I have been working on learning to use the mapping package Basemap in Python. This is early learning of machinery for some more posts on maps, and normalizing things by underlying population density.
World Population Density from James Davenport on Vimeo.
Here is a spinning globe with population density drawn. This was code written in 20 min, and took about 100 min to render the images on my laptop. Basemap is straight forward to use... once you know what you're doing. However, the maps don't seem quite as mature as those in IDL (to be fair, IDL has been a commercial mapping product for many years). If you'd like to use this as an example for learning Basemap/Python, the code is on GitHub! I am also working to make the same map using IDL as a teaching tool.
hat tip: got code help from here!