Category Archives: Technology

Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine: Saving Elephants In Kenya With Drones and Google Earth

The November 4, 2013 Issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an article about park rangers using drones and Google Earth to help save elephants in Kenya, where poaching is a serious problem. The rangers use radio collars with GPS to track important members of elephant herds, and then plot this information on Google Earth. When the herds get close to known locations of poachers, one of three drones is sent out to scare the animals in the other direction.

The article quotes James Hardy, the manager of Mara North Conservancy: “Drones are basically the future of conservation…A drone can do what 50 rangers can do.”

This is a great example of the application of GIS, drone technology, and actual decision making based on spatial data.

Landon Blake

APOGEO Magazine: Applications of GIS for Wildfire, Diamond Mining, and Wind Farms

The Summer 2013 Issue of APOGEO Magazine has multiple articles that highlight the application of GIS technology around the world. These articles include:

  1. An explanation of how GIS technology is used to manage wildfires in the United States. The article explains the phases of a wildfire that GIS can be used to manage and lists the data themes that are important in Wildfire GIS. It also talks about the types of sensors used to collect the data needed to support a Wildfire GIS.
  2. An article that shows how satellite imagery is used to track the location, size, and distribution of illegal diamond mines and mining activity in the alluvial deposits of Africa.
  3. An article that shows how wind farm planners use GIS to track long term studies of wind speed, direction, and duration on potential wind farms sites. It also describes the sonar/LIDAR technology that can be used to collect this wind data.

All of these are great examples of the application of GIS to real world challenges.

Landon Blake

GPS World: First Galileo Position Fix With Open Source Receiver

GPS World recently reported that researchers had obtained the first position from Galileo satellite signals using an open source GNSS receiver design. The position fix was obtained by a research team at the Statistical interference Department at the CTTC. The work done by the research team was part of the open source GNSS SDR Project.

The article also talks about the benefits of an open source GPS receiver. It says:

“With GNSS-SDR, researchers and technology enthusiasts can easily change the implementation of a certain functional block and assess the impact of that change on the whole receiver performance,” said Pau Closas, GNSS-SDR scientific advisor and Head of the Statistical Inference Department at CTTC. “This paves the way to innovative mass-market, industrial and scientific applications that could make use of Galileo signals but require non-standard features which are not present in mass-market receivers nor in costly professional equipment.”

An open source GPS receiver…That is super groovy cool!

Landon Blake


The Economist Magazine: US Congress Tries to Fix Software Patents…Again

The December 7, 2013 Issue of the Economist Magazine has an article that explains the US Congress is taking another stab at patent reform. The first attempt was the 2011 Patent Reform Law passed by Congress. However, the 2011 law hasn’t stopped patent trolls from shaking companies down for bogus software patents. The “Innovation Act” (the current attempt at patent reform) is supposed to fix that.

The article indicates that the Innovation Act will shift the costs of litigation to the loser and will force the patent holder to disclose how the company being sued is infringing on their patent, something that isn’t now required.

It sounds like this is a step in the right direction. It is too bad that Congress didn’t get this job done the first time.

Landon Blake

Geography Matters: Predicting The Spread of Malaria By Tracking Cell Phones

Market Place Tech Report had a recent podcast that talked about the use of cell phone location data to predict how outbreaks of Malaria will move through a population. This is a great example of how geography matters, and illustrates how geospatial data from mobile phones will allow us to learn a great deal more about the movement of people…and diseases.

Landon Blake

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Cheap Tablets Are Coming

The November 4th Issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article entitled “Get Ready For The Surge Of Cheap Tablets” about the upcoming wave of cheap tablets (under $150). What is enabling the arrival of these inexpensive handheld computers? Cheap hardware components. The article says: “The falling cost of components is making the tablet market easier to crack. Chinese semiconductor companies such as Rockchip now sell chip systems for $5, one-quarter of what U.S. companies charge. Displays that cost more than $100 two years ago are tens of dollars today. All told, a garden-variety tablet’s parts, from memory to shell, now cost $60, compared with $175 in 2011.”

Building a quality and inexpensive tablet isn’t as easy as assembling a quality and inexpensive personal computer. The article explains why: “There’s a higher learning curve to cranking out bargain-priced tablets than there was to slapping together cheap desktops. With a supply of standardized components, PC assembly mainly requires a screwdriver or a good outsourcing firm. Tablets have to be light and attractive enough for consumers to want to carry them around all day, so engineering and design are crucial. U.S. telecom regulations require that cellular-equipped tablets be tested in all major cities and regions where a company wants to sell them.”

Landon Blake


Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Using Tweet Metadata

The November 11 Issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article about the social media company Twitter. The article does a great job of explaining how the metadata for each tweet can have value from a business analysis perspective. The article even mentions GeoJSON, an open format for the exchange of geospatial data. Here is an excerpt from the article that talks about the tweet metadata:

You know how the National Security Agency collects “metadata” about the phone calls Americans make? Well, that’s what these fields are, except instead of metadata about phone calls, this is metadata about tweets. In fact, those 140 characters are less than 10 percent of all the data you’ll find in a tweet object. Twitter’s metadata is publicly documented by the company, open for perusal by all and available to anyone who wants to sign up for an API key.

This metadata contains not just tidy numerals like “25” but also whole new sets of name/value pairs—big weird trees of data. A good example is in the “coordinates” part of the tweet. This value contains geographical information—latitude and longitude—in a format called GeoJSON, a dialect of JSON that’s used to describe places. This can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually awesome, because it means that simple-to-understand formats such as JSON can express some pretty complex ideas about the world. GeoJSON isn’t controlled by Twitter; it’s a published, open standard. Twitter has added another field, called “place.” Places are not just dots on a map but “specific, named locations.” They include multiple coordinates—they actually define polygons over the surface of the earth. A tweet can thus contain a very rough outline of a given nation. A few tweets can, with some digital fiddling, serve as a primitive atlas. And through some slightly complex math, they can reveal how far one tweeter is from another. Tweets also have a “created_at” field, which indicates the exact time at which they were posted.

The article then explains how this metadata can be used:

This is where things get interesting. With just the places and the times, you can do some database work and learn when people in every corner of the world are in the strange, receptive state of social media engagement. Could be valuable! This information might tell you the best time to update a blog post or communicate with the most human beings at once, or when to release an advertisement. Maybe we learn that certain people tweet most assiduously right before leaving for work, a fine time for an advertiser to pitch them some orange juice or a new car to ease their commute.

This is the sort of combinatorial work that defines the modern Web: There’s so much data that there’s a very good chance that you will be the first of all humankind to find something interesting or unexpected. Whether you find something valuable is another question. But it’s surprisingly easy to become an expert in a very tiny niche as a developer—to become a world-leading expert in Android video or a specialist in Twitter geography—and charge accordingly for your services.

Read the article if you get a few minutes.

Landon Blake

Wired Magazine: Details on Google’s Project Loon

The September 2013 Issue of Wired Magazine has an article that provides details on Google’s Project Loon, a moon shot to provide internet from balloons to people all over remote parts of the Earth. There would be thousands of balloons 60,000 feet above the surface of the Earth that would form chains through which the internet data would be carried. To make the project work, Google will need to master the trick of steering the balloon chains in a ever changing global weather system.

The article explains the challenges of using balloons for communications technology. It says: “If you try to keep a balloon in a fixed location, you must apply…efforts to resist that wind. It almost always ends badly.”

How is Google going to get around this challenge. The article says: “The balloons could adjust their altitude in a way that took advantage of wind currents? You could maneuver them to rise or fall, allowing them to catch a ride in the desired direction. The key would be analyzing the voluminous data about wind currents, past and present…”

Google will also use 75 sensors on each balloon developed as part of Project Loon to transmit 189 different data elements to help plan the balloons location.

This is a great example of how geospatial technology, including sensors, can help solve problems that were previously insurmountable.

Landon Blake


Inside GNSS: Steps to Better Navigation

In the September/October 2013 Issue of the Inside GNSS Magazine has an article entitled “What’s Next For Practical Ubiquitous Navigation?” that talks about four (4) steps to improved navigation systems. The steps are:

  1. Make a better sensor.
  2. Create a new navigation signal.
  3. Improve navigation algorithms.
  4. Improved models of the area being navigated.

Landon Blake