Q: On a scale of Clojure to Leaflet how hipster are you?
A: I’ve used Esri products for about 10 minutes of my life.
Q: How (and why) did you get into GIS?
A: I was a recent college grad, still uncertain with my career direction, and looking for a map of Cleveland’s neighborhoods to hang on my bedroom wall. I couldn’t find one, so I decided to make my own. Growing up in Cleveland (the actual city, not a suburb), I’ve always been fascinated with cities. I never had taken any geography or GIS classes, so I wasn’t sure where to start. In my free time, I found OpenStreetMap, began editing my neighborhood, and used Osmarender to make my first map. Soon after, I found Tilemill, became addicted to editing OpenStreetMap and making web maps in Tilemill. I’ve participated remotely and in the field with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. I’ve fallen in love with maps, geography, and facilitating the use and creation of open data to help people understand things in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Q: You work as food pantry manager in Cleveland, Ohio. Tell us about your job, and how GIS helps you and the food pantry clients.
A: I directly oversee a pantry and am a liaison at 3 others. I spend my time picking up and coordinating food purchases and donations, managing volunteers, answering policy questions and technical support from volunteers; anything that needs to be done so that the 400+ households who need food receive it with dignity. Unfortunately, geo (GIS) is only 5% of my job, although I would love to spend more time on it. I geocode to find out locations of our clients, I do some routing, and I work on the Marillac Hot Meal/Pantry Finder.
Q: I found out about your Marillac project (presumably named after Saint Louise de Marillac) from your blog. This is very unique. How did it start? Was it your initiative?
A: A couple times a week people call me as a pantry manager and ask where they can get food that day. Or clients will ask where else they could go to receive food when they are at the pantry. There was a paper list of locations sorted by zip code that pantries used to skim through and try to find places that would sound close to the client. This process was slow, not always efficient, paper lists would become outdated, and some clients don’t know their zip codes. There had to be a better way than this.
I scraped an electronic list of pantries and hot meals from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, geocoded them, and using bootleaf, set up a website. Now you can just put in a person’s address, the map will zoom in to the person’s location, and help the user visually see the closest places for clients.
I worked on it quietly on my own initiative until I had a working prototype to show its value. The reaction from my volunteers was mostly positive. They have a wide range of technical literacy and comfortability, so there’s a few who continue to use the paper list. The Food Bank, they’re excited about it. It’s an upgrade from the paper list for them, and they’ll eventually integrate it into their website for other pantries to use. My boss was also impressed.
Q: Open source: Why?
A: I was likely sick of Windows and its lack of customization, and started using Mandrake in high school.
Coming from an outside background, the innovation that I saw happening in the geospatial/GIS communities was from companies and individuals that embraced open-source software (Mapbox and Leaflet; CartoDB) and crowd-sourced/liberally licensed geo data (OpenStreetMap). They enabled me to do things like the neighborhood map that I’m not sure I could have done with closed-source software and proprietary geo data.
Open-source gives people the ability (at least to those who can program) to customize software for their needs. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I could not have accessed free (as in money) open-source tools when I first started. I would have likely given up (making that map) after a few weeks of trying to run a pirated ArcGIS in Wine. I contribute back by writing tutorials and documentation, some code examples, answering questions on IRC and stackexchange.
Q: Few know that you penned the @geohipster Twitter “bio”, and that you originally registered the account and later let us use it (THANK YOU!!!). You proudly identify yourself as a geohipster. Tell us what the term means to you.
A: A geohipster has a strong sense of curiosity. You’re always very open to trying new software, technologies, ideas, opportunities, and techniques to accomplish your work, and not being afraid to go outside of your comfort zone to do so. You love to learn. I’ve seen these qualities in a lot of fellow interviewees.
Q: Not until I got involved with GeoHipster did I realize (to my surprise) that the word “hipster” — a benign label in my mind — rubs many people the wrong way. Why do you think that is? Do you think Einstein was a hipster? Edison? Tesla?
A: People referred to as hipsters — whether rooted in myth, reality, or both — have been described as judgmental to those who have less dedication, curiosity, or the circumstances (access to resources, time, money) to learn as much about certain interests (particularly music and film) as they do. They also have the reputation of being snobbish to those who don’t already have that knowledge, and those who don’t become aware of something until it becomes widely adopted or increases in popularity.
I’m relieved and happy that the geo community doesn’t fit that stereotype: Maptime intentionally aims to be a very welcoming environment for learning about maps. In the past couple years open-source carto/gis/geospatial tools have become more accessible to users through improved documentation.
With my definition — curious, open to trying new things to accomplish their dreams — all three of them were hipsters.
Q: Any parting words for the GeoHipster readers?
A: I want to thank everyone in the community along the way who has helped me and others learn — through sharing their knowledge, writing tutorials and documentation, given encouragement, and being welcoming. I attended my first FOSS4G-NA recently. Although I was atypically timid there, I really enjoyed it.
Frank Jacobs (@FrankJacobs) is a journalist, blogger and author. Originally from Belgium, he currently lives in Denmark with his girlfriend Hanne. He thought his map obsession was a rare affliction until 2006, when he started blogging about Strange Maps. Seventeen million hits and one book later, he’s still looking for next week’s strangest map.
Q: What makes a map strange? Would you say you have an innate sense of geohipsterism that allows you to declare a map strange at a glance?
A: I could tell you. But then I’d have to kill you. Seriously, though: Strange Maps is my attempt to stay in touch with the sense of wonder that cartography instilled in me back when I was ten years old and got my first atlas. Maps are not just about other places, they’re a place unto themselves: a playground where the world and your imagination can meet.
That playground-like quality is what I look for in maps, at least when I’m looking for maps to post on the blog. There has to be a eureka moment. Looking for a new one is exciting, because I never can tell exactly what gives a map that extra dimension. Perhaps it’s the historical anecdote it illustrates. It could be the painstaking detail — or the lack of it.
I never know where the next map will come from. That element of chance makes hunting for strange maps fun, even eight years into the blog. Nevertheless, I do know that the next strange map will fit at least three criteria: it will have a compelling backstory, it will look nice, and it will be too strange for my old school atlas.
Q: Many of your maps delve into the realm of alternative histories. Others cover historic anomalies. Some just have crazy designs. Tell us a bit about the different maps and how you find them.
A: Put a few alternative history buffs in a room — a chatroom, most likely — and soon you’ll be inundated with maps. No other community produces as many potential candidates for Strange Maps as the alt-history crowd. Many are beautifully made. Yet I generally steer clear of them, because the historical hypotheticals they’re built upon are generally too fanciful or too obscure to interest me. There have been a few exceptions, unsurprisingly often involving Nazis, as recently with that map of The Man in the High Castle, the TV series based on Philip K. Dick’s eponymous ‘What If’ classic.
I’m happy for Strange Maps to just be a grab bag of maps from as many different backgrounds as possible. There’s lots of great examples of maps used as art, for example, some of which I’ve featured on the blog: Kim Dingle’s sublimely simple United Shapes of America — a canvas filled with the shape of the U.S. as drawn from memory by a high school class. Or Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman, obsessively detailing his obsessions over Englishness. On the other end of the spectrum, there are statistical maps, like Joseph Minard’s stunning chart of the deadly carnage that was Napoleon’s Russia campaign. Or the Inglehart-Welzel map, which plots out countries according to the secularity and self-expressiveness of their society on a map that is cultural rather than geographic. In between are fantasy maps like Tolkien’s, adventure story maps like Treasure Island, maps made for propaganda or satire. As long as I can mix it all up, I’m happy.
Q: You’re from Belgium, a cartographer’s delight of a country with three official languages, a rich history of border changes, and of course the famous Baarle-Hertog exclave. Do you think this caused your interest in strange maps?
A: Growing up where I did was a bit surreal for a map-lover: travel south for 30 kilometres, and you’re in a different culture, but still in the same country. Go east for as far, and you’re in the same language area, but in a different country. It certainly reinforced my fascination with those man-made lines that traversed the maps in my atlas. Baarle might be Belgium’s best-known border anomaly, but there are other, equally fascinating ones. Like the Esperanto micronation of Amikejo, set up in a neutral zone that transformed Belgium’s border tripoint with the Netherlands and Germany into one of the world’s rare international quadripoints. Or the five German exclaves, separated from the Heimat by a railway track that was placed under Belgian sovereignty after the First World War.
Some say Belgium itself is an experiment in surrealism: an accident of history, a collision of cultures, and the frequent object of mockery by our more important neighbours. Belgians have a hard time convincing themselves they live in a ‘proper’ country. No wonder Magritte — he of Ceci n’est pas une pipe — is our ‘national’ painter. So yes, growing up in that anomaly of a country definitely shaped my interest in surreal cartography.
Q: Relatedly, has any specific culture, region, or time period produced more strange maps than others?
A: Yes — although it’s a bit unfair to hold it against them: the cartographers of the Age of Exploration produced a mass of maps of new lands, many of them drawn up on little more than hearsay. Take the history of California’s depiction as an island, which occurred on and off well into the 1700s. Or all those phantom islands dotting the North Atlantic, products of tall tales, wishful thinking or just an attempt by failed explorers to get enough funding to have another go at glory.
Q: What makes for a good border dispute? Do your maps ever lead to flame wars?
A: If you value your free time, steer well clear of Balkan irredentism. Once — fortunately, a long time ago by now — I posted a map of Greater Albania, which included not only Kosovo, but also parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia proper. It didn’t take very long before commenters from all countries involved were insulting each other, and each other’s mothers in the comments section.
Q: As more and more people use maps all the time via their phone, it seems maps are increasingly moving out of the realm of the cartonerds and into the mainstream. What’s your take on this trend? Are maps a fad or is this the new norm?
A: Humans made maps before they could write. I think that’s why they appeal so directly to us: they’re humanity’s primeval common language, in a way. As technology embeds maps in ever more aspects of our daily life, I suspect we’re going towards a schism in cartography, separating the merely utilitarian from the purely beautiful. It’s pretty clear which side I am on. I’m in the vinyl section of the shop, listening to some old Mercators, scratches and all, while the kids figure out how to upload their jogging route to the interweb.
Q: Does the burden of having to decide what is strange ever weigh on you?
A: No, it’s a joy, and that’s why I’m still doing it. Also, I get so many great ideas and maps sent in by readers of the blog that it would be a shame to stop before I’ve gone through all of them.
In case you’ve sent one in back in 2010 and are still waiting: there’s about 5,000 suggestions waiting for an answer. That does weigh on me. How much does a secretary cost?
Q: What’s your personal favourite map?
A: It’s like with your own children: it varies. And sometimes I hate them all. But honestly, I get asked that question a lot, and I usually have a different answer. So I guess I don’t have a favourite map. I do have a few favourite mapmakers. How much I wouldn’t give for a nice long talk with Heinrich Bünting, who made the Whole World in a Cloverleaf map back in the 16th century. And while I’m at it, I’m also inviting Richard Edes Harrison, whose brilliant map perspectives arrived just in time to give people a sense of the global scale of World War Two. And how about all those British generals who drew half of the world’s borders? To misquote Jaws: I think we need a bigger map room.
Chris Bupp is a Senior Geospatial Developer at GISi Indoors. He likes developing with new technologies and cooking with less new technologies. He made more maps working/volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina than he has since then. He’s created a Leap Motion interactive web map and when bored he tinkers with genetic algorithms.
Q: Hey Chris. Tell us about your experiences with geo and what you’re working on now.
A: To start, I first fell in love with programming back in high school. I could make something new from nothing; it was exciting! Many developers have a hard time sharing what excites them; it can be hard for your friends to high five you when you’re talking about database indices. When I first started working with geo-enabled technologies, I was able to immediately share my excitement with others; it was energizing.
I got my start in geo during college. One of my very first projects was a Windows application that allowed you to share photos and journal entries on a map with your friends and family; in hindsight if it was a website instead of a Windows application, it would have been worth something! (Ed.: Indeed! This is what Flickr founder Caterina Fake’s third startup Findery does, which she launched in 2012.)
My most recent project, GeoMetri, is a suite of applications that work to solve problems in the indoor space. We’ve developed a WiFi tracking solution that allows store owners and event throwers to answer questions like: Did this banner or sign cause more people to stop by? Does having more on-floor staff increase (or decrease) visitor dwell times? We’ve also developed mobile indoor navigation apps to help visitors explore and navigate around large buildings or campuses.
Q: Indoor mapping seems to be an increasingly crowded space. Tell us about what you’re currently doing, and what sets your work apart from other companies.
A: It is! I guess that means it’s a good idea. When we first started getting into the indoor space two years ago, we did our research (and continue to research) the constantly growing techniques and tools available. Our goal has always been to provide tools that offer the best solution to a customer’s needs, which means we don’t always use a home-grown tool. There are a ton of smart folks in the indoors industry, we’ve positioned ourselves with several partners to allow us to meet more than just a specific type of solution.
It’s also important to realize that the indoor space [market] is very large, and there is no clear leader in the industry. Every week a few companies may start, and several others have been acquired. You just need to remain agile and ready to implement a solution with several choices of backing technology.
Q: You’ve worked with lots of technologies. I think the first time we met, you were talking about how awesome FORTRAN was compared to Python, or something like that. As a developer, what blossoming technologies do you have your eye on?
A: Wow. You have a good memory. At the time I was working a lot in FORTRAN on a real impressive software suite that created probabilistic danger zones for shooting ranges using Monte Carlo modeling of the projectiles. FORTRAN is above and beyond faster and a better choice for math-heavy applications (if you’re willing to undertake the extra effort of actually writing in FORTRAN).
Right now a lot of exciting things are happening with iBeacons (and several other beacon flavors), drones, and open source. These areas are going to get a lot more chaotic before the dust settles, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait for all the standards to be defined before building new things!
Q: Does that say “tinkers with genetic algorithms” in your bio? WAT?
A: You know how it is when you get bored: some people try to solve prime numbers; some people like to solve problems with genetic algorithms. Genetic algorithms have promised to solve np complex problems (when a “good enough” answer is better than the best answer in 500 years).
For instance, with a friend, we spent a few hours attempting to solve a traveling salesman problem where you had several salespeople instead of just one.
Q: You and I have spent some free time working on some open source projects like ALF. What part of open source, as a developer, is most rewarding to you?
A: I enjoy the social aspect of open source. In business, developers are constantly told to hide what they make. Open source allows me to share my creations with more than just my co-workers.
Another important aspect is realizing that all of the projects I create commercially or privately rely on at least one other open source project. So sharing back with the community makes me feel good, and when someone actually uses my projects, I feel great! If you ever need something from me and see that I’m in a sour mood, fork one of my repos.
Q: Cartographer to developer — your favorite map(s)?
A: My favorite maps are less mappy, but still retain a map essence — where the data is more important than its exact location. Examples of this are Minard’s map and more recently the Prison Map. Both of these maps demonstrate a map-like quality, but the data is what is powerfully shown. We see US maps all the time that struggle to showcase their data (and its meaning) because states are different sizes.
Q: You’ll be diving in head-first at FOSS4G this week, and you’ll no doubt interact with future and current GeoHipster alumni. What’s the term geohipster mean to you? What part of FOSS4G are you most looking forward to, and who are you looking to interact with?
A: To me, the term geohipster refers to an individual willing to explore, build, and perfect things outside of the normal geo universe. Geohipsters are fixers. A lot of times they’re the ones willing to do the work to build a solution (and sure, maybe their duct tape has little mustaches printed on it).
Like most of my adventures, I look forward to learning. I’m very new to FOSS4G and I have a lot to learn. As a hobbyist, I’m looking forward to the latest developments in FOSS4G (and super excited about all the drone sessions). As a representative for my company, I’m looking forward to see what types of businesses attend FOSS4G, and I’m interested in their business models, as well as their business goals.
One subset of FOSS4G participants I’m looking forward to meeting is other maptime-ers. I’ve only been to the first of the Atlanta chapter meetings, so it’ll be weird flying across the country to meet up with them, but fun nonetheless!
I’m also looking forward to meeting and interacting with anyone willing to share their experiences with FOSS4G. So, if you’re at FOSS4G and see someone with brown curly hair and a deer-in-the-headlights look, it’s probably me and I’d love to talk!
Abdishakur Hassan is GIS Officer at UN-Habitat Somalia Programme in Mogadishu. He returned back to his home country to work and take part in rebuilding the nation. He is a survivor of Black Hawk Down as a child.
Interviewer’s note: I did not have a personal connection with Shakur prior to this interview. I noticed a new Twitter follower from Somalia a few months ago, as well as corresponding hits on my blog from Mogadishu. I decided I wanted to know more and contacted Shakur about doing an interview. I’m glad to have gotten to know him and learn more about his work on behalf of the homeland he so clearly loves.
Q: Would you mind sharing a little bit of information about your background, including your education, and any past professional experience?
A: I am from Somalia. I studied Geoinformation Science and Earth observation from ITC, Twente University in the Netherlands. My Geo experience spans over the last four years working with UN-Habitat Somalia Programme as GIS officer. On weekends, I am part time lecturer at Mogadishu University. Before joining UN-Habitat, I briefly worked with NGO consortium based in Mogadishu.
Q: What first attracted you to the geospatial field in general and GIS in particular?
A: I came across GIS while attending Makerere university in Uganda. Later on, scholarship from Erasmus Mundus to study Geoinformation was my stepping stone into the GIS world. It has not been smooth transition from undergraduate degree in Business administration to GIS and remote sensing graduate classes, but ever since, I am in love with GIS and what we can do with it.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your current work.
A: Well, in general our work involves in Urban planning and Development. We strive in building a better urban future for cities in Somalia. Our GIS projects include Mapping Internal Displaced People (IDPs) camps, Site planning for relocation purposes, Public space mapping, and GIS database creation for property taxation.
Q: Somalia has faced many challenges in recent times. GeoHipster has interviewed others who are active in relief and development activities, but you may be the first we’ve interviewed who is doing so in his own homeland. Please describe what it is like to bring your skills home and apply them to such significant issues.
A: Yes, you are right, Somalia faces many challenges, but we often associate the word Somalia with a lot of negativity. Somalia is getting better each and every day. The economy is recovering and the security is getting better. Over the last four years, the sound of hammer replaced the sound of bullets as new constructions and rebuilding the bullet-ridden homes became widespread.
Thousands of Somali Diaspora have returned home to take part in rebuilding the country. Some have come back with investing millions in the country and creating employment opportunities. Others have returned to contribute to the country with their experience and education by serving the country as ministers, civil servants, educators, and other professional services needed in this country.
Unfortunately, GIS skills are very rare among both Somali diaspora and locals, and I am glad to at least fill that void and spread the Geo skills.
Q: Please describe your typical work day. What tools and datasets do you use most often? What challenges do you face as a GIS practitioner where you are? What are some things that you currently lack that would make your work more effective?
A: A typical day for my job as GIS officer requires on-the-job training to municipal staff, designing Geodatabases and data collection forms, spatial data collection and entry supervision, and managing the whole project from planning to monitoring. And of course staying up-to-date and learning new techniques in the GIS field. Python, Mapbox, QGIS and leaflet are my priority list in this year.
Currently we run ArcGIS Desktop concurrent licences on our server. As the number of licences available are limited, we also make use of QGIS at times in spatial data manipulation processes.
The adoption of GIS in Somalia is at its nascent stages. The UN and INGOs are in the driver’s seat to promote GIS and Remote sensing. UNFPA recently finished Population estimation exercises with the help of GIS. FAO SWALIM collects land and water information across the country. It is worth mentioning also how HOT OSM helped Somalia fight against the 2011 famine by mapping remote areas.
However, in East Africa Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are applying GIS. It looks promising, especially with the recent increases in mobile usage. Ushahidi is a great example.
Q: What are your personal interests outside of your professional activities?
A: I am passionate of all soccer. I play soccer at my free time.
Q: What position do you prefer to play? What teams do you follow?
A: I prefer playing as midfielder. I am Liverpool fan and ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ as Liverpool supporter.
Q: What would a first-time visitor to Mogadishu find most surprising? What would challenge their expectations or pre-conceived notions?
A: As Mogadishu has been dubbed as “The most dangerous place”, you might find it surprising that this part of the world is not that much different than your typical city. For Somalis, peaceful weekends in Liido Beach at the heart of Indian ocean and the afternoon stroll around the old parts of the city with its stunning architecture are part of their peaceful life. It might not be that far to open our borders for tourists, but meanwhile ordinary citizens of this city enjoy their lives fully.
Q: The standard GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you and are you a geohipster?
A: It is a matter of defining geohipster. If we are talking about functions (mapping out the world, doing cool GIS Analysis and Visualization, following the new GIS trends) not the style, then I am in.
Sara Safavi is a “software developer with a geohabit” in Austin, TX. She spent many years in the GIS trenches before eventually transitioning to full-time developer at Rackspace. She also moonlights as a geospatial consultant, specializing in clients looking for cost-effective, “real-world” solutions hybridizing open source technologies with existing platforms. Outside of work, Sara organizes two local community groups: Austin Open Source GIS & PyLadiesATX. She’s also frequently found teaching workshops — primarily Python and/or GIS-centric ones — and evangelizing all the open source geo-things.
Q: This quote from your “About” page almost perfectly describes most interviewed geohipsters:
“…interested in open data & open source software, and working near the intersection of programming & GIS is where I’m happiest…”
How did this passion for “open” evolve for you?
A: When I first got access to a computer, I was lucky enough to be told: “Do what you want on this machine, learn about it, play with it, and if you break it I’ll fix it.” That put me at ease and let me experiment. It also gave me a sense of control and ownership: computers for me were never some scary unknown that came with a vague sense of this-is-not-for-you. When I later got involved with open source communities, I found a similar combination of freedom and safety net that enabled independent learning. Those communities tended to be built around shared interests and goals, and everyone shared enthusiasm for the same things. Plus, I really loved that I actually got to talk to the people who were making things and get involved in finding solutions to shared problems. Eventually I started to help other people with some of the things I had learned — not in a really huge way, but it was still such an empowering experience that I really latched on to Linux and open source software.
A lot of my early experience with GIS was using proprietary software which had bugs and limitations which regular users couldn’t really do anything about, while outside of work I was using a lot of open source tools which were just so nice to use. I realized that the proprietary tools everyone took for granted were often more of a hindrance than a help. Although open source tools may be harder to discover, proprietary tools tend not to be geared to extension or giving power to the user, so the end result is frequently reduced productivity with greatly limited flexibility. Add in the matter of open source software having, by definition, vastly broader accessibility, and it was really no longer a question for me.
Essentially I like the combination of the empowering support that you can find in the “open” communities with the flexibility and just plain utility of open source software. We share solutions and data because we’re all in this together. Likewise, a lot of the outside-of-work things I do now involve building communities that try to allow others to find the same kind of support, and feel enabled to learn new things.
Q: I met you last year at the Esri UC where you organized a great Open Source Lunch & Learn. You also organize Austin Open Source GIS and PyLadies ATX. How important is networking to professionals in tech fields?
A: When I hear the word “networking”, I think of that check-out-my-cool-business-card, let’s-make-5-minutes-of-awkward-conversation-then-maybe-never-speak-again thing we do at big conferences and business events. It’s probably a necessary function. As an industry we all basically agree that this kind of face time is what we use to build our professional networks. And something, something, jobs, right?
But what I try to make happen with the things I’m involved in, and the groups I organize, is something different. What I’m really, really passionate about is this idea of bringing enthusiasts together, creating comfortable and safe spaces for learning, and opportunities to grow collectively. That kind of networking is what really makes me happy: connecting people who want to learn something, try something out, toss around ideas — do something new. And because my experience and interests are so closely tied to both programming and GIS, most of what I do regarding community building is within the mutual orbit of those two worlds.
In PyLadiesATX, and also Austin Open Source GIS, I want so strongly to promote the idea that “tech”, and specifically that which exists within the scary bubble of “writing code”, is fundamentally accessible to every single interested person. Culturally, we’ve constructed a lot of barriers to engagement on this: where we’re coming from as individuals may vary, but too many of us carry this idea that programming is perpetually for someone other than ourselves. Especially in the geospatial community, we’ve spent so long constructing our narrative around this idea that we do GIS, they write code. Our community still clings to the idea that Spatial Is Special, but the reality is that lines between “us” and “them” are not nearly as distinct as we’d like to think. So bringing these two worlds — the coders and the geospatialists — closer together is something I’m always talking about. At PyTexas last year I did a talk on “GIS for Python People”… and at next month’s FOSS4G-NA I’m going to be giving the counterpart to that, “Python for GIS People”. I just won’t shut up about it!
So this is what I enjoy most. But what I’m always wanting to ask people is, what makes you excited? What are you so enthusiastic about that you can’t help but tell everyone about whenever you can? I promise you there is someone else with at least a tangentially related passion around here. Find your tribe! Find that group of people that can say “Wow, cool!” about the same things that make you say “Wow, cool!”. That’s where growth happens — and that’s where it’s most fun to be, too.
Oh, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the Open Source Lunch & Learn last year. One of the things I loved about that event was the fact that there, in the middle of the Esri UC, for one hour we weren’t just trading business cards and looking for the next job opportunity or new shiny thing to buy. Instead we were a tribe of folks excited about the same ideas, showing off cool things we’d built, sharing the same spirit of open — and that was awesome. That’s the kind of “networking” I’m interested in, and what I want to create more of.
Q: You are currently a developer at Rackspace. You’ve been a GIS admin, analyst, and a consultant. What’s been your favorite project thus far?
A: I’m the kind of person who can’t tell you my favorite movie, favorite book, or favorite food on any given day… so I’m going to cop out here and tell you about the kind of project I like best. Sorry.
I love working on projects that, big or small, simply make things better for a particular audience or user. That’s really, really unspecific, I know! But if the project I’m working on doesn’t have an end goal of getting a user to grin and say “Whoa, thanks!”, then frankly that project’s probably boring. One of my earliest Python+GIS projects was just a lot of geoprocessing glue-code that took what was once a multi-hour manual process and turned it into a streamlined 10-15 minute automatic job. That was awesome, because there were a small but happy handful of folks (myself included!) on the receiving end. And more recently, whenever I’m building a web map or app, that moment when the people I’m working for first see their data and ideas go “live” is always great.
Then again, I also love seeing the horrible, messy, Goldberg-machine travesties that should never see the light of day, but nonetheless exist because of whatever nonsensical constraints they were given. These things that absolutely solve a pain point and defy logic by just working within the artificial constructs that forced their creation, but just are… comically bad, because for example you’re not actually allowed to install any additional software on the system that will run this tool. I’m talking about nasty things like PowerShell-Python-SharePoint monstrosities that we don’t talk about in polite company. Those are awesome too, for different reasons.
Q: Looking at your talks page, and having been present at some before, you cover a wide range of technologies. What tips would you give for keeping up with many different tools at once? Is there an emerging tool you are excited about?
A: It’s funny, all I think is how there are so many technologies that I don’t know or use regularly! I think the subset of tools that I work with regularly (both dev-tools and geo-tools) are constrained to a specific domain: web-stuff, primarily, and all things related to getting maps, tools, and applications to a distributed audience. But outside of that, there’s plenty that I would love to learn more about, if I just had the time.
On emerging tools — the geospatial universe is so huge and diverse, that I know there is a ton happening right now that I’m not specifically aware of. We have so many sub-sections that are just completely hidden from view if you’re not directly involved in their area of focus. Pick a niche, and there is probably some awesome tool being developed right now by an anonymous GIS-something person who probably doesn’t even consider themselves a “developer”, but nonetheless knows exactly what they need to fix their domain-specific problem, and are just working to get this done now. And it’s most likely great, a perfect solution to an ongoing saddle burr. Raise your hand if this is you! You’re probably not the only one with a hand up. Because at heart, that’s what we are: stubborn, persistent, get-this-done types, who happen to share an insatiable curiosity about knowing how things connect — and we’re all just doing the best we can to answer the question of “where”, with whatever resources are at hand.
With that long-winded disclaimer said, here’s what’s on my radar today:
CartoDB. They’re not really ‘emerging’, but since this past Fall they’ve really started taking off (i.e., I can now mention them in non-geonerd conversation and still get nods of recognition). What I love about them is how easy they make it for non-mappers to become mappers, and for non-developers to make a web map. I’m all about sparking interest and lighting fires where once there were none! Someone recently asked me for help making a web map (because I’m that developer-person, and web maps are hard, right?) and it was so cool getting to show them how easy it was to take a spatial layer they’d created and near-instantly make it publicly available as a web map.
Another not-totally-new technology, but since they’re still deep in beta I think they count as “emerging”: GeoGig. Git for geospatial data. For those of you not familiar, this is about building “version control” around your spatial data: tracking historical changes to files over time. This is something that traditionally has only been used by programmers on their code, but absolutely should be something GIS professionals use on our data too. I can’t wait for this to be the new normal in our industry.
And everyone’s saying it, but TurfJS is going to be a game-changer. My opinion’s especially influenced by my past life as a gov/mil GIS-something, and how much of that time I spent fighting the non-local nature of certain web GIS tools (and the “you can’t install that!” nature of everything else). An open source client library like TurfJS is going to be absolutely huge for a lot of people.
Q: Cartographer to developer — your favorite map(s)?
A: Oh no, another “I can’t pick a favorite” answer!
Here’s a by-no-means-complete list of some of my favorites:
Basically all of the work done by Andrew Hill in conjunction with CartoDB. He makes some gorgeous maps on that platform (like the directional river flow map) and pretty much all of them remind me why I don’t try to be a cartographer.
The “Nobody Lives Here” map by Nik that took the internet by storm last year. Yet another of those “this is why I’m not a cartographer” maps, the idea is deceptively simple and the result is just so cool.
NOAA’s GOES imagery. As a weather geek who spent years living on the Gulf Coast (hurricane country), I’ve spent way too many hours engrossed in the NHC’s satellite loops. For that matter, I have a soft spot for hand-drawn hurricane tracking maps, of which I’ve made my share.
Basically any map example used in the fantastic “How To Lie With Maps”. There’s a chapter that walks through cartographic tactics used by Cold-War-era Soviet mappers, and it’s just incredibly interesting to read.
Q: You live in the hipster capital of the U.S. — Austin, Texas — and you’re in Geo. I think that technically makes you more geohipster than all of us. What does the term mean to you?
A: Oh good, at least I get to be some kind of hipster! I’m pretty sure I’m not whatever kind of hipster we’re the capital of here (or wait, does it make me a hipster to say that? Now I’m confused…).
I’m not really sure what “geohipster” means, but I guess part of the movement is that it can be open to individual interpretation. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people who claim the label are all pretty interesting folks, who tend to be the outside-the-box thinkers. There’s a bit of a spirit of nonconformity in the community that seems closely tied to learning, using, or building new things. Not just focusing on the next big thing (though we have that, too) but really talking about what might make the world better (whether it’s a tool to make someone’s job easier, or crowdsourcing maps to improve emergency response). Being willing to go against the flow and try something different is something I see in common among the geohipster crowd.
So, if being “that chick with the weird hair that talks a little smack about Esri and wants everyone to learn to code” makes me a geohipster, then it’s a badge I’ll proudly wear. Thanks!
Antonio Locandro is a civil engineer-turned-GIS specialist, working for an Air Navigation Service Provider for Central America, where he deals with airways, aeronautical cartography, and procedure design among other things. His previous experience includes working for Honduras Census Bureau (INE), selling a book called “Learn English While Sleeping”, and a grocery store.
Q: As with so many other people, we met over Twitter. What do you do for a living, and how did you get into the geospatial field?
A: Funny thing is I hated Twitter. My wife @melidelocandro had one way before I did, and I thought it was a waste to time. Anyway, I currently work as GIS specialist in an Air Navigation Service Provider for Central America — similar to FAA — where I do GIS database for air navigation purposes with heavy emphasis in cartographic output, and occasionally do some procedure design (standardised landing and takeoff paths for aircraft). I got into geospatial because I needed to work to be able to finish my Civil Engineering degree. During lunch break on my selling books to learn English while sleeping job I saw an ad in the newspaper to work as digitiser for Honduras Census Bureau. (Yup, the book thing didn’t work, and probably was a scam.)
Así como ha pasado con tantas otras personas, nos conocimos por medio de tiwtter. ¿En que trabajas y como entraste en el campo geo espacial?
Lo mas curioso es que odiaba twitter, mi esposa @melidelocandro tuvo una cuenta mucho antes que yo y pensaba que era una perdida de tiempo. Actualmente trabajo como especialista GIS en un proveedor de Servicios de Navegación Aérea para Centroamérica, similar a la FAA donde hago bases de datos GIS para propósitos de navegación aérea con un énfasis fuerte en cartografiá y ocasionalmente realizo diseño de procedimientos (rutas de aterrizaje y despegue normalizadas). Entre en el campo geo espacial por que necesitaba trabajar para terminar mi carrera de Ingeniería Civil y vi un anuncio en el periódico para trabajar como digitalizador para el Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Honduras mientras almorzaba de mi trabajo para vender libros para aprender Ingles dormido (definitivamente lo del libro no funcionaba y probablemente era un timo)
Q: So you are providing GIS for airports in Central America? Or providing flight paths for airplanes between airports? Just wondering in case I ever decide to fly into Honduras.
A: The company for which I work manages Air Traffic Control over all Central America, a large chunk of the Pacific, and part of the Atlantic above 19,000 ft. — which normally means overflights, but also provides radar services and navigational aid equipments below that altitude. Under 19,000 ft. each of the Central American countries manage their own space. I should probably mention that my company is owned by the Central American countries and was established as a means to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and cooperate at a regional level, being the first using that scheme that later has been adopted in other regions like Africa and Europe. If you think about it, this is very cost-effective and increases overall efficiency when you manage airspace as a single block instead of individual pieces.
I focus more on the flight paths between airports, but occasionally get to do specific airport-related things like obstacle analysis and heights restrictions. Recently, together with the IT department, we are deploying several internal solutions which leverage the data we already have for applications like Search and Rescue (SAR) and Electronic Charting Solution for our air traffic controllers. Until recently the whole focus of the GIS database was just to have better cartography in terms of consistency, data validations, etc., but from the past 6 months we are moving into a more enterprise-wide solution, and the benefits of the data are starting to be seen by other members of the organization.
If you ever decide to fly to Honduras, landing at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa will probably be once-in-a-lifetime experience. Using GPS technology you will almost certainly fly a final approach with arcs included with very reduced obstacle clearances enabled by the satellite navigation, and finally touch ground on a small landing strip in comparison with other international airports. Definitely an adrenaline rush.
¿Estas proveyendo GIS para los aeropuertos de Centro América? O ¿proveyendo rutas de vuelo para los aviones entre aeropuertos? Tengo curiosidad en caso que decida volar a Honduras algún día
La compañía para la cual trabajo maneja el centro de control sobre Centro América y gran parte del Pacifico y Atlántico por encima de 19000 pies lo cual normalmente son sobre vuelos pero también proveed servicios radar y ayudas de radio navegación por debajo de esa altitud. Debajo de 19000 ft cada país de Centroamérica maneja su propio espacio. Probablemente debería mencionar que mi compañía es propiedad de los países centroamericanos y fue establecida como una forma de cumplir con los estándares de la Organización de Aviación Civil Internacional (OACI) y cooperar a un nivel regional siendo el primero en usar ese esquema que luego ha sido adoptado en otras regiones como África y Europa, si lo piensas es un manera muy efectiva de reducir costos y mejorar la eficiencia cuando se maneja el espacio aéreo como un solo bloque en lugar de piezas individuales.
Me enfoco mas en las rutas de vuelo entre aeropuertos pero ocasionalmente hago algún trabajo especifico de aeropuertos como evaluación de obstáculos o restricciones de altura, recientemente en conjunto con el departamento de IT estamos desarrollando varias soluciones internas que usan los datos que disponemos para aplicaciones como búsqueda y salvamento (SAR) y soluciones de cartografiá digital para nuestros controladores de transito aéreo. Hasta hace poco el énfasis de la base de datos GIS era para mejorar la cartografiá en términos de consistencia, validación de datos, etc pero en los últimos 6 meses nos hemos ido moviendo en una solución mas Empresarial y los beneficios de los datos están empezando a ser notados por otros miembros de la organización.
Si alguna vez decides volar a Honduras aterrizar en el aeropuerto Internacional de Toncontin en Tegucigalpa probablemente sera una experiencia única en la vida, usando tecnología GPS seguramente estarías volando la aproximación final en un arco incluyendo margenes de obstáculos reducidos permitidos por la navegación satelital y finalmente tocado el suelo en una pequeña franja de aterrizaje en comparación con otros aeropuertos internacionales. Definitivamente es un shot de adrenalina.
Q: How is the geospatial field in Central America? Is GIS as commonplace as it appears to be here in the United States?
A: I will try to answer from my perspective living and working in Honduras. No, its not remotely as common as in the US. GIS jobs are very few, and normally are in government agencies or International cooperation programs doing things like parcels for municipalities, transportation, census or urban development planning. Most GIS jobs are really just drafting positions where you will never ever do any kind of analysis — just digitize points, lines and polygons — and mainly to produce print or PDF maps for displays in reports. GIS topics are electives you can take at University until recently. Efforts are being made to teach more about it, but probably not any time soon. Heck, I didn’t take GIS electives when I studied since they didn’t exist. If you wanted to learn GIS, you would get a “non-official copy” of Arcview 3, install, and play with it. We tried open source back then, but honestly it wasn’t nearly as good as its now. On top of all that you have the issue with data. Data is easy to obtain in the USA, even in those horrible geo portals. If you ever need to do any GIS down here, you will probably need to start from scratch, and that makes things very expensive. You won’t see private GIS training courses announced often, and they usually don’t go beyond learning the basics. On the other hand, if you think about it, this means there are lots of opportunities — its just a matter of being able to disrupt the current state of things and grasp the niche. I would think this may be true across Central America, but may be wrong about it.
¿Como es el campo geo espacial en Centroamérica? ¿Son los GIS tan comunes como aparenta acá en Estados Unidos?
Tratare de dar respuesta desde mi perspectiva de vivir y trabajar en Honduras. No es ni remotamente tan común como en EUA, los trabajos en GIS son pocos y normalmente en agencias gubernamentales o programas de cooperación internacional haciendo cosas como ordenamiento territorial para municipalidades, transporte, censos o parcelas. La mayor parte de los trabajos GIS son realmente trabajos de digitalizador donde nunca realizaras ningún tipo de análisis solo digitalizar puntos, lineas y polígonos principalmente para producir mapas impresos o pdf para ser utilizados en reporte. Los tópicos en GIS se pueden tomar hasta hace poco en la Universidad, se están realizando esfuerzos para enseñar mas sobre el tema pero probablemente no sea en el futuro inmediato, yo ni siquiera tome electivas GIS cuando estudie en la universidad por que no existían. Si querías aprender GIS simplemente tomabas tu copia “no oficial” de Arcview 3 lo instalabas y jugabas con el. Probamos el código libre en aquel entonces pero honestamente no era ni remotamente tan bueno como es ahora. Encima de todo tiene el problema de los datos, los datos son fáciles de obtener en EUA incluso en esos geo portales horribles. Si alguna vez quieres hacer GIS por acá probablemente necesitarías empezar de cero y eso hace las cosas mucho mas caras. No miras muchos cursos GIS privados anunciados y usualmente no pasan de enseñar lo básico. Por otra parte si piensas acerca de ello hay un montón de oportunidades solo es cuestión de poder irrumpir el estado actual de las cosas y tomar el nicho. Creo que esto es verdad a lo largo de Centroamérica pero pueda que este equivocado sobre ello.
Q: You are on Twitter and the QGIS listserv quite a bit. Sometimes you’re using ArcGIS. Sometimes you’re using QGIS. One time, I believe you were editing PostGIS data with ArcGIS. I also see you talking to the developers of QGIS quite a bit. What piece of software works for you? All of it? Some of it?
A: I probably use ArcGIS (R) like 95% of the time for my current job, but I consider myself software-independent, and it’s just a matter of what I feel is the best tool to get the job done in the least amount of time. I sometimes bash Esri on Twitter when I am frustrated over something with their software, and probably that is the only place I can ever let steam blow. It’s not personal — I bash QGIS also from time to time. I got into heavily using QGIS probably around 2 or 3 years ago. I really wanted to get to understand more on GIS concepts, and I really don’t use pirated software. I don’t recall if back then Esri provided Home Edition, but that wouldn’t have made a difference since I had to purchase from local distributor making it more expensive. After fiddling with QGIS, I immediately started to compare it with the other software I used, and that’s how I got into the QGIS list — mainly reporting bugs and feature requests. Since I am no developer I couldn’t fix them myself. QGIS opened a new different arena of GIS knowledge thirst, since I started getting interested into things like Spatialite and PostGIS. That’s when I followed @richardburcher tutorial on installing PostGIS on Windows http://richardburcher.com/2012/09/24/windows-install-postgresql-postgis/. Twitter has been a tool I have used to get to know tools like Mapbox, CartoDB, Fulcrum, and others.
Once I started playing with QGIS+PostGIS at home, things started to permeate into work. I need from time to time to do certain analysis, and although we have the Advanced level [of ArcGIS] install, which lets you do some things, some others weren’t possible so I started doing them in QGIS. What I like about QGIS is really that they have very talented developers and users willing to go out of their way to answer questions. Nathan Woodrow (@madmanwoo) and Anita Graser (@underdarkgis) really take their time to be on social media answering the community along with others.
Estas en twitter y en la lista de QGIS frecuentemente. Algunas veces usas ArcGIS, otras usas QGIS. Creo que una vez estabas editando datos en PostGIS utilizando ArcGIS. También veo que hablas con los desarrolladores de QGIS con frecuencia. ¿Que pieza de Software trabaja para ti? ¿Todo?¿Una parte?
Probablemente use ArcGIS ® como el 95% del tiempo en mi empleo actual pero me considero independiente del software y es simplemente una preferencia de que siento que sea la mejor herramienta para hacer el trabajo en la menor cantidad de tiempo. Algunas veces me quejo de ESRI en twitter cuando estoy frustrado con algo de su software y probablemente sea allí el único lugar donde puedo dejar un poco frustraciones salir, no es personal también me quejo de QGIS de vez en cuando. Hace como 2 o 3 años empece a ser un usuario mas frecuente de QGIS, realmente queria entender mas de los conceptos GIS y personalmente no uso software pirata. No recuerdo si en ese entonces ESRI ofrecía su edición para uso en casa pero no hubiera hecho alguna diferencia ya que tenia que adquirirlo usando mi distribuidor local haciéndolo mas caro. Después de jugar con QGIS inmediatamente empece a compararlo con los otros software que utilizaba, así fue como me involucre en la lista de correos de QGIS mas que todo reportando errores y solicitando mejoras dado que no soy desarrollador y no los puedo corregir yo mismo. QGIS abrió otra arena de sed de conocimiento GIS ya que me interese en cosas como Spatialite y Postgis, allí seguí el tutorial de @richardburcher para instalar postgis en Windows http://richardburcher.com/2012/09/24/windows-install-postgresql-postgis/. Twitter ha sido una herramienta que he utilizado para conocer mas de herramientas como Mapbox, CartoDB, Fulcrum y otros.
Una vez que comencé a jugar con QGIS+postgis en la casa las cosas empezaron a introducirse en el trabajo. De vez en cuando necesito realizar ciertos análisis y aunque cuento con el nivel Avanzado de licencia que permite realizar algún tipo de análisis otros no eran posibles así que comencé a hacerlos en QGIS. Lo que me gusta de QGIS es que realmente tienen desarrolladores talentosos que estan dispuestos a dar la milla extra para contestar preguntas, Nathan Woodrow (@madmanwoo) y Anita Graser (@underdarkgis) realmente dan parte de su tiempo en las redes sociales para contestar a la comunidad junto con otros.
Q: On Instagram I saw you purchased a Walking Dead comic book for your wife. Has she forced you to discuss a zombie escape plan?
A: Oh man! My wife is such a fanatic of the Walking Dead TV series, I just had to buy the comic on that stand while in Mexico City. I think we both agree if a zombie apocalypse happens we will probably die very fast, since we are both urban people with probably no survival skills. If you are a fan of the series, you can probably see that those escaping never get very far — you just need to grab your weapon and get rid of them.
En instagram vi que compraste una historieta de Walking Dead para tu esposa. ¿Ha forzado una discusión de un plan de escape zombie?
Dios! Mi esposa es tan fanática de la serie de televisión The Walkind Dead que simplemente tenia que adquirir esa historieta mientras estuve en la Ciudad de México. Creo que ambos hemos concluido que en caso de un apocalipsis zombie probablemente moriríamos rápidamente dado que somos personas bien urbanas y sin habilidades de supervivencia. Si eres fan de la serie probablemente veas que aquellos que escapan no llegan muy lejos, simplemente debes agarrar tu arma y deshacerte de ellos.
Q: Antonio — excuse me, Mr. Locandro, who is also CEO of Traveling Honduras (do you have a website?) — where is the one place I need to go when I fly into Honduras? I need the almost perfect vacation. I am also very, very white. What do you recommend?
A: Actually I do have a website. It’s http://www.travelinghonduras.com/, but it’s just a very simple landing page. It’s my startup project, which has taken a little bit more than I wanted to take off, and really looking into this 2015 to be the year I can launch it. Honduras is a very nice country with many different things to see and do, so it can cater to all people’s tastes. We got mountains and rivers to do some ecotourism (La Ceiba, Pico Bonito), there’s also ancient civilizations remains which are considered world heritage (Copan Ruins), colonial towns from the times of the Spaniards (Gracias, Comayagua), tons of miles of sandy white beaches (Tela, Trujillo, Guanaja, Utila, Roatan), so you got all this things to do in one place. The official Honduras campaign is Honduras Everything is here http://honduras.travel/en. I think for you I would recommend Utila Island, which is more of a bohemian-style backpacker island, unlike more famous Roatan Island. And don’t worry about Spanish being an issue, since the islands used to be run by pirates in the 18th century most people there speak English. If you like visiting ruins, Copan Ruins it’s very nice with Gracias, Lempira close where you have thermal waters.
Antonio, perdóneme, Sr. Locandro que también es Presidente de Traveling Honduras (¿Tienes un sitio web?). ¿Cual es un lugar al que debo ir cuando vuele a Honduras? Necesito casi las vacaciones perfectas. También soy bastante blanco. ¿Que me recomiendas?
En realidad si tengo un sitio web es www.travelinghonduras.com pero actualmente es solamente un pagina de inicio. Es mi proyecto personal de emprendimiento que ha tomado mas tiempo del que pensé en despegar y realmente espero que este 2015 sea el año que pueda lanzarlo. Honduras es un país hermoso con muchas cosas para ver y hacer que responde a todos los gustos. Tenemos ríos y montañas para hacer eco turismo (La Ceiba, Pico Bonito), también hay ruinas antiguas consideradas patrimonio de la humanidad (Ruinas de Copan), pueblos coloniales del tiempo de los españoles (Gracias, Comayagua) y miles de kilómetros de playas de arena blanca (Tela, Trujillo, Guanaja, Utila , Roatán) así que tienes todas estas cosas para hacer en un solo lugar, la campaña oficial de Honduras es Honduras Todo Esta Aqui www.honduras.travel . Creo que para ti recomendaría la isla de Utila la cual es un poco mas bohemia estilo mochilero diferente a la mas famosa isla de Roatán, y no te preocupes acerca de hablar español como un problema ya que las islas fueron administradas por piratas en el siglo 18 así que la mayor parte habla Ingles. Si te gusta visitar ruinas las Ruinas de Copan es un lugar bonito con Gracias, Lempira cerca donde hay aguas termales.
Q: Finally, last question is yours to do with as you wish. What final words do you have for the readers of GeoHipster?
A: Choose the right tool for the job. That may just happen to be open source or not, and you can even mix them if that’s the best solution. Sometimes is difficult to get out of the comfort zone, but learning new things make you a better professional. Experience hands on with different ways to accomplish the same task and go past pushing buttons. GeoHipster in a sense is just that — going beyond the traditional way things are done in GIS.
Finalmente, La ultima pregunta es para que hagas con ella como quieras. ¿Que palabras finales tienes para los lectores de Geohipster?
Escoge la herramienta adecuada para el trabajo, esa puede ser de código libre o tal vez no e incluso pues mezclarlas si es la mejor solución. Algunas veces es difícil salir de tu zona de comodidad pero aprender cosas nuevas te hace un mejor profesional. Experimenta de primera mano con diferentes formas de completar la misma tarea y haz algo mas que solo empujar botones. Geohipster en cierto sentido es simplemente eso, ir mas allá de la forma tradicional en que las cosas se hacen en el ambiente GIS.
Brian Monheiser (Twitter, LinkedIn) is the Director of Defense and Intelligence Programs for Boundless Inc. Brian works with US Government agencies and contractors to provide freedom from the rigid architectures and unsustainable pricing models of proprietary geospatial software with packaging, expertise, maintenance, professional services, training, and more. Prior to Boundless, Brian honorably served in the United States Marine Corps as Geospatial Intelligence Analyst, and as a contractor responsible for advising and consulting the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) on the use of geospatial technologies, supporting a number of large projects, programs, and applications using geospatial technology.
Q: You’ve been involved in GIS, specifically military GIS and GeoINT, since 1998. What do you think has been the biggest advancement of GIS during your tenure in the field, both within DoD, as well as the field as a whole?
A: I have to tell you, the technology advances from what I used to have to work with to what’s available today have been amazing to say the least. When I got started in the Marines as a veritable kid, they had me using command line desktop GIS. Think about that experience for the moment. I was asked to build and deliver standard and mission-specific hardcopy products using 32-bit clients and the command line. Now analysts are in a world where mission planning, situational awareness, visualization, analytics, and key intelligence questions are answered by mobile and web applications that are driven by tradecraft, algorithms, and workflows developed to interrogate a wide variety of spatial and temporal datasets for almost any purpose. I’m the old GIS analyst yelling at kids these days about how we had to walk uphill both ways to school. Now, kidding aside, it was possible to foresee the technology advances thanks to watching advancements in other areas — but what I’m most impressed with is the advancement, understanding, adoption, and growth in the GIS (at Boundless we like to call it Spatial IT) user community. There was a time not so long ago when GIS was a tradecraft for only those who had been formally trained. That’s no longer the case.
Q: You’ve been with Boundless now for over a year. Have you seen a perception change within your client base on the adoption of FOSS4G Technologies? As a follow up, are their any metrics on how hybrid systems function?
A: Oh, you mean beyond understanding hybrid systems can lower clients’ costs and avoid vendor lock-in while still accomplishing, if not exceeding, all the same objectives? Then yes, I’ve seen a very drastic and positive change. When I got started everybody — including myself — used a solution from a single proprietary vendor, which forced us all to take the formal training I previously mentioned. I at least was in an environment where someone paid for my training and said this was the work I needed to focus on. Now FOSS4G technologies have matured and can reduce the risks of a single-vendor solution, extending the value of existing investments in proprietary mapping software, while reducing costs and increasing potential for interoperability and innovation. Open source geospatial software complements and interoperates with existing proprietary geospatial tools, meaning you don’t lose sunk costs. I’d say there are few homogeneous FOSS4G implementations, because that’s exactly the point of them — you can transition to new implementations at an appropriate pace for your organization.
Q: What do you see as the largest hurdle for FOSS4G technologies and their wide-spread adoption?
A: This is a layup. It’s all awareness and education. The reality is the large vendor in this space — and we all know who I’m talking about — has done a great job of indoctrinating users in said vendor’s software, to the detriment of awareness of what other options are out there. More people need to not only be aware of the existence of FOSS4G, but also of its comparable if not superior functionality. Once upon a time I was as guilty of this as anybody — so I’d like to think I’ve had my mind expanded as I gained knowledge of FOSS4G. In addition, when I’m out there talking about FOSS4G to people who have heard of the software, I’m finding people are not truly understanding the total value and cost of ownership in using open source. We’re guilty of drinking a certain flavor of Kool-Aid for so long, we don’t realize fruit punch is crap, what you really want is blue raspberry.
Q: The Magical Money Fairy flies down and grants you 5 million dollars a year to pursue any geospatial project you want. What would you do?
A: I would map my permanent move to the Caribbean. Seriously. I’d go so far off the grid you’d need geospatial analysis to find me. But if you want me to not be completely self-serving and think for a moment about the good of the community, then I’d work to fix content (data) management. For all the advancements in geospatial technology, the way we manage our data, and the knowledge we can extract from our data is embarrassing. Versioning is poor, our ability to move it is inefficient, and if you look at the technologies other industries are using to manage data sets, then we’re behind the curve. It’s solvable and we’re focusing on it, but the Magical Money Fairy is certainly invited to come party with us.
Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster? Note: the more profanity used here, the better.
[Laughs] Well, I’d like to consider myself a #geohipster, as long as I don’t have to conform to some Brooklyn definition of a hipster. I mean, have you seen me? I’m built like a rugby player, cue-ball bald, bushy goatee, and the temperament of a Marine. Now if a #geohipster is someone who advocates for kick-ass FOSS4G technologies, who walks the walk in understanding the benefit of geospatial analysis, who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in.
Kate Chapman is the Executive Director at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Her most recent work has been in Indonesia working on a three-year program with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction using OpenStreetMap and InaSAFE to help disaster managers better develop contingency plans. Previous to working at HOT, Kate was involved in development of multiple web GIS applications, including GeoCommons and iMapData.
Q: So, Ms. Kate Chapman, how did you dive into the world of geospatial?
A: I was attending George Mason University focusing on Computer Science, but I wasn’t often going to class, and I ended up on academic suspension. During the semester I was not attending school I found a job with a mosquito control company as a pesticide applicator (this was back when West Nile Virus was going to kill us all). Unfortunately the first day we discovered I was allergic to the pesticide being used. Instead of being fired for not being able to do the job I was hired for, I was given a pirated copy of ArcView 3.2 and told to learn it. At this point I decided mapping was pretty cool, and discovered switching to Geography at GMU when I returned would allow me to graduate way more quickly than computer science. So I switched majors and continued working as a cartographer for the mosquito control company.
Q: As I have said — let he who has not pirated ArcView 3.2 cast the first stone. So you are now the executive director for HOT. For those who do not know — what is HOT? What does the executive director do?
A: My ArcView 3.2 came pre-pirated.
HOT is short for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. HOT applies the principles of open source and open data sharing to improve the welfare of the communities where we work, especially those at risk of natural disaster or other crisis. That essentially means two major things: First, we organize international volunteers to create data in OSM — primarily through digitizing and using already open data — and second, we provide training and technical assistance to communities and organizations in areas prone to disaster.
As the Executive Director I’m responsible for running the operations of HOT under strategic guidance from our Board of Directors. It is a position not dissimilar to that of a CEO.
Q: Nothing like the fabulous life of a CEO. If I’m not mistaken, you ended up in Jakarta, Indonesia, hopping islands, teaching locals about mapping in OpenStreetMap. All of that was in preparation for a tsunami event in the future. What was it like teaching the concepts of OSM and open data to an entirely different culture?
A: It is true that OSM brought me to Jakarta. The program name is Scenario Development for Contingency Planning (SD4CP). The goal of SD4CP is to help disaster managers use science to inform their contingency plans. What that means is the World Bank, Australian and Indonesian governments were working to build software that could do impact modeling (the software is now called InaSAFE). They had scientific models on hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but were missing exposure data such as buildings, schools and health facilities. I came in with HOT to see if we could help foster an OSM community to collect that data. Things have grown and now our team is responsible for the curriculum for the program and providing training. They teach OSM, QGIS, and InaSAFE to government, NGOs, individuals, and educational institutions.
Q: What was the best thing that happened — and the goofiest — while you were there?
A: The best thing was that I got to travel all over Indonesia with a great team. It was amazing to see how diverse the country is, and to meet all kinds of people. As far as the team, HOT Indonesia was divided into two training teams at the time, Team A and Team B (yes, we were so creative).
Hmmm, the goofiest… I think that would be the quantity of “jumping photos.” Jumping pictures are exactly what they sound like. Everyone in the picture jumps so they are airborne when the picture is taken.
Q: I notice on the HOT mailing list sometimes you guys respond to a request from an aid organization, and sometimes you just start mapping. Who are some of the humanitarian organizations that ask for help?
A: We get a lot of different mapping requests. Sometimes it can be as simple as someone has a particular interest in an area — they are from there, they have friends there, etc. Though often requests are from larger organizations. Recently we launched the Missing Maps project in partnership with the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders UK. This is a way to bring people together and support HOT in filling in gaps on the maps.
We also receive requests from other International Non-Governmental Organizations, offices of the United Nations, and national governments. It really depends on the disaster and the need.
Q: How do you sustain an organization that maps for free (plug for money if you want)?
A: We sustain the organization primarily through grants for specific projects. We are also a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so donations to HOT are tax-deductible to US taxpayers. http://hot.openstreetmap.org/donate
Q: So what about this Geoglobal Domination Video thing? What is that about?
A: Well, you can always post the link to GeoGlobalDomination: the Musical.
Many of you are going to be reading this and going "Who is Srikant Panda?" I said the same thing about a couple of years back when he randomly contacted me about photogrammetry work. GIS is boring these days -- but the stories... So we started talking. We talked about mapping. We talked about life. We talked about philosophy. He sent me pictures of India, and I suddenly realized that this man who lives half a world away isn't terribly different from myself. So I decided to tell you a little about Srikant, who studied geology, and who became involved in mapping… which incidentally is what I did. Our paths aren't terribly different, but where we live is quite different. Friends: Meet Srikant!
Q: Srikant, you’re not exactly a “typical” GIS person…
A: Well, there is a lot of difference between GIS work and photogrammetric work. Honestly, I am not much a GIS guy but a photogrammetric technologist. What we do here is tremendously used in GIS projects.
Q: We cover a lot of people from the GIS side of life on GeoHipster, but I don’t think we’ve covered your area of expertise.
A: In this generation everyone knows about maps and their use. Everyone is familiar with Google Maps. Hence most of the people know about GIS and its application. But few people have known and understood what is the science behind photogrammetry, and what exactly is done that makes it different from a normal map making/digitization.
Q: You do photogrammetry. How did you get your start doing it?
A: I am a graduate in Geology and completed my graduation from Berhampur University that is situated in the southern coastal belt of the state Orissa in India. I am a great lover of the subject Geology. The chapters of Geomorphology and Aerial Remote Sensing/Photo-Geology were my favourite subjects. After my final year exams were over in 2004, I came to Hyderabad — a city in South India — to explore more on my further studies on Aerial Remote sensing. There is an old photogrammetric institute named MapWorld Technologies, where I wanted to complete my photogrammetric courses. It took me 6 months to undergo a training on Aerial Remote Sensing. In the institute I used the Russian photogrammetric software named Photomod to learn aerial triangulation and stereo compilation.
After the training was over, I got a job in a well known photogrammetric firm named IIC Technologies. There I started my career.
Q: What do you do?
Before I answer what I do, it is necessary to understand what is the difference between a 2D map and a 3D map; the difference between an aerial image and aerial orthophoto.
A: I am a digital map maker. In my maps you will find the X, Y, and Z information of the terrain. The Z value in my map makes it special as I compile the map in 3D environment. I use aerial photographs as input, and use 3D mouse and 3D glasses to plot them. Unlike the traditional symbol-and-line map, we produce digital orthophotos, which are the real and scaled representation of the terrain. Orthophotos or orthomaps are one of the final outputs of my work. Apart from that, the two important outputs are planimetric maps and topographic maps.
Q: Where do you live in India?
A: My house is located in a small village at the hills of the southern coastal belt of Orissa. A small village named Badapada surrounded by green hills and with a population of around 2,500 is considered a remote tribal area. The nearest city is Berhampur, which is 120 km from the village. It takes 5 hours to travel from the village to the city. My parents live there. They love each other so much. My brother lives in New Delhi. My two sisters are married, and they live a few kilometers away from the village. My parents visit us at different time of the year, but they never leave the village in Spring and Rain. The village remains the most beautiful in this time. Once a year my company grants me a 10-days’ of leave to travel and stay with my family. It takes 35 hours to reach the village from Pune (30 hours of train journey and 5 hours of bus journey). We all siblings reach the village in Spring or Rain.
Q: Here in the United States there has been a ton of discussion on drones. Is there much talk in India about drones, and how do you think that will impact photogrammetry?
A: In India there are peculiar map-restriction policies. Private companies are restricted to execute aerial photography. The policies are slightly now changed, where the permission from NRSC and Defence are required. It is a challenge for the private companies (except a few) to invest in large format aerial cameras and an aircraft. So UAV and a medium format camera is a great alternative, and private companies are much excited to use the UAVs for large scale mapping, surveillance, videography etc., and other applications. Now the big problem in India is the repeated threats of jehadi militants. If UAVs are frequently used in India, they may be misused by the militants where a bomb can be dropped on a monument or building. So the Indian government has put restriction over the flying height of the UAVs. Lots of permissions are required for the use of drones.
There is too much of advertisement of drones in magazines, shows etc., but what I feel is, there are only few UAVs which can actually produce nadir/vertical aerial photos for the photogrammetric mapping. Yes, the UAVs will play a great role in the field of photogrammetry in the coming days. A small company can invest in a drone and a medium-format aerial camera for large scale mapping jobs, which can be a rail/road/river/transmission line/corridor mapping, or a golf course mapping, or a stockpile, or a volumetric calculation job.
What I feel is, it is difficult for the current photogrammetric software to do the aerial triangulation of the aerial photos which are taken by the UAVs. It is because of the shake in the camera due to the wind, and the photos are not vertical, or near vertical. Another challenge for the UAV user is to calibrate the medium- or small-format cameras. But I am sure there are many software companies who have almost developed their photogrammetric software, which can perform aerial triangulation using the photos taken from a UAV. Ortosky, developed by SRM Consulting, is a nice software which processes the UAV data very well. They are also working on their software which can calibrate the camera.
For Photogrammetric mapping, it requires not just a camera but a complete camera system. A gyro mount, a very good medium format camera, IMU GPS, good lenses. When you combine all these, the weight may vary from 2 kg to 5 kg. In such situation the payload and the endurance of the UAV should be good. 1 kg of payload and 15 min of endurance is not a good photogrammetric UAV.
Q: What does the future hold for you, career-wise?
A: I would like to start my own company where I can market interesting and efficient geospatial products. Along with that I would like to keep myself busy with photogrammetric mapping work. It is a challenge in India to start your own company, but there are a few companies who are willing to help me start my own unit. They have always encouraged me and ready to support me. I am really thankful for their trust in me. I may soon start working independently.
Q: Back in 2014 you told me you were in the middle of building a house. In the United States home-building is a huge endeavor. How close are you to being done, and overall how difficult was it?
A: You asked me the question at a good time. It took me around five years to complete the construction of my house in the village. Well, the only job I did was to send the money to my parents every month. My father worked hard and managed the construction. I prepared the design of the house in VrOne CAD software. It is very expensive to construct a house in India, and so I had to construct step by step. The construction work is just finished, and as per Hindu tradition, we make a celebration on the day of inauguration. This celebration will be on 16th of Feb 2015. It is a big achievement and a dream come true.
Q: So I leave the final question to you: Do you have anything you want to share with the worldwide good readers of GeoHipster on life, photogrammetry, and mapping?
A: One thing which I feel very important to mankind is to contact and communicate with others. It is a very strange world that we remain busy with our work and don’t even care knowing the rest of the world. Eight years back it was a challenge for me to learn photogrammetry when I was new in this field. I started contacting people on the Internet, and I was glad that they answered my questions. This way my friendship with dozens of people became intense. Being a stranger and remaining far far from each other, we discussed many things related to photogrammetry and the culture in their country. This way gradually I not only learned photogrammetry, GIS, LiDAR, but also the cultures in USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Mauritius, Africa, Latvia, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Russia, Alaska, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, and Japan. For me the whole community of photogrammetry and GIS is a family, and we should communicate with each other, asking our doubts, and exchanging our ideas. I have not just received the answers to my questions from friends, but have also received a lot of love.
I love the words of Gandhi and would like to share them with all my friends and readers:
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Q: You’re currently on the GeoTeam at Apple. What’s it like working for one of the best-known tech companies in the world, and what are you doing there?
A: Working in tech is something I really wanted to do, but it isn’t for everyone. Instead of cleaning and exploring data in small batches, choosing my map type, and tweaking my visualizations until they are just right, I work on one big reference map in the cloud, with a lot of other people. While I love the size and scope of the projects I work on now, there are things I miss about having my own personal cartography and data analysis projects that I could use to hone and practice the craft.
A: Any great data visualization takes great data and a ton of time. That map was a breakthrough for me. Tilemill was pretty new; I’d been playing with it for a while, using it to make simple slippy maps of data for the San Francisco Bay Area. I had to hack it hard to get it to render the output of my little geospatial analysis, but it did a beautiful job. People said it was useful at the time, but I’m not really convinced. Using Empirical Bayesian Kriging to model one bedroom rental prices? I’m not sure what that even tells you. I still think it’s pretty though. Ultimately what that project was really about was finally feeling like I’d broken out of my government job analyzing data and making maps for internal consumption to something that could reach a larger audience.
Q: At State of the Map 2014, you co-presented on ‘Teaching Mapping To Geographers’, specifically the disconnect between OSM and geography students. In your opinion, is the divide between GIS professionals and OSM greater, and what do you think can happen to bridge that gap?
A: I mean, I love OSM; it is an audacious experiment that worked and continues to work, but on the whole GIS professionals don’t want to digitize features and tag them with categories as an extracurricular, and I’m not entirely sure the core OSMers want them to participate otherwise. I really admire what the Red Cross and HOT OSM have been able to do to use OSM as a vehicle for citizen mapping. Those are really the folks that hold the key to bridging the gap between OSM and GIS professionals. As for geographers, I think we are more interested in OSM phenomenologically and for the data. In addition to all the great projects people are doing as part of OSM or on behalf of OSM, people ask great questions on the OSM talk-us mailing list and have really great ontological discussions about map features, and I find following those discussions fascinating.
Q: In reference to teaching geography and cartography: You’d be wildly rich if you had a nickel for every time you’ve said…
A: WGS84 is a datum, not a projection. Choropleth not chloropleth. If you don’t know what your map is supposed to be telling us, neither do we. You should have spent more time on this. I hate heatmaps.
Q: Cartographer to cartographer: Your favorite map(s)?
A: There are so many talented cartographers out there, and for anyone reading this who doesn’t know, you Jonah Adkins are a prime example. The pop art map tiles you designed recently. Woohoo! Rosemary Wardley did a similarly awesome pop art thing that I really loved, a map tile for the map “quilt” at NACIS (errata: I tagged her wrong on Twitter). In general, among my most favorites, I love colors and I love information design done beautifully and unconventionally. I admire the work Eric Fischer and Miguel Rios have each done independently to make a beautiful image from a gazillion data points. I love “Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River” (Fisk, 1944), and the Willamette River Map by Daniel Coe. I’m doing a thing with pairs here! The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map has stood out in my mind for years as something beautiful and complex with so much data behind it. But my favorite maps of all time are antiques from the 17th and 18th Century. The old cadastral maps from France, the earliest maps of the U.S. Census, and Minard’s Port and River Tonnage map — less famous and more beautiful than his map of Napoleon’s march. Those are my favorites, I think because they convey to me a certain obsessive something that you get to only by giving yourself all the time in the world and a little freedom to play. But also, every day I am pleased and humbled by scores of maps that embody the principles of good, practical cartography: keep it simple, less is more, make it a composition by harmonizing and arranging your elements, and remember you are telling the story.
Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster?
A: I think #geohipster resonates for a few reasons. First, it is startling when people think you are cool just because you make maps. Most of us, me included, were not always quite so objectively cool. Second, because the geoweb is pleasingly small once you break out of GIS professionalism or whatever other standard paradigms there are, which is a great ferment for ironic inside jokes. There are so many warm, genuine, supportive people who make maps and map-making tools, and will share the best parts of themselves and what they are learning from this crazy ride we’re on right now in a world that is just starting to think about the implications of relating through location. Am I a #geohipster? Without question, yes I am, whatever that means.