Earlier this semester, just after we finished our mapping projects, I attended a workshop on QGIS run by Professor Olivia Ildefonso. Before the workshop, I was in the mindset of having just used QGIS to complete my first project. While it was a small project and perhaps rather “selfish” compared to some of the other mapping projects I took a look at for inspiration, I was very proud of myself, and looking forward to learning to do more with QGIS.
I came equipped with a collection of questions about the aspects of QGIS I found difficult to deal with while working on my projects, specifically dealing with adding types of layers and keeping layers organized within the program. Ildefonso not only answered my questions and cleared up confusion I had about how vector layers functioned, but also informed us about two very key aspects of the program that I had no idea about – the robustness of layer attributes (that is, what one can do with a layer by adjusting its attributes) and using QGIS to isolate specific regions in map data. If I had known about the latter, I would have had significantly less trouble during the project. I also learned that when trying to make a legend, QGIS takes variables and variable names directly from the map exactly as they’re recorded, meaning that to change variable names, one has to change them on the actual map. This answered my dilemma about designing legends with the software.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of information I learned during the workshop was that projects of non-Earth planets exist and are apparently available. I haven’t gotten around to experimenting with them yet, but at some point after the workshop I came across a map projection for the surface of the planet Mars. To be sure, I have something of a pipe dream about someday reaching a point where I’m proficient with QGIS or similar software to the degree that I can create the map of a fictional world and then plot data on it. I know how silly this may seem, but in all seriousness, mapping data on a fantasy map could be an interesting creative exercise, and it could also be good for creating visual aids.
I asked Ildefonso about her stance on combining software while working with data mapping, and she gave an answer I didn’t entirely expect. She asserted that combining software, if doable, is entirely reasonable: however, one of her professors colloquially described using image editing software to touch up or create graphics a product made with data software as a form of “cheating.” In the end though, she argued that “whatever gets the job done is what [one] should do.”
Towards the end of the discussion, Ildefonso discussed plugins she recommended. She praised Michael Minn’s MMQGIS collection of Python plugins for the amount of valuable content and versatility it adds to QGIS. MMQGIS allows for much more intricate manipulation of vector map layers. I tested it for a little for myself and I have to say I’m impressed with its capabilities. If I ever do another project with QGIS, I’ll probably make use of the collection.