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:

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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.

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ToGeoJson and ToWKT for the Esri FGDB API

In support of some of our ongoing PIM work, we’ve been integrating the Esri File Geodatabase (FGDB) API into some tools. Without going into a level of detail that would hijack this post, one of the many functions performed by some of the tools is to validate physical spatial databases against established data models to analyze compliance and identify differences. These databases may be in Esri or non-Esri formats and we have traditionally handled Esri geodatabases through ArcObjects since it provides a relatively uniform interface across the various flavors of geodatabase.

Of course, ArcObjects requires an ArcGIS license of some sort and we are finding out that this is not always available to users in the field under many situations so the FGDB API gets past that for file geodatabases, at least.

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Using GeoIQ Analytics in .Net Applications

A few weeks ago, I posted about some .Net wrappers I created for the GeoIQ API. Due to ongoing project work, I have continued to extend them by adding methods to wrap GeoIQ analytical capabilities. Despite the recent acquistion of GeoIQ by Esri, it’s my understanding that GeoCommons and existing GeoIQ installations will continue for some time. That’s good, because analytics on the GeoIQ platform are powerful and fairly easy to use. This post will demonstrate how to use analytics in a .Net application.

As previously posted, the .Net wrappers can be found on github here.

The GeoIQ platform offers several functions to analyze data sets hosted on a GeoIQ instance or GeoCommons. I have not yet wrapped all of the functions but am working my way through them as I can.

For this post, I will intersect the locations of US GISPs as of 1/26/2011 with the Maryland Zip Code Boundaries to produce a data set containing the locations of GISPs in Maryland, depicted in the map below.

Don’t worry, none of these are me.

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Prince George’s County, Maryland Posts 3-D Planning Model Videos

A few days ago, Michael Shean of the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) announced the availability of videos of 3-D terrain models created to support Planning Board activities in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The videos have been made available via Google+ here: https://plus.google.com/105701421300090504528/posts.

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ArcGIS Image Services and Leaflet

I’ve become a big fan of Leaflet for putting maps on the web. It gives me most of what I need without much of what I don’t and is fairly easily extended, as shown by the impressive work of Jason Sanford.

A while back, Dave Bouwman blogged about work he and the team at DTS Agile had done extending Leaflet to support ArcGIS Server layers. Given that there are a lot of ArcGIS Servers out there, this is a good thing to have. Thanks to section 4(f) of the Esri Web Services Terms of Use, it’s less useful for use with ArcGIS Online, but that’s probably the topic of another post.

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Regarding Extensions

James addressed the idea that Esri is extending the core capability of ArcGIS to include functionality that, in the the not-too-distant past, would have been left to strategic partners and other third-party integrators. When I touched upon this last week, I came at it from the standpoint that it will streamline procurement for Federal users. This observation was driven by the fact that I was at the Federal GIS Conference and it made sense for that audience.

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ESRI Federal GIS Conference Wrap-up

After arriving a little late on Day 2 due to needing to push updates to an application we’re building for an NGO, I was able to catch most of the session about deploying ArcGIS Server in the cloud. James was sitting in the front and has already blogged that session so I won’t go into detail about it here. One thing that did jump out at me came during the Q&A, when someone asked about certification and accreditation (C&A) of AWS deployments.

If you work in the Federal space, you know that C&A is a huge issue for the deployment of any information system, regardless of platform, for the Federal Government. Since hosted deployments essentially mean outsourcing your physical infrastructure, information security types have understandably proceeded with caution here.

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#EsriFedCon Day One – Users Will Be Happy

I didn’t catch the first half of the Esri Federal GIS Conference plenary but James did a good recap of it on his blog. I did, however, catch the second half and the opening of the exhibit hall.

GIS letters from the road

This year was a departure from previous years in that it wasn’t a litany of the new things coming in each component of the Esri stack. The “GIS letters from the road” theme drew attention to problems that can be solved by leveraging the entire stack as a unit. It was a good twist that made it impossible to just drop in, hear about your favorite Esri product, and drop out. I have to give kudos to Esri’s marketing team for taking it in this direction.

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