, Social Networking for the Geospatial Community?

A new GIS centered web site called launched yesterday. According to the site’s mission statement its purpose is simply to promote “geospatial solutions” and provide a multi-use platform to showcasing GIS projects.
The site tries to pack a lot into its pages. It attempts to provide tools and services such as social networks, job boards, resource searches, news feeds, promotional challenges and project submission platforms. The social networking aspect itself is quite involved. There is a Facebook-like “wall” that you can post updates to, a blogging interface where you can create your own blog within the larger site, a file upload area, a photo gallery, a professional networking page where you can have a LinkedIn-like profile and a project collaboration area where you can work with others on a geospatial solution.
It will be interesting to see how the geospatial community reacts to a centralized site like this that combines multiple aspects of already established social media services in a GIS centered environment. As with any application that claims to be a social media platform, its value will be revealed by the users who engage with it. If the GIS user community has a need for what GISnation is attempting to provide, it could do well.
I will be interacting on the site in the coming days and will try to report my findings. Meanwhile, if you sign up for access to the site, leave a comment here and let me know what you think. Do you think it has a future?
Update: Apparently GISnation didn’t have much of a futre. The site doesn’t seem to be in existence any more. It’s probably just as well since ESRI already has established forums and GIS communities are already created on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

What is in Your Office Desk Drawer?

So the other day I took a look in the top drawer of my desk at work. I’m not talking about the glance you give when you throw something in that you might need “someday”. I actually looked at what was in there. It was kind of scary what I had let accumulate. Here is a partial list of what I found:
  • Box of pushpins
  • Obsolete Autodesk, ESRI, and Trimble trial software and drivers from 3 years ago.
  • Short, flathead screwdriver
  • A Spaceghost Christmas ornament
  • Organic white tea bags (about 6 of them)
  • 12 inch ruler (I actually use this from time to time to measure margins, boxes, icons and other elements on printed maps)
  • 2009 statistical abstract of the United States
  • Four USB cables from unknown hardware purchases
  • Engineering ruler
  • Box of plastic forks
  • Bottle of instant Krazy Glue
  • More than eleven pens from geospatial conference vendors
  • Scissors
  • 12 volt power supply to something I probably threw away in 2010
  • Crossword puzzle book
  • Seven lip balm containers (Six were empty)
  • PS/2 to USB adapter
  • Sunscreen
  • Some flashy button thing from a conference
  • Various sizes of sticky note pad
Contents of my desk drawer
This was just the top drawer. I’m kind of afraid to get into the bottom two. It looks like I am going to have to do some winter cleaning pretty soon.

I am sure there are plenty of more interesting desk drawer content lists out there so leave a comment and let me know what’s in yours.

Social Media Speaks and the Government Listens

The idea of social media command centers is not a new one. The best known centers might be from Gatorade and Dell who each use theirs for brand monitoring. But businesses are not the only ones accessing large amounts of social media data. Carahsoft, a private government solutions company currently markets the InTTENSITY Social Media Command Center, by the InTTENSITYCorporation, to the US Government intelligence community. According to InTTENSITY, their web based SaaS product officially launched in September of 2011, has the capability to anticipate and measure events as they happen or even before they happen, based on social media monitoring.
It could be like a real life version of the TV show Person of Interest. With this software, upcoming events mentioned in the social media cloud could be monitored and even interrupted as they occur. If your tweets and updates happen to be tagged with a geospatial reference (address, city, lat/long) social activity could be pinpointed with precision.
Since much of social media is by definition public communication (as opposed to a private phone call or email) there doesn’t seem to be a barrier to a government entity watching what flows through Twitter to monitor actions, speech or ideas it doesn’t approve of, then affecting it in some way.
InTTENSITY claims its software is capable of tapping into the entire Twitter stream as well as Facebook and blog sites and can monitor in up to thirty-two languages. Is software like the InTTENSITY Command Center just TweetDeck on steroids? Is it an innocuous use of social media technology? Or does its potential as a social monitoring tool pose a threat to individual and community liberty?
I am not suggesting that our government is using or will use this software for anything other than monitoring real threats to the American people. However, as our government is further enabled to follow our daily personal lives, we the people must follow them even closer.

Just Another Haphazard Recording Studio Thrown Together Using Parts from eBay and Craigslist

I spent weeks meeting strange people from craigslist in parking lots all over town, searching eBay and cruising garage sales to find the best (read: whatever I could afford at the moment) equipment for putting together a sound recording studio at home. I don’t know exactly what prompted me to set up a studio. I guess initially I had thought I wanted a voice studio to read some of my own writing into an audio file for fun. I also mess around playing the banjo, Irish tin whistles and various other instruments and thought it would be interesting to see what I could do with a microphone and free audio mixing software.

When I wasn’t trying to buy equipment I was trying to figure out what the next piece I would need should be. I read plenty of how-tos on the subject of how to set up a studio at home. There were as many opinions about equipment as there were discussions. For that reason, this post is not about what to choose or how to choose it. Of course I will list out what I got and what I hope to replace it with, but I am just a hack at this so don’t take what I did as a serious recommendation.  So here is what I have:
Along with those purchases came a Radio Shack dynamic mic and an MXL 990/991 condenser mic set. I might try to use the MXL 991 to pick up the banjo. I decided to put it in the closet under the stairs since it is a small space and wouldn’t take too much to soundproof it. I can tell there is a little echo off of the closet door so I might have to get some egg crate foam or something to glue to the back of it. I only hope now that I won’t lose interest in the project before I get something recorded. Since I originally bought all of this stuff six months ago and only just finished setting it up, that is a distinct possibility.
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
MXL 990/991 Microphones
MXL 990/991 Microphones
AT2020 with Voxguard
AT2020 with Voxguard
If I do get something recorded I will put it on the blog.

Going With the Flow at AU 2011

I am a geospatial analyst. I typically work with traditional GIS software like ESRI’s ArcGIS. However, Autodesk products are also heavily utilized in the office where I work. More and more, GIS and CAD are being integrated and it often falls upon me to work with our CAD analyst to explore interoperability between the two products. Over the last few years Autodesk has worked to develop a product called Map3D into a full GIS product to rival ArcGIS. There are those who will claim that Map3D has arrived at this goal but don’t let ’em fool ya. They can both be defined as a GIS but they are not equals. Autodesk is great at creating products that will make and manipulate geometries (think AutoCAD or Civil 3D). ESRI is great at making products that create points, lines and polygons, connect them in meaningful ways and then map them within geospatial coordinates.  Autodesk is slowly introducing more geospatial analysis tools into their Map 3D product but one will not find the depth of available tools that you will find in ArcGIS. I digress, however. The above argument goes on every day in places more appropriate than this. At the very least, it should be the subject of another post. Suffice it to say, I have to know both, work with both and integrate both into a workflow. To further this goal, I have been sent to this year’s Autodesk University in Las Vegas, NV.

After two days of the conference I can report mixed feelings about the value of what was there. The overarching valuable service that I could identify was free testing to become certified in a variety of Autodesk products including Civil 3D, Revit and plain old AutoCAD. As a Map 3D user, I have been disappointed to know that they do not currently have a certification for that products. I was told that one is currently being considered, though.

The hands-on labs and lectures have their place but of course you have to put up with a lot of information that is not relevant to your own situation. To be fair, that is the case with many of the conferences I attend such as the ESRI conference. I attended one lecture about terrestrial spatial scanning for integration into Building Information Modeling (BIM). It was interesting and relevant to what we are doing in our office but the first hour was taken talking about minor issues like making sure to carry a long extension cord and manipulating xyz data in MS Access.

Now on to the most important part of the conference – lunch. One is never sure what to expect when it comes to conference food. Some conferences do not provide meals at all. I am happy to report AU does. I was a bit worried about what would be served after I had gone through the line at their “Grab-and_Go breakfast” the first morning. Breakfast was meat, cheese and egg between sort of round croissant halves. Problem was, I couldn’t tell the croissant from the egg from the cheese. The meat was the only thing I could positively identify, so that was all I ate. Lunch, however, was surprisingly good. It included salad, Spanish rice, pinto beans, pork medallions and chili. When I was done I didn’t feel like my gut was going to explode. Nice job AU! The only issue I had was when lunch was over and another session was about to begin, some guy with a mic’d xylophone started banging out a tune that was so annoying it made people stamped out of the room. AU really knows what they are doing.

Between sessions we were treated to coffee, organic teas, soda and water. In the afternoon they rolled out the carts with fruit, desserts and chips. It was really quite good. The second day I skipped breakfast and ate lunch elsewhere but overall I was impressed.

Before I end I have to briefly touch on the vendor area. It was not as big as I thought it would be and the schwag was not as good. That being said, I did come away with some great information about the next generation of Oce plotters and some great Chinese trinkets that have no good use but keep my kids for about 30 seconds. If anyone has any interesting comments or stories about this years AU, please do let me know.

Amazing Discovery! Presidential Candidate Website Color Trend

I was visiting presidential candidate websites the other night in hopes of finding sentient thought in our nation’s leaders when I discovered something peculiar. On almost every major Republican presidential candidate website the background is blue. Okay, it might not sound that amazing when you first read it but it does cause you to think. Why is blue such a primary (Wow, multiple puns intended with that one) background color for these people? It makes them all look strangely like Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaign websites. Was there some study done on the color of a candidate website or did everyone just think that it worked for him so it might work for someone else?

The colors blue and red are strongly associated with our two parties. Blue represents Democrats and red represents Republicans. So why are Republicans associating themselves so strongly with a color that practically screams Obama?  Perhaps they are politically suicidal? Perhaps they secretly want Obama to win so they can complain for four more years? If you watch their debates and how they give dumb answers to even dumber liberal media commentators (read: Anderson Cooper in Las Vegas) you might be convinced of this theory.

Whatever the case may be, I am going to keep digging into this and see if there is method to the color madness. In the meantime, take a look at the front pages for these guys and see for yourselves there is a major internet background movement afoot.

Interop 2011

If you have ever had the opportunity to attend the Interop conference you know that it is the premier place to be for the hottest new IT gadgets. Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, NV was no exception. Now you might be thinking I am referring to servers, firewalls and switches but you would be wrong. I’m talking about the great swag the vendors give away by the truckload. In addition to the bags, flashing pens and USB lights, it seemed like every other vendor was entering you into a contest to win an iPod, iPad or iPhone. The biggest crowd of hopefuls I saw was at the Dell booth when they were giving away a 55 inch flat screen LCD TV from Visio.
Most vendors just asked to scan your RFID enabled attendee badge and that would enter you to win, oh I don’t know, maybe an iPod, iPhone or iPad. One vendor got creative and brought a couple of claw crane games where attendees try to grab small white boxes that could contain anything from a bouncing ball to an, you guessed it,  iPhone, iPad or iPod.
McAfee went so far as to have a cash grab booth. You listen to the sales spiel and if you can quickly answer questions asked about the presentation you get to climb into a booth, strap on goggles and look like a dork trying to grab a couple of dollar bills swirling around you.  Of course you are a dork with a few extra dollars, so maybe it can be worth playing the fool.

Is This Love or Bacon?

Is there anything better than that sweet, heady smell of bacon frying? The only thing I can think of is the rich smell that wafts into my nostrils the next morning when I unwrap a package of cold bacon. There is something about day old bacon that sets my taste buds dancing. I think I have found kindred spirits over at . There you can find news, recipes, and events all related to sliced pig flesh. Could it be that there is even a bacon convention? Yes, and you can be more knowledgeable about when and where by visiting the convention web site at . If you are worried that all of these militant bacon lovers will deplete the world’s supply before you can make that next run to the store, you can always visit the guys at and stock up on tactical bacon. Remember, the best defense is a good offense.

Being a Geek Has Never Been So Fun

I love geeky things that the masses don’t grab on to. One such thing is the game Khet. I had wanted the game since seeing it on one of my favorite online shops a couple of years ago. Last Saturday I was out garage saling (one of my favorite weekend activities) when I came across the original version of the game. It was in almost perfect condition and I got it for a song along with some computer stuff. I couldn’t believe that I had such luck. I brought it home wondering if I could ever convince my wife to play a game where you bounce lasers off of angled mirrors to try and kill your opponent’s plastic Pharaoh. It turns out I didn’t have to. My six-year-old son not only decided to be my opponent but he also taught himself and me how to play the thing. He didn’t seem to mind that the game is MENSA award winner and for ages 9+.

Of course, now that I have the game I want the updated version Khet 2.0. For now though, I will pat myself on the back for being in the right place at the right time and try to perfect my strategy on the version I have. I had better because my son is too smart for my own good. You can visit to buy or learn more about Khet 2.0 . They even sell Khet t-shirts so you can impress the general public by advertising something they’ve probably never heard of.