Rails and GIS

30 Aug 2009 . . Comments

As a part of my research time, I’ve started dusting off an old project I always wanted to get back to. Back in 2005 I started working with some folks who were starting to write an article on the development of architectural identity in the early Chesapeake for the William and Mary Quarterly. I wrote the application in ColdFusion and used MSSQL as the backend. When the same data was used for another article in the Journal of Southern History, I quickly whipped up an app that would at least display the information. I was never happy with it, but didn’t have the time to undertake this again.

One of the things I never liked the way I handled was describing the basic location. At first the architectural historians wanted to use UTM coordinates. I switched to latitute/longitude and wrote some conversion code to switch between the two. I was bothered, though, that describing a “site” by a point. Obviously a site is an area that contains some number n buildings. Even worse, the points were really just the centroids of the county/city of the information that was entered as the archaeologists didn’t have have information. There had to be a better way to approach the description of this information over time.

I started working at UVa earlier this spring and one of their big pushes has been GIS in the humanities. A light went off and I saw a rather nice use of using the concepts of GIS to better describe and interact with my information. I also really wanted to migrate the information to a more open format as well as really spend some time envisioning what the application should look like.

I’ve started working on this migration and have posted it on Github. To give a brief explanation of how the application. I’m using PostGIS as the backend. On OS X, getting this ready took a bit, but I think I got it explained in the README file decently. It took a while to get the correct templates ready in PostgreSQL.

I’m using OpenLayers for interacting with the maps (through map_layers), and the spatial_adapter plugin and the GeoRuby gem.

I’m expecting there to be some refactoring of the data from MSSQL, but I think PostgreSQL will be a much better solution for my open source leanings.

I’ll try to keep this updated with my progress…at least until our development blog gets off the ground.