All posts by Randal Hale

Kurt Menke: “The most gratifying aspect of teaching these workshops is seeing people shed their technological insecurities”

A former archaeologist, Kurt Menke (@geomenke) runs Bird’s Eye View GIS and is based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He works mainly in ecological conservation, public health, and education. He has been an avid open source GIS proponent ever since he made the switch from ArcIMS to MapServer back in 2002. He recently authored the 2nd edition of “Mastering QGIS” for Packt Publishing, and “Discover QGIS” for Locate Press. He is also an OSGeo Charter Member. In his spare time he enjoys big wild spaces, mountains, vinyl records, and good coffee.


Q: Kurt Menke, where are you located and what do you do?

A: I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico which, contrary to what you often hear reported, is actually located in the United States. I run my own consulting business, Bird’s Eye View, and have worked at home since 2008. I consider myself a GIS generalist. I have been doing GIS for almost 20 years so “what I do” has changed over several times. I’ve built desktop and web mapping applications, developed data, conducted spatial analyses, and created maps. My mission is to help solve the world’s mounting ecological and social problems using GIS technology. Basically I want to use this technology to make the world a better place. My bread and butter is spatial analysis and cartography. Some of my favorite work involves modeling wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. Many of my clients are non-profit conservation organizations in the western US.

I also do some work related to public health, and I’ve been involved in education and training for a while too. I’m a big fan of open source software and in 2010 I developed a full semester course called “Introduction to Open Source GIS and Web Mapping”. I usually teach it in the summer at my local community college. It’s now a required course there. I also was one of the major contributors to the GeoAcademy curriculum. That effort lead to me being an author. In the last two years I’ve authored “Discover QGIS” and co-authored two editions of “Mastering QGIS”. I’d like to get more involved in showing organizations how to migrate to FOSS4G.

Q: On LinkedIn you’re listed as a former archaeologist. What brought you into that field? How did you make your way from that into GIS?

A: I grew up in the suburbs of DC and started out at the University of Maryland where I picked Anthropology as my major. I eventually transferred to the University of New Mexico, partly because it had a great Anthropology program, but mostly to get away from home and have an adventure. I’ve been here ever since. After graduating I started working as a contract archaeologist. I did that for 8 years. It was a fun way to spend my 20s, but it’s hard work, and you end up collecting a lot of unemployment between gigs. It got to the point where I was ready to get a ‘real job’ instead of being a shovel bum. Some kind of synergy happened. I had a boss who was into remote sensing, which I’d never heard of, but it sounded cool. I’d always loved maps. I had a huge collection of paper USGS topo quads. He convinced me to enroll in the Geography Master’s program at UNM.

At the time I was completely computer illiterate. It sounds strange now, but it was still pretty common in the mid 90s. I ended up getting a job at the Earth Data Analysis Center at UNM, which is a GIS/Remote Sensing business that runs out of the university. It was there that I really cut my teeth on GIS. The first computer I used was a UNIX workstation through a terminal. We ran Arc/Info 7 and I loved it. It was all command line and I got really good at it. I ended up working at EDAC for 10 years. It was also there that I was first exposed to open source GIS. I did a lot of work developing web applications with MapServer, GRASS and PostGIS. Now I call myself a reformed archaeologist.

Q: What is a wildlife corridor and how hard are they to model? What tools do you use to do that?

A: Those are big questions. I’ll try to summarize. Wildlife have a home range or an area where they operate on the landscape. They also need to migrate occasionally. This might happen to find new food sources, better breeding grounds, or might be part of seasonal movements. A wildlife corridor is a route an animal uses to get from A to B. They also get called linkages or connectivity areas.

I think the ‘why they need to be modeled’ is important here. Wildlife habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented by human development, and habitat patches are becoming smaller. This has likely caused wildlife-vehicle collisions to increase. If a corridor can be accurately identified, people can work with transportation departments to build overpasses or underpasses for wildlife. It’s a win-win because it makes the road safer for people and removes barriers for wildlife movement.

There is also scientific consensus that the long-term survival of many species is dependent on protecting wildlife corridors. This is especially true for big animals with big home ranges, like mountain lions, elk, wolves, pronghorn antelope, etc. There’s the theory of island biogeography, which essentially states that the smaller an island, the fewer species it can support and vice versa. This is a universal ecological pattern found in the world. Fragmented habitat is like a small island.

They are hard to model, and this is just because the world is complicated and our understanding of how critters operate is incomplete. Corridors look very different from species to species. For example, a desert tortoise is not going to move like an elk. From a data perspective, you have to know a lot about the species, and you have to be able to represent things that are important to the species in a GIS. The first step is identifying where the habitat is. This usually involves a raster analysis, unless someone has already produced a good model for your area, but that just never seems to be the case. Variables usually include elevation, vegetation, hydrology and human impacts.

The next step is developing a resistance raster that represents ease of movement across the landscape. You can simply work off the idea that it is easier for a critter to move through good habitat than bad. So resistance is the inverse of habitat. Sometimes though people will develop a custom resistance surface if they know a lot about the animal. It likely includes a lot of the same variables in the habitat model but weighted differently.

From there it’s common to use some sort of least cost path tools. However, least cost paths are only one pixel wide which probably doesn’t represent reality so well. There is a nice tool in ArcGIS named Corridor that sums the cost and allows you to extract a swath of pixels as the corridor. Corridor Designer is one of the first tools I used. It was/is an ArcGIS toolbox with a suite of tools for modeling corridors using this approach. It probably doesn’t run so well on new versions of ArcGIS, but it was really handy. The coolest new tool is the open source Circuitscape. You essentially provide the habitat polygons and a resistance surface, and it outputs a connectivity raster for the entire study area. Of course this can all be scripted as well. I know there’s a package for R called Grainscape I’d like to check out.

Climate change is disrupting some of these patterns which throws a wrench into the works. People are now working on potential range shift models. Where will lynx habitat be in 2100 and where will the corridors be?

Q: I’ve seen your blog postings on community Health Maps. How much “GIS” is in the health field? It appears you’re doing workshops for people who are on a very limited budget.

A: This is a project I’ve been working on for a while. Community Health maps is a project of the National Library of Medicine, an agency I’d never heard of until I got involved. The goal is to empower public health organizations, working with underserved and at risk populations, with mapping technology. So yeah, our target audience is not GIS professionals, but public health workers. For the most part they are not computer savvy, but really need some basic geospatial tech. I teach half-day workshops where they learn how to 1) use Fulcrum to map their communities with smartphones, 2) map that data with CARTO, and 3) go even further with QGIS. The most gratifying aspect of these workshops is seeing people shed their technological insecurities. It’s common for people to show up and admit they’re scared of the technology. To then see in a few short hours, they are getting it all to work, and actually getting excited about the possibilities, is a beautiful thing. I also moderate a blog and have produced some related lab exercises. Overall I don’t think the health field is benefitting from geospatial tech nearly as much as they could. There are big programs at agencies like the CDC, but that isn’t really helping the typical public health worker in their day-to-day work.

Q: I’ve interviewed a few authors — and you mentioned Discover QGIS and Mastering QGIS — how hard is it to keep books on QGIS up to date? The QGIS developers have a quick release schedule and I imagine it’s easy to get far behind.

A: It’s hard. First of all, if all goes as planned, it takes a good 6 months from the start of the publishing contract to the end of the editorial process. During that six months, QGIS will have undergone at least one version change and is halfway to the next. Once out, the book is ideally current with the latest LTR for a year. As an example, we planned on getting the second edition of “Mastering QGIS” out in March of 2016 to coincide with the release of QGIS LTR 2.14. All our copy was complete by then, but due to issues with the publisher it wasn’t published until September. In a normal cycle that’s halfway through the book’s relevancy. I’m now considering updating “Discover QGIS” for the release of QGIS v 3.0. That book has over 700 screenshots, most of which will need to be updated. Then there’s accounting for all the great new features. It’s a daunting prospect. I want it done, but don’t want to do it.

Q: For me work/life balance is hard. What do you do for fun? I’ve seen on a year-end blog post you lift weights? You hike?  

A: It is for me too, but it’s getting better. I really try to quit work at 5pm. Since I work at home, that routine is important to my overall sanity. As I was getting ready to leave the university and start my business, I spent a few years essentially working two jobs. It took a toll. The body really wasn’t meant to sit 50-60 hours a week. I started gaining weight and having problems with my elbows and wrists. Eventually I got an adjustable height desk which has helped.

I do lift weights. A few years ago my wife and I started really cleaning up our diet and working out with a trainer. He’s got his own little private gym. It’s just us and a few others. Now we lift weights 3 nights a week and do some sort of cardio on the weekend. It’s a blast, plus most of the aches and pains associated with being a desk jockey have gone. Workouts are also usually in the evenings so they get me to stop work on time. It’s my favorite part of the week. We’ve both gotten pretty fit. This winter I set two weightlifting PRs. I was most proud of back-squatting 315!

I also love hiking. I spend a lot of time up in the Sandia Wilderness outside of Albuquerque. One of my hobbies is climbing 14-ers (peaks over 14,000’). I’ve climbed 23 of the 54 in Colorado, and another 3 in California. I like backpacking too. A while back I hiked across Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail. My buddy and I covered 500 miles in 40 days. It was an amazing experience. I can’t imagine being able to take that much time off now.

During the week, after work and working out, I can usually be found on the couch watching any one of the great TV shows out these days. I also love vintage film noir. The movies relax me. I listen to a ton of podcasts too. Lately I’m into S-Town, Criminal, Monday Morning Podcast (Bill Burr), Crime Writers On…, I Brew My Own Coffee, WTF with Marc Maron, and recently Hangouts with James Fee.

Q: How bad is the coffee addiction? It seems like it may be a problem.

A: Ha! It’s pretty bad, but what do they say? Admitting it is the first step. I’ve always loved coffee. A few years ago I started getting bummed that what I brewed at home wasn’t anywhere near as good as what the local coffee joints were serving. So I did some research and invested in a decent burr grinder, a scale, and a Chemex. Give Chemex a goog if you don’t know what one is. It was a game changer. I threw out my drip machine.

With the Community Health Maps project I’ve been travelling a lot. So I’ve started checking out the best coffee shops wherever I go to see what they have going on. That lead to getting into all the single origin coffees coming out. From there I started buying other brewers like an AeroPress, Kalita Wave, siphon, Moka pot, V60 etc. They’re all really affordable. Then I found a vintage Swiss espresso machine in my father in law’s garage. He didn’t want it, so I sent it out to be refurbished. That was expensive.

Anyway now I pretty much have a state of the art coffee shop in my kitchen. I’ve turned into a total coffee geek and I’m ok with it. I even bring an AeroPress and a portable hand grinder with me on trips to places without good local coffee. I can brew up great coffee in my hotel room.

Q: Almost 4 years ago we defined the geohipster to be a person who lives on the outskirts of mainstream GIS. So I’m reading back through this and we’ve got the makings of a geohipster. Do you feel like one?

A: What is it The Stranger says, “that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from.” That’s where I am with it. I think in some respects I operate on the outskirts of mainstream GIS (ahem I meant the geospatial industry) and in others probably not. I’d love to be considered a geohipster, who wouldn’t, but I’ll leave that to others to decide.

Q: I leave the last question up to you: Anything you wish to tell the GeoHipster readers.

A: GIS and geo are simply ever-evolving tools for turning data into information. For me the application and the data are more important than the actual tools used. Mainly because every 5 or 10 years the tools completely change. Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of what keeps the job interesting day to day, learning new tools, but it’s the applications that can have a lasting impact.

Regina Obe: “People spend too much time learning a programming language and forget what a programming language is for”

Regina Obe
Regina Obe
Regina Obe (@reginaobe) is a co-principal of Paragon Corporation, a database consulting company based in Boston. She has over 15 years of professional experience in various programming languages and database systems, with special focus on spatial databases. She is a member of the PostGIS steering committee and the PostGIS core development team. Regina holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she wanted to build terminator robots but decided that wasn’t the best thing to do for Humanity. She co-authored PostGIS in Action and PostgreSQL: Up and Running.

Q: Regina Obe – so where are you in the world and what do you do?

A: I’m located in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I’m a database application web developer, Consultant, PostGIS  project and steering committee team member, and technical author on PostGIS and PostgreSQL related books.

Q: So in my prep work I found you have a degree from MIT in Mechanical engineering with a focus in Bioelectrics and Control systems? What’s that about? How did you end up in working in databases?

A: Hah you just had to ask a hard one. It’s a bit long.

Bioelectronics and control was an amalgamation of all my interests and influences at that point.

My favorite shows growing up were the 6 million dollar man and bionic woman. Like many geeks I loved tinkering with electronic and mechanical gadgets and got into programming at the wee age of 9. I was also very attached to graph paper and would plot out on graph what cells my for loops would hit.

My mother was a forensic pathologist; basically she tore dead people apart to discover how they died and what could have been done to save them. I spent a lot of time reading her books and dreaming about human augmentation and control.

When I came to MIT I had ambitions of getting a BS in Electric Engineering or Mech E., moving on to a PhD, getting my MD, and focussing on orthopaedic limb surgery. MIT’s Mechanical Engineering department had a course track that allowed you to fashion your own major. You had to take X amount of Mech E. and could take any other courses you wanted as long as you could convince your advisor it followed some sort of roadmap you set out for yourself. So that said — what else would I fashion if given the opportunity. At the time MIT did not have a biomedical engineering major.

So my course work included classes in bio-electrical engineering like electrical foundation of the heart where I built and programmed electrical models of hearts and killed and revived rabbits. Basic EE courses with breadboards, class in Scheme programming, electro physiology of the brain etc. On the Mech E. side, I took standard stuff like Fluid Mechanics, Dynamics, Systems Control and for my thesis, programming a simulation package that allowed you to simulate systems with some pre-configured blocks. Most of which I can’t remember.

I looked around at other people who were following my dream and realized I’m way too lazy and not smart enough for that kind of life. When I got out of college, there were few engineering jobs requiring my particular skill set. I got a job as a consultant focussing on business rules management and control. Business rules were managed as data that could become actionable. There I got introduced to the big wild world of databases, then SQL, cool languages like Smalltalk, and trying to translate what people say ambiguously into what they actually mean non-ambiguously.

I found that I really enjoyed programming and thinking about programs as the rules to transition data and reason about data. It’s all about data in the end.

Q: So you dive into databases and SQL and this thing called PostGIS comes along. You’re on the Project Steering committee and Development team for PostGIS. What is PostGIS and how much work is it being a developer and a member of the project steering committee?

A: Yes I’m on the PostGIS steering committee and development team.

PostGIS is a PostgreSQL extender for managing objects in space. It provides a large body of functions and new database types for storing and querying the spatial properties of objects like buildings, property, cities. You can ask questions like what’s the area, what’s the perimeter, how far is this thing from these other things, what things are nearest to this thing, and also allows you to morph things into other things. With the raster support you can ask what’s the concentration of this chemical over here or average concentration over an arbitrary area.

Some people think of PostGIS as a tool for managing geographic systems, but it’s Post GIS. Space has no boundaries except the imagined. Geographic systems are just the common use case.

Remember my fondness for graph paper? It all comes full circle; space in the database. I like to think of PostGIS as a tool for managing things on a huge piece of graph paper and now it can manage things on a 3D piece of graph paper and a spheroidal graph paper too 🙂 . PostGIS is always learning new tricks.

Being a PostGIS developer and member of PSC is a fair amount of work, some programming, but mostly keeping bots happy, lots of testing, and banging people over the head when you feel it’s time to release. I think it’s as much work as you want to put into it though and I happen to enjoy working with PostGIS so spend a fair amount of time on it.

Q: I love PostGIS. I spend a lot of time in QGIS/PostGIS these days and people are constantly asking – ‘HEY WHEN DO WE GET SOMETHING LIKE ROUTING WHERE I CAN DO TIME/DISTANCE MEASUREMENTS?”. You’ve been working on a piece of software called pgRouting which does?

A: This is a leading question to talk about our new book coming out by LocatePress –

Been working on is an over statement. My husband and I have been working writing the book pgRouting: a Practical Guide, publisher Locate Press. We hope to finish it this year. That’s probably biggest contribution we’d done for pgRouting aside from Windows stack builder packaging for pgRouting.

Most of the work for pgRouting is done by other contributors with GeoRepublic and iMapTools folks leading the direction.

My friend Vicky Vergara in particular has been doing a good chunk of work for recent versions of pgRouting 2.1-2.3 (including upgrading pgRoutingLayer for QGIS to support newest features and improving performance of osm2pgrouting) some neat things coming there. She’s been super busy with it. I greatly admire her dedication.

You’ll have to read our book to find out more.  Pre-released copies are available for purchase now and currently half off until it reaches feature completeness. We are about 70% there.

Q: With everything you are doing for work, what do you do for fun?  

A: Work is not fun, don’t tell me that? My goal in life is to achieve a state where I am always having fun and work is fun. I still have some unfun work I’d like to kill. Aside from work I sleep a lot. Like to go to restaurants. Never been big on hobbies unfortunately. Going to places causes me a bit of stress, so not much into travel I’m afraid.

Q: You’ve got a few books out and about. How hard is it to write a book for a technical audience? How hard is it to keep it up to date?

A: It’s much harder than you think and even harder to keep things up. Part of the issue with writing for technical audiences is you never know the right balance. I try to unlearn what I have learned so I can experience learning it again to write about it in a way that a new person coming to the topic can appreciate. I fail badly and always end up cramming too much. I’m an impatient learner.

I always thought 2nd and 3rd editions of books would be easier, but they have been so far just as hard if not harder than the first edition. We are also working on 3rd edition of PostgreSQL: Up and Running. Piece of cake right, what could have changed in 2 years. A fair amount from PostgreSQL 9.3 to 9.5. PostGIS in Action, 2nd edition was pretty much a rewrite. Might have been easier if we started from scratch on that one. So much changed between PostGIS 1.x and 2.x. That said I think we’ll try in future to maybe not write sequels and maybe tackle the subject at a different angle.

Leo wants to write SQL for Kids 🙂 .  He thinks it’s a shame children aren’t exposed to databases and set thinking in general at an early age.

Q: Leo wanting to do a SQL for kids brings up a good question. If you had a person come up and go “What should I learn?” what would you tell them? In the geo world we get beat over the head with Python. You are neck deep in databases. Programming language? Database? What makes the well rounded individual in your opinion?

A: You should first not learn anything. You should figure out what you want to program and then just do it and do it 3 times in 3 different languages and see which ones feel more natural to your objective. Think about how the language forced you to think about the problems in 3 different ways.

You might find you want to use all 3 languages at once in the same program, then use PostgreSQL (PL/Python, SQL, PL/JavaScript J ). That’s okay.

Forget about all the languages people are telling you you should know. I think people spend too much time learning to be good at using a programming language and forget what a programming language is for. It’s hard to survive with just one language these days (think HTML, JavaScript, SQL, Python, R – all different languages). A language is a way of expressing ideas succinctly in terms that an idiot-savantic computer can digest. First try to be stupid so you can talk to stupid machines and then appreciate those machines for their single-minded gifts.

The most amazing developers I’ve known have not thought of themselves as programmers.

They are very focused on a problem or tool they wanted to create, and I was always amazed how crappy their code was and yet could achieve amazing feats of productivity in their overall user-facing design. They had a vision of what they wanted for the finished product and never lost sight of that vision.

Q: Your PostgreSQL Up and Running book is published by O’Reilly. O’Reilly books always have some artwork on the front. Did you get to pick the animal on the front? For your PostGIS book you have a person on the front. Who is that?

A: We had a little say in the O’Reilly cover, but no say on the Manning cover. I have no idea who that woman is on PostGIS in Action. She’s a woman from Croatia. She looks very much like my sister is what I thought when I first saw it.

For O’Reilly they ran out of elephants because they just gave one to Hadoop. Can you believe it? Giving an elephant to Hadoop over PostgreSQL? So then they offered us an antelope. Leo was insulted, he wasn’t going to have some animal that people hunt on the cover of his book, besides antelopes look dumb and frail. I apologize to all the antelope lovers right now. Yes antelopes are cute cuddly and I’m sure loving. Just not the image we care to be remembered for. We wanted something more like an elephant and that is smart. So they offered us up an elephant shrew (aka sengi), which is a close relative of the elephant – . It’s a very fast small creature, that looks like it’s made of bits and pieces of a lot of creatures. They blaze trails and are very monogamous. What could be more perfect to exemplify the traits of a database like PostgreSQL that can do everything and is faithful in its execution, aside from having to explain “What is that rodent looking creature on your cover?”.

Q: Way back when GeoHipster started we more or less decided thanks to a poll that a geohipster does things differently, shuns the mainstream, and marches to their own beat. Are you a geohipster?

A: Yes. I definitely shun the mainstream.  When mainstream starts acting like me it’s a signal I need to become more creative.

Q: I always leave the last question for you. Anything you want to tell the readers of GeoHipster that I didn’t cover or just anything in particular?

A: When will PostGIS 2.3 be out? I hope before PostgreSQL 9.6 comes out (slated for September). I’m hoping PostgreSQL 9.6 will be a little late to buy us more time.

Also – Where is the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial International conference (FOSS4G) going to be held in 2017? In Boston August 14th – 18th. Mark your calendars and bookmark the site.

Michael Terner: “Choice is back”

Michael Terner
Michael Terner
Michael Terner has been working in the geo/GIS industry since 1985, initially in state government where he was the first manager of MassGIS. In 1991 he co-founded Applied Geographics/AppGeo, where he remains a partner and Executive Vice President.

Questions from Randal, Mike, and Atanas

Q (Randal): So Michael, you are Executive VP at AppGeo. AppGeo has been around for around 25 years. You’re one of the founding partners, correct? What’s the history of AppGeo? ArcINFO was still command line at that point, and I’m pretty sure Windows NT hadn’t made a strong appearance in the market place. Plus I still had hair.

A: Yeah, I hate to admit it but I’m increasingly feeling like one of the “old guys” in this industry. I got my start in GIS in 1985, straight out of college when I got an internship with the Massachusetts state government in a small environmental agency. My task was to see what this new “GIS technology” was all about and see if it might help Mass with hazardous waste treatment facility siting. Long story short, that internship led to 7 years in state government where I had the privilege of helping to get MassGIS started, and was the first Manager from 1988-1991. In that time I took my ARC/INFO (correct spelling of the day) training on a Prime 9950 mini computer and ARC/INFO 3.2. Our first disk quota was 600MB, and the system administrator said “you’ll never fill that up.” We did in 3 months. I also helped Massachusetts buy its first copy of ARC/INFO to run on a new VAX computer at version 4.0. I have no nostalgia for the bad old days of command line, 9-track tapes, and needing to start projects by table-digitizing the data that you needed. I do miss AML a little bit.

I left state government to co-found AppGeo with two partners in 1991. My partner for 24 years, David Weaver, retired late last year. Our president Rich Grady joined us in 1994, and we’ve built a strong, internal management team. In hindsight, the one thing I think we’ve done best these past 25 years is anticipate and willingly change as technology evolves. We started AppGeo with one UNIX workstation that ran ARC/INFO for 3 people using terminal emulation on PCs connected to the workstation. We ran ArcInfo on Windows NT, and we’ve evolved through ArcView, ArcView IMS, ArcIMS and ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS for this and that. We’ve seen a lot of technology and devices come and go, and beginning in 2008 we began pivoting from Esri as the sole solution for all problems. Initially with open source, and now increasingly with newer web platforms from Google Maps to CartoDB alongside open source. Again, I have no nostalgia and have never had more fun in this industry than now. Choice is back, and innovation is flourishing. Everywhere. I still have some hair, but as my daughters remind me, my forehead has grown considerably since then.

Q (Randal): So what does AppGeo do?

A: We’re geospatial consultants, plain and simple. We help customers solve geospatial problems and we help them plan and implement geo. We both spec and create data. And we build a lot of applications. Nowadays, almost always on the web, and increasingly what we build is optimized for mobile device access. Sometimes our customers want our ideas; other times they need extra capacity, and sometimes they need special skills such as programming or project design. We really believe in “dogfooding” and “eating what you cook.” As such doing things like creating data and maps as well as applications helps us be more confident in the kinds of recommendations we put forth in our strategic plans. Now we also resell some technology, and we have our own software as a service (SaaS) offerings that we serve out of the cloud to many dozens of customers. Pretty much everything we do has geospatial in it, but as geospatial — or location — has gotten more mainstream, increasingly our work involves integrating with non-geospatial business systems or tying geospatial technology into traditional IT infrastructures. Which is good. As our development team will say: “spatial is not special, it’s just another column in the database.” It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but with SQL extended for spatial operations, not by much.

Q (Randal): One of the things I’ve noticed about AppGeo is that you have several business partnerships. Two of the most interesting were Esri and Google. One of the two decided they didn’t want to partner with you in the GIS realm anymore. Which one ran?

A: As a small business, we have always been open-minded to partnerships. In addition to geospatial supplier partnerships, we have partnered with a wide variety of other consultants on projects. From big engineering firms to well known IT consulting firms to firms that are highly specialized in a particular market such as airports. We add the geo/location expertise.

And we’ve always been very open to partnering with the geospatial software providers. In addition to the two you mention — Esri and Google — at various times (and to this day) we’ve been partners with Intergraph, Bentley, FME, and CartoDB. Our loyalty is to our customers, and we want the expertise needed to help them solve their problems, and we need to understand the tools that are out there very well to provide that expertise. Partnerships help us to do that.

So to your question: Esri kicked us out of their partner program after almost 20 years in the program. I blogged on that topic in 2014 and provided a good amount of detail on what we think happened, and what it means. Many, many people read the piece, and as I’ve traveled around, several other people have sought me out to tell me “their story.” We’re certainly not the only ones who have met this fate, but not many have talked about it openly. As I wrote, it was not a healthy partnership, and in the end it was good that it happened. We have never been stronger, and there are many other firms — including Google — that have welcomed us as a partner, and respected our non-denominational outlook on partnership. We still use a ton of Esri and feel very comfortable as a customer of theirs. As our clients know, our expertise in Esri didn’t disappear with our partner status. We greatly respect the company and Jack Dangermond as a strong and tough businessman. And, in our “best of breed” outlook on the geospatial landscape, Esri is the best at many things. But, in our opinion, not all. And that’s probably why we parted company.

Q (Mike): Any regrets about publicly airing all of those details? Do you think AppGeo would be different today if you had been able to stay in the program?

A: No regrets whatsoever. In fact, we have been a bit surprised at how many people were interested in the story. In the end, we had heard that Esri was telling the story to some of our mutual customers in “their terms”, and we felt it was important for people to have the ability to also hear that story directly from us. Quite honestly, I don’t think things would be much different for us if we had stayed in the Esri partner program. Business remains good, and we would still be using a variety of technologies, and we would still have our primary loyalty to our customers. Really, the biggest difference is in the posture of our relationship with Esri. Now we’re an Esri customer and user instead of a partner. And thus the kinds of conversations we have with Esri are somewhat different.

Q (Atanas): How is partnering with Google different than with Esri?

A: As you might expect, it’s an enormous difference. Google’s program is certainly not perfect, but Google is very clear with their partners on the role of the partner channel and Google’s expectations. It took some getting used to, but we have hit our stride and the partnership is very productive for us. Here are a few of the biggest differences:

  • Google has many, many fewer partners than Esri, and the partners are selected/recruited based on their qualifications. And there is not an annual fee to be in their partner program.
  • Google’s program is re-selling oriented. We do a lot of related services (e.g., application development), but that is between us and the customer; we work very closely with Google on providing the right subscription-based products. Unlike Esri, Google allows their partners to sell any of their geo products, not just the lower-end subset of products.
  • Google has other, non-geo product lines (e.g., Gmail/Google for Work; Google Cloud Platform; Search; etc.) and many of Google’s geo partners sell, or even specialize in these other product lines. Google’s partner conference (which I just attended in March) mixes all of these different partners, and it’s a really interesting and diverse ecosystem. There’s a specialized track for each product line (we followed the geo track), but you also get to see the whole cloud-based vision of the larger company and interact with, and learn from the non-geo partners.
  • Probably the biggest difference for us is that there is a very active exchange of leads and joint selling. We got more leads from Google in our first month in the program than we did in the entire life of our Esri partnership which spanned almost 20 years. Fundamentally, Google and their partners work together on sales which was not the case for us with Esri.

Q (Mike): While we’re drawing comparisons, you’ve been working with customers around the country. Are you noticing any regional differences in the way GIS or mapping technologies are approached?

A: Honestly, I don’t see fundamental “technological approach” differences across the country. Pretty much everywhere I go Esri remains the dominant player, but also I see people’s eyes and minds being ever more open to new approaches like open source (e.g., QGIS) or cloud-based platforms (e.g., CartoDB, Fulcrum). There may be slight regional differences in the rate of uptake of new technology, but everywhere people are more curious than I’ve ever seen. People are also increasingly interested in open data across the country, and even in Canada, which does not have the same public records laws and open records history as the USA.

The biggest regional differences are in governmental organization and the priority of particular issues. The things that vary on a regional basis are more like, “Do you work with more counties vs. cities/towns?” Or, “Is the drought, or agriculture, or public lands a big issue?”

Q (Mike): I’ll ask you what I asked you in Duluth last fall — can the open source community band together to make sure the Yankees never win another World Series?

A: Wish it were so. But as a fellow Red Sox fan I feel good about where we stand relative to the Yankees in the 21st Century, i.e., 3 titles Red Sox to 1 for the Yankees.

Q (Atanas): Hippest commute mode: ferry, train, or bike?

A: I’m a big public transit fan, mostly because the downtown Boston driving commute is terrible. Usually I’m on the commuter rail. But during the window from mid-May through the end of October there’s a commuter ferry from Salem (the neighboring city to my hometown of Beverly) into downtown Boston. So my favorite, and by association hippest, commute is the 1-2 days/week during the summer I get to bike the ~3 miles from home to Salem for a wonderful high speed ferry ride into Boston (and then back). This is the morning “entering Boston” view:

'Entering Boston' by Michael Terner
‘Entering Boston’ by Michael Terner

Q (Randal): So with all these questions behind us … do you feel geohipsterish? We did a poll way back in the beginning days of GeoHipster to define a geohipster, and the best we could come up with are they shun the mainstream, have a wicked sense of humor, and do things differently. Do you feel like one?

A: Yes, I hope so. I’m not sure I “shun” the mainstream, but I don’t believe there is a mainstream that lasts very long in technology. If you stand pat, you die. We’ve lasted 25 years so at a minimum we’ve bobbed in and out of the ever-changing tech mainstream fairly effectively. In 1985 when I started in this business, Esri was not mainstream. I appreciate humor (especially Randy’s) greatly, and I hope I’m occasionally funny (even if my family might disagree). Yes, I think we often approach things differently, and aren’t afraid to “try different”, and that’s been a great asset.

Q (Randal): I usually leave the last question up to you to say whatever you want to say to the world, and I’m going to do just that … BUT with a twist. Something big is coming to Boston in 2017, and you and the Geo community did a tremendous amount of work to make this happen. So what is coming to Boston in 2017?

A: Yes, the Global FOSS4G Conference is coming to Boston in August of 2017 as the three-continent rotation returns to North America after a successful stop in Seoul, Korea in 2015, and the upcoming conference in Bonn Germany in 2016.  See our nascent web-site to mark your calendars. The Boston geo community rallied, and I am extremely proud to have led our awesome Boston Location Organizing Committee (the BLOC) in generating the winning proposal to host that conference. We had incredibly tough competition with really strong proposals coming from both Ottawa and Philadelphia, and we are committed to putting on an awesome conference and rewarding the faith OSGeo has put in us. We are also excited to support the upcoming FOSS4G North America that will be held in Raleigh, NC in just 4 weeks. Please show your support for FOSS4G and learn lots and have fun with us in Raleigh.

Shoreh Elhami: “GISCorps is nothing without its volunteers”

Shoreh Elhami
Shoreh Elhami
Shoreh Elhami is the founder of GISCorps, a URISA program that coordinates the deployment of volunteers to communities in need around the world. GISCorps was endorsed as a program by the URISA Board of Directors in October 2003 and since then has attracted over 4,000 volunteers from 98 countries worldwide. To date, over 950 GISCorps volunteers have served in 175 on-site or remote missions in 61 countries.


Q: So, Mrs. Elhami, where are you located and what do you do?

A: Shoreh will do!

Q: You are the boss, so it will be Shoreh!

A: I’ve lived in Central Ohio for 29 years; the first 11 years in the City of Columbus, and then moved to Powell — a small suburban city north of Columbus. I work for the City of Columbus Department of Technology; my title is Citywide GIS Manager.

Q: Shoreh, how did you get into GIS? You are / were an architect at one time, correct?

A: Yes, I studied architectural engineering in Iran (where I was born and raised) and practiced as an architect/ urban planner for a few years before we decided to leave the country. I was introduced to GIS at the Ohio State University where I ended up going to graduate school to study City and Regional Planning. I applied for a Research Assistantship position and was assigned to a project that used GIS for studying and analyzing the impact of urban sprawl on a protected watershed. Talk about luck as not only did I end up working on an interesting project, but also learned how to use GIS to conduct analysis. It meant no more drawing / overlaying polygons on mylar and calculating results by hand; I was in love!

I was then offered a job shortly before I graduated, and ended up working at a planning agency where I used my GIS skills for building models and conducting a variety of analytic models for a County Master Plan. This was in the early 90s when GIS was not used as often in a master planning process, so it was a unique and gratifying experience.

Q: What does a Citywide GIS Manager do in Columbus, Ohio? I’m not sure we’ve ever interviewed one. It sounds like something that can make you have fits upon occasion.

A: At the City of Columbus, GIS is used in almost every department, both on desktop as well as online. We have over 300 datasets,+/-100 data editors, and 30 or so GIS applications which are all supported by my team. We work very closely with GIS users and decision-makers on creating new datasets, maintaining the software, geodatabases, and designing applications. Our most recent project is our Open Data Portal. It’s a work in progress, but it is where anyone with interest in Columbus GIS data can visit and download data. In short, it’s an exciting and at times quite a challenging job!

Q: Sometime around 2001 you started this small thing called GISCorps. Why? What does it do?

A: Yes, it was in 2001 at the URISA conference in Long Beach when I started talking to a few colleagues about an idea which later on became GISCorps. The idea was and is quite simple as it’s about making one’s GIS skills available to entities that need GIS assistance but cannot afford to employ GIS professionals. Originally, I thought most of our projects would be on-site and involve teaching. However, we learned very quickly that our volunteers’ skills are very much needed after disasters. In fact, our first few major missions were launched shortly after the 2004 Asian tsunami that struck Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand, and then Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We recently launched our 176th project, and over 950 volunteers have been deployed to those projects in 61 countries. The majority of these projects are conducted remotely (80%) and +/- 40% have been in response to disasters. We currently have over 4,000 registered volunteers from 98 countries. It’s worth to mention that for on-site projects, we always make sure that the travel expenses are covered by the organization that is requesting assistance. For remote projects there are no [travel] expenses, as volunteers work from their home / office, using their own equipment.

Q: When you started there weren’t a lot of volunteer organizations around. Now there’s HOT and Ushahidi. What makes GISCorps different? The same?

A: You’re right, we are the old kids on the block as far as GIS volunteering goes! Several new organizations were formed shortly after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and we actually collaborate with several of them via a relatively new organization called Digital Humanitarian Network or DHN. I think what differentiates GISCorps from other organizations is our recruitment model. We take time to not only select candidates from our extensive database, but also for almost every project (except large crowd-sourcing ones) we get on the phone and interview volunteers to make sure they are the right person for the job. We take that quite seriously, as our volunteers’ work represents who we are. Another distinction is that a large percentage of our volunteers are hard-core GIS professionals and ready and equipped to perform all and any GIS-related tasks. Having said that, we also engage in projects that do not require a lot of GIS skills (mostly crowd-sourcing projects) and many of our volunteers enjoy those efforts as well.

Q: How many people do you have helping you run GISCorps? The organization is a non-profit, correct?

A: GISCorps’ business is run by a Core Committee, which at this time has seven members. We meet virtually once a month, and at least once a year face to face.

We are a program of URISA, and since URISA is a non-profit organization people who donate to GISCorps can benefit from our 501(c)(3) status.

Q: What was the best mission of GISCorps? Assuming you can pick the best one.

A: Please don’t ask me to do that, as I have many favorites; it’s as if they ask you which one of your children you love the most!

Q: So with all of that going on — there are more important things to discuss. What’s the best Persian meal you make?

A: Seriously? You’re asking me about my culinary skills?! Actually this may be surprising to some of your readers: I love cooking, and if I may say so — when I have time — I can deliver pretty nice dishes. My daughter loves my Tahchin the most, so I pick that one. You can check out a recipe (not mine but somewhat close to how I make it) here.

Q: We talk about people being geohipsters — our best definition is: doing things differently, or making a difference in the world of GIS. So are you a geohipster?

A: If getting joy and satisfaction from spending time on geo matters that helps others is doing things differently then I’m a geohipster! But I really want to be clear — and this is not self-deprecating — GISCorps is nothing without its volunteers; that’s who is making a difference. We, the Core Committee, are just instruments to help make that happen.

Q: The last question is yours — anything you wish to tell the world?

A: The world? That would be too audacious of me… All I know and believe in is that we are here on earth for a flicker of time, and we should focus on using our skills on doing good. That’s all that matters!

Maziyar Boustani: “GISCube is unique because it offers geoprocessing on the web”

Maziyar Boustani
Maziyar Boustani
Maziyar Boustani received his bachelor’s degree in Iran, then moved to US to receive his master's degree in GIS. After finishing his school in 2012, he started working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena since. He is working as a GIS developer and Software Engineer, focusing on earth science projects and big data.

Q: So Mazi, we met at FOSS4GNA 2015 in San Francisco (technically Burlingame). Where do you work?

A: Yes, it was nice meeting you at FOSS4GNA at your QGIS talk. I am currently working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Q: What do you do at JPL?

A: I am working as GIS developer and software engineer at JPL for 3 years, working on a variety of earth science projects, finding solutions for big data problems, as well as being involved in some interesting open-source projects.

Q: So what sort of Big Data Problems are you working on (if you can tell us)? Big data and GIS together? That seems to get a lot of discussion these days.

A: At JPL our team deals with a variety of data received from satellites, as well as model data generated by scientists.

Also within the last two years our team is working on two projects from DARPA called Memex and  XData to find some solutions for big data problems. Provided data can be public tweets, financial, employment, and more. Some challenging questions have been asked, such as visualizing data geographically, as well as finding the connections between different data.

For example, in terms of geospatial data, I had a challenge of visualizing big point data on a map. I found the solution by using D3 JS library with generating vector point tiles using Python SciPy k-means clustering by running in Apache Spark. You can find the repository on my GitHub page at (

Q: I see you graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil surveying and Geomatics from Iran. How is the GIS field in Iran, and how were your classes? That’s an area in the world we haven’t seen on GeoHipster as of yet — educate us!

A: The GIS field in Iran is booming and growing very fast. At the time I was studying (2004) there was no university major called GIS — it was part of Civil Surveying major, but in terms of classes, we had a very updated curriculum and were using mainly ArcGIS Desktop for GIS analysis and processing.

Q: At FOSS4GNA 2015 I did a QGIS workshop and you came to it — afterwards you demoed this small program (I say that jokingly) that you have been working on called GISCube. What is it and why did you make it?

A: So when I started getting into the field of GIS (back in 2005) ArcGIS was the only software for doing GIS processing and making maps. I was mainly using ArcGIS for many years (until 2012) before I started working at JPL. Our team at JPL was one of the early groups using and distributing open source code and software. Because of that I started  researching for open source alternatives to ArcGIS and found out about QGIS and GDAL/OGR.

We have some scientists who are working with geospatial data but they are not familiar with GIS software like QGIS and not comfortable writing Python code using GDAL/OGR. So I came up with the idea about making GIS processing and visualization easier by developing a web-based GIS application that can be run internally on the JPL server for all employees.

Q: And that’s what GISCube does, correct? It allows you to visualize GIS data using a web browser? It also allows you to do simple GIS analysis things like buffers?  

A: Yes, to start you first upload your geospatial files (such as shapefile, GeoTIFF, GeoJSON, and more), after which you can visualize them on a map, get metadata, and extract it to other metadata file formats. And most importantly, a series of geoprocessing tools lets users implement processing in the browser.

Q: And you gave all that work away on github ( Why?

A: Making your project open source not only helps to have broader user base, but also helps to have a community of developers around the project to help you expand the project at no cost.

Q: In the middle of our interview you went back to Iran to visit friends and family. You get to see all the news reports on Iran like I do, but you just went back for a visit. Were you born there?

A: Actually I was born in Boston, MA, but grew up in Iran for 23 years, came to US for education and work. I am not following the news, but definitely I know it creates a very wrong image of Iran for non-Persian people. It was very impressive to see the number of US tourists visiting Iran increasing day by day. It’s a place worth visiting for sure.

Tabiat bridge -- Tehran, Iran
Tabiat bridge — Tehran, Iran

Q: Would you consider yourself a geohipster?

A: Can you define geohipster for me?

Q: That’s a good question. So we took a poll, and the ultimate answer we came up at the time was that geohipsters more or less shun the mainstream GIS world, have a sense of humor, and like to do things differently. So do you feel like one now? Because it appears you’re doing all sorts of things differently, and doing it quite well.

A: Yes, I am considering myself a geohipster, it sounds cool. However, I have noticed most of the questions in the poll were about visualization, so I would like to see more GIS people thinking about GIS as processing and generating data instead of just visualization. I believe GISCube is unique because  you can’t find many projects that focus on geoprocessing on the web.

Unfortunately when you talk about GIS, most people are talking about Mapbox, Leaflet, OpenLayers, map projections, and more. I would like to see more geohipsters focusing on developing libraries and applications to make the GIS processing much easier and faster than what we have now.

Q: I always leave the last question for you to say whatever you would like. Mazi – what would you like to tell the world?

A: Be creative, come up with crazy ideas, and yes, you can make it happen, just work hard 🙂

Nathan Woodrow: “Having non-programming hobbies is super important to your health”

Nathan Woodrow
Nathan Woodrow
Nathan Woodrow is a QGIS developer, blogger, father, and reborn Warhammer 40K lover. He has been an active developer and member of the QGIS project for the last five years. His QGIS/GIS blog at showcases some of the upcoming features in QGIS, as well as offers tips and tricks for developers and users. Previous to moving into the private sector, he worked as a GIS officer in local government for seven years. His bio pic is also a lie, as he has cut off all of his hair but has no good photos :)

Q: Nathan, how is life in the Land Down Under? I believe you are on the Gold Coast, Australia?

A: Good, thanks, and no shortage of Vegemite that is for sure; so delicious! — but let’s not talk about the current government, OK?  Yes, I currently live on the Gold Coast. I have been living here with my wife and two children for almost three years. I was born and raised in Warwick, a town about 150km south-west of Brisbane, where it gets nice and cold in winter and bloody hot in summer — mind you I have become a bit softer in my tolerance of the cold since moving to the coast.

My GIS career started in the local council in Warwick fresh out of high school, not even knowing what GIS was, and after starting with Digital Mapping Solutions (DMS) I moved to the Gold Coast to be closer to the airports for travel accessibility. Also so we’d have family around, as that’s where my wife is from originally.

Q: You are one of the developers on QGIS. How many of you are there out there working on this project?

Lots. Spread all around the world. There are 32 developers with direct commit rights to the code base, including myself. However, if you don’t just count core contributors, which you shouldn’t because that is what open source is all about, we have a large number of other contributors. “Contributors” includes people who just commit fixes and/or features but never come back, it also includes people who hang around the project regularly but just don’t have direct commit rights.

There are also people working on the docs, website, managing the tickets that come in, all jobs that make the cogs in the wheel that is QGIS turn. It’s a very friendly project to work on, which I think has helped in our success in being a large community of project maintainers and users.

Q: I ran into you on Twitter several years ago (@madmanwoo) with some wayward question on how QGIS works. How did you get involved in the QGIS project? Was the local council in Warwick using it?

A: In fact if my Twitter search didn’t fail me, it was Bill Dollins (@billdollins) who introduced you to me in a tweet when talking about me moving from MapInfo to QGIS.  (

My first involvement with the project, from a contribution point of view, was when I added expression-based labels ( I had started to use QGIS at council for data entry, but expression labels were something that MapInfo had that I really missed in QGIS; without it I was never going to be able to use QGIS more in my day job.  After opening a ticket and sitting on it for a while, I sat down over a weekend, hacked in an expression-based label to see how it would work, and was pretty impressed at the speed and how easy it was to get going. It still took me about two months to add the UI and finally get it added to the core project. After that I was added as a core contributor and here we are now.

I was the first one at council to use QGIS in a full production setup. The first version I used was 1.7, but at that stage it just wasn’t ready for full time usage. After 1.8 I pretty much stopped using MapInfo and started using QGIS for all my tasks. Readers of my blog would have seen the progression. It didn’t take long for the bug to bite and for me to promote QGIS to other councils, and anyone else that would listen. It wasn’t our “official” desktop GIS, however I started to move other people onto it for all their mapping tasks. I was quite happy when I managed to get an older foreman using it to update our kerb and footpath assets, including splitting and joining.

Q: There’s been some discussion on when QGIS 3.0 comes out. With every release the software grows. In your opinion, what’s the next big hurdle for QGIS as a desktop software?

A: For the me the biggest thing is the user experience of the whole package as one thing. QGIS is getting very large in code, usage, and function. At times things can go into the application without full thought on how the overall workflow fits together, which can leave the user confused when moving through to get their work done. To do this correctly you really need to design full workflows around a user story and not just a single feature for a single use case, which can leave a function hanging on the side and not really fitting in. I will also add that I am fully guilty of doing the single function style of developing myself — it’s much easier.

Of course this is a complicated process, because QGIS has a massive user base with very different use cases, but I think as we evolve we need to address some of the workflow issues within the application. This is not to say we are not already doing it, or getting better. Every release adds new custom controls that are used throughout the application for consistency. Things like data-defined buttons, layer combo box, etc., are all generic controls that we can reuse to help the flow and feel of the application. Consistency is almost always the key.

I guess that also raises the question does QGIS have a future in a world that is moving “all the things” to the web? My answer is of course yes it does, but I’m also biased.

Q: In order to do all of this you have to know something about programming. Are you more programmer or GIS person?

A: I consider myself more of a programmer these days, although my imposter syndrome is quite strong at times as there are some super smart people, and reading past GeoHipster interviews does help that feeling. My current job and involvement in QGIS still keeps me in the GIS space, which I very much like, just more on the programming side and less on the map-making and data entry work. GIS is still great though, and I enjoy it when I can. The people in the GIS circles are excellent, and the problems in this space are fun to work on, but I guess just out of natural evolution of my current work I have landed more on the development style of things.

Personally I believe good programming knowledge helps you in GIS every day, even if you are just better at scripting things — you have just saved yourself some money and time where someone else couldn’t.

Q: How did you get started in programming, and what was the first programming language you learned?

A: My first programming language was Borland Delphi in the programming course at high school. If I remember right the first thing we wrote was a fake cash register application, after that I did a small bit of game programming making a Pokemon shooting game that lasted on the school network years after I left. Pokemon + sniper rifle = awesome fun!1! (don’t judge me I know you think it’s awesome)

Once at council, the other GIS guy and myself took the intro MapBasic course, the scripting language that comes with MapInfo. The plan was to cut down some of the tasks we had to do every week but took ages to do. After plain MapBasic I “progressed” into using VBA with Access and embedding MapInfo maps into Access forms for custom applications — you can almost hear the screams from here but hey at least they worked for the tasks. Once I saw that you could also use MapInfo in .NET, I started to use VB.NET for everything, moving onto C# after that — because who really uses VB.NET any more. Once I picked up QGIS, my only path there was C++ so I left C# and MapInfo for Qt/C++ and QGIS.  After using QGIS for a long while, I started to really like writing Python, and now that is my go-to language for most things these days.

Q: With everything you did, you also developed Roam. What is Roam? I see it starting to pop up everywhere.

A: It’s nice to see you are starting to see it used by others. I think unless you hit critical mass with a project, it can be hard to see who is really using your stuff.

Roam is a Python-based QGIS application that is mainly focused around easy tablet-based data collection. Roam, which used to be called QMap, started as a plugin I developed while working for my old council to aid in our data collection process. The first version was very very primitive. It ran as a plugin in QGIS and had pretty poor UI, but it worked quite well for our needs.

After starting with DMS we invested a lot of time in making it a lot better and released it under a new name as most of the code was redone. Roam was the first project using QGIS and Python outside of a plugin that I had done, so there was a lot of learning involved in how to do it, but I am quite happy with what it has become and the number of users — there was even a Roam workshop at the recent QGIS conference. It’s also GPL, just like QGIS, which makes me quite happy as it gives people a good (bias warning) data collection application for Windows.

Q: Have you ever eaten kangaroo? If not, what’s the most random thing you’ve eaten in Australia?

I’ll pass on kangaroo, some tell me it’s good others tell me it’s bad so I will just stick to what I know 🙂

Not very many out there, but I do like my typical Aussie Vegemite and Milo in the mornings though. Tend to have more Milo in a glass than milk, and Vegemite nice and thick on toast.

Q: What is Milo?


This was full about a week ago.


My son also loves it, so that isn’t all just me 🙂

However I did just read this on Wikipedia:

Milo contains some theobromine, a xanthine alkaloid similar to caffeine which is present in the cocoa used in the product; thus, like chocolate, it can become mildly addictive if consumed in quantities of more than 15 heaped teaspoons per day

That might explain it. *eats spoon of Milo*.

Q: I always leave the last question wide open for the interviewee — now’s your chance to tell the entire world what you wish to tell them.

A: I see a lot of people in GeoHipster interviews giving out good GIS advice. I’m not sure I have anything like that I can give out. However, I will try to offer something a bit more general which has helped me recently.

Outside of family and friends, hobbies are the most important things you can have in life, especially if you are a programmer. Having non-development hobbies is super important to your health. After my daughter died two years ago I realised I didn’t have any hobbies outside of programming, and it drove me into a massive hole. My answer to the question “what do you do in your free time?” was “programming”; after Eloise died it turned into “nothing”, as I had lost interest in anything programming-related because that is all I had and burnt myself out on it. Bit boring I know, but the moral of the story is: For your own mental health get something that you can do when the normal thing you do gives you the shits and you need a time out.

Some lighter general advice is to get involved in your local open source project. It’s not always a rose garden, but it’s normally a lot of a fun to be involved in a project that other people put their love into. Luckily there is a lot of great GIS open source stuff coming out to get involved in.

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

Antonio Locandro
Antonio Locandro

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

Antonio was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kate Chapman
Kate Chapman

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

Kate was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

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

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

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

A: My ArcView 3.2 came pre-pirated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Here it is. –ed.)

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

A: No.

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

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

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

Srikant Panda
Srikant Panda

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

Srikant was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you do?

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

Srikant at his work station
Srikant at his work station

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

Q: Where do you live in India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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