A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 47

Day 47

As I had mentioned yesterday I took a vacation day on Thursday so I could attend the student-parent day at my daughter's middle school. But back at work today! And after today, I'm ready to say lock me in a dark, lonely room and hang a sign on the door with a big "IT!" Wow, did we ever get into running down some IT-related issues today. Read on to hear our problem, and how we went about discovering the solution!

First, some background!

Our engineering division oversees the GIS for the city. And we are in the process of structuring GIS so that we are primarily responsible for the geospatial part of  GIS and each city department is responsible for the data side of it.  We have set up a GIS team for the city, and each department has identified someone who is their team member and GIS liason. That person most likely will have GIS software on their computer and will be responsible for representing and managing the GIS data for that department.

And, now the problem

In addition to managing the geospatial side of GIS, we also manage the server and the web applications. And yesterday, my supervisor emailed me to let me know the web map was down. This had happened once before, and the GIS technician had to create a new web map to fix the problem. This time, she tried to just edit the existing map rather than create yet another map, but she could not save her changes. So I tried logging in and editing the map discovering that the software allowed me to do so. But it would not take my changes because it said it was locked out by another account. She mentioned that the only thing she could think of that was different was that our Windows system had required her to change her password recently. So I told her to ask our IT department to change it back so we could see if that was it. 

The research

In the meantime, I started researchig the error displayed when I had tried to edit the map. It appeared to have something to do with the user and permissions. It seems that when a user creates a web application, a config file is created that tells the app how to perform. Because the app must access data to display on the map, it must do so by "pretending" to be one of us. So the user name and password of the map creator is captured and stored in encrypted form in this config file.

And of course, the trial and error phase

So to test this, I made a copy of our map and edited the config file as directed in these instructions adding in my username and password. And although this sounds easy, the instructions are not as straight forward as they need to be for someone doing this for the first time. It took me longer than I liked to figure out on my own exactly what to keep or delete in the original file. Also, the fact I had copied the text from the instructions to paste into the file messed me up until I realized the quote marks had not copied over as quotes even though they looked like it. Once I got everything as it needed to be, the map worked!

The root of the problem

At this point, I found out from the GIS tech that the IT person told her he didn't need to change her password back because there was no way it had anything to do with our problem. But based on what I had found and tried, it appeared it has everything to do with the problem. And it seems to have explained some other issues we've seen over the past year with files being locked out. Apparently certain functions in the software lock in that username and password so when it changes, the file locks up for any other user.

And finally, the FIX!

Finally, the GIS tech remembered she could go in and change her password back from the log out screen. So when she did this, the original map came back online. Yay! It might have taken most of our day, but we solved our problem and in doing so learned more about how everything is connnected.


Whenever there is a problem like this, it always makes me think of the funny video, "The Website is Down." I embedded it below although I have to add the following – please read before you view:

WARNING: If you choose to view this, you should be over 18 and not offended by foul, risque language or comments and violence that could be found offensive by some.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 11

Day 11

It's all about GIS

Today was one of those days when I try over and over to work my way through a problem. Following up with how I ended on Friday, I went back to the ArcGIS Silverlight Viewer and tried to make a map. One of the first items I attemped to do was add some of our data – after all what good is the map if there's no information on it. So to do this, I had to go into our ArcGIS Server software and create what is known as a "service." Basically I think of this as setting up a pipeline between the map and some specific data that allows the data to be displayed on the map. That is a very simplistic view of it, but hopefully it gives an idea of what I was attempting to do.

The software makes it fairly easy to go through the steps. The problem was it didn't work when I was done. Another GIS person in our office tried to with different types of data, and it still would not work. We suspected it was a permission problem with the folder where the data was stored. We thought sharing the folder might help make this work. The only problem was we could not get access to the ability to set it to a shared folder. So we let our IT people know about this – they couldn't understand why we could not do it because they thought we were set as administrators on the server. But by the end of the day, they had fixed our access issue and now we are true admins on the system! So while I was excited about having the administration thing all worked out, I could not go back and test it on the map. All I had time to do was to go in and share the folder so tomorrow, we will try again publishing the service.

The other major task I worked on today was hosting our GIS Team meeting. This is a meeting we hold once a month where all major GIS users from all city departments come and share what they are doing, the challenges that have come up, training they attended or know about, or problems they need help solving. It's always a great meeting, and everyone offers great ideas.

So the day was completely devoted to GIS with the exception of a few engineering-related issues that came up. Based on all the work I'd like to get done related to GIS, I could use about 6 more months of days like today!




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 10

Day 10

Today was a great day – well most days are pretty good, but a lot of really good things happened today! There were some minor tasks I took care of like arranging for our interns to help out the water/sewer department by shooting some elevations for a sump pump line they were repairing and working a little with the interns on the small storm sewer project they are designing. But the main focus of the day were the following items:

Inspection of Storm Management Activities and a Quick Explanation of Special Service Areas

For some time now many urban areas have been requiring new developments to address stormwater management to minimize flooding and improve water quality. So developers installed features such as detention and retention basins, wetlands, or other facilities to meet these goals. Although they have worked well over the years, the challenge that has evolved over time is the maintenance of these areas. Over the years, weeds grow up and cattails take over. Eventually the facility may no longer function as intended.

Hummingbird Moth

We have one large stormwater facilitiy within a subdivision in our city that over the years was increasingly neglected by the property owner. Fortunately our city requires all developers to either create special service areas (SSA) for these facilities or agree that in the future an SSA could be set up. The SSA works by allowing the city to assess real estate taxes on the parcels lying within the SSA for the purposes stated in the document creating that area. In most cases management of stormwater facilities is an approved use of the funds collected through an SSA. If no management is needed because the property owner or homeowner's association is taking care of it, then no taxes are assessed. However if no maintenance takes place, as in this case, the city begins assessing and managing the facility.

So earlier this year we began assessing taxes for this area and secured a contract with a design/build firm to design and implement a management plan for the area. Today our consultant took us out to inspect the work that has been done. I took many photos of the area, and you can see these on the city's Flickr site at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofgeneva/sets/72157627294641145/

I did add one photo here that was taken by Karen Kase, one of the employees with the consulting firm. (I asked and received permissoin to use her name and photo in this post.) She is an amazing woman – she completely understands this type of work, works hard to achieve results, and does a great job communicating to clients what has been done and what is planned. Anyway, she took this photo one day while she was working on site. She said it is a hummingbird moth. I just had to include it here in this post because it is one of the most incredible photos I have ever seen. She took it with her iphone!

Public Works Staff Meeting

We also had a public works staff meeting today. This is a meeting we have every month that includes all the superintendents and managers in our department. It's interesting and helpful to get together like this to share what each of us is doing and it helps us better coordinate our efforts. We learned that the Emerald Ash Bore has had a devastating impact on our community with thousands of trees left dead. Our street department has a forestry division, and they have been taking down all the trees in the right of way. So far they have removed 225 trees just since May of this year. The superintendent figured he could have about 2,600 more to go. Another interesting bit of information shared is that he was asked to put a sign up at the pay station for our commuter parking garage that says "US Currency Only" because people are paying with coins from Chuckie Cheese and Disney. I figured our dollar was devalued but didn't think it had gotten that low!

ArcGIS Viewer for Microsoft Silverlight

Today I also signed up for the ArcGIS Beta Community so I could get access to try out this awesome application for making web maps. The GIS person in our neighboring community who is just outstanding at creating GIS applications showed us a demo of it at our last group meeting. This application allows you to create a web map through a very easy method. And the resulting map is presented in a very nice user interface. I would highly encourage anyone interesting in creating web maps to join the Beta Community and try out this application. Anyway, I was able to get it installed by the end of the day and look forward to trying it out next week!


Standardizing our GIS Data

Years ago when I first started building a GIS for my last employer, the city of LaSalle, it was difficult to locate guidance for standardization of data structures. Fortunately since then several groups, countries, and organizations have been working to develop and publish standards for the industry. ESRI has offered resources on their Website for some time including data models for many datasets. But more recently I have come across several more publications including those shared with me through the GIS, Mapping, and Geo Technology Professionals LinkedIn group. Because I figured many others would be interested, I have listed them below. (If you know of any more feel free to list them in the comment area):


European Commission INSPIRE  Website


Address Data Standard


Data Entry Conventions and Best Practice for the National Street Gazetteer (NSG) – UK publication

The National Street Gazetteer Website – UK based

WA-Trans GIS Data Standards – Washington State DOT Publication


The National Land and Property Gazetteer Website – UK-based

Public Safety:

GIS Standard Operating Guidance for Multi-Agency Coordination Centers