Lightning-fast lessons for ArcGIS Pro

Cartography connoisseur John Nelson returns, this time to help Wayne and Ta navigate his comprehensive collection of 1-minute map hacks for ArcGIS Pro. Learn how to put politics aside when plotting disputed areas, texturize topography without compromising colour and map the Earth on an orange peel.


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    Map hacks from the master

    John Nelson: It's brain hacking! You're just pouring two or more visual variables into a single symbol. You're using size and colour at the same time. You're pouring all kinds of cool data into a single symbol that's kind of flexing in different ways, but your mind gets it.

    Disclaimer: This podcast is brought to you by Esri Australia. To get your hands on more short, sharp and immediately usable resources, head to the Esri Australia website and search for goldmine.

    Wayne: Welcome to GIS Directions. I'm Wayne Lee-Archer.

    Ta: And I'm Ta Taneka.

    Wayne: Well, Ta today we have an episode that's been inspired by your passion for ArcGIS Pro. And of course, our shared love of just gorgeous, beautiful maps.

    Ta: I like the sound of that. I really do love a beautiful map and Pro really has some powerful features to help you make them.

    Wayne: I knew this would be right for you. So, look, I've got a bit of a treat for you. we've brought someone else along today Ta and it's one of your favorite experts on this topic. He's GIS royalty. He's a friend of the show, host of his own blog adventures in mapping, Say hello again to John Nelson. John, welcome back to the show.

    John Nelson: Hello. Thank you so much for having me back. It's a pleasure to talk to you again.

    Ta: It's great to have you back, John.

    John Nelson: Oh my gosh. I'm excited. Thank you for the invitation. I can't believe you called me back.

    Ta: Of course!

    Wayne: Listen today John, we're hoping that you will be able to give our audience a bit of a treat, we're going to be picking your brain for some of your best carto tips for ArcGIS Pro.

    John Nelson: Oh goodness.

    Wayne: And it seemed like you might be one of the very best voices to help us in this space, given that you've been pretty busy since we spoke last.

    John Nelson: Well, I don't know about one of the best voices, but I sure am having a lot of fun, and I've been staying busy.

    Wayne: Well, since we spoke last, John, I think the world has been in a bit of a state of craziness.

    I think we were entering the first of lockdown 1.0 and, I'm sure I know that I have, I'm sure a lot of our listeners have been, doom scrolling the social feeds, we're looking to get out of that COVID monotony. One of the things that's kept me alive over this last couple of years, John has been your one-minute map hacks on your YouTube channel.

    John Nelson: I don't know when we spoke last, is it a month ago? Was it five years ago?

    Wayne: It all blurs together, doesn't it?

    John Nelson: I'm happy to hear that, you found some of those map hack videos, helpful or at least, somewhat entertaining.

    Ta: Well, you know honestly, I love that series and it just so happens, that you've just passed a big milestone. You've made over a hundred, one-minute map hacks so congratulations, John.

    John Nelson: Thank you. I've been productive from a video sense, in a very specific sense. I’ve finally been productive. It's funny because once you start, once I start on these things, the next idea kind of rolls out of the previous one and I've got these ideas built up and they just start pouring out.

    And sometimes I'll get a question in an email, and I'll find myself writing an email response to somebody, a customer saying, you know, how do you do this? And I'll be taking screenshots and typing up these, it's kind of cumbersome to type notes of a UX workflow. Have you ever like tried that it?

    John Nelson: I mean, we can imagine it and in my mind I'm like, yeah, it's easy, you just do this. And then when I actually have to type it all out, I'm like, oh my goodness, this would be better as a video. And so I'll record a video, answering the question or demonstrating a solution or an idea, and then I'll post it. And then the email I can say, hey, look, I made this video. And that is, I'll tell you, that's a lot of fun.

    Ta: And it certainly sounds like an invitation for us to keep calling and saying, hey, can we have some help?

    But on that note, what we thought we might do today is go through our top one-minute map hacks, and rather than make you choose your favorite baby, we've each picked our top two, so we thought maybe you'd like to do the same, let us know, your top two favorites.

    John Nelson: Okay.

    Wayne: I'll go first because I love these things. As I said, they've been keeping me alive during lockdown. Well, my top pick is actually super easy for someone like Ta to pick. You will have heard me talk about this, a number of times Ta and this is talking about mapping with integrity, you know where I'm heading with this don’t you?

    Ta: yes, yes. This is honestly one of my favorite topics and one of my favorite episodes that we did, it brings together two of my most favorite things, maps and games. So, this is the Pokémon borders, right?

    Wayne: This is the Pokémon borders thing. Absolutely. So, you know, you'll hear me talking about what it is as cartographers, to be honest to data, and to demonstrate a map in a certain light, and this is about, disambiguating borders or borders that are disputed.

    So, my top two picks are actually the same kind of technique, and I'm just going to sort of ask John to talk about this is, there are two in your collection, John, that are really, really good for highlighting disputed zones. How about we talk about those two?

    John Nelson: Yeah. Fun pick. And you know, I've gotten a lot of response around this. It's visualising something as being a little bit less than rock solid certain or something kind of fuzzy. And it's not fair in the GIS world we've got these points, lines and polygons, and they're just little beautiful geometric things saying, this happened right here.

    This is a line, and this is where it went or here's a polygon, I'm one thing on the inside of this polygon and I'm not on the other side. But in the real world, a lot of the times these phenomena are way more amorphous than this ephemeral you know, migration patterns are very ephemeral instead of this very concrete well-established polygon, you know.

    It's okay from a data perspective, but how can we visualise that in a way that's more meaningful to the fuzziness of the data and there's all kinds of tips and tricks. In that video I do, man I, I think I go through a handful, four or five different methods, but coincidentally today, the ArcGIS Online release now has layer effects. So, this is outside of Pro this is in ArcGIS Online. You can make a layer blurry if you want to.

    Ta: What!

    John Nelson: Yeah. So for example, if you're making a map like of the Assyrian empire and, you know, this is going to be somewhat of a fuzzy edged thing, and you can blur it and had just have a sense of, yeah, it's kind of in here and you get a visual sense, but you don't feel trapped by that overly certain smug vector confidence that’s inherent in the data.

    Wayne: That's definitely my pick. what about you, Ta let's give John a bit more time to think. What did you come up with?

    Ta: So, I've had to think on the fly. Can I make it two categories? Is that okay?

    Wayne: Sure, do that!

    Ta: So, my first category is dope fun, and my second category is practical fun. Okay. So, for the dope, I'd say the Lego icon map hack and the orange peel earth map hack.

    John Nelson: Ooh, those are fun Ta, fun picks.

    Ta: So, for my practical, it's the picture fill map hack where each state in a map of the US was symbolised with a picture and also the shady icons. I quite like those.

    John Nelson: Those were some of the very, most fun to make.

    I think, maps don't always have to be so serious, you know what I mean? There's lots of good news to map and there's a lot of opportunity to bring joy and a little bit of wonder in a map that you make.

    It doesn't have to make somebody cry. It doesn't have to make somebody sad or, inspire this big bit of action, but there's a lot of importance in creating an object of joy, and something that makes somebody kind of stop and smile and take a second closer look, and then get engaged with geography or the map making process and have fun! There's a lot of power there.

    Wayne: I have to a hundred per cent agree and I feel a little bit of ashamed did that Ta has kind of trumped me on this one!

    John Nelson: Yeah Wayne, Ta's were way better!

    Wayne: They were way better than mine! But that Lego one the Lego map. Oh my gosh, it really captures something in the, in the little child, the inner child in me.

    John Nelson: There's so much overlap. If you're really into mapping and GIS or even like, especially raster processing. The concept of Lego is it's just the same thing.

    We loved it when we were kids and we love it now. And we just kind of slid into this role of doing this. We're stealing a living doing Lego with pixels these days.

    Wayne: All right. We can't avoid it anymore. John you've had enough time to stew on the topic, time to pick your favorite babies. Have you got two?

    John Nelson: Yes. Yes, I do. And inspired by Ta's willingness to just absolutely cheat and have a category. I don't want to be left behind and just pick two, I'm going to pick two categories. So, the first category is actually two videos and they're very similar to each other. One was made before the other.

    And the first one is, showing how to use transparency within a gradient so that your hill shade doesn't wash out the map that it's sitting on top of. A lot of people will use a base map or satellite imagery and then they'll put hill shade on top of it. And then they'll just kind of make it 50 per cent transparent or something it's all kind of gray and muted and muddy, and it's like a real drag.

    But in Pro you aren't stuck with a solid black to solid white gradient. You can make it go from black to transparent in all the non-sunlit, non-shaded areas, and then back to white a little bit. And really the result is just magical. It just makes the whole world wrinkly. And it keeps its vibrant tones and it’s wonderful and it’s super easy.

    Wayne: That is such a beautiful word for it – wrinkly. It makes the whole world wrinkly. That's a great one, that's one of my favourite map hacks as well.

    John Nelson: And the other one in that category is, and I did this afterward because the technology was new in ArcGIS Pro, which is blend modes. You can use a blend mode with a regular hill shade and POW! All of a sudden, whatever's underneath it is just jumping out at you. And it's not a 3D map, it's a 2D map, but it looks 3D I just want to, like, I want to touch it. Blend modes are great for making hill shade really pop, and not washing out your map. So that's the first category.

    The second category is actually a playlist that is three videos long, and it's about multi-variate maps bi-variate and multi-variate mapping. And that's like to me, that's like data-vis hack, it's brain hacking because you're just pouring two or more visual, variables into a single symbol.

    You know, you're using size and colour at the same time. And guess what? Maybe transparency means a little something too. Maybe transparency means uncertainty and size means the amount of something and colour means the proportion of some phenomena there. You're pouring all kinds of cool data into a single symbol that's kind of flexing in different ways, but your mind gets it. It still kind of makes sense.

    So, I made a, a series of three videos, kind of demystifying. It, it sounds like multivariable bivariate that's, you know what, whatever, I'll just stick to regular maps. But it's so easy and it can be really helpful. And I just wanted to demystify it and show people how to make them.

    Wayne: It's absolutely one of my favorite techniques in carto, as a matter of fact, it was that particular map hack that inspired me to do a bush fires versus where people live in Australia, multi-variate map.

    John Nelson: That’s perfect.

    Wayne: We hear the story, you know, Australia is burning and in a lot of ways it is, we’ve got a lot of bush fires here in Australia, but the real important thing is, where do the people live and where is that coincident with the, the actual burning itself.

    And so, you inspired me there to do a hexagon based multi-variate map that used colour and hexagon size to express those two values. Very clever. I love it.

    John Nelson: Yeah. Any thematic map you make really, you're asking the question compared to what?

    Wayne: Yeah, absolutely.

    John Nelson: A bivariate, which is just two variables or multi-variate or more, is a really nice way of saying, here's the thing compared to another thing, right in one spot, you don't have to look at two different maps and try to tax your brain in comparing different places. You can just see them right in the same spot. Compared to what?

    Wayne: One of the other things that's been keeping us alive during this, you know, lockdown period has been the ability to power up our carto skills ourselves without having to get out there and get all germy with real people. Ta, I don't know if you know about this, have you heard of a MOOC?

    Ta: Yes, yes the massive open online courses, I'm, I’m familiar.

    Wayne: I’ve got to admit I've signed up for an awesome a massively open online course, with you, John, the carto course. Tell us a bit more John.

    John Nelson: You know, how can you not like an acronym that's starts with massive. So, this was, its Ken Fields, my colleague Ken Field, Dr. Kenneth Fields. He coordinated it. He tricked me into participating and some other colleagues you know we had, just a fun time sitting down and having a few topics to just riff about and talking about what works, what we've done, what we've tried and some advice and some historic tools of the trade that cartographers used to have to sling around.

    And I'll tell you, it was just a blast to make. And writing the exercises was a lot of fun because I got to ask, it was my chance to be like, I always wanted to know how to do this, and it blew my mind when I figured this out. And I'm just gonna like, pour this into an exercise and show people how to do it and demystify this. And there are so many exercises that, you know Ken has written, Eadie has written Wes Jones has written Nathan Shepherd.

    We all kind of collaborated and threw in these, fun exercises, cool videos to just kind of nerd out on mapping a little bit. And for me now, the most fun part by far is the chat room where people help each other. They share the maps that they've made. They show the results of the exercise, like check this out. Or I took it to the next level and did this.

    And people are really supportive, and people are answering questions and sharing ideas. It's like, what I think of as being like the ultimate university experience, except we're not totally in-person, but it's just this great comradery and collaboration.

    Wayne: What we really do see is we see people were getting really, really proud of the beautiful maps that this online course actually allows them to create. I saw some beautiful maps out of our Esri Singapore, and Southeast Asia partners. We see them springing from all corners of the world.

    So, in these times when the world's contracting when we're all locked down in our bedrooms and our little offices, we’re seeing that these kinds of things, these massive courses that are available to everyone, opening us all back up a little bit I think John.

    John Nelson: There's a huge opportunity for that. Yeah.

    Wayne: Tell me it's free. Tell me that everybody can just hook their teeth into this beautiful stuff.

    John Nelson: It is free. It's completely free, but what's more, and this is pretty fun, and I think this is why a lot of people say, you know what, okay, I'm just going to go for it is because all of the software that's required of this course is included for free. You get a, you get a license to the software for the duration of the six-week course, plus a couple of grace weeks thereafter, if you want to keep working on things and kind of bumping them up to the next level.

    And so, you get access to ArcGIS Pro and all the licenses and extensions that are included in the MOOC. And so, we found for a lot of folks, it's a chance for them to get their feet wet in transitioning over to ArcGIS Pro if they're more familiar with the ArcMap environment. And even if you've never touched a piece of GIS software, you're using it and it's kind of presented in a step wise fashion so that you can kind of move along and there's a lot of folks helping, and the exercises are very clear.

    So, it's great for beginners and it's great for old hats like us, old pros like us, just to try new things and have fun and get inspired.

    Wayne: Ta I think what I'm hearing from John Nelson here is, and you'll have to apologise for the cheese is, John Nelson saying “Ready, steady Pro!”

     Ta: Hashtag ready steady Pro?

    Wayne: That's what we need. That's what we need to get into in the sound clips.

    Ta: Thank you so much, John. It's been fantastic having you, this episode has been jam-packed with the list of tips and tricks and hacks for all of us.

    And to help put these into action, we'll add them all to the website. Now we'd also love to hear back from you guys so make sure that you do leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts and keep those five-star ratings rolling in we really appreciate it.

    One more tip, if you are interested in following the carto king, he is very, very active on LinkedIn and on Instagram so I do encourage you to go follow him, give him a shout out and ask for some amazing tips and tricks.

    John Nelson: Oh my goodness. Well, thank you so much for having me back and we'll see if we can get this hashtag ready, steady pro trending.

    Wayne: Hashtag ready steady... That's what we're all waiting for. That's fantastic. Thank you so much, John. And stay spatial.

    Ta: Happy mapping.

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Esri Australia.

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