Monthly Archives: October 2009

Mapserver Experiment – Unlimited (Headaches)

So I wanted to explore Mapserver ! – Having recently installed Ubuntu Server 9.04 on one of my machines, I thought it would be the perfect home for the Mapserver Experiment.

It didn’t take long to come up with seemingly perfect instructions from Paolo Corti. He and his blog have been very helpful in the past. But after probably 10 hours or so over the course of a couple of weeks, I’m at the point again where I wonder if I will ever turn into a Linuxionado. While my Django adventures have been more fruitful under Ubuntu, the Mapserver adventure has been a nightmare. The silver lining being that I am getting really good working with Linux. (Even though I don’t seem to get a lot done.) But I am beginning to feel rather at home in Linux, with its file system, permissions, conf files, wget, lynx, vim, sudo… etc.

After successfully downloading and installing Mapserver, and configuring mapserv and apache multiple times, the project always collapsed when I tried setting up the Mapserver-Demo (Itasca files). I could never get past the mapserver welcoming screen. As soon as I hit “Initialize”, the program terminated and gave me a:

loadWeb(): Unknown identifier. Parsing error near (C):(line 1) – If you have a simple answer for this problem (other than my own solution below, please let me know.

There is still, of course, an undeniable chance for human error on my part. For example, I was getting confused whether the root in Mapserver-Demo’s index.html should be the same as the Document Root in /etc/apache2/sites-available/default. But I think I’ve tried every possible combination of referencing directories here. Finally I gave up when I read that the problem may be with using the Demo (the link I had found on Corti’s page) with Mapserver 5.0 instead of 4.x.

Looks like I will have to try the 5.4 demo after upgrading to Mapserver 5.4. I’ve installed the most recent stable version of Mapserver from Ubuntu-GIS and I will try again. If this fails, I will have to either try Bill Kropla’s setp-by-step-building-from-source instructions, certainly even more error prone that what I have been trying to do. I was hoping to get around that and jump ahead to later chapters in the book once everything’s up and running. Or, alternatively, and this pains me greatly, I will have to check out MS4w. Yikes !



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Old Laptop Fixer-Upper

In the process of trying to set up an old hand-me-down laptop – DELL 433C (A.D.1994) – with Damn Small Linux, I came across this Infoworld review (archived by Google).

This machine had: a 33MHz 486processor, 4MB RAM, and a 170MB hard drive, and retailed for only: $2699.00 – Wow!

In fact, I haven’t figured out exactly how to get the new OS installed (to replace Win95). There is no CD drive, and no network card. So it’s booting off and installing from a 3.5″ floppy. I’ve had a hard time finding a functional floppy drive around the office to write a boot disk. Looks like I will have to start with Wish me luck.

UPDATE: 10/16/2009

Mission accomplished. I have a Linux version running that booted off a single 3.5″ floppy. The hardest part was getting the 1.7MB file ( on a floppy. This entailed tracking down a functioning drive connected to a functioning computer. Then rather than playing fdformat to create a 1.7MB disc, I had to find a Win95 and WinXP compatible (16bit) file splitting utility (only succes was JSPlit.exe, 168KB) that would create files smaller than 1.44MB in WinXP, copy them to Win95, join the files under DOS and start the *.bat to create a 1.7MB Linux img file that’s written back to the floppy and then booted – or something like that…

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Getting Server Savvy – Ubuntu Server 9.04

After a recent computer meltdown at our office, I was quick to claim the discarded desktop unit for my own purposes. Yes, it had been declared trash. But all I had to do was hook the HD up to my own computer as a slave, and format it. Then I popped it back into the old computer (A Compaq Presario, dated approx. 2004, with Pentium Celeron 2.8GHz, 120BG… you get the picture – 2004 hardware, and formatted the drive. That simple.

Now, I ‘ve installed Ubuntu Server 9.04, and it’s running like a charm. I’ve always thought it would be nice and handy to learn a little more about running (maintainenance/admin) a server. I will probably experiment with Geoserver and/or Mapserver – ideas I got the other day whilereading in GIS for Web Developers: Adding ‘Where’ to Your Web Applications, and if it’s true that I can get ArcGIS Server to run on Ubuntu, then I will try that once (if) I get my EDN package. Of course, the first thing I was wishing for when starting the server was a GUI. Need to get friendly w/ the command line to call myself a real Linux geek.

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TNRIS Texas GIS Forum 2009

tnris_gisWed and Thur of this week, I attended the Texas GIS Forum, organized by TNRIS in Austin, Texas. It turned out to be a good introduction to what’s going on in GIS in Texas although, overall, I was expecting more of a focus on the GIS software side. Many of the presentations and most of the vendors were about remote sensing technology and services. LIDAR was the buzz word. Granted, it’s an amazing technology, with unbelievable resolution and versatile applications that will put many surveyors out of work. But I don’t think only of LIDAR when I think of GIS.

Highlight for me was an hour-long presentation by Dylan Lorimer, Product Manager @ Google Enterprise Geospatial. While there are many other GIS software and service providers with decades of experience, Google hasn’t been in it for that long. But while the others are busy coming up with new bells and whistles, add-ons, and knick-knacks, Google seems to be the one player with the vision, (however hazy or much of a stretch it may appear to be sometimes) – which I interpret to be: Make all human knowledge and information publically accessible for anyone on the planet (with internet access). Wow !

What did I learn ? Mostly that I have lots of things to learn. That there are so many different GIS technology tracks out there that I need to spend some time thinking about which ones I want to explore. For example, while I have heard people talk about Python and VB, and more recently .NET for ArcGIS, this week all I heard was Flex and Silverlight. Needless to say I know nothing about either one.

I also attended a Microsoft presentation on SQL Server Spatial. But I couldn’t figure out for the life of it why anyone would want to go with that product for their geospatial data needs. So I’m inclined to stay away from Microsoft products including Silverlight. I might take a look at Flex and revisit my earlier Web experiments.

Most of all, I like the idea of sticking with Python, learning Django as my web framework and Geodjango (I keep repeating myself) – someone will make this work for ArcGIS – and stay in the Open Source Realm. I still think that eventually, the future will be open source, and while open source evolves, other proprietary software goes in and out of style. It makes little sense to spend too much time “learning” one company’s software. Having said that I will look at getting an ESRI EDN license to “learn” their stuff. 😉

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