Thoughts
on Expertise,
Web GIS,
and Open Source

Ever been subjected to that awkward moment where someone was dying to impress you about how superbly expert he is about something but he ended up doing the total opposite? Around five months ago, somebody messaged me on Facebook about my Facebook status/announcement for a potential programming-mapping project. He said that he can just work for my company as a moonlighting programmer to customize the utility app, because it was “so simple” and he was bored with having mastered his job already.

Wapak!

Four words flashed in my head that instant: Ang yabang naman nito!!!

(Two other mapping guys a hundred times better than him with skills and programming prowess inquired about the project respectfully, and became our company’s partners beyond this initial project.)

I actually thought highly of him before this incident. When I told him that my client is using a customized app that does not use his tool of choice, ArcGIS 10, he immediately withdrew his offer and said that he cannot do it given that it’s not going to be implemented through the software that he knows like the back of his hand.

His arrogance has been extinguished almost instantly and he suddenly typed in “GTG,” that he’s busy with managerial stuff for his work, as if I was wasting his time. I wanted to call him up and LOL him like crazy to drown out the awkwardness. Instead, I said “OK, good luck with your managerial stuff!”

Today, five months later, he is an introduction to a long blog post about expertise and mapping thoughts.

This tiny event led me to ponder along with other ideas for five months: How can one be an authentic expert in something if you do not probe in the depths, if you do not have the thirst to work from the ground up and see what you find? How can you call yourself an expert programmer if you do not have the versatility to work from the very foundations of what you do?

(And he had the temerity to market himself as an expert in this industry. I feel embarrassed for the true experts who don’t concern themselves with such things just to get attention from other people.)

I do not know if this idea is something that comes across to some app users, but I have been picking my brain constantly regarding an issue of how ease of use can sometimes make end users too lazy for their own good. I cannot help but feel that ease of use in software, while it is marketed as a time saver and the logical way to go for solutions, actually trades our ability to empower ourselves and innovate on our own devices.

When you are given an easy to click interface or pre-packaged piece of application that you only need to pay for and upgrade annually, you live  with the precious cost and accept that you will never have full knowledge of how exactly the system works from ground up.

Some people are content with this “restricted” kind of knowledge and call it expertise.  But try changing the application and then these “experts” will no longer know how to do things because they’re stuck with a single way of doing things.

It makes them extremely inflexible and ignorant.  True think tanks of this planet are not afraid to work with the barest bones to build an entire body or system even if it takes an entire lifetime’s work.  True think tanks tinker with their boundaries and are versatile.

And most all, think tanks don’t brag then cower in shame if their tool of choice is not available on the table. They rise to the occasion and find solutions with dogged persistence.

I find that when I overuse easy to install and easy to use apps, I get somewhat “dumber” although I accomplish things that may astound an unsuspecting passer-by. I get to appreciate the shortcuts more when I know how it works in the background, if I can see the “skeleton” of the main thing being sold, if I can take things apart and understand why this certain function crashed, and fully understand why this particular command did not generate the results that I want.

I do not know why, but this is how I learn that I have truly learned. And this is the standard by which I hold people who call themselves intelligent or good at what they do. And based on this standard, I am a total beginner to mapping and programming. I love it well enough to post every considerable thing I can write about it, but I still have a LONG WAY to go.

In the interests of saving time, we occasionally delude ourselves into thinking that the expensive and user friendly software empowers us to do more for less. In fact, it makes you dependent to a brand to sustain your skill set.

Living in the third world country, I find that the growing community of open source GIS developers as a resourceful and cost-efficient alternative to branded moguls is a very promising one. I am not yet as good as the least of them, but I support them and I want to be like them.

Long live Open Source. Programming is king.

Visions

(image credits to Engr. Ranel O. Padon)

It’s like when I personally discovered that I can style my clothes without succumbing to brands, that a Php 10,000 get-up can be reduced to Php 1,000 if you open your mind for saving the little wads in your wallet. It’s really a matter of perspective and willingness to be open to new ideas that make the most revolutionary ideas.

Despite not blooming fully as a seasoned person in the practice, I have realized that I can be an excellent GIS specialist without being impoverished with maintenance costs of premium software. To be fair, branded GIS software does provide the ease of use compared to open source.

But if you are interested enough in GIS to give it your time and working attention, you can take the extra time to make the free version work for you  as well as or even sometimes better than the paid version that people have marketed for the longest time without challenge.

To balance, I still use expensive software but I try my best to step out of the shortcuts and understand the principles behind the shortcuts that the software provides. It makes life more meaningful that way as a worker.

I know that I have posted a lot about GIS software lately, particularly ArcGIS 10. I have come to respect the very easy user interface provided by ArcGIS 10 because it helps me meet my deadlines, but like what I mentioned earlier, I am also open to other types of powerful software particularly the open source ones. The open source ones somehow unveil the heart and soul of what GIS can do.

This is what makes learning so versatile. There is so much to explore here. When I was in college, I was only dipping my toes at the tip of a very deep pond. I was dabbling with population data with simulated real-life problems. At work, I solve real engineering and mapping problems and it gives you a sense of purpose when you are not producing outputs just to get a medal for your bedroom wall.

The deep pond, as I learned from my first year in the working world of engineers, was in fact a vast ocean of knowledge that needs flippers and bunch of other stuff. You find coral reefs of analysed geographic information bits, oil spills in the form of messed up data, and many other things. In school, they train you in a pond with ideal conditions occasionally throwing the deadline shark here and there. At work, you are in the ocean with all those waves and it’s up to you the surf the tides and emerge victorious.  

The ocean in its vastness allows you to choose various vessels. So far, I have unveiled in my blog the use of the common vessel for GIS or mapping specialists like me: the GIS software route. I was quite inclined to write more about ArcGIS 10. Again, I promise to write about my QGIS experience some other time.

Despite the popularity, one clear disadvantage of relying on GIS software is the giant space requirement and the technical knowhow required to operate and maintain it. When you use GIS software, you also experience physical limitations like the video card requirements. For example, when I am doing mapping stuff on an i3 Pentium processor, I occasionally find it not responding or crashing during an intense geoprocessing activity when used with other apps like Skype and Mozilla Firefox.

In comes Google maps and they have promoted the concept of crowdsourcing, where even non-technical people (their Asia-Pacific bigwig once said “even an 11-year-old can use our system”) can contribute to a growing spatial database. But Google has a limited set of things they can share as open source and the rest has to be paid dearly with a premium.

Another apparent disadvantage is that when one technical staff member corrects a database entry from his computer, it is not as easily reflected in the computer of his other team member who might be using the same layer. I personally experienced this at work where my officemate has edited something on a road network file and I was using an obsolete version already. We don’t talk a lot because we are all busy so when you need to scramble for a quick thematic map for a client, you do not have the luxury of time to verify if you are using the same file. It’s cumbersome but it happens especially when you consider large institutions or agencies.

Sure, we can set up a server and a local network, but then you can have conflicting copies of the same file if they are accessed and edited at the same time by different people working in multiple computers.

Small wonder that these days, more and more people and institutions are now opening up to what is considered as the Web GIS segment of the mapping world. It’s Coke Light to the heavy Coke that is given by the usual mapping software. Even the premium mapping mogul ESRI accommodates this growing segment of the mapping world that makes use of internet maps that do not require an installation of or purchase of their ultra-expensive GIS software by having their own free web viewer.

Definitely, this is not the last time that I will write about working with the skeletons of GIS giant applications. It’s me thinking aloud about a subject that I am passionate about. I have finally warmed up to the idea that I can use various mapping vessels (ex. GIS software, Web GIS, programming, etc.) to achieve a common end, and whatever vessel I choose, it will make me a better mapping sailor if I am going to be very accommodating and fearless in the face of uncharted waters.

Who knows, that just might be the road of making me the captain of my own GIS ship?

Or perhaps I can be content with canoeing or a boat or a few columns of a sun-kissed raft. The possibilities are endless. At the moment, I am scoping the area and sunbathing with my BB cream.

I have found by experience that the really kick-ass and worship-worthy GIS navigators would spend time digging deep in the cool finds of their respective GIS vessels than idly send out self-glorifying Facebook messages. And for me, they’re the true programming heroes worth liking and befriending on Facebook.

 

[Special thanks to Engr. Ranel O. Padon for being an inspiring programming teacher and for providing me with my first GIS wooden raft. 🙂 ]

 

Making 3D Maps
Using ArcScene 10

Today, I consider this as a milestone at work and in GIS practice because I was finally able to construct my first set of 3D maps.

The Original Problem: Produce a map of population values at barangay level of Metro Manila and 4 adjacant provinces. Use bar chart rendered in 3D to show the values.

Using my ever trustworthy ArcGIS 10, here was my original bar chart map for the barangay level of NCR and its four adjacent provinces:

BarChart_Population_2D

As you can see, it’s not so pretty, right? I mean, some of the population values are so small and you can hardly see the distinctions among the boundaries. And then it looks cluttered and flat. And DULL.

I was using ArcGIS 10’s ArcMap 10 when I first handled this particular map request from my client. The bar charts are already in 3D but definitely, we know that it will look much better if we tilt the basemap a little vertically so that we can see the bars going upwards.

I did realize that 3D mapping is not entirely possible in ArcMap at its fullest functionality. There’s 3D Analyst toolbar but then the most I can do was simply to rotate the map from the top view using the checkbox located in the Properties section of the layer being rotated. It was still top view.

The next thing I did was purely exploratory. For the record, I had a client waiting for my output this evening and even though I was pressed for time, I tried my best to find the right set of commands to execute the required map.

Google helped a lot since I was also checking out websites like Stack Exchange and ArcGIS Resource Center.

I closed the ArcMap program then I used ArcScene 10 for the remainder of this exercise. I just reloaded the layers I used in ArcMap in this new map at ArcScene. It helped that the interface was the same but the gear of ArcScene is to create 3D maps instead of the usual 2D ones.

Using the ArcToolbox for Feature to 3D Attribute, I succeeded in converting my original 2-dimensional layer basemap into a 3D one.

But it still did not have the effect that I wanted for my client.

Here’s the top view after my feature to 3D attribute geoprocessing tool at ArcScene 10:

Screenshot (51)

When I tilted the view to reflect the side or profile view, I was aghast to find that the elevation values looked like snowflakes and was therefore unusable. I needed it to have tall and solid stacks, but instead it looked like this in reflecting the values of the population as Z-value:

Screenshot (52)

 

Fortunately, I had the urge to check out the properties of my layer and then I went to the Extrusion tab.

Extrusion tab turns points into lines, lines into polygons, and polygons into solid blocks. The polygon to solid block feature was precisely what I needed to have a solid stack at my disposal so I tinkered there and placed the appropriate expression:

Screenshot (53)

 

At first, I was unable to get the elevations right so it looked messed up in 3D wedges like this:

Screenshot (50)

 

Eventually, I managed to find the right combination of parameters in the Extrusion tab that allowed me to produce the 3D map that looked seamless:

3D_Population_Barchart

 

I also experimented on using a different color and a different perspective and here is the other snap shot of what I came up with.

3D_Population_Barchart_2

My client was finally happy. I am also happy because I am quite new to the practice and I never really imagined that today will be the day of learning how to make 3D maps. 🙂

I guess there is so much more to learn in the field of GIS. I am also in the recent process of learning more about Web GIS and I plan to write about that too in the coming days. GIS is a very nice area to explore; there are so many things that can be done with it and it keeps on growing dynamically. 🙂

(Almost) Digitizing Zen

One of the most mechanical procedures in the mapping practice is called digitizing. Some people already play with Google Earth and do not know that they are already digitizing when they create polylines to mark features like roads, rivers, and other linear features easily identifiable on the map. In Google Earth, you can save it as a part of a kmz or kml file.

The good thing about mapping is that when things fall apart, your map still holds itself together.

Going back to my main topic, lest I infect you with my morbid and depressive lethargy… There are numerous mapping software, and most advanced online geoportals also have that digitizing function it. You need not look far, even Google Earth has that.

What can I say? It’s absolutely absorbing but if you are not into it, it can get boring. I, for one, am feeling very much marooned these last three days. And I found such comfort (I know, geek comfort!) in digitizing everything away. It’s just like playing Candy Crush where you line things up in an array that makes sense. In the case of maps, you just line up the feature as you need it for your analysis.

Usually you will need a basemap or image (technically called raster) to be able to digitize. In ArcGIS 10, you have some maps to choose from:

Screenshot (22)

I’ll choose Open Street Map for this tutorial, since it has that cartoon-ey feel.

The next step involves determining what exactly is it that you want to digitize from the basemap. It can be a line or a polygon. Common line data includes rivers and roads. Polygons includes lots, buildings, blocks, and other imaginable feature on the map that is of interest to you.

I chose Paris as the geographic area of interest. It’s pretty chaotic, the road system in Paris. It’s made of these radial arrondissements. I distinctly remember in college when I took an urban planning subject and one of the books in the library showed a picture of the radial roads in Paris. Despite the artistic look, it served a very big logistic or transport issue. Maybe that’s why the velo or bicycle and walking is more encouraged than driving around this road network.

Screenshot (23)

First, you need a layer and then pinpoint that place you’d like to create a feature out of. In ArcGIS 10, you can go to ArcCatalog, create a new shapefile by right clicking on the white screen on the folder of your choice.

Screenshot (24)

That will prompt a new dialog box that you need to fill out accordingly. I already chose to outline gardens in a polygon shape, so:

Screenshot (25)

You can also choose to edit your coordinate system at this point. Usually I just import the coordinate system from another shapefile I have created previously. If you don’t have that, just find the appropriate coordinate system. If you are a fan of Google Earth, WGS84 is a very popular choice. You can also input manually or do whatever rocks your boat, basically:

Screenshot (27)

 

Back to the fun part, then. After clicking ok on that dialog box, you’d be able to exit Arc Catalog and go right back to the mapping software to identify that place you want to trace or digitize. In my case here, I chose Jardin des Tuileries, the famous garden for lovers in Paris. 🙂 I may never be able to go to Paris with my humble salary, but I think I can just be content looking at it from a geographical perspective and play with my maps until my final breathing day.

 

Screenshot (28)

 

Simply add the shapefile you formed from the previous step:

Screenshot (29)

Then click the Editor toolbar to start editing:

Screenshot (30)

After clicking that, a new sidebar appears on the right for ArcGIS 10 and you can choose your “weapon” of choice at the bottom. I choose Polygon, since I am targeting an octagonal region that won’t fit in a rectangle or circle:

Screenshot (31)

Once you click that, the cursor changes into a plus sign at the drawing area, and you can start clicking at corners, one corner at a time.

Screenshot (32)

After the last corner, double click, and you got yourself a polygon footprint for that shape. 🙂 You can turn off the original basemap you loaded earlier and you will still have the polygon. 🙂

It’s an absorbing hobby, making map features like this. Time flies when you digitize because it never ends, and you never run out of features to play with.

I only hate it when the task accumulates and I am stuck with a hundred roads in a rather redundant or non-exciting place. But honestly, when you want to forget or have a useful diversion, this is a pretty good activity. It won’t require you to think about your life or things if you are having an especially bad day or week. And then, you can just make it more artistic on your end if you want to. You can make the roads color purple or pink, in any style you fancy and in any number you please and you will not get condemned for what you choose. After all, it’s your rules and your style that governs a map that you make.

Shit only happens with your map when you have a horrible machine that hangs or does not have enough video card or RAM specs to boast for it. Anywhere else, it’s a frigging land mine, bad things can happen to you all the time and you cannot do anything about it. You can only control how you respond. Maybe that’s why I love maps so much.

They’re so neutral, so therapeutic, and much easier to handle than, say, people and life decisions. Can I just drown in these maps and fall into an eternal spell of geographical stimulation? Many people like going places, but I’m pretty happy sitting in one place if it means my head won’t run needlessly and if it means that I can just exist peacefully in my own bubble.

Digitizing is almost so Zen, if it were just the only thing in earth that had to matter.

 

 

Motif Swatches
and
Population Symbologies

The best thing in life is when you engage in an activity that holds a fusion of multiple goals. When you hit two or three birds in one stone, you accomplish more and the joy is double.

Today, in my case, it was the selection of the proper color swatch for my upcoming wedding fused with the appropriate symbology palettes for the maps that I make for the my client. For the first one, I have full rein of color selection, and I was looking only at certain shades of blue. It’s quite hard to memorize names of the many shades of blue, but I know what I want when I see it.

For my wedding, I need no technical know-how but just the right color palette to choose from before I start thinking of flowers and event venue styling issues:

shade of blue

In the technical scheme of color selection, this translates to representing the data appropriately through a carefully chosen symbol:

symbology

Symbologies and swatches both play with the elements of the color wheel. Personally, I like minimalistic maps that are not overly ostentatious and equally minimalistic outfits that go with anything I do.

In my outfits, I like veering safely in the throes of the acceptable classics. No large prints especially in the leg area which makes me feel like a clown. In my personal self-expression and mapping design expression, I likewise prefer to produce something informative, understated, and goes well with any conceivable deliverable whether it is for a Powerpoint presentation or for a PDF report printed out for use.

I find it very interesting that making a map of NCR’s informal settlers can form a silhouette (or so it seems to me) of a female head in side view. 🙂 (And basing on my choice of point colors, she’s a female head with chicken pox concentrated on the face and lots of wrinkles. HAHAHA.)

minimalistmap2

That did not just happen by merely mixing a bunch of colors. Prior to this, I had to sift through numerous rows of Excel data. Aside from ruminating on how it seems nice to live in the south due to less informal settler congestion, I was also thinking that I needed to present this information well using a color scheme acceptable to the client.

One of the most popular attributes that are depicted visually through maps is population. When I was in college, this was also one of the first lessons taught in our GIS class exercises. Vitamin A is a requirement because you need a very good eye for detail when it comes to doing well in a job like this.

In my present task for mapping the informal settlers, two things posed to be the stumbling block to producing a seamless map almost immediately (aside from color selection!). The first one is the missing puzzle pieces often brought about by incomplete data:

missing barangays

That holed blue chunk looks like a monster staring back at me grumpily and daring me to fix it.

It took me a while to find those missing barangays which seemed like unruly holes in my otherwise full land mass. It did help that there are some Open Source data sets made available by awesome individuals in cyberspace like Philgis and that my present work had a treasure chest chock full of base maps from previous projects that can serve as a worthy comparison. Oh, and it’s good that plate tectonics don’t move too much, otherwise we’d have different shapes and it will be a crazy endeavor to keep track.

Always, there is the not-so-glamorous but ultra-vital task of checking if the data actually makes sense. Columns and columns of information like these need to be thoroughly checked before using these information on the map:

population discrepancy

I had to double check the encoding of the population data on a barangay level so that all the possible maps to be produced out of it make sense. It is much harder to troubleshoot data errors than prevent them, so this painful exercise is a good practice for setting up your base spatially. NSO population data proves to be comprehensive and organized with its yearly publication but when you are going to analyze an NPA-inhabited area, for example, it’s hard to tell if the household survey staff was really able to count everyone or they just made estimates for fear of not being able to return to civilization.

The mountainous regions are also problematic to take census data of. Someone merely looking at the map’s raw data without prior knowledge of these tiny geographic considerations will find it anomalous. So, it’s really important that you somehow know the area of interest before you make maps out of it. That way, you will be able to make maps that make sense even with the weird factors in the bag of mapping considerations.

The principles of color are really fascinating and I feel really happy that I am REQUIRED to master it to a certain extent to be able to do my job well. It just has a lot of tangible applications that I did not give it sufficient credit when I was still studying in UP.  These color exercises are really quite a charm to look into on a daily basis. <3 <3 <3 I actually think mapping subjects are good prerequisite courses for knowing more about how to mix and match outfits, accessories, and shoes. Aren’t map sheets like canvases of the cartographer’s artistry? In the same light, our bodies can be like maps: they speak a language and they respond to colors in different ways, depending on what you’ve been given.

Some months back, I have heard someone say that geek is actually the new sexy. I think I agree. Just imagine this: if you master these RGB thingamajigs of mapping and translate the universal principles well through the clothes that you wear, I doubt if there’s anyone on earth who will dare call you a fashion impaired person. 🙂 And thanks to GIS software’s numerous color palettes, any mapping girl can actually stroll inside a mall and know the precise shade that she’d like in your next pair of sweater or shoes. 🙂

And while I ruminate on my luck that my work pursuits are in sync with my personal styling pursuits, I just pleasantly discovered that my wedding swatch of choice happens to fall between the RGB values of Dark Navy and Ultra Blue. 🙂 Sweet, sweet, mapping life!

 

 

 

 

Making Sense (and Style) with Maps and Life

While I love words, one of the things that fascinate me in my practice as geodetic engineer is the visual analysis that I get from making maps. Maps bring me a different level of intellectual orgasm. I get a kick out of making maps that work, maps that aid in analyzing the appropriate recommendations to be made for technical projects, and maps that help make a difference in its own small way. With the advent of Google Maps, Google Earth, and Open Street Map, more and more hobbyists of mapping find themselves playing around with mapping activities like properly depicting the location’s details and studying trends that help plan for a better future. But despite the fact that it may seem like some aspects of mapping that can be crowd-sourced, I think some level of study, experience, and specialization is still necessary to turn it into a career. Relatively speaking, I am quite new to this and I still have a long way to go before I can call myself a seasoned mapping consultant. But I’ve already learned substantially and I think it’s worth sharing.

I just think that my course, geodetic engineering, is not as popular as other courses here in my country. But it is very interesting and the practice is quite multi-faceted. 🙂

In particular, I find mapping to be extremely interesting because it is both a science and an art. It is the geographic canvas with which you can see the world as a whole or in its most fundamental units. To be good in mapping, you pay attention to details and weed out the garbage in data that does not make sense.

The science part is pretty straightforward among technical experts. For example, this week I was working on studying population trends among barangays in Metro Manila’s fringes. Observe the progression of Bulacan’s barangay populations from 1990 to 2010:

1990 Population

2000 Population

2010 Population

And this gets more interesting when you work with transport specialists who help make forecasts on which barangays will have bloated populations over the next ten, twenty, and thirty years. Suffice it to say that it was a very happy map-making experience for me last week. Note that there was hardly any data in Norzagaray for my maps. I figured that it was probably because Norzagaray is one of those places rumored to have a lot of dangers and few people are able to tread and collect data as safely as in other places.

It may seem all so nerdy, but I believe that mapping specialists are required to be gifted with the visual talent of making everything appealing. While the first set of maps I showed you are in shades of gray, I actually got to work with a client who liked girly stuff (!) and requested a pastel-colored set of maps for her use. Here’s a sample of the unrefined version of what I did for her. I had so much fun choosing colors. It was like choosing shoes, and choosing swatches for wedding gown motifs! 🙂  This one’s on population growth, and you’d actually see where people are more keen on making babies. I just had to tweak the RGB values a little, but this is one of the versions I made:

2A_StudyArea_Growth Rate_2010_pastelversion

I think saying “I love my job!” is an understatement. I don’t just love it. I love, love, LOVE it! 😀 

Color distinction is pretty important when making maps. At first, I made the mistake of classifying it into 8 types. The map got very confusing; it was hard to differentiate the values in the thematic map as a result. For this, I used ArcGIS 10 software and most of the time was consumed in cleaning up the barangay data given to me.

The thing is, these maps cease to make sense if your data is lousy. So the database buildup is one of the most crucial things that a mapping person needs to consider first before thinking of color combinations, parameters, and layers. I think I had some trouble with the symbology at first. Basically, the appearance of your thematic maps and level of usefulness depends on how you can grab the most important parts of your database and turn them into something that your client can use in his or her project. Like what I kept saying earlier, it’s a science and an art at the same time. 🙂

(It actually gets more exciting when you start making these polygons directly on a browser with good accuracy, something which I will probably blog about in detail later on as I immerse myself further in this very exciting endeavor. )

After storing these maps in my hard disk and as I organize my brain for my pending tasks for work, I keep looking at what has happened over the last few months of my mapping endeavors. It amazes me at how much I enjoy this. And I am grateful that I am gifted with the opportunity to help solve problems and do something that I genuinely love.

Everyday, I find myself looking forward to coming to work because there are more maps to make, more data to clean up, more interesting trends to calculate, and more problems to solve. And the people I work with are all so much better than me technically speaking, and everyday is a learning day.

And I even get to write about them in my blog. Isn’t that awesome? I think I am just in the perfect place, professionally speaking. I guess I am sharing my experiences here in my blog because I want to encourage the discouraged ones who may be actually trudging through a similar path. I hope it helps. I hope it uplifts. I hope it makes sense to pursue what you love or love what you pursue.

It’s okay to actually dream to have and make the most out of your skill set. I did not even have to give up my writing or my love for numbers to keep this mapping pursuit, which is both a hobby and a job. Hobby, job? It’s BOTH. The lines are all blurred because honestly, I find no words to convey my fulfillment and joy at where I am and with what I am doing now.

So, few people are able to appreciate how I love the things I do. Some people just dismiss it to pure unrelatable geekery. But I think it’s ok for as long as I am innately motivated to keep doing this. I cannot see myself doing otherwise. 🙂 It sure did make sense (and style!) to me to be sure of who I am and what I want out of myself. It’s a liberating, enlightening, scientific, and artistic experience. <3

 

 

 

 

 

Image

Open Source Mapping Platforms

Studying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in college, I had taken a special interest in the famous premium ESRI products for creating maps and doing spatial analysis. In fact, one of the first geodetic engineering companies I considered joining for my career was ESRI’s official ArcGIS software distributor in the Philippines. I was that drawn to ESRI’s product. In hindsight, I find it fortunate that I ended up working in a firm that uses their product but is not tied to learning from a single type of software. Why go for a huge apple alone when you can have a frigging fruit basket of options?

It was only in my recent transport stint and my present work that I learned more about numerous open source platforms that make shapefiles of maps, aside from the famous Google Maps. Google Maps made people feel like anyone can make maps. In a way, that’s true.

Although hobbyists are rising in number, I maintain that there are still some mysteries uncovered exclusively by those who delve deeper into hardcore spatial software and its accompanying programming languages. No pain, no gain.

Up until my transport stint, I thought that making maps can only be done decently by ArcGIS. Sorry for the ditziness of this assumption but I had ArcView and ArcGIS synonymous to the acronym GIS for years.

Fortunately, I had this exposure to the open source counterpart for GIS software: QGIS. Closely coming in second are other free GIS tools like SAGA and MapWindow (or was it MapGuide?!).

As free software types available for download easily if your computer specs are in the right range, these new GIS toys I tinkered with are awesome in its functionality. Sure, ArcGIS owns a premium suite of customizability and a distinct flavor of user-friendly interface. More recently, they are aiming for more world mapping domination with some subtle attempts to phase out the .shp file and replacing it with the concept of geodatabases, .mxd file extension, and layer classes. And they also made it more expensive by adding function-based customizable add-ons that will only work in an ArcGIS platform. ESRI has gone from mere mapping to dipping their fingers in every pie. They now have packages for utility companies, transport and infrastructure, and many others. Their marketing’s solidly aggressive. I respect what they have become here in the country while being equally astounded with the free versions that were erected after them.

If you cannot shell out an easy 200,000 pesos or $4,000+ for a basic single license (this price not including the add-ons I mentioned previously) and training for Php 20,000-ish per module, you can do a fair amount of digitizing and spatial processing in QGIS with only the requirement of time, programming, and practice.

For this heightened appreciation for open source GIS software, I have to thank Dr. Deo Leo Manalo (doctor of engineering and former vice president for Northrail), my good friend RK Aranas (MS Geomatics student), and Prof. Ranel Padon (UP DGE). They were living examples of resourcefulness, rising to the occasion of battling budget constraints by making the most out of QGIS capabilities. And well, they are also showcasing the lofty levels of their spatial intellect by doing what they do. They’re kickass like that. As far as mapping is concerned, these are my idols.

At least with their example, more people can become GIS specialists without having to resort to bootlegged versions of an insanely expensive license or selling an entire leg (or keeping the leg but landlocking one’s self by slaving away in institutions with formal ArcGIS licenses) just to get a legit version to play with.

And yes, Google is kind of rising up to the occasion with their crowdsourcing benefit. It’s a different facet of mapping altogether. But it’s free and quite friendly in the client-programming side of a rendered satellite image-tiled geoportal. I had the privilege to meet one of the officials of Google in Asia. What they do seems pretty exciting as far as non-techie mapping enthusiasts are concerned.

Well, this is a land of maps. And maps are sweet when they cost a fortune to make… I find it even sweeter when you don’t spend a dime but gain greater returns with the use of programming smarts and open source software.