Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures in Software

So far, my favorite adventure in graduate school has been concentrated to the next two to three weeks of my education. It's a technological overload and my brain is fried, but I still find myself dreaming about it and giddy about working with it the next day.

This week in Local, we're learning GIS. It's been an up-and-coming important skill for people to have in the past few years, but in case you aren't familiar, you can read about it here. We're learning on a program called ArcGIS, which is produced by a company in Redlands called Esri. Apparently, Esri has been around since the 1980s but despite the technological advances, not much of the program has changed in the last 30 years and is still subject to crashing. Specifically, we're using ArcMAP 10 to complete the class exercises, but we all successfully crashed the program on the first day. Due to this, my colleagues and I have become especially adept at constantly saving our files throughout our work process.

Over the course of the next three weeks, our class will do multiple exercises in the program and follow up with a memo of our work and our experiences. Overall, we will be using our newfound skills to map patterns and trends of littering in the Laurel District, our neighbors right up the street at MacArthur and High. That's one of the neat things about GIS: you can map just about anything.

The first exercise focused on zoning, whereas the second exercise focused on census population and geo-referencing. We'll be doing the third exercise sometime next week, so I'm not sure what it will focus on until we meet for class. On Tuesday, after our first day on the program, I went to sleep dreaming about GIS and how I could revise the map that Jackie and I were working on. That dream made me wake up, jot down a few notes, and go back to sleep. I went to school early the next day so I could hop on the computer and make revisions. Most of them had to do with re-labeling zoning designations (which I have nearly all of them memorized), but I also cleaned up other pieces of our map. When we had class, Mark gave everyone about 15-20 minutes to finish up the assignment. Suffice to say, Jackie & I just sat at the computer, futzing around with the map since we were already finished.

Our second assignment is on census population and geo-referencing. Isabel and I swapped partners, so I'm working with Christine now. We're not moving as quickly as the first assignment, but we also have to upload much more data and use multiple programs (i.e. to do so. We didn't get incredibly far and since I feel like I have this information pretty solid, I'm going to let Christine be the driver on this one and I'll just observe.

Aside from GIS, I'm also learning software for my Qualitative Research Methods class called NVivo. It's a program that compiles and organizes your research data and allows you to do other cool things like coding. We've reviewed it over the course of two class periods, but I don't find this nearly as interesting as GIS. I can see its usefulness for a large-scale, long-term research project. But otherwise, I think I'll stick to computer transcriptions and handwritten coding.

FINALLY. What I'm probably most excited and nervous for: AutoCAD! I found Autodesk, a website that allows you to download the software FREE (not for a 30 day trial) if you are a student or educator. Of course, it only allows you to download one program (so choose wisely!); this ended up being a not-so-big deal, since they only had one Mac version. Otherwise, PCs have a HUGE range of programs to choose from.

I decided to download AutoCAD as a way to increase my skills and make myself more appealing to the internships I'm applying for. In general, it's something that I've wanted to learn for awhile, even if I don't go into planning. As far as learning it goes, this is purely Trial-and-Error. So far, I've only opened the program and then closed (just so I can be sure it works). I don't have the kind of time I would like to really peruse, but I've searched, downloaded, and saved a couple of free manuals and internet help pages. I'm hoping that the tutorials will prove more useful in teaching me what each combination of little tiny button and keystroke does, rather than do it all on my own. Normally, I would take the latter approach but I'm just not afforded that kind of time right now.

Roughly nine weeks into the semester and I feel like I finally have my footing. I'm playing Get Ahead more and more, rather than Catch-Up, but I still have a few things to make up. At this point, much of my time is concentrated on revising my resume, applying for jobs and internships, and trying to find a client for my MPR. Balance that will my daily class readings and memo-writing and you have one tired, hungry, stinky graduate student. I wish there was a way that I could read in the shower or have a machine that shovels food into my mouth as I type. *Sigh* If only.

Also: if anyone out there knows AutoCAD, you are MORE than welcome to lend some of your expertise. There might just be some homemade cookies or brownies involved. :)

Earthquakes: just one of about 192,358 million things you can map with GIS.

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