Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Jacqueline Kovarik

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Jacqueline Kovarik

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I currently work as a GIS Developer at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), creating interactive web maps and data collection apps that assist with natural resource management. My BA in Environmental Studies and MS in Geographic Information Science are put to good use every day in a job that I truly enjoy.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: This past year I had the opportunity to work with several amazing bee experts at the DNR, looking for an efficient way to collect data on native bees in Minnesota. There has been a shocking decline in bee population across the country, which prompted the DNR to research native bees and their habitat. After creating a data collection app for our bee researchers, we spent a day testing it in the field where I was amazed to learn there are over 400 native bee species in our state. Many of these species gather pollen from plants in only one plant family (known as “specialist” bees), but there has been little research completed on their habitat characteristics or range.

Through this data collection application development process I was inspired to investigate a few of Minnesota’s specialist bees, and wanted to create a map that would draw attention to the diversity of bees in our state while bringing awareness to bee population decline. I also wanted to highlight the need for increased data and analysis, which is an integral component of bee population preservation.

Over the past few years I’ve created a handful of watercolor maps based on personal areas of curiosity, including illegal animal trade, UFO sightings, modern day pirate attacks, etc. I have a passion for painting as well as map making, so it was only natural to combine my two interests. It’s been a great way to maintain my cartographic skills which I find little time for now as a developer.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: Data collected from the mobile app I created was compiled along with plant specimen data from the Minnesota DNR and specialist bee location data from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. After mining and cleaning the datasets, I brought them into ArcGIS to identify areas of range overlap between 8 specialist bees and their 6 native host plants, and then used a hexagon tessellation tool to create generalized overlap zones. A plotted map of the state was transferred to watercolor paper using a graphite transfer method, then hand-painted with watercolors. Bee and plant species were hand-painted at an enlarged scale to show the unique differences in appearance.

'Planting for Pollinators' by Jacqueline Kovarik
‘Planting for Pollinators’ by Jacqueline Kovarik

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Kate Staley

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Kate Staley

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Kate Staley and I am a GIS Manager for the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). I graduated from the University of Utah in 2006 with a BS in Geography and a certificate in GIS. After graduating I started working with SITLA as an intern and recently became GIS manager this year.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: SITLA currently manages approximately 4.5 million acres of land for the benefit of the public school children. At the time of Utah statehood, congress awarded Utah with sections 2, 16, 32 & 36 to help generate money to place in a fund for the public school children and other beneficiaries. Money is generated through leasing, sales, development and exchanges of land parcels.

I thought it would be interesting to create a map showing the percent change in the total amount of annual School Trust Land distribution by school districts between the 2003-2016 school years. I wanted to see which school districts saw the greatest change in the amount of funds they received from SITLA.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: At first this map was going to be a simple choropleth map to show the variations between school districts. But after doing some research I discovered a tool created by Jacob Wasilkowski/Esri St. Louis & Jie Cheng/UMASS Medical School – Copyright(c) 2014 Jacob Wasilkowski and Jie Cheng (inspired by Stewart, James and Kennelly, Patrick J “Illuminated Choropleth Maps”). This tool is known as the choropleth hillshade tool ( It enables maps to have 3 dimensions and makes your map look pretty cool. The tool is very simple to use and is available on github.

'The State of Utah Trust Lands Administration School Fund Distribution' by Kate Staley
‘The State of Utah Trust Lands Administration School Fund Distribution’ by Kate Staley

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Chandler Sterling

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Chandler Sterling

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I work as a GIS Analyst for the City of Pasadena in Southern California. I really enjoy my role at the city as I get to work with each of the city’s departments which allows me to be involved in a myriad of projects and exposes me to many aspects of local government. I have a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin.

I also serve as Treasurer on the board of Guerrilla Cartography ( which works to produce crowd-sourced thematic atlases. Twice a month I help run Los Angeles’s Maptime chapter, and have developed it into a local resource for both individuals and organizations throughout Los Angeles County.

I play guitar and piano in a band called Little Bones ( We released our first three-song EP in January and will have more music out this year, so follow us on social media if you like what you hear.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: The map I submitted is a joke. It’s a static map in two ways — the area of earth’s continents are filled in with a static texture, and it is static in the sense that it is not interactive. I thought this brand of irony would be fitting for a geohipster calendar.

The idea came to me as I was exploring a recent update to Mapbox Studio back in 2015. I noticed other maps created in MS with interesting textures and used this idea to learn how to use textures in the application.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: The process was pretty simple: I used Mapbox Studio and OSM linework for the continents (to be honest I can’t remember if it was OSM or Natural Earth) and then searched for a high-resolution image of static. The challenge was finding an image that repeated nicely and did not pixelate too much. The result was a pretty basic map, and since geohipsters are certainly not basic, it makes sense that it was not included in the final cut of the calendar.

'Static Map' by Chandler Sterling
‘Static Map’ by Chandler Sterling

John Reiser: “The best work often occurs once you move outside of your comfort zone”

John Reiser
John Reiser

John Reiser is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Rowan University. He previously worked in state government and in a private planning firm. John is active in several professional organizations and also serves as a consultant on GIS, cartography, and data analysis projects. John lives in New Jersey.
John was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: Where do you work and what do you do there?

A: I am a business intelligence analyst at Rowan University. I work primarily with University Advancement, dealing with fundraising recordkeeping and prospect research. We use technology to better connect with and support our alumni, as well as help find individuals who have both the capacity and the inclination to give philanthropically to Rowan. I also consult and work on projects in my spare time.

Q: You hold a graduate degree in urban planning. What attracted you to GIS?

A: The first time I can recall really getting excited about GIS was during my undergraduate program in Geography. The program at the time focused on raster-based analysis and did very little with vector data. This was 2004 and there was no easy access to large datasets like county-wide parcels. Thankfully, I was able to get copies of Burlington and Gloucester Counties’ parcel data, driving to their respective offices and picking up CDs, merging the data together and then using it to project ridership potential for a planned light rail in Gloucester County, comparing it to the recently-opened RiverLine in Burlington County. I continued research into access to transportation while pursuing my masters at Rutgers. Even though I initially wanted to pursue physical and transportation planning, I would get involved with projects that required GIS, and continued to build my knowledge on the software and myriad types of data available.

Q: Do you miss planning? How much of what you learned in planning school do you apply in the job you hold today?

A: I do miss working as a planner and I miss working with GIS on a regular basis, but I make up for it by working on side projects. My current project is NJ Parcels, an easy-to-use statewide listing of property assessment and sales information for New Jersey. I get to wear many hats as I work on the site, from system administrator, database administrator, software developer, UI/UX designer, and project manager. So far, I feel like I am successful in juggling the different roles and responsibilities to keep the site running smoothly. Over 2015, NJ Parcels served up 9.7 million pageviews to approximately 3 million users. I also develop and manage Florida Parcels, which is an attempt to do the same for the Sunshine State.

I do want to use the data I’ve collected to build the site for planning projects in New Jersey. I have assisted NJ Future to overcome difficulties matching the spatial data to the assessment records, namely where there are multiple lots but only one assessment record that contains the additional lots in a free-form text field. I am currently working on a project looking at distributed ownership in New Jersey — people who purchase property a distance from their listed owner address. This can help understand a variety of planning issues, from absentee landlords, transitional neighborhoods, market speculation, and the effects of out-of-state investment in places like the Jersey Shore. I am planning on releasing my findings in the spring of this year.

Two things I learned from planning school still weigh heavily in my mind: the need to build consensus, and having patience. Projects, both software development and large redevelopments plans, benefit greatly from consensus-building efforts. That extra work at the beginning trying to get buy-in from stakeholders and from the community might be seen as side friction, but it ultimately makes the project go smoothly. Patience is also critical. It takes patience to build a plan and see it through fruition. Not everything can get solved in a single meeting or a code sprint, and that’s okay.

Q: You have experienced GIS in state government, in academia, and in private consulting. Which environment is the most interesting? The most challenging?

A: State government can be frustrating because of the nature of the business. Interesting projects can spring up and die just as quickly as the whims of the politicians in charge change. I was told on occasion to simply stop working on a project because it was no longer supported by the Governor’s Office. Private consulting can be incredibly rewarding, but it has its own difficulties. The profit-driven nature of the private world shapes the outcome and the timeframe. Sometimes you just need to produce, even if it’s not the product you originally wanted to produce.

Academia allows for greater flexibility in exploring a project. Some truly amazing work has originated within academia. And if you’re fortunate to work with students, you’ll be constantly amazed what bright, passionate young minds can produce. However, the nature of the academic world can also be far more difficult to navigate than government or the private sector. Colleagues that block or stifle your work can do so simply because they can. Performance metrics are often ignored, and I have been amazed at the amount of “thinking with the gut” that is performed in higher ed. Unlike government, you’re not keeping your fingers crossed that the next election things will be better, instead you are stuck playing actuary and guessing if it is worth waiting around for retirements to occur. Academia can be an amazing place to work and be a contributor to some awesome projects, but it can also be immensely frustrating as Sayre’s law will demonstrate itself time and time again if you do not have the right people involved.

Q: You are equally well versed in Esri technology and in open source geospatial technology. Is mixing and matching geotools a necessity, a challenge, or a luxury?

A: To me, finding the right tool for the job is both a challenge and a necessity. I’ve seen fanatics on both sides — commercial and free software — produce projects that don’t meet their full potential because they’ve married themselves to a single software platform. Taking a step back and evaluating the options is important. Just because something happens to be your current favorite doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice for the task at hand. The best work often occurs once you move outside of your comfort zone.

Q: What are you working on now, and what technologies do you use?

A: At work I write SQL for Oracle on a daily basis and I use PostgreSQL for my side projects. It is amazing where the differences and similarities lie in the two DBMSs. I’m grateful that the one I find myself less frustrated with happens to be the free one.

I primarily use Python as my programming language of choice, but I have been looking into using Node.JS again after about two years of not using it to build an API to NJ Parcels. I also need to brush up on R and use that in my projects more often. I also use Tableau both at work and in my other projects. It’s a great tool for quick visualizations of complex data.

Q: Bike, beard, beer — you are in firm control of the ultimate hipster triad. Do people call you a hipster, and how do you feel about it if (when?) they do?

A: I don’t get called hipster often; I don’t think I dress well enough. I think I tend to come across more as a lumberjack with a desk job.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for the GeoHipster crowd?

A: When I was teaching GIS in higher ed, I stressed the importance of projects and building a portfolio. Recent grads looking for work often have little to show to potential employers, so having some tangibles that demonstrate your capabilities is crucially important. I would always encourage them to work on projects that aligned with their personal passions. It’s much easier to convince yourself to dedicate the extra time if it’s something you enjoy or strikes your interest. It’s also much easier to stick with the project after you’ve gotten the job. I’ve started countless projects over my 15 years in the workforce and most were abandoned or anything but successful, but I’ve learned a lot from each project. Take that experience and funnel it into your next project. I never would have thought that I’d be developing web sites around assessment data back when I was initially struggling with getting and using the same data a decade earlier. I don’t know what I’ll be doing ten years from now, but I know there will be a wide variety of options ahead of me because I continued to learn, adapt, and put my mix of talents to use. I’m likely preaching to the choir, but I feel it needs to be said: keep working towards the next big thing.

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Mario Nowak

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Mario Nowak

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I studied geography at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and did a Master in Geographic Information Science. I also studied land-use planning at ETH Zurich. Now I’m working for sotomo, a company based in Zurich specializing in political surveys, data journalism, and data visualization.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: The map shows the rental prices for a flat in every municipality in Switzerland. We did this map on assignment for the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. They used it for an article on rental prices in Switzerland.

It is the remake of a similar map my boss made in the nineties, but with newer data. In fact, this map is an animated map (see here): The temporal dimension is perceptible in the GIF version. The map also hints at the fact that Switzerland is a country of mountains, but in this map, the highest peaks are where the prices are the highest.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: The data comes from Wüest & Partner. It has a price value for every municipality (around 2,500[CHF]) for every year from 2000 to 2015. I only needed to extract the centroid of each municipality from a shapefile (done in QGIS) and match it to the data.

The map was then completely done in R. Two packages were particularly important: automap with its autokrige function, and the package plot3d (and the PDF file 50 ways to draw a volcano).

I did a lot of kriging interpolations to get a smooth surface. I also did linear interpolations between every time-step to make the growing of the mountains smooth. Otherwise, the GIF would have consisted of only 15 images. Finally, I produced high resolution raster image files and stitched them together using a tool called GIF animator.

Of course, there was a lot of trial and error involved in making this map, but now I am quite pleased with the result. It was, by the way, also nominated for the German reporter prize (however, it did not win 😉 ).

'Monthly rental prices for 4-room flats in Switzerland' by Mario Nowak
‘Monthly rental prices for 4-room flats in Switzerland’ by Mario Nowak