Review of Avenza’s PDF Maps app for iPhone and iPad

October 12th, 2010

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This app gets the job done: PDF Maps introduces a strongly played set of basic features and later versions promise to add more advanced features like layer visibility and feature attribute query. Professional cartographers can use the app to deliver custom cartography maps that leverage GPS to locate the map-reading customer with the magic blue dot. It’s certainly not an ArcPad, but it works on the iPad and you’ll find it fun to use (and the app price is right).

I quite enjoy Avenza’s new free PDF Maps iOS app, free and available now on the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad. I’ve been testing it for several months using both the beta and  final release versions. I’ve used the app in my neighborhood, on a cross country road trip, and we’ve been using it to ground truth maps at at my day job. I’ve created my own GeoPDFs and used those from USGS and Avenza.

Besides myself, I setup two non-cartographers with an iPad (3g  with gps) and several GeoPDFs depicting neighborhood-level street maps to field check in the Washington DC metro area. They were amazed at how easy it was to locate themselves on the map and make notes by dropping markers they bring back to the office for me to review. Because these particular maps include street labels, they don’t need to switch back and forth to Apple’s provided Google Maps app as they navigate.

The inaugural version is iOS only but the company has had requests for Android, Symbian, Blackberry and even Windows 7 Mobile. Expect an Android version next. Future iterations of the app may introduce a two-tiered, free-basic feature and pay advanced feature parellel versions, which seems reasonable to me. I’m also excited to see if a white-label version becomes available (much like the Flash SWF export out of Avenza’s MaPublisher plugin for Illustrator) that cartographers can use to brand the experience and pre-bundle their maps.

PDF Maps offers the following capabilities:
  • View and load your own custom cartography maps and view them with GPS location
  • Supports both Adobe/ESRI geospatial PDF maps and TerraGo/USGS GeoPDF® files.
  • Access and interact with saved maps without the need for a live network connection
  • Standard GSP app features: Plot way-points, enter attribute data and notes, measure distances and areas
  • Standard iOS interface: Quickly view, zoom and pan maps using gestures (pinch, drag and flick, double tap)
  • HD version for iPad same app as the basic version for iPhone, slightly reworked interface
  • Does not currently support waypoint export, a key feature
  • Does not currently support import of KML and GPX files

To create a GeoPDF, you’ll need ArcGIS 9.3.1+ to export from ArcMap with preserve coordinate system checked. Or use Avenza’s MaPublisher plugin for Illustrator (version 8.2+). You can also download thousands of GeoPDFs from USGS. Even though the USGS files use the TerraGo GeoPDF format specification (versus Adobe + ESRI’s), it will open and render in PDF Maps.app. Avenza also offers dozens of sample GeoPDFs linked from within the app to get you started (click Maps, then +, then From Avenza PDF Maps Library and browse the list).

Adding maps is as simple as dragging them to iTunes or attaching to an email (making it easy to send map updates to your field checker). Clicking on a PDF link on the iPhone or iPad now prompts to open in the app, as seen in the first screenshot above . Once opened in the PDF Maps app, it will take a few seconds to minutes to render, second screenshot above. Once open, several tools are available, the most important of which is simply the “locate me” triangle button on the map map view.

Even though it’s all about the PDF map you’re looking at, the app makes it convenient to open the same view in Maps.app to see Google’s version of reality for cross checking, especially using the satellite map tiles there. This is possible for both the current map view using the tools menu, and to open a specific waypoint marker after clicking it’s location field.

I’ve loaded PDFs with the app that are more than 10 mb of vectors and performance has been good. When the map first loads it will process and prepare several zoom levels of precached tiles. This will make panning and zooming faster during actual map use and is worth the wait.

During precache rendering, you can still use the map, but the parts that will still be loading will be fuzzy for a while. Very large maps (larger than 20 mb, or more than 2000 sq. inches) are slower to render in this version (hey, it’s a mobile phone). For larger areas, I’ve been splitting the exported map into separate files. When multiple maps loaded in, there is a Maps table of contents listing.

I found a couple continuing quirks with the app and one major missing feature. The app really needs to export the map’s waypoints as CSV, KML, and GPX as an email attachment. I wish repositioning an existing pin was easier. The hit areas on some buttons is small, making it hard to use in a moving car. Sometimes it’s nice to have multiple marker icon labels open, but sometimes that is odd. At any rate, there’s no way to close them all en mass.

Quick and dirty test GeoPDF files:
(using Natural Earth, US Census, and other draft data)

Note: Because of USGS website quirks, it is not possible to directly download a USGS GeoPDF onto your iPhone/iPad in the field. The website doesn’t render properly (something about IE and cookies), and the resulting download file is ZIP format rather than PDF. Not sure why, since the PDF should already be optimized for file size (there’s only a 1.5% file size savings between ZIP and PDF in the Washington D.C. West quad sheet).

Check out more screenshots:

My WhereCampPDX keynote presentation (Kelso)

October 8th, 2010

I presented the keynote last month at WhereCampPDX, a fun, free “unconference” in Portland, Oregon focusing on all things geospatial. Lots of discussions and met great people. The PDF of my presentation can be downloaded at kelso.it/x/pdx.

I talked about “cities and the people that live them” with particular focus on how do we count people, how grouping thematic and enumeration unit size changes with map scale and has specific impact on geofencing and choosing which cities to show at different web map zoom levels. The biggest hole in GeoNames.org and other gazetteers is the 3rd world, primarily in India and China but also Africa, also where most population growth will occur the next generation.

Here are some preview slides:

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Review of Essential Geography of the United States of America wall map

August 27th, 2010

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Will print maps survive Google Maps and the iPad? If Dave Imus’s new Essential Geography of the U.S. is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes!

Wall maps are large, physical artifacts that evoke our love of place. Indeed, they are the trophy mounts of the mapping world. They offer fond remembrance of the thrill of adventure, help dream up new trips, and effect a sirens call over friends and family with their proud display of  geography. Custom cartography reminds us place is not the sum of a street network but a overlay of cultural story and physiographic pattern. As OpenStreetMap, NavTeq, TeleAtlas, and the like duke it out in the PND and 1:10,000 scale road-map-as-a-service space, this map shows our discipline at it’s best.

Now for the specs. This beautiful wall map is drawn at 1:4 million scale (36″ tall by 48″ wide, ~65 miles to the inch). That’s twice the detail you get from Natural Earth’s raw GIS data. I was sent a preliminary copy for review and several attentions to detail catch my eye:

  • Major airports are located and labeled with their 3-character code (SFO, LAX, LGA, etc).
  • Attractions are listed for most metropolitan cities (Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, fisherman’s warf in San Francisco).
  • A compilation of small, mid, and large size cities nestle between named mountain ridges, settle the green forests, and line the coast. Some even have their elevation noted (“mile high” Denver at 5280 feet).
  • This human geography is connected by a road network with shields indicating relative lane widths, but still showing small rural routes when they are the only access thru town.
  • National parks and other sites are outlined and named.

The map is fittingly dedicated to William Loy, long time geography professor and coauthor of the award winning Atlas of Oregon (University of Oregon Press, 2001) who passed over in 2003. The map goes on sale this fall, perfect for the gifting season. Available soon at Imus Geographics »

Here’s another preview:

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Blog holiday, 3 year anniversary

August 24th, 2010

See me in person in Portland when I keynote WhereCampPDX the weekend of September 25; Barcelona for FOSS4Geo; or Borsa, Romania for the Int’l Mountain Cartography conference. I’ve got a few projects I need to wrap up and start this Fall so please expect only intermittent updates rather than daily digests.

Over the last three years (almost to the day), I’ve had more than 600,000 pageviews in this space, from original pieces like Meet Toni Mair — Terrain Artist Extraordinaire to promoting other’s work like Public Art in Google Street View (Good Mag). I’ve tooted my own horn on projects like Create Calendars Automatically in Illustrator: Version 5 (Kelso) and helped folks with Freehand and VBA in ArcMap. I have two more big posts planned the next several weeks, so don’t unsubscribe quite yet ;)

In the meantime, I will continue to tweet @kelsosCorner, the micro-blogging service. A sample of Twitter posts is featured in the upper right sidebar on this page.

German dialects and migration: How linguistic variations affect where Germans choose to live (Economist)

August 13th, 2010

201012eum978[Editor's note: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? I keep returning to this article from the Economist from earlier this year in March. You might also enjoy: What's the point of counties? (UK) and The English apple season starts – though they're hard to find.]

Republished from the Economist.

FEW Germans now say Appel rather thanApfel (apple) or maken instead of machen(to make). The north German dialects that use such variants are mostly dead or dying. But the cultural differences that they reflect still govern behaviour today, says a paper from the Institute for the Study of Labour, in Bonn*.

Acting on imperial orders in the 1880s, a linguist called Georg Wenker asked pupils from 45,000 schools across the new Reich to translate standard German sentences into local dialect. The results were used to compile an atlas of linguistic diversity. The new paper shows that Wenker’s dialect regions still define the comfort zones in which Germans prefer to live. When people migrate within Germany, they tend to go to places where dialects resemble those spoken in their home region 120 years ago.

German dialects, formed by geography and political and religious fragmentation, express deep-seated cultural differences. These persist even though borders between petty princedoms are invisible (and often no longer audible). Even small differences count. Swabians share Baden-Württemberg with Badeners. Both spoke Alemannic dialects. But Swabians, who say Haus (house), have a bias against living in the neighbouring old grand duchy, where they say Huus.

That trade is livelier among regions that share a language is well known. The paper’s authors think they are the first to find a similar effect within a single language in one country. They measure migration not trade, because the data are better and cultural factors matter more. The best predictors are still Wenker’s maps. “Even when we don’t speak dialect, the cultural territory is still there,” says Alfred Lameli, one of the authors.

Does this confuse cause and effect? Regions may have similar dialects because earlier generations migrated and their descendants follow suit. To rule this out, the authors looked at the way communist East Germany weakened social links that encourage migration. After unification, they found, the old migration patterns came back, suggesting that migrants respond to cultural factors more than to social ties. It seems that neither television, nor the autobahn, nor even the Kaiser, has created a single country in Germany.

*“Dialects, Cultural Identity, and Economic Exchange” by Oliver Falck, Stephan Heblich, Alfred Lameli and Jens Südekum, IZA, February 2010

Food Photos: Around The World In 80 Diets

August 12th, 2010

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[Editor's note: A new coffee table photo book from Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. "Menzel's photographs are accompanied by D'Aluisio's text, which delineates each diet but also gives cultural context." Above, a camel broker in Egypt. Thanks Aly!]

Republished from NPR.

How many calories do you consume in a day? Is it more or less than the recommended 2,000? How does it compare to the butter-rich 4,900 of a Tibetan monk — or the scant 800 of a Maasai herder in Kenya? These are the questions asked by photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, in their new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

“I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology,” Menzell tells NPR’s Michele Norris. “And make better decisions for themselves.” To do that, he and D’Aluisio decided to lay it all out. Literally.

Continue reading at NPR . . .

Steps into Mapping the Unmapped (Rural Focus) – Mapping on Mount Elgon (Mapping: No Big Deal)

August 11th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Humorous take on surveying and ground truthing from the neogeography perspective in Africa. Topics include season planning, mental maps, asking for local knowledge, keeping a trip diary, and sharing results back with the surveyed community.]

Republished from Mapping: No Big Deal.

Mapping hardly accessible, rural areas, is always a challenge. Each area differs so you have to tackle it in its own special way. Yet some basic steps are always the same. I have written some of them down.

In July, Mildred and I went mapping on Mount Elgon as contractors for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on behalf of Map Kibera. They needed information regarding polling stations in the area for their work on election monitoring. The information included geographic location, accessibility – both physical accessibility and the availability of cell phone service, information related to infrastructure of these stations, and speed of travel to each individual station.

Here is how we tackled the problems step by step:

1. Season planning.

The first and most important step in planning the mapping project is season planning. Obviously you want your work to run smoothly, without too many interruptions which is most of the time not the case. Season planning saves time, energy, money and nerves, takes the nature out of the equation, and lets you focus on other – project related problems.

While mapping on Mount Elgon we overlooked this very crucial step because the results were urgently needed. In an ignorant human and naïve researchers manner we  thought we could conquer nature or at least go over every obstacle it put on our way. We should have known better. June and July being the peak of winter, it was cold and raining all the time. We only had a window of six hours per day when we could work, and the other eight hours we tried to save ourselves from the mountain. Because of the rain, roads became impassable and everything came to a standstill. I can comfortably say we lost at least two to three days of mapping because of the rain and as a result we lost money.

Continue reading at Mapping: No Big Deal . . .

Exploring Place through User-generated Content: Using Flickr to Describe City Cores (Spatial Info Sci)

August 9th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Good focus on vernacular geography, on how we name and describe space, with a particular focus on downtown city cores explored thru millions of photos on Flickr. "Importantly, it deals with regions which are typically not represented in formal administrative gazetteers and which are often considered to be vague." Never seen Flickr geography before? Check out Aaron's flickr shapetiles (map), shpfile browser, and geotagger world atlas.]

Republished from the Journal of Spatial Information Science.
By Livia Hollenstein and Ross Purves

Terms used to describe city centers, such as Downtown, are key concepts in everyday or vernacular language. Here, we explore such language by harvesting georeferenced and tagged metadata associated with 8 million Flickr images and thus consider how large numbers of people name city core areas. The nature of errors and imprecision in tagging and georeferencing are quantified, and automatically generated precision measures appear to mirror errors in the positioning of images. Users seek to ascribe appropriate semantics to images, though bulk-uploading and bulk-tagging may introduce bias. Between 0.5–2% of tags associated with georeferenced images analyzed describe city core areas generically, while 70% of all georeferenced images analyzed include specific place name tags, with place names at the granularity of city names being by far the most common. Using Flickr metadata, it is possible not only to describe the use of the term Downtown across the USA, but also to explore the borders of city center neighborhoods at the level of individual cities, whilst accounting for bias by the use of tag profiles.

Continue reading via their PDF . . .

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (The Newberry Library)

July 30th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Completed this June, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries compiles the day-by-day change in county-level administrative boundaries in the United States from 1776 to 2010. Files are available in high-resolution GIS shapefiles and KML with full metadata on legal descriptions, online preview available. Thanks Andy!]

Republished from the Newberry Library.

A project of the William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at The Newberry Library in Chicago, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is a powerful historical research and reference tool in electronic form. The Atlas presents in maps and text complete data about the creation and all subsequent changes (dated to the day) in the size, shape, and location of every county in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia. It also includes non-county areas, unsuccessful authorizations for new counties, changes in county names and organization, and the temporary attachments of non-county areas and unorganized counties to fully functioning counties. The principal sources for these data are the most authoritative available: the session laws of the colonies, territories, and states that created and changed the counties.

What makes this Atlas stand out?

Over a dozen features distinguish the volumes and files of this atlas from other compilations.

  1. All boundary changes in states and counties-unrivaled historical and geographic coverage.
  2. Non-county areas-never before compiled or mapped.
  3. Attachments to operational counties (non-county areas and unorganized counties)-never before compiled or mapped.
  4. Separate map or polygon for every different county configuration-clarity and ease of use.
  5. Based on original research in primary sources-unlike most reference works.
  6. Primary sources cited for every change-unmatched documentation.
  7. Information organized by both date and county-unmatched flexibility.
  8. Locator maps for all county maps-show each county’s location within its state.
  9. Area (sq. mi.) for each county configuration-available nowhere else.
  10. Polygons available in two formats: shapefiles and KMZ-broad applicability.
  11. Interactive map has many options for background-unmatched convenience.
  12. Supplementary bibliography, chronologies, and commentary-unusually complete and thorough data presentation.
  13. Short and Long metadata documents for each state dataset-convenience and completeness.

Digital Products

The Newberry Library makes these data available without charge over the Internet in two digital formats: as shapefiles that users can download for use with geographic information system (GIS) software and as interactive maps, derived from the shapefiles, that users can view and manipulate (e.g., pan, zoom, add or subtract modern boundaries) at the Newberry’s Website

Download the data from Newberry Library . . .

The Agnostic Cartographer: Google’s maps are embroiling the company in the world’s touchiest geopolitical disputes

July 29th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Like other mapping company operating internationally, Google has to meet multiple objectives when delineating national frontiers.  This article from the Washington Monthly discusses some of the hot water the company has gotten itself into. Google recently rolled out higher-precision boundary lines in it's Maps and Earth products to address some of these concerns. Image above: Picturesque but contentious: Google Maps made this village Chinese, temporarily. India wasn’t pleased. Photo: Annabelle Breakey. Thanks GeoStuff!]

Republished from Washington Monthly.
By John Gravois

One fateful day in early August, Google Maps turned Arunachal Pradesh Chinese. It happened without warning. One minute, the mountainous border state adjacent to Tibet was labeled with its usual complement of Indian place-names; the next it was sprinkled with Mandarin characters, like a virtual annex of the People’s Republic.

The error could hardly have been more awkward. Governed by India but claimed by China, Arunachal Pradesh has been a source of rankling dispute between the two nations for decades. Google’s sudden relabeling of the province gave the appearance of a special tip of the hat toward Beijing. Its timing, moreover, was freakishly bad: the press noticed that Google’s servers had started splaying Mandarin place-names all over the state only a few hours before Indian and Chinese negotiating teams sat down for talks in New Delhi to work toward resolving the delicate border issue.

Google rushed to admit its mistake, but not before a round of angry Indian blog posts and news articles had flourished online. Some commentators posited outright conspiracy between Beijing and the search engine. “Google Maps has always been more biased towards China over the Arunachal Pradesh border dispute,” surmised an Indian blogger. Even more ominously, one former member of Parliament told the Times of India, “The Chinese know how to time their statements ahead of a bilateral meeting.”

Google responded in a manner that radiated chilly omnipresence—by posting a statement in the comments section of what appeared to be every single Web site that had discussed the mix-up. “The change was a result of a mistake in our processing of new map data,” Google announced. “We are in the process of reverting the data to its previous state, and expect the change to be visible in the product shortly.”

One mystery remained, however: how did such an error happen in “the product” in the first place? Why did Google have that perfect set of Chinese names lying around, ready to swap in for the Indian ones?

Continue reading at Washington Monthly . . .