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:


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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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 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.

Continue reading “Toolbars”

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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Data, Apps, and Maps

It’s been a quiet month-and-a-half here on the blog, mostly owing to an abundance of project tasks. I recently started a short-term project to help one of my Federal customers extend data source support for an application they have been developing. This customer is technically a new one but the project team is made up of government developers that I have worked with on a few other projects so there is a great deal of familiarity.

The application, which has been under development for some time, is written in .Net and make use of the open-source (MIT) GMap.NET mapping library. The application features a desktop version running in Windows and a mobile version running on Android tablets. The .Net back end works seamlessly on both through the use of Xamarin, although I have not had the chance to get my hands dirty with that yet due to limits on Xamarin licenses and available Android devices. To its credit, GMap.NET seems to work fairly well in both environments.

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The Biggest News You May Have Missed…

In case you missed it, this tweet floated across the Twitters last week:

Yes, the team at Arc2Earth is apparently working on a new feature in Arc2Earth Sync, called TileMill Connect, that will link ArcMap MXDs with TileMill. This will allow users to migrate their ArcMap cartography into TileMill to take advantage of the rich tools there as well as the potential for version control and cut/paste sharing of techniques and best practices enabled by CartoCSS.

Brian Flood followed that up today with a short video showing it in action.

No word on a timetable for this feature, but I can’t wait to kick the tires. I am especially intrigued by the pseudo PostGIS proxy service that enables connections to ArcGIS data sources.

Personal Geospatial Workflows

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently about the geospatial tools I use. Year-over-year, that answer changes but here’s how I answer that right now:

As a Federal contractor, I spend a lot of time working with the Esri stack during my work day. A few years ago, I added a few open-source geospatial tools into my tool set and, since then, have also done a respectable amount to consulting work them as well. The balance between the two varies over time, depending on the requirements of individual customers and projects. Lately, commercial customers have seemed much more interested in open-source tools while my government customers are sticking with Esri. Since those observations are based on the the extremely heavy filter of my own recent experience, I’d be hesitant to draw any larger conclusions from them.

I’ve always believed that proficiency with a wide range of tools makes me a better consultant and integrator, so I am always exploring and trying new things. With those commercial customers, and in my own personal side projects, my recent workflows have gelled around a core set of tools, both commercial and open-source: Continue reading “Personal Geospatial Workflows”

Cutting Tiles for ArcGIS Server Using TileMill

There’s been a lot of talk about TileMill and CartoCSS lately, with good cause. TileMill makes it very easy generate beautiful map tiles using the Mapnik engine and CartoCSS provides a familiar method to author the cartographic representation of spatial data. As Brian Timoney points out, CartoCSS has the added bonus of making best practices shareable via copy-and-paste.

Naturally, the best way to take advantage of TileMill is to export your tiles to MBTiles and use MapBox hosting. If that’s not an option, you can pretty easily self-host with TileStream. That said, there are some organizations that, due to larger GIS workflows, IT policies, and a host of other legitimate reasons, need or choose to use ArcGIS Server to do map hosting. For those organizations, TileMill is still an option to create attractive basemaps, within certain constraints.

So I set out to see if I could bridge the gap between the two. Two blog posts pointed the way. A while back, Dan Dye blogged about how he had forked mb-util and added support for exporting WeoGeo tilepacks from MBTiles. Also, a co-worker of mine, Eric Mahaffey, had blogged some time ago about how to use Arc2Earth to manage tile caches across air-gapped networks. Using these posts for guidance, I was pretty sure I had all the pieces I needed. Continue reading “Cutting Tiles for ArcGIS Server Using TileMill”