San Diego and Geospatial Education

Once a year, for about a week, San Diego becomes home to thousands of geeks, nerds, technophiles, and other creative people who seek out each other to share, collaborate, network, eat, drink, and run around the Gaslamp District. No, I’m not referring to the San Diego Comic-Con, the most important event in pop culture geekery. I am referring to one of the world’s most important events in geospatial education and technology, Esri’s International User Conference.


Esri’s International Users Conference occurs in San Diego each year, either the last week of June or the first week of July, after the 4th. The San Diego Comic-Con typically occurs just before or just after the Esri UC, the town either prepping for hundreds of thousands of people going bonkers for comic book-themed pop culture events and activities, or cleaning up after hundreds of thousands of people who binged for a week on comics, movies, interviews, autograph sessions, and costume/cosplay contests. One could argue San Diego is the Geek Capital of the United States, if not the world.


San Diego, especially the Gaslamp District, Little Italy, and the East Village is wonderfully walkable. My first stay in San Diego was 15 years or so ago, staying at a name brand hotel out on Hotel Circle. Myself and a co-worker rented a car and drove in each morning for the conference. The trolley did not extend as far as Hotel Circle in those days (that I remember.) Today, a family can find affordable accommodations on Hotel Circle and take the trolley into downtown; then, they could spend the bulk of the day walking the Gaslamp District or Seaport Village.

20160624_130101San Diego is a wonderful pet-friendly city. My own town of Murray, KY cites coffee shops if there is a dog on premises. I’m not sure what the fine is; I’m familiar with a couple of coffee shop managers to know the health inspector threatens action if dogs are not removed from the premises.

Not San Diego. Pets are family in my book and a well-behaved dog in a coffee shop warms my heart and communicates to me all is right in the world. If you haven’t been to San Diego, you’ll need to update your tolerance for seeing dogs in cafes. Many countries, Germany, France, and Italy to name a few, have no concerns having furbabies nearby.

20160624_122508Another fantastic trait of San Diego is the prevalence of good ethnic food. The Gaslamp District is replete with great food. Sure, visitors can find the Hard Rock Cafe, the Spaghetti Factory, and other familiar chains. Tucked into every corner of every street are little nuggets of goodness. I ate at Tajima Ramen in the East Village simply because Google Maps suggested I might enjoy their food. I have no experience eating real ramen, only the 3 for $1 packages of ramen I purchase at Kroger regularly. The Tonkotsu Ramen with chicken chashu was a hearty broth with meaty noodles, a subtly sweet ramen egg, and sliced chicken. I paired my ramen with a glass of Saint Archer White Ale, a mildly citrus brew good for summer afternoon.

Attending Esri’s Education User’s Conference (EdUC) is my chief reason for being in San Diego. As I mentioned to Esri’s Michael Phoenix and the fellow below, Dave Zaboski ( the Esri EdUC is my favorite time of year other than Halloween. Halloween embodies creativity and imagination and make-believe, and by attending the Esri EdUC I am placed in an environment where I am surrounded by people struggling to be creative, striving to use our imaginations and to transform the ideas we believe in into something worthwhile through collaboration, making connections, listening and learning from each other.

Dave Zaboski was invited to provide our opening plenary monologue as he embodies creativity. Having worked as a senior animator at Disney, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros. Dave has worked on numerous well-known movies such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pocahontas,” and “The Lion King,” and has lived a fantastic life. He illustrates books for such authors as Deepak Chopra and was commissioned by the Dalai Lama to create his portrait in recognition of his 80th birthday.

Dave’s mission this morning was to help inspire the crowd to learn to be more creative. Creativity can be learned; creativity is not an innate ability some people have and some people don’t. Creativity can be fostered and nurtured and people who think they have no talent can realize some or at least more than they recognize they have. I’m not sure his message was adequately communicated. How much time is required to reveal to a person how creative they might be? Is 45 minutes enough? Perhaps.

One technique Zaboski recommended is the idea of “plussing.” Plussing refers to a creative atmosphere whereby all people on a project contribute in positive ways to augment the trajectory of an idea. Everyone’s input is equal in measure; a senior animator carries no more weight than the penciller or colorist or editor. Everyone gets to offer creative input. That notion is important. Too often, our workplaces are stifling. One person in the right place in a bureaucracy can stop an idea dead. No vetting, no debate, just DOA.

20160625_171701I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time later in the day. I was wandering through the vendor and sponsor area and noticed the painting created during the morning plenary was stuck away in a corner of the reception hall. I took a few selfies, goofing around. A gentleman with the national 4-H organization helped me take a better pic. While I was messing around, the Esri aide assisting Dave Zaboski told me to “not move. Dave is on his way! Stay right there and Dave will be here in a minute. He is on his way!”

I stuck around and Dave appeared after a few minutes. He was gracious enough to allow a nice photo opportunity, and he entertained me with a small conversation. We agreed schools are not doing a good job encouraging kids or adults to be creative. Universities, he stated, are becoming more corporate and are being run as corporate entities for the benefit of business. One of the most important characteristics businesses demand from new hires is creativity and schools are not fulfilling this demand, was a point made earlier in the day by Dave. I mentioned to him I’ve recently learned community colleges and universities are now investigating building “soft skills” into the curriculum. Soft skills, to the unfamiliar, are the zero-day skills everyone should have before even being hired, like knowing how to politely answer a phone, shake hands, show up for work on-time, and understand deadlines, and work an entire day. Seriously. There are efforts underway right now in Kentucky community colleges, and perhaps even state universities, to incorporate soft skills into the curriculum and figuring out ways of assessing soft skills. Thus, our educational system moves further away from helping people think, reason, and rationalize problems, from challenging their intellect, and encouraging creative and unique approaches to problem-solving.

The first day of Esri’s EdUC was fine. Later, I will post some thoughts about geospatial careers.

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