Problem of the Day – ArcGIS Basemaps in ArcMap

I’ve been a big fan of the Esri basemaps for a while now.  I use them in web applications all the time.  Within web-apps they are fast, and when used correctly, they are an effective reference layer.

Lately I’ve been running into problems using these basemaps within ArcMap.  As you know, you can add these basemaps to an ArcMap view through an ArcGIS Server connection.   However, whenever I add any of the basemaps to my map, ArcMap starts to chug, and chug badly.

I know there are a couple issues that will cause any basemap provided through an ArcGIS Server connection to bring ArcGIS to a crawl.  The Esri basemaps are all provided in a web Mercator projection and if you are trying to reproject the layer on-the-fly it will slow down the draw rate within the map.  Even when I have all my data sets projected as web Mercator I still have drawing and performance issues.  In my experiences the initial load of the basemap usually draws quickly, but whenever a pan or zoom event or I start to toggle layers ArcMap will crawl.

What really worries me about this problem is that my fully patched and up-to-date copy of ArcGIS will often lock up or crash when these basemaps are being used in the application.   I only have this problem with the basemaps from ArcGIS.  I’ve never have this problem with a WMS layer.  Perhaps these data sets shouldn’t be used with ArcGIS itself and maybe I’m using these basemaps incorrectly?

Have you experienced this problem?  Do you have any remedies to fix this issue (besides not using the layers)?

The next problem I have had with these layers is something I can’t figure out.  On a pretty consistent basis I see the inconsistent extent error (see image below).  I will get this error when I add one of these basemap layers into the map, whether it is the first layer into a new project or the last layer added.  The projection of the view does not matter and sometimes the layer will draw with a blur.


Let me know what your experiences have been and any potential fixes you may know. If I can come to a solution or someone sends me a good one I’ll post it here.

ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight – That was easy

This past Wednesday, on the ArcGIS Server Blog, Esri informed the geo-nerd world that their ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight v1.0 is now available for download to the world.  The viewer is essentially a wizard for creating Silverlight based ArcGIS mapping sites with a number of easy to use features.

Side note: They also released a updated version of ArcGIS for SharePoint, but since I don’t use that I’m not going to write about it.

I downloaded the ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight and gave it a spin.  Now, I haven’t built a Silverlight app in a while as I have been focusing my attention on building Javascript applications, you know, because Silverlight is dead (jk, not really).

I had seen demonstrations of the demo version a couple times, but I had never tried it out.  Also, I had never used the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex so this was a brand new experience for me.

Here is what I thought:

  • Installation was pretty quick and I had the application up and running in a couple minutes.
  • I followed the quick start guide until I got into the application.  Once I was in the application I used the guide that was available within the tool.  I thought this was a great feature, as it can walk anyone through how to create a mapping application.
  • Following the in-program guide, I selected my basemap, easily established the “look and feel” of the site and started to add data.  I even added a logo and a couple links to the menu bar.  This literally took two minutes.  Real easy and really fast.
  • At this point I could have launched the application, but I decided to play around with the layers in the app.  For my test application I added a US counties layer, a US states layer and a few thousands points from my company’s ArcGIS Server.  I was easily able to set a number of options for the polygon data, including the altering the symbology, the attribute table options, and pop-up info.  However, when I was working with the point data the options to configure the attribute table and symbology were not available.  Now, I’m sure there is a reason for this and if I had read more the of documentation I’m sure I would have been able to figure it out.
  • One of the nice features of this application is that the page updates while you are working on it.  This is a great feature if you are not a developer or GIS expert and you just want to get a map to the web.
  • Once I was happy with my test page I simply clicked the deploy button and the application was launched on my local machine.  I sent the link to a couple coworkers and they were able to view the map and data and asked how they could create their own mapping apps.  They thought the ArcGIS Silverlight Viewer was super awesome.
Two Minutes, Pretty Easy

All this took about 12 minutes while I was waiting for a geoprocessing task to complete. I didn’t even scratch the surface of the options available in the application.  When I get a few more minutes I’ll test out other features including adding tools and geoprocessing tasks, data from ArcGIS online, and working with the layout and display options.

Traditionally I have written the code for these types of applications, which at times can be cumbersome, especially if you are managing a variety of sites.  If a user needs a quick, light weight, Silverlight mapping app and has access to well developed ArcGIS Server I would recommend this tool.

That was easy... Is this a SOPA violation?

I have to say that using tool was refreshing, especially after a couple of tough GIS software days.  You know what I am talking about.

Good work Esri!  When does the ArcGIS Viewer for JavaScript with HTML5 support come out?

You Stay Classy, San Diego

I was very fortunate to have spent the past week in San Diego at the 2011 Esri User Conference.  I have been to many local, regional, and national GIS and geography conferences but this was my first Esri UC and this was by far the biggest GIS conference I had ever been to.   After an intense week of “GIS”ing I left really impressed with Esri, the city, and everything involved with the conference.

My week started off by missing the morning plenary session because my flight didn’t get in until early in the afternoon, but I was able to see the afternoon sessions which I thought were pretty interesting.  What about the rest of the week?  Well, if you have been to the UC before you know that there are a ton of technical workshops, “what’s next” sessions, paper sessions by users of Esri technology, and a huge exhibit hall to keep attendees busy.  For what I do professionally I found the most value in the technical sessions, mainly those regarding SQL databases, python scripting, and spatial stats.  With each session I went to (and I went to sessions from 8:30am to 5pm each day!) I was impressed with the presenters and their ability to answer a myriad of questions from the audience.  I found the presenters for the SDE/SQL and spatial stats presentations especially good.  Explaining OLS or GWR to a room of 200+ people with varied stats backgrounds is not necessarily easy, but the spatial stats team nailed the presentations I saw them give.

I also liked how conference attendees were able to ask questions directly to those who create the software.  I definitely took advantage of the Esri technical islands in the exhibit hall, asking the experts from geodatabases, python, raster processing, geoprocessing, and others questions that I collected from my coworkers before I left.

Now on to the fun stuff.  One of my favorite parts of going to any conference is catching up with old friends and hearing about what they are up to.  The first night I went out to dinner with a former professor and mentor of mine, Dr. Kristin Alvarez.  Dr. A was tremendous geography professor at Keene State College when I was an undergrad.  Today she is a professor of geographic education at the University of Redlands.  She was at the UC promoting her spatial literacy program.  The program, which is one of the first of its kind in the country, teaches educators on how to effectively use spatial information and geospatial techniques in the classroom.  Pretty interesting stuff.  Definitely a program to check out if that is your cup-o-tea.

Tuesday night was another good time as I went to the insurance specialty group meeting (yes, an insurance meeting can be interesting…), where again I ran into a number of people I had worked with in the past.  The papers presented during the meeting really demonstrated a trend that is occurring in this industry.  There is a real need by these large insurance and reinsurance companies to develop tools and methodologies to validate, analyze, and visualize their large books of business. And it’s not only insurance companies that have this growing need for geospatial analysis.  Businesses of every type are really buying into the need to understand geographic data.  This trend will only continue upward, making well trained geographers and GIS professionals a hot commodity in the business world.

On Wednesday I took part in the Esri 5k.  I was surprised when over 400+ participants lined up at the start of the race!  I knew pretty quickly that there were going to be a bunch of fast times because of the number of runners in short shorts!  I came in 36 place out of 400+ runner so I can’t complain. This was a great event and I’ll definitley partcipate next year!

Later that day I got to meet up my former grad school classmate and fellow GIS blogger, Jeff Dunn.  I met Jeff at the Very Spatial live show where he was being interviewed by the Very Spatial crew.  After the show Jeff and I enjoyed some of San Diego’s fine dinning and drinking establishments.  This is the best picture from that night…

Thursday night was action packed.  The Padres were in town and I met up with a former associate, Adam Fox from Esri Canada, a number of his co-workers, and Canadian business partners at the game.  Adam and I worked together on a number of projects when we were both different companies.  Adam is a big shot now, just being promoted to Director of the Ontario region for Esri Canada (congrats!).  We talked shop and saw a good baseball game.  The most exciting part of the night came after the baseball game.  A bunch of us headed to the Omni Hotel Bar and had a drink.  As we were debating some really exciting GIS topic Chris Berman from ESPN sat down right next to us.  I know! I had no idea that Chris Berman was into GIS either…

Now, I didn’t get to have lunch with Jack Dangermond, which is totally understandable, because he is the busiest guy at the conference.  But Mr. Dangermond, if you are reading this blog (and I know you have in the past) and planning a visit to Boston let me know.  We’ll do lunch.

What I think is important to note is that I learned a ton of information from the official conference, but catching up with old friends can be just as valuable to the conference experience.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give the conference a 9.5.  The presentations were great, the tech information was solid, the conference center was impressive, and the excitement for GIS was incredible.  What would I have done to improve my experience and give the conference a 10 out of 10?  I would have gotten a room not overlooking the class one railroad that ran all night….

Overall I would recommend this conference to any Esri GIS user who has the resources and time to get out to San Diego for the week.  The weather was great, the restaurants were good, and most importantly GIS users will get a lot out of the conference.  I came back with tons of notes, some great tips and tricks to make my workflow better, and some good swag. I hope to be back next year!

Side note: Was I the only one quoting Anchorman the whole time I was in San Diego?  The best San Diego based movie of all time.

I like ArcGIS 10

A large number of the hits on my website come from keywords that aren’t the most flattering to Esri.  But, today, for the first time in the brief history of my little blog I had a very unique keyword that generated a hit…

“I like arcgis 10”

Yes, it is true.  Someone went to Google and typed “I like arcgis 10” and they found their way to my blog.  Here is the visual proof:

Now, I do actually like ArcGIS 10 (especially the collapsible panels!) even though I’ve had a bear of a time with SDE performance this week.  But, the team I’m working with is processing, loading, and analyzing hundreds of gigabytes of raster data so I can kind of understand…SO, if anyone has any tips on how to improve speed of writing very large raster data sets to ArcSDE please let me know!

Only a few more days until my trek to the UC!

CONFIRMED – I really got an email from Jack Dangermond

In my last post I wrote about how I received an email from “Jack Dangermond”, the president and founder of Esri.  I was skeptical that he would actually email me based on my response to the Esri User Conference pre-conference survey. I thought the email came from a marketing intern or perhaps a sales rep who was reading through the surveys.

Needless to say I was impressed (as I stated in my last post) that someone from Esri responded to my survey.  They are a big company with thousands of clients and for someone to take the time to respond to me was appreciated.

Then yesterday happened.  When I got home from work I checked my website stats for the day and I noticed that I had a number of hits from Esri (thanks Google Analytics), mostly visiting this post, this post, and then this post(!).  Then this morning I checked my blog and there was this comment on yesterday’s post from Jack Dangermond:

Thanks. While I don’t regularly read your blog, one of my colleagues sent me your comment so I wanted to make sure you understood that I did respond to you personally. I usually spend the month before the UC going through the questionnaire feedback and comments. This is a very valuable process and helps me and my colleagues here as it provides a good understanding of what users are thinking, needing and wanting regarding our technology and services.
Its not always so nice to hear about where we screw up or are behind in some way but at the same time this process gives tons of valuable guidance and many quite specific ideas. Most of our managers review this as well and I can tell you frankly that we make many small and sometimes big course corrections as a result of listening and responding.
We have limited resources. The user feedback gets us quite clear quite quickly on what our priorities should be and while we make mistakes, this mechanism as well as our other user events help us a lot.
Occasionally I personally respond directly as I did with you but mostly we try to aggregate the comments into more generic Q & A’s that are shared before the conference. Writing out the responses is also quite a good process because it often forces us to be clear and respond openly.
This is probably more than you wanted to hear about esri but I know it is one of the reasons why we are successful and perhaps it can help you understand us better….
Lunch at the UC??? maybe if you are buying.

WHAT! I like how he said that he doesn’t regularly read my blog.  Don’t worry Jack, no one else does either!

Would Bill Gates email a user directly?  Would Larry Ellison leave a comment on a blog?  Would that guy who stole the facebook idea from those twins post to a user’s wall? Probably not.  I am very impressed that Jack Dangermond took the time out of his busy schedule to send me an email and post to my blog.  I think it shows that his company really cares about what users like me think.

However, at this point I am 75% convinced that he actually emailed me and then posted on my blog.  Why not 100%?  Well, I still have to leave some room for error in case I am actually being duped.  It is the skeptic in me.

Now, Mr. Dangermond, about lunch at the UC. My people will be contacting your people to set that up.  And don’t worry, I will pay.

One last note, I still think ArcGIS Desktop should be fully 64 bit.

Until next time, GIScientists!

*And another side note.  Now that someone who is a member of the GIS Hall of Fame has read my blog I now have to go back through all of my blog posts and edit them for clarity and grammar 🙁


Is this email really from Jack Dangermond?

I am very fortunate to be attending the Esri User conference in mid-July.  At my job I use Esri software in a significant portion of my everyday workflow.  At the conference I am looking forward to meeting up with 10,000 other geo-geeks to talk GIScience, spatial database optimization, and the future of the “GIS guy” .

Like every other conference I have ever been to I received a pre-conference survey from Esri, asking a number of standard questions about how I use the software, what I would like to get out of the conference, and a number of other topics.  One of my favorite parts of the survey was where they asked for general comments.  I commented that ArcGIS (all products) should have been fully 64 bit with v10.  If you didn’t know, ArcGIS 10 works on a 64 bit machine but will only use two cores and up to four gigabytes of RAM for certain operations.  Now, those specs, are…so 2002.

Due to this amazing limitation I use Spatial SQL in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 for a number of large and complex geo-processes.  Why so? Well, SQL Server 2008 R2 is fully 64 bit, supports geo-datatypes, has a growing number of spatial applications, and will use all of the processing power of a multi-core, 64 bit machine.

Esri followed-up my pre-conference survey with a nice email to let me know that ArcGIS Server 10.1 will be fully 64 bit, but the email I got was sent to me from no other than “Jack Dangermond“.  Check it out:

Now, I totally don’t believe that Jack Dangermond would have the time to  email me a response to a pre-conference survey.  But it was nice that someone at Esri took the time to read my response to the pre-conference survey and send me a follow-up email.  Now, Mr. Dangermond, if you really did email me (and wouldn’t it be a trip if he were reading my blog, too?) email me again and let’s set up a lunch at the user conference.  Have your people call my people…


Spring NEArc, Tuesday May 17th!

The annual spring NEArc meeting is tomorrow, May 17th at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  This is a great one day conference, bringing a variety of talks from education, public, and private sector GIS users.  I’ve spoken at a couple spring NEArc conferences and I have always enjoyed the people who make it out to western Massachusetts for the meeting.  The talks usually represent a good mix of GIS applications, techniques, and theory. So, if you are in the area, check it out.  Onsite registration is will be available on the day of the conference.

The schedule is now online. When you are there make sure to check out “Comparing Neighborhood Change in Connecticut 1934 to Present using Google Maps API” from my friends at MAGIC!


Keyboard Shortcuts in ArcGIS 10

I’m always looking for ways to make my workflow more efficient, from creating scripts to automate a process or trying to simplify models so that they are both effective and efficient.

What about making the day-to-day use of ArcGIS faster?  Many of us create our own toolbars or custom buttons to make workflow faster, but what about using keyboard shortcuts?  If you do a lot of programming, or spend a lot time using any piece of software you want to know the available keyboard shortcuts.

We use keyboard shortcuts all the time from ctrl+c, ctrl+v, ctrl+s and many, many others.  What about keyboard shortcuts in our favorite program, ArcGIS?  Yes, they exist, and many of them are pretty helpful.  The basic ones for copy, paste, and save all exist, and there are many more including shortcuts for toggling all the layers in the table of contents, working in a table, or editing features.

Where can one learn all about these shortcuts?  Well, Esri has published a document on this exact topic that I find very useful.  There are a number of keyboard shortcuts and a number of other general tips that will benefit the novice or expert user.

Arc Shortcuts

What about tips and shortcuts for other tools that GIS users access all the time?  Well, there are number of tips for the field calculator, however, this tipsheet is a little old, but still relevant.

Know of any shortcut lists?  Post a link the comments section.  I’m sure someone will find it helpful.


I love models

GIS models, that is…


I get to do fun things with GIS, like develop models that handle and process millions of records.  This model is used to clean a number of spatial variables for input into another analytical model.  This awesome monstrosity contains:

  • 205 million input xy points read from SQL tables that are processed into over 500,000 polygons
  • 500,000 polygons merged and manipulated into about 200,000 polygons
  • Over 20 different spatial processes (merge, clip, field calculations, projections, spatial stats, etc…)
  • Database driven model, using a mix of SQL tables, SDE datasets, and File Geodatabases
  • Four custom python scripts, some of which are repeated several times
  • The output? Two text files, which are generated from python scripts.
  • Output used in another set of spatial models

The model took about a week to build and calibrate.  The model itself runs in about 30 hours on a four core, 64 bit machine and produces close 20GBs of data from about 4GBs of input data.

Anyone can build a mapping website (including me!), but a true GIScience geek lives on this stuff.  I love spatial analysis.

Cancelling a Geoprocessing Tool in ArcGIS 10

My colleagues at work have just recently been upgraded to ArcGIS 10 and one of the most common questions they have is how to cancel a geoprocessing tool.  For those of you running ArcGIS 10, you know that Esri has changed the way geoprocessing runs.  No longer does the user have to view the old-school geoprocessing window that displays the ever popular progress bar.  With this window now gone the user may be unfamiliar with how to cancel a process, because the cancel button is no longer on screen.

Yes, the geoprocessing window still exists in ArcGIS 10 for a few processes, including if the user is running a model that they created.  But for a number of tools, including many of those that are standard in the ArcGIS Toolbox, the progress of the tool is monitored in the results window.  A lot of information is available in the results window, and in this window the user can cancel the progress of the tool.  The following will walk a user through this process.

First, the user needs to add the results window to their view.  This is easy to do.  The user will select Results from the Geoprocessing menu.

Open Results Window

Now the user will run any process their heart desires.  The progress bar now appears along the bottom of the program.  The best part of this new feature is that the user can continue to work in the program and any data sets that are being used in the geoprocessing is locked, as not to corrupt it during the use of a tool.

Progress Bar
Notice that my data are unprojected. Bad form, Ben.

Now the user can monitor the progress of the geoprocessing tool through the results window, and if needed, can cancel the tool.  To cancel the process the user will open the results window and open the current session.

Open Current Session

The user will then right click on the tool being run, as indicated by the clock icon next to the process, and select cancel.

Cancelling a Process

There it is. The tool is canceled and any locks on the data are removed.  There are a couple of caveats to this new feature.  Sometimes there is a lag between the time you start a tool and when the progress bar starts, or there may be a lag between then the progress bar finishes and when the tool actually completes.  I’ve noticed in my working environment that the lag is greater when processing large data sets.  The only problem I’ve run into is if I forget about the running process and I try close ArcGIS.  A notification will appear on screen about the running tool.

Well, that is it.  Pretty simple.