February 19, 2015

Happy Year of the Sheep: Mapping "Literally" Every Sheep in the United States

The recent blog post by the Washington Post's Christoper Ingraham mapping “Literally every goat in the United States" was interesting in a number of ways. First, it continues the rhetorical trend of making maps (or at least claiming to make maps) that include everything.

If nothing else, it provides a compelling example of the current cultural capital value of "big data" in society. This is an interesting cultural moment in popular cartography, since the fundamental task of maps is abstracting and representing. And even the map that supposed showed "every goat" was actually a representation with each dot on the map standing in for 500 goats.

Secondly, we very much doubt that any map produced by the USDA Agricultural Census has ever received this much attention in the history of the agency.

Thirdly, why are the goats getting all the press? After all, isn't this the year of the sheep according to the Chinese zodiac [1]?  This is not the way Pan, god of shepherds, meant it to be. 

So being the ovis-chauvinists we are, we wanted to point out that there are actually twice as many sheep as goats in the US, and so the sheep population could probably take the goat population if it ever came down to hand to hand (or hoof to hoof) combat.

Also the USDA has made some fascinating interesting maps of sheep. Not baaaaaad.

Every Sheep in America

The USDA's Agricultural Census found that there were 5,364,844 sheep in the US in 2012. California was the sheepiest state in the USA with 668,517 sheep. However, Weld County, Colorado is the sheepiest county in the USA with 204,694 sheep reported in 2012. That's more sheep than Alaska, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Mississippi, New Jersey, Florida, Vermont, Arkansas, Maryland and Alabama put together. Go Weld County [2]! We don't know about you, but we're booking our tickets and hotels to go visit ASAP.

However, Van Zandt County, Texas had the most valuable sheep compared to other crops with 68.38% of total market value of agricultural products sold originated from sheep, goats and their products (milk, wool, etc.). We've also found that the map of every sheep in the US opens up many perceptual rivalries with optical illusions hidden within. Yes, we are comparing our map to the illustrations of Sandro Del Prete. Please comment on this post--what do you see in the illustrations? The profile image of a lady in a bonnet? A man's naughty bits? A sheep?

 [1] We are aware of the sheep/goat confusion, but come down firmly on the side of the sheep.
 [2] Read more about Weld's extraordinary sheep processing.

February 11, 2015

IronSheep 2015. Be there! Or be an Iguana!

We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting IronSheep 2015 at TechNexus[1] in Chicago, Illinois on April 23 from 6-9:30pm. This is right in the middle of the AAG meetings so a great chance to get your sheep on during an academic conference.

If you are wondering "What is IronSheep?", the short answer is that it is our annual hackathon/mapathon modeled after the TV show IronChef (or project runway). Everyone gets the same set of data and competes to make the best map in a limited amount of time. And William Shatner will judge your map!!  Ok, the last bit is not true but we're working on it.

You'll be assigned a team with members who have a range of skills and all teams will have a mission to complete with common data.  

The best product at the end will win an award. The worst product at the end will win an award. Ok, almost everyone will win an award. We're just nice that way.

Anyone can join in the fun but we do ask that folks register for the event here:  http://goo.gl/forms/FMqxD6XFpv

There are also many AAG sessions relevant to our IronSheep event including a couple of "Future of Mapping" panels right before. We'll let you know in an upcoming post about those.

Check out our previous IronSheep events:

2012 at Pivotal Labs in New York
2013 at LARTA in Los Angeles
2014 at the Wave in Tampa Bay

[1] A big thank you to TechNexus who is sponsoring IronSheep by providing a space with wifi and breakout rooms.  We'll provide dinner and stickers, and you bring your laptop and your sheep (aka labor).