So what if my map is weird…I want it that way!

Maps tend to have a good rap. They’re (generally) thoughtful, insightful, and darn it, people like them! There are those, though, who have taken a wrong turn some how. Maybe the data was having a bad day. Maybe it was a slow day for intellectual news and so someone said, “Why not? What could it hurt?” Others, well, I’m just not quite sure what people were thinking. Maybe the whole idea was a dare. The difference between this post and my earlier bad map post is that the maps in this post were made on purpose.

Well, after scouring the web a bit, was kind enough to put together a list of 38 maps it thought we needed (but I think some are debatable).  My favorite is #2 shown below from and shows what the world would look like if land and water were reversed.


Then there are others that I’m thinking, “so this was a problem that just HAD to be mapped, huh?”, like #30 from shown below. *Note: the link on to the original version apparently doesn’t show the map anymore, but the text on the website still mentions it, so I’ve linked the map back to buzzfeed.


Then, have you ever gotten a dollar bill that stamped with on it? Well if you’ve ever gotten the need to know where exactly your dollar has ever “checked in”, their map can either show you your dollar bill and where it’s been or you can checkout their real time map to see where everyone else is currently “checking in” their dollar.


So for those that are still reading this and wondering what the moral of this blog is, I’ll tell you: Please map responsibly. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

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What’s the projection of your mental map?

My default one is the Texas Home projection. Or it is sometimes Army1995, depending on my surroundings. It definitely seems to stay in the Mom Equal Area Where Is It projection more than it should be. So what’s yours?

While not a map in the classical sense, your “mental map” is how you place yourself in the world and navigate it. However, it’s this mental map that also drives our perspective of the real world as well. These maps are also a reflection of what you’ve been exposed (or not exposed) to. Could you help navigate or draw a map to tell a tourist how to get from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum in Paris if you’ve never been? I know I can’t, but I can at least find France on a map. I can, however, draw a map with the current location of all my son’s toys (more or less) right now, if I really had to. It’s all about exposure and awareness.

The Atlantic had an interesting article about a then high schooler, Zak Ziebell, who was tasked with a pre-fine arts task to create  “a piece of art that would reveal something unseen”.  For his assignment, he asked 29 people to draw, from memory, a map of the world. He then took those results and came up with both art, and an interesting conglomeration of the world.

HCpoKlgArt by Zak Ziebell

While Mr. Ziebell asked predominantly American students to draw these maps (and so the North American continent maybe somewhat recognizable) the rest of the world seems to have taken on some amorphous  variety of the earth, circa the Cretaceous period (Sara, by all means, correct me if I’m wrong).

But I think what’s worse is that as Americans, our mental map can be very small when it comes to cultures or places outside the United States. This National Geographic article in 2006 surveyed young Americans on a variety of geographic topics. Some of the results may surprise you. In fact, they have a test (circa 2006, mind you) that can test how well you fair against some of these questions. I hate to say, I did not fair as well as I thought I would, though that CSI question was a trick question, in my defense. 🙂

Edit: 13DEC15 for typos and failing to add categories and tags (duh!)

Bad maps. (yes, we’ve all been there)

Ever made a bad map? I sure have and still do. I’ve been looking over some of my early GIS work (yea, like I’ve been doing this for 20+ years!) and cringing and shaking my head at what I thought at the time was a great map. Lucky for me, I don’t have a national magazine, newspaper or other large readership to have to worry about. But for others, they’re in the spotlight and MAN, does it seem like it hurts when they get it wrong.

For starts, created a great write-up about 27 maps that say, well, some I don’t know what they’re saying, but it seems that there was more graphic artist in the making of the maps rather  than actual geography. And speaking of graphic artists, there’s this map posted by the Washington Post that highlights the goof on the Northeast United States on a recent campaign map for Ben Carson. Oh they deleted the tweet but as we all know, what has been tweeted, cannot really be un-tweeted.

And last but not least, there is a soul who is watching over all those bad maps on the interweb. Daniel Huffman has a blog called Cartastrophe where he critiques maps found in a variety of digital mediums. He will definitely take you to the dark side of cartography, but I think we’ll all be better off for it.

Blog #5 – Garbage in, garbage out

When it comes to analysis, data is everything but arguably the most important aspect is QUALITY data. While originally created for the computer industry,  GIGO or Garbage In, Garbage Out, is basically a phrase that states that you’re only going to get quality analysis if you have quality data to begin with. In the Lake Chilwa Basin in Malawi, they had a data collection problem that was compounded by low quality data collected.

The Lake Chilwa basin is located in the southeast corner of Malawi.


According to, the Lake Chilwa Basin is home to a large, diverse, and erratic climate and supports 1.4 million people with 80 percent being small farmers and subsistence farmers. The people and their livelihood are most at risk to climate change which is why accurate data of the region is vital. Analyzing and education in climate change in this region has the ability to help guide the government and citizens with everything from agriculture to a variety of socioeconomic activities  like tourism and water.

While meteorological data collection goes back to the 1890s in Malawi, over the past several decades, the system and subsequent data has been plagued with non-standard equipment, improperly trained personnel making observations, to war and theft. Even when data was collected, it was kept on hard copy and not until recent has some been made available soft copy for exploitation. The study done by LEAD Southern and East Africa and others helps implement the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme. This program hopes to help enable people living here the ability to be better resilient to climate change.

Where’s Tobler? (Aka Blog #7)

Ah, location. Tobler said it best with “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” Whether it is about crime analysis or the cultures of nations, location has bearing on everything. In any case, it can be for good or bad.

While not directly related to Tobler’s First Law, D.C. has within it some areas called “food deserts”. In other words, these are areas where something as simple as easy access to a grocery store or healthy food is next to impossible. According to The Washington Post, these areas are also where some of the highest poverty and obesity rates are located.  Lynda Laughlin posted on Greater Greater Washington a map depicting the disparity between the districts and the grocery stores.

  Lynda Laughlin’s Map of DC Grocery Stores

Now while Tobler’s First Law and the food deserts don’t necessarily have a direct correlation, Tobler in 1999 is quoted to have written: “The phenomenon external to an area of interest affects what goes on inside it” according to Terra Tread. This is possibly his Second Law of Geography.

Now this second law definitely has impact on the food deserts of D.C. The food deserts are in a bad place: the wards with the most need of healthy and affordable foods are in areas where poverty and obesity are at their highest. Food companies are seemingly loath to invest in a basic service like a grocery store, in these areas which, if provided, could quite possibly make a change for the better for the residents in these wards. So instead, residents have to travel farther to find healthy foods causing them to spend more money they don’t have, or just subsist on the unhealthy foods that are readily available around them and in turn, have a less-than healthy lifestyle. So while Tobler’s First Law helps explain, maybe to some extent, the groupings of communities in DC (those with and those without), it’s definitely his Second Law that seems to have the most impact on the food deserts.

Blog Post #6 – Greg Bacon Presentation

Last week, we got the opportunity to see under the hood of a robust GIS department. Greg Bacon came by the class and presented how Fairfax, Virginia’s GIS department manages and hosts its GIS data.

It was interesting to see how their GIS was not only producing, managing and hosting GIS data, they were also helping to enable other departments  to do their job more efficiently. For example, Greg mentioned how the parks department (and I probably remembered this incorrectly) had a problem with capturing deteriorating trails. The GIS department not only helped to enable mobile data capture but did it so that they could also graphically see it vice the data being saved off in some spreadsheet or database.

One thing I thought was a bit odd was that the parks team collecting the data did not want to make the data public. I can only guess as to the motivation behind this but I do wonder that if this data were made public, could some enterprising volunteer group or even Boy Scout troop  potentially levy this data for a project for restoration? Might even save the county some money in the process but maybe I’m over simplifying things.

Edit to a map – blog post #4

For this blog post, I was given Sara’s energy map of the United States to edit. Upon opening the map, it is to the extent of the United States, with the following layers:

USA Active Oil and Gas Lease Blocks

US Biomass, Solar, and Wind facilities

USA Offshore Pipelines

USA Coal Bed Methane Basins

USA Coal Fields

USA Oil Shale Basins

Some of these layers are very data rich and isolated to select portions of the United States which can make this an overwhelming map at first.

Original energy map by Sara

In order to help focus the map, I wanted to pick only one area to display. I also wanted to expand upon her energy theme so I searched for and found an ESRI-hosted shapefile containing the power transmission lines for the western half of the US. I chose the state of Utah for my focus area because of its mix of cola fields and oil shale basins and because its power transmission shapefile is under the 1,000 attribute limit imposed by AGO.


From there, I changed the basemap to Oceans as it was the least labeled therefore allowed the data to not be crowded with extra data. I also added a shaded terrain relief to give the map and overall depth.

Utah energy

A link to the AGO map can be found here.

How to save a life – with an app and a map

Do you know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? If you do, you know that minutes can mean the difference between life and death. According to, the American Heart Association is recommending that communities engage in  utilizing social media and app technologies to help alert CPR responders to emergencies near location.

A person’s ability to survive a cardiac arrest doubles if not triples the faster someone, anyone, can begin effective CPR after a person collapses, according to GIS technology and social media like PulsePoint – Respond have been able to bring rescuers to a victim to begin critical, life-saving  CPR while EMS is en-route.

The app PulsePoint – Respond works in conjunction with participating local dispatch centers and alerts registered users in the event of a cardiac arrest in a public venue near their location. The app then maps your location to that of the victim and will also show the location of registered AEDs nearby.

Maps – do they work in a blog?

Well, I think it safe to say that one map is not for all people nor is one map for all mediums. Take, for example, this AT&T World Internet Topology map below


Static, incredibly detailed, but not for the faint of bandwidth. In fact, with a pretty decent internet connection, it took just over 2 minutes to load the pdf at 100% on my computer and in the chip below, you see how much detail they’ve thrown into it.

13OCT_post2I think it could be argued that maybe a map such as this should be more of a web-based sort of map so the user could interact as much or as little as desired. As far as within a blog post, I think what I’ve done here with static images is probably about as far as this map would travel. This is best viewed in its entirety outside of a blog post.

Now the National Geographic, they do maps right. They’ve even got a great interactive web map that puts data at your fingertips. This map, or really, series of maps, is best with this web interface as it allows the user to turn on multiple layers of data. Should this data be static, it would require the person to look at the maps one at a time and then try to draw correlations. While this web-based map is awesome in its own right, it’s not really made to be within a blog and would likely only distract the reader from the topic, unless that topic is about this map.

When looking for a second web-based map that could work in a blog, I came across  this interactive map of air-pollution at The Atlantic. This is a short and sweet interactive map that has a very concise subject and is easy to use. This simple web map is best for a blog as it will enhance the topic of the blog (assuming it’s about air-pollution) instead of sucking you in to explore more items (National Geographic) and it won’t blow up your machine or phone trying to use the map, like with the static AT&T map.

For grins, I found this additional web map title the “United Steaks of America” by Slate. Once again, without the pop-ups explaining the meaning behind the sometimes less than identifiable icons (had to click on Montana cause I thought I was looking at chicken nuggets – silly me!) this map would be less than useful. But I think that it’d fit well within a blog – once again, a simple map with a single purpose and easy to use.

Finally, a static map this great for a blog post is the Washington Post’s map “Where the world’s people live, by economic status” (first item in the article). Once again, short, sweet and too the point that doesn’t take away from a blog post, but should enhance it.

Water, water everywhere

South Carolina’s monstrous rain has hit levels that are being described as 1,000 year flood level. According to USA Today, “A “1-in-1,000 year event” means that there’s a 1 in 1,000 (or 0.1% chance) of it happening in any given year in a given location, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

They go on to mention that there have been six of these 1 in 1,000 year events since 2010. When I looked at the flooding frequency of the soils around Columbia, SC and overlaid it with the 100 year flood areas (did not see a 500 or 1,000 year flood analysis at my disposal), I can see where some areas that often flood aren’t part of the 100 year flood area but I believe its just missing the data.

It would have been nice to examine the 1,000 year flood projections and compare with actual flood levels. Also, I do wonder if the 1,000 year flood mark needs to be re-evaluated…cause 6 in 5 years seems a bit more than a 0.1% chance to me.