Category Archives: showcase

Eric Fischer: Mapmaker, artist and programmer

The Atlantic Cities has a nice portrait of Eric Fischer: Mapmaker, artist, or programmer?. If you have been following information visualization and geovisualization news online over the recent years, I bet you have come across Fischer’s work. A few examples:

See something or say something: In this piece Fischer has overlaid georeferenced tweets (blue) and georeferenced Flickr pictures (orange). White areas have been posted to both Twitter and Flickr.

Locals and tourists: In this piece Fischer has coloured georeferenced Flickr images depending on if they were taken by tourists (red) or locals (blue). Pictures whose author’s origin was ambiguous are coloured yellow.

Race and ethnicity: Map of racial and ethnic divisions in Chicago, based on US Census 2010 data. Each dot represents 25 residents, red dots represent white people, blue dots represent black people, green represents Asian, orange Hispanic and yellow other origing.

“Ultimately, almost everything I have been making tries to take the dim, distant glimpse of the real world that we can see through data and magnify some aspect of it in an attempt to understand something about the structure of cities.”

“When the maps succeed, I think it is when they can confirm something that the viewer already knows about their neighborhood or their city, and then broaden that knowledge a little by showing how some other places that the viewer doesn’t know so well are similar or different.”
– Eric Fischer

What I like most about Fischer’s projects is that they are often crowdsourced (from Flickr or Twitter), data-heavy and employ often, not always, quite simple analysis or visualization approaches, but to great effect. In the end it’s all about the ideas behind the visualizations and Fischer doesn’t seem to be short on those.

Eric Fischer, formerly programmer at Google, is currently artist-in-residence at a San Francisco museum, where he will hopefully continue to produce interesting maps and visualizations. It’s probably indeed safe to respond to the Atlantic Cities article’s title that Fischer is all: mapmaker and artist and programmer.

Night sky above Yosemite

From the U.S. National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy comes this great short film about the skies above Yosemite NP. The distance to major cities and thus relative absence of light pollution makes for phantastic night skies. Astronomers and (time lapse) photographer and others take advantage of these conditions:

For best enjoyment make sure to crank up the resolution in YouTube and switch to full-screen playback.

The film is part of a series (Yosemite Nature Notes) and I have a feeling that subscribing to their YouTube channel oughta be worthwhile: http://www.youtube.com/user/yosemitenationalpark.

Blog: MapBrief

Recently, a friend of mine pointed me to GIS-related blog that somehow had managed to fly under my radar: www.mapbrief.com by Brian Timoney. Timoney is principal of a Colorado-based consultancy, but his blog is not what you might expect when you hear ‘consultancy’.

Some articles which sprang to my eye and which will get you started on content and style you can expect:

How the Public Actually Uses Local Government Web Maps: Metrics from Denver

Redistricting Denver: Where “Communities of Interest” Allow Polite Folk to Sidestep Race, Class

It’s Never Been Harder to Make Money in GIS: The Sobering Economic Backdrop to the ESRI/GeoIQ Deal

Skobbler’s OSM map

Skobbler produces apps and maps based on OpenStreetMap (OSM) data. Under http://maps.skobbler.com they’ve released an OSM-based map. I’ve always had mixed feelings about how OSM presented their map online. While I like the project very much and on and off use OSM data in my projects, I don’t like many things about the visual style both of the map and the website used to present it.

I like the sleek interface of Skobbler’s OSM map, however:

http://maps.skobbler.com/

Functionality-wise the Skobbler map offers their own map style as well as some traditional ones (they for example offer the Mapnik and the Cyclemap style), the usual search, routing (I suspect via Google or some other routing service as a standard, because there is a checkbox “switch to OSM”, which makes the functionality less user-friendly), favorite and recently visited places, editing via both JOSM and Potlatch and POI search and easy filtering.

Comparison of Skobbler (top) and Mapnik (bottom) map styles (click to enlarge).

Regarding the map quality I think Skobbler has done many things right and presents a major improvement over the standard OSM map styles: clearer and leaner colour scheme (which orientates itself a bit more towards the ‘industry standard’, I guess), less label clutter, more agreeable line widths (see for example the railway lines or some streets, above), nice choice of font style and capitalisation as well as label placement and repetition (of course, all these things are not completely without flaws).

All in all, a truly attractive OSM map!

(discovered via opengeodata.org)

“Everything is a remix”, presumably also this title

If you’re into creativity, you may have heard about Everything is a Remix. Its premise is that many things we consider original ideas are rather derivatives or combinations of existing ideas. It all comes down to

COPY — TRANSFORM — COMBINE 

Everything is a Remix is a four-part video series which digs into the creative process. I’ve just watched part 3, highly recommended:

You can watch the whole series here.

I guess one could lament the idea that there are no original ideas (hmm, recursion? ;), on the other hand (and I think that should be the dominant view point) this notion takes off some burden you may have been carrying around with you. You do not have to be 100% original in order to be creative, simply because it is not even possible: Copy, transform, combine!

(via SwissMiss, Brain Pickings)

Where was I?

I acknowledge, it’s been rather quiet in these regions of the web. Why, you ask?

I have been rather busy with a sort-of spinoff project I pursue with two friends. After having published about the Twitter network of journalists here, here and here, I directed my interest towards politicians. With two friends, Tom Wider and Filip Zirin, I started SoMePolis.ch:

If you haven’t clicked through yet: SoMePolis aims to investigate the social media usage of members of the Swiss parliament. Swiss parliament has two chambers: the national chamber with 200 members and the chamber of states with 46 members. So, in total there are 246 potential Social Media users. On Twitter we have so far found 62 accounts which seem credibly enough to belong to Swiss MPs.

Our first few posts have found a very interested audience, one of the big newspapers picked our story up as well as a regional radio station.

If you’re interested in our results (and we will keep publishing more), this post is a good start (though, in German) or this post if you excel more at French. Or you can follow the project on Twitter.

The Twitter network of Swiss MPs

Geo-Cosmos: Huge globe of OLEDs

National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo presents the “world’s first large-scale spherical OLED” and what do you think they display on it? Right!

Cool! As soon as they can do that with bendable OLED panels and thus do away with the gaps in the globe’s surface, I’m sold!

On another note: While I think this is appealing and induces an appropriate “want-to-interact-with-the-globe”-kind-of-feeling, I’m still a strong believer in 2D maps for many purposes. For example, for gaining a global overview or for comparing some characteristic of, for example, Brazil and say India, a globe is just an impractical object. This is because you have to keep turning it back and forth (or, in the above case, if you are not at the controls, run back and forth or up and down) in order to check and compare the two places of interest.

Anyhow, I’ll still write that one onto my wishlist.

Where’s Europe?

Via the GIS Doctor (in itself a fun blog) I got introduced to NY Times’ Opinionator. The Borderlines category on the Opinionator is maintained by author/blogger Franc Jacobs who “writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.

Borderlines writes about interesting stories around country borders. So far, I’ve read the superbly entertaining and well informed “Where is Europe?“, which deals with the problems geographers face(d) with regards to defining the geographic extent of “Europe”. It’s all there: the perspectives of the Britons, Swiss, Croats and Eurocrats, Turks, Russians, …, the back and forth of the European boundaries, especially (but not only) those in the east and south and some surprises, even for geographers.

There's a plethora of pitfalls when dealing with this beast... (NY Times)

Is this an off-topic post on my blog?

Eh, depends: because, here we have great examples of the fiat and bona fide divide when it comes to geographic regions and objects, the fuzziness or spatial vagueness of toponyms and the regions they denote, qualitative spatial reasoning, vernacular geography, etc. – some of which I have dealt with also in my PhD thesis and which also pertain to stuff you do with GIS, spatial analysis and geovisualization.

Very interesting stuff! But for now I’ll spare you the details and recommend “Where is Europe?” and Borderlines.

“History of Cartography” for free

Chicago Press gives away History of Cartography as PDF for free!

If you are a cartography buff, you have to check out this offer. Topics span:

  • Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean
  • Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies
  • Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies
  • Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies

(via All Points Blog)

Computer generative art

After the last post I have to report about a movie again already: Part of the Off Book series by PBS Arts, the short documentary gives a glimpse into computer generative art. Computer generative art in the words of Luke Dubois (starring in the documentary) is

[art] where you surrender control over some aspect what’s going down to some [computer] process.

Generative Art: Computers, Data, and Humanity portrays three artists and their work.

In Turning Data Into Music and Stories Luke Dubois tells how he turned casualties, missing and refugees of 8 years of war in Iraq into an 8 minute musical piece. Dubois says the reason for him to do that was, that the Iraq war is the first conflict of the U.S. where we have more data than information. I am not sure whether this is true from the information side (i.e. whether people were better informed about other wars), but modern gizmos and equipment certainly do produce heaps of data and thus maybe, in fact, make us know or feel less about what is going on.

I also found myself agreeing to Dubois saying:

This century is the century of data. That’s gonna be the defining thing.

I would add to that: and how we approach that heap of data. We amass such amounts of data that turning it into valuable, actionable information is getting harder and harder. In some fields, where data was hard or expensive to get, the situation has changed and we now seek for ways how to filter and intelligently assess incoming data streams. This is certainly true for many fields in Geography.

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