Regional GIS conferences are typically not vendor
specific nor discipline focused, but rather attempt to appeal to "the
locals." The good news is that such events are the place to be
face to face with colleagues and customers from the area. The more
recent edition of the New England event, NEGIS,
held this week continues to blend a variety of topics with local needs.
Keynote Mark Monmonier from
Syracuse University offered the keynote titled "Customization and
Control in Geospatial Technology: Unprecedented Leverage and Unintended
Consequences." If you've read any of his books the underlying theme was
familiar: Be careful with the technology! He offered a few scary
stories on control, tracking, finding sites for low level radioactive
waste in New York State and gerrymandering.
The presentation was only weakly connected to GIS, which was a nice
change. (Monmonier didn't even mention Google!) Monmonier also noted
the importance of the history of cartography/GIS for today's
professionals. As I looked around the audience I wondered if today's
cartography students still read his How to Lie with Maps in
school as I did.
One comment Monmonier made highlighted the
changes in the last decade. He noted how citizens of Allegheny County,
NY, after having potential sites for low level radioactive waste
located there, sued for access to the GIS database that was used in the
siting process. They got it, but it "was not in a standard format,
ArcInfo or ArcGIS" since the consulting firm who did the work, used its
own GIS software. This was back in 1990s.
A session on mobile, field and data storage offered no new ground on
rugged/semi-rugged/non-rugged mobile hardware. We did get to hold all
the different devices, however. The presentation on storage highlighted
the value of virtualization. Virtualization? It's basically making a
mix of storage devices look like just a few servers. It does two
things: allows for the back ends to be changed without the users
knowing and allows for a single point of entry for users. The final
paper on communications highlighted a theme that ran throughout:
decreasing complexity increases usability. Indeed.
A "birds of a feather" session on "credentials in GIS" yielded some
basics on certificate programs (a tool to get a job), GISP (three folks had them and the
general consensus among them was it was the future, though few in
attendance seemed to know much about it), and online programs (those
from schools offering bricks and mortar programs were skeptical). My
big contribution to the discussion tied into one faculty member's note
that you can and should apply for a job for which you are not
qualified, especially if you note that you are willing to learn. I
added that's its even better to show that you are both willing and able
to do so. How? By noting how you've taught yourself something a
programming language, how to surf, etc.
The high point of the first day was a conversation between Kevin
Flanders of PeopleGIS (our open source columnist) and Saul Farber of
MassGIS. They showed off and commented on how open source,
collaboration, standards and other factors are redefining GIS. They
paused now and again to answer questions which ran the gamut from
issues of data licensing to the ability to share GPS breadcrumbs in
Google Earth to the value of 3D. Both men felt strongly that
intertwining of open source and the Internet is the key to what's going
on, and will go on, in geospatial technology.
A data point I thought was valuable: Farber asked the audience (maybe
50 or 60) if support for open source was still something that would (or
had) prevent(ed) them from selecting open source. One attendee simply
said it was easier to use, in his case ArcIMS, out of the box. Another
said open source was okay for "temporary" apps, but would need more
robust support for what I'd term "real" uses. The general consensus, I
thought, was "no, not really."
A romp through some open source built apps that looked (and acted) like
Google Maps (ka-map based) helped open eyes, too. The listing of
projects behind the demos they showed also prompted interest:
MapServer, GeoServer, Community MapBuilder, MapBender Those in the
audience asked about PostGIS and GRASS.
A three paper session on CAD/GIS interoperability ran down the
processes for sharing data between the two technologies. While both
ESRI and Autodesk products have new features that improve sharing data,
I still feel we've not come far enough on this topic, as the final
paper suggested. There are more dialog boxes and tools, but you still
need to know quite a lot to share data effectively.