Poll: “Special Days” in 2021 GeoHipster calendar

As this article is being published, our team of judges are looking at the amazing submissions we received for our 2021 calendar. We say this every year, but we think this will be the best one yet!

So while you’re waiting to get a peek at the maps that are chosen, we thought we’d give you another way to build up the anticipation – a crowdsourcing project! So tell us: which “Special days” deserve to be marked in the 2021 GeoHipster calendar? PostGIS Day, obviously, and maybe a few other official holidays. But what else? Help us decide by voting in this fun poll. Suggestions welcome — comment or email to atanas.entchev [at] gmail [dot] com.

Call for Maps: 2021 GeoHipster Calendar

Could your map be the cover of the 2021 GeoHipster Calendar?

What can you count on in 2020? Well, let’s face it, not much. But, we at GeoHipster are still counting on January 1, 2021 being…a date that will be acknowledged by the world. And so we’re planning on having a calendar for you to hang on your wall! After all, we figure a bunch of you are now #WFH, so you’re going to need some wall decorations to make those Zoom meetings interesting.

Just like last year, we want to be able to announce the availability by PostGIS Day in November, so get your maps in soon. All the details are available on the 2021 calendar page. Happy Mapping!

Maps and mappers of the 2020 calendar: Daniel Fourquet, July

fourqet

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: For most of my life I have been fascinated with maps, both studying them and making them myself. As a child I would fill folders with detailed maps of an imaginary country and would spend too many hours playing games like SimCity and Civilization on the computer (ok, I do that as an adult sometimes too!). These interests would eventually lead me to studying geography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and begin a career doing GIS work. Recently I’ve become interested in programming and am now enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s online GIS and web map programming masters program. I’m currently a GIS Analyst at the Virginia Department of Transportation in Richmond.

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 became interested in using 3D rendering software in cartography when I stumbled on some of the beautiful maps created by Owen Powell (@owenjpowell) last Spring. While doing research to learn how to make 3D maps of my own, I discovered the work of Daniel Huffman (@pinakographos) and Scott Reinhard (@scottreinhard), both of which were also influential. I experimented with terrain maps for a couple months before deciding to try creating an urban map using lidar data. I chose the US Capitol because it’s such a well known landmark.

My decision to design this map in black and white was inspired by Daniel Huffman’s NACIS talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptKDS1Z8Oro) about the challenges and advantages of mapping in monochrome. I initially planned on designing the map in color, but then I realized that removing color created a more formal tone that is fitting for a map of the buildings where such important decisions are made.

 

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

A: Data Used:

– The Lidar data was downloaded from the USGS National Map.

– I used land cover data from the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Tools Used:

– WhiteboxTools (https://jblindsay.github.io/ghrg/WhiteboxTools/index.html) is a collection of GIS tools that allowed me to process the lidar data via Python to prepare it for rendering in Blender.

– ArcMap was used to organize and prepare the data.

– Blender was the 3D software used to render the Lidar data.

– GIMP was used to add the land cover data. I also manually brushed in the trees, which was time-consuming, but resulted in a much better map than relying on the trees from the land cover data.

– Illustrator was used for labelling and finishing the map. 

 

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Nikita Slavin, April

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a 29 years old student from the Cartography M. Sc. Program, from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I hope it will go well and this September I’ll successfully defend my thesis about the exhibition methods of historical maps in mixed reality.

I obtained my first degree at St-Petersburg University in 2012, Faculty of Geography and Geoecology, Department of Cartography and Geodesy.

After graduating from university, I explored several fields: geodesy, UAV mapping and GIS in nature protection. During my service at the Kronotsky National Reserve on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the land of bears and volcanoes, I was a GIS engineer. I participated in a lot of different projects: the development of a GIS system; geodynamic monitoring systems; educational projects and making a lot of different maps. During my time on the Kamchatka Peninsula, I realised that I want to develop myself as a cartographer and fortunately I was enrolled in our perfect cartography master program.

I’m an outdoor person: hiking, rowing, cycling trips. My side job is a tourist guide. I’m happy then as I meet beautiful maps for these activities. In the school I was into competitive orienteering – maybe this is one of the reasons for my love of maps.

In map-making I’m trying to find a way to combine modern and classic technology, approaching high-quality mapping standards in a digital era. You can see some examples in my Behance portfolio. Also, there are some examples of my little hobby – making wooden maps. I don’t know that I’m going to do after graduation – kind of looking for job from autumn- maybe this post could help to find it 😉

 

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: This square map in the Pierce projection is a rebuild of my original “Ocean Plastic Map” for the book-atlas project “SDGs in action” (in preprint process now). “Ocean Plastic Map” was created during the course “Project Map Creation” (the very cool one) of the second semester (my best) in Vienna – you can see it on Behance. Warm thanks to our teacher Manuela Schmidt.

When I was looking for an idea for that course, I thought that it could be interesting to visualize the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans: describe the sources of plastic waste, plastic transportation, and its global distribution.

I enjoy DIY things: that’s why I developed an idea of making a volumetric map – stacking semi-transparent layers could show underwater relief in 3 dimensions rather than just 2. Also, the idea of making a map about plastic pollution made from plastic seemed quite cool and ironic for me. To make it more artistic I decided to represent pollution with common plastic objects: bottles, straws and plastic bags. The process was not easy going as expected, but it was worth it. 

For the first stage of the project, I looked for the data – many thanks to Laurent C. M. Lebreton for the very friendly cooperation and providing data. Laurent C. M. Lebreton was one of the co-authors of the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” and Timo Franz from Dumpark – their project Sailing seas of plastic is unbelievably impressive.

Whilst working on the project I realized that we simply don’t know all sides of the plastic pollution problem and how to solve it. I hope that my small contribution helps in making things clearer.

The square version presented in the Geohipster calendar is made for the project “SDGs in action”. One of our lectures, Markus Jobst, invited me to participate with my map. One of the requirements was to use the Pierce projection – and the map looks surprisingly good with it.

 

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

A: Software stack:

  • QGIS for some pre-processing
  • ArcGIS Pro for processing data and the raw design stage
  • Adobe Illustrator with the incredible great plug-in Collider Scribe from Astute Graphics for the final design

Data Sources:

  • ETOPO2 for bathymetry
  • Natural Earth data for the world relief shading, country borders and rivers

Data about plastic pollution from the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” as mentioned above

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Heikki Vesanto, March

Q: Tell us about yourself.

 

A: I am originally from Finland, but got started in GIS during my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Great university with one of the most picturesque campuses in the world.

After Glasgow I went back to Finland for a MSc in Geoinformatics at the University of Helsinki. Great program which gave a great broad base for GIS, including exposure to all the main GIS packages, ArcGIS, MapInfo, and crucially QGIS.

After graduating I went back to Scotland, which really is a lovely country, well worth a visit. Where I worked at a small GIS consultancy doing some pretty innovative work. They were training QGIS, and helping local councils transition away from ArcGIS. The councils had really simple GIS workflows, which could easily be replicated in QGIS, so switching was clear. It also broadened the availability of GIS in the council. You were no longer limited to the x number of license you could afford, rather anyone who needed access to GIS could have it.

Unfortunate after a certain vote in 2016 made the UK feel a lot more difficult to plan a future in. Despite Scotland still being a lovely place, with very welcoming people. So now I am in Ireland, still in GIS, working with QGIS and PostgreSQL/PostGIS on a daily basis.

 

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: There were some pretty clear inspirations for this work.

Firstly I discovered the data from Dónal Casey who did an earlier version:

http://www.spatialoverlay.xyz/uncategorized/ireland-a-country-in-motion-1-96-million-commutes/

Also heavily inspired by Alasdair Rae and his commuter maps of US:

http://www.statsmapsnpix.com/2016/02/more-more-commuting-map-experiments.html

There is currently a fair amount of debate in Ireland about transport policy. Ireland is a very car dominated country with very low density housing even in the urban areas. This results in a lot of urban sprawl, which can clearly be seen in the map with the commuter catchments of the urban areas. Trying to solve the public transport issues in Dublin has come in the form of continuous proposals from the government but very little actual implementation. The latest effort is a rapid bus corridor proposal, which is probably the best option for Dublin, with its low population density urban sprawl. However the proposal is meeting some resistance with the general public. But I believe visualising and communicating the issues and solutions is crucial to driving public engagement.

 

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

A: The data is supplied by the Central Statistics Office Ireland as part of the Census POWSCAR data set (Place of Work, School or College – Census of Anonymised Records).

The processing was done in PostgreSQL/PostGIS. It’s a simple join from the centroid of each home Electoral Division (ED) to each work ED, with a column containing the count of commuters. Working in a database means it is a single SQL query that produces the end file for visualisation. The map was then made in QGIS. The blending modes really help with overlapping lines, allowing large clusters to really stand out, while keeping the smaller commutes still visible.

I am really happy with the end result. There is something to be said about simplicity, with just one layer of lines sitting on top of a subdued Natural Earth DEM.

 

Sahana Murthy to GeoHipster: “GIS is a very large umbrella, brimming with opportunities”

Picure of Sahana Murthy


Sahana Murthy is the General Manager of Loveland Technologies, where she manages the team, the product, and the overall corporate & marketing strategy. Prior to Loveland, Sahana had extensive experience working with software companies and startups of all sizes across USA & India. Over the years, she has worn multiple hats with roles ranging from a software developer, developer evangelist, product manager, and product marketer to most recently leading a startup as its COO.

Sahana was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: I’m told your current job is your first in the geospatial area. Tell us about your journey to get here and what drew you to this gig.

A: I have been in tech for over 10 years now. Started off as a techie working on proprietary software for a large tech conglomerate. I was lost in a sea of employees and techies, never fully knowing what value my work was adding to the larger scheme of things at the company. There was very little creativity and very little autonomy to my work. And then, one fine day, I discovered the magical work of open source and tech startups. That totally changed the trajectory of my career path and interests, in general. I haven’t looked back since. I have been working with tech startups in different industries and technologies from AI/ML to SaaS/PaaS to now a GIS software & data company. With every new gig, I have looked for a different technology and product suite and that’s what drew me to Loveland. The world of GIS and an incredible team that has tirelessly put together a comprehensive dataset of 143 million parcels across the US. No small feat!

Q: Loveland aims to be the place that all sorts of folks seek out for information on land parcels, and you’ve pieced together a nationwide dataset with pretty amazing coverage. Did you know how much of a “holy grail” this was for geospatial folks before you joined Loveland? What kinds of reactions have you gotten from new users?

A: Yes, we are the “Go-To-Source” for all things parcel data. 🙂
I sort of knew how important and valuable this dataset was before I joined the company. But I think I now truly understand how hard it is to :
acquire and collect this data
Standardize it across the board. Every county’s data is so different from another. So normalizing it – cleaning up the data for easier consumption – is easier said than done.
provide it in 5 file formats to ensure customers get what they want
cut through the bureaucracy to obtain the data from counties
find and integrate valuable datasets that can augment our already valuable data – like the USPS vacancy dataset and buildings footprints data.

The reactions we receive from users have mostly been about the quality and coverage of our data, the price, and our transparency. We are the most affordable parcel data vendor with high quality coverage. We communicate all of our data updates to customers on a monthly basis. So they are always aware of what we are adding, updating and improving. Our origins lie in “democratizing data” and we believe we are doing that well.

Q: I myself know what kind of an immense task this is, since I’ve been in charge of compiling similar data for Minnesota’s 87 counties for years. What’s the hardest part to automate?

A: Well, we’ve built a state-of-the-art ML model that lets us clean parcel data to perfection in a matter of seconds! 😉
No, but seriously, the hardest part to automate is normalizing and cleaning the data! We do rely on a very robust set of open source geo tools like PostGIS, QGIS, and GDAL. There’s still a lot of manual work backed by the judgement and experience of our parcel team.

Nearly every one of the 3,200 counties in the US manages its data independently. There’s very little consistency from place to place even for basic columns like “owner”: it could be “deedholder, “firstname”, “fname”, “propow”, or pretty much anything else. And you’d think that a field called “Parcel ID” might be unique — but it rarely is.

Generally, counties within states are more like each other than counties outside of those states, but not necessarily. Also, cleaning the data can be quite tricky at times. Working with this data makes it apparent how much human error can be involved, especially when it comes to casting columns that should be integers or double precision from text. Date field conversion can also be quite tricky at times, depending on the formatting used by a place. A lot of rules built up over time plus the keen eyes of our data team help us keep quality high.

Q: I know there are a lot of counties in the US that sell their parcel data in an attempt to recover costs. Do you think these counties are aware that you’re repackaging their data and selling it yourself? If so, have you faced any opposition from local government officials?

A: Some counties have been slower or more reluctant to openly share their parcel data than others, but the overwhelming trend we see is towards more data accessibility. Over the last five years, many more counties and entire states have moved towards open parcel data, and we haven’t had any problems in displaying, sharing, and providing services around it. It’s not uncommon for us to have cities and counties as customers and they all want easy access to the data.

As time goes on, we anticipate that the public facts contained in parcel data will be ubiquitous, and the value that we add to the base data through organizing, standardizing, and adding additional data from other sources, including machine learning, will be where a lot of the value is. This is also a value add that we can provide back to counties, so it’s a win win.

A few years ago the team did some research to see how much county assessors who do still sell parcel data are making from it, and who they are selling it to. The numbers were very low and the people they are selling it to are often resellers who mark it up and resell it. We’re definitely not alone in the space of selling parcel data, and we work hard to be good, positive actors who are helpful to local governments and the public.

At the end of the day, parcel data is made of public record facts about how the country is subdivided, owned, taxed, and used. The public nature of the subdivision of land in the US stretches back to the earliest days of the country and big public programs like the US Public Land Survey which started in 1785. We see ourselves as providing a missing service by bringing all these local datasets together into a big picture of how we own, use, and inhabit the country. The reaction to that has been positive.

Q: Are you scraping any REST endpoints like OpenAddresses, or are you more frequently downloading from open data sites and then loading into your database?

A: The nationwide trend towards making parcel data open to the public has been important to us. We do download data from data portals and scrape from public REST APIs. Our team of parcel prospectors is both incredibly nice and incredibly talented at collecting the data. We haven’t yet gone to digitize counties that are still paper-based — maybe someday.

Q: How does the team decide what attributes to standardize on across the country? I’ve seen parcel datasets with some 90+ columns in them, but you seem to be flexing what you serve based on the sources. Is that hard to stay on top of?

A: We roughly based our schema around what the State of North Carolina uses to standardize their parcel data. We try to use columns that are broad, but also relatively unambiguous. There are occasional movements towards a federal standard, and that would be amazing.
Most places don’t have that depth of data as North Carolina has been working on their statewide dataset for a while, and helping local assessors get up to that level of detail. If a place doesn’t have as many fields, that’s what we work with.

As far as custom columns, we generally try and take a maximalist approach. For clients working exclusively within a very local scope, you never know what column is a must-have. The benefit of having the schema is that at a larger scope it allows one to be pretty flexible in data exporting without porting over a ton of custom fields aggregated from various counties.

Q: Congrats on getting your data into Carto’s Data Observatory. What does that mean for your company?

A: Thank you. We are thrilled about our partnership with Carto. We love Carto and everything they have done and built in such a short span of time. They are a benchmark in the GIS world and to get our data into their product suite is absolutely amazing! What this means for us, I guess, is it’s a testament to the quality of our data and coverage. We have always known that, but when we have trusted members of the GIS world like Carto and Mapbox believing in our data, it’s great validation for all of our work! Our lean team of 14 works tenaciously to improve our product every single day and now everybody is starting to see that.

Q: I guess you can tell I love talking about parcel data. Let’s diverge, though: what kinds of things do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?

A: I’m guilty of varied interests! Although as a mom to a hyperactive 2 year old, I guess I don’t get to indulge in hobbies as much as I used to. 🙂
I love to cook, sing, and read. I’m sort of an amateur food blogger on Instagram right now.
Travel has always been a passion. Growing up, I maintained a travel log and dreamed of a career in travel some day. Of course, those days are behind me, but the passion for travel still continues.

Growing up in India, I had made a vow to travel to every state in India. I think I am at a 95% completion rate. It’s not so much about checking off the bucket list but more about discovering the rich cultural heritage and differences in every place. India is so diverse. People speak and write a different language, just 50 kilometers apart. And the only way to truly experience that is by traveling to every nook and corner. And of course, discovering the range of local foods is absolute heaven for a foodie like me. The hope is to do the same here in the US, and eventually worldwide.

Q: Since you’re new to geo, you probably haven’t read a lot of GeoHipster interviews. What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘geohipster’?

A: I actually have read some since I started with Loveland. I love the work that many of your featured geohipsters are doing. Although when I read those, the irony is all too evident to me. I’m an imposter GIS person at best right now (that will change in a few months I reckon). 🙂 My team however is GIS through and through.

The term ‘geohipster’ to me is someone, anyone – techie, non techie, GIS or non-GIS who’s passionate about their local geography and land grid! It could be an urban planner, a surveyor, a cartographer or someone like our CEO – Jerry Paffendorf who’s dedicated the past ten years of his life to change the property landscape of Detroit and continues to do that still, in his own way, outside of his work at Loveland.

Q: What kinds of advice would you give to folks in startups and SAAS looking to diversify into a field like geo? What advice would you give yourself the day before you started?

A: As someone who comes from a long line of tech startups and SaaS, the one thing I can guarantee is that working in geo would bring in just the same amount of challenge and excitement as any other industry. Typically, that’s what most folks who prefer working in startups are drawn to – an exciting, fast paced industry. Geo has not disappointed in that regard. Also, GIS is a very large umbrella, brimming with opportunities. The surveying and mapping market in the US is about $9.3 billion and growing, as of 2019. The sky’s the limit. Cooler things are happening and being built as we speak with droning technologies and use of AI & ML on aerial imagery. It’s an exciting time to switch over to Geo.

For me personally, since we are the “parcel/cadastral kind” in GIS, the advice I would have given myself is to prepare for working with the public sector. Until now, I’ve only worked in the private sector and managed customers in private sector verticals. So working with counties and the public sector is a different experience that I’m now learning to navigate. But, the exciting part about my job is that I get to straddle both sectors.

Welcome to our new site…

A picture of the GeoHipster sticker in Southern California
Our #geohipster stickers get around, even to sunny Southern California. Photo Credit: Jason J. Benedict.

Hello GeoHipster fans! It’s Mike D. here, checking in from Minnesota. Whether it’s hot or cold here, I like to think of this photo Jason Benedict shared with us via Twitter! I’m always excited to see our stickers making their way around the world.

But enough about the weather! In case you missed it in our post this past weekend, we’ve officially migrated all of our content here to this brand-spanking new WordPress site, complete with a new header image, mobile-friendlier design, and a spiffy SSL cert that hopefully keeps your network admins from blocking us.

Why now? Well, when I incorporated GeoHipster as an independent business back in 2017, the “OG” Atanas Entchev transferred most of the GeoHipster assets and operational responsibilities to me. One of the things that was left behind was the WordPress site he started (way back in 2013!) on the geohipster.com domain. To be frank, I just wasn’t ready to take over that part of the GeoHipster enterprise.

But now that I’ve got a few good years under my belt running the business, it seemed like the right time to make a transfer. Atanas and I have settled into our respective roles along with chief designer Jonah Adkins, and we’ve got all kinds of ways for you to support our work, including of course our 2020 Calendar. And we’ll continue publishing long-form, in-depth interviews with the most interesting characters in the geospatial world. To me, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come since late 2013, when Will Skora transferred the @geohipster Twitter account to Atanas and Glenn Latham suggested the poll about what defines the GeoHipster.

We hope you like our new design and the benefits that come along with it! See you out there in the interwebs, or on Null Island…

Celebrating six years with a new site, and a new poll

On December 7, 2013, the “OG” Atanas Entchev posted a poll on geohipster.com entitled “What defines the GeoHipster?” Little did he know at the time that he would be launching a movement (or something) that would be filled with hundreds of interviews, opinion pieces, stickers, calendars, and t-shirts. Well, six years in, we’re still going strong, with more volunteers, a brand new 2020 calendar, and now, this newly designed website. So what better way to celebrate our six-year anniversary than with a reboot of the poll that started it all?

Toward Helping a Friend

A note from GeoHipster CEO Mike Dolbow

As I write this article, I am packed and prepared for three days “off the grid”, and honestly I could use a break from the daily news. I recognize that I have a tremendous privilege in being able to afford such a break, and that others are not so lucky. Nothing brought this fact to life as much as the recent news that Eni Entchev was deported…despite living in the U.S. for 25 of his 27 years.

Atanas with his son, Eni.

Eni is the son of Atanas Entchev, and sometimes we refer to Atanas as “the OG”…as in, “Original Geohipster”. While we may be using “OG” in jest, let’s face it – without Atanas, “Geohipster” might only be a Twitter account. It probably wouldn’t be a website with over 100 interviews published since it started almost 4 years ago. And it most definitely wouldn’t be the small independent business partnership it is today.

I certainly know I wouldn’t have been able to meet and/or interview so many amazing people these last few years without Atanas’ ideas, support, and generosity. And so when I learned that Eni’s family had set up a funding drive to pay for legal fees and living expenses, I knew I had to act. Like many of you – our amazing colleagues in the geospatial community – I donated from my personal funds. But also, with support from the GeoHipster Advisory Board, I’ve pledged 25% of the revenue from our 2018 GeoHipster Calendar sales.

So, this holiday season, as many of us take some time to celebrate our good fortune with loved ones, I hope you’ll consider either donating directly or buying a calendar to help reunite the Entchev family. Sure, hanging a unique calendar with 13 different pages of “map art” on your wall might make you the talk of the office. But knowing that in some small way you’ve also helped out a friend in need? To me, that’s what the geospatial community is all about.