In an amazing whirlwind of posts since July 9th, Wired has blown onto the geospatial
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.
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!
by Micah Williamson
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?
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.
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.by Micah Williamson
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.
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.
by Micah Williamson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Micah Williamson
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.
by Micah Williamson
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.
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?by Micah Williamson
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.
by Micah Williamson