Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Last of 2012

December 31st, 2012


For the last post here of 2012 I’m going to give a shout-out to a tool that I use from time to time: Identifont.

What’s up for PetersonGIS in 2013?

  • I plan to use a coworking space beginning in January. I’ve already met someone there who does climate change research. Since I did some analysis and modeling for CSU’s climate change model a few years ago, this is obviously an interesting topic for me. I hope to meet a lot of other great people there and increase my creative output with the change of scenery.
  • My editor wants me to start writing and designing a new edition of GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design because the book is doing well and is widely used in cartography courses and GIS departments across the country. The “design” part of it comes in developing interactive content for a digital version. While I think it is a great idea, I’m not sure I’ll do it. Writing a book is extremely time-intensive and the rewards aren’t always commensurate with that. Jury still out.
  • One client is back up and running toward a goal that was paused a year ago. I’ll be helping him with some intense data research and data overlay techniques to combine certain datasets into a workable solution for his product. That’s about all I can say about it but it will be fun and interesting.
  • Another client has come back for some design work that I’m excited about. It’s a small project but it involves picking colors and fonts, so it is just the kind of cartography I like.
  • I’ll be continuing to try and help the salmon situation out in the Northwest with the creation of a new dataset of onsite septics and an analysis thereof.
  • Other projects as they come in

Here’s to hoping everyone’s New Year is full and productive. Let us know what you will be up to!

Tobler’s Law: Critical Questions to Ask

December 29th, 2012

Tobler’s first law of geography (TFL), that near things are more related to each other than distant things*, is employed in spatial models used to demonstrate, explain, and predict phenomena. The law is employed when designing migration and trip models, population center growth patterns, meme spread, and causes of disease, to name a few.

In its essence, TFL is the basis of most spatial analytical procedures. TFL, while not claimed to be immutable fact, is often considered to be close to it. Indeed, TFL is, in general, a concept that has wide applicability and usefulness.

However, not much has been said with regard to disputing what seems to be a unanimously agreed-upon viewpoint, and perhaps there are some important questions that arise if we take the stance of Devil’s advocate. Sometimes when we universally accept a model, missing pieces are never discovered and even downright wrong implications are held as true.

To draw a parallel with the financial markets, options markets are occasionally “underpriced” since they presuppose that prices for commodities or stocks or currencies hover around the most recent prices in a bell-curve like behavior. Extreme price changes are not priced into the model** underlying options prices, and therefore offer opportunities for someone who anticipates an extreme price change in the future (such as when a firm comes under investigation, or a key product is recalled.) Some hedge funds have made large sums of money taking advantage of this fact.

Getting back to Tobler’s first law, it would be prudent to allow ourselves to ask certain questions of it in order to better ascertain the risks we are exposing ourselves to when classifying the world in such a way–just as it is good to have a thorough understanding of the risks and opportunities in the options market before betting the farm.

Using an example from ecology, one might apply TFL to a model and incorrectly assume that nearby ecosystems are more related to one another than far-away ecosystems. In a hyper-local model, one could be mostly right in this assumption. However, at some point trouble is encountered, such as when the goegraphy changes abruptly via a mountain range, stream corridor, or seashore, for example. Nearshore ecology is more likely to be similar to nearshore ecology elsewhere in a country than it is to the nearby backshore ecology, for example.

Of course, Tobler himself has stated that TFL is not necessarily true in every instance.*** The questions we should be asking are:

1. How can TFL fail us?
2. What could TFL miss?
3. If TFL fails us or obscures an important truth, what would be the implications?
4. Would these implications be inconsequential or very large?

* There’s another part to the law that states that “everything is related to everything else”, which is not addressed in this post.
** See the Black-Scholes model, which is still used, but which does not allow for extreme changes in price that can actually occur.
*** Sui, Tobler’s First Law of Geography, a big idea for a small world?

Avant-garde or Just Plain Bad?

December 21st, 2012

In art, we see time and again that contemporary audiences won’t necessarily appreciate, and in fact sometimes outright hate, the works of artists who are at the forefront of nouveau movements. In Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi (which admittedly has an absolutely ridiculous cover image), states

“Breaks from tradition, resulting in work that seems (and is) rebellious but which, in time, becomes the tradition, are not the exception but the rule.”

Avant-garde and just plain excellent!

Most Visited Posts In 2012

December 19th, 2012

Well, all the other bloggers are doing it, so here’s my most visited posts from 2012 list, as determined via Google Analytics stats. Some of the posts are from years prior to 2012, but were still very popular in 2012.

1. Toblerone’s First Law this one is a play on the geo-principle “Tobler’s First Law”, and has to do with chocolate, which I truly believe is one of the top things a blogger should blog about if they want a lot of traffic. People tend to search for articles about chocolate. A lot.

2. Halo’s are Evil a post that states why cartographers hate halos around text and, most importantly, backs up the assertion with instructive and illustrative examples.

3. Foray’s into Typographic Mapping here I’ve described what type maps are, and shared some of the tips and tricks I learned when trying to create my own.

4. What You Need To Know To Be A Cartographer in 2012 this is where I introduce the idea that cartographers now need to have some software development knowledge in their toolbelt. If I recall correctly, there was a lot of discussion on twitter about this post.

5. Making and Using the Colors for Maps Booklet it was nice to see this post make the list. It happens to be linked to from the main e-book buying page, so I assume that is where a lot of the hits come from. I’ve just checked the stats and it looks like 207 of these have sold to date. Sales have slowed, as was to be expected, now that the print-book is available, but there are always those who prefer the e version. For those thinking about writing their own books, you might be interested to know that the print version has sold about 63* times this amount and it has only been available for less than half a year. Of course, the print book benefits from Amazon’s search engine, whereas the e-books are only available via this site. I’m extremely happy with the sales of both the e-books and the print book, given the small niche market that is GIS and cartography. The best part, for me, is that based on feedback I’ve gotten, the products really seem to be helping people do better work. Goal accomplished.

There were more than 13,000 unique visitors this year! Thank you for reading! Can’t wait to see what next year will bring.

*edited because I screwed up the math originally.

Map Kusudama

December 18th, 2012

This paper flower was made from map sheets cut out of a book, glued back to back, folded into individual petals, and then glued together. I’d be more specific about the steps to fold the petals but it was given to me as a gift.

Allow New Ideas to Proliferate, Take a Moment

December 17th, 2012

“Taking a moment”*, which can mean anything from a 30 minute period of strict meditation to a two-minute session of gazing out the window, is a very helpful practice that should be incorporated into a map professional’s daily routine. Especially if you frequently need to multi-task, exercise your creative muscles, or concentrate on a technical task.**

There’s been a lot of research on the usefulness of these kinds of breaks in recent years. See The Power of Concentration, an article from the NYTimes published yesterday, for a good summary of some of these studies.

Not long ago–maybe 50, 100 years–it would probably have seemed bizarre to focus research on mindfulness and meditation given that information barrage hadn’t infiltrated people’s every waking hour yet. However, it is so important today because of one big problem that most of us who work on computers have: a continuous need to scan the internet when we aren’t focused on other tasks. It’s probably not a long-shot to guess that most people who work on devices all day fill their downtime with facebook, twitter, email, news sites, blogs, and other continuously updated addictions.

It’s not bad to spend most of the day on the computer, of course, it’s just GOOD to add a few minutes of device-free time in to allow for free-form inference and reflection and the concomitant breakthroughs/solutions to tough problems that naturally follow. In fact, its pretty imperative to do so when working out creative solutions for mapping projects. See also the post on taking Mental and Physical Breaks.

*Of course, most of us are also taking a moment today to remember the victims of Friday’s tragedy. The Onion’s satirical article covers the national mood well here (warning: language).

**Yes, that seems to basically cover everything and everyone, so just do it!

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration