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)
Real talk: I love geo. After 15 years or so in this field, I’m constantly amazed at the work being accomplished by my colleagues. I’m especially inspired by the new class of talent that comes along every few years. Whether it be a thought-provoking tweet, a fresh take on cartography, or niche app that re-defines a previous concept, young professionals are continually improving our field.
In taking a break from our usual long-form interview format, i’d like to introduce you to eight young professionals who inspire me on a regular basis. Each of them brings a unique perspective to geo, and all of them are dedicated to making a difference by having a positive impact on our world.
I recently asked each of them to tell me about what they love about geo right now, and invited them to share something “cool”. Some you may already know, some you may not, so here’s a virtual handshake to help introduce them to you.
A front-end GIS Developer at the State of Minnesota, Kitty is focused on UI/UX, cartographic design, mobile environments, and web accessibility. She helps organize Maptime MSP, and is finishing her three-year term on the Minnesota GIS/LIS Consortium’s Board of Directors. In her free time, Kitty hits the ice to play hockey, hikes/snowshoes (depending on the season), loves a good book, and likes to travel the globe.
Cool shareable: Map for the annual Minnesota GIS/LIS Consortium’s conference showcasing hotels, key attractions, and establishments. The 2015 conference was the 25th annual conference held in the beautiful city of Duluth. http://geospatialem.github.io/conference-map/
Kitty says: “There’s so much to learn in the geography and geospatial industries, and so many extremely talented professionals to tap and work with! Broadly speaking, I am trying to be a better cartographer, and I’ve found that working offline has been the best method for me — doodling, coloring, baking, traveling, and even hiking…”
Currently a junior at the College of William & Mary, where he studies Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. Kelvin is from Northern Virginia, and before that Accra, Ghana.
Cool shareable: I wrote my first real lines of code just over a year ago, and now I hack on all sorts of cool and complex projects! One of them is a scraper for data.openaddresses.io that makes it prettier and searcheable by source name and by country.
Kelvin says: “The geospatial field is a great environment for budding software engineers. The open source community in geo is so vibrant and vocal. Everyone is always up to something cool and creative. This is especially true at Mapbox where brilliant minds are pushing the envelope on the state of the art in geospatial technology all the time.”
Cartographic Technician at Virginia Economic Development Partnership
Allison is a May 2015 graduate from James Madison University and a former intern at the National Parks Service. She spends her free time hiking and trying to figure out how to “adult” (401K? Health Insurance? Taxes???).
Cool shareable: For my Senior Capstone at James Madison University, I created this map that tells the story of a growing industry in the Commonwealth that dates back to the colonial age. It was built using a multitude of different tools: the map itself was built in QGIS and ArcMap, all of the charts were originally built using R, and the stylization and construction of the graphics all took place in Adobe Illustrator.
Allison says: “I love putting interactive GIS in the hands of the user and making geographic data accessible and understandable for everyone to explore. I have started teaching myself the basics of web design in the hope of building some interactive maps and charts of my own someday.”
Product Engineer on ArcGIS Open Data at Esri DC R&D Center
Courtney works at Esri where she’s a Product Engineer on ArcGIS Open Data. She works closely with product management, designers, and customers to help guide the product and make sure they’re building something awesome. Before Esri, she studied in Canada at McGill University, where she was introduced to open data through GIS classes and the professors there who are studying how new geospatial tech is altering government – citizen interactions. Courtney is also a co-organizer for Maptime DC, and a co-organizer for HackShopDC.
Courtney says: “I’m really excited about my awesome coworker Brendan’s map editor, Mundi, and all the potential that comes from it. You sign in with your GitHub account and can search through all the open datasets from ArcGIS, do your simple-but-flexible map styling, and get an output as a gist and an automagically created bl.ock. It also gives you the map styling CSS or JSON, so it’s sweet if you just want to play with styling and plug the bit of code into your own map.”
Katie is a cartographer, glasses-wearer, and amateur cheese enthusiast who currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She’s finishing her cartography/GIS degree at UW-Madison while working at the Cartography Lab and co-organizing Maptime Madison. She’s a social media nut who helps run several professional map twitters (such as @NACIS & @MaptimeHQ) and loves the cartographic Twitter community.
Cool shareable: This was my first intense D3 map, with a supported graphic and temporal component — so it was a bit daunting given our time constraint, but we made it work! The hardest part of this map was the research required. I didn’t realize how much legal jargon I’d have to learn about in order to assemble all of our data. If it had just been looking at each abortion restriction without a temporal component, that would have been a lot easier, but why would we want that?
Alex Kappel [@alex_kappel] GIS Analyst, the Data Team at @AidData
Alex discovered geo at Clark University while studying Environmental Science. After learning some Python in school, he got the opportunity to intern at Development Seed. Currently he works at AidData, using mainly FOSS geotools producing geocoded data sets (which hopefully have a positive impact). Based out of the William & Mary office, Alex also gets to work with a lot of students, and is a co-organizer for Maptime Hampton Roads.
Cool shareable: Accessibility is one of the key attributes of ‘open’ data. With this in mind, AidData provides geocoded datasetsthat lower barriers of entry for end users who want to see who is funding what, and where they are siting their investments. Collectively, this suite of improvements is known as a “Level 1A” data product. All of AidData’s Level 1 geocoded datasets are now accompanied by a Level 1A data product.
GIS Developer at Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Jacqueline is an outdoor enthusiast who’s paired her love of nature and geography in her career as a GIS professional with the MN Department of Natural Resources. While she has recently moved into a GIS developer role, she gets her cartography and design fix by creating hand-made maps. When Jacqueline is not mapping, she is usually hiking, fly-fishing, or kayaking.
Cool Shareable: After creating a mobile data collection app for the MN DNR’s entomologists to track bee species and habitat characteristics in Minnesota, I was inspired to learn about native bees. This map was generated from an evolving dataset of specialist bees and native host plant ranges, courtesy of the University of Minnesota and the MN DNR. The intent of the map is to bring awareness to bee population decline and population diversity, as well as highlight the need for increased data and analysis to facilitate population preservation.
Jacqueline says: “I’m excited that cartography, design, and user experience are playing an increasingly important role in web map development. Sharpening my front end development skills to create efficient yet attractive interactive maps is something I’m working hard at right now. Being part of such a creative community of GIS experts is inspiring!”
Kara graduated from George Mason University in 2014, studied geography, though somewhere along the way she managed to earn most of the computer science and geology degrees as well (foraminiferal oxygen isotopes are super cool and academic specialization is hard). Currently she works for a small geospatial analytics startup based outside of Washington DC, and her tasks at the moment range from throwing Bash and Python at large unruly datasets, cartographic design, web development, search and rescue related behavioral modeling, ops, keeping their local PostgreSQL OSM database alive, and attempting to bend the Node GDAL bindings to her will for raster processing and modeling in Electron.
Cool shareable: Search & Rescue topographic maps for Washington and Virginia are a sample of trying to improve on USGS maps with OpenStreetMap and supplemental data. Methodology for the SAR map creation can be found at the following link:
Alan McConchie is a Design Technologist at Stamen Design, working at the intersection of cartography, open source software, and data visualization. He is also a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of British Columbia, researching the social dynamics of crowdsourced mapmaking in OpenStreetMap. You can find him on twitter at @mappingmashups, where he hosts a monthly twitter discussion called #geowebchat. Along with Lyzi Diamond, Camille Teicheira, and founder Beth Schechter, he helped start Maptime, an international, open source educational community for learning about maps.
Q: You are coming up on two years with Stamen, and you’ve been a part of some great projects (Social Media & Open Spaces, Every Line Ever, etc.) there. Which project have you learned the most from so far, and what project are you looking forward to working on?
A: Working at Stamen has been a dream come true, and I feel like I learn so much on every project we do. The social media mapping project you mention has taught me a lot, and I’m excited about that one because it’s still ongoing: parks.stamen.com evolved into caliparks.org, and, we have more plans to keep building on it. And yet, through all those iterations, we still don’t quite know how to make maps of social media activity that will be meaningful to the public. There’s a lot of interesting geographic data processing happening under the hood, but if visualizing it doesn’t serve the needs of the overall product, then it doesn’t need to be part of the user-facing app (yet).
A lot of what I’ve learned at Stamen fits into that theme: how do you make amazing maps that are well integrated and appropriately supportive of the rest of your site / app / visualization / product / whatever? For example, the climate change maps we made for the Audubon Society are really fantastic on their own (and I learned a lot about hacking Tilemill in the process), but I’m also really proud of how they fit together with some non-geographic visualizations we did, and of course a beautiful site built by Mule Design. I’m a map guy, so I love a map that’s successful all on its own, but I love it even more when a great map fits seamlessly into a larger message.
Q: You are a huge contributor to OpenStreetMap, and a lot of your doctoral research involves OSM data. What has been your favorite aspect of OSM?
A: I wouldn’t say I’m a huge contributor, and I never have the time to edit as much as I’d like. Although I am proud to have joined the project early enough to get my first name (Alan) as my OSM username!
As an academic, what fascinates me about OSM is that it’s like studying Geography as a discipline: it can be about so many different things. If you’re into politics, you can study Political Geography, if you’re interested in culture, there’s Cultural Geography, if you’re concerned about the environment, there’s Environmental Geography… you get the idea. OpenStreetMap is also like that. It’s kind of a microcosm. It’s about how we deal with the world, and how we deal with each other. So you can use OSM as an example to study so many different things: how people cooperate (or fail to cooperate), how information and knowledge are produced in the age of the internet, the emotional attachment people feel to place, even the differences in the way we all perceive the world. These are all issues that are very close to the heart of OpenStreetMap.
I’m the first to admit that OSM has serious problems (the digital divide between rich and poor areas, a deep lack of diversity, a persistent unfriendliness to newcomers), but I doubt I’ll ever give up on it. I’m optimistic that we all can keep making OSM better, and at minimum I expect it will only keep getting more and more interesting as it grows! Projects like the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team prove the difference that OSM can make in the world. It’s an important project that’s worth fighting for, to help it get better.
Q: Community engagement and education is obviously very important to you — either through your university instruction, presentations, or things like Maptime, OpenStreetMap, #geowebchat. First, where do you find the time? And second, what is the best lesson you could teach someone pursuing a geo career? What about someone involved or getting involved with the geo community?
A: Well, I’m lucky that Stamen strongly supports education and community engagement, so that helps me find some of the time to do all this. For me on a personal level, though, I know I’m extremely privileged and lucky to have learned the things I’ve learned, and to have the opportunity to work on so many interesting projects, both at Stamen and in graduate school. I feel an obligation to share that knowledge with other people, and to help create opportunities for them. This is especially true because I’ve learned so much from open source and open data, which depends a lot on the generosity of others. Teaching and sharing goes with the territory of open source, in my mind. We all find our own ways to contribute, and for me, teaching is my way of giving back to the community.
My advice for someone pursuing a geo career or getting into the community: Start a blog and document everything you learn, build a portfolio of projects, and share your progress. You’ll help other people who are also learning, you’ll build a support network, and you’ll raise your profile when applying for jobs. Be active on social media, but be smart about it. I’m on twitter a lot, but I try to think of it as research. If you’re not learning new things that are useful to your pursuits, then you’re following the wrong people and you’re just wasting your time. Also, use social media to cultivate contacts in real life. You never know where your next job offer might come from.
Q: How excited are you for the upcoming State of the Map US? Any talks planned? And there’s a Maptime summit too? WAT!?!?
A: I’m so excited for SOTM-US! I can’t wait to chat about OpenStreetMap all weekend in the freakin’ United Nations! I submitted a presentation about my dissertation research, wherein I hope to carefully wade into the debate about whether imports are good or bad for OSM.
And the Maptime Summit is going to be so great! We have a full day of events planned for the day after State of the Map, so please stick around in NYC for one more day and join us for that!
Maptime has really started to mature in the last year, and the Summit will be Maptime’s emergence from it’s awkward adolescent phase. There are so many passionate Maptime organizers around the world who are getting the hang of running their local chapters, and have tons of energy to help Maptime grow. I look forward to hearing all great lessons the organizers have to share with other organizers. Meanwhile at HQ, we’re figuring out some systems to help Maptime scale from our current 50 (or so) chapters to the next 500, so expect some announcements regarding that at the Summit. Now’s the time to keep learning from each other, to celebrate all the awesomeness that’s happened so far, and to figure out how to make Maptime even more awesome in the future.
Q: The Pop vs Soda project was a very popular survey (350K responses) showcasing the relation of geography and linguistics. What was the most important takeaway for you as a researcher?
A: When it comes to the Pop vs Soda Page, I’m only an amateur linguistic geographer! I had no idea what I was doing with that project, and it’s definitely not scientific. That was actually my first programming project (at least, the Perl scripts that run the site on the back end), and I had no idea it would become so popular. If I learned anything from that project, it’s that people get extremely riled up over the most trivial things. Who knew that passions would run so high when it comes to stupid carbonated beverages?
Q: Cartographer to cartographer: Your desert island favorite maps?
A: I was afraid this question was coming! Instead of sticking to stand-alone maps, I’m going to cheat a little bit by including a lot of atlases, too (both online and physical ones). Here are some of the touchstones that I keep coming back to for inspiration (but I’m sure I’m forgetting many more amazing ones):
Eric Fischer’s tourists and locals maps are one of my all-time favorites. Sure, the sheer volume of data shown on the map is impressive, but it’s that one insightful tweak (classifying users as tourists or locals based on how often they were active in one city versus other cities) that makes the maps endlessly fascinating. The maps show you so much about social activities, about the structure and landuse of cities, about the grit and noise present in the technological infrastructure of GPS and cell phone towers and so on, it’s just amazing. I could look at them for days.
I’m a big fan of Bill Rankin’s Radical Cartography site, which is a treasure trove of beautiful minimalist maps about all kinds of topics. I can’t pick just one! Along the same lines, I also love Dorothy Gambrell’s maps for Very Small Array. With both Rankin and Gambrell I love how prolific they are, how it seems like any topic of dinner conversation might spur them to go home and find a way to create an interesting map about that topic. They also do a great job of hiding the amount of research that goes into each of their maps. They make it look effortless.
Speaking of “radical cartography”, I’ve always been interested in the potential of maps for activism. Lize Mogel and Alexis Bhagat’s “An Atlas of Radical Cartography” (unrelated to Rankin’s work) is a great collection of creative, political maps on various topics, made by mapmakers who blur the lines between cartographer, artist, and activist.
Within academic Geography — although he eventually got kicked out of academia — “Wild” Bill Bunge is the patron saint of activist mapping. I’d have to pick his 1971 book/atlas “Fitzgerald” about race, economics, and geography in Detroit; the maps are certainly dated, but the topic is as relevant as ever, and the scope and ambition of the project is staggering. The Million Dollar Blocks project by Laura Kurgan and the Columbia University Spatial Information Design Lab is one of the modern day successors to the Fitzgerald atlas. (Interestingly, Adam Greenfield’s newsletter this week made a similar connection. Maybe Bunge’s making a comeback in the zeitgeist?)
And just to show that activist maps don’t have to be so dark and sober when dealing with a serious topic, Julian Busac’s map of Palestine as an archipelago borrows the aesthetics of traditional maps to vividly communicate how space is experienced on the ground by millions of Palestinians. It’s lovely and serious at the same time.
Q: What does the term geohipster mean to you, and as a doctoral candidate what would you prescribe an ailing geohipster?
A: I don’t really know what geohipster means! It’s probably like “hipster” IRL: everybody thinks they know what it means, but nobody can define it. Based on the previous geohipsters interviewed in the blog, it’s hard to find anything they have in common, other than awesomeness.
That said, am a sucker for new words, even ones I don’t fully understand! I’m happy to add “geohipster” to the list of neologisms I started collecting back in my early days of grad school. It includes neogeography, of course, but also neocartography, VGI, f-VGI, CCGI, AGI, web 2.0, GIS 2.0, Maps 2.0, GeoWeb 2.0, web mapping 2.0, new spatial media, WebGIS, GIS/2, alt.GIS, wiki-mapping, the wikification of GIS, map hacks, map mashups, geohacks, mapumentaries, autobiogeographies, geobrowsers, digital earths, virtual globes, cyberplace, digiplace, the cyberspatial web, cybercartography, telecartography, paracartography, social cartography, naive geography, egocarto, geomedia, geospatial media, ubiquitous cartography, ubiquitous mapping, ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, ambient computing, hertzian space, hybrid space, mixed reality, augmented reality, augmented space, and that’s not even my complete list. I’ll leave the definitions to your imagination and as a test of your google skills.
So, what would I prescribe an ailing geohipster? Maybe revive one of those terms I just listed? Some of those trends are more than ten years old, and are totally ready for a comeback! Doesn’t “cyberspatial” have a catchy, nostalgic feel to it? Or maybe you should resurrect some retro technology like the original Google Maps API from 2005? That sounds like an appropriately artisanal programming project that some geohipster could do over a weekend.
Chris Bupp is a Senior Geospatial Developer at GISi Indoors. He likes developing with new technologies and cooking with less new technologies. He made more maps working/volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina than he has since then. He’s created a Leap Motion interactive web map and when bored he tinkers with genetic algorithms.
Q: Hey Chris. Tell us about your experiences with geo and what you’re working on now.
A: To start, I first fell in love with programming back in high school. I could make something new from nothing; it was exciting! Many developers have a hard time sharing what excites them; it can be hard for your friends to high five you when you’re talking about database indices. When I first started working with geo-enabled technologies, I was able to immediately share my excitement with others; it was energizing.
I got my start in geo during college. One of my very first projects was a Windows application that allowed you to share photos and journal entries on a map with your friends and family; in hindsight if it was a website instead of a Windows application, it would have been worth something! (Ed.: Indeed! This is what Flickr founder Caterina Fake’s third startup Findery does, which she launched in 2012.)
My most recent project, GeoMetri, is a suite of applications that work to solve problems in the indoor space. We’ve developed a WiFi tracking solution that allows store owners and event throwers to answer questions like: Did this banner or sign cause more people to stop by? Does having more on-floor staff increase (or decrease) visitor dwell times? We’ve also developed mobile indoor navigation apps to help visitors explore and navigate around large buildings or campuses.
Q: Indoor mapping seems to be an increasingly crowded space. Tell us about what you’re currently doing, and what sets your work apart from other companies.
A: It is! I guess that means it’s a good idea. When we first started getting into the indoor space two years ago, we did our research (and continue to research) the constantly growing techniques and tools available. Our goal has always been to provide tools that offer the best solution to a customer’s needs, which means we don’t always use a home-grown tool. There are a ton of smart folks in the indoors industry, we’ve positioned ourselves with several partners to allow us to meet more than just a specific type of solution.
It’s also important to realize that the indoor space [market] is very large, and there is no clear leader in the industry. Every week a few companies may start, and several others have been acquired. You just need to remain agile and ready to implement a solution with several choices of backing technology.
Q: You’ve worked with lots of technologies. I think the first time we met, you were talking about how awesome FORTRAN was compared to Python, or something like that. As a developer, what blossoming technologies do you have your eye on?
A: Wow. You have a good memory. At the time I was working a lot in FORTRAN on a real impressive software suite that created probabilistic danger zones for shooting ranges using Monte Carlo modeling of the projectiles. FORTRAN is above and beyond faster and a better choice for math-heavy applications (if you’re willing to undertake the extra effort of actually writing in FORTRAN).
Right now a lot of exciting things are happening with iBeacons (and several other beacon flavors), drones, and open source. These areas are going to get a lot more chaotic before the dust settles, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait for all the standards to be defined before building new things!
Q: Does that say “tinkers with genetic algorithms” in your bio? WAT?
A: You know how it is when you get bored: some people try to solve prime numbers; some people like to solve problems with genetic algorithms. Genetic algorithms have promised to solve np complex problems (when a “good enough” answer is better than the best answer in 500 years).
For instance, with a friend, we spent a few hours attempting to solve a traveling salesman problem where you had several salespeople instead of just one.
Q: You and I have spent some free time working on some open source projects like ALF. What part of open source, as a developer, is most rewarding to you?
A: I enjoy the social aspect of open source. In business, developers are constantly told to hide what they make. Open source allows me to share my creations with more than just my co-workers.
Another important aspect is realizing that all of the projects I create commercially or privately rely on at least one other open source project. So sharing back with the community makes me feel good, and when someone actually uses my projects, I feel great! If you ever need something from me and see that I’m in a sour mood, fork one of my repos.
Q: Cartographer to developer — your favorite map(s)?
A: My favorite maps are less mappy, but still retain a map essence — where the data is more important than its exact location. Examples of this are Minard’s map and more recently the Prison Map. Both of these maps demonstrate a map-like quality, but the data is what is powerfully shown. We see US maps all the time that struggle to showcase their data (and its meaning) because states are different sizes.
Q: You’ll be diving in head-first at FOSS4G this week, and you’ll no doubt interact with future and current GeoHipster alumni. What’s the term geohipster mean to you? What part of FOSS4G are you most looking forward to, and who are you looking to interact with?
A: To me, the term geohipster refers to an individual willing to explore, build, and perfect things outside of the normal geo universe. Geohipsters are fixers. A lot of times they’re the ones willing to do the work to build a solution (and sure, maybe their duct tape has little mustaches printed on it).
Like most of my adventures, I look forward to learning. I’m very new to FOSS4G and I have a lot to learn. As a hobbyist, I’m looking forward to the latest developments in FOSS4G (and super excited about all the drone sessions). As a representative for my company, I’m looking forward to see what types of businesses attend FOSS4G, and I’m interested in their business models, as well as their business goals.
One subset of FOSS4G participants I’m looking forward to meeting is other maptime-ers. I’ve only been to the first of the Atlanta chapter meetings, so it’ll be weird flying across the country to meet up with them, but fun nonetheless!
I’m also looking forward to meeting and interacting with anyone willing to share their experiences with FOSS4G. So, if you’re at FOSS4G and see someone with brown curly hair and a deer-in-the-headlights look, it’s probably me and I’d love to talk!
Sara Safavi is a “software developer with a geohabit” in Austin, TX. She spent many years in the GIS trenches before eventually transitioning to full-time developer at Rackspace. She also moonlights as a geospatial consultant, specializing in clients looking for cost-effective, “real-world” solutions hybridizing open source technologies with existing platforms. Outside of work, Sara organizes two local community groups: Austin Open Source GIS & PyLadiesATX. She’s also frequently found teaching workshops — primarily Python and/or GIS-centric ones — and evangelizing all the open source geo-things.
Q: This quote from your “About” page almost perfectly describes most interviewed geohipsters:
“…interested in open data & open source software, and working near the intersection of programming & GIS is where I’m happiest…”
How did this passion for “open” evolve for you?
A: When I first got access to a computer, I was lucky enough to be told: “Do what you want on this machine, learn about it, play with it, and if you break it I’ll fix it.” That put me at ease and let me experiment. It also gave me a sense of control and ownership: computers for me were never some scary unknown that came with a vague sense of this-is-not-for-you. When I later got involved with open source communities, I found a similar combination of freedom and safety net that enabled independent learning. Those communities tended to be built around shared interests and goals, and everyone shared enthusiasm for the same things. Plus, I really loved that I actually got to talk to the people who were making things and get involved in finding solutions to shared problems. Eventually I started to help other people with some of the things I had learned — not in a really huge way, but it was still such an empowering experience that I really latched on to Linux and open source software.
A lot of my early experience with GIS was using proprietary software which had bugs and limitations which regular users couldn’t really do anything about, while outside of work I was using a lot of open source tools which were just so nice to use. I realized that the proprietary tools everyone took for granted were often more of a hindrance than a help. Although open source tools may be harder to discover, proprietary tools tend not to be geared to extension or giving power to the user, so the end result is frequently reduced productivity with greatly limited flexibility. Add in the matter of open source software having, by definition, vastly broader accessibility, and it was really no longer a question for me.
Essentially I like the combination of the empowering support that you can find in the “open” communities with the flexibility and just plain utility of open source software. We share solutions and data because we’re all in this together. Likewise, a lot of the outside-of-work things I do now involve building communities that try to allow others to find the same kind of support, and feel enabled to learn new things.
Q: I met you last year at the Esri UC where you organized a great Open Source Lunch & Learn. You also organize Austin Open Source GIS and PyLadies ATX. How important is networking to professionals in tech fields?
A: When I hear the word “networking”, I think of that check-out-my-cool-business-card, let’s-make-5-minutes-of-awkward-conversation-then-maybe-never-speak-again thing we do at big conferences and business events. It’s probably a necessary function. As an industry we all basically agree that this kind of face time is what we use to build our professional networks. And something, something, jobs, right?
But what I try to make happen with the things I’m involved in, and the groups I organize, is something different. What I’m really, really passionate about is this idea of bringing enthusiasts together, creating comfortable and safe spaces for learning, and opportunities to grow collectively. That kind of networking is what really makes me happy: connecting people who want to learn something, try something out, toss around ideas — do something new. And because my experience and interests are so closely tied to both programming and GIS, most of what I do regarding community building is within the mutual orbit of those two worlds.
In PyLadiesATX, and also Austin Open Source GIS, I want so strongly to promote the idea that “tech”, and specifically that which exists within the scary bubble of “writing code”, is fundamentally accessible to every single interested person. Culturally, we’ve constructed a lot of barriers to engagement on this: where we’re coming from as individuals may vary, but too many of us carry this idea that programming is perpetually for someone other than ourselves. Especially in the geospatial community, we’ve spent so long constructing our narrative around this idea that we do GIS, they write code. Our community still clings to the idea that Spatial Is Special, but the reality is that lines between “us” and “them” are not nearly as distinct as we’d like to think. So bringing these two worlds — the coders and the geospatialists — closer together is something I’m always talking about. At PyTexas last year I did a talk on “GIS for Python People”… and at next month’s FOSS4G-NA I’m going to be giving the counterpart to that, “Python for GIS People”. I just won’t shut up about it! 🙂
So this is what I enjoy most. But what I’m always wanting to ask people is, what makes you excited? What are you so enthusiastic about that you can’t help but tell everyone about whenever you can? I promise you there is someone else with at least a tangentially related passion around here. Find your tribe! Find that group of people that can say “Wow, cool!” about the same things that make you say “Wow, cool!”. That’s where growth happens — and that’s where it’s most fun to be, too.
Oh, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the Open Source Lunch & Learn last year. One of the things I loved about that event was the fact that there, in the middle of the Esri UC, for one hour we weren’t just trading business cards and looking for the next job opportunity or new shiny thing to buy. Instead we were a tribe of folks excited about the same ideas, showing off cool things we’d built, sharing the same spirit of open — and that was awesome. That’s the kind of “networking” I’m interested in, and what I want to create more of.
Q: You are currently a developer at Rackspace. You’ve been a GIS admin, analyst, and a consultant. What’s been your favorite project thus far?
A: I’m the kind of person who can’t tell you my favorite movie, favorite book, or favorite food on any given day… so I’m going to cop out here and tell you about the kind of project I like best. Sorry. 🙂
I love working on projects that, big or small, simply make things better for a particular audience or user. That’s really, really unspecific, I know! But if the project I’m working on doesn’t have an end goal of getting a user to grin and say “Whoa, thanks!”, then frankly that project’s probably boring. One of my earliest Python+GIS projects was just a lot of geoprocessing glue-code that took what was once a multi-hour manual process and turned it into a streamlined 10-15 minute automatic job. That was awesome, because there were a small but happy handful of folks (myself included!) on the receiving end. And more recently, whenever I’m building a web map or app, that moment when the people I’m working for first see their data and ideas go “live” is always great.
Then again, I also love seeing the horrible, messy, Goldberg-machine travesties that should never see the light of day, but nonetheless exist because of whatever nonsensical constraints they were given. These things that absolutely solve a pain point and defy logic by just working within the artificial constructs that forced their creation, but just are… comically bad, because for example you’re not actually allowed to install any additional software on the system that will run this tool. I’m talking about nasty things like PowerShell-Python-SharePoint monstrosities that we don’t talk about in polite company. Those are awesome too, for different reasons.
Q: Looking at your talks page, and having been present at some before, you cover a wide range of technologies. What tips would you give for keeping up with many different tools at once? Is there an emerging tool you are excited about?
A: It’s funny, all I think is how there are so many technologies that I don’t know or use regularly! I think the subset of tools that I work with regularly (both dev-tools and geo-tools) are constrained to a specific domain: web-stuff, primarily, and all things related to getting maps, tools, and applications to a distributed audience. But outside of that, there’s plenty that I would love to learn more about, if I just had the time.
On emerging tools — the geospatial universe is so huge and diverse, that I know there is a ton happening right now that I’m not specifically aware of. We have so many sub-sections that are just completely hidden from view if you’re not directly involved in their area of focus. Pick a niche, and there is probably some awesome tool being developed right now by an anonymous GIS-something person who probably doesn’t even consider themselves a “developer”, but nonetheless knows exactly what they need to fix their domain-specific problem, and are just working to get this done now. And it’s most likely great, a perfect solution to an ongoing saddle burr. Raise your hand if this is you! You’re probably not the only one with a hand up. Because at heart, that’s what we are: stubborn, persistent, get-this-done types, who happen to share an insatiable curiosity about knowing how things connect — and we’re all just doing the best we can to answer the question of “where”, with whatever resources are at hand.
With that long-winded disclaimer said, here’s what’s on my radar today:
CartoDB. They’re not really ‘emerging’, but since this past Fall they’ve really started taking off (i.e., I can now mention them in non-geonerd conversation and still get nods of recognition). What I love about them is how easy they make it for non-mappers to become mappers, and for non-developers to make a web map. I’m all about sparking interest and lighting fires where once there were none! Someone recently asked me for help making a web map (because I’m that developer-person, and web maps are hard, right?) and it was so cool getting to show them how easy it was to take a spatial layer they’d created and near-instantly make it publicly available as a web map.
Another not-totally-new technology, but since they’re still deep in beta I think they count as “emerging”: GeoGig. Git for geospatial data. For those of you not familiar, this is about building “version control” around your spatial data: tracking historical changes to files over time. This is something that traditionally has only been used by programmers on their code, but absolutely should be something GIS professionals use on our data too. I can’t wait for this to be the new normal in our industry.
And everyone’s saying it, but TurfJS is going to be a game-changer. My opinion’s especially influenced by my past life as a gov/mil GIS-something, and how much of that time I spent fighting the non-local nature of certain web GIS tools (and the “you can’t install that!” nature of everything else). An open source client library like TurfJS is going to be absolutely huge for a lot of people.
Q: Cartographer to developer — your favorite map(s)?
A: Oh no, another “I can’t pick a favorite” answer!
Here’s a by-no-means-complete list of some of my favorites:
Basically all of the work done by Andrew Hill in conjunction with CartoDB. He makes some gorgeous maps on that platform (like the directional river flow map) and pretty much all of them remind me why I don’t try to be a cartographer.
The “Nobody Lives Here” map by Nik that took the internet by storm last year. Yet another of those “this is why I’m not a cartographer” maps, the idea is deceptively simple and the result is just so cool.
NOAA’s GOES imagery. As a weather geek who spent years living on the Gulf Coast (hurricane country), I’ve spent way too many hours engrossed in the NHC’s satellite loops. For that matter, I have a soft spot for hand-drawn hurricane tracking maps, of which I’ve made my share.
Basically any map example used in the fantastic “How To Lie With Maps”. There’s a chapter that walks through cartographic tactics used by Cold-War-era Soviet mappers, and it’s just incredibly interesting to read.
Q: You live in the hipster capital of the U.S. — Austin, Texas — and you’re in Geo. I think that technically makes you more geohipster than all of us. What does the term mean to you?
A: Oh good, at least I get to be some kind of hipster! I’m pretty sure I’m not whatever kind of hipster we’re the capital of here (or wait, does it make me a hipster to say that? Now I’m confused…).
I’m not really sure what “geohipster” means, but I guess part of the movement is that it can be open to individual interpretation. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people who claim the label are all pretty interesting folks, who tend to be the outside-the-box thinkers. There’s a bit of a spirit of nonconformity in the community that seems closely tied to learning, using, or building new things. Not just focusing on the next big thing (though we have that, too) but really talking about what might make the world better (whether it’s a tool to make someone’s job easier, or crowdsourcing maps to improve emergency response). Being willing to go against the flow and try something different is something I see in common among the geohipster crowd.
So, if being “that chick with the weird hair that talks a little smack about Esri and wants everyone to learn to code” makes me a geohipster, then it’s a badge I’ll proudly wear. Thanks!
Q: You’re currently on the GeoTeam at Apple. What’s it like working for one of the best-known tech companies in the world, and what are you doing there?
A: Working in tech is something I really wanted to do, but it isn’t for everyone. Instead of cleaning and exploring data in small batches, choosing my map type, and tweaking my visualizations until they are just right, I work on one big reference map in the cloud, with a lot of other people. While I love the size and scope of the projects I work on now, there are things I miss about having my own personal cartography and data analysis projects that I could use to hone and practice the craft.
A: Any great data visualization takes great data and a ton of time. That map was a breakthrough for me. Tilemill was pretty new; I’d been playing with it for a while, using it to make simple slippy maps of data for the San Francisco Bay Area. I had to hack it hard to get it to render the output of my little geospatial analysis, but it did a beautiful job. People said it was useful at the time, but I’m not really convinced. Using Empirical Bayesian Kriging to model one bedroom rental prices? I’m not sure what that even tells you. I still think it’s pretty though. Ultimately what that project was really about was finally feeling like I’d broken out of my government job analyzing data and making maps for internal consumption to something that could reach a larger audience.
Q: At State of the Map 2014, you co-presented on ‘Teaching Mapping To Geographers’, specifically the disconnect between OSM and geography students. In your opinion, is the divide between GIS professionals and OSM greater, and what do you think can happen to bridge that gap?
A: I mean, I love OSM; it is an audacious experiment that worked and continues to work, but on the whole GIS professionals don’t want to digitize features and tag them with categories as an extracurricular, and I’m not entirely sure the core OSMers want them to participate otherwise. I really admire what the Red Cross and HOT OSM have been able to do to use OSM as a vehicle for citizen mapping. Those are really the folks that hold the key to bridging the gap between OSM and GIS professionals. As for geographers, I think we are more interested in OSM phenomenologically and for the data. In addition to all the great projects people are doing as part of OSM or on behalf of OSM, people ask great questions on the OSM talk-us mailing list and have really great ontological discussions about map features, and I find following those discussions fascinating.
Q: In reference to teaching geography and cartography: You’d be wildly rich if you had a nickel for every time you’ve said…
A: WGS84 is a datum, not a projection. Choropleth not chloropleth. If you don’t know what your map is supposed to be telling us, neither do we. You should have spent more time on this. I hate heatmaps.
Q: Cartographer to cartographer: Your favorite map(s)?
A: There are so many talented cartographers out there, and for anyone reading this who doesn’t know, you Jonah Adkins are a prime example. The pop art map tiles you designed recently. Woohoo! Rosemary Wardley did a similarly awesome pop art thing that I really loved, a map tile for the map “quilt” at NACIS (errata: I tagged her wrong on Twitter). In general, among my most favorites, I love colors and I love information design done beautifully and unconventionally. I admire the work Eric Fischer and Miguel Rios have each done independently to make a beautiful image from a gazillion data points. I love “Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River” (Fisk, 1944), and the Willamette River Map by Daniel Coe. I’m doing a thing with pairs here! The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map has stood out in my mind for years as something beautiful and complex with so much data behind it. But my favorite maps of all time are antiques from the 17th and 18th Century. The old cadastral maps from France, the earliest maps of the U.S. Census, and Minard’s Port and River Tonnage map — less famous and more beautiful than his map of Napoleon’s march. Those are my favorites, I think because they convey to me a certain obsessive something that you get to only by giving yourself all the time in the world and a little freedom to play. But also, every day I am pleased and humbled by scores of maps that embody the principles of good, practical cartography: keep it simple, less is more, make it a composition by harmonizing and arranging your elements, and remember you are telling the story.
Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster?
A: I think #geohipster resonates for a few reasons. First, it is startling when people think you are cool just because you make maps. Most of us, me included, were not always quite so objectively cool. Second, because the geoweb is pleasingly small once you break out of GIS professionalism or whatever other standard paradigms there are, which is a great ferment for ironic inside jokes. There are so many warm, genuine, supportive people who make maps and map-making tools, and will share the best parts of themselves and what they are learning from this crazy ride we’re on right now in a world that is just starting to think about the implications of relating through location. Am I a #geohipster? Without question, yes I am, whatever that means.
Gretchen Peterson is a cartography explorer who is constantly on the lookout for new techniques, tricks, and solutions that collectively elevate the status of maps. Peterson shares these adventures in her cartography books, blog, and twitter stream, and also, sometimes, cracks extremely funny nerd jokes. As a Data Scientist at Boundless, Peterson designs basemaps with open source technology, and recently wrote a blog series on QGIS.
Q: You’re pretty much renowned the world over for your cartography publications (Cartographer’s Toolkit, GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design First Edition and Second Edition). Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be an author.
A: Thanks Jonah, but I’m definitely not renowned the world over. In fact, before I took a position at Boundless last year, one of my siblings was counting unemployed people in our family and included me in the tally. It was obvious that not even my own siblings knew what I was doing all day, even though at that time I was running a successful geo consultancy. That said, I do occasionally run into people who know me, which is a pretty neat thing, although it can be embarrassing when you’re recognized taking a selfie with your own book at the Esri User Conference bookstore.
My background is in natural resources. I’ve been a life-long advocate for environmental stewardship, and GIS, as a means of cataloging, understanding, and anticipating Earth’s processes, was a subject that a professor urged me to study and was the subject of my second most important internship. (The first was censusing common terns, which involved less time on a computer and more time getting pooped on.)
My first non-internship job was at a technology firm in which I was asked to not only do GIS but to also make maps of the results. This is that moment when you realize how important proper results visualization is for your own career’s sake as well as for the success of the projects that you’re working on. If an analysis points out where the county should purchase land to protect an important species, you’d better be able to map it adequately.
There was a significant dearth of practical cartography books at that time: the early 2000s. With some training in design — I was a landscape architecture major in college my first year — I decided that if no adequate books on the subject materialized in the coming decade, I’d figure out good map design principles myself and then write about it for others. And that’s exactly what happened. The first book I wrote is more of a comprehensive textbook on cartography while the second is full of practical tools like color palettes and typefaces. It turns out that both books have been embraced by college professors and career professionals alike.
Q: You recently made the jump from being a private consultant to working for Boundless as a Data Scientist. Has that been an easy transition?
A: Working at Boundless has been just as exciting as I had hoped it would be. Some of the brightest geo minds work there, and they have a sense of pride in helping do good things for the geo community. I think that in most professional positions one ultimately is happiest when making important contributions, whatever they may be, and I have plenty of opportunities for that in this position.
Q: You give regular cartography tips on your blog. If you could give only one piece of advice to someone what would that be?
A: This is not a fair question! I’ve been giving advice on my blog for close to 5 years, and there’s still so much I haven’t covered! But seriously, if I had to say only one thing it’d be to study existing maps, both old and new, and begin to compile a list of map patterns that can come in handy for future mapping projects. The patterns part of map patterns is a term I’ve borrowed from software engineering where it’s been shown to be a good idea to thoroughly understand how problems are commonly and most efficiently solved. They say that all innovation is derivative, and that extends to cartography as well.
Q: I think we got started in GIS around the same time (late nineties) — we’ve seen a lot. What do you think is the greatest accomplishment in cartography in the last 5 years?
A: The greatest change has been the movement from cartography as a medium that only specialists could use to cartography as a medium that everyone can use. This new ease-of-use has resulted in an influx of design-oriented, rather than science-oriented mappers to join the field. As a results, the aesthetic level of all maps has increased dramatically and thereby engaged the public to such an extent that they’ve become demanding users of maps rather than blasé bystanders by virtue of the maps’ enhanced readability, interactivity, and beauty. This is all good.
Q: We had a conversation once about emotional cartography/ers and the need for affirmation (#mapaffirm). Are you an emotional cartographer, and why is affirmation in design work important?
A: Ah yes, this is an important subject, especially for those new to the profession. It’s a “haters gonna hate” kind of situation with the map critics out there. And some mappers get down about how their maps are received.
I’m not an emotional cartographer, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be sympathetic to those who are. Gordon MacKenzie, who wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball, talks about his position at Hallmark as one of shoring up employees’ egos. If a designer came to him with an idea, he invariably responded that it was a good idea, whether or not it truly was. His reasoning was that if it wasn’t a good idea, the designer would eventually realize that and halt production. Perhaps along the way the designer, with the confidence of being backed by a design director like MacKenzie, would come up with a superior product idea.
We also have to remember that rarely does anyone appreciate creative endeavours, especially those that push boundaries, as much as they should when the object is first released. Only time can prove the utility and lastingness of a great map. Just as Mark Twain had to stand up for himself after an editor tried to suggest changes to one of Twain’s introductions, so we can too, for the maps we make today, whether or not they win awards this year or meet with critical favor at the time they are first released. (It did not end well for the editor. Twain not only refused to edit the piece, but also rescinded the piece altogether.)
So, even if you feel like you need to attend a meeting of Emotional Cartographer’s Anonymous, you must have a certain courage when it comes to publishing maps. And if a map that you made was indeed a terribly misinformed piece of drivel, then just remember what @mysadcat said, in its infinite wisdom: https://twitter.com/MYSADCAT/status/468835053863452674/photo/1.
Q: What are your desert-island, all-time-top-5-favorite maps?
A: First and foremost would be Google Maps. It’s likely the most extensively and most frequently used map, with the most factual coverage, and with the biggest team behind it, that the world has ever seen. By a long shot. It’s Lewis Carroll’s life-sized scale map concept at heart, in that it contains so much spatial information at such large scales that it comes close to being intellectually life-sized but has none of the cumbersome problems that Carroll’s 1:1 scale map would have.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.” –Lewis Carroll, The Complete Illustrated Works, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded
The second choice would be any thematic map that illustrates the power of zoom-level mapping, where one can discern patterns at many scales, and thus draw from it a multitude of important conclusions. Dot maps are particularly well suited for this, such as the Ethnical Dot Map by the University of Virginia Demographics Research Group.
My third choice would be the Dymaxion map of world wood-density, which is made of wood and foldable. It has all my favorite components: a cool projection, a very meta media vs. content message, and it’s tactilly interactive! The creativity that went into this is inspiring.
My fourth choice would be the North American Bird Flight Range Shifts series for the intuitive animations of ranges over time, the small-multiples aspect, and the underlying mission to better understand our natural resources through superb visualizations. Plus, the Stamen Design blog post on the subject includes a gif of an owl being bopped on the head by a much smaller bird.
And lastly, I would bring along a kusudama made from the pages of an old map book. This work of art was created especially for me by a good friend. Personal maps should always be kept close to the heart.
Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you and are you a #geohipster?
A: My guess is that a geohipster would be a person who is receptive to new techniques and new technologies inasmuch as they make a better world through geo. A geohipster would also be a person who is able to reach into the past for anything that can be adapted and put to good use in the present.
In this sense of the term geohipster I would hope that I could be included. I don’t fear new technology but I also don’t want to dwell on it to the exclusion of other ideas that could be useful, since cartography is fundamentally about where things are, not about the technology that displays them. Just as we don’t need parchment anymore for maps, so too we may not need computers in the future. As long as I’m massaging spatial information into wisdom or into tools that make wise decisions possible, I’m happy.
I do have to confess to never having GPSd my biking trips. If that’s one of the criteria, then I’m not a geohipster.
Q: What’s next for you? Any new books planned?
A: No new books are in the works at this time, but I’m looking forward to discussing cartography and QGIS at the upcoming Denver Geospatial Amateurs gathering and FOSS4GNA.