This is the power of geospatial – it empowers us to ask multi-disciplinary questions, collaborate and take real climate action.

Sunny Fleming is Esri’s industry lead for public sector environment. Throughout her career, she has applied GIS concepts and technology to environmental policy, conservation, and natural resources; from monitoring species in the field to helping state parks manage assets and assess their economic impacts. She continues to pursue her passion for the environment by helping industry leaders streamline and improve their work with GIS technology, whether in the field or in the office, and whether setting policy or managing wildlife and resources. Her academic background is in botany and plant ecology, being a proud graduate of UT Chattanooga. She’s chased lemurs in Madagascar trying to collect their poop, repelled into sinkholes in Appalachia to count ferns, and scrambled shale cliff faces that hadn’t been explored since the 1800’s. She resides in Nashville, TN with her husband Chris- an environmental consultant – and their two dogs Elsie and Alex.

Q. First off – Where are you located on earth?

Where am I at? Nowhere and everywhere! Or, for practical purposes, Nashville, TN

Q. What do you do?

What do I do? I think of my job as a link between Esri and the environmental “industry.” My communication and role goes both ways: I at once advocate internally at Esri on behalf of our environmental community to ensure that our products and solutions are meeting the challenges they’re tasked with, while also helping the environmental community fulfill their full potential with the tools and have a vision for where we can take our industry and how geospatial will help us get there. This is precisely why I find the time we’re living in so interesting… are we on the precipice of complete disaster? Sure. But I remain really optimistic because I feel like “I’ve seen the future” and that future is a world where we fully recognize the interconnectedness of our natural, cultural and economic systems, have the spatial tools that give us insight like no other technology can and actually help us adapt and avoid the worst of what we’re facing. I think the Infrastructure Bill, domestically, is fascinating and concrete evidence (and symptom) of what is a global “enlightenment” on this topic.

Q. The ESRI user conference was back this year in person. How was that after a couple of years off and everything being virtual?

Virtual has its own kind of perks, but it also has its downsides. For the past two years as virtual, my husband and I would set up the plenary on our TV and sit on the couch and watch it. #upside. On the other hand, we were still having to respond to emails, messages, etc and it was much easier to be distracted. #downside But there’s something more that’s a little more difficult to verbalize about being in person – there is an innate energy about being gathered together with 15000+ people who share a common language and interest. It can move one to tears and I do get emotional about it every time I’ve been to the UC.

This year for me was especially poignant. I was hired to Esri in late 2019, so I’ve never supported our UC in person as an employee. I was also formerly a Solution Engineer and by the time we were back in person I had moved into Industry Marketing. Our Industry Marketing team plays a functional role in regards to curating the experience our users have at the UC. So I felt a lot of pressure this year on top of being very excited. I wanted to make sure that the messaging we were putting forward around Environment in State and Local Government felt relevant to our audience and was inspiring for them… until you put that messaging out there, you don’t really know if you “got it.” It can be a little terrifying and I had some sleepless nights leading up to it where I was second guessing myself. I had a team of Solution Engineers and Professional Services to support me and I couldn’t have asked for a better team – they tolerated my anxiety with grace and kindness and put together some fantastic demos for our kiosks.

We’ve had a lot to be cynical about the past couple of years – generally speaking. For me, the User Conference always dispels the patina of negativity that can accumulate over time. Being in person this year was a much-needed respite. It just makes me HAPPY to be there, and this year especially – we had so many attendees that were first timers! There was an energy and optimism that can’t be matched in a virtual environment. It’s given me a lot of ideas and inspiration, personally. I genuinely love my coworkers, love the company and love the user group. It’s hard to be away from them for so long.

Q. You become President of TNGIC this year. Madame President (If I can call you that) – what is TNGIC? Here’s the hard question – do we need GIS specific user groups in 2022?

I totally call myself Madame President! I’m unsure how many opportunities in my life I’ll have to be able to say that, so YOLO! TNGIC is Tennessee’s organization for GIS professionals and it has really stood the test of time – which means that there’s a responsibility on my shoulders to ensure that we continue being a healthy and relevant organization.

To the second question, but related to the above – professional GIS organizations SHOULD be more important now that ever and I think that’s the challenge we’re up against. So many professional groups for GIS organizations consist of those who are in government and TNGIC is the same. However, the application of this toolset we call GIS is ubiquitous to every industry and we need to figure out how to branch out our network to include these industries. Our professional organizations should be growing at the same pace as the GIS industry but right now my sense is that’s not happening.

I do think we still need specific user groups – these need to be both industry specific, but also technology specific. It’s like picking up a copy of Woodworking Magazine! You can be a woodworker (a GIS user), but focus on specific applications of those tools (furniture, sculpture, etc.) We all still want to pick up a copy of that magazine though and read what others are doing, be inspired and apply it in our own ways. “A rising tide raises all boats.”

Another goal of mine is to ensure that TNGIC begins to outreach to non-GIS users on the value of GIS. As an industry, this is something that’s been historically difficult for us. We love the technology, so we tend to speak to the technology first. We need to learn how to speak to the challenge it solves first and remember that those in leadership positions don’t care if it’s GIS or something else – they just want to know they can solve the problems that keep them up at night. I only have a year as Madame President and I have lofty goals. Our board is up for the challenge though, and we know that the first thing we need to do is take a hard look at how we conduct business in order to set ourselves up for a future where our processes can support our vision.

Q. We had a conversation at the last TNGIC Meeting – how did you get started in GIS?

Ah yes! Before I was a biology major, and before I had ever touched GIS, I was an art student. This allowed me to get my hands dirty with things like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator – both applications use the concept of “layers” and various algorithms to manipulate the scene. Later, when I found myself in the position of being a biology intern at Arnold Air Force Base, I had an opportunity one day to take an Esri module. This was before we had our entire learn catalog and suite of tutorials as many know it now.

There was a stormy day and our office had to figure out some way to keep the interns busy and out of the way, so we all got setup on this Esri module. With my art background, the software was really intuitive for me and so I quickly deviated from the goal of the lesson and began exploring the tools. This resulted in a hot pink trail map with black-and-white dashed trail lines and little skulls for waypoints. It was very Sex Pistols punk rock!

I didn’t touch the software for another couple of years until later, when I was a biology student at UT Chattanooga. I found myself hired onto a grant that Dr. Shaw and Dr. Estes (APSU) had secured to map the ecological systems and rare species of the Ocoee River Gorge. This was a massive project – we were subcontracted by URS and our stakeholders were TVA, USFS, USFWS, State of TN and others. Our deliverable was GIS. While I was hired pretty much just to press plants and go on coffee runs, I had this sense that if we didn’t tackle the GIS from the beginning, we’d be stuck translating tons of data on the backend. I naively offered my services to tackle the GIS as our “Plan B.” My punk rock map had not prepared me for the breadth and depth of this software and I quickly became obsessed with teaching myself these tools. They were SO POWERFUL! I had never felt quite so empowered in my life. I scaled back my class hours to part time and pretty much lived in our lab teaching myself this software. We used it to plan our field work, to track our collections and then of course we used it to translate our findings into a spatial deliverable. There was no Web GIS at the time just desktop. I fell in love with it, but also it allowed me to gain a reputation for myself. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Estes were hugely supportive and they trusted me to network with conservation leaders in TN. I remember vividly how they included me in some very important meetings despite being “just an undergrad.” The result was that I was hired immediately out of undergrad to the State of Tennessee – a relief for someone who was not a classically “good student” on paper in the middle of a recession.

Q. Best Park In Tennessee for viewing wildflowers?

Oof – this is the toughest question!

In middle TN we have a globally rare ecosystem called the Limestone Glades. There are species that live here that exist nowhere else in the world. This is called endemism and the central basin has a proportionally high endemism… and is also facing the pressures of explosive growth and development as Nashville takes its turn as the “it city.” For me, these habitats are magical and they allow me to “time travel” hundreds of years into our past where these now-remnants would have been the norm. These habitats are vivid with hues of purple and yellow and hot pinks throughout the year. They’re also harsh and extreme. Flat Rock State Natural Area is a fantastic example, as well as Long Hunter State Park – especially the mountain bike trail (but be wary of mountain bikes and be respectful!)

I used to monitor Tennessee Coneflower and other species in these habitats and it was during the height of summer. The surface temperature of the exposed limestone can get up to over 130 degrees. I loved that work, I loved how harsh it was, how these plants thrived in it and I miss it. Not for everyone.

Echinacea tennesseensis

The East TN parks – especially Roan Mountain around the time the laurels flower are incredible also and just a totally different suite of species to see! I have a fondness for that because I don’t get out there much anymore and miss it greatly.

In West TN, I would say those parks are some of our most underrated. Big Hill Pond State Park is just FUN! Some great trails, the “pond” is fantastic and there’s some super cool flora and fauna out that way – especially if you choose to kayak the Ghost River.

My favorite area of Tennessee though is the Plateau. I can’t describe it really – I’ve just never felt so quite at home as I do wandering the forests of the Plateau. It’s in my retirement plan… special shoutout to Pickett State Park and South Cumberland State Park, but really all the parks on the plateau and the fine staff we have that keep our visitors safe there. It’s incredible and I’d be remiss to not tell our audience what a stellar group our State Park and State Natural Area staff all across the state are. As citizens, we should be especially proud of our of state park system and the staff who manage it.

Agalinis plukenettii

Q. Can GEO Save the Earth? 

I think it’s easy to accuse me of being technocratic and I ponder this often. At the UC plenary this year Jack had a comment to the audience about the Climate Change pickle we find ourselves in – he said it’s a result of a failure to collaborate. He meant, as a global society with a wide range of interests, goals and beliefs we have not been asking questions about how we all interact and impact one another. We lack a shared understanding about each other and about our role in the world and how our social, economic and environmental systems interact with one another. Can Geo save the world? My personal belief is that we cannot innovate our way to a more sustainable future – we must drastically alter our behaviors as a species. However, I believe that geospatial technology is THE ONLY technology that can properly illuminate the shared understanding required for us to move in the direction of a more sustainable future. It is inherently a geographic problem that requires a geographic approach to solve it.

Q. Last question is yours – SAY Anything to the Readers of Geohipster!

 was surprised when you asked me to participate in this. Despite being an Esri employee, and a GIS user, I do not consider myself “GIS-first.” I have always considered myself an environmental professional first – one that happens to use GIS to conduct my business. My role is now helping other environmental professionals be successful with the tools to conduct their business.

Right now, the demand for applied environmental knowledge is greater than it ever has been. This is exciting, but it also means that as an industry, we are rapidly evolving, and our skills must evolve with it. My sense from our community is that we’re sick of talking about climate change as an issue, and we’re ready to move forward with taking action. This is the power of geospatial – it empowers us to ask multi-disciplinary questions, collaborate and take real climate action.

This is why it’s so important for us to collaborate across industries and through the use of a common language of geography. It’s why our professional organizations are so important as well. For environmental professionals especially – we’ve been doing classic “desktop GIS” and we were some of the earliest adopters. Now, with these demands on our knowledge, we’re having to embrace web-GIS and be more collaborative. We need our networks of support more than ever, and THAT, ultimately, is my goal at Esri… To foster that community and ensure we’re successful as an industry. So I really appreciate the opportunity to reach the GeoHipster audience! Thank you.

What day is it? It’s PostGIS-slash-Calendar Day!

Globe image with pink continents "floating" off the surface of the earth.
Behold the stunning cover of our 2023 calendar!

Well, you can count on this as much as you can count on your favorite open source database: it’s that time of year when we release our map calendar on PostGIS Day! What does this calendar do?

  • Accurately tells the Day, Month, and Year
  • Features 14 Amazing Maps, including the above cover from our art director Jonah Adkins
  • Provides you an easy gift for friends, family, and co-workers
  • Supports the GeoHipster Website
Renaud Rochette gives us a Hexagon Map of France

Who made it in this year?

Joel Salazar brings us the highway running through the Andes Mountains

How do you get it? Well, this stunning printed product can be yours for just $15.99 (US)! Head on over to Lulu.com to get yours – and some for your pals, too! (Or you can just tell them to head to tinyurl.com/geohipster2023.)

Daniel Rotsztain to Geohipster: “The pandemic made us all urban geographers”

Daniel Rotsztain is the Urban Geographer, an artist, writer and cartographer whose work examines our relationship to the places we inhabit. The author and illustrator of All the Libraries Toronto and A Colourful History Toronto, Daniel’s work has also been featured in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and a regular column on CBC Radio’s Here and Now. As a frequent patron of libraries, malls, and strip malls throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Daniel’s projects seek to understand and support the diverse settings of the city’s public life through walking tours, residencies, and landscape interventions. He is a project manager at ERA Architects and is the co-lead of plazaPOPS, a community-lead approach to transforming strip mall parking lots into comfortable, safe, and accessible gathering places in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Daniel was interviewed for Geohipster by Natasha Pirani

Q. Hi Daniel, please tell us about yourself as The Urban Geographer, an artist, writer, and cartographer, and, I daresay…geohipster?

Thank you for welcoming me into the geohipster fold. I come by my designation as a geographer naturally – my sense of space and place is so deeply embedded it’s instinctual. Wherever I am, I am creating an internal map and maintaining orientation. And it has been a lifelong sixth sense. I recall being 4 or 5 years old, in the back seat of my parents’ mini-van on some roadtrip through the midwest. My parents were hopelessly lost, but I knew exactly where we were and kept trying to chime in to offer directions. But they wouldn’t listen to me, even though I was right, understandably because I was 5!

Q. I appreciated hearing you mention in a talk that your “expertise depends on admitting when you don’t know something”. What do you mean by that?

I’m tired of the cult of the expert. No one knows everything – it’s just not possible – and admitting you don’t welcomes others to contribute their perspectives and insights, toward a greater understanding and truth. It also is more productive to admit you don’t know something than to pretend you do. I liken it to welcoming failure. Failing – and not knowing – is taboo, for some reason, but it shouldn’t be. You learn from failing as you learn from asking questions when you don’t know something. My expertise depends more on my curiosity than if I pretend to know everything.

Q. You’ve expressed that art is a way to communicate the world emotionally to scale, and that maps can be windows into emotional geographies. How does this perspective guide your mapmaking and use of art and cartography for city-building and civic engagement campaigns?

The way we experience the world is hardly objective, and you can use logic and argument to manipulate facts to prove any point. Through my art, mapmaking, and campaigns, I often intentionally and explicitly exaggerate, emphasize, and distort to make a point, because that’s the power of art. I often say, “I’m an artist, not a scientist”, because art gives you greater latitude to go outside of “objectivity” to explore things in a way we actually experience them. I often think of Michel Gondry’s film “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy”, where he describes seeing the full moon versus taking a photo of it. The full moon is never as big in your photo as it seems when you look at it hovering huge in the night sky. When we look at the moon, it is meaningful to us, and we exaggerate its objective scale. The same goes for maps. “All maps lie” as the saying goes, since the cartographer has to select and simplify in order to make a map effective and communicable. A 1:1 scale map would make no sense, it would be an abstraction, and so distortion becomes necessary for communication. I apply the same logic to my city-building and civic engagement campaigns.

Q. I recently came across this quote in a MapLab interview: “both maps and novels are partial, in that they rely on readers to fill in details. You can’t have a map that describes everything or a novel that is the same as consciousness, so how do you productively draw or articulate something that allows that filling in to happen?”
For you, as a writer, what are your thoughts on parallels between your writing and cartography?

I love this quote and these ideas! In terms of my cartography, I often make maps knowing that the first thing everyone does when they look at a map is try and place themselves in it – the unspoken “you are here” that all maps contain. I apply a similar approach to writing, as most of my writing takes a spatial lens. The power of geography is that it’s something we all experience. Despite the lack of objectivity and all multitude of viewpoints we have, we have a shared geography: landmarks, streets, iconic buildings, beloved parks. A shared geography becomes that unspoken “you are here”, an affirmation of being alive. I think I mostly write for people who already know a place, so that my geographic writing is a foundation for readers to fill in their pre-existing associations with those places. However, I’d like to think that my writing is also accessible to people who aren’t familiar with the places I write about, the same kind of satisfaction that comes from poring over a map of a place you’ve never been.

Q. And do maps influence our relationships with places by allowing “that filling in to happen”, or contrariwise (just learned that word, had to use it)?

They certainly do, and maybe too much. Smart phones and google maps have radically changed our relationship to space. There are so many ways to know a place – relationally, narratively, through personal landmarks and things that change seasonally, for example – but the dominance of google maps has elevated one kind of spatial literacy — the ability to get from point A to B as efficiently as possible – above all the others. And with that comes a kind of distortion, and a dismissal of more subjective forms of orienting ourselves. Looking at Toronto’s ravine system on a google map diminishes their power and the awe that they evoke; the region’s rivers become pithy blue lines that are barely visible. But standing in a Toronto ravine, by one of its rivers is a profound experience. With my maps and writing, I want to encourage other forms of understanding space, in ways that are “emotionally to scale” rather than objective.

Q. Early in the pandemic, your social distancing machine was a hilarious and pointed, yet round, way to demonstrate inadequacies in Toronto’s infrastructure to prevent the spread of the virus despite public health guidelines. That video also went viral, so I’m wondering: how do you define the success of a project? Do you seek to resonate broadly/deeply with urban peers and strangers, and/or endeavor to be heard by decision-makers and authorities?

At the outset of a project or campaign, I like to define was success means, and often do so pragmatically in terms of what audience I want to reach. (I often think that the key to happiness is setting attainable goals). By setting a pragmatic goal, it helps direct a campaign’s message, tone, which sharpens the focus of the campaign while allowing for the project to reach bigger audiences, including policy and decision makers. With the Social Distance Machine, which was created as a campaign with the Toronto Public Space Committee, my collaborator Bobby Gadda and I decided that if our video was posted on 6ixBuzz, a popular if not problematic social media platform, that would mean success. Selecting 6ixBuzz as our audience sharpened the tone and messaging of our approach. And it worked! But since we were so focused, the campaign had a cohesive tone and reached the ears of Toronto mayor John Tory, several city councillors, and many bureaucrats. I’d like to think that the campaign was part of the City’s endorsement of ActiveTO and slow streets.

Q. Despite the city’s obvious shortcomings, has the pandemic given you even more to appreciate about where you live? You appear to be a constantly curious observer with your Atlas Obscura-esque hyper-local, niche geographic knowledge of your surroundings and in-depth urban undertakings like All the Libraries.

I loved how the pandemic made us all urban geographers. During the depths of the first few lock-downs, my social media was full of people making the most of their restrictions on travel by getting to know their own immediate neighborhoods more deeply. And of course I did the same, going on a series of walks, and posting them as Instagram stories, where I would share info about the city and invite my followers to contribute. The pandemic confirmed my commitment to Toronto and to urban life. While the early pandemic motto “we’re all in this together” turned out to be hollow pretty fast, the level of engagement I witnessed and participated in, especially through the Encampment Support Network and Toronto Tiny Shelters, affirmed my belief in urbanity as a force of good, despite the official culture constantly undermining community efforts in favour of private property owners. The legacies of organizing from the pandemic will continue to shape Toronto for a long time. 

Q. What do you make of the fact that googling “idealistic urban geographer” leads only to your blog?!

Wow, that’s so sweet! I often call myself “naïve and optimistic”, which is a necessary counterbalance to my innate cynicism and pragmatism. Despite it all, I still believe in a brighter future.

Q. I am very intrigued by your geomancy practice! How do you give a reading, and if you told your own fortune, what would it be?

Geomancy is an ancient practice, a very old form of fortune telling. When I first heard of the term, I took a deep dive into its history, but it was totally confounding, and I couldn’t make any sense of how it was done! And so, I created my own approach. The fundamental concept is that our subconscious is affected by the geographies we inhabit, and so taking a macro view to analyze the geographic features forming the settings of our lives would give us insight into the thoughts and feelings that inform our daily decision making. So, for example, let’s say you take a subway to work everyday, but there’s a bus that follows the same route, but a bit slower. If, during a Geomancy session, you expressed a feeling of being stuck, I would suggest taking the bus, as it would lead to feelings of openness and expansive possibility, given its overground route. Other examples include the effects of living by the water, on hilltops, crossing train tracks, going into valleys – these all affect us, and Geomancy is an invitation to untangle that. Another name I have for it is “route therapy”.

My own fortune? I live on the edge of two watersheds. Despite most of my activities being in the Don watershed, which I describe as electric, productive, and urbane, I live in the Humber watershed, which is slower, stiller, more bucolic. My fortune is: be aware of this division in my life. My home is in the calmer watershed. Embrace that as a refuge. And when I’m ready to dive into the Don watershed, know that I can always come back to the Humber.

Q. Is there a there there?

Of course!

Maps and Mappers of the 2022 calendar: Kate Berg, May

Kate Berg's Happiest States Map

Q: Tell us about yourself:

A: I am GIS lead at the State of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). I’ve been in the field for almost 10 years since my first GIS class at UCLA in 2012. Since then, I’ve taught GIS at the university level and worked in the non-profit, private, and public realms. I currently act as outreach chair for URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet of Young Professionals. You can find me on Twitter (@pokateo_) hosting the weekly #GISchat conversation as well as creating and sharing original map-related memes (#mappymeme) as ways to unite and uplift the geospatial community.

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 for the 2020 #30DayMapChallenge for Day 4: Hexagons, and then modified it slightly to work better for this calendar. I had found this dataset prior to the Challenge and was looking for an excuse to make something with it. The data tries to identify the happiest states in America based on several indicators, including emotions, “physical-ness”, work, and community. 

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

A: I used ArcGIS Pro to create this map. The data comes from the Happiest States in America by WalletHub and I also used the US Hex Cartogram by John Nelson (download here). There was so much information in the happiness dataset (an overall rank as well as emotional and physical well-being rank, work environment rank, and community and environment rank) that I had to get creative on how to show it. It couldn’t be as simple as one hexagon per state…it needed four overlapping hexagons. I ended up playing with offsets to get the desired effect and I’m pretty happy with it – though apparently I live in a pretty averagely happy state (Michigan).

Maps and Mappers of the 2022 Calendar: Dan Fourquet, April

Dan Fourquet's unique map of Richmond, Virginia

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: I’ve loved maps for my entire life and have been drawing and making maps since my childhood. Currently I live in Richmond, VA. I work for the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment where I do my best to make a positive contribution to Virginia’s transportation plan (VTrans) using my background in GIS and data management.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map

A: In 1864, as the American Civil War was entering its final months and the Union army was closing in on Petersburg and Richmond, the US Coast Survey Office produced a map of Richmond, Virginia, presumably commissioned in support of the Union Army’s ongoing siege, showing the streets and major landmarks of the city. One hundred fifty years later in 2014, the US Geological Survey mapped the same area using lidar to evaluate the damage from Hurricane Sandy. My map combines these two datasets allowing you to see how the city has physically evolved over the past century and a half.

You can easily see how much has remained the same over the years in the basic layout of the streets. The fact that the 19th century map is able to be georeferenced so accurately to the lidar data is a testament to the skill of the surveyors who created the original map. Mayo’s Bridge, the oldest in the city, is clearly visible in both datasets even though it’s been rebuilt a couple times in the interim. Some of the buildings that survived the war are visible in the lidar dataset (in fact I used the Capitol building and the Masonic Hall as control points while georeferencing the 19th century map). The ruins of the Petersburg railrod bridge are clearly visible as periodic squares in the lidar data next to the line in the 19th century map. The most notable change is the removal of the canal system and the additional bridges that were built in the 20th century, as well as the Interstates and the Downtown Expressway that carve their way through the city.

Not as easily seen in the map is the cultural change the city has seen over the course of a century and a half. Before the Civil War, Richmond had the second largest slave market in North America. The St Charles Hotel in the eastern side of the map was known for hosting auctions in the basement. By 2014 there was a growing movement to recognize the city’s dark past, often hidden from the history books, and to remove the massive “lost cause” monuments scattered throughout the city that glorified the Confederacy.

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

A: The 19th century basemap was acquired from the Library of Congress’ map collection. Taking a look at that map by itself is interesting (you can view it at the Library of Congress website), but I decided to try georeferencing it in order to compare it to modern GIS data. I relied on buildings and intersections that have survived since the mid-1800s as control points. I was amazed by how well the map matched up to modern imagery.

The 21st century lidar data was from the USGS National Map. I used WhiteBox Tool’s Python interface to visualize the data using the Time In Sunlight tool. Finally, I combined the two datasets in GIMP image editing software.

A Changing of the Guard at GeoHipster

Mike Dolbow
Mike Dolbow

From Mike

“You’ve seen enough of that one.” –Nigel Tufnel

Well, here we are! It was about five years ago that I agreed to head up the effort to create an independent business for GeoHipster, building off the amazing momentum that Atanas began back in 2013. Since then, I’ve been amazed at all the opportunities and connections that GeoHipster has opened up for me: attending conferences, meeting some pretty cool people (including many of you!), and connecting with other map nerds around the globe. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this and “steer the ship” over the past few years.

But, as I explained to my fellow GeoHipster collaborators in December, it’s become pretty clear to me that I’ve run out of steam. I haven’t published an interview since January 2021, I’ve only pitched one or two since then, and I keep forgetting other key parts of the effort. (Notice how late we’ve been in publishing our “Maps and Mappers” posts for 2022.) In other words, I feel like I’m not putting in the effort that our community deserves.

So back in December, I started asking around to see if anyone was interested in taking over leadership of the brand and establishing a new business for it. Lucky for me (and for all of us), Randal stepped up. We’re not in any rush to do a “clean hand-off” or anything like that, but I do anticipate that by the end of this calendar year, GeoHipster will no longer be a registered business in my home state…but will carry on in Tennessee. I’ve got a plan for transferring most of the assets as well as donating to some of our favorite geo-charities.

I’m confident that GeoHipster will be in good hands with Mr. Hale, who has conducted many interviews for us over the years, judged for the calendar, and provided valuable guidance and insights. Perhaps most importantly, he embodies the fun and independent spirit that makes GeoHipster stand out as not just a business, but a force for good within the community. It’s been a pleasure serving in this role over the years, and I’m incredibly excited to see where Randal takes it next. Happy Mapping!

Randal Hale
Randal Hale

From Randal

….and that’s where I come in….I think. Hello! 

Mike put out a call and I slowly stuck my hand up and volunteered to run with this. As Mike said above, Atanas started this weird journey back in 2013. At that point in my life I was sitting in Athens, Georgia responding to Atanas and probably going “What is a geohipster anyway – oh yeah I’ll do some interviews….”. I think we even ran a poll somewhere on what we think a geohipster does. For me the website turned into this documentation project on “why we do what we do”. It’s also scattered with healthy irreverence for this industry, poking a bit in some areas, and just being fun. That’s the most important thing – make it fun. 

Anyway – over the next bit Mike is going to teach me all the hidden features of the website and how GeoHipster is run. I’ve been thinking about this for a good while and I’m excited. Of course I’m already running “one thing” – which is North River Geographic Systems. So I’ll be juggling for a bit as I get into a good routine. 

With that – bear with me as we get this thing rolling. I look forward to it and I hope you all hang with us during this transition.

It’s our new favorite tradition: Releasing our calendar on #PostGISDay

The 2022 GeoHipster Calendar cover, featuring an image of the Lena Delta by Inge van Daelen.
Behold the cover of our 2022 calendar!

Well, let us be the first (?) to wish you all a happy #PostGISDay today, by delivering on our promises and bringing you our absolute favorite day of the year! That’s right: once again, in addition to raising a glass to your favorite open source spatial database extension, you can celebrate by ordering yourself a brand-spanking-new map calendar for next year. (Or order one, two, or three as gifts! Who doesn’t need some video background improvements these days?)

The calendar is now available for order and features maps from:

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be tweeting out teasers of the maps that were picked over @geohipster – but if you really want to experience these maps in their full glory, you’re going to want to buy a copy of your own, for the low price of just USD 15.99! (And allow yourself at least 10-12 business days for print and ship.) In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this peek at the map that graces our back cover. Now what are you waiting for?

A map of chlorophyll concentration in September 2020, using the Spilhaus projection.
Long live the Spilhaus projection!

Call for Maps: 2022 GeoHipster Calendar

Could your map be the cover of the 2022 GeoHipster Calendar?

Is it true that 2021 was almost as unpredictable as 2020? We don’t know the answer to that, but we do feel like our 2021 calendar was our best yet. We also know some of you are back in the office and need wall candy…and those of you who are still working from home love to mix up your backgrounds! So why stop now? That’s right, we’re pleased to announce that there will be a 2022 GeoHipster Calendar, and we’re opining up the call for maps today.

We want to continue our tradition of revealing the calendar by PostGIS Day in November, so get your maps in soon. All the details are available on the 2022 calendar page. Happy Mapping!

Raluca Nicola: “The community profits from everyone’s knowledge.”

Raluca Nicola

Raluca Nicola works at Esri as a Product Engineer for ArcGIS API for JavaScript. She enjoys creating maps and data visualizations using the latest web technologies. Most of these maps are in 3D and all of them live on the web. 

Raluca was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ana Leticia Ma.

Q: Can you tell me about your journey as a web cartographer? 

A: My journey started with me being clueless about what I want to study and generally what I want to do in life. I started studying math in college because that’s what I liked most during high-school. In my second year I realized it was too abstract for me, so I quit math and started studying geography. I found it interesting to learn how the world around us works. I soon discovered GIS and enjoyed analyzing and visualizing data to explain real world phenomena. Then I got more and more drawn towards the visualization part, and in my Master’s studies I focused on cartography. During those studies, I had a web cartography course and I was hooked. I like coding and the web is a great environment: I can create beautiful, interactive visualizations and it’s so easy to share them with others. 

Q: What do you like most about being a cartographer?

A: I love the data exploration part. It feels a bit like detective work to process and visualize a dataset in various ways and extract important information from it. And then the part that I enjoy the most is figuring out how to convey that information to others in a good way. In recent years I discovered that the magic in visualization comes when you combine concepts and ideas from different fields in novel ways…and I love to apply that to cartography. 3D cartography for example, makes use of 2D cartography and classical data visualization concepts, but it’s also heavily influenced by architecture, games and art. And like everything else nowadays, it’s also heavily influenced by technology. 

Q: Where do you get your inspiration to make maps? 

A: I try to take it from everywhere: maps and visualizations I stumble upon (mostly online), movies, commercials, articles I read, ideas I discuss with colleagues and friends. I think inspiration can come from the most unexpected places! 🙂 

Q: How’s your experience working with 2D and 3D maps? Do you have a preference for one over another?

A: My motto is: choose the technique that helps you send your message across in the best way. From experience, I would say that there are fields where one could be better than the other. For example, 3D is great when you visualize data related to cities or urban planning, and 2D can be better for complex multivariate data visualizations. But even in those cases, I’d first analyze the goal of the project and the audience, and then I’d choose the mapping technique. 

Q: How do you keep up with the latest trends in mapping? 

A: I think social media like Twitter or Linkedin are great platforms to see what people who are passionate about GIS and cartography are up to. Whenever I can, I also try to attend conferences that are specific to cartography like NACIS, Eurocarto or the International Cartographic Conference. 

Q: You live in a country with the most beautiful landscape. What outdoor activities do you like to do in Switzerland? 

A: Switzerland is amazing if you like mountains! I try to go hiking every weekend, and I often bike around Zurich, exploring the surroundings. I also enjoy skiing in winter, even though I’m not the greatest skier. 

Q: What was it like to work in the Swiss Alps and make maps for the Swiss National Park?

A: Such a great experience! It was a one year internship after university and I learned a lot there. I was really lucky to have a great supervisor who gave me some awesome and challenging tasks to work on. The village where I lived was very small; about 1000 inhabitants. And that was very strange for me, because I had only lived in big cities until then. I lived in a shared flat with other interns at the park. We had a really nice time, we cooked together, went hiking a lot, and watched movies. I also participated in my first karaoke there…turns out I can’t really sing, hehe!

Q: Aside from making maps, do you have any nerdy hobbies that you want to tell us about?

A: Not really a hobby, but for sure nerdy: I have an obsession with computer keyboards. At some point I built my own keyboard, but it was probably the worst one in my collection and the one I paid the most for…my fingers didn’t really get along with the layout of the keys. 

Q: One of your maps was featured on our Geohipster calendar in 2020, so you’re ahead of the GeoHipster game. What advice do you give to our users?

A: One piece of advice I try to offer is to share with others what you do and learn 🙂 The community can profit so much from everyone’s knowledge. Even if you think that it’s something simple, I’m sure someone out there could use it at some point, so share it!

Ayodele Odubela to GeoHipster: “Frame your work as if the data was about your friends and family.”

Ayodele Odubela
Ayodele Odubela

Ayodele Odubela is Founder and CEO of FullyConnected, a platform for reducing the barrier to entry for Black professionals in ML/AI. She earned her Master’s degree in Data Science after transitioning to tech from digital marketing. She’s created algorithms that predict consumer segment movement, goals in hockey, and the location of firearms using radio frequency sensors. Ayodele is passionate about using tech to improve the lives of marginalized people.

Ayodele was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: Our readers are mostly in the “geo” industry, but many of us consider data scientists like yourself to be kindred spirits. Can you tell us your story about how you got started in tech?

A: It was definitely a shaky kind of start. Like a lot of college students, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I had been a computer science major, a film major, and even studied athletic training. When I ended up at computer science, it felt close, but not exact. Around 2010 or so, I was coding in C++, but didn’t feel like I was learning. I had a lot of digital media experience from my film studies degree, so I ended up with a digital communications undergrad degree. That allowed me to work in marketing for a few years. I did some social media marketing, and landed at an app company, doing social analytics with A/B testing, in-app messages, and that sort of work. By the time that startup ran out of funds, data science was starting to become more popular, like “the sexiest job in the 21st century”! I went back to school for a Master’s in data science. This felt like a good next move. Since then I’ve worked for all kinds of companies doing a wide variety of work, like sensor recognition for firearms.

Q: Ethics in tech is having quite a “moment” – or maybe you might say a decade. You’ve been quite vocal on Twitter about Google’s recent firing of Timnit Gebru, as have many others. If you’re a technologist inside an organization that is making questionable decisions, what is your first move? Where do you draw the line between trying to change an organization from within, versus speaking out against it – and probably leaving?

A: I think it comes from having really hard conversations. Hopefully you’re in a workplace where a respectful challenge is seen as a good thing. I’m thankful that I’ve been in workplaces where I’ve felt enough freedom to bring up these types of problems, and bring up difficult conversations. They don’t always lead to change, but at least I’ve surfaced specific issues.

I think for a lot of technologists, the first move is to start talking to management about existing policies. A lot of times people break policies without realizing it. Take policies around things like proper data use and cyber security: we get trained, but we’re human and still make mistakes. We’re not always on top of it.

By first going to management, or a trusted manager, you can start to discover the incentives and the reasons why certain decisions are being made. I think you’ll often find it’s profit or revenue based, and in some instances I’ve been able to persuade teams to change their course of action by generating different processes and systems that don’t have such significant issues.

For example, in a past role they wanted us to create a tool that predicted someone’s gender based on their name. When this was first brought to me, I thought, “this is something we shouldn’t do”. I went digging and brought the “5 whys” to the problem.

It turned out, the marketing team wanted more data for push messaging and in-app notifications, because they noticed stark differences between how women and men interacted with the product. So, they didn’t have a nefarious motive, they just wanted more information – but they were still going about it in the wrong way. Instead of using that gender classifier, I created a user classification model to help them with this segmentation.

These decisions are going to be different for everyone. I personally have a lot less that I would deal with before leaving, because I have an intimate knowledge of how badly this kind of thing can hurt people. With the knowledge of the incentives behind organizational decisions, it should be easier for technologists to set their boundaries. Like with Timnit’s firing, if you’re in a situaton like that and you realize that the organization isn’t committed to being ethical or transparent, it can make it easier to leave.

For me, seeing that situation, where part of an organization that was labeled as “Ethics in AI” went and fired one of their leaders for speaking out, that was kind of the last straw for me as a user. But that can be very scary, especially the closer you get to it. Since technologists in the past have felt like our role is “neutral”, it’s not fun to think about law enforcement coming to your house because of the job you’re doing, when you’re just trying to tell the truth.

Q: You recently published “Getting Started in Data Science”, which looks like a great way for someone new to launch into your field. Can you tell us more about the book? What compelled you to write it? What will readers get if they buy it?

A: I was compelled to write this book because I had a hard time getting started in Data Science myself. I didn’t have a very technical background, and I was struggling to learn things like statistics and coding in what felt like a vacuum. Once I got to grad school, there was a snowball effect of learning; I began building on prior experiences, and getting help through real-life conversations.

Then when I got into industry, I was shocked by how even the learning from grad school didn’t match what my employer wanted me to do. In this book, I share a lot of industry knowledge that I’ve gained, like managing project deliverables, juggling stakeholders, that kind of thing. Readers get an introductory book that contains a lot of hints and tips that I didn’t have when I started.

Readers will also get a clear path into Data Science, depending on where they’re starting from. They can go the academia route, use boot camps, or some other journey, and I’m giving them details on their path from there, in particular how to leverage the domain knowledge they may already have. People come into this field from so many different backgrounds; it’s nice to transition into it when you already have some understanding of the domain’s important metrics or KPIs. I think the book is especially good for career transitioners, so they can leverage some of that prior knowledge in the next chapter of their career.

(To our readers: Ayodele is generously offering 25% off her book to our readers with the code GEOHIPSTER. –Ed.)

Q: I think a lot of our readers in the geospatial industry will recognize that advantage. There are a lot of us who are well-versed in one or two verticals, and also bring enough of the geospatial knowledge to bear in order to solve problems in those industries.

That makes sense; I think if you have any kind of specific knowledge, there are a lot of companies looking for that, so leverage it!

Q: Your experience has spanned from working for travel agencies to drone companies. There are obvious connections with mapping here – ever get sucked into a cartography rabbit hole? If not, is there anything about the mapping space that is attractive to you – or is it just an afterthought?

A: Not so much cartography, but I am very interested in sensor and geospatial data! I am kind of a geo-nerd. I took geology and geography courses in college and loved them. I actually considered switching majors to geology, but then saw how almost all the jobs were in oil/gas industries, and I knew that wasn’t for me.

But I have always enjoyed maps, and have a special relationship with them. As an only child on road trips, I would look at maps all the time as we traveled. When I was at AstralAR, I was playing with drone radio sensor data, and then was exposed to multi-dimensional spatial data for the first time. When I started to work on ML projects that would predict locations of items, that’s when I started to get a deeper understanding of this 3D world that we live in!

A lot of my hands-on work has been on sensor identification and understanding, like knowing there’s a very small range of amplitudes for different firearms. Telling apart a .45 from a .32 caliber weapon is a small change in amplitude, but we can easily differentiate them from other noises, like hand claps or stuff like that. There’s a natural connection between maps and sensor work, so geography is definitely more than an afterthought for me.

Q: Now for something a little lighter – any hobbies you want to share with our audience? What do you do for fun?

A: I’m a really huge hockey fan, and one of my grad capstone projects was predicting hockey goals. I’d love to see the NHL take on embedded sensors for player body positions, and take an exploratory look on the various positions players are in when they score really cool goals. I think there’s a lot of interesting location data out there that we have increased access to as IoT has grown.

Beyond hockey, I have a few personal interests, but it’s tough to pursue a lot of hobbies during a pandemic! I know I’d be kayaking a lot more if we weren’t dealing with COVID-19 right now!

Q: Had you ever heard of GeoHipster before I contacted you? We’re … kind of a niche publication. 🙂

A: No, actually, but I checked out your website and I like your stuff! I noticed that it didn’t feel like it was all boring GIS colors, and I was really drawn to that aesthetic.

Q: As I write this, you’re currently looking for work – I hope that doesn’t last too long! But describe the lucky company that’s going to get you on their payroll. What do they do? What don’t they do? Where do they operate?

A: My ideal employer is anywhere that truly takes accountability and transparency in AI to heart. I’m not picky about specifics; there’s so many interesting kinds of data I can work with. I just don’t want to be hampered with bringing up ethical issues all the time. I hope,with everything that has happened lately, there are more organizations that are truly open to being accountable and transparent, even if it’s at the cost of losing profits.

Q: Any advice for our readers, or aspiring data scientists?

A: If you’re an aspiring data scientist, when you’re dealing with data about real people, make sure to frame your work the way you would if the data was about your friends and family. We need to sometimes step away from thinking technically and preserving neutrality, and fix problems that well-intentioned tech has created or made worse. It’s not enough to just be ethical or work on responsible AI; we want to get closer to creating an equity utopia: designing for a world we want to live in, and understanding that historical data almost never reflects that. Every time we use historical data, we’re relying on imperfect humans from the past and their decisions. And that’s difficult when we’re trying to predict the future about a changing society. The earlier you do this, the easier it will be to be transparent and think about fairness in your work.