Can you procure beauty? An interview with David Imus

I published this article in January 2012, but it got lost by my then-blogging platform. I have restored it here in its entirety.

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The geo press has written before about David Imus and his map-making shop. But earlier this week it was a muggle publication that noted the award bestowed upon Imus and his map “The Essential Geography of the United States of America” – called by consensus “the best US map”. Which it clearly is, hands down. The map is a meticulously crafted product, and a pleasure to look at. It is a piece of art. It is superb.

The David Imus map -- the best US map
The David Imus map — the best US map

As I was marveling at the map, I thought about how much it would cost to make a map like this, and whether it would be feasible – or even possible – to contract for and order such a map under current procurement practices.

The Imus map took 6,000 hours to make, by Imus’s own estimates. I do not doubt or challenge his estimate. But can you imagine the reaction of today’s typical purchasing agent reading the hypothetical Imus map-making proposal? “$327,000 for a map? You cannot be serious. Everyone knows that these days you just push a button and a map comes out of the computer. Take $1,200 to cover your printing costs, or get out of my office.”

I hypothesized that the only way the Imus map could be made would be as a labor of love. Like movie or rock stars’ fan webpages, which are often much better than the “official” website, the Imus map could only be made if the maker was not concerned with billing his time. The Imus map could never be spec’d, ordered or procured as a product or professional service. It would be deemed unreasonably expensive.

I decided to test my hypothesis by reaching out to the man himself. To my delight, David Imus turned out to be very approachable, and promptly responded to my questions. Here is our exchange:

Q: “I see your map as a product of love rather than a business product. Am I correct, or did you set out to make a best-selling product from day one?”

A: “It was both. Making the Essential Geography was a labor of love. But I knew that if I made the most expressive map ever made of the USA and people were to find out about it, there would be a chance that map would be well-received. It’s gratifying to see that it is.

My goal was to make the kind of map of the United States that I would want to have, a map that would reveal the essential character of our country. As I worked on the map I wasn’t thinking “Oh, this is going to pay off,” I was following my bliss doing something that I truly loved to do.”

Q: “I calculate the cost of designing your map around $327,000, based on NJ state contract pricing. What do you think about this number, and do you think you will recover the cost by selling maps?”

A: “I went way out on a limb to make this map. I’m pleased to know that because of the success I’m seeing, I’ll be able to pay back the loans to the people who went out on that limb with me.”

Q: “Is there anything else that you would like to say to the ENTCHEV GIS blog readers?”

A: “It seems people think geography is merely a dull subject taught in schools; and honestly the way geography is taught in schools below the college level doesn’t interest even me, and I live and breathe geography. But geography is our way to notice the world; to take note of the rich tapestry of landscapes that cover the planet we live on, which is, as far as we know, the most exotic and fascinating planet in the entire universe.”

In other words, priceless.

What follows by necessity is that professional (“priced”) services are by definition always just “good enough” but never superb.

PS I arrived at the $327,000 cost for the Imus map by using the aggregated GIS data conversion hourly rate from the 2007 New Jersey State Contract ($54.50). Your mileage may vary.

The ENTCHEV GIS Blog moves to a new host

[Saturday, June 28, 2014] This is the new home of The ENTCHEV GIS Blog. Blog content archives are being imported as I write this. I expect the bulk of the content to be available here later today. Tweaks and “beautification” to follow throughout the coming weeks.

If you landed here via a search engine, bookmark, or some other link, do not panic — the content you were looking for will be here shortly. Please come back in a few hours.

[UPDATE Saturday, June 28, 2014 4:41 pm] The copy migration is complete. The import is far from perfect, though. For one, while (hopefully) all text came over, most images, audio, video, embedded maps did not. Another issue is that I could not preserve the original posts’ URLs, so your old bookmarks will not work. Use the search function to locate articles.

A lot of work for me ahead.

Do you read Geohipster? You should.

Geohipster.com launched in December 2013 as “a fun place for self-identified geohipsters to hang out.” (disclosure: I am very involved with the site). And it has been fun. In addition to the inaugural poll “What defines the GeoHipster?”, which generated many notable (and funny) responses from 253 visitors from all over the world, the site has conducted and published interviews with such geo(hipster) luminaries as Renee Sieber, Tom MacWright, Lyzi Diamond, and Andrew Turner.

I have it on good authority that there are many more great interviews in the pipeline, and a few surprises. So visit Geohipster, and visit often. You won’t be disappointed.

Esri DC DevSummit

In the plenary with Jim Barry going over the ArcGIS platform from a developer’s perspective.

Jim then gives way to Andrew Turner to talk open source and the R&D labs and their missions. Both talks are emphasizing the idea of  community.
Highlighting newer open initiatives like GitHub and other social coding activities. Also using GitHub within the company to increase collaboration. Pretty cool ASCII animation of a globe.
Four areas of open
1 Open Source
    ESRI.github.io many many languages and shared under Apache license
    Showing a lot of examples of QuickStart projects.
    Check out the video when it is posted as he is showing a lot of examples with urls.
2 Open Data
3 Open tools
4 Open Content
#esri ICRC.freenode.net
A lot of ESRI-based twitter accounts
“Geography as an open platform”
Next topic Is Online. Presenting is Sam Berg from the Boston Office.
Focusing on the rest API and what it is and does and that ArcGIS online is developer ready.
10-minute break
Web development presented by Julie Powell giving an overview of what is now possible on the web using Esri tools.
     Side note @druidsmith is actively tweeting highlights
Demoing the ArcGIS WebApp builder which looks cool
Allows users to configure a JavaScript web map through GUI interface.
Now looking at how to bring 3D to the web with JavaScript beta this spring final summer.
Native development up next with @geonixta @dcardella @ecbader
Dave Cardella is one of those really good Esri speakers. I always enjoy his sessions.
Runtime API platforms
  1. Desktop
  2. Mobile
  3. Embedded

And several hybrids in-between

ArcGIS Runtime has a common conceptual model across platforms
Nick Furness demoing a simple work order system using runtime native apps working on and offline.
Hoping whatever EAP system I choose bakes this into their mobile client.
Working on a new .net SDK and API platform to allow code reuse between different windows platforms.
Eric Bader demoing this
Dave Cardella showing what’s in the pipeline past this spring/summer update cycle.

The road ahead ArcGIS Online

Next big release March 2014, another update later in the year.

Informal poll shows most users are using AGOL to publish webmaps.
Review December updates
  • User exp improvements
  • Redesigned gallery experience
  • Favorite will be accessible across platform
  • New simplified map viewer mode
  • Copy layers
  • Analysis and symbol enhancements
  • and more

Reviewing organizational values of ArcGIS online. We are still in the pilot phase but I am seeing this a a big value of this system. My main use case is using AGOL maps in the iOS client and collector client. Also using hosted services to eliminate dealing with outside access our internal network.

March 2014 update
Analysis
  • Existing tools will accept kml files as input
  • New tools
  • Map viewer improvements (interactive geocoding rematchings, new disaster symbol set)
  • Collector is getting offline mapping
  • Caching data locally to device to view, collect, and edit while offline.
  • Ops Dashboard
  • Added support for browsers (moving past windows)
  • Using dynamic map services
  • New web app templates
  • Custom roles coming in March with more coming in June.

Content updates in March also

Redesigned help system and guided tours.
FISMA certification is imminent
Visit the developer site even if you don’t do any development because there are tools there not available in AGOL.
Talking about ArcGIS Marketplace — another informal poll shows not many audience members have visited the marketplace yet. Stated a mix of free and fee based.
Demo the Activity Dashboard App — Used to dig into who is using your AGOL online account and what they are doing. Much more fine-grained than what you can see on the ArcGIS.com summary. Need to admin for AGOL org to use.
Showing home summary widget with graphs, charts, and counters and a map view of activity.
Ability to filter by time with slider bar.
ESRI is dog-fooding AGOL for Orgs using within their own org for sales and other activities.
Beyond March
  • Tagging and search (automated tagging system)
  • Per user credit limit
  • Export and import content backup packages
  • Downloadable vector basemap for use on mobile devices and desktops
  • Hosted dynamic map services — server-side dynamic rendering of feature layers
  • Hosted raster datasets and analysis.

ArcGIS Desktop the Road Ahead

Development teams are currently split 50/50 between current solutions and future solutions.

ArcGIS Pro right off the bat. Beta should be coming in March or early April. New machines will need more memory and better graphic cards, especially if you are doing 3D. Will be truly multi-threaded and run in 64-bit. Will publish to server, portal, and online, and consume services from the same.

Big focus on 3D with this product. Cleaner rasterization of vector products should result in smoother look to prints and exported graphics, also increase in speed of rendering.

Multiple layouts return. Can have mixed 2D and 3D layouts and link the layouts together.

Explained it is as a fusion of a Arc globe, ArcScene and ArcMap.

Ribbon-based toolbars.

Project-centric workflows, base unit will be a container rather than a document.

Simple search and query everywhere.

New help system, not installed locally by default but rather on a centralized server or online due to size, can still install locally if desired.

New term geodata management, refers to making edits in 2D or 3D and seeing results in the other.

Simplified data management. Interactive editing of schemas.

Integrated with ESRI industry-based solutions (water utilities, military, etc)

Task assistant gives step by step instruction to workflows.

Much faster update schedule, more like Windows update

Extendable with python and .net API customizing using Add-ins

There are some things that ArcMap can do that Pro will not do.

Getting to see ArcGIS Pro in action now.

Really has a whole new look from when you open the software. It has a web page feel to it.

Layout tools look really slick. Assume it also supports multiple layouts. Maplex labeling is included with Pro.

Export out to PDF was much faster thanks to faster rendering engine.

Wow ArcPress mention, haven’t heard that name in a while. Pro will negate the need for that type of application.

New machines should have 8 GB of memory, but more is better.

You van import existing MXDs, including custom symbology and python tools

Can run ArcMap Desktop and pro simultaneously on the same machine..

Seemless panning is pretty impressive. A lot of emphasis on 3D component.

This is definitely something you will want to play with as soon as you can.

Federal GIS Conference Day 2

Jack is on stage summarizing yesterday’s message before introducing today’s speaker — National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Dir. Letitia Long.

She spoke about how NGA supported rescue and relief efforts in the Philippines post-typhoon. Now talking about history of information or data in intelligence. Started out isolated, then moved toward connected — not to be confused with integration, which didn’t come about till post-9/11. The shift to the connected phase saw the birth of the NGA.
Looking to the future see sees the next phase being immersion.
The Map of the World is a key component of NGA plans for the future. It’s a one stop shop for geo-int needed for national security. It will be the foundation for all geospatial intelligence.
The Globe is the the way they will enable access to this information. Goal is to allow customers to access this info from wherever they are when they need it. Still getting used to government agencies referring to users as customers, but I guess that is the local government naïveté coming out.
Now a Q&A session with Jack and Dir. Long. Kind of feels like a Barbara Walters special.
Dir. Long made the point they are the only intelligence community member who has commercial competition.
Jack asked what we the audience can do to help the NGA in their efforts. Answer was follow standards, make the data accessible, and do it in a timely manner.
It goes without saying that Jack is a great speaker and in both her talk and chat with Jack it is clear that Dir. Long is a very good communicator in her own right.
Now taking questions from the audience. Some really good questions and responses. I’m not a good enough thumb typer to keep up.
And we are done.

ESRI FedGIS Conference Day 1

Despite train delays due to weather (I’m guessing), I made it to the Plenary session only about 10-15 minutes late. Seems we are still on the “GIS is becoming a Platform” message we have been on for awhile. Jack seems to be adding the -ize suffix to make his message clearer for the masses. I believe I heard a spatialize, serverize, and maybe webize among others thrown into his remarks.

First demo was of ArcGIS.com and the data and apps available there. Esri seems to be positioning ArcGIS.com as the new atlas. It is smaller, easier to carry, always up-to-date, and authoritative. This was accompanied by the first demo. Next we got to see 3 new apps dealing with Landscapes (viewer, modeler, and planner). Jack equated this to online Geodesign (note the big G).
Now we are moving onto the desktop, talking about 10.2 improvements which I guess is leading up to ArcGIS Pro. But first we have to talk a little about AGO and the free subscriptions. There it is will be released in a couple weeks (beta in March maybe early April or next week if Jack gets his way) with final ready for UC in July. Now we get a demo of AGP.

The demo of ArcGIS Pro is the next step of the generic GIS Analyst. It is the next step for making GIS a tool for professionals to add to their toolbox rather than a profession. There is a lot of 2D-3Dintegration. This looks like it will allow anybody to do 3D pretty easily. Also demoed some cool web-based 3D in a browser with no plugins.
Onto ArcGIS server and AGO. For you Feds you’ll be happy to hear FISMA certification is imminent for AGO and sever soon thereafter. New AGExplorer app is coming, along with a web app builder based on HTML5.  An open data app will allow for sharing a file in multiple formats. Landscape analysis, BAO, and community analyst apps are now going with subscription.
back from the break
Demo of leveraging the Esri platform in an Olympics-based project. This demo had a infomercial feel but was a pretty good demonstration of how the platform can empower a organization.
Now a military example, focusing on using templates to “jump-start” the analytical process.
Next demo is on geoevent processor and its ability to integrate with various sensors. This product is pretty powerful. I think will be a game changer.
That was short next up is an SAP demo. Maps for Business Objects along the same lines as maps for office.
Next How a map informs. Policy. Presented by former congressional aide. It’s a pitch for authoritative, curated, and timely web services and maps that are easily accessible. This a a slightly new take on build from the bottom up.
Followed by another congressional use case demo to follow up what the last speaker said. She is demoing a look at factors that impact legislative activities on energy policy in Alaska. Liked that she changed projections for the demo.
Story map time — looking at exercise habits related to exercise facilities. Now going through the different styles available.
New tech coming in March is an Exec briefing book. Designed for use with tablets to give execs and decision-makers the info they need in a format they are comfortable with.
Now, open data and the new ArcGIS for Open Data. EPA is presenting this, since one of their core responsibilities is data dissemination. A lot of this data they collect, collate, and republish. Now Andrew Turner is demoing the new AGO — an Open Data tool for publishing data. Little tech glitch was handled well by Andrew. Tool looks interesting but I don’t see a GeoJSON output option.
And that wraps up the morning.

2014 Esri Federal GIS Conference & DC Developer Summit

I will be attending the 2014 Esri Federal GIS Conference, formerly know as the Federal UC, for the second time this year. It is open to State and Local users, of which I am one, for a small fee.  This year Esri is also holding a one-day Developer Summit immediately following the two-day Federal conference, which I am also hoping to attend (jury is still out on that one). I will attempt to share the nuggets of knowledge, insight, and rumors that are fit to print with all of you on this blog and at @cmcclain_nj on Twitter.

Here are some of things I am looking to hear more about during my sojourn to DC this year.  ArcGIS Professional, as I didn’t attend last years UC and it is unlikely I will go this year, I am hoping to learn more about and hopefully see this new software in action. I was kinda shocked not to get any info on it at the Esri Mid-Atlantic User Conference held last month in Baltimore, as it only got a passing reference during the plenary. I’m also interested in what improvements and changes are coming to ArcGIS Online for Orgs. We have recently started to use this along with the ArcGIS apps for iOS and Android to roll out a mobile GIS solution used by some of our field guys. And while this system has a lot of capabilities,I see it as only the tip of the iceberg. These are the two ig major topics on my radar, but as always after reading over the agenda a bunch more will pop up.

I am also looking forward to catching up with people I usually only interact with on social media. As this is the biggest Conference I get to attend on a semi-regular basis, it is my one big chance to get out of my small pond and mingle with the fish who spend their time in the much larger ponds out there. The conversations and interactions about all things spatial and non-spatial are always reinvigorating.

GeoPredictions for 2014

An eclectic crowd of GeoLuminaries offer their predictions about what will be HOT in geo in 2014.
Open source? Hybrid systems? Drones? Hi-res custom imagery? A crowdfunded mapping site? Indoor maps? Geotriggers? GeoSEO?
See them all on GeoHipster.
PS Not a single mention of “cloud”. What an awesome crowd that is!

GIS industry news and commentary