Making Sense (and Style) with Maps and Life

While I love words, one of the things that fascinate me in my practice as geodetic engineer is the visual analysis that I get from making maps. Maps bring me a different level of intellectual orgasm. I get a kick out of making maps that work, maps that aid in analyzing the appropriate recommendations to be made for technical projects, and maps that help make a difference in its own small way. With the advent of Google Maps, Google Earth, and Open Street Map, more and more hobbyists of mapping find themselves playing around with mapping activities like properly depicting the location’s details and studying trends that help plan for a better future. But despite the fact that it may seem like some aspects of mapping that can be crowd-sourced, I think some level of study, experience, and specialization is still necessary to turn it into a career. Relatively speaking, I am quite new to this and I still have a long way to go before I can call myself a seasoned mapping consultant. But I’ve already learned substantially and I think it’s worth sharing.

I just think that my course, geodetic engineering, is not as popular as other courses here in my country. But it is very interesting and the practice is quite multi-faceted. 🙂

In particular, I find mapping to be extremely interesting because it is both a science and an art. It is the geographic canvas with which you can see the world as a whole or in its most fundamental units. To be good in mapping, you pay attention to details and weed out the garbage in data that does not make sense.

The science part is pretty straightforward among technical experts. For example, this week I was working on studying population trends among barangays in Metro Manila’s fringes. Observe the progression of Bulacan’s barangay populations from 1990 to 2010:

1990 Population

2000 Population

2010 Population

And this gets more interesting when you work with transport specialists who help make forecasts on which barangays will have bloated populations over the next ten, twenty, and thirty years. Suffice it to say that it was a very happy map-making experience for me last week. Note that there was hardly any data in Norzagaray for my maps. I figured that it was probably because Norzagaray is one of those places rumored to have a lot of dangers and few people are able to tread and collect data as safely as in other places.

It may seem all so nerdy, but I believe that mapping specialists are required to be gifted with the visual talent of making everything appealing. While the first set of maps I showed you are in shades of gray, I actually got to work with a client who liked girly stuff (!) and requested a pastel-colored set of maps for her use. Here’s a sample of the unrefined version of what I did for her. I had so much fun choosing colors. It was like choosing shoes, and choosing swatches for wedding gown motifs! 🙂  This one’s on population growth, and you’d actually see where people are more keen on making babies. I just had to tweak the RGB values a little, but this is one of the versions I made:

2A_StudyArea_Growth Rate_2010_pastelversion

I think saying “I love my job!” is an understatement. I don’t just love it. I love, love, LOVE it! 😀 

Color distinction is pretty important when making maps. At first, I made the mistake of classifying it into 8 types. The map got very confusing; it was hard to differentiate the values in the thematic map as a result. For this, I used ArcGIS 10 software and most of the time was consumed in cleaning up the barangay data given to me.

The thing is, these maps cease to make sense if your data is lousy. So the database buildup is one of the most crucial things that a mapping person needs to consider first before thinking of color combinations, parameters, and layers. I think I had some trouble with the symbology at first. Basically, the appearance of your thematic maps and level of usefulness depends on how you can grab the most important parts of your database and turn them into something that your client can use in his or her project. Like what I kept saying earlier, it’s a science and an art at the same time. 🙂

(It actually gets more exciting when you start making these polygons directly on a browser with good accuracy, something which I will probably blog about in detail later on as I immerse myself further in this very exciting endeavor. )

After storing these maps in my hard disk and as I organize my brain for my pending tasks for work, I keep looking at what has happened over the last few months of my mapping endeavors. It amazes me at how much I enjoy this. And I am grateful that I am gifted with the opportunity to help solve problems and do something that I genuinely love.

Everyday, I find myself looking forward to coming to work because there are more maps to make, more data to clean up, more interesting trends to calculate, and more problems to solve. And the people I work with are all so much better than me technically speaking, and everyday is a learning day.

And I even get to write about them in my blog. Isn’t that awesome? I think I am just in the perfect place, professionally speaking. I guess I am sharing my experiences here in my blog because I want to encourage the discouraged ones who may be actually trudging through a similar path. I hope it helps. I hope it uplifts. I hope it makes sense to pursue what you love or love what you pursue.

It’s okay to actually dream to have and make the most out of your skill set. I did not even have to give up my writing or my love for numbers to keep this mapping pursuit, which is both a hobby and a job. Hobby, job? It’s BOTH. The lines are all blurred because honestly, I find no words to convey my fulfillment and joy at where I am and with what I am doing now.

So, few people are able to appreciate how I love the things I do. Some people just dismiss it to pure unrelatable geekery. But I think it’s ok for as long as I am innately motivated to keep doing this. I cannot see myself doing otherwise. 🙂 It sure did make sense (and style!) to me to be sure of who I am and what I want out of myself. It’s a liberating, enlightening, scientific, and artistic experience. <3