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2005 February 17


Editor's Note
Editor's Introduction
Department of Corrections
Meet the Editor

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Editor's Note

This week GIS Monitor is in transition, as I settle in as the new editor. In this issue I will mostly introduce myself to you and suggest how we can work together. Next week's issue will be much closer to what you have come to expect.  


Editor's Introduction

I love to sail and to take on new challenges. So every year I charter a bigger boat, take along a larger crew, navigate trickier waters, and sail in stronger winds. Every time, I leave port with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Soon, when the sky darkens and white caps begin to form, I think: "What have I gotten myself into this time?!" and feel the full responsibility of command. Yet a few days later I always return the boat safely to its home port, with a happy (though tired) crew, fond memories, much newfound knowledge, and perhaps even a little more wisdom. Similarly, as I embark on this new journey as editor of GIS Monitor (and of Earth Observation Magazine), I am both excited and anxious. Humbled, too, as my predecessor's shoes are large ones to fill.

Sailing is relevant here also for another reason: it was what first got me interested in serious navigation. Before that, I was a lost child — twice. The first time I was five years old and lost track of my mother as she entered a store in San Francisco and I kept walking down the street. The next time I was seven and had insisted on walking home alone from school in Milan, Italy. I was determined not to let it happen again. So, when I was eleven and my family moved to Pisa, I was the only kid I knew who walked around — from school, to fencing practice, to my bus stop — studying a map and a compass. Next came the topo maps I used for hiking. In my twenties, as I began to sail around the Boston Harbor islands and off the coast of Maine, I learned to use nautical charts, sextants, radio direction-finders, sonar, radar, Loran C, and, finally, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers.

I read my first technical article on GPS in 1985, when I was a graduate student in international security at MIT and the United States was building the system. I studied its technical specifications and dreamt about its many possible future applications.

Ten years ago I began my magazine career as the co-founder and editor, for four years, of the nonpartisan public policy magazine Oregon's Future. I learned, the hard way, about magazine writing, editing, production, and circulation. More importantly, I learned to solicit informed opinions from people with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives — and summarized my editorial philosophy into the following mission statement: "to publish opinions — argued logically, supported by facts, defended with passion, and tempered by tolerance."

Four years ago my longstanding passion for navigation, my interest in science and technology policy, and my self-taught knowledge of magazine writing and editing, came together as I became the managing editor of GPS World (for a sampling of my writing for that magazine, enter my last name into the site's search engine). Two years ago I left that publication to launch my own, GPS User Magazine. A month ago Neil Sandler, the publisher of GIS Monitor and EOM, called me to ask whether I'd be interested in succeeding Adena as editor of both publications.

One final strand in my career bears mentioning, because it relates directly to a key aspect of GIS: as a research analyst, first for a private think tank and then for state and local government agencies, I became an expert user of databases. Whether extracting data from legacy mainframe systems, querying SQL servers, or using Microsoft Access or Excel on a PC, I became a wizard at importing, exporting, translating, concatenating, validating, and analyzing data. Sounds like the daily work of many GIS technicians, doesn't it?

Braid these disparate strands together and what do you get? A techie sailor, a data-driven policy analyst, an eclectic aficionado of all things geospatial, a punctilious editor. Your editor, at your service.

My main job will be to ask good questions — by which I mean, the questions that you would want me to ask — and to accurately report the answers I get. Think of me as your eyes and ears at the conferences you are not able to attend, as your full-time staff researcher, as your product tester, and as your advocate. In turn, I will think of you, all 17,000 of you, as my technical and editorial advisers. I want to hear from you with questions, comments, suggestions, complaints, and tips for stories. Please write to me at [email protected].


By its very nature, a personal column such as this one is idiosyncratic, reflecting its author's interests, quirks, and pet peeves. Yet, I will strive to keep my explorations useful and stimulating to you — and I trust that you will let me know when I stray too far from this goal.

For starters, here are a few questions I've accumulated in the past couple of weeks — and which I plan to address over the next several months.

  • The usefulness of GIS increases with the growth of other geospatial technologies because GIS integrates and organizes data from all of them. However, geographic data is often inconsistent, redundant, and/or ambiguous, because different users represent the same data differently, depending on their point of view and needs. For example, a satellite photograph may show the accurate shape of an object, a tourist map may show a less accurate shape for that same object but include its name, and a database may list the object's name and that of its architect.
         That's where we turn to conflation, the challenge of combining information from disparate sources in such a way as to retain accurate data, eliminate redundancies, and reconcile data conflicts. If we handle them correctly, different representations of the same geographic reality give us richer information.
         That, as I understand it, is the theory. So, how does it really work in practice? What techniques and software packages are best for the job? Which GIS shop is doing the most sophisticated and effective conflation work? What are some the most impressive case studies?

  • As an increasing portion of GIS input is remotely sensed data, GIS users are paying more attention to the uncertainty in remotely sensed image classification. This uncertainty can arise from mixed pixels, poor class definitions, and transition zones (fuzzy boundaries).2
         To what extent does the uncertainty reduce the value of remote sensing as a GIS data source and affect the return on investment (ROI)? What are the most promising approaches and tools available to minimize the uncertainty?

  • GRASS, the Geographical Resources Analysis Support System, was popular in the 1980s and the early 1990s, when there were comparatively few software packages that could justifiably call themselves Geographic Information Systems. GRASS was a UNIX-based raster GIS used widely in both government and academe. First developed in 1982 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), GRASS was then the only public-domain GIS, well before the use of Open Source software became widespread. CERL made the source code for the entire system public and encouraged the "GRASS community" to develop and add its own code to the package. This led to the formation of the Open GRASS Foundation, which then became the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC).
         GRASS was able to incorporate new developments in geographic information science, such as surface analysis and map algebra, without having to wait for commercial software developers to incorporate them into proprietary products. In 1995, however, CERL discontinued its support of GRASS and its use declined sharply. Recently, as the Open Source model of software development has experienced a renaissance, so has GRASS.3
         What are the prospects for GRASS and other Open Source GIS software development? Who's doing what? Is Open Source GIS code more robust and flexible than commercial products? Are commercial products better for certain applications or environments?

  • Many countries are developing Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) to manage and use their spatial data assets more efficiently, to facilitate and coordinate the exchange and sharing of spatial data between stakeholders in the spatial data community, and to assist in decision-making that has an important impact within their national boundaries. Over the past few years, many countries have begun to build National SDI (NSDI), starting with its main element, a national spatial data clearinghouse to serve as the access network of an NSDI that facilitates access to the spatial data.4
         How are national clearinghouses developing? How practical are they? Who uses them and for what purpose? Do they include efficient Web interfaces? Are they adequately funded? Obviously the answers to these questions will vary widely from country to country.

  • Millions of geological, biological, and cultural specimens housed in natural history museums are cataloged with very imprecise descriptions of where they were found.5
         What is the best way to georeference the source of these specimens, so that scientists can study their geographic patterns? Who's doing it? Will they ever catch up with the enormous backlog?

  • The Internet and, in particular, the World Wide Web, have broadened the use of powerful GIS tools beyond a small band of users and now GIS offers a more populist environment, with a wider range of applications and services. This symbiotic relationship between the Internet and geographic information services allows much greater dissemination of geographic data and analysis. The challenge, of course, is to encode, transport, and promote data interoperability over heterogeneous Internet environments. To this end, the development of Geography Markup Language (GML) and the work of the Open GIS Consortium and the International Standards Organization (ISO) are crucial. 6
         What are the remaining obstacles to fully Web-enabled GIS?

  • With the advancement and convergence of GPS, the Internet, and wireless communication technologies, mobile GIS is rapidly becoming the preferred method of data acquisition and validation. Mobile GIS brings analysis from the laboratory right to the point of data collection, thereby transforming the way data are collected in the field. It allows field scientists to increasingly focus on their research, rather than on the technical details of data collection, and to gather complex digital data, such as GPS data and digital photography, while also accessing pre-existing digital databases. Digital instruments that communicate through local wireless systems, such as Bluetooth, help integrate data from various instruments into a single spatial database through mobile GIS.
         The remaining obstacles to a full implementation of mobile GIS include the short communication range of wireless networks; the requirement for broad bandwidth; the limitations of the map display and user interface design of mobile GIS applications; and the limited integration into mobile GIS of Internet mapping technologies originally designed for desk-top clients and standardized Web browsers.
         Meanwhile, how are the pioneers of mobile GIS doing? For what applications is the current technology sufficient? Who could benefit most from expanded capabilities for mobile GIS? Who will?

  • Am I asking the right questions?

Department of Corrections

In the February 10 issue, an article on ESRI's new developer program, EDN, the number of transactions offered with ArcWeb Services was reported as 200,000. The correct number is 100,000 transactions. Also, ESRI has not yet announced pricing for the program.

Meet the Editor

I will be at the American Society for Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing (ASPRS) annual conference in Baltimore, March 7 to 11, and hope to meet many of you there. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) annual conference in Denver, March 6 to 9. I am counting on many of you to be there and to tell me all about it later. (Meanwhile, would someone please explain to me why these two key geospatial events overlap?)

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.

WeatherBug to Provide Live Weather Data to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency
WeatherBug, of Gaithersburg, MD, the leading provider of live local weather information services, announced an extended partnership with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Maryland is the first state in the country to provide a common weather intelligence platform for all emergency management officials. MEMA will use live local weather data from WeatherBug's tracking stations to improve its analysis and responsiveness in day-to-day operations and emergencies.
     MEMA, Maryland's Emergency Operation Center (EOC), all county emergency management coordinators and the emergency managers for Baltimore City and Ocean City will now all use WeatherBug Streamer, an online application providing real-time weather information and analysis. This will give them access to advanced warning and detailed intelligence for severe weather incidents, such as hurricanes, flooding, winter storms, and wind gusts. It will also provide them with more accurate and up-to-date data for plume modeling, enhanced interoperability, and more accurate and timely weather data.
     In addition to WeatherBug Streamer, MEMA also integrates WeatherBug Network data into its Emergency Management Mapping Application, EMMA, for plume models. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also has access to the same WeatherBug Network data via NOAA's National Weather Service, for use in case of a terrorist attack or a major disaster.
     WeatherBug operates a proprietary network of 8,000 tracking stations and more than 1,000 cameras that are placed at schools and public safety facilities throughout the nation.

Pictometry's CEO To Advise Center for Imaging Science
Pictometry International Corp., of Rochester, NY, announced that its CEO, Richard A. Kaplan, has joined the Board of Advisors for the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (CIS) at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). CIS provides training and education on digital imaging technologies. The Board of Advisors, which consists of scientists, educators, and business executives, reviews the Center's activities and advises its director. Executives from BAE Systems, Eastman Kodak, Edmund Optics, Hewlett-Packard Labs, ITT Aerospace, and Xerox also sit on the board.
     Pictometry's software enables users to access up to 12 different views of any property, building, highway, or other feature in a county, to create measurements such as distance, height, elevation, and area, directly from the oblique imagery, and to insert GIS content and other data. The company's customers include close to 100 counties, the State of Massachusetts, federal government organizations, and private business users. Applications include 9-1-1, appraisers, assessors, emergency management agencies, engineering, financial institutions, fire departments, GIS, homeland security, insurance, law enforcement, planning officials, real estate, transportation, and utilities.

Eastcan Geomatics Hires Hawkes
Eastcan Geomatics Consultants Limited, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has appointed Andy Hawkes to the position of Senior Project Manager - Utilities, with responsibility for project management and business development for the company's utility and telecommunications GIS data services line of business. Hawkes has more than 20 years of experience in GIS data conversion and related services for utility companies, telecommunications companies, municipalities, and government agencies. He has managed two large offshore GIS production facilities.
     Eastcan Geomatics provides photogrammetry, digital mapping, and GIS services to utility and telecom companies, municipalities, and government agencies. Eastcan has performed photogrammetry and mapping since1959 and completed more than 3,500 projects.

Federal Government Used Intergraph Tracking Software for Security
Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions, of Madison, AL, announced that U.S. federal government security teams used the company's mobile solutions in security operations at the 2005 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., and at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Intergraph provided the government with an IntelliWhere-based system for real-time tracking of resources. Security officials used IntelliWhere TrackForce as a map-based command and control interface, while selected field personnel used the PDA-based IntelliWhere OnDemand application with a portable tracking capability.
     During these operations, Intergraph provided support to operations command elements and technical support from Huntsville, AL, while Intergraph's business partners, Airo Wireless ( and T-Mobile (, provided hardware and network support to the project. Intergraph's custom security solution included GPS tracking and wireless communications via standard technologies, such as PDAs and smartphones.

Ordnance Survey to Enhance British Height Data
Ordnance Survey, a UK government agency, this spring will begin rolling out a major enhancement to its detailed digital height data defining the physical landscape of Great Britain. Insurers, utilities, and civil engineers will be among the first to view enriched digital terrain models (DTMs) for a series of areas at a pre-launch event in London on March 15.
     The enhanced data, Land-Form PROFILE Plus, is both high resolution and high accuracy, enabling nationally consistent 3-D modeling for activities such as flood risk assessment, pipeline maintenance, and route planning for road and rail. The data offers an overall 2 meter post space DTM, with height accuracy within 15 to 25 centimeters for selected high-risk areas such as floodplains and urban areas.

DMTI Spatial Releases New Version of CanMap
DMTI Spatial, of Markham, Ontario, Canada, a provider of geospatial products and services, has released its latest edition of CanMap, which reflects a change in the company's version standards. The new version standard will convert the existing numerical format to a yearly format indicating the year and quarter of the release; for example, the latest release of CanMap will be referred to as v2005.1 instead of the traditional version format v9.0. This change is intended to make it easier for customers to keep track of the age of their data.
     CanMap v2005.1 includes more than 23,000 new road segments, more than 30,000 new addressed road kilometers, and improvements in rural coverage. Rural analysis is now based on geocoding postal codes to the road segment level instead of to the centroid of a Dissemination Area.
     CanMap RouteLogisitcs now includes legally posted speed limits for major highways nationwide; the company plans to add speed limits for secondary highways and major roads in future releases.

TruePosition Appoints Anderson as CTO
TruePosition, of Berwyn, PA, a provider of wireless location technologies and solutions, has appointed Rob Anderson to the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Anderson will be responsible for overseeing the development of TruePosition's location technology portfolio and for supporting the recently announced TrueNorth MLS (Managed Location Service) offering.
     Mr. Anderson, who has more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications, will lead the technological development of advanced location hardware, software, and devices, and work with the company's partners and customers to develop new location solutions. He replaces Joe Sheehan, who was recently appointed President of the company.

Open Geospatial Consortium to Develop Web Services
The Open Geospatial Consortium Inc. (OGC), headquartered in Wayland, MA, has announced a Request For Quotations (RFQ) from technology developers to develop and enhance OGC Web Services (OWS) standards that facilitate discovery of, access to, and use of geographic data and geoprocessing services. The OGC is an international industry consortium of more than 270 companies, government agencies, and universities. The OGC Web Services Phase 3 (OWS-3) testbed advances OGC Web Services, the set of OpenGIS specifications for interfaces, schemas, and encodings that comprise the interoperability framework for the emerging "Spatial Web."
     Selected OWS-3 participants will work collaboratively to extend existing and draft OpenGIS standards into an interoperability framework for implementing multi-vendor enterprise — and enterprise-to-enterprise — solutions. Sponsors include BAE Systems, IONIC Software, GeoConnections (Canada), Lockheed Martin, MAGIC Services Initiative, the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the National Technology Alliance (NTA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NAVTEQ, Questerra, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
     The work will focus on common architecture, Sensor Web Enablement (SWE), Geo-Decision Support Services (GeoDSS), Geo-Digital Rights Management (GeoDRM), and Open Location Services (OpenLS). The complete Request for Quotations can be downloaded from

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