Net Neutrality and Equality in GIS

U.S. weather conditions in December 2017Katrina Schweikert
Mid-December weather conditions shown in NOAA radar and GOES imagery accessed through Global Mapper’s online data service.

If you are a fan of Global Mapper and Blue Marble Geographics you are a fan of affordable technology. Our products are well-known for providing reliable and powerful tools for GIS and geodetics data processing and analysis. You might not consider access to the internet to be an important issue when it comes to accessing or even using our products, but it is essential.

If you think about it, most of our customers use the web to research our products, watch video tutorials, download the software, activate a license, or even simply follow our social media channels to keep up-to-date on the latest news.  Unequivocally, the main way our customers interact with us is online. From emailing us to web-based meetings, from researching our products to purchasing them, from downloading to participating in training, a large part of the customer experience is over the Internet. We benefit from the fact that, along with our customers, we have fair and equal access to consistent internet speed without having to pay a premium price. The availability of fast and reliable internet access is not only essential for our business processes, it is also a critical requirement of much of the GIS technology embedded in our applications.

One of the most popular features of Global Mapper is the online data access tool.  Global Mapper offers streaming access to a vast library of maps and data layers of all types, many with full global coverage. This list is continually being expanded and updated and recently we added online data services from all 50 states in the U.S. and several Canadian provinces. If net neutrality in the U.S. is not protected, access to these datasets will almost definitely suffer from slower bandwidth in the future. Even if Blue Marble could afford to provide fast internet for our consumption of these services, we cannot possibly cover the cost of our customers’ access or that of the hosts of these data services.

Global Mapper Online Data access
The Online Data access in Global Mapper provides streaming access to over 100 built-in sources of imagery and terrain data as well as topographic, geological, and land cover maps.

In the past couple of years, Blue Marble has proudly introduced some new cloud-based software offerings. We now host the GeoCalc coordinate system library on Amazon as a “geodetic registry” service. This past year we added read and write access to Amazon cloud data stores in the Global Mapper desktop. And recently we announced the release of Global Mapper SDK on Amazon as well. We have plans for expanding our cloud-based offerings but what will the future look like for these services under a pay per use bandwidth model?

Certainly companies like Amazon have the ability to negotiate deals with internet service providers, but that will not account for all aspects of the cloud transaction process. There is no way a state or public entity that is hosting spatial data, including Blue Marble’s home state of Maine, can afford to pay for fair and equal bandwidth. There are many, many government-hosted mapping data sources that will suffer under the new model but most important to those fans of Blue Marble is the fact that a small company like ours will most definitely be disproportionately impacted by increased bandwidth costs.

The dominant software company in the GIS industry makes a billion dollars a year in revenue and they will certainly be able to afford increased bandwidth costs, however the GIS sector is full of small companies like Blue Marble. Loyal and dedicated GIS professionals who support the “little guy” and who do not want a GIS software industry that is dominated by just one offering, should be very concerned. And what about users of open source GIS technology? Without any financial clout, developers and users of open source tools will likely see a significant impediment to the use of their technology. This is where a lack of net neutrality will most likely have its biggest impact. Established, well-financed companies will more likely be able to maintain optimal access to their products and services but new players and new technology offerings will not. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will ensure that their paying customers have good access to Twitter and Facebook as they know that there is a demand for it. But what about innovation? What about new technologies? Those entities are likely to suffer by only being able to afford the “slow lane” in the bandwidth marketplace that will develop.

Finally, it is worth considering what other countries have done about this issue.  Canada, Europe, most of South America, India and Japan have all taken steps to protect net neutrality. The recent ruling by the FCC to eliminate Net Neutrality protections in the U.S. is not only unfair to small business but is out of step with the rest of the world.

So what can we collectively do about this? I appeal to all U.S.-based customers of Blue Marble and all members of the GIS community to take a moment to email your elected representatives and explain to them why they need to work to reverse the decision of the FCC. Even if you are not in the U.S., let your voice be heard. This is not about political affiliation. This is about technology and innovation. The danger is that much of the public does not fully appreciate the widespread impact of this ruling. You do. Your voice must be heard. The message should be clear, reverse the FCC ruling immediately and protect fair and equal access to the Internet. I will be sending this to my representatives, I hope you do too. Thank you for taking action today. And I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.

Sincerely,

Patrick Cunningham
President  |  Blue Marble Geographics

Blue Marble Monthly – December 2017 GIS Newsletter

Satellite imagery

Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month

If you detect a hint of excitement in our tone this month, it may be because of the upcoming holiday season, which gives us reason to look back at what was a very successful year for Blue Marble. It is more likely, however, that our spirits are heightened due to the recent release of the Global Mapper LiDAR Module version 19, which includes a powerful new photogrammetric point cloud generation tool.

In December’s newsletter, we formally introduce this new Pixels-to-Points™ tool with a video showing it in action. Also in this edition, we share a holiday shopping tip and unveil part one of the definitive “Brief History of Global Mapper”. Oh, and as always, we give you a chance to win a copy of Global Mapper with our ever-popular Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

3D model of snowman in Global Mapper

A Word from the President

This is Patrick Cunningham, Blue Marble President, and I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Blue Marble staff, to thank you, our loyal and enthusiastic customers, for another fantastic year. A year in which we continued to focus on our core belief that GIS can and should be easier, more affordable, and better. Needless to say, we couldn’t have done it without you. Not only because of your enduring support for Blue Marble’s products, but also because you inspire us to continue to innovate.

Direct interaction with our customers has been the Blue Marble maxim from day one and as we approach our 25th anniversary in 2018, this is still the foundation of our development philosophy. Warmest wishes from all of us to all of you for the holiday season and a safe and prosperous 2018.

Above Image: A 3D model of a snowman designed by Blue Marble’s Stephanie Martini is now available in the latest build of Global Mapper.

Point cloud generated using the new Pixels-to-Points TM tool

Product News | The LiDAR Module v.19 with Pixels-to-Points™

The version 19 upgrade to the LiDAR Module is arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated releases in recent memory with its new Pixels-to-Points tool. Employing the basic principles of photogrammetry, Pixels-to-Points analyzes the relationship between recognizable objects in multiple images to determine the three-dimensional coordinates of the corresponding surface, from which it creates a point cloud and, optionally, a raster orthoimage.

The integration of Pixels-to-Points into Global Mapper, with its vast array of point cloud, raster, and vector processing capabilities creates the most complete mapping software for UAV operators. Download the latest build of version 19 and try it out for yourself.

 

Screenshot from Pixels-to-Points TM video

Webinars and Webcasts | Introducing Pixels-to-Points

If you haven’t had a chance to try the new Pixels-to-Points tool for yourself, check out the latest webcast, in which we walk through this addition to the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Using an array of drone-collected images, we first show how they can be loaded as clickable picture points in the map view before exploring the steps required to transform the images into a high-density point cloud.

This data and process can also be viewed here on our blog.

 

Screenshot of dlgv32

Projections | A Brief History of Global Mapper

During a recent meeting to discuss new functionality soon to be added to Global Mapper, it was pointed out that its predecessor, dlgv32, was first conceived in 1997, 20 years ago this year. In recognition of this anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to take a look back at some of the highlights of this eventful journey. Check out part one in the latest blog entry from Blue Marble’s David McKittrick, which also features a group of middle-aged Microsoft executives dancing around a stage. Now you really do have to read it, don’t you?

 

Blue Marble shirt store

Did You Know? | Blue Marble Makes T-Shirts

Still haven’t figured out what to stuff in Uncle Jack’s stocking this year? Check out Blue Marble’s online store – the Blue Marble Emporium – where you will find branded and (occasionally) amusing geography t-shirts for your favorite geospatially aware loved ones.

 

Geographic Calculator

Geographic Calculator Users | We Need Your Feedback

As previously noted, direct input from our customers is instrumental in helping ensure that our products continue to address the requirements of the industries that we serve. For Geographic Calculator users, we have compiled a short survey to give you an opportunity to share your thoughts on how the current software is meeting your needs as well as any suggestions that you might have for future functionality.

 

Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

November’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge was supposed to be somewhat more, well, challenging. Seemingly not challenging enough, however, judging by the number of respondents who managed to correctly identify all five locations. Check out the answers here.

The randomly drawn winner of a copy of Global Mapper is Joost van Dijk of VBMS. Check out the final Geo-Challenge of 2017 by clicking the link below. If you guess all five of the geographic features correctly, you’ll be in the running to win a copy of Global Mapper 19. So why not take the challenge?

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

Blue Marble shirt store

Training | Maine is First Location on 2018 Global Mapper Training Schedule

So far, we are scheduled to have training in the following cities:

  • Hallowell, Maine
  • To be determined, Australia
  • Seattle, Washington
  • San Diego, California
  • Houston, Texas
  • Orlando, Florida

Some venues and dates still need to be verified for some of these locations, so please check our Public Training page here for updates.

Registration is open for our Maine training in January. Click the link below to reserve you seat.

A Brief History of Global Mapper Part I

Global Mapper Disco Logo
The Global Mapper logo before the 2016 redesign is lovingly called the “disco logo” at the Blue Marble office.

In the beginning…

As a Global Mapper user, have you ever contemplated the important role that the release of Windows 95 had in the early development of your favorite GIS application? I thought not! There’s a strong possibility that many of you readers were but a twinkle in your parents’ eyes when Bill Gates and his cohorts borrowed a classic Rolling Stones number and awkwardly frolicked around the stage while our Windows 95 computers beseeched us to “Start Me Up”.

It seems that the folks at the USGS were looking past the ungainly dancing and paying close attention to this personal computing innovation. The newly revamped, graphics-friendly computers now sitting on everyone’s desks were the inspiration that the agency needed to embark on a project to develop a freeware application for viewing their burgeoning collection of data. The lead developer on this project, which would culminate in a product entitled dlgv32, was a certain Mike Childs, whose name would become synonymous with Global Mapper over the subsequent two decades.

If the truth be told, dlgv32 is not a name that smoothly rolls off the tongue, but there is a certain 1990s logic to the moniker.

DLG = Digital Line Graph was the name given to the USGS vector data files

V = Viewer 

32 = 32-bit operating system which the application supported

Compared to today’s Global Mapper, dlgv32, which was released in June of 1997, was bare-bones, to say the least. Supporting just one file format and with no analysis, editing, or even exporting capability, it really lived up to the “V” in its name. It was a viewer. That’s all. Nonetheless, dlgv32 was a resounding success. According to USGS statistics, the application was downloaded on average 100 times each day with a total of 60,000 copies in circulation after the first two years.

Just a month after version 1.0 was released, version 1.5 was completed boasting support for the USGS DRG data, the agency’s raster topographic maps. This rapid functional upgrade was the first example of what would later become one of the defining characteristics of Global Mapper: its continual state of development.

An elevation grid in dlgv32 Pro

Dlgv32 Evolves into Global Mapper

Subsequent releases of dlgv32 added support for newly available USGS terrain datasets, including the option to apply a shader to represent variations in elevation. They also introduced an innovative and, at the time, unique reprojection function that applied the active projection parameters to all data layers as they are loaded — a function that users of the current release of Global Mapper still appreciate.

With this enhanced functionality and expanding format support, it became clear to the folks at the USGS that dlgv32 was developing beyond the agency’s original directive, so they made the decision to release the source code for commercial development. Who better to take up the mantle than Mike Childs?

Basic digitizing in dlgv32 Pro

Spurred on by the fact that tens of thousands of satisfied downloaders were already using dlgv32, Mike recognized the potential market for an advanced version of the software and so began the real story of Global Mapper.

It is worth recalling the nature of the GIS industry at the time. As a technical discipline, GIS very much belonged in the hands of a relatively small group of highly skilled and trained people. Applications such as Global Mapper, into which dlgv32 would soon evolve, succeeded in opening the field of spatial technology to an increasingly wider audience.

September 2001 saw the release of dlgv32 Pro for the modest price of $79. More significantly, it opened the door for Mike to independently address the needs and requirements of the growing user community and to create software in direct reaction to customer input, with no bureaucratic overseers. Technically this first commercial release was version 4.0, a numeric naming sequence that continues to this day.

Early Highlights of Global Mapper

Over subsequent releases, many of the capabilities that were seen in today’s Global Mapper were sequentially introduced:

Global Mapper HistoryChelsea E | Projections

After just three years of focused development, Global Mapper had already begun to gain considerable attention in the GIS community, not only within the U.S. but throughout the world. This occurred in spite of the fact that there was no formal marketing or proactive business development effort. Most early users cited word-of-mouth recommendations from colleagues or clients as the primary reason that they initially found out about the software.

These early users were also instrumental in steering the continued evolution of Global Mapper. Reacting to requests from individuals, Mike would often create an update to the software and deliver a unique build to the requester, often within a few hours of the initial contact. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Mike was able to develop functionality that specifically targeted the needs and requirements of a particular industry, and was able to lean on the requester to test the new functionality before it was incorporated into the general release version. The requester benefited from the fact that they received a version of Global Mapper that was customized to meet their needs. While Global Mapper has matured considerably since these early years and now follows a more formal development process, this underlying reactionary development philosophy is still prevalent today.

In part two of this Brief History of Global Mapper, we highlight the milestones from 2005 to the acquisition of Global Mapper by Blue Marble Geographics in late 2011.


David McKittrick is a Senior Application Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics in Hallowell, Maine.  A graduate of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, McKittrick has spent over 25 years in the field of GIS and mapping, focusing on the application and implementation spatial technology. McKittrick has designed and delivered hundreds of GIS training classes, seminars, and presentations and has authored dozens of articles and papers for a variety industry and trade publications.

Pixels-to-Points™: Easy Point Cloud Generation from Drone Images

Point cloud generated from 192 drone images using the Pixels-to-Points tool
A point cloud generated by EngeSat’s Laurent Martin using the new Pixels-to-Points™ tool in version 19 of the LiDAR Module. The LiDAR Module tool analyzed 192 high resolution drone images to create this high-density point cloud.

When we have a new product release like the version 19 of the LiDAR Module that comes with the Pixels-to-Points™ tool, it’s always exciting to see that feature in action for the first time outside of the Blue Marble office. Our South and Central American reseller Laurent Martin from EngeSat was quick to try the new Pixels-to-Points tool for himself using drone data collected by his peer Fabricio Pondian.

The new Pixels-to-Points tool uses the principles of photogrammetry, generating high-density point clouds from overlapping images. It’s a functionality that makes the LiDAR Module a must-have addition to the already powerful Global Mapper, especially for UAV experts.

Below, screenshots captured by Laurent illustrate the simple step-by-step process of creating a point cloud using the Pixels-to-Points tool and some basic point cloud editing using other LiDAR Module tools.

1. Loading drone images into the LiDAR Module

The collection of images loaded into the LiDAR Module must contain information that can be overlapped. The Pixels-to-Points tool analyzes the relationship between recognizable objects in adjacent images to determine the three-dimensional coordinates of the corresponding surface. In this particular example of the Pixels-to-Points process, 192 images are used.
The flight path of the UAV and the locations of each photo can be viewed over a raster image of the project site.

2. Calculating the point cloud from loaded images

192 high-resolution images are selected in this particular example. The tool will give an estimated time of completion, which depends on the size of the images and number of images.
The Calculating Cloud/Mesh dialogue displays statistics of the images as they are analyzed and stitched together by the Pixels-to-Points tool.
An alert window pops up when the process is complete.

3. Viewing the generated point cloud

A new layer of the generated point cloud is now in the control center.
A close up of the final processing result with the orthoimage.
A close up of the final result with the new point cloud generated from the 192 images.
A 3D view of the resulting point cloud.
A view of the point cloud colorized by elevation
A cross-sectional view of the point cloud using the Path Profile tool

4. Classifying the point cloud

Points can be reclassified automatically or manually using LiDAR Module tools. Here, the point cloud is reclassified as mostly ground points.

5. Creating an elevation grid and contours from the point cloud

With the point cloud layer selected, a digital terrain model can be generated by clicking the Create Elevation Grid button.
A cross-sectional view of the digital terrain model using the Path Profile tool
Contours can be generated from the digital terrain model by simply clicking the Create Contours button.

A quick and easy process

In just a few steps, Laurent was able to create a high-density point cloud from 192 images, reclassify the points, and create a Digital Terrain Model. It’s a prime example of how easy version 19 of the LiDAR Module and the new Pixels-to-Points tool are to use. Check out EngeSat’s full article on the release of LiDAR Module.

Where in the World November 2017 Answers

Name the country – Swaziland

Swaziland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Dili

Dili

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the island – Mallorca (Majorca)

Mallorca (Majorca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the body of water – Sea of Azov

Sea of Azov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the national park – Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park