FOSS4G

A QGIS Workshop at the Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS)

Last Sunday I taught a full day Introduction to QGIS workshop at the 2017 SCGIS conference in Pacific Grove, California. While I've taught this course many times before, this class was particularly unique because SCGIS, although an independent non-profit organization, is heavily sponsored by Esri. In addition, Max Wright with Conservation International, also taught a QGIS workshop entitled An Introduction to Predictive Land-use Change Modeling using Open-source Software, making 2 of the 4 workshops at SCGIS QGIS based. Certainly a first! 

 A QGIS workshop at an Esri sponsored conference?!

A QGIS workshop at an Esri sponsored conference?!

My workshop was sold out with a waiting list and I eagerly anticipated meeting the participants. Almost universally attendees were either:

  • Mac users and/or
  • Looking for work and wanting some new skills

I expected there to be some ArcGIS power users from established conservation organizations who were just curious about QGIS, but there wasn't anyone who fit that description. 

Overall QGIS was very well received. During the morning session I introduced FOSS and QGIS, showed how to add and style data and create a map. At lunch one attendee said,

"I have about 10 pet peeves with ArcMap, and you just answered 7 of them with QGIS!"  

During the afternoon session I covered plugins, geoprocessing, the Graphical Modeler and how to get help/resources. If you missed it, all the workshop materials can be downloaded here.

One of the most interesting aspects of SCGIS is their International Scholar program. In attendance were a couple dozen scholars from around the world. I met people from Barbados, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Brasil, Columbia, The Gambia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Zambia. It was really fun connecting with people from such different places working on conservation.

Then there was the location. We were at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterey Peninsula. The waves on the beach could be heard from our room and each night I went out to the beach to enjoy the sunset. I also had time to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and go on a whale watching tour!

One thing I realized is that many don't seem to look far beyond the Esri ecosystem for geo-tools. I've been an Esri user for 20 years, I get it. There are some great products in the stack. However, I hope more SCGIS'ers eventually venture to a FOSS4G conference. I think it would be immensely helpful to their work. The set of FOSS tools discussed there is so broad and interesting. Afterall GIS is just a tool, why not have a bigger set of tools to work with? Certainly having two QGIS workshops at SCGIS is a step in the right direction. 

I had some discussions with another SCGIS attendee about doing a workshop next year on how to work with LandFire products with QGIS. I'll keep you posted on that.  Next up is the 3rd QGIS User Meeting/Hackfest/Developer Meeting in Nødebo Denmark where I'll be teaching a full day workshop on Data Visualization and Cartography in QGIS!

Teaching QGIS is a Labor of Love

I love teaching QGIS and FOSS4G and I've been doing it a long time. I developed and taught my first semester long Intro to Open Source GIS course in 2009 featuring QGIS v1.0 Kore. In 2014 I co-authored the GeoAcademy curriculum and that led to opportunities to publish several QGIS books. In the last few years I've developed a FOSS public health curriculum with the National Library of Medicine (Community Health Maps). 

I've taught for a lot of schools both face-to-face and online. Plus I've taught countless of workshops all over the U.S. In fact because of the books and the GeoAcademy I have so much material I can assemble a workshop pretty quickly. Teaching...I think I'm pretty good at it. I truly love turning students onto QGIS, especially after they've been indoctrinated into the world of geospatial via Esri. Seeing those light bulbs go off is awesome. Lately my favorite demo is showing students a street reprojecting race between ogr2ogr and ArcMap. It blows minds. Spoiler alert: ogr2ogr wins.

For better or worse I always need to temper my teaching schedule. First of all, it is a lot of work to maintain and update material, and that part is always volunteer. More importantly though, my bills are paid with consulting. Teaching takes time and I need to have enough time to do my consulting work. Plus I like 'doing' more than teaching. There are various ways to teach: there are face-to-face courses at the local colleges and universities, there are online courses on various platforms, there's authoring books, and there are professional training workshops. I've done a little of each.

The local colleges and universities just don't pay part-time instructors well enough. While I wish it were different, I've known this is the reality for a long time and accept it. But I do occasionally teach courses. When I go into teach at a school I just focus on the material and the students. It feels like an act of service. Giving back to the community. I'm cool with this aspect of it. I never wanted to be a full time academic.

Now there are platforms like Udemy where you design a course and make $10 per student. If one went viral you might get a small income, but I'm not sold on that model. Authoring books is good for street cred, but they are a lot of work and have a really short shelf life.

Recently I've been interested in helping agencies and organizations migrate to a FOSS/hybrid workflows. I'm well positioned knowing Esri and FOSS equally well. It's here that I've noticed something interesting. My local State and Federal agencies seem willing to fork out whatever Esri demands for training. However, when it comes to learning QGIS people seem to just want it for free, or close to it. Recently at a local GIS meeting I had a casual conversation with someone wanting to learn QGIS. He then actually said, "You'll come teach us at our office for free right?" 

Part of my work with the Community Health Maps project is teaching a Fulcrum/QGIS/Carto workflow to public health workers. These workshops are all free as they are subsidized by the National Library of Medicine. I've taught dozens all around the nation. People get really excited and afterwards they often talk about getting more training. However, when it comes to signing an actual contract they balk, and believe me I'm a good deal. I'm not trying to get rich. Meanwhile I continually hear about local agencies signing up for Esri workshops costing them hundreds or thousands per student. 

This trend exists for both face-to-face or online training. The GeoAcademy courses have always existed for free online. When we attempted to teach instructor led GeoAcademy courses online we couldn't get anyone to enroll unless courses were offered for $25 or less. The school wasn't even breaking even at that rate. So needless to say the offering didn't last long. I guess when a Udemy course goes for $10 it's a hard sell. But these were instructor led courses where a teacher was available to answer questions, provide feedback and grade labs. 

There seems to be some dynamic, at least in the States, where people know the software is free of charge so they shouldn't have to pay to learn it. I think the open source business model still confuses mainstream GIS users. It also tells me that people see little value in being able to teach it. I know teaching has never been a lucrative profession. However, the fact that people seem willing to pay Esri so much for training makes me wonder what's going on. For now l see it as a labor of love.

The Concise 2016 Year in Review...Another Good Year!

Professionally

  • ~ 400 maps made...roughly
  • Numerous analyses done, some big, some small
  • Worked for 21 clients
  • Authored Discover QGIS with Locate Press
  • Co-authored Mastering QGIS Second Edition with Packt Publishing
  • Began learning R & working with GeoPackages, getting better at PostGIS/SpatiaLite and brushing up on Python
  • Continued to migrate all GIS work to FOSS4G
  • Connected with a lot of great geospatialists via social networking
  • Taught Community Health Map workshops in: 
    • Seattle WA (twice)
    • Honolulu HI
    • Spokane WA
    • Bethesda MD (twice)
  • Gave talks at:
  • Authored 17 Community Health Mapping blog entries
  • Taught 8 GIS courses at UNM Continuing Education
  • Travelled to: 
    • Seattle (twice)
    • Lawrence KS
    • Raliegh
    • New York City
    • Washington DC
    • Orlando FL
    • Bisbee AZ
    • Spokane WA
    • Honolulu
    • Meeker CO
    • Denver (twice)
    • Red River NM

    Personally

    • Worked out 205 times...20 more than last year!
    • Climbed my 21st fourteener (Mt Bierstadt)...a work in progress
    • PR dead lift – 355lb
    • PR back squat – 315lb
    • Walked 410 miles...ah technology!

    Discover QGIS Is Out in Print!

    I'm excited to announce my latest QGIS book! Called Discover QGIS, it is the workbook for the award winning GeoAcademy curriculum. It is essentially 5 college courses full of labs! It comes with all the data, challenge exercises and solution files. Great for learning GIS, QGIS or for use in the classroom.

    The GeoAcademy is the first ever GIS curriculum based on a national standard—the U.S. Department of Labor’s Geospatial Competency Model—a hierarchical model of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to work as a GIS professional in today’s marketplace.

    Originally written for QGIS v2.4, the GeoAcademy material in this workbook has been updated for use with QGIS v2.14, Inkscape v0.91, and GRASS GIS v7.0.3. This is the most up-to-date version of the GeoAcademy curriculum. To aid in learning, all exercise data includes solution files.

    Thoughts on FOSS4GNA 2016

    FOSS4G has been my favorite conference since I attended the first Mapserver meeting in 2003. I've attended each North American installment since then...except for the 2012 NA meeting in DC. I shared about this in my talk Adventures of a Solo GIS Consultant. (The map for my talk is below)

    The 2016 edition FOSS4GNA did not dissapoint. In fact it was one of the best, and not because I fell in love with Raleigh the way I did with Victoria in 2007, or Portland in 2014. Raleigh was nice, but it was more about the conversations between the talks. I loved that the organizers gave us so many long breaks. The rain all week also helped keep me inside :)

    Perhaps it is because I work for myself that being around all these like minded folks is so stimulating. Perhaps it's because I get to meet people I know from Twitter, face-to-face. I loved the moments when I was standing in a group of people and we're all introducing ourselves, by our Twitter handles, like "I'm @spara." Perhaps it's being around some of the smartest people I know. I know it's a little of all of these. FOSS4G is more than the sum of it's parts. I always learn new things, but if that is all it was, I wouldn't keep going back. It's because there is a community of people behind the twitter handles. OsGeo has done a great job of fostering a community with these conferences.

    I met a lot of people I knew from social networking like @sarasomewhere, fellow Locate Press author @PetersonGIS, #gistribe members @gisn8, @UUDreams, @MicheleTobias & @spara. I made some new friends too, like @GuidoS & @TinaACormier, and it is always nice to be able to catch up with people like @rjhale.

    The workshops on Monday were great. I attended the GDAL/OGR workshop taught by Sara Safavi & Sasha Hart and the Getting the most out of QGIS with Python by Chris Daley. Each had a good mix of review and new material. 

    The BoF sessions were a highlight. I sat in on QGIS, #gistribe and Women in GIS. The latter was a great discussion and I really appreciated hearing the experiences women have at FOSS4G and in the workplace. I've seen the numbers of women increasing over the years at FOSS4G, but it was good to hear how it could be more inclusive.

    Of course there were many great talks. Some of my highlights were:

    • State of the QGIS Project by Larry Shaffer
    • Awaken the QGIS Within by Gretchen Peterson
    • Uncovering Ancient Mound Builders Using Open Data and FOSS Software by Calvin Hamilton
    • Cartography with Inkscape by Michele Tobias
    • WTFGL: a beginner's guide to the future of open source web mapping by Lyzi Diamond
    • Empirical Mining of Large Data Sets Help to Solve Practical Large-Scale Forest Management and Monitoring Problems by Bill Hargrove

    I also greatly underestimated the keynote addresses. Each day I'd look at the title and say, "Maybe I can skip this and sleep in, or go get a good breakfast." But I ended up attending each one, and they were all fascinating. Each a little out of the box and provacative in just the right way.

    Thanks to the organizing committee for putting together a great conference. I thought the venue, the session schedule, the food and the communication were all outstanding. 

    FOSS4GNA Raleigh Organizing Committee

    I wish I had the budget to go to the 2nd QGIS meeting in Gerona or FOSS4G in Bonn. Realistically though the next time I'll be able to add to my map is FOSS4G in Boston in 2017. So hopefully I'll see you there!

    PS...after FOSS4GNA I met my wife in NYC to celebrate my birthday. NYC didn't dissappoint. The map of our adventures is below!

    The Concise 2015 Year in Review...A Good Year!

    Professionally

    Personally

    • Celebrated my grandmothers 100th birthday
    • Travelled to Denmark, Vermont, New York City, San Francisco, Colorado, Bisbee AZ and Charleston SC.
    • Worked out 184 times...not bad for an aging GeoHipster!
    • Walked 370 miles...ah technology!
    • Climbed my 20th 14’er (Mt Yale)...a work in progress
    • PR bench press – 215lb 3x
    • PR dead lift – 300lb – 5x
    • PR back squat – 205lb – 4x

     

     

    FOSS4G Academy Launched

    For the first time there is a complete GIS curriculum based on free and open source (FOSS4G) software! Better yet the material are freely available to everyone. The curriculum consists of five courses:

    • GST 101 – Introduction to Geospatial Technology
    • GST 102 – Spatial Analysis
    • GST 103 – Data Acquisition and Management
    • GST 104 – Cartography
    • GST 105 – Remote Sensing

    Examples of FOSS4G Academy QGIS Labs

    The courses were developed via the National Information Security and Geospatial Technologies Consortium (NISGTC), under the leadership ofPhil Davis (Del Mar College). Kurt Menke(Bird’s Eye View), andDr. Richard Smith(Texas A & M – Corpus Christi), authored the material which includes: theory, lecture, labs, data and task oriented video tutorials for each lab exercise.

    The courses are aligned with the Department of LaborsGeospatial Technology Competency Model(GTCM). The GTCM  was published in 2010 and will be revised in 2015. It describes the complete set of knowledge, skills, and abilities required by GIS professionals. It is designed around a hierarchical tiered model of knowledge and promotes use of open source technology.

    Geospatial Technology Competency Model

    QGIS is the featured software for all courses. When appropriate other FOSS software’s are also included such as GRASS and InkScape.

    The vast majority of US based colleges and universities use a single vendor’s proprietary GIS software, making this series of courses very unique. In fact it is the first national attempt at a completely open source GIS curriculum. By their very nature of open source software, there is no marketing engine promoting them. This has slowed the adoption and overall use of open source GIS. One hope is that this material will entice people to learn about FOSS4G. Bird's Eye View will be offering instructor led online versions of these courses in the near future.

    The targeted audience is broad and includes:

    • Secondary school educators and students
    • Two and four year college educators and students
    • Students in need of GIS skills
    • Workers seeking to broaden technology skills
    • Anyone desiring QGIS and open source knowledge and skills

    FOSS4G Academy

    The courses are available online at theFOSS4G Academy. Over 2,500 students have already enrolled for these courses demonstrating how in demand these materials are. Visit the FOSS4G Academy now and explore the material!

    2013 Year End Recap

    The summer and fall went by so quickly! Unfortunately this blog necessarily took a backseat to the actual work. Thankfully the holidays have given me time to reflect on 2013. Professionally it was a fantastic year filled with great projects. Below are some of the highlights, in no particular order.  

    •  ~400 maps produced
    • Modeled potential and suitable beaver habitat in New Mexico
    • Traveled to Seattle, WA and Honolulu, HI to train people in an open source data collection workflow
    • Taught the 5th installment of the Introduction to Open Source Software and Web Mapping at CNM...the best one yet!
    • Attending FOSS4G NA in Minneapolis, MN
    • Supporting the Wildlands Networks TrekWest with route maps
    • Applied GIS to a wide variety of topics: wildfire, wildlife habitat protection, public health, wilderness proposals, travel management analysis, water rights, industrial noise, and parcel mapping.

    Suitable Beaver Habitat

    A tour of the Moana Lo'i (tarot field) and native Hawaiian permaculture

    TrekWest Route map

    FOSS4G-NA 2013

    I just returned from my favorite conference, The North American conference on Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G-NA). I know it's a mouthful. But it's a gathering of the brightest FOSS4G developers (aka geeks), and has a friendly atmosphere of collaboration and openness.  It covered two and a half days and included: pre-conference workshops, multiple plenary sessions, five concurrent paper sessions, lightning talks, code sprints, a Gala Event, panel sessions, and birds of a feather sessions. It was my first time in Minneapolis since the inaugural 2003 Mapserver Users Meeting and it was nice being back. 

    One day standing in line for lunch I met two guys who were also in attendance 10 years ago, but we'd never met before. It was the guy in front of me and the guy directly behind me. We ended up eating together. What are the odds of that? It's those little moments of connection that make these events so much fun.

    This year I noticed an even more distinct focus on web mapping technologies, and web development, than usual. With QGIS 2.0 just about to release it would have been great to hear a state of QGIS talk. I'd also really appreciate more sessions on spatial analysis. Maybe I'll need to sign up for one next time. After all there is more to geospatial than web development.

    The opening plenary was one of the highlights. Erek Dyskant covered use of FOSS4G technologies behind the Democratic National Committee's recent presidential campaign. A stack of FOSS4G software was developed including PostGIS, QGIS and web services. This stack allowed access to current campaign related data in near real time to all nationwide staff. Field offices were then in a great position to prioritize door knocking and calling campaign, and maximize resources.

    Another session of note had an educational focus with papers titled: The New Users, Adapting Web Mapping Curriculum to Open Source Technologies, and Building a Geospatially Competent Workforce with FOSS4G. This was especially interesting for me as I strive to keep my Introduction to Open Source GIS and Web Mapping course current in a rapidly changing field. I also heard valuable updates on MapServer, GeoServer, MapBox, OpenGeo, GDAL/OGR, Leaflet and OpenLayers 3.

    Steve Lime and Daniel Morissette answering questions about MapServer

    The final session was a panel discussion on the use of FOSS4G in state and local governments. It was an interesting frank discussion. On one side it was about the political and bureaucratic hurdles in the way of organizations adopting FOSS4G. On the other were success stories of FOSS4G being utilized in state governments.

    The Gala was held at the Mill City Museum in the ruins of the Gold Medal Flour mill on the Mississippi River. A gorgeous site. Seeing voluminous water is a treat coming from drought stricken New Mexico.

    The ruins of the old Gold Medal Flour Mill

    The view of the Mississippi River from the 8th floor of the old mill.

    Plus I met a bunch of new folks! Kudos to the organizers for putting on another great show. It was a great conference!

    ************************************************************

    END NOTE: If you're a geo-geek and into exercise you've got to get a Suunto Ambit. Here is the data from my walk back to the conference hotel from the Gala Event. I wasn't wearing my heart rate monitor, but it still collects elevation, barometric pressure, GPS, elevation, speed, temperature etc., and allows export to KML. Oh and you can navigate with it and it has a compass. 

    My walk back to the hotel from the Gala event recorded with my Suunto Ambit GPS watch

    Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

    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?

    you should sign up for the Introduction to Geospatial Open Source at this year's FOSS4G conference

    Hope to see you there!

    FOSS4G Workshop for Educators at FOSS4G

    This fall Bird's Eye View (with the support of the GeoTech Center) will be holding the FOSS4G Workshop for Educatorsat 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.

    FOSS4G is in Denver this year!

    Join us in Denver this fall for the FOSS4G Workshop for Educators.  FOSS4G hasn't been in the U.S. since it was called Open Source Geospatial and was held in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2005.  So it's a great opportunity to learn about the latest in free and open source for geospatial software.  Our workshop will cover the semester long Introduction to Open Source GIS course developed for Central New Mexico Community College (CNM).  That course will run this summer starting on May 24th.  Come learn about QGIS, GRASS, GDAL/OGR, Mapserver and PostGIS!