GIS Monitor Aug 16, 2001


-Autodesk’s Point A Adds GIS Data Finder
-New Ways to Track Your Car
-Who’s Behind Telematics Success?
-GIS Monitor Birthday Wishes

Departments: Points of Interest, New List, Week in Review, Back Issues, Advertise, Contact, Subscribe/Unsubscribe

This issue sponsored by: ERDAS


Autodesk’s Point A GIS “doorway” got a bit of a makeover in the past few weeks.

Point A now has sponsors: EarthScan and Kodak are pushing their remote sensing and earth imaging products, respectively. But as far as I know, Autodesk does not sell software that can do image analysis so Autodesk’s portal is a curious place to advertise. While CAD Overlay is a fine AutoCAD add-on package for viewing, clipping and other “editing” imagery functions, it does not do change detection or other high level analysis I associate with this type of data.

The Data Finder is another new addition to the site. It is intended to find data to use in Autodesk’s products. Autodesk notes that data in the Finder is available in a format compatible with the company’s products, so you don’t have to “waste time converting data.”

I can’t speak for all of the data or products offered but I do know that to use the SDTS DEM data available at the GIS Data Depot there is a conversion. The SDTS format must be imported, that is, converted using the GIS Data Transformer Extension. Furthermore, Autodesk is not currently listed as one of the vendors supporting the “new” SDTS format, so I’m not sure how those data would be used. Perhaps Autodesk is suggesting that users will not need to move outside the Autodesk product family to work with the data. There may still be a conversion, but it could be done using an existing Autodesk product or add-on.

Currently, one can only search for US data, and I found a total of 9 companies listed, mostly selling imagery. The database does note whether the company provides e-commerce but fails to mention when data can be obtained free.

I’d consider the Autodesk GIS Data Finder to be a work in progress.

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As more and more states use transponders to allow cars using toll roads to speed through and “pay later,” the concerns about privacy are mounting. Here in Massachusetts we have “Fast Lane” which allows a transponder-equipped car a 5 mph trip through the tollbooths on the Mass Pike and tunnels to and from the airport. The transponder can also be used on roads and bridges in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia. In use since 1988, this system has billed users in advance or at the end of the month. It also captures the date and time of each charge.

Recently, a court forced the Mass Turnpike Authority (MTA) to turn over usage records to the state. This is the first time this data has been used for law enforcement in Massachusetts. Despite the MTA’s promise to keep all data confidential, a state court forced the organization to turn over data for an unspecified driver. The court denied an MTA motion to notify the driver in question.

Meanwhile, neighbor state New York has used its EZ-Pass system to prosecute several cases. Since the states use the same hardware, many Massachusetts residents have purchased the transponder in New York, at a discount. The MTA doesn’t think New York will start subpoenaing Massachusetts residents.

Fast Lane account holders in Massachusetts, some 280,000 people, generate 6.5 million transactions each month. The MTA is still figuring its position on the matter and does not plan to change its privacy policy at this time.

This worries privacy advocates. A privacy expert commenting on the Massachusetts case says one issue is how long the data will be kept. Ideally, data should be used only for billing purposes. He argues that 60 or 90 days is likely long enough and that older data should be purged. Other fears, such as the use of the transponders to track speeders, is keeping many “old technology” coin tossers active at tolls.


A Frost and Sullivan report says the expected growth of telematics (predicted to reach $7 billion in 2007) comes not from consumer demand but rather from car makers’ “push” marketing.

Products such as GM’s OnStar, for example, are already in use by technology-elite vehicle owners who tend to value round-the-clock communications, satellite navigation and access to roadside services. However, to make telematics a “must have” feature for all vehicle owners, automakers will have to strengthen their marketing. A recent print ad, a two-page splash, includes a full-page, full-color graphic of Batman asking: “Ever wish you had someone like him around whenever you needed help?” as the OnStar logo shows “wish granted.” This, to me, suggests OnStar is some magic, luxury service, not something for everyday folks. “It’s like having your own personal super hero!” touts the ad copy. The examples of service are about needing car repairs, or being lost. Instead, marketers might consider something more dire, such as finding help if you or your child is ill or injured. THAT would make telematics a must-have service.

Hopefully, telematics marketers will soon realize that it’s time to market to the individuals who have cell phones – regular people. What reason did you give to get a cell phone? Many people I know didn’t get one until their wife/daughter/friend was pregnant or because Dad would worry about their ability to safely get help on the lonely highway. This element of safety distinguishes the “must haves” from the “want to haves.”


I want to share a few of the good wishes sent for GIS Monitor’s first birthday.

“Keep being opinionated. You are the Chris Harlow of the new millennium, calling a spade a spade.”

Peter Van Demark, Director of GIS Products and Training, Caliper Corporation ---

“Congrats on your first year. Even though I am not in GIS, I enjoy reading your commentary. After one year, upFront.eZine had just 375 subscribers. But then, ezines weren't exactly a lingua franca in 1994.”

Ralph Grabowski,

Editor’s note: Hats off to Ralph for providing a model for the GIS Monitor. ---

“…having just read your issue, it caused me to think about the unique niche your newsletter fills for me and others. For the record, I like the opinionated version, especially because you never try to masquerade it as something else. Just wanted to say thanks for the great job you're doing and I'm looking forward to a new year of the GIS Monitor.”

Eileen Argentina, Information Technology Manager, City of Portland Office of Transportation ---

“Congratulations on the first anniversary of GIS Monitor! I'm fairly new to the GIS industry, so I find it an invaluable source of industry information. You manage to come up with some really interesting stuff that so far has never failed to give me a new insight each week.”

Warwick Moyse, Director, Mapping and Beyond Pty Ltd Thebarton, South Australia ---

“I always look forward to reading your weekly views, recognize that they are opinions, and figure that if some feathers are getting ruffled, then those birds need to learn how to cope with changes in air current. Best wishes for year 2 (and 3, and 4, etc.)”

Wendy Lathrop, PLS ---

“Congratulations on 1 year! I really have come to rely on this newsletter to keep me up to date on what is going on in the world outside the ESRI-Denver office in the Republic of Boulder! I really appreciate the way you are able to get the message across so concisely, without a lot of unnecessary fluff.”

Esther Worker, ESRI-Denver ---

“Happy Birthday (or Anniversary) to you. Isn't year one considered the Paper Anniversary? Maybe that's not appropriate for a paperless newsletter?” Bruce Westcott, SMMS Metadata Consultant

POINTS OF INTEREST   -Motorola is foreshadowing. In their latest print ad, a chip for the Palm will “locate your dog – whether he wanders across the street or across town.” I’m glad my town has a leash law!

-Another ad of note. Land Rover’s new ad lists the distances to far-off places: “Yerevan 7013 mi,” “Qaanaaq 3334 mi,” and finally “Mall 2 mi.”

-The newly merged Business 2.0 and eCompanyNow publication recently rethought their 10 principles of the new economy, which included two discussing geography. Number 2 on the list, “Distance Has Vanished,” is described as being true to an extent. The argument that industries still cluster, for example in Silicon Valley, suggests that some things still require a “touch.” Number 10, “Every Product is Available Everywhere” is treated with skepticism. Many Internet users research product purchases on the Web but actually buy in a “real” store.

-Last week I noted how the marketing of the Planet of the Apes film was tied into geospatial technologies. Now, for the opening in the UK, FOX has signed a deal for a tie-in with Nokia: users can download Ape logos and screen savers for their cell phones.

-Cheap Tickets is shutting down its brick and mortar stores. Cheap Tickets, which sells airline tickets on the Web, phone and in person, found that 98% of its revenue came from the wired world. It is closing its stores and eliminating 50 employees.

-A few new purportedly “hotter than Google” search engines are hitting the Web. WISEnut has a cute name and does a good job sorting results by site. It’s good, fast and uses a different context sensitive ranking system than Google. The thing I miss: Google’s cached version of “old” pages. Teoma uses a “peer ranking” system but covers fewer sites compared to Google. Vivisimo, a spin-off company from Carnegie Mellon University, covers several search engines at a time. The best feature, however, is that it attempts to put results into categories. So, when I searched on myself I found topics relating to TenLinks, to Directions Magazine and to kites. It’ll take some work to pull me away from Google, especially its browser toolbar plug-in, which I pretty much can’t do without.

- Bill Thoen notes that his site,,is back up and running on Linux. This is its old domain, GISNET, from about 10 years ago. I note this since Bill’s site, and his early columns in GIS World, were some of the key resources available then … and now.


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