Put Planet Geospatial to Work for You

I’m happy to see that James has decided keep Planet Geospatial going. It’s been one of the more consistently valuable resources in the community since its inception and it’s good that it will continue.

While I’m looking forward to seeing how James evolves Planet Geospatial, there are ways to more efficiently extract value out of its current state right now. At its core, Planet Geospatial is an RSS feed. RSS can safely be called “venerable” nowadays, but it still does what it does very well.

Two of my favorite tools for culling down the firehose that is Planet Geospatial are IFTTT (the title of this post is a riff on the IFTTT motto) and Evernote. If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, you should be. It reminds me of a more-intuitive Yahoo Pipes and it allows you to mix channels, triggers, and actions to automate processes of your choosing. It’s become by preferred method of synchronizing my blog with social media and for filtering data sources. It also drives the Unofficial QGIS Info Twitter account.

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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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Carving Up GIS StackExchange

So the data server that I was working with was having issues and, while waiting for the IT staff to resolve things, I decided to browse the GIS StackExchange site. It’s been online for quite sometime now, though I am only an occasional user. One thing led to another and I found myself playing with the StackExchange API, which returns various information for a particular site in a JSON format.

One of the things that got people excited about the site was that it was neutral territory, not directly controlled by a particular vendor or organization and it remains one of the few places where you can see hyperbole-free discussion of Esri tools right next to that of open-source tools and general GIS concepts. Since it’s been online for a while now, it has a lot of posts covering many different topics. I had some time on my hands, so I decided to pull the information for the 100 most “popular” tags, using the StackExchange API. With JSON in hand, I parsed into a CSV with Python and loaded the data into Excel to take a look.

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Mapping GISPs Again With Leaflet.markercluster

So I’ve been playing with Leaflet a lot lately. It’s become my lightweight mapping library of choice. There’s a lot it doesn’t do so I keep OpenLayers and others in the rotation as well but Leaflet is direct and to the point so I use it when I can.

Click the image to go to the live demo

A while back, I stumbled onto the Leaflet.markercluster project on GitHub, which adds a clustering layer type. I wanted to try it so I revisited my old GISP heat map demo (Silverlight) and decided to rework it. I was happy to finally get a chance to strip out the plug-in, anyway.

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