Morning Plenary Notes from the Opening Day

I took pretty detailed notes and thoughts from the morning and afternoon sessions. I’ve edited them up slightly to get rid of typos, but otherwise I left them alone. It’s a sort of stream of consciousness type notes and it weighs in at around 3,000 words. If you’re interested in a detailed look at what happen in the morning continue on. I’ll try to get the evening notes edited and posted later.


I’m in the largest room I’ve ever been in outside of a concert. Actually, it’s sorta like a concert because there’s three big screens showing nice nature movies and some sort of nondescript background music playing. Of course like any good concert, there’s a nice chill in the air from the AC going non-stop to cool everything off before the rock happens. I’ve never been to a Steve Jobs presentation and I wonder if it will be something like that. I doubt it – Jobs is a geek rock god and GIS people never struck me as that fanatical.

It’s starts. Some one on stage starting everything – maybe Jack? Don’t know, never met him – talking about how we, as a customer base, a way cool. They’re doing a neat trick that Steve Jobs does in all his keynotes in that he’s got the screen with a power point and video of him in a separate block. The guy I’ve decided is probably Jack just asked us to turn around and introduce ourselves to someone around us. Apparently they used to have everyone stand and introduce themselves back in the day, but that’s a little bit hard with 13,000 or so people. I just met Jason from the Department of Justice. He seems nice. He has a brother that went to Wesley College in WV. I made a bad joke (’cause I can’t NOT make a bad joke) about parking tickets.

Jack is now talking about the range of stuff we, as a community, do with GIS. It’s actually kinda impressive. You don’t realize how many things GIS can and does touch everyday. Business, environmental, ecology, defense, media….. everything from Greenpeace to CNN to travel planning to defense planning to e-government. You know all that stuff happens, but it kinda cool to see them all listed.

Why is it that every set designer feels a need to fill the stage with weird abstract shapes? I can’t help but try to figure out what the designer was thinking when they went, “You know what we need? A starfish shape! But not exactly, kinda skewed…. and we’ll display something like a triangle fence on it, but in blue. Maybe this type of thinking is why I’m not a designer.

Jack is talking about the Special Achievement in GIS awards. Very Spatial is getting an award this year. Jack asked us all to stand up and get recognized. Jesse made me be the one to stand for Very Spatial, then he pointed and laughed. Jack encourages people to seek out SAG award winners for information and guidance. I hope to hell no one seeks me out, because most of the time I don’t know what I’m doing.

Now we’re watching a video from one SAG winner, Saudi Amerco. This group manages Saudi Arabian infrastructure. They use ARC to manage all of these assets. The video is pretty nicely polished. They have pretty nice setup there. He’s asked a member of the team to come up on the stage with him. He’s an engineer who does this stuff day to day and he doesn’t look comfortable on stage. He thanks Jack (confirmation… this is actually Jack because the guy called him Jack… who ELSE would I have thought would give the plenary presentation?) The second major award Jack is singling out is for the Nature Conservatory. It’s pretty cool how they’re using GIS to protect wildlife. I didn’t realize it was a world wide site. They’re talking about stuff in China. Something interesting in both movies, the people are pretty normal looking. There’s no special polished people. These are everyday GIS users up to their arms in the muck getting it done. That’s pretty cool. It makes me wonder what I can do to get on that stage. Then I remember I don’t like crowds and now I feel slightly queasy at the prospect.

I just looked up from typing and watching the show and looked around. When we sat down, the back rows were pretty empty, which is where we’re sitting. The place is so full, there’s standing room only in the back. I feel kinda guilty about taking an extra seat to have room to type. Actually, who am I kidding? It’s so I can breath. The seats are about as close as your average airline “coachâ€? seat. Gotta cut back on the dough nuts.

Jack’s taking about this year’s theme – the Geographic Approach. Honestly, thus far, he seems to be talking about what GIS is can can be and should be. Since Jack is so influential, it’s worth hearing his thoughts. However, the jet lag has set in and I can’t ignore the fact there’s a Starbucks JUST outside the door. Now he’s talking about Web 2.0 (glad I didn’t opt for that Starbucks). God I hate that term… O’Reilly should be slapped. However, Jack is pointing out that there’s a space out there for the professional with professional tools and data in the Web 2.0 mashup world. I really want to hear more, but my body is telling me it’s slightly after noon and I REALLY need that coffee.

Arc 9.3 – No new information here. Arc 9.3 will come out early next year. In the interim, small incremental updates will be pushed out in service packs over the next 6 months or so. One cool tool that I’m excited about is geographic weighted regression. Regression is a pretty powerful tool, particularly in the social sciences. Being able to geographic weight variables to predict another variable is huge huge huge. It’s one of those tools not many people will see the utility at first, but if they play with it, I’m betting they’ll wonder how the heck they got along without it.

Now we’re watching some demos of Arc 9.3. They have some really cool labeling things to make labeling easier. Good, ’cause I suck at labeling. There’s a new Mapping Center at It has lots of examples, tools, best practices, and whatnot for making maps. \

Now we’re watching a zoning process demo. There are tools now to allow for a “jobâ€? to be created and tracked through all its steps. It looks kinda like modeler. It allows you to make something similar to a flowchart of how you should do whatever job you’re interested in charting. That way different departments and units can get access to the steps necessary to do the job which they’re assigned. Having gone through a headache with my home and taxes that necessitated a trip to five different offices to sort out, I can see where having this stuff together would be a great boon to a e-government and customers both.

Dave is talking about the geographic weighted regression tools. He’s showing some pretty basic tools of statistics, like scatter plots and whatnot. The really cool thing now is you can interact with the map to created the statistical outputs. Now we’re looking at an ordinary least squares analysis using the geography. The output looks just like standard statistical packages (which I hate) with some table/textual outputs. However, Dave shows you can easily translate this stuff back out to the map. Way, way cool. Nicely enough, you can add multiple geographic variables for analysis. In fact, you can take one set of geographic model outputs (ie map data) and compare it to another to make a very complex data model. For anyone doing scientific type of analysis, this will be an amazing new addition to statistical modeling. I’m now extremely conscious that I’m gushing a TAD too much. In my defense, I think my dissertation just wet its pants.

Now we’re moving onto ArcServer. They’re using an ambulance tracking system to show emergency services response in real time. So the units are reporting locations in real time and Arc Server is mixing this with static data. This stuff has been around awhile. The new twist is that the data can now be updated without having to refresh the static data. That gets rid of one of my pet peeves – dynamic should change while static stays static. I don’t know why this hasn’t existed before. Video games have been doing this for years (if not decades) and this type of stuff has been in the movies for decades. It’s not like the ideas haven’t been there. One neat thing about this system is that you can track individual emergency response units. So if you want to zoom to a specific vehicle, you can watch it travel in real time. You can choose to leave the map in a north facing or have it rotate to reflect the orientation of the vehicle. I have a feeling this setting will separate the geographers from the EMT people.

Next up for bid on Dave’s world tour – ArcPad. I have to confess I’m excited about ArcPad as a concept. That being said, even though we’ve had it for years in our shop (since ArcPad 4.X, I believe), I’ve never ever used it. I should work on that when I get back. The ArcPad lead developer is demonstrating how to add data points for data collection in the field. I thought ArcPad did all this already. My ignorance is showing… I’m not sure what’s changed. The presenter mentions these capabilities are new, but I could have sworn I saw many of those rough types of functionality in a demo a few years ago. Weird.

We’re now getting a CIO perspective on ArcServer. The presenter is saying it allows for faster decision with distributed capabilities thus reducing costs. He says for governmental agencies like cities and counties, enterprise GIS will be mission critical. You know, I have rarely heard any enterprise technology NOT referred to as “mission criticalâ€?. Not that GIS isn’t, but I think this might be an overused phrase. Now a demo on NYC’s dept. of health. We’re seeing ArcGIS being used to collect health, biological, and radiological data in NYC. The presenter points out that her department is full of scientists, not GIS experts. The tools have to be usable by normal, non-GIS experts. I think that’s an important point about enterprise GIS systems. Most of the time, your clients aren’t GIS experts and you have to design them as such. The next enterprise demo is the Virginia forestry system (IFRIS) – right next door! Thus far, the demo deals with parcel type mapping for forestry management. They’ve created some tools that allow forester to do GIS type work without being tied to the full GIS suite. They’ve also integrated ArcPad for the individual forester to collect data. Timmons group helped with the project.

A new features for ArcServer 9.3. ArcGIS Server manager allows you to publish a MXD file made in ArcMap to ArcGIS Server. Then it can be immediately used for desktop clients and web apps. Seven new favorite enhancements of the team: 7) pretty maps – what you can do in ArcMap you can now do in ArcIMS 6) map tips can be integrated into the web apps. 5) increased web interoperability – WFS, Web Raster Service(?), KML, and OpenGIS formats available. 4) spatial abilities are available for CAD users. 3)new APIs for web services. This allows for quick mashups for data. You can do viewing and querying with the new APIs. They’re pretty nifty displays. Apparently you can integrate your own data and the base maps data of, say, Google maps. Now they’re showing Virtual Earth using a plume model created using Arc’s modeling tools and then mashed up. Way cool. Presumably you can do the same thing for GoogleMaps 2) Performance. Anyone who’s used any part of ArcServer knows it’s slower than molasseses in winter running down a 2 legged dog (trust me, that moves pretty slow). They’ve made it go faster. They couldn’t’ have made it run any slower if they tried. 1) Server Manager now allows for authentication either at the service level or using Windows authentication. Haleigh! I’ve been baning my head on authentication for moths. You can now setup groups and roles as well as users. This isn’t flashy, as he said, but man has it long been missing.

They’re now showing a guy playing the part of a police officer showing how the officer can introduce data into the system using a hand held device with a version of ArcPad hooked to ArcServer mobile. I’m distracted by the fact the guy’s name is the exact same as a guy I went to high school with who used to beat the crap out of me. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the same guy, but trying hard to sort that out is distracting me. The mobile device can be used for route finding or filling out paperwork. Conceptually, it’s pretty cool but I wonder about battery life and reliability. What if a crime happens in a dead signal zone? One thing that can be said about static paper is that it rarely fails.

Now we have a display of podiums with technology sitting upon them. They’re showing how you can use creative technologies with Arc. They’re showing a pen that captures movements as you write on a plan, standard paper map. I don’t know if the device is connected remotely to ArcServer. You can draw on the map to make plans, for say, access points or changes. Then you doc the pen with the laptop, which transfers the data from the pen to the geodatabase. I want one. Really bad. I wonder if the ink comes in red? How does it work? Well there are watermarks on the paper that the pen can read that give you georeferencing information. Three people behind me just went “Woah!â€? Next we have a mashup tool from National Geographic that links really nice National Geographic photos with map data. In the background of the video, I think I can see an OQO Model 2 – Sue’s much loved toy. I wonder if they have something cool there. As much as I’m awed by the OQO, I have to say it’ll take some work to out impress the pen demo. Now he’s got a USB flash drive. The flashdrive has Linux installed as well as ArcEngine and a bunch of data. He’s plugging it into a laptop and having it boot off the USB drive. When he boots from the flashdrive, the Linux OS starts up and Arc already launches with the maps/data already there. That’s way cool for distributing information to emergency workers, as he points out. For nerds like me, that’s almost as cool as the pen thing. I wonder how much something like that costs and if ESRI will make the image available for download. They don’t say. Now the OQO Model 02. He’s got Arc running on the OQO happy as can be on Windows Vista. I’m utterly unimpressed mostly because I’ve seen Sue do this a dozen times. However, the guy behind me was utterly blown away. I told him my co-worker has one and he started asking me questions. I’ll try to get him hooked up with Sue so he can find out more.

Thus ends the morning session of plenary. From what I can tell, they introduced a lot fewer things than they have in the past, and I’m almost dizzy with the breadth of everything they talked about. I’m glad I took notes. Hopefully my battery will hold out ok for the afternoon session. It better, because I’m sure my brain won’t. 🙂

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