Thursday, March 29, 2007

Did You Know?

Idea #3 .

"Did You Know?" is a great place to post bits and pieces of the trivia (and sometimes more important statistics) that you work with every day. It is a great way to amuse your WNCGIS friends and associates. People will start asking, "--do you really do this all day?"

Did you know that there are 1257 non-profit organization registered in Buncombe County, NC as of March 2007? Eighty seven (87) new non-profits have been registered since June of 2006. Mapping the functional and geographic overlap of these non-profits must be a constant interest of the county and regional grant-makers!

Dear Ms/Mr GIS, Can you help me please?

Idea #2
Got a technical geo-question that you can't answer? Use the Blog to get your questions out to the WNCGIS community. Community members can respond via blog comments or by making a new posting. You may be surprised at the number of people who will empathize with your situation, help solve your problem, or who will appreciate your knowledge. We have numerous GIS educators in the group. Below is one of my technical issues. If you have any ideas please respond.

I would like to use cellphones as a data collection tool for a research team. The team will be documenting a variety of environmental conditions across western NC. To do this the cellphones must first have the capability to take photographs (most do). Most cellphones also contain some type of GPS and time function. With this, the researcher should be able to email a photo with a time stamp and GPS coordinate soon after the photo is taken.

Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge of how to extract the GPS coordinate and the time stamp with the photo image? If you have any answers or ideas please leave a comment, or post your answer to the blog.


Make a Post to the WNCGIS Blog

We need your input, your thoughts, and your ideas. Everybody comes to the GIS World from a different place, either in time, space or concept. Some folks are nuts about hardware, some are driven by software and programming, some are application-focused, and some just have a different drummer altogether. And nobody knows it all.

You ideas are important! Your projects are important. Your knowledge and skill sets are important–not just to you but to your WNCGIS community.

We will be posting BLOG Ideas over the next few weeks. If you find a heading of special interest, perhaps you can be the advocate for that topic and work to keep the conversation going. That is what it is all about, building the community and maintaining a lively dialog.

Contact Pete Kennedy and he can get you started posting your thoughts and ideas to the BLOG.

Idea #1. Showcase your pet GIS project, new grant, or Web-based application on the WNCGIS blog. Post a discussion, images, hyperlinks, reviews or other info about the project. Jason Mann and Dave Michelson from the City of Asheville loaded their entire mapAsheville API on the blog. David Abernathy from Warren Wilson College posted his most recent $100,000 grant.

The WNCGIS community is far from boring. We know that Southwings' has its Mountaintop Removal info featured in Google Earth's Featured Content. SAHC is working on a geo-based parcel ranking system. The Madison 4-H GIS/GPS club is geo-caching the Buncombe Turnpike, NEMAC is modeling hydrology in Biltmore Village. And McConville's 3-D visualization dome I hear is awesome. The WNCGIS community is this and more.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Warren Wilson receives grant for GIS project in Panama

Warren Wilson College and an environmental conservation organization in Panama have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Panamanian Secretaria Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnologia e Innovacion (SENACYT). The grant will be used by the college and the organization Conservation through Research, Education and Action (CREA) to research and implement ageographic information system (GIS) and wireless sensor network on the 1,000-acre Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama. The reserve is part of the largest contiguous rainforest in Central America.

"I'm excited about the project because it focuses on both sustainability and cross-cultural education," said Geography Professor David Abernathy,who coauthored the grant application with Michael Roy, CREA executive director. Abernathy anticipates "some type of student exchange so that WWC students can work in Panama and hopefully a Panamanian student can workand/or study at Warren Wilson."

Abernathy said another focal point of the project will be the use of "green computing" techniques. The computing equipment not only will be designed to minimize power consumption, but also will be operated by solar power.The creation of a GIS and wireless sensor network database in Cocobolo Nature Reserve is a vital part of CREA's intent to help meet the sustainable development goals of Panama. CREA intends to utilize the reserve as the testing center for a system that would combine the following: traditional knowledge system of local farmers and landholders; research on sustainable agriculture and natural resource protection from higher education institutions and non-governmental organizations; and the latest technology for collecting, analyzing and disseminating environmental data in the form of a comprehensive system for managing and distributing geographic and environmental data.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Map Design Survey - North American Cartographic Information Society

How good are you at designing maps? How much about designing maps did you learn on your own? Did you have classes in map design? How about graphic design in general? With geospatial technologies and mapping in general creeping in to the hands of just about everyone, are maps getting better or worse?

These are the kinds of questions the North American Cartographic Information Society are trying to answer with their Map Design Survey.

Take 5 minutes to complete the survey and help our profession grow!

I stumbled onto this survey while browsing one of my favorite sites...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Announcing the WNC GIS Map Contest

Some of us involved with the monthly WNC GIS meetings have been brainstorming an idea for a contest that we hope will allow a variety of people to show off their personal projects, showcase their mapping talent, and raise awareness about important issues in the WNC area. This email is intended to provide the information needed to get you, your students, or colleagues engaged in the contest. If possible, I intend to follow-up soon with a phone call to see what you think.

Purpose and Process

The idea is for people to submit an original map product to the WNC GIS Users Group for review. A panel of map experts (your peers) will review the submissions. Initially the odds of winning are probably pretty darn good because our mailing list is not very long. In order to become eligible you must be on the WNC-GIS’s mailing list (email me, Leo Klausmann, at to join). The larger goal is to develop a WNC-GIS Map Calendar for 2008. The map will be sold through any sponsors we can muster and online. Any income generated from the sales will pay for the production of the calendars and feed back into contest prizes.

The first submissions will be due May 10th, 2007. A winner will be selected during the May WNC GIS Beer Session (most likely occurring on May 24th). That will give you almost 2 months to get something together. By letting everyone get a chance to look at the various maps that were submitted, hopefully further ideas will be sparked and friendly feedback will be exchanged. Assuming the interest in the contest is there, one approach would be to move to a bi-monthly contest with a rotating volunteer "review board" of perhaps five people.

The Shiny Prizes

Every contest cycle (that is, maybe every two months) two winners will be selected, and they shall win a twenty dollar gift certificate to Malaprops Bookstore, the ego-boosting honor of seeing their map printed in the calendar, as well as a copy of the calendar.

Map Themes

Map themes will evolve around the interests of the review panel but currently there are a few guidlines.

· Some essential and dominant theme or aspect of the map ought to have a regional focus. You can include a larger map area of for example, the Southern Appalachian Region or all of North Carolina.

· How many times have you generated a map whose natural patterns are simply beautiful? Aerial photo patterns, elevation model patterns, soils patterns can be beautiful. If you’d like to, why not abstract them a step further to discover their full artistic potential.

· Cartoon maps or spoof maps are great. Subtle or not so subtle sarcastic maps are fine. Map puns are fine. Any kind of map humor is great. We certainly will accept conventional WNC map themes, but creativity and local/regional themes will help make you a winner.

· The eventual goal of compiling our best maps into a calendar to sold to the general public means that by submitting your map to the contest, you release copyright limitations.

For the first contest cycle, a theme (such as environmental issues, historical perspectives, urban characterization, etc) will not be specifically defined so as not to limit what people can submit. If after the maps are reviewed at the May Beer Session meeting, we all want to decide on a theme for next time, then that theme will be announced.

How do you Submit your Map?

Export your map to a PDF file (very easy to do in ESRI products) and set your DPI to about 300. The filesize of maps varies widely, often because complex rasters or photo material can take up lots of disk space. If your map turns out to be about 10MB or less, then just email it to me, Leo Klausmann, at We want the submitted maps to be of high resolution so that we may easily scale them to fit our calendar, so if your map filesize turns out to be larger, just contact me and we’ll work out a way to transfer it, perhaps by CD-ROM. We hope to bring printed versions of the all the maps to the May Beer Session for all to see. Do keep in mind that people have a range of skill levels and experience, so the maps don’t have to be cartographically perfect.

A Final Word

The organization of this Map Contest so far has been the result of a few brainstorming sessions. The contest is likely to evolve as more people become interested. If you have any ideas on how we could organize it differently, we are more than open to suggestions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Participatory Sensing Networks: Numerous possibilties

Participatory urban sensing tasks everyday mobile devices, such as cellular phones, to form interactive, participatory sensor networks that enable public and professional users to gather, analyze and share local knowledge.

In our recent history we have seen how people-based sensing can impact business-as-usual, through people-based data collection and reporting, from the Rodney King videotapes to Saddam Hussein's execution that was captured with cell phone videography. YouTube is one of many examples of internet outlets that promotes people-based data collection and reporting. Google Earth is another technology allowing one to georeference community data-collection information. Geocaching is a great way to get people into the field to see some specific aspect of the environment. Wikipedia is the web encyclopedia that makes use of the human Internet masses to collect and report information on just about everything. These are only a few of the thousands of free data collection and distribution resources on the WEB.

David Abernathy (Warren Wilson College) passed on several references to Urban Sensing projects at UCLA that have captured and refined this process. David is investigating these methods for use in his own projects. There is incredible value in this low-cost data collection process locally as a data collection tool. The people in-the-field collecting the data are also participating in a self-education process. You can compare the REMAP LA process discussed below with an ongoing community visioning process.

"REMAP will conduct a series of discussions, workshops, and training sessions in association with community organizations throughout Los Angeles. These processes will facilitate citizens' own mapping of their urban networks with personal digital technologies, such as mobile phones, global positioning system (GPS) devices, digital cameras, and geographic information systems (GIS). Their discoveries- expressed in maps, photography, audio and video recordings, and written documentation- will continually update a historical database already being established, and serve as the source materials for collaboratively-created indoor and outdoor media installations, performances and other cultural works…"

We are considering some aspect of this human sensing concept to help put the face on the data for several different projects. What does 60% slope really mean in the report? With a combination of people-sensed data from the site, geocaches that lead you to the site, and Google Earth tours that provide a bird's eye view, the face of the data begins to emerge very clearly.
These applications are some of the most stimulating ideas I have seen coming out of the Internet. There are a zillion uses for these tools locally. As we build our WNCGIS user base across western NC we will be in a great position to test some of these methods within this group.
If anyone knows how to extract and link GPS coordinates to cellphone photos please respond please post a response with some clues.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

shapefile to Google Earth and other useful tools

Thought everyone might be interested in this blog, which has a useful collection of utilities for file conversion and data manipulation.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

mapAsheville API

This post is just a quick demonstration of the mapAsheville - API. Actually, it's our first test of using the API in an existing webpage outside of our own domain... seems to work OK after some trial and error on my part.

As you can see below, we've developed the ability to embed a functional mapAsheville service into an existing webpage. We've got some formative ideas about how this may be able to benefit the community at large and we're already realizng some internal operational benefits from this 'mashup' approach to handing web services.

We've got a long ways to go but I'm excited that it actually works on this blog! Props to Dave Michelson for all of his past and ongoing work on this project!

Give it a try... zooom in, pan around and ID a parcel.

More to come later explaining the mapAsheville efforts...

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Book Review Format for Blog Postings

The Book Review Format for WNCGIS Blog Postings

Below is the format for book reviews that we would like to suggest. Fill in the Title, Author, Publisher, Release Date and Review Submitted By: information as shown below. The LABEL will either be “Review Book” or “Review Technical Book” If you want to review an organization, school, program, project or some other "non-book," you will have to come up with your own format. Use the same labeling scheme as above such as "Review Xxxxx."

Then paste your review and comments about the books. It is also possible to add a picture here as well. WEBLINKS are encouraged. Feel free to link to the author’s web page, the publisher’s web page or some other pertinent review or related information source. We also encourage you to add WEBAUDIO links of interviews with the author or other related discussions.

Google Earth (GE) Links are an option. We are experimenting with the GE animation now, collecting and organizing points related to places in a book. At this time you must include a link in your review to the KMZ file on your FTP site, or send us your KMZ file and we will post it on an FTP site and link it to your review. Try the GE link on The Worst Hard Time book review.

There are a number of scripts on the ESRI site that may help you convert ESRI to KMZ and vice versa.
I will try to get a posting up specifically on how to develop a GE links soon. If you already have experience with this, please make your own post on this topic.

As usual, contact Pete Kennedy, for Blog Posting access. If you have any specific issues with the Book Review process, need help posting your Book Review or need to upload a KMZ file to our FTP site, please contact me. Neil Thomas, .

Book Review Format
TITLE: Name of the book
AUTHOR: Author
PUBLISHER: Publisher
RELEASE: Last Date Released
LABEL: Choose either “Book Review” or “Technical Book Review”

Your Review and Discussion of the book goes here......




The Worst Hard Time

TITLE:"The Worst Hard Time"
AUTHOR: Timothy Egan
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin

This book covers a period between 1930-1940 in America's Midwest--the dust-bowl days. The book is a National Book Award Winner. I heard about the dust bowl and the wind-related soils erosion growing up, but this story told by Timothy Egan is nothing I could have ever imagined.

"That was Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, day of the worst duster of them all. The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. For weeks afterward, eight-year-old Jeanne Clark could not stop coughing. She was taken to the hospital, where dozens of other children, as well as many elderly patients, were spitting up fine particles. The doctor diagnosed Jeanne with dust pneumonia, the brown plague, and said she might not live for long. Jeanne's mother had trouble believing the doctor's words. She had come here for the air, and now her little girl was dying of it."

North Carolina and Asheville already have a history in the development of the US Forest Service and the first school of forestry. Continuing in this vain, a North Carolinian, Hugh Hammond Bennett, began the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in 1937, under President Roosevelt's administration. The SCS was created primarily to address the dust bowl conditions. Bennett was from Anson County, North Carolina.

"After more than 65 years, some of the land is still sterile and drifting. But in the heart of the Dust Bowl now are three national grasslands run by the Forest Service."

How many more years of water are left below the ground before another dust bowl occurs? The consequences of a dry aquifer in the future may prove much more catastrophic than the dust bowl impacts of the 1930's. After you read the book, you may wonder how anything can be worse until you consider the current populations depending on the Ogallala aquifer for water.

In the epilog Egan explains, "So cotton growers, siphoning from the Ogallala, get three billion dollars a year in tax-payer money for fiber that is shipped to China, where it is used to make cheap clothing sold back to American chain retail stores like Wal-Mart. The aquifer is declining at a rate of 1.1 million acre-feet a day-that is, a million acres, filled to a depth of 1 foot with water."

I used Google Earth to find many of the place names described in the book. A lot of crop irrigation circles showed up on the map. I emailed Egan to see if he may have used Google Earth or some of the other current technology in the development of his book. If I get a reply I will post his response to the Blog.

Houghton Mifflin
National Book Awards
NPR interview with Timothy Eagan about this book.

Google Earth Links:

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

TITLE: The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
AUTHOR: Simon Winchester
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins

We have come a long way in our GIS world since Smith’s map of England’s geological formations was published in 1815. The map was over 8 feet tall and six feet wide and it took William Smith 2 years to print and color the 400 original maps. Smith would have been excited with the 3-D plotters demonstrated at the NCGIS conference last week.

Smith “noticed that the rocks he was excavating were arranged in layers; more important, he could see quite clearly that the fossils found in one layer were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following the fossils, one could trace layers of rocks as they dipped and rose and fell -- clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world.”

Smith's effort was not an easy professional or personal path. His geological observations butted against the cornerstones of Christianity. The Geological Society of London snubbed Smith because of his socio-economic status. Others tried to plagiarize his work. As Smith’s financial status unraveled Smith found himself in debtor’s prison. Upon leaving prison he was homeless in northern England for about 10 years. In 1931 Smith’s condition improved, finding greater acceptance and support for his work which included a generous lifetime pension offered by King William IV.

"Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883" is another of Winchester’s books. I read it a year before the tsunami devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other surrounding shorelines. Winchester’s scientific reconstruction of the evidence surrounding the Krakatoa event was fascinating.

My next Winchester read will be "The Crack in the Edge of the World." Winchester is a master of the scientific non-fiction genre. Anyone who can write an interesting book about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary ("The Professor and the Madman") and still obtain another contract from the same publisher must be a great writer!

Winchester’s Web Site
Audio Interviews with Winchester
NPR Audio lists

Google Earth Links:
None created.

Impressions from the NC GIS Conference

This was the first time I've attended a GIS conference and I got a lot out of it. The presentation on the cadastral development index that Neil Thomas and I worked on was well-received, and most of the other presentations I saw were quite interesting. I'll tell you about some of my favorite presentations and new products at the conference.

Nancy von Meyer had an entertaining and informative presentation on the status of electronic cadastral data across the country and the many different ways it can be used. Ken Taylor's presentation on Community Wildfire Protection Plans for NC was very interesting. I was impressed that they are doing so much work in mapping and modeling wildfire risks, but it highlighted a thorny issue in that type of environmental modeling: acquiring accurate and up-to-date data on environmental variables (like forest cover, fuel loading, land development change, etc) across a vast geographic distance is usually impossible, so even a well-planned program is only useful in the real world when there is some degree of certainty about data integrity. Another interesting presentation by Paul Smith described the use of GPS backpacks attached to the first Bald Eagles hatched in captivity in NC, which send hourly signals during the birds' migration. The data can be used with Google Earth and has great potential as an educational tool.

Conferences can be the perfect venue to showcase new technology, and we saw a few amazing new products. Microsoft's virtual earth has come a long way ( as a demonstration using the improved 3-D plug-in showed. Unlike Google Earth, once you download the plug-in, the maps run in your browser, which is a little more convenient than launching a separate program. Most of buildings in big cities have been modeled and skinned in 3-D, and look much better than Google's. It seems that you need to use an SDK to modify the Microsoft virtual earth, which might be harder than using Google, but you may want to check it out. The most impressive new technology I saw was from a company called Ztechnology, which has launched a new line of completely 3-D printers. The medium used is a special type of plaster powder, which hardens and changes color when sprayed with special inks. The printer can make stunningly colorful objects of many different shapes and sizes. Shoes, detailed 3-D topographic maps, cityscapes, and human heads were only a few of the possibilities I saw. The printers cost between thirty and sixty thousand dollars, so I may get cold stares if I put it on my Christmas list, but for an organization that already spends many thousands on 3-D data processing or product design, its probably a worthwhile investment.

Neil and I could only stay for the first day of the conference, so if any other people would like post their own impressions or comments, please contact Pete Kennedy at