Posted by: SDGIS | June 28, 2013

Web 3.0

A quick review. Web 1.0 was characterized by websites which shared information with users. Communication was largely one way from the author of the site to the consumer, or visitor to the site. The web 1.0 era ended with the tech bubble bursting in 2001. We should remember that one of the main strengths of Web 1.0 was the new ability for users to buy items from stores physically far from the user. This concept fueled wild speculation about the reach of the internet and agnostic nature of the internet. When it turned out that geography did matter, businesses such as TOYS.com were affected.

Web 2.0 had been embodied by the use of social media platforms (Myspace, Facebook and Twitter). These websites leverage users as content creators, not just consumers. These sites provide a platform for communication. Progressive site administrators leverage their users improve and online relationships to help share their message. Web 2.0 provided users with new autonomy in directing content about themselves, their interests, their relationships with other people, companies, governments, organizations and entities.

Web 3.0 is a new phenomenon classified by the importance and lack of importance of geography. Mobile and cloud technologies are not just web 2.0 on smaller screens and inexpensive scalable servers. The real value is in the new functionality and capabilities these tools provide.

Mobile is hyper geographic. Geography, or location, or spatial context, means services relevant to users can be presented to them, also real time updates about what is going on around them can be shared. Without the geographic context much of data created today becomes not valuable. Grindr helps gay men find each other based on proximity, close tweets can be invaluable in a blackout, Zillow gives updates about my house or property values while I am on vacation.

In a web 2.0 world, topical searches like “North Park Blackout” might lead to relevant results, but it takes an extra step and also requires your neighbor to tag information or make his information easily searchable.

The value in cloud technology is the inverse: Servers can be anywhere. Most often partitioned within another superpower computer. Does it matter whether the server is in Illinois or India? Not really. The idea that a server needs to be located in an onsite server room has nothing to do with application performance or cost, but a misguided mistrust of cloud resources as insecure. Network administrators who need to be able to physically pull the plug on a server are living a 2.0 world.

Why has Facebook, the champion of Web 2.0, had problems capitalizing in a mobile environment? It certainly isn’t because there aren’t mobile social nexuses to uncover. Facebook’s ecosystem is incredibly sticky and users aren’t finding it stale. Facebook was slow to realize that Web 3.0 is different. Mobile Facebook isn’t good enough. Facebook’s base turned to Foursquare and other mobile based platforms to leverage the new paradigm. Users got it. Facebook didn’t.

In both mobile and cloud technologies the major obstacle which was overcome was geography. Real value is created from where hardware is where it wasn’t before, and where it needed to be but no longer does.

Web 3.0 isn’t either of these major advances, but both. The inherent nature of the client-server relationship has changed. Both of these changes occurring at the same time has multiplied the effect.

Servers can be spun up in California and used on mobile devices in NY. Where the server is is no longer important. Where the mobile device is is most often the primary factor. Language, database versioning, programming languages and seamless machine readable sharing continue to remain persistent obstacles, but geography has truly been defeated.

The village across the mountain range can now be reached at a moments notice. The world is not flat. The world is the opposite of flat. The world is now bent over on itself, where every point touches every other point.

If you are involved in government at any level you are surely aware of the impending infrastructure crisis. The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released their 2013 report card. In the report the United States overall gets a D+ and should invest $3.6 Trillion between now and 2020. This is a gigantic problem.

ASCE 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

The real problem isn’t that there is so much work to do and not enough money to pay for it. The problem is that if the work is deferred or not done then fixing the problem becomes much more expensive, in dollars, inconceivable and directly impacted factors, like housing prices or ability to attract a knowledgeable workforce.

Here in San Diego we are facing the problem head head on.

One of the first moves City Council President Todd Gloria made was to propose the creation of an Infrastructure Committee.

“I am proposing creation of the Infrastructure Committee to bring necessary focus to the condition of the City’s streets, sidewalks, and structures … I  have heard the call of San Diegans that they are tired of driving over potholes and  tripping over sidewalks. This Committee will be able to develop comprehensive  solutions to a Citywide challenge.” – Todd Gloria, December 12, 2012

The description of the Infrastructure Committee is:

The Infrastructure Committee’s area of responsibility includes Capital Improvement Program  CIP), Creation of a Five-Year CIP, Community Hearings on CIP Priorities, Review and  Recommend, if necessary, Revisions to any Council Policies dealing with CIP, Oversight of CIP Streamlining, Infrastructure Finance, Regional Transportation Improvement Program (RTIP), and Asset Management.

On January 23rd, Councilman Mark Kersey, Chair of the City’s new Infrastructure Committee released the 2013 Infrastructure Committee Work Plan. The overarching focus of this document is clear: Figure out the scope through a detailed inventory and develop a comprehensive 5-year plan to  fix the problem. It should be noted that it does not say to allocate new funds and start fixing everything. This document is heavy on planning and light on specifics. It does not say that specific streets need to be repaved or outline specific measures to eliminate or reduce water main breaks. I personally think this is the most effective, long-term approach for our City.

Infrastructure assets are defined as “streets, sidewalks, fire stations, libraries, recreation centers, storm drains, water mains, water and wastewater treatment  plants, pumping stations, airports, golf courses, stadiums, streetlights, lifeguard towers, and piers.” The current infrastructure backlog is tallied at $900M. There are many infrastructure assets which are not included in the $900M because they 1) haven’t been assessed and inventoried or 2) maintenance of these assets are funded through other means.  The total infrastructure backlog is expected to exceed $1B. General best practices suggest that 2-4% of replacement value be spent on maintenance annually. The City currently spends less than one half of one percent.

The 2013 Infrastructure Committee Work Plan charges City Staff with creating a comprehensive 5-year infrastructure plan. Key City Staff Members include, James Nagelvoort (City Engineer), Tony Heinrichs (Director, Public Works), Roger S. Baily (Director, Public Utilities Department) and Susan Bowman (Asset Management Program Manager, Public Utilities Department), among others.

Posted by: SDGIS | August 20, 2012

FEMA Flood Maps in Local News

The Turko files is a civic and consumer watchdog segment run on San Diego’s KUSI. Recently they published a series of stories about errors in FEMA flood maps which support the National Flood Insurance Program.  The coverage includes both the facts and a large dose of snark. They are certainly worth a watch.

Just Plain Clueless!

An Uphill Battle!

Flood Zone!

One Huge Headache!

In Your Corner!

The Maps Are Wrong!

One of the main choices users of geographic systems and data face is whether or not to pursue an ESRI-based solution. We would like to share our reasoning behind the use of ESRI technology solutions for our clients.  While we are an ESRI-focused firm, we believe blind commitment to any technology is unwise.  There are several reasons, however, why we continue to focus upon ESRI-based GIS solutions: ESRI is comprehensive, modular, open, and flexible.

Esri is Comprehensive. There is a real difference between a “geographic data visualization tool” and a “Geographic Information System.” A geographic data visualization tool is a way to share geographic information, but not manage  data.  A GIS supports a central data repository where there are many clients with varying functionality and access.  GIS also enables database functionality whereby tabular and geographic relationships can be enforced.  For example, parcels cannot overlap; no land is in more than one parcel.  There is no way to enforce this type of rule solely within a geographic data visualization tool. There are ways to overcome this type of obstacle, but they require investment in an expensive and diverse skill set.  Often individuals which meet these requirements might not include any experience working with maps or spatial representation.  ESRI software provides a system which is configured to accomplish both the data visualization and data management tasks.   In short, if you have a geography-based problem or question, ESRI will have a supported solution on their platform.  As specialists in the ESRI technology stack, Evari can focus on implementing geography-based solutions to a broad range of clients.

Esri is Modular. Most organizations getting into GIS start small with one or two ESRI ArcView users/licenses.  As the desire for more functionality grows, they can purchase (and configure) a supported solution which will work with and complement that investment.  This scenario is better than having to hire programmers and database admininistrators to develop a solution from the ground up.  Or worse, being dependent upon a particular consultant to provide a solution on their proprietary platform which another consultant cannot manage.  The latter scenario places our clients in a tenuous situation if they decide to move away from that particular consultant.  At Evari GIS Consulting we believe in providing our customers with the simplicity and scalability that comes with ESRI products.

Esri is Open. ESRI is well aware that different organizations with different skill sets come to use their technology.  In an effort to create a truly open GIS platform, ESRI makes it possible for a variety of users to use their products effectively. For example, their flagship server product (ArcGIS Server) has both .NET and Java versions.  Both versions can leverage data which lives in SQL Server or Oracle as well as a variety of other common Relational Database Management Systems (RDbMS).  Mapping services can be published and consumed on wide variety of platforms including Javascript, Flash, Silverlight and Html5.  ESRI also supports solutions on other visualization platforms such as the ArcGIS Extension for the Google Maps API, or via network links in Google Earth.  Open Street Map, OpenLayers, Google Maps, Bing Maps, Google Earth, qGIS, SQL and Oracle Spatial types and services, along with a myriad of others offer real alternatives to ESRI products.  While some of these options have advantages over the ESRI offering within a particular solution, the ESRI GIS platform remains the most well-rounded, robust GIS software on the market today.

We also wanted to add that we are well aware that we are living in a fluid environment, especially as it relates to web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA).  As servers become elastic, quad-core 64-bit desktops with 8gb of RAM, dual-core 1GHz tablets, and cell phones with independent GPUs become more available, new frontiers are being opened up.  The client/server relationships of the past are giving way to a whole new paradigm.  Suddenly, a tablet has the same horsepower as a server of just a few years ago.  Processes which were previously required to run on the server can now be accomplished client-side.  In this type of dynamic industry, we are always looking to find ways to deliver more reliable, performant, and robust solutions for our clients.  ESRI has proven that they can compete vigorously in this market, but Evari maintains an eye on the future for any changes which will affect our industry.

Evari  GIS Consulting is in the business of providing professional and affordable geography-based solutions for our customers.  Based on a clear understanding of the GIS industry, Evari believes that leveraging the ESRI technology stack is the most effective way to fulfill those goals.

Posted by: SDGIS | September 30, 2011

GIS and the San Diego Street Light Conversion Project

Evari GIS Consulting (Evari) was recently contracted as part of the City of San Diego‘s Street Light Conversion Project Design-Build Contract. This project includes conversion of 35,311 120 and 240 volt cobra head streetlights throughout the City of San Diego. Evari bid as a subcontractor to Southern Contracting, the prime. You can learn more about the energy savings and overall project here.

The City identified GIS as a requirement in the submission process by which the prime will get paid for converted lights. Lists of streetlights were provided by the City of San Diego and the regional electric company, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE). GIS data was also freely available. Part of the funding for the project was provided by a rebate through SDGE. To facilitate payment unique identifiers from both the City and SDGE lists, along with a new XY coordinate, need to be submitted.

All 3 data sources are useful but incomplete and inaccurate. As of the writing of this post, Evari has already moved each street light point from the GIS data by using high-resolution aerial photography freely available from the State of California. Evari is now in the process of reconciling the provided lists. Both lists have textual location descriptions, for example: “UNIVERSITY AV W/O FAIRMOUNT AV 130′ S/S.” This means: On University Avenue west of Fairmount Avenue 130 feet on the south side. These are being painstakingly matched to each GIS point on the map.

Southern work crews have been outfitted with a fleet of ipads which gives them access to the data through a map-based interface. On the ipad work crews had the ability to edit information about each point. In the field, they can change the status of every light from “to be converted” to “converted” or “there was a problem.” They also can leave a freehand note or take a picture with the built-in camera. This data is used to correct wrong information in the field.

Another way to view this data is through a website Evari developed called, “Street Light Project Transparency Mapping Tool.” Through this web-based map City staff and Southern Contracting management can view this data in real time. Colors of the streetlights change as the status is modified by workcrews. Voltages, wattages, data from both the lists, along with the comments and pictures taken in the field are available as popups connected to each point.

This tool creates a common operational picture of the work which has already been completed, work which is still in the pipeline, and hurdles work crews are encountering in the field. This system empowers the City to manage the progress of the project. It provides piece of mind that the work is being accomplished to the highest standards and within an acceptable timetable. Southern has a valuable workflow management tool and a streamlined way to share with City staff both their progress and obstacles.

The product that Evari GIS Consulting has provided will continue to bring value to the City of San Diego, local agencies, and the public well beyond the scope of this project. Ultimately, the City and SDGE will have a comprehensive and accurate inventory of their Streetlight assets. They will know the date when each fixture went in and will be able to anticipate maintenance and bulb replacement. This increases the lifespan of the fixture, allows City electricians to manage their workflow, and most importantly, keeps the new energy efficient streetlights “on” for San Diego residents.

This is not a rebuke of Thomas Friedman’s seminal book along the lines of Joseph Stiglitz‘s criticism. Mr. Stigletz leveled his charge against the major concepts in the book, while my concerns are related to geography in particular.

Obviously, Thomas Friedman didn’t intend the name of his book to be taken literally. “The World is Flat”, is mildly-provocative shorthand for “We think differently about geographic relationships than we used to.” The question Mr. Friedman fails to answer is: How do we think differently? Recent technological advances have made it so that some parts of our lives, where geography (location) used to be important, are no longer consequential. The used book ships from Florida or Washington; who cares. Undoubtedly, this book was purchased online. The world is flat.

Powell's City of Books

I remember how excited my parents were when our neighborhood bookstore, Books & Things of Briarcliff Manor NY, opened a second larger store a couple of miles away. Since then we have moved, the world has changed around us, and Books and Things closed it’s doors.

Now my parents live in Portland, Oregon. My mother doesn’t buy books online. She drives downtown to Powell’s City of books, probably pays more for parking than shipping, walks the aisle to find her book, and waits in line. Powell’s is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world and occupies a full city block in the heart of downtown Portland. You might know Powell’s also has a very productive online presence, but my mom wants the building, the coffee, and the customers reading in the aisles to be there. She knows if the building is empty and the books are being delivered by UPS then Powell’s will either go the route of Books and Things or move to a big warehouse in the burbs. Either scenario would be sad.

In most cases, the geographic relationship between ourselves and the book is no longer consequential.

Mainframe Computer

Recently, I was asked, “What are the two most influential trends in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) industry.” My response was probably similar to most in the professional Information Technology community; mobile technologies and cloud computing. These are both disruptive technologies, but how? How are they changing business? How are they changing our lives? I’d like to build upon Thomas Friedman’s concepts and address these technologies as they relate to geography.

Cloud computing is a notoriously confusing concept so please bear with me. In the past we had mainframe computers. These computers were largely used for resource intensive tasks. Along came the less powerful personal computer (PC) and networks. As these networks became faster, more reliable and robust the client/server relationship was born. This is where a client machine (your desktop/laptop/smartphone ect) asks a question of a particular server, the server expects the question and sends a response back to the client.

Client/Server relationship

The client and the server are having a conversation. At first these servers were located physically close to the client. Often in the same building or at least in the same town. Our networks which handle the traffic between clients and servers have become so robust that servers are released from the geographic ties to the client. Now that geography (proximity to the client) doesn’t play as large a role in determining the location of the server, issues such as electricity costs, taxes, incentives and regulations play center stage in server farm site selection.

To build on this concept, the power dynamic between client and server has shifted. Software, such as Microsoft Word, no longer needs to run on the client (your desktop). It can now run “in the cloud.” The functionality you are familiar with on your desktop, is now provided as part of the conversation between your computer (the client) and servers located across the globe. This is an example of SAAS or software as a service. Cloud Computing has become hypo-geographic. Cloud computing is a disruptive technology because the location of the server is now much less important than it has been in the past.

Let me address another unfortunate vocabulary issue. Smartphones are not phones. They are small form-factor computers. Internal GPS gives us directions from “My Location” to wherever I am headed. Your location is shared via tweets, and other twitterers physically close to your location can find your tweets. Other apps, such as foursquare, help you check into locations so your friends can find you. If your ipad\iphone is stolen you can find it’s location on a map. There are a myriad of ways to find local restaurants, bars or a free wireless connection close to your current location. There has been a lot of debate over who is allowed to view or analyze the mobile devices (AKA your) location information and for what ends.

This is new. The mobile device location is a proxy for your location. Desktops generally don’t move. You move to them at your office, home, ect. Laptops can move with you, but generally don’t move everywhere with you. Desktops and laptops generally do not have GPS although there are ways to determine locations. Unless you are a gargantuan dork you have 1 mobile device and it travels everywhere with you. Mobile devices are hyper-geographic. Mobile technologies are a disruptive technology because the location of the mobile device is now much more important than it has been in the past.

Everyone is up in arms over who has access to the location of our mobile devices, but no one cares whether Google’s servers are located in Washington or Florida.

To summarize the analogy:

Bookstore : Server :: Book : Data :: UPS : Network :: You : Client

At Evari GIS Consulting we understand how trends and changes influence the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) industry.  We provide solutions based upon proven technologies which utilize these concepts. We recently deployed a solution for the City of San Diego which was not feasible just a few years ago. It is only through a combination of recent advances in GIS Server technology (Esri ArcGIS Server), cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), Mobile devices (Apple Ipad 2) and mobile networks traffic speeds (Verizon’s 4g LTE network) that the solution is possible. In the next few posts I will go into detail on each of these technologies, how the decision to use these technologies was made, and the role they play in making this project successful.

We were elated to see one of our clients, the San Diego-based Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTF), present at the TechSoup/Esri NGO Showcase during the 2011 Esri User Conference. This session included a series of interesting stories on how GIS is being used to empower citizens while improving advocacy and efficiency to help build a better society. The RTF is a non-profit organization that strives to obtain accurate data regarding the populations of homeless persons in San Diego County.

The RTF coordinates an annual survey, called the Point-in-Time Count (PITC), in which they enlist and organize the help of countless volunteers who hit the streets to locate homeless individuals across San Diego County. This event occurs on one very early January morning. As you can imagine this is an enormous effort. The data collected offers a snapshot of the homeless population that will inform policy-makers and organizations at all levels.

Through GIS, RTF is able to locate homeless populations as they relate to Cities, Assembly Districts, Ambulance Response Areas or any other relevant geospatial layer. GIS provides an effective way to compare year-over-year changes in the homeless populations as infrastructure is built and the economy changes. GIS complements the RTC’s traditional efforts as the local manager of the Homeless Information System (HMIS) which provides support for numerous local service providers. They bring value by leveraging both GIS and the HMIS program to provide a clearer picture of services homeless populations use and identify opportunities to bring needed support.

One of the key goals of our training with the RTF was to empower them to create the maps used by volunteers in the PITC. Data Driven Pages is new functionality offered with ESRI’s ArcGIS 10 Desktop software; employing Data Driven Pages functionality allows for the generation of a series of organized map pages through one map file. It also ensures the pages are consistent in terms of data content as well as layout and GIS data shown. The pages can then be printed individually or as a group without having to open and close multiple files. Exporting the pages to PDF, or other formats, works the same way. Changes made to the map will reverberate throughout all of the pages. This technique is an easy way to quickly and efficiently produce multiple maps using the same layout and data. Additionally, all the maps will be produced and saved in one ESRI map file. This saves time and computer resources.

The way Data Driven Pages work is simple: the user creates an index file which determines the extent of every map to be created. The tool offers flexibility as to how this file is created but basically there are 2 options: creation of a uniform grid, or using existing GIS data. If you choose to use existing GIS data, the map extents are based upon each feature in the file used. Point, line, and polygon feature classes are all allowed.

Link to ArcGIS Desktop Help for Data Driven Pages
http://help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#//00sr00000006000000.htm

Link to learn about or volunteer for the Regional Task Force for the Homeless Point-in-Time Count
http://www.rtfhsd.org/

Our business model at Evari GIS Consulting is to provide as-needed consulting services. Our goal is to complement the established and proven workflows of our clients. Many firms have a desire to leverage GIS, but they are hesitant because of the substantial costs associated with software, hardware, training and personnel. With Evari GIS Consulting, our clients can leverage the power of GIS without the long term commitments. In many cases, our clients pass our bills onto their clients.

This blog is an opportunity for us to share what we are working on. GIS is inherently interdisciplinary. We have provided a wide range of services including support for expert witness testimony, large data creation efforts, teaching and standing up GIS programs, Geodatabase design. We come with the proper training, software and hardware. We can work in your offices or ours.

We pride ourselves on learning the business of our clients. Our slogan is, “We Make GIS Easy.” We can make GIS easy for you.

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