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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Questions about the readings

Dorling/Fairbairn Chapter
I was surprised by this information: "In most countries outside the USA the basic topographical and census data are copyright protected; the copyright is owned by the data collector (usually the state) and has to be purchased." (p. 126) I don't quite understand how topography can be copyrighted- if one can SEE a hill or a stream by walking past it, what is there to copyright? I could understand if satellite images were copyrighted, since somebody must own the equipment to create such an image. I guess it must be the data about the topography, rather than the topography itself, that has a copyright. This also leads me to wonder if, in the USA, GPS information is owned by anyone? I know that one has to pay a fee to receive a service such as OnStar, but where does OnStar get their information? Is there a monopoly of sorts on geographic data? Or are there many different companies/gvt agencies/universities/etc who all gather the same information to be used in different contexts?

I am also a little confused about the difference between GIS and GPS, particularly regarding commercial applications of geographic information. The last section of the chapter- "A critique of the GIS view of the world"- mixed me up. Do these two types of systems use the same data sets? Or does GPS feed into GIS? For example, when I hit the OnStar button in my car (which I have never actually done) is the person who answers my call looking only at my location, or does my location feed into a larger pre-existing picture that was created with a GIS?

Adkins/Sturges Article
This study reminded me of a website I used in a selection assignment for Collection Management last semester:

Wisconsin Public Library Statistics

The very last sentence of the article says, "Although GIS systems require an investment of time and money, the information they generate help create a more responsive public library." (p. 170) I admit that I am very new to the wonderful world of GIS technology, but I am a little skeptical about the wild differences and improvements in information consumption that the authors of this article claim. The website I linked to above is filled with statistical data, which could theoretically make huge differences in the operation of a library or library system if informed humans had the time to wade through it all. The Dorling/Fairbairn chapter pointed out that "systems are not cheap to operate, and this is before the costs of training and staffing are considered." (p. 128) So which is it? I am being overly skeptical for the sake of argument here, but is GIS analysis really that much more efficient/thorough/informative than an attentive human with a big ol' spreadsheet? Perhaps a little John Henry style challenge is in order...

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