Learning GIS at Selkirk College

What happens in the lab; a showcase of GIS Student creations & other good stuff.

Category: ADGIS (page 2 of 4)

smart phone GPS compared to traditional recreational GPS, what’s the deal?

Guest blog post by ADGIS student: Sean Fredrickson

First off: it is a generalization that smartphones have come into the mainstream use of everyday people. I think it is a fair generalization, I mean, look at how many users are dependent on smartphones to give them real time data, and the use of the coveted GPS (global positioning system) apps. From navigation in vehicles within towns or cities, to a wide variety of outdoor recreation uses, and even in work scenarios, we use these apps.

The question is; what are the differences between using your phone for GPS and a traditional handheld unit?

We all know the advantages of personal hand held GPS units (we’re not talking about carrying around a Trimble here to hike down a trail), interchangeable batteries, better reception, somewhat ease of use, and relatively good precision.

But the advancements of mobile phone GPS are significant.….At first it was AGPS, assisted GPS, in which a phone requires a connection for its GPS to work (i.e. a cell connection) whereas  new smartphones these days (eg. iPhone3G,  Nokias),  have proper GPS, so one can use them anywhere in a country or out on a boat.  No reception required.

It seems like the advantages of just using an iPhone GPS (or any other new smart phone GPS) are starting to take over the competition from the trusty hand held GPS device. Uploaded satellite imagery is probably one of the greatest tools, having the ability to see the actual overview image is unbelievably advantageous to the user. As well as the interface – we’re all getting used to and seem to be internally programmed to be able to understand (to a certain extent) our phones, whereas sometimes hopping over to the handheld GPS device requires a few mental reprograms in itself. Touch screens make it easy to make waypoints, select areas, make tracks, etc. as well as managing your inbox and text messages.

I was that old user of a plain flip phone, and a horribly slow text message writer.  While working in the forest industry I carried my flip phone and a Garmin 60cx (my stand alone GPS unit).  This was until a co-worker was packing around his iPhone showing images of the cut blocks we were going to, finding the best routes through the bush via old roads, cut lines, creeks, tree stand types from images, and really helping us move around easier. I then realized the potential.

It is up to the users to see where these applications are helpful and useful to themselves.

But, as a note from experience, it is a lot easier to change a couple AA batteries in a Garmin, than finding your way back to your truck to charge your phone.

We’re baaaaack

….for another semester!  Fresh from Christmas break, some are reeeeeeally eager to get back at it.

Others say they need more holiday.  But couldn’t we all use just a little more holiday, just some of the time?

It’s finally snowing here in the Kootenays, which gives conflicting thoughts to many who came here for that fluffy white stuff in the first place (So, Red or White, what’s your preference?).

But dedication to education trumps, and the classroom is full.

One thing is for certain, the students are fresh after a couple weeks of break, and with new courses and a new semester, it feels like a new beginning….albeit with some strong GIS skills already under their belts.

This semester includes courses like Internet mapping, remote sensing, advanced applications, databases, professional development, technical preparation (for research projects) and for those taking the BGIS, spatial stats and emerging trends.

So stay tuned for what’s coming up….and more student guest blog posts.



GIS Technology in disaster management

~A guest student blog post by GISer Andrew Jones

With natural disasters increasing in magnitude and frequency, technology has an important role to play in the management of relief efforts. The use of open source technologies and readily available off the shelf products can provide realistic, cost effective solutions.This blog post looks at the these technologies and how they can be employed in the developing world.

There are private organizations and charities that have been set up to assist in dealing with the aftermath of natural and man made disasters. The Sahana software foundation was set up in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami to assist the management of  relief efforts following natural disasters. The foundation has since evolved into a provider of open source disaster management software. They are

“dedicated to the mission of saving lives by providing information management solutions that enable organizations and communities to better prepare for and respond to disasters”

Access to remotely sensed data can make the management of disaster zones a far more intuitive, visual process, and the disaster charter aims to make this data accessible. The charter is an agreement between countries that allows for disaster management agencies to obtain up to date satellite imagery for the disaster affected areas.

One of the major issues for disaster management efforts in developing countries is a lack of existing technological infrastructure.  A usable network that can provide means of reporting VGI, communications, and relief coordination is essential. An innovative network topology that can be utilized in these scenarios is a meshnet, which is essentially a decentralized method of networking. This method has been recently popularized as an alternative to internet infrastructure by project meshnet.

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

The delivery of aid in disaster zones is also an area that can greatly benefit by utilizing the advancement in technologies. Drone technology, like this example in Australia  could easily be used to deliver aid where conventional vehicles cannot. Another example of drone use is in Colorado this year to map the floods.

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) is a valuable source of information and when combined with the other technologies mentioned above can make a big difference in the management of disasters. The widespread availability of smart mobile phones (even in developing countries) makes the utilization of these technologies a huge benefit. Many people have access to a device that can communicate, record video and photos with location information, and participate in a meshnet. This information is so invaluable in the wake of a disaster, UNICEF have commissioned a project that provides the tools for citizens to upload data about their local areas to live webmaps.

The convergence of these technologies is allowing innovative and affordable solutions to be applied to disaster management.

The charities and volunteer organizations are able to help empower the locals to take control of their own disaster management. Open source philosophy and utilization of affordable off the shelf products can make these solutions possible for developing nations. If you want to use your knowledge for the greater good, consider volunteering for one of the organizations mentioned above.

~by Andrew Jones, GIS student



Cartography, the art of map making

~ the following is another guest blog post by Selkirk GIS student, Lorraine Brown:

Cartography can be a serious science but also it can produce a wonderful work of art. Classic cartographic methods include hand drawn features and elements with each calculation done with care.

Today these works of art can be worth thousands of dollars to collectors; reproductions are made and more moderately priced for the artistic eye.

old skool cartography
Checking value

With modern technology GIS software has allowed us to speed up the process. It allows some manipulation of the elements but not full control. This still may restrict the artistic nature of the cartographer. The use of additional software rendering can increase the visual appeal. Photoshop, Illustrator and many more, are some of the tools used to achieve this look.

making maps

Interested in reading more?  Check out the following links….

There is more than one way to use maps and cartography!

A great collection of antique maps and mapping tools!

A fine art selection of great cartographic maps for sale online!

~By Lorraine Brown



2013 ADGIS grads are also working…..

Outside of the West Kootenays we had ADGIS grads land great jobs in other great locations like…..

Prince Edward Island’s UPEI Climate Lab is where Andrew Doiron is currently working.  He’s doing really cool stuff, working on a 3D visualization of sea level rise for PEI using a video game engine, Unity 3D.  An exceptionally strong programmer, this role is perfect for him, and it sounds like it might continue on to more academic and employment opportunities in the near future.

Banff, AB, at the Banff National Park is where Ben Starbuck scored a position.  He’s been enjoying it tons, doing a diversity of things including creating closure maps, info maps and plotting GPS points.

The best part according to Ben….

 “I would say the best part is just the diversity of the job, you never do the same thing twice, and you never really know what is going to be the next project”.

Fernie, BC (so…..ok, the East Kootenays) at the City of Fernie is where Heather Potter landed a neat job working with the City’s Engineering department.  A main focus is on transferring all of their maps and data from AutoCAD to ArcGIS, as well as editing utility networks, zoning, roads, and addressing issues, sometimes using data driven pages and python scripts.  In addition to her techie work, she’s worked in the field inspecting sidewalks and other city assets.

In Calgary, at the City of Calgary is where Richard Remple worked last summer….although now he’s moved on to Chevron for a full time permanent position.  Richard said

“My summer position has been the greatest job of my life.  I was given the task of designing a mapping project for the City of Calgary.  First I needed to come up with a database design, and then I made recommendations for the appropriate technology to implement a data collection process”.

Although it might be hard to leave the best job of his life, he’s excited about being a GIS technician on a team of about 20 geologists, engineers and geophysicists.  Richard compliments the GIS program at Selkirk for helping him get where he is:

“This is pretty much my dream job! I’m still a little bit in disbelief of how many doors the ADGIS program opened for me.”

Well there you have it….a few snapshots into what our grads have done this past summer and maybe what you’ll be doing when you graduate our most excellent GIS program…..

ADGIS grads working in the West Kootenays

Want to learn a little about a few of our ADGIS grads working locatlly?  Read on:

We at the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC), were fortunate to hire a few of our 2013 ADGIS grads to work on local projects here in Castlegar Kaela Perry is one intern for the SGRC, who writes:

“Working with the SGRC has been a great experience with learning how to be self directed and manage various projects. I’ve enjoyed working on outreach to promote the Columbia Basin Biodiversity Atlas reporter tools. I have been working on a number of different projects but one particularly interesting one involved defining the drawdown zones of the Arrow Lakes to help determine potential areas for a revegetation project”

Megan Deas is another intern who works out of Selkirk College for the Rural Development Institute (RDI), in Castlegar.  She explains one of her favourite projects:

“I work directly with small and medium sized business within the Columbia Basin to assist them in adopting digital technology. For example, one project I have done is working with Tabletree Enterprises, a company based in Creston that produces gourmet juices and sauces. They sell their products at specialty stores, grocery stores, and restaurants across North America. It was difficult for customers to find a restaurant that used their sauces or a store that sold their juice because on their old website they simply listed the addresses of these places. With the knowledge I gained during my GIS diploma of opensource mapping software, I created a product availability map for them to embed into their website (forthcoming) that allows potential customers to find their products much easier.”

Another SGRC intern, Bart Fyffe, (who writes about his internship on his blog) has recently accepted a full-time position at the Regional District Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) in Trail.  He discusses what he feels separated himself from the competition to land the GIS Technician position (roles and responsibilities include GIS support to planning/operations staff and the public as well as stewardship of the RDKB database):

“Above all: Practice and be proficient in all of your communications–written, verbal, cartographic.  It is easy to make professional grade documents with the software you are exposed to for written and cartographic communication, and practice makes perfect for verbal.  Being able to communicate effectively weighs very heavily in the success of the job hunt.”

In Grand Forks now works Adriana Cameron for Interfor as a GIS Technician.  Here’s what she’s saying about her job:

“I really like my GIS job at Interfor.  I mainly produce operational and planning maps using SQL developer, Cengea Resources and ESRI (ArcSDE, Arc Info).

The learning curve is quite steep. I have learned lots and have been under pressure to complete projects.

I think my forestry experience was the reason I landed this job”

And certainly not the last ADGIS grad working in the West Kootenays, but the final one we will discuss in this post, is Michelle West.   She created an ideal situation for herself, working from home in Nelson, for the Nature Conservancy of Canada based out of Alberta.

“I spend my day building maps requested by lots of different people for different projects, throughout Alberta. The interns send me their monitoring data and I fix it up and map it.  🙂   I am also working on a couple of other projects; one involving data restructure, clean up, editing and error checking and another where I am building google earth map sheets for Alberta using a iterative model I built. All very exciting. I am really enjoying the job and am learning and applying a lot of what I learned”

Stay tuned for more ADGIS grads working outside of the West Kootenays……..

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