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).