Monday, February 18, 2008

The Big Why About The Big Here

Its early evening. The Toddler is in bed. Right now is a short period of personal time before the promise of sleep will lure me to bed before the rest of the world settles in to watch primetime television. For some days now, this is the time where I begin researching answers to such questions as

Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move?

I've been meaning to complete The Big Here Quiz ever since I first stumbled upon it in an issue of Whole Earth Review years ago and I've finally hit its half-way point. Its 30 questions are meant to inspire watershed awareness but in doing the quiz I've found that it has generated more than just a stronger curiosity and connection to where I live. It is making me a better librarian.

Finding who can delivery pizza to your house is not hard. Finding out whether "the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt?" is surprisingly hard. Determining out how water gets into your tap and tracing where it goes after its sent down the drain is largely dependent on how much information your local utilities care to share with you. The information you need to finish this quiz can largely be found online, but in forms that have been fragmented and rebound depending on government level, jurisdictions, and departmental politics. (Watersheds transcend such boundaries).

By doing this quiz, I have been reintroduced to many government document websites that I have not visited in a long, long time. Many of these sites now feature GIS driven datasets which with a bit of trial and error, can usually be cajoled to produce information but the results are usually disappointingly thin. I'm waiting for the next generation of localized collections of data visualizations but I think it will be a long, long time before EveryBlock comes to Windsor, Ontario.

Like a good homework assignment, it is the curiosity that stretches while pursuing the question which is more important than the "answer". Now I'm wondering about the worms in my backyard, whether I really understand the concept of azimuth, and where is that closest fault line...

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