Useful resources in computer science/math for GIS Analysts

A lot of people who are studying GIS at school or already working as GIS analysts or GIS consultants often wonder what kind of competence will help to be attractive for employers and what domains of expertise are going to be in demand in the foreseeable future.

Usually the kind of questions GIS professionals ask is how much a GIS analyst should learn from other domains. So, we are wondering how much math, statistics, programming, and computer science should GIS analysts learn. Naturally, knowing what kind of GIS specific expertise is in demand is also very helpful. I have several posts on how get better at GIS here, here, and here.

To know what kind of GIS tools can do what kind of job is definitely helpful. This is much like a woodworker should know what kind of tools he has in his toolbox and what tools are available in the woodworking shop. Finding an appropriate tool for a certain job is not so hard nowadays with the Internet search engine and QA sites. However, the ability to understand both how data processing tools work and what happens behind the scenes to be able to interpret the analysis results is indispensable.

What is often true for many GIS analysts is that during their studies the main focus was on the GIS techniques and tools while math and CS courses were supplementary. This makes sense and the graduates are indeed most often competent GIS professionals capable of operating various GIS software suites, provide user support, and perform all kind of spatial analysis. However, it is also possible that in a career change, a person who hasn’t done any studies on GIS, is working as a GIS analyst and needs to catch up a bit. For those people who feel that they lack background GIS competence that they should had a chance to learn during their studies, or for you who just want to learn something that could help to have a broader view and give a deeper understanding of the GIS, I have compiled a list of useful links and books. Please enjoy!

There are lots of great questions answered on the GIS.SE web site; here is just a few:

Great books:

Spatial Mathematics: Theory and Practice through Mapping (2013)
This book provides gentle introduction into some mathematical concepts with focus on mapping and might be a good book to start learning math in GIS. No advanced background in math is required and high-school math competence will be sufficient.

Table of contents

  • Geometry of the Sphere
  • Location, Trigonometry, and Measurement of the Sphere
  • Transformations: Analysis and Raster/Vector Formats
  • Replication of Results: Color and Number
  • Scale
  • Partitioning of Data: Classification and Analysis
  • Visualizing Hierarchies
  • Distribution of Data: Selected Concepts
  • Map Projections
  • Integrating Past, Present, and Future Approaches

Mathematical Techniques in GIS, Second Edition (2014)
This book gives you a fairly deep understanding of the math concepts that are applicable in GIS. To follow the first 5 chapters, you don’t need any math except high school math. Later on, the book assumes that you have good knowledge of math at the level of a college Algebra II course. If you feel that it gets hard to read, take an Algebra II course online at Khan Academy or watch some videos from MIT to catch up first and then get back to the book. What I really liked about this book is that there are plenty of applicable examples on how to implement certain mathematical algorithms to solve the basic GIS problems such as point in polygon problem, finding if lines are intersecting and calculating area of overlap between two polygons. This could be particularly useful for GIS analysts who are trying to develop own GIS tools and are looking for some background on where to get started with the theory behind the spatial algorithms.

Table of contents

  • Characteristics of Geographic Information
  • Numbers and Numerical Analysis
  • Algebra: Treating Numbers as Symbols
  • The Geometry of Common Shapes
  • Plane and Spherical Trigonometry
  • Differential and Integral Calculus
  • Matrices and Determinants
  • Vectors
  • Curves and Surfaces
  • 2D/3D Transformations
  • Map Projections
  • Basic Statistics
  • Correlation and Regression
  • Best-Fit Solutions

GIS: A Computing Perspective, Second Edition (2004)
The book is a bit dated, but it is probably the best book in computer science for a GIS professional. It provides very deep understanding of the computational aspects that are used in GIS.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • Fundamental database concepts
  • Fundamental spatial concepts
  • Models of geospatial information
  • Representation and algorithms
  • Structures and access methods
  • Architectures
  • Interfaces
  • Spatial reasoning and uncertainty
  • Time

Practical GIS Analysis (2002)
This book is a unique example of a book for GIS professionals who want to see how the basic GIS algorithms and tools work. The exercises that follow give readers a chance to execute many common GIS algorithms by hand which let truly understand even some complex operations such as generating TIN or finding the shortest path on a street network. The software used as a reference is ArcView GIS 3, but it is still relevant as the GIS concepts haven’t changed much since then.

Table of contents

  • GIS Data Models
  • GIS Tabular Analysis
  • Point Analysis
  • Line Analysis
  • Network Analysis
  • Dynamic Segmentation
  • Polygon Analysis
  • Grid Analysis
  • Image Analysis Basics
  • Vector Exercises
  • Grid Exercises
  • Saving Time in GIS Analysis

Maths for Map Makers (2004)
I haven’t read this book so don’t have anything to comment on this. Sorry!

Table of contents

  • Plane Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Plane Coordinates
  • Problems in Three Dimensions
  • Areas and Volumes
  • Matrices
  • Vectors
  • Conic Sections
  • Spherical Trigonometry
  • Solution of Equations
  • Least Squares Estimation
  • References
  • Least Squares models for the general case
  • Notation for Least Squares

Exploring Spatial Analysis in GIS (1996)
I haven’t read this book either. I guess this one might be hard to find, but have listed it here just in case.

Good luck with the readings!

English grammar rules

Lately, while going through an archive of readings that I have on one of my external USB-disks, I found a humorous article about writing in English.

It is said that back in the 1940’s, the following message was
prominently displayed at the front of the main chemistry lecture hall at a major university:

“The English language is your most versatile scientific instrument.
Learn to use it with precision.”

In the intervening years, the teaching of proper grammar in the public elementary and high schools fell into disfavour. The inevitable result is that manuscripts submitted to us are often full of grammatical errors, which their authors probably do not even recognize (and often would not care about if they did).

We regard this state of affairs as deplorable, and we want to do something about it. For many years we have tried to correct the grammar of papers that we publish. This is toilsome at best, and sometimes entails rather substantial rephrasing. It would obviously be preferable to have authors use correct grammar in the first place. The problem is how to get them to do it.

One fairly effective way is to provide examples of what not to do; it is particularly helpful if the examples are humorous. We have recently seen several lists of grammatical examples of this type. A few weeks ago we found taped to a colleague’s office door the most complete one we have seen. (He tells us it was passed out in a class of Darthmouth – not in English – at the time a term paper was assigned). We reproduce it here in the hope that it will have some effect.

1.Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
2.Just between you and I, the case of pronoun is important.
3.Watch out for irregular verbs which have crope into English.
4.Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.
5.Don’t use no double negatives.
6.Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.
7.Join clauses good like a conjunction should.
8.A writer must be not shift your point of view.
9.About sentence fragments.
10.Don’t use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.
11.In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in
12.Don’t use commas, which are not necessary.
13.Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
14.Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.
15.Don’t abbrev.
16.Check to see if you any words out.
17.In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it’s A-OK.
18.As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.
19.About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective
repetition – take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
20.In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should
definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary
words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
21.Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.
22.It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
23.Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out.
24.Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.
25.To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously
26.Last but not least, lay off cliches.

An editorial by George L. Trigg in Physics Review Letters, (Volume 42, Issue 12, pp. 747-748, 19 March 1979).

Reference: Humorous Rules for Writing

Personally, even though I am not a native speaker of English, I am able to add some humorous comments of my own:

  • Notknowing how to write particles is nogood.
  • Accidental rhyme in the text rhythm can distract a reader from the algorithm
  • Having in one sequence too many words in one clause can impede author’s research report content comprehension.
  • During the process of describing chemical processes, avoid homonyms.
  • Having repeated words words in the text, as a rule, indicates using a poor text copying technique.
  • Be careful with ussing double consonnants.
  • Using terms, the meaning of which you do not know, can result in dolorous insinuations towards you.
  • The manuscript should be carefully proofread cautiously should.
  • Use such a font size, that it will be possible to read the text without using a microscope.
  • Using many different fonts makes it difficult TO READ THE TEXT
  • Recently, I read an excellent book called Scientific English: A guide for Scientists and other Professionals. 2nd Edition by Robert A. Day. I highly recommend it to all those who want to polish their writing style in English.

Spatial analysis books

There are many books on the topic of spatial analysis; some of them are very comprehensive and address various issues – spatial statistics, network analysis, cell-based raster analysis, to mention just a few. Among those books, I should emphasize the importance of the book I have been reading lately – Geospatial Analysis – a comprehensive guide, by de Smith, Goodchild, and Longley. Many people doing research by using geographical tools might find this geospatial analysis book extremely useful. Even if you work with the specific type of analysis by using a certain open source or a popular commercial GIS product (for example, using ESRI Geostatistical Analyst® for coverage analysis), you could get a deeper understanding of raster data properties and learn some more theory behind the interpolation methods you use.

The book is available in a Web version as a compiled book in the HTML format (for free) as well as a printable .pdf file (for purchase). This book is very well structured and it is very easy to navigate among different chapters. Personally, I have found much of value in the network analysis section: one can find algorithms description, location and service area problems analysis, and location network analysis concerns. I would advise you to spend some time on reading the book, which is the most comprehensive guide on geospatial analysis I have ever seen.

Another just published book on spatial statistics includes a very interesting chapter about using ESRI tools from ArcGIS Spatial Statistics toolbox. This book will be useful  for anyone who interested in working with spatial statistics and learning more about the ArcGIS geoprocessing tools. This chapter is available for free at the Springer web site.

There are a lot of books on spatial analysis topic, many of them are very comprehensive and address various issues – spatial statistics, network analysis, cell-based raster analysis just to mention a few. Among those books, I should emphasize the importance of the book I have checked lately – Geospatial Analysis – a comprehensive guide Many people doing research by using geographical tools might find this geospatial analysis book extremely useful. If you work with the specific type of analysis, for example, geosurface analysis, you could get a deeper understanding of raster properties and learn some more theory behind the tool.

The book is available in the Web version as a compiled book in the HTML format as well as .pdf. This book is very well structured and it is very easy to navigate among different chapters. Personally, I have found much of value in network analysis chapter: one can find algorithms description, location and service area problems analysis, and location network analysis. I advise to spend some time on reading the book, the most comprehensive guide on geospatial analysis I have ever seen.

Universities that offer free courses online

No one doubts nowadays that education matters. Fairly often, the better the education one can afford, both from the perspectives of content and prestige, the more doors will be open in the future. Good for you, if you live in the US/the UK/Canada/Australia where the top rated universities are aggregated (source: university rankings). But what can a person who does not have an opportunity to get there do? One can have lack of money required to cover a tuition fee and accommodation, the inability to study with the normal pace at a given university, or have problems with being enrolled due to poor letter grades.

To address those cases, online and distant education has been introduced by many educational institutes. If we are talking only about top rated universities, many of them offer distant/online education, too. Furthermore, some of them even provide access even to video lectures (i.e., videos recorded during real lectures at classrooms), audio records, lecture notes, etc. This exempts one from being forced to spend money on traveling and frees one’s access to the knowledge. One can study courses based on their own pace and focus on the information that is important.

For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been publishing free online course materials for many years here and now there are more than 1900 courses available. Another great resource of the academia knowledge is University of Berkeley’s webcasts, which amounts to several hundred courses from different terms from fall 2001.

Personally, I have studied some courses from MIT and Berkeley and found them to be extremely well organized and interesting. Regarding free GIS courses, there are not so many available. I was attracted to Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Urban and Environmental Analysis course, available from Tufts University.

To conclude, it is definitely a fascinating experience to listen to lectures of the best teachers gratis. Availability of courses materials allows people to take advantage from it, as the MIT web site stated, “unlocking knowledge and empowering minds”. To learn more about universities with the best free online courses, see here.

The GelConference videos

Several months ago, I have heard about GelConference. Gel stands for Good Experience in Life. It is a community of people who explore “good” experiences in various aspects of our life. They share their ideas, projects results, and stories of success at GelConference, which has taken place every year since year 2003. I have watched almost all the videos from virtually all GEL conferences. There are many exciting and illuminating speakers at Gel, so it is hard to recommend someone specifically. Nevertheless, personally, I loved the speeches of Erin McKean, Seth Godin, and Sam Brown. Anyway, I would recommend visiting this web site and watching as many videos as you can on a topic you might be interested in.

My book was published recently

As you might know, I work with Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies. Particularly, my previous research was focused on development and test of web-based city maps and web-based frameworks for integrating geospatial and online spatial data of municipal agencies. Well, of course use of GIS in local government varies greatly. GIS help city agencies to answer many questions and facilitate the performance of a great number of day-to-day activities. In almost any situation, when dealing with GIS information in local governments, GIS specialists must provide services to government leaders and to staff of other departments. Furthermore, spatial, or geographic, data often needs to be available to the public audience via the Web.

The results of my research resulted in a book, which was published recently. The results of the performed work offer numerous insights and implications for using GIS in the Web to the study of local government workflows. I believe that this study can be useful to a variety of readers from different disciplines. Specialists interested in municipal GIS design and implementation could find much of significance in this work. I hope that those readers concerned with the use of web programming and applications of GIS software in local government might also find much of value in the study. The book might be useful to academics and nonacademics as well, such as those involved in government GIS workflows and web mapping application development.

You can check the book at

Web GIS application in local government: Municipality of Gävle case study

Phrase book for researchers and scientists

While writing my master thesis paper one year ago, I was lucky enough to find a perfect book for researchers and all people who deal with scientific writing. PhraseBook for Writing Papers and Research in English written by Stephen Howe and Kristina Henriksson is very well structured. It can help one to write an article or a report and gives a countless number of advices on university and research writing in English. Information in the book is organized in a logical way; it is very easy to find necessary information. This monograph is rather a reference book, since I cannot see a reason why one should read it from cover to cover. Authors have included a great deal of practical tips, which could be very helpful in organizing your article, project report, or even PhD thesis. It is absolutely a must have book for any researcher or scientist.