Header Image Credits: (Left-to-Right) @boneyardstudios, @johnathanknelson, @chrishenrick



NACIS is NICEST! Ooo. Ahh. Nice.

I love coming to NACIS every year (I can) because I always seem to find a beautiful and fluid interaction of professionals, academics, and students around a common passion— the visual form, function, and representation of spatial information.

Inherently, I agree with Lyzi Diamond that, "all data is spatial data", and has the potential to be mapped (though it might not need-to-be mapped).

It’s not the oldest profession in the world, but it’ll sure tell you how to get there!
— Piano Lady at Nye's Parlor on October 15, 2015

This is my attempt to dissect, synthesize, and analyze the qualitative (and quantitative) information of the NACIS 2015 conference—the 300+ attendees, the 100+ presenters and panelists—and some of the commonalities, and differences among us. 

Disclaimer!: my educational and professional experience within cartography, cartographic principles, and visual information design is still in a nascent phase. I'm aware I have more reading, practicing, publishing, translating, problem-solving, learning, and writing to-do. My aim here is to continue the positive dialogue to help others (and myself) grow in geography, cartography, GIS, geoliteracy, geodevelopment, and the multitude of tools/resources at our disposal.

At this year's NACIS 2015: Mapping Interactions, I believe we embodied the growth of various cartographic forms (i.e. now three different map gallery exhibits), most notably print (paper) and digital (web) cartography. One of the biggest takeaways from the conference was how we teach, advocate, practice, mentor, advise, execute, share, and bridge the chasm between the two. 

Therefore, in my review, I broke down my "interpretation" of the NACIS 2015 conference into three major categories and sub-sections within. 

Category 1: Growth

Education, Academia, Advancing Knowledge, and Professionalism

Before we jump into some of the juicy and exciting aspects of the conference, I believe we should look at our foundation—from the cornerstone where we build our future (and our maps)—education and knowledge.

Fact: There were more than 50 different presenters or panelists at the conference coming from universities, or with a professional affiliation within academia. They represented universities from across North America (and the world). You can see the comprehensive list of presenter and presentation titles here or on Sched.

The spectrum of these presentations are vast, and a serious case of FOMO can occur when attending a conference where [nearly] everything is captivating. Part of this NACIS-2015-In-Review is to help curb that feeling. 

We need to be teaching more open source. I’m really into exposing students to QGIS and R, etc.
— Sally Hermansen from UBC

Education-Growth Presentations/Panels Attended:

Education-Growth Presentations Not Attended 

2015 Dynamic Map (Group) Winner, Oregon State University Cartography & Geovisualization,  Atlas of the Polar Regions

2015 Dynamic Map (Group) Winner, Oregon State University Cartography & Geovisualization, Atlas of the Polar Regions

There were roughly 15-20 presentations or panels at NACIS 2015 that pertained directly to pedagogy, learning, education, academic, or professional growth of individuals (and groups). The most invigorating session I attended was the Geographic Education in a Modern World Panel

Kitty Hurley took some great notes during the session, and it was obvious that a WHAM-O question of the afternoon (maybe the whole-conference) was: HOW CAN HIGHER EDUCATION ADAPT?

Now I definitely don't have a solution to this question and at the session, it seemed like no one really did either (a lot of steam was released too). Educators described some of their pain-points beyond technical challenges of learning to code (multiple languages), and creating (web) maps in a 'modern world'.

Someone said, "students want to make [cool] maps by pressing buttons" rather than take the time to critically think through the data, the code architecture, and other parameters that goes into creating effective maps. 

While trying to understand the context as to why students just want to press-buttons, my hunch is that most undergraduate (and graduate) students of 2015 were born later than 1988. As they needed to start using maps for various purposes in their teens and early adult lives, they turned to their mobile devices and computers to resolve their geographic needs (i.e. Google Maps).  And I'm guessing more often than not, they don't even want to use or make a paper maps.

Therefore, higher education programs evolving to current-student demands are sometimes "feeling stuck" between a print-cartography standard (>50 years) and a new web-cartography/geodev framework (<10 years). This education-shift is happening quickly, and the community of dedicated geodev and web-carto enthusiats living online now is being met at a crossroads with higher education. This situation is still evolving, and in rare-cases, already institutionalized.

Unfortunately, I had a timing conflict during this session and the panel-session on How to Hire, or Be Hired Panel. Personally, it was very difficult to decide between the two. While I'm technically looking for new work opportunities, I'm also in a discovery and exploration-mode of my career and graduate school choices (mostly in the western third of North America).

[Personal Side-Story: The main reason I didn't attend the Hiring panel is because I'm reading Fearless Interviewing by Marky Stein. I'm confident that this book is helping me prepare strategies, principles, tactics, and lessons for upcoming interviews. I'm not solely looking for "Cartographer" jobs, and I like this book because it seems to be career agnostic. I think it will help me and my various job-interests, and jobs that relate to my experience and passions.]

Yes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, (1,2,3,4,5,etc.) of free and low-cost tutorials (and documentation) online. In 2015, I believe everyone (educators AND students) SHOULD be utilizing these types of resources, engaging with the online community, and practicing code-based cartography on your own (...coming from a "Cartographer" that is still trying to teach himself how to implement code-based maps and run automated python and SQL scripts for GIS processing/analysis). 

In the United States, at traditional, "4-year" institutions with Top 20 Geography Departments, you still might not find the resources and lessons/instruction you might desire because these institutions aren't designed to nimbly adapt for exponential-technological trends. (But there are the exceptions :) I'm advocating for "you" to pick the best strategy for you, and go get-it.

The one gut-reaction I have to all education levels is that computer science and computer languages MUST be a core component for ALL. If our "Western" society and economy is moving toward more automation, the best way to for yourself and your child to "succeed" is to know the how and why computers speak. 

That is why I was so thrilled to hear that Mōno Simeone invited K–HigerEd teachers to a BayGeo Summit. I think that if you want to have geographic and cartographic education prosper, the K–12 approach is one of the best.

Category 2: Creation

Applications, Tools, Workflows, Case-Studies, Databases/Resources

"Practical" Presentation/Panels

Daniel Huffman's   Lake Michigan Unfurled &nbsp; and his presentation at NACIS,&nbsp;  A Matter Of Perspective

Daniel Huffman's Lake Michigan Unfurled and his presentation at NACIS, A Matter Of Perspective

I conclude that the majority of NACIS sessions fall into the category of application, tools, practical-usage, workflow-sharing, data sources, resources, and case studies. Of course, this is based on an unscientific method and subjective-look at presentation titles, the sessions I've attended, and reading some of the abstracts in the 2015 program and the 2014 program. 

This year, I personally enjoyed the compelling juxtapositions of historic and contemporary presentations. For example, the similarities and differences between Ross Donihue's presentation (Maps For Good) on Expeditionary Cartography and Mapping the Future Patagonia National Park and Francios Matthes's 1906 Topographical Map of the Grand Canyon (presented by Nicholas Bauch from Stanford). I recommend reading Nicholas' script and and reviewing the slides from Ross' presentation.

The basic premise behind our [Maps For Good] work is we only save the places we love and we only love the place we know. If my maps can help people come to know and connect with a place then they have a better chance of being protected.
— Ross Donihue

Other tracks I attended throughout the conference were:

  • Community-Oriented Cartography
  • Advancing Map Production
  • Dynamic Representation
  • Rethinking Web Cartography
  • Practical Cartography Day

Some more other 'practical' highlights that evolved in these sessions were (in no particular order):
    • Sarah Bell and Clint Loveman's presentation on the ArcGIS for Adobe Creative Cloud Extension Prototype. I heard whispers of "Oooh. Ahhh. Nice." throughout their presentation. Sitting next to Rosemary during this presentation was fun; she was on the edge of her seat. 
    • Mamata Akella's Web Cartography-Driven Data Collection was great. She showed a bunch of work, tools, ideas, and creative solutions from her work both at NPS and CartoDB. 
    • Nick Martinelli's Designing Together 10 minute talk. He showed a demo of a prototype he's currently working on. From what I can remember, the features of the web-application seemed to provide Slack-like operations and PDF-like annotation for collaborative communication in the browser. I could feel all the "light bulbs" in the room going off when he showed his prototype. I suggest you contact him for more info if you missed the presentation.
    • Daniel Stephen's Automatic Flow Map Creation Using a Force-Directed Layout presentation was just the right-amount of advanced-technical language paired with a demo of the tool he, Bernie Jenny, and others at Oregon State are building. Everyone in the audience who has ever made flow-maps in Illustrator knows the labor-intensive process that goes into getting the curvature of the flow-lines correct. Well, with this tool, it seems like all that heartburn will be relieved. Oregon State at it again with amazing tools and research!
    • Sam Matthew's two presentations on Dropchop. His enthusiasm for web cartography and free and open-source GIS tools is palpable. I'm guessing his work at Code For America is making a tremendous impact in the communities he's working with. I expect to see a lot of great code, maps, tools, solutions, and presentations from Sam in the future. 

[In Boston], squares aren’t squares.
— Andy Woodruff

Wednesday Night's Keynote Speaker, Brenda Laurel, and her presentation "Personal Story as Map" would fall into this category of the conference (imo). Brenda's presentation was good for the entire crowd at NACIS (both traditional and modern map-makers). I think there was a great reception to her presentation because it touched on theoretical/visionary/exestensial topics and technical/modern/innovative examples. The biggest takeaway I took from her presentation was that I need to investigate UC Santa Cruz for graduate school to see if it would be the right fit. Her graduate student's research and thesis examples were inspiring.

Triangulation is the mapper’s choice in hilly regions where walking is hard and sighting is easy.”
— David Greenhood

Category 3: Expression

Design, Style, UI/UX, Geoprocessing, Analysis, Creativity

Expression Presentation/Panels Attended

Evan Applegate's  Winning Map,&nbsp; Bay Area, California

Evan Applegate's Winning Map, Bay Area, California

It’s [almost] cool to call yourself your a Cartographer again.
— Someone said this to me in the lobby
If anyone took Anthony Robinson’s MOOC, you could die from putting rainbow colors on a map
— Aileen Buckley

Twitter & Quotes from #NACIS2015

Jake Coolidge's Hand-Drawn Map  of  The Western Shore of Lake Michigan and Environs

Jake Coolidge's Hand-Drawn Map of The Western Shore of Lake Michigan and Environs


Basically, my "strategy" coming to this year's NACIS was not to have a strategy. Be open and responsive to all people, ideas, research, credos, beliefs, teachers, students, proprietors, freelancers, map-enthusiasts, job-opportunities, etc. I am currently in discovery-mode for the next phase of my geographic (and cartographic) career—and how my experiences will align with a growing passion for environmental conservation, natural resource sustainable management practices, and ecological/global-wildlife appreciation.

As far as higher-education goes, it's my opinion that Oregon Sate, Wisconsin–Madison, and Penn Sate are the strongest Geography Departments in the United Sates for modern cartography and geovisualization. I've been to NACIS for three of the past four years, and I don't know much about code, which might make this paragraph biased. Consequently, it's evident that these faculty and department leaders are effectively selecting and training students to create as much as possible (tools, maps, atlases, software, research) for the advancement of Cartography.

I think that we return to NACIS, year after year, because we come to share-with, and learn-from our peers in the realm of cartographic expression. But if you got the chance to hear Christine Bush speak on Friday afternoon in the Theoretical Frontiers track, you heard,

Cartographic Reason is NOT a spatial query in a GIS. Cartographic Reason is: an intricate, dynamic, spatially oriented, metaphorically-driven base map that we use every day whether we know it or not.
— Christine Bush

Grounded? Shock? Scared? Perplexed? I (definitely) wasn't ready for this. I think I'll be reading Abysmal soon...

Presentations/Panels Not Attended

Applications, Tools, Workflows, Case-Studies, Databases/Resources

Design, Style, UI/UX, Geoprocessing, Analysis, Creativity