Archive for May, 2011

Typographic Cartography

I don’t know much about the field of typographic cartography but its products seem to be made by graphic designers or artists rather than cartographers, for one thing, and often center themselves in London, for another thing. Why London? I have no clue.

Here are some examples, clicking on the pictures sends you to the source:

And we absolutely can’t leave out the amazing work of Axis Maps, a small portion of their Washington DC map shown here:

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Three Historic Mapping Resources

Map of Afghanistan, 1878 (Only a portion of the map is shown.)

With the cartographer’s current obsession with de-inking, modernizing, and subduing cartography, it can be refreshing to re-familiarize ourselves with historical maps that were of a decidedly more-inked flavor. Here are some resources for refreshment along that vein:

  • A multitudinous collection of selected title headings from Sanborn fire insurance maps at BibliOdyssey provides inspiration for those needing to add historic touches to their map work. This collection is also interesting from the standpoint of just how many different ways you can create a flashy title header.
  • You can download a historical symbol set for ArcGIS here. I particularly like the north arrow options and the textured ocean background.
  • And of course do not forget to look at the David Rumsey collection of historical 18th and 19th maps. This is an amazingly rich source for research and inspiration.

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GIS Terms and Non-Users

At a conference for salmon scientists recently, I found a disconnect between those wanting to know more about GIS and those who wanted to teach about GIS. There was a lack of common vocabulary with which to describe the GIS procedures to the non-GIS professionals. GIS professionals cannot gain much traction with the non-initiated when we insist on using professional jargon with those who don’t have a clue what we are talking about.

For instance, there was need for explanation to point out that there is a difference between a GPS unit and the software that inputs data from a GPS unit (ArcPad, for example). Another phenomenon of note is a tendency to use the term Google Earth to mean aerial imagery as in, “Put the data on top of Google Earth.” This is a wide-spread colloquial usage that I’ve heard from many people.

On the subject of things that non-GIS people have trouble understanding, Twitter friend @tpstigers says, “Nobody ever understands projections, and I despair of working explanations.” For this particularly difficult concept I too flounder on a regular basis. The only time I feel I have truly successfully imparted the idea of projection to a non-GISer was the time when I sat with a scientist colleague in front of ArcGIS. With a map of the world on-screen I changed the projection on the fly several times. Seeing it change while I discussed the merits and drawbacks of various projections got the message across in a matter of several minutes.

Another Twitter friend, @ebwolf, states that “I always take a deep breath and seriously consider my audience before I say ‘large scale’ or ‘small scale’.” Considering I’ve had trouble with these terms even with other GISers I’d go a step further and advise to never use these terms if you can help it, at all. @geografa explains scale this way, “Large scale, large details. Small scale, small details.” @ebwolf chimes back in with reference to a Goodchild paper explaining that scale is a legacy concept anyway, so don’t use it. Personally, I prefer to use the simple (yet slightly dumber sounding) terms zoom in and zoom out as in, “Do you want that map to be zoomed in quite a bit or zoomed out?”

At the end of all this discussion @spara pitched in, “Now how to explain reference fraction in a meaningful way.” I don’t think I’m going to go there. If you have any grand ideas please let us know. :)


Mental and Physical Breaks

In the news lately we’ve been hearing about the importance of taking mental and physical breaks throughout the day. Recent inactivity studies show that sitting all day increases weight and increases potential for heart disease. One thing that has been shown to make a difference is making small movements throughout the day.

If these studies prompt you to begin taking frequent breaks from sitting down then you should definitely try to combine these breaks with creativity boosters. While you are engaging your muscles you can also be engaging the creative side of your brain. Your breaks can be anything from pacing the floor, which allows your mind to wander and sets the stage for creative inferences, to standing at the whiteboard doodling, to stretching*. All of these serve the dual purpose of making you healthier and more mentally present.

Injecting these kinds of breaks into the workday at perhaps a rate of one per hour (Tony Schwartz, productivity guru, recommends 90 minutes) thus serves the dual purpose of enabling more creative and effective solutions to emerge from the brain while also providing the body with more energy.

“Mindless” activities like playing catch with a coworker, shooting hoops, or catching a ball as it bounces off the wall are all good options for mental and physical combination breaks.** However, there’s no reason why the break has to take more than a minute or two if you can’t spare more time than that. Even shifting from foot to foot while staring at the wall is an option. Because GIS so often involves the use of the creative side of the brain it is absolutely worthwhile to try and combine both of these types of breaks together as it should increase your efficiency in your day to day work as well as up the chances that you will think of breakthrough strategic maneuvers for your business or business processes.

*Walking around and pestering coworkers doesn’t count. Putting on a wig and walking around waiting for someone to notice might.
**Shooting slingshot penguins at unsuspecting coworkers probably doesn’t count, but might be worth the effort as well.

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Mississippi Flood Map

The New York Times published a map of flooding along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers that is quite nice. Of note is the scale bar at the top which is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It is simply a thick black line with “50 miles” written right-justified underneath. There are no ending marks along the line. A very simple construct that works just fine. One small issue in the map is the leader lines, of which there are two, that point to items on the map that require further explanation. These leader lines are the same color and almost the same weight as the state lines and thus can be confused. This is a minor point as the rest of the features work well together. The colors are muted and logical and the extreme vertical nature of the map is not cumbersome as it could have been. Overall a very nice map graphic.

Flooding Along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

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Using LiDAR to Calculate Tree Height

Using data from the Puget Sound LiDAR Consortium, I did a very straightforward analysis to determine tree height. By subtracting the 6-foot resolution bare earth data from the 6-foot resolution top surface data you get the difference, which is of course the height of whatever is out there.

Now, what I really want is to determine the spatial pattern and extent of forested areas so there is one slight problem with the data: if I determine “forested” land to be anything over say, 30 feet high, then the places that have had recent forest harvest will not be delineated as “forested.” For some analyses this would be okay but we’d like to know total forest versus non forest where clear-cuts we still consider to be forested since they will be replanted (unless they are going to be converted).

The accuracy of the data, however, makes it so appealing to use that we’ll have to determine a way around this slight inadequacy. I’ll probably bring in a couple of other layers such as parcel landuse codes that denote forest land to add back in any areas that were not initially designated as forest but that are in a commercial forest parcel. This still doesn’t help capture any recent cutting done at a very small scale, however, such as when a 5 acre parcel owner cuts 5 of their 10 trees.

I’ve only run the analysis on one tile so far, while the entire study area is around 200 tiles. The one tile didn’t take very long to run in ArcGIS so hopefully all 200 will be relatively easy. I’m still in the very early stages of this analysis so who knows what snags will be encountered. In the screenshots below you’ll see the results and an image of the area to compare it with. The results show values as high as 300 feet. Those would be interesting to select out. Most of the bright-white areas, though, are only about 100 feet.

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