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Three Tips to Reduce Personal Data Tracking in 2019

1. Switch to Firefox

  • Why: You’re probably using Chrome right now. Google is the maintainer and distributor of Chrome, and have recently been making some decisions with the browser that are not in favor of privacy. Firefox has been making performance strides over the past few years and is basically as speedy as Chrome now, and is a much more privacy-respecting browser.
  • How: Download and install the desktop browser. Don’t forget to set it as your default browser. Go into Options > “Privacy and Security” and enable “Block Trackers: Always”, “Block Third Party Cookies: All”, “Send Do Not Track: Always.” Use Firefox Sync to sync your bookmarks and other settings securely.
  • Bonus: Install Firefox and/or Firefox Focus on your phone.

2. Switch to DuckDuckGo

  • Why: Google tracks every search and uses it to target advertising. If you’re logged into your Google (Gmail) account, they will associate your searching patterns with your email patterns to build a powerfully accurate and personal profile on you. DuckDuckGo is almost as good as Google in terms of search results, and does not collect or share your personal information.
  • How: Go into your web browser (Firefox, Chrome, etc.) settings and change your default search provider to DuckDuckGo.

3. Block Facebook at the DNS level

  • Why: Facebook tracks you across the internet using embedded “like” buttons that websites voluntarily place on their sites. Whether you’re logged in or not, they can track you as you browse the internet without your consent.
  • How: Add these entries to your hosts file. Instructions are OS dependent, and are at the top of the file.

St. Louis Imagery – 1990 to Now

What kind of changes to the built environment happened in your city within the past 25 years? Looking at and comparing aerial imagery can be an informative and compelling way to investigate changes. In St. Louis, many large building developments have happened over the years including:

… and much more. Luckily for the St. Louis region, the MSDIS maintains imagery services across different years. I recently found one of their imagery services from 1990 and put it into an application to compare it to more recent (I think ~2015) imagery. Check it out:

I’ve added a few preset locations to the application to some heavily changed, interesting areas. What areas of interest do you have? Let me know in the comments below.

Getting the Microsoft US Building Footprints into ArcGIS Pro

Update: there’s now an easier way to get this data into ArcGIS Pro. Please see the script that is linked in Arthur’s comment here.


Last week, Microsoft Released 125 million Building Footprints in the US as Open Data. This is a pretty exciting release of open geospatial data.

If you go to the data download page and grab one of the state json files, if you try to load this into ArcGIS Pro with the JSON to Features tool, it’s currently failing for me. I’m not totally sure why it’s failing — maybe because of the format or size of the JSON file. To get around this issue, let’s convert the GeoJSON file to Esri JSON features before importing.

To do this conversion, we’ll use the arcgis-to-geojson-utils tool.

Prerequisite: NodeJS installed.

  1. Create a new folder
  2. In that new folder, save one of the JSON files from the data source. I recommend a small file like Washington DC for your first run. (** more on that below)
  3. In that new folder, open a terminal and run: npm init … and answer all the questions
  4. Then run: npm install --save @esri/arcgis-to-geojson-utils
  5. Create a new file: index.js and put in the following script:

… replacing “FILENAME.json” on line 4 with the name of your input file that you downloaded above.

Finally, in your terminal run: node index.js. This will save a file called “out.json” that you can then input into the JSON to Features tool in ArcGIS Pro to get access to this data in Pro.

Note (**) that this script will only work for smaller sized files. The large state files that are greater than 200MB, you may need to split those up and run them separately, or write a script that loops through the JSON one line at a time. If you do this and want to share, please post in the comments below.

National Park System

If you look at all the National Parks across the US, there are about 60:

The National Park Service manages many more “park units” other than just the officially-designated “National Parks.” These include things like National Lakeshores, National Monuments, National Parkways, National Preserves, etc. In total there are about 400 units across the US:

The National Park Service has an open data portal where you can get an API of all the locations of these parks, so I took that data feed and put it into ArcGIS Web AppBuilder to create an application that allows you to filter the map by park types.

NPR, Where are the Landing Pages for Podcast Episodes?

I was just trying to share a single episode of NPR’s Podcast “How I Built This” with a friend. When I searched for the episode, no authoritative episode landing page showed up. Odd … so I go to the podcast general show page. For each recent episode you have options to:

  • Listen (on same page)
  • Add to Listen Queue (on same page)
  • Download (Direct link to MP3 via Podtrac website)
  • View a transcript

Well-run podcasts should always have an episode landing page, where you could go if you’re linking to an episode, find show notes, and also be the place for search engines to return if a user is searching for a particular episode. This last case, SEO, is particularly interesting in NPR’s case, because if you do search for this episode, you can see that many other websites are grabbing the users that should be landing on NPR’s site.

NPR, I want to share your podcast episodes, so please provide episode permalink landing pages!

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Gavin Rehkemper

JavaScript, WordPress, and GeoDev