Grich's World of GIS

Comments on ArcGIS and the industry

Location: Portland, Oregon

I have been in the Geographic Information Systems industry since graduating with a BS in Geography from Portland State Univ in 1994. Geography is COOL!

Monday, January 31, 2005

Sacramento ESRI Regional Conference

One of our field guys went to the regional conference that ESRI puts on for the California/Hawaii/Nevada region. It was in Sacramento this year, January 25-27, and according to him will be in Hawaii next year. I'll have to be lobbying for that trip.
Here's the text of his report:

As usual the conference started out with the ESRI staff talking about the path forward as well as highlighting the improvements in the latest version of the software. Clint Brown was the keynote speaker and gave a good talk about the philosophy of ESRI and how they see the future of GIS. Here are some of the items and thoughts he mentioned in his talk that I thought were interesting:

-The top 3 fastest growing technologies emerging in the next decade are – Biotech, Nanotech, and Geotech. Good job security for us.

-They see a merging of the business and scientific GIS utilizing a wide range of computing architecture: from super GIS computers at the USGS to the simple GIS map downloadable to picture phones.

-Then there was talk of this vision of a “Federated GIS “; a global system ESRI envisioned were everyone would be able to share GIS data via the Internet all over the world. I immediately felt like I was watching a Star Trek episode being incorporated into the federation. Was I at the Starfleet Academy? Could have used that transporter from Fort Bragg to Sacramento!

-Clint also reemphasized that ESRI will continue to focus on improving the quality of the current product vs. trying to expand.

-There were over 800 bugs addressed since v 9.0 and service pack 3 will be available spring 05. Shortly followed by v 9.1, then by the end of summer v 9.2.

-In the coming versions the tools for an Arc View license will be expanded as well as previous separate extensions incorporated in to the Arc Info license like Arc Scan and Maplex

The sessions and presentations I felt were of better quality than San Diego. But there was considerably less of them, but the ones that were there I was interested in anyway. It seemed there were more high level ESRI people giving the talks verses the tech support person. It was also a lot smaller with only 20 – 30 audience members and it was more comfortable to ask questions.

Geoprocessing Session:

-The ability to save a personalized tool box in the Normal.mxt verses stuck to a map project.

- Cool ways to record a processing history and a historical catalog of errors. I would not use it too much but it was nice to see that it could be done like the old days of saving command line stuff to a historical file.

GPS Session:

-Did not really cover much and reemphasized to some of the newbies that GPS should only be used as a tool and sometimes there are days and situations where base data can be more accurate and manual data entry would be better.

-Off set option Mike Johnson was looking for was a popular request ESRI has had and should be incorporated in version 7.0 hopefully available by the end of 2005.

Editing Tips and Trick Session:

-The coolest thing was the Magnifying window, did not know that existed.

-Space bar to suspend snapping temporarily - already used that one.

-A lot of hot keys for editing I forgot about or did not realize existed, there is a 3-page tip sheet in the help outlining all of these, useful.

Presentation outlining some lesser-known tools:

-In 9.0 the MXD Dr is in Programs>ArcGIS>Developer Tools>MXD DR and is not license dependent.

-Locate Lat Long dll downloadable from the web site. It has a little interface that allows user to input a coordinate and then it places a text dot on the map to locate the point.

THE DOCTORS OFFICE - Questions I got answered or a creative work around from my “list”. Once again I impressed the developers with the number of issues and things I found the software could not do. One of the top developers even offered to set up a job interview if I was interested. Told her I would rather live in Fort Bragg than Redlands, then the lady behind me agreed.

1)Add default scale to drop down list – a dll downloadable from the web site called Imperial Map Scale, very cool!

2)Set the default decimal places in the scale text not to be 6 places after the decimal every time. – to make a custom scale text in the style manager and set the decimal places there, but have to have that style added to the MXD.

3)Multiple queries (Name, by method, by total acres) in ArcMap – toolbox>statistics>frequency. ArcInfo license only, excellent

4)Have the color chart show a number rather than an obscure name – copy and paste the color chart into a custom style color set and rename or number however.

5)Don’t have a new layer automatically added to a legend – under the items tab in the legend uncheck the option.

The developer folks were very interested in some of the other issues I brought up that could not be answered. They wanted me to email multiple people with some of the requests. It was defiantly a different attitude than San Diego, much more personal and I felt that they were really listening to me verses trying to figure out where the party was going to be that night.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the conference. Lunches were terrible though, would have rather paid less to go and be responsible for my own lunch. The venders section was pretty small only about 5 or 6 of them, which was fine with me. The map gallery was also slim and most were from the water reclamation people in the central valley. I was disappointed that I did not know anyone there, and did not see anyone I wanted to meet from some of the committees I was apart of last year. I was also one of the few from “private” industry, but Joe warned me about that. A lot of government folks! I would defiantly go to this conference again. Next year they are having the Regional Conference for the first time in Honolulu. Maybe I can find a way to justify that trip.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Map Point Blows It

There has been a story circulating among some blogs about certain bugs in Microsofts Map Point. Map point is a route finder that competes with MapQuest and the like.
Here is an article detailing one such bug. Apparently if you try to get the quickest route from Haugesund and Trondheim, both in Norway, the suggested quickest route is a 1,685 mile journey through Belgium, England, France, Germany and Sweden.
I'm going to assume here that MapPoint doesn't necessarily have a bug, but is working with incomplete data. I've often had problems with MapQuests router, usually because the data is incomplete or in error (saying there are freeway exit ramps where there are none).
Still, it's worth checking out the graphic showing the error. It's hard to believe until you see it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

GIS-like software

GIS News also has a couple of posts talking about new software plugins and programs that view GIS data.
MapPublisher6.1 is an Adobe Illustrator plug-in that allows you to view GIS data in Adobe. This can be handy, as Illustrator is a great place to make graphics and can probably render some very nice maps, but with ESRI products you can make your map there and export to PDF, so not sure what this would be giving you as an added benefit.

Shape Viewer is a free program that can view shapefiles. As ESRI has a free product called ArcExplorer that allows you to view shapefiles and other GIS data (even on-line) I don't see the value here either.

GIS helping Tsunami effort

Don't mean to make that title sound like a press release, but it kind of does. GIS News Blog posted that ESRI has their tech support staff available 24 hours a day for people working on tsunami releaf efforts, and indeed is providing many services for the releif. They have special codes that you can get if you are working on related projects. I assume that this helps those in time zones across the world, who are working while we are sleeping.
If you'll excuse me from being political, this is part of how America helps with the world. We have been critisized for not, as a government, giving as much money as some other countries like Germany and Australia. But as opposed to higher taxed societies, the United States relies on private industry and private individual effort as well as the government, and in the world there is no equal. ESRI is just another example of private industry giving a little extra during this disaster.

Also, I found this great tsunami satelite image gallery from Digital Globe. Lots of before and after shots.

UPDATE: FAO (Food and Agriculture Org of the UN) has an interesting website devoted to mapping resources, including data, and satalite images, of the tsunami affected areas. They also have digital atlases available for a small fee, including lots of maps and before/after satalite images. Some interactive maps on line too. Check it out.

All things GIS

I thought I would post a more general message. I don't intend for this to be an ArcInfo bitch session, contrary to my post below. Some posts may be like that, but I also want to post on interesting things happening in the GIS world, talk about different software (for my edification, as i don't know much outside the ESRI world), and blog report from events that I attend.
I don't attend many events during the year, and tend not to stray far from home when I do. The sole exception there is the ESRI conference in San Diego every year.

I will be attending the Images to Information seminar in Seattle in March. I'll try to post from Seattle, but if I can't get the legistics right it might just be a summary after the fact.

I also want to keep the links section updated with GIS companies and GIS Blogs (if there are any). I've got the major players, such as ESRI, Intergraph, MapInfo, Smallworld, and others.

Who I am: Richard L'Esperance
I'm currently a GIS analyst at the Campbell Group, a timber management company in Portland Oregon. I got a Geography degree from Portand State Univ in 1995 and have worked GIS ever since. I enjoy GIS, but mostly I enjoy geography and maps (not necessarily making them, but enjoying them). I do a variety of things for the company; support for field employees, overlay analysis, data management, and programming with VB.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

ArcCatalog Hell

Ok, if you are getting this kind of behavior, you are not alone.
If you make changes to feature classes in ArcCatalog or ArcMap, they may not register with the other product until you exit the program and re-enter it.
Mostly this was happening when I made a schema change using SQL Enterprise tools on SDE Feature Classes. Yes, this is not an ESRI product I use to change the schema, but you cannot easily change the attribute structure of a feature class with ArcCatalog. Catalog only allows you to add and subtract fields, but not where you want them to go. If you add a field it automatically goes to the bottom of the field list.
So in 8.3, I would turn versioning off (trying to make a schema change on a versioned class: forget it) and use Enterprise manager (SQL Server) to make the attribute column changes.
But in 9.0 you can't even do that anymore, unless you remember to make the change in the sde_column_registry table (new in 9.0).
ESRI states that you can make schema changes by exporting to XML and editing the XML file, then re-importing. Have you ever done this? Yes it works, and isn't that incredibly hard to figure out, but having to export your data and then re-import it seems a might barbaric just for adjusting an attribute.
Will ESRI please address this!

Anyway, today I made a change IN ARC CATALOG, deleting a column out of a feature class in SDE. ArcMap didn't recognize the change (actually what I got was an error when I tried to identify a polygon in that layer). I removed the layer from ArcMap and re-added from Catalog. Same problem. I shut down catalog, started it again; same problem.
I had to shut ArcMap down in order for ArcMap to recognize that I had deleted a field with ArcCatalog.
This is an increasingly anoying problem.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Esri Programming blues

I just have to vent here. I have had it with ESRI's documentation for ArcObjects. Many objects have no significant document page on the online help. The pages are just place holders for more documentation on the object. It's really all very useless.
I am stuck on using the new geoprocessing functionality. Like Union, Intersect etc...
The docs say that all you have to do is create a dispatch object and that object has all the functions on it.
But it doesn't work with SDE layers for some reason. There are exmples a-plenty for shapefiles and personal geodatabases, but none for SDE. Nothing on ESRI's support website. Nothing on the ESRI-L. I feel like I'm out in the cold on this one.

Blog about GIS

As traditional, this first post is the introduction to the blog. I have created this site to post on all things GIS. Some of it will be interesting developments in the GIS world. Other things may just be bitches about GIS, namely ESRI's ArcGIS suite of products.
Don't get me wrong about that either. I think ArcGIS is the most powerful and most flexible of all GISs. But with that great power and flexibility they have cut a few corners and there are also lots of things that leave me frustrated and stuck.
I'll try and get this so that there are comments, or something. I don't know how to do that yet, but I desire it, because in this industry you need feedback, and in order to make this site helpful to me (and to you) feedback and different points of view are important.
I would like to post things on other GISs too, but don't know much about microstation, Intergraph and the like. Hopefully my experience here will broaden that horizon as well.

Last year I started a temporary blog to blog the ESRI conference, probably the biggest conference of GIS users in the world. That blog is now gone. I'll use this blog to do that this year.