ESRI International Users Conference: Day 2


One of San Diego’s best traits is the dog community. Dogs are great; their owners vary in disposition as much as dogs vary in size, weight, color, temperament, and breath odor. Walking down the sidewalk in San Diego, one may pass all sorts of dogs breeds as well as associated human breeds. Pass a dog and you might get sniffed; not all the time. One of my favorite pastimes is to catch a dog’s eye and see how he or she reacts. Does the dog look right back in your face? Do the ears go up? Does the tail go up? Does the tail go up and a wiggle-butt begins? If the dog walker forbids interaction by simply moving past, does the dog turn and look back at you over a shoulder, as if to say, “Sorry, dude, my pack leader has me on a tight leash. Smell ya later.”

Being a pack leader myself, I appreciate when dogs give me a sniff and take an opportunity to receive a back or belly rub. My mother is babysitting my girls during my attendance in San Diego, and I have had to help her through a couple challenges with my dogs. Sadie, my 8-year old husky/shepherd/mule-mix, is an Alpha-Alpha female. She marks territory and claims toys, treats, yards, streets, street signs, other dogs pee, other dogs poop, other dogs, as her own. She doesn’t tolerate eye contact with other dogs well. The other dog needs to be immediately submissive or she will take the task of showing the other dog their rank within her pack order, i.e. “Hi, my name is Sadie, and I’m your new boss for as long as I’m here.” Sadie has been reluctant to eat and defecate in my absence. Sadie won’t use the backyard many times for her bathroom habits; the backyard is for my other dog or dogs and for guest animals, and guest people, depending on the situation. Sadie prefers the front yard. Here, she can resurvey her range, reset her markers, reassert her claims to my neighbors yards, and challenge any and all neighborhood visitors for their intents and purposes while visiting the street. She conducted an extensive scrutiny of the roofing crew working on my neighbor’s house across the street last week, and the chimney sweeps who arrived at the same house two days later she also waved through. To remedy Sadie’s self-imposed fecal warehousing I told my mother, “Take her for a walk along the creek and just keeping walking until she moves.” And, the walk happened, and the movement happened, and my mother reported, “I think Sadie may have lost 14-lbs on our hike today.” Problem solved.

My other dog, a 3-year old Brittany Spaniel, is happy every moment she is awake, especially if someone will play soccer or try to remove the chew-bone from her mouth. She also likes to give hugs, give kisses, and make-out during movies, a really annoying trait, as I would prefer to watch the movie.

One of my favorite new hashtags on Twitter is #AcademicsWithBeer. I consider myself an academic; I have no Ph.D and will probably never be able to attain one until well past the time when one will do me any good. On the other hand, when I am able to obtain one the good news is I will be old enough to avail myself to free college courses. And, then I’ll be too senile to remember anything. Such is life. San Diego is great town if you are a foodie. I’m not a foodie, not really. I enjoy good tasting food in moderate quantities and am not afraid to eat most food or quasi-food items. The worst edible item I can remember eating was sea urchin. Looks like peanut butter, has the consistency of snot or really soft gelatin, and not a pleasurable experience.

The ESRI Education Users Conference typically has some very nice hors-d’oeuvres, what some might think of as tapas. At the end of sessions Saturday and Sunday, ESRI Education provides an opportunity for education companies and organizations to showcase their products while 800 or so faculty, staff, students, and other education professionals meet-and-greet and share stories and ask questions to ESRI Education staff. Jack Dangermond and his amazing crew of support professionals really pour their hearts, souls, minds into helping people find resolutions for what ever issue or concern or project is faced by attendees. Then, Jack treats us to nice food. Beer and wine are on us, though, and that’s cool with me.

The Ballast Point I was not really a fan of; the flavor was fine. I was caught off-guard by the flavor. I might have been if the label had given me some impression the front end would have a surprising citrus character. Leinenkugel has a Summer Shandy, a light, fresh citrusy lager which I enjoy. The Ballast Point shares a similar flavor profile, I think; I would like to know that in advance, though. Label doesn’t really connote the flavor of the beer. Red Trolley Ale is a standard ale produced locally by Karl Krauss Brewing Company. RTA is fine brew, consistently good and dependable, full-flavor and rich, suitable for paring with many dishes, including my plate of pseudo-Chinese dumplings. Guinness and Shepherd’s Pie at The Field should be a regular visit for anyone traveling to San Diego. Singha, from Thailand, is a nice, full-bodied lager. My hostess seemed pleased I selected Singha, understandable since I had elected to dine on a bowl of Pad See at Sab Lai in the Gaslamp District. Pad See is a variation on Pad Thai, using wider rice noodles than the thinner rice noodles. Outside of the difference in noodles, and Pad See lacked the peanut garnish common to Pad Thai, I didn’t really notice much difference in taste. The Pad See arrived much quicker than I anticipated, arrived hot, yet lacked a fresh quality I was expecting for having pad see in San Diego. The small Thai restaurant in my town in western Kentucky I would have scored higher on taste, presentation, and quality. Your mileage is sure to vary, though, as the saying goes.

Higher Education Site License Administrators Special Interest Group (HESLA-SIG)

So, this happened today. ESRI has some quality people in charge of ESRI Education Team: David Dibiasi, Angela Lee, Ann Masangcay, Joseph Kerski, Michael Gould, Charlie Fitzpatrick, Tom Baker, George Dailey. These folks are top-notch in not simply in the GIS industry but really motivated to help others learn, grow, develop, and encourage those people to, in turn, mentor others. Sure, they sell ESRI software, but philosophically, they are advocating for a set of tools and processes to help make the world a better place. The world becomes a better place by collecting data, asking questions based on data, analysing the data, and interpreting the data. Then, people can make data-driven decisions, the notion being the better and more robust our data collection and analysis efforts the better our decision-making becomes. This reasoning was the foundation of Martin O’Malley’s discussion during the Monday afternoon plenary about coaxing better services from our government, and coaxing better efficiency out of programs using data-driven decision-making procedures.

During our session I used Periscope to capture live portions of our discussion. Periscope is a Twitter-based software app, available for iOS and Android. Periscope leverages the camera in a smartphone, WIFI, and your Twitter account to allow people in off-site locations to watch live, in real-time, some other event. The video can be captured to the device for uploading to a website or watching later. I found the video to be grainy; remember, however, this broadcast event is using your smartphone in real-time to capture a live event. Thus, there is some form of video loss necessary. Audio was a little sketchy, too. However, I sort of liked the technology. As an on-the-fly video capture app to broadcast a live event, Periscope was sort of cool. I will try to remember to post a video segment when I have access to a better network.

Our SIG covered some nice territory. Angela Lee led us through a laundry list of changes, all nice. More ArcGIS Online credits, better administration tools, and an enhanced license agreement for Business Analyst. Business Analyst can now be used for academic research. Prior, Business Analyst was strictly limited to teaching and educational purposes only. Now, faculty can use included software and data for conducting academic research. Notice I did not say, “Universities are able to use Business Analyst for administrative research.” In other words, Business Analyst cannot be used by the college or university for the analysis of its own business patterns or researching the demographics of student body populations, or any other pursuit not associated with teaching and learning. Also, ArcGIS Pro is the wave of the future, so wax up your surfboard and hang ten.


Our Academic GIS Center SOS group.

Later in the day, we were invited to develop Self-Organized Sessions (SOS). I wonder if anyone noted the irony in the acronym. One fellow, Nathan, from a Florida university, proposed a session for “GIS Center Management, Policies, and Practices” for later in the afternoon. A good idea, I thought, so I will offer one earlier, and he will have his later, and we will catch folks who want to discuss GIS center management details.

He and I ended up collaborating on the early session I pitched, and then we merged the sessions into one uber-session, running into the time he was given for his afternoon session.

Mario was not really present. One member of the group vehemently opposed being recorded in any fashion and threaten to walk out of the SOS should I continue to capture details of our meeting with my smartphone camera. I told him, no worries, I will edit you out. True to my word, I edited him from the group pic of our discussion. Not sure how someone can avoid being digitally captured at a conference where everyone is capturing video, taking pics, using Periscope, etc., but not my worry.

self-organized-sessionI became the de facto leader of our merry group, putting together a list of talking points to help drive our discussion. Those points were enumerated on an easel (left). We identified 7 talking points:

  1. Cost Recovery
  2. Budget Lines
  3. Mission / Purpose
  4. Student Workers / Interns / Employment
  5. Grants and Contracts
  6. Communication and support among various GIS centers in the United States
  7. Measures of Success

Yes, I know I have a “#8;” I had to come back and add “Measures of Success” later, and one of the intervening topics had seven bullet points, and my brain didn’t refresh to catch the error as I hopped between pages.

Cost Recovery refers to how a college or university is going to pay for continued use and support of an ESRI license. If memory serves, Angela Lee reported 37 states have ESRI state-wide license agreements. One of the states not having a state-wide license agreement was present at the table, Florida, represented by two schools. Most people reported not really being interested in cost recovery, like those attached to state-wide license agreements, such as Minnesota. ArcGIS Pro and the associated licensing mechanism makes charging users problematic. One recommendation for colleges and universities not able to participate in a state-wide agreement was to encourage grant writers who plan on using ArcGIS software in any capacity to add a budget item to the grant to help defray licensing cost.

Communication Among Centers seems to be a constant struggle. Participants cited numerous efforts, all of which failed, to keep lines of communication free and open. Using GEONET was a proposed option, as well as the ESRI HigherEd-L listserve. The consensus was to create and manage a Google Group, inviting users, posting questions and comments, and ensuring the group was general in order to address a number of GIS center issues, not simply those pertaining to the ESRI Site License Administration.

In our waning minutes we discussed how we might measure success of a center. Many centers are required to provide metrics to show service, progress towards goals, or other forms of achievement. Metrics, while optional at some institutions, can be necessary when requesting money for new servers, new desktops, or introducing other bits of technology. Administrators are renowned for demanding, “What have you done for us, lately?” Without metrics, one lacks evidence for data-driven decision-making.

How can a GIS Center develop metrics? What metrics might be useful? Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Track the number of students using the labs.
  2. Track the times and days-of-week labs are in use.
  3. Track how faculty use or reserve use of labs.
  4. Track the number of ArcGIS (AGO) accounts issued.
  5. Gather statistics from AGO use via admin dashboard.
  6. Track the number of software licenses issued across campus.
  7. Track the software installations in computer labs across campus.
  8. Track the number of laptop seats or Student Edition seats
  9. Track time on projects, grants, or Help Desk-type activities. One suggestion was to use Paymo (link) for logging time.
  10. Track the number of inquiries from both internal and external sources.
  11. Open dialog with college/university IT Staff and have them perform usage audits on computers labs. Check for times, number of logins, number of computers used, etc.

These are the ideas we arrived upon, certainly not an exhaustive list. A GIS Center manager needs to “sniff the air” to see which direction the wind is blowing and adjust what is being measuring based on local conditions, for sure. These items should give a new or seasoned GIS Center manager a place to begin.

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My late afternoon I spent in the Exhibition Hall, cruising past vendors keeping an eye out for a good contest and enviable swag. Not this year. Maybe the Hay Days of fantastic swag are behind me. I have nice shirts I received as swag, shirt granting me privileged access to the San Diego “House of Blues” no less. Maybe the years where everyone was giving away iPods, iPads, Playstations, and XBoxes are gone, replaced by nothing but ethereal memories of by-gone days, when a young fellow could sit a large round table in the middle of Main Street, Palm Springs, California, listening to Jack and Friends tell stories. Yes, that actually happened to me, in 1995, thereabouts. In those remarkable days, one boarded a small commuter plane to convey conference-goers over and around the San Jacinto Mtns, dodging the propellers of the wind farm, buffeted by air currents and crazy heat-driven thermals to a queasy sideways landing at Palm Springs airfield. At night, some road, I don’t remember precisely if Main Street was involved but might as well have been, was cordoned off. Restaurants and ESRI set up tables and everyone served themselves from a buffet line. If one was lucky, like me, Jack would join the table you were sitting at and eat, have a beer or glass of wine, and hang out. Good times…good times.


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