Monday, December 10, 2012

A Map for Every Story: Spreadsheets to Maps

I've blogged before about taking a list of locations and turning it into a map. Another great source of location-based information for maps is spreadsheets. Google has a set of tools, so does Esri, and many others.

But what is the earliest known example of an app to build a map from spreadsheet data? Here's my nomination.

I lived and worked in Nepal for five years. In 1979 my wife got a job teaching at Lincoln School so we moved from Mountain View, California to Kathmandu, Nepal. I had been writing software on an Apple II computer so naturally I took it with me to Nepal, little did I know that it would be one of the first computers in the entire country.

Visimap Nepal
I soon connected up with other geeks in Kathmandu and we created NAMASTE Apple (Nepal Association of Microcomputer Advocates for Support and Technical Exchange) and in a few years Apple II computers (we called them microcomputers at the time) were sprouting up all over the Kathmandu Valley.

I was hired by USAID (United States Agency for International Development) to support government ministries' use of computers. We set them up with Apple II computers with a CP/M card running Wordstar for word processing, dBase for database management and Visicalc for spreadsheets.

I had written a few mapping programs (in Fortran) as part of my undergraduate work in geology at Stanford, so when I saw government agencies entering national datasets into spreadsheets, I thought it would be a cool idea to try and map their data. The result was Visimap Nepal, a program that would take any national data in a Visicalc spreadsheet and turn it into a map.

Population Growth Rate from Visimap Nepal
The maps weren't very pretty, only black and white and low resolution, but Visimap Nepal was a hit. Here's an example of a map showing population growth rate data for Nepal.

You can easily see that the areas of high population growth were in the Terai region in the south, and the areas of low growth were in the Himalayas in the north. Similar maps were made of health data, agricultural data, forestry data, any data collected for the 75 districts in Nepal (a district in Nepal is like a state in the United States).

USAID has archived the "Operating Procedures Manual" for Visimap Nepal, here's the link:

Link to Visimap Nepal manual

So that's my nomination for the earliest app to build maps from spreadsheet data. It's been 30 years! Technology has changed a lot, but the value of seeing your data on a map is strong as ever.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Map for Every Story: Honolulu Sewer Projects

Have you ever noticed the lists of various road work projects going on that are published in the papers and government websites?  Have you ever wished that instead of a list they would show you a map?

List of Sewer Projects
List of Sewer Projects
Well, the City and County of Honolulu has heard your wish and they've started working on it.  The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) and the Department of Environmental Services (ENV) are publishing a web map that shows where sewer projects are taking place.

Let's start with the list.  Here's the way that information on sewer projects has been presented to the public for years.

Nice to have a list, but wouldn't a map be even better?

And here it is, a web map of sewer projects that is now being published by the City and County of Honolulu.

Web Map of Sewer Projects
Web Map of Sewer Projects
The areas where sewer work is being done are highlighted in red.  if you click on one of the red lines, you will see information on that sewer project.

In this example, I clicked on a project near Ala Moana and a popup window opens to show information about that specific project.

It's simple, it makes it easy to see where sewer projects are happening, it's available for the public, and it's free.  Here's the link if you want to try it out:

Link to web map "Sewer Projects Construction Map"

I commend the City and County of Honolulu DPP and ENV for setting an example of how web maps can be used to easily convey location-based information to the public.  Now for that list of water projects, road work projects, parade routes...