Tag Archives: geohipster

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

Srikant Panda
Srikant Panda

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

Srikant was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you do?

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

Srikant at his work station
Srikant at his work station

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

Q: Where do you live in India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie May
Stephanie May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Ramage
Steven Ramage

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

Steven was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ed Freyfogle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Peterson
Gretchen Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Duggan, Dragons8mycat

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

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

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

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

Tim Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Mather

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

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

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

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

Tom MacWright

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

Randal Hale

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

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

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

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

2015

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Morris

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

Paul Ramsey

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

JavaScript Uber Ales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Spatial, Fewer Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Freyfogle

Two major trends:

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

Gary Gale

More Geospatial Visualisations, Maybe Less Maps

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

More Tangible Maps

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

More Bad Maps

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

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

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

OSM Will Explode

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

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

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

The 2015 GeoHipster Calendar is available for purchase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Morris: “There’s a lot of value in questioning the establishment”

Bill Morris
Bill Morris

Bill Morris is a passable developer, a derivative cartographer, and a GIS refugee. Having cleared a decade as a geospatial professional and founder of Geosprocket LLC, Bill is now mapping renewable energy markets as the Lead Visualization Engineer at Faraday Inc., where he has yet to pay for a software license but is getting nervous that the streak can’t possibly hold forever. Bill is a lifelong Vermonter, with furtive dashes into the outside world.

Bill was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A: I was a music major at Middlebury College about 15 years ago when a friend convinced me to take a geography class. Fortunately that was about the time I realized that I was a pretty bad musician, so it made a lot of sense to shift into a field that seemed to offer both a series of structural worldviews and a technical skillset. I keep running into awesome Middlebury geography grads in the wider world; I know I’m lucky to have stumbled into that department and be launched into the world with the uncontrollable desire to map stuff.

Q: Earlier this year you put your own business, GeoSprocket LLC, on hold, to join Faraday. After about six months, what is different today from when you made that transition?

A: I’m a lot less stressed.

In all seriousness, as a freelancer I grew accustomed to reaching critical stopping points – letting documentation searches drag on way too long – before putting out a question on StackOverflow or begging help from someone via Twitter. But the Faraday team seems like a hive mind most days. Pretty much any block in my technical knowledge can be covered really quickly by one of my colleagues, and I know I can offer the same to them. The efficiency that comes from a complementary team can’t be understated, and I know this because I’ve been the squeaky wheel a few times elsewhere.

I’m also a bit more pragmatic about the umbrella of GIS technology. Learning how to optimize PostGIS with a hundred million data points – in tens of thousands of configurations – has given me new perspective on limits. I’ve started to understand the database admins who reflexively scoff at spatial; whenever there’s a choke point in our data processing, it’s usually a buffer or a point-in-polygon operation. Removing the abstraction of the desktop GIS platform speeds things up a lot, but geospatial analysis is still the slow donkey bringing up the rear of the wagon train.

Q: What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve been working on lately?

A: Faraday is letting me go a little crazy with visualizations. Some things are sticking (MOAR HEXAGONS) and others aren’t (not all datasets look good as a pulsar), but it’s an amazing iterative environment for trying out ideas. We’re aiming for a distinctive, map-centric design in our platform, and over the past few months Mapbox Studio has been invaluable for tying the cartography to the app design. Our clients are also looking to us to make sense of some pretty abstract statistical concepts, so I’ve been getting into the weeds of practical information design, then emerging and hammering something together with D3. Combined with our goal of increasing renewable energy’s market share, this fulfills most of my “dream job” prerequisites.

My side projects have slowed down this year, but I’m hoping to get back to a greater level of involvement with the Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team. Crisis and development work are really motivating for me as hard-edged examples of the power of maps.

Q: You once said: “I didn’t know the first thing about code when I got into this world, but it was amazing how easy it was to adapt a little bit” with help from free resources like CodeAcademy. I have found the same thing, but also found others in the “traditional GIS space” reluctant to take the plunge into things like Javascript and HTML. What advice would you give geographers who aren’t sure if coding is for them?

A: I take it for granted that this question is settled. That obviously everyone should learn how to code, what’s the big deal? But it doesn’t take much self-awareness to realize that it was my good fortune to have both the need and the resources to learn programmatic approaches to mapping. There are plenty of GIS analysts who can keep on working without javascript or python, and I think many more who simply don’t have the time or the support. I’d like to help those in the latter group and not alienate those in the former, but my patience is waning for the anti-developer reactionary set.

To the geographers who only know the GIS desktop and feel its limits: ask for help. It’s more readily available than you think. Hell, ask me for help.

Q: Your Twitter handle is “vtcraghead”. I get the VT part, but I had to Google “Craghead”. Is that a reference to the village in England, or something else?

A: I wanted to have a unique email after college, and I was climbing like a madman at that point so I registered “vtcraghead@hotmail.com” and joined the brave new digital world. The handle stuck with me, but by the time I registered it with Twitter it was more of a joke about how I used to tie in a lot.

Although it’s curious to see that Craghead is in Durham, which reminds me of my favorite song about surveyors and the broader impact of mapping lines in the dirt . . .

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? (Who else would aspire to play in a “low profile funk band”?) How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: As with most of the previous interviewees, I subscribe to the middle ground. I admire the geohipsters (none would self-identify, I’m sure) who helped me break out of incumbent technologies, and those who are innovating geospatial tools in ways we could only dream about a decade ago. But I’m not a fan of the brash contrarian hipster archetype, either in real life or as a straw man.

As far as my own identity? I ride my bike constantly, but it has ten gears. Skinny jeans on me would be a war crime. This is Vermont, and inside these borders PBR is outlawed. However, I think there’s a lot of value in questioning the establishment.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You once rolled your own basemap tileset (using Mapbox’s guidelines). Did you do that to be different?

A: Oh jeez – that sounds like metahipsterism.

I did that as an experiment in self-reliance. I feel so poisoned by my experience with a single-vendor-technology career track that I’m always watching the exits. I love Mapbox, but I wanted to know if I could make an attractive web map without paying them anything, which is the occasional promise of open source tools.

Geohipsters fostering divisions? I see this as the current manifestation of an endless social dynamic: A new group enters a space, with new ideas. The old group finds it easier to feel threatened and defensive than to adapt. The new group can always do a better job of assisting the adaptation. </overlysimplisticparable>

Q: Like me, it’s pretty clear you’re an active dad. Loving your kids comes second nature, but let’s face it, they also require a lot of attention. What’s more tempting to compare to your kids: your projects or your customers?

A: Projects for sure. Mostly adorable and exhausting in equal measure. Thankfully, my customers neither throw legos at me nor tell me they love me.

Q: I’ve always had a theory that New England states are like siblings from the same family: they have rivalries and unique characteristics, but when challenged will band together and “defend their identity” to other states. As a fellow geographer from New England, what’s your take on that?

A: New Hampshire is definitely Vermont’s evil twin, but we’ll take it over Texas. Don’t even get me started about Sox-Yankees.

I can be a bit of a Vermont nationalist, but I’d say our industry (probably not uniquely) has flattened the cultural obstacles to collaboration. The folks I interact with on Twitter are everywhere, and it’s almost a non-issue for my career that I don’t live in D.C. or the Bay Area. That’s why I’m a technophile, in a nutshell.

Q: Admittedly, it was over 25 years ago, but Vermont is the only place I’ve observed this phenomenon. Have you seen this, and can you possibly offer an explanation?

A: Witch windows were a cheap alternative to dormers for venting and light on the upper floors of old farmhouses. I worked on a house years ago that had one, but I admit this is the first I realize they’re just a Vermont thing 🙂

Q: Any final words for GeoHipster readers?

A: I don’t personally want to be defined by my struggles against Esri. That comes up a lot in projects that I’m passionate about, but for better or worse they are the “incumbent” in this space, and they are the portal through which many of us enter the world of mapping. I’m probably just mellowing with age, but I’d rather emphasize the positivity of flexible skillsets and robust community in mapping than rant about vendor lock-in. We’ll probably all get more done with that perspective.

Josh Livni: “Depth is important; breadth is more useful”

 

Josh Livni
Josh Livni

Josh Livni has been making maps ever since he started getting lost in the wilderness. He works on the Google Crisis Response team, helping to make actionable information more accessible during times of disaster. Before joining Google, he ran a consulting company, integrating cartographic and statistical tools on the web.  He cuts his own hair, likes his beers bitter, and his salsa spicy.

Josh was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A:  Well, my wife thinks it’s because I can’t find my way around anywhere. Which is generally true: I don’t have a great sense of direction.  Starting in high school I spent a lot of time in the wilderness, and maps were like magic to me as I figured out different routes.  By the time I got to college I started to think that the integration of technology and maps was imminent and I really wanted to be part of it all.

After working at a streaming media startup during the first “.com” boom, I decided to make a career for myself that allowed me to focus on technology and the environment. I had a degree in environmental studies, and GIS seemed like a great way to mix some computer skills with figuring out how the earth works, and hopefully having a positive impact.

I started out volunteering at an environmental non-profit, where I taught myself how to use Esri and related proprietary software. From there, I slowly switched to using open source as I needed to programmatically handle bigger datasets, longer running processes, and webmaps. I never turned back and I’ve been working in geo now for over 12 years. I feel lucky to have found a profession that is so perfect for me and that I enjoy doing everyday.

Q: You recently transferred within Google from being a geo developer advocate to the Crisis Response team. What will your new duties include? Will you be doing more or less geo stuff than before?

A: There’s almost always some spatial component in getting useful information to people who have been affected during a disaster, so I’ll still be working with lots of geo data. But as always, there are many more ways to effectively communicate spatial data than simply placing it within the context of a map. My colleagues on the Crisis Response team have put a lot of thought into this (and many other areas), and I’m going to be focused on helping automate and scale more of our response processes to bring actionable information to those affected, more quickly, across the world.  The exciting part here is mixing spatial content with other data, where the concept of geo goes beyond maps and cartography.

Q: I was an early user of your shpEscape tool, which loads shapefiles into fusion tables and now also converts shapefiles to GeoJSON and TopoJSON. I love shpEscape — it fills an important void. Will you continue to enhance and add functionality to shpEscape?

A:  shpEscape was actually a weekend project of mine many years ago.  The Fusion Tables API doesn’t accept shapefiles as an input, but it was gaining a following amongst non-GIS folks who weren’t sure what to do with this “shapefile” thing they had downloaded. The code was originally designed to be throwaway, and the site was never really advertised; I’m constantly surprised it’s still running, let alone used.  But I’m glad you like it!  When people tweet me if the queue seems stuck (usually when someone uploads a few very large complex files), I often say:  ‘Yup, I should really think about working on that sometime.’  Maybe it’s that time now and I’ll check it out again: What enhancement would you like to see?

Q: How about the ability to handle all features of the “enhanced” KML output of Google My Tracks, which currently comes across as just two points (beginning and end) in most mapping applications?

Well shpEscape only accepts shapefiles as input.  But adding more formats, including KML, is definitely a good idea.  I’ve had in the back of my mind a total rewrite that turns it into a general interchange site for any spatial data for a while now.

You may also be interested to know the OGC KML Standards Working Group is currently discussing whether to put gx:Track into the upcoming 2.3 spec. While some of the gx: extensions to KML don’t make sense for 2D-only applications, or those without robust temporal visualizations, this one certainly does.  If and when it becomes part of the KML namespace, I’m optimistic we’ll see more applications accepting it.

Q: Do you think the current open/closed source balance — within and without the geo industry — will change significantly in the near future? Will open source continue to gain market share?

A: There are a lot of different markets, and in some niche verticals open source may never gain traction.  But overall yeah, I expect open source software will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in both geo and the rest of the software ecosystem.

Q: Heartbleed and the recently-discovered OpenSSL vulnerability have bolstered skepticism regarding one of the main advantages of open source. Does it make a difference that the code is available for review if nobody reviews it?

A: I’m not convinced that security is a priority for most developers.  That is the real problem, and I think it affects both open source and proprietary software similarly.  There are exceptions on both sides, but developers are mostly interested in features, like ease of use, or interop, or whatever.  Getting stuff to work is hard, so most developers focus on just getting stuff working, which is why everything is broken.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: I think that poll has me nailed: I almost always prefer GeoJSON (my only complaint is no explicit winding order), and I would never refer to myself as a GeoHipster.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You have published the source code for shpEscape. Did you do it to be different?

A: Cliques can be important for building depth within a specific community, but I lean towards breadth as being more useful (at least for me).  When webmaps became popular, the neo-geography crowd purposely avoided a lot of knowledge from the GIS community. By passing up a lot of unnecessary complexity, one result was a tremendous upswell of simple and elegant tools, but also a lot of mistakes and miscommunication that still hinder us today.

Looking at the poll results it seems like people who responded to being geohipsters are bridging that divide more than coming up with anything particularly exclusive, which wouldn’t have been my initial definition of a hipster, but I think it’s good in this case.

As for publishing the source code for ShpEscape, I did it because open sourcing stuff like that just makes sense.  I recall being a bit embarrassed by the code quality, but that wasn’t the point of the demo, nor is it a good excuse to keep it hidden.  I doubt many people have actually tried to deploy it though; I’d like to go back to it one day with a fresh rewrite as a generic swiss army knife for transforming data, with a more reasonable architecture.

Q: You fly paragliders, which is something I always wanted to try. How did you get into that? Did you do that to be different? 🙂

A:  No, I tried paragliding to see if it would be awesome. For as long as I remember I’ve had dreams of flying, and when I first heard about paragliding I thought it might be boring (sitting in some kind of chair didn’t compare to my superman-style vision).  But a friend of mine convinced me to give it a shot, and I was totally hooked.  In some ways, it’s more amazing than my childhood dreams were.  Unfortunately I have not been up for a long time.  As a personal goal, I’m going to go flying before I work on shpEscape.  Sorry!

GeoHipster 6-month anniversary recap

GeoHipster launched six months ago. At the time we didn’t know what to expect, and where it was going. But the response has been encouraging, and we’ll keep forging full speed ahead.

First of all, I want to thank Glenn Letham for encouraging me to launch GeoHipster, and GISUser for the initial financial support. Next, I want to thank all interviewees who graciously agreed to answer my (sometimes silly) questions. I will be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Renee Sieber, our first interviewee, who came up with the idea for the interview format. Thank you, Renee! Last but not least, a huge thank you goes out to all readers, commenters, tweeters, etc.

A growing number of volunteers are helping make GeoHipster ever more interesting. We have more great interviews coming up, as well as articles and other surprises. Any and all comments, suggestions, and critiques are welcome — just email me at atanas@entchev.com.

Finally, a few announcements. Firstly, we are planning to publish a 2015 GeoHipster wall calendar. We invite you to submit your GeoHipstery maps or other images for the calendar (email to atanas@entchev.com). We will credit the authors, obviously.

Secondly, we have a new logo (like the new design?), and have GeoHipster t-shirts for sale to help offset our costs. Show your support and GeoHipster pride in style.

GeoHipster t-shirt
GeoHipster t-shirt

Bill Dollins to Geohipster: “Programming feels very similar to writing a poem”

Bill Dollins
Bill Dollins

Bill Dollins (Twitter, blog) is a programmer and partner at Zekiah Technologies, responsible for leading Zekiah’s geospatial consulting business.

Bill was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You are a Senior Vice President at Zekiah Technologies. Do you consider yourself a mapper, a coder, a businessman, or a social media guru?

A: I tend to think of myself as a programmer first and then a businessperson. I have been programming for a very long time so that’s primarily how I think of myself. I’ve been at Zekiah since 2001 and I take the responsibility of keeping a stable flow of work for our staff very seriously so my role as a businessperson ranks high in my identity. As far as mapping is concerned, I can use my code to make maps but I am definitely not a cartographer. I had no formal training in geography prior to getting into GIS and learned a lot from some very patient professional geographers early on. I have a lot of respect for cartographers and geographers because the knowledge required to do what they do well is very complex and I’m not certain I would be doing them proper justice to hang my hat on that peg.

Social media is an interesting question. I don’t consider myself a guru with it. All of my presence on social media has its genesis in my blog, which was my first social media “property.” That really is an outgrowth of another component of my identity not mentioned above; which is that of a writer. I have written from an early age and programming, for me, is actually a creative experience that feels very similar to writing a poem. Writing is as core to me as programming.

Q: You do contract work for the US Navy, which we probably can’t talk about. So let’s talk about your extracurricular geoactivities which you document on your blog geoMusings. You write about integrating open source with Esri technologies. Tell us more about this. Do you do it for fun?

A: I have been programming in one way or another since I was ten years old. I am exceedingly blessed to be able to make a living at something that I truly enjoy. So, yes, I do it for fun and recreation. That said, very little of what I blog about is purely recreational. I, like many people, started in the geospatial world with Esri technologies. It will come as a shock to no one, especially Esri, that Esri tools alone rarely meet all of a user’s needs. So I have always been involved in integrating various technologies with Esri tools. I’ve gotten fairly adept at abstracting concepts and techniques out of my customer-focused work and turning them into free-standing examples for posts. That abstraction process is very recreational and keeps me mentally flexible.

Since the mid-2000s, I’ve been working more and more with open source geospatial tools. Given that most of my customers are Federal, they also tend to be long-standing Esri shops. As a result, my initial work started out focused on integrating open-source with Esri. My first visible effort with this was participating in zigGIS, which enabled direct read of PostGIS by ArcMap. PostgreSQL and PostGIS were of great benefit to one of my Navy customers and zigGIS was a natural fit. Since then my work has evolved to a point where about 50% of my work is purely with open-source tools, including some current Navy work. Part of that is due to the fact that open source tools are making significant inroads, and part of it is due to my intentionally seeking such work. As a consultant, I think proficiency with a diverse toolset benefits my business and my customers. As a programmer, it’s just damn fun!

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: I think I’ll answer this through the prism of Geohipster. One common thread I have noticed in everyone you’ve profiled so far is a high level of energy, commitment, and enthusiasm for the work that they do. In that regard, I identify with them. I genuinely love what I do and can’t wait to solve the next problem.

The term “hipster” is a passing fad that is already losing its meaning. It is ultimately harmless.

Q: Is there a mainstream of geospatial data handling/representation? Who/what is part of it?

A: There is a mainstream and we are all part of it. The mainstream of handling and representation of geospatial data is, has been, and continues to be the layer. Regardless of technology provenance, geospatial data, especially vector, always distills down to layers. It is the most basic representation in GIS and also its continuing greatest limitation.

Given that GIS descends from map-making software, the continued prevalence of the layer is understandable. Maps were compiled from mylar separates which became layers in our software. We structure our data as layers. This is a function of both schema and common limitations of our visualization software.

I never really thought much about this until a project I worked on in 2005. It was an R&D project focused at modeling and analyzing infrastructure interdependencies. The system used an agent-based modeling approach and my role was to to provide some ArcObjects interfaces to access the geospatial data. The relevant features were used to instantiate objects in model space that began to interact with and respond to each other. The layer constraint did not exist and each object’s relationships to other objects, regardless of type, were more easily modeled.

I will confess I got a little obsessed with this concept and began delving into it more. Most geospatial databases allow you to remove the geometry constraint to store heterogeneous geometries in a table, including ArcSDE. The biggest limitation was with visualization. In the case of ArcMap (at the time), it would crash if you tried to add such a layer. At a minimum, it is inconvenient in terms of symbology and geometry collision. Layers make that easier.

If I were ever to get the opportunity to dedicate myself to a problem, it would probably be this. I find my mind wandering back to it these many years later. I think that we will probably not get past this until, as an industry, we recognize that map-making is a distinct use case from modeling and analysis and we allow our tools to diverge accordingly, similar to the way CAD and GIS diverged long ago. I could go on about this topic ad nauseam but your readers would probably fall asleep.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. On the other hand, the just-ended State of the Map US (SOTMUS) conference in Washington, DC looked like a huge geohipster lovefest. Where is the industry going? Further fragmenting into tinier factions, or consolidating into a homogeneous whole?

A: The idea that geohipsterism could foster divisions in the industry could possibly be valid if it were approached without irony. I think the direction you have taken Geohipster should allay any such concerns. I was skeptical of it at first but have come to find it quite informative. I appreciate the Q&A format with other-than-the-usual suspects.

I did not attend SOTMUS myself, due to prior family commitments, but there was a photo tweeted from it that I think sums up the current direction of our industry: https://twitter.com/ajturner/status/454809703315668992. There’s Esri, Boundless, and Google at MapBox, all in one photo. It represents the flowering of innovation across our industry from numerous sources, whether traditionally proprietary or fully open source or in between. I see integration as the rule for at least the next few years. With the exception of Google, that photo represents the spectrum of technologies that I am currently using in my consulting work to support customers.

I am integrating MBTiles into a mobile situational awareness system, I am part of a contract team that is placing Boundless technology at the core of a major solution for a civilian Federal agency, and my company is using Esri technology to produce maps and automate infrastructure analysis for defense and homeland security users. This is all current work and tracks with diversification seen by others I talk to.

I see absolutely no evidence that our industry is consolidating to a homogeneous whole. I suppose the risk of fragmentation is there but, right now, each tool suite has its strengths and all of the players have been great about implementing de facto and/or de jure open standards so it’s very easy to pick the right tools for the job and integrate them all.

As a programmer and integrator, I hope our industry never returns to days like the early 2000s, when Esri had little to no credible competition and the whole industry just seemed stagnant. I actually considered leaving the industry at that point. The current level of innovation and competition seems to be pushing everyone forward and even Esri is responding. I’m not sure that would have happened without the competitive stimulus of the likes of Boundless, MapBox, Google, and the wider, independent open-source geospatial community in general.

Q: You own a John Deere and georedneck.com. Do you consider yourself a (geo)redneck? Any plans for georedneck.com?

A: I will confess that my Deere is a baby one; a 17-horsepower lawn tractor. My father owns several farm tractors that would put mine to shame. I bought mine several years ago and it has been a tank. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one if you are in the market.

It has become stylish to tack the prefix “geo” onto the front of just about everything, so I parked georedneck.com to head off any irrational exhuberance. I haven’t taken time to decide what, if any, concept may arise from it.

As far as actually being a redneck, I’d say I probably don’t quite fit the bill, but I will say that I am very comfortable with the culture and ethos. It is more nuanced than it is often portrayed and there is a lot to respect about it, if one takes the time to scratch the surface. Labels such as “hipster” and “redneck” can quickly descend into caricature and make it easy to forget we are just talking about people from different backgrounds who are trying to live their lives.

Q: You are always very nice and cordial online. Almost too nice and too cordial. Do you ever say anything bad about anyone?

A: Yes. Myself. I am my own harshest critic.

I was raised by a Southern mom who taught me to praise in public and criticize, directly to the person, in private. That practice has served me well. I strongly believe that a person or company should not initially learn about any negative opinion I may have via social media. I sincerely hope that others would extend the same courtesy to me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Geohipster readers?

A: Share your work. Share your thoughts. Share your experience. Share your talent. It has more value than you know.