Sunday, August 18, 2013

I remember the moment I realized I needed to learn how to play the piano.

[Psssst. Keep reading; this is still about maps!]

During my second semester at Berklee, I found myself with a bunch of fellow art-nerds, sitting in an apartment watching a video [VHS whaaaaa!] about a dance piece collaboration between Garth Fagan and Wynton Marsalis called "Griot New York". Wynton rolls into a rehearsal toting his horn in a gig bag and rolling a full-size yamaha keyboard behind him. As the voice-over goes into dance/music duality overanalysis mode, I see that Wynton is playing the trumpet with his right hand and laying down chord progressions on the keys with his left hand.

Sure, I'd heard about Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Haden et al. doing their composing on piano. I'd gotten all sorts of pressure to put down my horn and practice the keys regularly as a way of understanding the harmonic roots of the music I wanted to play. But this was live proof - in the form of one of the greatest virtuosos of a generation - that a melody instrument could only take you so far in both performance and composition before you needed Western music's chosen tool for getting at the harmony underneath.

My not-so-subtle point is that the same goes for programming in GIS. Bill Dollins and Adena Schutzberg wrote more eloquently than I ever will about the need for GIS practitioners to learn to code. But I just realized I've been down this road before. I played trumpet for years before buckling down (under degree requirements, really) and setting my fingers to piano keys. And I worked from ArcView and ArcMap for years before realizing that I needed proficiency in python and javascript.

The piano is a compiled language, to be sure - several steps abstracted from the wonder that is our perception of tone and harmony. But it fits the question I've heard time and time again from GIS analysts, and seen in blog-nonsense form hither and yon:

Do I really need to learn python/piano?

Yes. Your advancement as a scientist/artist will not be possible without it.

Let me close with another question brought on by this crude metaphor: If the piano is Fortran, does music have a kernel? :)

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Tiled Basemaps Survey 2013 - Results!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013
From Stamen, OSM Contributors and National Geographic

The results are in!

123 helpful participants submitted their thoughts on their favorite basemap services, and without further ado I present some of the results:

Which tiled basemap is most cartographically appealing to you?

Google, National Geographic (served via ESRI), and Mapbox are the winners here, with support for Stamen's options as well. "Other" in this case included OSU's Crinkled Watercolor and OpenCycleMap. Between the Stamen, OSM-Mapnik and Mapbox selections here, tiles based on OpenStreetmap data were ahead of the others. But this is a popularity contest based on looks. Moving on to substance . . .

Which tiled basemap do you use most frequently in your projects?

Google wins on ubiquity. Almost half of the respondent pool uses Google's tiles first; though given the widespread adoption of the API this is not a great surprise. More interesting is that about half of these Google users find a different basemap to be more attractive. Which brings us to . . .

What factors drive the choice of basemap for your projects?

Respondents could choose more than one here, but it's clear that not many balked at the technical challenge or vendor lock-in concerns. Mostly it seems like choices were driven by a balance between aesthetics and quality/detail, with cost and licensing hovering in the back of respondents' minds.

What do you like best about your "cartographic favorite"?

Unpacking these results is best done with a series of [gasp!] word clouds for the top three choices. You might call it a word storm . . .

National Geographic: 



Interpret these as you will - subjective assessments have a way of bleeding from one choice to another. For instance, it looks like everyone likes the "colors".

Whoa there . . .

This is not a scientific survey. And despite my best efforts to reach out to all the communities involved, it's probably not even terribly representative. But it's interesting to inspect the choices made by this particular group of mappers, and fantastic that so many were willing to share their thoughts. Check out the unvarnished results here - mostly interesting to see the full explanations of what folks like about their preferred aesthetic.

As always, drop me a line if you have any questions or concerns about these results. Thanks to all who participated!

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