Friday, January 9, 2009

Geo-R[ec]ant on Dead Tree Maps

I have received a lot of input lately...thanks to those who care. I am still enamored with my recent talk title involving the phrase: '...the death knell, yes the death knell, for exclusively paper geologic maps'. But it may have incited some confusion and ire. Please note the intentional insertion of the adjective exclusively. That is a key term here....look it up on Wikipedia (you know, that online resource you dissavow but use all the time).

Maps that are only available in paper form, i.e., Dead Tree Editions (gotta love that one, no?) are of considerably less utility than those that have a viable digital counterpart that can be viewed, analyzed, and widely distributed. Sure, exclusively paper maps are functional, portable, archivable in traditional ways, and fun to hold, but they have a pretty limited application in the 21st century. I stand by that assertion.

That being said, let me enumerate some points:

1. I, yes I, use paper maps in the field. I do not like carrying a computer around at all. Have tried it, don't like it. Hence my enthusiastic endorsement of new digital pen technology that allows for real ink to be applied to real paper only to later be uploaded into a digital form.

The challenge to the modern cartographer is to create aesthetically acceptable analog / dead tree derivatives of digital maps when needed (which, admittedly, is often).

2. I, yes I, love to put paper maps on the wall of my office and garage.

3. I, yes I, have a degree in Geography and Cartography that dates to the days of the freaking Leroy lettering set and very old school ink pen technology.

4. I, yes I, appreciate that some digital maps are inadequately documented in the domain of metadata, but I would like to stress that I have many paper maps that don't come with any metadata or metadata-like data.

I could go on, but you are already tired of me. But wait! I have recently found a post on the OpenGeoData blog (a blog about a digital enterprise that could not be carried out with dead trees) that illustrates some truly novel applications for printed maps. I strongly recommend the links below:

Talk about a hard copy format with obvious potential for science:

Here is a map format designed for fools like me who map in the Mohave in the hot season:

Paper maps aren't dead...they just smell funny...especially if you wipe your brow with one while stumbling through the desert.

Your pal,

Dr. Jerque (thats faux French for knew that, right?)


Joe said...

What's Leroy lettering? Paper maps are also good for bribing locals for access to otherwise private property

Ryan said...

"The challenge to the modern cartographer is to create aesthetically acceptable analog / dead tree derivatives of digital maps when needed (which, admittedly, is often)."

Making a pretty map on paper is no longer done with a drafting board and really nice pens. These days, all the pretty maps you see anywhere are made digitally -- and there are some really pretty maps being made. So I think we have a pretty good grasp of that.

Creating a good looking paper map from our digital data is less important than the inverse -- the more important challenge for the modern cartographer is to create DIGITAL products which live up to the aesthetic we expect from paper maps.

What we don't see much of these days, are really pretty digital maps. Personally, I think this is because people get so carried away with the possibilities of what they could depict digitally, that they end up with giant, sprawling, messy web-applications or maps. You've seen plenty of these. Consider also, a dataset that you download packed full of fields like "UF_TB1" with some silly string of numbers in it for each row, and no reasonable metadata to use to deduce what the hell it all means.

Just like a paper map, you can't depict all your data with one digital map. It just doesn't work. Applications are bloated, ugly, and scare people away from the whole idea of digital mapping.

The bottom line is, the concept of digital data gets us so excited about what we CAN portray, that we forget how important it is HOW we portray it. I still think a considerable amount of "paper map aesthetic" needs to penetrate our ever expanding datasets and data products.

Dr. Jerque said...

Forgot about bribery, Joe. Thanks.

Dr. Jerque said...

Ryan...thanks for the comment. Valid points all. I hope for an efficient conduit that links good digital maps with good paper maps without a lot of extra work on either end.