Best of the Show: New York Giant Traveling Map

While the recent statewide GIS conference in Lake Placid featured several presentations and vendor displays in emerging  areas of geospatial development across the Empire State, one presentation –  and an interactive one no less –  was certainly one of the most refreshing and welcomed.  Why’s that, you ask?  Well, consider the following:   (1) it contains  no technical jargon or  software programming speak,  fancy charts or diagrams, (2) has connections to the  educational community, (3) applicable anywhere in the Empire State,  (4) absolutely and completely different, and  (5) suitable for all ages –  Rated “G”!  Yes, the New York Giant Traveling Map which was presented by Susan B. Hoskins, Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University.

Susan B. Hoskins demonstrates use of the NYS Giant Traveling Map to conference attendees during 2017 GeoCon in Lake Placid. Note: No shoes allowed – the geoenabled version of the game Twister?

The Map

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of state geographic alliances, National Geographic produced a Giant Traveling Map for each state.  Two copies were gifted to the New York Geographic Alliance in 2016 headed by Timothy McDonnell, geosciences faculty at Monroe Community College in Rochester.  Since then the New York 4-H Geospatial Sciences program has gotten involved to help promote the map in 4-H programs and classrooms statewide.  The 4-H Geospatial Science and Technology Program, within Cornell Cooperative Extension, provides educator professional development in GPS, GIS and the tools of remote sensing.  The geography lessons learned on the Giant Traveling Map are fundamental to using technology in map making.  Many youth and adult mentors take these skills and technology lending library and apply them to community mapping projects.

The Giant Traveling Map of New York, measures 15 X 20 feet and includes major cities, water bodies, mountains, Indian Reservations and National Parks.

The map “kit” comes complete with a curriculum of six activities that help youth explore map features and symbols, grids, map scale, orientation and direction, and the basics of Geographic Information Systems.  Props included in the kit are orange cones for marking points, yellow plastic chain, blue yarn and a ball of string to map “linear features, a compass rose and map legends.  Teachers and users of the map can determine how far is it from New York City to Albany by comparing one’s foot to the scale bar and walk along the Hudson River.  Or finding the Erie Canal?  Follow the canal path from Albany to B-uf-fa-lo-ooo, just like the song.

To date, the following schools and organizations have hosted the Map:

Additionally, McDonnell states: “The Map can be used in middle schools to support 7th Grade curriculums for social studies which includes New York history and geography”.  The Geographic  Alliance  maintains other resources specifically designed for middle school including  The Atlas of New York: Legacies of the Erie Canal and Lessons for the Atlas of New York.  More information can be found under the Resources link on their website.

The Map Travels to Westchester County

After  the Lake Placid conference, the Map traveled to Solomon Schechter elementary school in White Plains where it was used by 4th grade teacher  Amy Sroka who expressed accolades after having used the map..  After a week in the classroom, one of Ms. Sroka’s students commented:

I learned a bunch of names of different towns and cities. It was really fun trying to find the locations of a lot of the places. While I was studying the map, I discovered that there are actually so many more mountains in New York State than I had thought there were…I really enjoyed the map!”

If your school, family gathering, or organization is interested in using the Map, contact Tim McDowell at the New York Geographic Alliance.  It is also available for sale through National Geographic for $750.

Highest Lakes in New York State

While planning on some Summer 2017 High Peaks hikes and overnights with my sons, I got to thinking about some previous communications I had with long time colleagues John Barge at the Adirondack Park Agency and Doug Freehafer at the U.S.Geological Water Science Center in Troy about other state highest geographic features.   Most know about the “46ers” – a.k.a the 46 mountains in New York State above 4,000’.  (Yours truly having bagged about ½ of them.)  But what about other geographic features and facts that might make good trivia questions –  like what are the “highest” lakes and water bodies in the Empire State?

No problemo.  Doug pointed me to the U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) search engine in which I queried for all New York State lakes over 2,500’ and the search returned 35 lakes  based on the National Elevation Dataset.  Surprisingly not are all in the Adirondacks.

The GNIS query builder is easy-to-use and allows users to search on names for geographic features such as harbors, islands, harbors, basins, summits and much more.

Saving the search results and converting to a spreadsheet, it’s easy enough to add the lake X,Ys to a  ArcGIS Online viewer (or any viewer of choice for that matter) called the Highest Lakes in New York State.   As shown in the following images, the highest lakes are located near Mt. Marcy (Lake Tear of the Clouds at 4,321’ and Moss Pond at 4,4,252’) with Hodge Pond showing up at 2,592’ (#26 highest)  much further south in Sullivan County.

Eight out the ten highest lakes are in Essex County though not all are found on the Mt.Marcy USGS quadrangle. What other quads are in play?

USGS 1:24,000 quadrangle grid covering the Adirondack High Peaks region from The National Map viewer application.

Won’t find any summer lifeguards on duty at these lakes and the water temperature probably won’t be the same as your shower water, but it’s nice to know if your back country trips might take you close enough to potential swimming or fishing holes?  (Our lastest route and trip manifest did not include any of these water bodies.)   GNIS is a great source of national and Empire State geographic features which we’ll occasionally explore in future eSpatiallyNewYork posts.

Enjoy your summer!

Jonathan Levy: Cartography Remixed

Jonathan Levy is yet another geospatial enthusiast I have made contact with via the burgeoning GeoNYC Meetup group. It’s a small world indeed as Jonathan and I share some common interests including music, sports, and time spent in one of my most favorite spaces: Idaho. His path down the cartographic road might be considered a bit different than the conventionally trained geospatial professional.  However, what is coming out the other end today is a wide range of interesting cartographic products and services.  Enough for an interesting dialog and blog post – including some interesting personal stuff on the side.  Enjoy.

Jonathan Levy grew up in the Durham and Chapel Hill areas of North Carolina spending lots of time running around in the outdoors.  His dad was a huge fan of National Geographic exposing Jonathan to both the beauty and vastness of the publication’s cartographic products and at the same time taking him camping and trail hiking around  in the Appalachian Mountains.  In his teens, he completed an Outward Bound course which introduced him to orienteering and using maps for navigation and survival.

After graduation from high school, Jonathan attended Brandeis University majoring in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies focusing on conservation biology and environmental politics.  After finishing his undergraduate work he traveled to Grenada, West Indies, to teach environmental/social science to children with Dr. Dessima Williams.   Afterwards, he worked for Polaroid’s Corporate Environmental Department in Boston, MA for nine months before heading to Salmon, Idaho as part of the Student Conservation Association working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Frank Church Wilderness Noxious Weed Inventory program.  It was here he was introduced to Global Positioning System (GPS) data collection concepts and GIS software to make maps of field guides of rare plant species in the wilderness area.

Completing his internship work in Idaho in 2002, Jonathan was  given a grant towards graduate study at at Hunter College in New York City in the MA program specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  and Media during which time he was able to intern at the United Nations and the New York City Office of Emergency Management.  He received his Masters from Hunter College in 2005.

Getting Started

His first job out of Hunter College was with the NY State Legislative Task Force for Demographic Reapportionment which Jonathan notes “was very GIS heavy and really interesting”.  At this point he began picking up freelance work on the graphics side of things with, and Not For Tourists – the latter of which was has continued to be a successful long term contract.

Along the way he has continued to expand his use of the ESRI software particularly with regard to the spatial/network analyst extensions as well as becoming proficient in QGIS and Carto. Because he extends his cartographic product beyond the what is available with GIS software, Jonathan uses Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for graphics processing, texturing and post production. For 3D renderings he uses Cinema 4D, After Effects, and Sketchfab.

Sample Cartographic Products

Lower Manhattan Buildings:

This 3D rendering of buildings in Lower Manhattan show the years in which they were built from 1700 to the present. The gradations of dark orange to light orange correspond to the newest to the oldest buildings. The data used to create this map came from NYC Open Data.

Environs Map Series:

This series is a way of sharing Jonathan’s life experiences of favorite places and spaces in his  life through map renderings and illustrations.  It is his personal experience of specific places and the personal “visions” of that space.  He gets requests to produce custom maps for friends, family and clients who want their town or neighborhood mapped in this style. He’s currently working on a Valentine’s day gift for a client who wants a map of Roncolo di Quattro Castella in this style.  These images are created using: Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, scanned textures and GIS data.

Jonathan notes: “I love seeing Long Island City from across the East River. The Pepsi and Long Island City signs are featured prominently although here I’ve replaced them with my sister and brother in law’s names in lieu of their recent marriage.”


Jonathan notes this was a “fun” project. Using some fancy internal tools Airbnb developed, Jonathan helped map out neighborhood boundaries in 20+ cities across the U.S – including New York City.   It involved lots of research and involvement with city planners, residents and/or a combination thereof to get a feel for the individual city.

Sample of one NYC neighborhood maps – Chinatown – Jonathan researched and created for Airbnb helping users better define which areas and neighbors they are looking for lodging and accommodations.

Montauk 3D:

This was a personal project that was inspired by his time this past summer learning to surf in Montauk. He was struck by the interesting topography of the area. He took digital elevation model (DEM)  data, exaggerated the contours in Cinema 4D for effect, created custom topographic palettes and created a website that uses Sketchfab’s API to switch out textures on the 3D surface. Link to website:  (Note:  Sketchfab recommends WebGL to display 3D content in real-time  which is a standard in most modern browsers.  Check your browser for compatibility at

Amped Topography of Montauk: If you know the Montauk landscape and locations of specific geographic features (i.e., Lake Montauk and the Lighthouse – chances are you would find these renderings of the area very interesting – and different.

Loud Noise/Noise Complaints:

Jonathan also enjoys scrapping data from public web sites to develop maps and visuals.  While living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jonathan created a Party/Loud Music Complaints map based on 311 data obtained from New York City’s Open Data Portal. These maps include and reflect his interest in rendering the “personality” of geospatial data through design choices – as illustrated in this map/web map – including a dark background, a purplish nighttime color palate and star animated Gifs.  Indeed an interesting map from a person who loves loud music and spends his spare time playing in a metal band!

Built with OpenStreetMap, this interactive map allows users to pan around Manhattan to see which NYC zip code has the largest number of noise complaints as filed through 311.

The Other Stuff

Jonathan always finds his legal mapping client work interesting as it requires mapping and data development to such a fine level of detail.  Often such work involves boundary disputes requiring the review of historical deeds and historic photogrammetry to determine boundary line changes. Looking forward he continues working with Sketchfab in context of mapping in the 3D space.  He supports Sketchfab because it is “accessible, light and has a community for sharing 3D models with annotation”.

As a one person shop, Jonathan does not have a large marketing and public relations budget and as such all of  his business development is  word-of-mouth.  He’s recently created an interactive presentation for a close friend and chef/owner Will Horowitz (Duck’s Eatery / Harry & Ida’s) which he presented at the Food on the Edge conference in Ireland. He’s working on an online platform, Common Scraps, which addresses the issue food waste.   As an extension he has produced some animated maps that show how food scraps can be saved and reused in an exchange system between local farms/suppliers and restaurants.

Jonathan covers a lot of ground and styles in his work which is more detailed and described on his website. Take a look, and if you are really lucky you might find him playing at a local club down the street with his band Autowreck.  Go check them out.

Though take some ear plugs and hold on.

Contact:  Jonathan Levy @


Certifications + Competencies: Anybody Listening?

Every couple years the GIS community perks up for one reason to revisit and debate the importance and worthiness of Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification.  And more recently there has also been discussion and outreach, albeit among a much smaller community of geospatial professionals, on Geospatial Competency/Maturity Models.  Such is the recent case as the NYS GIS community (as part of the NEARC listserv) were asked  to jump in and contribute to an online survey  intended to “to get some idea of how widely GIS certifications have been adopted and promoted within organizations that use GIS technology or services at any level”.   The listserv posting states that results of the survey will be summarized and presented next month at the 2014 GIS-Pro Conference in New Orleans.

Not the first time the GIS community has been asked to weigh in and offer opinions on the GISP issue and my bet is that the results will continue to vary greatly based on respondent criteria such as years of GIS experience, management and supervisory responsibilities, and even type of employer (i.e., public, private, nonprofit, academic, etc.).  A simple Google search on “worth/value of GISP Certification” will result in a long list of articles on the subject from both individuals and online trade magazines.  Most of the online discussion will support and speak to the value of GISP Certification.  Which should come as no surprise as many of the opinion gathering efforts on this particular issue have been surveys of GIS industry personnel.  (Isn’t this called surveying the choir?)  There is the occasional descending opinion though this is normally the exception.    As a long-time GIS manager here in New York State I see both sides of the debate.  And yes, I did respond to the recent online GIS Certification questionnaire.

There are also recent and ongoing efforts to solicit comments on the 2010 Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) which has been on the back burner for the last couple years.   And I’d be surprised there is much awareness of the model throughout the NYS geospatial community.  Originally proposed by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Geospatial Workforce Development Center, the GTMC concept was an initial effort in the early 2000s to define geospatial industry skills and competencies.  This work  led to the first draft of the GTCM which was peer reviewed  by the Spatial Technologies Information Association (STIA) –  around the same time  STIA received a $700,000 grant from the Dept. of Labor to “promote spatial technologies industry”.    Interestingly, STIA doesn’t even seem to be around anymore.

Work continued on the GTCM and in early 2009 members of the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center) became involved in the effort to complete the GTCM.  As it goes, a panel of geospatial experts were brought together to further define the many components of the GTCM model.    Public comments were sought and comments were addressed with a final GTCM draft submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) Geospatial Technology Competency Model.  The draft was approved by DOLETA in 2010.

Approximately during the same timeframe and to further muddle efforts to define  geospatial industry standards,  the University Consortium for GIS Science got into them mix by publishing the Geographic Information Science and Technology Body of Knowledge in 2006.  It’s not real clear where this publication and effort went, if anywhere, in context of industry acceptance and promotion.  This publication was reissued in late 2012 by ESRI and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).   UCGIS is revisiting the book of knowledge as part of a 2014-2015 effort.

Since 2010 there have been focused efforts to promote the worthiness of the GTCM including David Debiase’s (ESRI) 2012 Directions Magazine article entitled Ten Things You Need to Know about the Geospatial Technology Competency Model.   The GTCM model is not for the meek and a challenge to work through for even the most experienced geospatial professionals.  I’ve been in the NYS geospatial space for a long, long time and I’ve never been involved in a GTCM focused discussion.  Or even aware of one.

Championed largely by GeoTech academics and DOLETA staff, GTCM was created to become an important resource “for defining the geospatial industry and a valuable tool for educators creating programs”.   The model specifies foundational (Tiers 1-3), industry-wide (Tier 4), and industry sector-specific (Tier 5) expertise characteristic of the various occupations that comprise the geospatial industry.   Descriptions of individual geospatial occupations, including occupation-specific competencies and job requirements (Tiers 6-8), are published in DOLETA’s O*NET occupation database (

URISA continues to make significant efforts to contribute to the GTCM concept.  In 2013 URISA published two documents:  (1) the Geospatial Management Competency Model (GMCM) and (2) the GIS Capability Maturity Model (GISCMM).   The GMCM focuses on just Tier 9 of the GTCM and specifies 74 essential competencies and 18 competency areas that characterize the work of most successful managers in the geospatial industry. It is not intended to be an exhaustive inventory of all pertinent competencies, such as those specific to particular work settings. Instead, the GMCM seeks to distill a concise list that is widely applicable, and readily adaptable to evolving industry needs.  The GISCMM was published as part of the newly formed URISA GIS Management Institute (GMI).

The GISCMM provides a first-ever framework for assessing not only the capability of an enterprise GIS operation, but also the process maturity of those who manage and operate the GIS. It includes 23 enabling capability assessment components, which include the sorts of assets that a GIS operation acquires. The Model also includes 22 execution ability assessment components, which include the key processes that are required to manage and operate an enterprise GIS. URISA states GISCMM will help organizations assess the development stage of their GIS and the process maturity level of their operations.  This assessment will help them target priority capability enhancement s and process improvements.  GIS staff responsible for operations and management will be able to use both the GISCMM and the GMCM to assess their own professional strengths and weakness and to identify training and other professional development priorities.

Honorable goals and intent, no doubt, but at the end of the day, a daunting concept for statewide GIS managers to get their arms around and champion in their respective organizations.

 So What’s All This Mean to the NYS Geospatial Community?

At this point, I think one would be challenged to find any real broad based discussion on the GISP Certification here in the Empire State.  Other than a show of hands as to who has GISP Certification at the bi-annual NYS state conference, the discussion doesn’t go much farther.  Instead of it being ongoing fodder for discussion among the choir at national conferences, perhaps in time, groups like the NYGIS Association Professional Development Committee could bring the topic down to earth and focus on what it really means here in New York.  Beyond discussion among my peers, GISP Certification has meant little to me personally in context of expanded professional recognition.  Though noted, this is just me – in the twilight of my professional career with Westchester County.

Inasmuch the GIS community wants GISP Certification to mean something, to cause change, to somehow better recognize or legitimize our work and services – little has been done in the institutional framework in which the geospatial community works and operates.  For example, or at least in government, one of the most meaningful and long lasting impacts will come when GISP credentials finally mean something to Human Resource managers and/or incorporated in civil service titles.  There has been only minimal progress in this regard across the state.

Unlike recognized professional credentials such as Professional Engineer (PE) and Project Management Professional (PMP) – ones that we most often run into in the geospatial arena – government attorneys and contract administrators will continue to be reluctant of adding new requirements to Request for Proposals (RFP) such as “GISP” when benefits of such are not clearly understood and recognized or do not have any financial or legal basis.   The model may be a little different in business and industry.  Yes, it may behoove consultants to show GISPs on staff to make their company credentials better than the next, but at the end of the day, organizations requesting GIS contract support want the most cost effective solution to get the job done – with or without GISP Certification.  Most likely until GISP Certification discussion turns into  institutional acceptance – by the organizations which hire and employ geospatial professionals – the banter of GISP Certification self-worth will continue.

Discussion – or actually the lack of – on Competence/Maturity Models in New York State is another issue.  Hard to explain given the broad publicity the issue has been given at professional conferences, URISA publications, academia, and uber expansive publications like ESRI’s ArcNews.  But it probably speaks to the point noted above the discussion continues to be within a very small audience.    Missing is meaningful and aggregated input from the grass roots level at all levels of NYS government.  Input is needed from GIS managers and supervisors who cannot afford to attend conferences.  Those who cannot serve on committees for one reason or another or simply do not have the time.  GIS administrators in 2014 publically funded, budget strapped organizations just trying to keep the lights on.  Yes, the new models speak to sustainability and revenue streams, but to introduce this discussion in 2014 in organizations which are constantly being asked to move programs to the Cloud, consider outsourcing or additional vendor support, or simply dropping selected program elements altogether, seems almost too much to ask?  In most local organizations across the state, there is very little context, or ability to start Competency/Maturity Model discussions.  Return-on-Investment (ROI) numbers are great to the extent staff and resources are available to prepare and conduct them; unfortunately I don’t see much of this across the NYS GIS landscape.   And given the complexity of the models and the need for administrative, management, financial, and  human resources to be included in the Competency/Maturity Models discussion, bringing these topics as  workshops or training sessions to the state conferences (bi-annual and/or Geospatial Summit) would only be scratching the surface towards institutional  understanding and implementation.  Finding the right conduit to bring all the right and necessary players the table will continue to be a huge lift.  For that matter, just who are the right people to bring to the discussion at the local and county levels?

(BTW, most wouldn’t know it, but the State of New York completed its own Geospatial Maturity Assessment (GMA) last fall.)


Both the GISP Certification and Geospatial Competency/Maturity Model discussions certainly have relevance here in New York State,   but considerable work lies ahead towards incorporating the concepts into the institutional and administrative frameworks before any meaningful “professional” acceptance and recognition will be realized as part of the business of doing GIS.     Until then, it will be business as usual.   Many good deeds have been done by both URISA and the GeoTech Center but the work and concept will fall short if not packaged and promoted in a user-friendly manner which is of consequential and realistic to resource-strapped NYS local government GIS programs.  There are no URISA Chapters in New York State, so both the GISP Certification and Competency/Maturity Models will need to be advocated through other means and partners.  For example the NYS GIS Association’s Educational and  Professional Development Committees are sponsoring and upcoming webinar entitled “Revitalizing GIST Community College Programs” part of which is relevant to the GTCM.  Other than this, the collective messages on both of these “GIS relevancy” issues are limited and probably in need of an extreme makeover.

Other webinars, email blasts, online surveys, conference workshops and announcements will surely follow on these subject matters.  And the debate will continue. The real challenge will be to see if the New York geospatial community will take notice and listen.  Or even have the means to do so?  Or even care.

Meetups, MOOCs, and Hackers, Oh My!

As a community of users and programs, we are constantly searching for ways to broaden and expand the use of GIS/geospatial technologies in our areas of influence.  While I’ve written previously in eSpatiallyNewYork about the NYS geospatial community’s need to expand outreach in professional circles and disciplines (engineering, public works, health industries, retail, etc.), there is a large and increasing number of GIS/geospatial individuals,  or even companies for that matter, who are not necessarily aligned with the traditional “GIS community”.  Or at least the traditional community of users which we have come to recognize and know over the past two decades.

This is a new and evolving community of geospatial users very different from the first generation of GIS/geospatial users which came together in the 80s/90s representing government and government contractors to create the initial statewide organizational framework (i.e., annual conferences, regional GIS user group meetings, NYS Coordinating Body, etc).  For years, the act of collaborating and communicating the geospatial message required attending meetings and conferences.   You had to be there.  It was the only venue there was.

But as we know now, the internet has fundamentally changed all of this and at the same time has dramatically increased the number of geospatial users and consumers. Individuals joining our space from many different angles and reasons such as starting a mid-life career change, engaging as a community activist,  Millennial generation programmers leveraging  public domain geospatial datasets to build mobile/smartphone applications, or the many simply participating in internet-based continuing education programs.   Connecting virtually and joining the geospatial fray via social media, MindMixer, blogs, hackathons, code sharing, and the many other available online user forums. Even through LinkedIn.

One online venue growing in popularity and offering geospatial enthusiasts the opportunity to interact, exchange ideas, collaborate, and to meet, is There are Meetup groups for nearly everything imaginable, but just in the metropolitan New York City area alone, there are several “geo” groups with combined memberships already well into the thousands.   One group I’ve joined (GeoNYC) now has over 1,000 members.  A thousand! Some other groups in the metropolitan area include NYC Open Data (1,800 members), Crisismappers NYC (140+ members), and GeoDev NYC (which is essentially supported by ESRI) with 600+ members.  There also Meetup groups for OpenStreetMap NYC , Maptime NYC, and nyhacker (2,600+ members).  The New York Big Data Workshop group has had 384 members join just since February of this year.  Granted many individuals are probably members of multiple groups and not all of these groups are totally focused on GIS/geospatial, but the numbers are still pretty impressive.   It’s definitely a new culture of collaboration and working together – and I doubt many of the “geo” Nation have attend or participate in either of the two major statewide GIS conferences (NYS Annual Conference and NYS Geospatial Summit).    (The last time I was at a Meetup I overheard a conversation between two individuals communicating solely by their screen names!)

Conceptually similar, though phenomenally different, consider the  thousands of individuals now chasing and taking part in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).  For example, one of the more visible and successful MOOCs was the 5-week MOOC, Maps and the Geospatial Revolution, taught Summer 2013 by Dr. Anthony Robinson of Penn State. Dr. Robinson was the keynote at the Spring 2014 Annual GIS-SIG meeting held in Pittsford, New York.   Over 47,000 students enrolled – of which according to Dr. Robinson 1,068 were from New York State – and over 35,000 students participated, making it the largest GIS course ever taught. (Wonder how many of the 1,068 registered are members of the NYGIS Association?) The same MOOC course is currently being offered and is in session now. Here in Westchester County, Dr. Peggy Minnis at Pace University offered a MOOC entitled “GIS 101” during Spring 2013 semester which led to 810 individuals registering for the course.  Dr. Minnis noted that about 150 of the 810 never logged in while another 150 worked fairly regularly through the weekly assignments. The latter group became the core of the active learners.  (And a follow-up course “GIS Basics” was offered Fall 2013).    All said, there is no denying the increasing MOOC appeal as a means to presenting basic geospatial concepts to a new and broader user community.  As to the overall benefits and relevance of MOOC coursework,  reference is made to a January 2013 Journal of Higher Education article noting “Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses”.    (I just saw another MOOC listing in a June 5th Directions Magazine Blog posting:  New MOOC in Beta: Introduction to GIS using Quantum GIS.

And lastly, are our hacker friends.  There are hackers of all types but here I’m referencing the geospatial types.  The new friends of GIS with an edge and attitude.   One does not have to try too hard to find the growing list of GIS and open data related hackathons including, but not limited to, the  ESRI UC Hackathon, Hack Pasedena, City of Austin Hack for Change, Code for Burlington , Colorado/Wyoming Google Hackathon,  NYC BigApps 2014, opendataphilly,  ourimportant and closely aligned disciplines in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry (AEC), and many more.   Any other Google search on “geohacker applications” or “geospatial hacker apps” will return yet another long list of specific applications and authors.  Take a look.   A completely different, and often awesome, ad hoc approach to geospatial application development.  Hard to quantify the numbers but they are there.   Maybe in the cubicle/office pod next to you or in the basement next door.  And what do they do?  Maybe best defined from the  Hacker wiki:

  • Hacker:  those who make innovative customizations or combinations of retail electronic and computer equipment
  • Hacker:  those who combine excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities

There is a whole new and expanding community of geospatial users amongst us and it’s my guess we’re only beginning to scratch the surface on identifying and understanding who they are and how to make a connection.   The big challenge is realizing that many of the new breed are ones using geospatial on the fringe, innocuously, and not necessarily in establish groups or programs.  Probably solo on the internet, sometimes just a screen name, developing and sharing – and then leaving.  GIS rogue.  But at the end of the day new and refreshing.  And contributing to the common geospatial good.

There are lots of individuals engaged in these new spaces and the Empire State GIS community would do well to take note.

Spring 2014 GIS Conference Deals

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year for a bunch of reasons.   March Madness, Major League Baseball season begins (sorry Yanks & Mets fans, having been raised outside of Cleveland, I’m a hapless lifelong Indians fan – which is a curse) and the public golf courses in Westchester County open late March!  But this Spring is particularly sweet as we finally begin to sense and feel an end to the brutal and seemingly endless winter we’ve all suffered through over the past several months.

Over on the geospatial front, Spring also offers some of my favorite one-day GIS conferences held in locations which are easily accessible to the Empire State  geospatial community.     These one-day conferences are user-friendly, light on registration fees, provide excellent networking opportunities among colleagues and industry representatives,  provide good content, and minimize overall travel expenses – which is significant due to the substantial travel restrictions many GIS professionals are currently dealing with across the state.

Three Spring 2014 regional GIS conferences and meetings worth considering include:

GIS-SIG 23rd Annual Conference, April 15th, Rochester, NY.   GIS-SIG is the long standing western New York geospatial educational user group whose primary mission is to “foster the understanding of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology.”   GIS/SIG provides a professional forum in the Rochester – Genesee Finger Lakes region for GIS education, data sharing, communication and networking with other local, state and national users, dissemination of information about trends and policies related to GIS, and technology advancement.  With a loyal membership and Board of Directors, the size and content of the GIS/SIG conference is broad enough to often substitute as an  annual state conference for many GIS practitioners in the western half of the state.  The conference boasts a wide range of vendors and presentations involving government, industry and business, nonprofits, and contributions from the many academic institutions in the Rochester-Buffalo corridor.  Corporate sponsorship keeps the price tag of an individual registration at under a $100 for the day which also includes lunch.   Online registration is available and while you are at the GIS/SIG website you can also see the many resources and links GIS/SIG provides to its user community.

Northeast Arc User Group (NEARC) Meeting, May 13th, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.  Though not in New York State, the Spring NEARC meeting is conveniently located in Amherst, MA which is easily accessible to the Albany Capital District and GIS professionals in eastern New York State. Once considered the smaller venue of the NEARC suite of annual conferences, Spring NEARC grew too large at its original site at Smith College in Northampton, MA and moved to a larger venue at the University of Massachusetts.  Unlike the GIS/SIG conference which is software vendor independent, this show is very much ESRI centric though is packed with high quality user presentations, well attended by ESRI business partners, and has grown to be so popular that the show competes with the larger annual three-day NEARC Conference held in the fall and other similar New England GIS shows.   This is a great one-day conference, well attended, great user content, easy access, lots of opportunities to meet industry representatives and ESRI regional staff,  professional networking,  and includes lunch – all for $45.  If your organization is an ESRI shop – this is a Spring show not to miss.

Westchester GIS User Group Meeting, May 15th, Purchase College, Purchase New York.  As one of the largest geospatial meetings in southeastern New York State,  the Westchester GIS User Group Meeting is a free one-day conference held at Purchase College.  Made possible by financial support from exhibiting vendors and conference facilities through the college, the 2014 event includes a wide range of user presentations,  a specific PDH (Professional Development Hour) user track for engineers,  afternoon workshops, coffee breaks for networking,  and both a student poster contest and on-campus geogaching and orienteering contest.  The Purchase College location provides easy one-day access across the metropolitan NYC area, including the lower Hudson River Valley and also southeastern Connecticut. While a preliminary agenda has already been posted, it will be updated on a regular basis leading up to the day of the meeting.

So, if overnight travel and expenses are simply not available, fret not – there are regional geospatial meetings and conferences which are accessible from most areas of the state – which provide many of the same benefits of larger shows – and at the same time are easy on the wallet.  It’s worth considering these and other smaller shows to support your professional development efforts and outreach.  At the end of the day, it will be worth your while and you’ll be supporting both your colleagues and the industry representatives which support our Empire State GIS programs.

Imagery is Everywhere

The recent release of the joint Time, Inc., Google, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and Carnegie Mellon University’s Create Lab Timelapse website in May of this year highlights once again the increased availability of a wide range of imagery – in variety of formats – to geospatial users across the Empire State.  With aerial imagery becoming another market-driven commodity to support the expanding geospatial industry, consumers now have several options including either a la carte commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products or more simply consuming imagery online – for free – as part of a growing number of publically accessible Cloud applications and map services.

 Commercial Imagery Products

While imagery requirements to support large scale (1”=100’) planimetric feature mapping is often much more detailed and usually acquired through  formal procurement, COTS imagery can routinely be obtained in the 1m – 2m resolution range, which is normally sufficient to support many general viewing and “what-is-where” geospatial applications across New York State.   COTS imagery has never been easier and more cost-effective to acquire.

GIS mapping and viewing applications that use aerial imagery primarily as a means to provide context to larger-scale, more spatially accurate vector datasets such as tax parcel boundaries, building footprints, and street features can use COTS products.   In the emergency response disciplines, rapidly deployed and developed COTS-quality imagery (+/-  1m – 2m resolution) has also become a standard in damage assessment for incidents such hurricanes, flooding, wildland fires, and other natural disasters.

Firms such as such as MapMart, WeoGeo, and TerraServer serve as brokers for several types of commercial aerial and satellite imagery –  including Digital Globe GeoEye, and QuickBird products – which are sufficient to support “what is where” viewing applications in most government mapping programs.  These commercial data warehouses also make available selected government image datasets such as the leaf-on National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) photography.    Commercial sites provide easy-to-use online forms to select areas of interest, imagery type/format, and cost estimates on the requested imagery.  Commercial aerial imagery can also be bought directly from the aerial or satellite imagery firm (i.e., Digital Globe) but marketplaces such as MapMart and WeoGeo provide a broader range of options for the consumer. (Note:  Georeferenced NAIP aerial imagery can be downloaded directly from Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) website.  As part of preparing this blog post, I received a cost estimate from MapMart for two scenes of Digital Globe Precision Aerials (0.3 m resolution) imagery covering the entire Westchester County footprint – which proved to be very cost competitive and affordable.

Of course the ease and speed of purchasing COTS aerial imagery with or without detailed specifications does not come without potential issues or concerns.   One, some commercial firms may only have imagery that is several years old for a selected “area of interest” or sometimes even more problematic is that a specific area may contain a combination of years of photography. Also, file formats, datums, or the ability to test (QA/QC) the imagery may not be possible and it is worth mentioning that commercial off-the-shelf aerial imagery products are typically not be used in the production or updating of large-scale planimetric vector datasets.  Users measuring distances with COTS may take heed as depending on the scale and resolution of the imagery as calculated distant may contain an unacceptable amount of error depending on user requirements.   Use and redistribution licensing restrictions should also be thoroughly reviewed.

Imagery as part of Cloud and Map Services

If users do not require a physical (local) copy of the imagery, there are also options to access web sites  publishing aerial imagery as a service  – for free –  which can be “mashed-up” with local datasets in a variety of desktop and web viewing clients.  One of the more notable aerial imagery map services in the Empire State is available through the New York State Digital Orthophoto Program (NYSDOP).  In production since 2001, the program makes imagery available for both download and through OGC-compliant Web Map Services (WMS).    Funded through a combination of federal,  state, and local  sources, many of most commonly developed NYSDOP image products across the state (particularly outside of urban areas) are 1ft and 2ft resolution imagery which are generally comparable to COTS available products.

A much larger and expanded source of online aerial imagery is The National Map Viewer (TNM) portal which provides several map services “containing orthorectified digital aerial photographs and satellite imagery” which are more than sufficient resolution to support “what is where” viewing applications.  In additional to making high resolution imagery available, the TNM also provides viewing software that enables users to add local content – either as layers or map services.  A somewhat similar “mash-up” system is the popular Google Earth viewer which provides imagery as base map and of course, the ability for users to add additional KML layers and WMS services.  Other closely related products such as Microsoft Bing Maps offer developer tools to embed and make available imagery (Pictometry obliques) in business and government applications.

The new approach of providing both Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in one interface – and for free – is increasingly empowering for organizations with limited resources or GIS capacity.  Albeit at its core, is a fee-based product that offers similar functionality and does include free options if contributors make project maps accessible to the public.  An exhaustive gallery of public facing maps – many of which include high resolution aerial photography as the base map AND can be modified and enhanced by anonymous users with local datasets – is available for viewing at the portal.  Many of the maps can be used as a front-end to add local content for site specific projects here in New York State.

All said, the landscape has changed dramatically in recent months with regard to purchasing COTS aerial and satellite imagery which can used to support desktop and web-based geospatial applications.  And the user community should expect options to only expand over the next several years as:  1) aerial imagery change detection technology continues to evolve (enabling consumers to purchase aerial imagery where it is really needed and/or physical changes have actually occurred)  and 2)  the next generation of smaller earth observation satellites promising a surge of commercial space-based imagery platforms combined with better web-based visualization and mapping systems that are ready to ingest and analyze near real-time imagery.  To say the least of anticipated options associated with the budding drone and unmanned aerial planes/vehicles which will be used to support imagery and data collection.

If organizations have limited budgets, do not require a complete update of the imagery database or do not have other “hard” requirements (i.e., photography to support large-scale feature/planimetric  mapping) COTS imagery can be priced very competitively and can be considered as a viable alternative in support of enterprise aerial imagery programs.