Thursday, April 30, 2009

Challenges in Spatial Database Interoperability

Yesterday’s post on the It's All About Data blog was about spatial databases and interoperability issues. Anyone who has worked with multiple spatial databases will know that there are issues moving data in or out of database. There can be different formats, coordinate systems, and requirements between systems or for clients that the entire process can be overwhelming.

In the It's All About Data post today by Paul Nalos, he discusses these issues and even tackles the need for data validation.

I find that data validation can be very tricky. There are so many parameters to consider. FME has the ability to do a lot of data validation but it still comes down to knowing your data. For me, the most important aspect of validating data is having a solid understanding of the data and it use.

Challenges in Spatial Database Interoperability | It's All About Data

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu

This is very proud to see media start to use geographic map to display the spreads of the swine disease using Google map or you can view it in Google Earth. When SARS (another influenza disease) discovered from Asia two years ago, media was listing name of the cities/countries which most of the people didn't know where those places located. Now we can click on Google and know exact where the confirmed case and a general description with it.

Swine Flu Map - Actual reporter update whenever the case confirm.

Everyone please use the sanitizer if available, and wash your hands often! ~oink oink~

Everyscape – Tour “inside” facilities

Today I came across a very interesting website, Everyscape. This site allows users to drive down streets (similar to Google street view) BUT it brings something new to the picture. Users can virtually tour inside facilities. I took a tour of Crobar in Miami Florida. It was great to see inside the building and get a feel for the place. The place was packed and while some of the faces and images were blurred, overall, it really gave me an impression of what it would be like to party at Crobar.

I think that tourism applications would benefit greatly from this tool.  Before taking a trip, users could look on the site for popular places and find places they can experience “inside” before leaving the living room. I’m planning my next trip now!

GIS Maps Track Foreclosures in California and Kansas

Counties is California and Kansas are using GIS to obtain funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Based on real estate information from DataQuick and HUD, San Bernardino developed a point system to rank those homes in the most danger of foreclosure. Using this data, they were able to focus only on the most severe areas. They would that all 24 cities in San Bernardino County had buildings that were in higher danger of foreclosure.

GIS Maps Track Foreclosures in California and Kansas

Monday, April 27, 2009

Crime Maps Online

People who know me know that I’m a bit of a crime buff (is that the right term?). I’m really interested in using GIS to solve crime and crime mapping. I have what some may call a “sick fascination” with GIS and crimes. I think this might be why I watch Num3ers on a regular basis (always hoping that they will do geographical analysis and frequently rewarded with some type of spatial analysis).

Safe City Mississauga has crime maps available for the City of Mississauga. I look at this site about once a month to see if there are any crimes of note in my area. I can find out that there was a B&E (Break & Enter) at a home not far from mine near the end of March. This type of information fascinates me and I hope to get the opportunity to find our more about crime tracking and mapping one day – who knows, maybe I can become a spy. Personally, I think it’s very important to know about all the crime occurring in your own neighbourhood – it’s where you live after all!

Today I came across an article for Battle Creek, MI that connects crime in neighbourhoods but also allows residents to track the status of complaints in real time. I hope that Mississauga implement a more detailed mapping application soon.

An interactive map of vanishing employment across the country

It’s no secret that the United States has seen tremendous job losses since the economic crisis began. Slate Magazine has an interactive map that shows the job losses across the country and illustrates that job loss began in August 2007 (before the “official” start of the recession).

A picture is worth a thousand words…click on the link below for the article and map.

An interactive map of vanishing employment across the country. - By Chris Wilson - Slate Magazine

(Thanks PJ for the link!)

Waiting for Google Street View in Toronto

For the past few weeks, there have been loads of google van sitings in Toronto. Now there are reports of google van sitings in Vancouver and Ottawa.

A couple years ago, when google launched Street View, I remember virtually touring Palm Beach in Florida. It's a great tool if you're relocating to an area or if you are planning to visit an area and are searching for hotels in a scenic environment.

I can't wait to virtually tour my neighbourhood. The need for high resolution imagery has exploded. When I was in school, we were amazed to see imagery at the 5-meter level, nowadays, that's not even close to the resolution readily available.

In Canada, faces on Street View will be blurred but I wonder how much that will help my neighbour who is fond of naked yoga with the blinds opened...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Local food map – Essex County, Ontario

About a week and a half ago, The Windsor Star published an article about the demand for the much anticipated local food map.

There has been a lot of press about the 100-mile diet and it seems that even in Windsor, Ontario, there is a strong demand from residents of the area to find local foods.

The 100-mile diet is supposed to reduce the environmental impact of our food – but I wonder how driving all around Essex county in the search of local produce will be good for the environment.

The map will be available May 1, but the link below will show a preview of the map.

Local food map: 'People are craving this info'

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ohio InSite – Using GIS to Attract Capital Investment

Looking for a place to invest in Ohio? Look no further, Ohio InSite is here! Ohio InSite allows users to search for available land or buildings in the state. Base map information is from Google and there is a lot of thematic data that can be added to the map.

Once the user finds a location of interest, a report can be generated based on the county of the selected location or based on the radius.

There are several types of information that can be included in the report including demographic information and a business report (to see other businesses in the area).

I generated a report to see how the system works. The output is a pdf file with the county of interest, followed by the demographic trends of the area. The report was clear and simple to follow – very useful for capital investors.

I think this will be very useful to help attract capital investment in the State.

Ohio InSite

redOrbit article

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joining Tables in ArcMap - Why does this take so long?

I have to admit, I'm not the more patient person in the world. I have a fast computer and I still complain when things don't happen instantaneously on my machine. But one of the major things that irks to no end is waiting for ArcMap to join data.

I have a shapefile that has over 1.5 million records and I need to join it to a text file with just a couple hundred records. When I perform the join in ArcMap, I find myself mindlessly staring at my computer screen willing it to complete. 10 minutes later and I'm still staring at the same computer screen but I'm pleading with ArcMap to finish the join so I can get on with my work.

I know that if I reversed the order of the join, I could get my data faster, but the "big" file is the shapefile with all my geometry. So I am left to wait, hope, cry, and beg for ArcMap to finish this process.

But then there comes a point in time when I just can't wait any longer. It's at this point that I give up trying to create my layer files (using definition queries) and resorted to creating a file geodatabase with all the data segmented out in separate feature classes. While I was doing this in FME, ArcMap stalled on me. When will I ever learn?

I really do like ArcMap, but it frustrates me that simple joins and definition queries can take so long on large datasets.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GIS and Videogames Collide with CityScape 1.7

Personally, I’m not much into videogames, but this is where a lot of the current 3D imaging originated. PixelActive, a technology company focusing on video games, has launched CityScape 1.7 which allows users to integrate real geospatial imagery to build a 3D environment with simple point and click usability. This program will allow videogame programmers to incorporate real world settings into their games with the click of a button.

I find this absolutely fascinating and I think the technology have far reaching potential outside the videogame world.

All this kind of makes me want to go out and buy a gaming system…

PixelActive’s CityScape 1.7 Enables Automated Processing for Geospatial Visualization

FME - the Ultimate tool for GIS Users

For the past few years, I have been using FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) in my daily workflow. The software is created by Safe Software ( who also produce add-on extensions for ArcGIS and MapInfo.

FME is a spatial ETL tool (ETL = Extract, Transform, Load). It allows users to create workflows (saved as workspaces) to work through and solve spatial problems, check for data errors, make data corrections, perform spatial analysis, and even easily populate databases. The power of the software comes from a combination of the sheer volume of formats that it can read and write and from the advanced tools that are easy to use yet very powerful.

FME is so powerful, I can't believe some of the things it can do. I use it to find nearest neighbours and to merge datasets together. I found in ArcMap, when doing a join on a large dataset, I could be waiting for eons. Now, I just pop the data into FME Workbench and within seconds, I have my joined dataset. This is just the tip of the iceberg on what the software can do.

I recommend that everyone tries out this software. There were spatial manipulations that I wanted to do in model builder but required custom scripts. Most of this functionality is provided free in FME. You can get a free trial from their website. But be warned - this software is a little tricky to use at first - the documentation is cumbersome but there are some free tutorials that should get you started.

There is an FME user group where you can post questions and the support from the company is also top notch.

AND NO, I did not get paid to write this!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

GIS technology starts a journey to help undo a Nazi crime

Two “historical” GIS posts in one day! It seems some enterprising students from the University of St. Thomas and helping a family reclaim property that was confiscated by the Nazis.

This article is fairly long but basically these students searched old documents to build a probable case to return property to a family. What’s a little disappointing is that the records are not always very clear so it’s difficult to build a strong case.

I wish I had been able to do something this interesting in my undergraduate days.

GIS technology starts a journey to help undo a Nazi crime

Historical Mysteries Solved with Maps?

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, one of the courses I took was Cartography. Part of the course offered an historical look at how maps have been used to help answer questions.

The one map that stands out in my mind from this course is the John Snow Cholera map. File:Snow-cholera-map-1.jpg

When the cholera outbreak took place in Soho, London (1854), the initial belief about the spread of the disease was from pollution. John Snow spoke with residents and created a map plotting the cases of infection and proved that the source of the cholera was a contaminated water well. Until the distribution of the outbreak was mapped, the cause could not be determined. I think the reason this map stayed in my mind for so long was because is was a great example of how maps can be used to help solve mysteries.

But I digress. Yesterday, I came across an article in the Augusta Chronicle offering a new theory on the Black Plague. I don’t recall the exact image of this map from my studies but it seems likely that it graced the contents of the same cartography course.

When most people hear of the Black Death, they think of the bubonic plague which is transferred by rats and other vermin. Two professors from Georgia Southern University suggest that the Black Death was viral in nature and spread through trade routes. Now, these professors are using GIS technology to compile data and create maps to test the theory.

Professors offer new theory on infamous Black Death plague 041809 - The Augusta Chronicle

Friday, April 17, 2009

Encouraging Kids to Play outside – using GIS

While I certainly like the sound of Kalamazoo, the name just rolls off the tongue nicely, I’m happy to see GIS put to a good use. It’s well documented that kids these days spend hours and hours watching TV, playing video games and using the computer. Experts have said that this is a major contributing factor to childhood obesity. However, this report, hot off the presses from Kalamazoo, shows that more than 35,000 children in Kalamazoo County live more than 10 minutes (walking) from a park. This certainly doesn’t encourage children to get out and play.

It will be interesting to see if this type of analysis catches on and encourages more green spaces for recreational purposes…”if you build it, they will come” (Field of dreams reference).

High-tech project aims to get kids playing outside - Kalamazoo News - The Latest News, Blogs, Photos & Videos –

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Map of Starbucks – mmmm Coffee…

Findbyclick is an interesting website. It allows users a simple method to view places of interest and even add their own locations. imageThe site relies on information from local users to populate locations on Google maps.

As an avid coffee drinker, I love this! I looked up my local Starbucks on the map and was pleased to see it. The quality and quantity of information on the site is based on the users who submit locations of interest to display on the maps.

Findbyclick also has some coffee stats including the number of Tim Hortons and Starbucks by province/state.  I’m not sure of the accuracy of the numbers here, but it’s interesting to look at nonetheless.

My only question now is, when will they have real-time line tracking to tell me the best time to avoid the long line-ups for my non-fat vanilla bean latte?

Findbyclick map of starbucks

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Canada beer map | The Beer Mapping Project

I’ve always known that geographers liked their beer. When I was in school, I fondly remember geography pub nights where the beer flowed freely. image

Now, geographers and beer drinkers have more to cheer about with the Beer Mapping Project. Planning a trip? Want to know what breweries are on your trip? Now you can with the Beer Mapping Project.

I never expected to see the day when beer, maps and recreation all came together in a seamless fashion. I think I can die happy now.


Canada beer map | The Beer Mapping Project

Monday, April 13, 2009

ESRI Expands Virtual Earth Access In GIS By Teaming With Microsoft

ESRI and Microsoft have teamed up to increase access to Virtual Earth. Finally, I will be able to quickly and easily access MS Virtual Earth content from ArcGIS – I can’t wait! According to the article, there will be NO COST to access this data in ArcGIS Desktop.

ESRI Expands Virtual Earth Access In GIS By Teaming With Microso

‘Hyperlocal’ Web Sites Deliver News Without Newspapers -

Several web sites are popping up that deliver really local information to users. There are so many opportunities with this business model that could be of interest to savvy entrepreneurs. 

‘Hyperlocal’ Web Sites Deliver News Without Newspapers -

Expedition 2009 - DMTI Conference

Last week, I have the privilege of attending Expedition 2009, DMTI’s annual conference. There was so much to do and see, I will highlight the points that I found the most interesting.

Michael Underwood, Senior Vice President
The focus of this presentation was Spatial Information Management. One of the things that stood out to me with this presentation was the use of solar mapping in San Francisco and other US cities. With the San Francisco solar Map, users can see where solar panels are installed in businesses and residential addresses ( In addition, when the user searches for an address, an estimate of the solar potential of the building is provided. The system will even estimate the cost to install solar panels including state and federal incentives and tax credits.

Bell Canada
Michael Molner, Director
Mike Molner spoke about how having an accurate dwelling database can drive marketing and sales, decrease time to market, and reduce costs. The focus of the presentation was using accurate dwelling data and matching this data to customer data and then to socio-demographic data. What I found interesting about this approach is that instead of focusing on where the customers are, the focus is based on the dwelling information. Since dwellings are more stable than customers, this approach to marketing can decrease marketing costs and more effectively determine gaps and opportunities.

Mark Relph, Vice President, Developer & Platform Group
One of the things I found very interesting about Mark’s presentation was planeteye (, which uses user submitted content (photo) which are geocoded. This enables the photos to be available on a map. PlanetEye uses geotagged photos from users as well as geotagged photos from users to create a comprehensive view of many points of interest.

Another interesting website, Photosynth (, can show places and events to users in a quality that just like being there. Users upload photos from an event and several overlapping images are merged together to give viewers a total picture of objects or events. On the website now, there is a photosynth of President Obama’s inauguration and one of the pyramids.

Microsoft has another interesting application called Mesh ( This site allows you to sync files between devices. So if you have a presentation on one computer, you can use this application to make sure the most up to date version of the presentation is also on your phone, laptop, and home computer.

Finally, worldwide telescope ( allows users to tour the best imagery of space from the comfort of your computer. Users can tour the constellations or the planets very quickly and easily.

Interesting Web Sites:

These sites are from other presentations that I attended throughout the conference.
Streetscape from iLOOKABOUT produces geo-coded images of residential and commercial images to give users the illusion of visiting a location from the comfort of their home. The company started by providing virtual tours for real estate but is now taking photos in major markets in Canada. While the product looks similar to google streetview, the technology behind it is quite different.
Makers of open source hardware which allows customers to create their own data. Purchasing a small board from Arduino, users can hook up the hardware to control lights, electronics, or other sensors thereby creating their own sensors. Once the components are hooked up, users can have sensor information sent to them via email. The premise is to allow users to control the physical world from anywhere!
The premise of this group is to make city data easily accessible to anyone. In addition, the challenge is to engage residents as participants and owners of the system as opposed to passive users. One of the interesting projects in Beta right now is DIY traffic. DYI Traffic is an application that alerts users to local traffic issues as they occur. The application will send SMS updates and allow users to query the system for updates on a specific street. In addition, users can contribute their own data.
Allows users to connect, tag and share real time sensor data from anything around the world. When I went to Toronto on the map, there were two sensors – the dollar exchange rate, and energy consumption rates. When I looked in Cleveland, someone had set up a meter for the light in a basement. While some of the information is novelty, the potential application of this type of site could be large.
Pitney Bowes has created a wildfire information portal to map the location of wildfires. When the user clicks on a fire, details about the status of the fire are presented. There is a lot of additional information that can be added to the map.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

FME Toronto Regional User Conference

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being one of the attendees at the FME Regional Conference in Toronto. FME is a software ( that allows the easy manipulation of data (GIS and otherwise). I use it daily to make my work flow more productive and it has proven to be invaluable.

The event was small (just over 50 people) but overall the crowd seemed very interested in the subject matter. Dale and Don, the original creators of Safe Software and FME, were the main presenters of the day. They were informative, funny, and knowledgeable about the product. I was happy to hear about all the advancements in the FME Server and I'm looking forward to our deployment of Server. For now, I focus my work using the desktop application and thanks for Don and Dale, I have learned a few tricks to help me on the way.

Thank you Dale and Don, for a wonderfully entertaining day! I look forward to more regional user groups in the future!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Parking Tickets in Vancouver

Where are the most parking tickets issued in Vancouver? Check out this analysis done by ESRI and CTV news.

Any map junkie should find this very interesting.