GIS Monitor Sep 13, 2001


- EarthWatch Now Known as DigitalGlobe
- SVG Reaches Recommendation Stage
- Book Review: Beyond Maps: GIS and Decision Making in Local Government
- GIS/Geography Community Loses Three in Attacks
- Corrections
- Departments: Letters, Points of Interest, New List, Week in Review, Back
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We share our heartfelt thoughts to all who may be affected by the terrorist attacks in the United States this week. We hope our readers and their loved ones are safe and sound.

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EarthWatch has renamed itself after its online imagery store, DigitalGlobe.

The company has actually had three different names. The US Department of Commerce gave WorldView Imaging Corporation the first license to launch satellites to gather imagery for commercial sale in 1993. In 1995, WorldView merged with Ball Aerospace to form EarthWatch. Now EarthWatch becomes DigitalGlobe.

The company, even with significant investments from the likes of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Hitachi, has had serious technical challenges. Its first satellite, EarlyBird 1, was launched successfully on December 24, 1997, but failed on orbit and finally was declared a loss in April 1998. In November of 2000, EarthWatch launched the QuickBird 1 satellite, which failed to reach orbit. DigitalGlobe plans to launch the QuickBird 2 satellite in October, hopefully with better luck.

The new name suits the company well. The DigitalGlobe moniker for the company’s e-commerce site has been around for some time and company e-mail accounts were Besides, the EarthWatch name always hinted of spying -- appropriate enough for its customer base from the defense industry, but perhaps not for all its customers. The new name reflects the company’s goal of assembling an up-to-date multi-source digital archive of spatial data. DigitalGlobe is now placing data acquisition as a part of the whole, and looking to data distribution for revenue.   I hope other companies will see this change as an example of a company reuniting its name with a brand name. MapInfo, early on chose to use the same name for company and product. Oracle did too. Autodesk has headed the other way, taking the company name to the products: Autodesk Map has replaced AutoCAD Map. Someday perhaps, Navigation Technologies will change to NAVTECH, after its brand, nickname and URL. ESRI? I think that’s here to stay.

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Scalable vector graphics (SVG) is an XML (extensible markup language) implementation describing two-dimensional graphics. It has come full circle in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) consensus process to achieve the status of recommendation -- the end of the line. You may know a language that achieved recommended status: HTML. The last version of HTML, 4.0, dates back to December 1997.

Standards, specifications, recommendations – the whole world of making software interoperable - is a challenge to understand and results are slow to reach fruition. Specifications at W3C go through a rigorous process referred to as the Recommendation Track. And, because this is a consensus process (one based on getting sometimes large groups to agree) it can take years for documents to reach this stage. SVG’s first draft was released in February 1999. Still, the impact of HTML on the world is considerable, so there is reason to have faith in the system.

Where does SVG fit into the world of GIS? There is a sense that it will be the rendering format for GIS data shared in GML (Geography Markup Language, an OpenGIS Interoperability Specification). A few products and sites are using SVG for GIS now, though a plug-in is required. SVG support is expected in the 6.x releases of Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers.


After my last book review I received two large boxes of books from ESRI. I picked the one I considered the most interesting and was rewarded with a well-written book that would make a fine introduction to GIS in local government.

Beyond Maps is part of ESRI’s Special Editions, distinguishing it from the Case Study Series and the Software Workbooks. The book reads very much like a textbook – some chapters even include summary or conclusion sections reviewing the arguments. Text boxes highlight ideas and diagrams, many referencing classic texts and articles.

This book is about GIS in practice, not about technology. Beyond Maps identifies what GIS is for and how it can help promote decision making and democracy. Still, O’Leary spends the needed time to warn about misrepresentation in maps and does a nice job packing introductory cartography into a single chapter.

The best part of the book is the sage advice available from those who’ve “been there.” For example, early on the author highlights two common flawed assumptions of GIS managers: that choosing the “right” technology will necessarily result in benefits, and that GIS staff behavior can be directed using rational management. Throughout the book, it is subtly pointed out that getting GIS to work and to work fairly requires efforts across the board, not just at the technical level.

Four chapters have titles starting with “Using GIS to Promote…” filled in with Efficiency, Equity, Community Viability and Environmental Quality. There are examples from a variety of applications in local government (public heath, law enforcement, historical preservation and other) revealing both the “good” and the “bad” possible results of using GIS.

Most of the vignettes are from ESRI customers - something I know as an ex-employee, not because ESRI is “advertised” in the book. I saw only one reference to ESRI software, an ArcView application in San Diego. It stood out simply because it was the only app linked with a specific software package.

Beyond Maps would be a fine text for learning about GIS in local government. If I managed a government GIS group, I would make this book required reading.

Beyond Maps


The attacks on the US earlier this week have touched virtually every state and every community. The geography and GIS communities were not spared.

Robert LeBlanc, 70, of Lee, N.H., was a professor emeritus of geography at the University of New Hampshire. He was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, Boston to Los Angeles, which crashed into World Trade Center.

Joe Ferguson, Asst. Director of Education Outreach at National Geographic and Ann Judge, Director of the Travel Office at National Geographic were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, Washington to Los Angeles, which crashed into the Pentagon.

We share the loss with their families, friends and colleagues.


- The OnStar telematics system is a product of General Motors, not Ford.

- Mount Monadnock is the correct spelling of the mountain in New Hampshire.


- Richard Lambley of Land Mobile magazine, based in the UK, responded to my discussion of Bango numbers, an alternative to complex URLs used to access websites using mobile devices.

“You're missing the point - but perhaps you don't use a WAP phone! Over here, virtually all new phones now have WAP, so it's a matter that's potentially relevant to a lot of people.

“You can store URLs all right (though the somewhat elderly Nokia 7110 I use is restricted to only about 20 in its bookmarks list); the difficulty comes when you want to enter a new URL directly, to follow up a newspaper article or to respond to a poster you've seen out in the street. Keying oblique strokes (slashes) and other symbols on a mobile phone keypad is a very laborious process even if you're a whiz at text messaging, and Bango numbers are an attempt to by-pass it.”

- Ron Wild explains his solution to the challenge of multiple numbers, email addresses and websites. His phone number, a Canadian 900 number, is also his website URL and his email address.

“Direct mail, and 8mm film, and videotape suffered the same image problems in their early days. Like the introduction of other new technologies, sex sells first. Later the benefits are more widely spread, and appreciated by the rest of us. 900 really means ‘fee per call.’

"Actually I get a lot of ‘wow is that ever brilliant!’ comments (mostly from Americans), and people scanning thousands of email address say mine pops right out at them. Years ago I was the first person in the world to provide voice access via my email address; from anywhere in Canada (where I live) people can pick up a phone and literally ‘dial my email address’ and talk to me on the phone. It's a true example of communication integration. Why do I need a different phone number and email address, when one can serve both purposes? This way I gave people the option of emailing me, or telephoning me if it is urgent, from their wireless handheld devices (before either technology existed).”

- Ian Koeppel, Industry Manager Location Services ESRI, EMEA, comments on my statement about non-location services.

“Telematics systems, if they are to take hold, must integrate a wide array of services and technologies. The delivery of in-vehicle navigation, electronic yellow pages, and other telematics applications have been ‘just around the corner’ for over a decade. Only recently have telematics systems such as OnStar become more than an expensive toy for the early adopter. Auto manufacturers are now deploying telematics as standard equipment for market differentiation. It may not be long (much less than another decade) before consumers come to expect in-vehicle telematics services as essential as having a mobile phone today.

“By integrating services such as OnStar's Virtual Advisor, the distraction of manually placing a mobile call may be reduced. Bundling more services into fewer user interfaces is the trend. Just as it would be nice to have a single remote control for the home entertainment system, consumers will want a streamlined interface to their automobile and its accessories.

“As GIS professionals we know intuitively that the end-users of today's information systems don't necessarily need to know that they are utilizing a GIS. GIS is at the core of LBS; and LBS is at the core of telematics systems such as OnStar. If providing access to a stockbroker service helps to make LBS and telematics systems more attractive, then more power to them. People do conduct business while driving. A service that connects them more efficiently and safely is a positive development.”

- Pete Fellows, who grew up in New Hampshire, and is now a GIS Planner at the Lamoille County Planning Commission in Vermont, added some local information about Mount Monadnock.

“Mount Monadnock is good example of a monadnock itself, a lone mountain surrounded by a plain. The natives usually call it Mount Monadnock or Monadnock. We generally do not differentiate between Pack Monadnock (a nearby sister hill) and Grand Monadnock although they both offer good hikes.”

POINTS OF INTEREST   - is changing its name to Overture Services. The company is known for its “pay for placement” search services. It’s moving to a business model that licenses its search engine. The company has sometimes been confused with other “Goto” type names: Go2Net, Go2 Systems and the Walt Disney-owned Go.

- LoJack, the automobile recovery system company based outside Boston, will offer telematics services in the coming year. The company will compete with GM’s OnStar with a more economical solution sporting limited functionality. The company will shrink the product and offer it to motorcycles. It also hopes to move into tracking construction equipment, thefts of which total more than $1 billion in losses each year.

- Some recently declassified documents from the National Security Archive highlight some unlikely remote sensing research from the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. In addition to research into stealth planes, the documents provide details on two interesting research directions that have been mentioned in past books about the CIA. One remote sensing technique planned to use psychics - called “remote viewers” - to map Soviet military bases. The other technique “Acoustic Kitty,” involved wiring a cat as a mobile listening post. A memo from the declassified documents suggests that cats can be altered and trained, but concludes the program wouldn't work. The first “test” cat, circa 1967, was run over by a taxi.

- Two veteran GIS people have taken on new positions. Brian Hebert has joined Applied Geographics of Boston. Hebert has worked at Generale Infographie in Le Mans, France; Bentley Systems; Stone & Webster; and US Defense Mapping Agency (DMA). Michael Fisher has joined Kivera, a company specializing in location-based services. The PR describes Fisher as “an 18-year veteran in the LBS industry.” I didn’t realize the industry was that old, but Fisher has been active in GIS, working at GlobeXplorer Inc, Oracle, Bentley, UGC, Data General and Intergraph.


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