I love a good road trip. FOSS4GNA was in St Louis Missouri this year. Close enough for me to get in the car and tune out for 5 to 6 hours.
First thing on the Agenda – QGIS. I did the 4 hour “Intro to QGIS” for about 60 something people. You had people who had worked around gis for a good while and were curious about this Open Source desktop. You had some people who had been using it and had questions. Overall it was a bit much with that many people – but worth the effort. I hope everyone walked out with something new they didn’t know. I was inspired – 4 years ago you’d scream “QGIS” and there were a few who knew. I think this year I’ve taught the 4 hour class to about 100 people. This is going well – watch for QGIS Part II coming shortly. I’m hopeful to do the 8 hour one at some point. Seriously – I know you people love 3.5 hours of me talking but the 8 hours of me talking is magnificent (it’s actually not).
I did a really technical “Copy and paste” of the paper abstracts as listed on the website and filtered out a few words that were throwing everything off. You could pick and poke and over analyze this very happy looking word cloud a bunch – I wouldn’t. Do notice the giant work “DATA” in the middle of it though. There is a very small word: GIS. So I’ve gotten the question several times over the last bit “Why go to this one?”. My consulting life has taken a very data centric turn and to deal with that data I use open source tools. So I spend a lot of time talking to people at the conference. I spend time talking to the developers who make the software I like…at this conference. This one scratches an itch for me. There are a lot of smart people. It’s a good thing. if I go to an event and have all the answers what’s the point in going. So what I walked out with is this following:
- I never heard “Big Data” – it was just data. The implication was there for it to be big. Hence you hear a lot of Machine Learning. I have only used machine learning in terrible Terminator Jokes and being snarky. It’s time to give it a look. It’s also time for all this machine learning to do a proper reboot of the Terminator franchise..
- Python is my nemesis. I need to spend more time with it. If I heard that one word once I heard it half a dozen times. Which – no big deal it’s a tech conference but for me it stuck out more than usual. Maybe I’m more self conscience about it these days. If I count every programming thing I’ve ever done that has stuck – so far it’s been bash shell scripting from 26 years ago (that’s not even programming so much). I’ve just got to force myself into more cases where I have to use python.
- All this machine learning is turning it’s collective head towards imagery. In a conference where I don’t hear a ton of “Raster” or just ignore it – suddenly raster was in my face everywhere.
- Geopackage – I feel like I’ve spent over a year going “PLEASE DON’T LET ME BE WRONG ABOUT GEOPACKAGE”. After this conference – I found it mentioned multiple times and the over arching theme seemed to be “it’s a thing now so deal with it”. With QGIS switching to geopackage as the default data format – I expect this grow over the rest of 2018.
- I found myself walking in and out of conversations constantly. Sometimes I meant to stick my head in – sometimes the conversation found me. I missed several talks just for the fun of talking to other users/developers.
- The nice thing with this open source software – there are smart people working on it. So what happens when you need improvements to the software? GDAL Barn Raising. How much hay did they raise? 140k worth. So there are much needed improvements coming to gdal. It’s noteworthy looking at the companies that contributed. Yes ESRI is in there. So if you ever wondered – they see the value of the improvements. Open source GIS touches a lot of software.
Other noteworthy things:
- Someone said “there’s a line at the women’s restroom”. If you stopped and took a look around – there were more women at this conference. I don’t have a number. There were more. There were about 527 total humans registered at the conference. I will guess higher than 35% for women. No numbers to back me up so deal with it.
- The second thing I do is go look at a mirror and walk out and look at the crowd. I’m tired of seeing white middle aged balding bearded glasses wearing people at conferences. There were people of color at this conference. The colors varied. Not everyone was like me and that was a good thing.
If there was a keynote that stuck out – it was the final one.
— Christopher Tucker (@PLANETucker) May 16, 2018
Chris Holmes brought the conference to an end with a discussion…of….well….Deep Learning…Machine learning….imagery……..the idea of a queryable earth. In other words there’s enough imagery being taken you should be able to “ask” it questions. Planet Labs it pulling down something like 10 terrabytes of imagery a day. One snapshot of the earth. A DAY. So train the computers to classify the imagery and start asking questions.
There was a lot more that happened. Walking across St Louis at night. Food. City Park. Talking to total strangers. Meeting random people I bump into over the interwebs and hassling them. I stuck my foot in the Mississippi River. I got to play Geohipster for a day and tweet random insanity. Having served on multiple conference committees – I find I’m happier not on them. This was a good event. I enjoyed it. I walked away feeling overwhelmed and hopeful for the path I’m barely scratching after 26 years. So where is FOSS4GNA in 2019? Stay Tuned.
— Randal Hale (@rjhale) May 15, 2018