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 drunkengeographer.com.

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.

Thierry Gregorius: “Build a unique skill, stay focused, and never grow up”

Thierry Gregorius
Thierry Gregorius

Thierry Gregorius is a GIS professional with nearly 20 years’ experience in the oil & gas, land & property, and environmental sectors. Originally from Luxembourg, he studied geomatics in Germany, Australia and the UK, graduating with a PhD in satellite geodesy. Thierry has worked internationally throughout his career, including Shell‘s global exploration division in the Netherlands and Landmark Information Group in the UK. He is currently a principal consultant with Exprodat, a London-based GIS consultancy delivering services to the global energy industry.

Thierry is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and serves as External Examiner for Geomatics at Newcastle University. He is married with two children and lives in England’s southwest where he spends most of his spare time outdoors, surfing, swimming, cycling or hiking with his family. He also enjoys mountaineering and fine malt whisky. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thierry was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You and I (and several other folks I know) have this in common: Considered careers in architecture, then veered off into GIS. Why did you choose GIS over architecture?

A: I loved how architecture combines opposing fields such as art and science, or design and engineering — in a spatial way. As a kid I basically dreamed of becoming an architect and fighter pilot. Both are highly spatial occupations, so I guess GIS was not such a huge leap. Flying jets was a non-starter as my native Luxembourg had no air force and besides I grew too tall to fit into a cockpit. So yes, I seriously considered architecture as a career. But this was the late 80s and many architects were unemployed and desperate enough to go into interior design. I was interested in spatial relationships, not soft furnishings.

So my career adviser took a look at my profile and suggested geomatics (surveying) for which there was much more demand at the time. I didn’t really know much about it but immediately liked the look of the curriculum. It had many of the spatial elements of architecture (or indeed jet flying), it had maths and science, and it even had a bit of art and design in the form of cartography. I was also really attracted by the outdoor aspect of the profession, although sadly these days most GIS and geomatics jobs are desk-bound — a trend that needs reversing, I feel, as it is important not to lose touch with the world we’re mapping.

There is a saying that goes “An architect knows something about everything, an engineer knows everything about one thing.” The same is true for GIS professionals; we work in a very multi-disciplinary way. So I’ve no regrets — choosing geomatics over architecture provided many job opportunities and allowed me to travel the world (as it happens I’m currently in Australia doing a piece of work for a client). And besides, I still do a bit of architecture and flying in my spare time…

Q: You have 20 years of geospatial experience, most of it in the Oil & Gas industry. What do you do for Exprodat as a GIS analyst? Can you tell us what your typical workday looks like? What technologies do you use?

A: I’m a so-called strategic consultant. People hire me to troubleshoot, audit or design their GIS frameworks in a wider, organisational sense. So it’s more like management consulting. I might call it geospatial acupuncture… you know, optimise data flows, find pressure points, clear blockages, that sort of thing. I basically help organisations make sure that their people have what they need to progress their GIS to the next level — and that goes far beyond technology.

Even though GIS technology has vastly grown and matured, many organisations still find it difficult to make it work for them. Most of the issues I encounter aren’t to do with technology at all. Much of my job involves talking to stakeholders across an organisation to find out what they’re really trying to achieve, what data they need to achieve it, and how they like to work. I then help them create a GIS strategy with clear priorities and a framework that works for them, including the necessary governance, support and skills.

Technology choices should be the final thing to consider after all the other requirements are clear, but it’s amazing how often people still do it the other way round. Technology can be a real distraction when designing a strategy. What I try to do is more about improving people’s awareness and confidence so they can find their own solutions. Once people really know what they want to achieve, the technical solution often designs itself.

The oil industry is a bit of a mystery to outsiders, but thanks to its geopolitical and global nature it provides some really interesting challenges, also for GIS folks. And contrary to what you might read in the media, the people are really nice! The geoscientists I’ve worked with have real passion for what they do, and they’ve been quietly doing 3D and “big” data for more than 20 years. The industry is as advanced as Aerospace and Defence — not many people realise that drilling a deep-water well is as complex as landing a probe on the Moon. But strangely this level of sophistication is not always reflected in the industry’s handling of GIS and spatial data. For many companies it is still an afterthought, like data exhaust, or simply the “topo department” that makes maps. Over the years the industry has gradually woken up to the true power of GIS, but they still have some way to go.

Exprodat is exploiting this niche and has been going from strength to strength. It’s a boutique consultancy that specialises in geospatial services, training and GIS workflows tailored to the world of oil and gas. It’s a real fun place to work, and we’re helping clients all over the world. When I invited Steven Feldman to meet Exprodat’s board they hit it off immediately, even though we’re an Esri partner and he’s an open source evangelist. And working for a privately owned company is like a breath of fresh air after long stints at large corporates — in my two years at Exprodat I’ve not once heard the term “shareholder return”. We just love what we do and aren’t scared to say no to projects that don’t fit our values. Clients see that and appreciate the authenticity. We don’t bullshit people.

Q: I enjoy reading your blog Georeferenced. When I first saw your post “GIS is not as simple as it used to be”, I assumed the title was meant tongue-in-cheek. Then I realized it was not. But wasn’t GIS supposed to get easier, not harder? Or is “powerful and easy-to-use” — the sales folks’ favorite catchphrase — an oxymoron?

A: Well yes, GIS should be powerful and easy but that’s rarely the case. In reality, each solution can lead to new problems and we need to be careful to not just pass the buck. Sure, we can hide all the complexity under the hood and present users with a clean, crisp interface. Google Maps was the first example of that, and there have been many others since. But as soon as users try to go one step further they immediately hit roadblocks.

For a geoscientist, for example, data comes from many sources including hardcopies and other analog data — not just the digital firehose. To this day there is still no satisfactory way of easily assimilating all this data in an organic way, like a scrapbook, on a map that can be queried or analysed in seamless ways. If users like geoscientists — who have a day job other than GIS — want to do something slightly different, they need to go back to their GIS folks and ask them to add another button, include a new query, preload some more data or, worse, clean up a lot more data before they can even load it. People can’t just chuck all their stuff into GIS, and that is a serious shortcoming. A paper scrapbook has no such problem, although obviously it has other limitations.

So with GIS, and technology more generally, it often feels like we’ve just taken an analog problem and turned it into a digital problem — but not solved the problem. The internet, GIS, tablets… all of these are great tools, of course, and I still pinch myself every time I look at Google Earth on my iPhone. But it feels like something’s still missing. We’re not quite getting at the true nature of things.

Hopefully the current state of technology is just a temporary aberration, as evidenced by the slow death of the desktop PC. I’d like to see something more organic, something more human — where the technology works for us, not vice-versa. Maybe in the future we’ll just be able to conjure up a kinetic holographic model in front of us so we can literally handle the data with our hands (or voice), like sculpting clay. Or something like that.

If that’s not going to happen, we might as well go back to drawing maps by hand. Ok, I’m joking of course. But at as it is, drawing maps by hand is more fun, and for many people a GIS interface is still a rectangular hole for round pegs.

Q: I had just laid my claim to the title O.G. (Original Geohipster) when I read your post “King George III was a geohipster”. What a downer! But His Majesty was into maps big time, so I concede. What do you think led the King to collect over 50,000 maps? Practicality or hipsterism?

A: I’ve no idea! I can only guess it was curiosity coupled with obsessiveness — which are not unusual traits in geospatial people, if I dare say so… King George III’s Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention his map collection, so maybe it was his guilty secret. Maybe he just preferred maps to mistresses, unlike other royals.

Q: You blogged about your appreciation for analog gadgets: watches, cameras, etc. Such preferences are often considered eccentric nowadays, when you can wear on your wrist an electronic watch that is also a computer and a camera. How do you explain your “eccentricity” to someone who doesn’t understand why you prefer the less accurate device to the more accurate one?

A: I guess it comes back to what I said before about technology. My self-winding mechanical watch may be slightly less accurate than a digital one, but it never needs a battery and when I hold it to my ear it ticks at 3 beats per second — it’s alive. Digital stuff is nice and convenient but just feels too disposable to have soul. I like things that are well-made, preferably with natural materials, where you can feel with all your senses the creativity, dedication and craftsmanship that have gone into them. I’d much rather have a beautiful and well-made watch that lasts a lifetime and is made of nothing more than metal and glass, than an electronic gadget synced with atomic clocks that bites the dust after 5 years and then becomes toxic waste.

Q: Is there fashion in technology? Does the desire to be different sometimes trump other more “rational considerations” — in tech as well as in couture and in everyday life? Is it wrong if it does?

A: This is very unhipsterish, but I don’t really do fashion, or even pretend to understand it! I’m bewildered by people queuing through the night to get the latest iPhone. I used to follow technology news, but I’ve taken a step back. It’s all just too hysterical — it’s like someone brings out a new sandwich toaster and everyone goes nuts. Maybe these people see in iPhones what I see in automatic watches or well-made bicycles. It’s good to be passionate about something, I just don’t share that particular passion. And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate technology — I do. But to me technology is just the conduit, not the end goal.

As for being different, it really inspires me when people make maps in new and surprising ways, like when those first D3 maps came out. And the people who made them weren’t even GIS people. What a relief! We are not alone in the universe.

Q: You ride a Dutch bike, skateboards, and surfboards. You prefer to draw maps by hand. Have you been called a hipster because of these activities? If you have, did you take it as a compliment or as an insult?

A: Ha, no! The only thing people ever call me is “tall”. And believe me, a dangly 6’7” creature is not a pretty sight on a surfboard. One advantage of having pushed past 40 is that it’s OK to do stuff and not look cool. And I’ve always refused to let my inner child die. It’s important to hang on to your sense of curiosity and wonder. I like learning new things, making connections, asking “why” or “why not” questions. This attitude is also critical for my job. So the worst insult anybody could call me is “grown up”.

The Dutch bike, by the way, is just a relic from my time living in Holland – a 28” frame with double cross bars. It’s simply the best bike I ever had, which is why I keep riding it in the UK despite the strange looks I get. And I rode it way before hipsters found Dutch bikes hip.

Q: Thank you for the interview. Any final words for the GeoHipster readers?

A: If hipsters are defined by being different, then I think all geospatial folks are basically geohipsters. We don’t fit into any camp, really. Let’s face it, anyone working with GIS full-time is not a geographer, computer scientist, engineer, geoscientist, or whatever. If you want to be one of those things, go study their degrees and enter their professions proper. To make your mark in a particular domain you can’t afford to dabble in multiple disciplines because you’ll be up against specialists with many years of dedicated practice and experience.

Over the years there has been much discussion and debate about what career a GIS professional should aspire to, or what a GIS career even is. In my opinion you need to have at least one skill that nobody else has. I once called this the “geomatics striptease” — what expertise and value is there exclusively to us geospatial folks? I came to the conclusion that, if I had to strip off my non-exclusive layers, my naked self would be a geodesist and cartographer. No other field does these things, or at least not as well.

There may be a few other exclusive skills in GIS or geomatics, but many so-called geospatial expertise areas also reside in other professions. They’re not unique and this can be a danger area for career development — unless of course you want to become a multi-disciplinary generalist. In which case, sure thing, go ahead and become that ‘architect’ who orchestrates input from different fields. But whatever you do, it needs to be a conscious decision, and it requires focus. If you dilute yourself too much as a professional you’ll become the Swiss army knife that people only use when there’s nothing better at hand.

So to stay relevant, build a unique skill, stay focused, and never grow up. If you do those things, nobody can eat your lunch.

Steven Feldman: “Geohippies want to make a difference through disruption, geo-evangelism, and a bit of altruism”

Steven Feldman
Steven Feldman

Steven Feldman (@StevenFeldman) is founder of geo consultancy KnowWhere, chairman of geo.me, chairman of Exprodat Consulting, a strategic advisor to Astun Technology, a Special Lecturer at the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, and chair of the Local Organizing Committee for FOSS4G 2013. He is part of the Taarifa team and helped start the OSM-GB project. Previously he was head of professional services at whereonearth.com and UK Managing Director of MapInfo.

Steven was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ed Freyfogle while the two were at #WhereBerlin.

Q: You’re a long-time regular on the geo scene here in London, diving into OpenStreetMap many years ago and sponsoring #geomob the last few years. And yet you’re fairly far from the typical neogeo stereotype. Putting it gently, you’re a bit more experienced than the typical web2.0 code jockey. Indeed geo is actually your second career. What’s your geostory?

A: Let’s get the experience thing out of the way — I just had my Beatles Birthday, you can work that out. I am a commercial animal through and through — I’ve never written a line of code, my biggest technical achievement is tweaking the CSS on my blog.

I graduated from Cambridge with an Economics degree, an idea for a PhD but no funding, and no other idea what I wanted to do. I was offered a job in a mirror manufacturing business, I thought I would take it for a few months while I looked for something interesting to do, and I ended up staying in the building materials industry for over 20 years. I finished up running a division of Pilkington (the glass makers) and then got made redundant at 45. A short stressful and not very successful investment in environmental monitoring tech followed, including a lesson about flogging dead horses which I should share with any startups that I advise. Then I bumped into a friend who owned GDC, a data capture business, that was about to merge with one of those then-exciting internet startups which was about to become whereonearth.com. It sounded like fun and it was a million miles from glass and mirror manufacture so I joined up and headed up the professional services and GIS team at whereonearth. A few years later the whereonearth burn rate was exceeding investors’ patience and we had the opportunity to buy out the old GDC software business which no one thought was sexy enough in the dot com era. We knew that e-government was about to take off in the UK and with some trepidation took the opportunity with all but one of our 18 staff investing their money to buy the business. Less than 5 years later we sold GDC to MapInfo for quite a lot of money and made most of our staff/investors a good bit wealthier. I stayed on for a couple of years as Managing Director of MapInfo UK and headed up product and industry management across EMEA, two years was enough for them and me!

Since 2008 I have been having fun investing and working with startups, doing lots of open stuff because it’s disruptive, advising businesses in the geo industry, and doing a tiny bit at Nottingham University.

Q: When I told you I wanted to interview you for GeoHipster you replied that you’re more of a geohippy than hipster. What’s the difference?

A: I am not sure that I know what a ‘hipster’ is, I hope it is more like James Dean than Henry Winkler. I guess you mean someone who does ‘cool’ or innovative stuff with geo; I don’t think that’s me. I don’t really do anything with geo on the tech front, I am probably too late in my career to start another business even if I had a big idea, but I do know how to build and run a business and I am always up for an investment of time and money in someone else’s great idea. I think I am a reasonable marketeer and evangelist for things I am passionate about (and there are quite a few of those), which can be noisy but isn’t really hip.

I grew up in the sixties listening to Dylan and the Dead, demonstrating against apartheid and the Vietnam war, and believing that our generation could change the world. A first life in building materials grinds some of that idealism out of you, but the last 10 years in geo have rekindled that passion and belief that people can make a difference, particularly with a combination of Geo and Open. Add to that the fact that I banked the ‘fuck you’ money, and I now have the freedom to try and give something back and make a difference — so let me be your first Geohippy interview.

Q: A few years back you were one of the people behind the now defunct OSM-GB project. Tell us about the project and why it’s no longer operating. Was it just too soon? Is OSM the future?

A: That was at the Nottingham Geospatial Institute. We got the funding to use some heavyweight rules-based quality technology from 1Spatial (which is used by Ordnance Survey) to try and build an automated quality improvement process on OSM, and then to explore how OSM might be used by ‘professional users’, particularly in the public sector.

We discovered that we could generate some geometric improvements to the OSM data and we could identify some potential errors both in the geometry and the attribution, but we didn’t want to push our potential corrections back into the master dataset (a lot of what we identified were only potential errors rather than certainties), and we never worked out how to get engagement with the OSM mappers.

We served our ‘corrected’ version of OSM as a WMS and a tile service in OSMGB so that it would be simple for professional GIS users to consume. I was disappointed how little usage we actually got from the public sector despite a lot of initial interest at pretty high levels. The project was funded for about 16 months, we managed to keep it running for a bit longer, but eventually with no one interested in funding us we had to wrap it up.

I love OSM, I think it can be a game changer in some sectors where it is more than good enough. But let’s be honest, in the spaces where I usually work the data is too far from complete, consistent and accurate to be used as authoritative data in most public sector and mission-critical applications. I doubt that will ever change given the producer-centric focus of OSM (we map what we want because we can), but I would love to be proven wrong. OSM, even as it is now, has enormous potential to complement authoritative data from other sources, and we should be continuing to explore how we can make use of it in the public sector.

Q: Relatedly, any thoughts on the recent meltdown of OSMF? Can OSM succeed without a well organized OSMF?

A: Here’s some troll food for you. OSM and OSMF have never really worked out a comfortable relationship. OSMF seems to me to have little or no control or even influence over ‘the map’, its vision, licensing, organisation or strategy. OSMF is split into three camps at the moment:

  • Camp 1 wants to keep things ultra-light-touch and leave every decision to the activists amongst the mappers (and probably to not make many decisions, preferring to let everyone ‘do their thing’).
  • Camp 2 would like to create a more professional organisation that could raise funding and would provide direction to the project and be able to represent the project to governments and businesses that wanted to engage with OSM (I am definitely in this camp).
  • And the majority, even within OSMF, aren’t interested.

The wider OSM community is largely not interested in this stuff and just wants to get on with mapping what they want to map.

The recent meltdown as you describe it is a storm in a teacup with a relatively small number of people shouting at each other in public through the corrosive medium of email lists. You can’t have a conversation on an email list, most people in OSMF don’t even know or care what the argument is about. We talk about a community with over a million contributors, but less than 200 people voted for the new OSMF board; no one cares or understands. So now we have a board which is predominantly Camp 1 and likely to become more so over the coming year with motions for mandatory resignations, etc.

Not the way I would like to have seen things develop, but hey that’s what happens in a ‘community’, and you have to work from where we are. Maybe things will change in the coming years, I would like to see OSM/OSMF realising the vision of becoming the best and the most open map of the world that was used and supported by a colossal number of people and organisations for everyone’s benefit. I don’t think we can do that without fundamental change in the organisation of the project.

Q: Last year you helped organize FOSS4G in Nottingham. For years you’ve been a vocal advocate of open source in geo, and the need for companies to give back to the OS movement (a topic you’re presenting about here at wherecamp.de). As someone with long experience in the industry, tell us your perspective on the rise of open-source and where you see things moving in the future.

A: I am struggling to find the metaphor, “rise of open-source” just doesn’t describe what seems to be an unstoppable torrent or an overwhelmingly inevitable transformation of IT. I am going to confine myself to a short reply on Open Source Geo or we will be here till next year!

Much of what we do with geo today is pretty much ‘known stuff’ — we store data (in vector or raster formats) in a database, we edit it, we catalogue it, we query and render it to the web, mobile or desktop, and that’s most of what we do. That stuff is quite commoditised nowadays and it is inevitable that open source will get wide and growing adoption in those circumstances.

Add to that the fact that most surveys suggest that well over half of GI usage is in the public sector, who are experiencing massive financial pressures around the world and are looking to save costs by reducing their proprietary software inventory.

Oh, and if you want another thought, a lot of users and suppliers are looking to move their geo infrastructure to the cloud to provide a more flexible and scalable solution. Open Source provides a more ‘commercially scalable’ solution because you are not paying a software tax on the success of your application.

Q: You’re an advisor to / investor in several UK geo start-ups. What do you see for the future of the scene? What do you look for in a start-up?

A: That’s simple — people, people, and people. Of course you have to have a good concept and some idea of how that might make money in the future, I sort of take that for granted. I’ve looked at dozens of start-ups and invested in a few, for me it always comes down to people. If the people pitching the concept to me come over as smart, committed, and have integrity, then I get interested (it helps if I like them too). Otherwise just move on, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

I’m a bit cautious and boring as an investor — I want to see some early signs of revenue and a credible business plan. These seem to be quite scarce in the London start-up scene, particular amongst people who have had a great idea involving location.

Q: You blogged once about someone from the corporate world asking why you “waste” your time with small companies. Geo is dominated by giants like Esri, Google, TeleAtlas, Navteq, or national mapping agencies like the Ordnance Survey. Do start-ups have a chance to be globally relevant, or are they consigned to the niches? In your post you conclude small, nimble, OSS companies will eat the lunch of the incumbents. Still feel that way?

A: Hah, I guess that article was bound to come back to haunt me. You can’t consider a dominant software player like Esri (or some of the smaller long term players), a national mapping agency, and a couple of big navigation data providers as if they were the same.

If the big software vendors can’t adapt their business models rapidly they will lose a lot of market share to companies basing their offers on open source, that is already happening in the UK public sector.

I don’t see the mapping equivalent of open source — OpenStreetMap — eating Ordnance Survey’s lunch for a whole host of reasons, e.g. detail, authority, coverage, and consistency. The navigation market is going to come under increasing pressure as OSM moves from ‘good enough’ to pretty darn good, they could find themselves squeezed into high value niches.

Q: Your next challenge is as a non-exec director of the Open Addresses project getting moving here in the UK. This feels like a topic that has been going around forever, I can remember submitting postcodes to the old FreeThePostcode site a decade ago. What’s different now?

A: The Address Wars have been going on for a heck of a long time and we in the open data community are still battling away to get government to recognise that a single comprehensive address dataset is a piece of national information infrastructure that needs to be freely available to everyone for whatever use they may have.

We seemed to have taken steps backwards when the Ordnance Survey mopped up a big chunk of addressing provision by acquiring Intelligent Addressing and the data contributed by all of the Local Authorities, then there was a further setback when the government left the Postal Address File with the privatised Royal Mail. Open Addresses is trying to resolve this long-standing problem by creating a GB address database from a variety of Open Data sources and contributions through crowdsourcing (both bulk contributions and individuals). We think we can get to a fairly usable dataset within a year and have got funding to cover the initial beta phase. Maybe this will be a game changer for addressing in GB?

Q: Any closing thoughts for all the geohipsters (and hippies) out there?

A: You can’t choose to be a geohipster, it seems to be a label that others apply to you if they think that what you have done is in some way cool; I don’t think that is me. I have done pretty regular mainstream things in geo that worked for local and central government, police forces, insurance and oil exploration, that’s probably not geohipster and I’m fine with that.

Geohippies want to make a difference through disruption, geo-evangelism and a bit of altruism (I coined the term so I get to have first try at defining it). Sounds like fun to me.

James Fee: “If you have spare time this weekend, learn dat”

James Fee
James Fee

James Fee is the creator of Planet Geospatial, which has helped build a community around geospatial blogs. He has also keynoted conferences including the Safe Software FME UC, URISA, BAAMA and many more. You can follow him on Twitter, view his presentations on GitHub, and connect with him on Facebook and LinkedIn.

James was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow and Atanas Entchev.

MD: I get the sense that your GIS career has had a few unusual twists and turns. Can you tell us how it all started, and what the biggest surprise has been?

JF: It started with a small job for the City of Mesa, AZ working on the mid-decade census. A Sun SPARC workstation was dropped off and I was the only one who wanted to read the Arc/INFO manuals. So I just started with the “A” commands and worked down to the “Z” commands. Good thing I needed ADDITEM first than WORKSPACE. The biggest surprise has been how easy it is for GIS to adapt to changing technologies. Honestly we are doing the same things we did 25 years ago but quicker and cheaper with less bodies around to get it done. I don’t do GIS in the same way I did it in the early 90s. I don’t even call myself a GIS practitioner. But I do the same basic commands I did with Arc/INFO back in the day, just with JavaScript and PostGIS.

AE: I see a trend in recent years where a number of prominent geogeeks now do “more database, less GIS”. Why do you think that is? Is there money in GIS?

JF:  GIS has always been databases. The difference now is not be so special about it. Why do we need SDE when PostGIS/SQL Server and Oracle can do the same work? Why do we need a special proprietary GIS file format when SQLite, PostGIS and even CSV get the job done easier? That doesn’t mean the skills to run such operations are simple, just the tools are more robust, cross-platform, and easier to learn. Databases are the key to solving spatial problems and they don’t need to be tied to some special GIS silo. Even Esri sees that. I doubt there is money is GIS on its own. We all see that. The money is in spatial and solving problems in those applications and databases that are necessarily spatial by default.

AE: You are one of the earliest geo bloggers, and one of the most opinionated. Have you experienced any adverse effects from your blogging?

JF: If I have I don’t recall. Blogging has opened up thousands of doors for my growth and sanity. I’ve never been told to take something down and I don’t think I’ve ever done so.

MD: I’ve never had the patience to keep a blog updated, but I certainly appreciate the value. Have you ever looked back at old posts like this one and marvel at how much things have changed? Or do you spend more time pursuing current topics like Metadata Madness (which I couldn’t agree more on)?

JF: I started blogging because I was fed up with SDE and Oracle Spatial. I found PostGIS and wanted to learn more. Blogging seemed the very 2005 thing to do. Things have changed for sure but many of the same projects and players are still around doing what they do best. I don’t really go back and look at my old blog posts except when I’m googling a subject and something I wrote is the best result. The old circular reference never fails when you’re in a hurry. I always look forward rather than reflect on debating the need of open-sourcing Avenue.

AE: Last week you announced the end of Planet Geospatial and Spatially Adjusted, and moving all your blogging to Tumblr. Does this signal the end of long-form blogging for you? Do you think long-form blogging is dying?

JF: I moved to Tumblr because it is easier to share and write on the iPhone and iPad. I’m so over “rolling my own” solution with blogging. Twitter and Facebook have taken over for blogs. It’s more democratic these days. Rather than wait for a blogger to write a subject and make a comment, you can just write 140 characters and let the community run with it. I don’t think Tumblr limits me from long-form blogging. It just allows me to share things quicker than WordPress or Jekyll ever did. After over 2,200 blog posts and 10,000+ comments, change is inevitable.

MD: Over the last few years you’ve hosted “Hangouts with James Fee”. Your “10 Years of Steve Coast” hangout lasted almost an hour in August. What inspired you to pursue this kind of format? Is it easier to host a hangout than it is to write an opinion piece?

JF: It’s fun to hear the conversations. We always say that when we’re having beers talking about how much we love the shapefile. It just seemed natural to have such a hangout and the team at WeoGeo did much to get it done. It’s easier to have a hangout of course, there doesn’t go much prep into it. Some things need to be written down though and that’s where the blog still has its point. Generally these hangouts could last hours if we didn’t put up a hour time limit. I wish I had time to get more done, they’re a blast and it’s never hard to find someone to join in.

AE: Is dat the next big thing? Why/why not?

JF: dat is great for working with large datasets. One can stream any format into any format. It’s an ETL but it is so much more than that. I like it because its CLI is so easy to use. So much data resides in huge data stores that are hard to access and use. I envision dat being that key that opens them up and allows me to get at the data in the tools I like to use. I feel like it is the key to open government data moving forward. If you have spare time this weekend, learn dat.

AE: I admire your passion for baseball, even though I don’t understand the sport. Any chance a Euro transplant such as myself can learn to appreciate baseball?

JF: Sure, baseball is all about statistics. That’s why I think spatial geeks love it so much. Every play, every movement of each player, every pitch, every swing is tracked and loaded into a database. It’s such a social sport too. Grab a beer, your friends, and head to a ballpark for a great evening. That and the Giants are World Series Champions again!

MD: Speaking of your fandom, it appears you are a Giants fan for baseball, a Lakers fan for basketball, and and Arizona State fan for football. This is confusing even for a New-Englander-turned-Minnesotan. Can you explain your allegiances?

JF: So there is no simple answer. I’m from Southern California so I grew up a Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams and California Angels fan. I disliked the Dodgers because they were everything the Angels were not. Thus I rooted for the Giants just to annoy Dodger fans. The Rams moved away and I swore off the NFL but at the same time I went to college at Arizona State University (thus college football replaced the NFL). Before Phoenix had a baseball team, it was the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds affiliate for the San Francisco Giants so I just started rooting for them. Then after graduation I moved up to San Francisco and the Giants replaced the Angels officially. Of course it made it hard to root for the 2002 World Series but I was pulling for the Giants. Thus it’s Giants in baseball, ASU for all NCAA sports, and the Lakers for basketball (though there isn’t any reason to pay attention this year).

AE: Thank you for the interview. Any parting words for the GeoHipster readers?

JF: Open data is a buzzword but it’s the wave of the future. Projects like dat are going to be critical for any project moving forward. Learn these tools (dat, PostGIS, Python, JavaScript) and you’ll be successful for the next decade.

Sophia Parafina: “Smart people will make you poor”

Sophia Parafina
Sophia Parafina

Sophia Parafina (Twitter, blog) provides janitorial services for data and is fond of firing high velocity projectiles.

Sophia was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: We first met over Twitter. Our first IRL meeting was at the infamous Thea Aldrich baby shower in Austin Texas. But I’ve never asked: How did you start in the geo field?

A: I’ve had an eclectic career. I started with GIS and remote sensing in 1993 in Forest Science at Texas A&M. I was running away from the Geography department because I was done with the squishiness of cultural geography. My first project was redoing Texas Forest Service fire control maps for all of Texas using Landsat and TIGER at Texas A&M. From there, I moved on to routing garbage trucks and dead animal pickup at the City of Austin. I worked for a series of transportation GIS and environmental engineering firms where I routed pipelines, supported environmental impact assessments, and developed integrated GIS systems for railroads and airports.

I took a left turn career-wise and worked for In-Q-Tel — the CIA’s venture capital group — and moved into the world of secret squirrels. I was a founder and CTO of IONIC Enterprise, which was one of the first companies to provide a commercial solution built around OGC standards. IONIC Enterprise was acquired by Hexagon A.B. and Erdas, that’s all I’m gonna say about that because that’s what my lawyer told me to say. Following the acquisition, I was the operations manager at OpenGeo, providing me with a view into the open source world. Lately I’ve been bouncing around various projects, including a stint with Code for America in 2013.

Q: Speaking of Code for America, you spent a year in the program. What did you do there?

A: I was part of the team working on Ohana API while at Code for America. Ohana API is a platform for serving human services data. I submitted a proposal to the Knight Foundation and won a grant that enabled our team to continue our work so that it can be deployed more easily without dependencies on what I call hipster-tech such as MongoDB, Elasticsearch, etc. I’m working on a specification to make distributing human services data easier à la Google Transit Format Specification (GTFS). This will probably be the last time I will ever work on any standard.

Q: When you were at In-Q-Tel you funded a lot of OGC standards, such as the WMS standard. Is WMS still dead (referring to your 2011 WhereCampDC talk)? What evolves next in this arena?

A: Yes, at In-Q-Tel we funded a lot of OGC efforts that included standards and testbeds. WMS was an attempt at interoperability but it was based on ideas from pre-web architecture. It’s essentially RPC over HTTP which kind of works but doesn’t fulfill the promise of service chaining which was pretty much the full expression of interoperability at the time. As a technology, WMS is a dead end. There are still installations of MapServer and GeoServer and they fit a niche, which is usually a mandate for OGC interoperability. WMS is sometimes used for tile generation, but Mapnik has filled that role operationally for most organizations that offer mapping as a service.

I think we’ve already seen what’s next in MapBox, Google, and CartoDB where they offer mapping services. I think Esri will continue on given their installed base, but this market is pretty niche and everyone is looking to the next big thing, which is probably imagery. We’re seeing a prevalence of drone mapping and the launches of micro satellites by Planet Labs are pointing towards near real-time capture, analysis and dissemination of imagery. That’s way more data and information than vector maps.

Q: When we last spoke you said you were slowly moving out of the geo field and working more with databases than geo. You haven’t left geogeekdom, have you?

A: For me, geo has become more of a sideshow. I still occasionally map things for giggles such as this competitor’s map for Brownell’s Lady 3 Gun. I sporadically blog technical stuff, sometimes geo-related.

Geo can be fun, but after working in the field for a couple decades, it feels a bit played out to me. What do I know? I’m a jaded fuck. Today I work more with various forms of semi-structured and unstructured data streams. Internet of Things looms large for me. Oh yeah, building a business around social media data is stupid. That’s so done.

For relaxation, I’m a competitive USPSA (US Practical Shooters Association) pistol shooter as well as 3 Gun Nation member. You can find me at a range most weekends blowing holes into things and reloading ammo in the evenings. I would love to leave all this computer crap and become a professional shooter, but there’s no money in it.

Q: During our recent encounter you were successfully (or unsuccessfully) blowing holes through targets. How did a nice gentle person like you start carrying around three or more guns at something called Lady 3 Gun?

A: The main problem at Lady 3 Gun was that I was too slow when blowing holes into things. I had bird flu and was hospitalized two weeks before the match, and I was happy that I wasn’t keeling over.

I got into guns because I live in a colorful inner city neighborhood where we’ve had drug dealers set up shop across the street in a rental house, infrequent home invasions, and occasional MS13 or Latin Kings gang killings a couple of blocks over. My wife is a politician and public figure, and being the other female half of this dyad can be dicey since we live in Texas.

I believe in knowing how to use a firearm effectively, but regular practice can be boring. So I started shooting USPSA where I can run around obstacles and shoot as fast as I possibly can while off balance. I joined 3 Gun Nation this year so I can be mediocre in not just one gun, but three types of guns. It’s a literal blast and the adrenaline rush can’t be beat.

Q: I never asked about your skinny jeans or record collection… or your favorite PBR craft beer bar. Let me ask instead: What are some of your tools for either ripping apart things or ripping apart data?

A: My favorite tool has to be my Leatherman, but I also carry a Rick Hinderer knife and Smith & Wesson 9mm M&P Shield as everyday carry. Following that, I use Chrome and Sublime Text as my primary tools, but vim has a very special place in my heart because it can open files greater than 200GB in size on my 4 year old MacBook Pro. I use what is handy for mapping: QGIS, Google Fusion Tables, MapBox, CartoDB — whatever I need to do at the moment. No real preference.

Haven’t used Esri products in over a decade, except to occasionally liberate geodatabase files. I cruise through github for tools. Love PostgreSQL/PostGIS, but I’m also very fond of Elasticsearch. I’ve been using Ruby recently, but I’m overcoming my distaste of Python because it has more tools for analysis. I’m pretty good at stupid bash tricks as a lifelong unix devotee.

Q: Last question: Any pearls of wisdom to throw at the readers of GeoHipster?

A: Pearls of wisdom that were passed on to me:

  1. Smart people will make you poor.
  2. You will never get ahead financially until you can make money while you sleep.
  3. “Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror.” –the Humungus in Mad Max http://youtu.be/XPY5P0TaC4k

The 2015 GeoHipster Calendar is available for purchase

We are excited to announce that the first-ever GeoHipster wall calendar is ready for production. We thank all who submitted maps for the calendar, Christina Boggs and Carol Kraemer for co-originating the calendar idea, and Christina again for her ongoing assistance with logistics and curation.

The 2015 GeoHipster Wall Calendar makes a great holiday gift for the geogeek on your list, so pick up a few. The proceeds from the calendar sales will help GeoHipster offset our operational costs, stay ad-free, and maintain independence.

The 2015 GeoHipster Calendar is available for purchase from CafePress. All calendars are made to order (you need to specify January 2015 as Starting Month (as opposed to the default setting — the current month)).

The calendar features maps from the following map artists (screenshots below):

  • Gretchen Peterson
  • Jonah Adkins
  • Ralph Straumann
  • Markus Mayr
  • Bill Morris
  • Andrew Zolnai
  • Stephen Smith
  • Damian Spangrud
  • Farheen Khanum
  • Christina Boggs
  • John Van Hoesen
  • Steven Romalewski
  • Joachim Ungar
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar cover layout
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar cover layout

IMPORTANT! The screenshot below is intended ONLY to give an overview of the overall layout — which map goes on which page, etc. When you order the 2015 calendar, you will get the 2015 calendar. You can verify this by reviewing each individual page online before you order.

GeoHipster 2015 Calendar 12-month layout
GeoHipster 2015 Calendar 12-month layout

Amy Smith: “One of the things I love about Maptime is that it’s open to all skill levels and backgrounds”

Amy Smith
Amy Smith

Amy Smith is a Geospatial Data and Technology Specialist with Fehr & Peers in San Francisco. She’s had some great opportunities working with geographic information systems in a variety of fields, including environmental studies, satellite imagery analysis, water resources, and transportation planning. Amy currently spends her days working with an amazing group of people focused on improving transportation in our communities. In her free time she enjoys exploring the hills of San Francisco.

Amy was interviewed for GeoHipster by Christina Boggs.

Q: A few years back we used to work together but I don’t actually remember how you got into GIS. You have a master’s in it right?

 A: I do! I have a Master’s in Geography and Regional Studies. I got into GIS through a chance encounter with a geography professor whom I passed in a hallway on campus. Somehow we started talking about geography. I was undeclared at the time. I was trying to decide between GIS and intro to computer science for a general requirement. He told me a bit about GIS and geography, and that really won me over. Who knows, I could have been a computer scientist if I hadn’t met him!

Q: You didn’t leave computers entirely though, you’re pretty slick with code… In fact, you’re a great promoter of Python. Which came first – GIS or coding?

A: My first programming/scripting language was Matlab. I learned it while I was working on my master’s studying space-based synthetic aperture radar data in the Florida Everglades. Through learning Matlab, I learned the basics of programming logic. When I started using desktop GIS every day for work, it got me thinking about ways I could be using programming for spatial analysis, which led me down the path to Python. Since then, I use it almost every day, and not just for spatial analysis.

Q: What other tasks do you use Python for?

A: Lately I’ve been using it to prepare transit data for travel demand models. Since many of the inputs of the models are text-based, Python lends itself well to these types of tasks. It can also come in handy for automating things you’d rather not do manually. For example, I had an Excel spreadsheet with multiple worksheets that needed to be saved as individual CSVs. Instead of exporting them one by one, I wrote a script to iterate through each worksheet and save it as a CSV. Kind of a mundane example, but it’s this type of thing that I think can save lots of time at the end of the day.

Q: Speaking of time, you did a transportation study and saved time by scripting some node-based analysis of road segments to bicycle accident occurrences. I saw your talk at the ESRI UC where you talked about becoming one of the points. Do you know if that study has been reviewed by any of the traffic safety folks out in your area, has it helped any?

A: That was one of the first projects where I got a chance to develop a custom script tool for ArcGIS. The tool uses a roadway network and collision data to pinpoint high incident collision areas that might need attention. The tool was applied most recently by Placer County here in California to run a collision analysis of their entire county-maintained roadway network, which used to be a manual review process. They used some of the results to apply for grants and received several grants funding highway safety projects. Another benefit of the tool is that the county can continue to use it with new data in their safety programs.

Q: You’ve taught workshops on Python and even done some online workshops. Do you have any more in the future, or are you branching out to something different?

A: I’m planning some internal Python training here at Fehr & Peers for our planners and engineers who’d like to learn more about it. I’m always happy to talk with others about Python, so I hope there are more opportunities out there for workshops. I’m still learning too, so I’m always on the lookout for workshops and meetups others are hosting. In terms of branching out, I’ve recently been diving into JavaScript. There’s a library I’ve been learning about called D3 that has some great spatial as well as non-spatial capabilities. I’m still in the “stumbling through it” phase, but luckily there’s a great user community online and here in the Bay area that’s eager to share knowledge.

Q: A few months back you attended my first #maptimeSF with me; now that you’ve moved out to San Francisco I see you get to go to #maptimeSF more often. For someone who is thinking about attending their first Maptime, how do you think it helped you as an advanced GISer?

A: Maptime is a meetup that’s happening in many cities around the world where folks can get together, learn about maps, make maps, talk about maps, or maybe just hang out with friends. One of the things I love about Maptime is that it’s open to all skill levels and backgrounds. People are encouraged to ask questions and learn from each other. It’s a very welcoming environment. I’ve learned a lot about how others outside of my industry are using geospatial data and technologies. It’s also encouraging to see a thriving interest and enthusiasm for maps.

Q: Hearing about your work in transportation is really interesting. The water side still misses you. What are you up to at Fehr & Peers? Any interesting projects you can share with us?

A: I have so many great memories from my time with the Department of Water Resources in West Sacramento — it’s where I really started to get my feet wet (pun intended) with Python! It’s also where I learned to drive a boat. I definitely miss the field work collecting bathymetry data in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta (picture below for proof), and of course the people too!

Amy Smith collecting bathymetry data in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta
Amy Smith collecting bathymetry data in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta

 One of the great things about GIS is that it’s applicable in many different industries. Transportation planning has a lot of great uses for GIS too. One of the more recent projects I worked on focused on improving cyclist and pedestrian access to transit stations. The project had a large data organization component that involved gathering available spatial data and organizing it in a consistent way so that we could use it in a series of network analyses. We looked at some of the ways that a well-connected network might help improve access to transit, making it easier for people to walk and bike to stations. I’m currently working on a project, also transit-related, that involves improving transit in an area that doesn’t have a lot of existing transit. It can be a challenge to anticipate how new facilities will affect travel in an area if you don’t have many observations on how people are currently using transit. In this case, we’re identifying places that have developed transit networks and that share similar characteristics with the study area that’s considering improving or expanding their transit system. Both of these projects are very much rooted in spatial analysis, but also require local knowledge. Another fun part of my job is getting to know new areas and talking with people to learn about qualities specific to their region that might not be obvious from just looking at the data.

Q: If people are looking to check out some of your cool stuff, where can you be found online?

A: I tweet about spatial topics, transportation, and my endless appetite for spinach @wolfmapper.

Q: Geohipster Amy Smith is awesome! How do you feel about being part of spreading the geohipster gospel?

A: I’m a big fan of GeoHipster! I was trying to disguise myself a bit by using a seriffed font, but I think you found me out anyway. :)

Q: Speaking of transportation, I’ve got to wrap this interview up so I can cycle to work. Is there anything else you would like to share with #geohipster readers?

A: I recently learned about a spatial data format called topoJSON that’s one of my new favorite things. I found out about it at a recent Maptime on D3 and have been reading more about it on Mike Bostock’s wiki. Also, I’ll be helping host a webinar on transit planning with Code for America next month. Tune in if you’re interested!

Happy cycling!

Ed Freyfogle: “Every startup is vulnerable, that’s what makes it exciting”

Ed Freyfogle
Ed Freyfogle

Ed Freyfogle is a German/American entrepreneur living in London. He is one of the founders of Lokku, makers of the OpenCage Geocoder.

Ed was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You are the only geo person I know with an MBA from MIT. By contrast, I know people who wish they had an MBA from an Ivy League school so they could get out of geo. So what is your story? How did you get into geo?

A: It’s a bit of a long story, so bear with me.

I guess like most people “in the industry” I’ve always liked maps, as a kid was drawing maps, all that kind of stuff. Before MIT I had worked  as a software developer at Yahoo Germany during the first internet wave of the late nineties. It was a great case of being in the right place at the right time. I learned an immense amount. After five years there, with all its amazing ups and then the downs of the crash in 2001, it was time for something new. Also, while I really enjoyed programming I also wanted to learn the business side. So I got an MBA at MIT and thought a lot about what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to do it (I mainly grew up in the US). My conclusion was that I had really enjoyed Yahoo when it was small and had the startup feel; when I joined the Munich office was 15 people and I got to work on pretty much every system. I also concluded I had really enjoyed living in Europe. So in 2005 I moved to London in the hopes of finding a startup to join. Back then the scene was microscopic compared to today, I couldn’t find a startup where I liked the people, the idea, my role, etc. So in the end I started my own company, Lokku, along with another ex-Yahoo, and we’re still thriving today.

Those that know their geo history will recall that 2005 was the year Google Maps came out, shortly followed by Housing Maps, the first “mash-up” to put pins on a map. Heady times! Lokku’s first product, and still our biggest, was a real estate search engine called Nestoria. Initially we were just for London, today we’re in nine countries. A friend of mine from Yahoo, Mikel Maron (who later went on to start Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team), knew about maps, and was advising us, and that’s how I got into the London OpenStreetMap scene, going to a few of the pub meet-ups. I’m proud to say we sponsored the very first State of the Map conference back in 2006 (and have sponsored many more since). In 2006 there was a mapping party on the Isle of Wight, and afterwards we made tiles and started using them on Nestoria if someone searched for a home on the Isle of Wight. I’m pretty sure this was the first ever commercial use of OSM in a consumer service.

A few years later we launched Nestoria India and Nestoria Brazil. To do that we needed geodata for those countries. I have the sense most readers of this blog focus on the US or Canada, and I have no doubt there are impressive technical and licensing challenges around getting US geodata, but if you want to experience some grade-A bureaucracy I invite you, dear reader, to try to purchase Indian geodata. It was impossible, at least for a tiny start-up like ours. So basically we had to launch using only OpenStreetMap as our geodata source. I can not pretend OSM in India is perfect, it still lacks coverage. But then of course so does any other geo datasource given how rapidly things are changing in India. Anyway, OSM was good enough, and now Nestoria India is one of our fastest growing markets. This is classic “Innovator’s Dilemma” stuff, the new technology is “good enough” for experimentation, and then all of a sudden it’s good enough for day to day stuff, and then all of a sudden it’s the norm, and the existing models with their old cost structure can’t compete.

So we thought about that and thought about whether there is a way we could help make that happen, and the result was last year we launched our brand OpenCage Data. Our hypothesis was that companies want to use OSM, but right now it’s too chaotic for them – the documentation isn’t always great, the way to learn is to get on mailing lists, the toolset around OSM is evolving very rapidly — and that all of this puts off companies who are used to more stability. We talked with lots of people, anyone who might have any possible use case for geodata, but especially people outside of the existing market. Companies put off by the cost, or not even really aware of how using geodata would help them. We learned a lot: OSM is not on most people’s radar yet. The thing that came up again and again was geocoding. So this summer we launched the OpenCage geocoder. We try to differentiate on simplicity/ease of use, by aggregating many different open geodata sources, and by then annotating our results with things developers would find useful. It’s early days, but we’re learning a lot and getting good feedback.

Finally, over the years we’ve been approached by a lot of different people asking for advice, help. We never had a good framework to channel that so we usually said no. But over the last year we’ve started seed investing in some of these ideas. We provide a bit of money, but also advice, connections, etc. It has to be in a category we have expertise in and one of those is geo, so now we’re involved in a few different geo startups.

Q: You are involved with several startups, and you run the #geomob London event. How do you manage to juggle so many different things?

A: Well some of the things I’m a driver, others it’s just as an investor / advisor, but yeah, there is plenty to keep me busy — also I have two small children, so there’s not a lot of down time.

#geomob is a regular event we run. It’s a lot of fun. It is amazing how many cool things are happening in geo and location-based services in London (the city where OpenStreetMap was invented). We try to create a forum to show off that innovation. Every few months we have an evening event where five or six different speakers get 15 minutes each to talk about their project. And it’s not all startups — we usually have a good mix of startups, hobbyists, academics, and the occasional megacorp. Afterwards we all go to the pub and have a few beers. We see lots of wacky ideas and experiments. And some of those crazy ideas turn into great things. Some of the speakers are polished, some aren’t. It’s a healthy mix from all across the geo spectrum.

Our next event is November 4th, if you’re in London, join us.

Q: I am intrigued by the business side of a geo startup. I watched your APICon 2014 presentation where you talk about OpenCage Geocoder — your latest startup. Your MBA background comes through strongly in that presentation. You are also very open about your business strategy. Doesn’t that make the business vulnerable?

A: Every startup is vulnerable, that’s what makes it exciting. No risk, no fun.

Lots of people who work in big companies or organizations perhaps don’t appreciate that with a startup the main challenge is creating momentum from a standing start. You start with literally nothing. And then you have to make it happen. No one comes to you. You have to create the momentum.

In general it is clear there is massive societal benefit to open data. But it’s not yet clear if all of that benefit goes to the end consumer and is just a cost society needs to shoulder (i.e., through taxes so that government services release all their data), or if there is role for private companies. Our bet is that there is. Anyone who has feedback on what we’re up to we’d love to hear from.

BTW, I’m choosing to take your “You MBA background comes through strongly in that presentation” as a compliment.

Q: In the same talk you refer to “Berlin, Berlin” as an error of redundancy. But do you know that there is a Berlin in New Jersey, another in Maryland, and yet another in Connecticut? Maybe “Berlin, Berlin” does make sense after all? Or perhaps addressing cannot — or should not — be standardized globally?

A: For those who aren’t familiar with the problem here’s a brief description. I was in Berlin, Germany, I tweeted, and Twitter showed my location as “Berlin, Berlin” (i.e., Berlin the city, in Berlin the state). Of course there are multiple Berlins, but Twitter has the coordinates from my phone. There is no ambiguity. They know I am in Berlin, capital city of Germany, yet they choose to show the location in a way that makes no sense to a local.

Absolutely addressing can not be standardized globally. It’s too late, there are almost as many formats as there are countries. That’s part of the rich tapestry of the human experience. Software should be able to solve the problem and present the location in the way a local considers normal.  I blogged about this and how we’re solving it on the OpenCage geocoder. Our solution is open source and we’d love everyone’s help. Pull requests here please.

Q: On addressing: I like What3Words and what they do, but how realistic is it to expect the whole world (including non-English speaking regions) to embrace an entirely new spatial reference system? Do you think this will happen before or after the US adopts the metric system?

A: Many industries and contexts in the US have adopted the metric system, as you’ll know if you buy a 2-liter of Coke. But I take your point that it isn’t the norm in most consumers’ heads. But so what? That doesn’t stop the rest of the world from using it to get their tasks done.

And it’s the same with a solution like What3Words. It is not an immediately compelling solution in a place like London, which is well addressed and has highly accurate postcodes. But if you’ve ever been to a meeting in India you will concede that there are parts of the world where addressing can only be described as a disaster. There are no addresses. You are navigating by landmark and frankly it is hugely painful. Not just for me the tourist, but for the locals as well. Those parts of the world need a better solution, and it needs to be one that is simple enough for the average person. That solution is not long/lat. I think it might be What3Words.

As a product person, What3Words is great in its attempt to make something complicated simple. I recently watched this excellent talk by Vladimir Agafonkin, maker of the mapping library Leaflet, on simplicity, and how it is needed in geo. It’s too early to say if What3Words will succeed, but I love that they are innovating by being simple. As an investor What3Words falls squarely in that category of most people dismiss it as crazy, but it just might not be, and if it succeeds it will be on a massive scale.

But if some parts of the world want to keep doing things the hard way or say measuring temperature in Fahrenheit, that’s cool. It’s a big world and there’s usually more than one way to do it.

Q: SplashMaps is another one of your business ventures, and the most hipstery one, IMHO. How did you come up with the idea? How is the business doing? Are the maps selling?

A: We’re just investors in SplashMaps, full credit goes to David and the team. But I agree with you, it is hip. It’s an amazing product, a customisable fabric map, perfect for all sorts of outdoor uses where you’ll get wet, muddy, sweaty, etc. So yes, in 2014 I’ve invested in a company that makes physical maps, which I guess is a little contrarian. I wrote about all our reasons for investing on our blog.

Good news for all the hipsters out there who can’t wait to get their hands on one (did I mention Christmas is coming?); in the very near future SplashMaps will be available globally, to date they’ve only been in Great Britian. If you know a geohipster who needs a gift, you’re going to have a tough time beating a SplashMap.

For me, SplashMaps is exciting because it’s a great example of the kind of innovation that’s possible when the barriers around access to and cost of geodata go away. I’m also more intrigued lately by taking digital products and bringing them back to analog as a way to create value. You can go on a tough hike using your digital map. But people want tangible artifacts they can hang memories and stories on. Everyone in the geo industry can remember the pleasure of gathering around an atlas, looking at far away tropical islands, sliding your finger along a journey you took. This tangible experience is a basic human urge that digital doesn’t meet, and one that SplashMaps taps into.

Q: I understand you moved out of Shoreditch, which is London’s counterpart to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. What’s up with that?

A: Don’t worry, I now live in the Barbican in central London. Shoreditch’s not far, but it’s gone a bit too upmarket. Anyway, I think of myself not so much as a hipster as a digital brutalist, so the Barbican’s a better match for me, my wife, and our two kids. All that said, these days the cool kids are all in Moabit and Wedding, so I’m working on convincing my wife it’s her idea that we move to Berlin. Let’s see.

Q: We haven’t talked about humor on GeoHipster, which I realize is a serious lapse. Let’s fix that. You were a humor columnist for the MIT student newspaper. Do you have a joke I haven’t heard?

A: Wow, you’ve done your research. Yeah, I used to write an anonymous advice column for the school newspaper called “Ask Alfred” in which I pretended to be a greedy and lecherous version of Alfred P. Sloan, the business school’s namesake (CEO of GM, often credited with inventing the modern corporation). In hindsight it was an attempt to poke fun at the divergence between the high-minded ideals espoused by the school and the profit-driven reality (greed, if you will) of the industries most MBAs go into. On the other hand though, I do think in the open geo world, particularly here in Europe, there’s a tendency to err too far in the other direction — thinking everything should be free all the time, all code needs to open source, we all need to be motivated by altruism all the time. As anyone trying to pay rent in central London will tell you, goodwill alone will not get you far.

I’m not sure what the joke is here. These days my comedy is more situational and slapstick.

Q: Thank you so much for the interview. Any parting words for the GeoHipster readers?

A: In the geo industry (if I can say so as an outsider) we all get that something major has changed with the rise of the smartphone; all of a sudden we all carry around a supercomputer that knows exactly where we are at all times. But I don’t think anyone grasps how radically this will change everything. For everyone, but particularly for the geo industry. We are at the start of an amazing ride. Anyone who’s up for the trip I would love to meet with. So if you’re London come say hello, we’ll go grab a pint. If that makes me a geohipster, so be it.

Brian Timoney: “The ‘G’ stands very much for ‘geospatial’ and not ‘GIS'”

Brian Timoney
Brian Timoney

Brian (@briantimoney) is an information consultant based in Denver, Colorado. With 15 years experience primarily in the geospatial sector, he has worked in a variety of sectors including energy, defense, and local government. Brian speaks both English and Spanish with a Philadelphia accent, and is a US Marine Corps veteran.

Brian was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow and Atanas Entchev.

AE: You blog and tweet about geo, data visualization, and business analytics. Which of those is of the most interest to you nowadays and why? Is spatial special?

BT: While analytics are hot (if the prevalence of the term “data science” is any indicator), the usefulness of raw insight often hinges on a visualization that is both accessible and meaningful. As for where Geo fits in, the popularity of map-based listicles e.g. “38 Maps that Explain the Global Economy” either indicates a serious, ongoing demand, or the delight of the otherwise well-educated to engage in geographic thinking for the first time since middle school.

MD: Your blog post summing up findings on How the Public Actually Uses Local Government Web Maps is so succinct and forehead-slapping that I find myself constantly referring customers to it. Do you see any evidence that the tide is turning in local government web maps, moving from overcomplicated user interfaces to simpler designs?

BT: Anecdotally I know of some projects in Europe that were directly influenced by those articles, and some vendors have engaged with the ideas in those articles. Yet we still see local government opting for the visual grammar of desktop GIS because it both feels familiar and risk-free. Or put another way, government websites aren’t punished for the users who leave because of a crappy user experience.

But what is significantly turning the tide is mobile. My new favorite quote is from CartoDB’s Javier de la Torre who said the future of geo “isn’t an application with 100 buttons, but hundreds of apps with one button.”

MD: Your series on Why Map Portals Don’t Work expands on your observations, taking a deeper dive on the subject of simplicity in web mapping. If you had to pick one part of that series for customers to focus on, which one would it be and why?

BT: My kingdom for an auto-complete search text box! Google has made text-based search such an intuitive part of using the web that maps that leave the user no choice but to interact with map elements — pan, zoom, etc. — make discovering user intent much more difficult than it should be. And make no mistake, users end up alienated.

MD: You must feel some validation when you see Vladimir Agafonkin’s recent FOSS4G talk on how simplicity will save GIS. What do you think this means for the future of web mapping?

BT: If you see the world as a Pareto 80-20 proposition, then you could make the case that the history of web mapping interfaces is one of bloating the map out to solve the last 20% of use cases. Vlad’s exclusive focus on the core 80% of map functionality is what has made Leaflet so successful, especially outside the traditional GIS boundaries. He was the star attraction at the recent JS.geo, and his story highlights the need to keep our industry open to outsiders. Just to be clear, there are plenty of workflows out there where an OpenLayers or Google Maps or Esri Javascript API makes the most sense. But Vlad’s commitment to both Leaflet as an open source project and iterating only on a core subset of functionality  has served everyone very well.

AE: FOSS4G 2014 generated a lot of buzz and excitement, but is open source making serious inroads in the geo market space? Esri still rules the geo desktop. Microsoft is still king of the PC. Do you see this changing any time soon? Or will the desktop decrease in market share to a point of irrelevance?

BT: For me, the big takeaway from this year’s FOSS4G was that the “G” stands very much for “geospatial” and not “GIS”. I think back to the 2007 FOSS4G show in Victoria where there was much more seeing the market as the GIS market dominated by ESRI. Today, the opportunities run so much broader and deeper. Take an outfit like the Climate Corporation, who gave a FOSS4G presentation on doing geo things using ElasticSearch: they were an open data/big data/analytics startup that were bought for $1.1 billion. They had a specific operational need — spatial search — and I seriously doubt they spent 15 minutes thinking of it as a “GIS” problem but rather a very specific type of indexing challenge.

When you say “Esri still rules the geo desktop” I think that would be better expressed as “…the GIS desktop”. But what about people doing spatial things elsewhere? People are doing geo things in R Studio. People are doing geo things in IPython Notebooks. To see GIS as having a foregone monopoly on spatial analysis and mapmaking is to miss the much larger picture. Unfortunately, some of the biggest losers in this changing landscape are current students unknowingly suffering from a lazy Geography curriculum that offers little in the way of spatial reasoning and data fluency but instead only a mediocre grasp of a particularly byzantine desktop interface.

AE: I am reminded of this ancient Persian proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on.” Microsoft bought Minecraft to keep the caravan going. Should Esri buy SimCity? Because, you know, geodesign…

BT: Everything I know about Geodesign I’ve learned from James Fee’s Spatially Adjusted blog. I have nothing further to add.

AE: Do you consider yourself a (geo)hipster? You are a skier. Is skiing a hipstery pastime? (Or is it only if your heels are disconnected, as Mike Dolbow suggests?)

BT: The hippest thing I’ve ever done was switch from pleated khakis to flat-front khakis.

I also shave every morning and tuck in my shirt during business hours.

But if hipsterism is essentially about alternative status hierarchies, then count me in. Ever since Boundless named me the 26th most influential Geospatial tweeter, I’ve been looking for a new lunch table to sit at.

While I ski, it’s only in the context of enjoying the finest in chairlift technology, for which I happily pay a pretty penny. Mike is correct: in Colorado, “real skiers” are the tele-markers who ascend mountains using skins and free-heel down in knee-deep powder off-piste. To them I say “we will each go to our respective graves with very different ideas of ‘fun’”.

MD: What’s up with the “Geospatial Amateurs”? Has your intentional irony achieved the desired result? Can those meetups only take place where weed is legal?

BT: Geospatial Amateurs was the brainchild of Peter Batty (@pmbatty) and Nate Irwin (@nateirwin) and was very much informed by experiences with previous iterations of developer groups and meetups where well-intentioned sponsorship by vendors ended up creating environments that weren’t really what was originally envisioned. By putting “Amateurs” in the title, we accomplish two important goals: it’s a signal to vendors that this isn’t really anything you need to bother with, while communicating to curious outsiders that while it might be a bit nerdy, it’s not self-serious and insular nerdery.

As for weed, clearly you fall into the pattern of most of my East Coast friends for whom it holds an exotic allure akin to a 19-year-old frat boy pondering topless beaches in Europe. I’m within a 5-minute walk of three retail outlets and yet I guarantee you have given it more thought than me over the past few months. But to reassure you, the Geo Amateurs seem much more into craft beer.

AE: Thank you for the interview. Any parting words for the GeoHipster readers? Is spatial special?

BT:  Stop reading blogs during working hours.

Oh, you’re waiting for your buffer intersection to finish?

Cool — you’re still billable. Carry on.

Carl Anderson: “Rejecting your own work as the path forward is an important but painful thing”

Carl Anderson
Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson (@candrsn) started hacking on a TRS-80 in the 70s, quickly upgraded to an Apple II+, and has used all sizes and types of computer systems in his career. He is a polyglot and seeks answers using technology instead of seeking specific technology to answer questions. He is dogmatically pragmatic. In the last 30+ years he has worked for and supported local county, state, and federal government, the private sector and universities, and volunteered for too many things. He is the President of URISA, has served in many roles in local and international GIS organizations, and really enjoys working with the people he meets.

Carl was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

How did you get into GIS/mapping?

I have always been interested in the spatial relationships between things, and that interest drew me to measuring and representing those relationships. Specifically, in the early ‘80s I came across a book on microcomputer computational graphics and I was hooked. (Myers, Roy E. (1982) – Microcomputer Graphics).

So that interest drove you to pick a college major? Or was this a learn-on-the-job (as many of us did) career?

The path I took was in no way linear. I had taken programming courses while in high school, started out as an art major in college and later switched to engineering sciences. All the while I kept picking up odd jobs that included measurement, design, spatial analysis and information management components.

I’m currently fascinated with hybrid setups — taking commercial and open source, and building a hybrid system. You did that at Fulton County (Georgia), where you were the GIS Manager?

I was at Fulton County for a long time. I filled many roles while there, from traffic analysis in Public Works, to GIS management in the Planning department and later IT department, to leading a Business Intelligence division of the IT department. That last division included GIS, Database Development, Web Development and Data Integration, and was quite a challenge.

With regard to hybrid setups, I am proud of what we achieved at Fulton County. I had learned that things can really hum along when each component does its own one thing well. Back in the early 90s it took a lot more heavy lifting to connect components. Today, using REST, GeoJSON, WFS, WMS, XAML, OBDC, and others it is really easy to hook things up. We used to run into issues with every piece of software we tried, and had to patch code in Perl, PHP, the Linux kernel, mars NWS (a Novell emulator), TN 5470 (to talk to the IBM mainframe), and too many others. I took a bit of grief over building systems that combined both open and proprietary components, but it was the only way forward as we knew that as long as we did not require a line item in the budget, we could do nearly anything we wanted.

That hybrid approach allowed us to be super responsive to our client base and keep up and leverage the changing technology and internal (county-government-wide) standards. We were able to build custom GIS apps for Planning, the Tax Assessor, the Tax Commissioner, 911 and EMA, the Police and Sheriff, Voter Registation, and more. Using a hybrid approach, the end users were not affected when we upgraded core GIS software, or even when we switched databases.

One particular technology journey was especially interesting. We had to change the data storage system several times, and we were never completely in control of the timing. We started out moving from ARCStorm to SDE 3.0, but had to backtrack due to a need to reload data from original sources. We then moved to Oracle for a few years but were using a license borrowed from a different department that wanted it back. I had been playing with Postgresql95, and we moved everything from Oracle during a stressful week of dump as SQL, refactor as a PostgreSQL95 variant, and load SQL. After migration we managed to keep systems in sync using a mixture of Perl and PHP. PostGIS did not yet exist, so we developed our own spatial storage and predicates. In late 2001 we got turned on to PostGIS. As the 2000s progressed, it got easier to move and model data, so we started to connect live to client data systems and integrate on the fly with data caching. When I left we were connecting systems using MSSQLServer, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Berkley DB, MS Access, SharePoint, and others. The whole journey required us to reject what we had been doing, refocus on what we really needed, and find a solution — any solution — that fit our true needs. Rejecting your own work as the path forward is an important but painful thing.

While you were chugging along at Fulton County, you ended up helping co-write something called FGDC-STD-016-2011? How painful/fun was that?

Otherwise known as the FGDC Address data standard, it was a lot of work and a lot of fun in a geeky kind of way. The most important thing I learned is that developing a standard takes a long time. The Address Standard took 5 years from kick-off to adoption. Reviewing addressing practices in the US revealed many odd things that you might not suspect exist. Part of that work was informed by a custom geocoding engine we wrote at Fulton County. It used a more natural linguistic pattern to locate candidate addresses instead of the more literal matching engines available to us in commercial GIS software. Currently I am helping on an international address framework standard (ISO 19160-1), likewise lots of fun in an internationally-geeky way.

So I’m going to slow-pitch one question, then stick you on another one. You are now President of URISA. Given the whole idea of GeoHipster (people who work/think outside the box) I’ve been questioning as of late how effective the big organizations are (URISA, ASPRS, GITA) at maintaining a connection with the industry when it seems to be changing at a rapid pace. First off — what is URISA? Secondly — how is URISA adapting to the needs of its members (assuming it is)?

URISA, officially the “Urban and Regional Information Systems Association”, got started in 1966 as an organization to help share ideas and results using a (then) new-fangled thing (computers) to solve problems in urban and regional planning and government.

Our tagline is “Fostering Excellence in GIS”, and we take that to heart; we exist to help GIS practitioners succeed. One of the big roles URISA continues to fill is to help make newer, useful techniques and technology feel safe for GIS practitioners to implement. As a community of GIS practitioners, URISA allows people to see what their peers are doing in GIS, what is working, what is not, how people can repeat successful ideas. It is also working to identify practices in setting up and managing GIS systems that are particularly useful, effective or efficient.

I was at a conference a few months back and someone said “Blah blah I know a guy who maps caves” and I responded “Blah blah blah I know a guy who maps caves”. We both knew the same guy. I know how busy we get and it’s been a while since I sat in a canoe. Are you still a member of the Athens Speleological Society? How did you end up mapping caves?

At the moment I am only an armchair caver, but I do feel then need to get underground again. I have always felt a stronger affinity to the Dogwood City Grotto, in Atlanta GA. than the Athens Speological Society near the University of Georgia.

When I was at Georgia Tech I ran into several great people who used the mapping and survey of caves as a way to investigate the spatial relationship of caves. People like Bill Putman, Ed Stausser, Steve Attaway, Marion Smith, Jim Smith — they all stirred up my curiosity and got me mapping caves. Cave surveying is quite different from modern above-ground survey techniques. The equipment has to be super rugged, be able to get completely wet, and fit into a small backpack. At Georgia Tech and later, some super-cool armchair caving projects were undertaken, like running 100s of paper topo maps through a scanner and digitally automating the plotting of 1000s of caves. Did you know that paper topo maps shrink over time, and that they do not shrink in a uniform way? Figuring out how to account for that was a problem.

You’re currently working with Spatial Focus and are working with the U.S. Census Bureau. What are you doing with Census?

I am supporting the LEHD program that produces statistics on jobs, workers, workplaces and the connections between them. I focus on making sure that we always get the geography right.

Finally — I haven’t asked you about skinny jeans, your favorite capa mocha half caf latte (I have no idea what I’m saying), or your bike or whether it’s a fixie or a flexie (I think I made that word up) or how your record collection is coming along. We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a geohipster?

I am pretty sure that I do not entirely fit in anywhere. A friend recently mentioned that if I am hip, it is entirely by accident and not planned. As some examples, in the ‘80s I frequented a PBR bar in Atlanta and I have had long hair and a beard most of the past 30 years, including a fabulous mullet in the ‘80s. Possibly cool now, but at the time — not so much.

With regard to the mainstream, as a polyglot I think that I am pretty good at making choices for software / language / tool for each task I encounter. I don’t think that I choose what I already know, but what will cause the best outcome.

Oops, almost forgot… Favorite Linux distribution?

I installed my first Linux distro in 1993, it fit onto two 1.44MB floppies, and was released by a Portuguese telco company. Ironically, I do not speak Portuguese. It had exactly what I needed. Later I have used Debian, Redhat, SUSE, and all sorts of other distros. Using a polyglot parallel, my favorite distro is the one that has the tool that I need that day. As an aside, I really loved the Enlightenment Window Manager in the late ’90s. For its time, it was really creative and challenged the boundaries of what window decorations and widgets could be.

Finally — any parting words of wisdom for the good-looking and smart readers of GeoHipster?

Try to live life one, or less, mistakes at a time. Try to make the successes big and the mistakes small. Try nearly everything once — if it is not good, don’t do it again. Lastly, living in the present is much more fun than living in the past.