GeoAwesome: Ignite Spatial Boston 2012

One word: GeoAwesome.  That is how I would describe tonight’s (11/14/2012, GIS Day!) Ignite Spatial Boston 4, which was organized by Avid Geo, hosted by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University and sponsored by AppGeo, Axis Maps, NBT Solutions, Azavea, and CDM Smith.  The twelve, five minute talks covered a variety of geo-topics from analysis to workflow, apps and technology.  It was a really well-rounded night of topics.  I thought all the speakers did an excellent job.  Here is a real quick rundown of the talks:

Crowdsourcing Boston’s Neighborhood Boundaries – Andy Woodruff, Axis Maps.  Great idea, great application, great participation, and great execution.  I can’t wait to see what they do next.  Check out Bostonography for more.

Save your Mouse: Automate your Spatial Workflow with PostGIS – Jesse Bishop, Research Associate, Woods Hole Research Center. You know you’re onto something when you are saving yourself literally millions of mouse clicks. Great project and great technique. Really opens up your schedule!

Visualizing the Urban Metabolism of Neighborhoods – Dr. David Quinn, urbmet.  This was one of several talks that discussed a geospatial analysis that was data intensive, innovative, and had great visualization component.  Dr. Quinn did a great job of breaking it all down in five minutes.

Trafficked by Sea – Stacy Bogan, Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University.  Presented a unique approach to modeling ocean traffic networks.  During her talk she proved that projections do matter!

Geeky Boating Elk, Ryan Westphal, Lead Developer, jQuery Geo Project.  Great presentation, taking a totally wild and creative subject, and using it to demonstrate the power or jQuery Geo.

GeoHOLLIS: Mapping the ILibrary Catalog – Bonnie Burns, Harvard Map Collection.  I used to work in a map library so I can really appreciate this project.  So far they have geo-cataloged 12.5% of their 12 million records, allowing patrons to search their catalog geographically.

Fontly: Mapping the World of Vintage Typography – Brendan Ciecko, Founder, Fontly.  I was really impressed with this talk.  Check out Fontly and contribute to the project.

Estimating Sandy – Ben Spaulding and Boyd Zapatka, AIR Worldwide.  My co-worker and I gave this talk about the work we have been doing the past couple weeks.  It’s amazing how much geoscience you can jam into five minutes.

Python as an ETL – Mark Zito, GIS Specialist, CDM Smith.  Mark demonstrated a few workflows using Python as a geospatial extract,transform and load tool.  I need to ask him about getting one of his code samples.

Partly Cloudy: Real World Tales of Geo Migration to AWS – Michael Terner, EVP, AppGeo.  Michael shared AppGeo’s experiences about moving to the cloud.  Really focused on the benefits, which I thought were right on the money (he talked about cost savings, if you didn’t get my pun).

Making Sense of 500 Million Location Requests Per Day – Richard Sutton, Geospatial Lead, Skyhook.  I think everyone who was in the room (100+ people) wanted his data and databases after he finished his talk.  I can’t describe how incredible the data and analysis he described are.  The potential for this data is unbelievable.

Cartographic Ingredients from the Eye Candy Kitchen – Jeff Blossom, Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University.  We often forget the basics that make a map a pleasure to gaze upon.  Jeff did a great job of breaking down the basic ingredients all cartographers need to remember when creating a map.

A big thanks to Guido Stein and the Avid Geo crew for bringing us this event.  There is a strong geo-community in Boston and events like this really bring it to the forefront!  

Hurricane Sandy! Data and Maps

I noticed earlier that my post about last year’s major New England storm was getting a ton of action today.  It’s probably time to get some info up about Hurricane Sandy.

I’ll keep updating this page when I come across data sets or mapping sites with pertinent information about the event.  If you have a good link post it in the comments section!

Last updated 11/4/2012

Storm Mapping Sites

Hurricane Sandy Data

Twitter/Social Media Mapping

Power Outage Sites

I’m in Somerville, Massachusetts and the wind has been whipping all day.  If the power stays on I’ll try to update this page if I come across some more data and maps.


Sunday Morning Geo-Fun

I use Weather Underground for the my weather needs, especially the handy-dandy web-mapping application for “Is it going to rain on my run?” weather report.  Just recently, I was checking the radar before heading out and noticed what appeared to be a technical malfunction, or the opening scenes to an epic movie.

What is happening?  Were there massive, freak storms happening throughout the eastern US?  No.

What you are probably seeing are radar blobs/radar blooms.  It took a couple minutes of Googling, but here is a 2007 article from explaining what you see on the map.  Apparently I observed a phenomena actually known as Ground Clutter.  I’m neither a radar or weather expert so I won’t comment on what is technically happening but it’s still pretty neat to see on a map.

Does anyone write code for custom map mash-ups anymore?

Hey geo-folks, I will be updating my mash-up pages this weekend to make sure they all work, but I don’t plan on adding any new ones or updating features unless I am really inspired. One of the problems of using data from a variety of sources and different APIs is that sometimes stuff changes, whether the API is updated or data sources become invalid.  This means that the author of the mash-up needs to keep an eye on their pages to make sure they are up-to-date, which I haven’t been doing lately.

I think the era custom mash-ups is over and has been for a while and I am sure others will agree.  There are so many great options for users of any skill level to create and post maps online that writing custom code for a simple online map is old news.  And that is the way it should be.  I am a big believe that the more people who can create maps and share geo-data and geo-ideas, the better off we will all be!

But…there will always be the need (and market) to create a customized online maps for specific and advanced needs, so don’t go and forget all that JavaScripting you know and love!

Goodbye MSRMaps or TerraServer, or whatever else you called it.

For many years Microsoft provided a WMS that included USGS topos and US aerial photography.  Popularly known as TerraServer (or Microsoft Research Maps -MSRMaps), the service no longer exists as of 5/1/2012, meaning that the Google Maps mash-up I created using the data no longer work.  For more info on TerraServer’s death check out the post on Directions Magazine’s All Points blog.

No worries from my end, as the use of that pages was nearly non-existent!  People are way more interested in my OpenLayers Google Mash-Up :).  I’ll update my links accordingly, again, not that it matters because people weren’t interested in Microsoft’s WMS service.  Thankfully today there are many, many more options for streaming high quality basemap data through web mapping applications.

Google Maps April Fools’!

Google is pretty well know for their April Fools’ Day jokes, and today we are treated to another one, albeit on March 30th (maybe that’s a part of the joke too):

Google Maps 8bit for NES

Here is a quick screen grab of Boston…


Zooming in a little bit a couple landmarks are displayed.  I like the how MIT and the approximate location of the Google offices in Kendall Square are highlighted in Cambridge.


The best part, even StreetView is NES ready!  Sweet…


Good job Google.  This is pretty cool.  For next year, how about you flip your maps “upside down” for the day.

Get to Google Maps now and check this out before it is too late!

p.s. I love April Fools’ Day.

Apple and OSM – The Year of OpenStreetMap Continues

The year of OpenStreetMap continues.  You have probably heard by now that Apple is now using a mix of TIGER data and OSM tiles in their mapping application.  As I said a couple weeks ago, 2012 is the year of OpenStreetMap, and this change for Apple, who had been using Google’s mapping data, is the biggest switch to date.

As I have said before, when large, well established organizations switch to these open data sources it can have a major impact on the open data movement, and Apple is probably as big as it gets.   However, Apple could derail the momentum that is the Year of OpenStreetMap!

The rumor on the street (haha, get the pun!) is that Apple is using an older set of tiles and TIGER data (yes, that TIGER).  These older datasets aren’t perfect and anyone who has ever taken a GIS course knows that TIGER data should be used for reference purposes only, and not in a global application that will potentially have millions of users.  Now, why would Apple be using this older data?  Are we seeing a beta product while they get ready to push new tiles out soon?  Do they not have any well trained geographers or GIS pros working for them who know about data quality?  Are they not taking their mapping applications seriously?

If OpenStreetMap data is to be successfully integrated into an application the users of that application will need to trust the quality of the data.  If the most influential tech company in the world messes this up it could impact who joins the OSM movement next, and perhaps set the movement back.

For more details on the switch and the data issues check out what SlashGeo had to sayJames Fee’s comments, and this article from

A few motivated indivduals have created some really great mash-ups that display the new Apple tiles.  Check them out for yourself to compare what currently exists in OSM and what Apple has published:

And one last comment.  Apple’s map visualization scheme is horrible.  Of all the great basemaps out on the web and Apple designs a visualization scheme that just screams 2001.  Maybe it’s being optimized for mobile devices, but as a trained cartographer I think it looks bad.

Full disclosure.  I am not an Apple person.  I have a Dell laptop, a Samsung phone, and an old IPod.

The Year of OpenStreetMap Continues

On February 28th, 2012 I (yesterday), I posted a blog titled “2012 -The Year of OpenStreetMap”.

In the post I said that “the next “big” mapping application that hits the market will be have an OSM back-end.”  Well, well, well, talk about timing.  Today, FourSquare announced that they will be switching to OSM for their mapping back-end using MapBox.  Pretty cool.

If you get a minute take a gander at the comments in the FourSquare blog post.  There is a mixed reaction to the switch, which I can understand.  There are also a number of really good suggestions that FourSquare could take a look at too.  Just like when any social network incorporates a design change there will be some push back from the users.  But, with time the OSM footprint will improve, as the community will grow, mature, and produce better maps.  People seem to forget that early on Google Maps wasn’t perfect and had data gaps as well.  FourSquare would be smart to somehow encourage OSM mapping parties and promote what is now being called the OpenStreetMap movement!

February 28, 2012.  You heard it here first.  2012 – The Year of OpenStreetMap.  What will be next!

TileMill for Windows

There has been a lot of buzz around TileMill lately.  With the new Windows versions recently released I’d figured I would give it a try.  I’ve seen demonstrations of the open source application before at WhereCamp Boston and I was excited to use the Windows version as I had never used the other OS versions before.

Before I started mapping I grabbed some point data from GeoNames, downloading the cities under 5000 table.  The table contains about 45,700 records representing cities around the world.  As you can see from a screenshot of the data loaded into Quantum the data are in Lat/Long already, making the data readily usable for web mapping.

After loading the GeoNames csv file into TileMill I followed the crash course and built this simple map:

As you can see I didn’t do much in terms of styling the map, but for testing purposes I played around with adding additional styles and worked with the built in features.  Once I was happy with my test map I exported a web-friendly png file to disk that came out like this:

What I liked:

  • I really, really, like Carto.  One of my biggest frustrations with traditional GIS software are the difficulties associated with quickly styling a map, or experimenting with the design on the fly.  I love how a user, with some experience, can quickly and effectively style a map.
  • The user interface, especially the projects window is well designed. I really appreciate the clean, fast, and intuitive feel of the program.  Sometimes simple is better.
  • There is an easily accessible manual from the main application.  I went back to it a couple times during my experimentation to use it.
  • Tutorial was easy to follow, even using my own data.
  • The tool was able to handle the 45k+ points easily.  I’d like to next try a complex polygon object.
  • The export tool allowed the user to set the pixel size, extent, and image format quickly and easily.

What I didn’t like:

  • The program crashed on me a couple times, probably due to me rushing and not reading instructions correctly.
  • Start-up on my machine (Windows 7, 64 bit, plenty of processing) was close to 30 seconds.
  • If you are unfamiliar with CSS, Carto might seem a little awkward at first, but with some practice it is pretty easy to understand.
  • The install package on their website would run on my machine but when I would start the program a cmd window would open and then close.  After reading through their forums I found that others had the same problem.  The folks at TileMill provided another install package that worked on my Windows 7 machine.

One final thing, a great addition would be to add an intellisense like feature to TileMill for Carto.

Overall, I thought it was a great tool, and I will use it again.  If you have some free time, or are looking for a new way to map you data, check it out.