Tag Archives: Damian Spangrud

Damian Spangrud to GeoHipster: “Reinvent with a purpose”

Damian Spangrud is a Geographer and Director of Solutions at Esri. Damian often speaks about the role of GIS, technology, and innovation trends. In his 25+ years in the geospatial industry Damian has enjoyed working across a wide range of topics and technology and tweets about all things spatial, weather, and various geeky topics @spangrud.

Q: How did you get into GIS?

A: I have always been interested in maps and technology (although separately). After becoming disillusioned with being a Biology major at the University of Colorado Boulder, I switched to Geography and took ‘Automated Cartography’ and was hooked. I didn’t know what GIS was until a year later and ended up with an internship at the City of Boulder, working in the Open Space department. We had PC ARC/INFO, AutoCAD, and ArcCAD (all on Windows 3.0/3.1). The GIS team worked in a small farmhouse and the GIS manager lived upstairs. That turned into a job and eventually led to working in a GIS research lab at Montana State University Bozeman (Sun SPARCstations and electrostatic plotters) and ultimately at Esri.

Q: How did you end up at Esri?

A: I was finishing my Master’s degree in Earth Science at Montana State University Bozeman. I had enough of academics and needed a job. And while Bozeman was beautiful, there were just not many jobs in the area. I had been using GIS and modeling tools as a fundamental part of my thesis, so I sent out a bunch of resumes related to my GIS work (ahh the days before online job searches). Esri and a couple environmental consulting companies contacted me and I was intrigued by the job at Esri as it allowed me to work with new technology. In the summer of 1994 I joined the ArcView 2.0 team at Esri, I was brought on as the Technical Product Manager for ArcView. I ended up writing a LOT of Avenue (that was the scripting language for ArcView), I even wrote the buffer wizard. Over time I became the Product Manager for ArcView, and eventually the Product Manager for all of ArcGIS. Then a few years ago Jack Dangermond (President of Esri) asked that I take on a new role as Director of Solutions to lead a team working on solutions across ArcGIS. In over 20 years at Esri, it is amazing to see the growth of maps into a core part of society/expectations, and especially knowing that GIS people have been behind the scenes making all of this spatial revolution happen.

Q: You are a Director at Esri. What does an Esri director do?

A: An Esri Director is like a Senior VP at most companies. At Esri that means we focus on listening to our users and supporting our teams and making sure we have a strategy, process, and the answers to the hard questions so the teams can focus on getting the work done.

Q: What do you do at work — overall, and in your day-to-day duties?

A: I wear a few hats at Esri so my day-to-day varies considerably. I work with a couple of great teams of people — the Solution team works closely with customers to build ready-to-use apps and maps that help people do more with GIS (http://solutions.arcgis.com/gallery) and the APL (Applications Prototype Lab) team who are always pushing the boundaries of how we use GIS (https://maps.esri.com/). So, I mainly just try to stay out of their way! But I also try to help by providing critical feedback to team planning and direction. In addition, I work across the various parts of Esri to help on our overall strategy, which sounds fun (and it is) but it mainly means lots of meetings and lots of information bits to synthesize. As part of my role I evangelize spatial thinking and GIS at various events around the world and I keep my hands in the technology and make time to focus on individual mapping / analysis projects (some of these are highlighted here).  

Q: A lot has been tweeted about GIS data formats, and about the shapefile in particular. Where do you stand on the pro/con-shapefile continuum?

A: I don’t understand the anti-shapefile feelings. Yes it is old, yes it is messy, yes it has its limitations… But don’t we all? You don’t have to love it, but why expend the energy hating it? Should we use the shapefile as THE primary format for the next 20 years, of course not. I don’t know anyone who thinks it should be. Given the rapid growth of data especially from new sensors and methods, I’m not sure we will ever see a single format as dominant as the shapefile was at its peak. I do love the geopackage, but its adoption is coming at a point where the community is so comfortable using so many formats and across so many platforms that it’s going to be hard for it to become dominant.

Q: You are a Mac person. As (presumably) a Mac fan, how do you reconcile the fact that desktop Esri products never really caught on on the Mac platform? ArcView 2 for Mac was in the works, but never made it to a full release. What happened?

A: Mac person? Seriously? I’m so inept on Macs that my kids know better than ever asking me for help (thank God for YouTube videos). But I digress; I have a copy of ArcView 2.1 for the Mac here at my desk (unopened 3.5 floppy disks!), and we made media and books but we never shipped it. The Mac at that time wasn’t very powerful and while ArcView worked on the Mac… it didn’t work well. ArcView 2x/3x was built on a cross platform technology so we could get it to run on various UNIX platforms (this was pre-linux) and PC. That extra layer of tech, while wonderful at allowing us to work across platforms, added another layer of technology and load on the system. And the Macs of the late 90s were very underpowered for graphics and CPU. We had hoped that the CPU would catch up to PC speeds by the time we released; they didn’t and we just didn’t see the Mac as viable in the late 90s. Macs have since become speed demons but in many local governments they are still a minority (and special and difficult to request), so for the desktop we still see PCs as the main platform, but lots of folks (IRL and at Esri) run ArcGIS on their Macs using Parallels (or similar).

Q: You fly kites, which is probably the most hipstery of all hobbies we have talked about on these pages. Tell us about your fascination with kites.

A: Flying kites is a wonderful interplay of wind, technology and people. It can be both solitary and social as well as calming and exciting, even terrifying on high wind days. As a kid we lived for a few years in Nebraska, where it was always windy. We’d buy those cheap Gayla kites for a couple bucks and have ‘kite wars’, fly them a few thousand feet up, and even tie them to the deck at night and they’d still be flying in the morning. While in Boulder for college I worked at Into The Wind, one of the best kite stores ever!  And I spent most of my paychecks getting more kites (as well as yo-yos). I have all sorts of kites, from tiny kites (postage stamp size with sticks made from ⅛ diameter toothpicks), to huge kites that I anchor to my car. Some are traditional / or “static” kites (you let out string and fly them), others are stunt kites that you control with multiple handles and make spin and swoop at over 90 mph. I don’t get out and fly as much as I used to (various life responsibilities and poor wind quality here in Redlands makes it difficult), but it helps keep me sane.

Q: According to your Twitter bio you are also into food. Anecdotal evidence shows that a higher-than-average proportion of geo people have a strong relationship with food. They know and appreciate good food, they like to cook. I know of some who left the industry to become chefs. What is your relationship with food, and do you think that there’s a correlation between geo and food that warrants further exploring?

A: I have a VERY active relationship with food! I’ve always cooked, and like reading cookbooks, but I’m never good about following directions exactly. I tend to improvise and blend flavors and techniques from other recipes (sort of like my GIS analysis). People have said I should start a restaurant, but I fear that being focused to do something I enjoy would make it less fun for me. I don’t think there is any special relationship between the geo community and food. I think the food community has taken off over the last few years so you just see more of them. (And to the younger generation: learn to cook the basics, it will go a LONG way later in life.)

Q: Do you consider yourself a geohipster? Why/Why not?

A: In the traditional sense, I’m probably not a geohipster. I fit few of the geohipster stereotypes: I don’t have a man-bun, I don’t bike to work, I don’t write JS daily, I’m not a coffee or beer snob, and I like using applications with UIs. That being said, I love maps, mapping, geographic analysis, and geographic science. I feel that we should look at using geographic science in new and interesting ways, making it more approachable and integrated into all aspects of business and science. And I did get maps into two years of the GeoHipster calendar, so that counts for something. So, I’m probably the old odd guy on the edge of the circle, feeding strange ideas and sharing thoughts, hopefully fueling these crazy hipsters to do more (and reminding them to stay off my lawn!).

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

  • Don’t be afraid to learn.
  • Reuse tools, code, and apps. Just because it has been done doesn’t mean you can’t reuse those bits to do you own thing.
  • Don’t reinvent just because. Reinvent with a purpose that has real value.
  • Learn enough about projections to be dangerous
  • Fear the rainbow color ramp
  • Normalize your data
  • Always know the minimum mapping unit appropriate for your map and scale
  • Remember Large Scale is zoomed way in (1 : smaller number) and Small Scale is zoomed way out (1: bigger number), but you’ll probably get it wrong 50% of the time.
  • Every map is a lie, but you should make your lies with purpose!

 

Maps and Mappers of the 2017 GeoHipster Calendar – Damian Spangrud

Damian Spangrud – April

@spangrud

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a carto geek and have been making varying degrees of visual junk for almost 3 decades. I’m interested in showing data in a way that makes people curious to learn more. I’ve been at Esri for 23 years and I’m the Director of Solutions (which means 2 things: 1. my team builds industry specific maps and apps to make it easier to use and 2. problems tend to find me). Visualizing space and time in static printed maps has limited how we tell stories about data for hundreds of years, and the move to fluid digital data means some long-standing cartographic rules may need to be bent…

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).

I grew up in the Midwest and tornadoes were a fact of life. But while I knew I lived in Tornado Alley, I never had a good sense of what was the extent of that alley. And the maps that tried to define it seemed based on ideas and thoughts and not data. So I used data aggregation along with 3D to visualize the historical frequency of where tornados occurred. The raw data is a spaghetti mess of lines, but when aggregated into hexagons it becomes clear there is no narrow ‘Alley’, rather a large neighborhood. Looking at the data more you could see a pattern on when and where tornadoes were more likely. And using interactive time sliders you can also explore the general direction of tornado travel (which varies widely by region).

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

I used the historical tornado data (1950-2015) from NOAA. I used ArcGIS to aggregate the data into hexagons and do the 2D and 3D visualizations. The aggregations were based on count of major tornadoes (above a F3 on the Fujita-Pearson scale) inside the hexagons. I used the same color scale in 2D and 3D to allow for easier comparisons.  But I felt both 2D and 3D added to the understanding of the pattern.

13 maps in 13 days: Damian Spangrud

Sending off the year 2015, we present to our readers the mapmakers who contributed their work to the 2015 GeoHipster calendar.

***

Damian Spangrud

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I like maps and playing with data (aka analysis). I’m a failed Biologist who became Geographer (CU Boulder, MSU Bozeman) and have been working with GIS for around 25 years now (The last 22 of them at Esri). Over the years I’ve been fortunate to be able to take on a number of ad-hoc mapping, analysis, and visualization projects. These have allowed me to explore creative ideas, some fairly “out there” analysis, and “what if” scenarios of data combinations.

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 experimented with hexagon mapping many years ago, and while it was well established (for 100s of years), I never really saw the attraction of it. I was into modeling and needed to do weighted surfaces and interpolation.

But a few years back I started working on more of the visualization and comprehension aspects of information. Aggregating data (or binning) into well-known shapes is a great approach for providing a higher level view of data. I was CERTAIN that squares (maybe rectangles) were the correct way to do this, but after some experimentation I found that hexagons in many ways worked better, as they don’t impose rigid linear sightlines. And the tessellation of nested hexagons is fascinating in multi-scale maps. (It still pains me to praise hexagons!)

So when the call for maps came out, I was working with hexagons and combined that with my fascination for map projections and showed the nested hexagons across a Goode Homolosine projection. (I also sent one in for another projection (Stereographic) that I thought was better — but the aspect ratio didn’t work for the calendar).

What did I learn? Other than there is a “cult” for Hexagon mapping out there? The nesting hexagons worked great, except that some of the bigger shapes got distorted and didn’t line up quite right. I realized that the hexagon sides with 2 point lines, and when projected they needed to be densified to make the smaller hexagons inside.

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

A: Making the map was pretty straightforward. In ArcMap I used a sample script to produce the hexagons at several sizes in *un-projected* WGS 84 coordinate system, and then just played with changing the projection till I had a couple maps I liked.

I went on to document some of this in a blog I wrote in April 2015 — http://blogs.esri.com/esri/esri-insider/2015/04/08/thematic-mapping-with-hexagons/

'Goode Homolosine projection map' by Damian Spangrud
‘Goode Homolosine projection map’ by Damian Spangrud
'Hex for the world' by Damian Spangrud
‘Hex for the world’ by Damian Spangrud
'Hex mapping' by Damian Spangrud
‘Hex mapping’ by Damian Spangrud

The 2015 GeoHipster Calendar is available for purchase

We are excited to announce that the first-ever GeoHipster wall calendar is ready for production. We thank all who submitted maps for the calendar, Christina Boggs and Carol Kraemer for co-originating the calendar idea, and Christina again for her ongoing assistance with logistics and curation.

The 2015 GeoHipster Wall Calendar makes a great holiday gift for the geogeek on your list, so pick up a few. The proceeds from the calendar sales will help GeoHipster offset our operational costs, stay ad-free, and maintain independence.

The 2015 GeoHipster Calendar is available for purchase from CafePress. All calendars are made to order (you need to specify January 2015 as Starting Month (as opposed to the default setting — the current month)).

The calendar features maps from the following map artists (screenshots below):

  • Gretchen Peterson
  • Jonah Adkins
  • Ralph Straumann
  • Markus Mayr
  • Bill Morris
  • Andrew Zolnai
  • Stephen Smith
  • Damian Spangrud
  • Farheen Khanum
  • Christina Boggs
  • John Van Hoesen
  • Steven Romalewski
  • Joachim Ungar
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar cover layout
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar cover layout

IMPORTANT! The screenshot below is intended ONLY to give an overview of the overall layout — which map goes on which page, etc. When you order the 2015 calendar, you will get the 2015 calendar. You can verify this by reviewing each individual page online before you order.

GeoHipster 2015 Calendar 12-month layout
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar 12-month layout