February 18, 2009

ESRI Federal Users Conference

The ESRI Federal Users Conference took place in the Washington Convention Center (named for Walter E. not George) in Washington D.C. from Wednesday, Feb. 18 to Friday, February 20, 2009. Registration was free to federal users. Participants received an umbrella, a copy of GIS for Decision Support and Public Policy Making, ESRI Press (2009), and a tote bag containing the aforementioned.

ESRI president Jack Dangermond, hindered by a mild cough, gave the opening address on Wednesday morning. The topics and demos were very well geared towards current events, including renewable energy, solar capability maps, oil use, corn growth vs. ethanol stations, calculating green routes (where fueling is only done at compressed natural gas stations), Lowry Air Force Base bird collision study.

I like to take note of the things that receive applause and standing ovations. There were no standing ovations sadly, but here are some of the items that received applause:
  • Jack mentions that 9.3 will be backwards compatible with 9.0, 9.1 and 9.2
  • Demo showing how much faster 9.3.1 is than ArcIMS. Demo also showed ArcIMS working faster than 9.3.
  • The sharing of GIS data in a new online GIS community. This in itself did not receive any applause; that only came when it was mentioned that the community will have a private section
  • A map service from this online GIS community can be added into ArcMap by simply clicking on a hyperlink
  • A hardware license key will no longer be needed for the ArcGIS 9.4 desktop version
  • Layer transparency can be preserved when making a legend in ArcMap

New things:
  • ‘Layer packages’ will encapsulate layers, data, and symbology into a file which can be put on CD or uploaded to the online GIS community. Don’t get too attached to ‘layer packages’ because in 9.4 they will be replaced with ‘map packages.’
  • New topographic map service to cover the entire US. I wonder what the USGS thinks of that.
  • Improve the GeoPDF format in collaboration with Adobe. I suppose that this is in direct competition with TerraGo's GeoPDF format based on Acrobat plugins, since geographic information is now a part of the 1.8 PDF standard, which can be seen in action in Adobe Reader 9.
  • Map services will soon be mashed together without knowing any JavaScript. Applause was on the verge of happening here. This gives hope to web programmers that they will keep their jobs.
  • ArcGIS Explorer 900 is totally rebuilt. Its user interface now features the Microsoft Office inspired ribbon.
  • ArcGIS Explorer can be used like PowerPoint to give geographic presentations.
  • The Silverlight API and ENVI were demoed. PostgreSQL was mentioned a few times. In fact, ITT (makers of ENVI) is now a strategic partner now. They are our neighbors based in Boulder, CO and will have a free seminar on March 4 on using remote sensing data in GIS applications. A demo was given showing the use of ENVI in extracting fire vectors from imagery flown by a NASA experimental thermal aircraft.
  • Cartography templates will be coming in 9.4. These can be used to make maps look good without spending too much time picking symbols.
  • New 3D GIS tools in 9.4 like creating buffers in 3D, and interior space routing, which can be used for example in finding the best way to exit a building from a given location.
  • GeoEye and ESRI teamed up to make a Flex prototype, where users can search by area and see imagery footprints, sort by cloud cover to get the best looking images, and then create an ImageService out of the selected imagery. GeoEye is also a neighbor of ours with a large office in Thornton, CO.
  • Lauren Rosenshein gave a presentation on geographically weighted regression used to make better predictions based on multiple variables and including geographic location. This method can be used for example to predict urban growth based on several variables at once, such as household income, number of housing units, housing growth and metro distance. In addition to traditional regression analysis used in such cases, the geographically weighted regression assumes that in some places being close to the metro is desirable, whereas in others it is not. Lauren got an R2 of 51% with regression analysis, the low score being due to ‘spatial clustering.’ She got an R2 of 85% with the new method.
  • Cause and effect software from IntelliPoint. Used to determine which county in South Carolina, will see most benefits from a proposed airport.

Participants were treated to a free lunch at 11:30 AM. Those quick-footed were able to get to the vendor booths early, and grab plastic lizards from LizardTech, and blinking Google logos before they ran out.

The keynote address that followed in the afternoon was delivered by Maryland governor, Martin O’Malley. The Governor emphasized that geography is essential to good leadership by allowing governments to measure and visualize the outcome of their programs, and then cycling through the decision making process again armed with the GIS information. Like a good politician, he peppered his speech with take-home sound bytes like “how we treat others is shown in how we treat the Earth,” and the initially funny but eventually obnoxious “show me my house,” which referred to people invariably asking the Governor during any GIS presentation to be shown their house. And why is that? the Governor asked. Because, “if it’s not about the relationship it’s not about anything.”