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Belle Tissott to GeoHipster: Data Science and Teenage Bird Angst

Belle Tissott
Belle Tissott

Belle Tissott is an Assistant Director of Product Development at Digital Earth Australia, where she works to develop new methods to process and analyse satellite imagery in order to map and better understand Australia’s land and water. She is a programmer and mathematician, with a strong drive to do what she can to make a positive impact in the world.

Belle was interviewed for GeoHipster by Alex Leith.

Q: You came to spatial from IT, does that mean you have geo-imposter syndrome as well as programmer-imposter syndrome?

A: Yes, yes and a little bit more yes!

One of the things which has been both amazing and confronting working at Geoscience Australia is just how many insanely smart people there are here. And whilst it’s incredible to work with and learn from such talented peers, it is almost impossible not to doubt whether you’re good enough to be a part of this, and (for me) to wonder just when everyone will realise you’re a fraud.

I recently started opening up with peers about my self-doubt, and to my surprise, it didn’t make them think I’m incompetent. They were understanding, supportive and tended to share their own doubts and fears in return. Realising that imposter syndrome is a pretty universal thing certainly hasn’t removed the feelings entirely, but I find it has made them easier to ignore.

Q: I’ve heard you describe yourself as a hippy. Can you elaborate?

A: My parents moved to a hippy commune near Nimbin in New South Wales in the 70s, and built a beautiful house in the forest. We had limited power, no mains water and an outside toilet. I grew up there as a ‘free range’ kid, playing in the mud, swimming in the creek and adventuring in the forest. It was fantastic, but very different to your average suburban upbringing. I distinctly remember being shocked when I was to start high school and we were expected to wear shoes EVERY day!

Interestingly whilst I feel like a hippy here, I feel pretty conservative when I go home to Nimbin. I think identifying as a hippy comes from what I see as important and noticing how it’s different from the norm. I feel like ‘normal’ society trains people to put a very high value on wealth and reputation, whereas these things are extremely unimportant to me. I just want to be happy, have a positive impact on the world and those around me.

Q: As a hippy, how did you get into IT?

A: Very much by accident.

I dropped out of school after year 10 and went to TAFE (Australian vocational training) and did a Diploma in Apparel Manufacturing. Throughout my studies I struggled with the way the fashion industry treated young girls, and realised by the end of it that I couldn’t comfortably be part of this toxic world. I was lost. My boyfriend at the time was applying to do Bachelor of Information Technology at university the following year, and, very much as a joke, I applied too. It sounded interesting enough, I liked computer games and problem solving, but an IT-based profession wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind, plus I didn’t finish school! To my utter shock I got in and loved the programming side of it. I could lose myself in learning languages and creating something from nothing.

Q: As an “IT gurl”, how did you get into Geoscience Australia (GA)?

A: I had a friend working as a contractor at GA and she was aware of them looking for more developer staff and thought I would be a perfect fit. I didn’t think I had the skills they were after (that good old self-doubt messing with ability to push forward), however she encouraged me to apply anyway. I was offered an initial contract of just 6 weeks working on their metadata catalogue. With only 6 weeks guaranteed and being the primary income earner for my family, I couldn’t leave my existing job, or relocate my family to Canberra, so this made for a very challenging period. I moved to Canberra alone, worked for GA during the day and did my other work over evenings & weekends, and went home to see my partner and kids every 2 weeks for just a couple of days.

All went well and I was offered a 6 month contract continuation, I left my other job and we packed up our life and made the move from sunny, warm, beachy Byron Bay, to freezing cold Canberra. Later in the year a lead dev position became available and I scored that to become a permanent part of the GA family!

Q: As a GA staff member, how did you get to work in Earth observation?

A: Ah, I think this goes back to when I was out of work for a while when my kids were young. I decided I should go back to university so I would be more employable after the time off. I chose a BSc majoring in mathematics and statistics (because I thought studying maths would be fun!). It was, and it wasn’t… I loved the maths, but got a full-time job part way through, so ended up working & studying with two young kids, which is not great for your sanity!

Anyways, how does this relate to EO? So, working at GA I was doing web development, which is what I’d always done. However, some fabulous managers saw that my maths/stats background could be good for scientific development work, so I got the opportunity to learn Python and work within the Digital Earth Australia team creating products from satellite imagery. I realised pretty quickly that this was where I was meant to be. I didn’t even know it was what I was looking for in a job, but I love everything about it now!

Q: You moved to Canberra, the center of bureaucracy, from Byron Bay, the center of… non-bureaucracy. Tell us about the two cities.

A: The two places are so vastly different, but both amazing in their own way. Byron Bay is full of natural beauty. It has the most amazing beaches in the world as well as lush rain forests and crystal clear creeks. Working in Byron I would pop to the beach for a dip during my lunch break over summer — it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave such an idyllic place, particularly for Canberra. Before spending time in Canberra my view of it was dull, grey, and full of boring public servants. We moved for work. It has FAR surpassed my expectations (though maybe not hard given what I thought of it!).

Belle with household animals

Primarily it’s the people I’ve met who have made me feel so happy to live here. My love of science at times made me feel a little out of place in Byron Bay, where conspiracy theories and alternative remedies are so popular. Now, I’m surrounded by kind, passionate, science-loving, fun people. But I miss the beach and lush forests. I miss moisture in general, I struggle with how dry Canberra is, and the sun in summer is like napalm, so I’m failing at growing veggies. But there are going to be ups and downs of all places, I like to stay focused on the ups of where I currently am — amazing, fabulous people!

Q: What you do is data science, so what does data science mean to you?

A: Data science to me is two-fold. It’s the fun in the challenge of finding new and wonderful ways to process, analyse and interpret insane amounts of data to extrapolate meaning and understanding. But it also is a way I feel I can connect my love of tech and programming, with my passion to do something positive for the world.

Q: I hear you like cosplay, what is your ultimate cosplay character?

A: The character I’ve done most is Harley Quinn. I like the happy/crazy combo, and the black/red is always fun to play with. More recently I however, if I were to have time, I would love to make some Twi’lek costumes as I think making the lekku (long fleshy head tail things) would be a fun challenge.

Q: Tell us about your parrot and teenage angst

A: Ooh our parrot was amazing. During a family weekend walk up Black Mountain we came across an injured fledgling crimson rosella. Despite being warned that it would give a solid bite (it was so tiny I thought it’d be ok), I swooped in to save the day. One bleeding finger later we were heading home with a new little baby. After a check from a vet we were told that it had a poorly healed broken wing and that it would likely never be able to fly so “I can put it down, or you now have a pet bird” — the kids were there, so we now had a pet bird (Pippin).

Surprisingly, the cat was fantastic about it and would lay there while Pip groomed him. At first all was fabulous, and he (I think) gradually learned to fly a little, from head-to-head. As he grew into a teen however he became a jerk and we were suddenly living in a house tormented by an erratically aggressive, but beautiful, sky rat. Pip’s flying got stronger and stronger. Amazingly, at the same time we began to get visits from a rosella family who would sit on our deck and chat to him through the window. One day we opened the door to take washing out and he swooped out to join the family. They all flew off together. It was beautiful to see. We would occasionally see them all at the local park, all very close to each other and him being watched over by the adults in the group.

Q: I found this fantastic picture of you and your kids in Nepal, how was that journey with young kids?

Nepalese mountains

A: It was absolutely amazing for a number of reasons, with the story behind why and how we organised this trip being just as big a part as the incredible adventures we had.

This was a bit of a mental health trip for me. I was unexpectedly made redundant and really struggled to deal with the emotions around it all. I felt rejected and like a failure. I didn’t know how to find the confidence to step back out and look for more work. I just wanted to run away and take some time to process my feelings without the stressors of normal life. The support from my family was what got me through.

Me: “I think I need to walk into the mountains in Nepal”
Matt (my partner): books tickets for the end of the week.

I have a soft spot for Nepal, the people are so friendly and the mountains are breathtaking. This was my second trip there, the first one being 12 years earlier with a 7 month old baby in a backpack. The kids weren’t that young this time (9 & 12), so very capable of walking decent distances. We spent 6 weeks wandering in the mountains and exploring new places together, it was an incredible bonding experience for us as a family and I would definitely recommend it. Also, I came back grounded, calm, at peace with what happened, and confident to get out there and work again.

Interviewer’s note: Belle has booked another trip to Nepal for December 2019 and I take full credit for re-inspiring her!

Q: And lastly, what about you makes you a geohipster?

A: I don’t know if I am. I don’t drink beer and I’m REALLY bad at growing a beard. The only time I wear a flannel is when I’m staying with my parents and wear my Dad’s. I am however a decent coffee snob. Firstly, instant coffee is NOT real coffee. Coffee which has been reheated time and time again is NOT real coffee. Plunger coffee is rough, but in desperation I could consume. But really, espresso latte with properly heated (not burnt) milk is my go to.  Or, if I’m channeling my inner hippy, a soy dandy latte (I know, not coffee – but fabulous nonetheless).

Welcome to our new site…

A picture of the GeoHipster sticker in Southern California
Our #geohipster stickers get around, even to sunny Southern California. Photo Credit: Jason J. Benedict.

Hello GeoHipster fans! It’s Mike D. here, checking in from Minnesota. Whether it’s hot or cold here, I like to think of this photo Jason Benedict shared with us via Twitter! I’m always excited to see our stickers making their way around the world.

But enough about the weather! In case you missed it in our post this past weekend, we’ve officially migrated all of our content here to this brand-spanking new WordPress site, complete with a new header image, mobile-friendlier design, and a spiffy SSL cert that hopefully keeps your network admins from blocking us.

Why now? Well, when I incorporated GeoHipster as an independent business back in 2017, the “OG” Atanas Entchev transferred most of the GeoHipster assets and operational responsibilities to me. One of the things that was left behind was the WordPress site he started (way back in 2013!) on the geohipster.com domain. To be frank, I just wasn’t ready to take over that part of the GeoHipster enterprise.

But now that I’ve got a few good years under my belt running the business, it seemed like the right time to make a transfer. Atanas and I have settled into our respective roles along with chief designer Jonah Adkins, and we’ve got all kinds of ways for you to support our work, including of course our 2020 Calendar. And we’ll continue publishing long-form, in-depth interviews with the most interesting characters in the geospatial world. To me, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come since late 2013, when Will Skora transferred the @geohipster Twitter account to Atanas and Glenn Latham suggested the poll about what defines the GeoHipster.

We hope you like our new design and the benefits that come along with it! See you out there in the interwebs, or on Null Island…

Celebrating six years with a new site, and a new poll

On December 7, 2013, the “OG” Atanas Entchev posted a poll on geohipster.com entitled “What defines the GeoHipster?” Little did he know at the time that he would be launching a movement (or something) that would be filled with hundreds of interviews, opinion pieces, stickers, calendars, and t-shirts. Well, six years in, we’re still going strong, with more volunteers, a brand new 2020 calendar, and now, this newly designed website. So what better way to celebrate our six-year anniversary than with a reboot of the poll that started it all?

Update on the 2020 calendar

On November 26th, we at GeoHipster were informed of a dispute regarding potentially incomplete credits for one of the maps in our 2020 calendar. In the following days, we entered into discussions with the involved parties in an attempt to reach a satisfactory resolution. As a result of these discussions, on December 2nd we created a Second Edition of the 2020 calendar by substituting a map from Miguel Marques. Miguel’s map ranked highly among the original submissions, and will be included in all calendars ordered after our update. The Second Edition also includes an updated cover with Miguel’s name listed among the authors.

Please join us in congratulating Miguel for becoming part of this amazing product!

Johannes Kröger to GeoHipster: “$existing_free_software can do that already.”

Johannes (Hannes) Kröger is a geospatial professional from Hamburg, Germany. During most of this interview, Hannes was working as a research assistant in the Lab for Geoinformatics and Geovisualization (g2lab) at HafenCity University Hamburg. Recently Hannes joined a consulting firm to challenge his expertise in the real world. His unprofessional outlet is a chaotic stream of things at https://twitter.com/cartocalypse.

Hannes was interviewed for GeoHipster by Kurt Menke.

Q: Hannes Kröger, where are you located and what do you do?

A: I was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, still live here and love this green city near the river. For more than 4 years I have been working as a research assistant (and pretend-PhD-student) in the Lab for Geoinformatics and Geovisualization at the small HafenCity Universität Hamburg. Most of my time was spent on teaching (mostly programming-related) but every now and then there were exciting projects to dive into. I introduced Python as go-to programming language in the study program and am damn proud and happy about that!

Q: How did you get into Geo/GIS?

A: I grew up in a family of sailors, so from an early age on nautical charts and maps were a common sight. Globes also always fascinated me. Later I became the designated navigator when sailing with friends, which involved lots of button pressing on our trusty Garmin GPS 12 unit. That device enabled a friend and me to go geocaching back when it was still a very special thing (there was just a low two digit number of caches in the whole metro area of Hamburg, iirc). Later I discovered OpenStreetMap and enjoyed mapping parts of my city, when not even the main roads were fully connected yet. It felt special, important, and so motivating: there was a map visibly growing in coverage day after day. That was awesome!

After school, when I was lost and wondering what to do, a friend suggested that her study program, Geomatics, would be something fitting my interests. I enrolled and felt at home quickly. I remember professors laughing at my enthusiasm for OSM, that inferior, easily manipulated, non-official data source. Ha, who’s laughing now! And luckily, struggling to get ArcGIS to run on Linux with Wine (I use Arch Linux btw), I discovered QGIS, completed my homework map in it, got asked by a colleague how I made it look so good and shortly after I never touched ArcGIS again. No regrets!

Q: Your enthusiasm for all things geo is evident to anyone who follows you on Twitter! Can you give us some examples of some exciting projects you are involved with and what softwares are involved?

A: Twitter is kind of my exhaust pipe for every-day experiments. I tend to lose interest after the proof-of-concept state, and I am not into marketing mundane things. So many prototypes never see a deserved polishing.

As most of my university job was filled by teaching and related duties, I usually did the exciting stuff in my free time. I find benchmarking different GeoTIFF compression and predictor settings with GDAL exciting in case you were wondering. And I will never get bored with silly geometric things in QGIS: Fake Chromatic Aberration and Dynamic Label Shadows in QGIS | Making a Star Wars Hologram in QGIS | making Flowers in QGIS,

or Dynamic elevation profile lines (“Joy Division” maps).

Doing Average Earth From Space from satellite data was lots of fun. The tools involved were wget, ffmpeg, imagemagick, gdal, lots of Bash scripting with various unixy tools and a bit of Python.

And while I also like to just play around with newly released software, I am hipster enough to usually groan and think “wait, $existing_free_software can do that already if you just learned it, you clueless developer with your NIH syndrome”.

Q: It is amazing what you can do by combining geometry generators, blending modes, live layer effects, functions/variables, and data defined overrides in QGIS! Do you ever find a way to sneak these techniques into the classroom?

A: It is so much fun! Being able to manipulate and animate geodata through those means enables me to feel like the little procedural cARTographist I wish I was. Some of my very first (BASIC) programs were explorations of geometric concepts we had just learned about in school and my fascination for that never ceased.

That one GIS course I was co-teaching was fairly basic and focuses on GIS itself but since my colleague and I were (and are!) passionate about cartography, we also showed things like QGIS draw effects and blending modes to the students. And let me tell you, everybody loves drop shadows!

Q: What’s your take on the Shapefile?

A: It is simple and it came early. Thus it’s widely supported, but also really dumb and antiquated. Seriously, it is. I wish its proponents would consider the benefits of a single-file format that supports metadata and more. Have they never gotten just “data.shp” in a mail?

By the way, did you know that @shapefiIe is actually using an upper-case “i” for the “l” bit because the true handle was taken already? What a deceitful fraud! @GeoPackage1 on the other hand, now that is one classy, prophetic name!

Q: What do you do for fun outside when you’re not teaching or playing with visualizations?

A: I write this answer from the Scottish highlands where I ended up spontaneously for a hike along Loch Lochy (huehuehue!) and Loch Ness. A considerable part of that is battling rural public transport and the unpredictable weather. I love the outdoors. Probably the sailing navigator’s cartography genes. Anyone got a boat for me?

Q: Are you a geohipster? Why/why not?

A: You people always want to label people like me, pffft. Well actually, I strictly limit myself to home-grown, sustainable FLOSS GIS software; I have strong opinions about data compression; I think Mapbox is pretty evil; I like neither Vinyl nor Shapefiles; I thought a lot about using semicolon here; and I use Arch Linux. I am ambivalent on the question and I know I’m right about that. So, yeah, I wish I wasn’t which just makes me one even more so.

Q: Any words of wisdom for our readers?

A: File bug reports if you want your tools to improve.

When you file a bug with a free and open-source project, take a moment to browse through open issues. Maybe you can give some input, maybe you can help a person who looked for tech support.

And always consider the humans behind the code, they are what makes it tick, and you should appreciate their generosity no matter what just happened to your project’s files. Backup is cheap.

 

On #PostGIS Day, We Unveil Our 2020 Calendar

2020 GeoHipster Calendar

Let us here at GeoHipster be some of the first to wish all of you GeoJSON lovers out there a happy #PostGIS Day, just in case you don’t have our 2019 calendar to give you a handy reminder. And this year, we’ve actually had our act together well enough to be able to release our 2020 calendar to mark the occasion!

Support GeoHipster and independent publishers: Buy our calendar on Lulu.

If you absolutely can’t wait to get your own, the button above will take you to the calendar on Lulu. (Order by December 10 in the US if you want it by Christmas with regular shipping.) But, some of you are also wondering who the lucky map authors are! So without further ado, here are the amazing cartographers that have been selected for our 2020 calendar:

Congratulations to all the map authors! And, special thanks to everyone who submitted a map for our competition; you all made the voting very difficult! We’d also like to thank Bill Dollins for leading the charge on this effort, Jonah Adkins for the finishing touches, our Editorial Board for judging, and this year’s guest judges: Eben Dennis, Daniel Huffman, and Sophia Parafina.

Irish commutes map

Call for Maps: the 2020 GeoHipster Calendar

Could your map be on the cover of our 2020 calendar?

Hello GeoHipster fans, cartographers, and map geeks around the world! While we’ve put out teasers over the last few weeks, today we’re making it official: we’ve set a deadline of October 25 for you to submit your map for the 2020 GeoHipster Calendar. We’re trying to move a bit quicker this year so we can have the calendar ready to order for Black Friday. But 10/25 is over a month away, so we know you’re all going to get us some amazing maps to consider!

More details are on our 2020 calendar page. Check it out, and get mapping!

David Haynes to GeoHipster: “Learn the back end…you’ll be viable forever.”

David Haynes
David Haynes

David Haynes II is an Assistant Professor with the Institute for Health Informatics at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and a health geographer who uses cutting-edge spatial analysis methods to advance knowledge of health and cancer disparities. 

David was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: You got your undergrad degree in Biology, then a Master’s in GIS shortly after. I’ve met people who have taken all kinds of different roads to discover GIS, but I think a biology degree is a new one. So tell our readers, how did you get started in geospatial?

A: I went to a small liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, (Coe College). When I originally went to school I thought I was going to be a medical doctor, so I took a lot of biology courses. I was generally interested in human and environmental biology. It was in an environmental biology course that a professor offered me a summer research position. She had heard that I was good with computers and needed some help analyzing GPS locations. That was my first real experience with “GIS and Geography”. We were running Arc 3.1 and I started playing with AML / Avenue. It was a very cool experience and led to me going to St. Mary’s in Winona, MN for my master’s in GIS.

Q: You and I crossed paths by working with some mutual colleagues in the Health disciplines. We both know that where someone lives, commutes, and works can have huge impacts on their health, but sometimes I’ve found the area to be relatively slow to adopt spatial technologies. Have you found the same, and if so, do you feel like you’re constantly selling the business case?

A: So the medical field like every field goes in waves. 20+ years ago there was the idea of the environment being a factor for causing negative health outcomes. However, GIS was just at its beginning for the broader community and much of that literature showed that the scale of analysis was critical for determining that. So health went away from that to personal behaviors and thinking that was the main cause. We are at a point now, we know that if we control for many of these personal demographic characteristics (age, race, sex), we still see large gaps or disparities. We hypothesize that the environment could explain the disparities. However, the environment now needs to be more specifically defined which is causing a headache for everyone. Most researchers approach this from the traditional epi point of view and try to add spatial on at the end. So I spend much of my time on studies that want to add spatial to them. Not many studies start with spatial as the primary focus.

Q: It does seem like the field of ‘health geography’ is growing. Can you tell us what it’s like, in your experience?

A: Yes, I think the ability to use smart devices is going to make Geography extremely important in designing interventions. I am thinking of designing a study for smoking cessation that would send you SMS notifications if you are in a business that sells tobacco. 

Q: How would you describe “health geo-informatics”? Is this just another way to say spatial (or GIS)?

A: Yeah, pretty much. I think my focus is to make health spatial and to integrate more sophisticated spatial analyses that most researchers wouldn’t. 

Q: You were once a rugby player. I don’t know much about the sport, but it appears to me to be a lot like soccer and American football: where an awareness of space, angles, and boundaries is an advantage. Did you ever think of it like that? Ever map your games?

A: Funny, Yes. I want to teach a class one day call the “Geography of Sport”. Actually all sports are about Geography. You have a limited defined extent in which you have to operate. In many classic team sports (i.e., football, basketball, hockey, etc.), the goal for the defense is to limit the space and time for different players. If a QB is throwing the football they need time and the receivers make the pass easier by creating distance between themselves and the defenders. Staying with football, every defense seeks to limit potential areas of the field while leaving other areas open. The offense tries to exploit these areas. I could go on all day about this as I really enjoy watching sports from a geographic perspective. One last thing, this is why the prevent defense in football gets no credit. The prevent defense is to prevent a touchdown on the hail mary pass not prevent the Tom Brady 5-10 yard passes. Defensive Coordinators need to develop new defenses that use a mixture of man to man with zone to be more effective in the 2 minutes offense.

Q: In Minnesota, we have a saying that there are only two seasons: winter, and construction. But you’re into aquaponics and sustainable gardening. Isn’t there a gardening analogy to that, like, “weeding and canning”?

A: Yeah, aquaponics is a labor of annoyance. It always starts out great and then something breaks two weeks later. But mostly I’m dreaming farmer. I read the book “5 Acres & a Dream” and was hooked. One day, that’s what I want to do. I’d be more of a hobby farmer in the day and do some serious programming at night.

Q: What do you think of some of the indoor, urban, industrial agriculture systems that are cropping up, sometimes as CSAs? Given the rising environmental costs of shipping, and unpredictable climate we’re facing, this seems to me like something we need to invest in more as a society. But can aquaponics really save the world?

A: Realistically, I think it’s a part of the solution. It won’t save the world, but it would improve some things like the food supply chain. Every year there are 10 e-coli outbreaks related to vegetables. This isn’t going to change. But this might be an area where aquaponics could help. I have grand ideas of how aquaponics could be used to provide benefits to society. Mostly, I do it to help my kids understand where food comes from and what waste is. I like aquaponics because it recycles the water and is kind of a closed-loop system, although I feed the fish. But I think getting people familiar with the idea of how an ideal nature system could operate would help us. It is an opportunity to learn more about ecosystems and how plants, animals, and people can all interact in a sustainable way.

Q: I’m not sure how much you know about GeoHipster, but you’re a big PostGIS user in a nascent field – which makes you different than a lot of people I know, but more like some of the “geohipsters” I’ve met. So what do you think, might you be a geohipster?

A: After re-reading your definition, I would definitely be a geohipster. Geography and using GIS in the broader health world isn’t new, but it is really in demand right now and this trend will likely continue for at least 5-10 years. I’d also say, like many of the geohipsters you have interviewed that I am a big advocate for spatial and try to help people understand why spatial is important. 

I’d say I’m a big spatial database advocate. I tend to use a variety of tools that fit the need of the project. Which I think is the mantra of your GeoHipster definition poll. I think industries and the medical world tend to be OK with the installation of a validated commercial software. However, that can take weeks or months. They always seem to have a database around and if you can move data into that they seem to roll with it. Databases just seem safe. Plus I think the ability to scale analyses out in databases is easier than programming. But you need to know how to program if you’re working with big data.

Q: You’ve got a year or more of teaching under your belt. What career advice would you give to your students – or to our readers?

A: If you are into Geography that is great, and if you are just coming into GIS I feel sorry and excited for you. The GIS field is really changing, which can be daunting at first. When I came into Geography there was a general feeling that you could learn ArcGIS and get a job. You could learn a second proprietary software and be set for life. Programming was something you could do, but wasn’t necessary. That has all changed for me and any future students.

Google Maps, MapBox, OpenStreet Map, Uber, Lyft. etc have all changed this. We are truly embracing the big data and computational science revolution. This means that you need to have mid-level understanding of computer science. You need to know how to program in an Object Oriented Language for either front end or back end. I would tend to recommend students or new people to the field to learn the back-end over the front-end. Because there are a million web designers out there that can make a map better than you. They won’t know what they are doing. They won’t know what a coordinate system is and how it matters, but they can stick it together fast. The benefit of the back-end is that you will be viable forever if you apply your spatial analysis skill within a programming framework. Be flexible and adaptable to the programming platform. I write code in R, Python, SQL (PostGIS) and Scala. Some language may be your favorite, but keep your eyes open. One resource, I’ll point people to is Packt. They have a lot of good books that I’ve purchased online.

Terry Stigers: “When done correctly, maps are truly beautiful.”

My favorite picture of myself and my son. I’m the old, scruffy one.

“I was born, which came as a bit of a shock but I rallied quickly. I survived childhood, which is hardly surprising considering the time period during which this occurred. I also survived adolescence, which surprised the hell out of everyone who knew me back then. I attended college twice – once when I was too young to properly appreciate it, and once when I was old enough to know better. I have two degrees, neither of which gets much use these days. I have had a plethora of jobs but really only one career. Truth is I’m interested in pretty much everything, which doesn’t really pay very well. I am married to a long-suffering, saint of a woman who honestly deserves much better. We have the perfect child. In my life all things map related take the form of a hobby, albeit a surprisingly persistent one. I have only gotten paid to be a Map Dork once (twice if you count the time a local brewery gave me a case of beer for a map showing where their beer could be found). I haven’t yet died.”

Terry was interviewed for GeoHipster by Bill Dollins.

Q: Please tell us about your background. How did you end up working with GIS?
I am an archaeologist by training and education. While still in college, I took a class called ‘Computer Mapping’, which had the lot of us create a road atlas using MapInfo 5.0. I immediately saw the usefulness of GIS applied to archaeology, so over the course of the following Summer I contacted ESRI and secured myself a copy of ArcView 3.2 (back then ESRI gave students substantial discounts). The rest is archaeology (with a little bit of history and GIS thrown in).

Q: What do you think has been the most promising recent (within the last three years) development in GIS? What do you think is the most concerning?

To be honest, I don’t have an answer for this one. I’ve been out of the loop for some time now. It’s not that GIS no longer fits into my life (it does), it’s just that I no longer spend any of my time dallying on the bleeding edge. These days, when I play with maps I want tools that just work. Being at the forefront of any tech requires more troubleshooting than I’m willing to engage in at the moment.

Q: What does your typical work day look like and how do you typically use GIS in your work?

I was going to answer this with an apologetic explanation about how I pretty much don’t really use GIS any more. But then yesterday I began work on a banner graphic for my campaign page for my city council run. There is a landmark atop a ridge in our town: Poet’s Seat Tower (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poet%27s_Seat_Tower). I thought a profile view of the ridge and tower would make a nice banner graphic. While normal humans would probably just open up Photoshop and whip up something nice, the Map Dork in me stirred grumpily and insisted I do things differently. So I downloaded some elevation data and used QGIS to convert it into a DEM. I then downloaded a model of the tower from 3D Warehouse (luckily, the model in question was one I did myself years ago, so no recompense or attribution is needed), packed both the DEM and the model into a 3D modelling program (Bryce, in this particular instance), then exported a nice profile view using a distance mask for easy conversion to color. Now I just have to add a little color and I’ll be in business.

Q: Not surprisingly, you have written about your use of historical maps in the past. You have also occasionally written about techniques to produce historical-looking maps with modern GIS tools. What are some of the maps that have influenced you? What about cartographers?

I cannot point directly at any particular maps or cartographers – I love them all. And what I love most about old maps is the ease with which they (usually) can be interpreted. I am referring here to their relative lack of keys/legends. One glance at an old map and you can immediately pick out and identify features. Mountains, forests (many even differentiate between coniferous and deciduous forests), towns, wetlands. Modern maps are not good about this (although some meaningful progress has been made). I think it’s because modern maps are often trying too hard to be too many different things at once. One of the things I love so much about the GeoHipster calendar is that it usually showcases maps that deftly avoid this trap. Maps that instead focus on providing concise, easily interpreted information on a given subject as it applies to a given landscape. When done correctly (as they usually are) these maps are truly beautiful.

Q: Do you have any maps displayed in your home? If so, what are they?

We have three maps on display in our home. One is a stylized isometric map of Manhattan. Another is a subway map of the valley where we live (although this valley does not, in fact, have any subways). Lastly, we have a cloth map of Italy which identifies regions according to the wines and cheeses produced there. Because wine. And cheese.

Q: Despite your public break with social media, your recently joined Facebook. (I will admit that I almost contacted you first to tell you an account had been hacked.) What prompted you to do this now?

Truth is, I’ve been toying with the idea of joining Facebook for some time now. It seems to have an exclusive lock on local news around these parts. Is the town pool open? Did they change the venue for that Human Rights Commision meeting? Is the protest on the town common still being held despite the rain? The answers to these and a host of other hyper-local questions can only be found on Facebook.

What finally made me take the plunge, though, was my decision to run for local office (relax – it’s just the city council). On the local level, running for office is virtually impossible without a Facebook presence.

Q: In what ways do you think the pervasiveness of Facebook benefits local politics and in what ways might it be a detriment?

I think Facebook’s usefulness to local politics lies in communication. Despite all its shortcomings (which are legion), FB is a decent vehicle for interpersonal communication. It allows for community-driven rules, which is an absolute necessity for civil discourse (don’t take my word for it – just look at Twitter if you want to see what happens to communication when there are no rules). As far as I can tell, the major detriment FB poses to local politics lies in participants being haunted by their past. Luckily, this does not (yet) affect me, since I only took the plunge when I decided to enter into the local political scene. So my profile isn’t already full of embarrassing photos of my sordid past.

Q: What prompted you to run for office and what are you hoping to accomplish? How do you think your background in geography informs or affects your campaign or your positions on issues?

There is a portrait of my grandfather (August) that hangs on the wall in our stairwell. August was born in Germany in the year 1900. He had a highly refined sense of duty, so when his native land went to war August was quick to enlist in the navy. He survived The Great War and returned home to Germany, where he married his sweetheart, Mary.

In time the Nazis came to power in Germany, and one day they knocked on August’s door and ‘requested’ that he enlist in their navy. August refused, so the Nazis took him away and threw him in jail on imaginary charges. They released August after a day or so, since what they really wanted was more soldiers for their wartime ambitions. A short time later another knock came at the door, followed by another ‘request’, another refusal, more jailtime.

This routine repeated itself a total of nine times. August was fairly certain he wouldn’t survive a tenth repetition, so he and my grandmother grabbed whatever they could carry and fled for their lives. They made their way to upstate New York, where they quickly settled down to raise a family. Their third and last child was my mother, Ruth.

It turned out the Nazis did indeed return for August a tenth time. In his absence they instead arrested his brother, Karl, either by mistake or out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Karl died in a concentration camp.

When the United States entered into World War II, August immediately enlisted in the American navy. He was an intensely patriotic man and when his adopted country needed him he did not question or hesitate. When the United States later became embroiled in a conflict in Korea, August volunteered yet again. My grandfather believed in obligation and duty and he was fiercely loyal to the country that took him in when his native land betrayed him.

I walk by that portrait of my grandfather repeatedly every day. I usually smile and/or nod a greeting, grateful for the level of comfort my family enjoys thanks to the sacrifices August’s generation made on our behalf. Lately, though, passing by my grandfather’s portrait has become a rather more thoughtful process. I am fully cognizant of the current state of our nation and the world and I am, of course, concerned. I do not fear overmuch for my immediate family – we are middle-class white people deep in the heart of Liberal America – but I am nonetheless concerned. It’s not that we have nothing to fear – we just have less to fear than pretty much every other demographic in America. Which makes me think about personal duty and whether my privilege obligates me to do more than I have been.

Nowadays, encountering my grandfather’s portrait gives me pause. I watch the news and I see what’s going on and when I walk by August’s portrait I hear his voice ask: “So what are you doing about it?”

Frankly, I don’t have a satisfactory answer. For most of my life I have felt that voting constituted a sufficient level of personal participation in our participatory democracy. But a one-word answer no longer seems adequate when responding to my grandfather’s spirit. And trying to convince myself that participation in social media constitutes a meaningful contribution falls well short.

And so I find myself feeling honorbound to roll up my sleeves and wade into the rising waters of America’s current mess and do my part for the cleanup detail. And the best and most immediate way I can think to do this is to get involved in local politics.

Q: What do you do for fun?

Hang around with my kid.

Q: What does the term “geohipster” mean to you and do you consider yourself one? Feel free to respond with all of the irony you can muster.

To me, ‘geohipster’ describes a person who has a deep-seated love of GIS, but mainly just wants to use it to locate the nearest cup of pumpkin spice latte. Oftimes bearded – and always partial to flannel – geohipsters are the standard bearers for modern GIS. Let’s be honest here – the overwhelming majority of the population only use GIS as a tool to find their way to food, coffee, and beer (not necessarily in that order). Geohipsters are especially well suited to provide just such services.

I myself am not a geohipster. In fact, I am instead a geohippy. The two are very similar, except geohippies wear tie dye instead of flannel, our facial hair is considerably less well-groomed, and we tend to replace coffee with other – stronger – mind-altering substances. Also, there was a promise of free sex, but that one has yet to materialize and frankly I’m getting a little pissed off about it. 

Steve Pousty: “Never go full spatial”

Steve Pousty
Steve Pousty

Steve is a Dad, Son, Partner, and Director of Developer Relations for Crunchy Data (PostgreSQL people). He goes around and shows off all the great work the PostgreSQL community and Crunchy Committers do. He can teach you about Data Analysis with PostgreSQL, Java, Python, MongoDB, and some JavaScript. He has deep subject area expertise in GIS/Spatial, Statistics, and Ecology. He has spoken at over 75 conferences and done over 50 workshops including Monktoberfest, MongoNY, JavaOne, FOSS4G, CTIA, AjaxWorld, GeoWeb, Where2.0, and OSCON. Before Crunchy Data, Steve was a developer evangelist for DigitalGlobe, Red Hat, LinkedIn, deCarta, and ESRI. Steve has a Ph.D. in Ecology. He can easily be bribed with offers of bird watching or fly fishing.

Steve was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How / why did you get into GIS? Or is it geo? Or spatial? What did you get into?

A: Ever since I was a little kid I LOVED maps – especially those cartograms in the atlas books, like Rand-McNally. Then in college I took an ink and vellum cartography class and loved it as well. In my junior year of college I did a research experience for undergraduates (REU) at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades. I chose to look at windthrow across the landscape. They had a GIS system with Arc/Info on Sun machines with the shelf full of manuals. I said: “What is this magic, computers and maps together” –  I was instantly hooked for life. I digitized in their forest cover map on a big ole’ digitizer stand with a puck digitizer. From then on during my Masters and PhD I made sure to include spatial elements so I could get my hands on spatial technology: GIS, remote sensing, GPS…

Q: Are you more or less geo these days? How do you feel about that?

A: Working at Yale, I was an internal consultant to faculty, building all sorts of technology integrations for them, some of which was spatial. When I was at Red Hat I was less geo. Both of these experiences were really exciting – especially being able to bring the spatial examples and ideas to the larger technology world. But it was also great to bring the larger technology world back to spatial. I have always been a person who likes to mix different worlds and mixing these areas has been really fun for me. So I am not full spatial now (never go full spatial) but in certain ways I have more exposure to deep spatial expertise.

Q: You recently took a role with Crunchy Data. What does Crunchy Data do, and what will you be doing there?

A: Crunchy Data is a PostgreSQL company based off a similar model to Red Hat. We hire core contributors to PostgreSQL, like Tom Lane, Paul Ramsey, and Martin Davis. All software development gets contributed back upstream or at least Open Sourced, like our container work. We make our money off of support, training, and being the experts when people need it. My role there is to help application developers (end users) appreciate all the greatness of PostgreSQL. I focus on creating content and spreading information to make developers happy and successful on PostgreSQL in general and the Crunchy Data work in particular (like our work in containers).

Q: You are known as a strong advocate for open source, and a strong environmentalist. Are these two related?

A: Actually I think it comes more from my science and financially poor grad student background. Science usually pushes for open sharing of results and data, FOSS provides the ability to actually see the algorithms. As a grad student I was always resentful of being at the mercy of software companies about whether or not they would make their software available with decent pricing. And then, finally being in an ecology program, and then working at Yale in the social sciences, there was also a lack of funding and lack of size to drive feature development in software companies. So using software like Apache, R, PostGIS (QGIS wasn’t really around then), allowed us to do reproducible work, fund small features we wanted, and deploy them or give to students to run anywhere they want. In summary I think the strong correlation in me comes from FOSS and Science.

Q: Can a person be idealistic and pragmatic at the same time? How about an organization? Explain.

A: For sure, because they can operate at different scales. Idealistic can be a way to set long-term goals and vision, but you can be pragmatic in your tactics to get to your goal. Even so for an organization. That said you do need a careful balance. If you translate pragmatic to huge profits or exponential growth then this becomes much harder.

Q: Can you explain to me Kubernetes in a way that I can use in a social setting and sound smart?

A: Containers allow you to both install software and the configuration so that you can just do “container run” which gets everything running. This is game changing for both normal server software like geoserver or apache HTTPD but also for custom-built applications. But once you get the container running you run into all sorts of issues of how you run this for real. Like how do you route traffic to the application, how do you scale it up and down, how do you keep it running if it crashes. Kubernetes handles all those issues for you. It allows you to do that by writing a JSON or YAML file that defines how everything is “installed” and configured (this is called declarative infrastructure). So now on a developers machine running minikube (a small developer install of Kubernetes) they can develop their containers and the architecture. They can then give that to ops who can take the same containers, tweak the declarations to match staging or production, and away they go.

Q: You are a frequent speaker at tech conferences. Where do you stand on happy hour vs teatime at conferences?

A: I prefer tea time. I think alcohol should be left for people going out personally at bars afterwards. Alcohol being served at events, while making some social interactions easier, can actually lead to some negative consequences as well, especially around sexual harassment. Also, if I have one drink it usually just makes me sleepy – so tea time and fresh berries please. Tea has just as much variety as beer (if not more) so we can get all hipster with it as well.

Q: You have publicly challenged our own Randal Haleand his trademark phrase “Holy crap”, claiming prior art. How would you like to see the issue resolved?

A: Simple as Randal declaring me supreme ruler of the universe – that should suffice.

Q: You have been very open about your bout with cancer. In a recent tweet thread you addressed the fake “You can do it!” positivity that is common in today’s social discourse in general, and almost expected when talking to cancer patients. Why is this so prevalent, and what does it say about our society?

A: My main point with the response is that you should start by asking the person what they want, not just assume that the popular narrative of how people deal with cancer is the way this particular person is dealing with it. For me, the whole “kick its ass” didn’t really resonate with me – I preferred more of a “I hope you have an interesting experience and finding peace with it all”. Who knows if I would have gone to a different place had my cancer been terminal. Anyway, I think humans have a tendency to take a mental model (which are helpful in general) and overuse it for every situation they get into.

Q: What do you look forward to?

A: Spending time with my partner, Angelina, hiking and chilling with my dogs, watching anime and hiking with my kids, playing video games, fly fishing, and finally some good birdwatching. Those are things I look forward to, the good things in life.

Q: Are you a geohipster? Why / why not?

A: Hell no, I generally do not like the whole hipster movement except as something to make fun of. I mean I appreciate people who are hipsters and can laugh about it. But really I am more about average geo person, helping them get shit done, and hoping they feel good about themselves when doing it.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our readers?

A: You are good enough, you are smart enough, and gosh darn it people like you.