Blog written by Stacy Rendall, Principal Spatial Researcher, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
This blog is the second in a series of posts, which describe the development environment from high level technologies down to specific apps. It may be of interest to anyone doing Python or web development. See my first post for a general overview of the technologies that make up this stack.
Installation instructions and configuration/settings for tools introduced in this series can be found in this Bitbucket repository.
What is a package manager?
The term package manager can apply at a few different levels. Some package managers install development libraries for programming projects (NuGet, Bower, NPM and PIP are examples of this kind of package manager), but this post is concerned with higher-level package managers that install software for your operating system.
To install software on Windows you usually have to find the website, download the program, install it (and any other software it requires) and then somehow keep it up-to-date (which usually varies by program). This can be quite a pain to keep track of, especially if you use a bunch of different development languages and tools.
Linux operating systems typically have a package manager fully integrated into the system, which manages all software - from system components through to user applications. The package manager might have a graphical user interface (GUI), but can usually be run from the command line. For example, a terminal command such as apt-get install python would install Python and any software that Python requires in one easy step, and it can all be kept up to date with apt-get upgrade python.
Linux Mint Software Manager GUI
Package management on Windows
The good news is that a number of package managers are available for Windows! However, given that they are add-ons rather than integrated into the operating system, they won't manage all of your Windows software and updates (in the future the Microsoft Store may be a useful package manager, but at the moment it contains very little for developers).
Scoop is a package management interface targeted specifically at developers. It focuses on open/free programming languages, libraries and database tools.
Scoop in action installing Node.js on Windows
Scoop is very easy to use: packages are updated regularly and it has a large selection of developer-friendly apps, languages and utilities.
Unlike some other Windows package managers Scoop will install apps into your profile directory, which keeps things tidy and means that you don't need to click through administrator permission dialogues for a simple install (also handy in places where you may not have install permissions).
Other Windows package managers
Chocolatey is another Windows package manager (which is based on NuGet), although it aims to install a much wider range of software. Overall I found it less useful than Scoop... Although it can install a wider range of packages, it still can't manage all your optional software (so you still have to install a lot of things outside of it), the interface is less intuitive, it regularly has frustrating errors, and the available packages lack some useful developer tools.
Stay tuned for my next post, which will introduce Version Control Systems. I welcome your feedback or comments at email@example.com
Blog written by Steve Ford, GIS Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
How time flies when you’re having fun!
It was little over a year ago when I hung up my boots on my time at university and embarked on the big wide world of working life (full of responsibilities and getting up before 10am – every weekday).
I started my working life with a Callaghan Innovation funded internship at Interpret, working on an R&D project around predicting lightning strikes in New Zealand. It was a pretty awesome and crazy way to start. Before I knew it, I had been thrust into a world of researching meteorology phenomena, talking to experts, running analysis, developing complex models, working with live data and developing web applications, all on top of learning the nuts and bolts of how a GIS company works.
After the internship, I was employed by Interpret on a full time basis as a graduate consultant, working mainly on projects in the transportation and road safety space. The level of learning and upskilling only increased from my internship days. Now I got to work on real world projects, learning concepts and applying them to processes that influence local, regional and national decision making. It’s a pretty cool experience seeing the projects you’ve worked on popping up on Stuff.co.nz and other news sites! More recently I have been mostly working on GIS development projects, including creating custom Web AppBuilder widgets for clients. I studied computer science at university, so it’s an area of great interest to me.
One thing that blew me away about my job and the team at Interpret is the vast technical capabilities that we have between us and the different tasks that we undertake. We also have a great social presence both inside and outside of work. Table tennis games throughout the day prove a handy breather from the technical work and weekly baking days, monthly lunches and events outside of work time make it easy to get to know your work mates better.
To finish off, I thought I would share a couple of tips for fellow grads that I’ve picked up in my first year:
- Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and work with your colleagues – this is an easy way to share your skills and the areas you are interested in, and helps to build an understanding of what others can help you with. Building your knowledge and skills comes from experience, so it's important to learn from your peers to improve your future work.
- Make the most of industry events and socialising with other GIS professionals. We work in a small, tight-knit community with an absolute abundance of talent and passion. This passion is highly contagious and will rub off on you when you working on projects and learning new skills. The technical experience at these events will often inspire and inform you of GIS areas and techniques that you might not have even heard of before.
I couldn’t write about the fantastic journey that has been my first year of work without thanking everyone at Interpret and others in the wider industry who put so much effort into supporting, mentoring and enabling graduates like myself to succeed. It’s an understatement to say that the work you do, makes starting out in this industry an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
If you are a graduate hunting for a GIS role, I would strongly suggest you check out the following blog posts by Chris Morris (Interpret Group Manager):
It was a sunny Thursday on November 23rd, and GIS professionals from around Auckland congregated for the final Spatial drinks event for 2017.
A big thank you to everyone who came along and made it an awesome event, our team really enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new faces. It was especially great to meet and talk to a range of professionals from both the public and private sectors. Being about to enjoy a drink with like-minded people at events like this, leads to interesting conversations and an excellent opportunity to network with industry colleagues.
A big thank you goes to SIBA for sponsoring the bar tab, your support is greatly appreciated by all of us. If you would like to assist with sponsorship or would like to be involved with organising the next spatial drinks, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if you have any feedback from the event, let me know.
Interpret sponsored the food and enjoyed organising this event. We look forward to attending the next one – see you there!
Blog written by Daniel Nutsford, Senior Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
Welcome to the very first issue of "The GISt of it".
In this issue, Daniel looks at a few of the features released on ArcGIS Online in September.
Blog written by Natalie Scott, Principal Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
In the world of GIS consultancy, most of our work is project-based. It’s important for us that these projects – large and small, straightforward and complicated – are well managed in order to ensure that the client is delivered a useful result, on time and on budget. One of the tools we use to help us with this is the "agile framework".
"Agile" is a buzzword, that's often waved around in the tech industry as a panacea for a project team’s shortcomings. The reality is, switching to an agile strategy is unlikely to solve deep-seated problems with projects and project management. But like most tools, if it can be applied in the right way at the right time, it can help to make project management valuable rather than just an overhead.
Here at Interpret, we have taken on board some of the key messages from agile processes and use them to help support our work. Rather than implementing ‘full agile’, we’ve chosen to pick up the bits that deliver the most value for our clients. I’ve outlined a few of these below.
We have a strong focus on building long-lasting relationships with our clients and partners, being "connected" is one of our company values. This allows us to work closely alongside our clients throughout the project, to clearly understand the business environment and problem(s) we need to solve, whilst seeking regular feedback. It also means that any issues that arise during the project can be dealt with immediately.
We frequently have a number of different projects on the go at one time. It’s critical to keep track of each one so that nothing falls through the cracks or gets forgotten. To help with this, we’ve started using Kanban board to track the progress of everything that’s being worked on. Without going ‘full scrum’, we have daily stand-ups, which are a opportunity to chase up anything that hasn’t moved forward in a while, and to celebrate the completion of longstanding tasks.
Having a Kanban board has another positive outcome which I didn’t anticipate. Because all of the things we are working on are visible on the board, it’s immediately obvious how much we have going on. Making our "Work In Progress" (WIP) visible is a key part of being agile, and it’s been very useful to help us understand just how busy people are. Additionally, by having all our WIP represented physically on a board, we’ve discovered that we eventually run out of room to put new things up. This is a pretty good indication that we need to focus our attention on getting work completed, rather than looking for more work.
The biggest effect of moving to an agile framework has been to increase transparency and autonomy within the team. There’s no hiding the progress (or otherwise) of a project when it’s discussed daily. Once made visible, issues and delays can be addressed. Staff working on a project are able to see what needs doing and can make smart choices about what they should be working on. We believe that by hiring smart people, we can trust them to sensibly undertake work without requiring micromanagement. This frees up the project manager to look after the big picture.
While I would never say that we have implemented agility in its entirety, I think the tools we have drawn from the agile framework have had a significant positive impact on our ability to manage projects. Like most things, it’s an ongoing process of learning, testing and evaluation.
While this is a blog about agility, we should also mention that it’s a methodology, not an ideology. In most cases, we align ourselves better with our clients’ project management preferences – some people prefer a more waterfall-y approach, others have a strong requirement for agile practices. Projects, too, can be better suited to different approaches. We aim to be flexible enough to work provide the best outcome, no matter where on the project management spectrum our clients sit.
What are your thoughts? Do you use an agile framework, or is agile a dirty word at your organisation? Does it help, does it hinder, or does it make no difference whatsoever? We’d love to hear your experiences!
Blog written by Stacy Rendall, Principal Spatial Researcher, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
This blog introduces the five core technologies that make up the overall stack. My subsequent blogs in this series will describe some of the particular apps that I have found work well for each technology, and integrate together in my development environment. This series is not intended to be prescriptive, but food for thought about your environment in general.
The set of technologies consists of a few things you probably already use on a daily basis, some things you might have heard of but may not use yet, and possibly a few new concepts. I have ordered the technologies by the way in which they build upon each other or integrate together (which you can roughly think of as the order in which you might install/configure them). No matter which operating system you use or set of languages you develop for, this generalised stack of technologies should still apply (but the particular software you might use could be different).
- Package manager - convenient way of installing, removing, managing and updating software (particularly tools for developers such as languages or utilities), and also managing the software which each package depends on.
- Version control system - a means of tracking and managing different versions of code, also essential in development teams for recording who changed what and why, and managing situations where two people have both changed the same code.
- Terminal - command-line interface used for interacting directly with the operating system and files, running scripts, managing services or working with an interpreter.
- Editor - the tool you use to edit your code.
- Linter - a program that reviews code, which can assess conformance to coding styles and check for common code errors - Linter is particularly useful in a team, ensuring that everyone is developing to a similar standard and style.
Stay tuned for my upcoming blogs which will present some of the programs I use for each of these technologies, how to install and configure then, and how they all work together. I welcome your feedback or comments, at email@example.com.
On Wednesday 15 November, we attended the fourth annual NZ Spatial Excellence Awards. The awards evening was held in Wellington at Te Papa Museum, providing an opportunity to celebrate outstanding achievements in the spatial sciences. This year we were proud to have our Interpret Group Manager, Chris Morris, as one of the finalists in the "Professional of the Year" category.
This event is a excellent forum to find out about innovative GIS work that is happening all around New Zealand, and some in some cases globally, to catch up with old friends and meet others in the industry.
Congratulations to all of the finalists and the winners, we look forward to being part of NZSEA 2018!
Blog written by Stephanie Pryor, GIS Intern, Interpret Spatial Solutions
In my first week as an intern at Interpret, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend an event about open data. Attending this event were speakers from Koordinates, Figure.NZ, LINZ and Creative Commons. My brain was already borderline overflowing with the information from my first few days on the job, but this event provided many interesting points that deserved further thought.
Hamish Campbell from Koordinates and Rob Eland from LINZ spoke with great synergies between their presentations. The main points that stood out to me were:
- You don’t know what users want, so don’t make assumptions. Just because you use data a specific way, doesn’t mean that others won’t use it differently. The data needs to be as accessible as possible for everybody.
- Usability brings people in the first instance, while reliability and familiarity is what keeps people coming back.
Nat Pudley from Figure.NZ discussed the method they used to clean and release data to the New Zealand public. Figure.NZ is a not-for-profit hub of data and statistics who simplify and publish publicly-available data to enable New Zealanders to make decisions. The points of interest for me were:
- There is a major difference between open data and usable data. There usually needs to be a lot of cleansing and organising of the data before it is in a usable form.
- We need to build resources that people with little experience in complex data structures can understand and navigate, and along the way developments will naturally occur to provide for the people with more experience as well.
- Don’t be a gatekeeper, let the users decide what they want/need.
Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, provided some insights into the legal side of sharing data, a topic I have never given much thought. We were lucky he managed to fit this event into his busy NZ schedule before flying back to Canada! My main takeaways were:
- The backend of data needs to enable data sharing. Data should have specific enough fields that allow organisations to keep necessary details private, yet still release other relevant information. Avoid having a single field which stores everything.
- As a data supplier, look at what you want people to be able to do with the data, rather than what you don’t want people to be able to do, and find a license that matches that.
- As a data user, make sure you understand what the licenses allow you to do.
- Data and licenses should be able to integrate with each other, so they can be combined and used to tell new stories.
All the speakers had a very similar perspective on Open Data. It was great to see that various organisations are all approaching such a big topic with such passion. I am excited about all the challenges ahead (some still unknown at this point) that can be solved by combining information from a vast range of organisations. The saying “knowledge is power” springs to mind, and having access to more information empowers people to make better, smarter decisions.
A big thanks to Koordinates for organising this event, I personally learnt a lot and enjoyed the opportunity to network with other GIS professionals.
Blog written by Natalie Scott, Senior Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions
Today is GIS day. Every year since 1999, geographers around the planet have come together on the third Wednesday in November to celebrate the role spatial information plays in our lives. I've taken a few moments to reflect on what spatial means to me.
Spatial is important. On an increasingly globalised and stressed planet, being able to understand the spatial context of problems is key. Location matters because the causes and consequences of the issues we face are not uniformly distributed. By looking at the where, as well as the what, we can start to get a better picture of the why.
It’s fair to say that, as a planet, we are facing a range of problems – environmental, social, political. While there is no magic bullet to resolve these, I think that spatial information will play a central role in finding solutions. As spatial professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure that our contribution is helping to build a fairer and more peaceable world.
Spatial is special. Or maybe this should be, is spatial special? We all certainly like to think so. Spatial technology and GIS hold a place in the heart of geographers. Most of us in the spatial sciences are incredibly passionate about what we do. The question of 'where' flows over into everyday life, with hobbies like geocaching, spirited discussions around favourite projections, or an ever-growing collection of maps without NZ.
I wouldn't claim that this level of interest and engagement is unique to GIS or the spatial world. But, at the same time, I do feel privileged to be able to work in an industry which is as exciting and dynamic as GIS. When colleagues and clients are passionate about the work we do, solving spatial problems is notably simpler and more enjoyable.
Spatial is increasing. As our world generates ever more data, the opportunities for understanding our environment spatially are increasing dramatically. The majority of New Zealand’s (and soon, the world’s) population have access to a smartphone, creating a dense network of data-capture devices. Increasingly, this data is real time, location based, and offers a unique insight into the way our world operates.
However, more data does not necessarily result in better outcomes. Data by itself means nothing; it is only through analysis that we can understand what the data means. It is imperative that the spatial industry takes advantage of these new data sources, in order to use this information to solve real-world problems.
Spatial is changing. Alongside the growth in data capture, we have seen a sea change in the way GIS is used in everyday life. Virtually everyone uses spatial information and analysis on a day-to-day basis, whether it is getting directions from Google Maps, using proximity data on Tinder, or receiving targeted advertising in the mail. This is all GIS, but perhaps not quite how we 'GIS professionals' usually consider it!
This consumerisation of GIS has both positive and negative consequences for the industry. A lot of traditionally ‘GIS’ tools which no longer need involvement from a spatial professional. Routing engines are an example of this. Getting from A to B used to be a spatial problem to solve; now it is the press of a button. Esri's ArcGIS Online has pushed mapping and analysis firmly into the consumer domain. We need to up our game and think beyond maps.
But the other side of the coin is that these changes have created huge opportunities for spatial professionals. Increased awareness of the value and availability of location data means that people are becoming more aware of the possibilities it offers. Spatial offers smart companies an edge, a chance to get ahead in a competitive market. Somewhere between run-of-the-mill consumer GIS, and the promises of future technology, is a fertile ground for spatial professionals to do amazing things with data.
What are your thoughts? What will 2018 bring for the GIS industry? We’d love to know your views.
Have a happy GIS day!
Blog written by Nick Dragunow, Graduate Consultant at Interpret Geospatial Solutions
If GIS has taught the wider tech industry anything, it’s that data is only as valuable as the format in which it is presented. The most insightful outputs mean nothing to the public if they’re locked within a 20-page spreadsheet. Media groups and technical sites vie endlessly for market share, and they’re turning towards data visualisation to make their voices heard with interactive maps, graphs, and videos becoming commonplace across the web. Increasingly, organisations are crafting fully immersive experiences for their users, with stunning, design-first websites built around each of their most interesting tales.
Story Maps are Esri’s answer to this shifting media landscape. Free to ArcGIS Online subscribers, Story Maps provide a simple online platform for producing bespoke storytelling experiences. Fully integrated with the ArcGIS ecosystem and hosted on Esri’s cloud servers, they come in a range of customisable formats, each suited to a specific role. The ‘Journal’ pairs slides of media-rich narrative with interactive maps, videos, and 3D scenes, the ‘Tour’ takes its audience through a series of photos mapped to their locations; and the ‘Crowdsource’ allows users to upload georeferenced images and captions to a publicly visible map.
Interpret routinely produce Story Maps for clients, one of our most recent examples being the Ports of Auckland (POAL). With a port at the heart of Auckland city and freight hubs scattered across the North Island, POAL are a major link in the nation’s logistical chain. Population growth and a fixed land footprint mean that demand for shipping will soon outstrip supply. This has prompted the recent development of a set of projects aimed at increasing capacity, without the expansion of the port’s waterside holdings.
As part of a wider media campaign publicising POAL's '30 Year Master Plan’, they needed a website that was mobile-friendly, map-integrated, easy-to-update, and visually stunning. Interpret took content produced by the client and three consultancies and integrated it into a ‘Cascade’ microsite – fully-owned and editable by Ports of Auckland. Visit the website at http://www.masterplan.poal.co.nz.
On release day, TV, radio, and online news traffic was directed to the website. There was never a question of failure, since Esri dynamically scales the hardware running their websites as user demand increases. Training sessions will allow POAL to update the site as projects reach completion, ensuring that it remains a valuable tool in their public outreach arsenal.
If you are interested in Story Maps, have a look at the pages and links to examples below, or email me: Nick.Dragunow@Interpret.co.nz. The first example (Lights On Lights Out) contains a some stunning example of interactive maps and sliders, while the second (Expedition Palau) integrates text and full-screen imagery flawlessly.
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