Talking Tech with AvidGeo and LocationTech

AvidGeo + LocationTech

The 2013 AvidGeo Conference, held today, was also a stop on this fall’s LocationTech tour. AvidGeo is a Boston area meetup group organized by Guido Stein (@GuidoS).

The day was divided into three parts. The morning session, which I attended, included several keynotes, discussed below. The afternoon session prompted attendees to pull out their laptops for hands on workshops on Leaflet and JavaScript. The evening session, held in a Cambridge hacker space, featured Ignite talks.

The daytime events were held at the Weld Hill Research Building at the Arnold Arboretum, a bit away from the hustle and bustle of Kendall Square, one of the usual locations for such meet-ups. The non-traditional location may have impacted attendence (35+). Just a note to the locals: the building is gorgeous, our hosts were most gracious, and you can get just feet from the the door via public transportation. 


Donna Tremonte, an Applications Programmer at the Arboretum introduced the Arboretum Explorer, a mobile app launched in 2013. What impressed me most about the app:

  • staff from the visitor’s center could input the data, freeing up a programmer
  • the app is used by staff, researchers and visitors; each have slightly different tools
  • the app has many social components for the public, but useful to the staff, such as the ability to “like” a plant or to join a “flash mob” to learn about a particular plant or to ask someone to meet you "at a plant"

One question highlighted some confusion. Tremonte had noted several times that the app was open source and an attendee asked why it was open source if the Arboretum, part of Harvard University, had access to Esri software for free. The response: The app does use Esri services, but the code to implement it is open source and available on GitHub. There is clearly still confusion on the nature and use of open source, even in this very technical crowd.

Norman Barker, Director of Geo at Cloudant, introduced that company’s solution for managing geodata on its database-as-a-service offering. Cloudant, one of his collegues helpfully explained, likes to think of itself as the Akamai of data, that is, the company hosts and manages datasets so that developers and users have quick, consistent, reliable access to their data. The key points I took away from the presentation:

  • Cloudant replicates data stores across the world (so, if a the store in North America goes down, no problem, everyone will tap into the one in London)
  • You automatically tap into the store geographically closest to you (fastest option)
  • Offline changes are automatically synced when online to best use bandwidth
  • Cloudant offers geodata management tools, but also uses CouchDB (and GeoCouch) as well as PouchDB (that one’s is new to me)
  • Cloudant is a big user of and contributor to CSMap, the open source projection library that Autodesk contributed in 2008 (press release), because it does things Proj4, the more well-known open source projection library, does not

Raj Singh, Director of Interoperability Programs at the Open Geospatial Consortium highlighted a few new geospatial “formats” about which the developers in attendance (and everyone else, probably) should know. GeoPackage is the expected successor to shapefiles. It’s SQLite-based and supports both vector and raster, supports long file names and has pretty much no size limits. There’s already an open source sample implementation from Luciad. Comments on the spec close today. GeoJSON is the well used implementation of JSON for representing geodata. Singh spent the most time on OpenPOI, a project that grew out of augmented reality developers in W3C looking for a standard format for “point” data. The work has moved to OGC and is in its early stages. 

Andrew Ross, Director of LocationTech, drove in from another tour event held in Montreal Toronto on Wednesday. He explained the nature and value of open source and introduced the vision of LocationTech as both a technology community and a business resource.

Max Uhlenhuth, age 23 and Lead Engineer at SilviaTerra a “quantitative forestry company,” presented a case study in the use of MapReduce (a programming model for big data) in a change detection project. I confess I didn’t quite follow the tech part of the presentation, but the time for teh analysis went from several weeks on a laptop to a day using MapReduce. Uhlenhuth also shared his thoughts on how Esri paid the salary of a professor at his alma mater and how non-profits have to pay exhorbitant prices for proprietary (Esri) software. The other gray hairs I consulted on this matter shared my skepticism regarding these statements. I do agree with Uhlenhuth that Esri is doing a great job getting students access to its software such that they may try to use it when in the workforce.


The technical attendees represented local government, academia, private companies (Zipcar!), those new to GIS and those new to open source. As perhaps the least technical person in the room, I felt the group came together very well. Questions were plentiful as was laughter and networking. I hope that spirit is found at the rest of the LocationTech events. This is a very affordable one day learning opportunity. One person I met (who likely represented many in the room) noted he could not get away for the three days of FOSS4G, but a two hour drive each way to attend today's meetup was quickly “ok’d” by management.

Published Friday, November 8th, 2013

Written by Adena Schutzberg

© 2017 Directions Media. All Rights Reserved.