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.



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!


Shapefile, the vinyl of geo

Shapefile, the vinyl of geo

So I made this t-shirt to celebrate my love for the shapefile — the vinyl of geo. I was promptly labeled a luddite.

I am not a luddite. Far from it. I store all my data in PostgreSQL, and use PostGIS and QGIS like any self-respecting geohipster. I dabble in Python and JavaScript. I write SQL queries.

But I also live in the real world. I make maps and print them. I export them to PDF. I exchange data with other users and organizations — most of them casual GIS users. And these users (and their applications) only know and understand the shapefile.

Casual GIS users will continue to use the shapefile because it is simple, convenient, and universally supported. It just works. To call for the abolition of the shapefile is akin to calling for the abolition of the .xls(x) format on the grounds that people erroneously use it in lieu of “legitimate” databases. Millions of people.

Let’s be real and call off the shapefile vendetta. There is room (and need) in the geoverse for both PostGIS and shapefile. Why not just buy yourself a “Postgres is my databae” or “I ❤ .SHP” t-shirt to show where you stand? You’ll look hip, whichever you choose.



Thirteen years on social media is enough

In the beginning there was Flickr. The year was 2004, and there weren’t too many people online, and Flickr would crash daily around 5pm Pacific, and it was an intimate and beautiful experience.

Then came the trolls, and the marketers, and Yahoo! came knocking, and Yahoo! bought Flickr, and ruined it. And I moved on.

On to Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Google+, and Instagram, and Reddit, and Ello, and Mastodon…


Social media has given me countless hours of enjoyment, broadened my horizons, helped me make many new friends. For all this I am grateful. Yet, after thirteen years of very active (excessive, according to family and friends) participation, I am ready to scale back. I am ready to reenter the analog world, eager to rediscover its beauty.

I am not unplugging; email still works on all my devices. But I look forward to spending a lot less time online.

See you IRL.

On the Staten Island Ferry

On the Staten Island Ferry

Soviet KGB joke

I remember my father telling this joke in the late 1970s. It is currently on Wikipedia (not my contribution).


A hotel. A room for four with four strangers. Three of them soon open a bottle of vodka and proceed to get acquainted, then drunk, then noisy, singing, and telling political jokes. The fourth man desperately tries to get some sleep; finally, in frustration he surreptitiously leaves the room, goes downstairs, and asks the lady concierge to bring tea to Room 67 in ten minutes. Then he returns and joins the party. Five minutes later, he bends to a power outlet: “Comrade Major, some tea to Room 67, please.” In a few minutes, there’s a knock at the door, and in comes the lady concierge with a tea tray. The room falls silent; the party dies a sudden death, and the prankster finally gets to sleep. The next morning he wakes up alone in the room. Surprised, he runs downstairs and asks the concierge what happened to his companions. “You don’t need to know!” she answers. “B-but… but what about me?” asks the terrified fellow. “Oh, you… well… Comrade Major liked your tea gag a lot.”