Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

“The beverages flowed as smoothly as the code”: A Productive 2015 OSGeo Philly Code Sprint

OSGeo Code Sprinters pose in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum's "Rocky Balboa" statue. Three cheers for open source!

OSGeo Code Sprinters pose in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum’s “Rocky Balboa” statue. Three cheers for open source! Photo credit Jody Garnett.

Last week, Philadelphia, Azavea, and our venue Friends Center hosted a code sprint where over 30 enthusiastic and creative “sprinters” met to collaborate on open source geospatial software projects. The OSGeo Code Sprint has been held annually for a while now, but this year’s event was bigger and better in ways that reflect the growth and increasing prominence of the open source geospatial community.

Code Sprinters enjoying the Philly-German bierhall  Brauhaus Schmitz

Code Sprinters enjoying the Philly-German bierhall Brauhaus Schmitz Photo credit Jody Garnett.

Over the last couple years, the LocationTech working group of the Eclipse Foundation has been emerging as a hub for high-performance geoprocessing and other location-aware technologies, such as Azavea’s GeoTrellis project. The new projects being incubated by LocationTech have been growing alongside continued participation in OSGeo and projects hosted there. Azavea is a huge supporter of both communities, as a member of LocationTech and a heavy user and contributor to many OSGeo projects. So, in hosting the 2015 OSGeo Code Sprint in Philadelphia, we wanted to be inclusive and specifically invite LocationTech projects to come participate in addition to OSGeo projects. We consider this coming together a success. LocationTech sponsored the event at the $2,500 Gold level. LocationTech projects like GeoTrellis, GeoMesa, and uDig were worked on alongside OSGeo projects like PostGIS, PDAL, and MapServer. At the end of the day, whichever software “foundation” a project is under, we’re all tackling the same problems and questions in GIS and can benefit from being at the same table in-person at a code sprint. Judging by initial responses on the OSGeo TOSprint mailing list, many others appreciated the additional camraderie as well.

AGI's Patrick Cozzi gives a  demo of Cesium.js, AGI's 3D globe library. AGI was a first-time Code Sprint sponsor this year. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

AGI’s Patrick Cozzi gives a demo of Cesium.js, AGI’s 3D globe library. AGI was a first-time Code Sprint sponsor this year. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

In addition to LocationTech, we had a tremendous array of support from sponsors at the code sprint. In fact, with 14 sponsors in all, we believe the 2015 Philly sprint to be the most-sponsored in OSGeo code sprint history. Many organizations had never sponsored a code sprint before, including LocationTech, Boundless, AGI, CartoDB, Mapzen, OpenSCG, and Typesafe. Other sponsors like Airborne Interactive, FOSSGIS eV, Coordinate Solutions, Farallon Geographics, Hobu, and Mobile Geographics are veteran code sprint sponsors and we were very glad to have their continued support for another sprint. Of note, OpenSCG and Typesafe are not necessarily geospatial-focused companies, but operate around related technologies of PostgreSQL and Scala which several open source geospatial projects are also based on. Their interest and generosity in supporting the sprint, we think, demonstrates how the importance of geospatial technologies – and open source geo, in particular – is increasing.

Sprinters getting into the swing of bowling at North Bowl. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

Sprinters getting into the swing of bowling at North Bowl. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

The generosity of our sponsors, and the OSGeo Board, allowed us to schedule an array of exciting evening activities to continue building community at night after coding in the day. On Tuesday, we took our sprinters on an exciting historic tour bus ride of Center City Philadelphia, so they could get a sense of our city of “Firsts”. Wednesday night’s affair was bowling and tater tots at acclaimed Philly hangout North Bowl – we’ve already heard several comments that bowling was a big hit with the sprinters! “I had a wonderful time, the venue was fantastic, the internet was plentiful, and the beverages flowed as smoothly as the code,” offered one sprinter.

Azavea's Kathryn Killebrew speaking about Torque animated maps from PostGIS. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

Azavea’s Kathryn Killebrew speaking about Torque animated maps from PostGIS. Photo credit Jody Garnett.

There was also plenty of learning and knowledge sharing with presentations throughout the week. AGI’s Patrick Cozzi showed us a few demos of the Cesium 3D globe library. CartoDB’s Andy Eschbacher gave a deep dive into CartoDB’s PostGIS-enabled wizardry including Torque animated maps. And Azavea’s own Kathryn Killebrew gave a preview of her presentation she will give this year at FOSS4G-NA, on how to use CartoDB’s Torque library outside of CartoDB to make spatio-temporally animated maps out of any PostGIS database.

A good sprint was had by all, and we are excited for the growth of the event and what it means for the open source geo community as a whole! If you’re interested or happen to be a code sprint organizer yourself, we also posted a detailed list of “lessons learned” on the OSGeo wiki.

Sprinting to Philadelphia: Azavea Hosting the 2015 OSGeo Code Sprint!

Open Source development is based on collaboration and communication, and yet a software project may have contributors strewn across the world in different time zones and even used to speaking different languages. The reality of collaborating via the Internet – asynchronous, textual – means it can be harder for new contributors to get up to speed, harder for experienced developers to help each other, and harder to develop features together. Being physically separated from your collaborators also inhibits growth of community and friendships.

2014 Vienna Code Sprint

A shot of the 2014 OSGeo Code Sprint. Come have fun with all these focused developers!

For a few years now, the OSGeo Foundation has alleviated these challenges and strengthened the global community of open source geospatial developers by supporting a “code sprint” in a different city each year. After the 2014 event was held in Vienna, it’s coming back across the pond.  This February 9th through 13th, Azavea will be pleased to host developers from around the world as they descend on Philadelphia for the 2015 OSGeo Code Sprint. This is the first time the Sprint has been held in Philly and we’re all excited to welcome everyone to our home – a real hotbed of civic hacking, open data, and geo nerd communities that often rely on these geospatial projects. We’re also planning a few fun evening activities in different parts of the city to give participants plenty of chances to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and experience Philly.

The Code Sprint is not like the “civic hackathons” and other events Azavea has organized in the past. Paul Ramsey, one of the core contributors to the PostGIS  project, wrote a bit about what the 2013 Boston Code Sprint was like and why you might want to attend. There won’t be competitive teams, prizes or judges like a hackathon. Instead of a short weekend, we will be sprinting together for most of a week. We’ll be improving and adding new features to the foundational geospatial tools common to pretty much any app with maps or geodata like PostGIS, Cesium, uDig, QGIS, GDAL, PDAL, and GeoTrellis. We’ll endeavor to achieve the same welcoming and friendly atmosphere we have at all our events, but if you’re interested in attending, this is definitely an event where preparation pays off. You can just show up and make a contribution, but if you’re not already contributing to a project, it will be more productive if you’ve learned a bit about the project, have a good handle on the languages in use, taken a look at the issue backlog, and have given some consideration to what contribution you’d like to make to it during the week. We’d also encourage you to have checked out the latest development branch and set up a development environment on your laptop in advance.

OSGeo Sprints in past years have been focused on projects specifically stewarded by the OSGeo Foundation and the event began as a gathering of the “C Tribe”, the software applications that use C as their primary language. However, this year we wanted to make the tent of open source geospatial a little bigger and encourage participants to work on all kinds of projects, including projects housed within LocationTech, OSGeo, or even independent projects like Leaflet or CartoDB.

So come join us in Philadelphia next month! Simply put your name on the list on the wiki page  so we can plan for you to be here, and book your travel – including a room at the Loew’s Philadelphia at our discounted rate. Open Source is usually a marathon, but let’s sprint while we can!

“It Started with a Map”: Second Annual LocationTech & GeoPhilly Conference

Conference attendees

Photo credit Delaware River Watershed Initiative

It’s hard to believe, but with the return of the much-expanded 2014 LocationTech Tour to Philadelphia this past November 20th, the GeoPhilly Meetup celebrated its first birthday! That means Sarah Cordivano and I have organized and hosted over 12 monthly GeoPhilly meetups over the past year, including ones with PhillyPUG, MaptimePHL, and even last year’s Geo Open Source conference. The event last year was so well attended and enjoyed that we decided to bring back this larger showcase and celebration of the Philly open source geospatial community again.

Old City's Arch Street Quaker Meeting House

Old City’s Arch Street Quaker Meeting House

We kept the venue, the beautifully historic Arch Street Meeting House, and much of the same format with a slate of several talks on a weekday afternoon and a trip to the bar afterwards to hang out with fellow map nerds.

Michael Brennan of Secondmuse

Our Keynote speaker this year, Mike Brennan from SecondMuse, “zoomed out” a bit away from our map-mania and had us examine some of the broader human elements and social structures of open source collaboration in which we develop our map-based tools. I had the good fortune to work more with SecondMuse this year on Al Jazeera’s Canvas hackathon, and it was exciting to hear more about the other projects SecondMuse is involved in globally that advance civic impact through open source collaboration. That’s a goal held close by many in our geospatial community as well.

Ingrid Burrington of Mapzen

Up next was Ingrid Burrington from Mapzen, who kept us asking questions about how we collaborate – in this case, how we all decide what to call where we are. Specifically, her talk was on gazetteers and geocoding in open source; how both of these are still hard problems to figure out; and how open source administrative and political boundary data can help.

Ryan Arana and Josh Yaganeh of Esri

Ryan Arana and Josh Yaganeh came all the way from Esri’s Portland R&D center and gave a talk on a new open source tool they built, is useful for playing with and inspecting GeoJSON data sent over HTTP, and uses some cool technologies in the form of WebSockets and Go.

Lauren Ancona, our first Philly “civic hacker” of the day and who recently started as a Data Scientist at the City, spoke next about her obsession with parking data and mapping parking rules in Philadelphia using open source. She encouraged us to try and help out with, and fielded some inspiring and candid questions about what it’s like being a beginner in maps and civic hacking and how to keep getting better at it.

Our second local civic hacking (or civic mapping?) project was presented by James Tyack. His project is also based around transportation and crowdsourcing reports like Lauren’s parking projects, but focuses on accessibility for city dwellers with disabilities, who often have considerable barriers to getting around town every day. James shocked us with examples of how even mapping apps aimed at accessibility concerns can even be inaccessibly designed themselves – a concern which Sarah recently blogged about.

Azavea’s own Rob Emanuele gave the penultimate talk of the evening on recent improvements to GeoTrellis – our high performance processing library for very large raster data – that take advantage of Apache Spark to process data stored in Accumulo. The combination can serve map tiles from very complex datasets like land cover types for the whole USA, or global climate change models very quickly for snappy web applications.

Matt Amato of AGI's Cesium team

Our final talk of the evening was by Matt Amato from AGI, who spoke about the Cesium project and gave examples of the power inherent in time-dynamic geospatial visualizations. As geographers focused on visualizing place, we sometimes have more trouble visualizing time. Web geodata formats like GeoJSON and KML don’t always make the best accommodations for temporal data, and that’s where Cesium’s CZML standard comes in. Matt wowed us with WWI battle maps and car traffic simulations incorporating an aspect of time.

After a set of talks this cool, our group was excited to head to the Buffalo Billiards bar to talk about what we had learned. We had 94 attendees come for the afternoon – 1 more than last year! – and even more show up for the evening. It has been a fun first year with the GeoPhilly community and I’m looking forward to the next twelve months as we continue growing in numbers, skills, and maps!

For the Love of Maps

nacis_2014_pittsburghLast week, Data Analytics Project Manager Sarah Cordivano and I attended the North American Cartographic Information Society conference in beautiful Pittsburgh. After searching around for some of the best GIS and mapping related conferences to attend, NACIS was one of the mostly highly recommended, and I think it lived up to its reputation.

The conference started off with Practical Cartography Day, an entire day of sessions devoted to real-life examples of map-making. The talks touched on a diverse array of topics in mapping, which made it particularly valuable. If these talks were scheduled on topic-area specific tracks, I probably would have missed some interesting examples and discussions. One of my favorite speakers on Practical Cartography Day, John Nelson, offered his 20 Unrequested Map Tips. It’s really great advice for those just starting out in cartography, especially in academia, where often the ArcGIS defaults are the only thing taught. It made me reflect on how important user interface and design is to cartography and how that education is really lacking within today’s GIS programs.

Some other sessions and talks that were particularly good:

    • Alan McConchie of Stamen Design gave out a bunch of good tips for manipulating custom CartoCSS. It’s a must-see for anyone who uses Tilemill and wants to learn some cool tricks for customization.

    • Exemplifying the challenge of customizing maps, Nicki Dlugash of Mapbox talked about the design challenges in creating a basemap of the entire world styled optimally at all zoom levels using OpenStreetMap data.

    • Though not strictly map-related, Miles Barger of the US National Park Service presented on a recent project to create a 3D model of the Grand Staircase, a major geologic feature in Utah. He touched on the need to “fiddle” with settings to create the perfect diagram and also started a bit of controversy (mostly from one attendee) when he suggested it’s okay to manipulate or exaggerate features for the purpose of creating a user-friendly design.



  • Also of the US National Park Service, Mamata Akella presented on the beautiful custom maps and tools the park service has been working on. They’ve put everything on GitHub (except the internal stuff, of course).

  • Patrick Kennelly, of Long Island University, showed the results of using a three dimensional helix model to visualize daily temperature data over time at over 250 weather stations across the US. Patrick and his team used the Blender API for data manipulation.

  • During the Transportation Maps session, Nate Wessel, student at the University of Cincinnati, presented his bicycle map of the Cincinnati area. Contrary to the typical government produced bike map based on subjectivity of conditions, Nate based his map on more objective conditions agnostic to the type of rider, such as elevation change, speed limit, and road condition. Nate’s map was also a runner up for the student competition.

In addition to attending the conference, Sarah and I also presented on some topics of personal interest. I introduced General Transit Feed Specification data and gave some examples of how to the data is being used in mapping and analysis today. Sarah talked about the importance of open data and open source tools which brought up a lively discussion of how the issue relates to cartography and spatial analysis. Overall, the conference had a nice balance between real-world and academic examples of cartography and analysis. Next year, the conference will be in Minneapolis and it’s definitely a must attend for anyone who loves maps.


LocationTech Tour coming to Philly!

A few weeks ago, we kicked off the brand new GeoPhilly meetup group.  Check out our blog post introducing the new meetup. GeoPhilly unites developers, geographers, data geeks, open source enthusiasts, civic hackers and map addicts in our shared love of maps and the facts they visualize and stories they tell.


Additionally, the past couple of months have been an exciting time for open source at Azavea. In case you missed it, we are proud to announce Azavea has joined the Eclipse Foundation and its new working group, LocationTech! We are glad to be joined by Boundless (formerly OpenGeo), Google and others and hope we can make LocationTech a thriving hub for commercially-friendly open source geospatial software.

GeoPhilly and LocationTech are welcoming the LocationTech kick-off Tour to Philadelphia on November 13th! LocationTech members will be visiting 6 Northeastern cities in Canada and the US for day-long events, talks and happy hours all about open source geo projects. Philadelphia’s event is the 2013 Geo Open Source Conference.  We’ll be hosting an afternoon conference with in-depth talks and an evening social event with lightning talks featuring speakers from the City of Philadelphia, Rackspace, OpenPlans, CCRI, our own staff at Azavea and others.   Speakers will discuss a variety of topics including GeoTrellis, Walkshed.js, OpenTreeMap, GeoJSON for Github, GeoMesa and geojson.js.

We would love to see you there, so please register now! If you can’t make it to Philly, do consider attending the other Tour stops in Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, New York or DC.