenge grant), in southern Afghanistan.

We're at cruising altitude, somewhere between Hungary and Turkey, on a civilian flight into Kabul. The first leg of our trip, on Singapore Air between New York and Frankfurt, was fully packed. Frankfurt to Kabul is almost empty. Go figure. Apparently Afghanistan has yet to re-establish itself as a vacation destination for European tourists.

Battling Red Tape

Plan A was to travel from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Afghanistan with one of the first waves of Marines from one-eight -- but the battalion lost its first skirmish to red tape. Adjutant Lt. Hull, over at battalion HQ, waged a months-long campaign to clear me for travel on the chartered jets that the Marines use to reach Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. I traveled to Camp Lejeune repeatedly as identification cards and travel orders were being processed.

Ultimately, I don't fit into any of the Pentagon-approved categories for non-military passengers -- I'm not a contractor or a detainee -- and so I find myself standing by and watching as the first group of Marines push off from Camp Lejeune at 5 a.m. on one of the last days of August.

I drag my kit back to the civilian airport at Jacksonville, N.C. the next morning and head back home. I'm actually more than slightly relieved to have the departure postponed -- I need every second I can get to scramble this operation up to half-baked status. We're still a long way from cruising altitude.

Preparations

Over the next month, my place in New York takes on the appearance of a propeller-head survivalist compound. Piles of Kevlar flak jackets and bullet-proof ceramic rifle plates accumulate in the corners of my living room, with satellite phones, GPS navigators, and head mounted fiber-optic cameras spilling out across the floors. Stacks of portable hard drives are wedge between waterproof expedition packs, shockproof hard cases and Camo Bivy sacks.

Dubious looking men with shaved heads and laptops occupy all available couches, and a pervasive smell of spray paint and WD-40 fills the air, as gear gets modified, tricked out, and dialed down. Conversation is limited to Skype conference calls between cities across the planet as blueprints are drawn out for everything from website architecture and digital data management to water purifiers and solar power generators. Airline weight allowances and national regulations pertaining to body armor become subjects of almost obsessive concern. AmEx calls me several times a week to inquire about the "unusual activity" on my credit cards.

Occasionally my 3-year-old daughter wanders into the living room, puts on a ballistic helmet, and turns on the CD system, thus injecting Shakira and mil-spec interpretive dance into the mix.

Exactly one month after the original deploy date, the first two-man crew heads out for Afghanistan. We barely make our flight, dragging more than our combined body weight in baggage with us.

But the project is finally wheels up and mobile -- and it now has a name and a website: Basetrack. (Here's a recent blog post about my flight to Dubai.)

Everything else is TBD, but ready or not, here we come.

More soon from the other side.

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