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Christine MacDonald

Journalist, author

New technology is changing how insurers investigate hail claims

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WFstoryimage800                            Above: hailstorm map from Weather Fusion

GIS mapping—the same technologies that have given us Google-style maps, the GPS in your car, and bike-sharing apps—is also transforming the way many industries get things done.

Read my story in the Dallas Morning News about how GIS maps are changing how insurance claims are paid.

Ice Chaser

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James Balog’s Dramatic Images Document Climate Change

National Geographic photographer James Balog says he was skeptical about climate change until he saw it happening firsthand. Watching once-towering glaciers falling into the sea inspired his most challenging assignment in a storied 30-year career—finding a way to photograph climate change.

In exploring Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey, a breathtaking photographic record of vanishing glaciers, and his award-winning documentary, Chasing Ice, Natural Awakenings asked about the challenges he faced to bring this dramatic evidence of climate change to a world audience.

READ my new article in Natural Awakenings Magazine

(Photo courtesy of James Balog)

Taking a century-old rowhouse “net zero”

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My latest green building story focuses on a DC rowhouse overhauled for energy efficiency. Then the developer slapped on almost as many solar panels as the roof would hold, turning this architectural relic into a cutting edge “extremely green” home. The new owner may be saying bye-bye to electric bills. Read the story in the Washington Post today!


The house scored “net zero” on its energy audit

Share Madness

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Can renting cars by the hour and crashing in strangers’ spare bedrooms really change the economy?



My latest cover story in the Washington City Paper allowed me to call on a couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer.” I also got to talk to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, as well as a bunch of pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.


Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.



Using geo-maps to improve medical care

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Photo courtesy of Asthmapolis

Photo courtesy of Asthmapolis

My new story on “geomedicine” examines an emerging field in which doctors and other caregivers use new mapping tools and “Big Data” to gain insights into their patients’ lives so they can offer better treatment and advice. The story features a new asthma inhaler that has a GIS sensor for mapping the patient’s every puff. The information is sent back to a server, where the doctor and patient — and in some cases eventually asthma researchers too — can login and see where and when the inhaler was used. The idea is that patients will better understand what triggers their symptoms while doctors will be able to “see” when a patient’s condition is deteriorating “in real time” and intervene quickly to turn things around.

The Asthmapolis inhaler is just one of many new high tech upgrades to healthcare. Others use social medial platforms to share information, not just about illnesses, but about environmental exposures, as well as mapping farmers’ markets, healthy eateries, parks and other recreational outlets. It’s proponents say the geo-mapping can help us understand the environmental factors driving an individual’s health problems and then map out ways to address them. The story ran this morning in the Washington Post. Read it here.


© 2009 Christine MacDonald. All Rights Reserved.

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