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:
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.
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.
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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Bill and I have a podcast that we do almost once a month. Podcasts are a lot of fun because you can talk about things easier than writing about them. There is a free flow of ideas (or maybe garbage) out of your head and on to a mp3. One topic we talked about months ago was GIS clients. We talked about tools we use but I just happened to be listening to it last night and I realized maybe I wasn’t as honest with myself as I should have been.
I’m not a GIS user…
Fair point though, what is a GIS user? I think of it as someone who uses GIS software. But even that it is somewhat of a mess because one person’s GIS software is another person’s toolkit. Ignoring that issue for a second, what do I use for GIS?
I think that pretty much covers it. I mean there is some Shapely and some other libraries, but that short list is all I use anymore. That of course has a lot to do with my job, if I was GIS Manager at the City of Townsville I might need other tools, but that list above is pretty much it. I can’t help but think of these things as Toolkits rather than GIS software. They are all part of a deeper workflow that I use when I need to use it. The end result is never QGIS, ArcGIS, uDIG or whatever madness you use in your daily life. It is either GeoJSON or “database” (where database could mean a lot of things).
This blog is about to have it’s 15th year anniversary and I can’t think of a better example of how things have changed since that moment. I also think GIS lends itself for this workflow orientated environment anyway. Ignoring the crazy ArcGIS Desktop years with wizard based GIS, mostly GIS has been scripting workflows to accomplish your needs. Fortran, AML, Python, you name it. We use these methods to not only get results but document them. In the end I think all the tools we use for GIS are Toolkits and not software. Yes, one must put a name on something, but GIS has always been about toolkits, even in proprietary workflows, and will always be this. Maybe when we check in right before I retire in 2035 we can see how we are doing with this.
I am working on a project that needs to display all the neighborhood polygons in Baltimore City at one time. The file is relatively detailed… which mean that tons of unnecessary polygon nodes are being sent from the backend, when, at the zoom level and the level of detail the map users need, the high level of detail is a total waste.
While there are some great hosted options to serve up complex GeoJSON, most of the time it is better served (no pun intended) to simplify your data. Unless you’re surveying or involved with some sort of lawyer, even a bit of generalization is a good idea with online mapping. Chris does a great job showing how you can modify the tolerance to get your results to look great and save lots of bandwidth. If you’re a generalization newbie, you should read his example and get a better understanding of how it works.
And if you’re an Esri user, the same concepts can be used in their stack as well.
Some of our goals with this project are to extend the Node.js to work with SQL Server and possibly Oracle1. Possibly even write spatial objects to PostGIS from the app2. We used Google Maps for this demo but I think the sweet spot is TileMill generated background tiles with Leaflet.js.