Total Pageviews

Monday, 29 December 2014

Mapping Tale in South America: Venezuela

My blog went to a state of silence once more in December as I traveled to Venezuela and Ecuador. While the purpose of the trip wasn't aimed for mapping in mind, I manage to incorporate mapping elements in the holiday.


Atlas Story

Before I traveled to Venezuela in December, I came to know that Venezuela recently released its first official atlas in 35 years! I was placing high hope to obtain this atlas (Atlas de la Rep├║blica Bolivariana de Venezuela). I asked my tour guide before hand to sought the atlas. Unfortunately, I received the bad news that the atlas was retracted from the market due to the errors. Instead, I manage to get an old atlas in the street market in Bella Artes, Caracas.

Atlas Teduca, 1980s atlas of Venezuela
Atlas Teduca is a window what is like to be in a 1980s world. It placed all continents on equally footing (meaning same level detail and focus, not being biased to North America and Europe). Maps of the world are placed in front of the order while maps of Venezuela were organized towards the back of the book. When I looked at maps of Venezuela in the atlas, I noticed one state in Venezuela was missing: Vargas (home to the main airport and port in the country). A quick search online pointed that Vargas was created around 1998. 

The atlas presented standard topics of the country (geology, population etc) and most importantly, a series of maps of Venezuelan history. One thing important you need to know is Venezuelan maps show half of Guyana as claimed territory -Guayana Esequiba. It is long territorial dispute way before Guyana became independent in 1966.

Moreover, the atlas did incorporate relevant images to demonstrate economic, natural and man-made landmarks relevant to the regions. The atlas divide Venezuela based on regions to show large-scale maps. However, there was Big Disappointment! I found that Atlas was missing critical pages on large scale maps of many regions in Venezuela. It is publication error that I found after I purchased.

Ministry of Indigenous Affairs

Under the new government that has been ruling in Venezuela, there is push to recognize the role of indigenous people in history and culture. More importantly, there is ongoing push to give recognition of indigenous land rights. With promulgation of a new constitution in 1999 and subsequently new laws, Indigenous people were given legal titles of their land holdings. Ministry of Indigenous Affairs was created in 2007 to supervise various activities on Indigenous rights and development including the demarcation of land holdings.

After 2001 law of Indigenous People and 2005 Organic Law of Indigenous People (Organic Law in Venezuela providing a framework for future related laws), the government commenced the demarcation of boundaries. The demarcation is based on:
i) Social Area
ii) Legal Status
iii) Physical landscape of the area

Historical research was done on identified original borders of the area (wherever the former Spanish presence was much stronger). However, southern areas of Venezuela such as the Amazonian area, the demarcation got even harder. Due to low historical presence of the Spanish rulers, original documentation of indigenous areas were low. To overcome, staff at the ministry and those who are in charge of demarcation discussed with indigenous people and sought their 'mental maps'

Things get more complicated when you have non-Indigenous peoples working in Indigenous areas. Since non-Indigenous people has land rights, these people will be consulted in the demarcation process. In demarcation process, sometimes it is possible that non-Indigenous people only owns the structures (i.e. houses) and the crops but not the land (it belongs to indigenous people). Even after the demarcation, there is lingering issues and conflicts on the borders (especially with non-Indigenous residents). When such conflicts arise, the government helps the indigenous people to buy the land from non-Indigenous residents. Yukpa people in far-western state of Zulia (on border with Colombia) have been pushed of their lands because farming. In this case, the government helps to buy semi-formally the lands to be given to indigenous groups. If the land is fallow (owned by non-Indigenous in Indigenous areas), the land will pass its hands to the indigenous community.

After the demarcation on the ground is completed, a detailed map is drawn and shown to the community. An example map that was shown to my group was in Anzoategui. It showed the key control points of the border on the map. An assembly of Indigenous Community needs to approve the demarcation control points. If the community rejection, it is back on the drawing board. Once approved, it is send to Commission of Demarcation and subsequently, to relevant authorities to create the title deeds

If the Indigenous lands happens to be on municipal land, the municipality will give a lot of concessions to Indigenous communities on land governance. Sometimes, the government exert pressure to municipalities to return the lands to indigenous communities.

Up to now (2014), 93 land titles were given and 2.9 million hectares of land has been transferred back to indigenous community. Some places of indigenous lands will have signage as the community decide the need of putting them. This become more prominent when the indigenous lands are close proximity to urbanized areas. Placing signage in Amazonas state would take approximately 2-3 months due to remoteness of the territory while in urban areas, it would only take 2-3 days.

Demarcation still encounter many issues. There is huge difference between the original indigenous lands and legally recognized indigenous lands. The political tension behind the demarcation is rooted on existing colonial mindset and obstruction by opposition mayors. Due to historical migration patterns, it is difficult to obtain old title deeds of the indigenous peoples.

Additional Resources on this matter:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Biggest Map : My Biggest Challenge

"It is always a dream of a cartographer to see his or her finished product. Roots are bitter but fruits are SWEET!"
After long hiatus, I am back at my blog (before I take a long break once more). Some of the readers may wonder why I have disappeared. I have been busy in finalizing Map of Venezuela (2014).

First of all, let's do a recap on this project. Back in August 2013, I wrote a post on early stages of the Map (refer to Creating an A1 Size Map of Venezuela). The idea of this mammoth project was conceived in April 2013 and intense research was done to source out the geospatial datasets. Officially, the project started at 1st June 2013 and scheduled to complete on December 2013.

Guess what, the project was finally completed on 21st November 2014. If you read at my old post (link above), the final product is different to the proposed outcome of June 2013. In this post, we will learn the complexities involved in this project:

  • SIZE:
    • The chosen size was A1
    • Positive: Capture the size of the country, able to retain more descriptive information of the country. A user would be able to stare and appreciate the map and the country
    • Negative: Difficult to find a tubular casing that fit A1 for delivery purposes, printing cost, final product - Adobe Illustrator file was +100 MB- which slowed down the computer performance
    • Given the magnitude of the project size, it was impossible to complete the project in 6 months and this resulted in delays
    • It was toughest and contested issue that I yet to resolve
    • Multiple datasets came with multiple projections. The nominated common projection for the whole project was Mercator (Sphere). 
    • Looking back, I should have spend two weeks in getting proper answers on projection and trialing them out.
    • Spend intense two weeks (14 hours total) to find out, document and compile the datasets. The aim of the project was to use free datasets for the entire map. 
    • However, due to copyright restrictions and other obstacles, this Map is NOT FOR SALE. I operate at loss every time I print
    • As the project progressed deeper, quite number of datasets were removed and not used to reduce complexity 
    • There  was mistake I made when I was cleaning up the datasets. When it came to the rivers, I did not populate all the names of the river on ArcGIS. Rather, they were populated on Illustrator file. There is no direct means of transfer of information from AI file to GIS.
    • Terrain Dataset: I could have chose better resolution to make pixelation on printing less evident
    • I am referring to the attributes, When I come to my maps, my Signature Strength is the level of research behind it. Though the map was initially geared for myself (to adore it myself), since September, I have made intention to give the map away to a Venezuelan.
    • This meant the standard in the map must be high and the content must be reflective of Venezuelan Situation. Hence, I made sure the name of the rivers, cities, states and other data that has description have correct spelling and not outdated. Cross checking with official maps was a must.
    • One of the aims of the project is to minimize sourcing out copyrighted data. This is to prevent copyright damages leveled on me. Wherever there is a map that is in public domain, I use it as my main source of information
    • Road Hierarchies; The official maps of Venezuela has different way to interpret the road hierarchy - the material that makes up the road. I used multiple references to make my personal judgement in determining which was highway and dirt track.
    • The whole map is in Spanish. I should have spend time to contact Spanish person to check the Spanish content in the map. Hopefully, it is understandable. 
    • This was challenge that I did not consider until the day of drafts and final product came to fruit.
    • As mentioned in the size category, the printing cost was something I need to factor in. Assuming I make no profit, I would sell this map for AUD22 for printing and AUD35 for lamination.
    • I contacted various printers to get the best quotes
    • When the first main product I appeared, I want to be laminated. However, one thing I realized laminated products were super hard to be rolled in tubular casing.
    • The person who would be receiving the map would see purely printed map without lamination. I would be keeping the laminated one and will producing an English version.
    • Original Scope was 6 months
    • However, two months into the project, I signed up for NGO GIS works which interrupted 3 months of project time in 2013 and 2 months in 2014.
    • The bigger the project, the momentum I initially held would decelerate quickly
    • However, once I confirmed my trip to Venezuela in August 2014, I accelerated the mapping project to full completion
    • One thing I learn in mapping is you have to CUT IT in correcting mistakes. You can fix them permanently and you never get your map done.
    • Total time scope of the project: 11-12 months
I have big SENSE of Achievement in realizing my dream. Though not perfect, it is huge relief to see the project completed and I can adore it anytime in my life.

Thank you for all your support to helping me through realizing my Dream!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Mapping (Cartographic) 'Consulting'

Excerpt of Venezuelan Map Project

"Danesh, I would like to get your tips on cartographic aspects of map of my work" (rephrased). This opportunity is one thing I can't pass. However, it is not easy as you and I would think. This post will be focusing my recent experiences in terms of cartographic consulting.

If you have seen in my previous posts (3D visualization for housing, Mauritian map project and Coordinate capture), the 'clients' had minimal idea of principles of cartography and GIS. The recipients would have no clue on GIS software and very much depended on me to produce the desired outcome. In short, my expertise is meant to deliver a product

Things are bit different with experiences in August and September. In August, I attended the International Map Industry Association (IMIA) Conference in Melbourne and attended Map Hack Day. Please refer to the post for details. In the process of making an online map, my team was divided into two : One group to focus on attributes data and number crunching and another focuses on spatial data preparation. Although it was not consulting, I had a unique experience of educating my ex-employer on how to use QGIS for preparing the data. I have used QGIS before at work and went for training one day to advance my skills. Though not fully utilized, it became handy as my team member struggled on QGIS. For this case, my team member is well versed with GIS, but not in QGIS. I showed him where to do clipping, how to do selections and other aspects of QGIS. In short, my expertise was to impart my knowledge for product build-up.

September Experience

A week ago, I received an email a friend of mine. He is well versed with GIS technologies and cartographic principles. He needed some views and tips on how to enhance map presentation. For me, this was a challenge as there was expectation (bit high one). I am now being viewed as a person from GIS Industry and has cartographic work experience. I would be advising him on ArcGIS and potentially on advanced QGIS.

The day came where my advice would come into play. He presented his projects, his current map templates and the cartographic styling being used. Turnout out, after 1 1/2 hour discussion with him, I learnt a lot of new things from him (specifically on ArcGIS):
  1. Bookmarks: Which saves one particular view
  2. Convert to Graphics: I can convert a Legend in ArcGIS and break the components as individual pieces
  3. Style Sets: A library of style sets (for symbology purposes) can be crafted and reloaded back into Symbology library
  4. Relative pathnames: If your shapefiles are stored in different places (in same directory I believe), this tool allows quick retrieval of files should they move around
From my side, I showed how dissolve can merge all the divisions of a shapefile into one. However, we encountered some issues when summing up totals (of population of attributes) for the dissolving shapefiles. I showed him that in ArcGIS there are two different tool bars he need to be aware for map production. Data Frame toolbars and Layout Frame toolbars may look the same but difference can be noted. Panning in Data Frame means moving the map while its equivalent in Layout moves the paper behind the map.

As our discussion progressed, the questions I was receiving was pushing the limits of my knowledge. I have been insulated from the tips and tricks that can greatly improving my mapping Production process. I hope to be more exposed to advance cartography through these opportunities.

I would like to thank my readers and my friends for offering me challenging opportunities.

Contact me via the blog through the links at the right navigation pane for cartographic consulting

Monday, 15 September 2014

57 Years: Evolution of Atlases in Malaysia

Three Atlases, Three Publishers, Three Time eras

As Malaysia recently celebrated its 57th independence day on 31st August, it is worthwhile assessing how this nation has progressed. Malaya, to be specific, got its independence from Britain in 1957 (Malaysia was formed in 1963) and hence, 57 years of independence is unique in its sense. One of the best ways to see progress and changes is to look at old and new national atlases. For this posting, I will be focusing more on Student Atlases' portrayal of Malaysia and how they have evolved over the decades. I will not comment on the production process of the atlas as the information is hard to sought by.

This study is segmented to the following parts:


Generally, I have noted the contents of the atlases from 1970s to 1990s have not changed. Most of them open up with principles of mapping (i.e. projection, scale) and proceed to Malaysian and world content. In terms of Malaysian content, it is divided into three groups: Physical Geography maps, Human Geography maps and General Reference Maps. In the General Reference Maps, Malaysian atlases do accommodate inset maps of key cities or economic activity area. These inset boxes focus on land usage and economic hotspots of the state or region. Despite constituting another half of Malaysia, Borneo Territories are not accorded with a large scale map (for general reference category). The thematic maps of atlases are generally without any years attached and if they were, they are outdated as much as 6-10 years (from the latest publication date)

Evolution of Klang Valley (Most urbanized Area in Malaysia). From Left to Right:
1974, 1983, 1994, 1996 (2007 Edn Atlas)

New names or change of spelling for places have been reflected over the years. For example, 70s atlas used to show Muar as Bandar Maharani (primary name). From 80s onwards, Muar became primary name choice for the town on the map. District names of Sarawak (the largest state) has undergone renaming decades ago. New reservoirs appear in the 1990s maps when none existed in 70s and 80s atlases. Despite the updated height, Malaysian geography text books and atlases still carry the wrong height of Mt Kinabalu(it should be 4095 m instead of 4101 m). Emergence of highways criss-crossing the country began to appear in 1990s atlases. With the opening up of new Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in 1998, thematic aviation maps were updated with the new location.

How did these Atlases presented the world?
Malaysian student atlases are published in accordance to the geography syllabus and textbooks. From 1970s to 1990s, the atlases had a major emphasis on Regional South East Asia (on a country-to-country basis), followed with serious coverage of Asia. For the rest of the world, these atlases gave more space for North America and Europe. As most of the atlases has their publishers one way or another related to UK, large scale maps of UK are presented in the atlases. Africa and South America, despite their sizes, are displayed in one page maps. This skews supposed Malaysian world view to Asia, Europe and North America (a bit of Australia)

Colour Scheme

My analysis and observation states that atlases produced prior to 1980s (be it Malaysian or International ones), they have strong colour contrast scheme (refer to image above). Specifically, this is very true for topographic relief. The first thing you will see on topographic maps of Malaysia and World in pre 1980s atlases is topographic relief. In this sense, this colour scheme serves the purpose. However, it makes reading of text on the map very hard. For example, Times Atlas of the World (Mid-Century Edition of 1950s) had significant contrasting colours for relief that readers struggle to deduce thousands names dotting the map. Secondly, maybe due to printer issue or other reasons, I have noticed thematic maps have colours not matching their boundary grouping. For example, if the sea is indicated white and agricultural land is yellow, it is possible to see older atlases that some white exist on the landmass. It is subtle.

From 1980s, with better technologies and other reasons, the strong contrasting colour scheme was phased out and replaced with smooth colour transitions. Colours used for topographic maps or thematic maps for atlases show gradual variation and most importantly, toned down. It still captures people attention to relief but this time, not compromising text legibility. Strong colour schemes are only used for certain cases (i.e. 3D Model - none of the Malaysian Atlases have explored this option).

Current situation of atlases

Unlike the glory days (until 80s or even 90s), number of companies producing atlases have went down in Malaysia. Prior to 90s, it was possible to see different publishers producing their own set Malaysian student atlases. Currently I believe there are two companies who produce Malaysian atlases (specifically for students or reference material)- Oxford Fajar (Oxford University Press division in Malaysia) and World Express Mapping Sdn Bhd (WEMS). Oxford Fajar updated their mid 90s Atlas Moden Malaysia dan Dunia (Modern Atlas of Malaysia and the World) until 2007. However, the update was more like changing the cover (to reflect 50 years of Oxford Fajar in Malaysia). The contents in this 2007 atlas had maps reflecting situation of late 1990s (This is a gap of a decade between the publication year and the contents)

Newer atlas from Oxford - Atlas Explorasi Geografi (Geography Exploration Atlas) released recently is more like a book with some simple maps. These newer atlas has discontinued tradition of Oxford produced maps of Malaysia and World for the past decades. The content is more geared to text and the maps were there to reinforce the geographical understanding. 

WEMS also released Atlas Geografi Dunia (World Geography Atlas) both in Mandarin and Malay. I had short glimpse on the contents of this atlas. Most of it simple topographic maps of Malaysia and World.


In short, Malaysia no longer has good atlases that reflect the identity of the nation. Other countries can serve a good example on continuing the strong tradition of atlases in combination with GIS and web capabilities. In Australia, hardcopy Jacaranda Atlas is updated with GIS and is accompanied with online counterpart. This atlas is standard mainstay for all geography students in Australia. Likewise, Oxford produces its Australian atlases and has similar content to Jacaranda. Malaysia no longer has any of this.

The best way forward is the existing publishing groups in Malaysia recapture the older atlas style, combined with GIS enabled updates and have online counterpart. These atlases are very dynamic, interactive and bound to make students get excited in geography.

Referred Atlases

  1. Atlas Untuk Sekolah Menengah Malaysia (Atlas for Malaysian Secondary School), 1977, Far Eastern Publishers (FEP) International Sdn. Bhd.
  2. Atlas Dunia Baru (New World Atlas), 1983, Collins So & co Ltd/ Longman Malaysia Sdn Bhd
  3. Atlas Moden Malaysia dan Dunia (Modern Atlas of Malaysia and the World), 1994, Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd. (Oxford Fajar - currently it is called as)
  4. Atlas Moden Malaysia dan Dunia (Modern Atlas of Malaysia and the World), 2007, Oxford Fajar Sdn. Bhd.

Monday, 25 August 2014

IMIA Asia Pacific Conference: Part 2c

Mobile & Web Solutions with Open Source

Open Source Integration in Spatial Solutions
The next presenter hailed from India and he presented solutions basing on open source. In this conference, there is a strong emphasis on free datasets and open source solutions to build mapping products. His company has developed an interactive globe (a physical globe like viewed on a mobile device). It is home to over 50 000 Points of Interests, multilingual and meshed with multiple datastets. Secondly, he also developed interactive world atlas which is built on raster and vector maps. The user can draw, write, add points and print your own maps. Some of his developed applications are built on primarily on open source data and open source solutions (e.g. leaflet.js). The core of his presentation focused on 3 factors to be considered on open source material and utilization for projects:
  1. Cost: Though open source is deemed free, it is actually far from the truth. This is because of licence issue, customisation cost and server fees. However, the cost would be marginal in comparison to proprietary solutions 
  2. Customization : The user has a product end in his or her mind but open source may not able to fulfill
  3. Support : Some open source solutions do offer paid support. However, majority of open source solutions support come through community based forums.

ESRI Advances further...

ArcGIS real-time capabilities for disaster management
ESRI presenters from Australia are always on the go to show how ESRI is always ahead of the GIS curve. No doubt this has been demonstrated this year. The presenter talked about Real-Time GIS and how ArcGIS is incorporating and adapting to this type of data. Real time GIS data is continuous stream of events flowing from various sensors. Smart technologies are widespread and each of them are sensors (geo-enabled). This includes tweets, sms and other form alerts that occur during disaster time. ArcGIS Geo Event working hand-in-hand with ArcGIS Server able to capture, analyse and visualize spatial distribution of real-Time GIS data. From here, the data is transmitted through applications or through connectors (e.g.alerts on fire). ArcGIS Online was used in demonstration as the visualization tool of real-time GIS Data

Queensland furthers Open Spatial Data Revolution

Queensland Globe: Gateway to Free Spatial Data
In my posting last year on the conference, Queensland government was in its early stages of implementation of open data policy. This included the spatial data from state government and it is transmitted to the public via Queensland Globe. Quick brief on Queensland Globe:
  • Google Earth is the platform where the data is hosted publicly
  • It's Free
  • Training is not essential to use it. However, videos are in the website to show the users on how to move around Queensland Globe. A novice user can access the data through Google Earth platform
  • Up to 357 layers (as of August 2014) are freely available
The push needed for the implementation of Queensland Globe (April 2013) came from:
  • Flood mapping (As Queensland was wracked with floods recently and the disaster relief appeal
  • Huge demand for timely, authoritative mapping
  • Overwhelming positive response from government, business and citizens on data access
The final plan is all state government data (spatial data ) to be free for public downloads. This meant a new Globe Framework needs to be implemented for the bigger data release. There are couple types of globes for spatial data. Queensland Globe offers foundation and base maps and Category Globes have 17 themed maps. Different globes (e.g. Coal Seam Gas, land valuation) are released in stages. In April 2014, statistical data (census blocks) from Australian Bureau of Statistics were integrated into the globes. To ensure continuity, New South Wales Globe (Free data site for neighbouring state) is integrated in the Queensland multiple globe framework.

In future, historical imagery, geology, Building Information Models (BIM) and paid searches would be added in next globes. Queensland government is trying to entrench the open data policy into law. This will in turn obligates state government agencies to release data freely. The push to transform this policy into a law is to establish business confidence and encourage investment and innovation in the state.

Another initiative as part of open data policy of the state is QTopo. It is open topographic data site and users can explore Queensland topography in virtual manner. It is also web based browser application and 100% of Queensland territory is covered with topographic maps (with scale up to 1:18,084). Users can print their own topographic maps using recommended map sheets or customized areas (and zoom levels)

Transforming Spatial Business

Business Transformation is relatable to Explorer's journey
The final presentation of the day (Monday) had an interesting approach. He was from HEMA Maps, a leader in 4WD expedition publishing, related to his business transformation with his regular travels in outback Australia. Part of his business transformation, he recaptured the purpose of his business (HEMA) - helping navigators to explore. Any expeditions to Outback Australia may have some issues on the way and hence, the explorer needs to revisit his plans and reset the trip. Likewise the presenter iterated that spatial businesses be prepared to revisit their business plan. HEMA has started off and still is a family business. When initially it started, HEMA's target market was in the offline environment. There was no internet a fair while ago. However, with the digital age dominating modern times, HEMA needs to adjust to environment and be ahead of the curve. This is to ensure steady revenue flow. 

Another crucial part of the business is how to engage the customers of HEMA. This would include social media where HEMA social media admin interacts with customers experience in Outback Australia. However, any business must not be viewed as being pushy towards customers as this may chase existing customers. HEMA emphasizes the importance to engage with their own team. This includes cartographers, drivers etc. The positive environment is needed so that team remains intact and deliver better.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

IMIA Asia Pacific Conference: Part 2b


New South Wales Trade & Investment - the agency who advice geological and mining matters to government, corporations and mining sectors - want to develop a tool for the public to know the mining activity of the state. They approached Spatial Vision, one of the leading GIS companies in Melbourne to develop a Cloud Based application called Common Ground to convey mining information. Previously, the information of mining was largely confined to industry professionals market. Common Ground is making the mining information widely accessible and built on authoritative datasets. It would be map based using CartoDB. Below here is workflow process (the product is not complete yet)

Full Credits: Hiroki Gota (Spatial Vision) 2014

GIS in Public Transportation

Translink Queensland Works
 Disclaimer: This part of the article remains under construction                                   
Next presentation was focusing on how GIS assist state subsidized public transportation for their students. The presenter has his own consultancy firm, Jan Simpson Consulting. He was contracted some time ago to work with Translink Queensland. This state organization manages all public transport systems (i.e. buses, trains, ferries) for the whole state of Queensland. One of the key programs organized by Translink is Student Travel Assistance Scheme (STAS). 

STAS provides subsidized transport to school children. It costs the state approximately $150-160 million annually to fund this program. It serves 2321 state schools or 500 000 students across the state. In order to qualify for STAS program, a student must:
Primary school : He or she must be more than or equal to 3.2km from the nearest state school to his or her residence
Secondary school : He  or she must be more than or equal to 4.8 km from the nearest state school to his or her residence

Hence, his project would revolve around GIS (as it is geographical problem) and he needs to develop a system for a non-technical audience to operate it in a fast manner. IT involved a big collaboration work between the government, public and developers

One of the main criteria for STAS eligibility is the shortest distance. For this instance, shortest distance refers the shortest trafficable route from student residence to the school access point. Restrictions were added into the GIS program where private roads (e.g. gated communities), four wheel drive tracks, non- constructed roads, one way roads, ferries and busways were excluded in the calculations. The system will calculate nearest school to student residence and takes into account of all restrictions incorporated in GIS. The results are stored in the GIS and DBMS. The challenge was to compute shortest distance between 2.4 million address points and schools. This resulted 20 million calculations and if were to be done continuously, it would have consumed 22 days of work (non-stop)

Over time, he devised three level classifications for STAS program: Are you in the STAS area (based on distance criterion), are you out of STAS area or in the marginal area? This helps the STAS staff to deduce whether potential students are eligible for the program quickly.

He integrated his system with Global GBM for Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) and developed in tandem with GBM a web-based interface for the STAS staff.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

IMIA Asia Pacific Conference: Part 2a

Power of Location

Conference information
The whole conference revolved around the theme: Power of Location. Majority of the speakers presenting the conference came from Australia with handful came from India, New Zealand and United States (representing IMIA Global and Americas). To kickstart the presentation, the Chief of Staff of USGS (National Geospatial Technical Operations Center) updated the delegates on latest activities of USGS.

United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Chief of Staff of USGS Topo presents USGS works
The signature  USGS product is the 7 1/2 min topographic maps. Every American user associates these maps with USGS. USGS very much remain in the business of producing these maps. In this digital age, USGS topographic maps have went electronic and are available for free for download and able to integrate with GPS devices easily. USGS produced 70-80 maps every day and in future, there will be push for users to build their own custom maps using USGS datasets on the website. In an era of constraint funding, USGS collaborated with federal, state and local government agencies to leverage funding to access new datasets. 

USGS is home to Centre of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science which works with universities and conducts significant research on mapping elements. It is also the manager of National Atlas, the online atlas of United States.A recent study shown that areas such as flood risk, agriculture precision, geologic resource assessment, hazard mitigation and infrastructure management are top beneficiaries of USGS data. 

Since 1994, USGS has started to incorporate Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) as part of dataset update. The VGI program was suspended on and off basis until 2010, where a full scale revival on VGI matter was initiated. USGS do award its VGI collectors with historical survey instruments as recognition of significant contributions. To ensure dataset accuracy, USGS  has a validation program to monitor the quality of VGI.

In terms of funding, the current funding is half of 1990 levels. USGS is able to do much of its operations with technological efficiency. Concept do more with less prevails. However, funding sequestration of 2013has put hold on LIDAR program to improve elevation dataset quality.

Geospatial Overworld

HERE Representative speaking on Overworld

The second Presentation was the race for the Geospatial Overworld and presented by Nokia HERE Business Development Chief. Firstly, we need to define what is Overworld. It is a term comes from computer games environment. It is top down visual perspective of the fictional environment within the game that precisely maps and describe its geospatial construction. This includes levels, terrain, boundaries, buildings, foliage, recruits, characters and associated interactions. Now, let's define Geospatial Overworld or Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). It presents a precise virtual representation of our real world, hopefully would be complete in 3D format and the information is updated in real time.

The foundation of SDI is built on high quality maps produced by geospatial professionals. The biggest investors ins SDI are ESRI (ArcGIS Online), Google (Google Map Engine) and Nokia (HERE). It is estimated USD 1 BILLION is invested to build the HERE Platform (Geospatial Overworld). The main buyers of Overworld data (not in order) are:

  1. Utilities
  2. Transport & Logistics
  3. Education
  4. Public Safety
  5. Natural Resources
  6. Health
  7. Financial Services
  8. Government
  9. Defense
  10. Property
  11. Media
Now focusing HERE Platform (SDI), the presenter focused on data cloud infrastructure where the Overworld is running on. It is built on multiple data centres across the world with highly scalable technologies. Next, we need to understand the building blocks of SDI Model:
  • Index: Capture a reference index of the real world
  • Platform: Essential for location services. Computing the right answer on the fly anywhere
  • Experience: Rich, interactive consumer experience for driving, mobility and enterprise.
SDI is delivered through Application Program Interface (API) and Software Development Kits (SDKs). One of the goals of SDI is hosting 3D Models on its platform. HERE, like Google, embarked huge street camera data capturing mission with a difference. They use LIDAR to capture the structure of every feature with high accuracy.

In today's world, it is fact the transition from 2D to 3D and vice versa is not seamless. However, in future, maps would fuse analytics and interactivity. Data would be fully visualized in 3D format with spatial attributes and integrating with user expectation. To bring a step further, internal building plans would be digitized and loaded into SDI. We are seeing this in various overworld platforms where user can zoom to airport, commercial centre or university to building layout and attributes.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

IMIA Asia Pacific Conference: Part 1

Map Hack Day

This is my third time attending the International Map Industry Association (IMIA) conference since 2010. Those who have been following the blog  would have noted I have written about the conference a year ago. The conference experience is getting better each time.

As an associate member of IMIA, I decided to attend the Strategic Planning Meeting of IMIA on 16th August. Here I got the chance to witness a comprehensive plan to extend the reach of IMIA in the Asia Pacific Region and increase member benefits. It was a short two hour session to cover many matters.

On 17th August, IMIA Conference officially opened up with MapHack Day - first of its kind for this conference. The aim of this session is to get students and professionals to utilize open source data and non-mainstream GIS (free one) to produce a story map. Roughly 30 people rocked up on early Sunday morning (10.00 a.m.) for the whole day session. It was hosted and coordinated by one of the leading GIS companies in Melbourne - Spatial Vision. From 10.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m., we had briefing by Spatial Vision staff on how to use CartoDB (non-mainstream online GIS) and where to source free GIS datasets.

After splitting into groups, my group brainstorm the topic, sourced datasets and restructure the excel data. The youtube video above explains my group's project and the workflow from conception to completion.


  1. Being Flexible: Our group had intention to focus on creating two layers - one showing ethnicity and one showing linguistic distribution. However, we realized it can distract the user from the core of the map. We adjusted our goals to ensure we can finish the project within time frame. 
  2. Being Structured: Our key strength in our group is splitting in two groups. Two of us focused on GIS datasets and other two focused on Excel data of attributes. By splitting right from start, our workload was smoothly spread out and we progressed quickly. Me and my team mate also learned QGIS in the process to deliver the datasets in neat format. In Excel data, the whole team eventually got involved one way or another as number crunching got complicated
In other aspects, all of us successfully pooled our skills together to make the product successful: IT skills, Excel formulas, QGIS expertise and coordination skills. Map Hack Day was successful:
  1. Coordinated by successful Spatial Vision team who are familiar with CartoDB 
  2. Great platform for students to network and work with potential employers
  3. Build relationship between disparate conference delegates
  4. Opportunity to practice your presentation and marketing skills.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Coordinate Story

Coordinates are The things that distinguish a map from a normal painting or standard graphic design. For map professionals or users, there are two coordinates we need to be aware: Geographic and Projected coordinates. Geographic refers to the coordinate system on 3D Earth (i.e. Ellipsoidal and Sphere based Earth) and projected coordinates are the coordinate system for 2D flat maps.

Hence, every map-maker needs to be careful which coordinate system to be used. Sometimes, we can get away with it because the difference is obscure in the maps. However, when it comes to accuracy, getting the coordinate system right is an utmost importance.

Section 1

After long day at work and preparing for a holiday, I went back home to relax and ready up for the trip. Then, I received a telephone call, all the way from Perth. It was professional question on coordinates and it was dealing with client data. This was the real deal. (Refer to Story of Mauritius for another example of freelance work)


The company has identified roughly 200 points on a linear road stretch. It just happened that the road has 6 lanes at maximum (3 lanes heading north, 3 lanes heading south). The 200 points were captured at particular intervals where each lane has 100 points. The company want to plot 200 points to indicate the approximate location of the 3rd lane (refer to map below). Hence, the problem is identifying the coordinates of 100 points representing the 3rd lane (Left and right). I was supplied with an Excel spreadsheet containing these 200 points.

Due to nature of this project, specific details of the location of work site will not be released. 

For Illustration purposes only. The client did not request for a map
As you can see, 4 lanes of the road has been surveyed (in darker colours). 200 points to be plotted are the lighter green and red circles.  The question is how can I find the location of 200 other points (referring to L3 and R3) ?


Anything revolving on coordinates I take it with care. I spend couple of hours finding and testing methods to find the coordinates. The rule is the 3rd point is 5 metres away perpendicular (left)  to L2 and 5 metres perpendicular (right) away from R2. In the end, I found a very simple solution.


1) It stems from the understanding of the width of each longitude. Assuming the surveyed locations were based on purely WGS 84 and accuracy is not of utmost importance, I found a website (Length Of A Degree Of Latitude And Longitude Calculator to calculate the length of longitude at a particular latitude. For your information, there is variation of width of longitude at different latitudes. From the coordinates that I was supplied of, I keyed in the degree in this website calculator to get my answer.

2) With this understanding above, I used Excel spreadsheet to calculate the approximate locations of L3 and R3 (refer to map above). It involved simple division and subtraction/addition

3) Now, plotting in ArcMap involved a bit of research. I embedded the Excel/ CSV spreadsheet into ArcMap. Then, I right clicked on the spreadsheet, and chose 'Display XY Data'. I mapped the coordinates in spreadsheet with right equivalent of X- and Y-axes.  Refer to Importing Excel data into ArcMap for further details. The work is done.

4) For final testing, I placed Open Street Map basemap to make sure the data is plotted correctly. The ultimate verification was done through Google Earth.

5) I converted the shapefiles of these coordinates into kml (Google Earth file) and uploaded the kml file to see the alignment. Google Earth verified the 200 additional points representing the third lane (both left and right) and they were correct in their positioning. The coordinate system I used was MGA94 (UTM system for the area).

The full name of coordinate system I used would not be released due to confidentiality of the data.

The end products were the Excel spreadsheet and .kml file as a proof.

Work Time: 4 hours (from receiving the data to submission of end products)

Contact me via the blog for further specifics and assistance/consultancy works related to mapping.

Section 2

As some of you would know, I am currently involved in massive GIS collaborative project on elections (Refer to Hiatus in Blog for details). I was in the process of creating 3 shapefiles related to election boundaries: Election precincts, State Constituencies and Federal Constituencies. For the moment, I used geographic coordinate system (WGS84) to draw the boundaries of electoral precincts and federal constituencies . 

When I came to State election borders, I chose Web Mercator as the coordinate system. Unknowingly, I spent 14 hours drawing state election borders using Web Mercator while drawing them on electoral precincts (as the base map). I did a check on QGIS which coordinate system I used for State boundaries. It turned out to be severe mismatch of coordinates between State and electoral precincts borders. I attempted to reproject State borders onto WGS84 and it disappeared elsewhere in the workspace. Hence, 14 hours of my work was wasted.

Coming to this realization, I am concerned with the coordinate systems I employed for Venezuelan Map Project. It involved multiple spatial datasets from different coordinate systems. The base map for reference uses Web Mercator. Have I aligned my lakes and river unknowingly onto Web Mercator?  Since the project is suspended at the moment, I need to spend time checking on this and work out a solution for this.

In short, as a map professional, I need to do careful planning in terms of coordinate system. Hours of work could go to waste if this planning is not done well.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Names, Names... in Malaysia

Penang Chief Minister Announcing Road Name Change after famous MP Karpal Singh
(Source: MalayMail Online)
Recently, Penang (northern state in Malaysia) announced a promenade to be renamed as Karpal Singh Drive. The name change was done as honour to the contributions of well known Penang-born lawyer politician Karpal Singh. Geographical names, wherever they may be associated with, is critical for our daily communication for us to move around and decided on matters. However, we are not much aware about the naming policy in Malaysia

Who's in charge of naming?

In simplest sense, the government of Malaysia is in charge. In 2002, Malaysian National Committee of Geographical Names (JKNG) was created to coordinate the naming policies and activities. As geographical names come under the realm of mapping, Director-General of Department of Survey & Mapping (JUPEM) chairs the JKNG. Under JKNG, they have various subcommittees tackling issue on organizing the name gazetteer, updates, island naming and state name committees.  JUPEM organized a Malaysian standard for naming conventions: MS 2256: 2009. Naming guideline has 21 principles ranging from language usage to use of personal names. 

Few years ago, JKNG subcommittee on gazetteer created a website of nearly all named places in Malaysia called Geoname. It is a repository of names of villages, towns, islands and others. Moreover, it presented current and alternative names, recorded pronunciation of features in official Malay and its local dialet and spelling in Jawi (Arabic script for Malay). It took roughly 5 years to set up this gazetteer and subsequently website plus additional works on the online names site.

You might be wondering which parties are involved in this naming process. They are JUPEM, Planning Department, National Archives, Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka (Institution in charge for Malay language), local governments, National Hydrographic Centre and other relevant parties.  Both national and state governments under JKNG are involved in the naming policy

So, how the place could be named?

For the public, the documentation about the process is weak or scarce. Let's narrow down to a general geographic feature like a new island (an anonymous one). The official groups that can name the island are Federal, State and Local governments. However, other agencies can provide the name (e.g. if the island is an artificial island, the developer may submit the name but the name needs to be approved by the naming committee). Preferably, the name should be Malay (as it is official language of Malaysia) and the way it is spelled and pronounced should be along the official Malay language. The name should not be offensive or discriminatory. If the island happened to be named after a person,  preferably the nominated person is dead (i.e. the case of Karpal Singh Drive) and made significant contribution to Malaysia or the affected area.

If this island had a common societal name before, priority should be given to retain the common name unless exceptional circumstances (i.e. offensive in nature). The naming groups/committees must do their best to remove any possibilities of duplicate names. If the island is small or big, emphasis can be added (e.g. Pulau Kecil - Small Island). If the island happens to have alternative names, the maps should indicate these names in brackets -  "Pulau Kecil (IJM Island)". Should the island in future requires a name change, a significant reason (s) needs to be presented for change. After all, names are used by the public for direction purpose and name change significantly affects personal mental maps.

I strongly encourage those who can read Malay to refer Malaysian Naming Guideline for the 21 principles behind naming. Those who need rough translation, contact me.

Examples of names in Malaysia

The traditional names you may find in rural areas in Malaysia (hence the common names) could stem from legends or folklores . For example, Pulau Dayang Bunting in Langkawi derives from the legend that a maiden lady who immerses herself in lake (in this island) would be pregnant. 

Some of the names are derived from flora, fauna or geographical feature. For example, Gua Tempurung in Perak is named after the coconut shell shaped caves. Langkawi is named after the sea eagle.

Some towns are named after the economic activities they represent. For example, Batu Arang in Selangor literally means charcoal stone and once was a site of coal mining activities.

Since Malaysia has rich history of interaction with outside world, place names are influenced by different world culture. For example, Taiping (Perak) in Chinese means heavenly kingdom 

Like any other country, after independence in  1957, Malaysia progressively adopted new names to replace the British Version. For example, Port Swettenham (name of British administrator) was renamed to Klang (main port in Malaysia). In 1982, Teluk Anson (once the shipping port of rich tin fields of Perak) was renamed as Teluk Intan. However, not all British names were replaced like George Town (Penang) - named after King George III.

Though local governments are empowered to determine names of entities (e.g. roads, buildings) to be line in Malaysian identity, these rules are not regularly enforced. One may notice the adoption of English or global names for shopping centres in Kuala Lumpur and other urban areas.

Controversies with naming

As Malaysia is a developing country, one of its weaknesses is the poor or lack of community consultations. This has affected to naming policies in Malaysia. For example in 2010, in rural Sarawak, a name change of a road without much notice created so much confusion and led drivers lost in their journeys (Borneo Post, 28/7/2010). Not only because of no notice, locals were infuriated that the new road name change does not reflect the local identity.

In 2014, one of the political parties in Sabah criticized the state government (Sabah) for naming villages or areas without any proper understanding of indigenous languages or identities. However, they welcome renaming of a suburb of Kota Kinabalu (Sabah's capital) to reflect the indigenous spelling (Menggatal to Manggatal).

In Penang, in late 2013, false allegations that second biggest island in the state (Pulau Jerejak) was renamed lead to heated debate in state parliament. According to the state opposition leader, the island was renamed to Pulau Mazhu by the island temple operator.


  1. Jawatankuasa Kebangsaan Nama Geografi, Garis Panduan Penentuan Nama Geografi, 2005, Kuala Lumpur,
  2. MacGDI, Pangkalan Data Nama Geografi dan Gazetir Kebangsaan,  Kementerian Sumber Asli dan Alam Sekitar (NRE), 
  3. Pusat Infrastruktur Data Geospatial Negara (MacGDI), Surat Pekeliling Pelaksanaan Infrastruktur Data Geospatial Negara (myGDI) Bilangan 1 Tahun 2012, 2012, Kementerian Sumber Asli dan Alam Sekitar (NRE),
  4. Abdul Ghani, R & Mohamed Husin, N. Place Names (Preserving Cultural Heritage, Reflecting National Identity), 2013,UNGEGN South-East Asia Seminar,,%20Reflecting%20National%20Identity).pdf
  5. The Star, Pulau Jerejak never renamed Mazu Island, says CM, 20th December 2013,
  6. Free Malaysia Today, What's in a name? 3rd March 2014,
  7. MalayMail Online, Penang to Rename Jelutong Sea front 'Karpal Singh Drive', 19th April 2014,

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Mapping? What is that?

Courtesy of Maps of the

A common question I receive: "What do you do" or back in my university days, "What do you study?"
When I reply "Mapping", question mark appears in everyone's head. "What's that?" My standard response to these questions is Google Maps, GPS etc. However, is mapping all about that? Today, I will discuss a general idea of mapping, the profession and why it is so important nowadays to know this field.

Mapping, first of all, is a generic term I use for people to understand. The official term the map-makers use are Spatial Science, Geospatial Science, Cartography, Surveying, Remote Sensing, Geoinformatics etc. In an essence, mapping is all about representing and modelling the Earth. It could be in 2D (flat maps), 3D (Google Earth) or 4D (with time lapse). In order to receive the final product (the map), all of us must know and appreciate 3 steps involved in a map production:
  1. Collection of map (spatial) data. It could be done through field surveys, satellite images, computer databases, high quality photos from aeroplanes or other sources.
  2. Analysis of spatial data. This includes making sure the coordinate system is correct, 3D modelling, applying geographical analysis (e.g. what is the closest shop to my place)
  3. Presenting of spatial data. This process where cartography (marriage of art and science) truly comes into light. The maps must be meet its own purpose (e.g. environmental map), reader friendly and ensures the user focus on the map message (purpose)
One may perceive all the time maps 100% but they are never correct. The changing world, errors in data collection or in analysis and mistakes in cartography all dither the accuracy of maps. We, the map-makers, must make sure the maps serve its purpose to user and that influence level of accuracy we display on maps.

How do you call a map-maker in the right term? There are heaps of official terms: Spatial Scientist, GIS Technician, Cartographer, Surveyor, Image Analyst etc. We are an unique clique and throughout history, our percentage of the workforce population is more or less the same (very small). We make so much impact in our daily lives yet we are unknown to the world since dawn of humanity. The most we could relate to environmental scientists, geographers, architects, IT groups and civil engineers.

However, the world is changing as technology is pushing the mapping concepts beyond our professional scopes. This leads to my final point - why it is important for you to know us and our concepts:
  1. If you are in government, the government of any day dictates what is placed in the maps, standards and licences of them. At the same time, using advanced geographical analysis, maps power government in service delivery in good and bad times. If you watch disaster movies, you can see how emergency departments pull up maps or display 3D models on the fly to make decisions
  2. If you are in business, location intelligence is so critical nowadays to understand your customers. You make the decision (based on maps) where to put next fertiliser for your winery, to determine a new store location, to close down a bank branch and many more decisions. Businesses working with government clients develop new technologies with mapping applications to help service delivery
  3. If you are in NGO or a citizen, knowing how to use mapping tools is absolutely useful keeping checks and balances on governments and businesses. Maps could be used to track the movements of endangered species, the impact of new highway on properties around, to check on gerrymandering or mapping out corruption abuses.
While maps has its own controversies, I personally believe everyone should learn how to use some map tools (beyond Google Maps or GPS) so that you will truly understand on how we relate to each other and the natural world. That is the final objective and purpose of the map: Understanding the relationship between entities that make up the world and how each affect another.

Happy Mapping!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Are you tweeting with me?

Source: Therainmarkerblog

Quietly, I have launched my official twitter page of this blog. You might be wondering the silence of this blog or lack of new, researched articles. I have been busy and writing articles do take a lot of time.

I want you -readers, subscribers and viewers - to subscribe to @daneshatlas . It is official twitter page of the blog-presenting article, videos or anything about geospatial matters. Let me handle the research for you on this area and you will LEARN HEAPS! 

How can I find twitter link? It is on the right hand side on the navigation pane and it will take you to twitter page

Start FOLLOWING, LEARN and ASK me what should I POST!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Story of Mauritius

Final Product: Terrain of the Site
Few days ago, a friend of mine called me, "Danesh, can I get a map of my area - middle of Mauritius?" I said yes without asking much detail. Then, he messaged me, could you focus on Plaines Wilhems (state in Mauritius). With this little detail, I hastily pulled out the datasets required for Mauritius. After all, the concept of producing the map is the same but when it comes datasets, it becomes trickier.

For the terrain data, I relied upon ASTER GDEM. When it came to the roads, boundaries, rivers and lakes, I pulled out from DIVA GIS. You would notice how generalized these datasets (DIVA GIS) look in comparison to the terrain data. This map you see above is 1:100 000 and DIVA GIS datasets weren't exactly the best for the scale context.

One of the challenges I faced was capturing the terrain feeling of this area. This area (Plaines Wilhems) is rising plain area with steep cliffs marking its borders in the west. After much experimenting with the colours, I utilized 10 colour classes to give smooth transition of the terrain (hillshading was pixelated at 1:100 000 scale).

Within 3 hours, the map was completed (with all necessary items added) and emailed to my friend.  He was happy and then he asked me, "Can you do a 3D Model?" From my previous experience, I said yes and thinking in 2 days, a  3D Model would fit his requirement. Turned out, there was problems indeed.

Lessons Learnt:

  1. Do you charge a friend? I am no longer a student and now, I am professional. I am entitled to charge you. That's what you think. Of course, there is nothing wrong except you need to know the restrictions found for the datasets. ASTER GDEM strictly made it clear, you cannot commercialize their datasets. From my understanding, I CANNOT CHARGE a single cent on my friend despite spending 3 hours to make a map. DIVA GIS datasets do not seem to have these restrictions. Can anyone clarify what you mean commercialize in geospatial data context?
  2. Learn to get full details. I am happy to hear that my friend actually researched on when sourcing the terrain data. When he struggled, then he came to me. I should have asked him bit more details of the map project (Does he want 2D or 3D?). In heat of my excitement, I overlooked these information
  3. I do not why ArcScene could not read the elevation heights of the terrain datasets. After all, it has an attribute called value (which is elevation cell). I explored what ArcGIS, QGIS and Google Earth could do representing the 3D Model of the site location. However, I told my friend something is wrong with terrain data and I can't help him on that. Fortunately, he saw the site location was largely flat and the 3D Model would be unnecessary
In short, I was excited to this project but there are couple of lessons learnt when it comes to produce maps for people. I just need someone explain to me why terrain data is not being displayed in 3D format in ArcScene!!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Hiatus in the Blog


Wondering why the silence in my Blog? Yes, I would be taking break at the moment in updating the blog. I have lined two part series articles on Naming issues. So, what I have been up to

Venezuela Atlas Project

Draft of my Venezuelan A1 Size Map
If you scroll in the blog archive, I did mention about my big Venezuelan Map Project ( I was assembling the datasets and started working on cleaning and updating them from June to October. Then, I suspended the project for three months for another project (mentioned below). On 1st February 2014, I officially resumed the project. The whole of February was devoted to complete the first round of dataset cleansing of every state in Venezuela (primarily road checking). On 1st March, the BIG MOMENT came! For the first time in my life, I am print out A1 size map (I was imagining the size while going to the print shop). With the draft map, I have begun the scrutiny of the map and scouting every possible error. This month would be devoted to add the cities and their population data across Venezuela. For other months, I haven't planned out the project scope. I hoping to conclude the project tentatively on 30th June 2014. Time is short

Tindak Malaysia Delimitation Project

My proposed Kedah map demonstrated in the Tindak Malaysia Forum
Part of the reason Venezuelan Atlas project was suspended is because I was involved in the Delimitation Project. Refer to for details. I was involved in the project from July 2013 to February 2014 (where the forum is the culmination of Tindak Malaysia's Delimitation project). This NGO based in Malaysia created a network of volunteers of map-makers (hardly anyone came from cartography/geospatial background). After experimenting different softwares, we made a shift to non-GIS based softwares to speed-up the completion of national election mapping project. This project aims to redistrict the mal-apportioned electoral boundaries in Malaysia fairly. As the pressure grew to finish the project, me, being the lone GIS user was rushing through (in the wee hours of the morning) to complete Kedah map (the state I was allocated with). Two proposed maps were produced, matched the publication specifications and finally submitted in early February. Forum was held on 15-16th February, since then our maps (including mine) would have been viewed or questioned by many people at the forum or outside.

The purpose of these maps is to challenge potential Malaysian Election Commission (EC) Maps. It was rumoured that EC will start the drawing in March (no further updates since then). Meantime, this NGO and other election related in NGOs in Malaysia have been engaging the public to get involved in electoral redelineation project. Tindak Malaysia's approach conducted without on ground voter consultation. However, if EC were to do their maps soon, this NGO's maps could be used by the public to object them.

I am still involved with them and still advising them on GIS matters.

Basically, these two projects made my blog very quiet. So don't panic about the blog being abandoned. I hope I can release new articles towards the end of the month.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Visualizing Data

In one of my recent projects (back in January), I was working on converting text data of Wifi locations in Penang (Malaysia) to an online map of internet hot spots. Basically, I was visualizing boring wordy and lengthy data to graphically pleasing locator tool.

Refer to: Penang Free Wifi Project
Presentation from Geoplex

Thursday ago, through a friend of mine, I came to know an open event in Melbourne about Visualizing Data. It was hosted by GIS consulting & solutions firm, Geoplex and around 30-40 people (I think) attended for this exciting event. We had four speakers: Geoplex, City of Melbourne, The Age (newspaper) and Flink Labs. The first presentation was visualizing traffic accident data using CartoDB. Geoplex built an interactive web map whereby user can estimate the risk of accident on a specific route (they are travelling on). However, I couldn't understand the workflow from sourcing the information to the final product.

Melbourne Urban Forest Visual

 The second presenter came from City of Melbourne and he was talking about CityLab projects. Basically, CityLab is a physical and virtual space for the council and the community to engage to resolve urban problems. At the same time, there is push in City of Melbourne on the concept of open data (free datasets for public to download and use). While open data enhances transparency and accountability, there is a lot of challenges. For example, datasets relating to utilities comes from energy & telcos companies while dataset of tree & parking location come from the council. However, both datasets cover the same area (i.e. Melbourne). The push of open data would be obstructed as different policies govern about datasets in different institutions (e.g. telcos, council). Second challenge of open data is what and how much to share the datasets. Should we make all the datasets for public view or how much of utilities information can be downloaded free? Anyway, City of Melbourne has collaborative project with its concerned citizens on air quality (Citizen Science in action). For example, citizen scientists armed with air sensor networks feeds on air quality information to city of Melbourne. Yes, the city of Melbourne has its own network of air sensors but with citizen scientists, a lot of gaps in data are filled up. Whether it is related to CityLab or not, City of Melbourne developed online map showing all the trees in the council. Called as Melbourne Urban Forest Visual, users can click any of the trees and get basic information. For the council, it is great planning tool as they can identify which trees need to be removed (if they are dying soon). For users, interestingly, you can email to the tree and state your feelings towards each tree.

Map of Car Thefts incidents per council in greater Melbourne (The Age)
Third presentation was about data journalism and the speaker came from The Age (leading papers in Melbourne). Data journalism essentially is getting the story from datasets and nowadays, data literacy is critical for journalists to back up their stories with evidence. Data Visualization of particular topic (i.e. feelings of people of the day) opens more stories and exploring micro trends in local community. For example, The Age (with collaboration with Trend Maps) created a map of Twitter feelings in greater Melbourne. Interestingly,visualization presented concentration of positive feelings in shopping centres and negative feelings along train lines & stations. Similarly, in 2013, with collaboration with volunteers, The Age created a map of locations of high-risk cycling accidents in Melbourne.

Flink Labs project of visualizing trolley movements in shopping centres

Final presentation came from FlinkLabs. This company focuses heavily on data visualizations. Some of their interesting projects they did were visualizing movement of shopping trolleys in shopping centres (trolleys equipped with RFIDs) and dynamic cartograms of shifting world trademark applications from Japan to China. In the case of trolley movement, this visualization helps store managers to know which aisle is most frequented of and deduce some reasoning of the frequency (likewise for less frequented sections too). Visualization is growing rapidly as it creates 'techie' feel in every project done. However, the problem today a lot of visualization is data poor and lack of substance. This becomes more true with 3D printing as this visualization is not so much of data analytics tool, but for more artistic purposes. The speaker stated (following on what The Age journalist speaking on) data visualization is not the end product and it is tool for pattern analysis and stimulating ideas.

In short, Data visualization is converting long,wordy and boring Excel (and other data formats) into visual pleasing graphics to stimulate our thinking process. Expect more and more of data visualization in the years to come as tools of data visualization is being integrated more and more with our simple tools (i.e. Excel)

Thursday, 16 January 2014


On the first anniversary of start of my blog (16/1/2013), I want to issue a BIG THANK YOU!

  • BIG THANK YOU to my COURSE MATE who asked me to start the BLOG!
  • BIG THANK YOU to one who RECOMMENDED me Google Analytics!
  • BIG THANK YOU to all of my friends and contacts COMMENTED on my maps and articles!
  • BIG THANK YOU to THOSE who have CRITICIZED and QUESTIONED the relevance of my blog and maps!
  • BIG THANK YOU to EVERYONE who visited my blog for past one year!
Anyway, do not think I am shutting down the blog. As mentioned in the 'Happy New Year!', the blog will have refocus. From Malaysian centric to geographic/mapping centric. Once Again, engage with my blog more often, you guys need to know the power of MAPPING!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Revitalizing Malaysian Geography Syllabus

When one mentions about Geography, people instantly think about capability of memorizing world capitals or naming top mountains. This is very much misguided view of Geography and more so, Geography is a neglected topic in the broader educational issue in Malaysia. There is a lot of controversies going with the History syllabus and concern of declining standards in English, Maths and Science. However, Geography as a subject is being overlooked.

 Looking at the current situation, our Geography subject is only thought as compulsory subject for lower secondary schools and thereafter, it becomes an elective for remaining school years. This means Geography teachers have 3 decisive years to ensure students to be Geo-literate before Form 4. First issue in Malaysian geography syllabus is the lack of definition and importance of the subject. In History and Science subjects, the text books clearly indicate what defines these subjects and why they are important for the world. In Geography text book, both of them do not exist at all. By not placing them, students would be wondering about the significance of the subject. Geography is basically the study of interactions between nature and human beings. It isn't about memorizing but it is about how the world works, world interconnections and implications of interactions and interconnections. New text books must highlight the role of Geography for society.

 Second issue is MOE previously favoured Science subjects to Arts (60:40) for schools. Since Geography is treated as an art subject, it gets neglected pretty much in many Malaysian schools. The problem becomes more obvious in upper secondary as Form 4 Geography syllabus covers topics of natural disaster and basics of geology. Malaysians must be educated through Geography on how natural disasters happen (as Science subjects do not cover them) so they can be prepared in future (i.e. tsunamis). New core Geography syllabus must cover some basics of natural disasters (especially climate change).

 Third issue is Geography syllabus do not highlight much about potential careers in this field. When the importance of the subject is not being highlighted and lack of knowledge of geographical careers, no one see the value of Geography. One view as a subject just to get 'A' and then forget about it. Today's world have witnessed the unprecedented usage of maps (No.1 geographical tool) in humanity's history. Malaysia, as it continually evolves, need people who are educated in Geography and Mapping Science. Everything from business to medicine to community work has a location aspect. Geography syllabus must highlight careers in growing field. Teachers should contact Geographers/Map-makers to visit schools to introduce exciting careers.

 Fourth issue is Geography syllabus and teachers must integrate new technologies to teach the subject. This must include new mapping technologies (i.e. Google Earth, web maps) to bring excitement in learning. After all, Geography is all about exploring the world we live in. Visualizing Geography through story telling or organize outdoor visits allows the students to appreciate the world around them. Moreover, introduction of mapping technologies will spark interest in students to consider a career in Geography.

 Fifth issue is Geography syllabus should challenge the general perceptions of the developing and developed world. The core Geography syllabus tend to highlight problems existing in developing world (i.e. overpopulation) and less so for developed world. As the world changes rapidly, geography syllabus must highlight alternative advances made in developing world (i.e. sustainable agriculture) and focus less on developed world. Malaysian worldview is skewed knowing a lot of Western World & Asia but very limited for other parts. This could be rectifying by presenting balanced view on issues in developing world.

 In Summary, Geography syllabus in Malaysia needs a refocus to be more relevant and useful. Though Malaysians would better rate understanding the world than Americans, five issues must be addressed to revive a subject of significance importance. Geo-literate Malaysians would be capable understanding their environment, make wise decisions and knowing the implications of actions they do in the world we live in.