Sara Safavi: “At heart, that’s what we are: stubborn, persistent, get-this-done types”

Sara Safavi
Sara Safavi

Sara Safavi is a “software developer with a geohabit” in Austin, TX. She spent many years in the GIS trenches before eventually transitioning to full-time developer at Rackspace. She also moonlights as a geospatial consultant, specializing in clients looking for cost-effective, “real-world” solutions hybridizing open source technologies with existing platforms. Outside of work, Sara organizes two local community groups: Austin Open Source GIS & PyLadiesATX. She’s also frequently found teaching workshops — primarily Python and/or GIS-centric ones — and evangelizing all the open source geo-things.

Find her on twitter @sarasomewhere. She’ll also be at FOSS4G-NA this year — look for the crazy hair and say “hi!”.

Sara was interviewed for GeoHipster by Jonah Adkins (@jonahadkins).

Q: This quote from your “About” page almost perfectly describes most interviewed geohipsters:

“…interested in open data & open source software, and working near the intersection of programming & GIS is where I’m happiest…”

How did this passion for “open” evolve for you?

A: When I first got access to a computer, I was lucky enough to be told: “Do what you want on this machine, learn about it, play with it, and if you break it I’ll fix it.” That put me at ease and let me experiment. It also gave me a sense of control and ownership: computers for me were never some scary unknown that came with a vague sense of this-is-not-for-you. When I later got involved with open source communities, I found a similar combination of freedom and safety net that enabled independent learning. Those communities tended to be built around shared interests and goals, and everyone shared enthusiasm for the same things. Plus, I really loved that I actually got to talk to the people who were making things and get involved in finding solutions to shared problems. Eventually I started to help other people with some of the things I had learned — not in a really huge way, but it was still such an empowering experience that I really latched on to Linux and open source software.

A lot of my early experience with GIS was using proprietary software which had bugs and limitations which regular users couldn’t really do anything about, while outside of work I was using a lot of open source tools which were just so nice to use.  I realized that the proprietary tools everyone took for granted were often more of a hindrance than a help. Although open source tools may be harder to discover, proprietary tools tend not to be geared to extension or giving power to the user, so the end result is frequently reduced productivity with greatly limited flexibility. Add in the matter of open source software having, by definition, vastly broader accessibility, and it was really no longer a question for me.

Essentially I like the combination of the empowering support that you can find in the “open” communities with the flexibility and just plain utility of open source software. We share solutions and data because we’re all in this together. Likewise, a lot of the outside-of-work things I do now involve building communities that try to allow others to find the same kind of support, and feel enabled to learn new things.

Q: I met you last year at the Esri UC where you organized a great Open Source Lunch & Learn. You also organize Austin Open Source GIS and PyLadies ATX. How important is networking to professionals in tech fields?

A: When I hear the word “networking”, I think of that check-out-my-cool-business-card, let’s-make-5-minutes-of-awkward-conversation-then-maybe-never-speak-again thing we do at big conferences and business events. It’s probably a necessary function. As an industry we all basically agree that this kind of face time is what we use to build our professional networks. And something, something, jobs, right?

But what I try to make happen with the things I’m involved in, and the groups I organize, is something different. What I’m really, really passionate about is this idea of bringing enthusiasts together, creating comfortable and safe spaces for learning, and opportunities to grow collectively. That kind of networking is what really makes me happy: connecting people who want to learn something, try something out, toss around ideas — do something new. And because my experience and interests are so closely tied to both programming and GIS, most of what I do regarding community building is within the mutual orbit of those two worlds.

In PyLadiesATX, and also Austin Open Source GIS, I want so strongly to promote the idea that “tech”, and specifically that which exists within the scary bubble of “writing code”, is fundamentally accessible to every single interested person. Culturally, we’ve constructed a lot of barriers to engagement on this: where we’re coming from as individuals may vary, but too many of us carry this idea that programming is perpetually for someone other than ourselves. Especially in the geospatial community, we’ve spent so long constructing our narrative around this idea that we do GIS, they write code. Our community still clings to the idea that Spatial Is Special, but the reality is that lines between “us” and “them” are not nearly as distinct as we’d like to think. So bringing these two worlds — the coders and the geospatialists — closer together is something I’m always talking about. At PyTexas last year I did a talk on “GIS for Python People”… and at next month’s FOSS4G-NA I’m going to be giving the counterpart to that, “Python for GIS People”. I just won’t shut up about it! :)

So this is what I enjoy most. But what I’m always wanting to ask people is, what makes you excited? What are you so enthusiastic about that you can’t help but tell everyone about whenever you can? I promise you there is someone else with at least a tangentially related passion around here. Find your tribe! Find that group of people that can say “Wow, cool!” about the same things that make you say “Wow, cool!”. That’s where growth happens — and that’s where it’s most fun to be, too.

Oh, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the Open Source Lunch & Learn last year. One of the things I loved about that event was the fact that there, in the middle of the Esri UC, for one hour we weren’t just trading business cards and looking for the next job opportunity or new shiny thing to buy. Instead we were a tribe of folks excited about the same ideas, showing off cool things we’d built, sharing the same spirit of open — and that was awesome. That’s the kind of “networking” I’m interested in, and what I want to create more of.

Q: You are currently a developer at Rackspace. You’ve been a GIS admin, analyst, and a consultant. What’s been your favorite project thus far?

A: I’m the kind of person who can’t tell you my favorite movie, favorite book, or favorite food on any given day… so I’m going to cop out here and tell you about the kind of project I like best. Sorry. :)

I love working on projects that, big or small, simply make things better for a particular audience or user. That’s really, really unspecific, I know! But if the project I’m working on doesn’t have an end goal of getting a user to grin and say “Whoa, thanks!”, then frankly that project’s probably boring. One of my earliest Python+GIS projects was just a lot of geoprocessing glue-code that took what was once a multi-hour manual process and turned it into a streamlined 10-15 minute automatic job. That was awesome, because there were a small but happy handful of folks (myself included!) on the receiving end. And more recently, whenever I’m building a web map or app, that moment when the people I’m working for first see their data and ideas go “live” is always great.

Then again, I also love seeing the horrible, messy, Goldberg-machine travesties that should never see the light of day, but nonetheless exist because of whatever nonsensical constraints they were given. These things that absolutely solve a pain point and defy logic by just working within the artificial constructs that forced their creation, but just are… comically bad, because for example you’re not actually allowed to install any additional software on the system that will run this tool. I’m talking about nasty things like PowerShell-Python-SharePoint monstrosities that we don’t talk about in polite company. Those are awesome too, for different reasons.

Q: Looking at your talks page, and having been present at some before, you cover a wide range of technologies. What tips would you give for keeping up with many different tools at once? Is there an emerging tool you are excited about?

A: It’s funny, all I think is how there are so many technologies that I don’t know or use regularly! I think the subset of tools that I work with regularly (both dev-tools and geo-tools) are constrained to a specific domain: web-stuff, primarily, and all things related to getting maps, tools, and applications to a distributed audience. But outside of that, there’s plenty that I would love to learn more about, if I just had the time.

On emerging tools — the geospatial universe is so huge and diverse, that I know there is a ton happening right now that I’m not specifically aware of. We have so many sub-sections that are just completely hidden from view if you’re not directly involved in their area of focus. Pick a niche, and there is probably some awesome tool being developed right now by an anonymous GIS-something person who probably doesn’t even consider themselves a “developer”, but nonetheless knows exactly what they need to fix their domain-specific problem, and are just working to get this done now. And it’s most likely great, a perfect solution to an ongoing saddle burr. Raise your hand if this is you! You’re probably not the only one with a hand up. Because at heart, that’s what we are: stubborn, persistent, get-this-done types, who happen to share an insatiable curiosity about knowing how things connect — and we’re all just doing the best we can to answer the question of “where”, with whatever resources are at hand.

With that long-winded disclaimer said, here’s what’s on my radar today:

CartoDB. They’re not really ‘emerging’, but since this past Fall they’ve really started taking off (i.e., I can now mention them in non-geonerd conversation and still get nods of recognition). What I love about them is how easy they make it for non-mappers to become mappers, and for non-developers to make a web map. I’m all about sparking interest and lighting fires where once there were none! Someone recently asked me for help making a web map (because I’m that developer-person, and web maps are hard, right?) and it was so cool getting to show them how easy it was to take a spatial layer they’d created and near-instantly make it publicly available as a web map.

Another not-totally-new technology, but since they’re still deep in beta I think they count as “emerging”: GeoGig. Git for geospatial data. For those of you not familiar, this is about building “version control” around your spatial data: tracking historical changes to files over time. This is something that traditionally has only been used by programmers on their code, but absolutely should be something GIS professionals use on our data too. I can’t wait for this to be the new normal in our industry.

And everyone’s saying it, but TurfJS is going to be a game-changer. My opinion’s especially influenced by my past life as a gov/mil GIS-something, and how much of that time I spent fighting the non-local nature of certain web GIS tools (and the “you can’t install that!” nature of everything else). An open source client library like TurfJS is going to be absolutely huge for a lot of people.

Q: Cartographer to developer — your favorite map(s)?

A: Oh no, another “I can’t pick a favorite” answer!

Here’s a by-no-means-complete list of some of my favorites:

  • Basically all of the work done by Andrew Hill in conjunction with CartoDB. He makes some gorgeous maps on that platform (like the directional river flow map) and pretty much all of them remind me why I don’t try to be a cartographer.
  • The “Nobody Lives Here” map by Nik that took the internet by storm last year. Yet another of those “this is why I’m not a cartographer” maps, the idea is deceptively simple and the result is just so cool.
  • NOAA’s GOES imagery. As a weather geek who spent years living on the Gulf Coast (hurricane country), I’ve spent way too many hours engrossed in the NHC’s satellite loops. For that matter, I have a soft spot for hand-drawn hurricane tracking maps, of which I’ve made my share.
  • Basically any map example used in the fantastic “How To Lie With Maps”. There’s a chapter that walks through cartographic tactics used by Cold-War-era Soviet mappers, and it’s just incredibly interesting to read.

Q: You live in the hipster capital of the U.S. — Austin, Texas — and you’re in Geo. I think that technically makes you more geohipster than all of us. What does the term mean to you?

A: Oh good, at least I get to be some kind of hipster! I’m pretty sure I’m not whatever kind of hipster we’re the capital of here (or wait, does it make me a hipster to say that? Now I’m confused…).

I’m not really sure what “geohipster” means, but I guess part of the movement is that it can be open to individual interpretation. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people who claim the label are all pretty interesting folks, who tend to be the outside-the-box thinkers. There’s a bit of a spirit of nonconformity in the community that seems closely tied to learning, using, or building new things. Not just focusing on the next big thing (though we have that, too) but really talking about what might make the world better (whether it’s a tool to make someone’s job easier, or crowdsourcing maps to improve emergency response). Being willing to go against the flow and try something different is something I see in common among the geohipster crowd.

So, if being “that chick with the weird hair that talks a little smack about Esri and wants everyone to learn to code” makes me a geohipster, then it’s a badge I’ll proudly wear. Thanks!

Antonio Locandro: “QGIS opened a new different arena of GIS knowledge thirst”

Antonio Locandro
Antonio Locandro

Antonio Locandro is a civil engineer-turned-GIS specialist, working for an Air Navigation Service Provider for Central America, where he deals with airways, aeronautical cartography, and procedure design among other things. His previous experience includes working for Honduras Census Bureau (INE), selling a book called “Learn English While Sleeping”, and a grocery store.

Antonio was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: As with so many other people, we met over Twitter. What do you do for a living, and how did you get into the geospatial field?

A: Funny thing is I hated Twitter. My wife @melidelocandro had one way before I did, and I thought it was a waste to time. Anyway, I currently work as GIS specialist in an Air Navigation Service Provider for Central America — similar to FAA — where I do GIS database for air navigation purposes with heavy emphasis in cartographic output, and occasionally do some procedure design (standardised landing and takeoff paths for aircraft). I got into geospatial because I needed to work to be able to finish my Civil Engineering degree. During lunch break on my selling books to learn English while sleeping job I saw an ad in the newspaper to work as digitiser for Honduras Census Bureau. (Yup, the book thing didn’t work, and probably was a scam.)

Así como ha pasado con tantas otras personas, nos conocimos por medio de tiwtter. ¿En que trabajas y como entraste en el campo geo espacial?

Lo mas curioso es que odiaba twitter, mi esposa @melidelocandro tuvo una cuenta mucho antes que yo y pensaba que era una perdida de tiempo. Actualmente trabajo como especialista GIS en un proveedor de Servicios de Navegación Aérea para Centroamérica, similar a la FAA donde hago bases de datos GIS para propósitos de navegación aérea con un énfasis fuerte en cartografiá y ocasionalmente realizo diseño de procedimientos (rutas de aterrizaje y despegue normalizadas). Entre en el campo geo espacial por que necesitaba trabajar para terminar mi carrera de Ingeniería Civil y vi un anuncio en el periódico para trabajar como digitalizador para el Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Honduras mientras almorzaba de mi trabajo para vender libros para aprender Ingles dormido (definitivamente lo del libro no funcionaba y probablemente era un timo)

Q: So you are providing GIS for airports in Central America? Or providing flight paths for airplanes between airports? Just wondering in case I ever decide to fly into Honduras.

A: The company for which I work manages Air Traffic Control over all Central America, a large chunk of the Pacific, and part of the Atlantic above 19,000 ft. — which normally means overflights, but also provides radar services and navigational aid equipments below that altitude. Under 19,000 ft. each of the Central American countries manage their own space. I should probably mention that my company is owned by the Central American countries and was established as a means to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and cooperate at a regional level, being the first using that scheme that later has been adopted in other regions like Africa and Europe. If you think about it, this is very cost-effective and increases overall efficiency when you manage airspace as a single block instead of individual pieces.

I focus more on the flight paths between airports, but occasionally get to do specific airport-related things like obstacle analysis and heights restrictions. Recently, together with the IT department, we are deploying several internal solutions which leverage the data we already have for applications like Search and Rescue (SAR) and Electronic Charting Solution for our air traffic controllers. Until recently the whole focus of the GIS database was just to have better cartography in terms of consistency, data validations, etc., but from the past 6 months we are moving into a more enterprise-wide solution, and the benefits of the data are starting to be seen by other members of the organization.

If you ever decide to fly to Honduras, landing at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa will probably be once-in-a-lifetime experience. Using GPS technology you will almost certainly fly a final approach with arcs included with very reduced obstacle clearances enabled by the satellite navigation, and finally touch ground on a small landing strip in comparison with other international airports. Definitely an adrenaline rush.

¿Estas proveyendo GIS para los aeropuertos de Centro América? O ¿proveyendo rutas de vuelo para los aviones entre aeropuertos? Tengo curiosidad en caso que decida volar a Honduras algún día

La compañía para la cual trabajo maneja el centro de control sobre Centro América y gran parte del Pacifico y Atlántico por encima de 19000 pies lo cual normalmente son sobre vuelos pero también proveed servicios radar y ayudas de radio navegación por debajo de esa altitud. Debajo de 19000 ft cada país de Centroamérica maneja su propio espacio. Probablemente debería mencionar que mi compañía es propiedad de los países centroamericanos y fue establecida como una forma de cumplir con los estándares de la Organización de Aviación Civil Internacional (OACI) y cooperar a un nivel regional siendo el primero en usar ese esquema que luego ha sido adoptado en otras regiones como África y Europa, si lo piensas es un manera muy efectiva de reducir costos y mejorar la eficiencia cuando se maneja el espacio aéreo como un solo bloque en lugar de piezas individuales.

Me enfoco mas en las rutas de vuelo entre aeropuertos pero ocasionalmente hago algún trabajo especifico de aeropuertos como evaluación de obstáculos o restricciones de altura, recientemente en conjunto con el departamento de IT estamos desarrollando varias soluciones internas que usan los datos que disponemos para aplicaciones como búsqueda y salvamento (SAR) y  soluciones de cartografiá digital para nuestros controladores de transito aéreo. Hasta hace poco el énfasis de la base de datos GIS era para mejorar la cartografiá en términos de consistencia, validación de datos, etc pero en los últimos 6 meses nos hemos ido moviendo en una solución mas Empresarial y los beneficios de los datos están empezando a ser notados por otros miembros de la organización.

Si alguna vez decides volar a Honduras aterrizar en el aeropuerto Internacional de Toncontin en Tegucigalpa probablemente sera una experiencia única en la vida, usando tecnología GPS seguramente estarías volando la aproximación final en un arco incluyendo margenes de obstáculos reducidos permitidos por la navegación satelital y finalmente tocado el suelo en una pequeña franja de aterrizaje en comparación con otros aeropuertos internacionales. Definitivamente es un shot de adrenalina.

Q: How is the geospatial field in Central America? Is GIS as commonplace as it appears to be here in the United States?

A: I will try to answer from my perspective living and working in Honduras. No, its not remotely as common as in the US. GIS jobs are very few, and normally are in government agencies or International cooperation programs doing things like parcels for municipalities, transportation, census or urban development planning. Most GIS jobs are really just drafting positions where you will never ever do any kind of analysis — just digitize points, lines and polygons — and mainly to produce print or PDF maps for displays in reports. GIS topics are electives you can take at University until recently. Efforts are being made to teach more about it, but probably not any time soon. Heck, I didn’t take GIS electives when I studied since they didn’t exist. If you wanted to learn GIS, you would get a “non-official copy” of Arcview 3, install, and play with it. We tried open source back then, but honestly it wasn’t nearly as good as its now. On top of all that you have the issue with data. Data is easy to obtain in the USA, even in those horrible geo portals. If you ever need to do any GIS down here, you will probably need to start from scratch, and that makes things very expensive. You won’t see private GIS training courses announced often, and they usually don’t go beyond learning the basics. On the other hand, if you think about it, this means there are lots of opportunities — its just a matter of being able to disrupt the current state of things and grasp the niche. I would think this may be true across Central America, but may be wrong about it.

¿Como es el campo geo espacial en Centroamérica? ¿Son los GIS tan comunes como aparenta acá en Estados Unidos?

Tratare de dar respuesta desde mi perspectiva de vivir y trabajar en Honduras. No es ni remotamente tan común como en EUA, los trabajos en GIS son pocos y normalmente en agencias gubernamentales o programas de cooperación internacional haciendo cosas como ordenamiento territorial para municipalidades, transporte, censos o parcelas. La mayor parte de los trabajos GIS son realmente trabajos de digitalizador donde nunca realizaras ningún tipo de análisis solo digitalizar puntos, lineas y polígonos principalmente para producir mapas impresos o pdf para ser utilizados en reporte. Los tópicos en GIS se pueden tomar hasta hace poco en la Universidad, se están realizando esfuerzos para enseñar mas sobre el tema pero probablemente no sea en el futuro inmediato, yo ni siquiera tome electivas GIS cuando estudie en la universidad por que no existían. Si querías aprender GIS simplemente tomabas tu copia “no oficial” de Arcview 3 lo instalabas y jugabas con el. Probamos el código libre en aquel entonces pero honestamente no era ni remotamente tan bueno como es ahora. Encima de todo tiene el problema de los datos, los datos son fáciles de obtener en EUA incluso en esos geo portales horribles. Si alguna vez quieres hacer GIS por acá probablemente necesitarías empezar de cero y eso hace las cosas mucho mas caras. No miras muchos cursos GIS privados anunciados y usualmente no pasan de enseñar lo básico. Por otra parte si piensas acerca de ello hay un montón de oportunidades solo es cuestión de poder irrumpir el estado actual de las cosas y tomar el nicho. Creo que esto es verdad a lo largo de Centroamérica pero pueda que este equivocado sobre ello.

Q: You are on Twitter and the QGIS listserv quite a bit. Sometimes you’re using ArcGIS. Sometimes you’re using QGIS. One time, I believe you were editing PostGIS data with ArcGIS. I also see you talking to the developers of QGIS quite a bit. What piece of software works for you? All of it? Some of it?

A: I probably use ArcGIS (R) like 95% of the time for my current job, but I consider myself software-independent, and it’s just a matter of what I feel is the best tool to get the job done in the least amount of time. I sometimes bash Esri on Twitter when I am frustrated over something with their software, and probably that is the only place I can ever let steam blow. It’s not personal — I bash QGIS also from time to time. I got into heavily using QGIS probably around 2 or 3 years ago. I really wanted to get to understand more on GIS concepts, and I really don’t use pirated software. I don’t recall if back then Esri provided Home Edition, but that wouldn’t have made a difference since I had to purchase from local distributor making it more expensive. After fiddling with QGIS, I immediately started to compare it with the other software I used, and that’s how I got into the QGIS list — mainly reporting bugs and feature requests. Since I am no developer I couldn’t fix them myself. QGIS opened a new different arena of GIS knowledge thirst, since I started getting interested into things like Spatialite and PostGIS. That’s when I followed @richardburcher tutorial on installing PostGIS on Windows Twitter has been a tool I have used to get to know tools like Mapbox, CartoDB, Fulcrum, and others.

Once I started playing with QGIS+PostGIS at home, things started to permeate into work. I need from time to time to do certain analysis, and although we have the Advanced level [of ArcGIS] install, which lets you do some things, some others weren’t possible so I started doing them in QGIS. What I like about QGIS is really that they have very talented developers and users willing to go out of their way to answer questions. Nathan Woodrow (@madmanwoo) and Anita Graser (@underdarkgis) really take their time to be on social media answering the community along with others.

Last year IT had a request to make a demo for an internal development project. We decided on using the OpenGeo Suite stack because it had all the components we needed, and an easy install. We made some adjustments like using LeafletJS instead of OpenLayers, plus we required that it played nicely with current installed software investment. It was meant to be just a test-the-waters kind of setup while we could justify the investment and move to “Enterprise GIS”. We had I don’t know how many meetings and discussions until we realized what we had just works, and it actually works quite well. So our current stack is PostgreSQL+PostGIS, GeoServer, LeafletJS, QGIS and ArcGIS+GISquirrel to be able to edit PostGIS (will this be able natively ever?) since we already have the software and a few editing tasks we do are easier still there. Probably will be using Mapbox Studio this year, since we need to make a few basemap tiles, but let’s see. I am pushing myself into learning Python and JavaScript, because you know @cageyjames said so

Estas en twitter y en la lista de QGIS frecuentemente. Algunas veces usas ArcGIS, otras usas QGIS. Creo que una vez estabas editando datos en PostGIS utilizando ArcGIS. También veo que hablas con los desarrolladores de QGIS con frecuencia. ¿Que pieza de Software trabaja para ti? ¿Todo?¿Una parte?

Probablemente use ArcGIS ® como el 95% del tiempo en mi empleo actual pero me considero independiente del software y es simplemente una preferencia de que siento que sea la mejor herramienta para hacer el trabajo en la menor cantidad de tiempo. Algunas veces me quejo de ESRI en twitter cuando estoy frustrado con algo de su software y probablemente sea allí el único lugar donde puedo dejar un poco frustraciones salir, no es personal también me quejo de QGIS de vez en cuando. Hace como 2 o 3 años empece a ser un usuario mas frecuente de QGIS, realmente queria entender mas de los conceptos GIS y personalmente no uso software pirata. No recuerdo si en ese entonces ESRI ofrecía su edición para uso en casa pero no hubiera hecho alguna diferencia ya que tenia que adquirirlo usando mi distribuidor local haciéndolo mas caro. Después de jugar con QGIS inmediatamente empece a compararlo con los otros software que utilizaba, así fue como me involucre en la lista de correos de QGIS mas que todo reportando errores y solicitando mejoras dado que no soy desarrollador y no los puedo corregir yo mismo. QGIS abrió otra arena de sed de conocimiento GIS ya que me interese en cosas como Spatialite y Postgis, allí seguí el tutorial de @richardburcher para instalar postgis en Windows Twitter ha sido una herramienta que he utilizado para conocer mas de herramientas como Mapbox, CartoDB, Fulcrum y otros.

Una vez que comencé a jugar con QGIS+postgis en la casa las cosas empezaron a introducirse en el trabajo. De vez en cuando necesito realizar ciertos análisis y aunque cuento con el nivel Avanzado de licencia que permite realizar algún tipo de análisis otros no eran posibles así que comencé a hacerlos en QGIS. Lo que me gusta de QGIS es que realmente tienen desarrolladores talentosos que estan dispuestos a dar la milla extra para contestar preguntas, Nathan Woodrow (@madmanwoo) y Anita Graser (@underdarkgis) realmente dan parte de su tiempo en las redes sociales para contestar a la comunidad junto con otros.

El año pasado el departamento de IT tuvo una solicitud de realizar un demo para un proyecto de desarrollo interno, decidimos utilizar la suite de Opengeo por que tenia todos loc componentes que necesitábamos y era fácil de instalar, hicimos algunos ajustes como usar LeafletJS en vez de OpenLayers y necesitábamos que se portara bien con la inversión que ya habíamos realizado en software. Inicialmente estaba destinado solamente a ser un demo para probar las aguas y justificar las inversiones en un “GIS Empresarial”, tuvimos no se cuantas reuniones y discusiones hasta que nos dimos cuenta que lo que teníamos funcionaba y la verdad funcionaba bastante bien. Nuestro stack actual es Postgresql+Postgis, Geoserver, LeafletJS, QGIS y ArcGIS+GISSQuirrel que permite editar Postgis (¿Sera posible esto nativamente algún día? Pues ya teníamos la licencia y algunas tareas de edición todavía son mucho mas fáciles allí. Probablemente estaremos usando Mapbox Studio este año pues necesitamos hacer algunas tiles base pero vamos a ver que pasa. Estoy empujándome en aprender Python y Javascript, Ya sabes que @cageyjames y el siempre tiene razón.

Q: On Instagram I saw you purchased a Walking Dead comic book for your wife. Has she forced you to discuss a zombie escape plan?

A: Oh man! My wife is such a fanatic of the Walking Dead TV series, I just had to buy the comic on that stand while in Mexico City. I think we both agree if a zombie apocalypse happens we will probably die very fast, since we are both urban people with probably no survival skills. If you are a fan of the series, you can probably see that those escaping never get very far — you just need to grab your weapon and get rid of them.

En instagram vi que compraste una historieta de Walking Dead para tu esposa. ¿Ha forzado una discusión de un plan de escape zombie?

Dios! Mi esposa es tan fanática de la serie de televisión The Walkind Dead que simplemente tenia que adquirir esa historieta mientras estuve en la Ciudad de México. Creo que ambos hemos concluido que en caso de un apocalipsis zombie probablemente moriríamos rápidamente dado que somos personas bien urbanas y sin habilidades de supervivencia. Si eres fan de la serie probablemente veas que aquellos que escapan no llegan muy lejos, simplemente debes agarrar tu arma y deshacerte de ellos.

Q: Antonio — excuse me, Mr. Locandro, who is also CEO of Traveling Honduras (do you have a website?) — where is the one place I need to go when I fly into Honduras? I need the almost perfect vacation. I am also very, very white. What do you recommend?

A: Actually I do have a website. It’s, but it’s just a very simple landing page. It’s my startup project, which has taken a little bit more than I wanted to take off, and really looking into this 2015 to be the year I can launch it. Honduras is a very nice country with many different things to see and do, so it can cater to all people’s tastes. We got mountains and rivers to do some ecotourism (La Ceiba, Pico Bonito), there’s also ancient civilizations remains which are considered world heritage (Copan Ruins), colonial towns from the times of the Spaniards (Gracias, Comayagua), tons of miles of sandy white beaches (Tela, Trujillo, Guanaja, Utila, Roatan), so you got all this things to do in one place. The official Honduras campaign is Honduras Everything is here I think for you I would recommend Utila Island, which is more of a bohemian-style backpacker island, unlike more famous Roatan Island. And don’t worry about Spanish being an issue, since the islands used to be run by pirates in the 18th century most people there speak English. If you like visiting ruins, Copan Ruins it’s very nice with Gracias, Lempira close where you have thermal waters.

Antonio, perdóneme, Sr. Locandro que también es Presidente de Traveling Honduras (¿Tienes un sitio web?). ¿Cual es un lugar al que debo ir cuando vuele a Honduras? Necesito casi las vacaciones perfectas. También soy bastante blanco. ¿Que me recomiendas?

En realidad si tengo un sitio web es pero actualmente es solamente un pagina de inicio. Es mi proyecto personal de emprendimiento que ha tomado mas tiempo del que pensé en despegar y realmente espero que este 2015 sea el año que pueda lanzarlo. Honduras es un país hermoso con muchas cosas para ver y hacer que responde a todos los gustos. Tenemos ríos y montañas para hacer eco turismo (La Ceiba, Pico Bonito), también hay ruinas antiguas consideradas patrimonio de la humanidad (Ruinas de Copan), pueblos coloniales del tiempo de los españoles (Gracias, Comayagua) y miles de kilómetros de playas de arena blanca (Tela, Trujillo, Guanaja, Utila , Roatán) así que tienes todas estas cosas para hacer en un solo lugar, la campaña oficial de Honduras es Honduras Todo Esta Aqui . Creo que para ti recomendaría la isla de Utila la cual es un poco mas bohemia estilo mochilero diferente a la mas famosa isla de Roatán, y no te preocupes acerca de hablar español como un problema ya que las islas fueron administradas por piratas en el siglo 18 así que la mayor parte habla Ingles. Si te gusta visitar ruinas las Ruinas de Copan es un lugar bonito con Gracias, Lempira cerca donde hay aguas termales.

Q: Finally, last question is yours to do with as you wish. What final words do you have for the readers of GeoHipster?

A: Choose the right tool for the job. That may just happen to be open source or not, and you can even mix them if that’s the best solution. Sometimes is difficult to get out of the comfort zone, but learning new things make you a better professional. Experience hands on with different ways to accomplish the same task and go past pushing buttons. GeoHipster in a sense is just that — going beyond the traditional way things are done in GIS.

Finalmente, La ultima pregunta es para que hagas con ella como quieras. ¿Que palabras finales tienes para los lectores de Geohipster?

Escoge la herramienta adecuada para el trabajo, esa puede ser de código libre o tal vez no e incluso pues mezclarlas si es la mejor solución. Algunas veces es difícil salir de tu zona de comodidad pero aprender cosas nuevas te hace un mejor profesional. Experimenta de primera mano con diferentes formas de completar la misma tarea y haz algo mas que solo empujar botones. Geohipster en cierto sentido es simplemente eso, ir mas allá de la forma tradicional en que las cosas se hacen en el ambiente GIS.


Brian Monheiser: “If a geohipster is someone who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in”

Brian Monheiser
Brian Monheiser

Brian Monheiser (Twitter, LinkedIn) is the Director of Defense and Intelligence Programs for Boundless Inc. Brian works with US Government agencies and contractors to provide freedom from the rigid architectures and unsustainable pricing models of proprietary geospatial software with packaging, expertise, maintenance, professional services, training, and more. Prior to Boundless, Brian honorably served in the United States Marine Corps as Geospatial Intelligence Analyst, and as a contractor responsible for advising and consulting the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) on the use of geospatial technologies, supporting a number of large projects, programs, and applications using geospatial technology.

Brian was interviewed for GeoHipster by Todd Barr.

Q:  You’ve been involved in GIS, specifically military GIS and GeoINT, since 1998. What do you think has been the biggest advancement of GIS during your tenure in the field, both within DoD, as well as the field as a whole?

A: I have to tell you, the technology advances from what I used to have to work with to what’s available today have been amazing to say the least. When I got  started in the Marines as a veritable kid, they had me using command line desktop GIS. Think about that experience for the moment. I was asked to build and deliver standard and mission-specific hardcopy products using 32-bit clients and the command line. Now analysts are in a world where mission planning, situational awareness, visualization, analytics, and key intelligence questions are answered by mobile and web applications that are driven by tradecraft, algorithms, and workflows developed to interrogate a wide variety of spatial and temporal datasets for almost any purpose. I’m the old GIS analyst yelling at kids these days about how we had to walk uphill both ways to school. Now, kidding aside, it was possible to foresee the technology advances thanks to watching advancements in other areas — but what I’m most impressed with is the advancement, understanding, adoption, and growth in the GIS (at Boundless we like to call it Spatial IT) user community. There was a time not so long ago when GIS was a tradecraft for only those who had been formally trained. That’s no longer the case.

Q:  You’ve been with Boundless now for over a year. Have you seen a perception change within your client base on the adoption of FOSS4G Technologies?  As a follow up, are their any metrics on how hybrid systems function?

A:  Oh, you mean beyond understanding hybrid systems can lower clients’ costs and avoid vendor lock-in while still accomplishing, if not exceeding, all the same objectives? Then yes, I’ve seen a very drastic and positive change. When I got started everybody — including myself — used a solution from a single proprietary vendor, which forced us all to take the formal training I previously mentioned. I at least was in an environment where someone paid for my training and said this was the work I needed to focus on. Now FOSS4G technologies have matured and can reduce the risks of a single-vendor solution, extending the value of existing investments in proprietary mapping software, while reducing costs and increasing potential for interoperability and innovation. Open source geospatial software complements and interoperates with existing proprietary geospatial tools, meaning you don’t lose sunk costs. I’d say there are few homogeneous FOSS4G implementations, because that’s exactly the point of them — you can transition to new implementations at an appropriate pace for your organization.

Q:  What do you see as the largest hurdle for FOSS4G technologies and their wide-spread adoption?

A:  This is a layup. It’s all awareness and education. The reality is the large vendor in this space — and we all know who I’m talking about — has done a great job of indoctrinating users in said vendor’s software, to the detriment of awareness of what other options are out there. More people need to not only be aware of the existence of FOSS4G, but also of its comparable if not superior functionality. Once upon a time I was as guilty of this as anybody — so I’d like to think I’ve had my mind expanded as I gained knowledge of FOSS4G. In addition, when I’m out there talking about FOSS4G to people who have heard of the software, I’m finding people are not truly understanding the total value and cost of ownership in using open source. We’re guilty of drinking a certain flavor of Kool-Aid for so long, we don’t realize fruit punch is crap, what you really want is blue raspberry.

Q:  The Magical Money Fairy flies down and grants you 5 million dollars a year to pursue any geospatial project you want. What would you do?

A: I would map my permanent move to the Caribbean. Seriously. I’d go so far off the grid you’d need geospatial analysis to find me. But if you want me to not be completely self-serving and think for a moment about the good of the community, then I’d work to fix content (data) management. For all the advancements in geospatial technology, the way we manage our data, and the knowledge we can extract from our data is embarrassing. Versioning is poor, our ability to move it is inefficient, and if you look at the technologies other industries are using to manage data sets, then we’re behind the curve. It’s solvable and we’re focusing on it, but the Magical Money Fairy is certainly invited to come party with us.

Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster?  Note: the more profanity used here, the better.

[Laughs] Well, I’d like to consider myself a #geohipster, as long as I don’t have to conform to some Brooklyn definition of a hipster. I mean, have you seen me? I’m built like a rugby player, cue-ball bald, bushy goatee, and the temperament of a Marine. Now if a #geohipster is someone who advocates for kick-ass FOSS4G technologies, who walks the walk in understanding the benefit of geospatial analysis, who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in.

Kate Chapman: “If what HOT is doing seems exciting to you, get involved”

Kate Chapman
Kate Chapman

Kate Chapman is the Executive Director at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Her most recent work has been in Indonesia working on a three-year program with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction using OpenStreetMap and InaSAFE to help disaster managers better develop contingency plans. Previous to working at HOT, Kate was involved in development of multiple web GIS applications, including GeoCommons and iMapData.

Kate was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: So, Ms. Kate Chapman, how did you dive into the world of geospatial?

A: I was attending George Mason University focusing on Computer Science, but I wasn’t often going to class, and I ended up on academic suspension. During the semester I was not attending school I found a job with a mosquito control company as a pesticide applicator (this was back when West Nile Virus was going to kill us all). Unfortunately the first day we discovered I was allergic to the pesticide being used. Instead of being fired for not being able to do the job I was hired for, I was given a pirated copy of ArcView 3.2 and told to learn it. At this point I decided mapping was pretty cool, and discovered switching to Geography at GMU when I returned would allow me to graduate way more quickly than computer science. So I switched majors and continued working as a cartographer for the mosquito control company.

Q: As I have said — let he who has not pirated ArcView 3.2 cast the first stone. So you are now the executive director for HOT. For those who do not know — what is HOT? What does the executive director do?

A: My ArcView 3.2 came pre-pirated.

HOT is short for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. HOT applies the principles of open source and open data sharing to improve the welfare of the communities where we work, especially those at risk of natural disaster or other crisis. That essentially means two major things: First, we organize international volunteers to create data in OSM — primarily through digitizing and using already open data — and second, we provide training and technical assistance to communities and organizations in areas prone to disaster.

As the Executive Director I’m responsible for running the operations of HOT under strategic guidance from our Board of Directors. It is a position not dissimilar to that of a CEO.

Q: Nothing like the fabulous life of a CEO. If I’m not mistaken, you ended up in Jakarta, Indonesia, hopping islands, teaching locals about mapping in OpenStreetMap. All of that was in preparation for a tsunami event in the future. What was it like teaching the concepts of OSM and open data to an entirely different culture?

A: It is true that OSM brought me to Jakarta. The program name is Scenario Development for Contingency Planning (SD4CP). The goal of SD4CP is to help disaster managers use science to inform their contingency plans. What that means is the World Bank, Australian and Indonesian governments were working to build software that could do impact modeling (the software is now called InaSAFE). They had scientific models on hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but were missing exposure data such as buildings, schools and health facilities. I came in with HOT to see if we could help foster an OSM community to collect that data. Things have grown and now our team is responsible for the curriculum for the program and providing training. They teach OSM, QGIS, and InaSAFE to government, NGOs, individuals, and educational institutions.

Q: What was the best thing that happened — and the goofiest — while you were there?

A: The best thing was that I got to travel all over Indonesia with a great team. It was amazing to see how diverse the country is, and to meet all kinds of people. As far as the team, HOT Indonesia was divided into two training teams at the time, Team A and Team B (yes, we were so creative).

Hmmm, the goofiest… I think that would be the quantity of “jumping photos.” Jumping pictures are exactly what they sound like. Everyone in the picture jumps so they are airborne when the picture is taken.

Q: I notice on the HOT mailing list sometimes you guys respond to a request from an aid organization, and sometimes you just start mapping. Who are some of the humanitarian organizations that ask for help?

A: We get a lot of different mapping requests. Sometimes it can be as simple as someone has a particular interest in an area — they are from there, they have friends there, etc. Though often requests are from larger organizations. Recently we launched the Missing Maps project in partnership with the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders UK. This is a way to bring people together and support HOT in filling in gaps on the maps.

We also receive requests from other International Non-Governmental Organizations, offices of the United Nations, and national governments. It really depends on the disaster and the need.

Q: How do you sustain an organization that maps for free (plug for money if you want)?

A: We sustain the organization primarily through grants for specific projects. We are also a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so donations to HOT are tax-deductible to US taxpayers.

Q: So what about this Geoglobal Domination Video thing? What is that about?

A: Well, you can always post the link to GeoGlobalDomination: the Musical.

(Here it is. –ed.)

Q: Is roller derby as fake as wrestling, Wonderchook?

A: No.

Q: Any parting words for the smart and good-looking readers of GeoHipster?

A: If what HOT is doing seems exciting to you, please check out our “Get Involved” page:

Srikant Panda: “The whole community of photogrammetry and GIS is a family”

Srikant Panda
Srikant Panda

Srikant Panda is a photogrammetrist, philosopher, friend, and owner of a brand new house.

Srikant was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Many of you are going to be reading this and going "Who is Srikant Panda?" I said the same thing about a couple of years back when he randomly contacted me about photogrammetry work. GIS is boring these days -- but the stories... So we started talking. We talked about mapping. We talked about life. We talked about philosophy. He sent me pictures of India, and I suddenly realized that this man who lives half a world away isn't terribly different from myself. So I decided to tell you a little about Srikant, who studied geology, and who became involved in mapping… which incidentally is what I did. Our paths aren't terribly different, but where we live is quite different. Friends: Meet Srikant!

Q: Srikant, you’re not exactly a “typical” GIS person…

A: Well, there is a lot of difference between GIS work and photogrammetric work. Honestly, I am not much a GIS guy but a photogrammetric technologist. What we do here is tremendously used in GIS projects.

Q: We cover a lot of people from the GIS side of life on GeoHipster, but I don’t think we’ve covered your area of expertise.

A: In this generation everyone knows about maps and their use. Everyone is familiar with Google Maps. Hence most of the people know about GIS and its application. But few people have known and understood what is the science behind photogrammetry, and what exactly is done that makes it different from a normal map making/digitization.

Q: You do photogrammetry. How did you get your start doing it?

A: I am a graduate in Geology and completed my graduation from Berhampur University that is situated in the southern coastal belt of the state Orissa in India. I am a great lover of the subject Geology. The chapters of Geomorphology and Aerial Remote Sensing/Photo-Geology were my favourite subjects. After my final year exams were over in 2004, I came to Hyderabad — a city in South India — to explore more on my further studies on Aerial Remote sensing. There is an old photogrammetric institute named MapWorld Technologies, where I wanted to complete my photogrammetric courses. It took me 6 months to undergo a training on Aerial Remote Sensing. In the institute I used the Russian photogrammetric software named Photomod to learn aerial triangulation and stereo compilation.

After the training was over, I got a job in a well known photogrammetric firm named IIC Technologies. There I started my career.

Q: What do you do?

Before I answer what I do, it is necessary to understand what is the difference between a 2D map and a 3D map; the difference between an aerial image and aerial orthophoto.

Srikant at his work station
Srikant at his work station

A: I am a digital map maker. In my maps you will find the X, Y, and Z information of the terrain. The Z value in my map makes it special as I compile the map in 3D environment. I use aerial photographs as input, and use 3D mouse and 3D glasses to plot them. Unlike the traditional symbol-and-line map, we produce digital orthophotos, which are the real and scaled representation of the terrain. Orthophotos or orthomaps are one of the final outputs of my work. Apart from that, the two important outputs are planimetric maps and topographic maps.

Q: Where do you live in India?

A: My house is located in a small village at the hills of the southern coastal belt of Orissa. A small village named Badapada surrounded by green hills and with a population of around 2,500 is considered a remote tribal area. The nearest city is Berhampur, which is 120 km from the village. It takes 5 hours to travel from the village to the city. My parents live there. They love each other so much. My brother lives in New Delhi. My two sisters are married, and they live a few kilometers away from the village. My parents visit us at different time of the year, but they never leave the village in Spring and Rain. The village remains the most beautiful in this time. Once a year my company grants me a 10-days’ of leave to travel and stay with my family. It takes 35 hours to reach the village from Pune (30 hours of train journey and 5 hours of bus journey). We all siblings reach the village in Spring or Rain.

Q: Here in the United States there has been a ton of discussion on drones. Is there much talk in India about drones, and how do you think that will impact photogrammetry?

A: In India there are peculiar map-restriction policies. Private companies are restricted to execute aerial photography. The policies are slightly now changed, where the permission from NRSC and Defence are required. It is a challenge for the private companies (except a few) to invest in large format aerial cameras and an aircraft. So UAV and a medium format camera is a great alternative, and private companies are much excited to use the UAVs for large scale mapping, surveillance, videography etc., and other applications. Now the big problem in India is the repeated threats of jehadi militants. If UAVs are frequently used in India, they may be misused by the militants where a bomb can be dropped on a monument or building. So the Indian government has put restriction over the flying height of the UAVs. Lots of permissions are required for the use of drones.

There is too much of advertisement of drones in magazines, shows etc., but what I feel is, there are only few UAVs which can actually produce nadir/vertical aerial photos for the photogrammetric mapping. Yes, the UAVs will play a great role in the field of photogrammetry in the coming days. A small company can invest in a drone and a medium-format aerial camera for large scale mapping jobs, which can be a rail/road/river/transmission line/corridor mapping, or a golf course mapping, or a stockpile, or a volumetric calculation job.

What I feel is, it is difficult for the current photogrammetric software to do the aerial triangulation of the aerial photos which are taken by the UAVs. It is because of the shake in the camera due to the wind, and the photos are not vertical, or near vertical. Another challenge for the UAV user is to calibrate the medium- or small-format cameras. But I am sure there are many software companies who have almost developed their photogrammetric software, which can perform aerial triangulation using the photos taken from a UAV. Ortosky, developed by SRM Consulting, is a nice software which processes the UAV data very well. They are also working on their software which can calibrate the camera.

For Photogrammetric mapping, it requires not just a camera but a complete camera system. A gyro mount, a very good medium format camera, IMU GPS, good lenses. When you combine all these, the weight may vary from 2 kg to 5 kg. In such situation the payload and the endurance of the UAV should be good. 1 kg of payload and 15 min of endurance is not a good photogrammetric UAV.

Q: What does the future hold for you, career-wise?

A: I would like to start my own company where I can market interesting and efficient geospatial products. Along with that I would like to keep myself busy with photogrammetric mapping work. It is a challenge in India to start your own company, but there are a few companies who are willing to help me start my own unit. They have always encouraged me and ready to support me. I am really thankful for their trust in me. I may soon start working independently.

Q: Back in 2014 you told me you were in the middle of building a house. In the United States home-building is a huge endeavor. How close are you to being done, and overall how difficult was it?

A: You asked me the question at a good time. It took me around five years to complete the construction of my house in the village. Well, the only job I did was to send the money to my parents every month. My father worked hard and managed the construction. I prepared the design of the house in VrOne CAD software. It is very expensive to construct a house in India, and so I had to construct step by step. The construction work is just finished, and as per Hindu tradition, we make a celebration on the day of inauguration. This celebration will be on 16th of Feb 2015. It is a big achievement and a dream come true.

Q: So I leave the final question to you: Do you have anything you want to share with the worldwide good readers of GeoHipster on life, photogrammetry, and mapping?

A: One thing which I feel very important to mankind is to contact and communicate with others. It is a very strange world that we remain busy with our work and don’t even care knowing the rest of the world. Eight years back it was a challenge for me to learn photogrammetry when I was new in this field. I started contacting people on the Internet, and I was glad that they answered my questions. This way my friendship with dozens of people became intense. Being a stranger and remaining far far from each other, we discussed many things related to photogrammetry and the culture in their country. This way gradually I not only learned photogrammetry, GIS, LiDAR, but also the cultures in USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Mauritius, Africa, Latvia, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Russia, Alaska, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, and Japan. For me the whole community of photogrammetry and GIS is a family, and we should communicate with each other, asking our doubts, and exchanging our ideas. I have not just received the answers to my questions from friends, but have also received a lot of love.

I love the words of Gandhi and would like to share them with all my friends and readers:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Stephanie May: “If you don’t know what your map is supposed to be telling us, neither do we”

Stephanie May
Stephanie May

By day, Stephanie specializes in spatial data file formats, transformations, analysis, and geospatial product management. At other times she opines for free on thematic map styles, urbanism, and best practices in geodata. Once upon a time her maps were featured in Atlantic Cities, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. She has taught Web Mapping and Cartography at San Francisco State University and the City College of San Francisco’s GIS Education Center. Favorite tools include R Studio, Quantum GIS, ArcGIS, Illustrator, Python and Javascript. @mizmay on Twitter, @mapnostic on Instagram.

Stephanie was interviewed for GeoHipster by Jonah Adkins (@jonahadkins).

Q: You’re currently on the GeoTeam at Apple. What’s it like working for one of the best-known tech companies in the world, and what are you doing there?

A: Working in tech is something I really wanted to do, but it isn’t for everyone. Instead of cleaning and exploring data in small batches, choosing my map type, and tweaking my visualizations until they are just right, I work on one big reference map in the cloud, with a lot of other people. While I love the size and scope of the projects I work on now, there are things I miss about having my own personal cartography and data analysis projects that I could use to hone and practice the craft.

Q: I read an excellent article  about your San Francisco Rental Map project. What prompted you to create this project and great resource?

A: Any great data visualization takes great data and a ton of time. That map was a breakthrough for me. Tilemill was pretty new; I’d been playing with it for a while, using it to make simple slippy maps of data for the San Francisco Bay Area. I had to hack it hard to get it to render the output of my little geospatial analysis, but it did a beautiful job. People said it was useful at the time, but I’m not really convinced. Using Empirical Bayesian Kriging to model one bedroom rental prices? I’m not sure what that even tells you. I still think it’s pretty though. Ultimately what that project was really about was finally feeling like I’d broken out of my government job analyzing data and making maps for internal consumption to something that could reach a larger audience.

Q: At State of the Map 2014, you co-presented on ‘Teaching Mapping To Geographers’, specifically the disconnect between OSM and geography students. In your opinion, is the divide between GIS professionals and OSM greater, and what do you think can happen to bridge that gap?

A: I mean, I love OSM; it is an audacious experiment that worked and continues to work, but on the whole GIS professionals don’t want to digitize features and tag them with categories as an extracurricular, and I’m not entirely sure the core OSMers want them to participate otherwise. I really admire what the Red Cross and HOT OSM have been able to do to use OSM as a vehicle for citizen mapping. Those are really the folks that hold the key to bridging the gap between OSM and GIS professionals. As for geographers, I think we are more interested in OSM phenomenologically and for the data. In addition to all the great projects people are doing as part of OSM or on behalf of OSM, people ask great questions on the OSM talk-us mailing list and have really great ontological discussions about map features, and I find following those discussions fascinating.

Q: In reference to teaching geography and cartography: You’d be wildly rich if you had a nickel for every time you’ve said…

A: WGS84 is a datum, not a projection. Choropleth not chloropleth. If you don’t know what your map is supposed to be telling us, neither do we. You should have spent more time on this. I hate heatmaps.

Q: Cartographer to cartographer: Your favorite map(s)?

A: There are so many talented cartographers out there, and for anyone reading this who doesn’t know, you Jonah Adkins are a prime example. The pop art map tiles you designed recently. Woohoo! Rosemary Wardley did a similarly awesome pop art thing that I really loved, a map tile for the map “quilt” at NACIS (errata: I tagged her wrong on Twitter). In general, among my most favorites, I love colors and I love information design done beautifully and unconventionally. I admire the work Eric Fischer and Miguel Rios have each done independently to make a beautiful image from a gazillion data points. I love “Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River” (Fisk, 1944), and the Willamette River Map by Daniel Coe. I’m doing a thing with pairs here! The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map has stood out in my mind for years as something beautiful and complex with so much data behind it.  But my favorite maps of all time are antiques from the 17th and 18th Century. The old cadastral maps from France, the earliest maps of the U.S. Census, and Minard’s Port and River Tonnage map — less famous and more beautiful than his map of Napoleon’s march. Those are my favorites, I think because they convey to me a certain obsessive something that you get to only by giving yourself all the time in the world and a little freedom to play. But also, every day I am pleased and humbled by scores of maps that embody the principles of good, practical cartography: keep it simple, less is more, make it a composition by harmonizing and arranging your elements, and remember you are telling the story.

Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster?

A: I think #geohipster resonates for a few reasons. First, it is startling when people think you are cool just because you make maps. Most of us, me included, were not always quite so objectively cool. Second, because the geoweb is pleasingly small once you break out of GIS professionalism or whatever other standard paradigms there are, which is a great ferment for ironic inside jokes. There are so many warm, genuine, supportive people who make maps and map-making tools, and will share the best parts of themselves and what they are learning from this crazy ride we’re on right now in a world that is just starting to think about the implications of relating through location. Am I a #geohipster? Without question, yes I am, whatever that means.

Steven Ramage: “Fitness for purpose is one of my favourite terms”

Steven Ramage
Steven Ramage

After a number of years working with internationally-recognised organisations (Navteq, 1Spatial, OGC, and Ordnance Survey (OS)), Steven is now working for what3words, based in London; they’re helping to simply and precisely communicate location using only words. He also consults for OS, the World Bank, and is a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Future Cities at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. He is a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS).

Steven was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ed Freyfogle.

Q: You’ve had a long and diverse geo career that’s taken you around the world. Briefly take us through your experiences. What makes you a geohipster?

A: Less of the long please! I’m still ONLY in my 40s. I started thinking about geo in my first job in container shipping, so I’m probably more of a geoshipster than geohipster :d)

I wanted to track container shipping in the early 90s, something akin to DHL Smart Sentry today, but the tech just wasn’t there. Then I moved to the marine survey and offshore services arena and was thrown in at the deep end (no pun intended) having to learn the basics of dredging, rig positioning, cable lay surveys, and seismic surveying. Spent considerable time in Aberdeen, Great Yarmouth and IJmuiden in the Netherlands. With the word GPS in my CV, a headhunter contacted me for a job with Navteq (now Nokia HERE) and I was the first market development manager for what was called the Wireless and Internet division. I had a blast dealing with Mapquest, Ericsson, Nokia, Telcontar, Vodafone, and all the other LBS players in the early days, and used to attend GSM in Cannes before it became MWC in Barcelona. I also lost a small fortune when I left Navteq (prior to the Nokia acquisition) and gave up my stock options — a lesson that cost me but also taught me well.

I joined Laser-Scan in 2001 (and helped rename it to 1Spatial) as Product Manager for some spatial tools that operated in databases, essentially server-side topology management in Oracle9i. I stayed there 9 years and was part of the Management Buyout team in 2003, which again taught me a lot but also challenged me considerably. In 2004 my son, Thomas, was born and unfortunately later that year my wife, Nina, was diagnosed with cancer. She’s much better now but I owe a great deal to my colleagues at 1Spatial for their support. In 2010 several people, whom I would call mentors, highlighted a vacancy for an Exec Director position at the OGC – Geoff Zeiss, Maurits van der Vlugt, and Peter Woodsford. So I dropped a note to Mark Reichardt and after a Skype interview with half a dozen people in the US I took on the marketing and communications role. I focussed the comms round ‘location’ reusing an existing strapline (c/o Sam Bacharach): Making location count. I also changed the website (for better or worse) to reflect domains and communities of interest. The biggest topic for me in international geospatial standards is business value and after 4.5 years as the initiator and chair (with some interims) I’ve just stood down from the business value committee. Publishing a paper on standards and INSPIRE, as well as a joint paper on international geospatial standards with INEGI, Mexico for UN-GGIM are some of the small achievements in this area.

Latterly I was invited by Vanessa Lawrence CB (former DG and Chief Exec of OS) to join Ordnance Survey to head up their international activities. I REALLY didn’t want to leave Norway where I had been living near a mountain with a fjord at my back door, but the opportunity was too good to miss and I really admired all the directors and hoped I could learn from them. So for just over two years I ran Ordnance Survey International, building a very competent team of industry experts. The opportunity for OSI to highlight the major investments, lessons learned, and their capabilities around national mapping are massive and a large number of countries can learn from them. Due to health issues I took 3 months off international travel for the first time in 20 years and during that time a number of opportunities arose, which meant I would have to step down from my position as Managing Director. That’s when I joined what3words as a director. I’ve not seen anything this new in geo since Google Earth, at least from the perspective that it can truly have a global impact if adoption happens.

So lots and lots of geo, but I prefer to focus on the policy, strategy and business elements. There’s enough tech experts now today like Scott Morehouse, James Fee, Paul Ramsey, Chris Holmes, Carsten Roensdorf, Joanne Cook, Seb Lessware, Rob Atkinson, Sophia Parafina, Bill Dollins, Anne Kemp, Brian Timoney, Katherine Prebble, Simon Greener, Albert Godfrind, Jo Walsh, Gretchen Peterson, etc.

Q: The geo industry uses software to describe the world. And yet many participants in the industry focus very much on tasks in a single market. National mapping agencies are typically exactly that: national. It’s rare to meet industry insiders considering the global picture. What are the megatrends you see happening globally?

A: Back in 2006 I supported something called ePSIplus, which is now quite fashionable and important around open data and public sector information reuse. I’d like to think that in 8 years’ time what3words will be as important. Addressing is a topic that is being tackled by the UN in Africa, CRCSI in Australia, it’s a topic for debate around OpenStreetMap etc. To me this is more of a policy debate than a technological one. The same for sensors or drones or UAVs and other obvious trends around open data, open source and open standards. I see considerable support and investment coming through collective or community activities, such as CitiSense for the World Bank or UN-GGIM.

As I travelled the world with the OGC and OS, I often saw different flavours of the same problem: how to access, share and benefit from geospatial information resources (also how to fund them nationally). I also see many individuals and organisations jumping on the IoT, smart/future/connected cities, big data etc. bandwagon, and actually not enough attention being paid to data quality and access/sharing issues; all the technology in the world is not particularly helpful if the fundamentals are not there. Fitness for purpose is therefore one of my favourite terms.

Q: You were executive director of the Open Geospatial Consortium, a global body with many governmental organisations around the world developing open geospatial standards. But one of the biggest innovations in geo in the last decade has been the rise of crowdsourcing, most notably OpenStreetMap, which has no real defined standards, no one specifically “in charge”, and, by design, only a very rudimentary structure. Many attribute OSM’s success precisely to its simplicity. So which is it? Is the future top-down standards or bottom-up innovation?

A: The OGC, OSGeo, OSM and all the other open initiatives function based on communities and volunteer support, but communities need leaders. Not dictators or people with a personal, vested interest, but those with vision and tough skin. I watched Steve Coast from afar and thought he did a fabulous job, but he obviously decided to move on. It may need some more similar energy and enthusiasm to reinvigorate the community. The smart money is probably on Kate Chapman and the teams working on Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Missing Maps. I’ve been fortunate that some of the leading open mapping and crowdsourcing people in the UK are friends, Muki Haklay, Peter Ter Haar and the #geohippy Steven Feldman, better to ask their views, they’re better qualified on this topic.

But to answer your question explicitly, I think it’s a balance of government policy driving procurement language for existing, proven geospatial standards and therefore vendor software compliance with those standards. Then bottom-up technological advances that move faster than government policy and where the crowd determines the usefulness and value of the solution.

Q: You recently left one of the oldest, most traditional geo brands in the world, the UK’s Ordnance Survey, to join the geo start-up what3words. Explain your reasons, beyond the obvious hipster points of being able to say you work at a start-up.

A: As mentioned earlier, I still support Ordnance Survey (in my spare time) through my consulting firm, advising them on geospatial standards and smart cities. When I met Chris Sheldrick, the cofounder and CEO of what3words, I completely understood  his passion for simply and precisely communicating location, and I was impressed that he came from running a music events company! Chris won’t mind me saying, but he wasn’t really aware of organisations such as Esri or Pitney Bowes, and he certainly hadn’t had much exposure to geocoding prior to setting up what3words. Kevin Pomfret introduced Denise Mckenzie to Chris, and Denise then introduced me. I’m sort of the geo industry veteran in the team, and so I have seen and done some of the things we want to try, and so hopefully I add value. After 20 years working in the location sector, I also have a fairly decent international network that we are connecting with daily.

It’s not really about making it trendy for me (any more). My mother was nominated as Scottish person of the year 2006 and she was awarded an MBE for her services to the community, so I’ve got major aspirations to try and do something similar to what my parents achieved in Scotland. Since geo is where it’s at, I’m hoping I can make a difference through what3words.

Q: One complaint leveled against What3Words is that it is not open. Is it possible to be hip and closed?

A: Twitter. Facebook. iTunes. At least one of these apps is used by us, our friends, or family daily. I think this shows that it is possible. However, for a number of people it is not necessarily a simple case of open or closed — what concerns them is how they will be charged in the future and to that end we come up with a model that doesn’t charge citizens or end users in the event of humanitarian assistance or international development activities.

Q: You’re a guest lecturer at Southampton University. What’s the advice you’d give to the geohipsters out there at the start of their geo careers. Should they be trying to land a job at a “big name”? Should they be joining (or founding) a geo-focused start-up?

A: Interestingly enough I was a guest lecturer at the Business School, not the Geography Department, presenting to MSc students on global entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation. I’ve obviously done both and I think it does pay to gain experience in different-sized organisations, different industry footprints, and different visions and missions. If you can put up with trying to navigate through large organisations and cope with the bureaucracy and communication challenges, you certainly learn a lot and have more resources available. But nothing beats doing it firsthand where you understand innately cash flow and customer service — the basis for any business.

Q: Any closing thoughts for all the geohipsters out there?

A: There are some fabulous people in the geospatial community, and that’s what makes doing our jobs fun. My global network is not all geohipsters, and that’s good because we need different kinds of people to challenge us to keep us awake and relevant. Also many of my network have become friends over the years and that means places to stay!  A large number of people have done the groundwork for future geohipsters, and so it’s a great time to build on all that work and take it to the next level.

Finally, a shameless plug. Think about the 135 countries out there that have poor or no addressing and how what3words could help support economic growth, international development, financial inclusion and other areas.

Disclosure: Ed Freyfogle is a co-founder of Lokku Ltd, which is a seed investor in What3Words.

Gretchen Peterson: “Cartography is fundamentally about where things are, not about the technology that displays them”

Gretchen Peterson
Gretchen Peterson

Gretchen Peterson is a cartography explorer who is constantly on the lookout for new techniques, tricks, and solutions that collectively elevate the status of maps. Peterson shares these adventures in her cartography books, blog, and twitter stream, and also, sometimes, cracks extremely funny nerd jokes. As a Data Scientist at Boundless, Peterson designs basemaps with open source technology, and recently wrote a blog series on QGIS.

Gretchen was interviewed for GeoHipster by Jonah Adkins (@jonahadkins).

Q: You’re pretty much renowned the world over for your cartography publications (Cartographer’s Toolkit, GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design First Edition and Second Edition). Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be an author.

A: Thanks Jonah, but I’m definitely not renowned the world over. In fact, before I took a position at Boundless last year, one of my siblings was counting unemployed people in our family and included me in the tally. It was obvious that not even my own siblings knew what I was doing all day, even though at that time I was running a successful geo consultancy. That said, I do occasionally run into people who know me, which is a pretty neat thing, although it can be embarrassing when you’re recognized taking a selfie with your own book at the Esri User Conference bookstore.

My background is in natural resources. I’ve been a life-long advocate for environmental stewardship, and GIS, as a means of cataloging, understanding, and anticipating Earth’s processes, was a subject that a professor urged me to study and was the subject of my second most important internship. (The first was censusing common terns, which involved less time on a computer and more time getting pooped on.)

My first non-internship job was at a technology firm in which I was asked to not only do GIS but to also make maps of the results. This is that moment when you realize how important proper results visualization is for your own career’s sake as well as for the success of the projects that you’re working on. If an analysis points out where the county should purchase land to protect an important species, you’d better be able to map it adequately.

There was a significant dearth of practical cartography books at that time: the early 2000s. With some training in design — I was a landscape architecture major in college my first year — I decided that if no adequate books on the subject materialized in the coming decade, I’d figure out good map design principles myself and then write about it for others. And that’s exactly what happened. The first book I wrote is more of a comprehensive textbook on cartography while the second is full of practical tools like color palettes and typefaces. It turns out that both books have been embraced by college professors and career professionals alike.

Q: You recently made the jump from being a private consultant to working for Boundless as a Data Scientist. Has that been an easy transition?

A: Working at Boundless has been just as exciting as I had hoped it would be. Some of the brightest geo minds work there, and they have a sense of pride in helping do good things for the geo community. I think that in most professional positions one ultimately is happiest when making important contributions, whatever they may be, and I have plenty of opportunities for that in this position.

Q: You give regular cartography tips on your blog. If you could give only one piece of advice to someone what would that be?

A: This is not a fair question! I’ve been giving advice on my blog for close to 5 years, and there’s still so much I haven’t covered! But seriously, if I had to say only one thing it’d be to study existing maps, both old and new, and begin to compile a list of map patterns that can come in handy for future mapping projects. The patterns part of map patterns is a term I’ve borrowed from software engineering where it’s been shown to be a good idea to thoroughly understand how problems are commonly and most efficiently solved. They say that all innovation is derivative, and that extends to cartography as well.

Q: I think we got started in GIS around the same time (late nineties) — we’ve seen a lot.  What do you think is the greatest accomplishment in cartography in the last 5 years?

A: The greatest change has been the movement from cartography as a medium that only specialists could use to cartography as a medium that everyone can use. This new ease-of-use has resulted in an influx of design-oriented, rather than science-oriented mappers to join the field. As a results, the aesthetic level of all maps has increased dramatically and thereby engaged the public to such an extent that they’ve become demanding users of maps rather than blasé bystanders by virtue of the maps’ enhanced readability, interactivity, and beauty. This is all good.

Q: We had a conversation once about emotional cartography/ers and the need for affirmation (#mapaffirm). Are you an emotional cartographer, and why is affirmation in design work important?

A: Ah yes, this is an important subject, especially for those new to the profession. It’s a “haters gonna hate” kind of situation with the map critics out there. And some mappers get down about how their maps are received.

I’m not an emotional cartographer, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be sympathetic to those who are. Gordon MacKenzie, who wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball, talks about his position at Hallmark as one of shoring up employees’ egos. If a designer came to him with an idea, he invariably responded that it was a good idea, whether or not it truly was. His reasoning was that if it wasn’t a good idea, the designer would eventually realize that and halt production. Perhaps along the way the designer, with the confidence of being backed by a design director like MacKenzie, would come up with a superior product idea.

We also have to remember that rarely does anyone appreciate creative endeavours, especially those that push boundaries, as much as they should when the object is first released. Only time can prove the utility and lastingness of a great map. Just as Mark Twain had to stand up for himself after an editor tried to suggest changes to one of Twain’s introductions, so we can too, for the maps we make today, whether or not they win awards this year or meet with critical favor at the time they are first released. (It did not end well for the editor. Twain not only refused to edit the piece, but also rescinded the piece altogether.)

So, even if you feel like you need to attend a meeting of Emotional Cartographer’s Anonymous, you must have a certain courage when it comes to publishing maps. And if a map that you made was indeed a terribly misinformed piece of drivel, then just remember what @mysadcat said, in its infinite wisdom:

Q: What are your desert-island, all-time-top-5-favorite maps?

A: First and foremost would be Google Maps. It’s likely the most extensively and most frequently used map, with the most factual coverage, and with the biggest team behind it, that the world has ever seen. By a long shot. It’s Lewis Carroll’s life-sized scale map concept at heart, in that it contains so much spatial information at such large scales that it comes close to being intellectually life-sized but has none of the cumbersome problems that Carroll’s 1:1 scale map would have.

“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.” –Lewis Carroll, The Complete Illustrated Works, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

The second choice would be any thematic map that illustrates the power of zoom-level mapping, where one can discern patterns at many scales, and thus draw from it a multitude of important conclusions. Dot maps are particularly well suited for this, such as the Ethnical Dot Map by the University of Virginia Demographics Research Group.

My third choice would be the Dymaxion map of world wood-density, which is made of wood and foldable. It has all my favorite components: a cool projection, a very meta media vs. content message, and it’s tactilly interactive! The creativity that went into this is inspiring.

My fourth choice would be the North American Bird Flight Range Shifts series for the intuitive animations of ranges over time, the small-multiples aspect, and the underlying mission to better understand our natural resources through superb visualizations. Plus, the Stamen Design blog post on the subject includes a gif of an owl being bopped on the head by a much smaller bird.

And lastly, I would bring along a kusudama made from the pages of an old map book. This work of art was created especially for me by a good friend. Personal maps should always be kept close to the heart.

Kusudama made from the pages of an old map book
Kusudama made from the pages of an old map book

Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you and are you a #geohipster?

A: My guess is that a geohipster would be a person who is receptive to new techniques and new technologies inasmuch as they make a better world through geo. A geohipster would also be a person who is able to reach into the past for anything that can be adapted and put to good use in the present.

In this sense of the term geohipster I would hope that I could be included. I don’t fear new technology but I also don’t want to dwell on it to the exclusion of other ideas that could be useful, since cartography is fundamentally about where things are, not about the technology that displays them. Just as we don’t need parchment anymore for maps, so too we may not need computers in the future. As long as I’m massaging spatial information into wisdom or into tools that make wise decisions possible, I’m happy.

I do have to confess to never having GPSd my biking trips. If that’s one of the criteria, then I’m not a geohipster.

Q: What’s next for you? Any new books planned?

A: No new books are in the works at this time, but I’m looking forward to discussing cartography and QGIS at the upcoming Denver Geospatial Amateurs gathering and FOSS4GNA.

What will be hot in geo in 2015 — predictions from the GeoHipster crowd

GeoHipster asked several GeoFolk to predict what will be HOT in geo in 2015 (see 2014 predictions from December 2013). Here are their answers:

Nicholas Duggan, Dragons8mycat

Thanks for the opportunity, let me first get into smug mode and say that I wasn’t too far off the mark with Boundless’ OpenGeo being prime place for 2014. Even if it was trumped by the presence of CartoDB this year, people were still talking about it. So, CityEngine never really exploded the way I was expecting, it was beaten by ArcGIS Pro and the fantastic QGIS2Threejs which is still a win in my book.

My thought is that 2015 is going to see QGIS become the cartographers’ software of choice, already with many great effects and styling choices. The next year is only going to see those tools expanding and getting more relevant for the cartographer & casual mapper alike.

With the latest Snapdragon chipsets in the current Samsung & HTC devices, locational accuracy can be better than 3 metres anywhere in the world through an off -the-shelf mobile device. I can see this being a springboard for many GIS companies to bring out better mobile mapping/ tracking solutions and also the return of “job manager” systems to quality-control the input & output of this sourced data.

With the UK testing autonomous cars next year, I can see huge advances in LiDAR & data collection appearing… and maybe the reappearance of the indoor mapping…

Tim Waters

  • 2015 will be the year of specialized personalized OSM maps EVERYWHERE
    • maps on e-paper watches
    • OSM maps going to Mars. There will be a hashtag #mapstomars
    • maps on hats
    • maps on those jackets you put on little dogs to keep them from shivering
    • maps on free tissues given out in Japanese urban areas
  • 2015 will see the first major public lawsuit against the OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF) for some frivolous reason, such as “my client used OSM maps on his CartoCrate Corp GPS Routing App on his iPhone and crashed into a Yak. OSM Maps are at fault.” This will cause a crisis in the Foundation, causing a mapping personality to raise a crowdfunding drive to raise legal funds, and in the process, the personality devolves the OSMF board and takes executive control. As a response to the legal mess and the insinuation pointed at them from some mapping extremists that they were involved, CartoCrate Corp will create a Public Domain fork of the OSM database and set about getting the US Govt using it. It’s quite successful.
  • Oh, BTW Mapbox ended up as the company that did the paying mappers idea, although not as large scale.

Bill Dollins, Senior Vice President, Zekiah Technologies, Inc.

I think 2015 will be the year that other industries will catch on to geo and realize they don’t need GIS to do it. It won’t happen overnight, but I think it may be the start of a trend.

It could take any number of forms. Maybe it’s a company or organization not previously associated with geo that releases a narrowly-targeted tool or library that solves an industry-specific set of geo problems. Maybe it’s a large company acquiring a plucky geospatial startup to add some location awareness to its products.

The point is that the variety of open tools available will make it easier for organizations that understand their markets well to plug in “just enough geo” to enhance their domain-specific needs.

In short, 2015 will start to expose the fact that “Enterprise GIS” is really only relevant to GIS enterprises.

Stephen Mather

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” –Alan Curtis Kay

A year ago I predicted the beginnings of artisanal satellite mapping and ended with the phrase: “OpenDroneMap anyone?” After writing the prediction, I felt there was only one way forward. I registered the domain, proposed the project, and a year later (with the help and enthusiasm of many), we have OpenDroneMap. By January 2015, we will have a fully open source toolchain which fills 90% of the niche that Pix4D, Agisoft, and other closed-source projects fill in turning drone photos into geographic data, and it will have advantages that the closed source solutions know not.

Drones will continue to grow and be relevant to GeoHipsters in 2015 — more so in fact. As a result, retrograde coordinate systems, such as ones with promises of equal area, sub-inch accuracy, as well as vertical and horizontal datums galore will rise in prominence again amongst the GeoHipster clans. Geo will continue to converge to engineering scales. Great mock battles will be enacted between GeoHipsters and Survey-Hipsters.

But the great problems to solve in 2015 become ones not of how to process the new data, but how to store, retrieve, and share the data. In short, we will need artisanal pixel platforms like OpenAerialMap, with the need for similar projects specific to elevation models and digital surface models. These will be the great platform problems of GeoHipsters in 2015.

Tom MacWright

Companies exiting the tinkering phase will go all-in on making the killer apps, and building people-infrastructure like education and support. The GDAL/PostGIS/Mapnik stack that’s common to pretty much everything will see some major competition that fits better with the threads, clouds, and GPUs of new tech. Vector maps will finally be broadly available and the client side will eat more of the server side stack.

Randal Hale

So my 2014 predictions were more wrong than right. Maybe all wrong.

OSM did get more national attention and has a lot of companies leaning on it now. I would still argue that the “program” as a whole is unprepared for the World Spotlight. The OSM Foundation rules by not ruling and it can still be a bit of a wild wild west shootout on the listserves… since I was just in one. For me HOT (Humanitarian OSM) is the most desirable component of OpenStreetMap. They are doing it right — and maybe that is what saves OpenStreetMap.

I still think more organizations are moving to hybrid setups. It’s the future. You can’t rely on one software ecosystem to provide all your needs and wants.

I thought Esri would take out MapBox… and I’m so glad they didn’t pull a GeoCommons.


The LAS format dust-up between Esri and rapidlasso finally gets some air time. I think this instance of Esri forking a LPGL format to only run on their software shows exactly how much they are embracing the open source world. They aren’t. If it happens once it will happen again.

Esri starts pushing the pay-for-play option for everyone. It may not be a bad thing at all. You pay for the portions of the ArcGIS ecosystem you want to use by buying “Esri Credits”. Hopefully that push finally kills off the out-of-date three-tiered approach to software sales. For some it will be good — for some it will be bad.

QGIS is my new love long-term affair for desktop software. I think in 2015 it takes off and becomes a tool everyone has on their desktop. Take a portion of your commercial maintenance (I’m guilty for not) and donate it to the program.

Esri makes a play for Spatial Networks. The guys behind Fulcrum are doing everything right. I have developed a severe bromance for that company. I hope I’m wrong on this one.

Finally — all the #geo people stop putting #geo in front of every term. Now I’m going out for a #geobeer to the #geopub and #georemember the one #geoprediction I didn’t #geomake.

Bill Morris

DRONES. Which of course sounds hackneyed and outdated, but UAV capabilities keep leaping forward. In 2014 the hardware matured and reached a broad audience; for 2015 UAV software and data management seems poised to shorten the channel from lens to actionable data. I see it already in disaster response, but I think agriculture is the likely sector to blow the doors off of UAV capabilities.

Paul Ramsey

When asked to look into the future, I generally start by looking into the past and reasoning by analogy. There have been some patterns of development in the last year that are worth at least commenting on.

JavaScript Uber Ales

It’s become pretty clear that MapBox intends to rewrite the whole of geospatial computing using JavaScript. Given the powerful JavaScript team in the company, it’s no big surprise. So starting from Leaflet, which is on the beaten path of JavaScript web mapping; then moving to Id, which is somewhat off the beaten path (and a tour de force of software development, Tom MacWright could retire right now and claim a full and complete career); with little detours through ideas like; and more recently into places that look a lot like “GIS” via Turf and Geocoding via Carmen.

The architectural paradigm driving all this is very cloud- and horizontal-scaling-oriented: everything has to be chopped into tiny pieces, everything has to be embarrassingly parallel, everything is a URL, and everything Has-To-Be-In-JavaScript.

As it happens, I saw this movie the last time around, when the Java community arrived in the early 2000s and rewrote all of geospatial. The dominant architectural paradigm of the time was the three-tier, built on open standards, and the software all shows it. Everything was XML-configured, everyone followed the Gang of Four, everything was multi-threaded, and everything Had-To-Be-In-Java.

Applying the Java experience to the current JavaScript rewrite of All Software Everywhere:

  • The pre-Cambrian explosion of JavaScript software options currently underway will naturally be followed by a great die-off as a few dominant solutions take over the marketplace. Unlike the Java iteration, this time around there are almost no serious proprietary alternatives in the space, which is an interesting reflection on the state of software development.
  • By the time the dominant JavaScript solutions have achieved victory, they will be considered hopelessly passé and dependent on antiquated notions (these days everybody has to use Tomcat, but nobody looks at Tomcat’s XML configuration files and says “what an excellent idea”).
  • The architectural foundations of the new JavaScript solutions will also be considered out of fashion, though most of IT will still be humming along happily on those very foundations.
Imagery — Cheap, Cheaper, Cheapest

For a long time, discussion of imagery has been pretty boring stuff: Can you convert formats? Can you ortho-rectify? Can you color-balance and feather a mosaic? But this year at FOSS4G there was quite an interesting collection of talks all pointing towards a blossoming new world of cheap, cheap imagery.

At FOSS4G 2014 in Portland I saw talks by Frank Warmerdam on processing imagery for Planetlabs, and by Aaron Racicot and Stephen Mather on mapping with cheap drone hardware. With cheaper and cheaper sensors — ranging from the shoebox-sized “doves” from PlanetLabs to the sub-thousand-dollar quadcopters — we can and will pile up larger and larger collections of raw imagery. This pile of imagery will in turn drive innovation in image processing software to convert it all into a rationalized view of the world.

The new world of cheap, cheap imagery is enabled by two parallel innovations: really really cheap sensors that produce generally inferior imagery but incredible volumes of it; and really really clever software that can leverage multiple images of the same object to infer extra information, like 3D models, best pixels and so on.

It was only a handful of years ago that Microsoft’s Photosynth technique of building a 3D model out of an unorganized collection of photographs was a computing marvel. That capability is now available on smartphones. At one time the best computer vision software was only available as proprietary licensed SDKs: now it’s all open source.

With cheap sensors and algorithms capable of dealing with the imagery they generate, we’re not far away from a new world of earth observation — both from orbit and from only a few hundred feet above.

I expect that the tools for processing raw drone imagery will only get better, and that once (if?) the FAA sets reasonable rules for use of drones in the civilian sector, the USA will be awash in drones mapping every corner of the country — for the local county, electric company, and real estate board.

More Spatial, Fewer Maps

Over the last couple years I’ve been using the words “spatial IT” a lot, as a description for a trend in the geospatial world: our previously specialized tools are no longer specialized, they are just add-on features to general purpose IT tools.

So databases have a spatial column type. Document indexing systems (like ElasticSearch) have a spatial search capability. “Geocoding” functionality is now built into almost every application that might happen to have an address field.

So IT professionals are now capable of delivering “GIS” results, without “GIS” software. The classic “notification report” of all houses within 100 yards of a re-zoning application is now just a tabular query-and-mailmerge operation. No map, no GIS.

Data visualizations, having run through a brief map-mania after the advent of Google Maps, are now coming back full-circle to a realization that sometimes the best map is no map at all.

Non-spatial actions — like running a web search — are setting up subtle spatial queries in the background: your Google search returns results that are “relevant” to you not just categorically, but also geographically. Just a list of results, no map, but more spatial than before.

And spatial actions, like asking for directions, are returning way-finding results. A list of directions, rather than a schematic. The bar for a useful result from a routing application has moved “up” — away from a schematic cartographic result, to a natural language description of a step-wise route.

I guess it’s no real surprise that, as the wider world moves away from maps and towards embedded spatial everywhere, in our own field there is a growing nostalgia for classic cartography. Who is winning the maps competitions at the spatial gatherings these days? The whooshing pulsing arrows of the data visualizers, or the clear classic cartographers, telling story with the spare language of maps?

Hopefully this is just a moment, and maps will be back, but for now, spatial is the thing.

Ed Freyfogle

Two major trends:

  • More and more consumer services/apps will emerge that assume/require continual knowledge of the consumer’s location. This whole new range of services will require more and more consumers, but also developers, to contemplate location in ways they never have before. Privacy will be a bigger issue than ever. Most of the developers building these services will have no background in GIS or cartography or such things, nor any desire to learn. They will embrace whatever tools help them get the job done.
  • OpenStreetMap’s data volume will continue to grow rapidly, not least due to the introduction of more and more domain-specific editors like Rob Hawkes’ building height estimator or Tom MacWright’s CoffeeDex. More and more data, all around the world, will flow in, in some cases without the consumer even needing to be aware OSM is the underlying datastore. Meanwhile on the usage side, OSM’s “good enough” quality will continue to improve every day. The inevitable march forward will continue, helped on by more and more governments (local, national) embracing open data albeit in a very chaotic, piecemeal manner. More and more best practices and robust toolchains will emerge.

Gary Gale

More Geospatial Visualisations, Maybe Less Maps

One of the great things about having a wife who understands and accepts that you’re a map nerd is getting great Christmas gifts such as “London: The Information Capital” by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. The book is subtitled “100 maps and graphics that will change how you view the city”. Reading this book made me realise that there were as many maps as there were visualisations with spatial data, and I also realised that this book wasn’t an isolated instance. More and more geospatial information is being visualised, both online and elsewhere. This means lots of maps but not just maps. This is a trend that will continue into 2015 and beyond as people who aren’t used to maps still want to visualise mapping data.

More Tangible Maps

At home I’ve got gift wrap with maps on it, a notebook covered in maps and even a map on the case of my phone. Walking through our local bookstore at the weekend, I was struck by just how many maps there were in so many shapes, sizes and forms, and with not a single digital map to be seen. Take a brief search through Etsy and you can get a map on all you ever wanted and a lot more besides. Maybe the public has fallen back in love with tangible maps as digital maps become more and more part of our daily lives? Whatever the reason, maps are here to stay.

More Bad Maps

Both of the previous two predictions means we’re going to continue seeing a lot more maps. But that also widens the scope for a lot more bad maps. There’s even a Twitter hashtag for this. Take a search for #badmaps if you want your eyes to bleed and whatever cartographic skill you possess to shriek out in anguish. This is not going to get any better. Now, because anyone can make a map, this means anyone might make a map, regardless of whether they should or not. That’s not to say that cartography should remain the preserve of professional cartographers, but if you don’t have a modicum of appreciation of design, an eye for colours that complement each other, and at least a rudimentary understanding of geography, then making a map might be something you want to pause and think about.

Even More People Doing GIS, Without Knowing They’re Doing GIS

Coupled with the news of the forthcoming demise of Google Maps Engine and existing customers looking to take their web-based geographic visualisations onto another platform or toolset, more people will end up doing GIS, or at least the lower end of the GIS spectrum, blissfully unaware of the fact that what they’re doing is in any way connected with something called GIS. Expect ESRI to make ArcGIS online much less GIS-like and Mapbox’s Turf and CartoDB to pick up lots of Google Maps emigres. Meanwhile people who are used to Javascript and web maps will look at toolkits like Polymaps or Leaflet and end up accidentally doing GIS, and free GIS tools such as QGIS will also reap the benefits of GME power users.

OSM Will Explode

It’s a sweeping generalisation and probably a controversial one too, but OpenStreetMap seems to be divided into 4 tribes. Firstly there’s the utopian tribe, truly believing that OSM is the only way forward for mapping data, that it will dominate across all forms of mapping data, and that if only everyone else would embrace the ODbL and its share-alike clause everything would be so much easier. Then there’s the community tribe, who use and contribute to OSM because they like the community aspect first and the mapping aspect second. Thirdly there’s the map tribe who just want to get on with mapping the world. Finally there’s the pragmatic tribe who want to see OSM flourish in the current business world and realise that something probably has to change in order for that to happen.

Each tribe wants something different from OSM and although there’s overlaps and blurring the lines, the OSM community is a divided one. I have to ask if this is sustainable in its current form.

All of which means that 2015 might be the year OSM explodes. Sadly this doesn’t mean uptake and contributions will explode, but my fearful prediction is that OSM itself will explode and fragment, with the possibility of OSM forking looming on the horizon.

Todd Barr: “If your gut tells you it’s wrong, it is”

Todd Barr
Todd Barr

Todd Barr (blog, Tumblr, website) has been bouncing around the Beltway for 16 years, working in the spatial industry for the past 14. He holds an MSc in Geography from the University of Denver, and keeps considering getting another one in BioDefense. When he’s not peeing on Esri’s leg, he can be found either in a park playing Hide and Go Drone with his daughter, or wasting time on the internet. Todd is currently a Spatial SME 2 at Eglobaltech. That being said, all opinions are his own and are not that of his employer. He also secretly wishes he was a hat guy.

Todd was interviewed for GeoHipster by Bill Dollins.

Q: You have worked in the government services sector for a long time. What do you see as the greatest challenges or difficulties in that area? What do you see as the greatest opportunities?

A: I really see three major challenges facing the feds:

  1. How limited the use of GIS is. It seems that once it’s “on a map”, it’s good enough. I know it’s a time-and-money thing, but if we could just push it a bit more, and dive deeper into the science and analysis part.
  2. Not enough sharing of data. When I was working with Transportation for the Nation (TFTN) it was amazing to see how much savings would occur with a single, albeit it huge, open data set.
  3. The lack of innovation, or a culture of innovation. This isn’t just in geo, but geo is what I have the best view of. Geoplatform is GOS 2.0, ArcGIS Online for Organizations is just an obfuscated Server and SDE. There are champions out there, but they are too few and too far between.

Case in point: During my time on platform, I was shocked as to how many times Jack would drop by the governing department, especially when we were building two stacks. It was so bad that a stakeholder would hide when Jackie D would drop by.

Opportunities: From a vertical market perspective, Public Health has the greatest opportunity and compatibility with GIS. I really think that if someone pushed the predictive aspect of GIS into the BI of an organization, there would be doors flying open.

Q: You have a passion for emergency management, which you have channeled into a focus of your career. The emergency management field has gotten a lot of attention over the last 15 years in the wake of events such as 9/11, the 2004 hurricane season, Katrina, Haiti, Sandy, and unfortunately many others. What have been the most effective applications of geospatial tools you have seen over that time and in what ways does the geospatial industry still fall short?

A: GIS falls short across the board in all implementations in the field of Emergency Management. Geovisualization does really well. This has been my COP rant for years. Sure — you know where it is, and what is happening — but that just puts you in reactive mode, not proactive mode. With the recent Ebola scare, sure we knew were the cases were, but why weren’t there predictive models being rolled out to help the people “on the ground”? I think that Emergency Managers, and that whole community — even those that think they “get it” — don’t. There aren’t a lot of “geo preparedness models”. They are normally built after the event, not in preparation for.

And Esri doesn’t really do much in the realm of selling the hard-core analysis part of GIS as much as VIPER, or whatever they’re hawking now.

OpenStreetMap — hands down, OpenStreetMap. When the Haitian earthquake hit, I was on a National Guard contract. The difference between the ways this “institution” reacted, and the way the community reacted, was night and day. That first weekend made me an OSM advocate. Sure, it has its issues, but it’s hands down the best spatial platform for response.

Q: In your recent blog post, “Looking for a job as a Geo Silverback,” you allude to “whistleblowing” as one of the factors affecting your employment situation. What led you to take that step and how has it affected you since?

A: Ethics, balance, and being able to sleep at night knowing I did the right thing. Contractors have a bad enough perception as it is, we don’t need to feed into that by actually doing things that reinforce that perception. There are times when contractors are handed contracts on a silver platter, and all they have to do is run a find-and-replace in an RFI from “The Contractor” to “<!–Insert Large Contractor Here–>”. But this wasn’t that, it was an under-the-table slide of inside information. Not something we teased out of the client, or we had better insight into the document than the other competitors. Which, I’m sure, the employer would have. But — and this is the economist in me talking — it fundamentally altered the playing field, giving one actor an unparalleled advantage. Not because of insight, not because they had the best team or the best price, but because they had inside information that no one else was privy to.

The feeling when I read the email made my stomach turn, and watching my coworkers rationalize why it was okay, how “this might not be the final document.”  Or that “it was because the client wanted us to win.”  It’s the same thinking errors that go into a 15-year-old shoplifting. This is becoming a rant, I’ll stop now.

Tl;dr: I don’t like to compete with people when the field isn’t level.

Q: As a self-proclaimed GeoSilverback, what observations or advice do you have for an undergrad just getting started on a career in geography? Do you think there will be such a thing as a “career in geography” in the coming years?

A:  I’m actually working on that blog entry for later this week. Two things here: Own your personal brand — because that’s what you are, you are a product. Jobs come and go, but build your career. Two, 90% of life is just showing up.

As for the future — no, Location Tech/Geospatial is going to be absorbed by the Big Data/Data Scientists tsunami that’s coming. We’ll be specialists within the greater field of Data Crap. Coincidentally, that’s what the DC in Washington DC will stand for in the future.

By the time this is posted I should have the blog entry up, so go there. #shamelessselfpromotion

Q: You have active presence across various social media channels. In fact, it is how we originally connected. Which channel do you find most effective? How has social media benefitted you professionally and in general?

A: The Twitters. I often quote this one line I ran across a while back “Facebook is for people you knew in high school, and on Twitter you meet the people you’re supposed to meet.” I’m sure my Twitter feed would make a personal branding expert drop a deuce in her pants right there, but I don’t like to put on airs. I’m good at what I do, I say “fuck” a lot, and I clean up well.

For three years I tried to figure out where G+ fits into my social media ecosystem. Which is why I stand by my “G+ is the Detroit of social media. Lots of infrastructure, but no one lives there.”

Social media has amplified my professional network by a factor of 4-ish.  Increased my knowledge of obscure/non mainstream tech. Point-blank Twitter has made me better at managing the nooks and crannies of my career.

Q: Prior to your life in geo you spent time in comedy. This penchant comes through, for example, in your “Drunken Geographer” Tumblr. Whom do you consider to be your comedic influences? Do you have any future plans with comedy?

A: WC Fields, Groucho Marx, Woody Woodberry, Benny Hill, George Carlin, and Kevin Smith.

Kevin Smith isn’t so much a comedian as a wordsmith with a humorous edge; he also shares my birthday. There you go haters, now you can find out my yahoo mail password.

Growing up where I did, we had to get a special antenna to get the Kansas City stations. There was an independent station — Channel 41 — that would play “Up All Night”. I would sneak up and watch Benny Hill, Groucho, and WC Fields. Fuse them with Carlin, and you can see where my belligerent, filthy, pointing-out-the-clay-feet-of-bullies, direct sense of humor comes from. For whatever reason, I can say things others can’t and generally walk away unscathed, so it’s working for me.

Woody Woodbury was a chance find in my dad’s vinyl collection. My love of him can only be explained through the U Tubes. Someday I will play that at an AA meeting.

I have 3 things that are in the works. Drunken Geographer “The Podcast”: The setup is based on Fat Man on Batman and a couple of other podcasts. I get someone who is “popular” in geo, we sit around, drink, and talk about why we love geography and what we would do with it if we got a grant from a foundation to just “Do Something”. I’m going to lasso Liz Lyon in on this, because when I start going raunchy, she can reel me back. I honestly run all the Tumblr posts past her before they go live. She’s a good gauge for what is too racy. I have no sensor for that.

Also, I have mapped out and written a “choose your own adventure” ArcGIS Desktop story that should be up on

The second thing, which is ready to go (I’m just looking for a venue), is a one-man show called “Tubing with Fags”.  Basically it’s me looking at the end of my marriage, my medical issues, the duke out for custody, and its aftermath. I really think the mental quill and paper, and writing all that stuff down in my memory really got me through.

The third is a collaborative effort with a law dog friend of mine. We both were in Washington Improv Troupe, just at different times.  Ed Gein the Musical. I wrote the intro song on her Facebook page during a really boring meeting.

I also have a couple of pop-up comedy things planned, one around GIS Day, and the second one around the Esri FedUC.

Q: I think this is the part of the interview where I ask you about hipsterism, but I can’t bring myself to do that. So, I’ll ask if you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with the GeoHipster readers?

A: Dammit, I had prepped an answer to this one. I’m not a GeoHipster, I’m a Spatial Punk.

Your ideas and dreams aren’t stupid, what if Frederick F. Russell was all like “I just don’t know how much of typhoid fever I should try to cure. What if I look stupid, what if I fail.” WE’D ALL HAVE DIED OF TYPHOID and apes would rule that planet, since typhoid isn’t a species jumper.

Don’t be close-minded, don’t be a zealot for one tech or the other, no one ever has all the answers to a problem, and never trust a bully.

Lastly, if your gut tells you it’s wrong, it is.