Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month
For many, summer is a time for relaxing, for taking your foot off the gas, for being lazy. Not at Blue Marble. We are busy preparing for the next major release of Global Mapper in just over a month, planning our hectic autumn travel schedule, and making the final preparations for our 25th anniversary user conference here in Maine. In this edition of Blue Marble Monthly we formally invite you to join us at BMUC. We also hear from Sam Knight about becoming a licensed drone pilot; we discuss the differences between LiDAR and PhoDAR; and we challenge your geographic prowess in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.
We hereby cordially invite you to Blue Marble’s home state for our User Conference (BMUC), as we continue to celebrate our 25th birthday. Not only will you have a chance to meet other users and learn about the latest software developments, but you’ll also hear from some interesting presenters including Ron Chapple who will be speaking about his work in the Pulitzer Prize-winning project, “The Wall”.
Ready for the kids to go back to school? Sorry, we can’t help you with that, but we recently sent our own Sam Knight back to school to learn what it takes to become a licensed drone operator. As we continue to develop tools for the UAV industry, it is essential that we have the first-hand knowledge of what is required. For Sam, this was a journey into unknown territory.
Blue Marble’s development process has always relied on direct input from users and now you have a chance to be part of that process. Sign up as a beta tester today and we’ll let you know when a beta version of either Global Mapper or Geographic Calculator is available for you to put through its paces.
The Pixels-to-Points tool has caused quite a stir in the UAV industry. Creating a high-density 3D point cloud from a drone would have been unheard of just a few years ago. While the data may look and feel like traditional LiDAR, there are significant differences between the two formats. In a recent blog post, we outlined some pros and cons of each.
In the latest Global Mapper case study, we hear from Michael Frings, General Manager of MFBI Technologies about how the LiDAR Module’s point cloud processing tools played a critical role in planning autobahn truck stops in Germany.
“The fact that the LiDAR Module is so powerful, giving us the ability to handle large point clouds, was the killer argument for us to go with Global Mapper.” – Michael Frings
Simply stated, Global Mapper gives you more functionality for less money. Need proof? Take a look at this short video highlighting some of the terrain processing tools that are available out of the box in Global Mapper. No extensions required.
The geographic sleuths were once again hard at work in July. Most of you were able to identify all five locations in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge. The randomly selected winner of a copy of Global Mapper is Roy Mayo, a land surveyor from Mackay, Mackay, and Peters. If you are one of the handful whose response to the capital city question was, “Haven’t a clue” or words to that effect, check out the correct answers here then click the link below to see if you can do any better in August’s challenge.
See complete terms and conditions here.
The Blue Marble training team will be hitting the road again in October with the next three-day Global Mapper class scheduled for Houston. Typically our Houston classes fill up fast so be sure to sign up as soon as possible to reserve your spot.
“Without a doubt, one of the most informative and enjoyable technical training classes I have ever taken.”
– Recent Global Mapper trainee
How Well Did You Do?
Name the country – Monaco
Name the mountain – Denali (Mt McKinley)
Name the body of water – White Sea
Name the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Acropolis of Athens
Name the capital city – Canberra
Can your GIS software do all of this without extensions?
- Process LiDAR data
- Create elevation grids from filtered LiDAR
- Apply custom shaders
- Calculate cut and fill values
- Generate contour lines
Global Mapper does it all.
Download Global Mapper today: http://bit.ly/b-no-extensions
Thus far, our Reseller Spotlight series has taken us from Northern Europe to South America. This month, we shift our focus to the African Continent as we hear from Renier Balt from South Africa-based SMC Synergy. Widely regarded as a challenging market to penetrate, Africa has seen a significant expansion in the use of Global Mapper over recent years thanks in no short measure to the efforts and endeavor of Renier and his partner, Dirk Pretorius. We convinced Renier to take a short break from his Global Mapper outreach efforts to share some insights into his experience working with Blue Marble.
Tell us a little bit about your company, SMC Synergy?
SMC Synergy based in South Africa, was accepted as a Reseller of Blue Marble Geographics in May 2013 and is the preferred distributor of Global Mapper GIS software in Africa. Our experience in the fields of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing applications in all sectors (such as Agriculture, Environment and Mining) spans more than 30 years.
SMC provides Global Mapper training, accredited by Blue Marble and the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC), and provides maintenance and support for specific requests and requirements.
Global Mapper is the preferred GIS software for SMC as well as many other organisations. The reasons are ease of use, affordability, excellent mapping tools, links to online data, many import and export formats, the availability of the LiDAR module, the release of Global Mapper Mobile and the excellent support from the Blue Marble staff.
Being a reseller of Global Mapper software enables SMC to establish strong relationships with clients, both locally and globally, and integrate the products, services and expertise of this excellent GIS software into our whole product and service offering.
How long has the company been in business?
SMC has been in business since 2002 starting with GIS consulting and focusing on mineral exploration. South Africa is a mineral rich environment, which provides many opportunities in this field.
What are your target markets?
We target many markets including:
- Agricultural Development (Land capability assessments and farm land use planning projects in South Africa and Nigeria)
- Environmental monitoring and evaluation including various environmental monitoring projects for the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa
- Mining and exploration including diamond exploration
- Civil engineering projects
- Infrastructure development
- Academia including various projects with the North West University (NWU) and University of the Free State in South Africa
- And many more…
What geographic area do you cover?
See map below – Expanding our footprint into Africa has been an important objective, and it grows continuously. Providing complete product support and service to clients is key. Clients need training and we have found the webinars and online tools available from Blue Marble are excellent for this purpose. Usually our African clients also need public or customised training to complement this. Training therefore is a key component of our marketing strategy to expand the Global Mapper footprint in Africa.
How long have you been reselling Global Mapper?
SMC was officially appointed as reseller in 2013. Prior to that we were long-time users of Global Mapper and have been using and recommending the software since version 8.
Why were you originally interested in reselling Global Mapper?
The combination of functionality and price – the catch phrase then was “Your GIS Swiss Army Knife”, and it lived up to the promise. Being able to create print quality maps within a day of first contact with Global Mapper software speaks volumes of the intuitive and user friendly interface.
There are many other key features: 3D visualisation has been impressive and unique and the continued improvement and updating of this functionality ensures this remains a key product differentiator.
What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?
It is impossible to choose, but we can highlight the 3D functionalities and analyses available, and most are nowadays available with one click icons.
The ability to easily access Web Map Services and datasets from many sources globally was a reason why we found Global Mapper an attractive option – and the options keep growing steadily for free or affordable data.
Then the LiDAR Module grew in stature and functionality; the recently added Pixel to Point option is, in our view, a game changer.
With the recently improved attribute search functionalities none of the alternative GIS platforms can compete at this price point.
Add to this Global Mapper Mobile available on both IOS and Android devices, and the Global Mapper platform provides a full suite of tools that fits the pocket of our target market segment.
By using the software in practice in our many projects, we have made many recommendations to the developers of Global Mapper and have been impressed with the responsiveness. Many of our proposals for improvement are now available in the software. Kudos to Blue Marble and the developers.
Other than reselling Blue Marble software, what other services do you provide? Training etc?
Our focus, in addition to Reselling Global Mapper, is GIS consulting. The Global Mapper software remains our primary communication and implementation tool.
Training is key for providing a complete product and service for our clients. We are able to support clients in French speaking countries, which helps to expand our footprint for the whole of Africa. Countries in West and North Africa are responding well to our ability to service them in their language of choice.
Our expertise extends to data and we know where Satellite imagery can be sourced, while considering its timeliness, availability and cost implications. We can therefore support clients to make decisions how and where to get affordable and fresh data for their applications.
With the advent and growth of available Drone imagery and LiDAR data, we are able to advise clients about these new technologies, both for visionary and creative applications as well as supporting mainstream clients.
How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?
Global Mapper is an important focal point of most of our business activities:
- It complements most of our projects.
- It links with our spatial database applications (Intermon – the NRM Intervention and Monitoring System) which makes use of cloud based database applications to support the Natural Resource Monitoring Program of the Department of Environmental Affairs. (http://www.intermon.co.za/ for more information).
- Capacity building and training of interns is a crucial activity. Exposing the next generation of GIS experts to Global Mapper is the most affordable GIS training option available. We also support post-graduate initiatives at the Northwest University and other academic institutions.
How do you see your business growing with Global Mapper? New markets?
Global Mapper, through our reselling efforts, must become the GIS software of choice in all African countries. We want to increase sales and support to all African countries with a 100% footprint on the continent. We aim to present training courses on Global Mapper in the major cities on the continent and to promote the visibility of this GIS software to all of Africa.
How Well Did You Do?
Name the capital city – Valletta
Name the lake – Lake Baikal
Name the country – The Gambia
Name the mountain – Sugarloaf
Name the river – The Congo
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.