Navigating a Volcanic Wilderness Using Global Mapper Mobile

Backpacking Trip in Haleakala National ParkJeffrey Hatzel
After earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared for my honeymoon — a backpacking trip in the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park.

At the end of my very first week working for Blue Marble Geographics, the company had a small party. This gathering was to celebrate the successful release of our latest application for a mobile device, Global Mapper Mobile. As an active, outdoors-oriented person, I could immediately envision how useful an app like Global Mapper Mobile would be; mapping new running routes, hiking, hunting, camping, and of course, backpacking.

On my first trip into the back country six years ago with my wife (then girlfriend), I decided to make our trail maps, as we would be heading into the wilderness. As a GIS student and enthusiast, I was confident I could take what scant data I could find available from others’ trips into the Sage Creek Wilderness of Badlands National Park and make a decent reference map for our trip. While the trip was a phenomenally enjoyable success, I will say we could have saved a few miles with a better map. This memory was fresh in my mind as we planned part of our honeymoon — backpacking the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park. However this time, after earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared!

The Goal: A Custom Reference Map

While the summit of Haleakalā Volcano is a wilderness, it is nowhere near as vast or remote as the back country in Badlands National Park. Trails of varying quality and some signage would be present throughout the volcanic crater, providing guidance to hikers. What I needed was a custom reference map for our planned hike. I wanted base imagery, with contour lines, our proposed hiking route, way-points, and a way to organize data I recorded from my device’s GPS.

Preparing the Data: Creating a Package File

Global Mapper Mobile requires a package file (Global Mapper Mobile Package or GMMP) in order to transfer data from PC to mobile device. The file is created on the PC in Global Mapper, exported to GMMP format, and sent to the mobile device. In planning for this trip — and really any use of Global Mapper Mobile — I had to organize my goals and properly create the package file to reflect my needs. Having found vector files of the trail we planned to hike, they were the first bit of data loaded into the Global Mapper desktop application. Using them as a reference, the Online Data Tool allowed me to download both base imagery and a terrain layer for the area.

Obtaining Terrain Data and Imagery from the Online Data ToolJeffrey Hatzel
The top screenshots show a view of the terrain data and imagery obtained from the Online Data Tool in Global Mapper, displayed with a vector line feature (red) representing our planned hiking route in the bottom screenshot.
Map in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
The map, when initially loaded into Global Mapper Mobile, zoomed in to show a portion of the first day’s hike.

At this point I was able to generate the final features for my map; contours and waypoints. When generating contours, it is important to understand scale. With the increasing popularity of high-resolution LiDAR data, fine scale terrain layers and contours are becoming the norm for many workflows. However, for a map covering over 4,000 feet of elevation change, high resolution contours would have been overwhelming. Since this map is being used for reference purposes and not high-precision work, I felt generating contours every 500 feet was appropriate.

In addition to contours, I wanted to represent our halfway point for this first day of our hike, along with our campsite location. I chose to stylize the campsite in Global Mapper with a built-in point style (Campground). Styles can be retained on export to GMMP, so I would have it on my device.

The last thing to consider, which again can be applied to any use of Global Mapper Mobile, is data recorded in the field and how that will be stored within the application. By default any data created in the field, whether manually or via GPS, will be saved to a default layer. The user also has the option to save it to another loaded layer, however, this has the potential to become confusing if multiple feature types and large amounts of data are being recorded, causing a headache when it comes to layer management. To address this, Global Mapper Mobile utilizes Feature Template layers. The Feature Template layer is created in Global Mapper and can then be exported as part of the GMMP, retaining any pre-determined styling, attributes, and other settings. Recorded field data can be added to the proper Feature Template layer as appropriate. The usefulness of such functionality is workflow- and use case-dependent. When initially creating my GMMP I decided that since I would not be recording a large amount of data in the field, it was unnecessary to create any Feature Template layers. I was comfortable using the default layers created when recording data.

In the Field: Quick Rendering and Recording GPS-Based Data

Standing on top of the Haleakalā Crater at roughly 10,000 feet was breathtaking. It felt as if we were standing on the edge of an alien world. After absorbing the majesty of it all for a few minutes, I decided to put Global Mapper Mobile to the test. The app responded quickly, easily loading the 400MB GMMP. I was able to pan across the entirety of the map, effortlessly zooming to the immediate trail ahead, with the application smoothly rendering my vector data, terrain layer, and the relatively high resolution imagery used for my base map. This seemed the perfect opportunity to record my first GPS-based piece of data, a picture point of my view.

Picture Point | GPS LocationJeffrey Hatzel
Left: The first GPS based picture point, taken at the top of the trail before heading into the crater. Right: Global Mapper responded efficiently, immediately displaying our location as I panned and zoomed into our first rest stop location.

At this point, the phone was packed away for the descent into the crater. As we made our way down the trail, miles of sand contrasted with the green of lush slopes along the crater, as clouds spilled over the crater rim. We approached our rest stop about 4 miles later, after having travelled over 2,000 feet down into the crater. Zooming in to our first rest stop as we approached allowed us to clearly see our location along the trail and even how the vector trail aligned to the bit of trail visible in the base map.

Two miles on from our rest stop, we had scrambled up and over a sandy rise. With another two miles to go before camp, I knew I’d have to put Global Mapper through some more tests today, as our hike out of the crater tomorrow would be much more challenging, requiring my full attention. I decided to create a picture point at the start of our last leg, and then begin recording our trail as we hiked. Global Mapper Mobile quickly opened up and centered on my location, reporting a strong GPS signal from my phone. A quick GPS-based picture point, the start of an auto-recorded line, and we were off. I had strapped my phone to my pack and set the GPS to beep with each recorded vertex, allowing me to “hear” the app running in the background as we hiked. The wind over the edge of the crater drowned it out, but I left the app do its job as we covered the final two miles.

The app successfully recorded the entirety of the last leg of our hike for the day. In the image above, the black picture point can be seen at the start of the recorded trail (black line) as we hiked northwest to Hōlua, where we would camp for the night, before the climb out of the crater the next morning.

Once our tent was set we sat down for a glamorous meal of what I like to call back country chicken curry, which is delicious after a day of hiking. I was able to sit and reflect on the day and all we had accomplished; the personal achievements and experiences … and of course Global Mapper Mobile.

Picture Point and Recorded Route in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
Top: Another picture point taken as the trail began to track through black sand, volcanic rock, and reddish hills. Bottom: After setting the app to automatically record our route based on GPS as we hiked the final leg of our first day, we could see the path we hiked (black) in relation to our proposed route (red).

Takeaways: A Successful Trip with a Versatile GIS Application

This was my first time using Global Mapper on a backcountry trip. The application’s versatility was perfect for all I threw at it. The app operated without any issues the entire day. It responded swiftly while zooming and panning across the map. Picture points were created and saved based on GPS locations. The app accurately tracked our path while strapped to my pack via automatic GPS recording for the few miles I had it running. I consider it a success.

Before saving my map, shutting the phone off, and packing it away for the remainder of my vacation, I thought, “Why not, one more picture point?”.
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Last Picture Point of the DayJeffrey Hatzel
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Jeffrey Hatzel


Jeffrey Hatzel is an Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. He provides technical support, training, and leads demos and talks at industry events. Prior to joining Blue Marble in 2016, Hatzel earned his M.Sc. in GIS at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has experience teaching and studying GIS theory, along with utilizing GIS applications across a variety of real-world settings.

What’s in a Name? | The North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022 is Replacing NAD83

Four new reference frames of 2022Chelsea Ellis

There are going to be four new reference frames that will be introduced in 2022: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names.

For the past five years, the folks at the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) have been speaking at events around the country and around the internet about the 10-year plan under which they are operating. Among the items on the list are a few that we in the geospatial industry need to start thinking about. We’ve been hearing presentations on GRAV-D, HTDP Replacement, NSRS Modernization, and many other acronyms. A couple months ago, there was a new one: NATRF2022. This was one of the main takeaways from the NGS Geospatial Summit, held in Silver Springs, Maryland near the agency’s headquarters. The NGS folks say NATRF2022 as “Nat-reff” in a way that makes you think “National Reference but that’s not actually what it stands for. Let’s dig in.

Why Terrestrial Reference Frame and not Datum?

NATREF2022 stands for “North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022”. It is going to be the new national reference, replacing NAD83. So why “Terrestrial Reference Frame”, and not “Datum”? On the NGS web site, the page that has all the information about the new systems is titled “New Datums”, so one might infer that they mean pretty much the same thing; they do. The difference is at an academic level. Geodesy is an interesting field because there are subtle nuances to word definitions, and slight differences to how those words are used in other mathematical sciences such as geometry. “Datum” in a mathematical sense, is simply a singular form of “data”. In geodesy, this indicates a single point from which to begin measurement in a relative measure. Classically, our geodetic datums are formed from the location of a single place of reference such as an astronomical observatory. In modern systems, they are formed by a network of points that are geometrically related into a single collective, a sum of many parts, rather than relying on the single point as an anchor definition. So rather than defining it by a single point out of many, it is recognized as a geometric network, and the reference that network provides is a Geometric Reference Frame.

I’m going to say it: Conceptually, a geometric reference frame is just a new datum.

To the GIS practitioner, map maker, or surveyor, they provide the starting point and context for our relative descriptions of location. Geometric Reference Frame is currently the popular term in geodesy. It is academically appropriate and conveniently serves as a way to make the new name different from the old, which in this case I can get behind. Can you imagine reading someone’s sloppy handwritten field notes of NAD27 vs NAD22? It would invite disaster. Sometimes, change for the sake of change is not a bad thing. So aside from a mouthful, what are we getting?

From “Fixed” to Time-Based Reference Frames

There are actually going to be four new reference frames: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names. We’ve never had that kind of unified coverage before, so that’s pretty cool. Each of these frames will be plate-fixed, but also, at the time of realization, geocentric. This gets right to the heart of why this is happening now. As it turns out, NAD83 wasn’t as geocentric as intended when it was created. That is to say, the middle of the datum should theoretically have been at the geocenter but it wasn’t; it was off by about two meters.

NAD83 diagramChelsea Ellis
The middle of the datum NAD83 should theoretically have been at the geocenter when it was created, but it wasn’t. It was actually off by about two meters. As tectonic plates moved over time, the effect of this offset grew and could no longer be ignored.

Over time, with tectonic motion, the effect of this offset grew and its effect on surface positions could no longer be ignored. What does that mean? Well, most of our positioning work in modern times is done based on GNSS devices (Global Navigation Satellite System), GNSS by nature is geocentric since the positions are calculated from satellites which orbit the center of mass of the planet. If our national reference frame is not geocentrically related, then it is not directly compatible with GNSS. As motion continues into the future, the new models will acknowledge this and will dynamically change over time following the rotations and motions of the plates. This is necessary because if we are working on the surface of a plate that is moving relative to the geocenter, we need to track that motion if our survey devices stay with the geocenter. So once again, the new models are fundamentally different from the old and a significantly different name will really help to acknowledge that. This is going to require a new mindset for a lot of GIS users. Right now, many still deal with coordinates in “fixed” reference frames where we may acknowledge a reference epoch (date), but that date isn’t actually used for anything other than metadata. Time-based coordinates are inevitable in the future, so it’s time to start getting comfortable with them.

One question I heard directed to the NGS at the Summit was along the lines of, “If we’re just going to have to update again in a few years, why don’t you fix the problem at 2022 so we don’t have to deal with it again?” The problem here is not with the system that needs to be updated (with the implication being that it is flawed now), but in our understanding of the system we’re moving to. We are currently using a system in which we don’t acknowledge that things move and a lot of people have come up through their careers comfortable with there being a fixed relationship between any two given coordinate systems. We are moving to a system where time is not only a factor, but is fully acknowledged as necessary in a moving system. Data epoch is no longer optional. We need to know where our data was and when it was there in order to know where it is a few years later.

Under the hood of this new name NATRF2022, we are adding an entire dimension of measurement, and that’s far more exciting than adding a few new words in the name of the datum.

Preparing for the New Reference Frames of 2022

Over the next few years, we will need to make a few fundamental changes to GIS in order to be ready. First and foremost, we need to make sure our colleagues are comfortable with the new terminology and the concepts of time itself as being an important part of position. After the new systems are in place, we will likely also have new projected coordinate reference systems to deal with. It is very likely that we will have new versions of the US State Plane coordinate system zones. Furthermore, many states are undergoing a push to support new Low Distortion Projections such as the efforts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, and others.  With 4 new plate models, we’re also going to have new Coordinate Transformations to relate them to each other and the older systems, the new reference frames will require it.

As a key player in the geospatial software industry, Blue Marble is already working on changes to our software in preparation for the upcoming new reference frames. Much of this will be invisible in our tools for the time being, while other components are already there, such as epoch settings, transformations that are not stuck to WGS84, and the ability to dynamically bring in new parameters to the database. We have been paying attention and are ready for the coming changes and will strive to help our users be ready, too, as we all learn exactly what these new reference frames will look like over the next five years. As an industry, we have grown very comfortable and perhaps complacent with our systems and transformations in the US for some time. Change is coming, and the time to prepare is now.


Sam Knight


Sam Knight is the Director of Product Management for Blue Marble Geographics. With Blue Marble for over 13 years, Sam has lead hundreds of GIS and Geodetics courses and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trying to make tricky geodetics concepts accessible at a practical level.

Estimating Property Modifications in Global Mapper

Connecting to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.
Connecting to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.

 

I recently purchased a house in Hallowell, Maine, where the Blue Marble Geographics office is located. Hallowell is a teeny tiny city with lots of historic homes that sit on a rather large hill overlooking the Kennebec River. One aspect of my historic fixer-upper property that needs some work is the drainage. I have decided to explore drainage solutions by estimating property modifications using Global Mapper and publicly available data.

Finding Data in Global Mapper

The first step is finding the right data. So, to start with, I use the search tool in Global Mapper to create a point feature at my address. I also change the projection to something that works for the area, such as the State Plane projection for Maine. Next, with the online data tool, I easily connect to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.

The State of Maine GIS site, MEGIS, has a number of other helpful layers that can be added. Vector data can be downloaded as shapefiles using a web browser and can be loaded into Global Mapper by simply dragging the files into the software. Like a lot of states, Maine’s GIS site also offers web services that can be added to the list of online sources in the software. For my project, I need the outline of my individual property, so, I first download the property parcels layer for the entire city and drag the downloaded zip file onto the map to import it. I use the Digitizer to select my property and then use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy it to a new layer.

Using the Digitizer tool
I use the Digitizer to select my property and then use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy it to a new layer.

What I really need for this analysis is some high-resolution terrain data, and luckily my property is close enough to the coast to be included in the NOAA coastal LiDAR data. I use the online data source tool again to search the Digital Coast for data that matches my current map bounds.

Cleaning up LiDAR Data in Global Mapper

A quick look at the LiDAR data confirms that it contains preexisting point classifications, including a lot of points marked as noise that look fine to me.

Raw LiDAR Data
Cleaning up and improving the classification of LiDAR points with the Automatic Classification tool.

My first task is to clean up and then improve the classification with the Automatic Classification tools. Using the Path Profile tool, which renders a lateral view of the point cloud data, I can clean the data up even more with some manual editing, since it is such a small area that I am interested in.

Classified LiDAR Data
Note the edges of the property boundary in blue on the profile window. There are some trees on both sides.

Applying Colors to a Point Cloud in Global Mapper

The Maine GIS site also provides 4-band ortho-imagery that was collected in a similar time frame to the publicly available LiDAR data. From that imagery, I apply the RGB color values to my point cloud using the Apply Color tool, which improves the point cloud analysis capability and creates an interesting visual perspective of the data. The imagery is leaf-off, so it does not match up perfectly with the point cloud, but it adds some detail that can help with identification and analysis.

View From the House in LiDAR Data
Looking down at the Kennebec River from my property with 3D colorized LiDAR points.
CIR
False color infrared (IR) display of the points highlights the coniferous vegetation and other late autumn greenery in red.
House Profile in False Color IR
Profile of the false color IR with the house in the middle.

Estimating Property Modifications with Global Mapper

After creating a terrain surface from the classified and filtered LiDAR data, I estimate the modifications that are needed to improve the drainage around the base of the house.

Using the new Breakline and Hydro-flattening tools, I create a flattened foundation by applying a height to the buildings in the terrain modeling process. Next, using the Watershed tool, I see the current drainage problem.

Drainage area that flows through the house and garage
Drainage area that flows through the house and garage shown in pink.

By using the digitizer tool and calculating the elevations, I create a line for a back drainage that would allow water to flow from start to finish. Then using buffering and site planning tools, I create a modified terrain surface that will calculate the necessary terrain modification.

I create a line for a back drainage that would allow water to flow off of the property.

Finally, I measure the volume of soil to be removed, and calculate the benching and terracing for the back retaining wall.

Site Plan Volume
Measuring the volume of soil to be removed for the drainage plan.

After the modification, the drainage from the back of the house to the road is much better. I am also glad to have some warning of just how much dirt removal a plan like this will involve.

Cross sectional path profile view of property
A cross sectional path profile view shows the new drainage line compared to the original terrain and classified LiDAR data.

 

Modified Drainage Watershed
Flow modeling shows how the terrain modification improves the flow of water around the back of the house.

 

I am still considering options for creating a small pond, ending with a tile drain, and many other possibilities. But thanks to freely available data and some quick calculating and visualization with Global Mapper, I have a much better sense of the scope of this project and what the final results might look like.


Katrina Schweikert
Katrina Schweikert


Katrina Schweikert is an Application Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. She provides technical support, training, and software documentation. Katrina has over five years of professional experience in GIS, a GIS certificate from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a degree in Geography from Middlebury College. She is happy to be working in technology back in her home state, as well as meeting GIS users across the globe.

A World of Free, Quality GIS Data: Global Mapper’s Online Data Access

The Online Service Now Includes Data for all 50 States

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.

Starting a GIS project can often seem like a daunting task. When presented with a blank canvas or low resolution background map you may wonder how to get started. In a typical case, you have a few small data files in some format (like one of the 300 or so that Global Mapper supports) for your project area. However, just a few lines and points on a blank background do not provide much context and certainly nothing you would want to present to a customer. Where does one go for online data access to find additional high quality data?

Global Mapper’s Online Data Access

Luckily there is a vast quantity of free online data ready to stream right into your project to give it meaning. The Online Data services in Global Mapper provide streaming access to over 100 built-in sources of imagery and terrain data as well as topographic, geological, and land cover maps. For the Global Mapper 19 release, the services were expanded to include data for all 50 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.

Online terrain data in Global Mapper
What is unique about Global Mapper is that you also get access to multiple sources of streaming terrain data for the entire world.

Access to streaming raster map data is pretty standard stuff. After all, everyone has used Google Maps or another online mapping service at one time or another. What is unique about Global Mapper is that you also get access to multiple sources of streaming terrain data for the entire world. These are not pre-rendered hill-shade images of terrain, but the raw terrain data itself, ready for use in any terrain-enabled function, like contour generation, view shed, path profile, 3D display, and stream generation.

We have built in access to the following terrain data sources, hosted right on our servers in the hyper-efficient GMG (Global Mapper Grid) format for maximum speed:

  • SRTM 1-arc-second (30m) – Worldwide Terrain Data (excluding polar regions)
  • ASTER GDEM 1-arc-second (30m) – Worldwide Terrain Data (including most of polar regions)
  • USGS NED 1/3rd Arc Second (10m) Resolution – Terrain for the Entire Continental US
  • [COMING SOON] US 3DEP 10m Resolution – Terrain for Entire US (Including Hawaii and Alaska)

For users working in environmental and wind power fields, we have tiled and hosted a number of land cover data sets for streaming, including the CORINE data for Europe, the NLCD data for the US, and ESA CCI data for the entire world. The NASA GIBS sources provide daily updates from several NASA satellite sensors, allowing you to pull in things like global-scale imagery, snow and sea ice cover, and temperature data for any desired date. You might pull in a couple of different dates and use the Image Swipe Tool to compare the conditions at different times or perhaps you will want to conduct some more complicated change detection analysis using any number of appropriate tools in Global Mapper (raster calculator, volume calculations, etc).

Online imagery in Global Mapper
Pre-tiled imagery and terrain data sets are also supported using the OSM (OpenStreetMaps), TMS (Tiled Map Service), and Google Maps tile schemas. You simply need to select the appropriate source type and provide the service URL from the data provider and Global Mapper should handle the rest.

Add Your Own Data Sources to Global Mapper

While Global Mapper has a huge variety of built-in sources, we can’t even begin to include all of the streaming data sources available. We provide a mechanism on the Online Data dialog to add your own sources to the built-in list, allowing you to stream data from them just like any other source. All of the OGC standard source types are supported, like WMS/WMTS for streaming raster maps, WFS for vector data sets, and WCS for downloading individual data files for a defined area. Pre-tiled imagery and terrain data sets are also supported using the OSM (OpenStreetMaps), TMS (Tiled Map Service), and Google Maps tile schemas. You simply need to select the appropriate source type and provide the service URL from the data provider and Global Mapper should handle the rest.

Finally, if you have your own collection of data that you want to host as a streaming source, Global Mapper provides the means to distribute your data in to the tiles that GIS software can handle. The web export option allows you to export any loaded data to JPG or PNG tiles (as appropriate) with the appropriate folder and filename structure for upload to a server for streaming access on an internal or external network. Support even exists for creating an OSM tile set with GMG (Global Mapper Grid) tiles so you can create your own streaming terrain (or other gridded) data source in Global Mapper. User-created streaming sources provided a way for you to host your data once and allow your colleagues and customers to browse the data quickly without needing to download many GB (or TB) of data. You can even choose to create a sample web page for embedding your data in the Google Maps or Bing Maps interface in a web page, or browse it in WorldWind!

We are constantly adding to our default list of free online data so if you have a particular dataset that you think others would like to have access please let us know. We will do our best to add it in the release version as soon as possible.  And remember to stay current with our updates to Global Mapper so you always have the latest data and fastest way to consume it.  Happy mapping!

NOTE: For more blog entries on Global Mapper, see:
Got LiDAR? Now What?,
  Global Mapper for UAV Operations,  The Myth of Free GIS — A Lesson from Nelson


Mike Childs

Mike Childs is currently the Global Mapper Guru at Blue Marble Geographics. Mike was the original developer of Global Mapper and has over 20 years of experience developing mapping/GIS applications. He has been with Blue Marble Geographics since 2011, when Blue Marble acquired Global Mapper.

Global Mapper Licenses and You!: Single User and Network Licenses

Illustration by Chelsea Ellis
How do you choose what Global Mapper license is best for you? It’s simple. All you have to do is ask yourself a few quick questions.

Congratulations, you have decided to evaluate Global Mapper! You know that Global Mapper will be a great addition to your workflow. But now you face a decision; what kind of license do you need? We can help you find a license solution that will work best for you! Who are we? We are Carrie and Rachael, sales support specialists and unofficial license gurus. So, we know when it comes to selecting a license solution there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself: How many computers do I want to license? Do you need to access the software remotely? Do you want to share the software with co-workers?

How many computers will the software be on?

A seemingly simple question can save you time and money. If you are purchasing the software for yourself, and the license will reside on one computer, then a single user license, sometimes called a node locked license may be the best option for you!

Illustration by Chelsea Ellis
How many computers will the software be on? If you are purchasing the software for yourself, and the license will reside on one computer, then a single user license may be the best option for you.

The Single User Machine Locked license is registered to one computer. The license itself is written to your computer’s Ethernet port (using the MAC ID and the MAC ID must be static). However, if you have a Windows 2 in 1 laptop or tablet you may have difficulty licensing your computer. This is because some of these devices might not have a stable Ethernet port. Should you encounter this problem, please contact our licensing team at authorize@bluemarblegeo.com.

If you have a single machine license and need to move it to another computer, there is a license removal tool you must use in order to generate the proper removal code needed to complete this process. This process can be automated; both the old and new machines must be connected to the internet during the removal or activation process. This allows your computer and the application to properly and quickly communicate with our licensing server. If you re-image your machine, perform an operating system upgrade, and/or change hardware, please properly remove the license BEFORE any updates are made. Please note that remote desktop (RDP/RDS) is incompatible with a single user license. If you are looking to utilize RDP/RDS, our network server licenses are compatible with this functionality.  The single machine license can be moved twice per year.

If you need to frequently move the license or share it with others, keep reading for more licensing solutions.

How many people will need access to the software?

Do you have multiple people who need to access the software? Are they all in one office? Are they at different locations? Do they work from home on a remote desktop? Do you have a limited budget and want to get the most software for your buck? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then a network license may be the answer for you! Network licenses are sold at a minimum of two seats.  We haven’t run into a maximum seat limit yet so if you need 100 seats, not a problem!

Global Mapper network licenseIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
The network license can be shared not only internally but also across office locations and the seat count is the number of concurrent licenses (users) that can be utilized at one time.

Network Licenses are a convenient and flexible way to manage a pool of licenses. Network licenses are designed to provide broad access to the software where an individual license may actually serve only one person. The network license can serve one or as many as you like depending on how frequently they use Global Mapper. The network license can be shared not only internally but also across office locations and the seat count is the number of concurrent licenses (users) that can be utilized at one time. Heading out of the office? Not a problem, the network license comes with a convenient borrow feature that allows for a license to be “checked out” and used off the network for a set period of up to 90 days. When that expires the license is automatically returned to the server. This feature is perfect for business trips, going out in the field, working from a ship, temporary employees or a vacation. Yes, you can even take Global Mapper on your vacation. Network administrators love this option as there is only one file to maintain and update. No need to track individuals or physical hardware.

If you are thinking to yourself, “these options are not what I am looking for,” that is okay! Blue Marble has four different licensing types, so we have two more options for you to choose from. In our next post we will be covering the USB Dongle and the Single Floating licenses (portable or virtual license with extreme flexibility).

If you want to learn more about how our license options can provide the best return on your investment please contact use directly, we love to talk about licensing! Send an email to orders@bluemarblegeo.com .


Carrie Strauch and Rachael Landry
Carrie Strauch and Rachael Landry

Carrie Strauch and Rachael Landry are the unofficial license guru’s and the official Sales Support team. Together they bring over 30 years of customer service expertise to Blue Marble. They are the people you are most likely to work with when you call or email our office, and they are always ready to answer questions.

Back in the Day Part II: CMYK “flats” and Printing Maps

Four-Color PrintingGraphic by Chelsea Ellis
Four-color printing, also known as “four color process” using CMYK, is a conventional color model for printing, similar to RGB in the digital universe. When cyan, magenta, yellow and black blend together, they create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

Welcome back! In my last entry, Back in the Day Part I: Making Paper Maps from Scratch, I barely scratched the surface about how printed maps come together. I talked about scribing roads by hand and creating a duplicate negative image from that artwork. Why a negative image? Well let’s take a step back from the actual content of the map and talk a bit about how the printing process actually works.

Most materials you see printed on paper come from a negative image ­— newspapers, magazines, baseball tickets, paper money, all of it. Printed on paper from some master source that happens to be upside-down and backwards, usually a plate that has been “burned” in a vacuum frame. Some images are black and white, some two-color (black and white and one color) and some four-color, also known as “four color process” using CMYK — a conventional color model for printing, similar to RGB in the digital universe.

So what is CMYK? Sounds like a European hockey team doesn’t it? CMYK stands for Cyan (Cyan or blue, it actually resembles more of a turquoise than anything), Magenta (“process red” that looks more like hot pink), Yellow (enough said), and Key (really, it’s black, but the old timers refer to it as “Key” because the other color plates were registered, or “keyed,” to the black plate during the printing process). When blended together, these four colors create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

Four-Color Map PrintingGraphic by Chelsea Ellis
When printing in CMYK, four sets of negatives are required. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (or black). When blended together, these four colors create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

When printing a map in CMYK, four sets of negatives are required, organized by color. We call these negatives “flats.”  For example, a set of Cyan flats would contain features that appear blue on a map, such as open water and hydrology. Cyan flats will also contain tones that contribute to compound colors, such as greens and purples. The same principle applies to  magenta, yellow and black flats. We can think of these flats as being similar to layers in digital mapmaking. Each layer adds details to the map, in this case, the flats are adding color. Often times we will have five or six flats for one compound color.

In order to achieve the correct color tone, screens need to be applied to certain map features that we don’t want to print at 100% strength. When we print open water, for example, we use a 10% screen so that when the map gets printed from our open water negative, only 10% of the cyan will print on the paper, resulting in a light blue tone. These screens are measured by percentage and would be merged with other objects in composite form.

When all of the flats of each color have been composited (burned) on their respective plates (there should be four, right? Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black — see?  You’re catching on) The printers take these plates and register them on the press and start printing the “signatures.” A signature, or sig, is basically a printed sheet (both sides) that contains multiple pages. These sheets are then folded in a certain way so that the pages appear in sequence, like a book.  When I was a map technician, each atlas had a good number of signatures that were printed in order (1 through 12 for example), but keep in mind, the total signatures in the job reflected how big the atlas was. Alaska and Texas had over 30 signatures while Maine had only 12 sigs, for example.

After the signatures are printed by all four plates (CMYK), they are then sent along to the bindery where the sigs are trimmed to become one uniform size, then collated and bound into books that you and I recognize.

It’s fair to say that my bosses at the publishing company didn’t trust printers. Whenever we sent atlases for printing, we would order 30,000 or 50,000 books at a time, which, as you can imagine, was an expensive investment. We as publishers, also had to purchase our own paper. so there was no going back if a job got botched. Too many times books would come back with inconsistent blues, reds, greens, you name it.

In order to combat this problem, the map technicians would go on “press checks”, meaning we would QA/QC each signature after the plates were hung and the printing started. If the book had 36 signatures, that meant we did 36 checks. If we were printing 30,000 books, it would take 3-4 hours to print a signature. Every three hours we would be taken into the pressman’s area, shown a printed signature, and sign-off on it before they were given the OK to continue printing. This is what we did every three hours, non-stop, until the job was done. Overnight checks were brutal, and yes sometimes this would go on for days. Plenty of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, let me tell you.

The golden rule for QA/QC was “CRC”.  COLOR, REGISTRATION, CONTENT.

So after our map  is printed, the books hit the shelves and they start selling like hotcakes. All according to plan, life is good. Then the phone rings in the Revisions Dept., and there’s someone who’s not too happy that their private driveway ended up on page 34.


Kris Berglund

Kris Berglund is currently the Vice-President of Sales at Blue Marble Geographics and has been with the company for over fifteen years. Kris has been involved with digital mapping technology for over twenty years, and demonstrates a diverse level of experience in cartography, geomatics, technical sales & marketing and business development.

Got LiDAR? Now What?

LiDAR Extraction in Global Mapper
Using Global Mapper‘s Path Profile tool to precisely digitize the edge of a curb from terrestrial LiDAR data.

The availability of LiDAR data is expanding at a rate that is out-pacing the requisite knowledge and skills needed to effectively utilize the data. Sounds like a cart-before-the-horse analogy, to coin an idiom from a bygone era.

This conundrum first came to our attention a couple of years ago when, during a roundtable discussion at a GIS forum in one of our neighboring New England states, a local government official excitedly announced that her town had just received LiDAR (or leader, to use her exact pronunciation) from the state. She went on to confide that she wasn’t entirely sure what LiDAR was but evidently that did not dampen her excitement. Remarkably, several other forum delegates jumped on the bandwagon, to use another obsolete transportation-based analogy, and shared their enthusiasm at having received data for their town while eagerly awaiting instructions from the same state agency on what to do next.

In the months that followed, it became clear that LiDAR illiteracy is not unique to small-town New England. Many GIS agencies and departments in other states, provinces, and regions throughout the world, recognizing the increased accessibility of point cloud collection technology, have proactively embarked on massive data collection projects. As a means to justify the expense of these projects, the agencies will often provide the fruits of their endeavor to eager and yet uninformed constituents and office bearers.

The aforementioned municipal officials were certainly justified in their excitement; LiDAR data is contributing to a fundamental change in how we perceive our world. Traditional mapping practices have considered the planet from an inherently unrealistic, top-down perspective. With the emergence of 3D data formats, we are now able to develop a more realistic view allowing us to interact with our data in an immersive environment and providing the impetus for the development of new cartographic and analysis techniques.

What is LiDAR?

Let’s make one thing clear, in most circumstances, LiDAR data is not a product but a raw material. It is not an end in and of itself but rather a means to an end. A commodity, if you will. Before exploring some examples of the products that can be created from LiDAR, let’s put the brakes on (yes I know, another transportation metaphor) and consider the basic structure and characteristics of LiDAR data.

The basics of collecting LiDAR data from an airborne platform.Illustration by Chelsea Ellis

Natively, LiDAR (an acronym of Light Detection And Ranging) is a vector data format, or more specifically, it is a 3D point vector format. Each LiDAR file or dataset usually contains millions, or sometimes even billions of closely spaced, randomly distributed points, with the closeness of the spacing dependent on how the data was acquired. Most publicly available LiDAR data has been collected on an airborne platform using laser transmission and receiving technology in tandem with precise position and navigation systems. Each point is attributed with an X, Y, and Z value derived from the calculated time difference between the transmission and reception of a reflected laser pulse. An aircraft flying lower and slower will create a point cloud with more closely spaced points than one flying faster at a higher altitude. Depending on how the data was collected and/or processed, additional attributes might include, a color value, reflection intensity, and the number of returns per pulse, all of which can be visualized and analyzed.

What Can You Do With LiDAR Data?

Fully utilizing LiDAR usually involves some sort of transformation process. This transformation might involve the creation of a 3D raster surface, often referred to as a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), or it might entail the automatic creation or extraction of 3D vector objects derived from the geometric patterns in an array of points. Both of these procedures will be described in more detail later. It is also possible to derive meaningful information by simply changing how the point cloud is represented. The point display can show the distribution of the different surface-type classifications; the elevation of each point above ground; variations in the density of the points; and many other characteristics.

Editing and Filtering LiDAR Data

Almost without exception, LiDAR data files will include many more points than are needed for a particular project or task. In Global Mapper, there are numerous filtering options for removing points that are outside of the geographic extent of a project area; that are considered erroneous or noise points; or that are attributed with a surface-type classification that is not required. Before embarking on any point cloud filtering procedure, it is a good idea to scrutinize the metadata for the layer. This statistical summary will provide the necessary information about the characteristics of the point cloud to allow more informed decision-making in the filtering process.

Improving the Quality of LiDAR Data

As well as removing unrequired points, Global Mapper includes several built-in procedures for recovering points that would otherwise be discarded. The most common and most powerful application of this automatic classification process is the detection and subsequent reclassification of ground points among those that are unclassified. This procedure increases the relative percentage of points that can ultimately be employed in the creation of a DEM resulting in a higher-resolution terrain model.

Other automatic classification procedures include the detection and reclassification of buildings, trees, and utility cables, which is the first step in the feature extraction process.

Creating a Digital Elevation Model

In order to perform virtually all 3D analysis procedures, a LiDAR point cloud will need to be gridded. In this context, gridding describes the process whereby the value associated with each point in an array (typically an elevation value) is used as the basis for generating a solid 3D model. This model can either represent bare earth (a Digital Terrain Model) or an above-ground surface such as a forest canopy (a Digital Surface Model). The distinction between the two is derived from the filtering and selection of the points that are used to generate the surface.

For most LiDAR users, the primary objective is the generation of a DTM, which is the platform for a wide variety of terrain analysis workflows. Without straying too far off the prescribed path (yet another transportation reference), Global Mapper offers an extensive collection of terrain analysis tools, including volume calculation; cut and fill optimization; contour generation; watershed delineation; and line of sight analysis.

LiDAR data and DEM

Feature Extraction

The increased availability of higher density point cloud data has paved the way (OK, I’ll stop now) for a new LiDAR processing discipline. The analysis of patterns in the geometric structure of adjacent points can result in the delineation of building models, represented as three-dimensional polygons; power lines or above-ground utility cables, represented as three-dimensional lines; or tree points, derived from the collective structure of points classified as high vegetation. Global Mapper’s vector extraction tools also include a custom extraction option where 3D lines and polygons can be generated by following a series of profile views that are perpendicular to a predefined path. This tool can be used to create a precise three-dimensional model of any elongated structure, such as a curb along the edge of a street.

Next Steps

The impetus behind this article was to address some typical applications for LiDAR data without delving too deeply into the technical considerations or step-by-step instructions. That said, if you are sufficiently intrigued and are ready to move to the next level, you will need software in order to utilize your LiDAR data. Global Mapper has supported the import and display of LiDAR data since before the format became widely available and each subsequent release has introduced new functionality for effectively managing and processing the data.

Several years ago, Blue Marble introduced an optional module for Global Mapper to address the demand for ever more powerful LiDAR processing tools. If you are interested in the aforementioned automatic reclassification and extraction tools, you should certainly give the LiDAR Module a try.

If you are new to Global Mapper, both the base software and the LiDAR Module can be evaluated free of charge for two weeks.

Webinar Series: LiDAR Processing in Global Mapper

We are releasing a series of short webcasts exploring the use of LiDAR data in Global Mapper and the accompanying LiDAR Module. Beginning with an introduction to the structure and characteristics of LiDAR data, each video will be approximately 20-minutes in length and will cover a specific theme or topic. To receive notification of the availability of these and other Blue Marble video presentations, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on Twitter.

This is the first video of the LiDAR Processing in Global Mapper series:

 


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.

Global Mapper for UAV Operations

Flythrough in Global Mapper 18
For many UAV operators, the quest to find an affordable, easy-to-use, yet powerful data processing application has ultimately led them to Global Mapper.

As an inherently versatile and interoperable GIS application, Global Mapper has become an essential component of the geospatial toolkit for companies, government departments, and organizations of every imaginable size and type. While the software’s popularity in certain market segments can be directly attributed to a preemptive marketing strategy by Blue Marble, the same cannot be said of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry. Instead, the reason why many UAV operators found and embraced Global Mapper can be attributed to word-of-mouth recommendation from others in the field.

With the rapidly expanding use of UAVs for commercial data collection, a bourgeoning market has emerged for data processing software tailored to the needs of the needs of the UAV community. Consequently, many commercial and open-source software developers have jumped on the bandwagon and have begun the process of creating tools to address this demand. Global Mapper, on the other hand, has been around for almost two decades and has proven to be ideally suited to the requirements of the UAV industry. For many UAV operators, the quest to find an affordable, easy-to-use, yet powerful data processing application has ultimately led them to this remarkable application.

So what role does Global Mapper play in commercial UAV operations?

Mission Planning

High-resolution aerial imagery in Global Mapper
High-resolution aerial imagery and terrain layers can be accessed on-demand providing an initial three-dimensional visual context for a project area.

Global Mapper’s expansive streaming data service provides access to a wealth of invaluable map layers that form the foundation for the mission planning process. High-resolution aerial imagery and terrain layers can be accessed on-demand providing an initial three-dimensional visual context for a project area. Locally available vector files can also be overlaid to address concerns such as property ownership, regulatory issues, potential obstructions, and optimal takeoff and landing sites. Intuitive digitizing and drawing tools can be employed to delineate and measure the extent of the project area and supplementary attributes added to record the flight details in their spatial context. Finally, a high-quality project proposal map can be generated in georeferenced PDF or hardcopy format for sharing with a client or customer.

Imagery Processing

Image rectification in Global Mapper
The software offers a powerful image rectification tool for applying geographic intelligence to captured images by anchoring them to known coordinates.

For most UAV operators, the true value of Global Mapper comes to the fore after the mission has been flown. Transforming raw data into a viable commodity or finished product is Global Mapper’s forte, and image processing is a major part of that workflow. The software offers a powerful image rectification tool for applying geographic intelligence to captured images by anchoring them to known coordinates or manually placed control points. Multiple images can be mosaicked or stitched together to form one contiguous file and the overlapping images can be feathered to smooth the transition from one image to the next. Image manipulation options are also available including contrast, saturation, and transparency adjustment. For advanced users, a raster calculation function can be used to analyze the characteristics of multiband images using a predefined or custom formula, the most common of which is NDVI analysis for vegetation assessment using the red and near infrared bands.

Point Cloud Processing

Increasingly, UAV operators are generating 3D point cloud files during the data collection process. Traditionally this data, often generically referred to as LiDAR, has been collected using piloted aircraft at relatively high altitude resulting in lower density point coverage. As the raw material for terrain analysis or feature extraction, the quality of the final product is intrinsically linked to this point density, so UAV-derived point cloud files are typically superior to those derived from conventional LiDAR collection. Global Mapper, along with the optional LiDAR Module, offers an array of LiDAR processing tools for editing, cropping, and filtering the data. Noise points can be systematically flagged and removed and a vertical quality control process can be implemented to adjust the elevation values to surveyed control points.

LiDAR post processing in Global Mapper 18
Global Mapper, along with the optional LiDAR Module, offers an array of LiDAR processing tools for editing, cropping, and filtering the data.

Terrain Analysis

3D View and Gridding in Global Mapper
Using the LiDAR ground points, a simple gridding process transforms the XYZ values into a raster Digital Elevation Model — a three-dimensional representation of bare earth — in Global Mapper.

For most LiDAR or point cloud users, terrain analysis is the ultimate objective, a process that requires the non-ground points to be initially identified and filtered from the data. Using the remaining ground points, a simple gridding process transforms the XYZ values into a raster Digital Elevation Model: a three-dimensional representation of bare earth. Many of Global Mapper’s advanced analysis functions are derived from this gridded data, including watershed delineation, line of sight analysis, and view shed modeling. For UAV-collected data, one of the most powerful and commonly used terrain-based functions is volume calculation. Global Mapper offers a variety of tools for this purpose from simple pile volume calculation, derived from delineating the bounds of the pile or  depression, to the more complex cut-and-fill optimization process, in which the terrain is flattened to an elevation that equalizes the volume of material to be cut and filled.

Feature Extraction

The advent of UAV-collected, high-resolution point cloud data has led to a myriad of applications for the technology: from vegetation monitoring to archeology. To address the growing need to detect recognizable patterns within the data, several automatic reclassification tools have recently been integrated into the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Points representing buildings, vegetation, and utility cables can be identified and reassigned to the appropriate LiDAR class. These reclassified points can then be used to extract or create 3D vector features (points, lines, or polygons) of the objects they represent. A manual extraction option is also available whereby custom lines or areas can be created using a series of cross-sectional views through a point cloud. Feature extraction can also be applied to imagery allowing patterns of pixel colors to be used as the basis for creating polygons.

Feature extraction in Global Mapper
Points representing buildings, vegetation, and utility cables can be identified and reassigned to the appropriate LiDAR class. In this screenshot, the Path Profile tool is being used to display power lines.

Data exporting and sharing

No spatial data processing workflow is complete without addressing the essential requirement for sharing the outcome or results and, once again, Global Mapper is well-equipped for this task. Any collected or created data layers, regardless of format, can be easily reprojected and converted to meet the needs of the client. Cartographic layout tools are available for designing printed maps or for generating geospatial PDFs representing the project site. Global Mapper can even create a 3D PDF allowing anyone with a PDF reader to render a three-dimensional model of any 3D data. For UAV applications, one of the most interesting project visualization options in Global Mapper is the creation of a 3D flythrough. Created from the flight path of the UAV and, if applicable, integrating a video recorded during the mission, the display will render the video while following the flight progress on the 2D map. Even without the availability of an accompanying video, the 3D flythrough can be simulated using any loaded terrain or point cloud data and the 3D line feature that is used as the basis for the fly-through visualization can even be exported as a GPX file for use in the UAV’s navigation system.

Flythrough in Global Mapper
Even without the availability of an accompanying video, the 3D flythrough can be simulated using any loaded terrain or point cloud data.

Global Mapper has become an essential application for many research organizations and pioneering companies in the professional UAV field. As Global Mapper continues its evolutionary development, these users will play a pivotal role in shaping the software’s functional makeup to ensure it is meeting the needs of the UAV community at large. If you are not currently using Global Mapper, why not download a free trial copy.


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.

Back in the Day Part I: Making Paper Maps from Scratch

Map making back in the dayIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
Back in the day, roads and other line features in gazetteers were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills.

I left college with a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in printmaking.

Yes, that’s right, printmaking.

Although I didn’t ever have to ask “do you want to supersize that?” I was somewhat concerned about what employment opportunities would be available to me in the real world with my specialized degree. In my last year at school in 1992, students were advised to pursue opportunities in this new-fangled computer graphics industry. I wasn’t convinced this was the wave of the future, so I settled with the commercial printing industry. I became a map technician for a well-known publisher of traditional atlases and gazetteers.

What’s a Gazetteer? A great question that seems funny today. Nowadays you can go online using your map service of choice (Google Earth, Bing, OpenStreetMaps) type in a place name or an address, adjust your scale and POOF! You can basically produce a map for almost any purpose with just a few mouse clicks.

Wikipedia defines a gazetteer as:

‘‘A geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. They typically contain information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent. Content of a gazetteer can include a subject’s location, dimensions of peaks and waterways, population, GDP and literacy rate. This information is generally divided into topics with entries listed in alphabetical order.”

A good analogy might be: a gazetteer is to an atlas as attributes are to features in a GIS database.

Creating a gazetteer involves a fantastic amount of gathering source data, analysis and research, and many waves of mind-numbing proofreading. You need people with surgical attention to detail and an aversion to burnout to make a successful gazetteer. Fortunately, I wasn’t involved in the research or copy editing portions of the process. I was there to make the actual maps, and what fun that was.

Back in the day, roads and other line features were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills. I was hired as a map technician, I think, mainly because of my mechanical drawing skills. In the hiring process, the publisher had me take a “scribe test” in which I used sample pieces of scribe coat and a scribe tool to produce lines for a map.

Scribe tool illustrationIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
The scribe tool has a sapphire tip that scrapes clean lines in the scribe coat for map features, essentially creating a negative from the scribe coat.

Scribe coat is a heavy film coated with a material that is easily scraped away using a specialized scribe tool. The scribe tool has a sapphire tip — a real gemstone — that is meant to be dragged along the scribe coat to scrape clean lines for map features, essentially creating a negative. It takes a certain touch to manually scribe: too heavy handed and a gouge could be made in the film underneath; too light handed and a clean line wouldn’t be rendered.

I must have done well in my scribe test, because for the next two months, I hand scribed all of the roads for the Maine state atlas in production and duplicated sheets for printing.

To create “dupes” of my sheets, I dutifully taped a protective cover of newsprint over each corner of the scribe coat sheet (one false move and a dropped sheet could ruin my day) and transported my work to the vacuum-frame room.

The vacuum frame, an essential part of any conventional mapmaker’s work, is an exposure machine that has a large bed fit with a heavy, hinged glass lid.

In the large bed of the vacuum frame, I would lay a sheet of blank, yellow duplication film emulsion side up, lay my work over the film, and close the glass lid. Turning the vacuum frame on, I would hear the vacuum remove the air in the bed, creating a close contact between the original scribe sheet and the duplication film. A timed UV exposure would then create a duplicate image by exposing all of the road lines I created with my scribe tool onto the yellow duplication film. After the dupe was “burned,” I would then run it through an ammonia processor that would transform the dupe film into a layer that would be used in the printing process.

Next … stripping layers into CMYK “flats” and the joy of negative corrections!

To be continued …


Kris Berglund

Kris Berglund is currently the Vice-President of Sales at Blue Marble Geographics and has been with the company for over fifteen years. Kris has been involved with digital mapping technology for over twenty years, and demonstrates a diverse level of experience in cartography, geomatics, technical sales & marketing and business development.

The Myth of Free GIS – A Lesson from Nelson

Car broken down
Like a car, GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly.

 

S everal years ago, while attending a small regional GIS conference, I happened to overhear a snippet of a conversation between two local government officials:

“How much did your town pay for its GIS?” asked the first. “Nothing. We got it for free” came the reply.

Much as I wanted to interject myself in the exchange, decorum prevailed and I was left to mull over how a functional spatial data management system can be established and maintained with no monetary outlay.

I was reminded of this experience early last year when my son turned 16 and, in what is apparently a rite of passage for today’s youth, informed me that he needed a car. Bear with me, there’s an analogy coming here. Several weeks scouring Craigslist eventually turned up a 2000 Hyundai for which the asking price was only a few hundred dollars. This inevitably led to the price verses cost discussion.

“While the purchase price might be within your budget,” I reasoned, “how much will it cost to keep it on the road? You have to consider insurance, fuel, maintenance, and the inevitable and unforeseen repairs that a well-used car will need.”

We bought the car anyway. More on that later.

In a similar vein, a GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly and while upfront cost savings might be appealing, the long-term productivity of the system needs continual investment. That’s right, investment.

According to Wikipedia, an investment is, “… an allocation of money (or sometimes another resource, such as time) in the expectation of some benefit in the future.”

GIS is, by its very nature, an investment in which the return on the initial and ongoing disbursement can be seen in many ways: increased productivity, improved efficiency, or in some cases, financial rewards from the sale of GIS derived products or services.

I have to assume that when the aforementioned conference delegates inferred that their GIS was free, they were factoring the initial price of the software and not any of the prerequisite or subsequent cost considerations. Had I decided to join their discussion, I would have suggested that they consider the bigger picture.

Hardware

While many GIS fundamentalists might argue that a functioning Geographic Information System can be developed without computing technology (location-based data management predates the advent of the personal computer by several centuries if not millennia), in today’s world, GIS is a computer-based discipline. Specific hardware requirements will vary depending on the volume of data and degree of processing required and there is a fairly consistent correlation between the capability of the hardware and the performance and efficiency of the system. For most applications, however, the requirements are relatively modest and in most cases, an off-the-shelf computer will suffice.

Software

GIS software runs the gamut from freeware to highly complex data processing applications costing tens of thousands of dollars. The decision on which level of investment to make will obviously depend on budgetary constraints but must also factor the value that the software provides. An assessment of the options must consider the minimum functional requirements, ease of use, and the support for appropriate data formats. More expensive software will typically offer more robust processing and analysis tools but these high-end functions are often not necessary or applicable to basic GIS workflow. In this light alone, it is entirely appropriate that the two officials whose conversation I overheard had selected an open-source alternative. Why pay a premium price for tools that you will never need.

Parcel data in Global Mapper
Working on parcel data in Blue Marble Geographics’ Global Mapper software.

Data

Over recent years, there has been a significant increase in the availability of public domain data, usually administered by government departments or agencies. High-resolution imagery, elevation data, vector files, and even LiDAR data are often readily accessible on public data archives or through online data portals. While these sources provide a solid foundation for many GIS projects and workflows, they seldom offer a complete data solution in a local, project-specific context. To bridge this data void, GIS administrators must have the wherewithal to collect or create the requisite layers for a specific situation. Furthermore, maintaining data currency and ensuring accuracy and quality is a time-consuming and often a financially burdensome process.

Staffing/Training

Application Specialist Katrina Schweikert leads a Global Mapper training class at the Blue Marble Geographics office in Hallowell, Maine.

Usually the single most expensive component of a GIS is the person or people that are required for the development and maintenance of the system; the human resources. Larger agencies or departments may be able to afford a dedicated GIS technician to perform the day-to-day GIS tasks however an organization with more modest means will usually have to depend on existing staff or may be forced to outsource certain GIS operations, which ultimately costs more. Training can also incur a considerable financial outlay especially when the software requires an extended period of instruction before it can be effectively used.

Support

In a perfect world, which conventional logic dictates, is an inherently unattainable fallacy, software never fails. In the real world, in which you and I reside, it does. The cost saving derived from open source software is a boon until the point at which something goes awry and without a structured support system, a project may come to an inglorious halt. At the other end of the GIS spectrum, annual maintenance fees that are designed to ensure the smooth operation of high-end software, usually add a considerable amount to the overall cost of the system; much like the cost of maintaining a car.

Ah yes, the car. In what would turn out to be the final eight months of its life, Nelson, as it was inexplicably christened, needed a new radiator, several hoses, and an exhaust overhaul. And in what may have been a prophetic attempt to convey its impending demise, the check engine light appeared just a few days before the Bureau of Motor Vehicles inspection service concluded that it would cost three times as much as the original price to maintain its roadworthy status.

Does this sound like your GIS?

When considering the implementation of a GIS, emphasis should be placed on the letter S in the acronym. The system is more than software and consequently, the cost of the system extends beyond the upfront price of the chosen application. Ultimately, a more important consideration should the value derived from the investment. Low-cost commercial GIS software such as Blue Marble’s Global Mapper maximize this value by balancing cost, functionality, and usability.


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.