Apps Worth Mentioning

Two Apps have recently turned my head I wanted to Show and Tell.

GPSHIKERHIKE!
First off is an iPhone only app called GPS Hiker. Someday it’s going to warm and with my newfound body-type and interest for all things healthy. I’m chomping at the bit to get outside for some hikes or Geocaching or both. I stumbled across this app and it seems to feed that need of a Geospatial Tech and Outdoors app combo.

I've been known to take pictures of the ground just to get a "record" of my current location.

I’ve been known to take pictures of the ground just to get a “record” of my current location.

There have been times that i just want the Garmin functionality on my iPhone, “just track my walk” or “just get the lat/long here”. This app does both. As well, it does the whole GPS Almanac thing we love about our Garmin GPSr. There is offline (OSM) map functionality, taking pictures and exporting options as well. If Garmin were not committed to a business model devoted to runners and Airplanes, they should hire this developer and buy this app. As it is today this app is FREE, better yet there’s NO ADS. Apparently just a good developer who is a wonderful human being.

 

 

DeskconnectSYNC!
Use DeskConnect on all of your devices. Without the functionality of Air Drop (iPhone 4s & iPad 3) I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect app to quickly and seamlessly throw files from one device to another as well as my MacBook. I’ve had a few: Files United, Instashare & the like. But they either had an essential tool missing or were painfully slow. DeskConnect takes care of all of that. The only thing that I don’t like is having to create an account for connecting to a mystery server in the cloud. Sure they address security in their FAQ

snag

section on the website, but who wouldn’t say their servers are under Top Security? Three aspects of awesomeness here are the device to device connectivity. You actually don’t need a ‘desk’ in the equation.
Secondly is the Call from my MacBook contacts. Click this and a few seconds later your phone is calling the contact! That’s a real nice feature. Last of the uber cool things is sending you clipboard to your device. How many times have you emailed yourself a link? At least a few times a week for me. Oh Best Yet… IT’S FREE!!

There are always new apps coming out. No, Seriously, I mean in the time it took you to read this post there have been 2.5 new apps submitted to Apple and 4 updates released. Or something close to that. I hope these help you sift through the junk.

Try to keep up, m-kay?

I’m reading about proficiency and efficiency and the difference of the two. One thing that strikes me about the never-ending-relentless-pursuit of keeping up on your chosen profession or industry, is how inefficient it is.

Lets not even talk about just the GIS or Tech industry (which is no longer separate from, EVERYthing else). Lets say whatever your chosen profession, the assumption is that you want to get better. You desire to stay on top of movements, trends, releases and discussions. Without question, the best place for “research” is on the web. Paper magazines are dead, mailed newsletters are on life support and even instructional training is down. To be  awesome in your industry, you need to be proficient AND efficient with staying in the loop on the web.

The question is how? and a follow-up: When you do find something new and innovative you’d like to remember, what do you do with it?

Aggregate NOW!

News aggregators will help your proficiency.  Zite and other apps like it will bring the information to you and continually customize it based on what you read, Like and Dis-Like. Very helpful. Temptations using News Aggregators is to read everything. You don’t have time for that. Critically look at the title, tag it for reading later or move on. Authors need to know time is money, an article’s title is EVERYTHING. If it doesn’t say to me; “This might possibly be the last internet article you will ever need to read” I move on, because in 7 hours there will be a new stream of information that will claim to be just as important. Besides, there’s only so many “Top <random number> Best (or worst) things  about <Whatever thing>” Articles you  can read.

Specific Sites & Blogs:

I was a big fan of Google Reader. There are folks I like to keep up with specifically in the WordPress-News-Aggregator-1Geospatial world that may not show up on my Zite news feed. Currently I’m using Digg Reader to fill that void. I really don’t like the interface, though. Whether it’s local news or  a specific Web Comic that I love, most blogs have an RSS feed that Digg Reader will collect and record for me to read when I’m ready. Again When I catch up on my Digg reading list I treat it much the same way as Zite; Only  open articles that jump out at me. A word of caution, Some of the preconfigured blog collectors, (geo-awesome, slashdot etc…) will fill your reader with duplicate entries. Find the best blogs of interest and follow them directly. Don’t waste your time on negative Blog entries, I’ve written several  and read many more, rarely did I change my mind and  always regretted the lost time.

Then What?

This step is a little more sketchy and dynamic. I used to put everything into a  browser bookmark, a few months ago I purges about 200 old and useless bookmarks from my list. Now say I find an article that is directly in line with what I’m teaching in my Cultural Geography class? Well, for that I throw it into my Evernote Notebook. How about a top 10 ways to burn 500 calories? Read and delete. Still yet; a new free and open commercial use photo gallery? Bookmark, adding tags in the title for searching. What if it’s and awesome article for me or someone else and I just want to know that I have it somewhere ‘saved’? Email go the infinite space of Gmail. The answer for what to do with cool web articles & websites is: “It Depends”.  I try to do my best and keep stuff in one or two places, but still there is some confusion. Most of those old bookmarks I went through seemed trivial to me now. I’m sure in 5 years most of what I’m saving now will too.

 Perhaps this is the inefficient part of the process. PERHAPS this is leading to a lifestyle of ADHD and stupidity. I don’t know. One thing is for certain, next week something new might come out that will cause me to completely revamp how I stay proficient and up to date on my profession.

Stomp on it, Scratch it, Beat it up & Boot it up – Daily Mac/iPad use

I do not take money for writing a blog, so these recommendations for different apps are just that, recommendations. Take them or leave them. I don’t care. Honestly, if I find something better than what I’m using, I dump the old app quicker than a Jr High cheerleader and her nerdy summer fling from grandma’s cabin in Moose Lake.

I’m a real person. I have a real job, a real family. I do real tasks, have a real calendar and am usually really tired. I grow weary of unrealistic 2014-01-22_1403_Fotorimages and videos of sanitized offices with bright lights and about $10,000 in wireless Apple equipment…everywhere.  I have used my iPad and Macbook daily for about 18 months and I feel like I’ve stripped away all the junk apps that I Don’t need. Here’s What’s left. I’ve starred them if I think it’s especially great. These aren’t all free and you’ll have to do you own googling to get the downloads.

To The Point:
I love LastPass, I pay for the yearly service without a second thought. If Evernote just enhanced it’s writing & formatting tools a bit, I don’t think anyone would use anything else. I enjoy OSX utilities, but my newest favorite is Alfred.

iOS 7

  • For Reading interwebs and keeping up on trends: Zite**, Pocket, Hootsuite**, Safari and Digg.
  • For Writing and document Management:CloudOn, Evernote***, GoodReader****,  Box, Dropbox, Google Drive & Keynote (bonus Penultimate for sketches/whiteboarding)
  • For Project Management: Wunderlist**, Insightly, Asana, BizXpensTrkr, Apple Reminders
  • For GIS-y & Mapping: Collector**, PDF Maps***, Google Earth, Esri (green), AutoCAD 360,  Fulcrum, PushPin
  • For Utilities: LastPass******, Meraki MDM (Yes, even my personal device is managed), Dark Sky, Instashare, AirDisplay, Umbrella, Hippo Lite
  •  For Communication: Apple Mail & Contacts, Messaging, FaceTime**, Talkatone (iPad), Skype

Everything else From the History Channel app to My Fitness Pal to Songza is pretty much all for personal use. However, I tweeted earlier today that  deleted all my games, which is true. I was spending too much time on SurvivalCraft.

OSX Mavericks

You see lots of similar names here, I love apps to sync. I also love Utilities, some small little app that does something cool very, very well. Of course, I use other stuff native to the Macbook: iPhoto, iTunes and syncing through the iCloud, but that’s all assumed. Also, I don’t really remember what Google did to me that I dumped Chrome, but I haven’t really missed it at all.

 

4 Year Hiatus from Facebook

“I Have Returned” – General Douglass MacArthur  1944

Four years ago I closed my Facebook account. ( Actually at that time you could only ‘Suspend’ your account everything was still there to “reactivate it, you simply logged back on. Since that time, the Facebook Overlords have allowed users to actually delete their account and data, which I promptly did. ) I had a realization that I spent most of my time on FB trolling funny pictures and making snarky comments on Wall posts of people I hardly know, let alone have enough relationship collateral to be sarcastic about how they raise their children. So I quit. It was freeing and anti-climatic at the same time.

Just as someone who quits smoking, drinking or overeating is intensely-critical of those still indulging themselves, for years after being off, I still railed against FB users. “You’re wasting your time”, “Thats just gossiping”, “It’s Stalking”, “No good to compare yourselves to other peoples fake identities”, “He’s Just looking for validation”. All that was, and is, there. I was just continuing the rage offline.

Not Helpful. Not Productive.

So why am I going back?

- Well for one, My daughter says Facebook is on it’s way out. So that’s cool. And I like things that are no longer cool.
– Two, I’m reading a book about using Social Media to engage positively.
– Most importantly, I’m missing people’s lives.

Friends, family, their kids, Life. New jobs, new children, I don’t know things about people. People I care about communicate important events through FB. Recently, here locally, people used FB to coordinate disaster recovery for the Washington Tornado. I almost missed the opportunity to help with some clean-up. My wife Who’s on Facebook, texted me when and where to meet.  I came to the conclusion, that as much as i was opposed to it, people were using this social network for communication. Also, a very small minority of people I know follow me on Twitter.

But knowing myself, I need to set up some Rules for using Facebook:

1. I’m not going to friend everyone that asks. Don’t take offense.
2. I will hide people that annoy me, not blast them back.
3. I shall not post endless personal information about me on FB.
4. I will not check FB on my iPhone.
5. I will only ‘Check’ FB Once a day unless coordinating for an event.
6. I will not join your cause, fan page,  group or repost for whatever.
7. A phone call or face-to-face is still the best way to become a true friend.

That being said, http://facebook.com/micahwilli

 

A Little Tidbit

If you haven’t been to my house you might not know that I have an old 71 Volkswagen Van that has been rotting in the back for the past 10 years.

Rot 1 Rot 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent re-organization of personal priorities and goals, this van happens to find itself for sale. While I know getting rid of this idle project will eventually be freeing and cleansing, at the same time I do feel a sense of loss. This VW represents a former life. Getting rid of it won’t change who I am but it will close the door on that part of me.

Just a few weeks after my 18th birthday I bought my first Volkswagen, a 1978 bus. It was clean and had a smooth running pancake engine. Fun times ensued.

Havent seen that guy for 13 years.

Being stupid, I did not care for it as I should have and the engine seized up.

BuyTWO

So what does a college kid do? Buy Another!

This is the 1971 (Bert) that I have had for all these years and now it’s ready to sell. There were many great times and many stories about this bus. I was constantly in a state of fixing and jimmy-rigging things to keep it on the road, I conquered Centennial Drive hill, took it to music festivals, drafted semis (Stupid!), and eventually drove my new Bride away on our wedding day in it.

 

extra14 Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 10.24.53 PM

We actually just drove a few miles to my Folks house where we got in her much more practical Honda Civic.

I once replaced the engine to try and keep it going, which didn’t work out so well.

donegud

Over the years I have also owned a ’59 Beetle and ’72 Super Beetle.

PastVW

 I always have picked up VW memorabilia and still have quite a collection today.

Stuff

5 years ago my son and I dropped the engine out of Bert and it’s currently 1/2 way dismantled in my garage. I will tinker around with it and have dreams of eventually finding a less-rusty (non-Illinois) shell to put it into. The Best Thing about a 1650cc VW engine? It can go into nearly any VW chassis.Bus, Bug, Type 1, Thing, Fastback,

 

I think we can do it.

So maybe the door isn’t quite closed all the way…   ;-p

 

Why Wired’s MapLab has become the Best Map Blog on the Internet

If you haven’t see WIRED magazine’s new Map Blog: MapLab you shouldn’t even be here. Go there, now. No seriously. Go.

In an amazing whirlwind of posts since July 9th, Wired has blown onto the geospatial

Clean Air

Yeah, it’s like that.

scene in a very significant way. Listen, if this schlep can just write whatever he wants on the web, then we all need to be very skeptical of the firehose of poor information that’s out there to sift through. Wired’s new map blog is a breath of clean, exhilarating, lung-expanding geo-information-air.

I’ve got Five reasons why I think MapLab is currently the best Geospatial Blog / News Source on the web. IMHO.

  1. Prolific. Recently, I’ve strained to keep new content on this site on a bi-monthly basis. I write this blog on my off-time. Honestly, since my new job a year ago, I don’t need as large of a therapeutic output. BUT Wired’s team of writers had to be keeping a list of ideas for months before they actually got started. They average about two a day during the work week. These aren’t just the re-posts of other stuff found on the web, it’s actual content. Sometimes they even <gasp!> MAKE the maps they post.

  2. Variety, It’s the spice of life and it makes for good reading. I’m sure some people love to read all about how horrible Esri is or how much their users are just drones waiting for orders from the mothership, but after a few posts, that noise gets old. From the first post to the most recent, MapLab reaches out over every angle of the geospatial industry. You’ve got the Neo-Geography Google map of craft beer , actual geographic discussion of projections, remote sensing equipment , real maps, fake maps, open source, Guerrilla Mapping, space mapping, Esri and on and on.

  3. Relevance. Lots of very good writing is great, but ponies and rainbows only matter if you’re a cowboy in OZ. There is so much junk on the net, you can spend you entire day trying to figure out what’s actually important. Most of the geo-news aggregators all promote MapLab anyway, why not just read it directly. Whether it’s an article about a court case in California or a new class in College Station, the news is timely. It shows an acute awareness of someone embedded in the industry, not just a writer assigned to write about the industry . Honestly, I haven’t missed a post.

  4. Interviews. Speaking of Penn State, one of my favorites was an interview with the professor teaching the largest geospatial class in the world, Anthony Robinson. Interviews legitimize an article. I think (when it’s done accurately), people like to be quoted. A bit of wisdom from another source to validate your discussion points. Having the ability to get an audience and approval for interviews shows a little class and a lot of connections. Maybe being a part of the WIRED family helps. Or maybe I should just call up Dangermond or Morehouse and ask for an interview for a blog that no one reads.

  5. Weekends Off. I can’t attest that posts aren’t  written over the weekend, but nothing is posted on Saturday or Sunday. There’s something … nostalgic … about that. I’m sure there’s some marketing actuarial telling them that no one reads posts on the weekend, but I’m going to pretend it’s nostalgia.

So there you go, if I can get someone to pay me to just write about my profession, I might actually stop “Doing GIS” and take their money. TCB Baby!

 

iOS7 After 5 days

After all of the hullabaloo surrounding iOS7 last Monday and after reading articles like this warning and other (much more) hateful sites, I decided to install it on my primary device. Because, why not, right?

iOS7 on iPhone 4S

It was just sitting there, ready to download on my apple development site. I’ve always tried to swim against the grain. Why would this decision be any different. After all, there is a way to roll back.

So, last Tuesday night my unsuspecting iPhone 4S got a new look.

Upgrading was rather uneventful. There are scads of online tutorials. I have a paid developer’s license so I didn’t have to torrent the package or find someone to install my UDID on their’s. This was legit.

 

The following are my notes and findings over the last 5 days in no particular order:

  • Siri acted a little bit funky. I had to enable/disable/enable to get it to work. Also, can’t see how to change the voice on Siri to the guy. Same lady.
  • The running background apps are cool. Navigation & camera animation continues to run even while it’s on the small task screen.
  • I like the new way to close apps: No more (x) in the task bar.
  • The Keychain App across devices will be the replacement for my LastPass account.
  • The native flashlight app is replacement for that app. Much faster! (Slide & Click!)
  • You can hide newsstand! You can hide newsstand! 
  • The footprints of the OS seems a little bit smaller  (syncing with iTunes told me I had more available space).
  • The phone feels a little bit warmer in my pocket.
  • Slow in general (apps opening, animation stuttering)
  • There’s a new keyboard…Meh.
  • Some apps with the old keyboard don’t display correctly when typing(Evernote).
  • New keyboard stutters in messaging. See speed comment above.
  • Phone app itself is all kinds of messed up. Tabs take up to 10 seconds to switch. The voicemail tab locks up, some Date/Time text looks overlapped… sometimes.
  • Apple’s own Podcast app doesn’t work.
  • iRadio isn’t a big deal. I was hoping to be able to listen to local radio. This won’t get rid of your TuneIn radio account. I don’t use Pandora, so this doesn’t interest me.
  • In the email app, the slider for trash is not as easy.
  • Battery life is inconsistent  One day I got about 4.5 hours with moderate use & kept it in my pocket. Other days it lasts up to 8 hours. I’ve begin plugging it in all the time and making sure background apps are closed.
  • I don’t like the automatic updates for apps. Sometimes it hangs the install, so I turned it off.
  • The microphone app/voice recognition doesn’t show on some apps. Voice recognition works, it just doesn’t show the mic.

I’ve got about 100 apps on my phone. In total 4 don’t work. That’s 4%. Not too bad for a beta. However ONE of those apps is my precious Geocaching app. That will be the only reason I switch back. It’s almost too much to bear a summer without it. I may just switch and install iOS7 on the iPad and switch back to iOS6 for the Phone.

I realize that some of these issues may be that my phone of one generation old (4S). Some are just because this is a beta OS. What did you expect? I think people are trying it out because the WWDC wagged the carrot and said wait another 3 months, which was mean.  The whole minimalist look? I could take it or leave it. Functionally, there’s lots of impressively cool stuff, no doubt. But there are enough issues that I’m recommending the impatient ‘normal’ users stay away.

EDIT: I downgraded yesterday. Saturday night the phone got very ‘hot’, I don’t feel comfortable with it as my primary device. I’ll upgrade again in a few weeks after a second beta release.

That’s just business… Oh, wait….

Caution: I’m poking a hornet’s nest with this post. read at your own risk and know this is my PERSONAL opinion. 

Should tax dollars be directly supporting the general budget funds of a GIS ‘Consultant’?

Your answer to that question may be “Yes”. You may not like me asking the question and I may not like your answer, but it’s a good discussion for the Geo-Community to have. Here’s the backstory: I work for a growing new startup; a Geographic Information System (GIS) consultant. We compete on fairly small projects all across Illinois. ​Our target client is a small-town public works director in need of a GPS inventory or county engineer too swamped to maintain the few GIS layers they already have. Time and time again our experience has shown one of our largest competitors of such professional GIS consulting services is not other for-profit companies, but taxpayer-funded Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Planning Commissions and  state universities / community college GIS Labs. I’m not picking on anyone this is just  what I’ve found.

Click to see Larger Map

You’d be surprised to see how many MPOs, Labs & Planning Commissions sell their GIS services like consultants

Now, if you know me, you’d think this is a bit hypocritical: ​I graduated from a state school with a GIS Lab, taught GIS at a community college and I had my first GIS job at an MPO. So, I get it. I understand that the schools just want their students to gain ‘real-world’ experiences. I also know that some MPOs  and planning commissions have GIS consultation services to fill a vital (sometimes unmet) need. They help build GIS for a small community who could not afford it otherwise. That’s great, GIS used to be expensive, VERY expensive. But not so much anymore. With cloud-based solutions, faster internet connections, ArcGIS online, free aerial imagery and LOTS of other inexpensive and easy solutions; the $500,000 price tag just isn’t there anymore. Try telling this to someone paying $35/hr for an MPO or even less for student labor. Competition between for profit companies is expected, but this isn’t an equal playing field. (Whine- Whine- Whine) I understand that all governments are being asked to do more with less, I’m reporting what I see and asking the question.

These governmental organizations can simply price out the competition because of two factors; 1. They can supplement operations with other funding sources. 2. They really don’t have to make money.

I also appreciate loyalty. If you honestly assess the progress of your GIS and are satisfied with it. Great. I’ll move on. But do yourself a favor and critically analyze the quality and progress of what you are getting. And it should be progressing. Like any other technology, the geospatial field is constantly advancing so should your GIS. Blindly paying for a consortium for 20 years because that’s what you’ve always done is simply poor management.

Before you think I’m just whining. This issue is as old as time. There are small business advocates, anti-governmental competition lobbyist groups and Chamber of Commerce’s all across America who have been talking about this subject since before my father was born.

If this is a hard concept or topic, then it’s a good subject to talk about.

Geo Cloud Confusion

I’ve talked a LOT about the cloud here, herehere and here. Still, I get so confused by all the different offerings for GIS in the cloud. To keep things straight in my brain, made this spreadsheet to keep track of the differences as I learn them.

Below is just a viewable version of the Spreadsheet HERE on Google Docs. Feel free to open the Google Docs file and edit as you see need (the ??) or errors. There is no login required. If you’re an authoritative source on the product, make that blue or something.

The guys at Spatial Networks added some detail via the comments, click through to see them.


Here is a Link to a Downloadable PDF that gets updated every 5 minutes.

The Dropoff Dance

As long as you know the process, nobody gets hurt.

Allow me to deviate from my normal geospatial technology topics to address a ‘Life’ topic….One thing I’ve enjoyed over the last 4 months is being able to take the kids to school. At first the idea of ‘Proper’ procedures for dropping them off was abrasive to me. Since then I’ve accepted and endorsed these as truth and correct. You should too.

Listen, I like systems and spatial organization.  The collective thing we do every day to drop off our kids at school can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know whats going on. There are some unwritten rules, that need to be written.

More Instructions below the pictures.

Davenport Elementary  School Drop Off Procedure Map (I know the car lane looks like a sidewalk, but it’s not)

DavenportElementaryDropOff

 

Eureka Middle School Drop Off Procedure Map

EMS_DropoffProcedure

 

– Yield to Busses & Kids. Always. (You might get blocked in by a bus, that’s just the deal, take a deep breath and wait)– Obviously, do NOT use the Bus Lane to get ahead in line. It’s a small town… don’t be That Guy– If you have to get out of the car then PARK in a parking place out of the traffic pattern, it will be safer for everyone

– Going around stopped cars gets a bit tricky. It might seem like you’re cutting them off. Everything runs better if everyone keeps moving-but sometimes some people just aren’t with it– Pull all the way up to the end of the ‘Acceptable Range For Child Deployment’ area. Your kid can walk (Unless they can’t, then see Above).– Keep space in-between cars to a minimum, traffic backs up to the highway surprisingly quick.

— If it’s rainy or snowing out, it is understandable to want to drop off your kid directly in front of the door. But this is why God invented snow boots and umbrellas. Teach them that the world is a harsh place.

— Failure to adhere to these unspoken/unwritten rules (which are now spoken and written) will result in the evil eye from mothers in bathrobes and a lot of personal stress. Believe-me-brother, You’ll have a better day just going with the flow.

(edit from a parent) -Here is one more I’d add. Please have your child ready to exit the vehicle prior to the drop-off. Don’t spend 5 minutes gathering up bags, books, kisses, and hugs in the midst of the drop-off. You will throw off the timing.

P.S. Eureka High School is a free-for-all. With that many new drivers around, there is ONE rule; Stay Alive.

 

Simple Man’s Look at Cloud Sync/Storage

I read the Blogs of some very smart people.

They talk about programming languages with funny names, Acronyms of acronyms, big data and how our world will look in 5 years. Usually after a few minutes of plodding through their theories and recommendations I feel quite neanderthalic.

SO, at the risk of being a simpleton and out of date (I Know, it’s 2013), I want to share with you some ideas about a question I think most normal computer users (like my dad) struggle with. “What’s the difference in all of these ‘cloud storage’ things?” and “Which one should I be using?”

I haven’t grabbed ALL I can of cloud storage, but I have quite a bit.

CloudContent

  • 5.8 Gb On Dropbox
  • 25 Gb On Google Drive
  • 50 Gb On Box.com

There’s two reasons for keeping files in the cloud.

1. Trust issues. You don’t trust yourself, your company’s computer guy or any backup plans that anyone has set up for you before this whole cloud thing exploded. Syncing files to the cloud does give you the sense that they’re (somewhere) safe.

2. Pride Issues. You need to, at all times, be just a few clicks away from getting to your precious files. Better yet, you need to be able to share them with anyone, on your terms; “I’ll just share that with You”.

Which category are you? I’m Both. I’ve accepted it. Not only do I have these applications installed and use them for various tasks (Current work, Personal stuff and Past work) I have apps on both mobile devices, so access is literally im my pocket.

Ok, maybe there’s a third more collaborative reason for using the cloud, but the majority of users fall into one of the two categories above.

Here’s a few lessons learned that I want to pass along.

  1. Other than these three there’s ton’s of options, Amazon Cloud, SkyDrive , Sugar Sync, Media Fire, Synplicity, etc… *Note* Symform is not truly ‘in the cloud’ and with iCloud Apple is telling you what you can sync.
  2. Having someone share a folder with you (so you get the files synced locally) in Dropbox eats up your storage allotment.
  3. I always turn off sync while I’m working on GIS files/layers. MXDs and Geodata do not like to be synced while it’s being edited.
  4. Here’s a good tool to work outside the dropbox.  Sync Any Folder
  5. Don’t let Google convert your documents if you want to use them again outside of Google Docs.
  6. If you’re on a tablet device and use M$ Office, you NEED to get your CloudOn.

This is all aside from my using of Evernote (free), Pocket  and iCloud for other syncing needs. I don’t use iTunes Match or music.google.com or last.fm, just plain old-fashion MP3s on a flashdrive.

MacBook Pro as My Primary GIS Machine

"It's called a Dot-Matrix kids" Hello, My name is Micah, I’m a Mac User, and I’m a GIS professional.

I’ve made the switch and I’m not going back.  Despite all the fun I’ve made of Apple over the years, despite rolling my eyes at the releases, iPods, phones, fanboys and all of it really. I’ve switched. Completely. I watched the WWDC, have a forums.macrumors login, get irritated with Windows file structure and have even contemplated putting a sticker on my car (haven’t). It all started about 18 months ago when I developed an app for my previous employer. Previous to that my experience was an Apple IIe making banners on a dot matrix printer in 7th grade.

I still have not conformed. These Anti-Establishment-Stick-It-To-the-Man feelings persist because I’m using the MacBook Pro as my primary GIS tool. Let me tell you, this takes a concerted effort. No Seriously, I’m going to tell you.

What’s already available for GIS on the Mac?

Not Much. Open Source, for one. But, if you want to feel what uDIG, Q-GIS, or GRASS is like, you don’t need a Mac to experience that. (Maybe Just stab yourself in the eye?) Specific to OSX, I really only found 2; Cartographica and MacMap (natively in Italian). At the writing of this entry, I have downloaded both, but tried neither. The point here is not to outline an alternative to Esri, but to embrace the normal workflow of an average GIS professional, but with a MacBook Pro.

Hardware:

As important as what you put on it, selecting the right MacBook is key. I didn’t want to spend a mint, so I got a 13 inch. I know Steve Jobs said disc media is dead – but not quite to me, so I chose one with a Super Drive. I knew I was going to virtualize so I got 8GB RAM. Finally, I didn’t want to wait around for much so I picked out a Solid State HDD. To be fair, I might have seriously considered sacrificing the Super Drive for the 13-inch with retina display, but I was about 2 months too early.

Software:

Many mac users who live in a PC world will recommend the Mac OSX utility BootCamp. But it’s a pain in the neck. Especially if you actually use all the native Mac applications (Mail, Calendar, Facetime, iTunes, iLife, Time Machine …) all that rebooting is a monumental inconvenience. So virtualization is more efficient  In my mind there is only one option here; Parallels. Parallels 8 to be specific. I tried the open source alternative, Virtual Box, but it is sad shadow of Parallels. It’s an amazing tool. Printers, Wireless, RDP, Shared folders… it all just works. There are enough options to satisfy even the pickiest of users. You can even dedicate up to a Gig of RAM for video memory and use ActiveX for video acceleration  In coherence mode, you hardly notice you’re executing exe files via the virtualized OS. Sometimes Parallels will slow the shutdown process of OSX, but I fault Windows for that, not the software. So run ArcGIS and everything else exclusive to Windows on Parallels. The other software fight I had was being able to write to an NTFS formatted drive, which is not native to the Mountain Lion OS. I don’t really understand why this limit is here, but whatever. Installing two programs and following the directions here, problem solved. now I can connect to my home 1 TB External drive to dump all my home movies I create in iMovie.

Desktop Setup:

This may be old school, but I like dual monitors and my desktop peripherals. Whenever I’ve had a PC laptop, I get a dock so I can close the lid and pretend it’s a desktop. Over the years the number of attachments have increased as well the size of my external monitors. The problem here is the 13″ MacBook Pro only has two USB3 ports and one has a 32 GB micro flash drive permanently affixed for my music library.  Enter Henge Docks. There are both good and bad reviews of this product, but I love it. At the end of the USB cable that comes with the Henge Dock, I put a USB Hub giving me as many ports as I need for whatever attachment that gets plugged in. The only bummer about the Henge Dock is the need to buy an additional power supply. Bite the bullet and do it. Displays were my last fight. I already mentioned my being cheap, so I didn’t spring for the Thunderbolt displays that can be strung together. And no matter what splitter you buy; a Mini Display Port signal cannot be pushed to two external displays in clamshell mode. So, through much fear and trepidation after reading reviews on Amazon, I purchased a DisplayLink Adapter (Adds a second display via USB). There is a ‘Slight’ stagger when moving windows over to that display, but no fuzziness or shaky, or blinking. It is attached via DVI-D and not VGA, maybe that makes a difference.

Click to see larger

So, there you have it. My set up being a geospatial consultant. In the future I hope to add a wireless Time Machine, Airplay speakers. and maybe a standing desk. Don’t be too jealous, Keep in mind this is all in Roanoke, Illinois.

Evenings off.

Currently, I am two weeks in at the new job. I like having my evenings back.

Of course, that’s a relative statement. It isn’t like I just watch TBS specials and eat buffalo wings all night long. With my family and activities, there’s plenty to do. My brain, however, seems to feel certain relief.  I would not have considered myself a ‘workaholic’ but my wife may have a different opinion. During the last two months of transition, my evenings were consumed with plans, reminders, last-minute projects, writing exit documentation…etc. I double holstered two iPhones, both with email. My mind was cluttered with ideas, priority lists and squeaky wheels. I slept little and had frequent headaches. Let me be clear. Not one job demanded this type of evening attention, it was my choice.

For the three professional jobs that I have left, I have tried to “Leave Well“. I have written knowledge base articles, help documents, commented code, and left open letters to my predecessors with the office manager. The previous two seemed to be an easier transition. Moving from one local government to the next seemed like moving down the hall. I attended the same meetings, had the same interactions and, lets face it, most politicians are (stereotype) the same personality. With this transition, there has been a period of detoxification. Two weeks out, I’ll admit to being very interested in the articles and radio reports of goings-on at the city and county. I wonder, email, and wish I knew what was happening. “Are the services up?” “Did the scripts run?” “Who is asking for help?” “Did someone steal my monitor yet?” I’ve been assured this is normal and it will fade.

I am, however, enjoying the freedom of working for a small consultant. I have to track my time more, but that constricting feeling in the back of my throat is gone. My music library is (for the first time) actually on the computer I’m using and not an external HDD. At the risk of this being read by my boss, I’ll admit to being a little lax in my hours these first few weeks. Longer lunches at home, taking the kids to school, picking them up. For the better part of 15 years I have not been able to feel like doing any of that is possible. As my interest in the affairs of my previous employer fades, I am confident that my work ethic will rise back to normal. And by ‘Normal’ I mean solid work days filled with GIS and most evenings off.

 

 

Half and Half

I grew up in the country about 200 yards from the family farm where my mother and grandfather grew up. Consequently, we put Half and Half on our cereal. I always hated eating cereal at a friend’s house after a sleepover because they used milk on their Cocoa Puffs. I would say, “You’re supposed to drink milk, not put it on your cereal!” It was not until much later in life when I realized milk actually was the preferred choice for a majority of breakfast cereal eaters. Presently, (after a few years of martial conditioning) I could never go back to Half and Half on my cereal.

When all you know is what you’ve done, that is what seems right to you. I’ve worked in local government since May of 2001. My entire GIS/Geospatial career. It seems right to me. The rules, red-tape and expectations are cumbersome and sometimes goofy but I’ve come to expect them and know how to be productive in spite of them. It’s all I know. It’s what I’ve done.

As of August 1st I will only be a half-time employee here at the County.
<dramatic pause>

Here’s the story: For a while now a local geospatial/engineering consulting firm has been courting me to work for them. Unbeknownst to anyone at the county, I had tentatively agreed to a September 3rd start date. Recently, a rather large assignment was given to me in my capacity as GIS Manager, one I had been trying to get for years. Knowing that I am the only GIS Cloudpoint Geographicsperson at the county and understanding the financial strain the county is in right now, I promptly expressed to the owner of this firm serious hesitation in such a hard  and fast break from the county in the light of this new project. Not to sound too idealistic, but I don’t want to leave that way. I’ve spent the last 5+ years trying to get to the point where I could take this assignment. The last thing I want to do is leave a bad taste in the mouth of my administration and all the affected players. Peoria is too small of a town and my professional career has meant too much to me to just burn the bridges as I leave.

So, I’ve negotiated this Half and Half agreement. I will spend half my time at Peoria County as I have for the last 5 years, sitting in the same cubicle, working feverishly on exit documentation and this new large assignment. Then, I will spend the other half at Cloudpoint Geographics working on their large projects and assignments (not affiliated in any way with county work). I don’t know how long it will last; 1 month, 2, 5? The county has asked me to stay as long as I can. I know that it is not sustainable long-term, as I am a mere mortal, loyalties will become divided. I do not intend to get to that point.

I mean, I knew that people put milk on cereal, I just thought they were poor kids.

Cloudy With a Chance of Clouds

If you know me or have ever read this blog; you know I’m a fan of Esri.
I also don’t back down from calling them out.

Name of Ugly Maps blurred to protect the innocent.

Name of Ugly Maps blurred to protect the innocent.

When GIS was starting, no one thought it would replace the artful aspect of cartography. Even the best practitioner would say, “ArcView maps are always ugly.” Once, I read a classmate’s Masters thesis on how GIS is not a good platform for traditional cartography. GIS was primarily used for ‘quick-n-dirty’ maps. Anyone who considered themselves an actual cartographer, used Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand. We wanted control over labels, symbols, text, layouts,  legends & everything really. High from our lofty positions, we looked down at hastily made GIS maps and scoffed. Then came Maplex, cartographic representation and a host of other tools to enable proper cartographic principles and symbology rules. Esri now has a group of extremely qualified of cartographers on staff. In the last 10 years, I think we all can agree that GIS can really produce beautiful maps.

Recently on the GIS scene is ArcGIS Online Subscriptions. Esri has big hopes for this product. I mean HUGE. See how Jack fawns over it. I’m not going to the UC this year, but I’d bet the kool-aid will be flowing.

<rant> I’m ticked about this whole ‘subscription’ thing. Esri spends 18 months telling us to use and develop with this free new tool (ArcGIS Online). They said “We will give you 2GB, Integrate it into your systems, use the templates, download and post the code on your webserver or we’ll host it for you for FREE. –  Oh Wait, No. Now that costs. But we’ll give you 9 months to comply. You’re welcome.” How long until participation in the Community Maps program costs $$ ? Esri really needs to explicitly define Non-Commercial (Govt, NGO, Education, 501c ). And tell us what (if anything) will disappear from these personal accounts. </rant>
 

Taking GIS to the cloud is a good idea for lots of reasons. However, ‘Just Because’ is not one of them. I see ArcGIS Online as the ‘quick-n-dirty’ of website programming. Just like the ArcView 3.x maps of old, the apps available are simple, basic and leave a lot to be desired (ascetically speaking). Giving the ability of creating web apps to your entire user base….? Yeah, that’ll work. I think we might find ourselves answering programming questions from frustrated users, instead of GIS questions.  There are many similarities in these two shifts in our profession. When web-GIS apps became the expected norm, our focus shifted from desktop applications to web programming. Currently, it’s shifting again to one of SaaS Administrator.  You won’t even make the code changes, just check the box to enable that permission to user ‘X’.

It’s not only us (GIS Pros) dealing with this same professional shift. I recently attended a user conference for a crime analysis software. That software company is rolling out an awesome dashboard tool. It functionally makes the crime analyst’s position legacy, or at least greatly changes it. This is never the intention of these software providers, they are just trying to make their systems better (can you say “steam-powered drill“?). I get it, this is the tech field, that’s how things go. Adapt or find another job. What I resent is when software companies shrug their shoulders and act like Urkel.

Is it good or is it bad? Meh. Different. I do think it (temporarily) lowers the bar for geospatial apps. Now everyone can make a crappy application. I’m sure that over time and releases the templates will get better. But are better Esri templates really the direction we want to go?

ArcGIS Server on Amazon Web Services

“If  the  world  would  just  stop  spinning  for  a  bit,  that  would  be  great.  I  could  catch-up.”  -Gramma Clara

My sentiments exactly. there is always a lot to keep up within the Geospatial Technology world, but it seems to be pretty thick lately. I have recently purchased an Amazon Webserver on the EC2 cloud. Why? Well, Esri recommends using AWS for one of four reasons: development, publication, failover, and caching. Seeing as how I only have licensing for one AGS production server, I thought it would make an awesome development/testing box for my Esri EDN subscription. Shutoff when you don’t need it, re-image AGS whenever things get funky, and well, it’s new & that’s how I roll. Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle and pretty much a deal breaker for this is: Local Connectivity.

Most mid-seized counties like mine use either an decommissioned server for development or just the programmers desktop. In any case the dev box has access to your local network and all the data therein. This is not the case with an AWS instance (instance = server). personally, I think these things are less like clouds and more like Micronesia. Out in the middle of the ocean and only available via plane (Copy/paste) or boat (FTP). “What about VPN?” you say, well Ezree does not recommend using a VPN for AWS. Duh! What about a desktop license? Well, for some reason Arc License Manager is  installed in the AMI, but that doesn’t matter because I don’t have any single-use licenses to dedicate to this server. I have 8  ArcINFO and 3 ArcVIEW (i guess that’s advanced and basic respectively) concurrent licenses, Why would I shave off one and put it on a server in the cloud? Why does Esri put us thin these situations?

My option is to copy all the tables I might need and my GIS data on whatever county department’s application I’m building via FTP or some such mechanism to the SQLExpress install on the Amazon instance.  Tedious. Time consuming. Frustrating. Not to mention the fact that once I do get a working beta app approved, moving it back into production is not as simple as hitting the ‘Publish’ button in Visual Studio like it is now. I’d have to re-path all the GIS data and Sequel table references. No, using the AWS for development is not really efficient.  (Yeah, I have a custom app. I have to use VS2010, get over it)

So I’m planning on making it a failover server. I can set it all up, re-path everything, shut it off and then when something here breaks. Start it up and we’re good to go. Of course the data will be a snapshot of the copy date, but at least it won’t be unusable. And as Ben Franklin once said “If  three out of four fans die in your server, it’s useless.”

Some Notes About Using Amazon Web Services:

  • The internet connection on AWS is wicked fast. (~60 down/up)
  • It takes a Credit Card to get going. 
  • You could spend LOTS of Money in a short amount of time.
  • I’m using FileZilla Server for my FTP
  • Elastic IP addresses reset if you shutdown the instance
  • So does your Public DNS
  • Popped a hole in the firewall for local license manager to allow AWS instance (based on the elastic IP address) to reach in and get a concurrent license.

Inbox To-Do List

I really resent my Indox for being my To-Do List. After reading several articles declaring the benefits of a zero inbox, I try to keep it down to a dozen or so emails (The zero part is just unattainable). I’ve also been inspired to check my inbox periodically and not constantly. But that’s not happening either. Like a Pavlovian addict, I read thru emails I get the very moment I see that there is a new one. <pause because one just came in > In an attempt to organize them into categories, I flag them with colors meaning specific departments. But then what do I do if someone is asking for something? Mark them as Unread? Flag them with a due date?  Copy them over to my actual To-Do list. (BTW, I don’t use Outlook tasks because it doesn’t sync across devices)

I blame Google, because it’s easy, but mostly because it’s true. Yesterday I was coaching my own daughter on why it’s futile to clean out her G-Mail inbox. ‘Honey, Google gives you so much space it really doesn’t matter how many emails you have.’ Her argument was that she didn’t want to ‘See all those emails’. I realized that I was arguing against cleanliness and order and stopped.

I can’t avoid it. My inbox is my to-do list. I mean it has everything already build in: a timeline, attachments, CYA, check-boxes, priority, sorting, and search. We have become so utterly dependent on our email system it has become a file structure within itself. I just wish we could annotate emails and put a “date completed” on them.

One shining star in the email-inbox-to-do-list-blackhole is Adobe Acrobat Pro. Yup, that’s right. I’ve got no Love for the Adobe Behemoth, but show me something cheaper that does the same thing, I’m open. With this, I can right-click on a folder and ‘Convert to a PDF’. This  converts everything in that folder, even attachments, stores it, indexes it for searching, and then I delete from the whole email system. Cool thing is that  it retains it’s PDF-ness even though is behaves like a folder of emails.  At least it helps you feel more in control.

 

Could this be the end of email overload?

Pillbox GIS

A recent discussion about the direction of a major GIS software provider led to this blog entry. This unnamed company is moving in a direction of Platform As A Service (PaaS). I understand, it’s very new & it’s very early, but these are my thoughts:

When my Grandpa Howard was still alive he took 23 pills a day; 10 in the morning and 13 at night. As I would pour them into the little brown bowl and get him a can of ‘peps‘, I often wondered how many of these medications fight against each other. The goal of all the Doctors and this medication was to make him feel, act and move with less pain and damage internally. Thereby providing a long and easy life. For the most part, this worked but it wasn’t without confusion and frustration. Meds would change, prescriptions would expire, pills would feel or taste differently (he didn’t see too well) and I’m pretty sure he thought we were trying to poison him.   With all these medications and organization and the constant changing state of Doctor’s suggestions, we were just trying to help. But I think it often confused, angered and caused distrust with Grandpa. When we sat at long expense and explained the situation, things went better.

The lesson here with my Grandpa is the same as with the Pillbox GIS (BTW http://order.1and1.com/ is available) approach. I’ve heard it referred to as the cafeteria or shotgun approach. Whatever spin, the setup is the same: Provide many, many, many different options for your GIS users (both internally and externally). Let them make a choice about which application to use, which basemap they prefer, which layers they want and how they want to view it. If you have several little APIs, fine put them all together and let the user choose what they want. Choice is wonderful, but sometimes it can be a curse.
I see two problems with how this is unfolding: Confusion and Competition

Disclaimer: I am all about new technology and inspiring vision. I usually sign up and install beta-ware. I fully support change in government and private sectors. I am not a negative-nelly.

Competition:
We have an awesome GIS site.  You can do so much: choose basemaps & layers add tons of graphics, download data, query on hundreds of variables,  create a custom thematic map, and more functionality is in the can OR you can simply search for a house and find the information you want.  Why would I introduce a competing application that would take away users? I’ve trained over 150 people in the area on our website. Now I’m supposed say, “Well now you have a choice”? It has the appearance of internal conflict and dissatisfaction. It’s been said , “No, they don’t compete, they compliment” I say, if a user chooses one site over another, that’s competition.

Confusion:
This is the larger issue. The many choices our GIS provides already confuse our user base. Por Ejemplo:  We have the aforementioned awesome GIS website running on Silverlight. Say someone doesn’t want (or can’t) have Silverlight, we have the Flex-based companion for that person, it’s a much lesser application, but it’s there. Confusion. I get calls: “I’m on your GIS site and I can’t find <blank>”.  Me, “OK, well that’s available in 3 different locations… what does the site you’re on look like?” Confusion. Now throw into the mix a completely new mapping solution. Well, you can make a map here or here or there. Don’t know where it is? Just search for what you want, then add it to your map. BTW the easy search solution is not currently compatible with my awesome GIS site (see Competition above) It’s not just a new solution, It’s a new way to look at the whole Enterprise GIS Infrastructure. The PaaS model fundamentally changes the way users find GIS layers, information and then consume it. More than data in the cloud, more than software in the cloud; Everything is in the cloud. Explain that to a 90 year-old man when his pills taste different.

Again, I’m not against this. It’s very tough to adhere to or even write a technology/GIS plan in these times. I’ve been told this is the direction Xxxx is going. I’m all for change. It will take time. Like Years. I thought I was bleeding edge because I’m planning to move our webserver to a cloud-based virtual image later this summer. But what about my data server? Where will my imagery be? Will I always have SDE? What about parcel maintenance? What about security? I’ve signed up for this Beta program. But I have to push back, It’s my nature. When I’m an old man, I will always ask my doctor if I really need all these pills and if they have competing side-effects.

If you choose not to decide about PaaS you still have made a choice.

Open Source Elite

Watch out! The gloves are coming off!

I’m really tired of GIS Professionals Consultants who brazenly tout their own wares, talents and data while demonizing much ((Much) MUCH) larger companies for selling theirs. Listen, It’s awesome and cool that you do what you do for our Geospatial Industry. I won’t deny there is a little part of me who sorely wishes I was like you; on my own, working when I want, where I want… but please, ease off the hate.

You can use all the Open Source software you want, it’s cool, really. I use some myself. But please don’t make those of use who primarily use Esri products out to look like drooling buffoons blindly paying maintenance and scarfing down every crumb off Redland’s table. I imagine a select few of you sipping on imported wine laughing through their nose about some idiot who uses ArcMap at a small county to update the zoning shapefile (Esri’s formerly proprietary file-type which they opened up). “Ah-ha, Ah-ha. and he actually continues to pay maintenance!” “Har-har. Doesn’t he know he should put that into a fusion table and edit with Q-GIS then replicate to PostgreSQL for enterprise distribution?!? -For Free*?! What a buffoon!”

Our industry must have balance, competition and choices to thrive. I’m cool with Open Source GIS having a strong community around it. Sometimes I even feel like part of that community. I really like the philosophy and idealism behind it. What gets under my skin is the constant railing against certain companies just because they’ve been successful or they have a different business model. Or, when that venom is directed at the purchasers of aforementioned proprietary software. It makes me feel like I don’t ever want to work with/at/for certain open source elitist-GIS Consultants. It is simply unprofessional. But then again, We’re an Esri shop. So, I probably won’t have to.

Ahhhhhh. There I feel better.

Know Thyself (at least once a year)

There are lots of things I need to do when the calendar flips over to the next year; Query home sales, Back-up parcels, wash the coffee pot… essential yearly things. Last January I set out some professional benchmarks for myself. Here they are and how I did:

  1. Public Silverlight GIS site.
  2. 3-4 more mapping APIs for Public and Private use.
    • <Check> I only added 2 to the API category but added several more Applications from ArcGIS.com
  3. Something like a Citizen Scientist or Open POI GIS site.
    • Does an ArcGIS.com webapp count? Yes? < ¾ Check>
  4. Use of ESRI’s Community Mapping program.
    • <Check> Went online in September
  5. Use of GIS app to determine County Board and Precinct reapportionment.
  6. An app on I-Tunes & Windows Marketplace.
    • <½ Check> iTunes (Is Windows marketplace still running?)
  7. Visit 4 (or so) Schools to talk about Geospatial Technology.
    • <Check>

Either I set the bar too low or I am
GIS Rockstar. You can think what you want, as for me, let’s just say, I’ll be ordering new business cards. Next year the stakes are even higher. Here’s new list of professional goals to keep me hopping in 2012:

  1. Rollout HTML5 GIS application for use across platforms.
  2. Use and track server-side metrics for ArcGIS Server performance improvement.
  3. Larger and more automated data distribution network.
  4. Sunset all ArcReader Use (Finally).
  5. SEO for residential addresses within Peoria County.
    Implement Parcel Fabric into land records maintenance workflow. (Discovered this technology does not fit into our workflow)
  6. Visit 5 (or so) Schools to talk about Geospatial Technology.
  7. (Edit) Complete voter solution for Clerk’s Office

So you enjoy this Foo Fighter video and think about next year

_Blank_ Is Dead

Why the obsession with death? When did the tech industry turn into Goth?

There are so many blogs and websites declaring the death of this, or that. (PCs, Macs, Silverlight, GIS, Privacy, Google+, MySpace, SEO, Poerty, Facebook, As400 ) It’s like they want to be the first who called it. Arrogance and pride drives the need to be right or first. (That’s soooo 12 seconds ago) I understand, No one wants to be holding the HD DVD or Betamax player, but can we all just relax and take a deep breath? Who started this trend anyway? In 1790 Edmund Burke declared “The age of chivalry is gone.” Ever since then we have been scrambling all over each other to be the first to notice the decline of something.

Now, I’m all for change. I like change. Change is a part technology as much as aging is a part of life. As a society of technologists and geographers we have to accept and advance with change. But how pretentious is it to outright delcare the end of an idea, product or movement ahead of it’s time and without ever being a part of it? Granted, everything and everyone is replaceable. Also, because of entropy eventually everything will be replaced. However, change is no more death than the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly is. Did the caterpillar die? No. Did he change? Completely.

How do you know if something is slowly dying or simply changing? I think there’s two ways; Authoritative Decisions and/or Time. Authoritative example: HP deciding to discontinue their touchpad tablet. It’s dead because the company who makes them says so. (even then they doubled in price on eBay) Also in this category is Google Buzz and Wave, if the company pulls the plug, it’s done. End of story. Time example: School Filmstrips and  Ditto Machines. They’re dead because there is a cheap, viable replacement and no one (other than your hipster-etsy-sister-in-law) uses them anymore. Current school aged children will never know that ding of the filmstrip audio or the smell of that purple ink on a ditto paper.

On the other hand, overhead projectors have changed. My kids kept talking about their teachers using overhead projectors. I said, “WOW really?! like they  write on the clear transparency film and crank the roll to a new clean place for notes?” <rolls eyes> “No Dad, it’s a document camera, You are so old!” Seems the company that made those hot and dangerous overhead projectors now makes a cheap portable document camera. Change, not death.

Silverlight is not dead, Flash is not dead. Sometime in the future we will stop using these technologies (both parent companies have stated their sunset plans), but it’s a few years away. HTML5 may be the future but it isn’t for now. GIS is not dead, nor are PCs.  These things are changing. We really need to get over this pretentious obsession with being the first to declare something dead, it’s morbid.

Edit: in searching links for this entry I found this other great post from a few short weeks ago. Seems like I’m not the only one annoyed with this trend.

iDont Know How To Do This-Part2

This is the second post in a 2 part series explanation of a Non-Developer’s 11 month process of getting an Esri template iOS GIS app submitted to iTunes. See the first

Essentially, X-Code did not recognize the Distribution Certificate that was installed on the Keychain Access for the Mac. It claimed to be valid but was never an option in the code.

The ensuing 2 days were filled with Google searching, coffee drinking, forum reading (more on forums later) and face-palming.  All-in-all iDeleted all my certificates in Keychain, re-installed X-Code, SDK, iTunes, and tried the same thing over-n-over as if being another day would make a difference (well today is Wednesday, so…) Eventually, on November 3rd, iSubmitted an incident to Apple developer technical support as an email. You get 2, that’s right TWO for your $99 enrollment into the Developer Program. Day 1 nothing. Day 2 iSend a follow-up email, annoyed that they only have email for tech support, nothing. <weekend> Day 3, Nothing, another email. Day4, Phone call to Apple developer support. (not tech support, more like admin for your account) he explains that he has no technical knowledge to help me, but does an awesome job in making me feel like he cares. (Seriously, every time iCalled them (and i did a lot) they made feel like they were on top if it and the perfect solution was just moments away. They must get training in “How to empathize when you really don’t care“) Fill out a form for customer complaints referring to incident number. Day 5, nothing. OK. I’m really trying to be the loudest squeaky wheel iCan and am starting to get irritated that it’s not working. iSaid things like “I would gladly pay more money for better service” and “Please I’m begging you, I’m a grown man begging another grown man… Please help me” iLiterally called my Esri Account Rep, and thanked him for how great Esri Tech Support is. Day 6 -13 (These are business days) is a blurr of calls, emails, resubmitting incidents, forums and mostly working through Technical Note TN2250 over and over.

One word on forums; Forums are only good for having your pride smashed to bits by some egotistical troller looking for people posting questions in the wrong area, then they anonymously lambaste you for being so stoopid (looking at you “KMT”). Then even when you are in the correct forum, there is a 90% chance you’ll get someone “helping” you by providing a link to a document from a Google search you tried 2 weeks prior. Outside of StackOverflow.com, I am not a fan of forums.

Technical Note TN2250. This turned out to be part of the final solution, but so were all the online directions and tutorials. In fact iCannot point to any one thing that was the silver bullet. iWent through that note 5 times (completely honest). The process is not straightforward at all. If anyone says “All you have to do is X, Y & Z” call them a Liar. You jump back and for the between X-Code, the Mac’s Keychain Access, your developer provisioning portal, iTunes Connect and anywhere the links take you in TN2250. It’s not a walk-through document; it’s more like a walkabout. There’s so much there you feel like you are going in circles. Well one of those times around stuck and iWas able to submit it.

Here are a few changes iMade that could have been key:

  1. The Bundle ID was not mentioned in Esri’s documentation and it should have been because it’s critically important. Also had to change the Bundle Display Name to match the ID iGave the app on iTunes connect. Esri gave it ParcelValue, iChanged it to parcelvalue because iPut in org.peoriacounty.gis.parcelvalue as the app Bundle ID.
  2. A lot of the online Apple documentation mentioned using a “wildcard” app ID. (App ID and Bundle ID are different things) I am not intending on deploying any other iOS apps, so in the end everything was specific, no wildcards.
  3. Way back in October iCreated the app on iTunes connect and it had been ‘waiting for upload’ since then.  On Business day 13 iCompletely deleted this app and recreated it with a new app name (this isn’t the ID), it just felt good to have pseudo progress.
  4. iCleaned out all my provisioning profiles, deleted the certificates and essentially started over. This time iUsed Peoria County, Illinois as the name in one of the provisioning fields. iSwear that the certificate looks the exact same. My name is still listed as the private key holder in Keychain Access.
  5. There are steps in TN2250 for “Keeping Your Profile Library Clean” this includes allowing X-Code Organizer to enable Automatic Device Provisioning. iFound that when iChecked this, my distribution provisioning profile went away. So iUnchecked this and Wa-La! My distribution profile was available in X-Code! iTunes submission shortly followed.

Which one of these was the “One” that allowed the submission to work? Dunno. Maybe one maybe all. What iDo know is that this is my first and last iOS App. My developer is currently working on a HTML5 simple app that will allow more functionality than this app does. iWas committed to getting this thing published if nothing, out of principal. I had too much invested to let it fail, and believe me it crossed my mind many times. So, the Short of it is. This whole process was a nightmare, Go HTML5.

At any rate when the PeoCo GIS app finally hits iTunes store this is what you’ll hear

iDont Know How To Do This-Part1

This is a 2 part series explanation of a Non-Developer’s 11 month process of getting an Esri template iOS GIS app submitted to iTunes. Jump to second

Last January iWas at Lowes shopping for a new washing machine. A co-worker called me and said how he had gotten an iTouch for Christmas and did iKnow that our GIS didn’t work on it. iSaid that it was assumed and wouldn’t expect any Apple GIS app very soon. It was kind of a blow-off, but it got my wheels turning. Later that month iReceived word from our Esri Acct Rep that the local government group may release an iOS template soon. iFollowed them on Twitter to get the latest news.

Sho’nuf in mid-February, the group released Parcel Value for iPhone Template for ArcGIS 10. If you’re not familiar with Esri templates, it is like a starter package. There’s code, data and directions. iDownloaded the Zip package and futzed around for a while and got the required services up and running with the demo data. To go any further or even look at the code, you need a Mac and Apple’s IDE, X-Code. It just so happens we had just ordered one. You need to understand something; this was my first time using a Mac computer. Evar. So, iWas already behind the curve on just using the thing let alone developing on it. But Heck, Apple products are supposed to be a joy to use, Right? Maybe to use, being on the back side of all that easiness, is a PITA.

With pretty good directions from Esri, iPublished the config file on our web server and tested the app via the X-Code simulator(why isn’t it “iCode”, I’ll never know). By mid-May we had a running, albeit simulated app hitting our services but Esri’s data on our webserver. Because this was development, the only time iWorked on it was when my schedule allowed it.

This on/off development style continued up until the Esri User Conference. iHad completed the migration from their data to our own and even had managed a few custom tweaks within the code. iAcquired an iPad and really wanted to test the app on the device. Somewhere about this time Esri upgraded the iOS API, to coincide with Apple upgrade to OSX Lion and X-Code4, this broke the whole template and app. They eventually fixed it, but after an angry tweet and few days of talking to very confused technical support staff at Esri and me having to remind them that Jack promised that they would support templates. More on tech support later.

Provisioning the app to an iOS device requires becoming an Apple developer. Here it’s worth noting that Apple offers two different developer programs; the Apple Enterprise Developer program is $299/year and the regular Apple Developer program is just $99. Here it’s also worth noting here that iMade a HUGE mistake. iChose the Apple Enterprise Developer program. iMean it’s 3x the price of the regular, it should include everything that the plain-ol $99 development program would, Right? iKnow it’s says it’s for internal deployment, but the documentation iRead never explicitly told me “YOU CANNOT SUBMIT APPS TO THE ITUNES STORE WITH THIS PROGRAM” Such a warning would have deterred me. Therefore, iWasted about a month and $299 joining this program. No one told me so I’ll tell you: Unless you’re a huge company (what are you doing reading this blog?) The Apple Enterprise Developer program is a waste of money. You can provision up to 100 devices for testing and deployment with the regular dev program.

As it turns out when you tell Apple you’re a local government entity, they take it seriously (which seems nice) and feel required to make you prove it. This dialogue of proof is only done with Apple via facsimile transmission. Yeah that’s right, one of the most advanced companies in the world require you to use FAX. In case you didn’t know FAX SUX. Also, the legal binding authority needs to be involved in this process. In local govt that usually isn’t the developer or GIS-pseudo developer. For some crazy reason Apple thinks it should be. So there’s a barrage of emails, phone calls, explanations, faxes and online forms to even get to the point that you can PAY Apple to be in the developer program. Let me remind you that iSuffered this whole process twice. Once for the wrong program, which iRealized when iGot to the point of trying to submit the app. “This AppleID is not authorized to submit Apps to the iTunes Store” Begin again. OK more like: Cry a little & begin again.

During the process of waiting and reapplying for the other developer program, the app was provisioned & installed onto my developer iOS device. It was field tested and tweaked and reinstalled and eventually made ready for primetime. Here are the few custom changes that were modified from Esri’s template:

  • Icon/Splash screen
  • Edit the config.xml file to use my fields
  • Put 2 years of sales information instead of foreclosures
  • Change the Title of info boxes to “Sales Data” instead of “Foreclosures”
  • Aerial Imagery basemap instead of Tax Basemap
  • Point email link to use our GIS website
  • Added our disclaimer and contact info to About page

At this point it’s early October. iPosted a tweet calling for anyone to come to the courthouse and iWould provision their device and give them the app. Four people took me up on the offer.

Lets fast forward to the end of October, past all the phone calls, faxes and forms to enroll into the second and proper developer program. Past the internal turnover of my Boss and all the chaos his username and AppleID login caused (Sometimes iStill see my name listed as Russell Williamson on Apple’s website, thanks again Russ). To the point that we’re enrolled as an Apple Developer with a generic name and email so that if I’m hit by a bus, it’s not tied to me. Apple makes you think submitting your app to iTunes is a snap. An easy 3-step process and any 6th grade child can accomplish. Provision your app, download and install the certificate, then hit submit! Well iWatched a few tutorial videos, followed a few help docs and had every assumption that when iHit submit, it would work.

Error.

Next Up Tomorrow:
Part 2, Success

Squeaky Wheel

I call Apple Inc. every day.

No really; EVERY DAY. At least for the last two weeks. See, I’ve been trying to get into their Developer Program. It’s cheap and a fairly straight forward process, if: you are a regular joe person or a small programming company. I want enrolled as my position I have here at the County. I have a GIS app that I want on the iTunes Store.  When you are a government organization, trying to convince Apple that you are who you say you are and that you can legally be the person who says you are who you say you are is kind of difficult. It involves lawyers, faxes, forms, verification phone calls to people who don’t answer their phone, official letters, my firstborn, tax exempt status, more faxes, changes to official letters, even more faxes (I’ve faxed the same letter 6 times!) and then the part about me calling everyday to get a status update.

I use the squeaky wheel theory. It has worked for me and against me. It especially works with Esri tech support. I’m pretty sure there’s a note attached to my name when I call tech support it pops up and says: “If you don’t solve this guy’s problem or pass him off, he will make your life miserable!” At least that’s my assumption.

My newest way of being a squeaky wheel is Twitter. Here’s my thought on that: With the companies I’m working with, most have a twitter account. I think the person in charge of that account is not necessarily the person that would answer the phone when I call for support or a question. So it’s a higher line into the company. Drop a question in twitter and add the @<twitterID> and they’ll see it as a mention, be compelled to reply or at least direct someone to answer, because Who wants an unanswered mention just sitting out there on twitter? Obviously there is a threshold where this breaks down, I’m not trying this method with Apple (they still FAX for Pete’s Sake!). I recently had some success getting an answer on a forum question about 3 minutes after I got a reply from twitter. It’s not just my idea, here’s an article from read-write-web on the subject from THREE Years ago.

Ok now there’s some remorse/hesitation I have about being “That Annoying Guy”. But I have 3 responses to that:

  1. I’m not mean, just persistent.
  2. Persistence is not whining.
  3. I take calls all the time from the public about our GIS website. So, as much as I dish it out, I can take it.

Now if you’ll pardon me, it’s almost 2:30 which is my time to call Apple.

Turn Turn Turn

Literally, just yesterday, I said to someone; “Ever since My first boss quit 3 months after I started, I don’t get surprised by co-workers leaving”. That was Yesterday.

Today, my current boss announced that he’s leaving. Less than 24 hours between my comment and his staff-wide announcement.

I’m not big into remorse, shoulda-coulda-wouldas or what-ifs. So this isn’t a time for being sad or self pity. There’s work to be done, tie up loos ends and squeeze as much knowledge benefit I can before October 7th (His last day). If you want my personal opinion of my boss you need to get to know me and ask after a while, I’m not posting anything like that here. This post is more about personal introspection than someone else’s career. What I’m wondering about is impact and change.

As someone who likes and promotes change, here’s what I’m asking myself:

  • If the people you work with (Or your employees, if you had any) had a chance to change back or undo the things you help build, would they?
  • Are the systems you put in place still in place?
  • Is the organization better off, or hoping you’ll leave soon?
  • Are your changes positive or unduly burdensome?
  • Are you creating an environment which promotes your replacement or depends upon your every breath of existence.

This last one is touchy in government. People like to call this “Job Security“, I think it’s selfish. Bad programmers like to program themselves into a job, using comments (or not at all ) to insure only they understand what’s going on. That’s a myth, everyone is replaceable and homegrown IT can be replaced with commercial products. I have heard other Yoda wisdom about working yourself out of a job, then you can only move up.

This is a good idea with GIS automation. No one wants to be reminded to run the extract manually or kick off a .py file before they leave for the weekend. VPN, RDP, Task scheduling, VoIP… Honestly, if it weren’t for customer service, I wouldn’t even need to be here. “I’m Sorry Dave, I can’t do that

Fact: County Admins are replaceable, CIOs are replaceable, I’m replaceable. Once we accept that and stop fearing it, we can move on, continue to do great work and learn from each other. All the best Russ.

Putting Paper Maps Where They Belong

In 2006 I spoke at a state GIS conference on converting to a digital infrastructure. We called our talk “From Mylar Maps to Mobile GIS”. It focused on the process of moving from those huge, unruly mapbooks as a primary instrument of sewer locations to an ArcPAD application on field toughbooks. (As a point of note I wanted to call it ‘Shredding the maps’, but that got shot down.) I was against printing maps for use out in the field and really resented being asked to make big PDF Maps. My reasoning was that with smartphones, dashboard GPS, Google, wristwatch GPS and everything else, we don’t need paper maps anymore.

This was rather short-sighted and small-minded.

Maybe I had made too many in years past; maybe I had too much faith in GIS applications. I don’t exactly know what my problem was, I honestly remember being upset whenever is was asked to make big maps. I was insulted; “How Dare you Sir! ask me to squander my talent on… ugh… paper.” I’m not that way anymore. For one; I’m working on anger issues. For two; I do see some benefits of having big maps.

With iPhone Apps, Garmin Nuvis and the like, you lose a real sense of scale. Small screens = small perspective. I’m not advocating we all go back to the State Farm Atlas for our road trips, those are truly dead. What I mean is retaining an understanding how far 6 miles actually is (like knowing what 80 acres feels like because you’ve walked beans or de-tasseled) .  You get this with the big wall maps. There’s something about going close up to a poster sized map and run your fingers along a route or across the country. It really helps you understand how small we are, or how far away place is. Perspective, scale, reference… these are almost emotions. Not just for us spatial types either. I like to see kids just look at a big map and ask, “Ok, where are we?” You don’t get that same sensation with a handheld GPS.

So I guess what I’m saying is; Paper Maps Belong on the Wall. Here is a huge 4′ x 6′ PDF map (12 meg) I’ve recently updated, screaming for a wall.

Data Templates, Community Map & Parcel Fabric

OK. There’s been a momentum change at Esri. A paradigm shift, if you will. Maybe it happened when they changed their name from E-S-R-I to Ez-riee. Maybe it was when the User Conference outgrew their own Campus. Maybe it was when Jack was attacked by a gorilla, I don’t know, but it has happened.

  • They no longer sell software.
  • They no longer sell training of the software they once sold.
  • They no longer sell certification for training of the software they once sold.
  • They don’t even sell training for certification for training of the software they once sold.

They sell Concepts*

I might be acting a little too melodramatic about this. I mean, it’s not actually a bad thing. Heck; I’m buying everything they’re selling, concepts included. But what has been rolled out to us GIS users and professionals in the last year is a huge shift from selling the latest update to ArcMap. It’s so much more than just software enhancements, more than just changes in database schema. Here’s what Jack Dangermond said about the concept of data templates:

“Templates are data models and workflows expressed as a map. So you might call it an app. We really want to demystify the concept of a template, because it’s really just something that you use regularly.”

The first step in selling a concept is saying how simple something is. No one wants to be confused by something that is supposed to be simple. Let me unpack what’s happening: Esri wants (or suggests) us to integrate our system architecture into their data templates so that we can more easily use their apps. They want our data to look and behave like everyone else’s data so that they can make some assumptions while developing apps for that particular template schema. Admit it; how many fields does your centerline layer have? 18? 20? 25? when you try to merge it to a neighboring city or county, how difficult is the field mapping process? I bet no other county has an attribute field called [Actual_L_F] or [GOOG_CLASS].  Wouldn’t it be nice if we can simply download a cool web or mobile app and it just works because the developers data schema look the same as ours? It’s a good idea as long as these apps and templates stay open, editable and free (or relatively cheap). Esri is attempting to help us all standardize our data. I can understand how some might push back at a private company dictating how we create and manage data. But, it’s already happened, can you say Microsoft?

The Community Maps Program is the gateway drug into this world view. We at Peoria County (and by ‘we’, I mean my intern) spent 3 weeks putting our planimetric data into the template required to participate in the program. It looks awesome BTW. Now that the data is there, this thought enters my head: “Why edit these features twice? I should just maintain the data in this schema.” Bam! I’m in. Welcome to Hotel California.

Another step down the rabbit hole is Parcel Fabric. I don’t claim to fully grasp this either. It appears to me to be a conglomeration of coverages (yeah- i know), COGO, geometric networks and topology all rolled into one. It’s a new type of feature dataset. Oh goody. The goal is ease of editing, and more accuracy in your parcel database. I may sound like a fanboy, but I’m on-board with this one too. Times too numerous to count, folks say “Hey your map is wrong!” My response is usually, “It’s within tolerance”. I’m not afraid of the change. I just hate the look I get when I tell editors that things will be different next week.

All these Concepts work together, they have to. But there are lots of big unanswered questions. What is the end goal? What does Esri Jack see as GIS 10 years out? Should we take the red pill and follow? Will we be left behind or high and dry? Maybe I’m making too much of it all.

 

* Ok, I know Esri still sells software, it’s a metaphor.

Saying No.

We all like to think we’re good at this.

I would at least. It’s not that I can’t say no, that’s not a problem. I know people like that. I pity people like that. When my kids call out for me at home, I answer by saying, “No”. My issue here is crushing the soul of the person whom I’m saying ‘No’ to. I’d like to think that I gently say No. Like I make them feel as though I’m gently lying them down in a bed of daises while cherubim shade their eyes with fig leaves. In reality, I kick them in the chest and laugh as they gasp for air. This is a growth point I should work on.

I don’t think there is harm in having healthy boundaries. But at the same time you have to know who signs your paychecks. In the past I’ve fretted heavily about telling customers no about a specific GIS project or enhancement to a GIS app. Customer Service is a big deal to me and I thought that if I couldn’t deliver what someone wanted, I was not providing the level of support I expected.

Recently I’ve realized that poor Customer Service isn’t having to say, “No”. It’s not caring that you do. If you truly take into consideration your customers request, think about it, research the possiblity, and then must say “No”, that is acceptable. In fact, I might contend that it’s better Service than saying Yes to everything and only delivering half of the enhancements that you promised.

Yeah, saying No is the easy part. Giving a crap is where most humans fail.

Hola, ¿como estas?

I’ve been gone. I took my son and we ran for the border.

Actually we took two planes and a 15 passenger van. The week of June 11-18, I went to Reynosa, Mexico and helped build a school for deaf kids. We were working with a great organization called Isaiah 55 Ministries. Like other developing countries, there is not a lot of help from the Mexican government for the deaf. Religious and Social non-profits step in to fill the gap, Isaiah 55 is one such organization. They already have one school and are busy building a second.

It was awesome.

I’m not going to fill up this post with stories of personal changes to my perspective and shifts in my world-view. That would be another blog altogether. Since returning, there are things I have noticed and subtle changes I have made:

  • I’ve  noticed that downtown Peoria is relatively clean.
  • I walk a little slower and drive a little harder.
  • I have less patience for selfish idiocy.
  • Dogs do not normally rule the streets in America.

These are easy, no one can see depravity and real poverty and not be changed in this way. But, like I said, that’s for a different blog.

The real question I’ve wrestled with this week is:
“How will this trip change how I work?”

I have a job as a GIS Professional. I work in an air-conditioned office, sit in a Herman-Miller Aeron chair, click on my computer making maps and sometimes eat out for lunch. This is a fact. Do I somehow deny all this, sell my house and move in with Guillermo the bricklayer? Most likely, No. What then, do I do with the experiences I had and struggles I witnessed? I’m not one to speak very openly about personal stuff. So, even posting this is outside of my comfort zone, and hardly any of my co-workers even knows I have a blog.

I was sharing this quandary with a Yoda-wise friend of mine and he said. “Don’t try too hard, most likely your trip will find you.” Great Advice. No use trying to pull out meaning when there is not yet meaning to be found.

I said what?

You know how were bombarded with surveys? like all the time? The Peoria area has traditionally been a test market for all kinds of products and tours. So maybe it’s just us. But getting asked to take a survey is a fairly normal occurrence. As was the case on a rainy day a few weeks ago when I filled out the Esri Pre-Conference Survey.

Background: I’m going to this year’s Esri User Conference out in San Diego. It’s a wealth of information, training and revelation. It’s a time I can sit with peers and discuss the struggles/successes of GIS over sushi and a brew. It’s an awesome shot in the arm to recharge and refocus the direction of where Peoria County GIS should go. Before you actually get to the conference Esri you get bombarded with emails asking for your opinions, applications, pictures, ideas etc…

So about this survey. Well, apparently while I was in one of my many foul moods, I filled out this 20 minute survey. And (apparently) I was rather harsh in my judgment of Esri and their vast array of products. I hit submit and never thought of it again, because that how surveys are supposed to work, Right? I guess not in California. Within the span of ONE DAY I received three personal phone calls from Esri. One surprising and refreshing call from @mgcopping who is Esri’s Mobile Product Manager. Apparently about ArcGIS Mobile; I said, “This Sucks, I have it. It doesn’t work”. I remembered typing that after Mr. Copping read it aloud. :) I was given some direction and He assured me I would hear from him again.  Because I am stubborn, I must stand by everything I said. If I wrote it, it was real to me at that time. I don’t lash out just for the sake of being an anonymous jerk. I’m a jerk with a name and a face.

What I’m impressed with is Esri’s response. When my Account Manager (@cliske01) called I could tell he was actually personally affected. The Training Manager who called honestly wanted to figure out why I though training has suffered over the last two years. I never want to personally offend, but if my comments and complaints cause discomfort that leads to a positive change, then I’m validated. I’ve expressed stronger opinions on trial Doritos flavors  new kinds of soda, even toothpaste and never received feedback. It’s nice to know that opinions of a GIS Manager in a small Midwest county can be heard all the way to Redlands.

Me and this iPad

ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!20110510-103653.jpg

Ok, not really. But it feels like it. Working on an iPad feels like the future. I’ve had this 1st generation hand-me-down for about a week and a half. My conclusion is this: Tablets will replace laptops. Maybe not the iPad specifically, but tablets in general. There are some good points and some bad. The following is no way a complaint, as not to get it taken away ;) just my observations.

Bummer #1. Typing. Royal pain. The keyboard is responsive, but I Love my number pad and extra keys. I’m not the quickest typist anyway, so to require me to touch 3 buttons to get to # or % slows my entry to the point of hunt-n-peckers.

Bummer #2. Copy and Paste. Apple says “who and what??” I know there is the function of select and copy but it’s a pain and you don’t always get what you want on the first try. I know you can hold down and see the magnifying glass…I have big fingers OK?!

Bummer #3. Google. I admit i’m a google geek. I have about every account they offer and am ok with them showing me ads that relate to my emails. There aren’t a lot of apps in the app store that facilitate this addiction to google. Correction, free apps.

Bummer #4. Word suggestion. I don’t want word fess I want word reds. NO WORDPRESS. There, if you want to avoid suggestions, just type everything in ALL CAPS. (btw, the WORDPRESS app sucks too)

Bummer #5. Glare. I tend to avoid looking at myself in mirrors. The glare on the iPad is so intrusive in the sunlight, I shriek in horror. It’s like a shadow of myself is inside the screen trying to get out, an ugly double chinned shadow.

With all these things you may wonder why I think tablets will replace laptops. Well, these things are indeed bummers, but they are not deal-breakers. Our fingers relearning what they must do, is easier than you think. Actually it feels quite natural. Remember the joke about the blonde with white-out on her screen? Without training, you tend to know how to interact with a touch screen tablet. Also, they’re more social. Trying to talk to someone behind a laptop is frustrating at best, with a tablet, there’s no screen to hide behind. Finally, theres the speed. Solid-state drives and dual core ( even on this 1st generation without dual core ) I have not experienced any lag. I can turn it on and be emailing within seconds. My wife wanted to know about a flower she had bought, Bam, got it. They (tablets) have the speed and ease of smartphones with the screen size and versatility of a laptop. As everyone and their brother are coming out with a version, it will shake out and a few will rise to the top. It’ll be interesting to see what support GIS will get.

It should be said that I had intended to insert a video of me using the iPad for a GIS demo, but this sucky wordpress app sucks.

Google Earth Builder, Smoked Turkey & other GIS Changes

Over the weekend, my father-in-law smoked a turkey on his gas grill for Easter. It was, possibly, the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. “How did you know what to do?” I asked. “Well, I Googled it.”  He said.

It’s not what he did; it’s how he found out. I find it amazing that my wife’s 60+ retired father has changed and adapted to technology enough to consider the internet a valid option of learning a new cooking technique.  Old dogs can learn new tricks if they use Google.

There have been a lot of geography changes flying around in the last month:

Let’s all take a deep breath.  And calm down. A few of these things will bring about real change, some are just bumps in the road and others won’t even register.

Technology changes reality and technology changes quickly, right? Then why doesn’t reality change at the pace of technology? At least in government work, reality moves very s-l-o-w-l-y.  I rolled out a new GIS website last month. On our ‘old’ public site I put this warning: “This site is being REPLACED! After June 30th, 2011 It will no longer be available …bla bla bla” I gave my users a 4-months buffer to adapt to the change.  You would think I’m using live puppies to mop the floor. Why does positive change scare so many people?

I would love institute some of the things that I hear & read about in the geospatial tech world. Maybe a Google Earth mash-up? Or maybe a OSM/Wiki-Style POI database? Better yet how about a geodata clearinghouse portal? I think these things would be benificial, but I like change. At best they would make enemies of all my customers, at worst, these changes could get me fired.  Departmental buy-in is so crucial to the success of GIS, I must institute just enough change to keep with their comfort level. Here’s the clench: As fast as tech changes out there in the ‘World’, reality moves just as slowly in here. I’ll always push that envelope, but let’s just slow down a bit and focus on eating leftovers while I read bogs about geo-innovation.

I really wish someone would have told me

Once, I walked around for 1/2 a day with my zipper down.
I really wish someone would have told me

I thought the movie 6 Degrees of Separation was about Kevin Bacon.
I really wish someone would have told me

The first time I ate sushi I thought you were supposed to spread the wasabi on.
I really wish someone would have told me

Back in January when I upgraded to ArcGIS Server 10, I thought my webserver could handle it.
I really wish someone would have told me

In 2008 pushing ArcIMS, we got a very decent HP ProLiant 360 blade server. It had Windows 2003 and 4 GB of RAM and Dual 3GHz Xeon Processors. “Besides” We told ourselves, “The data server will be doing all the work” Well, what we didn’t count on was ArcGIS Server 10.0, Map Services or Exploded Caches. Now, I’ve been using AGS 9.3.1 for well over a year and I even bought extra HDD space for the caches. Service has been OK, but everyone knows that dynamic services are a hog, right? I mean, what to you expect? Google?!

The third day of training on our new silverlight site, I started to notice a significant decline in performance. It was embarrassing. Not just on the new application, my Java Script APIs, Flex Apps, REST, everything was slow. I started to test for causes & solutions. It wasn’t that my processor was just peaked-out the whole time, that’s easy to see. Esri tech support had me shut off all services except for one. Guess what? performance returned. Diagnosis: server over-utilization.

Well here’s the deal. Someone should to tell you, so I Will.

  • If you want to run more than a paltry 6 or 7 mapping services (dynamic or otherwise), you NEED 4 cores.
  • If you want to create caches without taking down your webserver for a fortnight, you NEED 64-bit.
  • Caching everything doesn’t solve the processor problem either. In-fact, unless you’re planning on using Solid State drives you NEED at the very least 8GB of RAM or more to serve up those images. It’s about disk que length, not processor power, so get something with 10,000 rpm.

Here’s a video I made of the two sites side by side. I’m flipping over to the new one this weekend, so depending on when you read this, there may not be a problem anymore.

Grrrrrrrrrrrr

Sometimes, I’m just in a bad mood.  And for reasons that I’ve stated in the past, this blog is mostly therapeutic. So the doctor is in.

I had one of the best weekends in the past few years this past weekend. It has been followed by a week where everything seems to go against me. I say “seemed” because everything in-fact did not go against me. Actually, I can point to no one thing that really put me over the edge. In life, it seems that it’s easier to deal with huge trauma all at once rather than 1,000 little irritating constant annoyances.

I once played “Would you Rather” with some friends. The basic idea of the game is that you are presented with two equally unrealistic/unappealing scenarios and told you must choose your preference. Your team gains points by correctly predicting what choice the other team will make.  One of these ridiculous scenarios has stuck with me and my position has solidified.

“Would you rather have a tiny man living in your nose who will occasionally pull a nose hair without warning”
OR
“Would you rather have a tiny man living in our mouth who constantly hammers on your teeth”

Without question I would rather have the nose-hair gnome.  I can deal with catastrophic failure, I have a plan for that. But when tiny little nuacnces build up and there is little to no resolution I can’t stand it. To be honest, it drives me crazy. Usually, I make a list of all the things that are ticking me off, then flush it down the toilet. This week … I may not know you, but you made the list.

At least it’s Friday.
I’ll start working on “Being a more joyful person” next week.

For Better or for Worse

We married Silverlight.

A few months ago, there was some chatter on the tubes about Microsoft killing Silverlight. It was all due to some comments made by Bob Mugila at PDC 2010 talking about HTML5. Then about 44.2 seconds later there was even more chatter about how he was backpedaling. Silverlight is Dead- Long Live Silverlight! It’s turned into a joke really.

Peoria County GIS has been courting Silverlight for well over a year now. Not because we have a magic orb in our tower (we do). Mostly because our developer of choice chose Silverlight as a platform while SL2 was still in Beta. Secondly, was that I liked to say the word xaml [ZÃMûL] in a sentence. As in “Oh hay there, this is just my Visual Studio 2010 testbox with a few xaml pages, no biggie. What are you working on…VB6?” We GIS people like to stick traditional programmers whenever we can. Here’s the awesomeness.

Honestly I’m not worried. This week is Esri’s Developer Summit and I expect some kind of Silverlight configurable viewer to be released. Our previous IMS GIS site, which will still be running until June 30th 2011, has served well over 250 thousand visitors since it’s debut in September of 2008. Currently the GIS page on peoriacounty.org is #3 on the hit list. There is no way that M$ is going to kill Silverlight within 3 years. Besides, we’re using all 3 Esri APIs in our development. In 3 years who knows what wen technology we’ll be developing in. Probably some new flavor of JavaScript in HTML5, we’ll get a better Idea after MIX11.  At any rate, staying relevant means accepting change. For Better or For Worse, that’s the deal.

I’d say my experience was EXACTLY like this.

Census 2010 Data

IN 2001 I remember buying a Geolytics software package because they claimed to be compatible with ArcView 3.1. We received it in the summer and I began to pull out demographic data. Map after Map, all for the Peoria-Pekin Future Landscapes Project. It was fun; I’d extract a table and throw it on a map. Honestly, out of ignorance and inexperience,  I most likely made some inaccurate maps. Show this, normalize by that. We probably made nearly 200 maps for that project and only a handful made it to the final report. I have no idea what that report was ever used for, or if it was even used. I do remember how confusing Census data was.

Yesterday after about 45 minutes of work (not counting download time) I have my own Access Database for all of Illinois and all of the SF1 data down to the BLOCK level. I can choose my demographic attributes then save a query as an excel spreadsheet. No Geolytics required. The @USCensusBureau has made it relatively easy to parse through the data by giving us a FTP site, database shell and step-by-step instructions on how to import the state of your choice.

Give it a shot. They actually answer the phone too!

I’m not planning on making 200+ maps for a sustainability study that will sit on the shelf. However, I do know I’m going to be using the data later today.

Upgrading ArcGIS Server: Why 10.0 was different (Part 3 Final)

I’ve done multiple ArcGIS upgrades over the years. Some went smoothly, some not. This upgrade was different for several reasons. I felt it necessary to document the pains and successes I had in hopes that others might be helped as well as archiving purposes. Also, understand my situation may be somewhat unique, You may or may not (or possibly should not ) do what I have documented here.

Fair warning; I transposed this from my notes, I take notes like a sociopath writes a ransom letter. This post, as well as the previous/previous, all get fairly technical. I’m not going to be explaining terms, extensions or acronyms. Try to keep up.

Rest Services:
I had to meet a guy for breakfast and I before leaving I set .net 3.5 sp1 to try to install again. I know the definition of insanity has been attributed to  host of people including Einstein and Ben Franklin. But I’m here to tell you I did NOTHING DIFFERENT this time, it just worked. by the time I got home it was ready to install AGS.

Installed ArcGIS Server for M$ .net framework – GIS Services. During this installation, it asked me which website to install on, I chose gis2.peoriacounty.org (I have two, one for internal and one for external). <foreshadowing> I ran post install using my normal password for SOC, SOM & WebServices accounts. I authorized with the ECP number as given by the customer service website. I got an error, but post-install seemed to finish.

Next I ran install for ArcGIS Server for M$ .net framework – Web Applications
Next I ran install for ArcGIS Server for M$ .net framework – Web ADF runtime, I didn’t know if i needed this, but it got installed. I mean, we have an editing application that still uses the Web ADF, does that mean I need to install the runtime? No documentation telling me ‘No’, so I did. During installation, it asked me which website to install on, I chose the ‘Default’ because the editing application is Internal.
Then I installed all of SP1 for each of these AGS Apps, then another reboot.

Copied the contents of c:/arcgisserver/arcgisjobs from backup
Ran Post install for ArcGIS Server for M$ .net framework – GIS Services. Everything was OK this time, no errors but NO services, this was due to all of the deleting & purging before while trying to uninstall 9.31

Log onto AGS Manager, everything seemed to be working OK except for security. For security reasons I’m not going to get into what I did or didn’t do. All I can say is that is securing your services can be very complicated and difficult, I worked on it for a few hours on Saturday and then two more on Sunday and made very little progress. I’d suggest contacting ESRI support if this is something you want to do. Anyway I was able to create ONE service: Terrain. This was enough to show me that my REST services were not running. I tried accessing several ways and messing around with IIS to the point that I was nervous about screwing something else up. So I resolved to have the first call into Tech support @ 7am CDT.

I think it was. After the obligatory attempts over the phone we started a screen sharing session. We ran Post-Install for WEB-Applications. <doh!> I never did that. I only ran Post-Install for GIS-services, twice. After that, REST worked for the external IP address but not the resolved URL. See foreshadowing note above. We copied and pasted the rest.config from the internal wwwroot to the external wwwroot and then did a find and replace for ‘giswebsrvr’ (internal name) and gis2.peoriacounty.org. this made REST work both internally and externally.

From here I was good. I created a “share” from c:/arcgisserver/ and give admin access to the local SOC account and recreated all my services. Then I proceeded to fix all my applications. This pretty much  was mostly changing to the external REST url instead of the IP address as it was with 9.3.1. and adding tokens as necessary. By the way, I don’t know if 9.3.1 was more forgiving, but the Locator URLs seemed to be case sensitive. I also took the opportunity to move away from the Sample .net viewer So those users will have the easily configured (it’s still programming) Flex viewer to use now.

Mission Accomplished. AGS 10 engaged.

Lessons Learned: Post-installs are there for a reason.

Upgrading ArcGIS Server: Why 10.0 was different (Part 2)

I’ve done multiple ArcGIS upgrades over the years. Some went smoothly, some not. This upgrade was different for several reasons. I felt it necessary to document the pains and successes I had in hopes that others might be helped as well as archiving purposes. Also, understand my situation may be somewhat unique, You may or may not (or possibly should not ) do what I have documented here.

Fair warning; I transposed this from my notes, I take notes like a sociopath writes a ransom letter. This post, as well as the previous/next, all get fairly technical. I’m not going to be explaining terms, extensions or acronyms. Try to keep up.

The Upgrade.  Jan 28, 2011; after hours.

‘Pop’ Drive for backup purposes on the web server. This maintains an untouched version of the C: drive whilst I jack around with upgrading. Copied contents of C:/ArcGISServer (minus Cache), ArcIMS, Inetpub & other essential folders to external drive.

The web server has no DVD drive, so I had copied all the AGS 10.0 DVDs into a folder on the desktop.

The ESRI uninstaller utility failed to uninstall any 9.3.1 software. I kept getting MSI package errors.  Downloaded & tried several free utilities to force uninstall of ESRI products. (yes probably that one your thinking of)

Called Tech Support & begged for an analyst to help despite an SDE analyst not being available. I had to assure him I had properly backed up all my geo-databases.

Used Microsoft Uninstall Utility to uninstall Esri products, (why did they ever take that offline?)

Disabled IIS, reboot, enable IIS, reboot, Stopped SDE services still running, Deleted SDE services, reboot.

All according to directions given to me by ESRI Tech Support, I Cleaned the registry, Cleaned program Files, Cleaned the Windows/Assembly folder. I’d post those directions here, but I’ve been in trouble with them before about posting screenshots of Beta software on twitter. All I have to say is I love my maintenance plan.

I ran CCleaner a great freeware utility that cleans up your registry, applications and PC in general. I’d always recommend backing up your registry before any changes.

Ok this was about the 2 hour mark, and I had just begin the installation.

Installed SDE, Desktop and SP 1 for each.

Ok, in ArcSDE 10.0 you upgrade the database from a tool, not SDE post install. Post-Install is just for creating new Geodatabases or creating Port Instance Services.

My normal direct connection is via the sde user, but for some reason this user could not upgrade the geodatabase. I changed this to Windows Authentication and everything worked. I upgraded all four databases.

ArcGIS Server requires .NET 3.5 SP1, fortunately Esri puts the bootstrap installer on the DVD.
This didn’t work. :( I actually have a frowny face in my notes

I downloaded the full installer from the Microsoft website.
This didn’t work. :(

From here I decided to move on & get the SDE Services running so that the IMS site was up and running. SDE Post install didn’t like my entry at first then I remembered I had a two tiered install and got the entry corrected. I was able to re-create the Port Instance Services so that the virtual 9.3.1 IMS machine could connect and see the upgraded geodatabases.

This all worked and my external website was up and running.

For the life of me, I couldn’t get .NET 3.5 SP1 installed. I tried .NET 4.0 that worked fine but ASG10 needs .NET 3.5 SP1 specifically. Since each attempt to install .net takes about 15-20 min to break the time was about 11:30pm. I knew it was going to be a long weekend, so with the external website up & running. I went home and dreamed about installations.

Lessons Learned: Don’t listen to Black Flag when trying to install .NET 3.5 SP1, it will just make you elbow-drop the desk.

Next will be the final part in the trilogy.

Upgrading ArcGIS Server: Why 10.0 was different (Part 1)

I’ve done multiple ArcGIS upgrades over the years. Some went smoothly, some not. This upgrade was different for several reasons. I felt it necessary to document the pains and successes I had in hopes that others might be helped as well as archiving purposes. Also, understand my situation may be somewhat unique, I have a custom VB.NET application as our external GIS website which is a majority of the issue in this first part.

Fair warning; I transposed this from my notes, I take notes like a sociopath writes a ransom letter. This post, as well as the next two get fairly technical. I’m not going to be explaining terms, extensions or acronyms. Try to keep up.

Preparations.
Upgrading to AGS10 on a test machine shows that it kills my VB.net IMS application. I really don’t know or care why, it just does. I had promised to keep ‘alive’ the IMS app for 6 months as an overlap for the users. Change mitigation, you know. Also, I wanted to roll out the Silverlight application on AGS10 as soon as possible. And it was possible sooner rather than later. SO- I got a virtual 2003 server, installed  ArcIMS 9.3.1 and used the same axl, created a service based on that AXL. Because of the previously mentioned upgrade to AGS10 on my test box I had already deployed Visual Studio 2005 on a virtual XP machine and had the VB.net IMS application running. So, I pointed it to the new IMS virtual machine. It worked! I published the application and everything was cool. It was even available outside our firewall.

I made plans for a weekend Server upgrade, installed ArcGIS 10.0 Desktop to the last few 9.3.1 desktop holdouts. See, here’s the deal; I use the ESRI two-tiered SDE model. This means I have IMS and SDE components on the webserver but the SQL server is inside the firewall. Speed isn’t an issue because I use Direct Connect for all my applications. I knew that an Arc10 desktop machine could D.C. to a 9.3.1 (even edit) geodatabase but not the other way. So as long as SDE & Server was the last thing to upgrade everything would be ok.

Sometime on Wednesday evening before my planned upgrade weekend, I had a horrifying thought. If I upgrade SDE to AGS10 my new IMS virtual machine running on 9.3.1 running an AXL using Direct Connect to the SDE layers won’t work. This was the IMS axl that was promised to ‘keep alive’ for 6 months. I’d have to re-path my axl to use the instance port connection instead of D.C. or (worst case) create about 40 shapefiles to support the 9.3.1 IMS website.

After a sleepless night, I tested my theory on the test server. Sure enough IMS 9.3.1 did not recognize a Direct Connection to SDE 10.0, but good news, it DID see an instance port connection. This was going to be much easier than exporting all the layers and re-pathing the entire AXL to use shapefiles instead of SDE. I couldn’t even think how slow the site would be trying to use Sid files for imagery instead of a Raster Geodatabase.

In preparation for the transition to the new IMS virtual machine for the external website, I redirected all the traffic from our existing site to the 9.3.1 machine. It seemed to hold up under Friday traffic and when I asked, nobody knew the difference. I always operated under the assumption that a Direct Connection was faster than an instance port connection. Maybe it’s just more stable.  Finally ready for the Upgrade.

Lessons learned: Buy an ESRI EDN Subscription and have a test server.

(next post is the actual upgrade)

Virtual Learning

I’ve taken a few online courses over the years. Heck, I even took a correspondence course back in the day, as in US Postal Service correspondence. You kinda forget about it until the day before a deadline, then cram in the assignment and post it just before the time expires. So it’s not much different than real college.

I just went through two days of Esri Virtual Instructor Led training. I know this has been around for a while, but i’ve been resistant to convert for one reason or another. But I had some EDN training hours to use up before they expired and no travel budget to speak of, so I took the plunge.

I’m not sold.

The Instructor was fantastic, don’t get me wrong. I found nothing wrong with the content, material or exercises.  It was definitely worth my time. I took a class that was geared to web-mapping APIs with ArcGIS Server 10. Great content, learned a TON.  But it is the nature of bloggers to give unsolicited review of products and services, I’m just upholding my part of the bargain.

  • Print out your own workbooks? This is redonkulous. There is no friggin way I am going to print out 2 300+ page books, have them bound or binder-ed and ready for notes.  Therefore my note taking suffered mightily. I am an avid note taker.
  • 8 Hour Phone call. Yes they will call you, and I did have a headset, but you still have to tie up your desk phone for the length of the class. And the stupid red light won’t go away until you listen to all of your messages.
  • You’re still Here. They suggest not checking your email, or putting a little note on your cubicle ‘door’ stating that you’re unavailable, but you are… you’re right there. People can see you. They can talk to you. The note or the “I’m-on-the-phone-right-now-can-this-wait-till-tomorrow” wave doesn’t work with everybody. Personally, I will be leaving the courthouse the next time I do this kind of training. Possibly from the comfort of the Lay-Z-Boy that I’m adorning right now.
  • Comraderie with Geo-geeks. I like to meet folks who are concerned with the same things I am. I enjoy going to lunch and learning about what life is like for a GISer in the private sector or the Fed. No one really spoke in the conference call and a very limited few actually used the chat tools. I really missed knowing who these people were. I will personally admit to Googling a few of them.
  • Virtual environment. The Student VM was not speedy. At all. Plus Internet Explorer was recommended and I have beta 9 (cause that’s how i roll) so it locked up on me several times. The technology was great,  we used Adobe Pro Connect. That part was seamless an wonderful. It’s just the VM for the exercises that was painful.

I don’t wan to be a negative-nancy. Overall I’m glad to have attended the class. I’m glad to have had the experience. We (the county) saved about $600 and I really did learn a lot. I’ll be able to use what I learned tomorrow (no, seriously, tomorrow). Since I’m planning on attending the UC this year I will most likely not get any other training. My stroll down Michigan Ave will have to wait till 2012.

Jacket ON

As I sit watching the “new” Karate Kid on the first day of a new year, I can’t help but be a little reflective about time passing by.  2010 marked the beginning of this blog and a renewed professional perspective. I have to admit the beginning of last year was  a bit distracting.

Even so we accomplished a lot:
We implemented several small mapping APIs, Got an award from the APWA, ported over a few applications which were locked in a poor third party software, revised an assessment neighborhood map, updated the county Enterprise Zone, quality control checked our tax data, created a system-wide basemap (and cached it), Bla Bla Bla… and a bunch of other stuff. I don’t like to focus on the past. 2010 is over.

That’s why this such a fun movie. It takes something great from the past and respects it, but makes it new. ( I Was just a little disappointed there wasn’t a crazy “get him a bodybag” comment off camera)

I am also planning on creating new in 2011. I don’t make personal resolutions every year, but I set professional goals.
And remember, whatever I say here is completely unofficial.

  • Public Silverlight GIS site.
  • 3-4 more mapping APIs for Public and Private use.
  • Something like a Citizen Scientist or Open POI GIS site.
  • Use of ESRI’s Community Mapping program.
  • Use of GIS app to determine County Board and Precinct reapportionment.
  • An app on I-Tunes & Windows Marketplace.
  • Visit 4 (or so) Schools to talk about Geospatial Technology.

There is a ton of stuff we could do, this is just a sampling. These are big and lofty, but they all meet the criteria. Besides, you can’t hold me to it. Cause this is just a blog.

Been There…

Done That.  Really?

I love to go to training. Preferably training in Chicago’s Loop.  There’s great coffee on every corner and I really dig the pace of life (for about 4.25 days).  Usually, I learn more than I thought I would and at least as much as I had hoped. I can rate the complexity of training by the size of headache at the end of the first day. Plus,  Two words: Ruth’s Chris

There IS one part of training I really despise.  Introductions.

You know the part. Everybody talks about where they work and what their experience is. It’s a chance to puff up your accomplishments and perhaps impress someone you will never see again, right? There’s usually one guy that’s completely obtrusive. He usually chuckles when someone else mentions COBOL or DB2 programming as if to say, “Tell me about it Brother!” – “I remember ArcINFO when is was BETA, no, ALPHA! Jack Dangermond himself, called me and asked me to test.” – “I’ve been in GIS for 30 years! THIRTY YEARS! <Years> <years> <years> <years>” Can you hear the echo? Experience is valuable, but it’s always in the past.

Recently on the GIS-blogosphere there’s a lot of hub-bub about Esri’s testing certification just release last week. It has seem to have inadvertently drudge up a variety of feelings. If I were more Freudian in my philosophy, I’d think some of these folks are compensating inadequacies and over stated qualifications of why they chose not to get the GISP certificate. Which is weird because nobody asked. Or why they won’t get this certification. Let me be clear: I, personally, do not care if any of my fellow professional geospatial peers get certified by ESRI, GISCI/URISA, Penn State, Illinois Central College, APA, or Sesame Street.  What matters is your involvement in the profession and contribution to our field. If you don’t want to take a test from ESRI because you think it’s just a money-grab, fine. Or, if you think the GISP is just a ploy by URISA to refresh their dwindling rosters, that’s OK too. But don’t be negative (I love this article) . Let each professional make his or her own decision without demonizing a sub group for their choice to peruse this or that certification, degree or endorsement.

I appreciate everyone who is involved in furthering the GIS profession. Involved participants are valuable, whether or not we agree. The Geospatial Industry is currently feeling some growing pains. We don’t quite know who we are yet. Just because you sit on the sidelines and yell at the players doesn’t make you a coach. Construct. Help. Try. Fail. Present. Move on.

It the end of the day, it may turn out that some of us who jumped on the wagon early are stuck with a Laser Disc Player, but no one can call us docile and indifferent.

Map Appreciation

Last night marked the end of teaching “Map Appreciation” at our local community college for the fall semester. It was the first time for offering the class. Since 06-07 ICC has had a geospatial certification program. I’ve taught 3 of the 6 classes as an adjunct instructor. This last semester they added 2 classes, Geodatabases (2 hrs) and Map Appreciation (1 hr). The idea was to add options for students who maybe didn’t want to take the Remote Sensing class or to provide a gateway class into the program.

I think it went well.

Honestly the hardest lecture to prepare was last night’s final review. You might think that to be easiest one because you simply pull from lectures throughout the semester, Right? I disagree. Here’s my thinking: Whatever I choose to review, will be what they study for. That’s more likely what they’ll remember. That means (depending on the student) most of what we discussed over the last few months will become mush.  That’s pressure. What if this is the only Geography class they take…EVAR?! What piece of mapping history should I pick to be most important? Eratosthenes’ nearly correct measurement of the circumference of the Earth? Ptolemy’s Geographica? How about the Land Ordinance Act of 1785? The PLSS, GPS, LiDAR, USGS or any of a host of Acronyms?  I bet if I had my Master’s Degree this would be easier.

My point is that when you boil down a whole class to a few true/false questions, you must generalize. Things that I think are important knowledge will be omitted and left out, just out of practicality. My goal for the class was to give the students a better view of what goes into maps, cartography and Geography as a whole.  Geography is an interactive subject.  As you “zoom-in”to the subject, more interesting detail is revealed. Just as in GIS. Why do we make our children memorize state capitals? There’s so much more.

I’m highly biased but I think Map Appreciation is essential to understanding the world.

BAT

I love batch (.bat) files. I use them every day. Really EVERY day.

It’s one of those simple tools that works so well. If you don’t know what it is, here’s a simple definition: The batch file is a dos base executed file Its simple to create and understand. Batch files follow the instruction that you program in them.

Change any .txt file to .bat and there you go! Restart your computer, Copy files, Zip files, Start/Stop Services, XCopy, RoboCopy, Delete Directories or Files.  Here’s a great site to get you started. I’ve been using them for years to restart ArcIMS, & more recently to stop ArcGIS Server in order to release a lock in SDE at night. I Zip & copy files to an FTP or a large Shapefile from a data server to an IMS folder…. extremely helpful. Win 95 to Win7.

Here’s one that get’s kicked off every time my I log onto my computer to get rid of Desktop Shortcuts that my network tries to give me:

del /s “C:UsersUsernameDesktopAgenda Manager.url”
del /s “C:UsersUsernameDesktopPeoria County Intranet.url”

Another one that copies only my modified or new ‘Documents’ to an external drive that my DropBox Account Syncs:

robocopy.exe “C:UsersUsernameDocumentsDocuments” “M:BackupMy DropboxWorkDocuments” /S /E /COPYALL /Z /XO /R:3 /W:10 /LOG:C:UsersUsernamerobolog.txt

See? Super easy. No wonder Steve likes them so much.

Jack of All…

Apparently even by saying something like “My Daughter and her friends say ________” wrenches me into a category with the likes of Mr. Wilson and the old man who owns the junkyard in the movie Stand By Me. So, I try not to say those things. Not because I don’t want to seem old like that, but rather because one of my cardinal goals in life; Don’t be irrelevant. In a parent/child relationship, I think that relevance is fluid and dynamic. Your child’s undying admiration in kindergarten may wain in middle school and high school, and then returns as they buy a house or start their own family.

In your profession, relevance is effort. It takes time to stay relevant. Not only for the things you say and do, but your knowledge you have about your particular field. GIS technology is constantly changing. There are so many blogs, articles, books, softwares and location based services to keep up on, it’s nearly a full time job to stay on top of it all.

I recently spoke to someone about the GIS industry and my specific job. He asked me if I had a choice, where would I focus my energy. Programming? Mobile Technologies? Web Technologies? Desktop Analysis? Database Management? What kind of programming? VB.net? c-Sharp.net? Java? Python? JavaScript? Silverlight? Flex? I used to hate this question, because I felt it showed my irrelevance. I also used to hate being labeled a ‘jack of all trades’ because it came with the usually appendix ‘master of none.’

Now, I think that in order to stay relevant in my particular GIS position, I need to be a ‘master of none’. As the point person for GIS in the county, I cannot spend too much time on one particular aspect of the industry’s technology.  If you devote all your time to learning Silverlight or Flex you will turn around and see how far we’ve progressed in mobile products. Or if you learn how to systematically pull the spatial envelope of a feature with Python in PostgreSQL, you’ll miss the fact that it’s inherent in Sequel Server 2008. There are many benefits with being a jack of all GIS trades. I know just enough of all the above to give my customers the best and informed options. I’m not specifically a .net programmer, web developer, database administrator or focused on any one technology. If I were, I’d become irrelevant.

 

Momentum

Football season is now upon us. One of my favorite pastimes is watching the game with my kids and explaining all the factors that work for or against a team. This past Sunday I found myself explaining the importance of “Momentum”.  This amazing unseen force, that allows a team to be on a roll – only to be stopped dead by a flag or a fumble.

When I got to work this past Monday, I was again reminded by the importance of momentum. This time it was not an external force, but internal.  Being a one-man-GIS-show has its ups and downs. Perhaps the most taxing for me is being my own cheerleader.  Nearly every Friday, I spend a few minutes updating the status of my projects and outlining next steps. I use this reminder on Monday to kick myself into gear. Well, last Friday, for whatever reason, I forgot to do this.  It took me nearly all day to put distractions (phone calls, emails, schedules, fires and facebook) aside and pick up from where I was. I had lost my momentum.

I think this applies at the Enterprise GIS level as well.  It is SO easy to become complacent in anything really but GIS in particular. Apathy keeps us from changing our ArcIMS site over to ArcGIS Server. It beckons us to just sit idly by while technology changes and advances. We cannot coast and ride it out on past successes, because eventually, we stop. We lose momentum.

Switching from task to task to task without accomplishing anything can also cause a loss of momentum. I (personally) have a clean desk policy and think multi-tasking is a myth. There’s a theory of debt reduction called “snowballing debt”. In applying that to work you can say I try to ‘snowball’ tasks. Get rid of the little ones at first, this encourages me because I’m accomplishing tasks. Then I tackle the biggies with greater gusto and take a bite out of that elephant.

If I write this down, that makes it true, right?

4th Dimension

Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.
~ Harvey MacKay

“The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
~C.S. Lewis

“We all have the same amount of time. Unless, you have more than one person in your organization, then you have twice as much, or three times or 10 times.”
~ Anonymous

I don’t want to get into an argument of how the geometry of time is non-Euclidean, and therefore not really the 4th dimension. This is not physics, this is a geography blog.

Time is important now and I think it will become more important in the future. Not in the way you think, but rather as an attribute. ArcGIS 10 can use temporal data in desktop and at the server level. Temporal data, when enabled in ArcGIS, can show when and where an incident occurs. Overlay ontop of that other datasets and you can gain a larger picture of the factors surrounding that incident. Accident data with rainfall, Crime with heat indices, E911 calls and special events. If you don’t think this is a big deal, just wait.

Why? Predictions.  

If we can map the past, we will be asked to map the future. Weathermen have been doing this for decades with some measure of success. LAPD is currently predicting crime in a very “Minority Report” way.  There is a number of revenue predictors and Land Use predictors available for planning purposes.  But what ESRI as done is normalize the hard part. Until this release all us “normal” GISers could do was create an awful, bulky map series to depict time.  Now, we can just slide the data to show change. Placement of officers or even future station locations could be guided by predictive models within GIS rather that politics.

Personally, I’m excited. I think this will prove to be a turning point. Time has always been a measure in GIS  but it’s been, most commonly, a retrospect.

Wrong Directions

How much does it bother to see incorrect Geographic information? Either on the web, digital media, spoken or print? I can’t stand it. I want to stand on my gold-laden atlas and announce to the world that “This information you have just received is faulty and poorly researched”.

Now, before you diagnose me with OCD, I’m not a control freak.

  • People mis pronounce/spell my name all the time. Micah (mitch-a), (meesha), (meeka), (mika), (mi-…um), (micahah), (micha), No big deal.
  • Someone says “e.g.” when they really mean “i.e.”,I can live with that.
  • Suggest to me a Cherry Coke when I ordered a Dr Pepper, Meh.

But if you tell me that a town is in Woodford County when it clearly spans over into Tazewell…. well you’d better find a seat, cause the lecture is about to begin.

Geographic accuracy concerns are as old as spoken directions. “Grog, you find berries behind big rock”. Then as it turns out behind the big rock there were several smaller rocks and the berry bush was actually beyond the lake. Companies know this. That’s why there are sites like this, this and this, For people like me to be able to stand on our golden atlas and say “Hey, this map is wrong!” Of course they never claim complete accuracy. For that matter, my maps don’t either.

But here’s a point of concern; When you’re giving a presentation to a county board who’s giving you lots of money, make sure you have your directions right. Take a close look at the image to the right and then think about this point of fact: If I’m in downtown Peoria looking at the river, I’m looking approximately EAST (actually 132° Southeast). You know, towards EAST Peoria. Where can I go to voice my concern? How can I express the consternation this causes? How will they know they’re wrong if I don’t tell them?

Oh wait, i have a blog.

Riiiiiiiight, What’s a Cubit?

Google Map Labs has added a measure tool. This is not only helpful it’s also fun. There are about 50 different units of measurement in the drop down list when you choose “i’m feeling geeky”. These include all the normals ones, but also fun/weird ones like; American football field, Chain, Leauge, Lightyear, Parsec (I thought that was a measurement of time? ), Olympic swimming pool, Smoot and about 10 different kinds of Cubits.

Just in case you ever wondered it’s 142 furlongs from my house to work, or 57,434 Persian Cubits.

Made me think of this sketch from Bill Cosby:

Open Street map is awesome

If you’re not familiar Open Street Map it’s kinda like Wikipedia but for online maps. Registered users can login and “edit” the map. You can add points of interest, draw streets, create land use and fix what’s already there. The Open Source community loves this and it’s a huge deal to our friends across the pond. It’s gaining traction in the States and has even begun to get some use from folks like Mapquest and Esri. In fact, Mapquest (AOL Local) has allotted one million dollars to support the growth of OSM in the United States. Randy Meech, head of engineering there has been quoted as saying that open source is the future of AOL’s mapping applications. As well, there are actual sites where you can download and use OSM maps as a routable file for your Garmin GPS receiver. Fantastic. So, you’re saying, “This is all well and good, but what does this mean for us GIS professionals?” Well, Nothing or Everything. Take your pick.

I started editing about a year ago. Then, any changes you made were sent for moderation and cued up for caching into the basemap. It took several days to see any changes at all. Currently OSM has added a “live editing” option for us cocky folks who think we know what’s what. The tools are a little rudimentary, but overall you can get done what you need to do. There is 2006 Yahoo aerial imagery to assist you in placement of buildings or land use.  I am pleased on how my little town of Eureka has turned out, though it is still a work in progress. I enjoy doing edits. It really has developed into a bit of a hobby and I work as slowly as time allows so it is not laborious at all. I do get a sense of accomplishment and ownership in the community. I plan on integrating the OSM service into a few developing applications that are rolling around in my brain.

That being said, it’s my choice to participate. I could totally ignore OSM. As a professional with a mature county-wide enterprise GIS at my fingertips, there is nothing there that I don’t already have. Centerlines? Of Course. Building outlines? Down to every garage shed in the county. Land Use? Which year do you want? Well, there is one thing i don’t have. The community.

Earlier this year we allowed our 1997 planimetric data to be freely distributed, it had reached the end of it’s lifecycle and is no longer viable. I posted this availability on our website and received a FOIA request for this data. He (I assume) explained his intention was to use the data for Open Street Map. All he really wanted was the buildings. So, I sent him a zipped shapefile and… well, you can see the result for yourself.

All over the span of a few weeks. All from someone who does not even live in the area, just believes in the project. Amazing. I definitely don’t have that kind of crowdsourcing. That’s why OSM will succeed. That’s why it’s awesome.

Grab Bag #1

I’m trying to make this blog as professional as possible. My personality is such that I show exactly how I’m feeling. Those two axioms don’t always jive.  This is a scattershot of snippits, subject and thoughts about work for the last two weeks.

The pre-Vacation week.

How is it, that the weeks before a vacation are always insane? Seriously.  It doesn’t help that this last one was shortened by holidays and sickness. It doesn’t really matter, that extra day and a half would have been swallowed up by the smoke monster regardless.  It was a busy week.

Call in Backup

The intern has been fully instructed on how to implement the GIS backup plan. It’s a fairly simple, step-by step process that involves terms he’s never heard of and software he’s never used. Hey! It’s got pictures. I gave him the 6 page plan and said, “Worst case scenario; it breaks on Saturday morning and you can’t fix it, our site and services are down for 9 days, and you get fired on the following Monday… just kidding” not really.

Geo-Caching (no, not that kind)

I have been trying to cache images for an ArcGIS Service for about a month. It’s not that I don’t know how or have not had success. I do and I have. The results were never exactly the way I want it. I wanted PNG images at first, 8 bit looked awful. Jpeg 100 was too large, Jpeg 90 didn’t look good, 128 x 128 was too many folders… and on and on and on. Every time you create a cache and don’t want it, you have to delete it. All this takes time and resources away from your server. Why don’t you create it on your test machine and just move it? Tried that. Have you ever tried to move 20,000 folders containing 5 million images totaling 45-80gb? It takes some time. I have pushed back this due date until August. Since I artificially created the due date, no one else in the universe cares.

I Don’t Get Politics
I mean, I understand what it’s for, when it’s helpful, and how it works (kinda).  What confuses me is; why do we continue to play the game? My grandmother used to say, “People are only as important as you make them”. Can’t we just agree to stop artificially inflating egos?

Having to justify GIS at the county or municipal level is akin to having to justify PCs 15-20 years ago. It’s no longer a ‘cool tool’, it’s a necessity. Not funding a GIS will not only limit growth in a community, I think it will propel a community backwards. Technology will continue to advance, grow complex and more difficult to keep up. If a region/MSA wants to attract growth or even keep its own children, it needs to think beyond the next election or budget cycle.

The Kids are alright

Below is a commercial for a T-Mobile phone with a ‘Genius button’.  We don’t need to convince students to use technology. They crave it, they live it. location-based technology is expected. I have found it more difficult to explain aerial photography to adults rather than children. Web applications and social interaction are becoming commonplace. When a commercial shows a 10 year old saying “Find ice-cream shop” into a phone, you can rest assured that GIS/GPS and location technology is here to stay. The only question is do you want to be a part of it or be left behind wondering where the outlet mall is. GIS professionals need to get into the schools and talk about maps, technology and the data behind these applications.

Top 10 Reasons Why ESRI is like Apple

I know there are Lots and lots of software companies trying to compare themselves to something as successful as Apple Inc. I think ESRI has a slight advantage over the others. Read on and see if you don’t agree by the end of this post.

10. Seemingly simple things are not yet implemented. I know there’s a more exhaustive list out there somewhere but this is off the top of my head. The question is really, Why? ESRI gets PR points for their new ‘Ideas’ webpage where they at least make the attempt to listen to their users.

  • ESRI: Multiple layouts in ArcMap
  • Apple: Flash on devices

9. No YOU change. This is where we as consumers are told to modify our behavior because the company  simply refuses to act.

  • ESRI: shapefiles, “…yeah, about those”
  • Apple: iPhone antenna placement, “… just move your thumb”

8. Coining terms. GIS is notorious for making spell check go crazy. Choosing one was like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • ESRI: Geodatabase
  • Apple: Podcast

7. Tag-line copyrighted prefix. Yep, they both have one.

  • ESRI: ArcWhatever
  • Apple; ieverything

6. Industry Leader/Standard. This one is mildly serious. It seems that these two companies have the distinct advantage of being out in front of their respective fields.

  • ESRI: GIS software, I mean have you ever tried DeLorme, Street Atlas??
  • Apple: Devices, I know they also claims the desktop OS.

5. California. Everyone outside of California knows exactly what I mean.

  • ESRI: Redlands
  • Apple: Cupertino

4. Rollouts and User Conferences. Twitter lit up last week when people started receiving their iPhone4s. And today is the rumored release of the much anticipated ArcGIS 10. Huge release announcements are made during the User Conferences, and you always remember “being there when…”.

  • ESRI: SEND ME THE LINK ALREADY!
  • Apple: I’ve not been, but it seems like a cult.

3. Love/Hate Relationships. The hate fire burns brightly in the open source community for both of these giants. It’s easy to find fanboys, but it’s more fun to listen to the rage.

2. Seriously Expensive. Sure, they both have their token free products. But really, all they are doing is giving you a clean needle to use.

1. Rock Star Founder/CEO. These guys are out to change the world. No really, listen to them, they want to use their companies to change the world. They both are a little nerdy, wear consistent outfits, truly believe in their products  and if we’re honest with ourselves, we love their eccentricity.

  • ESRI: Jack Dangermond
  • Apple: Steve Jobs

SO…?

Harvie CPUA lot of hub-bub is being made of ESRI’s minimum system requirements for running Arc10. I fail to see the issue. Didn’t we see this coming? Local Caching, Windows 7 support, sleek GUI, ArcCatalog integrated into ArcMap; these were all signs of a huge footprint and big requirements.  Perhaps those of us running the beta had a better idea, but this seems to be the way the industry is going (I.E. Visual Studio 2010, Adobe CS5). I like to keep things updated, My workstation, my laptop (3 years old) and my intern’s PC all will be fine. Now some other departments are a different story.  I know for a fact that the HP ultra-slims that some have in the Planning & Zoning department are going to have a hard time. Maybe it’s time for them to move to ArcGIS Explorer, or the online version. ESRI has a system requirement checker for AGX, http://goo.gl/H2jL .

Desktop is migrating away from the  casual user and turning focus to the super users. It’s like back in the 7.x days.  If you’ve ever tried to teach someone ArcMap, you can appreciate this. There is a LOT in there and three different ways to do anything. With AGS having web editing standard, there is less and less need for your admin assistant to have ArcGIS Desktop installed. Come to think of it, heavier requirements could be a good thing for management of enterprise systems.

Should ESRI come up with a ‘Lite’ version, with layout capabilities?
Sure.

Should ArcGIS be truly a multi-threaded application?
Of course.

We can look for those in future releases. For now,  I’m excited to install Arc10 and will install desktop as soon as I can get it downloaded.

From Memory

A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast by the guys over at stuffyoushouldknow.  The cast talked about people who have synesthesia. While the most alarming aspect of this condition is the feeling of other’s people’s pain, they also talked about the seeing of letters and numbers as colors. Essentially, it’s the unconscious mixing of your senses. I also recently read this article from ScienceNews.

These got me to thinking about the spatial aspect of our senses and memory. Sometimes, I remember where I was the first time I heard a song, or ate a food. I usually associate a place in time with a specific memory or a certain feeling with an exact location. Whenever I taste half & half cream, I suddenly am sitting at my parent’s kitchen table eating KIX. An entire Smashing Pumpkins album is associated with a trip to Dale Hollow Lake. I wonder if this connection in any way is associated with the spatial awareness that GIS people are prone to.

It’s no secret that there are those who see things spatially and those who don’t. As GIS people and mapfrom here to there lovers, we orient ourselves with where we are at the time a memory is made. However, spatial awareness can be a gift and as well as a curse. I have a hard time remembering a conversation or a task if I don’t associate it with where I am at that time. But if I’ve been somewhere I can usually find it on a map. Also, when I think of directions or the spatial orientation of places, I play a game in my brain. In my mind’s eye I float up a few thousand feet and “see” the location from where I am currently. Maybe this is from using GIS and Google Earth, I don’t know. But when I explain this little exercise to people, they look at me like an adult might look at a child who is trying to explain quantum mechanics. Then I stop talking.