Ryan Bowe: “I love metadata so much I write it in my spare time”

Ryan Bowe
Ryan Bowe

        <origin>Lexington, KY</origin>
        <title>Ryan E. Bowe, metadata specialist</title>
        <geoform>pixels and dot documenter</geoform>

Ryan was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: So, Ms. Ryan Bowe: Where are you, why are you there, and for whom do you work? Actually, what do you do there?

A: I am in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, wandering aimlessly with purpose. The why behind my spatial location is not super special: I fell in love with Kentucky after being transplanted [while] in the middle of High School from the Carolinas (first North, but mostly South). So I stayed even though I bleed the wrong color — blue.

I work at an aerial survey company. I have (or have had) many responsibilities, and I’m proud to be able to say I have almost taken a project from start to finish. To hit the highlights (and my favorites) — I have planned and acquired imagery, and written metadata and final project reports.

Ryan GeoMetadata, traveling. A few weeks ago I sat in a duck blind on Sunday and took photos of mergansers, grebes, and blue-winged teal. Monday, I walked around the Tidal Basin in the Capital City. Not to be confused with KFFT.

Why was I in DC? URISA gave me the immense honor of representing the community on the NASA Earth Senior Review/National Interests Panel. Yes, I feel like Walowitz bragging about going to space, and my wardrobe now consists of several NASA shirts. No, you can’t call me Froot Loops. Yet.

In a few weeks I’ll be in Tampa. Then in a few more weeks I’ll be in my favorite National Park — Yellowstone.

Q: This one time you won something called the “Young Professional of the Year (2013)” from URISA. You received that from working with the URISA Vanguard Cabinet. The Vanguard Cabinet attempts to bring more young professionals into URISA. You’re involved with the Mentoring Program of Young Professional Committee with ASPRS.  Why do you keep trying to drag young professionals into these two organizations? 

A: My experiences with both organizations have been immensely rewarding. All of the time I have put into ASPRS and URISA has been repaid, and then not just some but significantly more. I hope to be able to share the love. Plus, I am not forever going to be a young professional by either of the typical definitions — 35 and under or less than 10 years of experience — so very soon I’m going to enact my succession plan and put in my application for the codger coalition. I’m excited about being replaced and getting old. I want to help other people have an even more rewarding experience than I have within both ASPRS and URISA.

@twendyp is demonstrating the success of my succession plan to the max. She did so much more with the Vanguard Cabinet than I did, and she also received Young Professional of the Year (2014). I was also hugely honored to receive the Barbara Hirsch Service Award with Wendy at GISPro in September 2014. We also talk about “Managing your ambition” in ArcNews.

When we are young, our desire to change is seen more as the “good” disruption (@candrsn) and less like Abe Simpson shaking his fist at the young whippersnappers on his lawn. We should all take advantage of it! Yes, I’m recruiting again. Dive in, cannonball preferred, and start making waves.

On a totally unrelated note, I had to ask the Internet about Whippersnappers and lawns. Apparently there is a [whipper] Snapper lawn mower. I find this exquisitely fitting.

Q: If you could consolidate the two organizations (URISA and ASPRS) into one super organization, would you?

A: Absolutely not. They each have their strengths and, honestly, there is not a tremendous amount of crossover in the organizational realms. I’d love to see the two organizations collaborate some more, though.

The one fear I have of not creating one super organization is the lack of volunteers and fresh blood. I can’t recruit people fast enough, and I really do not understand why. Thinking back to when I first joined, I did see both organizations as slightly terrifying. I didn’t have a clue how to volunteer for anything, and when I did see opportunities I was too intimidated to apply. I know the self-doubting thought of “I’m fresh out of school, still transitioning into a workplace. What could I possibly offer that my heroes aren’t already offering?” The Young Professional group of both societies allowed me to get my feet wet. No, no kiddie pool or water wing references here. Do not think of it as age discrimination. Think of it as a less intimidating introduction to the society. For me it was a little sink or swim, but I dove right in and I am still loving it. And we have made it better. Plus, I have had the honor of meeting many of my heroes who were the source of that initial intimidation. They’re not terrifying. And in my experience heroes want to hear about what is going on with Young Professionals. They are passionate people who want to help further the profession.

Q: So one of my most painful GIS memories has been dealing with metadata. You’ve got a @GeoMetadata handle on Twitter. Why do you love the most boring necessary thing in the world?

A: The short version: Cat food v. Tuna. Is the can that has lost its label cat food, or is it tuna? Would you eat it without the label identifying if it was Cat food or Tuna? (today’s never ask the Internet anything again moment.) This thought was presented to me in a metadata workshop eons ago, but the analogy works when you apply it to your data. Would you be willing to risk your research results on data whose accuracy you didn’t know? What if the easting and northings were not labeled or labeled incorrectly, and you thought your data was horribly inaccurate because of it? That is why data stewardship is close to my heart.

The long version: It goes back to why I chose geospatial. I went to Centre College in Danville, KY. It is a small liberal arts college where you didn’t have to declare your major until your sophomore year. Lucky me, I went to college thinking medical because most of my family is medical, and then journalism because I adored photography, but then I found this awesome Visual Anthropology course and had the honor of standing next to photographers from Time, Newsweek as well as U.S. News and World Report during the 2000 Vice Presidential Debate. There was no challenge in that photography. We were all waiting for them to drink water, take their glasses off and rub their eyes, or show any kind of photographable weakness. It was a pretty miserable photo assignment to me. Journalism was scratched and I was sold on anthropology. One of my courses was Ecological Anthropology, and we learned GIS and Remote Sensing. It solved all the verification and validation I saw with ethnographic data or even Pigs for the Ancestors by Rappaport. Anthropologists document a culture and then their work would be disproved for one reason or another. In some cases, if anthropologists had GPS and GIS, their data would have been harder to disprove.

Soon after that class I was looking for a research or teaching position, and it turned out to be in GIS. I was able to help pioneer and ultimately assist in teaching the first GIS course at the college. While working on the course, my advisor asked me what I wanted to do with my life. My answer was to do anthropology with a camera around my neck, a GPS unit on my back, and a GIS-enabled computer. Don’t knock the GPS on my back — we were using Trimble ProXRS receivers, and I never dreamed I could use something like an iPhone to instantly have GPS coordinates associated with my photos. Also, to my credit, I still do real photography with a dSLR every now and then. Anyway, so I went to grad school. One of our more awesome assignments was to take a piece of data without metadata or projection information and figure out what or where it was. I love the puzzling, but metadata really made sense at that point. All I needed was a bit of documentation and the puzzle was solved. Fast forward to a few years into my first job and there was a need for metadata on a tile level. Someone had found out that I loved it. Hundreds of thousands of metadata files were needed and I wrote them. Write them. I still write them and I still love it! There’s something awesome about getting to document a project. It is a little like the data without any information, except I have all the information. I have the privilege of synthesizing all the information for the data consumers. Yes, I am forced into the standards, but I like to think that the information is still useful. You’ll know the projection, the resolution, the accuracy, and locational information. So, as long as the metadata files travel with the data files, no one else has to puzzle! And if the client asked for the data in a standard for a reason, they can mine the metadata for all that information and serve it up to their end users easier. Obviously, metadata still makes my heart go pitter-pat.

Q: You even went so far as to write a metadata workshop that you’ve done at conferences and special events?

A: Yes, I love metadata so much I write it in my spare time. I’m on SlideShare and my website explains the presentations. Slides lose a significant amount without my personal touch. You will just have to wonder why in the world are there Ghostbusters, Mario, and Little Shop of Horrors references in there. Now you can call me Froot Loops.

Q: Ten years from now, drones have gone sentient. They are killing the humans of Earth with lasers originally purposed to collect LiDAR. Having worked in the mapping industry, you find yourself feeling incredibly guilty for having helped cause the end of the human race. You are in a cave with three things: a pen with which to write metadata, paper that the metadata will be written on, and something to drink. Do you have A: Tennessee Whiskey or B: Kentucky Bourbon and why? 

A: Kentucky Bourbon because of glass and wax.

I love the question because I am a 3DEP fanatic. I hope it becomes a recognizable part of the National Map. Now I propose we work on creating an impossibly strict standard for UAS metadata, though. No one will want to use drones then so they won’t go sentient. I really can’t talk because I have not piloted a drone or used data from one. My frame of reference is still only huge Z/I Intergraph DMC from fixed wing aircraft and digital cameras in a helicopter. It sure would be nice to participate in the UAS Mapping Symposium.

Q: With everything you do with ASPRS, URISA, etc. — are you a geohipster?

A: I believe I am geohipsteresque; in other words I am an aspiring geohipster.

Once I conquered the intimidation factor organizations gave me, I find their resources extremely useful. Access to ASPRS Archives of PE&RS was the original reason I joined ASPRS. Who knew I’d end up in the magazine eventually, and not just for book reviews. I believe organizations provide a breeding ground for new ideas. Sometimes structure inhibits creativity, but it does not eliminate their tremendous bodies of knowledge. I also know that both organizations are working very hard to restructure and rethink governance. Plus, we don’t want to let history repeat itself, and where else can we turn to see where we can improve on history?

If I had time, I’d be supporting the squirrels in the rats v. squirrels Maptime rivalry, but I’m sad to say I’ve only had the chance to make one meeting. I did have some help from @jace1101 in coercing a few colleagues to attend that inaugural meeting, though! At some time I hope to be able to give a metadata presentation there, if anyone is as crazy about metadata as myself.

So, I definitely have some quantifiable geohipster qualities. I have been known to wear Carhartts. I have “ugly” hunting dogs, which I have threatened to GPS because I don’t hunt with them, rather photograph them. I still write thank you notes in calligraphy. I have a glow in the dark Nalgene bottle with a GeoHipster and a Maptime sticker. Having a sticker totally qualifies me, right?

Q: So I leave the last question to you: What do you want the good readers of GeoHipster to know that we didn’t cover in this interview?

A: I love to think that I’m unique, but if you hang enough qualifiers we’re all unique. I have had some very special experiences, though. In addition to meeting my spatial heroes and photographing the 2000 Vice Presidential Debate, I have a few more other six-degrees-of-separation-from-fame stories. I have been published in Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Wild Bird, South Carolina High School Sports Report, Nature Photographer, Natures Best, World Equine Veterinary Review, and several other papers. I met Roger Tory Peterson at a Nature Photography conference. I have blown glass with Stephen Rolfe Powell. I interned with Art Wolfe. And I have been working my dream job for almost 10 years now. The camera is in the belly of the plane, the GPS unit is on top (or as a base station on the ground), and there is not a shortage of GIS-enabled computers.






11 responses to “Ryan Bowe: “I love metadata so much I write it in my spare time””

  1. JimmyRocks Avatar

    We all know the hipsters are moving on from craft beer to craft spirits, and Kentucky is the place to be! The ky bourbon trail website has a list of craft distilleries (there’s even one in Danville!) but there’s no map to go with it. How do you feel about that?

  2. GeoMetadata Avatar

    The #sharethelex Brewgrass Trail is epic, but is lacking a map as far as I can tell. The Bourbon Trail map is pretty good, at least. Louisville has the Urban Bourbon Trail spotlighting bars and restaurants which also seems to be lacking a map. I’ve completed the Urban Bourbon Trail thanks to ASPRS’s Spring Conference and URISA’s Leadership Academy in 2014. I have started part of the Bourbon Trail and also have a Brewgrass passport with one stamp.

    And, yes, I really need to finish my map I started in your class, JimmyRock! It details all the places I went in Louisville. Maybe @maptimelex can make a Brewfest map 🙂 I’ll bring that up to them.

    1. Ryan Cooper Avatar
      Ryan Cooper

      Ah, looks like they do have an “aight” Google map, but it’s accessed through a sort of discrete link at the top of the list. It’s almost as if the map is an afterthought. The nerve of some people! It’s almost as if not everyone is as obsessed with maps as we are 😀

      But anyway, the data are there so the Brewgrass Trail would be a good theme for a future @maptimelex for sure! Also, beer.

  3. Jeff Yutzler Avatar
    Jeff Yutzler

    I love that label-less can analogy, but probably not in the way you were thinking.

    * I don’t care, my cat will eat either cat food or tuna
    * I don’t need a label, just open up the can and look at what is inside and smell it
    * Even if there was a label I wouldn’t trust it and would find some other way to verify what is in there
    * I’m not even thinking of eating something that has been on my shelf for who knows how long when I can go to a reputable restaurant (portal) and get what I know is a real meal (dataset)

    1. GeoMetadata Avatar

      Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed the analogy but you SHOULD care about what you are getting. Enough tuna could kill your cat…

      Just because a portal is reputable doesn’t mean that the data you download won’t kill your analysis. Data producers could want to explain something about the data you are consuming and metadata provides a communication channel for data producers and data consumers. I’m sure you are the perfect data user who screens the data extensively before using it, but there are definitely things you cannot see.

      Plus, if you researched the data before you downloaded it, well, you are using metadata of some sort. You cannot open up an ortho or LiDAR dataset and know it’s RMSE. Yes, you might want to independently verify the RMSE, but that introduces more possibility for problems. I can think of tons of what if scenarios, specifically recalls, where contents are important.

      I have to share one of the what if scenarios that came to my mind. What if that reputable restaurant decided the meat of the day was horse? I don’t know as I have never consumed horse, maybe it would be tough as nails and the substitution would be immediately obvious. Being in Kentucky, I find the concept of eating horse particularly unappetizing!

      1. Jeff Yutzler Avatar
        Jeff Yutzler

        Sure, in some domains metadata matters a lot. Most of the time it is like code documentation – time consuming, error-prone, and often doesn’t answer the right questions anyway. I look forward to a future where metadata as we know it is marginalized to the point that it becomes an anachronism.

  4. Catt Avatar

    My favorite swag on my desk is a yellow rubber duck that says “Don’t duck metadata” I got at a conference ~ 10 years ago. I don’t have much time these days but when I can steal some I like to get my ISO 19115 on…

    1. GeoMetadata Avatar

      I love the “Don’t Duck Metadata” duck!!! I heard there were duck whistles? Awesomeness.

      At one point I had a collection of ducks. Oriental Trading is dangerous if you like rubber ducks.

      I was also giving a presentation recently and used a duck in the slides. During the practice round, the duck was totally dissed. Then the critics saw it in another meeting. They got it. They remembered. That has to be one of the best metadata campaigns ever. I aspire to think of something that memorable!

  5. J.B. Avatar

    Catchy title. I create metadata in my spare time too. Too bad I have none of that. I do create metadata for anything that i think anyone else might end up using that I had a hand in creating. I do wish it were easier to get around much of the inane fields that are required. There are some decent tools but they don’t offer much help documentation. I mean “I don’t understand what it is that you want me to write here, and I’m not allowed to leave it blank.”. Perhaps the tool could just fill it in for me? or at least give me a good example.

    1. GeoMetadata Avatar

      There are some good tools out there with some help at least (Mermaid and EPA’s EME). I feel the pain with ISO 19115 metadata because I haven’t gotten to the point that I can write it in my sleep yet. FGDC CSDGM, though, is something I can do in my sleep due to trial and error and practically memorizing the actual CSDGM.

      The other thing you can do is try just meeting the minimum which basically documents any dataset in the world.

      My best piece of advice is to try to find a few examples that are similar to what you are trying to document. It helps to see what other people are doing for those tricky required fields. Who knows, maybe they are already doing as little as possible and that is acceptable for that type of data. I definitely preach that all the time (and totally practice what I preach). Never stare at a blank slate! Try to find a starting point. And, use the metadata contacts…I know I’m not the only one who loves metadata and we’re here to help!