Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Statewide Network: WLIA v.2020

I spent late last week in Middleton at the Wisconsin Land Information Association's Annual Conference. This is a statewide gathering of Geo/Map Geeks that features keynote speakers, GIS presentations, workshops and networking.

For a number of reasons, both organizational and personal, this year's conference was one of the best yet.

For starters, one of the Keynote speakers was Jack Dangermond, president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute, better known as ESRI. While this doesn't mean much to the average person, he is sort of a hero in GIS circles. He pioneered GIS back in the '80s and went on to startup the most successful GIS software company in the world.

Jack was gracious enough to attend and present a keynote address. I was fortunate to be granted a short conversation with him and a couple of my peers while he signed a few books. The four of us talked about the esri User Conference, esri products and a little about what we were working on at the statewide level. For a man of his notoriety, he was gracious, humble and down to earth. A pleasure to chat with. The books he signed were used for the silent auction and 50/50 raffle and, in some cases, sold for more than the cover value.

I was in charge of the silent auction and 50/50 raffle again this year and due to the generosity of the donors and bidders, we raised over $6,000 toward scholarships for college students pursuing degrees in GIS and Geospatial Studies. It was a conference record from that standpoint.

Because I was busy chasing around for the auction/raffle most of the time, I really didn't get to many sessions. But those really are the heart and soul of the conference. A ton of content and some fantastic sessions (I'm told), including a couple by colleagues from my office.

The map contest was a fun event as well. This year it featured the judges doing an exercise where twe had 5 minutes to draw a map of Wisconsin on a small sheet of paper - essentially the size of a cocktail napkin. It was a test of ad-hoc artistry among a bunch of people who were in charge of judging the maps immediately following.

The map contest ended well for myself as my maps took second place in the "most unique map" category. My entries were a Map/Art collaboration with artist Sara Risley who took a 3D surface model of Landfills and Lakes in Waukesha County and added her artistic touch to them. There were a ton of other amazing maps in the contest as well. Colter Sikora does a fantastic job with the event year after year.

One of the highlights from a supervisory standpoint was watching my colleague Chris Dickerson receive an Emerging Leader Award on stage near the end of the conference. This is a new award category that seeks to recognize GIS professionals that are making an impact in the first 7 years of their career. I am incredibly fortunate to work with three very talented GIS professionals in my office and so it was nice to see this kind of recognition. Another one of them is a board member charged with organizing much of the conference. Waukesha County is nothing if not engaged within WLIA.

My only regret about the conference was not getting to talk to a number of peers that I'd hoped to talk to over the course of the event. I tend to turn on my inner-extrovert at these conferences and can't get enough of people. Time never allows me to talk to those I want to, and if it does, it's never for long enough. So, if I missed you or was in the middle of rushing to one thing or another, I apologize. Let's get a beer or coffee soon!

The biggest surprise of the whole conference though, was an appearance by a small contingent of the UW band. They marched in during the Thursday social event and played a few songs in the exhibit hall. It was a treat and meant even more to me being my son is a junior at UW Madison.

On Wisconsin! 

Overall it was an amazing conference from both a personal and professional perspective. I often say I love my job and this conference was a reminder of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such a
supportive group of people and peers. I'm just grateful to be a little part of it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Picture My Life - 1999

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive photo collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This picture was taken in Hackensack, Minnesota, which not only has a great placename but was also the source of my Minnesota family's cabin for a few years in the late '90s. My mother was always good about getting the whole family together at a cabin for a week every year. It started in
Forest Lake, then moved to Aitkin for many years, later to Hackensack, and finally up to Mercer, Wisconsin.

This week away was always highly anticipated by both adults and kids. It was a chance to fish, swim, read and relax for 7 straight days. The tradition continued until about 8 years ago when the kids were starting to get jobs and such that made justifying the trip a little harder. Now it's dwindled to single families going up, usually on different weekends when they can.

But this trip in 1999 was when everybody was in. We drove 8 hours from Wisconsin to get there, which is no small feat given the ages of our kids in this picture, Sarah (4) and Benjamin (1). I remember those car rides - feats of strength and stamina. 

One of the things I love about this picture is how young and happy we look. We were just starting up into the hard years of parenting where it seems that some days, all you do is meet the physical needs of your kids - eating, dressing, pooping, repeat. Oh, to have some of that energy back. Young kids are nothing but energy and happiness and tantrums and work. It's amazing that we actually got them to sit still for this shot.

Pictures like this make me miss their littleness. I used to love putting them on my shoulders or carrying them around on my hip. The tickling and the snuggling and the wrestling. Loved the wrestling. The time goes so fast. I know I made the best of it at the time. I made it a point to be there for my kids, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't give a few days of my life to go back to this time for a bit. I guess that is what grandparenting must be about.

There are a couple of things that caught my eye about this shot. Donna is wearing a Myrtle Beach T-Shirt. Myrtle Beach was another vacation destination for our young family every few years. We met Donna's family down there and we all hung out on the beach and by the pool. 

I am wearing a Geomedia T-Shirt which was a GIS Software from a previous life. A year later, in 2000, we switched to ESRI's software, so now I wear those T-shirts. Ha! I was three years into my "new job" at Waukesha County and beginning to build a legacy there. I am fortunate to still be there 21 years later. 

Those days at the cabin with young kids were good years. Fishing on the dock with them, swimming, catching frogs, boat rides and lots of time with cousins and aunts and uncles. The adults would get together over some well-earned adult beverages while the kids played together. I specifically remember getting a 2-hour reprieve from kids on the last night and going fishing with my brother Rob. The only reason I remember it was because we laughed so hard in that boat over the difficulties of parenting. I almost split a gut. It was cathartic. I miss that boat time with Rob.

I sincerely feel that those times together with extended family brought all of us closer together. It gave us the chance to get below the superficialities of life and laugh a little while we all relaxed and had smores over the fire together. I highly recommend it. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Picture my Life - 1989

As part of a creative exercise, I'm taking a picture from every year of my extensive collection and writing about it. I use the month and date to determine the folder # and picture #. This random but measured system will provide a glimpse into the people and places of my past.

This post's picture is of my wedding day, obviously. We were married in June of 1990, so I'm not sure why this picture was filed in the 1989 folder, but it happens.

The occasion was certainly one of the happiest days of my life, despite the 93 degree mid-June heat. After months of planning from 750 miles apart, we were finally in the midst of our day. 

My whole family made the trek out to Canandaigua for the wedding. Many of them continued on in a sort of east coast vacation afterward. I can't say enough about how much it meant that they all made it out. 

We were married in a beautiful, quaint Methodist Church in tiny little Gorham, New York. It was like Mayberry without Andy Griffith. The church was warm and my best man saved the day by handing me a Bounty paper towel to wipe my brow every few minutes. He knew I was sweating for more than one reason. Ha!

After the wedding, we drove 15 minutes to the Geneva Rod and Gun Club. It was situated on Seneca Lake and the lake breeze gave a little respite from the heat. After a meal and some speeches from the wedding party, the DJ took over and we all cut a rug. As you know, dancing is my thing. I love it. Until I see myself on the videotapes of that day when I get a little horrified. But, as I said in the past, the dance flo' is where I lose all inhibitions. That's what it's for. It's cathartic.

But I digress.

When the reception wound down, a large boat pulled up and Donna and I boarded. We motored across the lake to Donna's Chevette (A bit of a reality check, here.) From there we drove to the Taughanook Inn where we spent a couple nights on our honeymoon. The whole day was dreamlike. 

This summer we will celebrate 30 years together. It all started in a small town on a hot day surrounded by family and friends. Life is crazy.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Picture My Life - 1987

I'm taking a new approach on my blog posts for the next while. As a creative exercise, I've decided to write about a picture. I'm calling it the blog series, Picture My Life. I will try and write how this photo, this moment captured in some cases decades ago, has made me who I am, or changed how I look at life.

I keep all my pictures on my laptop ordered by year. And because I have a zillion photos on my laptop, I decided to walk my way through with a method to my madness for determining which one is chosen.

To choose it I will take the date of the post and use it as my criteria for which picture is chosen. For example, I'll use the month as what drives the subfolder I choose, so February would be the second folder. Then, I'll choose the picture from that folder as the day of the post, so the 9th would be the 9th photo in that folder.

So, starting with my first folder, the year is 1987, and the photo is me and my godson Nicolas, goofing around with a Jack in the Box at Christmas.

This picture was taken by my mom. It was around Christmas time, if not on Christmas Eve and I think it almost speaks more for itself than I can put into words.

Nick and I have always had a good relationship. As his godfather, he was favored over some of the other nieces and nephews, but I have always loved all of them. They were my "kids before I had kids."

At times he had anxiety issues to the point where he'd work himself up to an upset stomach. I remember one time at Como Zoo, when I was with him and my niece, Erin, Nick told me he wasn't feeling good. Knowing his history I hustled him over to a garbage can, picked him up and held him there waiting for him to puke into it. He must have had stage fright, because it never happened.

It was one of those uncle/nephew bonding moments, you could say. Ha!

But, as I said the good times we've shared over the years have far outnumbered any bad. There was the time I took him kite flying on a hillside in Maplewood. I just remember him running with the kite in jeans and some new cowboy boots, which he'd taken a recent liking to. Simpler times, but for some reason the memory has stuck.

We've had many other great moments together, including paddling and camping in the BWCA and sharing a cigar in Cozumel where he married his beautiful bride, Janet.

But probably the one story my wife remembers about Nick was the first time she met Nick. She and I were engaged at the time and went to Nick's house for a visit. When his mom told him that this was Donna, who was going to be his aunt, he stormed away and said, "She's not going to by my aunt!"

It seems Nick and I were so close, he didn't want to share me. Ha!

Needless to say, he got over it the same day and realized she wasn't so bad. The ironic thing is, about 6 years later, we chose him as our daughter's godfather.

So the relationship came full circle.

In any case, Nick grew into a fine man and now has a son of his own. He's an airman in the Air Force and just returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East. And I hope there may come a day when he's sitting with his own son, scaring the hell out of him with a Jack in the Box. (One of those toys I sorta love/hate.)

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Attention Deficit

Some random thoughts, because I'm finding it difficult to stick to a single train of thought today.

  • It is a weird time of year for me. That first week after the Super Bowl is always a little disjointed. I don't watch like I once did, but I really don't watch any other sports, so it seems like something is missing. It's a first-world problem though, one that will pass soon enough.
  • Speaking of Super Bowl, I thought it was a phenomenal one to watch. A back-and-forth affair for 3 1/2 quarters until it got out of hand. I was glad to see KC win.
  • Like everyone else in the world, I have my opinion of the halftime show, but unlike many others, I don't feel the need to express that opinion. 
  • I was invited to take part in a Poet Laureate reading in Sheboygan at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Conference in May. I consider it an honor just to be in the same room with some of the others that will be there. My 8 minutes of fame.
  • I am halfway through season 2 of Outlander. What a great series.
  • This empty nest thing is growing on me. The house is quieter, my wife and I have more mind-space, and we have discovered what brought us together in the first place. Getting very used to it.
  • The writing slogs ahead. Working my way through my work-in-progress for the third time. Some days I hate every word and think it's dreadful, some days I think it's really good. I'm getting good feedback, so I think the latter is more true than the former. So, I will continue to slog onward.
  • The job goes extremely well. I am blessed with an amazing staff and great leadership.
  • Each day gets a little lighter when I come home. Spring can't come soon enough.
Blogging off...

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Walking Toward It

It is a tough time for our country politically. An  impeachment hearing is probably as divisive an event as a country can go through. People get ugly about it. I know I am guilty of spending entirely too much time on Twitter lately which from a political standpoint is a toxic wasteland. All it does is enrage me. I need to stay off. I've always said I'm not a politically outspoken person, but in these times, it's hard not to speak up.

I'd be better served to notice the points of light and goodness around me than contributing to the cesspool of vitriol.

For example, on Friday morning of last week, as I was walking to work, the first two people I encountered said, "Good morning." It immediately changed my mood from nondescript to cheery in a matter of four words. The next person walked past looking down, but the next two I passed both said good morning as well. Altogether, 4 out of 5 gave some sort of greeting. Just a day prior it was only one of three.

Just to be clear, my rule is, if I establish eye contact I will initiate a greeting. If they are looking down or distracted, I don't bother. This is partly my introversion, partly respect for peoples' privacy. In fact, it's not that I'm even looking for people to say hi to as much as to assure them that I am not a threat. I realize a 6'4" white male walking anywhere in this day and age can be perceived as such, so my intentions are noble.

With regards to that, I respect when a woman walks by without looking up, because they've got to be on guard much more than men, which pains me and is a sad statement for our world. Everyone should be able to at least walk the streets without fear, but alas, there's crappy, creepy, bad people everywhere you go, I guess

At the end of my walk that day I realized how those little interactions - something as simple as someone saying "Good morning" with a bit of a smile - can make the day lighter. We need more of that in this ugly world and it doesn't cost a dime.

So, as bad as this political crap is - and it doesn't look to change real soon, in this an election year - I urge you to look for the light in people. At the same time, look inward and see where you need work as well. It's easy to jump on the name calling wagon, just look at both sides of the political aisle and you'll see our "leaders" stooping to middle-school level name calling. It's embarrassing to say I voted for any of them.

Instead, find something good to say to someone tomorrow, the next day, or next week. The world
could use a lot more of it about now. Compliments look good on you.

Blogging off...