Off the Map

A Cloud in the Firmament

May 12th 2011

No, this is not a bad weather report. Cartographic historian John Cloud is traveling north from DC to give a free talk at the New York Public Library at 2:30 this Saturday (April 14th 2011) sponsored by the New York Map Society, on whose board I sit (have I said that I’m in charge of programming? Recommend a speaker if you know a good one; I aim to please).  John’s one of the best map speakers I’ve ever heard; furthermore, HE’S A ROPER, a little something he learned growing up in West Texas, which makes him–aside from his great oratorical skills–the coolest cartographic historian ever.  Below are particulars:

John Cloud holds a PhD. in geography from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he wrote a dissertation on the geographic applications of the declassified CORONA reconnaissance satellite system. He is now the NOAA historian of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, the oldest element of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which makes NOAA the oldest scientific agency in the US government.  The agency began in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast, under a plan devised by the Swiss emigrant Ferdinand Hassler and accepted by President Thomas Jefferson. From the beginning, Hassler’s Survey was centered in, on, and around “New York Bay and Harbor and the Environs.” as Hassler termed it. Therefore, it is appropriate for NOAA people to return now and again to the ancestral homeland of the agency, here in “the Environs” of New York Bay and Harbor.

Let's All Make Maps

October 19th 2010

I spend at least a month on each of my commissioned maps, but that’s because cartography is my business.  Sometimes I make little maps as gifts for friends and family, and I finish those in a few hours. It seems to me that mapmaking at this level would be a great hobby for those of you who love craft projects–you need a good focus for your map, but you don’t have to be a trained cartographer or an artist (let me remind you that I have neither a cartography nor an art degree). And you don’t need expensive materials–a pencil, a ruler, paper and source maps will do, though there are lots of clever  and off-beat options. Interested? Kick off your new hobby with a free mapmaking workshop at the New York Public Library this Saturday, October 23 from 2-4 pm. Led by the library’s Geospatial Librarian Matt Knutzen and me, the event is part of an ongoing “Crafternoon” series hosted by rare book librarian Jessica Pigza (aka The Homemade Librarian) and Crafternoonauthor Maura Madden.


Gel Conference 2010: Brain Spa

May 4th 2010

Tamara Adlin of UX Pioneers calls Gel (Good Experience Live) “the coolest conference in the whole wide world,” and I’m with her.  To quote Mark Hurst, the usability event’s founder and host, “Gel is a conference that teaches good experience by creating a series of good experiences throughout the conference.” And here’s the thing–I had a series of really good experiences at this event, for which Mark had drafted me as a speaker.  Fortunately, speakers are also granted full attendee privileges:  I went to the workshops and talks, mingled with creative and brilliant youth (that’s what it seemed like–the smartest and nicest 30 year-olds ever), ate organic food on bamboo plates, drank water and wine in real glasses, and went on a fabulous field trip to Dead Horse Bay-a great bus outing to a beautiful and haunting landfill of early 50’s refuse.  Matt Haughey (Metafilter guy) does it more justice than I can–read his blog entry.  The heart of the conference was The TimesCenter, an excellent venue.  Most of the speakers described their unusual and creative careers–I was wondering ahead of time how I’d fit in, but that’s the tie that bound us all.  How Mark kept us stimulated throughout:  short talks (20 minutes), variety–including music (from The Gregory Brothers to the Ebony Hillbillies to Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey on the Rocks, who in her 20 minutes had all of us singing Zulu chants in rounds), restorative breaks. During my slot, I talked a little about my maps, but mostly about all the great stuff going on in the map world, whose cradle is now the internet.

Most of the attendees were veterans–they come to Gel year after year.  I understand why:  you come away celebrating creativity, communication, and possibility.  Check it out.