17th Annual GIS SIG Draws Genesee/Finger Lakes Region Geospatial Users to Tackle Local and Universal Challenges
Pittsford, New York, outside Rochester, was host on
Tuesday, April 22 to the 17th GIS Special
Interest Group Conference serving the Genesee/Finger Lakes Region.
This regional event serves the local towns, cities and counties, along
with consultants, educators and students. The regular complement of
about 175 turned up for the all-day event.
I presented the morning keynote and argued that what we as geospatial
practitioners do is not really that different from those who came
before, but that the platforms on which we do it, the "earth beneath
our feet," is indeed shifting. It's those underlying platforms to which
we need to turn our attention if we are to best prepare for the future.
I'd like to think that I shook many in the audience from their comfort
zones, speaking about gaming, virtual worlds, social networking and
I attended an application-focused session in the morning. The first
presentation addressed traditional GIS-type problems in the region.
First was a stormwater management project at the local airport. The GIS
and analysis were familiar, but the airport setting presented
challenges. The town of Greece, N.Y. faced a common problem: capturing
images, GPS locations and some attributes for property assessment.
Creating a workflow and finding hardware and software to collect the
data was far more complex than you might think. The answer, in the end,
involved using a Nikon digital camera and Trimble's TrimPix software to
send the image directly to a Trimble GPS for geocoding and attribute
creation. Many in the audience wondered why such a simple and much
needed workflow still required so many bits to be linked together.
An afternoon session focused on LiDAR applications. First up was a bit
of a primer not on LiDAR itself, but the LiDAR Data Exchange Format (LAS)
format, a published standard. As it turns out, many commercial packages
support it, including at least one open source
library. The LAS binary file format is a big step over ASCII files
of the same data because the LAS files are about half the size and
support classification so that unneeded data can be "coded out" instead
of being deleted (which is sometimes how it's managed in an ASCII
file). The presenter, from the consulting firm IAGT, showed how LiDAR
data could be shared with others using Skyline's server and free
viewer. A presentation from Monroe County shared several different
explorations into its LiDAR dataset and its planned uses. The final
presentation was not about LiDAR, but rather an extension to
Pictometry's Electronic Field Study software called Eco-View, which
enables analysis of near infrared data for vegetation analysis.
Pictometry is trying to leverage more types of data, and provide more
analysis for its existing and potential users. The company is
well-known in the area, near its hometown.
John Calkins of ESRI offered the closing keynote: a challenging group
test of the audience's spatial literacy. The presentation, he
explained, came out of recent work trying to determine how to gauge
whether individuals think spatially and how that can lead to better use
of the geographic approach. After a "warm up" exploring John Snow's
approach to cholera in London, Calkins led us through a series of case
studies based on maps in a colorful handout. We had to think through
how to track down a pedophile in Norway, locate a gas station in
Denver, make sense of a contour map, understand a gas field, interpret
an aerial image and then take a "final exam." The goal was not so much
to get the answer "right," but to think through what questions to ask
and analyses to perform that could lead to an answer.
I was reminded throughout of some of the intro courses I took as an
undergrad and then helped teach as a graduate student. My sense was
that many in the audience enjoyed the challenging puzzles but were a
bit disappointed in their own performance. My suspicion is that many
"heads down" GIS users do more "cookbook" GIS and production than they
do this type of analytical problem solving, what I view as the "fun"
part of geographic science. I suspect that while these key ideas were
taught in geography and GIS classes the assembled had taken, the
attendees hadn't had much opportunity to use them for quite a while.
That, as I interpreted the session, was the bad news. The good news, I
think, stems from Calkins' suggestion that many other aspects of your
life may help grow and stretch those spatial skills. He noted hobbies
like astronomy and geocaching (anything with a GPS), and told the story
of how after years of listening to air traffic control flying into
Denver (his home) he'd mapped the runways in his head! I think working
through this exercise raised as many questions about the state of our
spatial literacy as it answered.