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

Srikant Panda
Srikant Panda

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

Srikant was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

What do you do?

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

Srikant at his work station
Srikant at his work station

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.

Where do you live in India?

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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?

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

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

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

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

Stephanie May
Stephanie May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Ramage
Steven Ramage

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

Steven was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ed Freyfogle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Peterson
Gretchen Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, even if you feel like you need to attend a meeting of Emotional Cartographer’s Anonymous, you must have a certain courage when it comes to publishing maps. And if a map that you made was indeed a terribly misinformed piece of drivel, then just remember what @mysadcat said, in its infinite wisdom: https://twitter.com/MYSADCAT/status/468835053863452674/photo/1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Duggan, Dragons8mycat

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

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

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

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

Tim Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Mather

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

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

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

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

Tom MacWright

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

Randal Hale

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

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

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

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

2015

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Morris

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

Paul Ramsey

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

JavaScript Uber Ales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Spatial, Fewer Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Freyfogle

Two major trends:

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

Gary Gale

More Geospatial Visualisations, Maybe Less Maps

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

More Tangible Maps

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

More Bad Maps

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

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

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

OSM Will Explode

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

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

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

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

Todd Barr
Todd Barr

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

Todd was interviewed for GeoHipster by Bill Dollins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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