Maps in the News, Somerville, MA

From – Satellite imagery brings Somerville planners to new heights

I live in Somerville (and I love it), and I really hope that the city planners only use this for demonstration or decoration purposes.  This is a very technology forward city that is fairly active in collecting and analyzing data to improve functions and services within the city.

The mayor should open a mapping challenge (similar to what the MBTA has done), releasing the non-sensitive data collected by the city and along with data collected from other organizations.  They should then encourage residents and organizations to develop a series of community driven map mash-ups and applications that can be used for anything from neighborhood development, planning purposes, analyzing city ordinances, or finding access to any number of city services.

With the number of mapping and technology gurus in this city I think you would see some awesome results.   I know I have a few ideas!

Side note: This would be a great topic/workshop for an Ignite event or a Wherecamp…


Learning Code Made Easy!

I am a big supporter of GIS professionals becoming more technically proficient, keeping their skills relevant to avoid becoming a GIS dinosaurs.  One of the easiest ways for GIS pros to stay ahead of the curve is to keep learning and improving their technical skill set.

A new(ish) tool that is making the rounds throughout the interwebs this week is Codeacademy.  They provide free lessons on how to write and understand code, all through their website.  I’ve signed up and will be trying it out this weekend.

The current set of courses is for JavaScripting, a language that is very relevant to the GIS profession.  Some of my friends and coworkers have signed up and they have had positive reviews so far.

So, GIS professional,  who is looking to improve their skill set to impress their boss, here is your chance.  Signing up and getting started is easy.  Before you know it you’ll get the hang of coding and will be writing your own applications!  And the best part…it is FREE!

WhereCamp Boston 2011 Review

WhereCamp Boston was this past weekend and it was pretty cool.  Even with troubles with the Red Line (typical) about 50 people were there on Saturday.  I was signed-up for both days but other last minute commitments pulled me away from Sunday’s portion of the weekend conference.

There were two keynote talks on Saturday that were both very interesting.

The morning keynote went to Jeffrey Warren from the Public Laboratory.  He talked about a number of projects that they have been working on including the really amazing balloon mapping techniques that they have developed.  I’ve seen him talk a couple times and after I immediately want to create my own aerial photography!

Tom MacWright from Development Seed gave the afternoon keynote talk and discussed a number of projects including MapBox.  The tools he demonstrated were pretty sweet.  I recommend that you take five minutes and check it out.

A few take-aways from my time at Boston’s first WhereCamp:

  • There was a good variety of people.  There was the GIS crowd, the programmers, the open sourcers, and the spatially enabled.  That mix led to some great conversations in the breakout sessions and in the common areas during the breaks.
  • Speaking of open source, there was a definite open source feel to the meeting, which was completely understandable, as many of the participants came from that side of the GIS coin.
  • I need to learn more about open source GIS.
  • There were some great sessions that emerged from the ideas of the group.  I went to a really good Google Android app builder session, and I heard some good talk about some of the other sessions that occurred including those on open source mapping.
  • The Microsoft NERD facility was awesome and it has one of the best views of Boston.
  • I was really impressed with where people came from.  There were attendees from the Boston region, all over New England, the east coast, and even some from California!
  • The spontaneity was great.  People would chat in the meeting areas during the breaks about a particular idea and it would become a session.  Also, people would propose sessions with the hope that someone could come in and show them something they didn’t know.  That’s what exactly happened to me.  Someone proposed an intro to spatial SQL session and I ended up putting together an (but not that great) impromptu workshop!
  • For next year I am going to come prepared with a few pre-canned workshops so that I can contribute more to the sessions.

Finally, Guido Stein and the ISpatialBoston team did a great job planning the event.  I think next year will be even better as more participants will have ideas going into the weekend and be willing to contribute more.

Again, a big thank you to the organizers.  You did a great job!  Thank you!

WhereCamp Boston – This weekend!

It is an exciting time for the spatial crowd in Boston!  WhereCamp Boston is this weekend and you need to sign-up now!

WhereCamp is an “unconference“, meaning that the people who come are the ones who drive the sessions.  Attendees plan the sessions, workshops, and panels through the WhereCamp Wiki or during the conference itself.  On the registration page many people are stating their interest in open source GIS, web mapping, and “what’s next”.

If you are going (and you really should) consider participating in the wiki and post your session idea!  I’ve been working on a number of really interesting projects lately and I am hoping to bring some of my ideas and challenges to the unconference.  Here is what I am interested in learning more about this weekend:

  • How to scientifically validate VGI and developing tools and methods to do so
  • Learning more about open source GIS, and more specifically, the growing body of analytical tools that are both well built and scientifically strong
  • The art of the spatial index
  • Aggregating VGI from web sources
  • Big data
  • Web map design best practices

As a “traditional” GIS guy I am also really interested in how the “non-traditional” spatial folks view “spatial”.  I am interested to learn about what their needs and challenges are and share ideas with them.  I look forward to brainstorming ideas with those who may see spatial problems from a different perspective than myself.  Sometimes the best ideas to solve a problem may come from those who see things differently than you.  That’s why I am pumped for this weekend.

The event is being held at Microsoft NERD in Cambridge, located in the techiest tech neighborhood in America!  The locations is a short walk away from the Kendall T stop and don’t worry, you’ll be able to get there.

The organizers have worked hard to put this together and the least we can do is show up and make this event great!

Where: Microsoft NERD
When: October 29 and 30th
Who: Anyone spatial
Why: Every spatial nerd from the greater Boston region will be there!

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GIS Doctor Mailbag

This blog has been up and running for a while now and I have gotten a number of email questions, responses to blog posts, and search engine keyword questions.  Let’s answer a few of them!

How do geographers collect spatial data?

  • By many means.  There are the arm chair geographers (like me!) who collect, develop and analyze spatial data from a variety of published data sources and there are those geographers who go out into the field.  These rugged souls create and administer surveys, collect data in the field in all conditions, and develop scientific studies to derive their own data.  Depending on the nature of the study a geographer may use a mix of data collection methodologies.

How do I use more memory with ArcGIS 10?

  • I hear this question more and more, especially as more users have 64 bit machines and automatically assume that everything will be faster.  ArcGIS 10 will use all the memory available in a 32 bit environment, which is 4 gigabytes. However, not all the tools and processes in ArcGIS will use all the memory.  To work around this problem users can chunk their analysis to try to speed things up, or they can review their analysis and try to develop a set of processes that make the analysis smaller, therefore faster.  In the past I have split up large input data sets (20 million plus points) and used python and ArcGIS tools to have the analysis run effectively.

How much ArcGIS Server 10?

  • Not cheap.  If you want free check out MapServer.

How can I get Bing Maps in my GIS?

  • If you are not behind a firewall a user can click on the Add Data button in ArcGIS and select Add Base Map.  The Bing data should then be a base map option. Since my instance of ArcMap is behind a firewall I cannot add the Bing Service. This is a bummer, since I am a big fan of Bing Maps.

How can I add Google Maps into ArcMap?

  • There isn’t a quick tool to load Google Maps into ArcMap.  However, there are a few applications out there that allow a user to port in the imagery from Google into ArcMap.  One well known tool is provided by Arc2Earth.  Now, if the user is running ArcServer Esri provides a number of tools to publish data in the Google Maps interface.

How do I kill a geoprocess ArcGIS 10?

How do I speed up ArcGIS 10 on 64 bit machine?

  • Wait until Esri releases a 64 bit version of ArcGIS, or start using GIS software that is native 64 bit.

Is it possible to use embed a WMS data source into a Google Maps mash-up?  

  • Why, yes it is.  Check some examples here

Is ArcGIS difficult to learn?

  • I’ve been in the field of GIS for close to 10 years and I’m learning something new about ArcGIS everyday. GIS is complicated and the theory behind it is deep.  Many want GIS software to be simple, but users need to understand the details to properly frame an analysis and understand the results.  If GIS were very easy I believe you would get many people, more so than now, making poor decision from poor analysis.

Why did Esri skip version numbers?

  • They did?

What is wrong with ArcGIS 10?

  • Unfortunately, plenty.  Check out the bug fixes for SP1 and SP2.

Why do ArcGIS tools take so long?

  • Another question I hear all the time,  “why is process XYZ so slow?”.  The answer is never as direct as the person asking the question wants it to be.  There are a number of reasons why a particular process or processes may be slow.  To try to understand the issue I always work through a series of questions.  First, what are the specs of the machine running the process?  What other processes are running on the machine?  What are the dimensions of the data being processed?  Are the data sets in the analysis in the same projection? How large is the data, both spatially and in memory?  How intensive is the process itself?  How detailed is the data being processed?  The point is that there isn’t always a smoking gun to solve all processing questions.  Sometimes the process will be slow.

OK, that is it for now.  If you have any additional questions drop me a line!  Until next time.

In Defense of the WMS

Earlier this week James Fee, celebrity GIS blogger (seriously, how many other GIS bloggers can you name), posted a blog about the death of the WMS.  He was commenting on a blog from Sophia Parafina, who was discussing the difficulties of working with the WMS URL.  Surprisingly enough, this isn’t the first time someone has shared their  “love” of the WMS standard.

If you have programmed using a WMS you probably have become frustrated when trying to understand what each component of the URL means, the differences between the different versions, and how different GIS server software handles the WMS.  I don’t think the WMS is dead, but its use may need to be reevaluated.  For example,  the WMS servers that I take advantage of tend to have few datasets (less than 30) served from them, and I only use raster datasets, such as historical maps, or aerial photography, in my applications.  I try to avoid large WMS servers with 100s of layers, and I rarely use vector from them, because I don’t like wait times with large WMS servers, and vector data renders poorly.

I like to use WMS data from a number of different sources as base maps for use in Google map mash-ups.  I’ve found that using the WMS for this purpose equals fast response times in an easy to use interface.  Now, what about decoding the URL?  Well, it took a couple of hours of trial and error but a few lines of javascript can read the WMS URL pretty easily.  I didn’t create the code myself, but like any programmer, I definitely had help from a number of different online sources.

Here are a few Google Maps V3 API examples running WMS data:

ArcGIS Server WMS in Google Maps

Open Layers WMS in Google Maps

Cadcorp WMS Google Maps

Microsoft Research Maps in Google Maps

Multiple WMS Service in a Single Site

Large Aerial Photography Datasets

That’s all for today!  Hooray weekend!

p.s., For my next post I’ll try to have a couple of pictures.  People hate reading.