Category: Reviews


Book Corner: Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook

My fairly constant position now-a-days is “late to the game” and in this case that means that there are plenty of folks who have already shared their thoughts on Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook by Eric Pimpler from Packt Publishing. Robin Wilson, with his wife, summarized by saying

Overall, the book is a very useful addition to a GIS library for people who are new to automating ArcGIS using Python, and particularly those who want to find out quickly how to automate a particular operation.

James Fee wrapped up his review by saying

So the bottom line here is this is a great introduction to ArcPy with ArcGIS 10.1. But if you’ve already started using either Python or ArcPy, you’d be best to use your time/money elsewhere.

These reviews, and others, indirectly highlight the issue of audience with each of the ArcGIS and Python books that have come out in 2012 and 2013. The books are intended for an introductory audience, but each is for a different introductory audience. Nate Jennings’ A Python Primer for ArcGIS has a strong focus on what I would consider a community college/professional development audience. Esri Press’s own Python Scripting for ArcGIS by Paul Zandbergen is geared toward an upper-level undergrad or grad course to get students who already have a strong(ish) ArcGIS background up and running with Python.
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Book Review – Python Scripting for ArcGIS

PrintPython Scripting for ArcGIS is a new text from Esri Press by Paul A. Zandbergen (2013). It isn’t the first Python book for the geospatial community or even focused on ArcGIS, but it is the first that has the Esri logo on it. Much like other recent books on Geo/Python we have seen, it focuses on integrating an introduction to Python with the industry specific materials. As Frank mentioned when he highlighted the book in a previous podcast, this allows users to gain exposure to Python, but it doesn’t fall back on the (in my opinion) bad habit of most programming texts of spending half of the book on the language and concepts before even getting to the application in the specific area. There is a time and place for that approach in Python specific books. When you add another software library to a book, then use it from the get go.

The text is broken into four parts including 1) learning fundamentals, 2) writing scripts, 3) carrying out specialized tasks, and 4) creating and using scripting tools. As you can imagine each of these parts builds on the previous through the book fourteen chapters. Early chapters take advantage of Model Builder to help the reader get into Python through geoprocessing tools, but by Chapter 4 the focus is on building and running code. The book comes with a DVD which includes data and code samples so that you can use the same data and code that the authors are running.

If you are looking to learn Python for use with your ArcGIS workflow, or a reference on the topic, this book is a good option for a growing bookshelf on the topic. The fact that you are using both Python and ArcGIS all the way through the book gets our support. With an MSRP of $79.95 and a current Amazon price of $48.45 the cost puts it in the range of similar books.

Book Review – The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games

As I have gone down the road in researching and writing about virtual worlds and serious games, one of the biggest issues for me has been the lack of a comprehensive source for a lot of the terminology and concepts I’m having to learn about and understand. That’s why I was pretty excited when I found out about Clark Aldrich’s The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games: how the most valuable content will be created in the age beyond Gutenberg to Google, which was just published this month (October 2009) by Wiley. I immediately had to get my hands on a copy, and I have been using it almost daily since it arrived.
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GIS for Web Developers write up

GIS for Web Developers: Adding Where to your Web Applications
by Scott Davis
The Pragmatic Publisher, Raleigh, NC
ISBN-10: 0-9745140-9-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-9745140-9-3
October 2007

The book GIS for Web Developers: Adding Where to your Web Applications by Scott Davis offers a hands-on and free (in terms of software and data) approach to getting started with geospatial technologies and the web. From the first page, Davis set out on his mission to get web developers quickly up and running with many of the open source geospatial software packages, and at least a few of the geographic concepts that can help you make a better mapping application. Several apps and sites are used throughout this book including OpenMap, ArcGIS Explorer, QGIS, OpenLayers, and uDig with significant focus on getting PostGRE/PostGIS and GeoServer (v1.4) set up.

For the most part I would guess that many in our audience can skip Chapters 2-4 discussing Vectors, Projections, and Rasters respectively in terms of concept, but even in these early chapters there are still informative hands-on examples to follow. Chapter 5 offers a crash course in PostGRE/PostGIS that will be of use to many who are new users of this Open Source spatial database. Chapters 6-8 discuss Creating, Using and Viewing OGC Web Services respectively and offer a heaping helping of GeoServer installation and implementation information. Chapter 9 comes along and wraps everything up with an example project that walks you through data finding through implementation.

All that being said, when going through the text I did find a few topics that made me scratch my head since they were just kind of there. The section (4.4) on Temporal Analysis is the best example as change detection isn’t necessarily a common process in GIS. It can be done, but is more often performed by Remote Sensing software, which isn’t the focus even though the chapter focused on raster imagery. There are a few things I would add, but that may be the Geographer in me adding information and spatial concepts to the ‘neogeography’ perspective of the book (not sure it is neogeo but that is what the author calls it).

I had the PDF version which offers tons of links to the web and related pages in the book. Unfortunately the associated web site at is down currently. I have to think that is a short term outage, but it means I can’t really talk about the associated materials for the book.

Overall, I think Scott Davis did what he set out to do, write a GIS book for web devs, and in the process made it accessible to folks coming at the content from the other side, a web dev book for GIS folks. There is some content that you can fly through or even skip over, but there are a few gems that offer up the always sought ‘a-ha’ moment of realization when you realize how to do something that you just hadn’t thought of. You can check it out at the Pragmatic Bookshelf site or your favorite online bookseller.

Here, there be dragons

Over the last couple of days I have been reading Here, There Be Dragons by James Owen which can be found in the young adult section of your bookstore (why is it always on the opposite side of the store from Scifi/Fantasy). The thing that grabbed me was a dragon on the cover, but what sucked me in was the subtitle the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica. Besides being a great rainy day read there is a strong geography undercurrent (the Cartographer of Lost Places is great) plus it is great for adult readers because of the allusions to classic literature throughout the book. There is some sample text available on the webpages.

Here, There Be Dragons
by James Owen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
ISBN: 1416912274

Book Review – GIS A to Z by Sommer and Wade (Eds)

A to Z GIS: An Illustrated Dictionary of Geographic Information Systems by Sommer and Wade (Eds), ESRI Press, 2006

As we quickly covered in the Book Corner in Episode 65 of the podcast, ESRI is the first to market with a GIS specific dictionary of terms with their A to Z GIS. Overall, the text offers a quick introduction to the majority of GIS related terms and concepts. It is surprising the number of terms they include with very little oversight. As a text from ESRI Press, written by ESRI employees, however, it does seem to trend toward definitions that fit well with ESRI software. For example, the definition of topology includes a definition that is explicitly linked to ESRI’s Coverage format (admittedly a great format for handling topology).

Perhaps my only true issue with the text is that an industry specific dictionary such as A to Z GIS should be a ready reference for the neophyte, the unsure, and the person in need of a quick reference. However, the definitions in the book are primarily technical, pulled from their discipline of origin, often Math, Statistics, etc, and do not always offer a spatially specific definition that puts the terms in a GIS context. As I suggested in the podcast review, Johnston, et al offers a great model to follow in The Dictionary of Human Geography where leaders in each area were tapped to provide descriptions of each term, along with key references to help the reader build on the information provided. Admittedly most of the definitions in Johnston et al are more extensive than those needed for the terms in A to Z GIS, but it would be nice to see where the authors obtained their definitions.

That said, I do believe that A to Z GIS offers a good source for reference, especially for those who are just getting into GIS or who have been around long enough to begin to forget terms that they once knew. I think it is safe to say that I am not the target audience, but that my students are, although it’s always nice to have a quick reference guide when you need it.

GIS Monitor

Book Review – Remote Sensing for GIS Managers (Aronoff, 2005)

Recently, we received several books from ESRI Press for reference and review, and first up is Remote Sensing for GIS Managers (2005) edited by Stan Aronoff. Aronoff and his co-authors have provided a comprehensive overview of remote sensing, ranging from the history of remote sensing to types of sensors offering an in-depth and thorough presentation of Remote Sensing.

The title is somewhat misleading since this book would work nicely as a text in an undergraduate remote sensing class, offering general information on aerial and satellite based remote sensing. There is, in fact, very little GIS oriented material aside from a few case studies in one of the later chapters. The text is divided into roughly five sections: Chapters 1-4 offer a general introduction, Chapters 5-9 review different types of sensors, Chapters 10-11 discuss image interpretation, while Chapters 12-13 cover examples of applications and how Remote Sensing fits in organizations. The last section is made up of three appendices that offer very detailed information on georeferencing imagery, individual sensors, and a list of resources.

Each of the sections is well organized, offering information that is relevant and descriptive enough to convey the technical ideas to a broad audience. As should be expected from any book that revolves around imagery, there are several full color reference figures that support the text. These figures represent not only raw data, but data capture and image analysis techniques. Perhaps the most useful portion of the book is also the portion that will eventually date it, the overview of satellites and their relative capabilities. This portion of the text is the most relevant to the title, providing a wide set of information on platform capabilities which is important to GIS managers who are looking for the best, most cost effective imagery or sensor data for a given problem or project. In the end this book is not going to be touted as a landmark in Remote Sensing, but it is a solid reference work.

Overall, this is a strong remote sensing text which is very affordable in comparison to most textbooks at $69.99US. Be wary of this text if you are looking for a quick and dirty introduction to Remote Sensing, which is what I would expect most ‘GIS Managers’ would want. Instead, at nearly 500 pages this text would be a good addition to a reference library if you do not already have an introduction to Remote Sensing style textbook.

Book review of Tweed’s Crossing and Dwelling

TweedBookThe American Religious Experience at is an online journal which has been in publication for nearly a decade, which is edited by Briane Turley of WVU. In our continuing effort to support the folks we know, Mike Ferber (a fellow grad student) has recently published a review of Thomas Tweed’s newest book, Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory or Religion. Tweed is one of the first scholars of American religion to utilize a spatial model for interpreting religious diffusion and development in the U.S.

Book Review – Making Maps (Krygier and Wood, 2005)

One of the main issues in geospatial technologies today is the quality of the output whether it be for a presentation, map in a document or a poster. The underlying issue is the lack of training in digital cartographic concepts, the art that enables the user to convey the science. In Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS, John Krygier and Denis Wood, both well published Geographers and Cartographers, are cognizant of this duality and have presented a unique mix of visual example and explanatory text that introduces readers to the basic concepts of creating effective maps.

The first impression, before you even begin to read this book, as you are leafing through, is that the authors had a specific objective: to introduce the reader to map design. This is conveyed in the text of course, but the layout of the book is as much an exercise in, and example of, design as the content inside. From chapter headers to the figure layout and captioning, the content works to blend form with function in a way that makes it obvious that this book is separate from most of the current texts on map making. This is definitely an example of practice what you preach.

The actual text may seem overly simplistic at first, especially if you are familiar with cartography texts by MacEachren, Kraak, and others; however, this is deceptive as the format and organization the authors chose allow the reader to get to the heart of the information in an informal yet effective style. In all honesty I was quite critical when I began the book but quickly came to enjoy the book because of its minimal text and graphical approach to the subject matter.

Overall, Making Maps will make a strong textbook for digital cartography classes and a useful text for those of us who have been struggling with map design for representing our analyses. Even seasoned GIS professionals and cartographers will find useful information and design tips in the book. It is almost worth picking up for the glowing cover blurb that Anne Knowles provides alone. The one wish that I have is that it would be great to have a companion CD or website for the book, which could present interactive examples and more examples in color.

webmapper review of Mapping Hacks

Edward Mac Gillavry, over at, has a review of Mapping Hacks. I haven’t read it since I still haven’t finished going through it to write my own review. I tell ya, working on that pesky dissertation just keeps getting in the way. 🙂 Head over to the review to find out about it well before I will actually get to writing anything up.

webmapper | blog archive: August 2005

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