Posts Tagged ‘qgis’

FOSS4G 2017 Boston is One Month Away

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

So this summer we’re taking our show on the road! The Free and Open Source for Geospatial (FOSS4G) conference is “the” international conference for all things related to geospatial technology and open source software. FOSS4G 2017 is in Boston August 14-18 and the Baruch GIS team will be there! Anastasia, Janine, and I will be running our full-day introductory GIS Practicum workshop (re-dubbed “Introduction to GIS Using QGIS” for the conference) at the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis in Cambridge on Tuesday Aug 15th. There are a slew of great workshops being offered that Monday and Tuesday, covering all technologies and user levels. The main conference runs from Wednesday to Friday.

FOSS4G is an excellent event that brings together open source GIS and mapping developers, practitioners, and educators. It’s a good place to learn new skills, make connections, and keep up with the latest developments. The main conference only comes to North America once every 3 years, and this is the first time it’s been on the east coast. So if you have some time and money to spare, check it out (August 3 is the last day to register) and come by and say hello.

The last one I attended was FOSS4G 2011 in Denver. I gave a talk about a brand new, introductory workshop with QGIS that I had just launched… 29 workshop sessions and 358 participants later, I couldn’t be happier that I’m returning to complete the circle, running the workshop at the same conference where I had initially unveiled it as a little experiment six years earlier. That conference introduced me to so many tools and ideas that I’ve carried with me in my work over the past several years. I’m eager to learn some more and to connect with some mapping / GIS / librarian pals I haven’t seen in quite a while.

In preparation for the conference and the upcoming academic year, I will be updating the GIS Practicum manual pretty soon. While QGIS 2.18 Las Palmas is currently the latest release, it is scheduled to become the new Long Term Release once version 3.0 comes out later this year. I’m going to make the switch from 2.14 to 2.18 in the next workbook, since this change is on the horizon.

Update Your Links to the New Baruch Geoportal

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

A few weeks ago I launched a new version of our college’s GIS data repository, the Baruch Geoportal. At the back end I have a simplified process for getting data onto our server, and on the front end we did away with manually updating HTML and CSS webpages in favor of using a Confluence wiki. My college has a subscription to Confluence, and I’ve been using an internal wiki for documenting and administering all aspects of our projects. A public, external wiki for providing our data seemed like a nice way to go – we can focus more on the content and it’s easier for my team and I to collaborate.

Since it’s a new site with a new address, many of the links to projects I’ve referred to throughout the years on this blog are no longer valid. Redirects are in place, but they won’t last forever. Some notable links to update:

The new site has a dedicated blog that you can follow (via RSS) for the latest updates to the portal. The portal also has a number of relatively new and publicly accessible datasets that we’ve posted over the last year (but that I haven’t had time to post about). These include the NYC Mass Transit Spatial Layers series and population centroids for US census geographies. We’ve been creating ISO spatial metadata for all of our new layers, but we still need to create XML stylesheets to make them more human-readable. That will be one of many projects to do for this academic year.


Some QGIS Odds and Ends

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

My colleague Joe Paccione recently finished a QGIS tutorial on working with raster data. My introductory tutorial for the GIS Practicum gives only cursory treatment to rasters, so this project was initially conceived to give people additional opportunities to learn about working with them. It focuses on elevation modeling and uses DEMs and DRGs to introduce tiling and warping, and creating hillshades and contour lines.


The tutorial was written using QGIS 2.0 and was tested with version 2.4; thus it’s readily usable with any 2.x version of QGIS. With the rapid progression of QGIS my introductory tutorial for the workshop is becoming woefully outdated, having been written in version 1.8. It’s going to take me quite a while to update (among other things, the image for every darn button has changed) but I plan to have a new version out sometime in the fall, but probably not at the beginning of semester. Since I have a fair amount of work to do any way, I’m going to rethink all of the content and exercises. Meanwhile, Lex Berman at Harvard has updated his wonderfully clear and concise tutorial to Q version 2.x.

The workshops have been successful for turning people on to open source GIS on my campus, to the point were people are using it and coming back to teach me new things – especially when it comes to uncovering useful plugins:

  • I had a student who needed to geocode a bunch of addresses, but since many of them were international I couldn’t turn to my usual geocoding service at Texas A & M. While I’ve used the MMQGIS plugin for quite a while (it has an abundance of useful tools), I NEVER NOTICED that it includes a geocoding option that acts as a GUI for accessing both the Google and Open Streetmap API for geocoding. He discovered it, and it turned out quite well for him.
  • I was helping a prof who was working with a large point file of street signs, and we discovered a handy plugin called Points2One that allowed us to take those points and turn them into lines based on an attribute the points held in common. In this case every sign on a city block shared a common id that allowed us to create lines representing each side of the street on each block.
  • After doing some intersect and difference geoprocessing with shapefiles I was ending up with some dodgy results – orphaned nodes and lines that had duplicate attributes with good polygons. If I was in a database, an easy trick to find these duplicates would be to run a select query where you group by ID and count them, and anything with a count more than two are duplicates – but this was a shapefile. Luckily there’s a handy plugin called Group Stats that lets you create pivot tables, so I used that to do a summary count and identified the culprits. The plugin allowed me to select all the features that matched my criteria of having an id count of 2 or more, so I could eyeball them in the map view and the attribute table. I calculated the geometry for all the features and sorted the selected ones, revealing that all the duplicates had infinitesimally small areas. Then it was a simple matter of select and delete.
  • NYC Geodatabase in Spatialite

    Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

    I spent much of the fall semester and winter interim compiling and creating the NYC geodatabase (nyc_gdb), a desktop geodatabase resource for doing basic mapping and analysis at a neighborhood level – PUMAs, ZIP Codes / ZCTAs, and census tracts. There were several motivations for doing this. First and foremost, as someone who is constantly introducing new people to GIS it’s a pain sending people to a half dozen different websites to download shapefiles and process basic features and data before actually doing a project. By creating this resource I hoped to lower the hurdles a bit for newcomers; eventually they still need to learn about the original sources and data processing, but this gives them a chance to experiment and see the possibilities of GIS before getting into nitty gritty details.

    Second, for people who are already familiar with GIS and who have various projects to work on (like me) this saves a lot of duplicated effort, as the db provides a foundation to build on and saves the trouble of starting from scratch each time.

    Third, it gave me something new to learn and will allow me to build a second part to my open source GIS workshops. I finally sat down and hammered away with Spatialite (went through the Spatialite Cookbook from start to finish) and learned spatial SQL, so I could offer a resource that’s open source and will compliment my QGIS workshop. I was familiar with the Access personal geodatabases in ArcGIS, but for the most part these serve as simple containers. With the ability to run all the spatial SQL operations, Spatialite expands QGIS functionality, which was something I was really looking for.

    My original hope was to create a server-based PostGIS database, but at this point I’m not set up to do that on my campus. I figured Spatialite was a good alternative – the basic operations and spatial SQL commands are relatively the same, and I figured I could eventually scale up to PostGIS when the time comes.

    I also created an identical, MS Access version of the database for ArcGIS users. Once I got my features in Spatialite I exported them all out as shapefiles and imported them all via ArcCatalog – not too arduous as I don’t have a ton of features. I used the SQLite ODBC driver to import all of my data tables from SQLite into Access – that went flawlessly and was a real time saver; it just took a little bit of time to figure out how to set up (but this blog post helped).

    The databases are focused on NYC features and resources, since that’s what my user base is primarily interested in. I purposefully used the Census TIGER files as the base, so that if people wanted to expand the features to the broader region they easily could. I spent a good deal of time creating generalized layers, so that users would have the primary water / coastline and large parks and wildlife areas as reference features for thematic maps, without having every single pond and patch of grass to clutter things up. I took several features (schools, subway stations, etc) from the City and the MTA that were stored in tables and converted them to point features so they’re readily useable.

    Given that focus, it’s primarily of interest to NYC folks, but I figured it may be useful for others who wish to experiment with Spatialite. I assumed that most people who would be interested in the database would not be familiar with this format, so I wrote a tutorial that covers the database and it’s features, how to add and map data in QGIS, how to work with the data and do SQL / spatial SQL in the Spatialite GUI, and how to map data in ArcGIS using the Access Geodb. It’s Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike, so feel free to give it a try.

    I spent a good amount of time building a process rather than just a product, so I’ll be able to update the db twice a year, as city features (schools, libraries, hospitals, transit) change and new census data (American Community Survey, ZIP Business Patterns) is released. Many of the Census features, as well as the 2010 Census data, will be static until 2020.

    New Version of Introductory GIS Tutorial Now Available

    Sunday, October 7th, 2012

    The latest version of my Introduction to GIS tutorial using QGIS is now available. I’ve completely revised how it’s organized and presented; I wrote the first two manuals in HTML, since I wanted something that gave me flexibility with inserting many images in a large document (word processors are notoriously poor at this). Over the summer I learned how to use LaTeX, and the result for this 3rd edition is an infintely better document, for classroom use or self study.

    I also updated the manual for use with QGIS 1.8. I’m thinking that the addition of the Data Browser and the ability to simply select the CRS of the current layer or project when you’re doing a Save As (rather than having to select the CRS from the master list) will save a lot of valuable time in class. With every operation that we perform we’re constantly creating new files as the result of selections and geoprocessing, and I always lose a few people each time we’re forced to crawl through the file system to add new layers we’ve created. These simple changes should speed things up. I’ve updated the manual throughout to reflect these changes, and have also updated the datasets to reflect what’s currently available. I provide a summary of the most salient changes in the introduction.

    Adding a Scale Bar in the QGIS Map Composer

    Friday, August 31st, 2012

    I recently finished revisions for the next edition of the manual for my GIS workshop, and incorporated a new section on adding a scale bar in the QGIS map composer. I thought I’d share that piece here. I’m using the latest version of QGIS, 1.8 Lisboa.

    The scale bar in the map composer automatically takes the units used in the coordinate reference system (CRS) that your layers are in. In order to get a scale bar that makes sense, your layers will need to use a CRS that’s in meters or feet. If you’re using a geographic coordinate system that’s in degrees, like WGS 84 or NAD 83, the result isn’t going to make sense. It’s possible at large scales (covering small areas) to convert degrees to meters or feet but it’s a pain. Most projected coordinate systems for countries, continents, and the globe use meters. Regional systems like UTM also use meters, and in the US you can use a state plane system and choose between meters or feet. Transform your layers to something that’s appropriate for your map.

    Once you have layers that are in a CRS that uses meters or feet, you’ll need to convert the units to kilometers or miles using the scale bar’s menu. Let’s say I have a map of the 50 states that’s in the US National Atlas Equal Area Projection, which is a continental projected coordinate system of the US, number 2163 in the EPSG library (this system is also known as the Lambert Azimuthal Equal-Area projection). It’s in meters. In the QGIS Map Composer I select the Add New Scalebar button, and click on the map to add it. The resulting scale bar is rather small and the units are clumped together.

    Scalebar button on the toolbar

    With the scale bar active, in the menus on the right I click on the Item Properties. First, we have to decide how large we want the individual segments on the scale bar to be. I’m making a thematic map of the US, so for my purposes 200 miles would be OK. The conversion factor is 1,609 meters in a mile. Since we want each segment on the scale bar to represent 200 miles, we multiply 1,609 by 200 to get 321,800 meters. In the Item tab, this is the number that I type in the segment size box: 321,800, replacing the default 100,000. Then, in the map units by bar, I change this from 1 to 1,609. Now the units of the scale bar start to make sense. Increase the number of right segments from 2 to 3, so I have a bar that goes from 0 to 600 miles, in 200 mile segments. I like to decrease the height of the bar a bit, from 5mm to 3mm. In the Unit label box I type Miles. Lastly, I switch to the General options tab just below, and turn off the outline for the bar. Now I have a scale bar that’s appropriate for this map!

    Most people in the rest of the world will be using kilometers. That conversion is even simpler. If we wanted the scale bar segments to represent 200 km, we would multiply 200 by 1,000 (1,000 meters in a kilometer) to get 200,000 meters. 200,000 goes in the segment size box and 1,000 goes in the map units per bar. Back in the US, if you’re working in a local state plane projection that uses feet, the conversion will be the familiar 5,280 feet to a mile. So, if we wanted a scale bar that has segments of 20 miles, multiply 5,280 by 20 to get 105,600 feet. 105,600 goes in the segment size box, and 5,280 goes in the map units per bar box.

    A reality check is always a good idea. Take your scale bar and compare it to some known distance between features on your map. In our first example, I would drag the scale bar over the map of the US and measure the width of Illinois at its widest point, which is just over 200 miles. In the Item Properties tab for the scale bar I turn the opacity down to zero, so the bar doesn’t hide the map features underneath. If the bar matches up I know I’m in good shape. Remember that not all map projections will preserve distance as a property, and distortion becomes an issue for small scale maps that cover large areas (i.e. continents and the globe). On small scale maps distance will be true along standard parallels, and will become less accurate the further away you go.

    GIS Workshops This Apr & May

    Sunday, March 25th, 2012

    This semester I’ll be teaching three workshops with Prof. Deborah Balk in spatial tools and analysis. Sponsored by the CUNY Institute of Demographic Research (CIDR), the workshops will be held on Baruch College’s campus in midtown NYC on Friday afternoons. The course is primarily intended for data and policy analysts who want to gain familiarity with the basics of map making and spatial analysis; registration is open to anyone. The workshops progress from basic to intermediate skills that cover making a map (Apr 27th), geospatial calculations (May 4th), and geospatial analysis (May 11th). We’ll be using QGIS and participants will work off of their own laptops; we’ll also be demonstrating some of the processes in ArcGIS and participants will receive an evaluation copy of that software. Each workshop is $300 or you can register for all three for $750.

    For full details check out this flier. You can register via the College’s CAPS website; do a search for DEM and register for each session (DEM0003, DEM0004, and DEM0005).

    Updates for QGIS 1.7 Wroclaw

    Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

    The latest version of QGIS, 1.7 “Wroclaw” was released a few weeks ago. Some of the recent updates render parts of my GIS Practiucm out of date (unless you’re sticking with versions 1.5 or 1.6), so I’ll be making updates later this summer for the upcoming workshops this academic year. In the meantime, I wanted to summarize the most salient changes here for the participants in this past spring’s workshops, and for anyone else who may be interested. Here are the big two changes that affect the tutorial / manual:

    Transforming Projections – In previous versions you would go under Vector – > Data Management Tools > Export to New Projection. In 1.7 this has been dropped from the ftools vector menu. To transform the projection of a file, you select it in the Map Legend (ML), right-click, hit Save As, give it a new name and specify the new CRS there. The QGIS developers have provided some info on how QGIS handles projections that’s worth checking out. You can go in the settings and have QGIS transform projections on the fly, which is fine depending on what you’re going to do. My preference is to play it safe – do the transformations and make sure all your files and the window share the same CRS. It can save you headaches later on.

    Table Joins – In previous versions you would also accomplish this under Vector – > Data Management Tools > Join Attributes, where you’d join a DBF or CSV to a shapefile to create a new file with both the geometry and the data. Now that’s out, and QGIS can support dynamic joins, similar to ArcGIS where you couple the attribute table to the shapefile without permanently fusing the two. To do this you must add your DBF or CSV directly to your project; do this the same way you’d add a vector layer. Hit the Add Vector button, and change the drop down at the bottom so you can see all files (not just shapefiles) in your directory. Add your table. Then select your layer in the ML and double click to open the properties menu. You’ll see a new tab for Joins. Hit the tab and hit the plus button to add a new join. You’ll select your table, the table’s join field, and the layer’s join field. Hit OK to join em, and it’s done. Open the attribute table for the layer and you’ll see all columns for the layer and the joined field.
    New Join Menu QGIS 1.7

    This sounds great, but I had some trouble when I went to symbolize my data. Using the old symbology tab, I couldn’t classify any of my columns from my attribute table using Equal Intervals; it populated each class with zeros. Quantiles worked fine. If I switched to the new symbology, I still couldn’t use Equal Intervals, and Quantiles and Natural Breaks only worked partially – my dataset contained negative values which were simply dropped instead of classified. Grrrrr. I got around this by selecting my layer in the ML (after doing the join), right clicked, and saved it as a new layer. This permanently fused the shapefile with the attributes, and I had no problem classifying and mapping data in the new file. I went to the forum and asked for help to see if this is a bug – will report back with the results.

    Here are some other updates worth noting:

    • Feature Count – if you right click on a layer in the ML, you can select the Feature Count option and the number of features will be listed under your layer. If you’ve classified your features, it will do a separate count for each classification.
    • Feature Count QGIS 1.7

    • Measuring Tool – it looks like it’s now able to convert units on the fly, so even if you’re using a CRS with units in degrees, it can convert it to meters and kilometers (you can go into the options menu if you want to switch to feet and miles).
    • Labels – it looks like the experimental labelling features have been made default in this verson, and they do work better, especially with polygons.
    • Map Composer Undo – undo and redo buttons have been added to the map composer, which makes it much easier to work with.
    • Undo Redo Button Map Composer

    • Map Composer Symbols – if you go to insert an image in the map composer, you’ll have a number of default SVG symbols you can load, incuding north arrows
    • Export to PDF – from the map composer, this was pretty buggy in the past but I was able to export a map today without any problems at all.

    FOSS4G In Denver This Sept

    Monday, June 20th, 2011

    I’m all set to go to FOSS4G 2011, the global conference on Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial, organized by OSGeo. The conference takes place in Denver, CO from Mon Sept 12 to Fri the 16th. The first two days (12th-13th) consist of morning and and afternoon workshops while the main conference takes place from the 14th to the 16th and features talks, presentations, tutorials, exhibits, and some fun social events.

    The full program is available here, and it looks like it’s chock full of interesting presentations and lots of great learning opportunities via the workshops and tutorials. I’ll be presenting on Weds afternoon, for those interested in my adventures in introducing QGIS on a college campus.

    If you’re on the fence about attending, consider this: this is the sixth year for the conference and it’s only the second time that it’s been held in North America (Canada hosted the 2nd conference in 2007) and the first time it’s being hosted in the US. So if you’re in North America and getting funding from your organization for travel is an issue, now’s your best chance to go. This is truly an international conference (was also hosted in Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, and Spain) so it probably won’t be back on these shores for awhile.

    Here’s some more motivation – early registration at the discounted rate ends on June 30th!

    GIS Practicum and QGIS Tutorial

    Thursday, May 19th, 2011

    I recently finished running my day-long practicum this semester, Introduction to GIS Using Open Source Software, which used QGIS to introduce new users to GIS. Each participant received a printed tutorial booklet for the class, which I’m now providing online under a Creative Commons license here:

    I plan on revising the tutorial once a year, and the online version will be one version behind what I use and distribute in class. I’ll be busy this summer tweaking the guide and the class and will offer the in-class version to members of my university again in the 2011-12 academic year.

    I held the workshop three times and had 45 participants out of a possible 60. Half were graduate students and the other half were faculty or staff. The top three disciplines that were represented were public health, library and information science, and public administration; I also had a smattering of folks from across the social sciences and a few from the natural sciences. Despite my intention to introduce GIS to novices, about half of the participants had some previous experience using GIS, primarily ArcGIS. All of these folks were pleasantly surprised with how well QGIS performed.

    If you have any questions or comments about the tutorial feel free to contact me:

    francis DOT donnelly AT baruch DOT cuny DOT edu

    There’s also the gothos email address, but to be honest I don’t check it as often as I should – frank

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