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

Hangouts with James Fee:: The Internet of Things

Lorenzo Gonzalez; Founder, CEO, Chief Software Architect and Edward Pultar; Geographic Information Scientist, Founder, President of Valarm joined me to talk about the Internet of Things, sensor web, remote environmental monitoring, data acquisition and asset / fleet tracking. We’ll get into how sensors are changing how we get information and how they are being used with geospatial applications. Valarm is an Android app for managing small sensors that connect via bluetooth or USB to android devices.

This Week’s Hangout:: The Internet of Things

We’re back with another hangout. Edward Pultar, Geographic Information Scientist, Founder, President of Valarm joins me to talk about the Internet of Things, sensor web, remote environmental monitoring, data acquisition and asset / fleet tracking (Did we cover everything?).

We go live at 11am PDT (California time people) Thursday July 25th for about an hour. The video will be available on the front page of this blog. Sign up here for a reminder!

OpenGeo Invests in QGIS — Community Benefits

Generally speaking, if there is one place proprietary GIS software excels at it is on the desktop. ArcGIS for Desktop, MapInfo, Intergraph and others have created a huge market for their software which retails for a relatively high cost. Server might be up for grabs, but the desktop is the domain of proprietary software.

Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t good open source desktop choices. QGIS, gvSIG and others have a very vibrant community that wants them to succeed. But I don’t think there is any question that the desktop GIS market is dominated by Esri and others. That’s why I think this news from OpenGeo is very interesting:

We’re happy to announce that we’re investing in the QGIS community to help make this amazing open source project even more successful.

QGIS is the most widely available open source GIS tool with a proven track record and a vibrant community and plugin ecosystem. It’s nothing short of amazing how this community has achieved feature parity, stability, and ease of use relative to proprietary desktop solutions. It offers a truly open alternative that lowers barriers to entry and total cost of ownership, has no license fees, and runs on the operating system of your choice. Not only are we impressed, but we feel it fits perfectly with our mission of extending geospatial open source software to every corner of the world.

Right? Totally makes sense. Esri has for years shown that there is a symbiotic relationship between desktop software and the server. MapBox has linked TileMill and MapBox together to give people an authoring tool that has shown great promise. OpenGeo highlighted three areas they see where they can help improve QGIS. Documentation, integration with the OpenGeo Suite (GeoServer/PostGIS/etc) and GeoGit. It’s a nice simple starting point to improve QGIS and make it much more competitive with Esri. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used QGIS on my MacBook Pro for years, but this office I’m sitting in today has tons of ArcGIS Desktops around and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So I’m optimistic this can help grow QGIS and make it more of a desktop GIS product that can be deployed in enterprise environments. Competition is what makes great software and if QGIS can embrace new user interface ideas and formats, we’ll see pressure on proprietary vendors to improve as well. I’m always glad to see innovation on the desktop side of GIS and it could be a great year with ArcGIS Pro (or whatever they are calling it) arriving.

ArcGIS for Minecraft

Sorry about the title, I tried ArcMinecraft too but that was even worse.

Earlier this year I mentioned that I thought Minecraft would be a great tool for planning.

So while I was building my Fort out by the sea, he went back to restoring the hillside so it not only looked good, but could support trees, flowers and bushes. We talked about creating a rail line between our two forts and he wanted to make sure it was routed around area’s he wanted to protect.

Seems so simple, for the public they don’t care about BIM or TIN or DEM. They just want to showcase their concerns and move on. Minecraft seems to be a great tool (Yes I know Voxel.js is a great option as well but lets be honest, Minecraft is Minecraft) for accomplishing this but how to get the data in?

A couple weeks ago, Ulf and I had a hangout where we talked about getting OSM and other public data into Minecraft using FME.

So it’s interesting that at the Esri UC, Mansour Raad had a talk on using the ArcGIS Geoprocessing to export data out of ArcGIS into Minecraft. It was awesome stuff and appeared easy to work with. Well he’s blogged about it and you too can follow along and export your GIS data into Minecraft.

One day my son tells me “Hey dad, I think I can build one of your worlds in Minecraft”. What he meant about my world is a GIS world that I render using ArcMap. So I started thinking about this and wondered if I too can do this, but programatically.

Now none of this stuff is productized yet, but if you take a little time and be patient, you can export your worlds into Minecraft and get your kids off your back (bless your heart). Check out the GitHub repository and get crafting (that’s what they kids tell me to say but I feel like their trolling me).

Hangouts with James Fee:: Professional Minecraft GIS

Ulf Månsson, FME extraordinaire, joined me to talk about Safe Software FME, Minecraft and OpenStreetMap integration. We look at his Minecraft world where he takes OSM data, free government data and BIM models to build environments that match the real world. Ulf also give us a look at the FME Workbench model used to create the Minecraft worlds and Dale Lutz was putting up billboards for FME. It’s really cool stuff and we’re probably not far at all away from having Minecraft world downloads of OSM data for everyone to use.