Sunday, September 30, 2007

3D Terrain Wood Carving

I found this image of a city model made in wood.


The model looks like it was made from a DEM, but I am not sure. The blog (Vector One: 3D Terrain Wood Carving) says that the model was shown at an InterGeo event and links to a German company's website (link).

The model is very cool indeed.

Lets not forget about Yahoo! Maps

In my last post, I compared the custom map facilities provided by Google and Microsoft in their online products. In this one I add my thoughts about Yahoo's custom map tool called MapMixer.

Now MapMixer doesn't seem to have the ability to add points, lines and polygons. So to do something like I did in Google Maps and Live Maps - create a list of RTD Light Rail Stations in Denver - doesn't seem possible in Yahoo! right now. On the other hand MapMixer allows you to very easily overlay your own imagery on their maps. Basically you upload your imagery - create 2 tie-points - provide some descriptions and you are done. So MapMixer allows you to create some very cool custom maps. But if you have seen my earlier post - not all imagery can be overlaid easily - and one doesn't always have custom imagery to make custom maps. So either Yahoo! is very quickly going to add the ability to define points, line and polygons or Google or MS might add the ability to add custom imagery overlays very soon in their products. (MS has a tool called MapCruncher that allows you to create tiles out of your custom imagery as well as use complex transformations to get your imagery to fit over theirs - but without them hosting the data - I don't see very many people using that tool.)


As for the data quality:

For the University of Montana, Missoula, Yahoo! has the latest imagery: The journalism building is complete. (In Microsoft the building is in its final stages of completion and in Google - the ground has been cleared but the building hasn't started yet). But Yahoo's imagery does not seem to be of the high-resolution that Microsoft has. (Google's imagery seems to be the lowest in quality of the 3 for Missoula).

map1 Yahoo! Maps

                                          Google Maps                                                                                  Microsoft Live

And when it comes to Denver here is Yahoo's imagery:

map2 (Check out the red circle - there is a plane in there!)

And here is Microsoft's and Google Map's respectively:

Microsoft wins hands down in having the latest imagery as well as the highest resolution imagery. (Yahoo and Google both seem to have captured their imagery at the same time - but Google's imagery is clearer).

Oh! btw, let me add a disclaimer here:
The evaluation of the imagery between the 3 providers (Microsoft, Yahoo and Google), is by no means scientific. It is completely qualitative and based on 2 areas that I have an interest in - Denver (where I live and hence use the maps to find locations everyday) and Missoula (where I studied, where my company is and so I check out the maps every now and then just for nostalgia). I know both of these locations well and hence by looking at the imagery can make a fair guess as to when it was taken by seeing what is there and not there (which is why you see the above 2 locations - in Denver the RTD stations were completed about a year ago - and in Missoula, the journalism building was also completed about a year ago).

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Creating custom maps in Microsoft's Live Maps and Google's Maps

After having created custom maps (RTD Light Rail stations) in both Microsoft's Live Maps and Google's Maps solution, here are some of my thoughts:

  map5 map4

1. On an unconnected note to this topic Microsoft has higher resolution and newer imagery for the Denver area. (link) This made it a lot more easier to map the stations in Live Maps as the stations were present in MS's imagery (the bridge across the highway is part of the station which is not there in Google's imagery). The station shown below is the Belleview station and opened sometime in October of 2006, so Microsoft's imagery must be post October 2006 and Google's must be pre October 2006.


link to above comparison:

2. In Google custom maps are called My Maps. In Live Maps they are called collections.
3. Even though my example has only points representing RTD Light Rail Stations, both Live maps and Google maps allow one to also create lines and polygons.
4. Both Google and Microsoft allow you to share your custom maps. Though if you see this post of mine (link), you will see that Google allows you to embed their maps, which is a great feature. Live maps on the other hand only gives you a link and does not yet create the HTML code required to embed the map in a blog. (I am sure this will change soon).
5. Another nifty feature in Google Maps is that you can change your icons - Google has a collection that you can use, or alternatively you can even use your own custom icons. This will obviously make for cooler looking maps. On the other hand - Live Maps doesn't yet allow you to change icons.
6. I love the fact that you can view your maps in Live in a variety of views. Not just the traditional satellite, road and hybrid, but also bird's eye and 3D.
map6 Bird's Eye View
map7 3D View - with 3D buildings.

In conclusion:

Both Google Map's and Live Map's solutions are easy to use. They each have features that make them useful in their own ways (maps that can be embedded, custom icons for Google; bird's eye and 3D views in Live Maps). The fact that Live maps had higher res and more recent imagery made it a ton easier to map the locations, but I am sure there are other cities where Google has newer and better imagery - so I don't want to include that as a factor.

So both Google Maps and Live Maps are great ways to share custom maps. But because I have higher resolution imagery in Denver, I think I will be using Live Maps. Another factor that I love is the 3D view available within the browser.


Above I have an example of a location where Live Maps has higher resolution imagery. Here is an example where Google Maps has higher resolution and newer imagery than Live Maps.

(On the right is Google Maps and it shows the journalism building almost complete at the University of Montana, Missoula. In Virtual Earth, the ground seems to have been broken and the image looks like it was taken in spring).

RTD Light Rail Stations - Live Maps


This is an example of RTD Light Rail Stations in Microsoft's Live Maps. (link)

RTD Light Rail Station - Google My Maps

View Larger Map

Friday, September 28, 2007

India to set up satellite navigation system - The Economic Times

The Russians are restoring their satellite constellation for a global positioning system (GPS), called GLONASS. The Europeans are setting up their own GPS system - Galileo. The Chinese have the Beidou system. And now India is setting up their own regional GPS system called Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) (link). The system is going to cost an estimated $400 million (INR 1,600 crores).

"We have already begun work on the system. It will be totally under our control. As part of the project, three satellites would be placed in the geo-synchronous transfer orbit, while the remaining four would be in geo-stationary orbit,"

My thoughts:

When all the systems are up there are going to be 24 Russian satellites, 30 European satellites 35 Chinese satellites, 7 Indian satellites and the original 24 from the US GPS system. Its going to be a crowded sky - just for the purpose of knowing where one is. I know because of their military uses, the chance that all these countries will decide and use a single system will never happen. But it would be cool if they all could inter-operate. That way I could take my Garmin or MIO, roam this planet and always know where I am! No where have I seen any chatter about this sort of an inter-operability..... so pinch me! time to wake up!

With GPS devices becoming ubiquitous, I wonder if there is a case for a commercial company that would provide a GPS signal through-out the world. Instead of a 100 satellites - the world would need only about 24 satellites. Or maybe a constellation of regional system?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What is LiDAR?

Here is a nice summary of what LiDAR is :

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging, is a remote sensing system used to determine the elevation of an object on the ground. LiDAR data are used to produce highly detailed elevation or terrain models. Mounted on an aircraft, the LiDAR system is fully integrated with an airborne global positioning system (GPS) and inertial measurement unit to record hyper-accurate horizontal position and vertical elevation values of precise points on the ground.

- from the press release "GeoEye Announces MJ Harden's Purchase of Optech's Latest LiDAR Aerial Imaging System"

And here is a nice introduction from Optech's website:

GeoEye purchases Optech's Latest LiDAR Aerial Imaging System

 GeoEye announced today that one of it's subsidiaries - MJ Harden, has purchased the latest LiDAR imaging system from Optech - called Gemini 167.

Released less than a year back by Optech, the Gemini Airborne Laser Terrain Mapping (ALTM) system is a multi pulse system. It has the ability to operate at 167 kHz pulse repetition frequencies. Which means that one can get high pulse rates even from high altitudes. Higher pulse rates = more measured points on the terrain = higher accuracy in the terrain as well as extracted features.

The importance of the purchase for GeoEye is

MJ Harden is now able to merge imagery from their current digital mapping camera with LiDAR imagery to produce enhanced products ideally suited for large-scale mapping projects, such as mapping flood plains, coastal zones and public right of ways and corridors. This is especially important in the pipeline, oil and gas, mining, urban planning, disaster management, and utility and telecommunications industries.

Here are more specs about the Gemini 167 system:

The important features in my opinion about this ALTM system - as far as feature extraction go are:

Laser repetition rate 33 - 167 kHz : Lower point spacing/Higher points per square area means more definition in data which in turn allows for extraction and modeling of smaller features on the terrain.
Operating altitude 80 to 4,000 m (higher altitude optional) : Ability to operate at higher altitudes is important especially in hostile environments (Army) and the ability to operate a low altitudes is important for power line corridors as well as capturing dense urban environments.
Horizontal accuracy 1/11,000 x altitude; ±1-sigma* : More accurate models.
Elevation accuracy 5 - 10 cm typical; ±1-sigma : More accurate models.
Range capture Up to 4 range measurements for each pulse, including last : The more number of measurements possible - the better one can model vegetation - such as forests. Typically in urban environments the multiple measurements don't provide very much of an additional advantage.
Intensity capture 4 intensity readings with 12-bit dynamic range for each measurement: Intensity values can be used to determine target material type, as well as for extraction in Feature Analyst.
Spot distribution Sawtooth, uniform spot spacing across 96% of scan: This is important for reliable feature extraction, as well as uniform accuracy.
Swath width Variable from 0 to 0.93 x altitude (m): More important from a cost perspective as higher swath widths allow for fewer flight lines. Less flight time = less money for the acquisition of the data.
Beam divergence Dual divergence 0.15/0.25 mrad or nominal (1/e full angle) 0.80 mrad:

LIDAR Analyst 4.2 Released

Version 4.2 of LIDAR Analyst was released today for the ArcGIS platform.

The biggest new feature is the ability to process your LIDAR tiles in batch. The implementation itself is unique and similar to the way in which batch is implemented for Feature Analyst. You first run through your extraction for one tile which is representative of all the other tiles that you wish to process as a batch. As you run through the extraction manually - all your custom settings are stored to a model file. You then launch the Batch Processing dialog, specify the model file, set all the input tiles and start the extraction process. You can then go home, take a coffee break or whatever - depending on the size and number of tiles - after a while you will have a folder hierarchy of your extracted results. As simple as that!

Some of the other exciting new features that we added are - an export to Google Earth (KML) command and an Extract Contours command. The API was also improved as well as many of the underlying algorithms, etc - which should allow you to process data-sets with better accuracy and higher speeds.

Below is the Press release:


VLS Releases LIDAR Analyst 4.2

VLS is pleased to announce the new release of LIDAR Analyst® 4.2 for ArcGIS. A free trial version of the software with tutorial is available at

LIDAR Analyst generated world-wide acclaim for radically simplifying the collection of 3D GIS features, such as buildings and terrain. Now, important new tools and capabilities are added with the release of LIDAR Analyst 4.2, including:

  • Batch processing of multiple LiDAR data files
  • Direct export of 3D buildings to Google Earth
  • Enhanced DEM generation and editing
  • Additional contour and attribution tools for terrain and vegetation features
  • Control point analysis to compare extracted elevation values to ground truth control points
  • Ability to assign a coordinate system to LAS files
  • A convert LAS file to raster tool
  • Optimizations for all underlying algorithms


For more information, contact VLS at or visit

VLS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Overwatch Systems.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autodesk is going to contribute a new coordinate system software to the open source community

Today - Autodesk's press release has garnered a lot of press - appearing in news articles, blogs and even Google Finance. Read it at GisCafe.

Something that intrigued me was in a field that already has two excellent solution - GDAL's OGR as well as Proj4 (OGR is built on top of Proj4), what more is Autodesk's solution going to provide.

According to Frank Warmerdam - the developer of GDAL

"The latest planned contribution supports the projections and transformations necessary to support over 3,000 coordinate systems worldwide and has capabilities not previously available to the open source community."

The new offering from Autodesk seems to come from Mentor Software - from whom they seem to have acquired the software. Mentor Software was founded by Norm Olsen - a GIS guy with a lot of knowledge about projections, transformations and GIS systems. He has developed all the GIS software products at Mentor. Even before the days of blogs - Norm used to write regular articles on projections and transformation and also has a very informative forum (the forum has been dormant though). His company also has some freeware GIS tools.




I think that the software that Autodesk is going to be releasing is Mentor Software's CS-MAP. Tralaine another product from Mentor seems to be based on CS-Map and it boasts of fast conversion rates (35,000 per second) and ( - though on CSMap's specs it says 800). Also as it performs its calculations using double values - it  claims to be highly accurate.

CSMap specs:

Tralaine specs:

One of the important points that will affect how well the new Autodesk code is going to be adopted by GIS software developers is the license that it is going to be released under. OGR is released under the terms of the MIT License - which makes it easy to use in all sorts of products - commercial as well as open source - which is why it's adoption has been so wide-spread. It is my hope that Autodesk does the same - so that both commercial and non-commercial products can leverage it - especially if it does provide the accuracy and speed that it says it will. (I truly hope that they don't use GPL which is so restrictive - from a commercial adopters view point). A good piece of news on this end is that Autodesk released MapGuide under the LGPL license - which I think is open enough for those developing commercial apps to include it in their software.


The software is scheduled to be released to the Open Source community by the end of 2007.

Halo 3 Pre-Launch Party

Just returned from the Halo-3 pre-launch party and I have got to say - the game is awesome. I am not sure what hard-core players of the previous 2 versions think - but this one is really fun. And the graphics is out there too. I got to play the game in hi-def on the XBox360 elite machine - and the detail was just amazing. One cool new feature is the theatre replay system - where you can experience the replay of the game out of your body. So you can fly around and watch the game from the perspective of others or create a movie like a movie director. And these clips can be saved and shared using the XBox live system. On the left is the cool swag that they gave away at the pre-launch party - a poster and a Master Chief T-Shirt. The Halo3 game I won in a draw. Finally - kudos to the team that organized the event here at Denver. It was a fun experience.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Halo 3 - Pre-Launch Party

I managed to snag myself an invitation for the Halo 3 Pre-Launch party - which is going to be held today (Thanks to the ZMan Truly excited to see this version of the game. I played with Halo 1 and never got a chance to see Halo 2. If the ads for this game are a small indicator of what is going to be there in the game - then it just might be the reason that I go out and invest in the XBox360 console.

Check out the ads:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yahoo! MapMixer - is a great product!

OK! in my last 2 posts I have written about my varying levels of enthusiasm about Yahoo!'s MapMixer app. In this post I am not going to alter my enthusiasm level for MapMixer - it remains at the same level as previously - It is definitely a great product. I am just going to qualify my last post ( in this one. The product that technically does it all for me is still MSR's MapCruncher. But what good is a product that does it all - but makes it hard to host all those cool overlays that you might have created. It is for this one reason alone - that MapMixer is an excellent custom map creation tool - Yahoo! stores your data for everyone else to see - for what good is your cool overlay unless someone else can benefit from it (after all we do live in the age of 2.0). David from Yahoo wrote rightly in a comment to my last post ((link) that as a web app - it would be hard for MapMixer to do a complex transformation on the fly and after all most of us would have simple maps that would just need scaling and rotation to get it to match with the underlying maps. I whole heartily agree with David - one has to go by the good old 80/20 rule - "if 80% of maps are to scale, then we didn't want to spend 80% of the work accounting for the 20% non-scaled maps". Complex transformations can take a while - MapCruncher sometimes sits processing for a whole minute or so before showing anything. And for all the time I have spent with MapCruncher - I have basically nothing to show the world! MapCruncher gets probably used by a tiny fraction of the web's users who want to make custom maps - those who have access to their own Map tile servers - for the rest of us - I think MapMixer will remain king (until the other 2 add similar features)

Though the one feature that I think MapMixer lacks and that would be nice to have soon would be to load PDF files. A ton of maps on the web are available in the PDF format and currently one would have to manually do a screen capture and then use that as the overlay image. Would be nice if MapMixer could do that for me.

Another thing that amazes me is that for a company as big as Yahoo! - that somebody out there cared for what I wrote about their product and wished to comment about the reasons that MapMixer doesn't do all that MapCruncher does. For a blog that has a very small reader base (probably only me and now David) - it is wonderful to see that they care about what their user base thinks of their products. Way to go Yahoo! devs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peter Batty has started Spatial Networking

Peter Batty (a fellow Denverite!) has decided to start a new company called Spatial Networking. The page is still just a welcome screen - I am eager on seeing what his company is going to be doing. According to him the company will be "focused on location related applications in the social networking space". The idea seems like another project that has been going on for what seems for-ever - FatDoor. Which is why I am even more eager on seeing what will be different with Spatial Networkings offering. Maybe map based widgets for Facebook? (There arent any good ones in facebook yet - that allow neighbors to network - wouldnt that be cool) Best of luck Peter Batty!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ALZip - the best compression utility out there!

Need to zip and unzip files? Need a utility to work with compressed files? Then try AlZip - I just love this little tool - its free (for home users), has no pop-ups, start up dialogs, spyware, etc. And the interface is cute. I just love this tool - especially when I compare it with WinZip - with it's totally irritating nag screen. Try it out. (BTW, if you are wondering - I am just a user of AlZip - not a paid actor;) ) Get ALTools Free PC Utilities

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yahoo! MapMixer - Maybe not so wow! after all!

In a previous post on MapMixer, I had written about how throughly amazed I was by this new online tool. After working with it a little more - I have to take that wow a couple of notches lower. Like I said previously - Microsoft's MapCruncher can truly crunch maps that are complex and havent been drawn to scale. It allows you to add many tie points which is then used to warp the overlay image to the actual map data. With Yahoo MapMixer.... you have basic two tie point match. Which doesnt allow for warping of the image - just scaling. So if your image is not to scale then tough luck trying to get it to overlay properly. (Especially as an online app - its pretty hard to get the overlay correct - especially if the connection is a little slow). So once you use the two tie point match method, it brings you to the main map - after which you are pretty much on your own.... and it gets very hard to get any fine tuning in the overlay (Unless I am missing some nifty key strokes to get more tie points in). MapMixer is a great way forward - once it does more of what MapCruncher can do - it will be a killer app. (Basically allowing for more tie points - thereby allowing for much more complex transformations on the input imagery - would be all that this app needs to be come a killer app)

Yahoo! MapMixer - Wow!

I have previously reviewed Microsoft Research's Map Cruncher and was blown away by it when it came out. This week Yahoo! premiered its latest map offering MapMixer and it blows me away even further. It is MapCruncher on speed for the every day user. 1. It is an online application. 2. In relatively few clicks you can get your custom map done by overlaying your own data-source on Yahoo!'s imagery. 3. Yahoo! hosts the data. In my opinion MapCruncher is still very cool - especially for somebody who needs control over the overlay to a fine detail. Also for someone who has a tile server and can host the data, Map Cruncher is very good. Finally Map Cruncher can digest PDF maps. But for the every day user - for simple mash-ups MapMixer is fast and hassle free. Check out this sample I created, which is an overlay of the University of Montana at Missoula's campus map. I had it done in less than 2 minutes with maybe as few as 10 clicks - AWESOME!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Programming the Comcast DVR3 remote to control the Vizio 32inch TV

Programming the Comcast DVR3 remote to control the Vizio 32inch TV
I recently had to program the Comcast DVR3 remote so that I could use it to power on/off my Vizio tv as well as control its volume. (The instructions are available else-where - but way too complicated in my opinion - so I have rewritten them here) Here are the instructions to program the VIZIO tv
1. Press TV
2. Pess and hold Setup untill TV blinks twice
3. Type in 10178 (thats the TV code) (other TV codes that you can try are : 1758, 0178, 627 and 502)
4. TV should blink twice if it programmed correctly
5. Press TV

To lock volume buttons so that they always control the TV volume: 
1. Press TV
2. Press and hold Setup until TV blinks twice
3. Type in 993
4. Press TV (light should flash twice) - this step locks the volume to the TV.

It turns out you can assign other buttons on the DVR3 remote to control more of the TVs functions. Basically you need to do the following steps:
1.Press the TV button.
2.Press and hold setup until TV blinks twice
3.Press 994 - this puts the remote into programming mode
4. Press setup
5. Press the 5 digit code that corresponds to the TV button you want to program (they are below)
6. Press the button on the DVR3 remote that you want to assign the above function to.
7. Press the TV button to finish the setup.

For example say you want to set the Input button on the DVR3 remote to control the TV's input function - do the following:
1. Press and release TV device key
2. Press and hold SETUP until TV button blinks twice
3. Type 994 (now the remote is in program mode)
4. Press and release SETUP
5. Tpe 00090 (the code for the input function on the TV remote)
6. Press TV/VCR (Input) button. (this assigns the function from step 5 to the button pressed here) The remote should blink twice if successful
7. Press the input button to test.

The TV function codes are below.
(Substitute them in step 5 and choose the remote key to assign it to in step 6).
Menu 00171
UP 00168
DOWN 00166
LEFT 00170
RIGHT 00037
OK/Enter 00164
Guide 00244
Exit 00216
Input 00090
Wide 00138
CC 00025 0 00117 1 00121 2 00119 3 00123 4 00116 5 00120 6 00118 7 00122 8 00245 9 00249
Vol + 00183
Vol - 00187
Mute 00057
Channel + 00181
Channel - 00185
Power 00053
Last 00247
Sleep 00054
PIP 00197
Info 00251
PIP Swap 00198
PIP Mode 00199
Audio 00059
TV 00110
AV 00105
Component 00231
HDMI 00174
MTS 00055
Zoom + 00165
Zoom - 00169
Freeze 00200
RGB 00253
PIP Ch + 00196
PIP Ch - 00203
PIP Input 00199
PIP Size 00201

more info:

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Duane Storey's photography website

I just stumbled upon Duane Storey blog and photography store..... he has some amazing photographs that can be bought as prints from his store. His blog has all sorts of interesting tidbits regarding photography, cameras, etc.

The most interesting part of it all is that Duane's day job seems to be VOIP engineer.

Check out his site for some samples....

A sample from his site: