Back to School!

It is that time of year again GIS geeks!  Veteran grad students are awakening from their summer hibernation while new grad students are making their way to campus wondering how they are going to survive on their huge stipend.  School is back in session!

I always loved the beginning of the college school year (I did have ten of them).  I loved seeing people again that I hadn’t seen over the summer, meeting the new crop of grad students who had yet to become jaded with the system, and most of all I loved the energy of the beginning of the school year.

Now here are my unsolicitated tips to you, the GIS grad student, that will guarantee you success in the future (disclaimer, take these tips with a grain of salt and they only apply to students who are in on-campus programs.  Sorry online degree folks…).

  1. Take advantage of technical resources.  If your department has a dedicated grad student computer lab with big, bad machines with every piece of GIS and stats software know to man loaded on them, I recommend you use it.  I was fortunate to have a pretty sweet GIS grad lab where I was able to get a ton of work done.  I also saved a ton of money on not buying a big, bad machine.
  2. If you have an office, use it.  Yes, it may be hard to get any meaningful work done in an office full of other grad students, but it is those other grad students who you want to get to know.  These are the people who you will bounce ideas off of, go out and grab lunch with, and go to conferences with.  The connections you make with your fellow grad students will be the ones you will have throughout your professional career.
  3. Expand your mind and learn something new everyday. Read the abstracts from GIS related journals, check out journal articles that are in your area of research, and read GIS blogs (like mine!).  Stay on the cutting edge!
  4. Treat grad school like an awesome job.  Show up in the morning, work all day while meeting with professors and other students, mix in a two hour lunch break, and head home at the end of the day.  I really believe this is a recipe for success in grad school.  Many GIS based grad students are in grad school to develop a set of professional skills, so they should treat the experience professionally.  I’ve seen one too many students who treated grad school like an undergraduate experience. They would roll in ten minutes before their 11am class, hang around for a little bit after class, and then head back to their apartment or dorm room and take a nap or play some XBox.  Take school seriously and you’ll find success.
  5. Do extra.  Get involved with a real world internship, do some contract work, work on a paper with your advisor or a GIS savvy professor in another department, or get a part time job doing GIS work.  Your department head or advisor may not like that you are partaking in extra-curricular activities, but a degree alone will not get you a job in today’s market.  Experience counts, so grab any chance you can to get it.  But remember, you need to make sure that you keep your grades in check and that you are making progress towards your degree.
  6. Get technical. Take advantage of the resources you have.  Learn how to program, learn about databases, learn about spatial analysis, learn about visualization, and learn about spatial data and the web.  I think you get the idea. I believe there is a strong demand for very technical geographers and GIS professionals.  Use your time in grad school to learn those skills so you can get a job.
  7. Have fun.  Even though I make it sound like grad school is all about work and results it’s not.  Enjoy the campus, the town, the people and have a good time.

Great story in the New York Times

In case you missed it there was a great story in the New York Times on Tuesday in regards to the use of GIS in historical analysis. The article, Digital Maps are Giving Scholars the Historical Lay of the Land” , by Patricia Cohen, discusses the evolution of the spatial humanities and historical GIS/geography, which are growing disciplines in the humanities at colleges and universities around the country.

The article provides a nice overview of how historians, archaeologists, and other non-geographers have embraced spatial analysis and GIS in their research.  I think this is a great article on a trend in the humanities that has been growing for years.  I remember as an undergrad ten years ago developing GIS tools to visualize historical settings.  In grad school I routinely helped non-geographers develop spatial analysis methodologies and visualization techniques to process and analyze historical GIS data.  Much of that work ended up in scholarly publications.  The spatial component really gave the authors an edge over other papers at that time.

So, if you get a few minutes check the article out.  Anytime that GIS gets mentioned in the New York Times is great for our field!

A couple of notes from the article:

  • The author references  I’m sure the marketing department at Esri liked the link.
  • The article links to David Rumsey’s site.  If you are a map junkie like myself you will love this site.  An amazing map collection.  This site has really influenced the development of online map libraries around the world.
  • I wonder if the growth of GIS and spatial analysis in the humanities (which has been happening for a number of years) has increased enrollment and/or developed programs in GIS and geography at schools where the spatial humanities are strong.  The AAG should get on this.
  • Does anyone remember the digital landscape history of Manhattan that was put together a couple of years ago?  The project gained some press and buzz when it came out.  I’m surprised this article didn’t mention it.  Oh well…

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.


If you are a New England based geospatial professional you have probably visited or downloaded data from the Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) at the University of Connecticut’s Homer Babbidge Library.   MAGIC just recently announced their plans for the summer and I am looking forward to seeing what data and tools they roll out next.  MAGIC was one of the first map libraries to offer GIS data over the web and since it has always been a place of innovation.

I was fortunate to have worked at MAGIC from the fall of 2004 through the spring of 2009.  As a grad student I was able to  work on a number of really interesting projects that expanded my technical skills more than any class ever could (I was one of the last people at MAGIC to program in Perl:( ).  Many GIS professionals in New England and beyond can trace their roots back to MAGIC, whether it was working for Pat, Bill, Sarah, or Michael.

So, if you have downloaded there data, copied their mash-up code, or ever browsed their collection of historical maps on Flickr, send them an email and tell them they are doing a heck of a job!



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!

The death of the GIS guy?

Late last week Esri released their responses to user questions collected from the pre-conference survey.  James Fee has a good response to a number of the questions that Esri posted.  I particularly like his response to FGDC metadata support…

One question from the Esri User Conference Q&A caught my particular attention and it is something that I have been thinking about for a while now.  The question, “Do you see Esri software becoming so easy to use that professional GIS people are edged out?”  The folks at Esri answered that the GIS professional, a.k.a. the GIS guy, will be more important than ever because they will be the ones who connect a variety users to spatial data, applications, and analysis.  I agree with that point, and I understand Esri’s goal of making their software and the concept of GIS as appealing to the masses as possible.  Think about it, would you like to have a potential customer base of a couple hundred thousand, or a few million…

I believe the GIS guy isn’t going anywhere, in fact, if there is a greater demand for the use of GIS then there should be a greater need for GIS experts.  However, to remain relevant in the workplace the GIS guy will need to become a well rounded technical GIS expert.

The profession is changing. No longer is the GIS guy just downloading data sets from a few GIS data warehouses, creating some metadata, doing some basic analysis, and creating a few nice maps for display.  With a variety of web-based mapping and analysis sites and collaborative data analysis and collection sites anybody can collect, visualize, and share spatial data.  And they do.  From Google Maps to GeoCommons a growing number of individuals and organizations who are not trained in the classical arts of GIS are using tools and techniques that at one point were exclusively used by the GIS guy.

How does the GIS guy stay relevant in the office and not be replaced by someone who can develop a slick web-map using a data feed from Twitter?  The GIS guy needs to become a technical expert in a number GIS related of fields they probably never had any training on in college (that’s another blog post).  They need to demonstrate their value by having a solid set of technical and analytical skills as well as a flair data visualization.

The following is a list of skills that I believe that the GIS guy will need to not only be productive, but to stay relevant.  I’ve thought about this list for a while.  I base this list on my own experiences in searching for jobs in the past, being on GIS analyst hiring committees, reading GIS blogs, talking with friends and colleagues, and viewing GIS job posting.  Here it is, in no particular order:

  • The GIS guy needs to be well versed in relational databases.  Data sets are getting larger and larger and the well worn methods of GIS data storage won’t cut it when you have millions of points, lines or polygons to analyze.  Whether it is SQL Server, Oracle, PostGres, or SpatialLite, the GIS guy needs to understand the value of the relational database within GIS.  This is especially true as relational databases become have increasing spatial capabilities and are easily connectable to both GIS and web-based tools.
  • The GIS guy needs to be able to programPython, C#, C++, SQL, pick your poison…  No matter your daily workflow or GIS software you probably have a number of processes that either don’t exist as an out-of-the-box tool, or would greatly benefit from automation.  Every, and I mean every, GIS professional has to be able to program.  No excuses.
  • The GIS guy needs to know geospatial analysis. I know this sounds a little silly at first but I have met a number of GISPs who couldn’t properly tell me the difference between a union and an intersect, what the Moran’s I measures, or how an IDW works.  As the need for “geospatial” increases so will the need for advanced analysis. This is where the GIS guy can be of real value.  GIS guys need to have training in the art of geospatial analysis and its applications in GIS.
  • The GIS guy needs to know how to integrate web-based technologies into their GIS technology.  The GIS guy has to be able to show value in their work and one of the quickest ways to do this is to share those valuable data sets that they have developed through web-based technologies.  Whether it is a mash-up through Bing, EsriGoogle, or OpenLayers the GIS guy needs to understand the benefits and challenges of developing tools in this framework.
  • The GIS guy needs to be a GIS expert. This is related to a prior bullet.  The GIS guy needs to understand raster and vector GIS analysis, proper data editing procedures, the differences between data formats, how projections impact analysis (do you know what a datum is?), the MAUP, and so much more.  Why does the GIS guy need to know all of this?  Well, if the GIS guy is working with geo-enabled individuals who may not be trained in the arts of GIS they have to be able to provide support for any question that may arise.  If the GIS guy can’t or won’t provide this support then the their value and relevance will rapidly deteriorate.
  • The GIS guy needs to continue to learn.  I’ve heard “I didn’t have to do it in my job so I never learned it” one to many times from GIS guys.  If you work with technology you need an evolving set of technical skills.  The skill set I had five years ago isn’t the skill set I have today and the skill set I’ll have five years from now won’t be what I have today.  Be proactive in your learning!
  • The GIS guy needs to know that there is more to GIS than Esri. Go download Quantum, read up on ERDAS, learn about Cadcorp.  The GIS industry is bigger than you think.
  • And finally, the GIS guy needs to know how to make a web-map using a data feed from twitter…Know and understand the trends in the field and be able to communicate in the lingo of what is “next”.

By no means is this list complete, but if you are a GIS professional or an aspiring GIS professional this list might help you get ahead or stay ahead.  Am I calling some GIS professionals out?  Sure, but I do it because I don’t want to see a GIS professional lose out on a job to someone who has more technical training, but not geospatial skills.  The set of skills I just described are attainable, and you don’t need to get a GIS certificate or have to go back to school to get them.

Do you think I’m crazy?  Let me know.   I’d be glad to discuss the list.


Thanks and Good Luck, Map Room

For those of you who regularly read the Map Room you’ll notice that the blog is coming to an end.  I have been reading the Map Room blog for a few years and I have enjoyed the variety of topics covered, especially the book reviews, the blogs on maps from fiction, and maps as art.  In fact, I’ve made decisions on book purchases based on their book reviews.

I bought the rights to for ten years and if I can make it to five years and have a few hundred posts I’ll be really happy.  The Map Room existed for eight years and had over 4,000 posts!  Totally incredible!  I’m sure the map geek blogging world will miss the Map Room. Let’s hope that someone will step up to fill the void.  How about a new mapping blog called

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…


Boston Bruins Live Tweets Map

With the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since when everybody in hockey had mullets, I thought I would take a look at what the geographic reaction was to this series on Twitter.   With today’s pivotal game five and the series tied at 2-2 (after the Bruins gave up a three goal lead!) the series returns Boston and the Bruins need a win.

I am interested in the amount of buzz or reaction in the two competing cities, mainly do tweeters in Tampa even care about the Lightining, even though they won a Stanley Cup in 2004?    The buzz and excitement in Boston has been pretty intense.  Being an original six team that hasn’t done much in the playoffs in close to twenty years, this city is ready for a return to the Stanley Cup finals.

Using the Twitter Maps Bing Map application you can easily map keywords or hashtags. With that in mind, what do the tweets for #Bruins look like in the Boston region? Well, as you could imagine they are numerous and people are hopefully pumped for today’s game:

Now, when searching for TBLightning (the official twitter handle for the Lightning), the number of tweets is can be found mostly in Florida:

When using the NHL’s official hash tag for this series, #BOSTBL, the distribution of tweets, in my opinion, favors Bruins country:

Check out the Bing Twitter mapping application yourself. There are plenty of other keywords that you could map to get a feel of what is happing on the social interwebs!


Lets go Bruins!