July 17, 2003


GeoData.gov at the ESRI Conference
More from the Floor
Points of Interest from the ESRI Conference

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Hank Garie, Executive Director of Geospatial One-Stop showed off the new GeoData.gov portal on stage as part of the opening session. Dangermond had called a screenshot of the portal his "favorite" in the opening group of maps and described it as "sort of like the Geography Network" and the "gateway to NSDI [National Spatial Data Infrastructure]." He also pointed out that it "references your good work." Dangermond also noted ESRI's commitment to "practical applications that really work." I sensed in his comments, in that discussion and elsewhere during the day, impatience with the creation of this type of portal and the related issue of the NSDI.

Garie characterized GeoData.gov as a "geo-revolution" that would speed up NSDI and as a "funnel to organize GIS." It's a "portal for the people," he went on, not a federal government portal, and it's a "user friendly and fun" way to access data and services. And, he made clear, "we need your help" since it's "owned by you." He asked that users consider three things: using it, publishing to it, and becoming "part owners" of it.

I spent some time with Garie to clarify the history of how the portal came to be. The Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) initiative is about 18 months old. Garie came in as its first full-time executive director about six months ago. The original plan called for the Open GIS Consortium to produce a prototype portal and an architecture document. Because this effort would not create an implementation, there was no real procurement. By the time Garie stepped in, there was considerable pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to get the portal done. The events of 9/11 were still on people's minds and the need for the portal hung over many people's heads. For that reason, ESRI's offer to turn around an operational portal in three months was very appealing. The GOS Board of Directors approved a plan to contract with ESRI to prepare the first version, which was rolled out June 30th, 2003.

Garie compared the two approaches, OGC's and ESRI's, to building a car from parts acquired at an automotive supply store vs. buying one from an automobile manufacturer. While it's possible to create a workable vehicle from parts, it requires special expertise, time, and relies on several different vendors to provide support, licensing, etc. Visiting a manufacturer's dealer, on the other hand, allows the purchaser to drive away in a car that "just works." While building a car from parts from different vendors relies on standards, which allow the parts fit together, there is no reason one built by a single manufacturer can't also be built on those same standards. The two ideas, "built by a single vendor" and "built according to standards," are not mutually exclusive.

ESRI had, over time, proven its ability to host such portals. The Geography Network was launched by ESRI (with no external funding or encouragement, so far as I know) in 2000. It was revised and grew into perhaps the largest portal of its kind in the world. GeoCommunicator, "a land management and land records community based portal" "provided by the Bureau of Land Management & the U.S. Forest Service", and built by ESRI was based on the Geography Network. I'm not aware of any other websites like these in the world.

I asked Garie about the motivation for local organizations to post their data on GeoData.gov. First, he explained, it's a way to showcase data. And if a community can see how its data helps develop decisions at the state or national level, that's an even stronger argument. Some municipalities may not have the resources to make their data available to the portal, but they might be encouraged to use state resources to get data online. At the state level, there's a strong sense of pride and competition, so peer pressure may help get states involved. Even as the portal team "harvests the low hanging fruit" (that is, metadata from state clearing houses), it will be looking for ways to engage local communities to participate.

Finally, I asked Garie about his "favorite things" in the new portal. One he's very excited about is community ownership for each of the 17 data categories. His vision is that each category will have a type of steward to organize stakeholders interested in particular data categories. These interest groups of experts will sift through data, rank it for use in the portal, and help fill in gaps by tapping others in that community. These stewards might be federal personnel or those at other levels; the most important aspect is that they know the discipline and take a leadership role in building that area of the portal. Garie's second "favorite thing" is the connection of The National Map to GeoData.gov. The National Map helps users put their search for data easily into a community context, and facilitates a key GeoData.gov goal - finding data with two clicks of the mouse. He explained that there are many, many questions about how federal initiatives work together, and the portal's use of The National Map illustrates clearly how one initiative can draw upon another.

I spent some time with IMove at the end of the conference. IMove produces a spherical imaging system, a "six headed" digital camera, coupled with GPS, that captures still images in quick succession to detail an area of interest. The camera is a box with lenses on the top, bottom, and four sides. The area of interest might be a route for a parade (in which case the camera could sit on the top of a car), or the inside of a school (the camera could be held during a walking tour of the campus), or a large outdoor area (the camera could be attached to a low flying aircraft). The system can also use other digital sensors to tap into sounds, smells, etc. During playback the user can select an angle of viewing from which to explore the area.

The main use of the system is to perform a security survey that will in turn be used to set up a security plan (with cameras, sensors, guards, etc.) for an area. Of course, the camera can simply be stuck somewhere to "keep an eye" on things in real time. And, since this is the ESRI conference, images and sets of images can be linked to features in ArcMap. While the equipment may seem pricey at the outset, it's possible to rent it, or to hire a company to do the data capture for you. In some cases, a number of municipalities or departments share the cost and then share the equipment.

I also saw a demo of MapView SVG, a low-cost, easy-to-use Web map publishing solution, from uismedia Lang & Muller. SVG, (scalable vector graphics) is a standard for Web vector graphics, but for now, no widely-used Web browsers natively support the format. In order to view SVG data, users must install a plug-in from Adobe or another company. (Adobe, in the past, included SVG support along with the PDF plug-in, but hasn't lately. I understand it will return in the future.) The plug-in is about the only downside (if that can be considered one) of the product.

The product costs a few hundred Euros (this is a German company) and works with ArcView 3.x and 8.x. It provides a simple way to put ArcMap maps (and all ArcGIS supported data) on the Web. The add-on provides a wizard that allows even a novice user to pick what data to publish to SVG and which buttons on the interface to include in the online map. The process even creates and index.html Web page that can be immediately made available on the Web. To update the file with new data, simply run the wizard again. An evaluation version is available at the URL above.

Internet Yes, Mail No. I was looking forward to using the San Diego Convention Center's wireless network access this year, since I now have a wireless card. After figuring out how to configure my card for the network I was surfing the Web in a jiffy, but could not get my mail. I thought it was my configuration that prevented it (I run a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spam software on my laptop), but when others in the Press Room had the same issue, I went in search of answers. It turns out that ESRI only provided access to port 80, the one for the Web. Machines looking to perform other tasks that use other ports, such as receiving mail, FTPing, TELNETing, etc., were out of luck. I point this out so that wireless users will be aware of this potential limitation. My technical source here in Boston tells me that limiting access to port 80 is not uncommon, and while it may increase security, the primary goal in doing so is to limit throughput so the network remains speedy.

Despite that minor limitation, ESRI provided many options for attendees to get online. Those with machines with wireless support could tap into the wireless network, which worked very well in all the corners of the Convention Center where I tried it. There were also Ethernet connections for those without wireless cards, and dozens of machines for those who left their hardware at home. Users with wireless cards in their laptops were sprawled in the halls near electric outlets all over the Convention Center and provided extra "help desks" for those who were just learning to use wireless. ESRI provided a helpdesk, too. A fellow from Montana helped me get online and I returned the favor by giving up my place in the ESRI support line to a fellow from Durban whose battery was giving out. I was pleased that wireless didn't seem to alienate attendees, but encouraged them to work together.

Survey Says! ESRI has a whole series of daily surveys for attendees online. If you attended and want to fill out the post-conference questionnaire, you'll need your ID number from your badge. Mine didn't make it back to Boston. Oops!

I received many letters from those who didn't attend the ESRI Conference.

"Thanks for the reports from San Diego on the UC activities. I have been to the conference once and was very overwhelmed. Your ability to simplify and cut through [everything] to present what is happening and the implications is much appreciated."

- Kathrine Cargo, Orleans Parish Communications District, Louisiana

"I just glanced at the recent GIS Monitor. Thank you so much for providing a view of the conference for those of us in state government who have no travel funds."

- Deborah Dumin, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

"Thanks!!!!! I didn't go this year, but after reading this issue, I feel like I did!"

- a longtime ESRI employee

Ed Odom of SAS Institute Inc. added another spin to one of Dawn Wright's illustrative stories in her keynote at the Education Conference.

"Dawn Wright's tale of the Nobel laureate who was unable to put together the freshman physics lecture reminded me of Albert Einstein's observation that, 'You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.'"

Peter Van Demark of Caliper Corporation was interested in Mike Gerling's observation regarding the differences between U.S. and European preferences in navigation. I wrote: "[Mike Gerling] also observed something that I found most interesting: In the U.S., users like maps for navigation. In the rest of world the preference seems to be for step-by-step directions."

Van Demark responds:

"That is the reverse of what I would expect. In the U.S. people tend to be path followers, such as the signs on the Interstates that lead you from one intermediate place to another toward your final destination. In Europe, where there are many languages to deal with, symbolic literacy is much higher as a lingua franca, and that shows in the design of maps, and the wide use of maps.

"On the other hand, maybe the newer cities in the U.S. with more rational street layouts (sequentially-named streets, hundreds blocks) are easier to deal with on a map, while older, organic street layouts in Europe (and some East Coast cities like Boston) are easier to navigate with step-by-step directions. If this field of research hasn't spawned some master's theses and PhD dissertations, it should."

Geography Grad Student Thesis Censored? Caitlin and Will, among others, noted an intriguing
article in the Washington Post about a grad student at George Mason University whose work is drawing attention from many sectors. "He should turn it in to his professor, get his grade -- and then they both should burn it," said Richard Clarke, most recently the White House cyberterrorism chief. The concern is that Sean Gorman's contribution to academic geography includes detailed maps of U.S. infrastructure along with the fiber-optic network that connects businesses and government. The data was all collected from public sources. I think that if nothing else, work like this simply illustrates to many who don't realize what information, in fact, is in the public domain. Said John M. Derrick Jr., chairman of the board of Pepco Holdings Inc., a huge power company, "Why in the world have we been so stupid as a country to have all this information in the public domain?"

Imagery for Winemakers. The European Commission-backed Bacchus program is using imagery data supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) to map Europe's winemaking areas. Europe has been working hard to protect the names of its major wines, arguing that specific geography is required to produce a particular wine. I recall a freshmen geography test (I was a teaching assistant in Greg Knight's class at Penn State) which included a map of France and one of the Pacific Northwest taken from a wine bottle asking why the label's argument that the vintages were similar was flawed. If I recall correctly, it had to do with the orientation of mountain ranges.

GIS Money From Homeland Security Grant? No! The town of Acton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston, was among those looking to the federal government for homeland security funds, some of which were to help build a GIS. But the town was passed over in its quest for $887,260.93 in favor of bigger towns and cities such as Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Lawrence, and Lowell. The Department of Homeland Security awarded Massachusetts $26.9 million back in June. The state's Executive Office of Public Safety used the money for competitive Homeland Security Grants, which ended up in those larger communities.

MapInfo Stock Jump. JP Morgan upgraded MapInfo Corp. to "overweight" from neutral on Friday. Investors jumped in and drove the stock up 25% that day, about $2 share, leaving shares at just under $10 at the close. JP Morgan suggested the company will experience growth in retail, banking, insurance, and telecommunications, once it completely turns around.

Google Does it Again. I've been droning on about Google for years. Sorry, but I have to do it again. Google has a new version of its toolbar, something I pretty much cannot live without. The new version, in beta, has a key new feature: a pop-up blocker. The toolbar is free, but only supported in Internet Explorer 5.5 and above.

Ball State Gets Support. Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning received a $4.7-million software licensing grant from Intergraph. It's the largest software grant in university history and allows anyone affiliated with the University to request a copy of, I believe, GeoMedia Professional.

Provinces Lost. PureCanada, a magazine published by the Canadian Tourism Commission, contains a map of the country that leaves out P.E.I. and the Yukon Territory. Oops.


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Applied Geographics, Inc.(AGI) developed a connector between Microsoft's .NET environment and ESRI's ArcIMS environment in support of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's (MTC) efforts to develop the MassMeansBusiness website, which was recently announced by Governor Mitt Romney.

Pictometry International Corp., maker of an information system that incorporates geo-referenced oblique aerial imaging software, announced that it has joined ESRI's Business Partner Program.

Ordnance Survey has posted its Annual Report and Accounts to Parliament.

Spatial Technologies (India) has announced that it will offer 1000 licenses of GIS software to governments and organizations that have demonstrated exemplary e-government initiatives to enrich rural life.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the use of satellites to guide aircraft across the country and down to runways shrouded in clouds. At midnight Thursday, the FAA certified the Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS. The system augments GPS, making locations as accurate as 5 feet.

GlobeXplorer LLC, a distributor of online aerial and satellite imagery, announced an agreement with ESRI to provide its Citipix aerial imagery archive as an ArcWeb Service. This annual subscription service will provide access to more than 300 terabytes of six-inch (0.1 meter) resolution, full-color Citipix aerial imagery for the United States.

Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions announced it has awarded the first 20 among 100 available grants to qualifying organizations through the international Intergraph Open Interoperability Program, established to promote and emphasize the use of OpenGIS specifications from the geospatial industry standards body, the Open GIS Consortium (OGC).

Telcontar, a supplier of software and related services for location-based services (LBS), announced that it has concluded an agreement to supply Networks In Motion with its Drill Down Server spatial engine, associated Rich Map Engine client libraries, and map content.

Research Systems, Inc. (RSI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company, announced the formation of the European Global Services Group in order to provide complete product and service solutions to RSI customers throughout Europe. Alberto Meroni, who has led the office as RSI's country manager in Italy, has been appointed managing director of the group.

The Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) announced that it has launched the data collection process for its 6th annual Geospatial Technology Report. Users with active GIS implementations are invited to complete the survey. Participants can buy the report at half off when it's complete.

Contracts and Sales
DM Solutions Group Inc. announced that the company was awarded a GeoInnovations contract to develop interactive cartography tools that work seamlessly with the emerging Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI). GeoInnovations is one of the programs funded by GeoConnections, a national partnership initiative led by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to build the CGDI and provide Canadians with access to geospatial data, tools, and services over the Internet.

Boulder, Colorado-based Vexcel Corp. bought a building on 38th Street to accommodate its steady growth. Founded in 1985, Vexcel employs 66 people locally and 120 people total worldwide.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the company's Geographic Information Products group $3.5 million (CDN) in bookings to provide digital land information products to monitor crop growth.

The Flemish Land Agency (VLM) Department Support Centre GIS-Flanders has chosen to buy a complete coverage of the Flemish region (13.512 km2) in Very High Resolution images of the IKONOS satellite.

Florida's State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) has selected Autodesk MapGuide software to help disaster workers and the public respond to hurricanes and other disasters, either natural or man-made.

Surdex Corporation has been awarded a $2.7 million contract by the United States Department of Agriculture, Farm Services Agency, Aerial Photography Field Office for the 2003 National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP). The project entails the acquisition of 1:40,000 scale color or color infrared aerial photography for the states of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas during the summer of 2003. Surdex will produce nearly 16,000 1- or 2-meter resolution digital orthophotos for the 220,000 square miles of coverage for a fall delivery.

RPM Consulting, an ESRI Business Partner focusing primarily on the financial services sector, announced the availability of RPM MarketBank and BranchInfo updates to accompany the soon-to-be-released 2003/2008 data update of ESRI's ArcView Business Analyst software.

ArcWeb for Developers now includes National Geographic Society (NG) TOPO! 1:24,000- and 1:100,000-scale maps for the United States. The maps are appropriate for outdoor enthusiasts, hobbyists, and professionals. Subscribers to ArcWeb for Developers can access NG TOPO! maps as raster images in JPEG, GIF, PNG, or PNG8 format and include them in their Web applications.

eSpatial announced the availability of iSMART Mobile, a fully functional spatial client for occasionally connected users.

Education and Training
The UCGIS Task Force reported on its efforts to define and develop closely articulated Geographic Information Science and Technology (GI S&T;) model curricula at the Summer Assembly in Asilomar, California. UCGIS invites readers to review the report and comment through an on-line survey.

Hires and Appointments
Chris Markel, lead analyst for the transportation group at GeoDecisions, was recently elected president of the Pennsylvania Mapping and Geographic Information Consortium (PaMAGIC). Elected to the PaMAGIC board in 2002, Markel will now serve as president of the organization until the next Pennsylvania Geographic Information System conference in 2004.

Peter Croswell, executive consultant with PlanGraphics, Inc., was recently certified as an Emergency Number Professional (ENP) by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). NENA has established this certification program to recognize professionals in the emergency response and dispatch fields.


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