The past week was spent training in two sites on a low cost workflow for public health mapping in minority communities. The first site was the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, Washington. The other Papa Ola Lokahi in Honolulu, Hawai'i. The workflow starts with data collection using iPhones/iPads, moves into working with the the data in QGIS and finally data presentation via GIS Cloud.
One of the best parts of my job is working at home. This allows me to cook and eat whatever I need to, anytime I need to, take breaks etc... For this I am eternally grateful. However, like most GIS folks, I also work at a computer 40-50 hours a week. I've been doing this type of work for 15 years now and it has taken a toll on me physically. In fact the side effects of working at a computer all these years is a big part of why I made the change and adopted the Paleo lifestyle two years ago. I experienced a very gradual physical decline, with a suite of evolving and nagging aches and pains. Tennis elbow, stiff neck, sore wrists, numb fingers, tight shoulders became my everyday reality. I feel significantly better these days as a result of eliminating grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and industrial seed oils from my diet, and following Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint workout plan. The diet has reduced inflammation and the workouts have me moving again and getting stronger.
I'm still always looking for ways to improve my work space. I've used an ergonomic keyboard/ mouse tray for the last 4 years. I try and get up and walk around frequently too. Two years ago, I read this article in the New York Times. I've wanted an adjustable height desk ever since. I then started hearing all the news reports about how unhealthy it is to sit all day. For example, this piece aired on NPR and this blog post came up on Mark's Daily Apple. It's certainly not shocking news. However, it got me thinking about how much sitting I do between work all day, and lounging in the living room at night. I started realizing I not only want, but need, a desk that would allow me to stand at least part of the day.
I felt almost immediately that the GeekDesk would be the perfect fit. It was at the right price and it matches my existing office furniture. Just before the holidays I ordered my GeekDesk figuring I could use the break to get it set up, and tear the old one down. Originally, I ordered the GeekDesk v3 in the 47" width. I then realized the GeekDesk Max had a nice feature, it comes with a control pad that allows you to preset four desk heights. That same afternoon I changed my order to the GeekDesk Max in the same size. Once it arrived I realized that the wider one would work better taking into account my CPU hangar and my space. The folks at GeekDesk were very accommodating with all these changes to my order. In fact they have some of the best customer service I've ever encountered. In the end, they let me exchange just the parts that differed between the small and large desks - the table top and some braces.
I also purchased a CPU hangar to hold my computer underneath the desk. This keeps the computer with the desk as it raises and lowers. It was easy to install and works great with my HP workstation. I still need to either buy a new human scale keyboard tray or cut my existing keyboard track because it is too long to fit under the desk. Aside from that, my GeekDesk is now completely set up and works great. It will adjust from 23" to 48". I absolutely love it! It's been a seamless transition and it feels very natural to stand. I haven't gotten into any routine yet. I noticed though, that I seem to prefer standing in the morning while I'm reading and returning emails and surfing the web. Then while I'm working on more challenging tasks I tend to sit or use a stool. I now change the height of my desk half a dozen times a day!
Last week I headed to New York City to attend the American Association of Geographers conference. I conducted a workshop for educators on teaching free and open source GIS (FOSS4G) and sat in on a panel discussion on teaching introductory GIS courses. I also had an opportunity to do a lot of urban hiking and exploring, some of which was lead by Kevin Patrick, an urban geographer from the Indian University of Pennsylvania. The weather was fabulous and the big apple was spectacular. Selected highlights are below.
The Queensboro Bridge and sight of the famous scene in Woody Allen's 'Manhattan'.
The view north from the Top of the Rock looking at Central Park.
The Dakota on Central Park West.
The old American Radiator Building, built in 1924, with the Empire State Building in the background. This is one of the most magnificent gothic art deco buildings in the city. It's now called the Bryant Park Hotel and is just south of Bryant Park and west of the New York City Public Library.
Grand Central Station buzzing with activity on an early weekday morning.
The Seagram Building at Park and 52nd. A classic modern skyscraper built in 1957 and site of a famous scene from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'.
The famous Flatiron Building at Madison Square Park.
Katz's Delicatessen near 1st Ave and 1st Street in the Lower East side.
The lunch crowd at Katz's Deli. Site of a famous scene from "When Harry Met Sally'.
The Brooklyn Bridge.
The route of one days walk from the Lower East Side across the Manhattan Bridge into Redhook in Brooklyn.
The view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge.
There are two factors that stop people from exploring or adopting free and open source (FOSS) GIS software. The first is fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). While it's true that corporations, such as Microsoft, have used FUD as a marketing strategy (purposely spreading FUD about OS software), FUD regarding FOSS GIS software is now commonly spread by GIS users themselves. I don't think this is intentional. Rather, it can be counterintuitive for people who have grown up in a competitive capitalist society to understand why anyone would create and use free software.
Initially people often wonder:
- How can I make money using FOSS software?
- Why would anyone create FOSS software, what's in it for them?
The other main factor is unfamiliarity. Over the last two summers I've taught a semester long course called, Introduction to Open Source GIS at the local community college. The GIS program at my school, like most, is ESRI-centric. A majority of the students are very surprised to learn about the broad array of FOSS GIS software. Once exposed to FOSS software, such as QGIS, they ask, "Why doesn't everyone use it?" It comes down to a combination of these two factors.
In full disclosure, I also use ArcGIS almost every day. However, I also utilize all the leading FOSS GIS software. I consider them all valuable tools in my toolkit. One of the nice features of FOSS GIS software is that it's free. So there is absolutely nothing preventing you from downloading a FOSS GIS package and trying it out. If it doesn't meet your needs just uninstall it. My hope is to inspire people to do exactly this.
This year the FOSS4G Conference is in Denver, CO and very accessible to those of us in the USA. The timing couldn't be better to learn more about FOSS4G. While FOSS GIS software has been around since the 1980's, recent years have seen the software becoming much more mature and user friendly. There are great FOSS GIS products for the desktop, web server, web client, spatial database and mobile GIS. There are now intuitive Windows installers for all the leading packages.
So, if you have questions like:
- What is free and open source software?
- What FOSS GIS software is out there?
- Is it really free?
- Does it work?
Hope to see you there!
Officially called the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act," HR 1581, recently introduced by Rep. McCarthy (R-CA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Pearce (R-NM), would roll back protections from 58.5 million acres of Forest Service roadless areas and another 6.7 million acres of BLM Wilderness Study Areas. The bill would nullify the Roadless Rule and eliminate all Wilderness Study Areas. Bird's Eye View created the map below for the PEW Environmental Group to highlight the issue. Protections would be removed from all the red areas in this map. This has caused a broad coalition of conservation organizations to call it the Great Outdoors Giveaway.
All of these areas represent potential wilderness, and they would all be opened to road-building and off-road vehicle use–impacts. Not only would existing protections for these areas be reversed, but future administrations would be prevented from ever protecting Wilderness Study Areas or unroaded Forest
For more information go to: PEW Environmental Group
This fall Bird's Eye View (with the support of the GeoTech Center) will be holding the FOSS4G Workshop for Educators at the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial Conference (FOSS4G) in Denver, Colorado. This is exciting for at least two reasons. Having the FOSS4G Conference in North America, let alone the United States, is fairly uncommon. In recent years it has been held in Australia, South Africa and Spain. Secondly, the workshop will premier one of the only FOSS GIS curricula in the United States. Entitled Introduction to Open Source GIS and Web Mapping, it is currently being taught at Central New Mexico Community College.
Free and open source software comprises one of the fastest evolving sectors of GIS. While FOSS GIS software has been around since the 1980's, recent years have seen the software becoming much more mature and user friendly. There are great FOSS GIS products for the desktop, web server, web client, spatial database and mobile GIS. Historically, ease of access and installation has been a major hurdle for those wanting to transition to FOSS GIS software. Now there are intuitive Windows installers for all the leading packages.
The course is expected to become increasingly important to the CNM program. In New Mexico, employers are starting to favor applicants with knowledge of both ESRI and FOSS applications. This is in part due to the economic times. Students at CNM and elsewhere learn GIS in pure ESRI environments. Most are shocked to discover how many capable FOSS GIS software packages exist.
The course sticks to a pure FOSS paradigm. For example, assignments and lectures are provided in Open Office versus Microsoft Office. The students are not introduced to much new GIS material in the course, save web mapping. Rather they are shown how to do things they have learned in other foundational courses using FOSS GIS software. The packages used include: Quantum GIS, GRASS GIS, GDAL/OGR, SpatiaLite, PostgreSQL/PostGIS, and MapServer. They are also introduced to open standards and open data. Midway through the semester they are given a final project assignment. For this they research a FOSS GIS package not being covered in the course lab, and during the last week of class they present their findings to the class. This exposes the students to a large number of new tools.
The web mapping portion is an introduction to web mapping and the web in general. Part of the overall goal for the course is to make it accessible to students who have completed the Introduction to GIS course. So, this course has no programming requirement. Google maps (although no open source) is used as a gentle introduction to web mapping. Then students move on to labs where they use MapServer to create basic web mapping applications.
The workshop this fall will target educators wanting to incorporate FOSS GIS into their curricula, or those who are just curious about what FOSS GIS is and what it can do. The course goals, readings, labs and exam structures will be shared. Attendees will also get to try their hand at a lab or two. For more information visit the conference workshop page.