Tag Archives: mapping

Coleman McCormick: “We have enough tools out there that look great and don’t do anything useful”

Coleman McCormick
Coleman McCormick
Coleman McCormick is the VP of Products at Spatial Networks where he leads the product team for Fulcrum, a mobile mapping platform for field collection. He has a degree in geography, but has worked mostly in product development and server management (for geo applications) since. Coleman organizes the local Tampa Bay OpenStreetMap community, gives talks regularly on mapping and GIS, and has a passion for promoting geographic knowledge in education.

Q: You just became a father. Congratulations! Are there any parenting apps or technologies that you have discovered that help you out?

A: Not too many for me actually. My wife’s been using a few along the way. For a tech-friendly household, we’ve been keeping it pretty simple.

Q: It must be fascinating to compare the world you grew up in with the one that your daughter is going to grow up in. Do you think web maps will impact her life in the next ten years?

A: Yeah, it’s pretty unbelievable. I’m still shocked when I think about young people having access to things like Wikipedia for literally any piece of information they want to find out, and web maps to look at any place on Earth without needing an atlas. I have no idea how far we’ll be in 10 years, but I’m sure she’ll have her own device and use location-based stuff automatically without even realizing it. As someone who grew up flipping through atlases for fun, I’ve always wondered what that experience is like for a kid now when instead you can pop open Google Earth and zoom in anywhere, on-demand.

Q: Are you going to teach her how to read a paper map?

A: For sure, I’ll make sure she still knows how to read a map. I have a ridiculous trove of paper maps I’ve collected over the years, so there are plenty to reference for teaching! She’s already got map books she can’t even read yet.

Q: You are the VP of Spatial Networks. Describe the tasks you do in a typical week.

A: My typical week can be pretty hectic. As the head of our products group, any given week consists of lots of meetings with potential and existing customers, working with our dev team on product design, building marketing content, reviewing contracts and agreements, creating budgets, working on partnerships — I’m hardly ever working on the same thing two days straight. Notice that list doesn’t include “GIS” or “making maps”. I still squeeze in some cartography projects and work on OpenStreetMap on the side where I can.

Q: Your corporate bio says that you like to watch English football and have an unhealthy obsession with geography. Do you think those two are related? Maybe watching American football triggers disinterest in geography?

A: I got obsessed with soccer a while back and watch all of the European club leagues pretty consistently. The sport is incredibly international now. Sometimes looking up a player from a place like Ivory Coast will lead me into a maps rabbit hole of finding all the small towns the various players come from.

Q: What does your company do exactly? You build this app called Fulcrum… Why should I care about it?  Aren’t there free form builders out that I can use?

A: Yes, you should care! Our company does a range of different things including data production (creating huge base map datasets), spatial analysis, and building software tools. The software side is my domain, and Fulcrum is my major focus. Back in the early to mid 2000s we were constantly struggling to slap together different technologies for our own mapping projects where we needed data collection capability. Over the years we invested some internal resources on building our own solution. Most of what was out there we’d already tried, including the free options, but everything ended up being a hack job and not an integrated system. In 2011 our unnamed internal data collection tool was mature enough that we decided to take it to market for anyone else with similar needs in the field. Fulcrum is 4 years in now and has a strong, diverse set of customers from over 100 countries.

Q: What libraries and tools does your company use? What have they created?

A: We will use anything that gets the job done. We’re mostly a Ruby on Rails dev team, but lately we’re using tons of different things. The community of open source software tools is incredible. Postgres is our go to for data storage, Leaflet for web maps, the Mapbox API and base maps for the Fulcrum web app. We’re also doing a lot with mobile on both iOS and Android. The Google Maps APIs for iOS and Android give us maps on mobile. We’re still using the MBTiles format for supporting user-generated map packages, waiting to see where we might take that functionality in the coming year. We’ve created a handful of open source tools for working with Fulcrum, and some generalist libraries for working with different spatial data tools and formats.

Q: The company is based in Florida and you have a number of workers elsewhere in the USA. How do you bring together everyone? How do you promote company culture with remote workers?

A: A couple times a year we do all-hands sprint weeks at HQ in St. Petersburg. We’ve got a great office space here, it’s always fun to bring the whole team in for a week to work together in person. As for the communication among the team we use Slack, GitHub, Google Hangouts — whatever we need to share info and data effectively, without having too many tools.

Q: You follow mapping trends and new technologies in depth. Are there any particular tech companies and/or startups that you follow? Any of them going to be the next big bang disruptors?

A: Our community is interesting — the mapping space has threads running through dozens of different industries, which makes it a fun place to be. Most other lines of work stay focused around particular verticals.

I think what Mapbox is doing is fantastic, both for the community of software developers that need maps, and for the map data space with their investment in OpenStreetMap. There aren’t many true “startups” that I know of focused only on maps, but there are a ton out there doing things with maps that they wouldn’t have done if founded in 2005. I love what a handful of independent consultants out there are doing at the grassroots level to bring the open source geo stack to the local level to diversify the tools they’re using. Randy Hale is on a roll with his blog series on QGIS. Flat Rock Geo and AppGeo are both doing great stuff with open source. And I have to mention Brandon and Brian Reavis’s Natural Atlas — such a great concept and has some gorgeous cartography.

Q: What is your current stack for going on a bike ride in a place you don’t know? From initial research to route tracking, what platforms do you use?

A: I usually start by checking out what’s on OSM, the bike trails there are pretty detailed. I’ll look for any places on OpenCycleMap (an OSM-based map customized for cycling features) that show streets with dedicated bike lanes if there are no clear parks or trails to ride in. At any given time I probably have 2 or 3 different GPS trackers running to log data, too.

Q: Which industry do you see as needing more mapping technologies? Are there one or two fields that seem to be pretty behind the times?

A: With Fulcrum we’re heavily involved in the utilities space — telecom, oil and gas transmission/distribution, and electric power. All of those sectors have an understanding of GIS, and some of them do amazingly complex things. At the ground level, though, work with maps and data is often woefully old school. The users doing that type of field work are people that get things done. They don’t want to fiddle with technology unless it’s guaranteed to save them time and effort. I like their focus on results rather than playing with new toys. Since utilities are the circulatory system of the nation’s infrastructure, it’s exciting to get to be at the early stage of a lot of tech adoption for such an important market. And it’s always fun to bring powerful mapping tools to people for their work.

Q: Which do you prefer when it comes to maps?

  • Data or design
    • Data, the good-looking variety
  • Functionality or beauty
    • Function. Beauty is still important, but we have enough tools out there that look great and don’t do anything useful.
  • Historical or futuristic
    • I’m a big sci-fi fan, but for maps I’d have to lean toward the classic historical stuff. I look at old maps all the time for inspiration.
  • Markers or pins
    • Markers for small data, pins for lots of data.
  • Clustering or heat maps
    • Neither! But heat maps if the data support it.
  • Markdown or Handlebars
    • Markdown

Q: And other things…?

  • Black and local coffee or pour over with butter
    • Only black coffee, all varieties as long as it’s not burned.
  • MapMyRun or Strava
    • Strava
  • Twitter or Facebook
    • Twitter, though I find myself looking at them both less and less over time…
  • Commuter or road bike
    • Road bike. I keep racking up miles on my cheap one, but one day I’ll invest in something fancy.

Q: Any closing comments for the GeoHipster readers?

A: Join your local mapping or OSM meetup group. If there isn’t one near you, start one up. I’ve brought in quite a few new folks interested in mapping in our area from the local makerspace and some geocaching enthusiasts. But the GeoHipster audience is probably already on board with this. 🙂

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.”

Andrew Hill: “What are the limitations of what we call a map?”

Andrew Hill headshot
Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill (Twitter, website) is Senior Scientist at Vizzuality and is responsible for innovation, education and community engagement at CartoDB.

Andrew was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You hold a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. How did you get into mapping? Do you consider yourself a “map guy”?

A: When I was an undergrad, I started working on a project to study the spread of influenza. As part of that work, we were using Google Earth to map how different mutations spread around the world and what host species were responsible. They were pretty ugly, but they were new and definitely got a lot of people in that field thinking about data visualization and mapping. I ended up doing a masters in epidemiology, where I learned Python and PostgreSQL/PostGIS. At that point, I feel like I unknowingly sealed my fate to work on data visualization and mapping. In my Ph.D. I shifted to focus on the overlap of big data, data visualization, and global biodiversity. Maps weren’t really a specific topic in any way, my advisor just encouraged me to play with data and scientific questions and see what would emerge. So much of that play ended up taking place on maps.

With all that being said, I don’t consider myself a “map guy”, no. I just like to experiment and to solve puzzles. It is something I really learned to appreciate studying biology. I look for problems and just play with them until I get something interesting and worth sharing. I’m confident it is a skill totally outside of maps, but maps are fun.

Q: You work at Vizzuality, where — as the name suggests — you focus on data visualization. What do you say to those who say that data visualization is not “real GIS”?

A: I should confess right now that I’ve never taken a GIS course in my life. To me, GIS is a lot of things, visualization only being one of them, that all together give us the ability to gain insights from geospatial data. “Real” or “not real” seems like a rather silly distinction to make (unless you are struggling to give a justification for why you don’t do any visualization). I do think that data visualization is advancing fast. While many of the fundamentals remain unchanged, new technologies are giving us ways to see data like we never could before and it’s helping us extract the stories hidden within. I think the challenge for GIS now is to ensure that the methods we use lead us to telling stories that are truthful. This is especially important the further we venture into a world of dynamic and animated maps.

Q: You talk about the future of mapping. Will data visualization and data analysis further diverge in the future? Does “GIS” artificially clump together disciplines that are otherwise separate, just because of the spatial component in the data being handled?

A: Have you ever read E.O. Wilson’s Consilience? For all the criticisms of that book, I think it gives a nice and simple way to think about how knowledge emerges from diverse domains of study. In this case, it seems obvious that GIS and visualization come together because they can give us insights that neither domain could give us alone. Where the two domains overlap is an area still not fully explored. A lot of the exploration has been progressing lock-step with technology, in particular web technology. So I feel that this is just the beginning, not the end.

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: Labels, they come and go. A few of my co-workers call me hipster not too infrequently. They mean it in the kindest way though… I think. The word “shun” might be an extreme here, but if you are defining geohipster as thinking outside the box and engaging in dialogue outside of the mainstream, then sure, that is where I want to be.

Q: What do you think about some Geohipster readers’ concerns that “geohipsterism” (and hipsterism in general) implies exclusivity and elitism and engenders division?

A: Does it? I’m a social dunce so I might be the worst to comment on this. I guess, the times in life that I’ve felt most excluded from a group it has been because of people not labels. I’m sure some sociologists would pick a fight over that statement. But really, do geohipsters want to be exclusive? I doubt it.

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

A: It’s funny, with biologists, when you talk about GIS you talk about things like Mantel tests, kriging, niche modelling and of course mapping. I collaborated with a couple groups in school that were doing shit like, comparing the microbial diversity in extreme environments to see if they were more related to one another an ocean apart than they were to local communities a few meters apart. These questions mixed geospatial proximity, genetic distance, community composition and all sorts of nuance. Then they’d be like, oh, can we map this!? Those are the death metal groups of geospatial data handling. The mainstream is latitude & longitude and most of us are part of it.

Q: We first met when you gave a CartoDB presentation in Philadelphia. I was impressed by the technology. Where is this going?

A: The development of CartoDB moves really fast. As always, we are trying to make it easier for you to turn data into maps. We just launched some new services to turn things like IP addresses or Postal Codes into geospatial data. We are pushing hard to make it easier for teams to work on CartoDB. We are also releasing new public map pages, so you don’t even need a website to share your maps and create community discussions around them. Those are all happening right now.

In the medium term, we are aiming to lower the bar for nonprofits, startups, and students to use the platform. We think there is a beautiful ecosystem of doers and creators, and we want to give them a tool that really makes their work shine. We are just finalizing new ideas to make this happen and should have some announcements soon. We are also trying to make sure that we see the original mission of Vizzuality flourish in CartoDB. That means making the world better through our work and the work of those who share our vision. It means finding better ways to tell the stories that matter.

That leaves the longer term. I could spend a week talking about this part of the answer alone but am going to spare you. In 2013 we spent a lot of time figuring out what the mappers of 2014 would want. We built our roadmap around that vision and got to work. Now suddenly here we are, a few months into 2014. I think we did a pretty good job and became a driving force for dynamic maps on the web. We aren’t finished and have a lot more we want to develop. While development continues we are going to be forming a vision for 2015 and beyond. Two years ago, could you have guessed where online mapping would be today? It was only about two years ago that we put the SQL and CartoCSS editors into CartoDB’s browser-based mapping interface. I remember writing a query in my browser and seeing the map display the results live, it blew my mind then and still blows my mind sometimes today. But look how far it has come. Our vision for the future is still coming together, but through experimentation, collaboration, and honest desire to navigate uncharted water, I know we will be in the right place when we get there.

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

A: There are a lot of reasons why geo is so in-focus right now, mainstream or other. Maybe a major one is that maps seem to be the right proportion of truth and deception to make data accessible, to make data approachable, and to contextualize otherwise foreign concepts. Whatever the reason though, journalists, data scientists, artists and many others are picking up maps as a regular tool in their work. The exciting part isn’t really that more people are using maps. What’s exciting is that a small portion of them, but still more than times gone by, are thinking about how to break maps. Asking questions like, what are the limitations of what we call a map? Where can we change the notion of a map to enable new types of knowledge transfer? How can we bend map technology to do totally new and unexpected things? These people are pushing maps into the future. These people make this such an exciting time to work in this field.