On most days, we listen to the soundtrack of work: phones, email notifications, office chatter, or the sound of the city. For some of us, our daily soundtrack is a carefully curated playlist of our favorite tunes. Being in the latter group, music can provide the white noise needed push through an hour of getting the labels “just right”, or the inspiration that sparks the fix for that problem with your code.
I was curious about what others are listening to during the day – What does a GeoHipster listen to?
As you might expect, asking anyone who likes music to pick a few songs can be a near futile task. A desert island playlist would be drastically different from a top side one, track ones playlist. Making a mixtape is subtle art, there are many rules – like making a map. I recently talked to several of our interesting colleagues in geo to see what tunes get them through the day. I asked the impossible: pick 3 tracks they love to share for a mixtape.
For your listening and reading pleasure we have hand-crafted a carefully curated playlist from the GeoHipsters below, complete with liner notes of the cool work they do while listening to the tracks they picked.
Ps. i couldn’t help but add a few selections of my own.
A font made from satellite imagery. WAT. Joey is one of the minds behind Aerial Bold – a kickstarter funded project that finds letters in buildings, ponds, trees, and everything else in satellite imagery.
Generationals – “Reading Signs” Banoffee – “With her” Kings of Convenience – “I’d rather dance with you”
A self-admitting geogrump, Vicky regularly talks about maps, all things Buffalo, and nostradamus-style death predictions. Her writings on maps, like “The Maps We Wandered Into As Kids” are some of best out there. Seriously. Read her stuff.
Ludovico Einaudi – Night Michael Daugherty – Lex Grimes – Kill v Maim
Among many of the cool OpenStreetMap related work at NPS, Jim is working on synchronizing ArcGIS Online Services with the OpenStreetMap API via Places-Sync
Kraftwerk —Computer World Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar — Devla (Khelipe Cheasa) Mad Caddies — Down and Out
Lauren Ancona @laurenancona // Sr Data Scientist at City of Philadelphia
When she’s not sciencing the shit out of data, she’s learning all the things by making projects like Parkadelphia – a project that let’s everyone from Von Hayes to the pope view when and where they can park in Philly.
Farrah Fawcett Hair / Capital Cities Genghis Khan / Miike Snow Light Up / Mutemath
Mamata’s cartography as inspired so many of us over the last few years. She cooks up fancy visualizations at CartoDB, and is giving us a special sneak peek at a current project – only to be described as….seismic!
Ant Banks/ Mac Mall / Too Short / Rappin4Tay / E-40 – Players Holiday Whitey Morgan and the 78s – I’m On Fire Phoebe Ryan – Mine (The Jane Doze Remix)
Will Skora @skorasaurus // Operations Manager at SVDP Cleveland
Way back in March of 2015, we interviewed Will for GeoHipster where he talked about his awesome project Marilliac , a hot meal finder app for Cleveland. More recently, he’s been working on transit data and isochrones with OpenCleveland’s RTA project.
BT – Dynamic Symmetry Tim Hecker – Virgins (Virginal I or II) The Future Sound of London – Lifeforms (Life Forms End)
Andy Woodruff works to design and build custom interactive maps with Axis Maps, a small company that grew out of the cartography program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. He is currently one of the Directors at Large of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS). Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he’s also a co-organizer of Maptime Boston, and a semi-active mapper of all things Boston for Bostonography.
Q: How did you get involved in geography and maps?
A: I’m a lifetime geographer, that kid who stared at maps in the back seat during family car trips. A map is a wonderful canvas for imagining what the world looks like, and there was always a little thrill in finding myself on the map and seeing imagined places become real. That kind of fascination followed up through my undergraduate and graduate studies in geography and cartography, and on into the start of my career.
Q: How did you learn how to code?
A: The first code I ever wrote was probably BASIC programs on the TI-86 calculator in high school. I have no formal coding background but started learning in earnest in grad school at the University of Wisconsin, in a course on animated and interactive maps. We used Flash, and I became captivated by what ActionScript could do for mapping, so I got really into it and went from there. Flash may be dead to many of us now, but learning it was not at all a waste of time. Those skills transferred well.
Q: How did you meet your company partners?
A: My two partners, Dave Heyman and Ben Sheesley, were the first two people I met when I visited Madison in 2005 to tour the UW Department of Geography, where they were already in the grad program. They started Axis Maps along with a third partner while working on their degrees (the company turns 10 in May!), and then I joined them after finishing my master’s. The roster has varied a bit over the years, and we now also have Josh Ryan working with us, but the three of us have been there for quite a while.
Q: You all work remotely, what tools do you use to keep in touch and organize projects?
A: The usual suspects, probably: Slack for real-time communication, GitHub for code collaboration and issue tracking, Dropbox for other file sharing, Basecamp for project management, Skype for some calls.
Q: What is your company’s typical stack?
A: I never like the word “stack” because it evokes a more rigid workflow or set of tools than I think we have as a company that specializes in custom maps. That said, there are common elements. At the end is most often D3 or Leaflet, and flat geodata files like GeoJSON or CSV. But the road to get there can vary quite a bit. Some things that often enter the mix are QGIS, mapshaper, TileMill (yep, old school TileMill), PostGIS, GDAL, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
Q: You worked with Cindy Brewer on http://colorbrewer2.org/. How many iterations did you go through? What were your goals for the project?
Q: What are some of you favorite examples of work you have conducted?
A: It’s most fun to get to work on something that real, ordinary people will use and enjoy. One favorite from my day job is the Napa Valley map and trip planner we made a year or two ago, which is used by tourists in the area. A favorite side project is the neighborhood mapping project for Bostonography because discussions with people about that have taught me a lot about what neighborhoods mean to people, and about some real-life neighborhood issues in Boston. One other longstanding favorite is typographic city maps, which started as a fun idea and went on to be good for business!
Q: What interesting facts have you learned about the Boston area while working on maps?
A: Too many! It’s a geographically fascinating city. Can’t say that all of these were news to me, but a few interesting things, facts or otherwise:
The actual landform of Boston has changed drastically over time. Quite a lot of the city was water 400 years ago.
The street layout can be learned but is still really hard to explain. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed to give people directions despite knowing the route perfectly. (“Go straight, but it’s not really straight, then turn at the place where seven roads converge, then…”)
Everything is closer than it seems; many of us would probably overestimate distance on a map. It’s a compact place and the concepts of “near” and “far” here are a lot smaller than what I grew up with in the Midwest.
Nobody can agree on neighborhood boundaries. That’s the subject of an ongoing project.
Q: Which startup/tool/platform do you see paving the future in the geospatial industry?
A: In the world I know best, which is public-facing web maps, I’m excited by what CartoDB does and what they might inspire. They’re doing a great job in the “fast mapping” world that appeals to journalists and others, while also being a gateway to learning more advanced technology, i.e. PostGIS. I think that approach will be good for the future of maps in general.
Q: You are quite involved in the mapping community through Maptime and NACIS. Where do you think the mapping community is heading? What skills do you see as being important to becoming geographical/map-fluent?
A: When I joined NACIS ten years ago, a transition was starting in cartography from a concentrated few experts to a vast “democratized” array of mappers. Just judging by NACIS membership and conference content over the last decade, there’s a good trend in the mapping community. Where once there was a backlash against so-called amateurs, now they’re mostly embraced and everyone wants to exchange knowledge. The steady attendance of our Maptime chapter in Boston has been good evidence of that! So I think we’re headed in a direction where we all help ourselves get better. Setting aside technical skills, I think important ground to be gained is in cartographic skills and concepts, which have not always spread very far from academic settings. Ideally, academic expertise would be as approachable as Maptime is for technical expertise. We can’t just tell everyone to go back to school, although I’m currently developing a mapping workshop that includes this bit of advice: “seriously, buy an actual textbook!”
Q: Lastly, who inspires you?
A: Inspiration comes from all over the place, but to name a few people on the mind lately:
John Nelson and his consistently breathtaking aesthetics; Eric Fischer for his mapping and finding meaning in “big data”; Mamata Akella and the creative map symbology experiments she’s been doing; Tim Wallace (my partner in crime for Boston maps) for his collaboration and the amazing ideas he shares, and of course his clear and subtly beautiful map design!
Q: And for old times’ sake… which would you choose?
Cambridge versus Boston – They’d chuck me in the Charles if I didn’t say Cambridge.
D3 versus R – D3! But I’ve never even used R.
WebGL versus vector tiles – they kind of go hand in hand, don’t they?
Leaflet versus OpenLayers – Leaflet. Haven’t actually tried OpenLayers since an older version years ago.
CartoDB versus Mapbox 😉 – Oh boy, don’t want to make any enemies!
Front end versus back end – Front end is a lot more fun.
Michael Terner has been working in the geo/GIS industry since 1985, initially in state government where he was the first manager of MassGIS. In 1991 he co-founded Applied Geographics/AppGeo, where he remains a partner and Executive Vice President.
Questions from Randal, Mike, and Atanas
Q (Randal): So Michael, you are Executive VP at AppGeo. AppGeo has been around for around 25 years. You’re one of the founding partners, correct? What’s the history of AppGeo? ArcINFO was still command line at that point, and I’m pretty sure Windows NT hadn’t made a strong appearance in the market place. Plus I still had hair.
A: Yeah, I hate to admit it but I’m increasingly feeling like one of the “old guys” in this industry. I got my start in GIS in 1985, straight out of college when I got an internship with the Massachusetts state government in a small environmental agency. My task was to see what this new “GIS technology” was all about and see if it might help Mass with hazardous waste treatment facility siting. Long story short, that internship led to 7 years in state government where I had the privilege of helping to get MassGIS started, and was the first Manager from 1988-1991. In that time I took my ARC/INFO (correct spelling of the day) training on a Prime 9950 mini computer and ARC/INFO 3.2. Our first disk quota was 600MB, and the system administrator said “you’ll never fill that up.” We did in 3 months. I also helped Massachusetts buy its first copy of ARC/INFO to run on a new VAX computer at version 4.0. I have no nostalgia for the bad old days of command line, 9-track tapes, and needing to start projects by table-digitizing the data that you needed. I do miss AML a little bit.
I left state government to co-found AppGeo with two partners in 1991. My partner for 24 years, David Weaver, retired late last year. Our president Rich Grady joined us in 1994, and we’ve built a strong, internal management team. In hindsight, the one thing I think we’ve done best these past 25 years is anticipate and willingly change as technology evolves. We started AppGeo with one UNIX workstation that ran ARC/INFO for 3 people using terminal emulation on PCs connected to the workstation. We ran ArcInfo on Windows NT, and we’ve evolved through ArcView, ArcView IMS, ArcIMS and ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS for this and that. We’ve seen a lot of technology and devices come and go, and beginning in 2008 we began pivoting from Esri as the sole solution for all problems. Initially with open source, and now increasingly with newer web platforms from Google Maps to CartoDB alongside open source. Again, I have no nostalgia and have never had more fun in this industry than now. Choice is back, and innovation is flourishing. Everywhere. I still have some hair, but as my daughters remind me, my forehead has grown considerably since then.
Q (Randal): So what does AppGeo do?
A: We’re geospatial consultants, plain and simple. We help customers solve geospatial problems and we help them plan and implement geo. We both spec and create data. And we build a lot of applications. Nowadays, almost always on the web, and increasingly what we build is optimized for mobile device access. Sometimes our customers want our ideas; other times they need extra capacity, and sometimes they need special skills such as programming or project design. We really believe in “dogfooding” and “eating what you cook.” As such doing things like creating data and maps as well as applications helps us be more confident in the kinds of recommendations we put forth in our strategic plans. Now we also resell some technology, and we have our own software as a service (SaaS) offerings that we serve out of the cloud to many dozens of customers. Pretty much everything we do has geospatial in it, but as geospatial — or location — has gotten more mainstream, increasingly our work involves integrating with non-geospatial business systems or tying geospatial technology into traditional IT infrastructures. Which is good. As our development team will say: “spatial is not special, it’s just another column in the database.” It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but with SQL extended for spatial operations, not by much.
Q (Randal): One of the things I’ve noticed about AppGeo is that you have several business partnerships. Two of the most interesting were Esri and Google. One of the two decided they didn’t want to partner with you in the GIS realm anymore. Which one ran?
A: As a small business, we have always been open-minded to partnerships. In addition to geospatial supplier partnerships, we have partnered with a wide variety of other consultants on projects. From big engineering firms to well known IT consulting firms to firms that are highly specialized in a particular market such as airports. We add the geo/location expertise.
And we’ve always been very open to partnering with the geospatial software providers. In addition to the two you mention — Esri and Google — at various times (and to this day) we’ve been partners with Intergraph, Bentley, FME, and CartoDB. Our loyalty is to our customers, and we want the expertise needed to help them solve their problems, and we need to understand the tools that are out there very well to provide that expertise. Partnerships help us to do that.
So to your question: Esri kicked us out of their partner program after almost 20 years in the program. I blogged on that topic in 2014 and provided a good amount of detail on what we think happened, and what it means. Many, many people read the piece, and as I’ve traveled around, several other people have sought me out to tell me “their story.” We’re certainly not the only ones who have met this fate, but not many have talked about it openly. As I wrote, it was not a healthy partnership, and in the end it was good that it happened. We have never been stronger, and there are many other firms — including Google — that have welcomed us as a partner, and respected our non-denominational outlook on partnership. We still use a ton of Esri and feel very comfortable as a customer of theirs. As our clients know, our expertise in Esri didn’t disappear with our partner status. We greatly respect the company and Jack Dangermond as a strong and tough businessman. And, in our “best of breed” outlook on the geospatial landscape, Esri is the best at many things. But, in our opinion, not all. And that’s probably why we parted company.
Q (Mike): Any regrets about publicly airing all of those details? Do you think AppGeo would be different today if you had been able to stay in the program?
A: No regrets whatsoever. In fact, we have been a bit surprised at how many people were interested in the story. In the end, we had heard that Esri was telling the story to some of our mutual customers in “their terms”, and we felt it was important for people to have the ability to also hear that story directly from us. Quite honestly, I don’t think things would be much different for us if we had stayed in the Esri partner program. Business remains good, and we would still be using a variety of technologies, and we would still have our primary loyalty to our customers. Really, the biggest difference is in the posture of our relationship with Esri. Now we’re an Esri customer and user instead of a partner. And thus the kinds of conversations we have with Esri are somewhat different.
Q (Atanas): How is partnering with Google different than with Esri?
A: As you might expect, it’s an enormous difference. Google’s program is certainly not perfect, but Google is very clear with their partners on the role of the partner channel and Google’s expectations. It took some getting used to, but we have hit our stride and the partnership is very productive for us. Here are a few of the biggest differences:
Google has many, many fewer partners than Esri, and the partners are selected/recruited based on their qualifications. And there is not an annual fee to be in their partner program.
Google’s program is re-selling oriented. We do a lot of related services (e.g., application development), but that is between us and the customer; we work very closely with Google on providing the right subscription-based products. Unlike Esri, Google allows their partners to sell any of their geo products, not just the lower-end subset of products.
Google has other, non-geo product lines (e.g., Gmail/Google for Work; Google Cloud Platform; Search; etc.) and many of Google’s geo partners sell, or even specialize in these other product lines. Google’s partner conference (which I just attended in March) mixes all of these different partners, and it’s a really interesting and diverse ecosystem. There’s a specialized track for each product line (we followed the geo track), but you also get to see the whole cloud-based vision of the larger company and interact with, and learn from the non-geo partners.
Probably the biggest difference for us is that there is a very active exchange of leads and joint selling. We got more leads from Google in our first month in the program than we did in the entire life of our Esri partnership which spanned almost 20 years. Fundamentally, Google and their partners work together on sales which was not the case for us with Esri.
Q (Mike): While we’re drawing comparisons, you’ve been working with customers around the country. Are you noticing any regional differences in the way GIS or mapping technologies are approached?
A: Honestly, I don’t see fundamental “technological approach” differences across the country. Pretty much everywhere I go Esri remains the dominant player, but also I see people’s eyes and minds being ever more open to new approaches like open source (e.g., QGIS) or cloud-based platforms (e.g., CartoDB, Fulcrum). There may be slight regional differences in the rate of uptake of new technology, but everywhere people are more curious than I’ve ever seen. People are also increasingly interested in open data across the country, and even in Canada, which does not have the same public records laws and open records history as the USA.
The biggest regional differences are in governmental organization and the priority of particular issues. The things that vary on a regional basis are more like, “Do you work with more counties vs. cities/towns?” Or, “Is the drought, or agriculture, or public lands a big issue?”
Q (Mike): I’ll ask you what I asked you in Duluth last fall — can the open source community band together to make sure the Yankees never win another World Series?
A: Wish it were so. But as a fellow Red Sox fan I feel good about where we stand relative to the Yankees in the 21st Century, i.e., 3 titles Red Sox to 1 for the Yankees.
Q (Atanas): Hippest commute mode: ferry, train, or bike?
A: I’m a big public transit fan, mostly because the downtown Boston driving commute is terrible. Usually I’m on the commuter rail. But during the window from mid-May through the end of October there’s a commuter ferry from Salem (the neighboring city to my hometown of Beverly) into downtown Boston. So my favorite, and by association hippest, commute is the 1-2 days/week during the summer I get to bike the ~3 miles from home to Salem for a wonderful high speed ferry ride into Boston (and then back). This is the morning “entering Boston” view:
Q (Randal): So with all these questions behind us … do you feel geohipsterish? We did a poll way back in the beginning days of GeoHipster to define a geohipster, and the best we could come up with are they shun the mainstream, have a wicked sense of humor, and do things differently. Do you feel like one?
A: Yes, I hope so. I’m not sure I “shun” the mainstream, but I don’t believe there is a mainstream that lasts very long in technology. If you stand pat, you die. We’ve lasted 25 years so at a minimum we’ve bobbed in and out of the ever-changing tech mainstream fairly effectively. In 1985 when I started in this business, Esri was not mainstream. I appreciate humor (especially Randy’s) greatly, and I hope I’m occasionally funny (even if my family might disagree). Yes, I think we often approach things differently, and aren’t afraid to “try different”, and that’s been a great asset.
Q (Randal): I usually leave the last question up to you to say whatever you want to say to the world, and I’m going to do just that … BUT with a twist. Something big is coming to Boston in 2017, and you and the Geo community did a tremendous amount of work to make this happen. So what is coming to Boston in 2017?
A: Yes, the Global FOSS4G Conference is coming to Boston in August of 2017 as the three-continent rotation returns to North America after a successful stop in Seoul, Korea in 2015, and the upcoming conference in Bonn Germany in 2016. See our nascent web-site to mark your calendars. The Boston geo community rallied, and I am extremely proud to have led our awesome Boston Location Organizing Committee (the BLOC) in generating the winning proposal to host that conference. We had incredibly tough competition with really strong proposals coming from both Ottawa and Philadelphia, and we are committed to putting on an awesome conference and rewarding the faith OSGeo has put in us. We are also excited to support the upcoming FOSS4G North America that will be held in Raleigh, NC in just 4 weeks. Please show your support for FOSS4G and learn lots and have fun with us in Raleigh.
In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I never formally studied GIS so I’m tempted to say I ‘fell into’ it, but that would imply there was something accidental about the process. I am a historian and archaeologist, and whilst studying these disciplines I heard about this new-fangled thing called GIS that ostensibly used computers to model and study spatial relationships. Immediately recognizing how useful such a thing could be for archaeology, I happily invaded the geosciences department of the university I was attending. At the time the only remotely related offering they had was a class titled ‘Computer Mapping’. I enrolled and ended up walking away with a copy of MapInfo 5.0 (still got it, too). Having exhausted the university’s offerings, I did some digging and learned that Esri (at the time, at least) offered substantial discounts to enrolled students. A series of phone calls and emails later had secured me a shiny new copy of ArcView 3.2a for a tenth of the retail price. I spent the summer teaching myself how to use it, and the rest is GIS (with a little bit of history and archaeology thrown in for good measure). So I didn’t actually fall into GIS but rather actively and doggedly hunted it down. But GIS isn’t my job. I do it for fun.
Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).
A: I made this map to explore some techniques I intend to employ for an upcoming project. My friend Drew asked me to produce some maps for a new book he’s writing, so I decided to get a jump on things. It’s an academic book (but not a textbook), so I’ll be dealing with substantial size constraints and will be limited to greyscale. So the trick is figuring out how to convey enough information with the least amount of clutter. Whenever possible I try to produce maps devoid of legends. I feel every entry on a legend represents a failure on the part of the cartographer. An ideal map should need only a scalebar, a north arrow and maybe some labels. I try my best to attain this ideal. I usually turn to old maps for inspiration for these endeavors, and on this map you can see the results in the larger rivers and bodies of water. I also used Tanaka-style illuminated contours for this map, a technique I have long been fond of but only recently became able to leverage (I first encountered the idea of Tanaka contours using GIS software in an ArcUser magazine about a decade ago. It was a spirited effort, but was more a terraced DEM than anything else). It is a very effective tool for conveying a lot of elevation information at a glance. And doing so without a color ramp or the clutter of hillshading.
Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.
A: The only tool I needed for this map was QGIS (2.8.1, I think). The hydro symbology I achieved through the simple expedient of a series of semi-transparent layered negative buffers with varying dash arrays for outline symbology. I did the illuminated contours using a technique developed by Anita Graser (QGIS superstar extraordinaire) that she obligingly outlined in a post on her blog (http://anitagraser.com/2015/05/24/how-to-create-illuminated-contours-tanaka-style/). I had to tweak it just a little bit (mentioned in the comments, if you’re interested). All the data used came from MassGIS, OpenStreetMap, and myself. The town depicted is Greenfield, Massachusetts, and is the town in which I reside. Over the course of some years I have amassed, manipulated, and refined a sizeable amount of data pertaining to this town. Because of this, I have an intimate knowledge of these datasets, so they are my go-to datasets whenever I experiment with cartographic techniques (unless I need something they can’t provide. A volcano, for instance).