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Moving…

I’m not saying I’ll never post here again, but I think this blog has run its course. Follow me at http://jamesfee.org. Part of this is, what do I do about twitter after some nutty billionaire ruins it and partly about this conversation.

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A GIS Degree

My son decided to change majors from biodesign to GIS. I had a short moment when I almost told him not to bring all this on himself but then thought differently. I could use my years of experience to help him get the perfect degree in GIS and get a great job and still do what he wants.

He’s one semester into the program so he really hasn’t taken too many classes. There has been the typical Esri, SPSS and Google Maps discussion, but nothing getting into the weeds. Plus he’s taking Geography courses as well so he’s got that going for him. Since he’s at Arizona State University, he’s going through the same program as I did, but it’s a bit different. When I was at ASU, Planning was in the Architectural College. Now it’s tied with Geography in a new School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning.

I have to be honest, this is smart, I started my GIS career working for a planning department at a large city. The other thing I noticed is a ton of my professors are still teaching. I mean how awesome is that? I suddenly don’t feel so old anymore.

I’ve stayed out of his classes for the past semester in hopes that he can form his own thoughts on GIS and its applicability. I probably will continue to help him focus on where to spend his electives (more Computer Science and less History of the German Empire 1894-1910). He’s such a smart kid, I know he’s going to do a great job and he was one who spent time in that Esri UC Kids Fair back when I used to go to the User Conference. Now he could be getting paid to use Esri software or whatever tool best accomplishes his goals.

I plan to show him the Safe FME Minecraft Reader/Writer.

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GIS and Monitors

If there is one constant in my GIS career, it is my interest in the monitor I’m using. Since the days of being happy for a “flat screen” Trinitron monitor to now with curved flat screens, so much has changed. My first GIS Analyst position probably had the worst monitor in the history of monitors. I can’t recall the name but it had a refresh rate that was probably comparable what was seen in the 1960s. It didn’t have great color balance either, so I ended up printing out a color swatch pattern from ArcInfo and taped it on my wall so I could know what color was what.

I stared for years at this monitor. No wonder I need reading glasses now!

Eventually I moved up in the world where I no longer got hand-me-down hardware and I started to get my first new equipment. The company I worked for at the time shifted between Dell and HP for hardware, but generally it was dual 21″ Trinitron CRTs. For those who are too young to remember, they were the size of a small car and put off enough heat and radiation to probably shorten my life by 10 year. Yet, I could finally count on them being color corrected by hardware/software and not feel like I was color blind.

It wasn’t sexy but it had a cool look to it. You could drop it flat to write on it like a table.

Over 11 years ago, I was given a Wacom DTU-2231 to test. You can read more about it on that link but it was quite the monitor. I guess the biggest change between now and then is how little that technology took off. I guess if you asked me right after you read that post in 2010 what we’d be using in 2020, I would have said such technology would be everywhere. Yet we don’t see stylus based monitor much at all.

These days my primary monitor is a LG UltraFine 24″ 4k. I pair it with another 24″ 4K monitor that I’ve had for years. Off to the other side is a generic Dell 24″ monitor my company provided. I find this setup works well for me, gone are the days where I had ArcCatalog and ArcMap open in two different monitors. Alas two of the monitors are devoted to Outlook and WebEx Teams, just a sign of my current work load.

I’ve always felt that GIS people care more about monitors than most. A developer might be more interested in a Spotify plugin for their IDE, but a GIS Analyst care most about the biggest, brightest and crispest monitor they can get their hands on. I don’t always use FME Workbench these days, but when I do, it is full screen on the most beautiful monitor I can have. Seems perfect to me.

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Are Conferences Important Anymore?

Hey SOTM is going on, didn’t even know. The last SOTM I went to was in 2013 which was a blast. But I have to be honest, not only did this slip my mind, none of my feeds highlighted it to me. Not only that, apparently Esri is having a conference soon. (wait for me to go ask Google when it is) OK, they are having it next week. I used to be the person who went to as much as I could, either through attending or invited to keynote. The last Esri UC I went to was in 2015, 6 years ago. As I said SOTM was in 2013. FOSS4G, 2011. I had to look up, the last conference that had any GIS in it was the 2018 Barcelona Smart City Expo.

So with the world opening back up, or maybe not given whatever greek letter variant we are dealing with right now, I’ve started to think about what I might want to attend and the subject matter. At the end of the day, I feel like I got more value out of the conversations outside the convention center than inside. So probably where I see a good subset of smart people hanging out. That’s why those old GeoWeb conferences that Ron Lake put on were so amazing. Meeting a ton of smart people and enjoying the conversations, rather than reading Powerpoint slides in a darkly lit room.

Hopefully we can get back to that, just need to keep my eye out.

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Unreal and Unity are the new Browsers

Someone asked me why I hadn’t commented on Cesium and Unreal getting together. Honestly , no reason. This is big news honestly. HERE, where I work, is teaming up with Unity to bring the Unity SDK and the HERE SDK to automotive applications. I talk about how we used Mapbox Unity SDK at Cityzenith (though I have no clue if they still are). Google and Esri have them too. In fact both Unreal and Unity marketplaces are littered with data sources you can plug in.

HERE Maps with Unity

This is getting at the core of what these two platforms could be. Back in the day we had two browsers, Firefox and Internet Explorer 6. Inside each we had many choices of mapping platforms to use. From Google and Bing to Mapquest and Esri. In the end that competition to make the best API/SDK for a mapping environment drove a ton of innovation. What Google Maps looks like and does in 2021 vs 2005 is amazing.

This brings up the key as to what I see happening here. We’ll see the mapping companies (or companies that have mapping APIs) deliver key updates to these SDK (which today are pretty limited in scope) because they have to stay relevant. Not that web mapping is going away at any point, but true 3D world and true Digital Twins require power that browsers cannot provide even in 2021. So this rush to become the Google Maps of 3D engines is real and will be fun to watch.

Interesting in that Google is an also-ran in the 3D engine space, so there is so much opportunity for the players who have invested and continue to invest in these markets without Google throwing unlimited R&D dollars against it. Of course it only takes on press release to change all that so don’t bet against Google.

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Arrays in GeoJSON

So my last post was very positive. I figured out how to relate the teams that share a stadium with the stadium itself. This was important because I wanted to eliminate the redundant points that were on top of each other. For those who don’t recall, I have an example in this gist:

Now I mentioned that there were issues displaying this in GIS applications and was promptly told I was doing this incorrectly:

If you click on that tweet you’ll see basically that you can’t do it the way I want and I have to go back to the way I was doing it before:

I had a conversation with Bill Dollins about it and he sums it up susinctly:

I get it, but “Do it this way because that’s what the software can handle” is an unsatisfying answer.

So I’m stuck, I honestly don’t care if QGIS can read the data, because it can. It just isn’t optimal. What I do care about is an organized dataset in GeoJSON. So my question that I can’t get a definitive answer, “is the array I have above valid GeoJSON code?”. From what I’ve seen, yes. But nobody wants to go on record as saying absolutely. I could say, hell with it I’m moving forward but I don’t want to go down a dead end road.

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GeoJSON Ballparks as JSON

In a way it is good that Sean Gillies doesn’t follow me anymore. Because I can hear his voice in my head as I was trying to do something really stupid with the project. But Sheldon helps frame what I should be doing with what I was doing:

Exactly! What the hell? Why was I trying to do something so stupid when the while point of this project is baseball ballparks in GeoJSON. Here is the problem in a nutshell and how I solved it. First off, let us simply the problem down to just one ballpark. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the Spring Training facility for both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. Not only that, but there are Fall League and Rookie League teams playing there. Probably even more that I still haven’t researched. Anyway, GeoJSON Ballparks looks like this today when you just want to see that one stadium.

Let’s just say I backed myself in this corner by starting by only having MLB ballparks, none of which at the time of the project were shared between teams.

It’s a mess right? Overlapping points, so many opportunities to screw up names. So my old school thought was just create a one-to-many relationship between the GeoJSON points and some external table. Madness! Seriously, what was I thinking? Sheldon is right, I should be doing a JSON array for the teams. Look how much nicer it all looks when I do this!

Look how nice that all is? So easy to read and it keeps the focus on the ballparks.

As I said in the earlier blog post.

The problem now is so many teams, especially in spring training, minor leagues and fall ball, share stadiums, that in GeoJSON-Ballparks, you end up with multiple dots on top of each other. No one-to-many relationship that should happen.”

The project had pivoted in a way I hadn’t anticipated back in 2014 and it was a sure a mess to maintain. So now I can focus on fixing the project with the Minor League Baseball realignment that went on this year and get an updated dataset in Github very soon.

One outcome of doing this nested array is that many GIS tools don’t understand how to display the data. Take a look at geojson.io:

geojson.io compresses the array into one big JSON-formatted string. QGIS and Github do this also. It’s an issue that I’m willing to live with. Bill Dollins shared the GeoJSON spec with me to prove the way I’m doing is correct:

3.2.  Feature Object
   A Feature object represents a spatially bounded thing.  Every Feature
   object is a GeoJSON object no matter where it occurs in a GeoJSON
   text.
   o  A Feature object has a "type" member with the value
      "Feature".
   o  A Feature object has a member with the name 
      "geometry".  The value of the geometry member SHALL
      be either a Geometry object as defined above or, in 
      the case that the Feature is unlocated, a JSON 
      null value.
   o  A Feature object has a member with the name 
      "properties".  The value of the properties member is
      an object (any JSON object or a JSON null value).

ANY JSON OBJECT! So formatting the files this way is correct and the way it should be done. I’m going to push forward on cleaning up GeoJSON Ballparks and let the GIS tools try and catch up.

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GeoJSON Ballparks and MLB Minor League Realignment

**UPDATE** – See the plan.

Boy, where to start? First, for those who haven’t been following, this happened over the winter.

Major League Baseball announced on Friday (February 12, 2021) a new plan for affiliated baseball, with 120 Minor League clubs officially agreeing to join the new Professional Development League (PDL). A full list of Major League teams and their new affiliates, one for each level of full-season ball, along with a complex league (Gulf Coast and Arizona) team, can be found below.

Minor League Baseball

What does that mean? Well for GeoJSON Ballparks basically every minor league team is having a modification to it. At a minimum, the old minor league names have changed. Take the Pacific Coast League that existed for over 118 years is now part of Triple-A West which couldn’t be a more boring name. All up and down the minor leagues, the names now just reflect the level of minor league the teams are. And some teams have moved from AAA to Single A and all around.

I usually wait until Spring Training is just about over to update the minor league teams but this year it almost makes zero sense. I’ve sort of backed myself into a spatial problem, unintended when I started. Basically, the project initially was just MLB teams and their ballparks. The key to that is that the teams drove the dataset, not the ballparks even though the title of the project clearly said it was. As long as nobody shared a ballpark, this worked out great. The problem now is so many teams, especially in spring training, minor leagues and fall ball, share stadiums, that in GeoJSON-Ballparks, you end up with multiple dots on top of each other. No one-to-many relationship that should happen.

So, I’m going to use this minor league realignment to fix what I should have fixed years ago. There will be two files in this dataset moving forward. One GeoJSON file of the locations of a ballpark and then a CSV (or other format) file containing the teams. Then we’ll just do the old fashioned relate between the two and the world is better again.

I’m going to fork GeoJSON-Ballparks into a new project and right the wrongs I have done against good spatial data management. I’m finally ready to play centerfield!

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I’m Here at HERE

Last Tuesday I started at HERE Technologies with the Professional Services group in the Americas. I’ve probably used HERE and their legacy companies data and services for most of my career so this is a really cool opportunity to work with a mobile data company.

I’m really excited about working with some of their latest data products including Premier 3D Cities (I can’t escape Digital Twins).

Digital Twins at HERE
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Digital Twins and Unreal Engine

I’ve had a ton of experience with Unity and Digital Twins but I have been paying attention to Unreal Engine. I think the open nature of Unity is probably more suited for the current Digital Twin market, but competition is so important for innovation. This project where Unreal Engine was used to create a digital clone of Adelaide is striking but the article just leaves me wanting for so much more.

A huge city environment results in a hefty 3D model. Having strategies in place to ease the load on your workstation is essential. “Twinmotion does not currently support dynamic loading of the level of detail, so in the case of Adelaide, we used high-resolution 3D model tiles over the CBD and merged them together,” says Marre. “We then merged a ring of low-resolution tiles around the CBD and used the lower level of detail tiles the further away we are from the CBD.”

Well, that’s how we did it at Cityzenith. Tiles are the only way to have the detail one needs in these 3D worlds and one that geospatial practitioners are very used to dealing with their slippy maps. The eye-candy that one sees in that Adelaide project is amazing. Of course, scaling one city out is hard enough but doing so across a country or the globe is another. Still, this is an amazing start.

Seeing Epic take Twinmotion and scale it out this way is very exciting because as you can see from that video above, it really does look photorealistic.

But this gets at the core of where Digital Twins have failed. It is so very easy to do the above, crate an amazing looking model of a city, and drape imagery across it. It is a very different beast to actually create a Digital Twin where these buildings are not only linked up to external IoT devices and services but they should import BIM models and generalize as needed. They do so some rudimentary analysis of shadows which is somewhat interesting, but this kind of stuff is so easy to do and there are so many tools to do it that all this effort to create a photorealistic city seems wasted.

I think users would trade photorealistic cities for detailed IoT services integration but I will watch Aerometrex continue to develop this out. Digital Twins are still stuck in sharing videos on Vimeo and YouTube, trying to create some amazing realistic city when all people want is visualization and analysis of IoT data. That said, Aerometrex has done an amazing job building this view.