December Distractions

December 12, 2018

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As a month, December holds significant expectations for productivity: fiscal deadlines, applications, exams, final projects, year-end tasks. Annually this conflicts with the desire for seasonal cheer and celebrations. People are so distracted and overly busy that the last half of the month is basically a wash in terms of work. Out-of-office messages seem gratuitous at some point since even if you’re sitting at your desk, there’s a good chance that your mind has wandered to one of the hundreds of items on your get-done-before-the-end-of-year list. Emotional highs and lows are common: daylight is at its lowest (in the Northern Hemisphere) and expectations of seasonal cheerful delight may be very poorly aligned with reality. How can you maintain some geospatial focus and get through the next few weeks? Here are some ideas.


It’s dark out there, and it’ll keep getting so for a few more days. This year on December 21, embrace the winter solstice differently by teaching yourself – once and for all – what that asymmetrical figure eight shape on a globe is. That, young navigator, is the solar analemma, a graphic designed to show where and when the sun is directly overhead. If your globe has one, you’ll find it in the Pacific Ocean, east of French Polynesia and west of the Galapagos Islands, and neatly sandwiched vertically between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Excellent trivia question for why there and only there: because it must be that extent (from north to south) and it’s the one place on the earth where the graphic can be placed to minimize land coverage. Once you put on your reading glasses, you’ll be able to “read” the graphic and see the relationship between the sun’s rays, latitudes, and the days of the year. Squint some more and you’ll see the scale or equation of time marked as well. And if you really want to explore analemmas, install Stellarium and play all day!

Seasonal Gift Giving

More gifts are given in December than in all other months combined. Really? Well, probably. And I once heard that 73.6 percent of all statistics are made up. In any case, it’s not so difficult to find “geo” and “GIS” gift ideas out there these days, and maps are always popular. Unusual thematic maps like this yoga one or large format satellite-imagery-as-art may be just the right fit, but anything you create yourself is always extra appreciated. For instance, you can buy the shape of a state filled with photographs, or, make it on your own by filling your favorite polygon with image files that you’ve clipped or extracted for that one-of-a-kind present.

How about the gift of a personalized map projection? Choose your focus by tweaking an azimuthal equidistant projection so that the central meridian and latitude of origin are spot-on for your special place. As an example, I set one for -106.6189 west and 35.1052 north for Albuquerque and voila, it’s the center of my universe! 


Fig 1. Adjust the central meridian and latitude of origin for an azimuthal equidistant projection to have your desired locale appear in the center. (Directions Image/Sinton)

Art and cards make a good partnership. Stamen’s Map Stack doesn’t have the easiest interface to navigate, but eventually I’ve managed to save some lovely images that have been integrated into cards and other art projects. Map Channel offers a way of making Street View holiday cards. Need wrapping paper for a square box? Figure out the dimensions you need, then display the world with a cube projection. Print, fold, tape, and tie a ribbon around it. You’ll have the whole world in your hands!  


Fig 2. A cube projection is perfect for wrapping gifts! (Directions Image/Sinton)

The Helpful Kind of Distractions

After a few hours of intense professional work, you may find your mind wandering to seasonal topics of cookie rolling, snow shoveling, or package shipping. Take a brief mental break while you dabble in a little geo-fun distraction and then you’ll be reenergized to return to your previously scheduled activities. Not sure where to start? There’s monitoring location-enabled Santa at the North Pole, or monitoring the real activity of Colin O’Brady as he reaches the South Pole.  By the time you read this, he’ll have just arrived at 90 degrees south! Consider submitting something to the inaugural map competition that the online Reddit GIS Community is organizing. If your real-world city data are giving you a headache, design a fantasy world for a bit. Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving: professional development, such as watching a live or previously recorded webinar. Or if you’re feeling creative, fill the December down-time by knitting a hemisphere cap or a tiny globe (major bonus points if you can get the analemma on that). 


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