Tag Archives: OpenGeo

Sophia Parafina: “Smart people will make you poor”

Sophia Parafina
Sophia Parafina

Sophia Parafina (Twitter, blog) provides janitorial services for data and is fond of firing high velocity projectiles.

Sophia was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: We first met over Twitter. Our first IRL meeting was at the infamous Thea Aldrich baby shower in Austin Texas. But I’ve never asked: How did you start in the geo field?

A: I’ve had an eclectic career. I started with GIS and remote sensing in 1993 in Forest Science at Texas A&M. I was running away from the Geography department because I was done with the squishiness of cultural geography. My first project was redoing Texas Forest Service fire control maps for all of Texas using Landsat and TIGER at Texas A&M. From there, I moved on to routing garbage trucks and dead animal pickup at the City of Austin. I worked for a series of transportation GIS and environmental engineering firms where I routed pipelines, supported environmental impact assessments, and developed integrated GIS systems for railroads and airports.

I took a left turn career-wise and worked for In-Q-Tel — the CIA’s venture capital group — and moved into the world of secret squirrels. I was a founder and CTO of IONIC Enterprise, which was one of the first companies to provide a commercial solution built around OGC standards. IONIC Enterprise was acquired by Hexagon A.B. and Erdas, that’s all I’m gonna say about that because that’s what my lawyer told me to say. Following the acquisition, I was the operations manager at OpenGeo, providing me with a view into the open source world. Lately I’ve been bouncing around various projects, including a stint with Code for America in 2013.

Q: Speaking of Code for America, you spent a year in the program. What did you do there?

A: I was part of the team working on Ohana API while at Code for America. Ohana API is a platform for serving human services data. I submitted a proposal to the Knight Foundation and won a grant that enabled our team to continue our work so that it can be deployed more easily without dependencies on what I call hipster-tech such as MongoDB, Elasticsearch, etc. I’m working on a specification to make distributing human services data easier à la Google Transit Format Specification (GTFS). This will probably be the last time I will ever work on any standard.

Q: When you were at In-Q-Tel you funded a lot of OGC standards, such as the WMS standard. Is WMS still dead (referring to your 2011 WhereCampDC talk)? What evolves next in this arena?

A: Yes, at In-Q-Tel we funded a lot of OGC efforts that included standards and testbeds. WMS was an attempt at interoperability but it was based on ideas from pre-web architecture. It’s essentially RPC over HTTP which kind of works but doesn’t fulfill the promise of service chaining which was pretty much the full expression of interoperability at the time. As a technology, WMS is a dead end. There are still installations of MapServer and GeoServer and they fit a niche, which is usually a mandate for OGC interoperability. WMS is sometimes used for tile generation, but Mapnik has filled that role operationally for most organizations that offer mapping as a service.

I think we’ve already seen what’s next in MapBox, Google, and CartoDB where they offer mapping services. I think Esri will continue on given their installed base, but this market is pretty niche and everyone is looking to the next big thing, which is probably imagery. We’re seeing a prevalence of drone mapping and the launches of micro satellites by Planet Labs are pointing towards near real-time capture, analysis and dissemination of imagery. That’s way more data and information than vector maps.

Q: When we last spoke you said you were slowly moving out of the geo field and working more with databases than geo. You haven’t left geogeekdom, have you?

A: For me, geo has become more of a sideshow. I still occasionally map things for giggles such as this competitor’s map for Brownell’s Lady 3 Gun. I sporadically blog technical stuff, sometimes geo-related.

Geo can be fun, but after working in the field for a couple decades, it feels a bit played out to me. What do I know? I’m a jaded fuck. Today I work more with various forms of semi-structured and unstructured data streams. Internet of Things looms large for me. Oh yeah, building a business around social media data is stupid. That’s so done.

For relaxation, I’m a competitive USPSA (US Practical Shooters Association) pistol shooter as well as 3 Gun Nation member. You can find me at a range most weekends blowing holes into things and reloading ammo in the evenings. I would love to leave all this computer crap and become a professional shooter, but there’s no money in it.

Q: During our recent encounter you were successfully (or unsuccessfully) blowing holes through targets. How did a nice gentle person like you start carrying around three or more guns at something called Lady 3 Gun?

A: The main problem at Lady 3 Gun was that I was too slow when blowing holes into things. I had bird flu and was hospitalized two weeks before the match, and I was happy that I wasn’t keeling over.

I got into guns because I live in a colorful inner city neighborhood where we’ve had drug dealers set up shop across the street in a rental house, infrequent home invasions, and occasional MS13 or Latin Kings gang killings a couple of blocks over. My wife is a politician and public figure, and being the other female half of this dyad can be dicey since we live in Texas.

I believe in knowing how to use a firearm effectively, but regular practice can be boring. So I started shooting USPSA where I can run around obstacles and shoot as fast as I possibly can while off balance. I joined 3 Gun Nation this year so I can be mediocre in not just one gun, but three types of guns. It’s a literal blast and the adrenaline rush can’t be beat.

Q: I never asked about your skinny jeans or record collection… or your favorite PBR craft beer bar. Let me ask instead: What are some of your tools for either ripping apart things or ripping apart data?

A: My favorite tool has to be my Leatherman, but I also carry a Rick Hinderer knife and Smith & Wesson 9mm M&P Shield as everyday carry. Following that, I use Chrome and Sublime Text as my primary tools, but vim has a very special place in my heart because it can open files greater than 200GB in size on my 4 year old MacBook Pro. I use what is handy for mapping: QGIS, Google Fusion Tables, MapBox, CartoDB — whatever I need to do at the moment. No real preference.

Haven’t used Esri products in over a decade, except to occasionally liberate geodatabase files. I cruise through github for tools. Love PostgreSQL/PostGIS, but I’m also very fond of Elasticsearch. I’ve been using Ruby recently, but I’m overcoming my distaste of Python because it has more tools for analysis. I’m pretty good at stupid bash tricks as a lifelong unix devotee.

Q: Last question: Any pearls of wisdom to throw at the readers of GeoHipster?

A: Pearls of wisdom that were passed on to me:

  1. Smart people will make you poor.
  2. You will never get ahead financially until you can make money while you sleep.
  3. “Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror.” –the Humungus in Mad Max http://youtu.be/XPY5P0TaC4k