Monsters in my Machine

When things go wrong, they tend to go really wrong.  And it always feels like things go wrong at the absolute worst time – like when my boss needs that map/data/answer right away.  I have tried to explain the problems that may impede my progress but sometimes it is hard to convey what is actually going on and how I addressed the issue.  In the spirit of Halloween (my absolute all-time favorite holiday) I’ve assigned monsters to my most common GIS and/or remote sensing software problems and offer suggestions on how to deal with them.

Asian female zombie


Name:  Lethargic Lisa

Monster Type: Zombie

Sightings:  She is often found when opening a software program or running a data processing algorithm.

Trait:  Lisa likes to maximize the time it takes to do just about anything.  She especially enjoys increasing the amount of time it takes to open a software package and has also been known slow down progress bars.   Lisa motto is, “I’m not in a hurry and neither should you”.

How to Banish:  One way to avoid Lethargic Lisa is to write your own program to accomplish the task at hand.  However, if you are like me and programming isn’t one of your strong points, then you may want to multi-task while the software program opens.  I find that this is a good time to gather and organize all my data.


consciousness of the spirit

Name:  Gus

Monster Type: Ghost

Sighting:  Missing Modules/Tools

Trait:  Gus is a trickster who likes to move around tools so you can’t find them.  He is most active when new versions of software are released.

How to Banish:  I have found that the best way to avoid Gus and his trickery is by using the search option that is in most remote sensing and GIS software packages.  I just enter the name of the missing tool into the search box to get a list of tools that meet my search criteria.    If I still can’t find the tool, then I do an internet search to see if it was removed in the latest version.

Tip:  Use the help section if you can’t remember the tool name.


Dracula with black cape showing his scary teeth. Vamp fangs.

Name:  Claudius “Claud” Fry

Monster Type: Vampire

Sighting:  Error Message

Trait:  Has a CPU intensive model ever stopped responding at 1% from completion?  If so, then you have encountered Claud.   Claud has a great sense of humor and he takes great joy from the look on users faces when processes get to 99% complete and then crash. He often engages Lethargic Lisa to help slow down progress bars right before he delivers his devastating error message.

How to Banish:  I usually encounter Claud when I am testing a new algorithm or working with unfamiliar data.    Since garlic is way too stinky to keep in my office, I mitigate Claud’s power by subsetting the data to a small area of interest thereby reducing the file size.  This way, I don’t waste a lot of processing time if I selected the wrong algorithm parameter.   I also use information from internet searches to fine tune algorithm parameters.  This is usually enough to turn Claud into a bat who flies away and leaves my process alone.

Tip:  Remember to record the parameters that were used in the algorithm.  Trust me, there is nothing worse than spending hours working through a problem only to come back a day or week later and forget what parameter(s) stopped Claud in his tracks.

Scary witch stirring a smoky cauldron


Name:  Miss Lizardrotter

Monster Type: Witch

Sighting:  A black image

Trait:  Miss Lizardrotter is a harmless witch who casts spells on imagery so that it displays in black – her favorite color – when it is first opened in a software package.

How to Banish:  Histogram stretching will break this spell but you may need to compute statistics on the image first.



These are just a few of the monsters that I have routinely encountered in everyday life but especially around Halloween.  I hope these  tips and tricks help mitigate some of the havoc that may be caused by these monsters.  Happy Halloween!

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