When people ask me what the difference is between Blue Marble Geographics’s® applications and other geodetic and GIS software, I often talk about affordability, customer service, and reputation. But sometimes I simply say that we like to tackle the hard stuff — the technical challenges that geospatial professionals face every day.
For a quarter century, we at Blue Marble have been focused on getting things right in mapping, so our customers can consistently rely on our software. We have been “minding the gap”, as our original tagline says, between geodetic accuracy and geospatial data mapping. We do this by offering our highly accurate coordinate conversion and datum transformation software Geographic Calculator®, and by providing access to our extensive geodetic library with GeoCalc® Mode in our GIS software Global Mapper®. Our technology is trusted by small and large Fortune 500 companies around the globe.
But what exactly is that hard stuff?
Perhaps the best way for me to explain these challenges is by providing a top ten list of ways Blue Marble ensures geodetic accuracy for today’s geodesists and GIS professionals.
Coordinate Reference System Information
If you’re going to “mind the gap”, you must have full access to the geodetic parameters necessary for proper coordinate conversion. This is not simply a coordinate system definition, but the mathematical definition of the components that make up a coordinate reference system. These components — ellipsoids, datums, measure of units, projection, and origin — are available for our users to access and present as needed in all of our software.
Powerful Spreadsheet Interface
The Geographic Calculator is known for its Point Database job or tab. This is an Excel-like spreadsheet that enables batch point conversion in multiple ways with a variety of handy data-management tools. It’s an essential way to process point data when translating coordinate systems.
Areas of Use Envelopes
Blue Marble has been using geometric polygons as area-of-use envelopes in the background of Geographic Calculator, the GeoCalc SDK®, and Global Mapper for years now. They are geographically defined polygons that our software uses behind the scenes to provide users with the correct coordinate system or datum shift for the area of the world that the user is working in. For example, there are systems that are meant for the United States, but never for Europe. So using these area-of-use envelopes, our software can help select the proper coordinate conversion tool for a user’s data. It’s a pretty elegant solution if you ask me.
Workspaces, Jobs and Audit Trails (oh my)
I always reference the Wizard of Oz when discussing geodesy for two reasons: there tends to be lists of threes all the time, and, well, a lot of GIS folks view this stuff as the magic happening behind the curtain. With that said, workspaces, jobs, and audit trails are just a few of the more prevalent tools available in Geographic Calculator that help replicate the work of users reliably. Users can save workspaces with jobs in them in an organized, clear way, and “audit trails” (log of users’ actions), which is so important in recreating data translation history when issues occur. And, believe me, issues will always occur.
The heir to the throne for GeoCalc.dat, GeoData.XML is our database of geodetic parameters. It is the file that contains all of the coordinate systems, datums, datum shifts, ellipsoids, vertical datums, units, formats, envelopes, and whatever else you need for coordinate conversion. Today, that tool can simply live on a user’s desktop in their copy of Geographic Calculator, hosted internally with a network license of Geographic Calculator, or hosted in the cloud with the GeoCalc Online Registry. The library is the most widely used, quality assured, and tested coordinate tool on the planet.
First Software to Utilize the EPSG Parameter DB
Blue Marble has worked closely with the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers’ EPSG Parameter Database since it’s inception. We were the first to provide the library in commercial software; to provide tools; to update, and sync to it; and to connect to the online registry version of it. GeoCalc is Gold Certified GIGS compliant and continues to work with the OGP to provide this database to the GIS market.
Simply put, we embrace the approach to data manipulation called “deprecation”, instead of deletion. Even if a geodetic object was found to be mathematically wrong, our software will flag, retain and properly label that incorrect object in the database for users to access later if needed. This is an essential database management approach that allows users to maintain access to unwanted or inaccurate data to fix or use it. It is a simple yet important concept, and one we have embraced for years.
Working with some of our customers years ago, Blue Marble realized there was a need for administrative tools in Geographic Calculator that allowed GIS managers to limit geodetic data access, and to lock object editing. Simply put, not every user should be able to change the mathematical model of a datum transformation. Also, many users want to see only the datum shifts they are supposed to use, not all of the potential options available across the globe. Geographic Calculator’s administrative tools allow managers to address these challenges by customizing their set up.
Data is expensive and often difficult to collect. Without the proper education, organizations can run the risk of corrupting their data; failing to back up data properly; making uneducated guesses about coordinate reference systems, or making other human errors that can result in major problems. Blue Marble provides an applied geodesy course for this very reason. We also provide multiple Global Mapper training courses each year, self-training options, and a team of application specialists for technical support.
GeoCalc Toolbar in Global Mapper
Lastly and not least there is the ability to bring advanced coordinate referencing into Global Mapper with the GeoCalc toolbar. This toolbar can be enabled if a user has both Geographic Calculator and Global Mapper installed. Users of this tool can set up specific coordinate transformation workflows in Geographic Calculator and share them in Global Mapper. Users can select datum transformations in Global Mapper, if so desired, or they can assign advanced datum transformations to run automatically. This extension also makes all of the advanced coordinate referencing parameters in Geographic Calculator — vertical datum shifts, custom coordinate definitions and more — available to the Global Mapper users.
So there you have it! Ten ways Blue Marble helps you “mind the gap between world and map”. I hope your head is not spinning counter clockwise to the world’s orbit, and that this list comes as a comfort to you. Suffice it to say, we want to help. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Patrick Cunningham is the President of Blue Marble Geographics. He has two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, and project management. Under his leadership, Blue Marble has become the world leader in coordinate conversion software (the Geographic Calculator) and low cost GIS software with the 2011 acquisition of Global Mapper. Cunningham is Chair of the Maine GIS Users Group, a state appointed member of the Maine Geolibrary Board, a member of the NEURISA board, a GISP and holds a masters in sociology from the University of New Hampshire.