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