QGIS and a Small Passion Project

When he was in the Air Force, my father served on Air Force One under four presidents – Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. He was on the engine crew and got to see a lot of the world over the course of those administrations. I grew up with Presidential memorabilia all through our home: signed photos of the presidential plane, commemorative holiday pictures from the White House, and Christmas ornaments, for example. Occasionally, I’d run across fun things like his old passport with stamps from countries who have not been friendly with the US in decades – hints of a bygone geopolitical era. One time, I found four sets of gold-rimmed Ray-Ban aviator glasses that had been standard issue for a few years – especially for those who spent long days on tarmacs.

Recently, he pulled out a memento I had never seen, pictured at the top of this post. It was box that was given to personnel who accompanied Eisenhower on a trip through Europe, Asia, and Africa in 1959. The box was full of other mementos, including a deck of cards from the Columbine, the propellor-driven predecessor to the Boeing jets that have been flown for several decades now. Also a Zippo lighter still polished to a high sheen. But what fascinated me was the map on the cover. I took a picture of it and came home intent on recreating it with GIS.

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Services, Solutions, and Products

Prior to my current role, I spent 25 years working in the federal contracting space. Almost all technology built in that world is one-off and designed for the specific needs of a customer. Often, those needs are complex and meeting them involves creating new technology. “Productizing” a solution is common trope around the Beltway among integrators of all sizes. Most of the time, attempts to do this never get past the whiteboard stage and those that do invariably fail to become anything the wider technology market would recognize as a product.

In my current role, I happen to work for a company that actually succeeded in turning a solution it built to support its original services-based business into a thriving software-as-a-service (SaaS) product. While this represents an anecdotal and statistically-insignificant sample of one, it has helped me understand the differences between successful products and those solutions that never quite get there. I also happen to manage the portfolio of SaaS platforms my company uses for its own operations, so I’ve had a good chance to observe commonalities among many products and contrast them with the solutions in the previous phase of my career.

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Give Me a Standard, Any Standard

I’ve spent the last year or so doing very little with geospatial technology, but I find myself missing it tremendously. Of course “in my blood” and “how I’m wired” and similar aphorisms apply to how I’m feeling, but that’s not what really has me missing geospatial. In a shocking (for me) turn of events, I find myself missing the influence of OGC on the geospatial technology community.

I’ve spent the last year working on integrating several SaaS systems, including Stripe, Salesforce, NetSuite, and others. I’ve touched upon this in previous posts. All of them implement some form of REST API, but fostering interoperability doesn’t seem to be a primary purpose of those APIs as much as is the enablement of a proprietary partner/strategic-alliance ecosystem. As a result, these APIs, while generally well-documented, are essentially arbitrary. They implement the HTTPS+JSON pattern in the same way that many written languages implement the Roman alphabet. I can sound out the words, but I don’t really have any idea what I’m saying.

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Simple Isochrone Analysis in QGIS

With my MBA program behind me, one of my goals has been to shake the rust off my coding and GIS skills. For this post, I thought I would start simply, just to make sure I remembered how to find my way around QGIS.

We recently purchased a plug-in hybrid. It has a 17-mile range when running fully electric, so I used this as the basis for a quick analysis with QGIS. Of course, any such experimentation isn’t much fun without a few unrealistic assumptions, so here they are:

  1. The car was parked with an empty tank.
  2. It was brought up to a full charge overnight.
  3. Rather than immediately going to a gas station, we’ll go to a charging to top off the battery again.

These assumptions are, of course, ridiculous, but they allow me to have some fun.

I decided to build out drive-distance isochrones representing ten miles and sixteen miles. Ten miles represented the safe range, and sixteen represented the edge of insanity, at which I should use the last mile to find a gas station.

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Life and How to Live It

I finished my MBA work this week. Grades won’t post until next week, which means my completion won’t be finalized until next month sometime, but I am done. Approximately 18 months of graduate level work done all online, mostly during a pandemic, has come to an end. I have learned a lot that I will put to use in the next chapter of my life and career.

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Geography Matters Less

For a long time now, I have tried to take a holistic approach to my day. I long ago seized upon the idea that time is the primary resource to manage and that all others, including money, are secondary. Show me a person who says “Time is money” and I will show you someone who devalues their time by orders of magnitude.

As a person with a career in the information industry, I have the luxury of a great deal of latitude in how I structure my day. I no longer have a job with requirement to physically be in a location. That wasn’t the case at the start of my career as I was running restaurants while trying to land my first programming job, or mid-career supporting government customers. That’s also not the case for many workers today – teachers, tradespeople, many service-industry workers – for whom place is a central part of their work. It is ironic that I work in a field that preaches how much “geography matters” while I have been able to minimize the impact of geography in my daily work.

The current debate over work-from-home (WFH) vice return-to-office (RTO) vice hybrid is interesting because it is not a debate about geography but about time. By necessity, those who could work from home during the pandemic did so. As a result, they achieved a time dividend at scale. As someone who had been working from home for a few years prior to the pandemic, I was already aware of this benefit. But many people still held on to the tropes of office culture until they were forced to do it differently.

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Vignettes From a Month

16 hours in Denver and a drive-by catch-up with some of the geo-people I miss so much. Reminding myself that my anger might make me feel better in the short term, but it’s not worth the wreckage I’d leave in my wake. Taking down a poster for an old sales campaign at HQ from the … Read more

A Programming Life

To say that programming saved my life would be overly dramatic. Given that I started programming at an age where most of us are prone to drama based on the ebbs and flows of hormones, a dramatic reading of my first forays into programming would be forgivable. But, while programming didn’t save my life, it … Read more

In Praise of Process

stack of books in shelf

“Ops” is all the rage these days – DevOps, RevOps, FinOps, PeopleOps. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a mention of “GeoOps” yet, given the propensity of our corner of the world to attach the “geo” prefix to what ever the current hotness may be.

“Ops” is, of course, short for “operations” and “operations” is a euphemism for “process.” If you feel the hives beginning to form on your body at the mention of the word “process,” then you have been in the large part of the tech industry that has at least come in contact with those who worship at the altar of the “Netflix Culture Deck.” This 2009 declaration of the culture of Netflix covers a lot of ground. There’s a lot in it I don’t agree with and there’s a lot that I do agree with.

Thomas Claveirole, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I agree that “brilliant jerks” should not be tolerated. I agree that the values of every organization are manifested in their actions: “who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” Published mission, vision, and values statements are meaningless unless the organization’s everyday actions match them.

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SaaS, IPaaS, and Interoperability

I started this blog back in 2006 during a time when I wasn’t doing much geospatial work at all. I was working on building a human resources system for a federal government customer who was falling under the then-new and now-defunct National Security Personnel System. Because it was new and sufficiently different from the GS system, there were no off-the-shelf products to acquire. So I found myself deep in the development of logic to model workflows for personnel reviews, tracking accomplishments, and other minutiae of managing different types of personnel. There was no room for anything geospatial and I felt it, probably incorrectly, slipping away so I started doing personal projects at home. This blog started out as the means for documenting those diversions, which included my first dabblings with PostGIS among many other things.

I find myself in a similar period now. I’ve been mostly occupied the past few months with migrating to a new billing system. It’s not sexy and it’s certainly not geospatial, but billing is a necessary engine of any business. When people talk about “growing pains” as businesses scale up, billing is one of the biggest.

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