Personal Geospatial Workflows, July 2016 Edition

It’s hard to believe, but I last touched upon this topic over two years ago, when my family and I were living in our between-houses rental. One of the goals I had when building our current house was to create a space where I could more effectively work from home. To that end, I have a dedicated office that I’ve been working toward optimizing for my technical work.

One advantage of a dedicated space, which I did not anticipate ate the time, is compartmentalization. One of the dangers with working at home is the blurring of the boundary between work time and personal/family time. In our old house, I definitely felt that as I was working from the dining room table. Now, I can more effectively shut the door and step away. I’m not perfect at doing that, yet, but I am getting better.

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As a consultant doing federal work, I don’t get to work off-site all the time. I’ve been fortunate, however, to have worked a few projects over the past couple of years that have allowed it, so I’ve taken advantage of it as much as possible.

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Publishing GeoPackage to GeoServer Using QGIS

Recently, I had the occasion to attempt to generate an OGC GeoPackage from QGIS and publish it using GeoServer. The use case was fairly straightforward. I had been given data in GML format and needed to publish it. For many valid reasons (such as lack of spatial indexing), GeoServer does not natively support publishing GML data. As a result, I need to convert it to something that GeoServer did support.

QGIS opened and displayed the data easily and, from there, I could export it into any number of formats. (Or I could have used OGR.) The feature attributes had very long names and I didn’t want to lose that richness by exporting to shapefile. I was trying to keep my server-side life simple, so I was hoping to avoid setting up an RDBMS data store for this purpose. It was then that I noticed QGIS supports exporting to GeoPackge, so I decided to give it a go.

For purposes of this post, I am using a shapefile of building footprints of Leonardtown, Maryland. The process is the same for a GML file, however.

As shown below, you initiate the process like any other by right-clicking and choosing “Save As…” in the context menu.

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Desktop GIS

I’ve found myself using desktop GIS more and more lately. While I don’t tend to think of myself as an analyst and I’ll never be confused with a cartographer, it is simply not possible to perform GIS software development without making occasional use of desktop GIS. My typical use cases involve data preparation or query verification or similar such tasks to prove out some logic before I commit it to my application code. The screenshot below depicts my default desktop GIS configuration:

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Yes, I have come full circle back to command-line GIS. After years of fiddling with the latest Arc/Q-GUI-du-jour, I find myself spending most of my time working with a flashing cursor.

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Toolbars

The convoluted user interfaces of most desktop GIS software is something I revisit from time to time. James’ most recent issue of his SpatialTau newsletter got me thinking about it again. A while back, I got caught up in a Twitter discussion about it. Tools like geojson.io and TileMill have fantastic interfaces, but they also perform narrow functions (data editing and map composition, respectively).

For a while, I’ve been thinking that this might be an approach worth investigating: rather than one piece of software with everything in it, a suite of tools dedicated to different aspects of the typical GIS workflow. This would not be a panacea as some tasks are just more complex than others. (Think of all of the editing options available in any piece of CAD software, and this is devoid of any analytical tools.) As attractive as this approach seems to me in concept, I suspect it would break down in execution. I think it could end up multiplying the problem with many overly-complex applications instead of just one.

Over the last year or so, I’ve become somewhat enamored of another approach: the search tool. This requires a little back story.

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Personal Geospatial Workflows, May 2014 Edition

I have been spending the past few weeks dealing more with data and mapping than I have in quite a while. It’s given me a chance to regain my footing with map-making, reconnect with some end-user tools like Arc2Earth, and build a little more proficiency with things like GDAL, QGIS, and TileMill. Of course, I’ve been able to sneak in some coding as I’ve identified gaps in my workflow.

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Using Virtual Rasters to Generate Contours in QGIS

Every now and again, I am asked to make maps. It’s not my strongest suit, but it sometimes comes with the territory. My latest task, as mentioned in my previous post, involves building support for MBTiles databases into a mobile situational awareness tool. This is done so that the devices can have a persistent local basemap in the field. The need arose to ensure that the basemaps were high contrast to assist with visibility in bright sunlight. Something like this:

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Desktop Not Dead

In 2011, I gave a talk at the NCGIS conference about the continued dominance of the desktop in the world of GIS. In that talk, my main point was that, regardless of the ultimate destination of GIS data or maps (cloud, server, paper, PDF, etc.), most GIS data passes through a desktop GIS at some point. I don’t have hard data to back up that claim but I think anyone who has worked in the industry for any length of time will agree that it feels right. If we loosely define “desktop GIS” to include not only GUI analytical tools like ArcMap or QGIS, but also command-line tools such as GDAL/OGR and cartographic tools such as TileMill, I think the statement is even more comfortable.

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