Archive for October, 2013

Party Time

The manuscript for the 2nd edition is done. Two brand new chapters, 19 new illustrations, 1 new table, 24 revised illustrations, and revisions of all the other chapters. This is a major update to GIS Cartography: A Guide To Effective Map Design. When I know more about its publication date I’ll be sure to post. As of now, I believe we’re looking at sometime in 2014.

Cheers and Happy Halloween! I know I’ll be I’m celebrating.




Over on twitter we’ve been compiling a list of isoline types. I started with this list:

  • Isopleth/contour: Elevation
  • Isogon: Wind direction
  • Isotach: Wind velocity
  • Isotherm: Heat, temperature
  • Isograd: Geology

Others chimed in with the following:

  • Isobar: Pressure
  • Isoshear: Wind shear (and a whole lot more weather-related ones here)
  • Isochrone: Travel time
  • Isodistance: Travel distance
  • Isopor: Change in magnetic declination

After all that fine collaborative work I found that Matt has provided us with a nice complete list already. But hey, reinventing the wheel is a great way to learn what wheels are all about. I think.

Anyway, reminding map makers about this type of data construction is a good thing. We aren’t seeing any isolines on interactive, digital maps these days. I only ever see them on static maps. (Prove me wrong.)

The mechanism for including them would be the same as any other dataset: create the data (use your GIS), then create a multi-level schema whereby more isolines are shown the more you zoom in. You can populate the map with more isolines with each subsequent zoom level by creating a scalerank or minscale field and populating that however you want and calling it in the code. You’d also need to label them with fairly wide halos–hoping that your background color is mostly uniform and using that background color for the halo color–to create a break in the line where the label is. Unless your software of choice has a built-in way of dealing with that.

Thanks @rsimmon, @vruba, @oeon, and @ungarjo for your input. And yeah, thanks @williamscraigm…isochalaz?!

I figured I’d try my own too…

Proven wrong! @smathermather has shown us this fine example of a multi-scale, digital map with contour lines, on the Cleveland Metroparks map. They’re visible once you zoom in to a high zoom level.



Criticism, Deep Thoughts

Today’s cartography book writing faux pas:

I was supposed to type, “You know that map you just made? It needs some help. Be prepared to hear this and be prepared not to take it personally.”

But my mind wandered and I wound up typing, “You know that map you just made? It needs some help. Be prepared to hear this and be prepared not to take it seriously.”

Now there’s a freeing thought!

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Elitism in Cartography

The elite feel there is only one way to do something: their way. It’s true that there are better ways and worse ways but no one way to make a map.

At the workshop I taught at CSU last year we put out about 5 different map designs, all showing the same data but in different ways, and asked the students to stand by the one they liked the best. There were definitely some maps in the group that didn’t measure up. Everyone agreed on that because nobody stood by them. However, there were two maps that were of the same caliber design-wise and the students split themselves more or less evenly between those two. With the two maps it all came down to color scheme. Some liked the bold, more “youthful” color scheme while others liked the more traditional, subtle palette.

Both maps were equally effective in communicating the information. A critic’s job (often self-appointed) is to nit-pick, to deem something worthy or unworthy of your time. They don’t make maps. You do.

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The Importance Of Drop Shadows

*****Note: From time to time old posts are resurfaced on the blog. This one is from October 30, 2012******

Drop shadows are an easily overlooked design technique that can enhance the map by separating certain features such as legends and focal polygons visually from the rest of the map layout.

Map readers may not be immediately cognizant of the drop shadow but it helps their understanding and appreciation for the map just the same. As map makers, we need to be aware of this subtle yet powerful graphic element. We’ll start with some examples of drop shadows on existing maps and map layouts and then proceed to a few notes on how to apply a drop shadow in ArcMap and Illustrator.

From “New Plants on the Way?”, a map accompanying a 2006 article in the New York Times, Slow Start for Nuclear Reactors.
This is a classic drop shadow applied to the United States to separate it from the rest of the infographic.

From “Getting to the Tidal Basin Blossoms”, a map accompanying a 2005 article in the Washington Post, Cherry Blossom Guide.
This drop shadow provides a clear 3D height difference between the land and water.

A portion of the Marymoor Park map by Matt Stevenson, CORE GIS LLC.
Notice the drop shadows underneath the leader lines. They provide an important figure-ground differentiation.

A portion of the Seafloor Map of Hawaii map by Tom Patterson, who maintains
The extremely subtle drop shadow to the bottom and right of the legend adds to the finished look of this exquisite map.


ARCGIS To create drop shadows in ArcMap, you must have ArcEditor or ArcInfo, and your data needs to be converted to a geodatabase. Use the representation > symbology tab. A tutorial on creating drop shadows this way is available on the ArcGIS resources site. If you only have the ArcView version of ArcMap, you can create a simple rectangular drop shadow for a simple rectangular legend by creating a rectangle graphic and offsetting it from the legend graphic. You can also create a rudimentary drop shadow by converting an irregular polygon feature to a graphic and then symbolizing that graphic via a gradient. Warning: at least in prior versions of Arc (I haven’t tried this in 10), gradient symbology was resource intensive and took a long time to render. Additionally, you can play with concentric buffers whereby each one is slightly lighter in color and more transparent than the last.

ILLUSTRATOR Select an object or an entire layer, then go to effect>stylize>drop shadow and click ok.

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Ten Almost-Famous Map Quotes

Here’s some famous “quotes” “about maps.”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the boss’s map ideas, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Map Twain

“I have not failed. I’ve just made 10,000 non-normalized choropleths.”
Thomas A. Mapitson

“Great minds discuss cartography; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Eleanor Compass Rose

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried building a tileset for zooms one through eighteen for the world in 12 languages with three separate worldviews of administrative boundaries.”
Albert Conformal Einstein

“If you can’t include a hundred layers, then include just one.”
Mapper Teresa

“Ask not what OpenStreetMap can do for you. Ask what you can do for OpenStreetMap.”
John F. OpenSource

“Aesthetic is worthwhile in itself.”
Amelia Map<3

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a cartographer.”
John Query Adams

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and worrying about the pronunciation of choropleth.”

“When one door of mappiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
Mapen Keller