Sunday, November 29, 2009

songs while you cycle

This is mine. It arises unbidden whenever I am doing it really tough, usually into a wind. Very moving for anyone who has feared for the love of their life on the water, in a storm, as I have. This is nice because it has the context...

the Edmund Fitzgerald, I thought I had better link it for all the Aussies who probably don't know it.

more to do than ride

No ride today, a good nights sleep and up early to go to Bunnings (Aussie for Home Depot) to sell sausages. This is an epic fundraiser. It takes about a year to get a booking, and no wonder. The Cycling Club will make a packet, a thousand? Much more? I have no idea but it is good fun and well worth it for the money raised. My fast food training was very handy, as was my eye for neatness and ability to multi-task. I really enjoyed myself.

It was a bit hot (32ish) but a good breeze, wind isn't always the enemy. And now it is dark with storm clouds, but will they just evaporate at the edge of the ranges, or will it rain? It is exciting to have weather again after 6 months of perfect winter.

Straight in to work tomorrow? Maybe, or I might leave early for a run to the dam. I have to be at a planning meeting first thing, so I have to be careful not to lose track of time. It will be a bore, because Techos have no say in planning at all, so you have to sit and bite your tongue while they waffle on. No matter what the plan my work is pretty much what I make of it, I'll just keep doing my best.

My training is now all out of kilter, sorry Alberto, but I had more to do than ride today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

easy commute

Since I started following AMRs training plan, I have struggled with the 'easy commute'. I go into the zone and end up pounding away on autopilot, or I struggle against a headwind which makes a mockery of easy and turns slow into a struggle. If I catch a tailwind it is easy, but as we all know, tailwinds are the rarest type.

Anyhow, I am enjoying it so far. I need to figure out where to go to find some required rolling hills (up on Harvey's Range, about a 150km return trip) and how to fit the ride in around a fund raiser for the cycling club this weekend, and is that too ambitious for this early in.... and all that stuff. I am an inexperienced athlete so this is all new to me.

Tomorrow will be a landmark day. My morning ride combined with the commute home should see me hit the magic 10,000 km mark for the year. Indeed I won't turn for home until I have it, because I am SO close. This was my big goal for the year, and now I have all of December as the icing on the cake. Considering August was pretty skint in the mileage department while I traveled overseas I am well pleased.

I have to take a week off work (with pay) the week after Christmas, because they close the Uni down. How many kms can you do in the summer heat? hmmmmm...

Friday, November 20, 2009

back to normal

I don't have much of a mapping blog today. I did think about mapping, as you do. It was my op day, I get one a month for working a little extra every day, so I read a lot of mapping blogs, cleaned and pulled weeds in the garden. Actually, I thought a lot about mapping as I was doing chores, this is the benefit of an engaging occupation. I thought about crowd sourcing, and government reluctance to freely supply large scale data of any type, and how Google has changed the world forever. We live in an information age, and it is truly a revolution that the supply chain of spatial information can now bypass the government, and frequently does.

I thought about the still ongoing debate about the relevance and future of cartography. This is a debate that seemed to begin about the time of my graduation in 1981, and has raged and ebbed and gotten more interesting year by year. And still the paycheques roll in, and I wish I was twins to do everything that needs doing, and my wee empire at the Uni would collapse if it wasn't for the slave labour I employ from Germany in the form of trainees.

The more data we have the more important it becomes that somebody understands how to sort it, group it, and show it to us in a way that makes sense. I'll keep training young people to do that, because we have more data every day, and I think cartography will always be relevant, and I think the debate will go on forever while we get on with doing the work.

It has been hard taking a week off the bike, as well as the blog. I started Alberto's training program, and wisely it starts with a soft week. This is helpful to people who don't ride a lot as it helps them ramp up. For people who probably ride too much it works like going on vacation from work, you promptly fall ill with whatever you were holding at bay with adrenalin and sheer determination. So I have limped through my slow rides, and I probably will only watch the race that has popped up on Sunday, because I know race fit doesn't feel quite like this. I had full blown bronchitis last time I raced and I am so not going back there!

So here is to Geography Awareness week and cycling, a match made in heaven. Celebrate by pulling up a map, and taking a ride this weekend to somewhere near you that looks interesting, and where you have never been. Geography is discovery.
So I hope you have not been too mystified by the mapping, and have all kept riding

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Census data and mapping

I attended a Statistical Liaison Officer meeting this afternoon, and forgot the camera, doh. There is nothing particularly interesting about a bunch of us sitting in a room looking at Powerpoint presentations anyway, but the venue is at the beach and very pretty.

These meetings are put on by the Office of Economic and Statistical Research (Queensland State Government) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Federal Government). When I first started going to these meetings several years ago I knew nothing about demographic data, and it has been very educational to listen to people talk about the census and other projects to collect data about people, and the issues that arise and how to solve problems.

Coming from a science background I was very ignorant about census data, so it has been a great help that the Government has been so proactive in getting people together and working as a group to educate and share ideas.

I have also had to accept that demographers are not as interested in the maps as they are in the data, and choropleth maps using a default colour ramp is the bog standard way of doing things. I find it boring and repetitive. This is not something I have researched, but surely there are better and more interesting ways of doing it.

I like the colour schemes used in Cynthia Brewers guide to census mapping for the colour vision impaired, at least they look fresh and attractive. (see the online colour brewer application, but be prepared to wait while it .

Personally, because the census geography around here is so variable in size, I prefer to use graduated symbols. They are more fun (you can chose something that is meaningful, like a dollar sign for income) and they don't create the visual bias you get from a huge polygon (because of low population) overwhelming small polygons because it is a strong color and dominates the map. It also lets large geographic areas (usually the hinterlands around the edges) be truncated by the neatline and the symbol placed in a more visually comparable area near the other polygons.

I am at home now, and I don't have examples to post. A blog about mapping with no pictures is pretty lame, sorry. You can play with Queensland data here, no map making though! Try the map stats at the ABS for that. I confess I haven't played with these websites before, I get the data and use it in my GIS.

I haven't had the chance to work on a demographic atlas yet, but I can see there is a lot of interesting work to be done. Maybe I will give the City Council a nudge to let me help them with the population atlas they mentioned at the meeting today. It would be very interesting and quite fun. So many things to map, and so little time!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

International GIS Day

Here I am showing off my blog to 120 high school students who have gathered to celebrate International GIS Day.

We had 4 Young Professionals from the Spatial Sciences present on what they do, how they got there, and why they love doing it. There was a field Exercise with GPS, and lots of SWAG.
Stress ball compliments of ESRI, pens from ESRI, Brazier & Motti (a big local survey firm) and pens and propaganda from James Cook University, because I do love JCU and am proud to work there. We don't teach cartography, but we do teach lots of other stuff with a "where in it".

There was morning tea with a special GIS Day cake, and you have to love that! There were also sandwiches, carrot cake and fruit, and I may have fallen off my diet...

ESRI supplied the morning tea too, and I think it impressed the attendees. This scene will look pretty exotic to all you North Americans, because you are not used to school uniforms. This is actually the school my son attended, and I loved the old blue check shirts and shorts that you could line dry and never iron, and that everyone felt a part of their school and very equal, because they all looked the same.
We had representatives from 4 high schools, and their teachers. They were a great group and really keen, and I hope they were excited by all the possibilities of a spatial career, and that I see a few of them in the future in our GIS lab.

The day didn't end there for the GIS professionals, we had an ESRI GIS Users Group meeting at the council chambers in the afternoon, where we all learned about new possibilities and future trends. I hope those students realize that learning sure doesn't end when you graduate, my head was spinning with all the possibilities and applications! You have to love a challenge to love the spatial sciences. Happy GIS day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It is official, I am linked from the website with my bio and everything!

I was hoping to add links to some .pdfs of the vegetation maps, but haven't gotten permission yet, so we all have to wait. The launch will be soon.

I obviously like to map, and this blog is usually about cycling, so I will give you a link to a cycling map I just completed for the JCU BUG. I am the president of this group, so when there seems to be a problem with a mapping solution, I feel responsible for making it happen. We needed a cycling map to help students on campus, many of whom are not from Queensland, find their way safely by bicycle to the local shops and attractions. We included a ton of road rules, because newcomers can't be expected to know the local laws, and you will get dinged pretty quick by the police if you don't wear a helmet here.

here is the map - if you print it A4 two sided and then fold it in half 3 times it just fits in your jersey pocket!

It took a long time to do, not because it is a complex map, but because the data was non-existent or out of date or unverified. As per my last blog entry, large scale mapping is expensive, because you need the detail. I liaised with Townsville City Council, Main Roads and Queensland transport, getting a bit of data from each. I then verified and added (and deleted) data using my own local knowledge and the imagery in Google maps as 'field truthing'. This JCU map is a prototype using this data, and it will be further refined and developed for the whole City in 2010. I am working with the GIS unit in the council on this, they are a great bunch. As usual though, they were waiting on the perfect data to make the map, while I take the approach that you do your best, make the map, then solicit feedback for correction and refinement. People just adore finding mistakes on maps, and believe me, they will let you know!

So that is mapping blog #2. Tomorrows post will be delayed, because I will be off campus helping out with International GIS Day festivities and events at a local school. I promise to take some pictures and share the day. It should be fun.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This is a special blog for National Geographic's Geography Awareness Week. It is brought to you by James Cook University (I wrote it at work).
I am the Cartographer at James Cook University, where the most common request always starts with “I need a map of”. Then there will be a long list of parameters, or perhaps just one or two, but what the person requesting the map is always surprised to find out, is that such a map doesn’t exist, or if it does exist, it is for a much smaller scale than they imagined.
Large scale mapping, a useful scale that you would use in the field like 1:50,000 (a map sheet being about 26x26 square kilometres, or 676 sq. kms) is still only available for the coastal and built-up areas of Australia. This scale is topographic mapping, with very little thematic mapping done.
The issues are cost and effort. To get the information together to make a map takes a very skilled group a very long time, and so this sort of effort is only made rarely, for something really important.
Lucky for me there has been a really big effort going on for over 12 years in the Wet Tropics Management Authority. They are a Government Agency charged with the management of Australia’s World Heritage rainforests, which cover almost 900,000 ha of land, mostly National Parks, between Townsville and Cooktown, north Queensland. Why does that make me lucky? Because after all those years getting the information right, they asked for my help to make it into maps, real maps that are published on paper.
You see, the problem with a big data gathering effort is that you can gather so much data that it becomes really difficult to map. So while I had access to this data for my researchers, if they wanted me to make a map of it, visualise so they could see it, hold it and understand it, I always had to do so for each person individually. Everyone wanted to see something different, or specific combinations of data that were of interest to them alone. So using the same data, I would make something new of it again and again.
Since I understood the dataset so well it was a bit easier to develop a cartographic model that would show an overview of the data while providing the full detail of every single polygon down to one mm in size. I wanted it to work like Google Maps, zooming in with your brain and the information provided in the legend, instead of using their interactive programming.
Soon the mapping project will be finished and launched. It took us another two years to finish all the maps. There are 52 maps needed to cover the Wet Tropics Bioregion. We have had 30 of them published on waterproof paper, the full set will be available on DVD or to download from the web.
I think they are very beautiful, as well as very useful. Good cartography should be lovely to look at. I chose to use colour families that you could recognise (broadly) by looking at the map.
The detail is in the alphanumeric identifier on each little polygon. Flip the map over and you can read the whole story of what lies within it.

So far everyone who has used the maps finds them really easy to navigate. I think it is a good example of the expectation of rich information that you get from data in a GIS (Geographic Information System) finding its way onto a paper map with no loss of detail.

And how detailed is it? There are over 90,000 polygons describing over 200 vegetation types. The GIS team at WTMA calculated that all the polygon arcs they digitized would reach ¼ of the way to the moon.

I hope the maps will be available early in 2010. Visit the Wet Tropics web site at and find out more about our amazing World Heritage rainforests, and hopefully download one of the maps. I think they are a joy to behold!

Friday, November 13, 2009

a week for mapping

I’ll be joining bloggers around the Web for the 2009 Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon, hosted by National Geographic’s My Wonderful World Campaign. Tune in to the My Wonderful World Blog November 15-21 for a daily dose of geographic news and jottings, photos, calls to action, a mystery location quiz, and more…

My official blog will go up Monday morning my time. It will be the first of several rambles about making maps using scientific data, very little of which is developed with mapping in mind. GIS systems (Geographic Information Systems) have spoiled users a bit, because they can colour up the map any old way, and always get a look at the detailed data by clicking on a feature and getting the full attributes.

But GIS isn't for everyone, and I for one find online GIS to be clunky and offputting. In my years of working with people in schools and the community I have observed that they feel the same way. Can you make a map that delivers all the goods, and looks good too?

stay tuned for Monday.

On my bike til then, should be a good weekend to ride.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

first rain race of the year

I was supposed to leave the office early for a ride with BoaB, but there was a teleconference missing from my diary, so I couldn't get away. Then I couldn't find my keys and the usual comedy of errors got me out the door later than usual, into a gloomy evening with a darkening sky.

"Why do you train?" Well one good reason is an evening like this, when you can smell the rain coming on a strong and blustery sea breeze. So you can stand up against that wind and race for home, legs and lungs pumping to get you down a deserted bikeway and to the shelter under your high set house in the tropics as the first big drops thunder down.

The elation of the first rains of the year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

training program

Up until now I have been an organic sort of cyclist. I go out hard on days when I feel good, and soft pedal if I am feeling tired or poorly. I cycle when I am sick. Indeed, my employer has benefited by my presence on days when I should have stayed in bed, but couldn't bear to not ride.

So I was interested in the offer by Alberto, partner of the very talented cyclist Groover, to have a training program designed for me for the vast sum of $12.50. Well who could resist. Hopefully one million people will sign up for this and Alberto can retire and ride his bike all day.

I sent of my details of how much I ride and how much I would commit to riding. I am a bit nervous waiting for the program, because I only have ridden for pleasure up to this point. Sometimes it is a pleasure to suffer, and sometimes I choose not to. I wonder if I have the ticker to suffer when I don't want to. I am ready to find out.

me time

Just back from some quality time on a 50 k loop. I can't imagine anything more soothing than a couple of hours alone with the ipod and a steady cadence. It is also fun to observe how variable wind conditions play havoc with speed. I settle in pretty quick to the 'pace of the day' and then I hold it for the long haul. Today I varied from 23 to 36 without a gear change or change of effort. No wonder we all dream about tail wind rides.

I was very grateful for the watering points along my ride today, I stopped for two fill ups. I only came home because hunger was starting to gnaw at my guts. When you are seriously contemplating cycling through a Maccas drive through it is time to go home for a healthy meal. So I have had a big nosh of leftovers and fruit, and I don't regret not having a burger!

Conditions remain unseasonably cool. I was out til 11am and it is not too hot out there. Overcast skies and a fresh sea breeze. Perfect.

Got to get the miles in before the rain sends us in for a rest.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

back from Cairns

We had a quick trip to Cairns this weekend and caught up with family. We don't do this often enough, and with a race every weekend of the winter we will try and pack in some more visits while the wet season keeps riding time low.

Speaking of the wet season, it seems to have arrived in Cairns, they must have had a good 60mm by now. It started just before normal cycling time (around 5:30) so there was no ride today. It absolutely bucketed down, and was still pelting when we left around 10:30. It will be nice to see the place looking greener, it was really dry.

The rain ran out around Tully, and it is still the dry season in Townsville. Maybe soon though, we'll get our green change.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

not racing

I slept in this morning, and had a nap this arvo after baking more bars and muffins (we are now banana free). All in preparation for a bit of non-racing. It was a beautiful day, clear and windy and just the right temperature for a hot house flower like me. We rode through a strong easterly wind to the V8 track for a criterion.

I have to confess I was stuffed when we got there, and a few lappies didn't help. But we were early so I collapsed on the grass and drank my water, then I cracked a lemon V with a ton of sugar and a dose of caffeine and by the time we were lining up I felt pretty good. Talk about your performance enhancing substances.

I was on novicover because I am waiting on the paperwork for my license, hopefully I'll get it this week. So that means you are training, not racing. Yea right. We did 15 minutes plus 2 laps, which is just perfect. I managed a big sprint finish, but I wasn't racing mind you, just having fun.

I actually had fans come to watch today, so I hope to get an action shot or two up in the next few days. I am usually the one with the camera, so it is exciting to have a chance to see how I look in motion. Winded I expect!