Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Announcing City Maps: A coloring book for adults!

March 25th, 2016

City Maps Cover

My latest endeavor is City Maps: A coloring book for adults. I’m excited about this because normally I make maps that are more scientific, regulatory, or otherwise government oriented but this is a collection of maps for everyone. And what’s more, everyone can color them just the way they want to! (I can hear some colleagues wishing they could just get their clients to color their own maps so they don’t have to hear the color criticisms like, “could you make it a bit more orangish?”)

This has been a labor of love. I know that it didn’t take me long from my twitter lamentation about there being a dearth of adult coloring books featuring maps, but I was helped along by the fact that I already know a bit about publishing and I happened to have a lot of time off my regular work for spring break. So naturally I spent it working on maps 24/7.

I’m not going to say it wasn’t fun to have a “map coloring lab” in the dining room either. You know, because the designs had to be tested. :)

Amazon doesn’t have the look inside feature populated yet so here’s a preview:

A subset of maps from the book, in thumbnail form.

A subset of maps from the book, in thumbnail form.


Shhhh Coming Soon!

March 23rd, 2016

I haven’t posted this anywhere else yet, and won’t do so until next week. But I’m so excited about this I had to share with my small group of faithful blog readers…


It’ll be available soon. Very soon. Maybe next week even!

I haven’t even tweeted this thing yet. Shhhhhhhh.

Probably the most fun project I’ve done in years. :)

Plan to Attend FOSS4GNA 2016

March 22nd, 2016

Ever since the very successful FOSS4G conference in Denver 2011, the conference and its North American counterpart the FOSS4GNA conference, have been the go-to conferences for anyone involved in or interested in Free and Open Source Software with a Geospatial bent. My understanding is that the 2011 conference consisted of a veritable who’s-who of FOSS4G developers and power users. Despite the auspiciousness of the attendees the information exchange level was high.

I went to my first FOSS4GNA last year and can attest to the fact that the information exchange level is still high while also being inclusive of those who are new to FOSS4G with plenty of intro sessions for newbies. Of course we’re all newbies at one or more aspects of FOSS4G as it’s impossible to know all of the great things coming out of this community at an expert level. So this is the conference to delve deeply into your software of choice, dabble in libraries or packages that are entirely new to you, and swap great ideas for new possibilities with fellow attendees.

This year’s FOSS4GNA is in Raleigh, May 2-5. I plan to give a cheesy talk where I interweave bits of the Tony Robbins best-seller Awaken the Giant Within with a live demo of QGIS. Hope to see you there!

This slide may or may not be going into my FOSS4GNA 2016 talk.

This slide may or may not be going into my FOSS4GNA 2016 talk.

The Truthful Art: A Review

March 1st, 2016

The very first thing I thought about Alberto Cairo’s brand new book The Truthful Art is that the title on the cover sports no capitalization. This shows gumption! This shows panache! This shows that the author may have some new, snazzy, and possibly risky design tricks to teach me!

And guess what? I am happy to report that the contents absolutely lives up to my first impression. And I’m not even saying this because I’m completely psyched that my name is in the index or that he graciously refers to Cartographer’s Toolkit as “A good book to have by your side when choosing styles for your maps.”*

I've been indexed!

I’ve been indexed!

This is Alberto Cairo’s third book on data visualization. It manages to be both entertaining and full of substance in its main goal of taking to task misleading data visualizations, telling us why they are sub-optimal or even downright lies, and how we can do better.

In one particularly important section he describes the idea of applying controls to your data. We cartographers are familiar with the idea that we should normalize by population in a map of, say, the numbers of people who go to graduate school in each state, but we may be less familiar with other methods of normalization. One of the examples in the book is that a visualization of traffic fatalities by state might be more beneficial if we also knew how much people commute in each state. If we don’t apply these controls then the reader can come to erroneous conclusions. That bit is from Chapter 3, The Truth Continuum, which is quite possibly my favorite chapter in the book as it really reminds us of all the ways our data can trip us up.

The Truthful Art, Interior

Another bit that really resonated with me was the motto that he says he shares with his students:

“It’s more complicated than that.” 

And also: “Good visualizations shouldn’t oversimplify information.” I’ve been saying that for years (see When is Complexity Okay? and Not to Complicate Things…But More on Complexity.) Yes, clutter is bad but taking away all the details is also bad. In practice this means reducing unnecessary visuals such as neatlines around map legends but leaving in supporting charts and graphs that further explain the map data, for example.

One quibble, which I need to think more about, is that the text equates isarithmic maps such as weather and temperature with kernel density maps. However, kernel density analyses display a measure of the highest concentration of points in a given dataset, not the connections between points of real data. So I don’t typically think of kernel densities as isarithmic even though on first appearance they seem like similar beasts. But like I said I need to think more about this and feel free to weigh in, because I suppose kernel density visualizations really are typically shown as areas with the same value, but the values themselves really shouldn’t be seen as indicating anything other than relative density in a dataset, which to me is very different from lines connecting discreet data points.

Back to the positive notes, as these should far outweigh any quibble that I may have just uttered and that I haven’t even spent enough time really thinking through (something that Cairo says is SO important for any kind of visualization–Think It Through!). For one thing, the infographics explaining map projections are superior to the ones I’ve put together for my books. Also, Cairo goes into great detail on classification schemes for choropleth maps, which I think is a very good thing considering this is where a lot of data journalists (his primary audience, perhaps) need to be more cognizant. 

In all, a wonderful addition to my library that I’m sure I will go return to again and again in the years to come!

*Disclaimer which turns out not to be much of a disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book. But! I was not asked to review it. Furthermore, since I had already purchased this book on pre-order before finding out that I was getting a free copy, I believe we could almost say that no disclosure is needed though clearly instead of that we now have one very complicated and drawn out run-on disclosure.

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Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration