Maps and Mappers of the 2017 GeoHipster Calendar – Michele Tobias

Michele Tobias, PhD – January

@micheletobias
GIS Data Curator – Data Management Program – UC Davis Library

Tell us about yourself.

In January I started my current job as the GIS Data Curator for the UC Davis Library where I work on data projects related to the library’s areas of particular interest and help patrons with questions related to data acquisition, creation, documentation, preservation, and sharing. I have a PhD in geography, and I am especially interested in the biogeography of coastal plants. When I’m not working on map-related things, I’m either dancing or crafting.

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).

OK, but it’s kind of a long story… I’ll try to keep it short. It started a few years back when I saw an episode of Huell Howser, a show produced by the Los Angeles PBS station, KCET. In this episode, Huell interviewed people involved in growing the seeds that went to the Moon on the Apollo 14 mission and visited several of the resulting “Moon Trees” growing in the state. Curious about where the rest of the trees are, I looked for more information online and found some lists and a few basic maps. Fast forward to the 2016 call for FOSS4G North America presentations… I submitted a talk on cartography with Inkscape. I needed an interesting dataset to work with in my examples, and remembered the Moon Trees. Tree locations are easy to understand for a broad audience, and the story is interesting. Plus, my talk was on May 4th… so something with space needed to happen. Sometimes it seems that everything just sort of falls into place. It just happened that the keynote speaker for the conference that year was Tamar Cohen from the NASA Ames Research Center. And as I was making the map for my presentation, my aunt told me that my grandfather was on the crew that tracked the Apollo 14 mission and retrieved it when it came back to Earth. He would have gotten a kick out of the map for sure.

Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

One of the goals I had for this map was that I use only open source software to make it. I found a Google Map of Moon Tree locations made by a person affiliated with NASA, and asked her via Twitter for permission to use her data. I cleaned up the KML attributes in LibreOffice.  I had hoped to get tree icons from Phylopic, a site for silhouettes of life forms, but they didn’t have the species that I needed so I made my own and contributed them back to the project. The basic layout and data display was done in QGIS, but I made the icons and did all of the big cartography in Inkscape.

This map was perfect for demonstrating some of the things you can do in Inkscape that isn’t possible in QGIS (or any GIS for that matter). The map has 3 data frames. In QGIS, you can’t have a different projection for each of them right now, so I had to export the frames separately and reassemble them in Inkscape. Also, the moon image fill on the polygons was achieved through a clipping process in Inkscape. The tree icons and numbers needed a lot of moving by hand to separate them enough to distinguish. The coasts of the US have a lot of trees and when I started, they were all lumped together. Some of the trees have a very subtle glow behind them to help them stand out from the background. In a GIS, it’s just not that easy to make a subtle halo.

The whole process of creating the map is documented in my 2016 FOSS4G North America talk that’s on their YouTube channel. The pitch video for the talk composed of screen captures of the map as it came together is on my channel.

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