Archive for category Education

Colorado Geo Meetups, Groups, and Lists


Are you a Colorado geo-professional who would like to do some networking while learning more about all things spatial? I recently put together this list of resources for those residing in our state–along with a couple of more general twitter groups–and wanted to share it on the blog. Anything I left out? Please tweet me or write a comment.



Maptime Boulder. Evening gatherings to learn together, sometimes OSM focused. Beginners welcome.

GeoDev Meetup Group. Run by Esri. Typically in Fort Collins at the Rio.

NoCo GIS Users Group. Run by Brian Sullivan, presentations and networking. Loveland, Greeley, Fort Collins, the location rotates.

Geospatial Amateurs, Denver. Run by Peter Batty, Brian Timoney, and Nate Irwin. Local pub, evening gatherings, networking time plus a few presentations.

MaptimeMileHigh, This group is just getting started. Evening gatherings to learn together, sometimes OSM focused. Beginners welcome. @maptimemilehigh on twitter for updates.


General code groups/contests:

Women who Code Boulder/Denver.

Go Code Colorado


Lists, etc:

Rocky Rogues. They do “night out” events and also maintain an online job board.

GIS Colorado an active listserve and website.

GIS in the Rockies Conference


Twitter groups, non Colorado focused, you can follow along even if you’re not on twitter:

#geowebchat, 1:00 MT on 1st Tuesdays

#gistribe, 1:00 MT on Wednesdays




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Quick Inkscape Tutorial for ArcGIS Users

  • Download and install Inkscape
  • Export a map you made in ArcMap as an .svg
  • Open Inkscape
  • File > Import > yourmap.svg
  • Use shift + in Inkscape to zoom in
  • If you had more than one layer in your map, view the different layers using the Layer > layer dialog
  • Use Path > Trace bitmap with a layer selected if you want to smooth lines. For example, if I have some really detailed river lines that I want to smooth for a lower resolution map, I use the layer dialog to select the river lines (alternatively you can try selecting them via point, click but sometimes you end up selecting the wrong layer), then use Path > simplify
  • Experiment with the filters menu on the entire finished map to produce unusual visual effects.
Export world population from ArcGIS

Export world population from ArcGIS

Filters > Bubbles > Bubbly Bumps

Import to Inkscape and use Filters, Bubbles > Bubbly Bumps


Top Ten Cartography Books


Update 1/5/2016. This post was the most visited post of 2015 even though it was written in January of 2014! There have been quite a few great new books published since this post was originally written. You may want to check out The Art of Illustrated Maps, Designing Better Maps 2nd Edition (watch the blog for a review of this book–my copy is supposed to arrive in the mail today), Great Maps (Dk Smithsonian), and please keep an eye out for my new book (co-authored with Anita Graser) QGIS Map Design.


I’m in the process of curating my links page. I’m deleting a lot of items that are old or that I just don’t feel are worth your time anymore. I’m also adding in new links and books that have come out since the last update. It’s a long process because it’s a long list. However, I thought I’d pause and do a simpler, more visual link page right here on the blog with a few books that I have and love. These are books that I feel are absolutely worth while to add to your collection.

To be sure, I’ve got a heck of a lot of other books…you can see a portion of them in this map stack I took a while back:




These are Amazon affiliate links, which just means that I get a small bit of pocket change every time someone clicks on a link and buys something, which helps my latte habit, which helps me write more blog entries. See, it all comes full circle. I’m excluding my own books from this group, because you can find those links in the sidebar for this site. They are by far the best books of the bunch, naturally. Also excluded are books that may be excellent but that I don’t actually have. I like to stick with recommending what I’ve actually used.
# 10 The Map Book, Peter Barber, 2005

The Map Book is heavy, weighing in at 4.9 pounds, and large. And beautiful. Each double-page spread has a map on the right side and an explanation of that map on the left side. The top of each explanation page has a single sentence summarizing the map’s importance before going on with a more in-depth description. For example, page 170 says at the top, “A map of the Empire of Germany, sponsored by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, from the first truly English world atlas, reveals a microscopic secret.” The maps are arranged in chronological order, with the year written in prominent numerals for easy reference. This is a coffee table book that won’t make it to your coffee table because it will be on your desk, next to your computer, where you can reference it at will.
#9 Maps, Lena Corwin, 2010





Corwin’s book isn’t available on Amazon (click the image to go to her direct purchase page) but it is definitely worth getting. The book is a treat, from the cover and page material, to the pop art graphical maps that all have the same look and feel yet manage to capture the essence of each included city. I actually took an exacto knife to my copy and mounted some of the maps onto handmade paper to make a very unique poster. How Martha Stewart. The best thing about these maps? They make cartography look easy.
#8 The Modern Japanese Garden, Michiko Rico Nose, 2002

The reason for including this relatively obscure book that seemingly has nothing to do with cartography is to challenge you. Find a design subject that you like to read about and explore it to glean unique ideas for your own maps. It’s not that you need to buy this particular book, just something in a design genre that inspires you. Japanese gardens, for example, are extremely instructive in the principles of asymmetry, focal points, subdued color, pattern, and repetitive composition. This particular book is rich in photographs illustrating these principles and has a place in my at-hand reference library.
#7 Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization, Slocum et al, 2009

I used to not recommend this book because a) the paper it’s printed on smells bad and b) it’s written in text-book speak, which I loathe. However, I’ve come around and find that it’s okay to recommend it, especially if you let it sit outside to air out the first week you get it. It’s definitely a comprehensive book. Get it for the chapter on projections, alone, if you want to delve into the math a bit. The multivariate mapping chapter is also excellent, with lots of examples to get you through. While one must wince a bit at the fact that there are “color plates” (who calls them that anymore?!) at the back, which the publishers did to save on printing costs, we can try to get past that and appreciate it for what it is: one of the most comprehensive cartography manuals out there.
# 6 Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte, 1990

A classic book that can’t not be mentioned.* It’s not a cartography book, per se, but it features a lot of maps (pages 36, 40-41, 74-76, 80, 83, 91, 93-95, just to name a few). I think the reason that this book resonates with people, and all of Tufte’s books really, is that it kicks you in the pants. When you read it, you feel as though you want to–you need to–incorporate his principles in order to not let the guy down. It’s not simply a “here’s what works” type of book. It is a compendium of Tufte’s own analytic explorations of everything from the vast variation in copies of a cave drawing to dance annotations that Tufte says “bring about and enable the joy growing from the comprehension of complexity, from finding pattern and form amidst commotion.” It’s a book to both gaze at and study.
#5 Creativity Today, Byttebier et al, 2009

Creativity Today is absolutely chock-full of inspiration. It details the creative inspiration process, talks about why people are afraid of new ideas, shows you how to talk during design charettes (e.g., “can you explain it to me?”) to get the most out of them, and throws in some brain teasers along the way. I honestly have no idea why this book hasn’t done well in the marketplace. It hasn’t gotten much attention though I’ve found it to be useful enough that bits of it have made it into my talks and blog posts since I first bought it in 2009. I’ve used its ideas to help a client come up with alternate URLs for their company, and I’ve used its doodling ideas to jump start my brain prior to creative map exercises.
#4 1000 Fonts, Martin et al 2009

What can I say? The book has a thousand fonts! If that’s not enough to excite you, I don’t know what to do. :) The fonts are split into serif, sans serif, display, script, and monospaced categories. Each has a little blurb about it, a letter chart, and a Latin dummy text paragraph for each of the main styles and weights. A small, fat, reference book that will help you appreciate the sheer variety of typefaces out there that can make your next map a knock-out.
#3 Thinking With Type, Ellen Lupton, 2010

What 1000 Fonts doesn’t give you is what Thinking With Type does give you: a comprehensive font use guide. I’ve read through this book from cover to cover at least twice and re-read parts dozens of times. The cover is curled up from so much use that I now always put it face-down, so the curling doesn’t bug as much. It explains all the essentials about typefaces: from terminology (what’s a serif and what’s a sans serif?), to a discussion about The Well Designed Comma, to spacing and meaning. Richly illustrated and lovingly crafted. An inspiration in both form and function, just as our maps ought to be!
#2 Strange Maps

Strange Maps is entertaining. Page 106 bears the title, “The Aroostook War (Bloodless if You Don’t Count the Pig).” You may not find specific inspiration for your maps in this book but you will broaden your image of what maps can be used for–The Land of Oz anyone? I’ve always found the Strange Maps blog strangely compelling and have never had a problem being similarly compelled to pick up this book during times of ebbing enthusiasm as an effective pick-me-up.
#1 How To Lie With Maps, Mark Monmonier, 1996

How To Lie With Maps has been a staple on cartographer’s bookshelves for years and years, and regularly hits #1 on the Amazon Cartography bestseller list. It’s a slim volume that entertains and educates at the same time. Monmonier discusses how cartographers can mess up census statistical mapping, how they can use colors to both attract and detract, how maps are used for political propaganda, and other topical gems. Besides, anyone who can come off well using the Midwestern word “tickled” that my grandmother used to use (e.g., “…residents of both places are tickled to see their towns mentioned.” page 65) is a hit with me.


*You know it’s good when it brings out the double-negative in me.

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On brevity, Comics, and Learning Anew

Cicero said, “brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”* A recent client project led to the perfect chance to put this idea in action. We’ve put together an entirely new concept that is difficult to explain to people in a few sentences or less. But place the concept in cartoon form, and the main idea becomes much more clear.

Now, I’m no cartoonist, but it seemed like a comic was in order for the script that my client set out. Originally he had wanted it just to be in text. But what’s the fun in that? People need visuals. That’s what we cartographers are here for. And if that cartographic role takes us into comics once in a while, then all the better!

Thankfully, a bit of knowledge in a graphics program is all you need to do something like this. I did it the same way any newbie would approach a map design project: look for an inspiration piece, then find the tutorials to make it happen. My inspiration was xkcd. Some experimentation led me to use the calligraphy tool and a few tutorials on comic bubble making (which I later discarded for the simpler looking xkcd style) and a glance at how others were doing their stick figure line art got me to this point.

It’s an extremely simple cartoon on the face of it. But as a person who’d never created one before, I even had to look up such seemingly mundane things as how other cartoonists draw the frames and how they deal with characters who aren’t really there. Professionals, I’m sure, think of these things as second-nature. We cartographers, too, have to remember that what comes second-nature to us after all these hard years of trial-and-error, research, and practice have gotten us to a great place.

I once had a professor who suffered a stroke. His class was almost 100% memorization of material–large woody plants and their scientific names, to be precise. It wasn’t until he himself had to relearn all the names after the stroke that he realize how hard it was to memorize everything from scratch. At that point he was slightly (only slightly, unfortunately) easier on his students.

The cartoons I made:


One thing I love: clients who have work that’s never boring.

*For a most amusing pronunciation of “Cicero” click here. I clicked on that link when the room was quiet and my sound was turned up. The subtle haughtiness was hilarious. Maybe you had to be there. Also, if you haven’t before, pick up a free e-copy of Cicero’s Treatises on Friendship and Old Age and read a bit of it each day. Redeeming.

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A VerySpatial Podcast Interview

Note: From time to time old posts are resurfaced on the blog. This one, from July 2012, references my interview with Jesse Rouse of the VerySpatial Podcast crew, covering the content of and inspiration behind my book: Cartographer’s Toolkit. You should also check out Frank’s Esri User Conference Plenary live blog, I’ve got it in the cue to read on the treadmill tonight.


My recent interview with Jesse Rouse on the VerySpatial Podcast, starting at about minute 8:

Alternatively, click over to VerySpatial to hear it.


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Giveaway! New Book: Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook

I can hear everyone’s sighs of relief: more programming help has arrived for newbie programmers in the geo professions! The new book is titled Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook, by Eric Pimpler, published in February 2013. I’m thrilled to announce that we get to giveaway three free e-copies of the book to the first three commenters on this post!

The 304 page book teaches you how to create geoprocessing scripts with ArcPy, automate map production and printing, create map books, develop custom geoprocessing tools that can be shared with others, customize the ArcGIS desktop interface with Python add-ons, and more. It’s even been reviewed by our well-known colleagues Alissa Bickar, Ann Stark, and Tripp Corbin.

According to the promo material, the book has:

Over 75 recipes to help you automate geoprocessing tasks, create solutions, and solve problems for ArcGIS with Python.

  • Learn how to create geoprocessing scripts with ArcPy
  • Customize and modify ArcGIS with Python
  • Create time-saving tools and scripts for ArcGIS

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the need for more programming skills in the geo professions*, and this book might just be your ticket to gaining some of that much-needed knowledge. I like that it starts out with a very gentle introduction to Python for ArcGIS for those who’ve never done any programming before. In fact, the whole book is excellent for the beginner audience. Thankfully, the book is also well-edited, which is something I can’t say for some other recent programming books. It’s not that I’m against a few typos here and there, it’s when a book has typos in every paragraph that readability plummets. We don’t have that problem here.

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d like to win one of the free e-books. But if you don’t win, just buy it. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to begin your Python training at only $22.94 for the e-book and $44.99 for the print package (includes print book, e-book, and PacktLib access).

*Programming Proficiency Required
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