“From the Trenches” talk at FOSS4G – Part 1

Jun 28, 2017 | GIS

This will be a bit rambling. It’s been a while since I’ve put anything substantial up here because I’ve been busy. I broke it into parts because this started turning into a rant.

First off – I’m headed to FOSS4G in Boston to speak (and teach a workshop – but more on that in a bit). The talk in Boston is “FOSS4G from the Trenches” – I think. I really can’t remember what I said the title would be. I do know what I’m going to talk about.

The Crux -> Spatial is Special mostly.

I’ve said it and probably everyone else has said it -> Spatial isn’t Special.  A few years ago it was the fun thing to scream. To a degree it’s true. 99% of my clients are running FOSS4G software these days. In some cases it was an economic move and in some it was a “We need a map” and they dove into PostGIS and QGIS. They didn’t spend a ton of time talking to sales and going to training.  Then they call me. Why call me? Well it’s reported I know what I’m doing in this area – ALTHOUGH – I think this year has shown me I have a lot more to learn.

Three things really stuck out the first part of this year:

  • My skills as a “GIS Person” are relevant in one regard and irrelevant in another. Yes Spatial isn’t special as anyone can build a web app to run a buffer and return data. Until the data comes back wrong – then I’m special again.
  • No one is updating their software like they need to. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to update their software BUT…..
  • I like data exploration and data science – BUT – building data from scratch isn’t irrelevant.

Part 1 – Skills.

Spatial is special and your data are important.

I’m dealing with three groups of people right now. I’m not even going to mention what software they are using. No – I will. ArcGIS, PostGIS, and QGIS with the data residing in Spatial Tables, File Based Geodatabases, and Shapefiles. Two are Utilities and one is a conservation group.

In every case: no metadata, no data lineage, and no thought to data completeness. I went on a rant a few months ago that Python wasn’t GIS – guess what – I’ll probably be scripting some of the data fixes….Assuming I don’t pull it all into PostGIS to fix it and then shove it all back into whatever data format people are using. In all of that I’m supposedly mentoring a couple of people and I refuse to talk about desktop software – I keep hammering on “get the attribution/data lineage right” then we will do analysis.

Another client went on a data collection binge. They bought a lot of hardware and are looking at collecting high precision data points in Fulcrum. Which led to a discussion on accuracy of phones and software and things in general with Bryan at Fulcrum. I’ve collected data with my phone. I’ve never much thought about the accuracy as I’ve always worried about the data I’m collecting. I always fall back to “well probably 40 feet (or 10ish meters)” and went back to my angry rambling about not owning an Ianything.

Anyway – I get the whole “spatial isn’t special” phrase – it’s not special because he software is everywhere these days. It’s not special because GIS is slowly fading into a tool for your chosen profession. Except here I am – my profession is geospatial and sometimes you need the grouchy guy to come in and scream at people and fix things that get broken and offer advice. Datum huh? Tables who? Projection says what?

Which brings me to my next rant – update your software. It’s not rocket science but……….

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