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.

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

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.

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