Human Computer Interaction and GIS Book Now Available

May 24, 2010 by

A while back we were contacted by Dr. Muki Haklay about including an image from this blog in his upcoming book, Interacting with Geospatial Technologies. Of course we jumped at the chance to be included in a project of this caliber and importance.

The book focuses upon the intersection between the disciplines of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and GIS. I have only read the first chapter, Human-computer interaction and geospatial technologies-context (detailed review to follow) and I find it particularly fitting as my career evolves from a GIS Desktop user into the realm of web development. I suspect many of our careers, like everything else, is moving toward the web. Many of us are no longer GIS Desktop end users focused upon the creation of static PDFs or paper mediums. We are now web developers, and have to take into account all the factors which can make sharing GIS in this new and dynamic medium successful.

Some of these factors include our users’ technological aptitude, hardware platform, ergonomics and the most intuitive and advantageous way to present our specific type of data. Of course we still need to account for our traditional responsibilities  regarding projections, coordinate systems, subtypes, metadata, data formats and most importantly, license management.

Interacting with Geospatial Technologies at Amazon

Dr. Muki Haklay’s personal blog

Previous %scratchworkspace% blog post about this project

Nasa’sOilSpillGallery unZen


Jurisdiction and Workflow at the Port of San Diego

May 11, 2010 by

The Port of San Diego is a dynamic and unconventional organization. We are an amalgam of overlapping and competing functions and priorities. In many ways we function like a moderately sized city, but without the autonomy many cities with 500 employees enjoy. In many ways we function like a private real estate management company but with a mandate, not to maximize shareholder value, but to balance economic benefits with a series of well-rounded priorities on behalf of the public. In many ways we function like a traditional Port with shipping containers and cruise terminals, but this is only part of the engine which makes the Port of San Diego function everyday. The Port of San Diego is truly a unique organization.

The uncommon workflow here at the Port provides our communications professionals with unique obstacles in educating the public about what we do and the role we play in our region as a whole. Part of their effort includes producing a series of videos, titled “Ask the Port”, where a man-in-the-street asks a question about the inner workings of the Port. Below is a video in which Irene McCormack, our Assistant Vice President for Government Relations and Communications, answers a question on the Ports jurisdiction.

The Ports GIS Team helps tie together this diverse organization. GIS, and geography, is highly interdisciplinary. The GIS Group focuses on enterprise data (data valuable across many departments) to drive a common operating picture here at the Port. We strive to set up and maintain a system where any Port employees can get answers to questions based on geography. The data in this system is “owned” or “managed” by the pertinent department. Sharing data in an easily consumable structure across the enterprise is one of our major challenges. Using maps to portray information can help overcome opaque disciple-specific jargon. We hope all employees, from an intern to our CEO, will be able to answer questions like: What are the impediments to development at this parcel? Where are our water pipes on our marine terminals? How does a proposed development impact our tenants?

Various departments break down the Port Tidelands differently. For example, our Real Estate department manages land leased to tenants, while our Engineering department focuses more of their efforts on non-leased lands, including streets, right of ways and our public parks. This makes sense considering tenants are often responsible for developments on Port Tidelands. Our Harbor Police patrol the entire Port Tidelands, including the San Diego International Airport.

Obstacles emerge when one department uses data originating in another. In true enterprise spirit, our Environmental department would like to use storm drain data from our engineering department. Unfortunately, the spatial priorities of these departments aren’t coincident. Do we use data from another source, which we don’t actively manage? Should either the Environmental or Engineering Department take ownership of this data? Maybe the GIS Group should be “owners” of the data? What resources will this require? As you can see there are real opportunities to create an integrated workflow across various departments, but formidable hurdles to overcome as we progress.

HowAmericansSeeEurope Zen

Utilizing the Building Interior Space Data Model at the Unified Port of San Diego

May 6, 2010 by

First let me introduce myself, I am Brian Mehl, a GIS volunteer intern at the GIS department working since February this year.  This internship fulfills my work experience course GISG 270 for San Diego Mesa College’s GIS Specialist Certificate program, and I expect to complete this certificate next month.  I am excited to be working at the Port with such knowledgeable persons as Malcolm Meikle and Ari Isaak.

The primary task I’ve been working on is taking existing Port CAD drawings of their buildings, such as the eight floor Administration Building on Pacific Highway, and converting these engineering drawings into a ArcGIS personal geodatabase utilizing the ArcGIS Building Interior Space Data Model (BISDM).  ArcGIS data models provide a geodatabase template for importing the data model as a template on which to base a geodatabase, and the BISDM allows a fast start by setting up the feature classes and datasets in a schema or plan, with the real data coming from the Port’s existing CAD drawings.

So why create a geodatabase using the BISDM?  A GIS-based data model will allow the Port to manage and report on the interior spaces of its buildings.  This will provide a basic structure to support a number of different perspectives on buildings – such as architecture, construction, landscape-level planning, facilities management, environmental management, and security/emergency preparedness.  The BISDM database I am working on will benefit the following Port of San Diego departments (at a minimum): Audit, Risk Management and Safety; Engineering – Construction; Environmental Services;  Harbor Police; Information Technology; Land Use Planning; and Real Estate.

Hopefully this introduction will provide you a quick glimpse into my work here at the Port, but I  will get into the geodatabase building process on my next posting.  But to give you an idea of the task at hand, I am working from 19 CAD drawings and have spent 60+ hours so far.  For more information about ESRI’s ArcGIS datamodels, here is a free online course you can take, and a link where you can download the BISDM model among others.

Introduction to ArcGIS Data Models

ArcGIS Data Models

Creating a Tree Inventory Using ArcGIS Server and Google Streetview

March 22, 2010 by

The benefits of trees cannot be overstated. They provide numerous financial, health and quality of life benefits for our community. The well-being of our urban forest at the Port of San Diego is one of the key resources we manage. The PortGIS Program attempts to identify resources which are advantageous to represent spatially. By placing utilities, proposed projects, the Port Master Plan, the 2010 Tidelands Mapbook, aerial photos and our tree locations within one spatial context we empower our Port employees to make  informed decisions by driving an enterprise-wide common operating picture.  Plans for future development will account for our urban forest resources from the outset if they are included in the primary set of guiding factors. It is much more costly and less likely to occur if urban forestry management is left to expensive last-minute change orders.

Much of the Port Tidelands can be seen through Google Streetview. Some find this disconcerting and an invasion of privacy, but Google Streetview is an invaluable and (IMHO) underutilized tool for creating and managing GIS Data. It can save substantial time and monies by moving expensive field work to the desktop. Managers can easily implement quality control measures by reviewing decisions made in the field by lesser experienced personnel in real-time. Real functionality comes from combining  Google Streetview images and GIS data housed in a Relational Database Management System. This PortGIS Tree Inventory tool is a departure from our other web applications in that it empowers end users to change GIS data. Our other tools are read only.

Below is a video showing how to use this tool.

Beware- GIS Dork Out Session below

From a technical GIS/database/developer perspective, this project started out as a proof of concept. Our goal was to enable our non GIS professionals to easily create, edit and manage a discrete set of GIS data through the web. In order to do this the data needed to versioned and housed within an SDE database. We also wanted to enable security, and grant permissions through Active Directory, so only certain Port employees are able to make changes. Our goals are to continue to build on this functionality and to expand the capabilities of the PortGIS Program. We would like to take this data into the field to collect more information, i.e., standard breast height of our trees and/or take pictures of the trees using a connected handheld device. Taking the PortGIS program mobile will enable us to offer real-time GIS data management to our non-GIS professionals where and when it is most convenient. This way they can use GIS as a tool which complements their primary focus of writing leases, creating architectural renderings, fixing electrical conduits, or making our urban forest as healthy, financially viable and beautiful as possible.

MyFavoritePicOfMy3MonthOldDaughter Zen

Port of San Diego Featured in ArcUser (Winter 2010)

January 27, 2010 by

ArcUser is the trade magazine for ESRI software users. Malcolm and I first met with the author, Karen Richardson, during the last user conference. We are very excited ESRI chose to feature our work here at the Port of San Diego. Below is the link to the article.

MyMomIsAnAwesomePhotographer Zen

Introducing the PortGIS Present Conditions Web Application

October 30, 2009 by

The new web application PortGIS Present Conditions takes the most valuable aspects of PortGIS Utilities and builds upon them. With this iteration, our view broadens beyond our utilities infrastructure to gain full comprehension of our surroundings as they currently exist. This new web application brings with it a few enhancements, the largest being the integration of new, more accurate reference points to our engineering drawings. RH, as an intern in the Engineering and Construction department, spent many painstaking hours opening scanned record drawings, identifying the location where the majority of work took place, and creating point(s) so we can quickly and easily access them via a map. The PortGIS Present Conditions web application also brings direct access to these drawings, via a clear and organized structure. If you know the IMP site and the record drawing number, you can get to these drawings directly without finding them in the map. Below is a video where I go through accessing these drawings.

CurrentlyBoomingFromGISTeamCubes Zen

Image From PortGIS to be Included in Upcoming Book on Human Computer Interaction

October 21, 2009 by

About a month ago, we were contacted by Dr. Muki Haklay about including an image from a previous %scratchworkspace% post in his upcoming book on Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and GIS. Wikipedia describes Human Computer Interaction as, “the study of interaction between people (users) and computers.” Dr. Haklay’s book focuses on the concept of usability, and the 5 E’s of usability: effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant and easy to learn.

There is no question that our relationship to computers has changed the way we live our lives. Many of us carry around Blackberrys, own GPS units, have 2 or more computer screens and/or ergonomic keyboards. However, Even before computers entered our lives, we related to text or traditional data differently than maps/geography/geospatial data. Before computers, we related to text through a book; for some reason I envision a 1000 page copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace as the ultimate method of conveying text.


Before computers, we had databases indexed by number (AKA unique keys).


And we had atlases, globes and wall maps. Physically each of these are drastically different. How hard would it be to read War and Peace if it was printed on a card catalog or a globe?

Computer software and hardware should be designed to make our lives easier. Thinking about HCI as applied to GIS is very interesting combo. At our world-class Port we have concerns like: What is the best way to design GIS software for use on a touch screen in our Harbor Police vehicles? What is the best way to share our aerial photos with AutoCAD users?

We want to congratulate Dr. Haklay, and his fellow authors, on submitting the manuscript for the book “Interacting with Geospatial Technology,” and we are very excited we could play a small part in the book’s success. Most importantly we look forward to reading it and learning from his research.

If you’d like to learn more about the book I suggest reading this post at Dr. Haklay’s personal blog.

You can also preorder it from the Amazon UK site here.

MaldivesPolitics Zen

Accessing Aerial Photos within AutoCAD using ArcGIS for AutoCAD and the mapiinsert Command

October 1, 2009 by

At the Port of San Diego, our CAD Designers and Mapping Technicians can access our new 2009 4-inch aerials photos within AutoCAD in 2 ways. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these pros and cons empower our CAD designers to be more efficient and effective. I suggest any substantial project would be best approached by utilizing both methods.

ArcGIS for AutoCAD- Great for everyday workflow
access to content on other ArcGIS Servers, including ArcGIS Online
easy to create image with defined extent
Best resolution not guaranteed at all scales

mapiinsert command – Printing
best resolution guaranteed at all scales
CAD users more familiar

As a footnote, it should also be mentioned that ArcGIS for AutoCAD has another powerful component; the ability to create GIS attribute data within AutoCAD. As the PortGIS Program matures it will require us to gain more information about our features which originate in AutoCAD. What is the material/width/flow capacity of this pipe? Collecting this type of attribute data will allow us to 1) display and symbolize this data across the enterprise and 2) do spatial analysis, such as identifying where weaknesses might be in our utility infrastructure.

ArcGIS for AutoCAD can be downloaded from ESRI at the link below.

GeographyHuntingBinLaden Zen
and another

The Future of GIS Collaboration in Government

September 22, 2009 by

At a past division meeting our newly appointed President/CEO, Charlie Wurster, talked candidly and took questions about his past experiences. He also shared why he is excited to be at the Port of San Diego and expressed his management philosophy and guiding principals. At one point during this informal meeting, Mr. Wurster explained that we have to work closely with our tenants and 5 member cities. He went on to use the following example: if we were to be working with an adjacent government agency to build a new railroad, we would want the tracks to meet properly. Then he held up his hands like two like 2 guns point toward each other and explained that it takes collaboration, clear communication, and experience to accomplish our goals; we need to work closely within our organization and with companies, groups and interests in our region.


GIS will undoubtedly play a role in this type of effort, not only in support of our Engineers, CAD Designers, Construction Inspectors, Landuse Planners and the myriad of other in-house professionals at the Port of San Diego, but also as a means to share geographic information as a business process.

We are currently implementing this approach within the port through the PortGIS Program. Our CAD designers are responsible to create, update, and manage our utilities data. This data is then shared, as a service, through GIS based websites and across the enterprise to General Services, Real Estate, Harbor Police, Marine Operations and any other Port Employee who depends on this data. Our CAD Designers are the “owners” of the utilities data. In turn, we are working with our Land Use Planning Department to collect data to share it across the enterprise in the same fashion.

Sharing GIS data in this way is a fairly new concept, but it has been embraced with enthusiasm at many federal and state agencies. Below is a video of Jack Dangermond’s recent presentation at the Gov 2.0 Summit about how this integration will streamline the way we use, view, and share GIS data. He outlines a vision of how “owners” of data can share data between agencies. As the purveyors of spatial data, whether it be lease information such as renewal dates, police dispatch data, pollution numbers and statistics, it is important we embrace this vision as we work within our organization and interact with outside entities.
[ ?posts_id=2616253&dest=-1]

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Enterprise Architecture framework, 74 percent of government data is location based. At the state and local level the number is even higher – 80 percent – according to several organizations and publications.

Our region is a complex amalgamation of overlapping and intersecting interests. Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), California Coastal Commission and CalTrans each manage infrastructure and services. Local regulated utilities like San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) and Cox Communications have business interests and easements. Both the San Diego Convention Center and the San Diego County Airport Authority (SDCAA) manage tenants independently of the Port and are both undergoing their own respective land use planning efforts. Our 5 neighboring cities and the county manage parcel boundaries and tax information. And with a population of 1.3 million people, the City of San Diego manages a myriad of services, with which we work closely on a daily basis.

As GIS data services flow down from the federal and state government we will also embrace GIS Services as a method to share and collaborate. As governmental agencies, we each have a stake in managing our geographic interests in the most cost efficient and effective means possible. At the Port of San Diego we should begin with the end in mind. We should work towards Mr. Wurster’s goal of full integration so our geographic data flows seamlessly through GIS services, both between departments at the Port of San Diego and between the Port and the wide variety of agencies which effect our workflow.

Monster Milktruck! Zen
Requires this first
or just watch a video

GIS Dork-Out Session: ArcGIS Server Pathing and Roundtrips in ArcGIS for AutoCAD

September 2, 2009 by
I recently received the email below from a fellow GISer.
Hi Ari,
I attended your presentation at the UC last month which I found very interesting, and spoke to you briefly afterwards. I wondered if you’d be able to answer a couple of questions I have about your ArcGIS Server implementation. We are going through the implementation process ourselves at the moment. Our scope is global although right now we’re focused on data that is within the UTM Zone 10 area in southwest BC.
Do you still keep data files on your network? We anticipate that our network will be required for working shapefiles, MXDs, etc. But I’ve also learned that to publish MXDs the data within them has to have a UNC filepath, not a mapped drive. Is that the kind of setup you have? Because the data will be stored in single features classes for multiple projects and clients I anticipate having to create a lot of LYR files.
I am also interested in knowing more about how you deal with CAD data. We have been able to generate a test map service that included some basemap CAD topo, but I’m still not clear on the full power of integrating our CAD data. Our SDE database will have WGS84 projected data, and our CAD is mostly NAD83 UTM (e.g. zone 10). I think you mentioned you can edit CAD data directly within SDE or a map service – is that correct? Did you create any customization to do that?
If you have any time to get back to me with advice on those questions, or any other tips, I’d really appreciate it.
Kieran Smith, M.Sc.
GIS Analyst
Knight Piésold Ltd.


I am so glad that you enjoyed our presentation. There are many GISers out there dealing with many of the same issues. You seem to have two main issues 1) UNC paths and 2) CAD. I will address them each individually.

1) I assume you are referring to the warning 10027 “Layer’s data source is referenced via a UNC path” when you use the Analyze Button ATT26608 on the Map Service Publishing toolbar. ArcGIS Server likes local file system path names, but this can create problems when trying to access data on your network. The best way to get around this is to make the source paths the same whether you open the mxd on your local box or on the server. Mapped drives to shares do not give this warning. The easiest way to solve this is to find a drive letter which is not being used on the server and your personal machine. Share the proper folder and map to the share with the same drive letter on both machines. The mxd will open properly on both machines and will allow you to publish using either ArcGIS Server Manager on the server or ArcCatalog from your personal machine.

Another method is to use UNC paths for your development efforts and file system paths for production maps, data and services. To do this you should install ArcGIS Desktop on your server machine. When you want to create a production service then resource the data in your MXDs to the servers local file system path and republish the service from ArcGIS Server Manager using file system paths. UNC paths will work fine for development efforts. I don’t think there is a performance cost, but it is not quite as stable. This is the method we use at the Port of San Diego. We have a “production” folder which holds MXDs and raster and vector data, and we publish our services to a “production” folder. Everything in these production folders use file system paths and outside these folders we use UNC paths.

2) The product I mentioned in our presentation is ArcGIS for AutoCAD. There are 2 parts to this tool. The first is the ability to use AutoCAD as a client to view ArcGIS Services (including ArcGIS Online data out of the box for free). The second is the ability to give an engineering drawing characteristics which closely resemble GIS data including the ability to define coordinate systems and/or give attributes to features. When this dwg is brought into ArcGIS Desktop and/or published using ArcGIS Server these characteristics shine through. If all your GIS data, services and CAD drawings have defined Coordinate Systems it will all reproject on the fly. Of course, if the CAD designer moves the data 100 feet over this will throw everything off. The CAD designer really needs to follow both CAD and GIS standards.

This functionality creates the ability to do what we have been calling a “roundtrip.” CAD data is edited in AutoCAD, served through ArcGIS Server and then consumed within AutoCAD using ArcGIS for AutoCAD.

Don Kuehne, ESRI’s technical product manager for CAD interoperability, describes it well on his blog at the link below.

Below is a screenshot of a “roundtrip” in action. The image and the linework are both coming from ArcGIS Services.

JustCantGetEnoughAwesomeBasketballShots Zen