My new laptop arrived

My new work laptop finally arrived yesterday, so I can give the temporary one I was using the boot. Now, I was a bit apprehensive as I was not given any other information about the specs besides “it’s super fast”. The specs seemed fine to me, but I needed some proof.

By that, I of course mean a completely anecdotal check of how fast things appear to be working. First up: the ArcGIS desktop install. I took approx 30 minutes to install it on the temporary laptop (i5, 8GB RAM). It took less than 5 minutes on this beast.

Another completely unscientific test: I looped over a gdb and used the Add Field tool to add a field to each of them. Yes, without using the numpy ExtendTable tool, and I ran it from the python window in ArcMap, so it was using 32-bit. It took 0.2 seconds to add the field to each feature class.

Those are all the tests I need. I’m happy!



That’s a lie. The real tests will happen later once I have my VMs going. I do like what I see so far though.


I wrote my first exam today for my 2016 modules, Ontology Engineering. To say that I am over writing exams is putting it mildly. I just want to get to the research project so I can finish up this degree.

Sadly, there are still 2 more exams this week (Software Project Management tomorrow and Software Engineering on Friday), and then three more “study” modules this year, in addition to the research project.

The face I'll make to the SO next week

The face I’ll make to the SO next week

I’m mainly struggling with the fact that a lot of what we are learning is not applied in the workplace (imagine, an IT project being managed from start to finish hahahafsnodlfkl oops fell out of my chair from laughter). It is very hard to find the motivation to study when you know it won’t help you. It’s easier during undergrad when you don’t know anything about industry.

I passed my registration exams (and other news)

I know it’s already a month into the new year, and I haven’t been active on the blog for a while, but that’s mostly because I had nothing to post. However, that will all be changing because in January I returned to Aurecon. This time around, I’m fulfilling a technology expert role within the Asset Management team, so I’ll be designing and driving our technology strategy going forward. I’ve got a few interesting things lined up, particularly around spatial data warehouses and ontologies, so I’ll be posting about it alot here while I work through my ideas.

I also got my SAGC exam results today – 100% for Paper A and 96% for Paper F, so once the fees are paid, I will be registered as a Geomatics Technologist. When I’m finished with my BscHons next year, I’ll be able to upgrade to Practitioner as I’m just short of the academic requirement.

Speaking of Hons, I just registered for the 2nd (final) year, and am currently studying for 3 exams next week. To be honest, it has been painful studying, simply because many of the concepts we have discussed are outdated and having been in industry now for almost 6 years, it is irritating to have to study these things. I’m just pushing through to get that piece of paper. Hopefully I get a good research topic for the project (or can convince one of the supervisors to take me with my own topic). I’ll worry about that after the exams.

I’ll probably be able to return to my normal posting schedule in March. I just thought it was about time I post something.

Aaaaand now I'm thinking about how much I miss Community. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie

Aaaaand now I’m thinking about how much I miss Community. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie

Choosing a research topic

For the first time, the Honours class was not given a list of topics to choose from. Instead, we were instructed to choose any computing centric topic, and post a discussion about it where it could be ripped apart. Obviously, the whole point of me doing this course is to focus on the computery side of GIS, so I settled on spatial data infrastructure (SDI).

There is a lot of literature available on this topic, but most of it focusses on the implementation of SDIs within the public sector. Rightly so – implementing it correctly is expensive, and once the government has bought into the idea and made their data available, private companies should follow suit.

Even then, the whole SDI topic can be very broad, as it is made up of several components. In my current role, while I would have input into all of the components, I wouldn’t necessarily have the mandate for those components. I then narrowed it down to the component that I would be responsible for: the geoportal within the SDI. I’ll be focussing on methods and challenges involved in the implementation of a geoportal as a component of a SDI within the financial constraints of a large enterprise environment.

Getting stuck into my studies

I spent the long weekend playing catch up with my assignments after a brief interlude. It is incredibly frustrating without internet. Since I’m still stuck on Windows 10 Mobile on my unsupported old phone, I have to use its hotspot to connect on the tablet, computer and the new phone.

Not only does this destroy the battery in no time, but if the screen turns off the hotspot disconnects, and in Windows 10 Mobile, one cannot set the screen to not turn off (maximum is 5 minutes). I have to sit there with my finger on the screen to make sure it doesn’t turn off.

Of course, I forget, and then I have to wake the phone up (which can take up to 20 seconds if it’s feeling particularly spiteful), disable the hotspot (because it looks like it’s still active, when it it isn’t), enable the hotspot, then reconnect all the devices.

So I’ve got all of that going on while I’m doing research for my first assignment, which happens to be a series of discussion posts on the forum. I’ve made my feelings on that kind of thing quite clear.

In summary, this first assignment has been challenging. Not because the topic is difficult – not at all in fact. It’s just that my circumstances have not been conducive for good studying practice. The next one is the real deal though: choosing a research topic. I’m still a bit sad about letting go of my last one. However, one must move on.

A rant about utilisation

Last week I posted a script that easily extracted a series of repeating tables from Word to Excel using my favourite programming language of the last 4 years, Python. I’d like to expand on the last paragraph I wrote:

It took about 15 minutes to write (had to play around with accessing the table elements correctly) and less than a minute to extract the data. That’s the amount of time it would have taken to copy 5 of the tables manually. At that pace it would have taken about 4 days to complete the process.

I was quite irritated when I wrote this script, and part of the reason is why I have been railing against utilisation as a metric for billing. The person who requested this task probably reckoned it would take about a day for my former colleaguge to get the data into Excel. The actual time, based on my estimate above, would have been 4 days. In reality, it turned out to only be an hour’s work in total (my time and my colleagues’s time). How do you bill that?

I would say split the difference and bill it as 2 days work – only an extra day on the expectation, while still 2 days’ short of the actual time it would have taken. This way one would be 2 days “ahead”, with time to do research, or catch up on other projects where the budget is low.

The catch with doing things that way is that you would need to keep track of when to submit work. If you give the work after an hour, but then book 2 days to the project, the next week the person who requested the work is either going to come question you, reject your hours, let it pass because you’ve done favours for them before, or not even pick up that the hours were booked because they aren’t doing the project management part of their job correctly. Guess which option happens most often?

What really happened of course is that my colleague only billed for that 1 hour, because the person requesting the work checked in after 2 hours to hear “if it’s done yet”. I’m no expert on what running a business or being a project manager should look like, but I think I have a good idea of what it shouldn’t look like.

What is the alternative to using the billable hour and utilisation as a measure? I don’t know, I didn’t study management and/or finance. This just one example I have from a time when I was in a purely technical role, in a company where output was based on utilisation. I’m now in more a hybrid role, where output is based on “did you do it before the deadline?”. I’ll be able to judge more clearly as time passes.

A proposed schedule for balancing work and studies

Now that I’m back after some time away, I have returned to a full work email inbox, a full personal email inbox, and a couple of mails in my university inbox. It’s that last one that has me worried though. I’ve documented my journey to Honours on this blog, but now that it’s here I’m feeling stressed.

There are a few factors contributing to why I am feeling this way:

  • My natural tendency to stress about something when I haven’t made a list for it yet
  • No internet at my new home yet
  • Everything at UNISA is late this year
  • I can’t use the ideas I had for a research project now that I’ve changed jobs
  • I went through a series of major changes, which I’ve actually handled really well considering I like to be secure
  • I don’t have a proper daily routine established yet

The last point is what I’m trying to sort out today. My job role has much more responsibility than my previous role, but it also has a smaller technical component than my previous job. As I go about my daily tasks at work, I will be incorporating aspects of that into my research project. This has the benefit of helping my company and myself.

This leaves me with the evenings to do the actual assignments and research. Based on my current estimates, 2 hours a day of work seems feasible at the moment, with more intense sessions on the weekends. Public holidays will be solely dedicated to research and assignment writing.