Archive for January, 2013

Local Geographic Specialists Needed

We need five people, from five U.S. locales, to spend about an hour each on a region delineation project. If you have an hour to spare and have lived in one of these places for at least 5 years recently, please let me know. You won’t have to do any GIS unless you want to. Your task will be to check the existing regions and re-draw if needed, using your expertise of the place. We aren’t as much interested in physical geographic knowledge as we are with knowledge of how and where people travel, commute, and where their sense of community lies. Anyone with at least 5 years of living in such a place should have this knowledge.


  • Texas/Oklahoma
  • Missouri/Arkansas/Iowa
  • Alabama/Mississippi/Georgia
  • Virginia/West Virginia/Maryland
  • Michigan/Wisconsin/Illinois

This should be an easy task. We will pay $50 per helper. Email me to inquire: gretchen …at…petersongis …dot…com


Scientific Maps Don’t Have To Be Ugly

This blog often highlights exceptional webmap and print map efforts that are artistic in style and general in subject matter. However inspirational these types of maps might be, the fact remains that most GIS experts are creating maps of a scientific nature meant for a limited audience of technical people who are already familiar with the sometimes esoteric subject matter.

In these types of mapping situations the temptation is to slap the map together and call it a day without regard to placement of map features, scale bars, and the like and certainly without regard to balance. For example, it is tempting to not care about whether the scale bars on the four maps are aligned. Perhaps just scatter them wherever and not bother to change their backgrounds to transparent when overlaying them on dark-colored aerial photos.*

While this may be a permissible amount of laziness when it comes to creating products for your workgroup, the minute these go out into the world they no longer convey the sense of credibility that you’re after. It still astonishes me how many small organizations will include maps like these in slideshows that eventually make their way onto the web. What “worked”** 10 years ago no longer passes muster today.

So let’s take a look at a good example of a scientific map that is well constructed:

From a paper on the Late Cenozoic Uplift of the Amanos Mountains

This map overcomes its black and white constraints with admiral design skill. The patterning is in light gray and the labels and bounding line are in black, forming a foreground/background contrast that is pleasing to the eye. The completely white linear feature in the center provides a natural separation and visual rest area. The architect’s box—map information collected at the bottom of the page—is not cluttered with extra bounding boxes and contains well aligned elements separated by white space. This is a lot of information to get onto one map but this example shows that it is possible.

*Yes, I’m referring to a map I saw this morning but I won’t name names.

**And really, let’s not kid ourselves, these maps never “worked” they just were more common 10 years ago, so you could get away with it more.

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Map Maker’s Wisdom

It’s time for map makers to map wiser.

Let’s take this series of maps, aka small multiples, published in the New York Times Travel section this past Sunday as an example of a wise map graphic:

Maps like these start with a vision. That vision springs from the cartographer’s ability to empathize with the reader’s needs first and foremost. Don’t minimize risk by going with the old-standby single map with everything crammed together. Don’t try for maximum whiz bang by producing a widget-laden interactive map with non-relevant functionality. Think about the user, the reader, before choosing a format and act accordingly.

The vision that starts the map design process is informed by a thorough understanding of the discipline of cartography. For example, without a doubt the map makers knew about the small multiples technique* and many others before embarking on this particular map production. They have those types of map products, those “patterns”, in their toolkits, ready for action.

You need the vision and you need the tools. After that it is just a matter of having the smarts to put them together and, often, the boldness to present your potentially novel solution to the boss or the client. If you wax poetic on the ways in which your product meets the exact needs of the map reader, the map will be an easier sell than you think.

See Tufte’s book Envisioning Information.


Friday Resources

  • You can download SF 1 Census data, with all the states compiled into a single geodatabase, from a relatively new “blog + extras” site called They get bonus points for the GIS quips in the upper-right corner of the homepage: 

  • If anyone needs a continental U.S. polygon representing the landward borders and a 5 nautical mile buffer extending seaward from the coastlines, let me know. Created today out of several datasets.

  • If you’ve never used the ArcGIS extension ET GeoWizards, be sure to check it out. I find the polygon tools like advanced merge (where you can intersect datasets in several useful ways) and fill holes very instrumental in getting data creation tasks completed. You can do everything with the free version as long as the input datasets have less than 100 features.

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New Temperatures New Colors

The temperatures are so high in parts of Australia that the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology’s weather forcasting chart  is now sporting new colors to identify them. The newly extended temperature range is now topped off with blue and pink/purple. The original color gradient ended in black, so these two new colors are incongrous and suprising, which seems fitting given the anomolous temperature situation. HT @mrgeog



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Critique: Some Maps Behaving Badly

As referenced in the previous post, from time to time I give workshops and webinars. During them, I like to point out how many bad maps there are out there. Interested in seeing a few? I thought so. It makes us all feel better about our own–let’s face it–blunders that we make occasionally.


You are here and here and here…
Hat tip: Bjorn Sandvik and Hugo Ahlenius


Contain yourself. There aren’t enough boxes around things in this world.


Spell check people.

The Pacific Islands. Or not.
Hat tip: Andy Woodruff and Hugo Ahlenius


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