Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act is Misguided

There are nine core academic subjects in the No Child Left Behind Act. Of the nine, only geography doesn’t have its own federal funding stream. Since 2008, geography advocates have petitioned the federal government for just such a stream, in part by supporting what is called the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. There is a reason why this act has been introduced and subsequently died in two previous congresses – It is not good legislation.

Out of 15 potential uses for the funds identified within the Act, only a few reference clear, actionable uses. The rest consist of “promoting”, “strengthening”, “encouraging” or “supporting” vague notions including “academic standards”, applying GIS to teaching, and “research”. What does that actually mean?

The language of the Act creates a grant of $75,000,000 spread over five years but fails to designate concrete uses of that money. The Act basically throws money at an issue expecting the issue to then resolve itself. Of course, this should surprise no one since the government’s response to most problems is to appropriate funds. Educators should know better than to see this as a solution but it becomes difficult to see beyond the potential of receiving money, regardless of its dubious origins.

Activists could better spend their time trying to get rid of legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act so we can stop teaching based on federal mandates and standardized tests and go back to student based teaching.

What Makes GIS Interesting?

Geospatial technologies do not exist for their own sake. The real power of geospatial technology is in its ability to solve problems in other disciplines. GIS is not a tool that is applied to the GIS industry. Rather, it is a tool to be applied to geology, engineering, aviation, logistics, gardening, personal navigation, intelligence, real estate… the list goes on and on.

It is rare that an industry today is not touched by some form of location based technology or GIS. It is this interplay between geospatial technology and the multitude ways of consuming and utilizing it that makes it so exciting.

NGA GEOnet Names Server Ensures Uniform Place Names

If you work with international GIS data you know how important it is to have standards for place and region names. Many governments maintain stability in place names so they rarely change but there are always plenty of exceptions. Furthermore, spellings often have variations based on translations and dialect making it difficult to put an official name to a place, let alone have it be uniform across multiple applications.

Thankfully, there is the GEOnet Names Server (GNS) maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  The GNS contains over 5 million geo-located features and more than 8 million feature names. Updated weekly, the GNS database provides its data through several means including an OGC web map service graphical interface, a text-based interface and a data download page.

NGA’s Name server viewer

So, whether you are designing and building an international geodatabase or you are just interested in place names, the GNS is the authoritative place to go. Bear in mind that the GEOnet Names Server is only for locations outside the United States. For official names within the United States see the US Board on Geographic Names.

The Map Was Alive with the Sound of Earthquakes

I recently saw a tweet highlighting a Youtube video showing 2011 earthquakes as a dynamic time lapse map. You can watch it on Youtube.

During the 9 minute video of a single map, the viewer is shown various sized rings at each epicenter location. The ring’s size is dependent on the magnitude of the quake.This in itself might not make for an exciting video. What captures your attention is the addition of sound corresponding to each earthquake presented. Each time one of the quake rings appear the map makes a short click. As the magnitude increases, so does the volume of the click. The video moves quickly covering days in just seconds and revealing the hundreds of earthquakes each month throughout the world.

It is profoundly disquieting and surprising when you see and hear the March quake near Japan that caused the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown that is still affecting the people of Japan.

One could easily interpret the map with only its visual symbology but having sound represent an attribute of each quake represented by the ring symbol gives the destructive reality of high magnitude quakes more realism. It just made me wonder what the future might hold for sound symbol integration in GIS. Is there any point? Would there be any widespread application?

Maintaining Relevance as a GIS Professional

Technology changes rapidly. It seems like there is a new version of some device or software presented daily. GIS technology is no exception to this rapid change. While currently employed GIS professionals are usually in their position because their skill set matches the needs of the employer, keeping up with industry development can help you stay relevant. The best way to keep a position or move higher in a company is to be the expert in your field who is able to answer questions and solve problems that others cannot.
In today’s economy, no job is 100% secure. Businesses might downsize, shift focus or close altogether. This could leave a GIS analyst looking for another place to ply their trade. Or, perhaps you are a technician hoping to land a higher level GIS position. In either case would you be current enough with your GIS skills to land the new job?
How can you stay abreast of the constant changes in technology and know what changes you should be focused on to improve your skill set? It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of software systems, tools, languages, platforms and technology uses there are out there. One way to keep up is to follow blogs (industry and individual) and relevant web sites. The idea here would be to learn about the latest and greatest innovations as they emerge. The problem with this approach is that not every new technology, tool or update will be utilized industry-wide (if at all). One would need to follow too many blogs and sites to get a broad view of the industry. Following blogs can still be a useful tactic, however, for keeping up with specific subjects.
I have found the best way to maintain currency across the GIS board is to study job postings. Even if you are not looking for a job, postings give you detailed insight into what GIS employers are interested in and what they are expecting out of their personnel. It really does not matter what software producers are developing. What matters is what businesses are using and how they are using it.
I make it a practice to search job boards on a regular basis. I am not looking for another position but for insight on how to be better in my current position. I find the best boards for doing this kind of research are the Geospatial Jobs Clearinghouse and Indeed.com. I start by searching for job titles that closely match my own. Then I simply read through the body of the listings and look for trends in the position requirements. The good news is that employers tend to structure their position details the same way every time. It usually looks something like this:
  • Company overview
  • Position Description
  • Requirements
  • Preferred experience
While the requirements section is probably the most important you should also pay close attention to the preferred experience section. These are the skillsets that can set you apart from the rest of the crowd. Most GIS professionals will have the typical requirements of a degree, experience using desktop GIS software and good communication skills. Those who have specialized skills like scripting/programming languages, photogrammetry, web design or database design will be in more demand. Specialized skills might not be mandated for a position but employers will see you as more valuable to their organization if you have them.
There are many ways to try and keep current with your profession. Whatever method you choose, remember that those who advance their knowledge and skills along with associated industry changes are the most likely to stay useful to their employer and outshine others in their field.