Some thoughts on NACIS, 2013.

I went to NACIS, the annual conference for north american cartographic information society.
This was my 2nd NACIS, my first was 2012 in portland.

This experience was much more positive and enriching for a few reasons, mostly personal:

Looking back, I was intimidated last year. At the time, I was unemployed, struggling freelancer at my first cartography conference and what was my third professional conference. There were many of my mapping heroes there, all of whom, I hadn’t met before. Since last year, I’ve learned a lot more and felt more comfortable of what was being discussed. I recall last year there were a couple talks where I felt completely lost in what was being presented (bivariate maps, for example). No instances of that this year :)
The crowd was a bit younger – meaning there were people in similar situations as myself or similar aged. Last year, I felt pretty young, outside of the college students.
Additionally, there were several people from the twitter and web sphere that I recognized (many more from last year), or had met online, or knew of their work – and had the chance to see them in person or catch up with them (Alan M, andy woodward, mele, mike foster, aj, ian, and dane from mapbox, matt mckenna, mamata akella).
All friendly people. I even drank and played pool with them. Interestingly, those who tweeted more often also tended to be more extroverted.
Plus, it helps when your local mentor also attends the conference this year:)

Presentations were more relevant to my background: I wanted to see practical things that I could implement in my work (of web maps), see things that push the boundaries of what a typical map is – particularly on the web, and what can be mapped in new ways (to wide audiences) and how. I’m not generally a theory person. My entire experience with using ESRI products is about 30 minutes. Last year, there was much more of an academic slant with a focus on theoretical talk and things on historical mapping.
This year, I’m really glad that I shelled out the extra $90 or 100 for Practical Cartography Day. It was quite practical – almost all on web maps of some sort and was in fact likely the best day of the conference. Even serendipitous conversations became really relevant: a discussion over lunch evolved to neighborhood boundaries (one theoretical topic that I find really intriguing) was great.

– Even outside of PCD, this year had much more focus on web maps and using open-source tools that I’ve been quite comfortable with or am anxious to use:
Tilemill, leaflet, D3, qgis. Someone (I forget who) mentioned that, this year, established, older cartographers are finally accepting that the internet (specific through web maps not just a static image) is the primary medium for contemporary cartography and it’s here to stay, and/or they’re even beginning to use some of these tools.

– Wednesday night featured a map gallery, 30-50 printed maps done by students, professionals, and anyone in between, on display. While it was great to see, I would love to see the map gallery to include online web maps, even if there’s dozens of computers set up to see them.

– My only other criticism: presenters, although it’s not the same as attending the talks, slides can be at least of some use and helpful to those who didn’t attend. Share them ! You just need to add a link to your talk on lanyard!

– I presented on the Humanitarian and lower income countries’ web map , designed by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (Presentation available at: It went well although it was very difficult to see the contrasting colors on the projected screen; you couldn’t tell whether a road was yellow or beige, or see a streets outline very well.

In retrospect, I should have tried a dry run with the projector and maybe I could have made simple modifications (like dimming the lights). More interestingly, I felt like that I belonged more since I presented or at least that I had something to offer this time. Last year was definitely a feeling of imposters’ syndrome. Discussing someone’s presentation is also a great conversation starter.

– Despite that at least 15% of talks were rescheduled or cancelled, the organizers did a great job of making things run smoothly as possible. Without the last second adjustments, this could have been a trainwreck.

Notable absences: – Code for America had a much smaller presence than last year although that could be because its annual conference was the following week. Additionally, CfA could have had less map-related projects this year. – The Feds. :( Several presenters were employees of the US government and as a result, couldn’t present because of the shutdown. laaame! Missed out on a few talks as a result (3 of the 4 in the same session as my presentation were cancelled!) Kudos to those who filled in at the last minute.

– An interesting point Eric Thiesse, Matt Mckenna, and I discussed at the Friday banquet dinner, the last night of the conference: We all do web mapping, marvelling how there’s so much change in the geospatial world even as we are trying to keep abreast of new technologies, tools, mapping libraries: How do you keep up and sharp on them ? Then I remembered what Tom McWright once tweeted months ago regarding this: you don’t. I’ve had this in the back of my mind since then. It’s impossible to keep up. You pick your battles. Now that my time to work on geospatial projects and mapping is greatly reduced (Thanks day job!). I’m picking my battles, being a little more discerning on what to learn or what projects to spend time on. Slowly coming to terms that I will fall behind on some things.

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