You stole my scholarship

I put personal stories up here also for those of you who are just discovering the site. I made a comment in my last post that a recent conference wasn’t diverse enough. By diverse I mean Ethnically. By Ethnically I should say African American. By that I mean Black.

The geo world is mostly white. Male. Possibly bearded. If you go to any conference there is a huge push to bring in more women. Rightly so. Women in geo aren’t rare – but they aren’t super common. I think that one will sort itself out quicker than the color of GIS.

So why do I care? Well…..I wrote this once and deleted it months ago. Like I said – mention color and the room gets nervous.

My childhood is littered with public schools. I was one of those kids. We lived in a boring neighbourhood in a part of Chattanooga and that was my choice – Public Schools or nothing. How did I turn out? Well – it depends on who you ask these days. I think mostly OK. Some would argue otherwise.

It was an interesting look back. Elementary school was split as I remember it half white,  half black, and whoever the local church was able to bring out of Asia. As I moved forward that white black ratio changed. By high school it was probably 95% black and 5% white. Maybe.  The school I attended was at one time almost all white. The school was mascot was a “rebel” (as in confederate) and when it was integrated in the late 60s/70s it changed to the “panthers” (as in large jungle cat – or militant group – I could never quite decide). All my friends were there and as a result I really didn’t notice or care about skin color much. I would at times if something was happening and it required me to notice. Sometimes I would notice if there was a social event at school…sometimes if I went to a football game. That was school. Sometimes I would even openly make fun of the fact I was the “token white guy” on an outing. The teachers got annoyed at those jokes.

My first goofy episode, as I will call it, was in 8th grade. My English teacher forced the entire class to enter a black history month essay contest. I like writing (as evidenced) so I did my best and turned in about a two page paper on why integration/black history/something was important. Out of the whole city – two of us in that class won. I took first. The teacher walked in and looked at me and said “Out of the whole city – two of you placed in the top 3….you took first.” I chuckled. She nervously chuckled. I faked an emergency and skipped the awards ceremony at the local church. I regret that 30 something years later. The pastor of the church came to the school to deliver my $100 dollar savings bond and we stood next to each other for about 5 minutes before he realized I wasn’t black. I didn’t want to point it out. He nervously handed me the award and kept looking at me – “you’re….whiiiiiRandy?” – Yes, Yes I am.

The next episode was in 12th Grade. There were many more stories I could tell you – but none as interesting as this and the savings bond. Morehouse college was visiting the school to hand out scholarships. Morehouse is probably one of the more prestigious schools in the south and is known as the college of choice for Black Men.  My Chemistry teacher walked in and said “Morehouse college is visiting the school and you have to go.” ME?!? WHY? “Because you have a scholarship”…I don’t…I’m not going to Morehouse….“GO GET YOUR SCHOLARSHIP”. So I went. I walked in right in the middle of “….We need more black businessmen, black scholars, and….”. I came in through a back door and no one could see me except for the two guys from the college who were speaking. They stuttered and I waved. They finished the talk with “See you at the House” and I just had to say “Yay the House” and the whole room turned around and broke out in laughter. There were 14 of us there – I was #14 and the only white guy in the room. I walked up and received my scholarship and said “Can I have this in cash value?” the answer was no. I asked for half. They said no. At the time my school didn’t do two things – have computers with a database with a “B” or “W” column and check scholarship lists. So – I walked out and one of my classmates said “You?! You were in there?! You stole my scholarship Randy”. You can have it – I won’t be going. Haha. He laughed. We all chuckled going down the hallway. He went I found out years later. I think a masters candidate. Maybe. Regardless he went and should have gotten that scholarship first- but it did make for a great story.

Flash forward to graduation and then flash forward to college. I walked into a school that was 80% white. I felt horribly out of place. I found a few of my old classmates and told them how out of whack I felt. It was interesting looking back. So if you flip the entire last 12 years and made me black and everyone else white….like I said – Interesting. I understand more than I let on some days. It’s quite easy to go “Well I never get treated differently because I’m white”. I did. All the time. So when people say “I get treated differently because I’m black”. Yes. I completely understand. I was singled out for events, felt uncomfortable at some functions, and was just different. For a large part of my childhood this happened. I was the majority minority. So I get it. Better than most I hope. If I don’t I’ve let down 12 years worth of wonderful teachers.

When I started down the GIS path I started noticing how uneven the participation was with regards to skin color. Part of the reason I fell in love with Georgia URISA was I could go to a meeting and see two things: Women in a leadership role and people who weren’t white. My fondest memory was a GA URISA conference where a guy from Kenya stood up and played guitar and sang The First cut is the Deepest by Cat a bar in Athens. I walked into it the other day surrounded by drunk Frat boys..sighed…and walked out.

When I was down in the islands I was home again so to speak. I worked in some very poor rough areas and everyone was black but me. I went to two schools and I saw people that reminded me of my public school past. I found myself thinking back to high school a lot. The last few conferences I’ve been to have reminded me of my minority-majority past.

…and this may all sound horrible if you’re somewhere and you look out at a conference into a sea of multicultural faces. That is excellent. In places where you don’t though…I find it to be a sad indication of my chosen field. The women in tech/gis push is only a small component. We need everyone. Black, Male, Female, Trans, Purple,  and Blue Green. We spend too much focusing on one segment IMO – if we win that one part and we have more women who feel accepted – that’s only one battle won. A good battle won. Only one battle though. I worry some might think it’s “all good” and the war was won. We need more African American Participation. Badly. It’s a never ending affair.

Anyway – I said I would say why I stuck that one blurb in the last post. That’s why. So why ramble about it? Why not. This blog gets a good number of hits some days and if I can “do some good” then why not. If some of you go “I’m not stopping black people from showing up”. I would probably say you are right. How many people of color do we have in the field? I’ve spoken at several college events and I can count on one hand not using my thumb or pinky finger, how many african american people were in the audience while I talked about GIS. In a college. Over the last year. It’s not getting any better. In my opinion colleges are struggling with GIS in general – much less looking at diversifying the field.

So don’t think being negative on any aspect of GIS – be it a conference, inclusion of more women, or getting  three tortillas with an order of Fajitas. I hate on nothing. I love everyone.

Except for that guy over there.




I had to go into Atlanta Saturday for a meeting at a park. It was a last minute decision first marked by my leaving 15 minutes later than I should have…..It was again reaffirmed that I hadn’t planned well when I was “halfway” there and used my phone to make it the rest of the way. I’m a big believer in getting lost. It’s a lifestyle.

I used waze to locate the Park. I like Waze for the main reason you can crowd source police locations and traffic accidents. I admit it – I don’t want a ticket. Waze put me right at the park. I stopped. Looked. I was technically “in” the park with no administration building in site. I pulled off the road and said “Well – here we go – mapping guy gets lost”. I opened Google. Navigated to the park from “within the park”. It had me turn around and drive 300 feet back to where Waze had placed me. It was then I uttered a stream of cursing that no doubt would have offended the sensibilities of every good church going person within 1000 feet of my car. I rolled my windows up. I hated on the squirrel in front of me, the happy bird dancing on a tree limb, and I wanted to kick a chipmunk.

Instead of using the name of the park I used the address of the Park and that sent me somewhere different. Back to the main road. Turn Left. I looked and there was the Administration Building. I turned into the driveway except it was a dead end. I had driven beyond the entrance because the address is the building – not the driveway. Traffic was horrible. When I stomped up to the door a young lady greeted me with “it happens to everyone..Map is wrong”. I should know better.

When I was in the Caribbean doing addressing the last word as I jumped on the plane was “Don’t be surprised if no one knows their address”. In the three months of working down there it was a 50/50 shot when I asked a resident what their address is…or what they thought their address could be. A teacher I know is working on verifying addresses of students. Same thing. “A lot of kids don’t know their address…..“. In the Caribbean everyone was direction oriented and nice about lost people “Raaandy – you go down to the yellow building, turn right, walk till you get to the tamarind tree……”

I had to learn my address growing up. 3rd grade was where my teacher, Ms Robinson, held her own version of civics for the kids. We had to answer a phone. Meet public leaders. Learn our address. There was a test. I think we even had to talk to police officers but my brain has grown fuzzy on the details from 35+ years ago. We were instructed that if we moved we should learn that new address.

My Credit card was cancelled. I was standing in line and bought a burrito and my card was declined. I went home and called the company. “Well we mailed you a new card.“. I didn’t get it. “We mailed it to your address. For security reasons can you tell me your address?” Yes it’s Blah! No? OK How about BLAH? No? Ehhhhhh OK – My old address from two years ago…and No? WHAT ABOUT THIS? Ohhhhh – I used that when I moved. People were stealing my mail and I switched to paperless statements and purchased a PO Box. You mailed the new card in October of last year? Awesome. Anyone used it? No….OK – here is my new address.

A professional colleague messaged me and wanted me to help tie the US National grid to her fire hydrants. I did it. I spent a terrible amount of time with my brain “seized” up as I tried to understand why it sucked. Yes I finally said it – I don’t think it’s worth the time anymore. It’s outdated. I’ve had more people talk about it. It’s come up time and again in conversation. So I assigned each fire hydrant to the US National Grid. It was easy once I got over the inaccuracy of it. It’s only good to about 30 feet. Once I figured that out I decided the only time it was going to be useful is if you go into an emergency with a 7.5 topographic map and a ruler. My last piece of advice was to give all emergency personnel a GPS and a months worth of batteries. Assign each hydrant a GPS’d ID. At the end of the month if you run out of batteries you have bigger problems than fire hydrants.

Last night I sat in a hospital. I’m not terribly good at it. I fidget. I think way too much. I ended up on an article of something so revolutionary it was going to tear the doors off modern addressing and make a monster truck rally sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What3words. The earth has been divided up into 57 trillion squares. Each one gets three words. My front door is “freedom.caked.stuns”. Damn right it does. ‘MERICA!.



I like the idea of having a three word address. I think ultimately it’s something a bit gimmicky or I guess I should say it might work for some areas…not so great for others. Having a 3 meter square on the ground with a unique identifier is great – except I’ve been places where that’s not enough. I’ve placed addresses every 5.28 feet on a job and at times I was scratching my head trying to make sure I had enough addresses. You can buy a one word address if the three words is too much to handle from What3words. Assuming People can read. If you can’t remember an address you aren’t going to remember three words. I know my parents wouldn’t and they can read. If I supplement freedom.cake.stuns (notice I’ve already mistyped my address – bonus points if you figure out where you end up) with my actual address then OK – you won’t accidentally leave my package next door. Of course, I’m only looking at my perspective. I’m not trying to deliver something to the wilds of Denmark. Who knows how this one plays out.

17+  years ago I was working on a job in North Carolina. I had left home way late. No smart phone just directions printed out from Map Quest. I drove across the state and pulled into town at midnight. I drove to the mapped address and no Holiday Inn. I finally found the Holiday Inn and they said “yeah – maps are wrong….happens to everyone“. Next day I’m in a boat looking at a dead dolphin and the guy working for NC DNR pulls out a GPS. Not just any GPS…..This thing was huge and it had something called “Selective Availability” turned off. I wanted to hold it. “NO – IF YOU AREN’T AUTHORIZED YOU CAN’T HOLD IT“. I wanted to look and he finally showed my location with a terribly long string of numbers. We wrote down the location and off we went. Later we went back and we couldn’t find the dolphin. Someone wrote the location down wrong.

I’m moving. Yesterday had me wondering where exactly. I know the general where. No – it’s not interrupting business for more than a day or two except it’s putting me more centrally located for work and life…and it’s a good thing and a long story. It made me a bit annoyed at the thought of having to haul Miso to a new spot.  Moving is no big deal ultimately. Home will arrange itself into a cohesive thing at some point. Her where has dropped down to a 3 meter square area thanks to no eyesight. Her address is two crates and a towel. High enough to sit in my lap when needed.


According to the Internet – Confucious once said “No matter where you go – there you are”. Of course the next link down said that was wrong it was actually someone else – but don’t worry – everyone gets it confused because the internet is wrong.


Nothing is Bullet Proof.

So way back in the day when I actually went to church, about the only thing that ever stuck was “You aren’t promised tomorrow”. I always like that one idea that it might all just blow up today and that’s it. Lends a bit of excitement to it all.

I get up one morning after a several meetings with a client and shuffled over to the email and pop it open and get the “We need to talk about the Google Maps Engine Option….” email.  My clients are wonderful and different. Some days I do get a bit troubled when you read about (insert giant company here) and they’ve just landed the (insert number with multiple 0s after it). I want the small clients though – I enjoy those because we can do amazing things with tight budgets most of the time. Of course it would help if they were flush with liquid cash.

The worst job I think I ever did was for a client that had made a lot of phone calls and talked to some salesperson and bought about 40k of software. I got a call to “make some analysis” and it was pretty bad because they really had bought about 37k worth of the wrong software. I made it work. Once they had signed off on it I ran. That’s been close to 4 years ago and it still bugs me. The software they have bought if they are even still using it has flipped multiple times – I’m not even sure if it’s still offered as a desktop product.

The last client I picked up is starting at 0. I made the decision to go with QGIS for starters. Once we figure out what they want/need then we start looking at other options or we keep running with QGIS. The one thing we had sorta decided was this was probably going to roll into Google Maps Engine. Luckily we’ve both been a bit slower than normal.

I get up one morning and Google Maps Engine is no more. It’s Dead.  Luckily one of the person’s helping on this job is AppGeo. We talked. There are options for moving forward. There are a ton of options.

There are two that stick out:

I went to go meet with another prospective client and the last words out of our collective mouths were “I’m not worried about Google going anywhere”. They won’t. Their products might though. Google Wave. Google Buzz. I’m slightly concerned about Google Plus.  Google Maps Engine has another year of life support. I think since my career in this field has started I’ve learned AML, Avenue, some VB, ArcPy, Python, and last night was Python for QGIS/Plugins, and I’m just now dipping my myself into Spatial SQL with PostGIS up to my eyeballs.

It’s the problem with the giant companies. You aren’t a priority. Your money is though. You might get billed for a lot of software for someone making a sales quota. The software might just die off one day..or Change. It’s a lot of the heartburn I have on ArcGISOnline. I’ve hardly ever offered that as an option because you get too invested too quickly. Maybe one day I will – who knows. I hate to toss someone off to that and then there’s suddenly a change….and I’m left going “Well – you know – that’s just (fill in the blank) software company”.

I’d rather the process be bullet proof. Build a process so flexible off standards that it can’t die off easily. With my forestry client I’ve developed a process that’s fairly bullet proof. I need to explain it better and write directions but we’ve not had any problems over 2014 with data if we stick to the process. They are happy. I’m happy. Their clients are happy. I get paid.

So what am I doing? Looking at both options. Right now I’m leaning to CartoDB because it’s simple and powerful and I think it fits with the requirements of the client. I can explain it. ArcGISOnline is an option – but I got a bit turned off by the sudden Google/ESRI Love fest. No matter what – it’s the clients decision at the end of the day. I’m just providing a path and options for them to get what they want and not promising 40k worth of software in the interim.

Nothing is Bullet Proof….or promised. Poof. Dead. This software is no more.

Momma and Patrick Swayze said be nice

Probably the funniest thing that happened to me this year – and there were several – was the car incident. I was driving along with the child of a friend and I missed the street on which they lived. No big deal since I had 2 more turns I could make. She turned and looked at me and got excited “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU MISSED THE TURN”. I know – I’ll catch the next one. “YOU…YOU….YOU’RE AN IDIOT”. I laughed and that didn’t help the situation – the kid just got more upset.

So Monday I called someone an asshole on a talk list on OSM. A diversity talk list. So yeah….I sent it and in my head I was screaming at myself “YOU’RE AN IDIOT”.  I won’t get into the details much.

  • Person A said something and misspoke.
  • Person B took personal offense and went overboard in the response to the point I felt it was a personal attack.
  • Myself – Well….I dove in because it’s happened before from Person B.

It’s the problem on any wiki type environment. The problems on Wikipedia are well known. OpenStreetMap has the same problem. Atanas The Geohipster has asked me to comment on the state of Geo and make some predictions for 2015. Last year NRGS predicted:

  • OpenStreetMap gets kicked out of Mom’s basement (finally!) only to find a world it is unprepared for. The good news, it will live in a van down by the river.
  • OpenStreetMap finally hits the mainstream as a recognized database and ends up splitting into two separate entities: one for the people who see it as a hobby and one for the companies who see the commercial opportunities behind it.

Neither was glaringly right and I would argue mostly wrong….sorta. If you look at the state of OSM licensing – yeah it’s a mess in my opinion. The fact that the data is ODBL licensed and  the last email I saw can’t accept ODBL licensed data….well. People are jumping the commercial opportunities. Look at Mapbox.  Steve Coast is trying to kickstart a book on OSM. OSM is pretty high on itself currently. That’s Good.

The problem is the community. I don’t think there is one ……well much of one. It could be my inherent problem with not being involved enough – but I’ve got this day job. I have noticed the more involved you get the more likely you are to suffer outburst from users. It’s not every one. It’s a few people. 90% of the people who work in OSM are good and passionate. There are the 10% though…. that other 10% are there. 90% of the time I’m happy with what I’m doing – but those 10% times overshadow the good. It’s gotten more civil over the last year since NRGS went through this blowup…but still. I don’t believe for a second we had anything to do with the civility getting better. I think it just happened. There are people – good people – working on a Code of Conduct. It’s needed. I broke that by screaming asshole.

Do I want to be involved in it? If I’m able to get so upset I call someone as asshole on a list… There’s enough stupid going around these days….we live in a stressful environment. I’ve got plenty of places to rage. I broke my personal rule on threatening to quit. You don’t threaten – you just quit.

I want to believe I can drag people into OSM and have them map the things they want to map…and do something good with the outcome. Except it’s gonna involve me getting bent out of shape and calling someone something. I know me. I can’t stand bullying behavior…and I used to do it online. I’m good at it. I was well known in my past job for burning people on email. That’s probably why I was so quick to scream this week. I should turn the other cheek and walk away….but…..

For me currently HOT is the only desirable chunk of OSM. It works. It’s community mapping Community and something good is coming out of the data. Do I digitize for HOT? not enough. Very little actually. I’m more interested in my neighborhood most of the time.

  • I’ve taught workshops on OSM.
  • I chose OSM for a talk next month to a group of Linux Users.
  • I try to bring people into OSM…

…and I’m finding a hard time believing I need to be there. Like today. I need less stress in my life. I really do. I left my last job because of stress. I need more good things. Less “You’re an idiot”.  Really. I don’t believe I’m inherently right on anything. . I’m wrong more than right. I don’t suffer yelling though.

With that – I turn off comments because I don’t need comments. I’m venting.

I’ll figure it out – but for now I’m taking a break from OSM for a bit. I hate it because I’ve got work coming up and OSM plays a role in it. Maybe OSM gets relegated to work and not fun from here on out. I’ve burned too much time in two days worrying about it.

Momma and Patrick Swayze said be nice. I wasn’t. Momma would be horrified I used the word asshole in public and didn’t spell it out like most of the family learned to do. Except A double S hole doesn’t always come to mind when I’m mad.



Packed and shipped

So today was a bit different. Tis been a year of reflection.

One of the first things I did as a business was approach it as a three legged stool 7 some-odd-years ago: Training, Work, Advertising. So there were several things I did – Became an ESRI Business Partner and then became an ESRI Authorized/Certified Trainer. So when I wasn’t working I was advertising, when I wasn’t advertising I was bidding for training jobs.

I remember the first batch of laptops I leased…I was still married. The laptops were delivered and as I was hauling them in the wife gave me a look that can only be best described as “die”. “I’ve got a plan” I explained. 6 years ago ESRI training was “hot”. It was fun. It was a bit of work but if you could land jobs and be somewhat consistent teaching – there was money to be made. My first “post lab” purchase was two carts from a local office supply store. Total cost for those was $30 dollars. My first training class – a small piece of plastic flew off and I thought “well – hold up for a year please”. Probably $10,000 dollars worth of leased laptops in two $15 dollar plastic crates.

Three years later I had jumped through a terrible amount of hoops to become a ESRI Certified trainer. The lease was up on the laptops so I shipped them back and leased another 10. The day the boxes came for those 10 I remembered back to the last delivery. I was already a year and a half single currently. I opened the first box to look at the Dell Windows 7 laptops and the phone rang. I answered and it was ESRI “Hey we regret to inform you but we’re shutting down the Training Program.” I think the next words out of my mouth are “I JUST LEASED 10 LAPTOPS” and profanity. So I had some time….and I kept working and advertising and training. I loaded the new laptops in the plastic cases and another piece of plastic flew off. “Well – hold up for one more year”.

About a year later I dropped the ESRI Business Partnership. I didn’t renew my ESRI Teaching Credentials a year later. I did get one phone call concerned on why I didn’t renew my training stuff from ESRI. I explained. The ESRI Rep offered me a free BP membership. I explained why I dropped that. It was rather disheartening. I can retell the story with some zest – but actually it wasn’t fun or wonderful. You could say that when I realized…well… had to change.

Two of my legs were gone off my stool.

I adapted. I changed. I started teaching QGIS to fill in when work slowed. I actually am pumped about QGIS if you couldn’t tell. I’m actually pumped about OSGEO. It’s something I’ve become intrigued with. Not that I’ve completely dumped ESRI out  of my life…yet. I’m finding opportunity with GIS again…not ESRI flavored…not totally FOSS4GEO Flavored….but GIS.

The lease was up on my laptops and I carried them back to UPS today. $200 dollars later off they went. I didn’t renew a lease.

Am I still training? Yes. The novelty of having a lab is long gone. I think 80 to 90% of people I teach bring their own equipment. I’ve got some flexibility to lease equipment now. This leaves me leaner and reduces overhead. I’ve got a plan. A plan that is more flexible with less equipment….but better equipment. Better Offerings. More flexible offerings. Yes you may hear me say “Purchase ArcGIS” or you might hear what my last client heard “Download QGIS and lets get started”.

So I’ve got 10 USB mice, and two plastic crates now. Plastic crates with 6 years worth of wear and tear and stickers. My last Training class on ESRI Software (probably) was last week. As I emptied my car friday night and brought them back in another piece of plastic flew off the crates. “Well….you made it cheap plastic carts. That will do Pig. That will do.”

Computer Lab


I’ve been on a lot of boards. OSM. Mid South ASPRS. GA URISA. TNGIC. Four of the five are hard to deal with. The Georgia URISA board never quite was that difficult. There is the normal insanity that comes with every board. Resignations. Anger. Drama. Conferences. Workshops.

I appeared at my first conference in 2006 by calling in sick to my normal job and coming to Athens Georgia for 3 days. Went to talks. Went to meetings. Went to the social. They had rented out a bar that I’m pretty sure had changed names 4 or 5 times since 2006. I passed by it Tuesday night on my way to the 2014 Social. We left the 2006 social in a taxi. One person jumped up and said I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME. So we ended up at the Georgia Theatre. I think I was there until 2 or 3 in the morning watching some band that has no doubt changed names 4 or 5 times since 2006.

Tuesday night I found myself sitting at the Georgia Theatre with one of the original “don’t wanna go home” group from 2006. Since Then I’ve changed positions on the board 4 or 5 times….North Georgia Subchapter Chair, Education Chair, VP, President, and Finally IPP. At some point during educations chair I had a meltdown – divorce. I didn’t really feel that the board was very cohesive at that point. So I had to make my first confessional – “This meeting I planned won’t happen unless everyone helps because well……” and they all came – every one of them…from up to two hours away. So I sat at Gainesville state college with a group of people who understood more than I thought and talked about some mapping application called OSM no one had heard of….. So I got through that meeting and kept going. It was always a nice break coming to Atlanta from Chattanooga for the meetings. I actually miss the drive back to Chattanooga last night. I typically would take the longest way home possible to sit and think. Last night I didn’t have my normal texting buddy….I had a 10 minute commute to the duplex. I piled into bed and here I sit.

I’m a firm believer on boards need fresh blood. If you don’t it gets stale. It’s a problem with one of the boards I was on – no one wanted to let go. So it’s got just painful and I resigned. I resigned from the OSM Board because I sucked at treasurer and I could barely get a handle on my account much less another one.

So now what? I’m not quite done – I’ve got two more emails to send, one more function to preside over, and I can go gentle into that good night for a bit. I’ve got a few more things I want to do…a few more problems I want to cause….but I don’t have to do it while on the board for Georgia URISA……Because they would always win for my attention.

Georgia Theatre

A photo posted by Randal Hale (@rjhale1971) on


Community will fix Itself

Sort of – doesn’t mean it can’t get pushed in a direction.

Last weekend I had a phone call and I was going over some OSM related things and in the course of the conversation I said something to the effect of:

  • OSM seems to have had a profound lack of jackassery in the last few months
  • To which the caller responded with – “the Community will fix itself – it takes some time but it happens”

If you read back through the blog posts you can see where there was a lot of heart burn with OSM and the community from this side.  I’m still short with a lot of the mappers I dealt with until I decide it’s OK not to be.

Yesterday’s conversation went something like (with a completely different person) “Have you seen the discussion on OSMF?”. Nope.

To recap in two sentences and I will butcher this no doubt:

  • One voice: There is a problem with the number of women in OSM – there aren’t enough.
  • Every white tech driven 23-38 year old male: What problem?

It’s a problem. It’s a problem with me also. I guess I would call it more of a perception problem. I joke. I’m southern. I will push whatever imposed boundary is in place with a joke at times. Yeah – I know “WOE IS ME”. Heh. Not really.

So in the last year I’ve heard:

  • You’re an ass.
  • You’re a racist.
  • You hate women.

To be honest I don’t hate anyone. Now – there are people I will go out of my way to not deal with and that list is pretty neutral with regards to anything but brain material. I try my best (if the opportunity presents itself) the right solution/person into a job regardless of anatomy. I had huge conversation on gender with a friend and realized I understood nothing on the subject (it apparently has nothing to do with the dangly bits if you get my drift). So I’m trying to correct that. I don’t have enough friends period. Especially friends who are wonderfully different with regards to religion, sex, or skin color. It’s a hazard of this field. We are white, male, and unfortunately in my case follicly challenged.  I will completely own being an ass at times. It’s a hazard of me being me.

Have I ever told you the story of how I received a scholarship to Morehouse? Remind me at some point….. It’s a true story of my high school life.

So if you want to watch the OSM Community discuss – – It won’t be hard to pick out the thread where the discussion is occurring.

Question is – do you force equalization? Maybe until the community equals.

My biggest two things I’m proud of in OSM currently:

  • Got a call from the federal Government when one of the kids I worked with at a high school mapped a Nuclear Plant. They were not happy. I responded with “She mapped what she wanted to – that’s all the info I will give”.
  • One kid I helped with is still mapping two years later – she’s mapping for the EBOLA outbreak while she’s at college.

Anyway – women in tech. The minute you say there isn’t a problem that’s  the first sign there is one.

Time to go teach an OSM workshop…….

Low Balling K-12 GIS Education

This is another one of those posts that I started….stopped….started….then decided to take in a completely different direction.

K-12 education is all the rage these days in GIS. It’s gotten so popular I’m starting to question if anyone talking about it has actually set foot in a school. I’ve talked off and on about the high school I’ve worked with. I haven’t worked with them that much over the last year because I’ve been busy and distance has been an issue. Friday I found myself back at the school to load software.

They’ve got a new computer lab – I talked about it. I ended that article with “nothing bad can come out of volunteering”. I stand by that.


Back a few months ago ESRI donated software for K-12 education. I tweeted about it – my tweets were not kind. I was called out and back tracked as well as I could because I was wrong on the tweeting end of things (Imagine that). Essentially the schools get ArcGISOnline for free. Friday (September 2014) I spent time loading QGIS and ArcGIS on the new computer lab at the high school. They’ve got 20 something computers. The plan once again turned into flash drives and shoe leather. So I started. Log into one “bank” of about 7 computers and start uninstalling qgis. By the time I had walked to computer 7 I could start installing QGIS at computer 1. By the time I walked to the end I could start installing ArcGIS (desktop) on computer 1.  It was a repetitive thing and I was good with that.

So shortly after the ESRI announcement another announcement came out – GISCI was pushing GISPs to help get the ESRI donation into the schools. As a consultant I had a bit of heartburn about that – I like to donate my time. I can understand an organization jumping on the bandwagon. “GISP GeoMentors will be required to help set up ArcGIS Online accounts at local schools and tutor teachers on ArcGIS Online use and administration.” Yeah….No. If I’m volunteering I will volunteer. I’m all in – like with my clients. I’ll bleed by the time this is done. At one time I had signed up with the geomentor program – never got a call. So I will do what I want to do.

I went to public schools. I could tell you stories all day about my school. Granted this was way back when and there weren’t a lot of computers. There wasn’t much of anything new – it was probably by all accounts a Title 1 school (if that existed in the late 80’s). The school I go to is Title 1. They stretch dollars for everything.

Halfway through my install the kids appeared – which was good because in 30 minutes I was starting bank 2 of 4 on the upgrades. IMG_20140926_103202Then it became fun.

Part of our problem (as GIS People) is we don’t fully understand K-12. I couldn’t get 4 computers to log in – one kid determined I was logging into the domain and not the local admin account. She fixed it. I’ve talked about kids being spatially aware. You can thank Google earth/maps for that and their smart phone. Kids understand geography. They may not understand the relevance – but place they get.

They started getting ahead of me. I had one flash drive and I should have planned better so individual assignments started getting handed out. I assigned one kid to license ArcGIS once it had installed. I put one in charge of downloading QGIS. Suddenly the network choked. What should have been a 5 minute 200 something MB download turned into 15…then 20 minutes. A lot of the kids have chromebooks now. “WHAT! WHY? I’M SO OLD”

Another computer choked and rebooted. One just wouldn’t act right – all the computers are identical.

Right now the kids are mapping for the EBOLA outbreak for HOT. That was another conversation I won’t rehash but the teacher ties in the EBOLA outbreak with the news (which kids don’t watch) and next they are going to work on the Palestinian map (if you remember there was a little bit of issue between them and israel before the nude celebrity pic leak).

We need data – the local county has donated some of their GIS data. Can you help us download it?

I can do that and click – teachers computer has a virus which sprang to life. “Did you know your computer has a viru….”. Yes. I’ve asked for something to be done and I’m still waiting. “OK – Lemme fix that”.

By the time the kids left we had 80% of the computers finished. I kicked off the download on the computer that is now virus free and “4 hours and counting”.  It’s a 4GB download.

So I sat there. GISP’s donating expertise for Education is a bit of a low ball deal. Low Ball for those who haven’t had any relatives who were used car salesmen is where you present a great offer – but IMG_20140926_105654then change the terms of the agreement – it gets more expensive after completion of the deal. It’s a great thing to donate software. It’s a great thing to ask GISP’s to donate their time for an anomalous objective. It’s not a great thing to cherry pick a school which is what you will have to do to feel successful. “I’m going to the private school – they all have tablets”. It is your time and you can do what you want with it – but I will call shenanigans if you don’t sweat it a bit.

When we finished up “Can I turn on the projector I want to show you guys something in OSM?” Ahem and she points up. “You’ve HAD THIS LAB FOR A YEAR…OR MORE”. We will get one eventually.

So I’m not telling you to not volunteer. I’m encouraging you to volunteer. BUT – I’m encouraging you to go in and fix things. Some schools will run with the K-12 arcgisonline donation and do fabulous things.

What you won’t see advertised is what I’m pointing out. A lab that was gained through  grant writing . Computers that don’t act right. A missing projector. Computers with a virus. When I left the download was somewhere near 3 hours from completion. It would have been easier to drive to the county department and load the data on a flash drive and come back. I’m tired. We never touched GIS.

So I make you an offer – it’s the NRGS “Get your arse in a school” initiative. Go to your local school. Not that school. The one that is having a rough time of it:

  1. Go find someone that might teach GIS or at least knows what it is.
  2. Find out if they have computers and fix them. If they can’t be fixed try to get them new ones.
  3. Figure out how to make the teachers life easier.

Enable the teacher to do more with their equipment. If you succeed – then go in and start talking about GIS. Call ESRI to figure the K-12 donation thing. Load QGIS. Load ArcGIS. Explain GIS. Use Google Maps. Use Google Earth. Explain the science of location.

I hit one school. With travel and everything that was one day. One day to get things working to where I could explain GIS on Day2. That’s not mentioned in any press release. How many are prepared to spend Two days. Three? Four? A Week?

There are probably over 20 schools in the county.

You’ve got to want to hurt to make this happen. Not just hope you get a GISP point out of it. If you’re there for GISP Points you are there for the wrong reason.





49 Responses on the QGIS Support Poll.

Before I post the results a bit of “thinking”…..

It was an interesting poll. Scientific? No. Slightly revealing? Yes. I’m going to redo the poll and make it permanent on the website – I also want to make the results on permanent display. Maybe it can be a running indication of what people are thinking with regards to open source and support.

So I teach QGIS classes and it’s interesting. I keep a log of who comes to the classes and mental notes of things said before and during class. About half the people are Government. Another 25% are from a university, and about 25% are private business. Throw in the occasional non profit and student or person I let in for free just to mess with the percentages a bit.

When people come and take the QGIS classes the general attitude is:

I want to see what that “Free stuff” does. It can’t be all that good – because it’s free. By the end of class most feel “I can use this to supplement my GIS Program”. That’s partially what I preach these days is to care more about your data than your unforgettable brand of software. That’s not entirely fair because software does matter. If you’ve sunk $250,000 into an ESRI Solution I’m not going to tell you to junk it and walk away.

Since I didn’t ask people if I could post their comments I wont’ repeat them verbatim:

  • There is a market in <not the US> for commercial support of QGIS
  • This poll is misleading because QGIS isn’t ESRI Software (I did a terrible job paraphrasing that one – but I’m pretty sure I know where this one originated from…)
  • I need programming support more than technical support. I need plugins written.
  • Some users require (need) paid support to get their companies to support it.
  • QGIS has commercial support in the UK
  • I only use QGIS when I can’t do things in ArcGIS so I won’t buy support.
  • QGIS is making inroads into the university environment.

Is NRGS going to provide commercial support? Eh – I have no clue. I argue it in my head that it’s a good thing and a bad thing. I use QGIS for probably 70% of my project based work. I’m still using ESRI for most cartography and for random things I can’t get FOSS4G to do easily. I picked up a client that I’m going to be discussing quite a bit and I’ve two directions for a end “product”. Based off conversation this week the client will be a mixed software environment with an open source back end and a commercial front end (maybe). This is all still in the design phase.

With all of that…..

Screenshot from 2014-08-24 11:00:55




Finding Nemo….errrrrr Data.

This all started off with a small project I am doing for a non profit. The project will possibly get a bit larger as time goes on but we are still in the beginning stages of it. My client has no knowledge of GIS. They’ve been haphazardly locating hospitals with which to work and placing them on a map. Which to us seems crazy, but to them it gets the job done. I’ve been trying to put together an estimate for work and there are way too many unknowns. One estimate had me way to high….one had me way too low.

So yesterday I started digging. I won’t name states – but I will give you an overview of the process. I start this with “They’ve been hand digitizing hospitals”.

  • My first thought was the National Map…except something like Hospital locations are way outside the scope of that project.
  • My next guess was census which seems to have some hospital locations but they are polygons. I would like better than centroid and I would like something more “authoritative” coming from the states.

I decided to visit each states “GIS” setup…department….portal….website…..library. This takes place over 5 hours….I think…maybe more.

  • With two of the states I was able to google “Statename Hospital shapefile” and find exactly what I was looking for in less than two clicks.
  • Every major university has a half-assed page devoted to GIS links. Yes I said half-assed. Most of these aren’t curated or maintained.
  • In every search mapcruzin was ranked at the top or close to the top for data searches. I have 0 idea where this data came from – so much so I didn’t care to even investigate it.
  • One state’s search returned metadata (Yay) which pointed me to an online link that was dead (Boo). I vented over twitter and ended up using the Internet Wayback Machine thanks to @jalbertbowdenii.   He then pointed me to the new states data “portal” and I found that data. I had been searching for “Statename GIS Data” and was really coming up empty. All that came back was a website with no clear link to data. Lots of pics and mentions of awards and presentations…..but data.
  • One state search lead me exactly to that states data portal. A search on that portal for “shapefile” returned 0 results. After some exploring I discovered a second link to another portal which was down for maintenance. I ended up emailing the admin who has pointed me in another direction. There was another link that took me to a google map of all the states hospitals with no way to look at the data – just the map.
  • One state had all of their data as either “statewide” or “county”. If you didn’t find data in one you had to look in the other one. Of course hospitals were called “acute care health facilities” or something that to me said “here is where I will be at 70″ and not in a hospital. Data was in a executable zip file.
  • One states search had me register with their data portal. I downloaded the data only to find it in an ESRI personal geodatabase format. I have ArcGIS Desktop so I opened it and exported it out. I could have done this in QGIS – but time. This website also had a ton of .e00 files. What are those you ask? Look it up kids.
  • One state’s data portal was being replaced…or had been. So all of their links were dead. One link did work – the states Health department where a search for hospitals returned a 50 some odd page PDF with hospital information and addresses scattered about.
  • Right now I’m down to 2 emails and I’ve got the region covered in hospitals. except now I’m up to 8 hours of time spent on something that shouldn’t be this hard. I know 8 hours compared to hand digitizing all this data is nothing…but….8 hours to find location data for hospitals? I’m not searching for the nearest fast food restaurant. I’m searching for a building to provide health care.

So I’ve decided that the idea of accessible GIS Data must really be a joke on some level. We hear about it. We talk about it. Vendors tell us how open their product is and how data is being shared. I’m up to 8 hours in my search. Crazy that they were digitizing this data by hand? Not so much when you look at what you have to go through to find data. How hard is it to find data relating to hospitals for your state. Look. In some cases it will be easy…in some……it’s really a joke. Open data doesn’t mean much if you can’t find it.

No two states had the same setup. Almost all on some level were discussing their “data portal” or “GIS Portal”. Only in one instance did metadata come into play….and it had the wrong online linkage. Why not put your metadata up as a page with the right online linkage? 10 states, 10 pages, 10 links, and 10 downloads. Silly – because you don’t get to spend half a year building a portal with pics of people and awards and presentations.

For those of you with data portals that are jut that – spots to share and download data. THANK YOU.

Except – I can download Mars Geology Shapefiles. Use Google for that and it’s the first return….