From Kentucky.com: Uncommonwealth: UK geography blog sees the world from a unique perspective
University of Kentucky geography professor Matt Zook spends a
lot of time thinking about maps, but probably not the kind you remember
with tundra, peninsulas and mountain ranges.
Zook and his
colleagues are thinking about ways to experience the world in which we
live that are far more lively: by breaking down data on subjects such as
the seven deadly sins, beer, guns and zombies.
Their work posits a
way of putting a new edge on geographic analysis the way that
Freakanomics books and Web site revolutionized the way that people
looked at the "dismal science" of economics.
At the Web site
Floatingsheep.org you'll find sophisticated and often witty insights
that link geographic social media and official data that enables people
to analyze their communities.
Take the entry called "The Beer Belly of America," for example. It's one of Floatingsheep's top 10 maps.
were quite surprised ... when we did a simple comparison between
grocery stores and bars to discover a remarkable geographically
phenomenon. We had expected that grocery stores would outnumber bars and
for most parts of North America that is the case. But we could also
clearly see the "beer belly of America" peeking out through the 'T-shirt
"Starting in Illinois, the beer belly expands up into
Wisconsin and first spreads westward through Iowa/Minnesota and then
engulfs Nebraska, and the Dakotas before petering out (like a pair of
love handles) in Wyoming and Montana."
Is this geography you can
use? Perhaps. It's also geography that introduces you to some of the
more sophisticated concepts that Zook explores, such as how smart phones
give people individualized experiences of the same city, which was
recently mentioned in The Economist.
Zook's geography is about "the way in which the physical world is reflected or not reflected in the online world."
a digital outpost of fanciful mapmaking, Floatingsheep.org is an online
funhouse on such diverse topics as the distribution of zombies,
proliferation of escorts and the dichotomy between pizza and guns.
blog also takes note of how well new maps are being assembled online by
organizations such as Google and Apple along with crowdsourced efforts,
albeit with some very human errors: One placed a Bally's Casino in the
area of New Circle/Russell Cave Road around the north Lexington
Wal-Mart. (Just for the record, casino gambling is still taboo in
Kentucky.) Another map confused Transylvania University with the
University of Kentucky.
All of this is not the spellbinding
frivolity it may initially appear. Deciding which data signifies what is
critical, and for students of geography this can be a valuable learning
Even zombies can turn out to be quite the tool for teaching
geographical sorting. Zook looked for Internet references to the
instruments used for zombie destruction, among them AK-47s and found
that Zombie references tend to huddle amongst the United States and
Great Britain: Consider Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead and World War Z.
fun with Floatingsheep isn't all that Zook does — probably only about
five percent, he estimates. He also has research interests in areas
including aviation and geography, to wit the effects of airline flight
But the Floatingsheep blog is "our outlet for having
fun," Zook said, and makes the point that modern geography is not a grim
science, especially in the age of the Internet, and particularly with
the rich resource of being able to analyze a billion Tweets.