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2005 November 3


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Editor's Introduction

This week my main story is about i-cubed's sale of DataDoors to the U.S. Army. I also review a great book on mapmaking and bring you my usual round-up of news from press releases.

— Matteo

GeoInt 2005 Symposium

I asked David Burpee, Public Affairs Officer for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), to comment on the GeoInt 2005 Symposium that took place this week at the Henry B. Gonzalez Conference Center in San Antonio, Texas.

How was the conference? "From our perspective," Burpee told me, "it was a terrific conference. It brought together the key elements of government and industry who have a focus on geospatial intelligence. The exchange of information and the opportunity to view new technology was a benefit to everybody. There was a great lineup of speakers covering a full range of issues from policy to security to thoughts about future development."

How was attendance? "A little more than 2,000 people attended, including people from a dozen foreign nations."

How is the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) coming along? "The foundation is a wonderful development for the growth of the geospatial industry and tradecraft. Even though it has only been around for a couple of years, it has been attracting memberships, putting on conferences, and now expanding into the world of education and research by granting scholarships. This portends well for the future."

i-cubed Sells DataDoors to the U.S. Army

i-cubed has won a bid to manage the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center's Topographic Engineering Center (ERDC/TEC) Imagery Library. The company was one of about 20 competing for the bid. The four-and-a-half year contract calls for implementation of i-cubed's DataDoors Enterprise Spatial Archive Management framework at TEC facilities in Alexandria, Virginia, with interim hosting at i-cubed's facilities in Colorado.
     i-cubed is a geospatial systems integrator based in Fort Collins, Colorado. The company also provides full-service image processing, hosting, and dissemination services. It developed DataDoors to automate management, processing, and exploitation of enterprise spatial data archives. In addition to being able to host and manage data, DataDoors allows an archive to be augmented using more than 30 terabytes of enhanced data sets from i-cubed's Instant Imagery archive.


Yesterday I spoke with Mick Garrett, Strategic Accounts Manager for i-cubed. I reached him as he was leaving the GeoInt 2005 Symposium in San Antonio, Texas, where, he told me, a big topic was data sharing, particularly in relation to disaster response. Following, in Q&A; format, is the gist of our conversation.

When and why did i-cubed develop DataDoors? In the course of its work as a professional services company, i-cubed gathers large quantities of public data, which it then enhances and resells. Therefore, according to Garrett, it has "built up a very large archive of imagery and map data." It first developed DataDoors nearly ten years ago to explore, manage, and process these massive amounts of data and has been enhancing it ever since. "We developed DataDoors because we realized that we needed a solid application framework to manage our data for our own internal use. It is now the backbone of our company with a throughput of tens of terabytes of data each month. One of our current contracts calls for delivery of more than 40 terrabytes of data in under 90 days. DataDoors provides us the ability to meet these kinds of deadlines."

Image courtesy of i-cubed. To enlarge it, click on it. (Further instructions.)

When and why did i-cubed begin to sell DataDoors as a product? The company first began to sell DataDoors about three years ago at the request of some of its larger international customers. "We realized that anyone who has very large archives has the same exact set of problems that we have." So the company developed DataDoors into a solution that could be used by any organization with a large archive. It "loosely coupled" the front end and the back end, so that the back end processing could be easily extended to accommodate different processes.

How does i-cubed know the requirements and challenges of its clients? "We are our own image processing shop and execute many of the same tasks that our customers do. We use DataDoors for probably 75 percent of the work that we do in our own organization." In particular, i-cubed faced the challenge of managing and processing huge amounts of data when it produced its seamless DOQQ mosaic map of the United States, which consisted of 220,000 tiles! The process ran continuously, around the clock, but, when issues arose, "we needed to know exactly where it stopped and why, so that we could easily resume and not have to reprocess any data. That required a sophisticated logging mechanism at the back end and a database-driven processing system to manage the many interdependent tasks."

Image courtesy of i-cubed. To enlarge it, click on it. (Further instructions.)

What does DataDoors do, besides image processing? "What DataDoors allows you to do is not only catalog data, but also exploit it. For example, you can draw an area of interest and ask what data is available inside that polygon. When the server receives the request from the data client, it returns information on what data is available. The user then chooses the projection, format, and delivery media for the data. The process is completely automated. DataDoors is more than just an archive extractor of data; it has a complete and very flexible back end system. For example, we can add any processing or modeling algorithm that a client needs, as part of the back end. This can then be included in the standard re-projection, hillshading, and tiling processes that the system already supports. We also support human-in-the-loop-type processes. Rules can be defined in the job work-flow that will send messages to designated analysts, such as 'Hi, there is this project that has just been processed and you need to QC.' After the analyst completes the QC, the project goes back into the system for continued automated processing and a log entry shows who did the QC."

How does DataDoors enable access to data? DataDoors itself is a SOAP-compliant Web service. Two standard client interfaces come with the system: one in a Web browser and the other via an ArcGIS extension. Several of our customers have also developed their own interfaces. Very large archives can be in a single location or distributed at multiple separate locations. Either way, the archive knows the location of the data. Each user's ID and password specifies what archives that user may access, so DataDoors acts also as an access control system. "We host a lot of proprietary data that can only be viewed by authorized users."

Image courtesy of i-cubed. To enlarge it, click on it. (Further instructions.)

Then what choices do users have? Users simply identify their area of interest, the products they want — they can choose maps, terrain, or imagery — the processes they want applied, some output parameters, and how they want to receive the data (CD, DVD, FTP, etc.). When they submit the request it kicks off the back end server which does the work and then notifies the user that their job is ready.

How can organizations use DataDoors to distribute data to their staff? Individual users in the organization have unique credentials with the system, so they can be uniquely authorized to access specific parts or all of the products and processes. As well, for projects like emergency response, the administrator can create groups of users and specify in advance the preferences of each user. "That way, in an emergency, each user receives the information optimized for their end-user environment, but since everyone is looking at the same data, they're 'all on the same page.'"

Image courtesy of i-cubed. To enlarge it, click on it. (Further instructions.)

What did i-cubed do under its first contract with TEC and what will it do under the new contract? Under the first contract, "TEC purchased DataDoors to manage their archive and shipped us all of its data on 15,000 CDs." The company ingested the data and stored it on its servers. Under the new contract, it will provide similar types of services; however, "now we get data on a regular basis." Also, under the new contract, i-cubed will initially host all of TEC's commercial data, then it will move the entire framework onto TEC's facilities. TEC purchased "all of the software that drives both the management of the archives and the back end."

What's the best part of the contract for i-cubed? "It's a really good validation of our core architecture. TEC is almost the perfect client: they have a huge variety of spatial data and users scattered throughout the world."

What are some other organizations that use DataDoors? "The United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service and the U.S. Forest Service are two of our Federal Civilian clients. As well, we have large civil engineering, natural resource, and information companies using the system."

Book Review: Better Maps

Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users, by Cynthia A. Brewer (Redlands, California: ESRI Press, 2005).

No matter how much GIS has automated many map-making tasks, the ancient craft of cartography is alive and well. Even a cursory look at Cynthia Brewer's book will confirm the key importance of the human-in-the-loop: the difference between a professional map and an amateurish one still depends on skill, judgment, and a lot of attention to fine details. Dynamic labels, for example, are just a starting point: "To efficiently produce a well-designed map in ArcMap, first use dynamic labeling to create a complete set of labels in generally correct locations. After setting as many global characteristics as you can on entire categories of labels, convert them to annotation. Annotation can be edited, so you can now refine placement and type characteristics for individual labels. Add graphic text only for marginal elements. This sequence lets you save time and produce a well-designed map by editing as few labels as possible."

Based on 20 years of teaching map design and of professional map-making experience that includes an atlas of Census 2000 redistricting data, Brewer's advice is authoritative, practical, and useful to novice and experienced mapmakers alike. She focuses on just a few key questions — how to design a map so that its layout matches its purpose ("Each context will best be served by a different map design.") and how to effectively use type, colors, symbols, and marginal elements to support that purpose — and drills down. This includes a very extensive treatment of colors: how to analyze them and how to choose the best combinations for each kind of map. Colors work in complicated and sometimes counterintuitive ways, yet Brewer's theoretical explanations, step-by-step instructions, and 15-page appendix of color specifications help readers make intelligent choices. (Her many, well, colorful illustrations make this a beautiful, if somewhat nerdy, coffee-table book.) It also includes a primer on fonts. As a book lover and magazine editor, I was fascinated by statements like this one: "[Lowercase letters] have more distinctive features than capitals do, helping us recognize words by shape, rather than by reading them letter by letter."

Throughout the book, Brewer emphasizes the importance of anticipating the way each map will be produced, displayed, and used and of the many glitches that can disrupt its production or limit its usefulness. These include: problems exporting fonts and special characters that may not be available to a digital map's end user; the sight impairments of some users; the bleaching out of colors by overhead lights when a map is projected at a conference; and unexpected color changes due to context, a topic to which she devotes four pages. She also discusses, of course, how to avoid creating maps that are misleading or liable to be misinterpreted.

Four other themes also run through the book. First, Brewer discusses the interplay of rules and exceptions and the importance of "knowing how to follow a [cartographic] convention and knowing how to bend it," "balancing conflicting guidelines," and "trade-offs." Second, the she urges map-makers to experiment with many map designs before choosing one and to ask others for feedback. Third, she repeatedly advises moderation: "[u]se callouts sparingly," "[u]se shadows sparingly," "do not get so carried away looping labels in so many directions across the map that it becomes indecipherable," "[u]se as few leader lines as possible," and "uncontrolled saturation differences can wreck havoc with a map's effectiveness." Fourth, she advises a healthy skepticism. For example, speaking of the mathematical transformations of the RGB (red-green-blue) color system that are used in many software interfaces, she advises: "They can be useful for color selection, but you should be critical of them as you use them."

The book is exceptionally well edited and copyedited. I found only one error: "A well-designed scheme will not suggest that data is ordered or that one category is erroneously more important than another." should be "A well-designed scheme will not erroneously suggest that data is ordered or that one category is more important than another."

Finally, I have the same complaint I had in when I reviewed Don Cooke's book Fun with GPS: Brewer's Designing Better Maps would be even better if it had an index.

News Briefs

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


This year the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) held its Annual GIS for Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition in Houston, Texas, September 19-21. According to GITA, in Houston the impact of Hurricane Katrina was quite evident. The organization made a $5,000 donation to the Houston Chapter of the American Red Cross. The check was presented to Sarita Fulgencio, Deputy Director of Red Cross Disaster Services for the Greater Houston Area Chapter, during the opening session of the conference. GITA will also be making additional donations to the Red Cross in the names of attendees who were the highest bidders on items offered during the conference's casino night.

Bentley has offered to assist users and organizations working on Gulf Coast recovery and rebuilding. It posted the following message on its website: "If you have been displaced by the storm or are contributing to Gulf Coast recovery and rebuilding efforts, Bentley wants to help. The company will provide free access to the software tools you need to get back to work or begin the rebuilding process. Bentley software and a 60-day termed, renewable (for a limited time) license are available for immediate download. All that's required is your existing Bentley login or the completion of a simple registration form."

Building on a relationship formed during cooperative relief work for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, IDELIX Software Inc. has signed a collaborative agreement with Harris Corporation to incorporate IDELIX's Pliable Display Technology (PDT) in upcoming federal government projects for which Harris Corporation is the prime contractor. During hurricane relief efforts, Harris established, a collaborative Web presence which consolidated access to imagery data and viewing tools. Software, including the PDT-enabled Image Access Solution (IAS), was made available on the Katrina Imagery Website so that relief workers could access and analyze the latest geospatial imagery available from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
     The PDT-enabled IAS application from RSI, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ITT Industries, incorporates PDT's focus+context viewing and JPEG 2000 data streaming techniques. The IAS software can quickly retrieve a low-resolution version of an image from a JPEG 2000 file on a server. A PDT lens can then be applied to identify any area of the image for closer inspection while maintaining the contextual overview. Once identified, only the higher resolution detail of the area defined by the boundaries of the PDT lens is decompressed from the JPEG 2000 file — not the entire image. The results are reduced bandwidth requirements, faster access to relevant information, and more efficient image analysis.


The Des Moines County, Iowa, GIS Commission has hired Varion Systems, the software development and value-added reseller division of GeoAnalytics, to implement PV.Web 2.1 to deploy GIS data and tools to County staff and its constituents. The County plans to leverage PV.Web's ability to integrate with external databases by disseminating business and real estate data stored in its tax and mass appraisal systems. PV.Web will run in conjunction with ESRI's ArcIMS and access GIS data from ArcSDE.

Sensor Systems, the developer of RemoteView geospatial processing software, has joined the Overwatch Systems group of companies. Effective October 1, Sensor Systems changed its name to Overwatch Geospatial Operations and remains headquartered in Sterling, Virginia.
     Overwatch Systems, based in Morristown, New Jersey, combines the resources of four companies — Sensor Systems, Austin IT Systems, ITSpatial, and Federal IT — to provide a suite of integrated geospatial and fusion software tools for the defense/intelligence community called the Overwatch Intelligence Center (OIC). The OIC focuses on providing situational awareness by enabling analysts to generate relevant, actionable intelligence faster and more effectively for the warfighter, first responder, and decision maker.
     RemoteView is a software for imagery visualization and geospatial analysis within the defense intelligence community with a growing customer base in the commercial and foreign government sectors. It handles image data sets of multiple gigabyte size for rapid visualization and processing. RemoteView provides intuitive user controls to seamlessly build virtual mosaics incorporating hundreds of images for broad-area analysis, and includes tools for vector management, multi- and hyper-spectral analysis, 3D scene visualization and photogrammetry.

Chatham-Kent has selected ESRI Canada's ArcGIS platform and Miner & Miner's ArcFM solution to help manage their utilities, replacing their legacy AM/FM system. ESRI Canada will implement the new architecture with First Base Solutions providing the data conversion.
     Chatham-Kent is a single tier local government located in south-western Ontario. Since 1998, the municipality has been using GIS to improve efficiencies for various departments. This project will provide the opportunity for further leveraging GIS at Chatham-Kent's Hydro, Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and Engineering departments. The consolidation of their legacy AM/FM system onto a single GIS platform based on ArcGIS and ArcFM will provide the benefit of improved data sharing and access across the organization. Chatham-Kent will use ArcFM application to manage data for electric distribution, water distribution, and wastewater networks.

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging has entered into a strategic partnership with Acquis to facilitate the processing and delivery of geospatial data within the Oracle Spatial 10g environment. Leica Geosystems will integrate the geospatial imaging capabilities of ERDAS IMAGINE with the Acquis suite of tools for manipulating Oracle Spatial 10g data. The result will augment Leica Geosystems' raster data handling with the vector handling capabilities of Acquis to facilitate topological editing of data within the Oracle 10g enterprise infrastructure.

Intergraph Corporation has signed an OEM agreement with Skyline Software Systems to integrate the latter's 3D visualization technology within the former's GeoMedia product line. Under the agreement, GeoMedia users will have 3D visualization for an entire range of geospatial information — from digital elevation models to high-resolution imagery and geospatial features such as road networks, infrastructure, and other points of interest.
     The new offering will give users advanced 3D visualization and fly-through capabilities embedded directly in GeoMedia's interface, improving data visualization and the presentation of terrain, imagery, and feature data. Combining dynamic and accurate geospatial data from GeoMedia with real-time streaming imagery capabilities from Skyline enables users to evaluate environments using realistic, location-specific simulations, which gives decision makers a reliable platform to make critical decisions based on real-time 3D geospatial data.


Hemisphere GPS, a wholly owned subsidiary of CSI Wireless Inc. that designs and manufactures GPS products, has announced the Outback S2, the latest addition to its Outback family of products for agricultural guidance. The unit, which will be available for purchase in January 2006, incorporates the company's new Crescent receiver technology — a 10Hz differential GPS WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) receiver that enables it to achieve a 50 percent increase in accuracy and performance over previous models. This technology also enables the Outback S2 to achieve faster start-up and GPS signal acquisition times, improved update rates of 10Hz, lower power consumption, and radar-simulated ground speed output. The device's steering guide enables operators to drive straight rows, with no skipped areas and minimal overlaps, to achieve major cost savings in fuel, fertilizer, and virtually all other production input costs.

At the GeoInt 2005 Symposium at the Henry B. Gonzalez Conference Center in San Antonio, Texas, Intergraph unveiled Feature Analyst for GeoMedia. The product, which is available only from Intergraph, was developed by Visual Learning Systems, Inc. (VLS) in Missoula, Montana as an add-on tool for Intergraph's GeoMedia platform. Feature Analyst for GeoMedia enhances the Geo-Intelligence Production System (GIPS) and ImageScout image exploitation platforms by providing automated recognition and extraction of features in digital imagery — such as ships docked in a harbor and earthquake-damaged roadways and buildings. It also expedites the comparison of images taken before and after a natural disaster — such as a hurricane - and enables users to make a rapid determination of the affected structures and the viability of access routes.
     The product will integrate with two key Intergraph platforms and enable mapping, security, and intelligence agencies to increase efficiency and accuracy in feature extraction and reduce decision and response time cycles. By speeding map production and decision-making processes, Intergraph enables geo-intelligence leaders to more effectively execute missions and protect communities and critical infrastructure.


The 10th Biennial MAGIC Symposium will take place 2006 April 23-27 at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri. This symposium event began in 1988 and has become the major GIS conference event in the Midwest. The education program will feature these topics: data collection and distribution technologies; GIS and your surroundings; GIS and serving your public; data creation and management; and policy and management. The symposium will also include a comprehensive exhibition.
     The MidAmerica GIS Consortium, Ltd. is a nonprofit educational organization established to foster the applications of GIS and related spatial technologies in the mid-continent region. The Consortium sponsors a biennial MidAmerica GIS Symposium in even numbered years. MAGIC states include, but are not limited to: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee.

This year 629 people attended the 14th Annual GIS for Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition, which was held at the JW Marriot Hotel in Houston, Texas, September 19-21, according to the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA). First-time attendees rose 25 percent compared to last year. Attendance by international registrants was up 19 percent and registrations by GITA members was up 75 percent. The show floor sold out for the second year in a row, with 60 companies exhibiting.
     There were 20 technical sessions, which covered topics including the role of GIS in responding to Hurricane Katrina and business case/ROI. The conference also featured four seminars, including an integrity management seminar for both gas pipeline and liquid pipeline. Additionally, attendees had the opportunity to attend the Office of Pipeline Safety update. GITA enhanced its student outreach during the 2005 exhibition by providing passes to the exhibit floor to forty students from local colleges and universities. They were invited to bring a digital copy of their resume for GITA to make available to vendors following the show.
     GITA's GIS for Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition draws oil and gas professionals from around the world. The 2006 conference will be held September 18 through 20 at same location.

As part of the MILES project, the cities of Munich, Germany, and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain and the Sri Lankan Institute for the Local Governance are promoting an Internet seminar about the role of open software and geoinformatics for environmental management at the local level. This virtual seminar's aim is to facilitate the international exchange of experiences on innovative environmental management information systems through a moderated Web-based discussion. The seminar will have a public part in which experts from all around the world will explain through several papers their experiences in this field.
     MILES is an EU-funded project that aims at improving the environmental condition in Sri Lanka municipalities. It promotes a technology transfer in the areas of urban environmental management information systems with a strong focus on capacity building and training.
     The seminar will have the following schedule: first week, starting on November 7, Block 1 — Recent advances in open GIS software; second week, starting on November 14, Block 2 — Practical experiences of adopting EMIS at the local level; third week, starting on November 21, Block 3 — Mechanisms to help cities to implement an EMIS. The registration for the seminar is free and it is open.

According to the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), more than 650 people have already registered for its first-ever online conference and exhibition. The conference began on October 1 and will run through December 31. Attendees gather virtually to attend sessions presented by seven featured speakers in two separate sessions. Participants can also visit the convention's exposition, where they can review information from companies who supply GITA members with software, hardware, and services. Registration for the virtual convention and exposition is free. Further information and a registration form is available at
     The first session of the convention, which will last through November 14, features four speakers: Karen Ball, technical manager, Intergraph Utilities & Communications; Jack Dangermond, founder and president, ESRI; Pat Drinnan, supervisor, Mapping & Facility Records, FortisAlberta Inc.; and Stan P. Weber, owner/executive consultant, Stan P. Weber Executive Consulting. A new lineup of speakers will be announced for the second session, which will premiere on November 15. The convention is being produced in cooperation with the Real Estate CyberSpace Society, an international real estate organization with members in 28 countries.


At the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress in San Francisco next week, NAVTEQ, a provider of digital map data for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions, will demonstrate its ability to process the best sources of traffic information given the road network reporting conditions and the availability of information in a particular market.
     The company, which also provides dynamic traffic data information for vehicle navigation, is leveraging its existing dynamic data processing and aggregating capabilities to power the demonstration of aggregated sensor traffic data, probe traffic data and historic traffic data in the San Francisco market. This demonstration showcases NAVTEQ's ability to process sensor, probe, or historic data for a market and select the most appropriate source given the reporting conditions and time of day constraints.

According to QUALCOMM Incorporated, a developer and innovator of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and other wireless technologies, the adoption of its gpsOne position-location technology is accelerating globally — with more than 150 million handsets featuring the gpsOne solution shipped and more than 250 different handset models from more than 40 manufacturers commercially available. Location-based services leveraging the positioning capabilities of gpsOne technology have already been deployed and adopted in major markets around the world. Most recently, four operators — two operating WCDMA (UMTS) networks in Japan and two operating CDMA2000 networks in the United States — have launched or plan to launch consumer and enterprise location-based services (LBS) featuring gpsOne-enabled handsets.

Hemisphere GPS, a designer and manufacturer of GPS products, is supplying Vector Sensor heading systems to three of the seven sailboats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. Formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race, this is a seven-month, 31,000-mile, globe-circling odyssey involving some of the world's best sailors and some of the world's most demanding and treacherous seas. The three multi-million-dollar sailboats are the Pirates of the Caribbean, sponsored by the U.S.-based Walt Disney entertainment conglomerate; ABN-AMRO One, sponsored by ABN-AMRO, the Holland-based international financial institution; and Ericsson Racing Team, sponsored by Ericsson, the Sweden-based telecommunications giant. All three boats will be using Vector products for heading accuracy when the race begins on November 6.
     All three teams purchased the Vector Sensor from Hemisphere GPS' European distributor, Saderet Limited, in Buckinghamshire, England, and had it installed by Diverse Yacht Services. The product uses two multipath-resistant antennas to receive GPS signals and calculate position and heading. Increasing the distance between the two antennas increases the system's heading accuracy. With the antennas two meters apart, the Vector Sensor computes heading information with better than 0.15 degrees accuracy.

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