Dear readers, I apologize for my prolonged absence from the e-world – indeed, half a year has passed since I last deposited some brain droppings here. Sure, I could fabricate a glamorous explanation for this most unfortunate hiatus – perhaps I was circumnavigating the planet on a raft made of milk cartons, or was participating in a long-term sensory deprivation experiment in anticipation for interstellar human travel, or was peacefully living out the life of an itinerant yak herder somewhere in the Central Asian steppe – but the truth, alas, is far less exciting: I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy with classes, a seemingly endless deluge of schoolwork, a smattering of extracurricular responsibilities (SQUEEZEBOX YET LIVES), a summer of work in a new city, a couple of on-campus jobs, a late afternoon wakeup call every now and again, and of course, every college senior’s worst nightmare, the hunt for postgraduate work. A sad excuse, to be sure, but a very real one nonetheless. To the high schoolers who have naively idealized college as a boozy four-year fiesta (intermittently punctuated by pesky finals periods): you’re not far off the mark, but curmudgeonly uncle Cooper is here to temper your expectations. In any case, I’ve learned to combat the stress and frenetic pace of everyday life by sitting perfectly still – sometimes in the nude, if I’m feeling primal – and vegetating to the ethereal Gaelic whisperings of Enya.
Anyway, to get you back up to speed, I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the things I’ve done since I lasted posted in February (in no particular order), as well as some exciting new prospects on the horizon which I will discuss in more detail as they draw nearer. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.
“Chillin” in Iceland: I spent spring break touring Iceland with a good friend of mine. I can’t even begin to describe the natural beauty of this country in words…so instead, you should take a gander at my Agromania album, which contains a few of my favorite photos from the trip. (You’ll have to guess which ones are from Iceland though – put your geolocative acuity to the test). For anyone seeking breathtaking, otherworldly landscapes, a healthy dose of solitude, a dip in an uncomfortably hot natural bath, a taste of Scandinavian architecture, and a meal of putrified shark meat (a local delicacy), look no further than this curious island.
Successful petition for a geovisualization course at Dartmouth: although Dartmouth houses the only the geography department in the Ivy League, it is a relatively small one, and its curriculum is fairly traditional. The department offers a handful of introductory and advanced GIS courses (albeit no option to major or even minor in the discipline), but its cartography offerings are, well, essentially non-existent. However, after several months of verbal insistence, a couple of fellow Dartmouth cartonerds and I have succeeded in convincing the department to offer a geovisualization course this winter. Slated to be taught by one of my favorite professors at Dartmouth (an advocate of free and open source software and data himself), this course will not only cover fundamental cartographic design principles, but also current trends in the field of geovisualization and, I hope, a primer on some of the most relevant and robust open source tools available to mapmakers today.
Boston bike maps: this summer, I served as hybrid GIS/cartography intern for the Boston Cyclists Union, a small non-profit organization committed to making Boston a safer city for bicyclists (and, I suppose, those underrepresented unicyclist and tricyclist minorities). In this role, I was responsible for obtaining, cleaning, analyzing, and visualizing large bicycle-related geospatial datasets, with the ultimate goal of demonstrating, through maps, the need to improve bicycle infrastructure in certain areas of the city. Over the course of the summer, I produced several maps and graphics illustrating discrepancies in cycling infrastructure and safety conditions throughout Boston. (For example, the bike accident maps featured in my portfolio are a product of my work with the BCU.) The unsupervised nature of this BCU internship encouraged me to try new things, and to push the boundaries of my own technical and creative capabilities. In my opinion, trial-and-error experimentation is one of the best ways to strengthen a particular skill set (frustrating though it may be), and this experience certainly gave me a healthy dose of confidence in my own abilities.
Designing games for social change: just last week, I began my new on-campus job as a digital media production assistant at Tiltfactor, an independent game design studio that creates thought-provoking physical and digital games to facilitate positive social change. In addition to my primary responsibilities producing visual assets for use in games and promotional materials, I am also designing and overseeing research studies and playtests, contributing to team brainstorming sessions, and learning tons and tons about the challenges that face game design in the 21st century. Tiltfactor’s creative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary workflow conjures fond memories of my internship last winter at Second Story Interactive Studios, which is surely one of the coolest workplaces in the world.
Map competition submissions: in early June, I submitted two static maps – my map of violent crime in Washington, D.C., and my mental map of Portland – for consideration in the annual FOSS4G cartography competition. Within days, I had completely forgotten about the whole thing. But fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when much to my surprise, I was contacted out of the blue by the fine folks over at Wired. They told me that they wished to feature my Portland map on their wonderful map blog, which quite tickled me. Moreover, I discovered just yesterday that my D.C. map was named runner-up in the competition’s static map category! Two back-to-back surprises right there. Be sure to check out the other winners and runners-up right HERE. There are a number of brilliant and inspiring maps in the gallery, including some technologically impressive interactives and downright beautiful hand-drawn maps.
Upcoming presentation on narrative cartography: in late November – coincidentally, the same week as my finals period, much to my agony – I will be presenting at the annual Museum Computer Network conference, alongside my former Second Story co-worker Michael Neault, on narrative cartography. Much of my time at Second Story was spent working on an animated map chronicling the the history of slavery in the United States – a sobering topic, no doubt, but a complex narrative that lends itself well to the cartographic medium – and together, Michael and I developed a strong understanding of what makes maps effective storytelling devices. More details about the presentation to come.
Mongolia or bust: next summer, three friends and I intend to drive from the United Kingdom to Mongolia, on a 10,000-mile mission to raise money for charity. This adventure, which is still in its formative stages, is so epic that we’re creating a team website, so keep your eyes peeled for more information in the near future. Perhaps our visual itinerary will tide you over until then.
That’s all for now, folks. I promise to return before too long, should the world not swallow me up first.