Movements afoot!

Its been a long time between posts lately but there is a lot of things I’d like to report. Thanks to everyone who has reminded me how lazy i have become at every industry event i seem to attend :)

First up, I have resigned from my position at Landgate starting December 1. Its been a great four years working with all sorts of industry and government personnel around Australia but its time to go. Landgate really is an innovative land information provider so if you are interested in a “bleeding edge” position specialising in spatial web service delivery, the job has now been advertised on Seek.com.au. I’m not aware of anything else in the government sector like this in Australia so get writing as it would be great to know a solid candidate will fill my rather large shoes

It is with no surprise then that i have accepted a new position at ERDAS to be based in Brisbane in the new year. ERDAS’ recent aquisitions and alignment towards strong OGC support has provided sufficent interest for me to join the team to dabble, tweak, prod and spread their internet solutions around Asia/Pacific. Watch this space!

Many will know much of my time over the years has been spent on the SLIP spatial data infrastructure in Western Australia. Its kinda sad to walk away from it, but its at a state now that I am  confident the system will continue to grow as demand keeps increasing. Its time to hand over the reigns, so to speak. If you have no idea about the project, please check it out. Its very much a world leading project, not because its a new idea, but because we’ve actually deployed a system across a wide range of sectors. Its with great pleasure to announce then that in the last week we have been awarded both the WA Premiers award and the Asia Pacific Spatial Excellence Award for Spatially Enabled Government which is great to be formally recognised in the community. While I wasn’t successful in the Young Professional category, i’ve still got a few more years to apply before i hit 35 :-) Kudos to my offsider, Patrick Fitzgerald for picking up the Student of the year for two years running

In less exciting news, I am currently transitioning domains (again). It became clear this year that an address like http://chris.narx.net simply caused people to think i was American (a little too often for my liking). The current webmapper.com.au will be updated soon to yet another domain but the move will be transparent but the old address will still redirect automatically. So just to confirm, no I do not do consulting in the US, but thanks for the emails!

It certainly won’t be the end of me and this blog. It appears i might have even more time to write more frequently at ERDAS with would be great. Change is a good thing, and I look forward to see where we end up in the next 12 months

Chris

CarbonArc revisited

Jeff Harrison’s mass email caught my eye today with the free trial of CarbonArc. I had the pleasure of taking an early release of CarbonArc for a spin last year and while it was a good start there were a few key things missing from my point of view. Having pushed and prodded Mapinfo 9.5 support for use with our SDI, why not run the new CarbonArc 1.6 through its paces …

From the press release,

CarbonArc PRO 1.6 eliminates barriers to SDI usability through advanced SOA-based discovery, analysis, exploitation, transaction management and security tools for OGC SDI – directly from the ESRI ArcGIS desktop.

Instead of just regurgitating the release, the key question that always gets asked is … doesn’t ESRI ArcGIS already do all this?

Its a tricky question to answer because while on paper i could say, “Yes it does!”, in reality there are just so many annoying quirks and missing features, it quickly becomes a nightmare integrating SDI features into your normal ArcGIS workflow (which is what this is all about, right?).  So with fingers crossed, lets dive right in and see what i can find in 5 minutes flat …

The Good

  1. Well laid out and robust tool set which delivers fully functional WMS/WFS/WFST/WCS capabilities … with no mucking about required!. The thing just works.
  2. Very easy export to Shapefile tool
  3. Full featured filter encoding support … no black magic, user has full control
  4. Full access to the query string for all service types
  5. Caching of features / images when saving to project files

The Bad

  1. GML Integration will always be difficult given its a completely new ArcGIS feature source, but its still not up to the average users expectations I dont think. There is no attribute table, the features are independant of pretty much all other ArcGIS functionality so you are really left with GAIA functionality squished into an ArcGIS window.
  2. Web services request headers are devoid of any accept-encoding headers. I’m still pondering the choice of Expect: 100 requests … but i’m sure there’s a good reason in the depths of HTTP …
  3. The exclusive tool for CubeWerx “Identity Management Service” seems a bit strange as i’m not aware of any services that use this technology? Shoot me a link if i missed something!
  4. Lack of support for any WMS LegendGraphics. Users can choose from multiple Styles, but theres no way to actually view legend information which is a bit disappointing
  5. In the full minute spent trying, i wasnt able to get the WFST support working … i could get as far as the schema but as soon as i’d try to insert a feature the thing would just bail out.

I’m beginning to think the best suggestion would be to somehow merge CarbonArc WFS functionality with an automated export to shape on each filter response. This would allow excellent SDI WFS support, while still giving full ESRI ArcGIS functionality to users without having to reinvent the wheel (for things like the edit system). With the WMS/WCS support pretty solid, i think getting the balance of WFS right could mean the difference between a very promising product and one I would recommend to everyone using our platform.

Thoughts?

WFS-T adventures with Mapinfo 9.5

So i’ve been a bit late taking a look at the new Mapinfo Professional v9.5. With the consistent dissapointment towards the consumption of OGC standards in commercial apps I wasn’t holding my breath … but wait a sec, it did work and it worked damn well. I mean, it worked flawlessly; updates, inserts, deletes, lock support and it also comes complete with a semi-intelligent conflict manager.

Mapinfo

A few more suggestions to improve things further (for anyone listening~) …

  1. Add HTTP compression handling. Huge performance gains with the transfer of features and its really a no brainer to enable in any http library.
  2. I am by no means a “Mapinfo Master” ™, but it would be great to enable an automated WFS Table refresh especially if you are retrieving features based on CURRENT_MAPPER.  I guess the CTRL+F5 shortcut makes it easy-ish … but i certainly found myself wondering whether i had retrieved the features or not and ended up just sending unnecessary requests.
  3. If a transaction is successful, give me some kind of alert. Alerting only when it fails does not instill much confidence whether my long edit session went through or not (even after refreshing)
  4. It would be fantastic to add helpful warning messages when performance drops. I’d imagine most users would skim over the maxfeatures and column / row filters and just add the layer.
  5. If the first request takes 5 minutes and Mapinfo tells me i just retrieved 4000 poly features totalling 10mb and it kindly directed me to the WFS how-to, i’d be more inclined to see what the filtering options were all about :)

So there’s no WFS1.1 support … but i’m still trying to get my head around handling the axis order issue and are more than happy to let sleeping dogs lie … at least for the moment. I only had time to test against our Geoserver installs, but it certainly seems tested against many other apps including Cadcorp, Ionic & Mapinfo. Geoserver specific here, but the advanced security in 1.6.x works very well with the bundled support for basic authentication.

Finally…

Where art thou WCS clients?

How can I push a proposal for provisioning elevation data via Web Coverage Services when there are no freakin’ clients?

After a couple of hours I seriously only found,

Suggesting users manually craft the requests is not an option :)

I guess this kinda gets back to my previous rants on this issue. We’ve got Deegree, Geoserver, Mapserver and quite a few other notable suppliers pushing coverages out … to where exactly??

Image courtesy http://www.refractions.net/terrainserver/

It seems absurd how many people grab the whole SRTM/Landsat/DEMs in general just because “its easier”. After looking into WCS, perhaps they are right. Chicken meet egg, again.

From the other side of the fence …

Like all good arguments, there are other sides. In what seems to be a two part OGC mini-series on Charlie Savage’s blog RE: problems with the OGC, I noticed a comment by Shane asking …

I’m surprised at the lack of outburst by the pro-standards community. This makes me think they are humbled by your views. I’d expect somebody out there to stick up for OGC and the other standards you mentioned. It would be intriguing to hear someone from DM Solutions or Ionic, for instance.

Even though i am not Ionic, DMsolutions … here are some thoughts from someone who thinks the OGC has created some pretty darned useful standards.

A retort to one of Charlie’s post if you will .. :)

Rendering Maps. The argument i often see with the WMS bashing goes something like, “WMS is slow. Who uses it in an Enterprise architecture. G/Y/M dont use it, therefore by my intelligent calculations, WMS must be useless”. Lets back up a second. If you want a high performance, slippy interface that can be easily cached, tiling is certainly your best bet. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of people forget the disadvantages of a tiled mapping cache,

  1. Fixed scales. The amount of people i see who simply generate their zoom levels based on GMaps is crazy. What about what your users want? If there are any papers detailing why splitting the world into 18 distinct zoom levels is ideal, please tell me. I’m yet to find one. One size will never fit all.
  2. Redundant data storage. Active caching mechanisms whereby caches are only populated once browsed is nifty, but it also negates somewhat the advantage of using a cache. Conversely, if you pregenerate your entire cache you are more than likely storing 80% (number plucked from the sky) more data than you need. We also arent even touching the storage of the source data either here, or considering the time required to maintain the cache when you are using volatile datasets.
  3. Lack of integration across clients. The whole benefit of standards it to enable cross-use, cross-communication amongst clients and servers. This is non evident amongst tile servers (beyond of course worldkit and openlayers). Sure, WMS-C / TMS are hopefully gathering steam at the moment, but if you are considering integration right now across a gamut of applications, nothing is better than WMS for transferring maps over the interweb to multiple clients. People seem to be losing sight of this purpose every day.
  4. And the kicker for me … Absolutely no customisation. Dont want that road layer? You better hope they duplicated the cache and removed them otherwise you’re in trouble. Want the map in a useful cartographic projection? Duplicate again! Hmmm, can you colour the cadastre yellow instead of red? No, but i can duplicate the cache again for you. I could go on, but you should get the idea ..

And finally, “Arbitrary bounding boxes” are your friends Mr Charlie! Let your users decide their output scale, not the magical we-chose-18-scales-coz-google-wanted-a-nice-single-square-tile-at-zoom-level-0 :)

Summing up, WMS is your friend regardless. Don’t toss it out with the bathwater just because you are using a cache with a slippy map. Implementing WMS and whatever tiling scheme you can easily abstract *AROUND* WMS will give you and your users the best of both worlds. The fact that you can quite easily use any random WMS server inside a tiling scheme surely highlights that the standard does have flexibility.

Time is at a premium at the moment so i wont reply to all Charlie’s points (especially sharing data because we could be here forever). All in all i can see his point of view however we need to remember that we can only work with what we have at the moment, despite their flaws. GeoRSS/Atom/OWS Context/KML ratifying are all coming, its just up to the rest of us to pick up the ball and keep running with it so this will never be true again,

Web mapping standards are going through a transitional state and haven’t kept up with GIS technology breakthroughs over the last few years.

Chris.