All posts by Atanas Entchev

Don Meltz: “I was a geodesigner before it became a thing”

Don Meltz
Don Meltz
I’m an AICP-certified planner working as a consultant to small towns and rural communities in upstate New York. I provide planning and GIS services for municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, and other planning consultants that require extra capacity or specialized geospatial analysis they cannot perform in house. I started my business, Don Meltz Planning and GIS, in 2002 ( and work out of my home office in Stockport, Columbia County, NY.

I’ve recently started working as an Adjunct Professor at Marist College teaching a fall semester Intro to GIS course and a spring semester Advanced GIS course.

I’m the Chairperson of my town’s Planning Board, a member of the American Planning Association NY Upstate Chapter, the New York Planning Federation, and the New York State GIS Association. For the NYS GIS Association I participate in the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Professional Affiliation Group and the Communications Committee.

Personal Twitter - @DonMeltz

Business Twitter - @Don_Meltz

Q: You have a Master’s in Regional Planning. How and why did you go into GIS?

A: It was a long and winding road, but I’ll try to concentrate on the main points.

I’ve always been a map person. I was the designated navigator on every trip we went on as a kid. I’d pore over the road map in the back seat, calling out turn-by-turn directions. I have a vivid memory as a pre-teen, the moment I realized those little grey numbers along the roads on the map represented miles. That’s when I became the back-seat GPS, reading the map, looking at the speedometer, and calculating how long it would be before reaching the next turn, or our destination.

The rest of the flow chart looks something like this:

  1. An interest in sciences in high school leads to a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.
  2. As an undergrad, taking a computer language class and a philosophy logic class in the same semester was an eye-opening experience.
  3. Reagan gets elected during my junior year in college, which leads to downsizing and defunding many science-related agencies.
  4. A biologist with a new degree and zero experience enters the family construction business.
  5. A land use controversy with a neighbor, plus the frustrating limitations of working in a family business, added to the realization my body would not last in the construction field forever, leads to a life changing decision — grad school.
  6. A Planning degree from U Albany with a personal interest in all things computer-related leads to working with GIS.

It took me a while to discover how planning lets me accommodate both my interest in protecting the environment, and my desire to build things. I like to tinker with things, figure out how they work, and how they fit into the rest of the world. Planning is the career that lets me satisfy nearly every curiosity I have about the world. And GIS is the tool that helps me do that.

Q: Your company, Don Meltz Planning and GIS, offers planning and GIS services. Which do you do more of — planning or GIS? Why do you think the breakdown is what it is?

A: I am a planner, and I’m a geospatial analyst. In my mind these job titles are one and the same. I truly make no distinction between my planning work and my GIS work. GIS is a tool I use as a planner to help me advise my clients on how to make knowledgeable land use decisions. There are times when I’m called in purely as a GIS consultant to help some town or village set up their own system. But the majority of my work is as an analyst, using GIS to identify and prioritize natural resources, or to model the impacts of a proposed land use.

I was a geodesigner before it became a thing.

Q: What are some cool GIS projects that you are currently working on? What GIS technology does your consulting company use?

A: Truth be told, most of my work is pretty mundane. I work on a lot of comprehensive plans and zoning laws for small towns, and agriculture protection plans for counties. I use primarily Esri ArcGIS with a smattering of QGIS. However, whenever I work for a town that wants to set up their own GIS, I always steer them in the open source direction — QGIS. I also keep an eye on what Boundless is doing. I’m really excited about how they’re integrating QGIS, GeoServer, and their new OpenLayers-based WebApp builder. I’ve been using all these tools for a few years now. And every iteration of the Boundless stack gets better and better.

My proximity to the Catskills, and their being the source for NY City drinking water has led to a few interesting projects. I worked on a very complex erosion model for a town in the NYC drinking water watershed using some of NOAA’s geospatial tools, including N-SPECT, which they’ve now turned into an open source tool.

There is a project coming up that involves a national non-profit and Marist College. I can’t go into too much detail, as the paperwork hasn’t been finalized. But, it includes analysis of a significant portion of the Hudson River ecosystem using historic data going back to the 1980s, and students acquiring new data based on what we discover through that analysis.

Another area I’m moving into is Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). I recently purchased a Phantom 4 Pro, and I’m now studying for my FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot’s Certificate so I can do some commercial work. I’d like to provide services for other planners and landscape architects doing site design work and 3D modelling. The technology surrounding these little aerial robots is amazing. They’re going to totally transform how we collect spatial data and how we incorporate it into GIS. This, and self-driving cars, will leave the world unrecognizable 50 years from now.

Q: You teach GIS at Marist College. What technology do you use in the GIS classroom? Why?

A: I came into the environmental science program at Marist on short notice. All of the previous professors had used and taught Esri products exclusively. I’m quickly moving them into a mixed environment. I added the FulcrumApp to a few assignments my first semester. Next semester I’m adding QGIS and some online mapping platforms. If I can convince the IT folks to let me set up a GeoServer instance, I’d like to be able to use that, too.

One thing I try to drill into my students’ heads is, if they want to become proficient at GIS, and stay ahead of the constant changes in the technology, they should use GIS every day. One of the problems I see with teaching pure Esri is, unless the student gets a job immediately after graduation, they won’t have access to the software. It’s usually too expensive for them to keep using on their own after they graduate. Another problem is it doesn’t work on a Mac, which probably applies to over 60% of the students in my class. If the software isn’t convenient to use, they aren’t going to use it every day. QGIS and open source tools in general overcome both of these hurdles.

Q: Suppose a student of yours tells you they are considering starting a GIS consulting business and asks for your advice. What would you tell them? Is there money in GIS consulting?

A: There is. But it’s not like the late 1990s, when if you knew what the letters GIS meant, you’d be hired on the spot. I teach my students to take a broader view of what GIS is. GIS is diffusing, spreading out into every industry you can think of. There will probably be opportunities for pure GIS consultants for quite a while. But most of the growth I see is in all the related fields. Environmental planners with GIS skills will always be in higher demand than those without. The same goes for engineers, surveyors, software programmers, system administrators, and even website designers. Anyone with some knowledge of how GIS fits into any of these fields will have an advantage.

Q: Open source is cool. “Open” is also the buzzword du jour. But can one make a decent living in open? A career? Or does it come down to a choice between coolness and moneymaking, romantic vs. practical?

A: When I started my business, one of the first questions a client would ask is “Do you have ArcView?” And nine times out of ten, answering yes was enough to get the job. But it’s probably been close to ten years since I’ve been asked what kind of software I use. The only thing my clients want to see is results. They don’t care if I made a map using ArcGIS or QGIS or a 20-year-old beta version of MapInfo (which I do have sitting on my bookshelf BTW, just in case). I still use ArcGIS mainly because that’s what I cut my teeth on. I’m familiar with it and I feel more productive using it. It also comes in handy when a client wants to share an MXD or a map package with me. I use QGIS when I run into something ArcGIS can’t handle, or when I want to try something new. Having open source tools at my disposal allows me to try new things on my own, at my own pace, without relying on a review by a third party to decide how a particular piece of software might fit into my workflow. Open source is a very practical solution for me.

Q: “The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on” — so goes an ancient proverb. Does this apply to the current GIS ecosystem? Are there too many mapping platforms?

A: I like to keep up on what’s going on in the GIS world. I follow a bunch of GeoNerds on Twitter and I read the blogs. But there comes a point where keeping up with the latest shiny gadget takes up more time than it’s worth. I have to make a living. And that means billable hours. I’d never say there are too many mapping platforms. But there are too many for me to check out on my own. This is where my Twitter feed comes in handy. I scan it continuously during the day. If something new pops up, I’ll check it out if I have time. But I concentrate on those tools that are mentioned the most. I’ve settled on ArcGIS Desktop, QGIS, GeoServer, FulcrumApp, and the Boundless stack as the tools I focus most of my attention on.

Q: What do you think about Arcade, the new programming language from Esri? Is launching a new proprietary programming language that only works within the Esri ecosystem arrogant, oblivious, or brilliant?

A: It’s an interesting development. From the few articles I’ve read, it appears to be an attempt to bridge the gap between Esri’s desktop software, which relies on Python for scripting, and ArcGIS Online, which relies on JavaScript for customizing. But so far, I believe it’s limited to customizing how layers are rendered in a map without making changes to the underlying data. That’s not enough for me to put much effort into learning more about it right now. If it morphs into something more wide-ranging, like what Avenue used to be, I’d be more interested. I spent a lot of time in my early GIS days searching through the Esri Avenue script sharing site. I learned a lot there, about what GIS can do, and how it works. There was a sense of community there. I miss those days.

Q: You collect antique and classic cars and trucks. How did you get into this? Do you also work on and maintain the engines? Do you mess with the carburettor, valves, timing belt?

A: My father has always been a car guy. His family raced stock cars in the 40s and 50s. He started collecting in the early 70s, bringing me to every car show and swap meet he went to. He currently has eight classic vehicles on the road, including a Concours-restored 1959 Impala, a 1927 Gardner that was once part of the Harrah collection, and a fully restored 1932 Ford Roadster.

I’ve helped my father restore a dozen or more vehicles. I’ve done everything from sandblasting Model T frames to applying finish to the wood-spoked wheels of a 1920s Federal truck. The biggest restoration job I worked on was a 1931 chain drive AC Mack Dump Truck that we brought back from the grave, so to speak.

I’ve completely disassembled and rebuilt a 289 engine and C4 transmission from a 1968 Mustang Fastback I owned during my college days. Right now I have a lightly modified 1960 Ford F100 pickup that’s on the road, and a 100% original 1966 Ford Bronco that needs a lot of work.

I like to build things and figure out how they work.

Q: You camp, hike, run. I admire your vast portfolio of extracurriculars. Where do you find the time for everything you do?

A: All things in moderation. And don’t try to multitask. This is also where running my own one-person business comes in handy. I have complete flexibility with my schedule. As long as I meet my clients’ deadlines, I’m good. It doesn’t matter when I do the work, as long as it gets done. It also means I spend way too many days working until 2 or 3 AM.

My extracurriculars also seem to happen in spurts. There was a time when I was bagging Catskill Mountain peaks every weekend. I spent a few years spending a lot of time (and money) on photography. I still enjoy these activities, but I don’t participate in them as much as I once did. It’s the same with my classic car and truck hobby. It all but stopped when I got married and had children. But now that the kids are grown, and my father needs more help moving things around, I’ve started getting back into it.

Q: Do you consider yourself a (geo)hipster? Why / why not?

A: I believe one of the defining features of geo-hipsterism is eschewing labels. The moment a geo-hipster becomes self-aware, or proclaims to be one, they cease being a geo-hipster.

No, I am not a geo-hipster.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our global readership?

A: Wow. This is the most difficult question of them all. I mulled over a few answers in my head, but they all seemed a little too pompous to me. Do I really have any special insight into how the world works? Some tidbit of knowledge that I could impart on others that they don’t already know?

No. I don’t.

But I do try to live by a few simple rules which I’ve actually never written down until now. So I’ll leave you with them. I’m not saying everyone should follow them. But they work for me.

  • Think logically.
  • Learn continuously.
  • Analyze everything.
  • Work diligently.
  • Practice humility.
  • Act accordingly.
  • Enjoy life.
  • Have faith.


Andrea Sward: “Don’t let ‘playing it safe’ stop you from doing something you really want to do”

Andrea Sward
Andrea Sward
I am a geospatial analyst with nearly three years of professional GIS experience. Originally from Canada, the search for adventure brought me to Wellington, New Zealand a little over a year ago. Things have worked out well, as I managed to quickly find meaningful GIS employment that aligns with my passion for nature, conservation, and the environment. I have been very fortunate to be able to explore many of New Zealand’s beautiful places in my spare time. My partner and I are currently planning to move to Melbourne, Australia in the new year, but we hope to come back and travel to some of the areas we missed!

More about my professional background can be found on my LinkedIn account.

Q: You are geohipster on Instagram. This is awesome. What prompted you to pick that handle?

A: It can be quite difficult to pick an instagram handle! The name geohipster emerged because while I consider myself a geography geek (geogeek), I’d like to think I also have a few cool/quirky hobbies and interests that make me less of the stereotypical “geek” and more of a “hipster”. GIS does seem to work its way into my hobbies though. For example, I’ve started getting into brewing beer and making metal jewelry and inspiration is often drawn from geography, nature, and GIS.

Q: How did you get into GIS?

A: I was a geography major at the University of Toronto and discovered GIS towards the end of my degree. Starting off in GIS can be quite intense, there is a lot to know! My first introductory course was challenging but opened my eyes to a whole new discipline. After graduating, I took a postgraduate program in GIS at Algonquin College in Ottawa. This was a great program and allowed me to really immerse myself into all things geospatial. It provided a good foundation to start into my career. A lot of the time I am learning things on the job. GIS is a changing and growing industry, there is always more to know!

Q: You are a Canadian who lives in New Zealand, about to move to Melbourne, Australia. What inspired you to move down under?

A: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind to travel to New Zealand and Australia for several years but struggled to find the right timing. After finishing school, paying off my student loans, and gaining some work experience, I had a bit of a crossroads moment of deciding whether to settle where I am, or try something new. So I wrapped up my last contract at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I packed a bag, sold my furniture, and bought a one way ticket to New Zealand. I thought, worst case scenario, I don’t find any work and just have a really nice holiday. After a week of being in Wellington, I had a contract to work at the Department of Conservation. I have now been working there almost 15 months.

It was just one of those moments that anyone could have. I decided I wanted to do something, and I gave it a go.

Soon after moving to New Zealand, I met my partner. He has a job opportunity in Melbourne starting in the new year and we’ve decided to make the move. I will miss Wellington and my colleagues and friends, but I must admit, the same sense of adventure that brought me to New Zealand is starting to bubble up again as I get ready for the next move. I have been told wonderful things about Melbourne and the GIS community there. I’m really looking forward to getting involved and meeting new geogeeks and geohipsters!

Q: Was it easy to find a GIS job in New Zealand? What is the GIS scene like there?

A: There is a really strong community of geospatial professionals in Wellington and around New Zealand. For me, it was easy to find a job but perhaps I got a bit lucky being at the right place at the right time. I’ve enjoyed being part of two networks in Wellington — the Emerging Geospatial Professionals group, and the Women in Spatial group. These groups meet up every so often for a guest presentation along with drinks, nibbles, and general chatting. This is a great way to meet people outside of your organization and there is often discussions around current job vacancies. People are often very passionate about their work and I find that inspiring.

I’ve found the geospatial industry in New Zealand to be quite progressive. There is a lot more openness to collaboration between organizations and a strong desire to get things done. An example of a strong collaboration can be seen in New Zealand’s earthquake preparations. We are sitting on a lot of active faultlines that cause a lot of earthquakes. Often these are just little wobbles, but there have been a few major shakes recently. There was a lot learned from the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, and again more recently in Kaikoura in November. There is a need for a strong geospatial plan for national emergencies such as these. Up-to-date national datasets must be readily available offline, as well as a GIS action plan for possible future earthquakes.

Q: Tell us about your current job — what you do, what technologies you use, what cool projects you work on.

A: I am a geospatial analyst at the Department of Conservation (DOC). The department has a GIS team of around 30 people spread across the country that provide geospatial support to the rest of the organization and its partners. There is a variety of work we do, which can keep things interesting! A lot of my work is generally for published projects, such as information panels, brochures, wall maps, and public reports such as the Conservation Management Strategies. I have a love for cartography and take great pride putting together a polished map.

New Zealand has a big problem with invasive species like possums, stoats, and rats preying on the native bird population. There are also a lot of species of weeds sprawling over the landscape. Much of DOC’s work is focused on pest eradication and we provide geospatial support for this. With the recent announcement by the government to have New Zealand predator-free by 2050, we have a new spring in our steps to keep track of eradication activities around the country.

In terms of technology and software, we primarily use Esri software for our work, Skype for team chatting (it’s very helpful to have team support at your fingertips), and Garmin GPS units out in the field.

Q: What’s a hip thing to do in New Zealand? Cycling? Skiing? Deconstructed coffee?

A: There is so much to do and see in New Zealand! Skiing and cycling are certainly popular, as well as going on a tramp (hike). I’m personally a big fan of some of the geothermal areas in New Zealand, that means soaking in hot springs! There are also quite a few white water rafting spots around the country that can be a lot of fun.

Wearing shorts in any weather is also the hip thing to do, as well as walking around barefoot! People here are just doing their own thing, and I really respect that. I think the culture in New Zealand is pretty relaxed and has also helped me to relax a little too. And I must say, the coffee here is out of this world, I’m not sure I can go back to drinking the North American stuff…

Q: Are you insulted by maps that omit New Zealand? Why / why not?

A: Ha ha, oh dear, poor New Zealand! I wouldn’t say it’s insulting but I would perhaps question the quality of the map. Sometimes New Zealand appears twice on a map, so maybe it all evens out.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our global readership?

A: I can only compare my experience in New Zealand to the one I had in Canada, but I must say how impressed I am with the geospatial industry here. I think there is a lot of good stuff going on and other organizations in other countries could perhaps look to New Zealand as a model.

In terms of any personal “wisdom”, I would just encourage people to branch out a little and not be afraid to try new things! Don’t let ‘playing it safe’ stop you from taking a risk and doing something you really want to do.

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Rosemary Wardley

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.


Rosemary Wardley

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I am a GIS Cartographer at National Geographic where I get to combine my love of geospatial data and creating beautiful visualizations. I am usually found working on our cartographic databases or improving our editorial workflow. I am also a founding member of the MaptimeDC chapter and really enjoy spreading the gospel of geography and cartography to the masses!

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: This map was originally produced as part of the 2014 NACIS MapQuilt of Pittsburgh, PA, where each cartographer is given a quadrant of the city to map in a style of their choice. The design was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Roy Lichtenstein, and his pop-art style. I also took inspiration from Pittsburgh native and fellow pop-artist, Andy Warhol, whose museum is conveniently located on this portion of the map. There have been quite a few pop-art inspired maps produced over the past year, so I am happy that my piece is a part of that canon!

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

A: All of the data was gathered from the City of Pittsburgh GIS warehouse and the map was created using Adobe Illustrator with the MAPublisher plugin. I also used Adobe PhotoShop to produce the relief.

'Pittsburgh Quilt' by Rosemary Wardley
‘Pittsburgh Quilt’ by Rosemary Wardley

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Katie Kowalsky

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.


Katie Kowalsky

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: katie_hi I’m Katie, a cartographer, hot sauce enthusiast, and recent San Francisco transplant. I work at Mapzen where I focus on building tutorials, writing documentation, and supporting our users through improving the usability of our products. This means in a given week I can be running user research testing, answering support questions or talking at a lot of events.

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 come from a family of artists and since I was little, art museums always feel like home to me. Some of my favorite pieces at the Milwaukee Art Museum (my hometown!) are by Roy Lichtenstein, including Crying Girl and Water Lily Pond Reflections. These two pieces have always been examples of his great use of primary colors and Ben-day dots. This color and texture palette has always stayed in the back of my mind. When I started learning about Tilemill and basemap design, I was inspired by how creative and unique the designers from Stamen and Mapbox were. While working at the Cartography Lab at UW-Madison, I had a chance to rebuild curriculum teaching basemap design and was inspired by my love of pop art to bring that into a basemap design to use as an example for the lab tutorial.

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

A: This was built entirely in Mapbox Studio (now known as Classic), using Mapbox-Streets and their vector terrain source for the data. I built this interactive basemap (view it here) from zoom 1 to 22 using the glorious CartoCSS interface!

'Roy Lichtenstein-inspired map of DC' by Katie Kowalsky
‘Roy Lichtenstein-inspired map of DC’ by Katie Kowalsky
'Crying Girl' by Roy Lichtenstein
‘Crying Girl’ by Roy Lichtenstein
'Water Lily Pond Reflections' by Roy Lichtenstein
‘Water Lily Pond Reflections’ by Roy Lichtenstein

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Gretchen Peterson

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.


Gretchen Peterson

Gretchen Peterson’s most recent books are City Maps: A Coloring Book for Adults and QGIS Map Design. Peterson resides in Colorado and actively tweets via @petersongis on cartography.

A Cornell graduate in the natural resources field, Peterson can still be found spending part of the workweek absorbed in data analysis and mapping for the greater environmental good while reserving the rest of the workweek for broader mapping endeavors, which includes keeping up on the multitude of innovative map styles coming from all corners of the profession.

Peterson speaks frequently on the topic of modern cartographic design, and it was in one of these talks that the Ye Olde Pubs of London’s Square Mile map was not only shown off but also created on-the-spot as a live demo of the cartographic capabilities of the QGIS software. The FOSS4GNA 2015 conference talk went through the process of loading and styling data and then creating a print composer map layout.

Some highlights of the demo included the custom pub data repository created just for this map, the demonstration of the relatively new shapeburst capabilities of QGIS, and the technique for modifying image file (SVG) code in order to allow icon colors to be changed within the QGIS interface.

The map was also the focus of a QGIS cartography workshop held in Boulder, Colorado. The students at that workshop followed the instructions posted on github to create the map. It’s a great two-hour project for introducing the software and a few of the principles of cartographic design, and readers are encouraged to give it a try and supply any feedback you may have.

'Historic Pubs of London' by Gretchen Peterson
‘Historic Pubs of London’ by Gretchen Peterson

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Asger Sigurd Skovbo Petersen

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.


Asger Sigurd Skovbo Petersen

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I work at a small Danish company called Septima which I also cofounded back in early 2013. I have been in the geo business since 2004 when I received my masters degree (MScE) from the Technical University of Denmark.

I do development, consulting, and data analysis. One of my primary interests is to find new ways of utilizing existing data. This interest really took off when I worked as the sole R&D engineer at a data acquisition company which had a massive collection of data just sitting there and waiting to be upcycled. At this job I got a lot of experience working with quite big LiDAR, raster, and vector datasets, and developing algorithms to process them effectively.

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: When processing the second Danish LiDAR-based elevation model, the producing agency released some temporary point cloud data at a very early stage.

My curiousity was too big to leave these data alone, and with a LASmoons license of Martin Isenburg’s LAStools, it was easy to process the 400km^2 las files into 40cm DTM and DSM. And then the usual open source stack helped publishing a hillshaded version as an easy to use web map.

This web map was widely used and cited, as it was the only visible example of the coming national DEM for quite a while. The old model was 1.6m resolution, and with a new resolution of 0.4m a lot of details were revealed, which were not visible in the old model. In the following months we actually received quite a few notes from archaeologists, who had discovered exciting and previously unknown historic stuff just by browsing our map.

Hillshades are the go-to visualisation of DEMs. Probably because they can be easily processed by almost any raster-capable software, and because they are very easily interpreted. However they can also hide even very big structures depending on the general direction of the structure.

This made me want to find a better way to visualise the data so our archaeological friends could get even more information from the new data.

I then read a heap of papers on the subject and decided to try out a visualisation based on Sky View Factor. At the time I didn’t find any implementation that I was able to use, so I ended up implementing my own. (I later discovered that SAGA had a perfectly good implementation, so I could have just used QGIS. But hey, then I wouldn’t have had the fun implementing my own 🙂 )

I did a lot of tests using the Sky View Factor on the new DTM, but I couldn’t make it work as well as I had hoped. By coincidence I ran it on the DSM in an urban area, which gave a very interesting result. This effect is basically what makes the GeoHipster map look different from most other shaded DSMs.

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

A: The map consists of several layers: a standard hillshade, a Sky View Factor, building footprints, and water bodies.

The Sky View Factor layer was made using a custom algorithm implemented in Python using rasterio and optimized for speed using Cython. As mentioned this could probably just as well have been processed using SAGA, for instance, through QGIS. The hillshade layer was made using GDAL and the vector layers did not require any special processing.

QGIS was used to symbolize and combine the layers using gradients, transparency and layer blending.

Data used are the national Danish DEM and the national Danish topological map called GeoDanmark. Both datasets are open and can be freely downloaded from Kortforsyningen. Sadly most of these sites are in Danish only – maybe some clever hidden trade barrier.

Here is an online version of my map. For the online version I had to change the symbolization a bit as producing tiles from QGIS Server doesn’t work very well with gradients.

After submitting the map to the GeoHipster 2016 calendar I have been working on coloring the vegetation to get a green component also. There are no datasets for vegetation which include single trees, bushes etc, so I made a python script to extract and filter this information from the classified LiDAR point cloud.

This new map can be seen here in a preliminary version.

'Copenhagen Illuminated' by Asger Sigurd Skovbo Petersen
‘Copenhagen Illuminated’ by Asger Sigurd Skovbo Petersen

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Stephen Smith

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.


Stephen Smith

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a cartographer by night and a GIS Project Supervisor by day. I work for the Vermont Agency of Transportation where I help our rail section use GIS to manage state-owned rail assets and property. Most of the time my work entails empowering users to more easily access and use their GIS data. I’ve used Esri tools on a daily basis since 2008, but recently I’ve been playing with new tools whenever I get the chance. I attended SOTMUS 2014 in DC (my first non-Esri conference) and was really excited about everything happening around the open source geo community. I got some help installing “Tilemill 2” from GitHub and I haven’t looked back. Since then the majority of the maps I’ve made have been using open source tools and data. Lately I’ve been heavily involved in The Spatial Community, a Slack community of 800+ GIS professionals who collaborate to solve each other’s problems and share GIFs. I’m also starting a “mastermind” for GIS professionals who want to work together and help one another take their careers to the next level.

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: This map was a gift for my cousin who is part Native American and works in DC as an attorney for the National Indian Gaming Commission. His wife told me that he really liked my Natural Resources map and she wanted me to make him something similar to the US Census American Indian maps but in a “retro” style. I took the opportunity to explore the cartographic capabilities of QGIS and was very impressed.

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

A: I’ve done a full writeup of the creation of the map including the data, style inspirations, fonts, challenges, and specific QGIS settings used on my website. You can also download a high resolution version perfect for a desktop wallpaper.

'Native American Lands' by Stephen Smith
‘Native American Lands’ by Stephen Smith

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Andrew Zolnai

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.


Andrew Zolnai

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a geologist who turned to computer mapping 30 years ago and GIS 20 yrs ago – high school Latin helped me transition to coding just short of programming – and I now started my third business and assisted two others. I’m taking a ‘business process first’ approach, using mind mapping as a ‘talking point’ to help firms help themselves, which will determine workflows in resources planning that may invoke web maps. My Volunteered Geographic Information also helps individuals and academics put themselves on the map.

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: Ken Field’s hexagon maps featured on the BBC during UK elections this spring inspired me to do the same in the US Gulf of Mexico: 50K oil wells taxed, so binning the data points allowed to show progressively more detail at large scales as you zoom in. It clearly shows for example the march of wells further offshore with time, in a way that speaks to stakeholders and public as well as engineers and mappers.

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

A: Esri ArcGIS for Desktop Standard and Model Builder, scripts adapted from Esri’s Ken Field for US Gulf of Mexico wells, posted on ArcGIS Online.

'Hexagon binning, US Gulf of Mexico oilwells' by Andrew Zolnai
‘Hexagon binning, US Gulf of Mexico oilwells’ by Andrew Zolnai

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Terence Stigers

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.


Terence Stigers

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 ( 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).

'Greenfield, Massachusetts' by Terence Stigers
‘Greenfield, Massachusetts’ by Terence Stigers

Link to full-size map

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Nathan Saylor

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.


Nathan Saylor

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m the GIS coordinator for Hardin County, Ohio, where I do a variety of map projects to support and promote various county entities. I really enjoy my position there as I’m a one-person shop and there is ample opportunity to learn and experiment with my craft.

I am also the owner of Saylor Mapping. This was started to answer the many requests coming to the county GIS for cemetery mapping services that the county felt was beyond its reasonable scope to handle. Saylor Mapping is also breaking into municipal utilities as well.

I am also very involved with #GISTribe, which has a scheduled meet every Wednesday at 3pm ET on Twitter (though we’re active all the time), as well as the archive and blog.

Personally, my wife Marti and I have been married for nearly 18 years and have six clever kids.

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: The deadline for the Ohio GIS Conference map competition was looming, so being in Buckeye country, I pondered what the map might look like if Michigan wasn’t there. I had never really thought about it, but looking at it, I considered what the impact of its sudden absence might be and within about 30 minutes came up with some economic reasons why this might be proposed by the fictitious Ohio Consortium for Greater Lakes.

Of course this is born out of the well-known rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, and this was totally a play at the judges. While I had a lot of humored responses and requests for copies (download available here), sadly Ohio missed the opportunity to formally recognize the genius in their midst (I say with tongue firmly in cheek).

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

A: The data was from Natural Earth, and I used ArcGIS Desktop. If you fancy yourself a fontophile and an anglophile, you’ll have noticed the font used for the lakes is Blackadder which was named for a British comedy alluding to the jest in which this map was made.

Go Bucks!

'Great Lake Expansion Proposal' by Nathan Saylor
‘Great Lake Expansion Proposal’ by Nathan Saylor