All Tied Up: The 40 Year Old Geographer

OK, this month I have reached the second (or fourth, depending on your reckoning) milestone in terms of birthdays. The first, of course, is 21, where in the US you are legal to do pretty much anything except rent a car. The other two, if you are using the looser reckoning, are 16 (OK to drive on your own) and 18 (you are an “adult”).My preferred second milestone doesn’t really come with anything added to your capabilities, and I am pretty sure that for me it will be just any other day (I will be sure to tweet if something spectacular occurs). This month, I turn 40.

Normally, I wouldn’t talk about my age, I don’t even have my birthday listed on Facebook, but this year has me thinking. I am younger than Esri and Intergraph by a few years, older than Imagine and ENVI by the same number of years, and I am only a few months behind the launch of the Landsat program. And this is really where my forty years comes in. As I look at the Landsat program I can see the life moments that it has gone through: the starts and stops, the reimaginings, the times when perseverance was all that kept it going, and the times that everything came together.

Unlike most of us when we reach 40, however, the Landsat program can look back at its life so far and see that it has changed the way we look at the world. And with continued support beyond next month’s launch of the LDCM, we can hope that the program is nowhere near middle-aged (fingers crossed for no looming midlife crisis…for Landsat or me).

Looking back at the Landsat program, it began as most, a newborn that no one was sure where it would go. By the time it was three, it gained a new awareness of the world (Landsat 2 – 1975), but continued grow. Just after it turned five, Landsat showed its precociousness (Landsat 3 – 1978) with the addition (though short lived) of a thermal band. By the time the program turned ten, Landsat was ready to move to middle school (Landsat 4 – 1982). It kept many of its friends (MSS) from its previous school, but made new friends (TM) as well and was getting better at seeing what was around (30m max resolution). As junior high came around (yes, we used to have those in North Carolina at least) the program hit its stride. It wasn’t necessarily the most popular kid in school, but all of the geeks thought it was great (Landsat 5 – 1984) and was willing to work hard.

In the college years, Landsat had some setbacks, it tried to reach orbit, but it just didn’t happen (Landsat 6 – 1993). In fact, it was kind of shaken by this and didn’t try again for a few years (Landsat 7 – 1999). It made it this time, complete with new glasses (ETM+). It found its stride; it wasn’t just the geekiest of folks looking at it anymore, it began to make new friends and was always willing to share. The Landsat program had some problems with technology and financing like anyone in the 2000’s, but the program stayed its course and persevered, with its two trusty workhorses, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7. Right now, it is overcoming some issues, but looking at the potential for a great promotion this year.

In this description, I can see any number of people that I grew up with. The only difference is that most of my friends haven’t switched whisk-brooms for push-brooms, or even want to deal with brooms I would guess.

On a side note, I can imagine how excited and nervous the Landsat team is right now with less than a month to go before the long-awaited LDCM launch, and not much more before the highly anticipated first test images are released, and I hope they remember that they have the support of a community that continues to grow and relies on their great efforts and achievements.

All tied up: Remote Sensing

A year after the introductory post to my “All tied up” series I am actually releasing my next post. In the intervening year terms have, if anything, become even more interwoven with many of us often going to the now de facto ‘geospatial technologies’ to explain the wealth of technologies and data that we pull out of the toolbox and database for any given project. The term that has most been hidden by this (in my opinion, with no easy way to back it up) is Remote Sensing. By Remote Sensing I refer to what Lillesand and Keifer define as “The science and art of obtaining information…acquired by a device that is not in contact with the object…”.

This is a very broad definition and it captures all of the ways in which remotely sensed information is captured, but here I will narrow it down to those raster-based data (and occasionally point cloud data) that are captured from a distance. We can easily include photogrammetry (planes, balloons, etc) and satellite remote sensing capturing everything from panchromatic to hyperspectral images.

While we are on ‘what it is’ I will include what may get lumped in occasionally. Remote sensing is not all sensor data from remote locations. While the term is not incorrectly used, it is not always the same since some of these sensors are in direct contact with what they are measuring (stream gauges, temperature sensors, etc). So in a Venn diagram there is a large overlap between sensors located remotely and remote sensing instruments, but they are not completely overlapping sets. Kind of an aside, but I wanted to make a Venn diagram.

Getting back to remote sensing, there are two ways to look at the term. One is that it isn’t so much tied up, but largely absent in the industry today. In many areas, imagery has become the term of choice and, of course, the backdrop in our web maps, cartographic products, etc. In these projects and products we talk about imagery, but its source has become an almost unimportant aspect of some work. The other way we look at remote sensing is definitely one that is tied up in GIS. Many, many moons ago you had raster software and vector software and much of that raster geospatial software was driven by remote sensing activities, but that has changed (I think we can agree, for the better) in the GIS space as vector and raster has come together. As discussions with some of the leading remote sensing software vendors on the podcast have shown they are inline with, or even making tools available directly within, GIS software packages. We have lost the divide between GIS and Remote Sensing which having to switch between applications gave us. The separation continues to fade in terms of the software arena.

What does standout in terms of Remote Sensing, not tangled up if you will, is the hardware used to capture imagery (from satellite to helicopter to kite to drone…) and the data itself. This content continues to push our industry forward as we can collect both broad swath information that pushes science forward (e.g. moderate resolution data) and we continue to create sensors with ever-finer resolution and higher accuracy and precision (e.g. lidar). These data, as mentioned, are seen now more than ever with web maps and virtual globes, but it is the analytical potential that they offer, whether resulting in time series, human/environment processes, or finding archaeological sites, that are the strength of our investment in remote sensing platforms and data.

We will cut the strings there, as raster analysis is another set of terms that have been tied together as well. But keep in mind as you are doing your research or projects that your imagery is the result of over a century of research in capturing and manipulating images from a distance. While we have begun to take the technologies for granted in some cases, remote sensing remains an integral part of many areas of the industry.

All tied up: Geo, GI, and where we are coming from

outline of the continents made of threadIn today’s world of spatial driven technologies we talk from a lot of directions and about a range of technologies. Over the next couple of months I am going to try to break out some of the concepts that have become interwoven over the years through the mixing of technologies, the increase of computing capabilities, and marketing hype. I am not going to try to do a history of the industry by any means, but I will often dig back into that history to figure out where today’s notions of concepts merged or separated.

The goal will be, by September or October, to be able to wrap things up with a lucid (as much as I generally get in a post) take on the aspects of the industry that are the drivers. Yeah, you probably know what I will talk about when we get there, but as they say, ‘it isn’t the destination, but the journey’. On that…let’s start the journey.
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