Last week, we, at Blue Marble, held our annual “Winter Holiday” week — seven days of festivities and team-building fun. It’s one of the few times each year that our remote employees join us at the office and we have the chance to show them a good time.
During the week, we enjoyed dinner and a post-work game of trivia at our favorite local pub, where we came in second place … not too shabby. We had a fierce winter-wonderland-themed decorating contest. 22 of us entered, but only 1 was crowned the winner – Jess, with her gingerbread-themed desk that offered cookies, beer, and hot chocolate.
We also took some time for some team building within departments. The Development team watched a movie, Tech Support and QA went bowling, and Sales and Marketing went out to breakfast.
The Company Holiday Party
At the end of the week, the whole company came together for our annual Holiday Party, where we looked back on 2018 in this video:
We had fun sharing a meal together, participating in a team gingerbread-building contest, playing spoons (the card game), and opening gifts in our Yankee swap, during which the infamous nose-hair trimmer was re-gifted once again.
From our work family to yours, have a safe and happy Holiday!
If you have been watching TV, listening to the radio, or gone to a store, you know it’s that time of year again … Have you thoughtfully picked out all your gifts? No? Well don’t worry we have the gifts for you and all of your family members!
For the punny dad or mom in your life:
For the misunderstood rebel :
For the one searching for the truth:
For the one who hates t-shirts, but loves GIS & software:
Rachael Landry is one of Blue Marble’s license gurus on the official Sales Support team. She is one of the people you are most likely to work with when you call or email our office, and she is always ready to answer your questions.
Please send all your fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, there might be a chance that you haven’t actually heard of this event. That’s ok! I’m writing this to convince you that, whether you are a Blue Marble software user or not, you should know about this conference.
Here are the five reasons why you should join us at the Blue Marble User Conference next year:
1. I’m there! … and Global Mapper architects, developers, and experts are too
Yes, I’m there running around taking pictures and recording video (and eating the food), but what’s more valuable to you are the software developers and resellers who are there to hear your questions and requests.
This particular Blue Marble User Conference was especially valuable because the Global Mapper guru Mike Childs and our international resellers were there. After the day’s presentations and software demonstrations were over, Mike answered questions and heard software suggestions from attendees while our product manager jotted down the ideas.
It’s a part of Blue Marble’s core values to welcome and encourage users to be part of the development process. That user-to-developer communication is usually in the form of emails, but at a Blue Marble conference, users can communicate directly with the experts and know their ideas will make it to a discussion in our development meetings.
2. You will be inspired by presentations from distinguished GIS professionals
Did you know that scientists know more about the surfaces of Mars and the moon than they do of the Earth’s ocean floor – aka 75% of the world’s surface? I didn’t.
At this Blue Marble User Conference, Larry Mayer, Director of the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering and Director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire (phew! Long title!), delivered a presentation on the advancements in sonar and visualization technology for exploring the sea floor. He explained how the technology has helped in the discovery of 3,000-meter high mountains in the Arctic, D-day wrecks, the behavior of whales, and the history of climate through the impact of ice on the sea floor. He touted that investing in more ocean research would help us, people of the world, gain a better understanding of our planet.
Our second keynote speaker and CEO of Aerial Filmworks, Ron Chapple took attendees from exploring the deep with Larry to examining the Earth from above. Ron talked about the challenges that came with producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary “The Wall”, which analyzes the impact of the proposed wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. His role in the project was to shoot aerial footage, over which he highlighted the location of the 2,000-mile long border using Global Mapper.
I was surprised to learn how difficult it was for the team of “The Wall” to accurately represent the curvy U.S.-Mexico border in the video.
My point is that BMUC includes amazing presentations by distinguished GIS professionals that give insight into projects that are relevant to the industry today.
3. You will leave smarter and gain Global Mapper “Tips and Tricks”
In between presentations at this year’s BMUC, Senior Applications Specialist David McKittrick took a few minutes to share some “tips and tricks” on how to use Global Mapper. The tips ranged from how to use the multiview display, smooth contours, view data in Google Earth, and create a terrain cutaway.
David also presented on the recent release of Global Mapper 20 and the LiDAR Module, which offers streamlined map layout tools, the ability to create a point cloud from a 3D mesh, a new eyedropper tool for selecting features, dramatically faster loading speeds for working with vector files, and a lot more.
All of these demonstrations were followed by an opportunity for attendees to ask questions that would help them apply these techniques to their own projects.
4. You will eat with other GIS professionals and have a chance to win a prize
Throughout the day, drinks and snacks were available, and at noon we provided lunch. During lunch, we challenged our attendees to participate in a Where in the World Geo-Challenge, in which they were asked to guess the names of geographic features in a slideshow.
At this year’s BMUC, we came prepared with a tiebreaker question, since we expected that a room full of GIS professionals would easily be able to guess all of the features correctly. The winner of the challenge went home with a gift card to the Blue Marble Emporium.
5. You will spend only $25 to attend
So why wouldn’t you attend BMUC if it’s only $25 for a day full of GIS presentations, networking, and lunch?!
They had me at “lunch”, so … I’m not sure why you wouldn’t register.
Stay tuned for future Blue Marble User Conferences
All jokes aside, BMUC truly has a lot to offer GIS professionals, even if you aren’t a user of Blue Marble software. From the insights of our keynote speakers, to the latest software developments and one-on-one interactions with our experts, BMUC is a great opportunity to connect with Blue Marble staff, have a direct impact on the software you use, and to network with members of the GIS community.
Chelsea Ellis is Graphics and Content Coordinator at Blue Marble Geographics. Her responsibilities range from creating the new button graphics for the redesigned interface of Global Mapper 18 to editing promotional videos; from designing print marketing material to scheduling social media posts. Prior to joining the Blue Marble team, Ellis worked in graphic design at Maine newspapers, and as a freelance photographer.
Are you an engineer? Did you study linear algebra in college? Perhaps you have an advanced mathematics degree? If so, you might not find this blog helpful. If you’re like many folks in the GIS industry today who did not take a heavy math load in college and are not working as a surveyor or engineer, then this blog hopefully will help you to understand one of the fundamental principles of mapping. Geodesy is that area in GIS that is a bit of a dirty secret in that many people try to avoid it or don’t understand it. Technically it’s the branch of mathematics and science focused on accurately measuring and understanding the size and shape of the earth, its orientation in space, and its gravity field. It is a $100,000 word that even sounds intimidating, but break it down and it will hopefully make sense. It’s the underpinning of all mapping but it can be the most difficult to understand and the most intimidating to the unindoctrinated. I am here to help with my top ten list of geodetic fundamentals, explained in an easy to understand and hopefully easy to remember approach. So let’s dive in to the deep end, shall we?
Number 1: It’s Coordinate “Reference” System not Coordinate System
This is an important point, no pun intended, to remember. The Coordinate Reference System (CRS) is a reference model that packages up everything we need to communicate locations, sizes, and shapes. It is a toolkit that gives us a language to accurately enumerate positions on the earth. Some of the tools in the CRS toolbox are Ellipsoid, Datum, Map Projection, Units, and Origin. A CRS is defined by these concepts, which allows us to talk geodesy. Just remember that we are using a math model to reference the earth. Blue Marble has a tag line: Mind the Gap Between World and Map. That is what we are talking about. Unfortunately there is not a good acronym for these terms. EDPUO does not have a good ring to it. I’ve tried switching them around, nothing works. But you usually need them all to make a CRS.
Number 2: Transform not Convert
When I first started working at Blue Marble, we used to use the phrase “coordinate conversion”. Over the years, we have moved away from that phrase simply because it implies a process that is exact and easily reversible when that is not always the case. When we change coordinate reference systems we are actually transforming the data. We are moving all of the points to a new system and, if we were to reverse that process, we are actually transforming the data again and on some small level those points will not be exactly where they were before. The concept here is that there is much more going on behind the scenes.
Number 3: Three types of Coordinate Reference Systems
There are three main types of CRS that we work with ̶ the Geographic, the Projected, and the Geocentric. Geographic coordinate systems can be thought of as a globe, a whole-earth model. The units are angular like degrees as opposed to feet and are focused on rotation around an axis. This type of system gets us close to the shape of the planet without a lot of distortion. But it is not practical for talking about directions, distances and relative locations. That is why we have the projected systems. Think of the projected systems as taking the round globe and projecting it on to a flat plane. These behave like planar Cartesian systems that allow us to map x and y on a grid in linear units like feet, meters or miles. The third type of system is called geocentric or earth centered/earth fixed (ECEF). This is a model that is based on an origin that is at the center of the planet (the geocenter) as opposed to the surface. Many of these are gravity-based and they were used for GPS satellite technology.
Number 4: The Types of Datum Transformations
Datum Transformations are probably the most difficult concepts for people to understand. Actually, it’s the concept of a datum itself that trips people up. I like to think of the datum as a tie-down point. It is the point that ties a specific location on the globe to your mapping surface. So, if the datum is where we begin a mapping process, envision moving from that point in one direction. We will call that X. Then we turn to a perpendicular direction that we will call Y. If we introduce a change in height, that is Z. So now we take all three position changes (change in X, change in Y, change in Z) and we move them together to arrive at a different reference surface. In order to mathematically move X, Y, and Z together, we use a datum transformation. A simple, linear, three-parameter transformation tries to leave our point in one place and swap out the surface they are on by lining up a new model under it. The simplicity of the shift has tradeoffs in terms of accuracy. If we add more complexity we add more parameters like rotations and scale and we can move into seven, ten, and even 14 parameter shifts. This process is very complex, mathematically speaking, and not easily summed up in a brief blog. But the point (once again, no pun intended) is that we have to transform our data in a precise and accurate manner and this process starts with the datum from which we are transforming.
Number 5: Geoids – Getting Vertical
So many concepts, so little time. OK, so the term geoid literally means Earth model. In today’s geodetic world (seriously, not a pun) we consider geoids in conjunction with vertical datums. Vertical datums add a new dimension to horizontal datums. Think of a horizontal datum as mainly dealing with the x and y, based on an ellipsoid. With a vertical datum we introduce a z value for height. With a vertical datum we introduce ‘up’ and ‘down’. The vertical datums allow us to map mountains, valleys, changes in the terrain, by giving us a good zero height from which we start measuring. Mean Sea Level comes into play when we talk about geoids as well. Geoids are typically models approximating where sea level is supposed to be to create an even more accurate reference for height measurement. They of course have a whole bag of assumptions and challenges to bring to the table as the ocean is an ever moving target. It’s important to remember that when talking about sea level, there are multiple models of it and they aren’t all the same!
Number 6: Not just Where but When is your data?
By this stage, I’ve either confused you even more than you were at the start, or perhapsbe you are beginning to understand some of these concepts a little more so that you have a deeper appreciation of where your data is. Well, I’m sorry but for modern mapping it is no longer just about where, but it is also about when. When is your data? Coordinate reference systems can now also carry a value of when the system was measured; a time stamp if you will. Also known as an epoch. Think of the areas of the earth’s surface that are relatively active (moving) due to tectonic activity. The island of Japan is a great example. After a major earth quake in Japan, the entire island can actually move or change its location. There are now time-dependent transformations available, such as HTDP, to address this challenge. Another way to think of this concept is our friend WGS84 ̶ World Geodetic System 1984. The first iteration of this GPS-measured system was way back in 1984. For our millennial friends, that is ancient history. For today’s mapping, if we are concerned with modern measurement, the original WGS 84 is not going to get it done. It’s been realized (revised) six times over the years; we now use WGS84 (G1762), which was realized 1762 weeks (33 years!) after the original and is now several meters away from positions on surface-based models from that time.
Number 7: Process Assumptions – aka Garbage in Garbage out!
So now you have some of the basic concepts in your list checked off. Now you should be able to look at your mapping data, review these issues and know that, if they are all accounted for, you are all set. Your data is accurate. It is where it is supposed to be and you can move on to more cartographic pursuits such as contour generation and buffering. No, sorry it is not that easy. We cannot assume that the process used to create the data we are working with was executed properly. A common problem in modern mapping is we load in secondary data to our map. Many GIS tools will automatically place that data over the base data. If it appears to line up, we assume it is correct. When we bring in our data, if that data was corrupted by a poor transformation process or mis-labeled geodetically when it comes through that process it will still be bad. We may never know. That is why we always have to be on alert for geodetically corrupted data or processes where assumptions are made.
Number 8: The challenge of that last Meter
Today’s GIS and Survey work often encompasses data in the centimeter level of precision or resolution. Data products like high-resolution LiDAR data with multiple points collected per square meter are common place. Working at high-precision levels requires a great deal of care and persistence. The work is far from complete when the data is collected. There are assumptions to question, data manipulations to understand, and limitations to acknowledge. All of the concepts in our top ten come into play.
Number 9: Metadata, metadata, metadata
One way to help battle garbage in/garbage out is the often overlooked, admittedly boring process of metadata. Metadata is data about the data. It is a key to understanding the CRS involved in our map. Information like coordinate reference system, projections, sources, and assumptions are all important forms of metadata. Mapping folks have been talking about metadata for as long as I can remember. Yet it is still often overlooked. We took delivery of a large, high-resolution, and extremely expensive-to-collect LiDAR data set not too long ago and when we attempted to transform the data we realized there was absolutely no coordinate metadata information. Because it was terrestrial LiDAR and intended to be quite accurate, it used a local CRS, but there was no metadata in the files. An easy fix would have been a text file in the folder directory but that was nowhere to be found either. And this data was collected by a licensed land surveyor. Unacceptable! We all have to do better than that.
Number 10: Education on the Science/ Training on the Software
Let’s remember, whether it’s geography, surveying, geology, physics, ecology, or any number of other disciplines, collectively we are talking about science. One cannot simply become an expert on all facets of applied GIS. One can learn the tools involved but the science of mapping itself is the responsibility of the GIS professional and that science is founded on positioning. Additionally, there are any number of software tools that can be used to create maps. All of those software titles address our top ten list and the question of whether or not they do a good job is up to the GIS professional. We said earlier, garbage in means garbage out. We must all work to stay current on the various tools we use for mapping, and thus by extension geodesy, so that we can understand how those tools address our top ten issues. If we are diligent, we can provide accurate mapping. If we are not, the follies and foils of inaccurate data rest on our shoulders.
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.
Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month
After the Global Mapper 19 release, Blue Marble refocuses its efforts on the next item on the docket — the LiDAR Module. In November’s newsletter, we give users a sneak peek of what to expect from the upcoming release of the module. We also take a look at what happens behind the scenes of software development, such as the “foils and follies” of collecting drone imagery described in a blog entry by Blue Marble President, Patrick Cunningham. Finally, and as always, we challenge your geographic knowledge in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge with a brand new copy of Global Mapper 19 up for grabs for the lucky winner.
The saying “you usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for” couldn’t be more true for the version 19 release of the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Since its introduction in version 15 the LiDAR Module has offered an increasingly powerful set of tools for editing, classifying, and extracting features from LiDAR and other point cloud formats.
The pending release of the version 19 edition will elevate the module to the next level by offering a simple tool for generating a dense point cloud from overlapping imagery. Tailor-made for the rapidly emerging professional UAV market, this powerful feature was previewed at the recent Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas and received universal acclaim.
Keep an eye on your inbox for an announcement about the availability of the Module.
Recently, the Blue Marble team took on the challenge of collecting drone imagery of their headquarters for the purpose of testing some exciting new features coming soon to Global Mapper. Stepping into the fairly new commercial UAV field comes with a handful of lessons and hurdles, from actually flying the drone to understanding legal and safety concerns. In this blog entry, Blue Marble Geographics President, Patrick Cunningham describes the most important lesson learned from the team’s UAV experience — things don’t always go as planned.
Did you know that Global Mapper offers a tool for embedding a hyperlink within any point, line, or polygon, allowing you to associate an external file or even a website with a defined geographic location? The linked file or files are accessed using the Feature Info tool and will trigger the launch of whatever software is associated with that file type. Adding a link can be done manually by typing the file path or URL as an attribute value when creating or editing a vector feature, or by clicking the Add File Link(s) button in the Modify Feature Info dialog box. For a creative and extremely useful application of this functionality, try linking to a Global Mapper workspace file from a point feature that has been placed at the location of the corresponding job site or project location. This a great way to streamline data management by providing one-click access to all of your workspaces in a single reference map.
Our latest webinar, which was recorded live in October, showcases the highlights of Global Mapper 19.
As with all previous releases, version 19 includes numerous functional enhancements and performance improvements throughout many areas of the software. Among the specific topics covered in the webinar were:
Thank you to all who submitted an entry in October’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge. Check out the answers here. The randomly drawn winner and the recipient of a copy of Global Mapper is Ian James from HiSeis Pty Ltd. This month, in response to several comments that the challenge is “too easy”, we upped the ante just a little. A copy of Global Mapper is being offered to the winner so why not take the challenge.
Due to reasons beyond our control, the Blue Marble User Conference planned forNovember 15 at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Los Angeles had to be rescheduled to June 8, 2018. The conference will be held in partnership with GEO1 and will include an onsite drawing for attendees to win a helicopter tour of the city. At the end of the event, winners will accompany GEO1 technicians on a flight over LA as they simulate their aerial data collection workflow. Space is limited, so sign up today. Look out for announcements about the BMUC 2018 locations and schedule.