Approaching GIS Differently

May 21st, 2014 by George Demmy

Note the most polished commentary, but some things to think about!  MK

People who work with GIS or with a variety of related technologies for photogrammetry and remote sensing applications often are focused on the underlying technology and what’s best of breed. Rightly so! Keeping up with the latest methods, technologies, and techniques is essential to efficiently run geospatially-oriented aspects of a business or enterprise. However, undue focus on technology without a larger purpose-driven context can lead to dualistic thinking which can lead to strategies that move organizations away from maximizing return on their investments in time, training, and software for their GIS. An interactive map tied into the authoritative geospatial and other data sources as well as enterprise access and authentication back-ends rolled up in the cloud is certainly desirable, advanced, capable, versatile, and many other adjectives and superlatives as well. Is that better than a paper map? Is that better than a flat map shoved into a PowerPoint? Maybe. It depends on the application.

One of the most important characteristics of a map is it’s ability to start or enhance a conversation. GIS helps us distill our understanding and perspectives and decisions into something that can be shared with people who need access to that. While there are plenty of “data management” applications associated with GIS, its true value is helping people move from data to information to insight and understanding for themselves and the people and enterprises they serve. It is insight and understanding and conversations around that in which I’m most interested. And many times, the key stakeholders in those conversations don’t have access behind firewalls or to the GIS, etc. In that case, a picture might be worth a thousand tables in the authoritative data store. It depends on the conversation.

When you change the context and think not about the GIS and the supporting technology and start thinking about who you’d like to reach and engage with what you’re producing from the investments in GIS you’ve made, you often reach new conclusions. Pushing “data” out of a GIS group, while necessary, is increasingly a commodity activity, which will be of decreasing relative value compared to the activities of the knowledge workers and decision makers who consume that data. If, on the other hand, the GIS group is pushing out insight, that is a higher value activity. Furthermore, this value is multiplied by the size of the audience the group can reach. We take it as dogma that GIS is essential, but that, like many other aspects of running an enterprise, bears introspection. So, what is it, ultimately, do you want to use your considerable investment in GIS for, and who do you want to reach? Are there means by which you can reach people you are not reaching with insights and applications? What is the low hanging fruit to be harvested with minimal effort or investment? Sometimes getting a return on investment has less to do with adopting new technology, than looking at the problem differently.

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Researchers Plug Google’s Project Tango Into A Drone To Let It Fly Itself Around A Room Posted yesterday by


Remember Project Tango? Google’s crazy project to add 3D environment mapping abilities to a smartphone?

Yeah, someone just went ahead and took the next logical step: they plugged it into a drone.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania managed to get their hands on a prototype Tango device, and quickly strapped it into their self-built quadcopter.

This is probably a good place for a Skynet joke, but all I can see are Manhacks. Don’t forget your crowbar!

Click here for video and to continue reading.

Google to buy satellite startup Skybox?

A small satellite startup called Skybox Imaging is reportedly in Google’s sights for an acquisition offer of around $1 billion.

by May 23, 2014 11:31 AM PDT @

Is Google ready to plunk down a billion dollars or so to acquire a company specializing in satellite imaging?

One possible target is Skybox Imaging, a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm with its own satellite cluster that specializes in data analytics and highly detailed images and video of Earth, according to a report in TechCrunch. Skybox was valued between $500 million and $700 million at its last fundraising round in 2012, the report said.

Skybox Imaging declined to comment. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Word of Google’s alleged interest in owning satellite imaging technology comes on the heels of its April purchase of drone maker Titan Aerospace to help further develop high-altitude Internet-broadcasting balloons as part of Google’s Project Loon. That pickup was also seen as helping to advance work that’s being done by geospatial teams at Google Maps and Google Earth.

The TechCrunch report cautions that its source for the deal could have some inaccurate information meant to disguise which startup Google is actually targeting, from among a group that includes Skybox and others such as Planet Labs. Planet Labs owns 28 Earth-imaging satellites, and, like Skybox, focuses on data analytics, imaging, and video.

Though Google could be interested in Skybox Imaging or Planet Labs to bolster Google Earth for consumers and its Google Earth Enterprise unit, there is another possibility. As the dominant player in the commercial Earth-imaging space, Google has a vested interest in real-time imagery, and specifically a real-time virtual representation of the entire Earth — an incredibly difficult goal to achieve.

The drones of Titan Aerospace, and a satellite startup like those rumored to be in acquisition talks, could go a long way toward making that moonshot a reality.

Update, 1:56 p.m. PT: Adds Skybox Imaging declining to comment.

QGIS US User Group: The beginning of something big

May 23rd, 2014 by David Dubovsky  @

Last month, Boundless and others hosted the first ever QGIS U.S. User Group meeting with 75 attendees at OpenGovHub in Washington DC.

The event attracted a diverse group of experts and novices from organizations such as NOAA, the World Bank, USAID, the American Red Cross, Deloitte, Lockheed Martin, the CDC and many others. It’s amazing to watch this group’s energy and how the project is rapidly unfolding

Many great presentations and talks shaped the QGIS User Group meeting. Jeff Johnson and Larry Shaffer presented the highlights of the history and evolution of QGIS from a shapefile viewer to full-fledged desktop application. Jeff went into detail about specific applications of QGIS, highlighting examples from NOAA and NASA. Larry then discussed the QGIS ecosystem and open source development community, noting that plug-in development has been a long-time focus within the community and core development is expected to pick up steam in the coming year.


Tim Sutton from the QGIS project steering committee joined remotely from South Africa. He provided further context to Larry’s discussion on core and plugin development and the steering committee’s focus for 2014, Gary Sherman, the author of PyQGIS Programmer’s Guide, also joined remotely from Alaska, providing a brief history of QGIS development, including its origin as a shapefile viewer.

After the remote sessions, Kate Chapman of the Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team gave us an overview of InaSAFE, a QGIS plugin for emergency preparedness and response. Vivien Depardy and Yewondwossen Assefa of GFDDR then presented on the role QGIS (and GeoNode) plays in their emergency response and disaster recovery efforts. Larry provided context to their efforts, applauding their development model calling it a leading example of development.

The day also included two hands on workshops, one led by Jeff Johnson on “Using QGIS with OpenGeo Suite”  which provided the opportunity to review the fantastic QGIS documentation with an experienced instructor, adding his own tips and tricks along the way.  Larry Shaffer led the second workshop on “How to Become a QGIS Developer”. His goal was to get more developers involved on the QGIS project. He shared an early draft of QGIS core developer documentation and virtual machine images he’s working on intended to help new developers get started more quickly.

Whether you were looking for an introduction to QGIS or were already active in the community, the day had something for everyone. To learn more about QGIS, download and install it using the OpenGeo Suite installer and check out documentation to see what it can do. Stay tuned for next QGIS U.S. User Group meetings being planned in Atlanta and Seattle. You can view the presentations from this most recent QGIS U.S. User Group here and watch the video here.

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