GIS Day 2015

A year has flow by, my friends, and GIS Day will soon be upon us.

Are you ready?

On November 18th, 2015, come join us at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa, CA for some map fun and spatial discussion. The North Bay GIS User Group GIS Day activities start at 9am and continue to 3pm. It’s a full day of presentations, exhibits, and virtual/real map exploration. There’s always something new to learn and discover.

If you register for the event early, you’ll be entered into a drawing for this cool poster from Griffin Map Design:


Or you just might win a virtual training course or a Sonoma County park pass (indispensable if you have a dog) or a 360Geographics trail map! I don’t think too may folks pre-register, so the odds are in your favor.

Hope to see you there!

Geographers on the Bay


I have always wanted to go to an Association of American Geographers annual meeting. While a long time member, I don’t participate much in the organization, but going to one of the meetings has always intrigued me.

In my mind, I imagine the meetings filled with astute professors, students, and professionals discussing all the latest findings in geography and related fields. For some reason, in my head, they are all smarter than I am. If I were to insinuate myself into their ranks, they would  discover I’m not a real geographer and kick me out. What a nightmare, huh?

Because the meetings have been held on the east coast lately, I’ve been able to indulge my (ahem) strange fantasy.

In 2016, I have no such excuse (fear?) to keep me from going!

From AAG's 2016 annual meeting announcement.
From AAG’s 2016 annual meeting announcement.

The next AAG annual meeting is in San Francisco, just a stone’s throw (okay, a bit more than that, but you get the idea) away from me. It will be held from March 29th to April 2nd, 2016. I plan on registering. Will you?


Just a friendly reminder: GIS Day 2015 is rapidly approaching. On November 18th, 2015, the North Bay GIS User Group will again be hosting an education-filled day with geographic activities for school kids, a map poster contest for students, and presentations for adults. Join us for the entire day or just come for the swag (there might be t-shirts this year).

Did I mention it’s free?

Save the date and come join us at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa!

Getting Out There

No, I don’t mean stop reading this post and get outside to enjoy the great California weather (is it raining yet?). You can do that later.

What I meant was: let’s get OUT THERE. Beyond our moon and over 34 million miles away to the surface of MARS.

Click on the image for an interactive experience.
Click on the image for an interactive experience.

Click on the image above to visit Mars via ESRI’s interactive map of Mars, the fourth planet in our solar system. Who knows where we’ll end up next? Fancy a ride on a comet?

This concludes my posts on Geography Awareness Week. I hope I’ve sparked an interest in geography and the world around you.

Where in the World?

Here’s another neat test. Don’t worry, this one isn’t timed and you can use other resources to figure it out.

The BBC put together a game that combines Google’s ground-level photography with maps. They give you a starting point and allow you to look around (search for signage and landmarks, check the angle of the sun). Once you figure out where you are at, place a point on the inset map and make a guess.

Some spots are truly hard to figure out (no signage!) while others are super easy (major landmarks nearby). Either way, give it a shot! It’s a cool way to visit unique places in the world without leaving the comforts of home.

BBC’s Geoguessr

Can you beat my (terrible) score of 6,998?

Today is GIS Day 2014

What is GIS?

No, that doesn’t stand for gastro-intestinal system nor the General Mills stock exchange label. For me, it stands for Geographic Information System. The standard definition of what a GIS is goes something like this:

A computer system designed to capture, integrate, edit, share, store, manipulate, analyze, display, manage, and formally present all types of spatial data.*

* From Wikipedia (more or less).

What is its history?

Map by John Snow showing clusters of cholera outbreaks in London, 1854. Image via Wikipedia.

Technically, one can say it’s been around since cartographers started scribbling lines on hide, but formally it all got started in the 1960s with the rise of computers, which allowed for easier data dissemination and manipulation.

There’s a long history of government, particularly defense departments, playing key roles in GIS software development.

But today, the commercialization of GIS is evident with the proliferation of companies like ESRI, and, well, ESRI. However, there is a whole host of open source solutions like QGIS.

How has it changed the world?

If you’ve used a BING, Yahoo!, or Google Map, you’ve used a GIS. Or rather, the fruit of a GIS (and GPS). GIS has made spatial information available to the public in way that normal paper maps just never did (or could). Instead of a static map that shows where things are (or were), we can ask the map where the items we are interested are right now and where they might be.

How I got into GIS

By accident. I worked for a small natural resource department with California State Parks and someone had to do it. My ability to learn quickly and natural affinity to maps made me an easy choice to head up the effort in our office to develop our GIS database.

Since then, I’ve worked on many projects in a variety of fields and, honestly, I can say I haven’t gotten bored. The application of GIS is infinite. Everything has a spatial component to it. A crime happens in our neighborhoods. Disease spreads from one nation to another. And plants propagate across the landscape. Each of these things can be mapped, tallied, and analysed to help us better understand our world.

Time for a Test

Believe it or not, tests can be fun. At least, when geography is involved!

National Geographic hosts an online GeoBee (like a spelling bee, but way easier). If you are a student, you can participate officially through your school. Or if you’d just like to join in for fun, they have daily quizzes you can take – every day!

Can you beat my first-time score of 8,312.5?

Find out here at the National Geographic GeoBee Quiz and report back! This is timed, so the quicker you answer the better.

Good luck!


How We Communicate Geography

With maps, of course.

So, just what is a map? And why is it important in understanding geography?

Maps are visual representation of what we see around us. They show spatial relationships between things (transportation corridors, destinations, physical features on the landscape, etc) and, more importantly, maps show the connections between all these things.

Why should you care?

Maps have never been as widely used as they are today.


Maps are being used in just about every niche and function you can imagine.

Taking a trip on a bus?
Map on subway in downtown Santiago, Chile
Map on subway in downtown Santiago, Chile

Your city has probably installed map panels at popular junctions or on the bus itself.

Playing a video game?

There’s probably a map included to help guide you through the game. See that tiny map to the right of Spiderman? Can’t be flying through the streets unless you know where you are at and where you are going!

Trying to find that great, new restaurant?

header-androidYour phone has a map application that will get you there in just a few screen taps.

You use maps to navigate through your life. Don’t you think it might be important to know a bit more about them?

History of Maps

You might be shocked to find out that maps as we know them today are a relatively new thing to humans. Prior to the late 1200s, maps were…well, they were all over the map. Depictions of the world around us varied widely and you probably wouldn’t have recognized them as maps (nor were they called that).

T-O or Mappa mundi map. From

Proper land surveying techniques were developed independently in many regions of the world and the maps that resulted from those efforts are definitely recognizable. However, like most information, maps were often hoarded by the educated and powerful. Accurate spatial information meant knowing where resources were and how to transport them, and it meant knowing where your enemies lived and how to access them. Keeping that information secret determined who ruled the land.

It wasn’t until the Europe’s Age of Discovery, and the invention of the printing press, that maps became more common place and standardization in visual representations were adopted.

Snapshot of a standard DeLorme street map.
Snapshot of a standard DeLorme street map.

Today, with the proliferation of the internet and smartphones with map applications, accurate spatial information is literally at our fingertips and comes in forms we might not be expecting.

Click on map for an interactive experience!
Click on map for an interactive experience!

Maps of the Future

Many of us (okay, only me) still like physical maps printed on paper with ingenious folds. We spread them out on the kitchen table and pore over the details, learning interesting names for physical features or realizing how close that creek is to our own backyard.

But more and more people today are using a different kind of map. With smartphone and other mobile devices, we now have the entire world in the palm of our hands.

Just who knows what the future holds for maps? Maybe one day we’ll all just insert a map-chip into our brains and know where everything is (even ourselves – yikes, getting a bit “big brotherish”, eh?). Or maybe you’ll just create custom maps based on the places you go every day.

There’s no way for me to predict the future of maps because the field is wide open to innovation. It always has been and will continue to be so in the future. What I do know is that maps will stay with us for the long haul because they link us to the world.

Will the map become the place?

Read/listen to Del rigor en la ciencia by Jorge Lius Borges. English version here: On Exactitude in Science by Jorge Luis Borges.

Geography Awareness Week 2014

Geography Awareness Week is a movement to expose you, the public, to geography.

It all got started in 1987 by the National Geographic Society when their staff became alarmed at how geo-illiterate U.S. citizens have become. Since geography is no longer taught in earnest in many U.S. schools (having suffered from the reader/writing/arithmetic focus), most folks are not aware of how geography shapes their cities, farms, and the interactions between humans and the environment. Not to mention all the physical processes on this earth that go on regardless of what we do.

To help us all better understand the world around us, Geography Awareness Week was created to promote geography in our lives to

understand where things are found, why they are there, and how they develop and change over time.

~ from the National Geographic Geography Awareness About page.


Each year, Geography Awareness Week has a theme associated with it. This year, that theme is “The Future of Food”. Hmmm, you’d think I’d be all over that theme, but to be honest, I don’t have any particular expertise in the department (other that eating it), so I’ll leave that to the food connoisseurs out there. Check out this interesting Thanksgiving food map put together by the staff over at ESRI:

Where green beans come from (ESRI, 2014). Click on image to access the interactive map.
Where green beans come from (ESRI, 2014). Click on image to access the interactive map.

This interactive map highlights where the food on your Thanksgiving dinner plate likely came from. I was surprised to learn that the green beans we eat are grown all over the United States.

Did you know that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow one (only one) almond?

Map image from Mother Jones.
Map image from Mother Jones.

Check out this article from Mother Jones to find out more about where food is grown in California and how much water is needed. The article also highlights which cities in California use the most water.

What you’ll get from DMS this week:

As a GIS professional, I deal with geography every single day. Most of the work I do involves showing where things are and how they relate to each other. This week, I’ll go beyond that by highlighting places on the internet you can go to find out about maps, test your geographic knowledge, explain exactly what it is we GIS folks do, explore how geographic shapes conflict, and then move us out beyond this world.