The Geography Report

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

GIS Blog Resources

This guy has quite a list of GIS and mapping related blogs.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Comparing Two Cities

Today's news highlights the differences in two urban areas:

Urban growth in Denver offers the following headline in today's Christian Science Monitor: From transit to sushi to arts funding, Denver reinvents itself, and in the Rocky Mountain News: El Paso spreading its wings

Colorado's strong growth

...and in contrast the loss of population affects Boston as reported in today's Boston Globe: N.E. exodus raises economic concerns

Northeast's shrinking population

But here's another way to compare the two cities:
Baseball at rock bottom vs. Red Sox Issue Plenty of Rings

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Seven Reasons to Use GIS

Adapted this from a presentation given to environmental attorneys, consultants, and regulators last year. 'Case study' project examples as well as conclusions are not included in this blog version:
  • Reason #1: Better data management & organization
Implementing a Geographic Information System for your project (let alone an enterprise GIS for your organization) forces a certain degree of data organization. At the least, it makes the case for a coordinated data management policy self-evident and the GIS software itself begs for data organization. Implementation, and perhaps more importantly administration, of data management best practices are facilitated by built-in data structures and standards in most modern GIS software applications. Important data management practices like coordinated data flagging, qualifying, and validation; and controlling access and logging changes to the data (data security) are more easily achieved using a GIS. And practically speaking, nearly all project data can (and should) be controlled or accessed by a single software application.
Points to take home:
- GIS can handle enormous amounts of data
- Modern GIS applications lend themselves to good data management
- Using GIS throughout a project maintains the data organization and promotes best management practices for data
- GIS can be a valuable tool for QA/QC

  • Reason #2: Consistency
Using a GIS (or other data management system) promotes consistency between users and throughout the life of the project. It can maintain consistent access to project data for all users across organizations or among a project team, and hard-coded 'queries' or data definitions and analysis methodologies promote consistency between team members or over time. Scientific or regulatory standards may be coded in as program logic and verified once, then applied consistently even as new data is added, corrected, or expanded. This proves particularity useful in recording consensus decisions to be applied by different parties or as the project matures. In short, being able to exactly reproduce an answer no matter who asks the question or when the question is asked goes a long way toward confidence in the conclusion.
Points to take home:
- A single data repository is critical (Read/write access to this repository may be controlled by GIS application)
- Information may be shared consistently between individuals and organizations
- Common questions and tasks can be coded to make them reproducible
- Consistency promotes confidence

  • Reason #3: Instantaneous access to project data
GIS provides a single application platform to view many types of information, whether it is in tabular, image, spatial, or grid format. This flexibility allows users to access most data from a single software interface as well as the ability to query and view those data extremely quickly. Additionally, modern off-the-shelf GIS applications possess flexible user interfaces that allow for different user types and differing expertise (an environmental engineer might have a different data need that a wildlife biologist or homeowner or attorney, for instance). Customizable user interfaces can make it possible for different stakeholders to access the same data in different ways, providing a single interface to multiple data types (and even sources) and multiple types of information.
Points to take home:
- Easy data access & meaningful analysis promote better understanding
- What-if scenarios are easily assessed, strategy explored
- Fast access to all of the data can be an effective tool
- Useful for different individuals

  • Reason #4: Thematic display of spatial and temporal trends
Almost by definition, environmental analysis has a spatial component, and can be most effectively understood using spatial analysis. Similarly, most data have a temporal component also, and GIS provides a unique way of demonstrating comparisons between locations and over time. Using GIS to display project information is an extremely effective way to present observations, conclusions, and recommendations to a diverse audience.
Points to take home:
- Unrivaled ability to show spatial trends, temporal change, outliers, exceptions
- Thematic display of spatial and temporal trends (clearly display the data from your point of view)
- Effective tool for explaining to non-experts

  • Reason #5: Geographic analysis
Certainly, for many problems, a map is the only way of viewing the data that makes sense. Desktop GIS provides very powerful and sophisticated spatial analysis tools and methods like geostatistics, spatial overlays, buffers, linear referencing, and spatial interpolation that takes geographic analysis far beyond simply plotting data on a map. These methods are mathematically-based and broadly understood in today's scientific and regulatory communities.
Points to take home:
- Unique abilities of GIS open the door for creative solutions
- Capabilities expand with program add-ins, 3rd party applications, new technologies & types of data (satellite imagery, Lidar, radar, Internet)

  • Reason #6: Cost-effectiveness
A GIS can reduce costs of repetitive analysis or map production. A project needing periodic maps or new analysis as data is updated will find a cost benefit from a GIS-based data management system.
Points to take home:
- Can improve (and document) QA/QC & data management procedures
- Reduce data management time, mistakes in repetitive project tasks

  • Reason #7: The other side is using GIS
Lastly, there is increasing use and understanding of GIS in the world today. Individuals use MapQuest to create custom maps, or use web-based GIS to query retail store locations and view traffic and weather maps on their computers and on TV. Expectations of seeing information displayed thematically and abilities to read maps are growing, so NOT using GIS can be a disadvantage.
Points to take home:
- Increasing use and understanding of GIS
- Useful in developing case strategy
- Ability to show the facts from different points of view
- Very effective data presentation

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

IT Project Management

Found a good article on the intricacies of project management in the GIS industry. The author provides some astounding statistics in his prelude,

Project failure is endemic in the geo-spatial information systems (GIS) industry... [that] 85% of all projects fail to meet all of their critical measures of success...

- David L. Hamil, PMP, MESA Solutions, Inc.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Best Practices in Environmental Data Management

Was struck the other day by the words of an executive discussing 'Institutionalizing Geospatial Interdependence':
[Even in the military you] can't order people to use GIS or make metadata. You can make policy and encourage people, but that's it.
- third-hand, paraphrased quote attributed to Colonel Brian Cullis, Dept. Of Defense, DISDI Executive Manager

This statement echoes my own experiences in developing good systems and changing the way people do their work - it is difficult, if not impossible, if there is no belief that doing so will provide tangible benefits. Creating metadata is often considered unproductive busywork that may not be ever seen again - and to some degree this is true.

My solution has been to develop a set of practical, pragmatic Best Practices to adhere to and attempt to institutionalize at my company. These guidelines allow flexibility, keep deliverables and project files professional and valuable, and even contribute to productivity over the course of a project. Following these Best Practices will improve quality, save time, and reduce cost for your client.

I work primarily with environmental data - analytical test results of soil, water, and air; meteorologic, hydrogeologic, and toxicologic information; and spatial data such as topological, parcel (property), and infastructure - so these Best Practices are written with these data in mind.

  • Control access
The number one issue has to be controlling access - no matter how thorough you are will every other step, one sloppy user can corrupt the entire process. Controlling the data can be as simple as allowing read-only access to electronic files or as complicated as developing a web-based data server/warehouse system with differing levels of access.

  • Separate source data from computational results
Data quality and 'Fitness-for-purpose' vary, and are often re-assessed. If source data are cleanly separated from edits, manipulations, and conversions they can always be readily identified as the source later - for reasons rarely anticipated early in the project.

  • Don't duplicate data
Duplicate records & files always cause trouble. Use relational databases, lookup tables and geodatabases or server-based files that link to the master data.

  • Identify
Take some time initially assess the level of documentation needed. A government agency publishing spatial data files needs to adhere to a different standard of data identification than a lone engineer creating a spreadsheet calculation - but a practical metadata standard goes a long way to improving the credibility of your end work product. And a while file naming convention might work for filing electronic documents, that's not enough for a GIS layer...

  • Flag - don't alter
Exceptions and outliers should be identified as such, but never deleted or changed without leaving a document trail. Nothing destroys the credibility and defensibility of a database faster than an altered record. Develop a data management system around flagging records and objects instead of editing them out.

  • Standardize
Field names, units of measure, dates, abbreviations, table structure, file types, electronic file structure, software file type. Weigh the costs of conversion against the benefits of effeciency and productivity.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tech notes

Open Souce Software
I'm a big fan of the Mozilla Firefox browser - I'm convinced that it's better than IE, and it's open source. And now Netscape is trying to make a comeback. But here's an excerpt from Anick Jesdanun's review on MSNBC:

My one major fault with Netscape is, however, a show stopper.

Most of its tools are geared toward generating traffic for AOL properties. The maps tool gets you MapQuest, the movies tool reaches Moviefone. Weather gets you AOL partner WeatherBug.

AOL says other companies, such as Yahoo Inc. and Fandango, are free to develop tools for Netscape, but that'll take time, limiting choice in the meantime. And while some of the third-party add-ons already developed for Firefox may work with Netscape, the ones I tried didn't.

(Read the entire review) I think I'll stick to Firefox for now...

And Speaking of Open Source
I'm beginning to hear about CarbonTools, a .NET development kit for Windows programmers designed to take advantage of open geospatial services (beta version available press release). Tell me if you're using web data that's OGC compliant, or have experience with CarbonTools or Gaia, their free data viewer.

More for the techies:
Got a problem with your ArcGIS? Here's an interesting issue: "ARCMAP table of contents problem" ...and the fix.