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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GIS for Math

There was great reflection over Thanksgiving at my house.

Well maybe that is hyperbole but I was asked how the heck did I get myself where I am today. I think I’ve told this story many times before on this blog, but one more time won’t hurt. I was working toward a degree in Economics when statistics classes his my schedule. I really took to these and started to try and take as many as I could before I graduated. One of these was given by the Geography Department at Arizona State University. The name of the course has been lost to time but I do recall they used SPSS which I despised. The kicker though was the TA for that class introduced me to Perl and that was the introduction to the freedom that open scripting tools can give you.

Maps have been something as a kid I loved, like you I read the atlas and the Thomas Brothers Guide, but math and statistics is what drew me to GIS. SPSS and Perl are no longer part of my toolset (thank god honestly) but the skills I learned back then still make calculations in GIS analysis much easier for me. Cartography is the tip of the iceberg with GIS, the math is what makes it sing. Don’t forget that.

Using ArcWeb Services with Perl and Python

Yesterday we saw Andrea post about using ArcWeb Services with PHP and now today we have two great posts about using ArcWeb with Perl and Python. First Andrea Rosso again has a great article with code on using Perl to fetch ArcWeb images. I’ve never really worked with Perl other than messing around with Movable Type (the CMS that I use with this blog), but the code is pretty strait forward and my hosting company already has the Perl SOAP modules installed. Andrea was nice enough to post the whole code so make sure you take a look at the bottom of his post.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, Sean Gillies posted today about using Python with ArcWeb. Seans example also includes the code so you can start playing around with Python and ArcWeb. Sean ran into a little trouble getting his Public ArcWeb Services activated, but in the end he was able to work it out and returned an image.

Sure, these great code examples won’t make you forget that one has to use SOAP, but at least you can get better acquainted with how the requests work so when REST arrives with AWS 2005 you’ll be ready to go.