NASA Has a New Plan to Save Its Zombie Spaceship  by Alex Brown  May 212, 2014

A long-lost spaceship may still have some life left in it—if a California company can figure out how to talk to it.

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA

NASA has a plan to save a satellite long given up for dead: Let the private sector take care of it.

The agency’s groundbreaking ISEE-3 satellite is nearing Earth for the first time in 30 years, and while its instruments still appear to work, the communications equipment used to control it was scrapped years ago. The only reason we know it’s still working is that someone forgot to send the “off” signal when it was scheduled to shut down.

ISEE-3’s summer pass-by of Earth could provide the gravity needed to send it on another mission—otherwise it will just keep sailing around the sun. But NASA says it can’t afford the resources needed to re-create the communications equipment it would need for such a maneuver.


How Green Energy Won Out Over Fossil Fuels in a Red State  by Clare Foran  May 22, 2014

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

How FaceTime wrecked a sailor’s dream (6:50 am PDT, May 24th)

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Apple’s video chat feature FaceTime has bridged the miles for families, sparked a ton of romances and probably shattered a few marriages.

This may be the first time it’s ever shipwrecked someone, though.

John Berg was sailing off the coast of Kona, Hawaii when a FaceTime login request started messing with the navigation app on his iPad. Although sailing apps on smartphones and tablets so popular they’re credited with having sunk the market for Garmin products,  imprecise navigation has been a concern.

He was almost at the finish line for the journey of a lifetime: Berg, who is blind, and crew sailed for 21 days covering 2,800 miles from Banderas Bay in Mexico to Hawaii in a 40-foot-boat dubbed the Seaquel.

An app called iNavX on Berg’s iPad guided the Seaquel’s GPS. As they headed for the night’s waypoint, the screen was taken hostage by a system request to log in to FaceTime. And then another request to log in to iCloud. Berg and crew couldn’t figure out how to dismiss the request and log back in to iNavX. Things spiraled down into an All is Lostscenario when it turned out that although Berg’s iPhone had the app installed, the waypoint wasn’t set.

The vessel, a Nordic 40, cracked open on the jagged reefs just three miles from its destination. Fortunately, neither Berg nor the crew were injured and swam to safety. The boat is a goner, though.

Berg, who had lived aboard the boat for 12 years with his daughter, only blames himself.

“I just want to make it crystal clear that it was my boat, I was the captain, and it was me who screwed up. Even though I had sighted crew with me, it was my fault we lost the boat,” he told magazine Latitude 38.

Even so, it’d be nice if  some Apple fan had an unused boat for Berg to call home now.

Via Latitude 38

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.

Tags: , , ,

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.

Tags: , ,

ESRI ArcGIS Online–Spatial Analysis? (Free ESRI course) (ArcGIS 10.2)

From ESRI’s description of the free seminar:

Anyone who uses or is considering using an ArcGIS Online organizational subscription and wants to perform analysis using the online tools and workflows.


Although not required, it is helpful to know the basics of ArcGIS Online for Organizations. Also, watching the following seminars might be of interest:

  • Creating Hosted Map Services with ArcGIS Online
  • ArcGIS Online Subscriptions: Mapping and GIS for Organizations
  • Gain Geographic Insight with ArcGIS Online Analysis Tools

Learn How To:

  • The features of the analysis tools and examples of how to use each one to solve a problem.
  • The recommended steps to perform spatial analysis online.
  • How to choose and apply various spatial analysis techniques to solve specific problems

Click here for details/more info.

AMA to assist in technology demos at Precision Aerial Ag Show


The Precision Aerial Ag Show slated for Decatur, Ill., in July will offer you a chance to see many new tools in action.

Stu Ellis, show organizer, notes that the attraction of the show will be those open air flight demonstrations. While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has limited UAS use to only recreational purposes – a point of contention for agriculture – show organizers are working under the rules of the Academy of Model Aeronautics to allow for the flights. “The Precision Aerial Ag Show is an AMA-sanctioned event for Class D technology demonstrations,” he notes.

Rising interest in unmanned aerial systems leads to first-ever Precision Aerial Ag Show. Photo by Willie Vogt
Rising interest in unmanned aerial systems leads to first-ever Precision Aerial Ag Show.
Photo by Willie Vogt

Click here for more info.