Blockholm: Crowdsourcing City Planning with Minecraft

Minecraft and planning. Seems so right doesn’t it?

The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design has announced a project where the topographic site for Stockholm has been reproduced in Minecraft and people are invited to rebuild the city virtually.

Blockholm opens on 24 October and allows people to realize the city they always dreamed of. It is interesting as it allows a form of modelling and design rarely practiced on a large scale in city planning.

What’s really awesome is you can follow the builders live on this web map. That map itself is built using Leaflet.js and is of course mobile compatible. Backend awesome is built on PostGIS with some FME help. I love the simplicity of it all!

My GIS in the Rockies Keynote

Last week I was lucky enough to give the keynote at the GIS in the Rockies conference in Denver, CO. It was a bit of a different talk from me than I’ve given in a while. Less snark and more practicality. The conference committee video taped (why do we still say “taped”?) it and you can watch it below. Geoff Zeiss was at the keynote and wrote up his take on my talk.

The slides are on Speaker Deck but you can also see them here.

Hitting the Road — Conference Season 2013

This fall has been a busy time for me and I’m enjoying it. Less than two weeks ago I was able to give the keynote at the 2013 North Dakota GIS Users Conference in Grand Forks, ND. This trip was special for a couple reasons; I picked up some UND Hockey gear, got to meet a ton of new people and now I can safely say I’ve been to all 50 states. Yes, North Dakota was the last one on my list after an airplane malfunction allowed me to add a night in West Virginia to the list earlier this year. You might say I had a fracking good time up in North Dakota (get it?) and I’m totally looking forward to going back, especially since the weather was beautiful. Must be like that year round.

This week I’m headed to the 2013 AGIC Education & Training Symposium up in Prescott, AZ. I do love myself a symposium, that’s for sure. It’s basically the Arizona State GIS conference but I guess you can’t call it that. I’ll be giving a talk on Using OpenStreetMap in your GIS Project which will be full of practical points on getting the most value out of OpenStreetMap.

Next week I’m keynoting the Manitoba GIS User Group 2013 Conference (I guess not everything is a symposium) on October 2nd. I’ll be giving a talk on staying relevant with technology changes but still calling yourself a GIS professional. Again, lots of good stuff but I don’t want to spoil it. I can guarantee that there is 100% no pictures of cats in my presentation.

And lastly, I’m keynoting the GIS in the Rockies 2013 conference in Denver, Colorado October 9 and 10th. I’ll be giving the same talk as the MGUG conference but there won’t be any French in the slides (or jokes about Maple syrup). We’ll look at ways to embrace the new cool tools everyone is using but keeping within workflows that are usually out of your control.

Hangouts with James Fee:: When I Grow Up

Thanks to Steve Citron-Pousty for joining me live from FOSS4G to talk about FOSS4G, QGIS 2.0, Boundless/OpenGeo and other geo topics. Steve had been preparing all week to bring us his insights into FOSS4G and what you should know what is going down. We also talked about all the new company names, board members and other business of geo topics.

GIS is Complicated By Design

I was going over some work last week with a colleague and they mentioned to me that basically every GIS package they own or use (proprietary or open source) is complicated and requires lots of training. I really didn’t have any response other than to nod my head knowingly. GIS software is hard to learn and use. I still to this day have problems using ArcGIS or QGIS let alone PostGIS or Oracle Spatial. We almost seem surprised when something we do works.

But why is this? Is GIS by its design just complicated? Possibly, at least the analytical aspects can be. Cartography is pretty strait-forward but the minute you start rolling out your script that calculates some impact on some area of the earth, all hell breaks loose. I’m a big fan of FME and it comes naturally to me, but you don’t just pick up the tool and start using it without some training. That goes for ArcGIS, QGIS, PostGIS or anything else.

Now lets be honest here. It isn’t a problem with just GIS. Drop me in some financial software and I’ll just randomly click around in hopes of paying an invoice. But as we discussed last week, GIS seems stuck in the same way of doing things. AML -> Python? Same way we did things 20 years ago. ArcView 3.x -> QGIS? Same crazy terminology…. We’ve seen some cool stuff with visualization and web mapping, but that’s more mainstream and possibly more controlled. I guess this is a way of our industry protecting its own.

That said, I often wonder why we don’t see more people pushing the envelope with workflows. I find myself looking for the crazy ones in our space. We’re littered with them and I’m going to try and focus on using more of their ideas in my own workflows. This isn’t about how bad things are, but how great they can be. As Steve Jobs says in that video, “…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” We hear about them, look at their GitHub repository and tweet, “Freaking awesome”. Yet back we go to the same old, same old. I think the crazy ones in our space are changing GIS and I want to come along for the ride.

GIS is complicated, only because we accept it.

URS/Autodesk Infraworks Webinar

3D is hot stuff, at least that is what the Internet seems to say. As you know, I’ve joined URS Corporation and in my group we’re big users of 3D. But not so much Esri for various reason I won’t go into right now. One tool we’ve jumped on is Infraworks (which used to be called Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler and before that Project Galileo). Naming aside, the speed at which 3D models are created these days are simply amazing. Autodesk invited URS to present how we’re using Infraworks in our projects for a little webinar. Now I’m no engineer but it would appear that you can sign up to see our Infraworks projects in action by clicking this link.

Don’t let Autodesk fool you, there are some cool GIS formats powering this thing. We’ll see how CityEngine fits in to our workflows when we eventually license it but given the engineering aspects of URS’ work, Infraworks fits the bill quite nicely and integrates with our GIS datasets perfectly.


So GRASS GIS turns 30 this week.

Today the Free Software community celebrates the 30th birthday of GRASS GIS! GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) is a free and open source Geographic Information System (GIS) software suite used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and map production, spatial modeling, and 3D visualization.

30 years old in software terms is quite old. No Windows, no Mac OS, no Linux. I was probably rolling around with a hybrid Apple ][ and 8-bit Atari combination back then. Good stuff for sure. Heck ARC/INFO (as it was called back then) was probably still running on PRIMOS. Today though GRASS GIS is fairly easy to use. Just hook it up to QGIS and use that GUI to access the GRASS backend. There is an extensive history of GRASS GIS that I encourage everyone to read. I first ran into GRASS back when the project was housed at Baylor University (heck it was over 10 years old back then).

30 years of GRASS, makes you want to sit back and enjoy. Toke, toke it up, man!

Up in Smoke