Course Intruders

As indicated on the course syllabus, our last project must be defined in class as we work through the readings. In the meantime, I have had a couple of queries from researchers about the course, and they are looking for collaborators on their own projects. The first “intruder” is Dr. Sean Doherty from the Dept. of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier. Dr. Doherty and I are working on a handheld game for kids at a local grade school that will allow us to study their daily activity patterns and media usage habits. The game will be designed to disrupt their sedentary media habits and encourage them to explore the built environment. Sean will be visiting us in class on Feb. 4 to talk about his research in health-related geotracking.

The second interloper is Colin Ellard, a Psych professor here at UW. This April he has a popular press book coming out about the topic of space. Dr. Ellard and his publisher are interested in developing a geocaching game to market the book. I have included a message from him below.

This post is designed to get you all thinking about the final project. Of course, we still have some thinking to do about the first.


Summary of Ellard book promotion project.

The book

Here’s the publisher’s copy describing the book:

In this rousing and endlessly fascinating book, Colin Ellard does for physical space what Nassim Taleb did for randomness and Tom Vanderbilt did for traffic: illuminates the science behind why humans get lost more readily than other animals and how we’ve adapted our environment to overcome our spatial failings. From entertaining anecdotes to eye-opening facts to advice on how we can become environmentally responsible citizens, YOU ARE HERE provides a valuable perspective on the world and our place in it.

You can find a little more information about it at my website ( and the blog linked to that site has frequent updates as well.  The main premise is that, compared to other animals I’ve studied, which seem to have a phenomenally firm grasp on their location and surroundings, we human beings (esp. the modern urban kind) spend most of our time with a much fuzzier grasp on our place.  In the first half of the book, I try to make that case by describing and comparing animal and human navigation.  On the human side, I spend a fair bit of time describing wayfinding in cultures with ancient roots and connections to place – Inuit, Pacific Islanders, Australian Aborigines.  In the second half of the book, I explore the implications of the way humans “do” space for architecture and planning, looking at the home, the workplace, and the city.  There are also chapters on cyberspace (where I explore both the ways in which technology has further fragmented our understanding of space but also how we can use techno-tools creatively to put us into closer touch with physical location and place) and on our connection with the natural world and how that is affected by our understanding of space.

The marketing plan

We’ve been trying to work out a contest that we can use both to promote the book and also perhaps to raise awareness of the issues that I describe in the book.  So far, we have a loosely connected series of ideas relating to a kind of scavenger hunt which would have both geo and cyber elements to it.  We like the idea of incorporating QR codes and are close to having approval to include one in the book itself (perhaps in the jacket) but haven’t decided what it should point to.  My idea is that we could hide clues in both real locations and in the Internet.  The clues would serve the dual purpose of moving people along in the hunt but also making them reflect on what they’re doing, how the geo and cyber realms are connected for example.  This could be done using combinations of posted text, images, video and I’m sure in other ways as well.  We’re planning to do a series of short videos to contribute to the publisher’s existing “On the Fly” program and we might want to incorporate these into the contest.  We’d like to find a way to make the contest available to a national audience, but it’s likely impractical to have physical clues hidden across the country (unless we can somehow include a collaborative element in this in which participants hide their own clues, which would be cool), so there would need to be routes to a solution (or one of the solutions at least) available to people who couldn’t travel anywhere but had Internet access.  I think we have a corporate partner – the company that makes the SPOT gps system – and the prize would be at least one GPS system and a 1 year contract (it’s a kind of SOS service) and at least one signed copy of the book (I hope we can have several).  Entry would presumably consist of sending in an email with an answer to a final question available only to those who complete some form of the quest.


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