Written by Erin Woolbright
BackCountry Navigator is an app for any android device, whether that be a tablet or smartphone. BackCountry Navigator is ultimately not a free app, however you can download the “free” version, but it only lasts 21 days before each map tile is delightfully plastered with the word “DEMO.” To purchase, it’s only $11.99, which is significantly cheaper than another handheld GPS unit. I’ve used both the Garmin eTrex 35t and Oregon 650t and can say that this app is pretty comparable and well worth the price of an expensive 6-pack of craft beer.
I was first introduced to this app when my Oregon 650t decided it didn’t want to live on dry land anymore and jumped (re: I dropped it) into a very, very deep lake. Unfortunately, my wanting to save some money after handing over $300 coupled with poor foresight, I didn’t purchase the insurance (ALWAYS purchase the insurance) on it. I downloaded the app on my phone soon after and have been using it ever since.
This app is not just for the US, but there’re maps of some kind (with various restrictions) for pretty much everywhere worldwide. Some countries/regions have more maps available than others with differing degrees of precision/extent.
One of the neat things you can do with this app is download maps for offline use as if you’re hiking, there’s a high chance that you won’t have any cell service. As long as you keep your phone/tablet’s GPS on, BackCountry Navigator can still track you on your pre-downloaded maps. When I was living out near Mission Ridge in Wenatchee, WA, I had absolutely no cell service unless I stood in a 4”x4” area near the front of my VW bus. When I was someplace that had service, I would download as many maps as I could of the area so if I decided to go wander, which was often, I wouldn’t get lost. If you’re using this app offline due to no cell/WiFi service, then I highly recommend putting your device in airplane mode and shutting off any unnecessary processes as this eats up battery power. I personally always bring a few USB power banks with me for this reason.
Another feature this app has is the ability to track and record the trip. For example, once you get to a trailhead of your choosing, select “Record a Track” and the app will start recording your progress on/off the trail. You can also add waypoints wherever you want by just clicking on the “add waypoint” symbol to the left-center of the screen. You can add a photo or record audio unique to that waypoint if you so choose.
You can also import .gpx, .kmz, or .kml files into the app. It’s a little wonky for sure, but it works. Typically, when I’ve imported trails there are a lot of unnecessary waypoints that I would go through and delete. You can also export your route. To do this you need to connect to a computer or laptop and just search into your device for a folder called bcnav and there you’ll find a .gpx file with whatever name you gave it. You can import those into Google Earth or ArcMap has a conversion tool.
Overall, this is an awesome app to use if you’re outdoors-y. It’s not just for hiking, you can use it for just tracking walks around a neighborhood or cycling. I have a friend who used it when she was looking for relatively easy walks she could take her grandparents on. However, there are a few drawbacks. Some of the maps you do need a subscription to use, such as Accuterra or most of the CalTopo maps. The subscription is for access to those hosting companies, not BackCountry Navigator. Accuterra is something like $20/mo and to my knowledge, both of the subscription-only map providers only cover the US. Don’t get me wrong, they are great quality maps but I’ve done just fine with the non-subscription ones.
Another app called Gaia GPS is also highly rated, however this is a subscription service that costs $20/mo. From what I’ve read, the process of jumping from computer to phone/tablets is a little less jerky, but it’s fairly similar to BackCountry Navigator. My main takeaway from this is that if you want a solid GPS for areas without cell service/WiF and aren’t ready to throw down at least $200 for a separate handheld GPS unit, BackCountry Navigator is the way to go.
Written by Catrina McDermott
Have you ever sat with some data and wanted to share it with a bunch of other data geeks? Well, have no fear, the twitter world of data is here! Data.world is a free online resource that may be used to share and obtain data.
Setting up an account is incredibly easy, all that is needed is an email and username. Prompts are put in place in order to further customize the type of data that is initially shown to the user, asking what types of information is most interesting to the new user.
After going through the initial set up, you’re prompted to begin following other users. Doing this will add stories to your main page, which also has a side bar with subjects of data available. All data is categorized by tags that are created by the user that input said data.
Similar to other interactive sites, the user has the option to publish data either to the general public, specific users, or just themselves if the information is still being worked on. The site accepts all forms of data, such as csv, json, and xml.
Data.world also has a connection with Tableau, where a user has the ability to take the data within the data.world website and create something more visually pleasing to show the information. Any data that is used with this connector is automatically updated daily to ensure that the information is up to date. Data added to this website may also be connected to google sheets, and OData.
Personally, I see this website as a great tool to get your name out into the data world. There is an option to work with other users and their own projects.
While I wouldn’t use this website as a means to store all personal datasets, it is a great resource for accessing and sharing with others. Getting your hands on data shouldn’t have to be a while goose chase. Creating an open and trendy format for the public to share data is the one goal of this site, and so far, they are succeeding.
Written by Sam Moore
On the morning of May 20th, I carried a box of food from a car into Shattuck Hall at Portland State University. The walls of the room where the food was lain were decorated with maps and butcher paper where people could write feedback.
Resistance GIS https://resistancegis.wordpress.com/ was a grassroots event that created a discussion about using GIS for purposes more constructive than resource extraction, commodity consumption and surveillance.
For example, speaker Veronica Velez shared how she used cartography to assist a Latinx community in its struggle for educational opportunity equality. She advised the audience to become an integral part of the community with which one collaborates. Do not play baseball- that is, don’t be an opportunist who is “helping” for personal gain and is liable to run when staying becomes inconvenient.
Another presentation that I found inspiring was made by Erin McElroy. She introduced me to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. This endeavor is the product of a small collective that is using interactive maps personal stories, and direct action to illuminate the injustices perpetrated by landowners upon the dispossessed in California.
There was ample time to meet one another, share our interests and skillsets, and chat about the topics raised over the course of the conference. The idea that we have the capacity to become a force of change by helping the underrepresented speak for themselves gives me hope for a better future for our nation and the world.
Written by Dylan Carlson
Fulcrum is an app that can be used across many industries from network analysis to natural resources and invasive plant location, tracking and mapping.
I use it daily for tracking garlic mustard (a bad bad plant; Do Not Eat!!!). We can set up a data dictionary with drop down menus fully customizable.
The items with the i icon are required, and photo points are also geo-located.
We also put the tax lot layers from RLIS with the participating owners giving permission in green and the ones that opt out in red. There are several years shown by different color pins, so we can look back at say 2015 and look for marked plants and go back to survey and follow up to see if there are more, less, or the same amounts of infestation (most helpful feature in the field).
It also works offline when there is no service to our devices.
Then we can generate reports in PDF formats to pass along to board members or stakeholders/landowners.
Fulcrum also can export the data in several formats (CSV, shapefiles, and google earth).
Most the time it’s better that the good ol paper…
Written by Baxter Shandobil
For my final project, I am working with The Northwest Earth Institute, an environmental non-profit here in Portland. Each year they host an “Ecochallenge” that encourages people to choose one simple action to reduce their impact on the environment, and stick with it for the duration of the challenge. The 2016 edition had over 8500 participants from around the world. I was tasked with creating a map to demonstrate the breadth of the worldwide participation, and was given a CSV with the name and location of each participant. Unfortunately, these locations were not geocoded. For that reason, in addition to the fact that they wanted an easily reproducible map, I decided to use Tableau to make my web map.
Tableau has a feature that will automatically geocode address for you. The software indicates that it has recognized city, state, and country fields as locations by putting a little globe icon next them as seen below. Just drag and drop into the box that says “Marks.”
Simple right? Or so I thought… But here is what happened when I dragged City and Country into my worksheet:
569 Unknown Locations??? Okay, so let’s try adding the states in to see if that helps:
In addition to their more unrecognized locations, adding the “States” field confused Tableau further and all the International points disappeared from the map.
I attempted to resolve this a few ways:
After all that, I realized that it actually is possible to export the coordinates back out to a CSV, I just did not dig deep enough on how to do it. I had spent so much time diagnosing the issue that I just wanted to power through and get it done.
For future reference here is how to do it:
Written by Haley Jones
“Geotagging” is something that happens automatically to many of the photos we take, and we may not even realize it. If a photo has been geotagged it simply means that there is location information stored in the picture’s metadata – the picture knows where it was taken! Photos taken with a smart phone or tablet, or a GPS-enabled camera will inherently have this information.
So then, what is the best way to store and use these geotagged photos? And how can we add geotags to photos that weren’t taken with a smart device?
Luckily for us, a really useful photo-sharing platform already exists that will host and organize loads of pictures for free. It’s called Flickr! Aside from storing, organizing and sharing our photos, Flickr is a very useful tool for geotagging photos that do not already have location information embedded in them. In fact, according to my research, Flickr actually invented the term geotagging, so they must know what they’re doing!
How to geotag photos in Flickr
It’s really easy. FYI, Flickr allows us to browse pictures in a map view. We can see where our own pictures were taken, or if we want to see pictures of a particular location, we can go to that spot on the map and see all public-shared pictures of that location.
When uploading pictures that already contain location information, Flickr will automatically allow us to look at them in a map view. However, if we’d like to geotag a photo that doesn’t already have a location then there is an option to “add the photo to your map.” This opens up a map where you can manually make a pin drop of where the picture was taken, or search for the location. Flickr will then display a point on the map that shows where that particular photo was taken, and just like that it has been geotagged!
Now, how can we utilize Flickr’s geotagged photos for use in our interactive maps?
We have many options, here are a couple:
Did somebody say mashup? There is a Flickr API. This is a great option for developers. The Flickr API seems very useful for incorporating location based photos into an interactive map. I’d love to elaborate further on this, but it’s a bit beyond my scope right now.
However, here’s something interesting! We can incorporate geotagged photos in Flickr into AGOL’s Story Maps. Here is how to do so using the Story Map template called “Story Map Tour”:
Add Geotagged Photos to Your Web Map
We can also place geotagged photos directly from Flickr onto our AGOL map viewer by adding a link to a KML file (the same way we would add a data layer from the web by pasting in a URL). Then, photos from our Flickr stream automatically populate on the map. They show up in a thumbnail view, hovering over their appropriate locations. Here’s a video:
How to Add Flickr Photos to AGOL Map Viewer
Written by Adele Rife
Maptivism: Using Online Maps for Activism
One aspect of GIS that got me excited to learn more was the potential power maps have for activism and social justice. In other words, the use of maps to promote a cause, or maptivisim!
Maps, especially interactive maps, can display a lot of information visually and have the potential to reframe certain topics when presented spatially. The impact can be strong, particularly when people are intimately familiar with a certain geographic space and/or topic. Furthermore, maps can display complex data in an easily digestible format, which makes data and data analysis more accessible to the population at large. However, maptivism isn’t limited to online maps and it is important to keep in mind that while web maps do add in a lot more capabilities and engagement, not everyone has access to the internet.
One example of maptivism is www.understandhomelessness.com, a website that defines homelessness, displays complex data on an interactive web map, and presents potential solutions for policymakers.
Understanding Homelessness is a project that aims to “help overcome negative stigmas about people experiencing homelessness through education, bringing transparency to the geolocated data that exists about the homelessness issue in the United States, and providing inspiration and solutions for city officials, organizations, and citizens to approach this challenge with hope.” The website does an excellent job of defining homelessness, displaying complex issues with infographics, and visualizing homelessness data in an amazing interactive web map. I highly encourage you to explore the map! You can change the data topics that are being displayed, the layout it’s displayed in (some of which I’ve never seen before), and more. The interactive map is powered by a combination of Leaflet, OpenStreetMap, Mapbox, Creative Commons, and Continuity.
There are a lot of other examples, some of which were talked about at last week’s Resistance GIS mini-conference at PSU. Some projects that I’m excited to be working on include:
What are some maptivism projects that you’re working on or want to work on? Do you have any favorite maptivism examples?
Written by Heather Hall
Gone are the days of paper-based surveys. Having to lug around a clip board, catch papers as they fly off into the wind, have people tell you to get lost cause they don’t trust people with clip boards. ESRI’s Survey 123 is a fast way to collect data using an app on your phone or tablet. Surveys can be downloaded on multiple devices, data can be collected offline and after the data is sent it is automatically uploaded to your AGOL account.
You do have to have an ArcGIS subscription but you can get a free 60 trial when you sign up to use Survey 123 and your data can be downloaded as a CSV, shapefile or file geodatabase.
To get started go to https://survey123.arcgis.com/ and create an account (you must have an AGOL account first to use Survery 123).
Click on create new survey. I like to use “Get started using web designer” for basic surveys. Fill out the name of the survey and tags and start adding questions.
Download the Survey 123 app to your phone or tablet and choose download surveys and start collecting your data. You can choose to send the data right after you collect it or wait in case you need more information.
Once all the data is sent you can log into AGOL and you will have a new folder in your content with all of your survey data. There are two feature classes created, one that just says the name of the survey and one that says “fieldworker” after the name of the survey. Both are editable and you can add points, pictures or change the data any way you like.
Surveys can be shared with multiple people and they can add their own data to it. I only explored the very basics of Survey 123 but found it to be really easy to navigate and collect data.
Here are a couple of interesting case studies involving Survey 123.
Written by Kaitlin Sagdal
I spent some time reading about the update and exploring it myself. I will give you my top 5 exciting updates you will want to see for yourself.
Written by Matt Przyborski
For many of us just developing our GIS skills, mastering the art of map making can seem daunting. Even the acronym “GIS” can be a bit intimidating. “Geographic” references an entire scientific discipline, “Information” sounds both vague and all-encompassing, and “Systems” implies that we are dealing with a myriad of inputs and components, all of which we will have to understand to some degree to do our job. As someone who knows only the bare basics of computers and is not a web designer, map making can be challenging for me at times. Instead of focusing on what I know I can do, I often find myself getting overwhelmed at all the options available and all the steps involved in going from a blank screen to a map I’m proud to show off.
A recent presentation by map and web developer Nik Wise helped me to look at map making with a new perspective. There were three main points I took away from Nik’s discussion that I think will benefit me immensely going forward
“The maps we make are really just big spreadsheets”
When I think about it, this statement is obvious. After all, when we make maps we are simply showcasing data in a spatial format. However, hearing an accomplished map maker like Nik say this offhandedly, making it seem like it’s the simplest concept in the world, was very helpful to me. I deal with excel sheets a lot at my current job. When I remember that what I’m dealing with is simply a spreadsheet of data with an additional column for location, my entry point into making the map I want becomes a bit clearer and the whole process much less intimidating
Keep it simple and follow your intuition
Although the task of creating my map is now less daunting, I still need to find the best way to display the data that I’m dealing with. This is another step where I can find myself overwhelmed by the options available or overthinking how the data should be displayed. Nik had some great examples of his favorite maps, all of which were among the most simple and straightforward ones I’ve seen. One was a map of Portland, with a simple color scheme and delineation separating the city into “types” of neighborhoods as he viewed them. Another map was simply points with labels and nothing else. These were good reminders for me that trying to force data to look how I assume it should look on a map is not always the best approach. Simple maps with intuitive layouts can be much more effective at telling the story you want to tell.
Map making as a language
Lastly, when asked if GIS is something everyone should be doing or not, Nik made a great analogy to reading and writing. Not everyone in the world has a PhD in writing or language but most can read and write and we’re much better off for the latter. Thinking of map making as a language that not everyone is an expert at but that most can use to communicate basic ideas is very helpful to me. For one thing, it gives me the confidence that whatever level of map making skills I have, I can still communicate what I want to others. Also, it’s a good reminder that what I’m communicating doesn’t have to be overly complicated.
As I continue to accumulate more GIS skills and knowledge, I think returning to the basic ideas above will serve me well in my map making abilities.