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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My suspicions were confirmed today that no matter how many press releases you read and how many websites you explore, there’s really no way to “get” a piece of software without seeing it live. In Nicholas Jacquez introduction to TerraSeer, one of seven workshops held at our Location Technology and Business Intelligence 2005, we really got a sense of the power of the company’s software. We looked at the TerraSeer Space-Time Intelligence System (STIS) and walked through some examples. Those with laptops loaded up the software and followed along.  Jacquez rattled of the benefits of the package - its on the fly animation, its linked windows, its support for statistics and its focus on time as a variable. The software was written from the ground up to address just that topic, making the product rather unique.

It did take me some time to realize that incorporating time into the equation is not necessarily intuitive and that there are “extra” cartographic considerations involved. To be explored over time, geographic data must have a time dimension in its attributes. Either the geography must exist multiple times in the database, but with each record noting the value of interest at a different time, or a the geography must have a single row in the database with an attribute for each different time period. STIS will handle both situations with tools specifically geared to use that valuable data. But there are a few limitations in the software that those in the room found early: no projection tools and support for just DBF, text and shape files as input. The good news is that future releases will address all of these and add a full API for customization.

Just walking through the introduction made me think about time differently. Things are relatively simple when each geography changes at the same time, for example, when you take a reading from a group of sensors every five days. However, when the data change at different locations at different times, the problem becomes more complex. I began to understand the value of animations over time in helping to find patterns. As Jacquez put it, “we are not so different form the hunter gatherers of long ago” in seeking patterns. The trick is finding out whether those patterns are “real,” the job of statistics.

Almost as interesting as the presentation was the fellow sitting beside me who used a graphical tool, MapMinder to take notes. It’s a program that lets one document things via arrows and boxes in a more graphical style than simple narrative text (the way I do it).

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/03 at 08:44 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

Directions Magazine has a lot of expertise and experience in business geographics and related topics. I have just about none. I had the chance to get the “short course” at our Location Technologies and Business Intelligence Conference.

Michael Gonzales, longtime Business Intelligence (BI) consultant, planned to tell us about GIS and BI, but changed his mind and instead presented a hands-on experience to introduce us “GIS people” to what “real” BI is. Gonzales is a captivating and knowledgeable speaker, who challenged us to take a broader look at BI in general and the future of its relationship with spatial in particular.

Gonzales has a few key points that run through his argument:

He feels it’s BI architects that are ultimately responsible for getting spatial (or just the best tools) to their clients. Simple online analytical processing (OLAP) and queries are not BI. BI, he said, more than once, is the ability to provide the best possible information to make a decision. Most BI implementations, he suggests, do not do that. Instead, they rely on what they know: OLAP, SAS, pie chartsЕ These, he went on do not provide actionable insights, which they should.

Part of the problem, he maintains, is that OLAP was designed to be an interrogation tool, one used by subject matter experts. Instead, its results are being offered to non-subject matter experts (the 20 year old with the grease stains from his hamburger on his shirt who picks up the phone at a credit card company, for example).

With that in mind we looked at two BI solutions. One, Microsoft’s Analysis Services is part of SQL*Server. It owns some 25% of the market! And, says Gonzales, it’s not bad. We used its built in tools to develop a decision tree that helped predict the type of root a mushroom would have. While that’s not a fascinated topic or data set, the underlying idea is quite powerful. What factors can we use from the dataset to best predict nature of the root type? It was pretty impressive how far one could get, knowing very little.

A second solution, Polyvista, actually sits atop MS Analysis Service to provide value add. By slicing and dicing the product sales for a fake chain in California we learned that some products do very well nearly everywhere, and others do poorly everywhere. Most fall in between; the trick is to know how to interpret this data and act on it.

The most compelling illustration of the power of geospatial was a simple map of three stores in an area. Two did reasonably well, a third not so well. A surface highlighted where the target markets were located. The question was: should the store doing poorly invest in an aggressive direct mail campaign? The “big hills” of the target market were very close to the two stores doing well. The third was in a valley. I voted against the campaign. Now, whether that was exactly the right decision could be argued, but what immediately clear was that a decision could be made in seconds based on some complex data that was pulled together in a meaningful way. That’s the power of the technology that’s not yet being tapped.


by Adena Schutzberg on 05/03 at 07:01 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

“Cleveland’s motto is, frankly, a disappointment: ‘The New American City.’ What does that tell you? ‘We have a map, and we’re sure our city is in America?’ Plus, um, new? Didn’t we just celebrate a 200th birthday a few years ago?” Joanna Connors, writing in the Plain Dealer

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/03 at 07:00 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share


If you are getting ready for Bike Week May 15-21 (and who isn’t?) check out Metropolitan
Transportation Commission’s (Oakland, CA) new BikeMapper, an interactive map resource of bike paths and bike lanes in the Bay Area. While it won’t route you, it will highlight different levels of bike friendly ground. It also shows elevation changes so you can try to avoid hills. (Here in my city, Somerville, the City of Seven Hills, we need to do that, too.)

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/03 at 07:00 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share


Starting in those in the UK can propose their ideas for using the upcoming Galileo navigation system. The UK winner of the Galileo Master Competition - UK Challenge will go to the European finals. And the big winner will see their idea become reality. The competition is open to private companies, academic institutions and research organizations.

by Adena Schutzberg on 05/03 at 07:00 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share
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