maps & apps

DC by Map.

Two weeks ago we loaded up the family truckster and headed out on a 10 day 9 night camping vacation. No worries: we're campers, it's not a big deal to myself, my wife or my four kids to plan and enjoy 7 days sleeping in a tent. 

What's different about this trip was the "urban-ness" of the campground. Greenbelt Park is a nice enough campground. The sites were fairly level, bathrooms tolerable, (see my Yelp review) water was cold and accessible. That's all an aside, what is important now is what I used to navigate from Greenbelt Park to downtown Washington DC and back and getting around while we were down there. Yes we planned on driving downtown, taking the Metro downtown from Greenbelt roundtrip for 6 people was $48.

For a few days I banged my head against the marble walls using Apple Maps and BestParking apps. too frustrating.

This was not a 'no tech' vacation. A flatlander in Washington DC trying to keep track of 4 younglings while searching for the best parking space or photogenic angle of any one of a dozen different memorials NEEDS a smartphone. 


My Daughter figured out the interactive map in about 4 seconds. (pretty sure it's operations dashboard)

My Daughter figured out the interactive map in about 4 seconds. (pretty sure it's operations dashboard)

My first premonition should have been the LTE. Verizon LTE was spotty, Oh I had coverage, it just seemed to be bogged down. Lots of apps wouldn't work without LTE. Apple maps was one of them. Google Maps? Flawless on 3G. I should have switched then. Also Apple maps insisted that I make a U-turn about every other block, (without missing a turn). Their options are so limited it make me wish for my Garmin eTrex. You don't notice it when you are cruising around highways of Illinois or I-80, but in downtown DC in the height of bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, I cannot make a u-turn. Eventually for general navigation I chose Google maps over Apple maps & Waze. The 3-D view of Washington in Apple Maps was cool, but I still say 3D is not practical. 


The BestParking app never actually pointed me in the right direction,  it puts a pin on the general side of the block. want directions? That's an in-app purchase. Also they seemed to advertise specials, or prices for hybrids or some such thing not daily or hourly prices. After a few stressful searches, I ended up using 'ParkMobile', an app advertised on DC's own parking meters. I could even "feed the meter" from the app*. Also just biting the bullet and paying for a parking garage helped too. To find the garage again, I usually marked the location with a star on my Google map app. Simplicity. Did I mention how bad traffic was? 

Overall Needed DC apps

The Metro transfer station under the Archives.  

The National Park Service has a GREAT app that's a simple map with pins on it It's called 'National Mall'. I used that map several times each day, it was a life saver and a must-have for tourists. It has locations of main attractions as well as public bathrooms. Note: the National Aquarium has not been around for several years, but it's still on the map. Also on the one day that we took the Metro downtown the best app was the simplest. 'Metro Map' showed your location and the locations of the trains. That's all it did. No planner, no purchase of tickets just a simple map. Done. After that use logic and common sense. Of course when we did splurge and eat out, I used Yelp to find appropriately priced eateries for a family of 6. I also purchased the National Zoo app for $1.99 but that was mostly for Family Share so that my daughters could see the webcam of the Giant Panda cubs. 


Lessons Learned. 

The simpler the app the better. The Time & Navigation Exhibit in the Air & Space Museum was the best, but the t-shirt is $38. Parking on the street changes at rush hour. It's 2 miles from Lincoln to the Capital. The Potomac is kinda smelly. You can get soft-serve ice cream and $1 bottle waters from street vendors. The Archives charges twice as much for their copies of the Constitution as the Smithsonians. Parking tickets in DC are $100. Security guards in the Capital do not smile. Aaron Shock's office is still red. View from the steps of Lincoln is awesome. Meet Larry the volunteer at the National Zoo. 

Panoramic view of the Capital under renovation for 2017 inauguration. 

Rochelle Municipal Utilities: Zero to Hero

Let me lead off by stating the obvious, This project is not complete!!! We've invested a lot of time and energy into RMU and when we were asked to write a summary of where GIS has brought them in the past year, I jumped at the chance and wanted to post it here as well. The Following article has been circulated around their various committees and councils and so we present it here. 


In June of 2013, Rochelle Municipal Utilities Electric Department moved forward in several significant ways to become more efficient in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) They invested in a three-year Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) from Esri Inc. of Redlands, CA for their GIS software package.  This license agreement allows RMU to utilize any and all of the industry-leading Esri software site-wide, as-needed. In conjunction with this agreement RMU purchased a high-end server environment for implementing this software. As well, they 

“Putting our Electrical Depa-rtment records into a GIS has allowed us to communicate more efficiently with office and field staff.”

— Al Corl, Electric Dept. CAD Supervisor

entered into a contractual agreement with Cloudpoint Geographics Inc. of Roanoke, Illinois for set-up and geospatial consultation services. 

Previously all of the Department’s spatial data was stored in AutoDesk CAD format. While accurate and exceptionally maintained, the CAD data was housed on local workstation hard drives. Disseminating the data was complex and not easily achieved. 

Seinor staff understood the benefits of utilizing a central GIS available to the entire staff. As well, they had the insight to select a database structure that was open and standardized rather than closed source or proprietary. RMU’s chosen geospatial consultant, Cloudpoint, had experience with both the Multi-Speak and Local Government information models.  

After several planning meetings and explanation of system-specific terms, the CAD vector data geometry was able to be imported into the Multi-Speak model using the same Esri software that RMU had purchased. In order to insure completeness and accuracy, electric department staff had open and frequent updates and conversation with Cloudpoint. Every attempt was made to keep the data as intuitive and close to the previously used CAD naming conventions as possible while still adhering to standards of an open information model. 

During the same time as this CAD to GIS data conversion, Esri server software (ArcGIS Server) was installed on a dedicated web server for internal use. In the course of this first phase of deployment the intension of staff was to keep the digital infrastructure private to a select group of RMU personnel familiar with the data. However, the software technology was installed and configured with the ultimate goal of deploying the map services as the final product out in the field in a connected tablet environment. 

Even though the Electric Department’s data was an obvious priority, some attention and time was paid to development of other basemap layers. RMU had participated for years in the Ogle County GIS consortium without realizing the full potential and usefulness of that group’s data offerings. Inserting these datasets into the local government model allowed RMU to grasp a fuller picture of their complete GIS eco-system.  

Along with their meticulous CAD drawing, electric department staff had collected over 22,000 photos of their 7,286 electric poles. These data, while extremely useful, was only available on one PC within the electric department offices. Again, with the intension of eventually pushing this information out to field personnel, Cloudpoint moved these photos into the cloud. Because of the foresight of RMU staff and the naming of these 22,000+ photos, a linkage could be drawn from the poles feature class to the images themselves while on a protected and redundant  webserver within Amazon Web Services S3 storage. This link is currently being used on the desktop as well as in the field. 

Internally to the RMU network, there are currently only a few editors of the electrical GIS layers.  While this seems inefficient it actually is an industry-wide ‘Best practice’. Using Esri server-side software (ArcSDE) riding on-top of Microsoft Sequel Server the electric data is currently a protected enterprise dataset. This means that though many have access to see the authoritative data, only a select and qualified few have access to change it. These different versions of the data are synchronized after the author approves the edits. This reconcile and post process can be done on the GIS server by qualified staff. 

During the continued database development stage, sharing was done via ArcMap and a set of shared folders and File Geodatabases. This full-featured software program from Esri has a high learning curve. In order to completely “see” the same layers, users needed to be proficient enough to create layer files, change symbology and then save pathnames as relative or UNC path types. This potential road bump was avoided by utilizing maps created by ArcGIS Online  and disseminating the information via secured webmaps. 

This large step forward allowed the electrical department field crews to use hand-held tablets to see map images & data, aerial imagery, address locations, pole photos, as well as PDF manuals of their departmental standards. RMU purchased four - Apple iPads equipped with 4G LTE and enrolled them in a Cisco Mobile Device Management software solution for protection and accountability.  While this is not an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) solution, it speeds up response time and efficiency of truck crews by being able to know what they need to replace before ever ever arriving on site. 

The ease of access this allowed garnered a welcomed reception from the field crews and sparked a desire to have more complete and faster updates. This step required the involvement of RMU IT staff to push the previously mentioned map service as provided by ArcGIS Server out to a secured location on the web. In order to effectively and safely open a port in a network’s firewall, many precautions needed to be adhered to. This implementation is no different. Cloudpoint worked with RMU staff as the translator between GIS terminology and their network to achieve both security and speed requirements. This effort was reinforced by RMU with the forward thinking purchasing of quality hardware and an ELA from Esri nearly a year prior. 

Currently, GIS in Rochelle Municipal Utilities Electric Department is in full swing. Edits to the system are changed internally and pushed out to the field crews almost instantaneously. Field personnel have a customized mapping interface that was created with several iterations and face-to-face meetings. As well, field crews can close the feedback loop by highlighting areas that are incorrect (including attaching pictures) or changing attributes of specific features within the map on their tablets. These edits are again propagated back to the office and, if approved, incorporated into the default database version. 

The GIS is not, and will never be, completely done. RMU senior staff understands that in creating these efficiencies, there will be  perpetual training and maintenance of the system. Software updates will be needed, new layers created, deployments to be made, etc… It is a dynamic infrastructure just like the electrical system that it represents. They also understand the significance of how far they have come in one short year.

Story Map of a Work Trip

During the week of March 22-29th I had the opportunity to go back to Reynosa, Mexico. The first time I made this trip, I took only my son and 11 others. This event was larger with 24 folks from my church and I took my entire family (6 of us). 

I had been looking for an opportunity to create an Esri Story Map for one reason or another. Just to get the professional experience (configuration, coding and what-not). This trip finally provided good reason to do that and maybe some explanation to our customers of why I was completely off the grid for 7 days.  Reynosa Story

Story Maps are the latest iteration of your Uncle Ted showing your family slides of his trip to the Badlands on your cousins bedsheets over TV Dinners. It's a nice display when the data calls for a map but awkward of it doesn't. If you look at images and ask, "OK where is this now?", that's a time for a story map.  As you can see below, It's cross-platform and responsive. 

If you would like help in setting up a story map, let us know. After having do one I can see all kinds of applications, local government as well as private. 

And if you'd like to ask question about my trip to Reynosa. I'd love to, but lets keep business out of it;