Spatial Paralysis

New Zealand Spatial Excellence Awards

02:00 AM, Thursday November 19, 2015

I have just returned from the New Zealand Spatial Excellence Awards for 2015. I was awarded the Postgraduate Student of the Year Award. I’m very slightly tipsy. I also had a very interesting contrasting experience that I think people in the “spatial industry” in New Zealand might be interested in.

I had quite a tight schedule today, waking up in Raglan, popping into work in the morning, getting to the National Library in Wellington by early afternoon, meeting friends afterwards, attending a PostgreSQL/PostGIS user group meeting at 6, and then skipping out to go to the final NZSEA awards and dinner.

The PostgreSQL/PostGIS user meeting was great. I had no idea what to expect. Two geo-friends (they’re real friends, we just bond over maps, so therefore they need the geo- preffix, © ESRI) came with me to Catalyst IT on Willis St, Wellington. Inside there were a few couches, and Brent Wood hanging out in shorts and a t-shirt. Dressed up in dress shoes and a shirt (but no jacket and tie), I felt very over-dressed. Brent discussed PostgreSQL/PostGIS, the treatment of geometry primitives in databases, spatial indexes and limitations thereof, MapServer, WMS in QGIS, GEOS, Proj.4, GDAL, and the antimeridian and how PostGIS’s geography type gets over many of the attendant problems of that irritating fecking line. Then, we had pizza and I had to skip off without much of a chance to talk to Brent.

I literally ran off to Te Papa, where a nibbles and networking event was going down. People were wearing frocks and tuxedos, and even kilts. Dressed up in dress shoes and a shirt (but no jacket and tie), I felt very under-dressed. Not to mention sweaty from running in a merino jumper. People talked “spatial enablement” and lots of buzzwords. A Minister ministered. Mark Sainsbury officiated. Lights flashed. Entrées were served. Awards were dished out. There was engaging discussion in my immediate neighbourhood, although lots of the surrounding attendees seemed to just be in attendance at a $180 dinner to… do something that I never quite worked out.

Apparently we were highlighting the spatial industry in New Zealand and how cool it is. It felt like a bunch of people patting themselves on the back.

Maybe it’s the wine talking, but to be honest, if the “spatial industry” had just spent that money funding PostGIS or GeoServer or Neo4j feature requests… more would have been done for the “spatial industry”.

Don’t get me wrong: the individuals and organisations represented tonight do amazing work. Special congratulations to Interpret Geospatial Solutions for their huge haul of awards, Dr Mairéad de Róiste for her enormously well-deserved award for her hard work establishing the Masters in GIS (of which I am a graduate, and she was my thesis supervisor), Hamish Kingsbury (undergraduate student of the year), and Kim Ollivier (celebrating 30 years of working with spatial information). I’m truly grateful for my award, and the event itself was lovely and well organised. I had a great time talking to interesting and very intelligent people. With delicious food (but not beer and pizza). They even paid for my flights, which had a lot of private benefit as I got to see my friends.

I don’t even think I deserve my award at all after talking to my category competition: superb PhD candidates Judy Rodda from Otago University, and Anton Marais from Waikato University. Judy has been modelling the distribution of the endangered Hector’s dolphins off the south coast of the South Island. Anton made a cellular automaton model of residents’ location and re-location decisions across the Waikato region, extending ten years’ into the future. (It annoys me that I’ve forgotten the name of open source software he used for this.)

I just think the “spatial industry” in NZ is more than a little… self-obsessed. I certainly noticed that tonight.

I wish I wasn’t the only person who attempted to squeeze in attendance at both the awards and a brilliant session on PostGIS. Without any finger pointing, I think the industry can do better, if indeed there is such a thing as a “spatial industry”. For the record, I don’t even think there is such a thing. We are in a hardware, software and data industry, and that’s just fine.

Richard Law
Welcome to the blog and personal website of Richard Law, a geographer/programmer who
in the Manawatū, New Zealand.