Ron Lake – The Man In the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

I never met Ron Lake, but the majority of my career has taken place in the geospatial technology landscape he helped create. He is best known as the author and chief advocate of Geography Markup Language (GML), the XML encoding of geographic objects that underpins most of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s web standards and is a standard itself. This fact made him a pioneer, a visionary, and a source of controversy.

It is easy, for those of us who have worked with geospatial tools for a long time, to sit at a keyboard in 2019 and forget how much harder it used to be. By that, I mean working with geospatial data. It’s still probably more difficult than it should be, but it used to be so much harder.

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Hello, Discipline, My Old Friend

It wasn’t that long ago that I was “always on” in terms of work. There is a certain ethos in the DC area that rewards that outlook and I was fairly good at it. This was compounded by the fact that I was a partner in my company and the buck always stops with the owners. Therefore, you always answered the phone/email/text/DM. A few years ago, I began to realize that this approach wasn’t serving me well over the long haul, especially in terms of my health.

What I needed to do was get reacquainted with discipline. Because I had fully bought into the idea that a business owner is never “off,” I had allowed discipline to atrophy. When all 24 hours of each day are available to accomplish tasks, then “close of business” means “before 11:59pm.” If you make your deliverable before the person you have committed to shows up for work in the morning, it counts.

There are obvious problems with this approach. First, work is always lingering in the background. Second, you are never fully engaged in any activity (including work). I coached soccer games, ran practices, and many other similar activities, but the block of code that I couldn’t quite finish before heading out to practice, or the proposal inputs due by midnight were never far away. Conversely the practice, or board meeting, or dinner party was always lingering in my mind when I should have been focusing on a proposal or my code.

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Evolution and Leadership

My first management position was at a restaurant. It was a chain steakhouse in a one-horse town in Maryland. A few months into that role, I was the sole manager on duty for a weekend night shift that was going poorly.

Feeling my frustration mounting, I did the most mature and leaderly thing my 19-year-old mind could think of – I tipped over the break table, causing everything on it to crash loudly to the floor.

I felt a momentary rush of power as people scurried away from my obvious anger, setting off to do whatever they could do to right the sinking ship that was this shift. Word apparently spread quickly throughout the staff because, before I had walked another ten feet through the kitchen, I was confronted by a member of the waitstaff.

Louvre Museum [Public domain]

I forget her exact words, but they boiled down to “You’re being an idiot. This is your shift. If you want it fixed, go fix it or find another job.” She was right, and jarringly so. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fix that shift, but I never flipped a break table again in my restaurant career. Thus began a lifelong interest in leadership and management.

I should also note that, several years later, the woman who confronted me agreed to marry me and we will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year.

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Catching Up with Microsoft

Recently, I’ve gotten back in touch with .Net in the form of .Net Core. I’ve been shaking off some the coding rust and building some tools to help with data handling related to the Foresight data service at Spatial Networks. It’s been fun to get my hands dirty again and also interesting to see how .Net has evolved over the past few years.

It’s been a few years since I’ve done a lot with .Net and, after spending some time in the Node ecosystem, this was my first foray into .Net Core. The application I was working on just wasn’t coming together correctly in Node, so I started prototyping out the logic flow in .Net Core, with the intent to port it back to Node when I had a good reference implementation. The more I kept using .Net, the more impressed I got, so I just kept the application there.

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Desktop GIS – The Evergreen Topic

It seems that I tend to revisit the state of desktop GIS every so often. With the continued advancement of “web GIS,” as well as the increased power of mobile platforms, proliferation of spatial analysis techniques into non-traditional environments, the ubiquity of spatial databases, and a host of other factors, it’s tempting to speculate on the long-term prospects of traditional desktop GIS software. This seems especially true when the software in question originates in Redlands, California.

I was brought back to this topic by a recent discussion on Twitter, initiated by my friend, Atanas Entchev.

https://twitter.com/atanas/status/1093489694082510853

The ensuing discussion grew legs and continued much longer than I would have thought. The core of the discussion centered around confusion in Esri’s messaging or, more accurately, subsequent interpretation of Esri’s messaging with regard to the status of ArcGIS Desktop. Long story short: much ado about nothing. Esri is releasing new versions of ArcGIS Pro and ArcMap. There are primary sources reaffirming their commitment to desktop GIS, so we can all go back to what we were doing. Awesome.

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Data Is Hard

Where I work, we have developed a nuanced philosophy to describe the niceties of collecting data, managing it, validating it, and preparing it for use: “Data is hard.”

This was brought to light in a very public manner by the vandalism that was displayed on basemaps produced by Mapbox. The responses by Mapbox  and their CEO, Eric Gendersen, are good examples of how a company should respond to such incidents. Kudos to him and the team at Mapbox for addressing and rectifying the situation quickly.

The Gordian Knot
By jmerelo [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Speculation quickly ran to vandalism of OSM, which is one of the primary data sources used by Mapbox in their products. That speculation was backed up by the edit history in the New York area, but it is interesting to note that the vandalism was caught early in OSM and never came to light is OSM itself. In this case, the crowd worked as it was supposed to.

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Belatedly, TUgis 2017 Keynote Text

In March of 2017, I gave the keynote address at TUgis, Maryland’s geospatial conference. Despite a few requests, I’ve been remiss about posting the text until now. The following lengthy block quote is the address as I had written it. It differs slightly from what I actually said, but I can no longer recall the on-the-fly changes I made. The original text is pretty close, though. It was written before some of the announcements by Microsoft and Amazon later in the year, but that simply serves to illustrate the pace with which trends discussed here are moving.

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Harvey and Fulcrum Community

There was a time in my consulting career where I was providing GIS software and database support to the US federal critical infrastructure protection community. Part of that work involved ‘event response,’ which most often took the form of natural disasters. I never deployed, but a lot of my co-workers did.

Ground truth was always the biggest problem. We were always trying to get a sense of what conditions were like on the ground with as little latency as we could manage. With the technology of the 2003 – 2007 time frame, that was a significant challenge. Whether notepads or spreadsheets or custom data collection extensions deployed on ToughBooks, we tried just about everything we could think of. Some of my co-workers even managed a forward-deployed ArcIMS server to try to get anything useful out of the affected areas after Katrina.

Fast-forward to 2017 and we’re dealing with the unprecedented aftermath of Harvey in the Houston, Texas area. I find myself in the fortunate position of working for a company, Spatial Networks, that has a technology I wish we had back then. In addition to the technology, the company has the will to open it up and put it in the hands of whomever needs it.

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