Lizard Point Quizzes

...discovering the world we live in

Drones of the deep

Jan 062016

Drones are much in the news these days as prices fall and make the technology more and more accessible.   Most of the interest is in the flying types of drones, but a recent GEOGRAPHICAL item discusses a different type of drone that has the potential to make new geographical knowledge available.    As part of a growing interest in underwater drones, a start-up company called Hydroswarm is developing a robot to map the seafloor in greater detail.


Bluefin-21, the underwater drone of US navy sent to locate the debris of missing Malaysian plane MH370,


The EVE robot is a pumpkin-shaped bot is made for searching the sea. Made up of one part steering mechanism and one part ultrasound sensor, the autonomous drone could be more useful than existing remotely-operated robots as ‘they are less complex, but smart in terms of sensing,’ according to Sampriti Bhattacharyya, mechanical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and EVE’s creator.

Still in its development stage, the drone can only dive 250 metres below the surface. However, Bhattacharyya has ambitions towards using this kind of technology to create a deeper ‘Google Maps’ of the sea. ‘The whole point of Hydroswarm is to provide a cheap and scalable method of mapping the ocean,’ she says. ‘EVE can be used as a single drone, or as a bunch of them working together to map large areas.’ Deployed en masse, the drones use algorithms to communicate with each other in a network. Plus, they don’t get lost. ‘They have a homing mechanism and are recovered at the end of their missions,’ she says.

Beyond Hydroswarm - hobbyists can examine other startups with their own versions of underwater drones.  Fathom and OpenROV both have interesting technologies and approaches.   

How big is Africa really?

Dec 292015

Another brilliant graphic that illustrates the true size of Africa (click on the map to see the full sized version).

This graphic very visually demonstrates that Africa alone is larger (in terms of area) than China, USA, India, Mexico, and much of Europe and South America.  The power of this graphic and the surprise that it creates for readers,  is based on the deep impressions made by the Mercator projection used in most maps that distorts the true size of many countries.  This projection, published in 1569, was immediately useful because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which is handy for marine navigation. The drawback is that it distorts the shapes and areas of large land masses, and the distortion gets progressively worse as you get closer to the poles.

large countries superimposed over map of Africa

How does a GPS work, anyway?

Dec 082015

We kind of get used to some pretty amazing technologies. For instance, GPS (or Global Positioning System) has only been available to consumers for a little over 10 years. Yet, most of us have already become pretty dependent on our GPS enabled devices. It is rare to drive in a car without a GPS device and almost every smartphone will be enabled. (And some of us use these devices to enjoy geocaching as we've talked about before). But how many people understand how they work? We're going to explain that to you... simply (because that's about our level of understanding).

Let's start with satellites. There are about thirty or so satellites continually circling the earth at about 30,000 kms (12,000 miles). These are solar-powered satellites each about the weight of a mid-sized car. These satellites are always sending encoded signals in every direction. The orbits of the satellites are designed so that at least 4 and usually more, are in line of sight to every point on earth at all times. It actually takes about 24 satellites to provide this coverage - but the extras are there in case replacements are needed. The signals can go through clouds and glass and gasses - but not through solids... so you will not be able go get a location fix when you're underground - or under a deep tree canopy in a forest.

Now back on earth, these satellite signals are received with your GPS device. Essentially, your device will decode the signal, figure out how long ago it was sent and from that information it can compute it's distance from the satellite. So, how does your distance from a faraway satellite help locate you? It happens though a process called 'trilateration'. Big word, but fairly simple idea. Imagine you were situated somewhere in the middle of the USA. And you had a big map in front of you. Imagine you were given 3 figures, each a distance from a fixed location. For example, New York - 713 miles; Denver - 913 miles; and Toronto - 437 miles. With this information you could use the map scale to draw three big circles from each of the fixed locations. And the three circles would intersect in only one place - Chicago.


So that's fine for fixed locations on earth - but satellites? It turns out to be only a little more complicated in that case. Because satellites are in space, when you have the distance, you have to think about the possible locations as being on the edge of a sphere instead of the circle we drew on the map. And your location would be the intersection of the spheres from each of the 4 satellites your device was using.

The rest of the story is simply software. Your GPS device will calculate the location as a pair of co-ordinates. One is latitude (your north/south position) and the other longtitude (your east/west position). For instance, Chicago is roughly 41° 46' 0" latitide and -87° 37' 20" longtitude. Then, your device will usually overlay this coordinate on a map that it has in its memory. All that to tell you how to find the way to Aunt Sally's new house!

Staying Alive - New stay signed in feature

Nov 252015


You didn't think it was a post on disco, did you?

Hate remembering passwords?  Or do you ever get frustrated after you've worked hard to score well on a quiz - only to find that you weren't signed in and your score wasn't recorded? This actually happens quite a bit. It could be that you took a break and got timed out (sessions time out after 90 minutes of inactivity), or it might simply be that you forgot to sign in at all. We've created a 'stay signed in' solution to this problem.

screen shot of sign in form with Keep me signed in option

All you need to do is check the box on the sign in page that says, 'Keep me signed in'. This will ensure you never have to sign in again from that device. It works by creating a small cookie in your browser that links your computer/laptop/tablet/phone with your account. After you sign-in with this selected, you will always be connected on that device. Anytime you visit Lizard Point, for up to a year later, you will be automatically connected to your account. However, there are a few important points to remember:

  • Don't use this on a shared device. Anyone else accessing that device can connect to Lizard Point - as you - and perhaps mess up your account. It's even possible for someone to copy your cookie and use it later on a different device to impersonate you.
  • You can't stay signed in to your account from two different devices. If you have selected 'keep me signed in' from one device, and then select it from a second device, your first device will no longer be able to automatically sign in. (But you can have one device automatically sign in and have another sign in the normal way).
  • If you ever want to disable the 'stay signed in' feature - just click Sign out. This will invalidate the cookie on your device.  You will have to sign in with your password to reset it if you wish.

screenshot of sign out link above the navigation bar

  • And, of course, if you clean out your cookies for whatever reason, or switch to a different browser - you will have to re-sign in and check the box again.

We're hoping this feature is useful for you, and encourages you to do even more quizzes.


Custom quizzes: option to colour normally or colour grey

Nov 232015

When we implemented custom quizzes a few months back, all custom quizzes had the same behavior: if a country, France for example, isn't included in the customized version of the Europe quiz, it is coloured differently (a very light white-grey) to make it plainly obvious that it is not in the quiz. And if you click on it, the response is "France is not included in this quiz. No points lost. Try again", and you still have the same number of tries left - that is, it does NOT count as a guess.

This set-up works out quite well when you're trying to learn a smaller chunk of what might otherwise be an overwhelming quiz: it lets you focus on just what you need to learn.

But when it comes to test time, your teacher probably isn't going to cross out the countries you don't need to know. So we're now offering a choice of 2 options when you set up your custom quizzes:

  • colour the excluded areas normally (and scoring penalty for any wrong answer)
  • colour the excluded areas grey (and guesses to excluded areas do not count as a guess)

screenshot of the selection of the two map colouring options

I've set up 2 sample quizzes so you can see the difference. Each quiz has the exact same set of 5 questions: United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. One quiz has the all the excluded areas coloured normally, and the other quiz has excluded areas coloured grey. Go ahead and try them out and see the difference... click on France to see the difference. (If you're not sure where France is, use the labels on button and look for France). 

When you create a custom quiz, the way you select which option you want is just above the list of places you can choose, as shown in this screenshot:

screenshot showing the options just above the list of places


When you are selecting your countries to include in your custom quiz, you will not see the difference on the map - you won't see the effect of it until you save the quiz.

If you don't like the option you chose, you can always, at any time, edit your quiz and switch options.

Need a reminder of what the options mean? Hold your mouse over the question mark icons (or tap on your touch screen) to see the explanation: 

screenshot showing the explanations of the options using the help icons



Learn about geography and geology in a Minecraft world

Nov 232015

Anytime there's a new 'thing' combining geography and geeky - you know someone at Lizard Point is going to be on it. UK's Geographical site just published a piece describing how the British Geological Service (BGS) has recently completed a rendering of Great Britain done entirely in MicroSoft's wildly popular Minecraft world.


Minecraft is one of the most popular videogames in the world, especially among children. It's in a class of games called massively multiplayer online games (MMO). These games place the player in immersive environments where they can interact with other players and explore their environment. Minecraft is particularly interesting as it gives the players the ability to actually create and shape the worlds that they are exploring.

It would be incredibly interesting to simply explore existing surface geography in the Minecraft world, but the BGS has taken it another step further, or deeper. Steven Richardson, the geospatial applications developer at the BGS, says ‘we added the geological data too so that when players are looking at this map, they’re not just seeing where the M1 goes upcountry, they can dig down into the blocks and see what the geology is. It adds a third dimension to this data’.

It isn't hard to imagine the educational possibilities that this presents geographers. Instead of lecturing alone, or poring over maps - Minecraft would actually provide students a way to immersively experience the world and (in this case) see the geological layers under their feet.

Read more about the initiative at the Geographical site - including a link to download the maps for free (although it does require a licenced copy of Minecraft).

Update.  We just found a very informative 15 part guide to using Minecraft for kids.