When you reach a trident in the road, take it

Many thanks to Bill Dollins, Craig Williams, and Randal Hale, whose generous counsel and thoughtful insights continue to guide me along my GIS journey.

I am facing the desktop GIS trident: ArcMap, QGIS, ArcGIS Pro. Three tines. Which one should I take?

In my earlier cycling metaphor I compared selecting bicycle pedals to selecting GIS software tools. The pedals debate is over (Speedplay won); the GIS debate still rages on. I have analyzed and overanalyzed. I have consulted with the wisdom of crowds (Twitter) and the wisdom of individuals (Twitter DMs). I have considered various platforms, data formats, and multiple combinations and permutations thereof. It is time to wrap it up.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” –Confucius

I begin with a 30-day challenge: use nothing but ArcGIS Pro for all my day-to-day GIS activities. I will document my experiences — good and bad — and I will update this post continuously with a running tally of said experiences. I will sum it all up on March 15.

Here we go.

  • DAY ONE [1], February 14, 2019: The challenge begins. QGIS and ArcMap and ArcCatalog icons stare at me from the Windows 10 taskbar. I do not click on them, which feels weird. I click on the ArcGIS Pro icon next to them. I am greeted with a warning: “Pro Advanced will expire in 14 days.” Stress levels go up. We always pay our bills, but sometimes we are late. What will happen on March 1 if our P.O. doesn’t make it to Redlands in time? ArcMap and QGIS never give me that kind of stress. At least all my data is on our local network. I click OK. ArcGIS Pro 2.3 launches. I single-click on a recent project. Project loads. I see my map. Some of my data is in a file geodatabase (FGDB), some in shapefiles (SHP). At some point I will need to replicate a Desktop process to periodically export a FGDB feature class to SHP and manipulate said SHP (delete and add fields) before I upload the SHP into a proprietary system. I’ll also need to replicate a separate process where I join an SHP to an Access database. I’ll attempt all of that next week. Today I’ll just tackle some light tasks. I create a custom basemap from custom aerial photography. It works. I merge two polygons. The process is smooth, similar to ArcMap’s. I hit the Save button. Does it save the project, or the merged polygons?
  • DAY TWO [2], February 15, 2019: “Pro Advanced will expire in 13 days.” Okay then. I open the same project. My custom base map is gone, even though before shutting down yesterday I clicked every Save button I could find. What did I miss? OK, it’s right there in the documentation — the custom base map has to be saved in the project you want to use it in. You can’t share custom base maps across projects. I recreate the same custom basemap in the current project. On to Catalog. Add Folder Connection works just like on Desktop. It does not auto-refresh, so if you add a new file to a connected folder you won’t see the file until you hit Refresh. Deleting fields in SHP took considerably longer than the same process in Desktop, but not a big deal for me. Adding fields is similar to Desktop, while the ability to add more than one field at a time is a welcome improvement. Now let’s join this puppy to an MS Access table. Wait, what? No MS Access support in Pro? I found a discussion on an Esri support site, basically saying don’t use Access. I beg to differ. One of my workflows is constrained by hard external factors, and one of these factors is “use Access”. Another is “use SHP”. So I will continue to use Access and SHP. But I should be able to find a workaround. Export Access table do DBF doesn’t work because long field names get truncated, effectively resulting in trying to have the same field name more than once in the same table, which DBF doesn’t like. Export to Excel and then join SHP to XLSX works. Whew! The world’s most popular database saves the day.
  • DAY THREE [6], February 19, 2019: “Pro Advanced will expire in 9 days.” Got it. I click OK. ArcGIS Pro crashes. Should I send a report to Esri? I don’t always do, but I decide to send a report this time. Report sent. Launching Pro again. “Pro Advanced will expire in 9 days.” OK. Pro runs. First I address a blog comment question from Nancy von Meyer: “Can you make a starting project with your custom base map and save that with just the base map then open it and save as something different and have the custom base map in the saved as project?” I try this. Yes, you can, and this is a convenient way to save and reuse your custom basemap. Thank you for the suggestion, Nancy! Next I decide to tackle a monthly GDB maintenance task — “Compact”. (There is also “compress”; find the difference between compact and compress on your own.) It is unclear whether it’s safe to run Compact while having the same GDB in a map in the same project. I decide to run the process on a scratch GDB and see if something blows up. Compact runs, nothing blows up. I reindex a feature class in the scratch GDB. Nothing blows up. Save project. Close Pro. Open Pro. All my stuff is still there — custom base map, recently-compacted and reindexed scratch GDB, production GDB. On to compact and reindex the production GDB. Smooth sailing. (In recent weeks I have been getting error messages while editing and saving this same GDB in ArcMap. Errors were blamed (incorrectly, IMHO) on bad network connection. Very curious to see whether the same errors on the same GDB will crop up in Pro. So far they have not. Good!)
  • DAY FOUR [7], February 20, 2019: Day of routine tasks, already written up in prior days. No surprises — good or bad. Pro just works.

On bikes and GIS

On bikes and GIS

I have been thinking a lot about bikes lately. Specifically, about transitioning from a cross bike to a road bike. More specifically, about transitioning from cross pedals to road pedals. Even more specifically, about the difference between Speedplay and Look pedals. To narrow it down even further, about why most pro cyclists ride on Look if Speedplay is supposedly better. Decisions, decisions… Can be overwhelming, and can lead to paralysis by analysis.

But in the grand scheme of things these details are nearly irrelevant. The marginal (and often dubious) performance improvement that this or that component affords the rider is almost always dwarfed by other, much more decisive factors: training, tactics, road conditions, training, training. The pros ride on whatever they ride because this is what they are being paid to ride. Their job is to RIDE THE FRIGGIN’ BIKE, so they focus on that, not on the pedals.

What does that have to do with GIS? For me, a lot.

I have been thinking a lot about GIS tools lately. Is QGIS better than ArcGIS? Is PostGIS better than file geodatabase? Is the shapefile the vinyl of geo? Should I keep my data in PostGIS and edit in QGIS, or should I use GISquirrel and edit PostGIS in ArcMap, or should I get Server and SDE and do it all in MSSQL? Decisions, decisions… Can be overwhelming, and can lead to paralysis by analysis.

But in the grand scheme of things these details are nearly irrelevant. The marginal (and often dubious) performance improvement that this or that GIS tool affords the GIS pro is almost always dwarfed by other, much more decisive factors: experience, training, environment, experience, experience. In the end it is important to remember that I am being paid TO DO THE FRIGGIN’ GIS, so I should focus on that, not on the tools.

So I will.

***

Ultimately, I resolve to think more about bikes and less about GIS. Speaking of which, what is the best lube for Speedplay cleats?

Why did Bill Clinton attend the Federer-Millman match at the 2018 US Open?

The following is a work of fiction.

As soon as ESPN showed Bill Clinton arriving at the US Open for the Federer match, I instantly knew something was wrong. Why would a VIP, who could choose to attend any match during the tournament, not go to the US Open on Wednesday to watch Federer play Djokovic in the quarter-final? Why would he instead go watch Federer play an unknown journeyman from Australia in an earlier round? Did Bill know something the rest of us didn’t? Did Bill maybe know that there wouldn’t be a Federer-Djokovic match?

Bill Clinton at the Federer-Millman match at the 2018 US Open

Bill Clinton at the Federer-Millman match at the 2018 US Open

As soon as Federer hit the court, all sorts of alarms went off. Federer wasn’t himself. Commentators kept saying this. Fans kept seeing this. Federer kept missing easy shots. Federer kept making double faults. Federer kept making unforced errors (77 total for the match). Something was clearly, horribly wrong. But what?

Background: In 2015 Taylor Swift publicly criticized Apple for cheating artists out of royalties. This generated a lot of buzz and bad publicity for Apple. Apple made Taylor pay for her sin by making an Apple commercial (published on April 1, 2016) in which she *literally* falls on her face. As a reminder to her, but mostly to others, of who is boss.

In 2018 Roger Federer switched from Nike to Uniqlo, because his contract allowed him to do so. Nike warned him that he should stay, because there are other, much stronger contracts in place. Roger ignored the warning. Nike put an end to Roger’s career by making him throw the match against John Millman at the US Open.

The Colin Kaepernick / Nike controversy was a carefully-planned distraction from the real story — Nike putting an end to Federer’s career to punish him for his insubordination and show him, but mostly others, who is boss. Nike tipped off Bill Clinton: “Do you want to see Federer’s last match? Go to the US Open tonight.” So Bill went.

Eni Entchev immigration update

This brief update on my son’s immigration situation originally appeared in my GeoHipster interview last week.

For those who may not know, last December my son was deported to Bulgaria — a country he does not remember and whose language he does not speak, but where he is “from”. We are working on bringing Eni back home. We are pursuing all possible avenues. This will be a long and complicated process. Meanwhile he has settled in Sofia, has found a job that he likes, and is making friends. He is in good spirits. We communicate via social media and chat almost daily. My son is making the most of this bizarre and unfortunate situation, and has made me proud with his ability to handle adversity.

I want to thank the hundreds of people, most of whom I have never met, for their outpouring of support for my family’s plight, and for reaffirming my faith in humanity.

 

Currently

It has been two weeks since my son was ripped away from me, from family and friends, handcuffed, and deported to a country he doesn’t remember. The past fourteen days have been a roller coaster of emotions and a whirlwind of activities. The tears have dried, but the pain remains.

In the days following my son’s removal our family received overwhelming support from friends and strangers who were shocked and appalled by this injustice. To all who helped — by making phone calls, by donating money, by sharing our story on social media, by offering a kind word or a sympathetic ear — I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reaffirming my faith in humanity. With your help we have raised over $11K to finance Eni’s legal return to the only home he knows.

Support wasn’t unanimous. We heard voices saying that what happened to my family was just, and that physically removing my son (who came to the US legally at the age of 2, who is a taxpayer, a productive member of society, and who has no criminal record) was the right thing to do. These voices are a sad reminder of the divisive times we live in — times in which humanism is replaced with political dogma, and critical thinking is replaced with a bumper sticker slogan.

“You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike.” —Leviticus 24:22

We will continue our legal fight, and I will not rest until my son is back home where he belongs.

Where is one from?

Where is one from?

I brought my son Eni Entchev from our native Bulgaria to the US in 1993, legally, when he was two years old. After a quarter-century legal ordeal with the US immigration authorities (and tens of thousands of dollars), last Thursday he was deported to Bulgaria — a country he doesn’t remember, and whose language he doesn’t speak, (but where he is “from”).

Where is one from?

While he is foreign-born, my son is American in every conceivable way. He grew up with Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, and Hey Arnold! He loves McDonald’s. He loves fast cars. He speaks with a New Jersey accent. He loves his American fiancee. He gets passionate about American politics. He pays taxes, salutes the flag, and quotes the Constitution. He never gives up.

He is from America.

The United States is Eni’s home. He has lived here all his conscious life. All his family and friends live in the US — fiancee, mother, father, sister. His job is here. The US is the only home Eni knows. He has no criminal record.

Our struggle continues.

My family’s 25-year-old immigration saga continues. We are pursuing all available legal avenues to bring Eni back home and reunite him with his family. We need help to cover his legal expenses, as well as his living expenses while overseas.

Please help me bring my son back home.

[EDIT] In this space the original post had a link to a GoFundMe campaign raising money for Eni’s legal and living expenses. The campaign raised $12,631. Heartfelt thanks to all who donated!

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