Monday, March 5, 2007

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

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