QGIS, I could kill you.
I’ve been dreading taking on QGIS since it was assigned in my Digital Methods class at the end of September. I ran through the tutorial then, but was perplexed by the lack of intuity for the application. I just didn’t understand it beyond following the step by step instructions. I decided that I would put it off until I had more time to dedicate to it. In hindsight, this seems ridiculous. Since I have returned to school there has not been a time when I had more free time as I progress through a semester. I did have reason to believe this semester would be different though. And, the ultimate irony is that I now understand how powerful this software is and I even kinda like it.
It took two days, and here’s how it happened. I went back to the beginning. I started with a basic shape file from the City of Albuquerque public data set. I used city council districts so that even with this first layer of mapping I would have some shape over which to apply more. And I did. I added city roads, then parks. As the layers intersected, I could see that I should be able to build a map that is more pertinent to my interests.
I started doing web searches for Indian lands, hoping to find some data from the 19th century in the Southwest. I didn’t find that. But, I did find a USGS website of small-scale data for the national map. There is lots of cool stuff here, including a shape file of Indian lands from 2005. OK, so what could I do with this? I laid down a base layer of U.S. states, then the Indian lands and then waterways, roads, and wilderness preserves. Nothing was striking. What I was missing was points on my map that would tell some story. I’m also interested in public health, so I decided to look up the addresses of New Mexico’s Indian Health Service clinics and see where they would lie on the map.
But how to get address into coordinates? I started searching for Python coding that may do this, and instead found a plugin for QGIS called MMQGIS that has geocoding capabilities. It took a while for me to get it installed, but once I did I could convert a csv file to a layer of points on my map. MMQGIS has some cool functionalities that I did not get into, but I will revisit in the future, like animating points to show movement. Anyhow, I used the IHS addresses to create a csv file in Text Wrangler and ran it through MMQGIS. I had to do it three times. The first time I got several returned lies because of misplaced commas. Commas are important for csv. Then, I kept getting one address returned as not geocodable. It is on the Santa Ana Pueblo and a bit irregular.
This is my fail for the lesson. I searched for a good address on Google Maps and found the facility but couldn’t get an address. I rewrote the address from IHS’s website different ways. I just couldn’t get it to work. So, with nine out of ten IHS clinics in New Mexico mapped against Indian lands in the state, I gave up. It is an overall success because I now feel like this software is not beyond me, but I’m still a little disappointed. I’ve thought about how to overcome this problem in the future. I could use Google Maps to get coordinates of the address that won’t compute and enter it in separately. I think there must be an even better way too, but I was beat. It was 1 a.m. Next time I use QGIS I will allow time for contingencies like this. I wish my map had ten points.