Monday, April 27, 2009

Seeking Pamela Fox?

Update 18:00 GMT: Thanks all, I have it now!

Could some googler email me the email address of Pamela Fox? I have a post talking about her recent clustering talk but I'd like to pass it by her before posting. Thanks.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Axis on 3D Thematic Maps

There is a history of me posting about the use of 3D thematic maps on this blog, latest entry which links back to others here. Mostly this is reaction to Bjorn's work . Mark of Axis Maps has recently joined the conversation with a detailed post claiming 3D thematic maps are chart junk.

Mostly I agree with Mark, he mentions a number of issues about the use of 3D thematic maps that I've already written about:
  1. You can't see all the countries on a virtual globe at once - a traditional projection maps is better
  2. The prism for once polygon can obscure another
  3. Values of 3D polygons are difficult to read off
he goes into considerable detail about exactly why point 3 is valid beyond what I've said.

A partial defense of 3D thematic maps: Since I first commented on the use of 3D in thematic maps I've warmed a little to to the idea. If you are dealing with a country that is able to be viewed all at once (like the UK) you could represent values for counties as fixed width columns. This would reduce the occlusion problem and would also stop people mixing up volume/height of the prism with the variable being displayed: its clearly related to height. As for reading off exact values, you can set up polygons on the ground which pop up a balloon with the value when rolled over with the mouse. Also, you could color the columns to relate to a color key which would allow quick 'actual value' reading without needing mouse movement. Having done some background reading on vision recently I suspect that this sort of display may be more memorable to non-expert map readers especially if there is some sort of large outlier value (e.g. if the variable is 'number of millionaires' in each county in the UK then there would be far more millionaires in greater London county than anywhere else).

Test it!: However, the above is only a suggestion, overall I agree with Mark that we have a workable system for displaying thematic maps now (2D color) and I whole heartedly endorse his point:
"...most importantly, do some user testing before presenting a new technique as the best thing ever: It’s how research works and why it is important."
That being said. I do think that he's missed a point with the title of his post:
"Virtual Globes are a seriously bad idea for thematic mapping"
and his last paragraph:
"So what things are Google Earth (and other Virtual Globes) good for? The consensus around here is (1) to engender, quite powerfully at times, a qualitative “sense of place” or “immersion”; (2) for virtual tourism (e.g., sit on top of Mt Everest) or virtual architecture/planning; and (3) to perform a kind of viewshed analysis and see what can and cannot be seen from locations (line-of-sight). All of those are inherently 3D-map reading tasks in which the immersive, 3D nature of the map is important. By comparison, population data (one number per country) is NOT inherently 3-dimensional and is only made to suffer when dressed-up in prism maps and 3D figurines."
Thematic maps in Google Earth: I agree that representing population data on a country scale is not well represented in a virtual globe but I think that other traditional color based thematic maps can be usefully inserted into virtual globes for several reasons:
  • For a small scale thematic map a virtual flight from altitude into the study area conveys information about scale, orientation, location and possibly altitude with the minimum of cognitive load.
  • Draping a thematic map over topography can be a useful visualisation e.g. polygons showing erosion rate draped over a range of mountains, by eye you could then relate erosion to slope.
  • Users can toggle layers on and off to see how geographical elements below relate to a thematic map and fly into areas of interest. E.g. Using a thematic map showing rock temperature at a depth of 10km the user identifies hot areas and then flies in to see how these areas relate to volcanoes in the region.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Color Blindness Tool

In comments of my earlier post Mike B alerts me to an excellent little tool Color Oracle which allows you to see through the eyes of someone color blind. See the example above of the most common form of color blindness. Thanks Mike!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stamen Design

Via an Axis maps post about SXSW conference (would have loved to been there for that panel, sigh) I came across Stamen Design. Some very smart functionality wrapped up in great design.

An example is a map they built showing Hurricanes. Its interesting to compare with my comments on other hurricane map based projects that have been released. Other Stamen projects show us what the GeoWeb should look like, I just hope with the small amounts of time and money available to most of us we can begin to approach this level of design and user experience.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Famelab Entry

In all of my video tutorials and tours (where you can't incorporate video easily) I've never used video footage of myself. I think it can be very useful so when the famelab competition appeared I thought it would be a good idea to have a go and develop some skills in filming at the same time. Here's my entry:

Notes on the content: This explanation comes from James Lovelock who thought of it while working on the Mars Viking program whose mission was to send space craft to Mars to see if martian life existed. The idea led onto him developing what he calls the Gaia hypothesis but which the scientific community has incorporated into thinking as Earth System Science. The competition bans the use of special effects so no video footage of Google Mars :(

Thoughts on the process: I am quite happy standing up in front of hundreds of people giving a presentation. However, faced with the lens of my video camera I found myself stuttering and losing my train of thought - this is take 15! It wasn't that I dropped the martian toy or anything, I was just flumoxed by talking without an audience. Towards the end, I got used to it.

It would have been nice to do something more original than a static talking head shot but I thought I'd keep it simple for my first attempt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tahina Expedition and Tour Gadget

Tahina: Frank of Google Earth Blog has opened up the website explaining his 5 year expedition on a yacht around the world: The Tahina Expedition. He's going to be putting a lot of the content into Google Earth so will be worth watching what he comes up with.

Tour Gadget: Also via Frank I learn of a Google Gadget that will let you create a tour and then put it on your webpage in the GEarth plugin. Very neat, this will be useful to a lot of people in the future. At the present I would be careful about using it as I doubt many people will have downloaded the GEarth plugin necessary for its use. Better to record a screen video and use that for the time being.

Brief Review: I tested it using a tour I'm working on at the moment (too big to publish here I'm afraid). It handled models, screen overlays, audio, custom placemark icons and fly throughs perfectly, however, it didn't pick up images within placemarks wrapped in the KMZ.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why Neogeographers aren't into Design

Update: Andrew Turner has suggested "neocartographer" would be a better term than neogeographer in this post, I think he's correct based on this source.

This post is a follow up to a comment on yesterday's post about color blindness by Paul C, who can't read the 49. Color blindness happens to be the most effective way to explain why map makers (neogeographers, GISers and old school cartographers) need to know about map design. Paul asks why neogeographers aren't engaging in design to which a recent conversation is relevant:

A Developers View: In asking a developer friend why developers weren't thinking about map design, he answered that just getting the map to plot is usually what the client is asking for. Applying good design takes more development time and, in a process where unforeseen problems have already taken up time, the client isn't interested in the extra time needed for good design. Which reminds me of a fable:

Fable: Two blokes are lost in the African bush and they've just seen a hungry cheetah. One bloke starts to put on his running shoes. Other bloke says
'that's no use, a cheetah can outrun you no problem'. First bloke retorts:
'yes, but I only have to outrun you'.

Design as USP: In a world where you are the first person to mashup a couple of interesting data sets in a website, you'll get all the web attention. As the GeoWeb develops we can expect to see mashups getting ever easier to produce which will mean multiple overlapping mapping services appearing. At which time good design will be one way to add a USP (unique selling point) to your service.

Paul also asks what can be done about it. Well, this blog is an attempt and if I had the funding I'd be attending where 2.0 and other US conferences where neogegoraphers hang out.

BTW, I'd be intersted to hear if anyone out there counts themselves as a neogeographer and is applying the design best practices I've described in this blog.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Color Blindness

6% of the male population cannot read the number 49 in this image:

but yet people use red and green to differetiate areas in Google Earth. Here's a screen shot from a well promoted Google Earth project that shall remain nameless to save blushes.

A long time ago I reported talking to a Googler who couldn't even see the borders in this view.

There are a few rules of thumb to help with avoiding color blindness problems in maps:
  • If you want to deliniate features using color, choose blends of yellow or blue, very few people have problems with identifying these colors.
  • Convert your colors to gray scales, if there is a tonal difference color blind users can still differentiate by tone.
  • Think of using different textures to mark areas. Unfortunately this isn't easy to do in Google Earth.
I'm doing some background reading at the moment and apparently color blindness is easily coped for by other features of our vision such as being able to recognise tone, texture, motion, focus. This means that color blind people often remain unaware they have a problem for years.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Scared of the New

There is a delicious irony in the Uk public complaining about Google street view invading their privacy then inviting tv cameras in unrestricted to report on it as Ed Parsons notes.

So why the fuss? IMHO it's down to evolutionary psychology. We're programmed to be scared of new things we've not come across. Back a million years ago if a new threat (such as new people moving into your area) appeared the sensible thing was to me scared of it until experience proved it safe. Strangers often carry big sticks. The difference today is that you'd hope education would allow a more considered view.

So we can expect all sorts of knee jerk reactions to google street view on the news whilst the laudable RE>C campaign by remains unremarked.

-- From My iPhone