Category Archives: DataMelange

Successful Data Insights using Less than Modern Technologies

I had the opportunity to attend a local AWC meeting that brought women and technology together for a night of networking, learning and spirits!  And with a topic like “Data in the Environment: GIS Applications for Source Water Protection”, I couldn’t pass it up!

The Speaker had responsibilities for providing decision making tools used for New Jersey source water protection and open space acquisition for the Water Supply Authority.  She provided an introduction to Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies and case studies that help in the decision making process for open space acquisition.  Her intensity for this topic and her 15 year dedication for this career was quite noticeable. As she expressed the importance of protecting source water, I couldn’t help but look down and reflect on what it took to put the simple glass of water in front of me on the table.

As the case studies ensued, we learned about the different layers that constructed the GIS visualizations of specific land parcels which supported decision making.  The layers included data attributes related to geography, roads, source water type, contaminates, owners and many other topic areas.  The attributes and their specific concentration was then related to colors in the mapping tool.

All of this leads up to the moment that any data professional/technologist waits for:  Where did the data come from, How is the data procured and What Technology is used.  So as the presenter “Pulled back the curtain”, I sheepishly tried to contain my snarky reaction and to avoid eye contact with my fellow Microsoft SQL Server pals at the table.  A 2000’s version Microsoft Access was used to store data and the inclusion of attributes was signifies by the word ‘IN’.   I took a long deep breath and went on to ask “So how long does it take to create the visualization for a parcel of land”?  The response was “About one day” and another attendee chimed in with a “That’s not bad”!  I squirm uncomfortably in my chair and attempt to come up with an elaborate reason for exiting the meeting.

Another attendee asks how often the data is refreshed and how it’s aligned with the geospatial shape files and I decide to hang in there.  The presenter indicated that some data is refreshed every 5 years.  I think I have now discovered one of the slowest moving industries ever.  Well at least I discovered an industry that had a transaction frequency slower that Real Estate (my current industry).  I start to ask a question about national open data initiatives for sharing water source and I’m abruptly censored by a friend who indicates “Melissa, your data geek is showing”!

I left this meeting with more questions than answers, but maybe that’s the point of getting out and learning about how others do their job!  I’d love to hear your feedback on the following questions:


How many businesses are still using Access?  Especially government-like organizations?

How many still think Access is adequate?

Should the successful use of old technology be applauded or shamed?

How many important decisions are being made by using antiquated technology?

How can we use this opportunity to educate and consult?

If funding for modern tools like Microsoft Power BI or Tableau were available, would these business upgrade?


Interesting GIS/MAP Resources:
Web Soil Survey | NRCS – USDA:
EPA Mapper:
Historical Aerials:
Common Census Map Project:


The Women’s new shoes… (10/20/09)

The women’s new shoes…

My grandmother lived in the small hamlet of Shinglehouse, PA for 50+ years until her death last year.  Shinglehouse is a very small community of 1200 people, 3 churches, a grocery store, a drug store and a gas station that doubles as an eatery. So, a few years back when she learned that Dollar General was building a new store in her, she became excited and began to count down the days until the store opened.   This meant that she would have access to many items that she could only get by paying a premium at the town grocery or by driving 20 miles.

Upon my grandmother’s death it became apparent that she had made a large impact on the workers of the Dollar General.  The workers at this store pooled together money to buy flowers for my grandmother’s wake.  This was not a small gesture as I would imagine that these workers do not collect six figure salaries.  It was a beautiful flower arrangement that included my grandmother’s favorite colors of aqua blue and yellow.  They obviously knew my grandmother very well.  Several workers attended her wake and told me a story about my grandmother that I had not heard before.

This is the story.  On a winter morning, my grandmother was shopping in the store and women with no shoes ran into the store.  If you live in New Jersey and see someone run into a store without shoes, the normal reaction is to get as far from the person as possible.  But, this wasn’t a reaction that was in my grandmother’s nature.  She approached the women and learned that the women and her family had just lost everything in a fire and that the women had left her home with no shoes.  So, without hesitation she handed the women money to buy new shoes.

 What would you do?  If you died today, how would you want to be remembered? 

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Posted Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:19 PM by Melissa | (Comments Off)