Celebrating GIS Day at Skidmore College


World Map and Happy GIS Day written on a whiteboard
GIS Day is celebrated every year on the 3rd Wednesday in November

The Skidmore College GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Center for Interdisciplinary Research hosted a series of “open to the public” GIS Day events on November 18th and 19th, 2015. Geographic Information Systems is the platform for mapping data analysis and visualization for decision making. GIS Day, according to the gisday.com website, “…provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.”

The Skidmore events kicked off with a webinar on “The Future of Mapping with CartoDB” (see CartoDB webinars here).  Andy Eschbacher highlighted some of his favorite CartoDB maps (such as tweets mentioning sunrise) showed us how to visualize Twitter data, and walked us through an exercise visualizing sea surface temp.

The next day Richard Welty, former Board member of the OpenStreetMap US Foundation, presented to students about the OpenStreetMap project and HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team).

At 5:30pm Alex Chaucer introduced the GIS Center and welcomed a group of over 30 students to Skidmore’s GIS Day Program. He introduced the GIS Center and spoke about a new initiative called Community Geography, which will be focused on using GIS tools such as GPS and Census Data to aide non-profits in Saratoga County.

Don Meltz presenting at GIS Day
Don Meltz presenting at Skidmore College GIS Day

Shortly after, Don Meltz, a planning and GIS consultant, presented on the types of work he does in the region. As a planning consultant with his firm, he mainly works with government officials in mainly rural small towns. His “day in the life” presentation was geared to help students understand what’s it’s like to do GIS and planning as a consultant.

After Don’s presentation, Devin Rigolino from Saratoga PLAN presented on the benefits of utilizing GIS as a non-profit for land conservation. Specifically, he showed how GIS was used to prioritize lands to save, like connected farmlands, but also how GIS and mapping is used as an outreach tool on Saratoga PLAN’s website.

Finally, the end of the program featured some hands on emerging geospatial technology, such as a toy drone, a mapping robot named “Ozobot” and some augmented reality with the durovis dive. Folks who stayed until the end enjoyed hands on experience with these new “geospatial” technologies.

Special thanks to CartoDB for providing some amazing swag and to Skidmore College’s Office of Community Service for providing pizza for this event.

Skidmore College GIS Day Is This Week!

Skidmore College GIS Day Schedule of events for Nov. 18th and 19th, 2015

Come stop by the GIS Center in Scribner Library 227 this week to learn more about GIS and mapping! Here’s the link to the FB event to share with others.

Which Story Mapping Platform is Right For You?

Storymap Smackdown

I’ve been working on comparing varying story mapping platforms over the past few weeks on my blog, with the end goal being to create a guide for folks who need a story map but aren’t sure which platform will work best. Four of the most popular story mapping platforms available–Esri Storymaps, StoryMap JS, Neatline, and Odyssey.js–can all give your narrative a geographical context, and each one has perks and features that can further elevate the story you want to tell.

StoryMap JS
If your project simply needs a generic map with a narrative, then StoryMap JS is hands down the easiest option. There is little in the way of customization (the only real choice is the base map), but the authoring tool is very easy to use. One possible complaint about StoryMap JS is that there is no way to change the color of pins that are used, but to be honest, the color palette that StoryMap JS comes with is really attractive. If you don’t need complex functionality, this will probably be the best looking option. It also scales well on small screens, so it can be embedded on sites that are intended to be used on mobile devices.

StoryMap JS

Odyssey.js is another option if your project is simple; like StoryMap JS, it doesn’t allow much in the way of customization. The difference is that Odyssey.js uses a markdown language, which can be a real turn off if you don’t like working with anything resembling code. However, you can add multiple points and images for a single portion of the narrative, so if HTML and CSS don’t seem scary, then Odyssey can be pretty useful. Additionally, Odyssey is the only platform with support for Torque, so if you need time-based animations then Odyssey is worth considering.


Neatline, unlike Odyssey.js and StoryMap JS, has many more moving parts. If you’re familiar with Omeka–or even better, if your resources for your project are already part of an Omeka exhibit–then Neatline is an excellent choice. If you want to incorporate a timeline, or when there is a ton of metadata involved that you would like to feature, then Neatline shines. It has the added benefit of allowing the use of historical maps laid over the base map for reference, and has support for vector data. A drawback is you may need web hosting which supports Omeka and Neatline if you don’t already have it up and running.


Esri Storymaps
Esri Storymaps are the most heavy duty platforms of the bunch, mostly due to their robust GIS roots and well fleshed out feature list. The Esri web apps can all be built on an Esri Web map, meaning that all of the processing power available from ArcGIS Online can make its way into the final project. There are a few different platform layouts available from Esri, such as the Storymap Tour, the Storymap Journal, and the Storymap Series, as well as a wide variety of other web apps that may end up being more useful to your project than a story map.

Esri Storymap

When I tested these platforms, I used a basic narrative and picture combo about the history of jazz music, which had four essential components: locations, a text based description, a general time period, and an image for each. My goal was to use the exact same data and put it into each of the platforms listed above for an apples to apples comparison, and then share my experiences, which you can find here.

So what about your project? Let’s dive into a hypothetical story map in which you toured Europe and decided to make a story map detailing the trip.

I want to…

Just tell a story with some map pins and pictures
Since this is a fairly simple project, Odyssey.js would work very well, as the markdown would not be too complicated. Alternatively, if the markdown language Odyssey.js uses is still a little too intimidating, the StoryMap is a great bet, due to its user friendly authoring tool.

Tell a story using some other media that I hosted elsewhere
StoryMap JS allows users to embed media from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, so you can easily include video taken during the trip. StoryMap JS even allows the use of SoundCloud files, so you could record and include audio narrations, or recordings taken on location.

Use my GPS data to tell the story
If you used a GPS tracker during your trip (or even tweeted plenty of geolocated tweets), then you can use that data to create animations of your route using Odyssey.js and Torque. The process of grooming information into something that CartoDB can use for Torque is a little more technical than the previous scenarios, but the end result can look very cool.

Craft a narrative around items that I stored in an Omeka database
What if you have an Omeka database with various paintings that your viewed during your trip? Neatline is an extension for Omeka, which has the downside of being very complicated if you don’t already use Omeka; however, it becomes a natural choice if you already have an Omeka database. Using the items from your Omeka database is as easy as loading Neatline and linking it to the database.

Tell a story, but with some harder data
Imagine that during your trip you decide that your story will focus on the economic differences throughout the Eurozone; being in Greece was much different than being in Germany. Esri offers many datasets through ArcGIS Online that can augment your narrative, and it’s easy to bring your own data in from the ArcMap desktop software. That way, heavy analysis can be done in ArcMap, and then when that data is brought into ArcGIS Online a story map can be made to help explain that analysis.

Do something else!
If you have some other story map that you’d like to make and aren’t sure of how to go about it, get in touch with us through our Facebook page, and we’ll help you get started.

Building a better trail map…


Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map
A map of the Skidmore College North Woods trails that was updated in Summer 2015

For a long time, the trail map for the old Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map has been not up to my personal cartographic standards. Originally developed by Bob Jones and Alex Chaucer a few years ago, multiple versions had been edited and what was the North Woods map had lost it’s original lustre and shine. But today, we have a new map that we all can be proud of.

Working the North Woods Steward, Katie Cuthbert, we took on the challenge of updating the old map. Features we have added: consistent fonts, iconography for kiosks and parking, stakeholder logos, simplified layout, clean trail marker numbers for on trail location, and trail length estimates. We hope you find the map useful.

Can you think of anything else you would like to see on the map? Feel free to add a comment or send a suggestions to achaucer AT skidmore.edu. I’ll also post a copy of the map on our GIS Center Facebook page if you want to comment there.

Happy Trails!


Summer Progress Update June 15, 2015

Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

As of June 15, 2015, the summer is off to a good start in the GIS Center. We have completed the first module in the Data Science Toolkit from Johns Hopkins, and are set up for utilizing R and Github. There has been numerous GIS requests for summer research projects which are keeping the daily flow of traffic moving in the GIS Center. Additionally, we have begun some collaborations with the Sustainability Office and the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute, supporting their mapping needs, as well as assisting with the Urban Forestry project website redesign. Physically in the GIS Center, we have a new full size wall map and a new flat file map cabinet in our printer room (Thank you to the great facilities folks, George Sperow and Michael Wicks, who assisted with the install). Alex Jackson, the Lab Assistant for Summer 2015, has completed 6 ESRI Virtual Training courses, including Python for Everybody and a rigorous course in spatial analysis, and earned certificates in expanding his geospatial knowledge.

Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

Creative Commons License
GIS Center Wall Map Installation Photos by Alex Chaucer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://academics.skidmore.edu/blogs/onlocation/files/2015/06/MapUp.jpg and
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing achaucer AT skidmore.edu

Researching Data Analytics for GIS

This summer in the GIS Center we are expanding the center’s capacity as we research data analytics in the context of GIS and data science related programming languages. To this end, we are focusing on two emerging geospatial tools, ArcGIS Online and CartoDB for web based mapping applications, as well as adopting R, Python, and SQL for more in depth data analysis.

In order to accomplish our goals, we currently have one main project that will be a collaboration with another summer student researcher that focuses on CartoDB and applying SQL queries for a local community project called the Sustainable Saratoga Urban Forestry Project. We will also be learning about database design through an online textbook and tutorials.

Additionally, we will be utilizing online ESRI training to explore the Python capabilities in ArcGIS Desktop, while also utilizing CodeAcademy for Python training, and an online course through the University of Michigan called Programming for Everybody (Python).

For R training, we are focusing on a series of courses through Johns Hopkins called the data science specialization, which introduces a data science toolkit, and quickly focuses on R for working with large datasets. We may also supplement with a course offered through codeschool as an introduction to R.

By the end of the summer, our hopes are that we are able to have an understanding of more advanced GIS storytelling and visualization, while also having a broad understanding of industry-standard data science tools and how they apply to geospatial data sets for analysis.

If you are interested in following along on our summer progress, please visit our Facebook page.


Image attribution: “Popular Science – Process” by Flickr user Jer Thorp shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC by 2.0)


JOB POSTINGS – Now hiring people who want to change the world.

Now Hiring


Image Credit Nathan Stephans on Flickr.  CC BY-SA 2.0Some Rights Reserved. Link to original.

I’m not kidding.

In the Data Visualization and Mapping Center (Library 227) we take that seriously. We know that to change the world, we need to make informed decisions. We know that to make good decisions, you need to communicate your data effectively. The best way to communicate your data effectively is to visualize it and present it in a compelling way to your audience.

We have three openings currently posted for jobs relating to the Center.

1) Summer position:
Summer Instructional Technology Assistant – GIS
Hours: This SUMMER 8:30AM to 4:30PM, Monday through Friday
Pay: $13/hour
Contact: Apply online at the link above

Description: The individual in this position will assist with hands on mapping and data visualization related activities, in the field as well as working with web-based mapping platforms, such as ArcGIS Online and CartoDB. They will also be involved with data collection (Fulcrum), backing up data, digitizing instructional materials, and assisting with GIS analysis. The ideal candidate may also have WordPress, Adobe design experience, and some applied web-based programming experience. The ability to communicate with people of varying levels of technical ability is a must. The candidate needs to be organized, reliable,and able to work independently. This position will assist as needed for drop in requests in the Academic Technologies Center or GIS Center.

2) Lab Assistant
Hours: 5-10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50/hour
Contact: email achaucer@skidmore.edu to set up interview

Description: The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the lab while also working on independent projects. All assistants will teach at least one technology workshop each semester. Projects may involve web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community project work.

3) Instructional Technologist Apprentice in the NY6 ITAP Program
Hours: 10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50
Contact: Apply above at the link above

Description: This position works closely with instructional technologists and faculty to perform the following: Assist faculty and staff with software applications and digital content creation (i.e. Blackboard, WordPress, iMovie, iPhoto, Adobe Creative Suite, QuickTime, Garageband, etc.) This apprenticeship position is a part of the NY6 ITAP initiative which provides the student with a paraprofessional experience in the field of instructional technology. The incumbent will participate in a structured training program that will be offered collaboratively by the New York Six Educational Technology Group. Ongoing communications, collaborations, and meetings (face-to-face and virtual) will take place with other apprentices in the program.

If you are interested please take the first step and apply now. If you have any questions, please contact achaucer@skidmore.edu.

Create Maps With ArcGIS Online

Come learn how to get started with ArcGIS Online! Here’s a link to the facebook event to let us know you are coming.

Creating Maps With ArcGIS Online

Spring Workshops at the Skidmore Data Visualization and Mapping Center announced!

This is the GIS Center spring workshop series - event descriptions, dates, times


It’s that time of year! The birds are flying north, the grass is getting greener, and the our Spring workshops are in full bloom! All workshops are held in the GIS Center on the second floor of the library, room 227. If you see a workshop you like, please sign up here and let us know. If that workshop hasn’t been posted as an event yet, like the page and you will see the event announcement as the date gets closer. Mappy Spring!

Humanitarian Mapping Workshop this week!

Humanitarian Workshop Poster for workshop on Wednesday, April 8th in the ICC at 7pm, GIS Center at 8pm
Learn how to do remote mapping.

Come learn how to do some remote mapping that makes a difference with Joh and Themba. Here’s the FB event for this student to student workshop and if you want to learn more on your own, check out our site gisforhumanity for some guidance on getting started.

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