Rules for Web Site Projects

Man, web projects are difficult. You've got design vs. functionality, compatibility vs. quality and so much more to combat, but often overlooked are the internal issues.

See, you've got to get a corporate sponsor. That's the person with the political clout to get things done, allocate resources, and sign invoices. Without him/her the whole project is DOA. The drawback is that in return for their clout they also get a say in how the web site comes together, and often they have no functional knowledge of how the sites actually work, or what it takes on the back-end for things to flow and ebb dynamically on the front-end. If they did have that level of understanding, I'd be doubly worried because that meant that they were puttering with computers when they should be minding the business that puts food on my table. Trust me, the former problem is a much better one to have. If you select a sponsor wisely, it will be somebody that you can communicate well with and whose strengths you you can build on. I was able to get a lot of good help from our President on our site.

There are three big issues to deal with early on that will save heartaches.

  1. Make sure and pick a sponsor that is local to you. Having a sponsor that is a hundred miles away can prove challenging in terms of communication and in terms of controlled revision reviews.
  2. Work out a common vocabulary, document it, and stick with it. That common vocabulary can be the Rosetta stone to translate between business and technical interests.
  3. Get marketing writing. This last point is so important. See, the big advantage of these liquid-dynamic sites is entirely built upon the data schema on the back-end. This schema is a literal translation of the aformentioned setup agreed to by marketing interests. One "slight" change in the setup can easily mean labor-intensive changes to databases and the code that extracates meaning from it.

There's more, but that's all I have time for tonight. We've had three "slight" schema changes and guess what? Our schedule is slightly off and my sponsor is getting testy, and from his point of view justifyably so. Yeah, all three of these rules were generated empirically. I violated or allowed to be violated all three. In the end, if you're the PM, it's your fault or glory. We'll get it done, and it will be right!


Yep, Oracle WAS on crack!

Yep, I was right, they were on crack. Here's the deal. The two guys I spoke with, one sales rep. and the other a sales engineer, both don't know diddly about their own product line. Apparently there is no such artificial limit on Oracle Standard Edition (SE) or Standard Edition One's (SE1) storage/DB size. The differences are solely features, such as "gridding" is not available on SE1, but is available on SE. You do have to go to Enterprise edition for the "Advanced Management" capabilities, advanced security features, or the capability to add-on the Oracle Spatial extension. SE and SE1 apparently can each deal with 8-ExaBytes of data.

Those two guys, couldn't understand simple phrases like "We will only have 5-users for the first 6-12 months of the project." and actually got all their aforementioned product capabilities off the Oracle web site, but were too dumb to notice that those were on marketing-recommended configuration guidelines. I imagine they go something like this:

If the potential sucker is actually going to use the database software, up-sell them from the $149/seat license to the $5,000/CPU license license, but using the phrase "high-availability". If the potential sucker says that they will have 500GB or more of data, up-sell them to the $80,000 software from the $10,000 software.

Lesson learned, if you have to talk to Oracle, go straight to a Regional Sales Manager. He was the only one that both understood the product lines and could comprehend our VERY SIMPLE needs.

Yo! Larry Ellison! Train your staff!


Is Oracle on crack?

I spoke with two very nice gentlemen from Oracle today regarding the acquisition of a new Oracle database server suitable for back-ending ArcSDE for our Tampa office. To be honest, I am shopping Oracle against MS-SQL and DB2 and I shared that with him also.

It seems that Oracle, in their infinite wisdom created three edtions:

  • Enterprise
  • Standard Edition
  • Standard Edition One

The price that they advertise on the back of trade magazines like InfoWorld and Information Week is for Standard edition which MSRP's for about $5K/processor or $149/user depending upon how you license it. That pricing structure is comparable to that of MS SSQL Server Standard. What Oracle doesn't say, is that only the Enterprise edition is capable of supporting databases larger that 500GB!

500GB! Now to be fair, that is a good size for a ERP solution for a SMB client. Ours is about 8GB all told (MS SQL-Server). For GIS however, that size is a pittance. Our inital intended data load for that server will be over 1TB. For that apparently, you need the Enterprise edition which comes out to roughly $40,000 at MSRP per Processor! What a rip-off.

Unless they come back with some excuse like "Uhh, we wanted to see how dumb you were...", it's very likely that I'll be implementing another MS-SQL or a DB2 database here for ArcSDE duty. What would be nice would be for ESRI to add support for MySQL with its Spatial Extensions to ArcSDE 9.2. That would be a hoot.


GIS Site Selection and Analysis

Working today on new GIS SiteSelection and Analysis web page. I need to find a way of including more content pointing to the cities (i.e Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville etc...)


ArcPad 7.0

ArcPad What's New

The new version of ArcPad is out and we'll have to try it. It'll be interesting to see whether it can load on our suvery Dept. GPS handhelds. If it does, we'll be able to pre-populate the handhelds with parcel and certified corner data sets to help the crews setup and back-haul to points more quickly.


Great analysis

A the risk of being a 1-trick blog, I gotta say that Google Analytics is really doing it's job. The updates are kind of slow and have not presented a pattern, but the services is great. It's really giving me food for thought with regard to our website's target market and keyword strategy. Good stuff.


Google Comes Through

Well, I gotta hand it to the folks at Google, they did it again. Though the start was roughened by delays, they got the Google Analytics service rolling, and wow am I glad. The power of the in-depth analysis that they run and the depth and breadth or reports blew me away. It seems that they only update on 24-hour cycles, but I think, given the quality I can handle the incremental nature.

Great job, Guys Gals!


Google Analytics Delays

Wow! Still no Reports!

Did Google get cought with their pants down on the analytics thing or what? Did they do any studies at all to determine the billions or people like me who have MULTIPLE sites that have had to settle for lower-end freebie analytics and "page-counters" for such a long time would jump on their offer. I can only imagine the GFLOPS their compute farms must be using on billions of 5-page/3-hits/day and millions of 50-page/10,000-hits/day sites. I'd hate to have been the needs assesment engineer on that one.

Maybe if you had to paypal 5-cents a month, that would trim a statistically significant number of users. Hmm... but then again the data from the vast flotsam and jetsam of the webshpere is what Google is really after, huh? I just hope they are scaling well.

Good Luck Guys!

New GIS Blog

Found a new GIS Blog today. Good stuff:


WFS, whererfore art thou?

WMS is awesome! This OGC standard is great is its own right. The USGS, GeoSpatial One-Stop, and the FGDC are all publishing data layers by the boatload. The problem is, that WMS published data doesn't let you query the tablular data or change symbology to reflect it.

Enter WFS. WFS allows direct record-level access to the data sets rather than simply displaying them as a pre-symbolized aggregate visual. It's great stuff. But nobody is publishing in it....Why? Something in the back of my head says that the data publishers really don't want to distribute data, just maps. Am I just crazy?

Google Base?

I don't quite know what to think about Google Base. It's one of thise amorphus technologies that seems to solve problems you didn't quite know you had. Is it a threat to eBay, or a discussion wiki? The thing is, it's publicly searchable, so you can't use it to back-end a on-line app. without exposing your back end.

The jury is still out..

Google Analytics

Google just launched their Web Analyitics service and at first glance it seems to really be what the doctor ordered for the SMB market. I've tried the likes of Accesswatch and Webalyzer but none gave me the kind of granular tracking and ROI tools that I think this new Google offering will.

For small companies in the AEC sector like ours, most of our new clientele arrive via direct recommendation and word of mouth, so the web sites end up simply being a yellow-page ad to get our phone number. As such, the web site gets little attention or budget, so having an enterprise class analytics package can really help both in better targeting the site, molding the feature set and showing an ROI in the hopes of getting more budget and attention for the site.

Ironically enough, we are in the process of re-designing our site, so I hope to gather enough data prior to the unveiling of the new site to get some proper analysis of the traffic flows before and after. Another useful feature will be the ability to tag URLs so we know whether certain web-site promotions are doing better than others.

Time will tell. I just installed the javascript snippet on our sites, and it'll take a week or so of data gathering before any meaningful statistics can be generated. I remain impatiently hopeful until then. If you are using the service, let me know what your impressions are.


No good deed . . .

Well, last night I spent 3-hours with my wife helping do research for her on a paper for school. The subject: Ethical Implications of the Sale of Free Drug Samples by Health Care Providers. With her paper nearly complete, we retired to bed late last night. Little did we know what would await us the next day...

Today we were taking the boys to Orlando for a weekend mini-vacation, celebrating my older son's 7th birthday. We brought the laptop along in the hopes of my wife being able to do some banking (pay bills) and complete her paper in the hopes of an early Sunday submission. Simple plan? Think again.

During the course of packing, I grabbed the laptop to shut it down and pack it away, but to my horror, I discoverd that it had been badly infected by spyware in the course of MY, yes, MY web-surfing the prior night! The hint was the 10-billion pop-ups on my screen and the fact that it took about 45-minutes to clear them and get the laptop turned off.

I spent the next hour and a half in the passenger seat of my SUV trying to get the nasties off my machine, all the way to the hotel. It eventually took every free moment in our hotel room during my 3-day weekend to clean it off. The Omni at Champion's Gate is a terrific place to vacation, by the way. Anyway, it took a combination of Spybot Search & Destroy, Adaware SE, and MS Anti-Spyware (beta) to clean it off with several reboots into safe-mode.

There are few fates worse for a SysAdmin than cleaning spywareware from your wife's computer. To quote Bill the Cat, "Aaack! Phhht!"


Beware Graphics Design 'Professionals'

We just had our company logo redone and it is amazing to me that companies continue to stay in business out there that don't fully grasp basic tenants of their core business. The design firm that created our new "branding package" (i.e. a logo) created a nice enough looking logo, but there are a couple of problems that they apparently didn't anticipate:

  • The extremely horizontally-weighted aspect ratio make the logo unreadable when it has to be inserted into a narrow space.
  • The logo incorporates non-standard fonts, such that any documents marketing or otherwise which try to maintain a semblence of consistency must embed that commercial (i.e. license/royalty bound) font in the document. This also forces us to exclude the use of this font from our web site except in cases where the text is included as part of a raster image.
  • The logo makes use of three font sizes in which the largest font is roughly four times the size of the smallest font, which by the way is the font size in which the tag-line portion of the logo is rendered. This, in essence, limits us to 4-inches as a minimum width for the logo without having to exclude the tag line portion of the logo.

As if that wasn't enough the firm, when the logo was finalized was asked to send us the specifications for the logo, such as height, width, color specs., font names letter spacings etc. to enable our various department to accurately incorporate the logo into our various internal documents failed again. Aside from not actually knowing the name of the font they used, or being able to provide an original PSD or AI file with the original font, the gave us color information in three different color models (RGB, CMYK, and Pantone) which mathematically disagreed with each other and in fact looked quite different both on screen and in print.

Wow. We'd get fired by our clients if we did that type of shoddy work.

GIS Model

The Planning model for GIS has been completed. We can now select parcels and automatically generage aggregate acreages fo upland and wetland areas of the parcel selection group as a whole. This model will work with any of the county parcel datasets in the SWFWMD area, as it is their data set that we use primarily for wetland lines.

Working on this has proved what a valuable tool ESRI's ModelBuilder tool can be especially when coupled with the built-in Python gepreocessing API.

Our next step will be to calculate unit densities based on the upland vs. wetland ratios and the adopted future land use coverages. Because the various Florida counties use different density calc. rules, we will either have to make a new model for each county, or create a rule-library and have the end-user select the county for which they are seeking a density calc. Now that I come to think of it, the model should determine the county based on the parcel location and select the correct county and alert you if the parcel selection group crosses county lines. Incorporated area need to be entered into the mix too as they sometimes place more restrictive density rules than their respective counties. Hhmmm....


Code by Design

I found a new web design firm, Code by Design that specializes in web application development using the LAMP architecture. They produce exceptionally clean sites that are truly CSS and XHTML 1.0 compliant. They are true hand-coders, no Dreamweaver jockey there. Their PHP/MySQL programming is second to none too.


GIS Idea

Idea: Create a GIS Model that will search properties based on Parcel properties (acreage, proximity), Zoning, Wetlands, Future Land Use.This would be both a good way to learn how to build models and a good example to show in a brown bag.


The Pope Dies

Pope John Paul II did pass away today at 9:37pm (Rome) in his home in the Vatican.  The world's light has dimmed.


The Pope's Passing

The boys are playing this morning so I was watching more coverage of the Pope. It is amazing the cross-religion respect that he has engendered. I wonder if President Bush will attend the funeral.  It would be unprecidented, but would be appropriate, especially considering to close ties between John Paul II and the Reagan Administraion in their fight against communism. President Bush called him a:

"faithful servant of God and a champion of faith, freedom and dignity"
today in his Saturday morning radio address.


Pope John Paul II

I remember distinctly being a small child at St. Joseph's and sitting in a classroom watching a TV on an AV cart show the traditional picture of the chimeny smoke signifying his election to supreme Pontiff. John Paul II was a Pope on a mission. I think he had two real goals of which one wasaccomplished and the other was set into steady motion:

  • He new from his personal experience with it in his native Poland that Communism was inherently both evil and an unnatural state for a human society. Through both his appearances there and his forcing the building of the cathedral there, he showed all the people trapped in communist countries that they had real power and that the State could not truly kill human nature en masse. This not only what he called the inevitable fall of communism, but also set him as a true world leader in a secular sense of the word, hopefully the new Pope will realize and use the geopolitical momentum that John Paul II gave him.
  • He recognized the fractured nature of various religions, christian and otherwise. He was the first to stop trying to evangelize, but instead to pro-actively seek common ground fwith them for building a better world. It will take all religions working together to fight the secularism this world is sinking into. The in-fighting must stop and together we must realize that it is our religious, moral, and ethical principles that must be used to guide our decisions even political ones. Here in the United States we mis-interpret the Constitution's true intent for the separation of church and state. The intent was to prevent the government from squashing religion, but that's exactly what isbeing done through that very provision.

I've been sitting here all night working and watching the coverage on FOX of this story, it saddens me to see his passing. As both a Catholic and a human being, he was a good man.

As an aside...It is my hope that an American is not elected is not elected as the supreme Pontiff. It seems to me that even the Priests of our country are too infected with the self-gratifying search for approval and self-justification that permeates today's United States.

What is this blog?

OK, I'm having a little schitzo-dilema do I continue this blog anonymously or do I stay just brutally honest and risk getting it found... I just don't know.

To be of maximum use this has to stay honest. To that end, I'll continue in this format until something further develops. What this does do though is prevent me from integrating my blog with our wiki or other work-related information sources.



Well, I signed up...don't know how much I'll use it..LD costs...

1 - 6 6 1- 7 1 6 - B L O G

Alright, now all you have to do is call that number to make FREE audio posts to your blog.

1. Call the number
(Listen very carefully to the Voice Prompts)
2. Enter your Primary Number
3. Enter your PIN, press #
4. Record your post, Press #
5. Press 1 to post, 2 to review, 3 to re-record.
6. Check your site!

GIS Plans

Worked on GIS Business Plan with Bryan.  Need to develop a marketing plan component.  GIS training for exixsting PMs will be key component.  IT is through supporting them that new lines of work and client leads will be revealed.  GIS must become an integrated transparent problem solving tool for them, much like CAD or spreadsheets.  IT must become integrated  to provide the enterprisewide linkage from marketing exhibits to ERP planning to project mapping to client parcel identification.


GIS fun

Learned how to use DEM data to drape an aerial image by first converting it to a contour.  Cool Stuff.   I wish we had dome this a long time ago!