Software That Changed Your Life – 2020 Edition

Way back in 2006, I wrote a blog post called Software that Changed Your Life.

Well that might be a big title for this post, but I was talking with some folks over the weekend about software you’ve used or software that has really influenced your life. I think many people say Google Earth has changed how they view data, but for me it really wasn’t that impressive since Google Earth is more of a validation of what we’ve done over the years than a life changer

I thought it would be fun to look at how things have changed since then. My job is very different, I can’t remember the last time I created a map or changed cartography in a mapping product. I think one can look at that 2006 list as how I got to the point that I lived the rest of my life. So here is the updated list:

  1. HyperCard – I just can’t stress enough how much this changed my life. The concept of a database and visualization. The scripting language on the backend, and everything that eventually become the web (buttons, forms, etc) on the front. I’d like to think that I would have learned to program a different way, but teaching myself Hypercard is exactly how I go to where I am today.
  2. BBEdit – to this day I still use BBEdit. I think I purchased my first copy back in about 1994 and I’ve used it probably every day since then. I’m sure I’ve used every text editor. Today I use BBEdit, VS Code and of course Nano, yet I find myself in BBEdit more than anything else. I taught myself Grep using BBEdit and probably after a hypertext markup language, Grep has done more for me than just about anything. From JSON to Python, from CSS to GeoJSON, from JavaScript to Perl, I write it all right here.
  3. Perl – I was going to put JavaScript here. I probably should have put JavaScript here. But I have to be honest, the scripting language that got me thinking about scripting was Perl. I rarely use it anymore, other than pulling some script out of a folder and running it one off. I use Python more for my scripting or JavaScript. But from the time I bought the first edition of Programming Perl I was hooked.
  4. PostGIS – So another one I thought about. Elastic? MS Access? DBF? SQL Server? I mean what database should be the one that changed my life. It has to be PostGIS. Without it I would probably have put MySQL right here. But no, it’s PostGIS. The reason this blog was created was to learn more about PostGIS and how to get that damn thing installed on Windows Server. Some day on my newsletter I’ll write about the impact of Simple Features for SQL. From the moment in 2005 when I got PostGIS working until today, I’ve always had PostGIS running somewhere near me.
  5. Safe FME – Sadly I don’t use FME anymore. But let me be crystal clear here. There is no better tool out there to help you manage data. I probably should find myself a copy of it and run it again. At WeoGeo we used it for everything. I’ve used it while at Architecture firms, Engineering firms, startups and in between. Data is agnostic and using a tool that is helps keep the integrity of data. Before FME I spent so much time trying to keep all the data in one format and in one projection (I was young, let me be), but when I was able to drag a reader on to a workspace, throw up a transformer and then connect that to a writer, I was hooked. FME should be standard issue for any true Geospatial data user.

Some other software that didn’t make the list but could have and I didn’t mention above? GDAL/OGR, Tippecanoe, ArcGIS, Excel, Google Earth and Photoshop. Such a personal list and one I think changes over time. I think the core of what makes me who I am is up there, but it is also up in that 2006 list too. For fun you can look at the Way Back Machine and see the comments on that blog post. I see Sean Gillies, Morten Nielsen, Brian Timoney, Steve Pousty, Bill Dollins, and others in that list.

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GaaS: The Future That Wasn’t

Years ago in the Arc/Info world, we used to perform most of our geoprocessing in ArcInfo Workstation on Windows.  But when we needed to really get work done, we’d use a HP-UX beast of a server to handle some of the more complex geoprocessing.  It was really easy to do right, Esri even use to have some tools to help you accomplish this.  I remember thinking that very soon we’d be able to offload most geoprocessing on remote constellations and then just get back the results.  My personal workstation wouldn’t be bogged down with processing and the server would be doing what we paid good money for.

Well we didn’t know what we were talking about at the time was “GIS as a Service”.  Mostly because we didn’t think of clouds anything more than rain makers.  But the idea of offloading our geoprocessing was something to a person we’d wager would be built into GIS by now.  Of course products like ArcGIS Server and FME Server can run processing remotely but it is not built into workflows.  You have to go out of your way to author scripts that can handle this. I’m curious why things worked out this way.

It could be that with Arc/INFO on Unix going away there wasn’t servers that could handle geoprocessing.  Or it could be that workstations these days are so fast that you don’t need to remote process.  Maybe I’m just old and stuck in my ways that I want to use an Unix server for processing, maybe put a couple of Perl scripts in there and call it a day.  But I think I’m disappointed that we just haven’t seen that much uptake on remote geoprocessing.  The only workflow I’ve used this on that was supported by the software is authoring on FME Desktop and running those workbench scripts on FME Server.

I guess we always assume there will be flying cars and houses on the moon but we’re left with airport departure TVs that show the blue screen of death, smartphones that can be hacked with SMS and our credit cards being stolen left and right.  The reality of GIS in 2015 is it is still enterprise work being done in a workgroup fashion.  GIS isn’t taken seriously by IT because we don’t take ourselves seriously.  Hiding in a corner “doing GIS” is how we’re seen by others.  Time to break the mold.