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.
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 person 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.
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.
by Micah Williamson
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 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.by Micah Williamson
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.
by Micah Williamson
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”
“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.
by Micah Williamson
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.by Micah Williamson
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.
by Micah Williamson
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.
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.
by Micah Williamson