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My ESRI UC Recap: Survival Tips, Session Highlights, and the ArcGIS Pro Announcement

Monday, July 22, 2013 - 10:30


Jump to: Session Highlights
 ArcGIS Pro Announcement


I have recently returned from the annual Esri User Conference in beautiful but chilly San Diego, California.  Remember, I live in Louisiana, so anything below 80 degrees is chilly.  The weather on Monday was beautiful with plenty of sunshine.  At one point, I was even a little on the uncomfortably warm side as I walked back to the conference center after lunch.  Unfortunately, Monday was the last I saw of the sun.  I spent the next three days freezing in user sessions, hoping to go outside and warm up at break.  That didn’t happen though.  Every break brought more disappointment with the persistently overcast skies.  This brings me to Tip #1.

Tip #1:  Dress in layers, and don’t forget your sweater!  It’s hard to revel in GIS education when you are shivering.

Luckily, I had learned my lesson last year on this account.  I always had my snazzy GISNuts sweatshirt with me this year, but I still would have appreciated some sunshine.

While we are discussing dress, here is my second tip.

Tip #2:  Ladies, leave the heels at home.  Whatever shoes you think are comfortable, they are not.  You will never make it in anything except sandals or tennis shoes.

This was an even bigger lesson learned for me last year – my first UC.  I had brought shoes that I normally work in all day without issue.  By the second day last year, I could barely walk and had to buy some cushy black flip flops from a local shoe store.

Out of curiosity, I checked to see just how big the convention center is.  It is the length of eight city blocks - more than half a mile - with over 2.6 million square feet.  I walked from end to end several times a day to catch all of the sessions that I wanted to attend, and that does not include all of the walking to lunch and dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter district.

Tip #3:  The UC is exhausting, so if your plane gets in late on Sunday night, turn off the alarm, and show up for lunch on Monday.

I got in late Sunday night/early Monday morning.  I dutifully had my alarm clock set for 6 am.  I thought, “Well, I won’t get much sleep, but since I’m still on Central time, I’ll feel like I slept in.”  The alarm went off at 6.  I turned it off.  Great decision.  I kept track of what was going on through the Twitter fire hose, and I arrived at lunch well rested and ready for a great conference.  They tape the Plenary anyway, so it gives you something to do during that long layover on the flight back home (or not).  By the way, I love the fact that the UC is always in California.  Great place to have a US conference since most of the attendees will feel like they got extra sleep (provided they actually go to bed at night).

After sleeping in, I arrived at the conference center only to realize that I had left my driver’s license in my pants’ pocket the night before.  Why does this matter? Because they card you to pick up your registration packet.  Luckily, the esri bouncer gave me my registration package based on the GISNuts logo on my shirt and the name on my credit cards.  FYI, if you lose your badge or forget it at the hotel – 30 bucks for a replacement.  Learned that the hard way last year. Frown

Registration materials firmly in hand, I headed across the street to grab a sandwich at Subway and beat the lunch crowd.  The place was already packed with UC folks even though the morning plenary wasn’t over.  I grabbed a seat with an esri staffer.  We had a real nice conversation about his work with esri (Java Development Team), and he said that he was looking forward to hearing will.i.am in the afternoon plenary.  Will I who? was my response and blank look.  He kind of stared at me like what rock did she crawl out from under?  I have young children, so if the entertainment news doesn’t involve furry red monsters, I don’t pay much attention. Afterwards, I talked to my Mom and husband about him.  My Mom knew who he was from late night talk shows, and my husband said, “Oh yeah, I've heard him on some technology talks.”

Thus, I watched the plenary session with will.i.am with absolutely no preconceived notions or ideas about the man.  I have to say that I found him entertaining, inspiring, intelligent, and highly perceptive.  I tweeted one of the things that he said that I found to be particularly poignant, and it immediately got retweeted and favorited by several other conference twitterites.

“When you are lost, you need maps, and America is lost right now.”

He was of course referring to his i.am.angel foundation and its efforts to bring STEM education to under privileged classrooms.  During the afternoon plenary, students from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East L.A., presented their GIS projects.  They received mentoring from esri staff and worked on these projects throughout the school year.  The focus of the projects was to use data and maps to educate and inform others about their neighborhood and changes that need to be made.

I was impressed by will.i.am’s passion for his cause and that he plans to demonstrate his commitment by enrolling in MIT in the fall, for as he put it (and I paraphrase):

“I can’t be saying - OK kids, I want you to go and get all this STEM education, and while you’re doing that, I’ll be at the club.”

I was also impressed by those kids.  It takes a lot of courage to give a presentation in front of thousands of professionals. We were all moved when one of the students said in reference to her map that it’s not fair that not all students get the same opportunities.  If you missed the students’ presentations, be sure to check them out here.

There was a good bit of talk throughout the conference about how to support STEM in the classroom, and it was also a major topic in the Women in GIS meeting that I went to.  In that meeting we were presented with a statistic that 34% of GIS professionals are women, and we discussed ways to raise this percentage.  There was a good bit of discussion about introducing young girls to GIS as a possible career field.  I certainly wish someone had introduced me to GIS in high school, and I would argue that if you are going to try to persuade girls to go into STEM fields, GIS is a great field to tempt them with.  Women tend to prefer more applied and interdisciplinary fields, making GIS an excellent choice.  In fact, GIS already has a greater percentage of women than other STEM fields which empirically demonstrates the field’s attraction.  For example, only 14 percent of all engineers are women according to a recent report from the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. 

Recent research by the Universities of Pittsburgh and Michigan shows that the reason that there are fewer girls in STEM fields is not because boys are outperforming girls in math and science.  It’s because girls are choosing other career paths.  Girls need to be shown STEM career avenues in a way that interests them.  Here’s my own anecdotal story to illustrate:  In high school, I was very interested in computer science and absolutely loved programming.  As a budding computer scientist at a math and science magnet school, my well-meaning computer science professors (all men) brought me and several young boys to tour a Compaq facility.  Compaq was the leading computer manufacturer at the time.  While there, I do not recall seeing any women, and I was basically told that if I majored in computer science, the only real career path was to become a chip designer.  The boys all left basically filling out their applications to MIT on the way out the door, and I left deciding that I did not want to major in computer science after all.  Now, I am sure that there are many girls out there that would have found the tour as exciting as those boys did, but my guess is that most would not.  Basically what I am saying here is that in your well-meant attempts to excite youth about STEM fields, try to make sure that you do not inadvertently turn them away.

Am I bitter?  Definitely not, for I eventually ended up in a career field (GIS) that allows me to play to all of my strengths and to strengthen my weaknesses.  I get to analyze and manage data, write some code, play with really cool technology, train others, build things (maps and web apps), and actually use some of that math I learned way back when.  I even get to explore my creative side (my weakness) when I actually have to make a map.

I digress.  Let’s get back to the conference.

Tip #4:  If the session title sounds familiar, you've probably seen it before.

Last year was my first UC, and I went to every esri technical workshop session I could.  This year, I did as well, but after a small mishap, I started reading the session descriptions a little more closely.  The first session I attended was on Hadoop.  AWESOME session.  I was off to a great start!  I’m really excited about esri’s new Hadoop toolset, and I am trying to figure out what excuse I can come up with to play with it.  One of the next sessions I attended, however, brought a sense of deja vu.  I went to basically the same session last year.  Bummer. Lesson learned.

Tip #5:  Be sure to attend any session with the word efficient in the title. Smile

I almost skipped the session entitled Geoprocessing: Efficient Data Management & Analysis with Geoprocessing.  Boy am I glad I didn’t.  These were some good tips!  If you missed it, you can download the slides here from the esri proceedings.  The first part is about 64 bit background geoprocessing.  No real revelation there - it’s faster and is unlikely to crash.  The next part was on new geoprocessing tools and tips.  If you pick up just one tip that saves hours of processing time or averts a crash, it’s worth it.

Here are a couple of things that I found useful:

  • There is a new Truncate Tool in 10.1 that can be used for a fast delete of all records in a table.  It is non-transactional and uses the underlying database’s native tools.  It should be much faster than Delete Rows, but it will not work on versioned data.
  • Using arcpy.da.TableToNumPyArray is not quite as fast as arcpy.da.SearchCursor but it uses a lot less memory.
  • There is a new Make Query Layer tool at 10.1.  Previously, you could Add Query Layer through the GUI.  Now there’s a tool for that!  Very cool.  Output is read-only, but the great things about this tool are that 1) You have a text box where you can type in a full SQL statement that will be run against the underlying database, and 2) You should be able to access spatial data stored in a non SDE database.


Highlights from Other Sessions:

I found the session Integrating Open Source Statistical Packages with ArcGIS very intriguing.  Nice overview of available Python statistical libraries and an example of an ArcGIS Python script tool with R integration. The session slides are available from the esri proceedings.  The presenter spent a good bit of time telling us how great the esri spatial statistics data object is and how it has advantages over a standard numpy array.  It handles null data fields and can be quickly used to group data and calculate summary statistics.  Unfortunately, I was never very clear on where to find documentation on this object or exactly how to use it.  When I get some more information, I’ll let you know.

I caught the first session of Geoprocessing – Sharing Workflows with Geoprocessing Packages.  The session content was pretty standard - a basic overview of creating a geoprocessing package.  The QA afterwards with Bill Moreland was awesome!!!  Here is what I learned:

  • A geoprocessing package includes the model/script, any supporting models/scripts that are not system or third party tools, and data used for the successful tool run.  If there is a supporting file that is not being copied over, you can simply make a variable reference to it in your script, and it will then get copied. The process of building the package walks the script and looks for all dependencies.  A string variable reference to a file is enough to get the file included in the package.
  • If you are a little bit savvy, this is probably not the best way to publish geoprocessing tools to the server.  Why?  Well, if you have several custom models/scripts that rely on the same custom models/scripts, and you want to update those underlying custom tools, you now have several places to make the updates to.  However, for the average user, this is a great way to ensure that all of the necessary components get included for a successful geoprocessing service.
  • A geoprocessing package can only be created from a successful tool run.  However, the Consolidate Result Tool in the Package Toolset can be used to zip up an unsuccessful tool run to send to someone for debugging purposes.
  • There is not an option to copy over third party tools, but you can always get creative. Wink


During the QA after this session, Bill Moreland tried to encourage us to use Python to write geoprocessing tools.  He asked us how many of us wrote tools in .NET, and wanted to know why we were using .NET instead of Python.  My answer was that I used .NET when I wanted to compile (hide) my code or do something that couldn’t be done in Python yet, such as manipulating the renderer or creating some custom forms.  Later in a session with Ken Smith, Ken announced that in 10.2 we would have access to the renderer through Python. Now that’s big!!!

I saw some really neat web apps using HTML5, CSS3, and WebGL.  Some of these made the Ferrari interfaces of a couple of years ago look like Yugos.

Qt – Developing Applications was probably the least well-attended session that I went to, and I wonder why.  Who doesn’t like write once, run anywhere – well at least on Windows and Linux.  I’m thinking maybe the general esri development community is just not familiar with Qt?  It’s on my radar because I am interested in developing some stand-alone Python geoprocessing tools that incorporate a user interface with forms.  My full time Python developer friends tell me that this is the way to go for a rich user interface with Python scripts running on the backend. I had asked them about Tkinter, and they said to use Qt instead.  Based on this session, it looked like the Qt platform for ArcGIS Runtime was not as rich yet as the other platforms, but very promising.

One thing I picked up in the Qt session and in the Dev Meetup is that you can now sign up for beta access to the new esri developer plans.  Beta access is free and you can sign up here.

At the Dev Meetup Wednesday night, I saw a presentation by Steven Shaffer (@GIScadDB), a GIS Analyst and developer at EEC.  His lightning talk was on using Django style template tags in map documents for scripted map production. Very cool idea!

One of the most well attended sessions I went to was Social Coding with GitHub by A. J. Turner.  Great session! I learned a lot, and I have been inspired to start using Git on my own file system for my personal code development.  It was also great to see so much enthusiasm for esri’s new GitHub presence.

At the end of this session, which was my last one at this year’s UC, a friend of mine came over and sat down beside me.  It was great to see him!  I had been keeping an eye out for him and had been keeping tabs on him through Twitter.  At one point towards the end of the conference, he tweeted his location.  I almost went to go see him, but decided against it.  I didn’t want to appear to be stalking him on Twitter.  I was disappointed to be leaving San Diego without ever having seen him though.  He said he’d been looking for me too, and it wasn’t until halfway through the GitHub session that he realized that I was sitting two rows in front of him. 

I went to the UC by myself this year.  I have a friend from my local area that was supposed to go and pal around with me, but at the last minute he opted to go to a forestry conference instead (obviously a UC virgin).  It was the first large conference that I ever attended by myself.  It amazed me how alone one could feel at a conference with 15,000+ people.  Because of this, I greatly enjoyed my local user group meeting (SCAUG), for it put several people that I knew in one place at one time.  I knew lots of other people at the UC of course, and it was interesting how I would just randomly bump into people that I knew.  Also interesting to me was how many people I know were there that I never saw.  Moreover, it amazed me that I flew 1600+ miles to have a conversation with some of my colleagues on Twitter. Conferences are in large part supposed to be about networking, but everywhere I looked, everyone was completely absorbed (or pretending to be absorbed) by their personal electronic device.  I went to several smaller conferences this year, and this was not the case.  I’m wondering if with so many people around, no one wanted to look like they didn’t have something to do, so they were all doing what has become the socially acceptable time filler.  After the conference, Curtis Price @cpriceusgs suggested that we should have a #esriuc meetup.  I think that’s a great idea for next year!


Finally: The ArcGIS Pro Announcement

I went to the conference expecting to hear all about 10.2.  That’s not what happened.  It was almost like 10.2 was a non-event.  In fact, the summary that I got was that 10.2 is primarily about performance improvements and bug fixes.  As it turned out, the main focus of the conference was The Road Ahead which apparently is ArcGIS Pro.  Wait . . . What’s that? As @cageyjames tweeted on Tuesday “What is ArcGIS pro? Did I miss something?”  Apparently we all missed the memo.  Throughout the conference, we scrambled to get as much information as we could on this bombshell announcement.

Here’s what I learned:

  • At the next major release (ArcGIS 11?), there will be a new application included in the desktop suite. It will be called ArcGIS Professional.
  • ArcGIS Professional will be a 64 bit application – YEAH!!!
  • It will be a multi-threaded application.
  • It will be one application that integrates the functionality of ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcScene, and ArcGlobe.
  • It will be fully integrated with ArcGIS Online.
  • 3D Visualization will be standard. That is, it will come with all license levels. 3D analysis will of course still require the 3D Analyst extension.
  • 3D graphics will be both DirectX and OpenGL compatible. Not sure how this works, but great!!!! Hopefully, no more tweaking the graphics card settings.
  • It will use Python 3 instead of Python 2.x. Yes, that’s right. Better start thinking about this now.
  • It will have the look and feel of the 64 bit Office 2013. So the ribbon is going to get you. (Couldn’t resist the pun).
  • Documents will be stored as project files. Sound familiar?
  • Multiple layouts can be included in one project.
  • It will have a simplified .NET API. No more COM Objects!!!
  • ArcMap, ArcCatalog, etc. will continue to be supported.  Sounded like there would even be a new release after 10.2, but eventually they will be replaced. And eventually in the IT world is becoming a shorter and shorter time span.

Lucky for me, I don’t really have a horse in this race at the moment, so I was able to just sit back, watch the demos, and get excited about what’s to come.  I fully realize though that not everyone is in this position.  There was a good bit of tension and nervousness as many realized that all bets were off.  It’s no wonder that esri kept this announcement under wraps.  There will no doubt be some growing pains, but we survived the move to ArcGIS, so we will survive this one too. We might even flourish :) 





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by Dr. Radut.