Geocoding with QGIS and Google Maps

Translating large numbers of unstructured addresses into exact geographic locations (coordinates) was my competitive edge: Write a little script in Perl that feeds the Google Maps API with (unstructured) addresses, retrieve and store Google’s replies – et voila: Let the GIS analysis begin.

Obviously, I could have asked commercial geocoding services to provide me the locations of my data points. There are some major drawbacks when using “professionals” that I do not like:

  • They are expensive. Actually, I admire them for charging fees  for a service that can be accomplished with free tools in the market.
  • The results are like meatballs: You do not really know what ingredients went into it. Relying on Google maps at least allows a graphical sanity check.
  • They are slow. Imagine, you really really need this extra layer of information on a Friday afternoon to go on with your research… When doing it yourself, you can have the answer within minutes.

The good news is: No scripting is needed anymore to do free and fast geo-coding. The open source GIS software QGIS (it is free and runs on all operating systems!) now has a plugin that does all the interaction with Google’s web service. It is still a bit rudimentary, but, hey, it does its job.

Just check out Steven’s great article on how to get it running on your machine.

How much risk must one be willing to take when starting up a business?

An academic super-hero of mine pointed out a recent paper by Robert Hall and Susan Woodward in the last issue of the American Economic Review. The article is titled “The Burden of the Nondiversifiable Risk of Entrepreneurship” (link here).

One key result is that a “typical venture-backed entrepreneur received an average of $5.8 million in exit cash”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But read on: “… Almost three-quarters of entrepreneurs receive nothing at exit and a few receive over a billion dollars”. Want to reconsider your lofty start-up ideas?