Getting started with PostGIS

For many years I had been hearing about spatial databases. I knew that some of the frustrating issues I was dealing with as the GIS specialist for small environmental consulting companies could be addressed with the technology.  But consulting is all about billable hours and its really hard to convince your boss to give you the unbillable time needed to figure it all out. And its really hard and probably unethical to expect a client to let you figure it all out on their dime. So until a few years ago I kept chugging away with single-user file-based data storage and wasted an enormous amount of time managing data and people to prevent conflicts that could have easily been prevented with a spatial database.  Continue reading “Getting started with PostGIS”

The case for open-source GIS

Logos of Open-source GIS projects

I have nothing against ESRI, they have been innovators in the geospatial software world from the beginning. I got into GIS from a natural resources background and I know that they have supported the conservation community for decades through their conservation grants program and many other ways. Jack Dangermond’s recent donation of $165 million to the Nature Conservancy to purchase one of the last large undeveloped parcels of southern California coastline stirred my heart and made me well up in tears with pride in the GIS community. I am not opposed to companies selling GIS software for profit. I believe in capitalism. I believe that entrepreneurs should be rewarded financially for producing high quality products at a fair price. Continue reading “The case for open-source GIS”

Quick start to spatial databases with QGIS and SpatiaLite

In a recent post, I attempted to answer the question What can a spatial database do for you? That post was a broad overview of the advantages of storing your geospatial data in a spatial database. This post follows up with more specific information on how to get started and step by step instructions on using one type, SpatiaLite, with the popular open source GIS software QGIS. Continue reading “Quick start to spatial databases with QGIS and SpatiaLite”

What can a spatial database do for you?

Is spatial really special?

Many GIS professionals come into the field from a specific discipline and become interested in GIS as a tool with which to accomplish their goals in their original field and by attrition or intent begin to shift their focus towards GIS. I followed this path myself.  After going to school to study wildlife biology, I learned about GIS and enrolled in a minor program in GIS and spatial analysis. I think that this is a good thing in many ways. People with an interest in solving problems in other disciplines will push the field forward in directions that someone who’s sole focus was on GIS would be unlikely to go. We need those people in the industry.

But GIS is a technical discipline. At its core GIS is database technology, albeit with a spatial focus. In my humble opinion many university GIS departments, especially at the certificate level, focus too much on the “spatial” aspects of GIS and not enough on the underlying database technology. As a result these programs produce GIS professionals who are very good at cartography and spatial analysis but who find themselves unprepared for the modern GIS job market where there is an increasing need for people with skills in enterprise level database administration, SQL, and web-based GIS. Even if they are not performing those tasks themselves, GIS professionals should at least have an understanding of the technology in order to be able to communicate effectively with those who will be performing those tasks. Continue reading “What can a spatial database do for you?”

Why your organization needs a web GIS strategy.

What is web GIS?

When most people think about web GIS, they think about publishing a map or a data set for the world to see.  That’s certainly part of it, but only a small part.  For many years when I would try to sell my employers on the concept of web GIS they would reply “We don’t want everyone to see our proprietary information.”  After digging in and learning more on my own I began to realize that there was much more to web GIS than publishing content. Continue reading “Why your organization needs a web GIS strategy.”

Why QGIS should be part of everyone’s GIS toolbox

QGIS is an open source desk-top GIS program. It plays the same role as ArcMap in the ESRI ecosystem. QGIS even comes with QGIS Browser, which is similar in function to ArcCatalog. Most GIS analysts in the US learn ArcGIS in college and work for companies that have ArcGIS available. Many people are under the impression that if they have access to ArcGIS, there is no advantage to their company for them to learn QGIS.

I felt the same way for over a decade. Over the past several years I have come to believe that QGIS has many advantages over ArcGIS.  This is true  even for companies that already own ArcGIS licenses. There are some things QGIS does much better. Some things it does much cheaper. And admittedly, there are some things that ArcGIS does better.  The important thing is to understand the differences and when to use QGIS and when to use ArcGIS. Continue reading “Why QGIS should be part of everyone’s GIS toolbox”