Saturday, October 30, 2010

Texas GIS Forum 2010

I've never been fond of regional GIS conferences because they seemed set up to sing the praises of the sales team of that GIS vendor whose name I dare not speak because of the Voldemort rule.  In full disclosure, I haven't been to a regional GIS conference in six to eight years — when I was howling in the wilderness about "web services" and hearing crickets in the background. 

I attended the Texas GIS Forum and had my rather jaded view of regional GIS conferences rearranged. I've always loved presentations about how people are using GIS and spatial technologies to solve problems. Listening to people talk about how they apply their domain knowledge and using or creating tools is the most enjoyable part of conferences for me. However, I've always preferred presentations where people create tools or creatively use tools with a bit of side-ways thinking, over presentations where they use only the vendor provided toolset.  It's not that there isn't a lot of creative problem solving going on with single vendor solutions, but when people start using an assortment of tools I usually learn something new to add to my own toolbox.  

A summary bullet point from a presentation seemed to me the main lesson of the conference:
"Don't be afraid to mix technology in your GIS/Web stack"
When I saw that, I knew I was at the right place.

Story Musgrave gave an fascinating keynote that wove together elements of his life starting from growing up on the farm, working as an aircraft mechanic during the Korean War, life as an astronaut at NASA, the 18 years he spent managing the Hubble Space Telescope project , and his current activities in the rotting business and teaching design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Throughout the keynote he referenced the principles of simplicity and reliability in design, while gorgeous photos of his life were shown on the screen as examples. He graciously made his slides available to the audience. They are available for download.

I did not attend as many sessions as I wanted (one day I would like to be at a conference with zero telecon responsibilities), but I made a few notes on some of the presentations that I did see.

  • Get the Results You Want, Mapping with KML,  Michael Chamberlain of TxDOT TPP demoed an application that combined TxDOT's Linear Referencing System (LRS), javascript, and KML to produce an online Statewide Planning Map.
  • Visualizing Recovery Act Funding: Lessons Learned from Development to Deployment by Jeremiah Akin, Texas State Comptroller's Office demonstrated an mobile app that shows of TARP funds in Texas suitable for a number of mobile clients such as iPhone and iPad.
  • Microsoft demoed the Bing Interactive SDK where you can change code and see the change in the brower.
  • In Introduction to SQL Server Spatial and Capabilities by RanJan Muttiah of iHydro Engineering was a great overview of SQL Server Spatial. I was struck by the adherence to OGC standards and how all the SQL shown would run in PostGIS unmodified. Also, major kudos to MicroSoft for adhering to EPSG codes instead of publishing their own version of WKT (Well Known Text), unlike other vendors (cough, Oracle; cough, that other GIS vendor).
  • Bing Maps and SQL Server - Adding Data Awareness to GEMSS by Richard Wade and Chris Williams of TNRIS demoed GEMSS (Geographic Emergency Management Support System) which is a home grown SDI for Texas by TNRIS (Texas Natureal Resource Information System). It currently acts as a searchable data archive but TNRIS is adding uploading of user data. Wade said that this was the future direction for data dessemination by TNRIS

It was great conference and I hope to be back next year.


Jared Cohen at the World Affairs Council, October 4th, Houston, TX

Audio of Jared Cohen's talk at the World Affairs Council on October 4th, 2010 in Houston, Texas.

Jared Cohen is the Director of Google Ideas, a think/do tank.

* Recorded using Evernote, which only records 20 minute segments. Audio was spliced at ~18 minutes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Obligatory xkcd Map of Online Communities in OpenLayers

@godwinsgo egged me on, so here it is:

Thanks to Bernie Connors for alerting me to problems with the iFrame in Windows.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hey Google, events have a time and a location

Usually I whine, then post a solution; this one is all whine. Consider yourself warned. I use Google Calendar in my personal life because it's convenient and at work because we've bought into Google Apps. I travel frequently, which means I switch time zones. Life and work go on wherever I might be at the time.

The problem is that when I add events in Central Standard Time while I'm at work in Eastern Standard Time, Google Calendar assumes that the event is in EST. When I'm at home, Google notes that I've changed time zones and moves the event. This works if I do this only once, but since I make appointments months in advance and I jump across multiple time zones before the appointment, the time for the event shifts constantly.  Apparently, I'm not the only one with this problem.

The press have picked up on this issue. In a PCWorld article:
I talked to GCal product manager Grace Kwak, who acknowledged users' need to be able to set time zones for individual events, and said that her team will soon add that capability to the calendar. “We are working on it right now, and it’s something we think is a great feature addition.”
However, I found Kwak's response as to why Google Calendar doesn't handle time zones less than satisfying:
“Time zones are very complicated,” Kwak told me. “Google has one way of depicting time: We use a universal clock, so there’s like a universal time, and all the lines on the globe are in relation to that universal time.”
Really?  I wonder if she had to Google that?

I wonder how Microsoft Outlook, Palm Calendar, and all those other calendar apps figured out this tricky time zone stuff years ago.