Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ArcGIS Explorer : A Quick Look

Today at work, I stumbled upon ArcGIS Explorer totally by accident. I am a user of ESRI products and an active developer of different extensions and plugins. I was surprised to find out that ArcGIS has a Google Earth-like application available for free! After a quick dinner, I decided to sit down and blog about it. For reference, you can download ArcGIS Explorere from here. I spent quite a bit of time digging through the menu options, which were rather feature rich. Some of the options that struck my eye included units of measure, sun positioning, movement (fly / move to), environment and cloud settings. One of the options that surprised me the most were the advanced caching options. The caching options are reasonably detailed in their specification, which is always a plus for the power user.

So, I went ahead and attempted to perform a simple search. I tried using 'orlando florida, since that is where I live :-) I ended up getting a 'Place not found orlando florida' show up in my Results. That was pretty annoying. I noticed the 'Exact match' option was checked off and figured that may be interfering with the search, so I toggled it off. I still received a 'Place not found orlando florida'. I then figured it was having a hard time distinguishing between city/state, so I tried 'orlando, florida'; this Resulted in one hit! I think the ESRI folk have some cosmetic work to do on the search feature. Once I had my search result, I went ahead and right-clicked it to see what options I had. The options is has are pretty neat!

It can modify the style of your place mark, including selecting a symbol. You can also tag it with the location and camera look-at properties, simply by pressing the snapshot camera button. Within the popup window you can modify the popup window content, this includes adding html.

I went ahead and zoomed in on my apartment coordinates. I was astonished to find that the imagery was more up to date than that of Google Earth. For sanity, I took a peek at FlashEarth and noticed the imagery was more up to date than VE as well! I think I lucked out on my location :-) If you're interested in commenting on your imagery status, i'd be curious to hear. Although the imagery is sharper, I did notice that the load time was rather sluggish.

I next took a stab at the "Find Address" tool. I had to select my country, which I thought was reasonably lame. I entered my address in the format "street, city, state" and the result was found. For some reason, this got me to wondering how easy it would be to export and import data. I noticed there were two options that related to this:
  1. Tools->Import File
  2. File->Open
I selected 2 and received the dialog that you see below. This had way more options than I ever expected, many of which are very useful from a GIS perspective. Now onward to see how well it works.

I had several shapefiles sitting around that contained vector data for the Orlando / Oviedo area of Florida. I went ahead and added my "us_roads" shapefile and it started asking me for various import options:
  1. it asked me the typical scale that it should be visible for, I used the default
  2. it prompted me to indicated how I wanted the symbol sizes to be translated to real world units, I opted for Symbol point units to: 20m
  3. it asked me for the disk caching options I wanted to use for the layer
  4. it asked me for the color symbol (just chose yellow) to use and pressed finish
The shapefile loaded! That was pretty damn cool... However, I have to admit that I wasn't impressed with the aliasing; in fact, it sucked. That being said, i'm new to this and I may just be making a noob mistake. If you think you have an answer as to why this is, please let me know!!

I was going to try a geodatabase next but figured meh, let me give rasters a try. So, I selected Rasters and browsed to some Imagery I had on disk (some GeoTiffs). The first time, I accidentally selected 14, 78Mb GeoTIFFS and it didn't like that too much. The second time, I selected two pflugerville sid files I had and loaded them up. I right clicked and zoomed to layer and the results weren't shabby.

I zoomed in a bit and the imagery appeared to be reasonably correlated. You can access the legend, set the layers transparency and additionally set the rasters background transparency color. You can also adjust the way that you want the imagery cached on disk.

Finally, browsing the View menu options, I realized you can copy the current view to the clipboard, so I did a quick test into Paint and it was in full color.

After a few minutes of poking around in this utility, I was reasonably impressed. I have to eat some dinner now but i'll definitely be playing with this utility more throughout the evening. I am definitely interested in seeing what the interfaces are like for a developer :-)

Cheers ESRI, Great Work!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Postcard Crystal Radio - Station X

My buddy got back from visiting Westminster Abbey and Kings College not too long ago an upon his return brought me a gift. Namely, a "Make your own Postcard Radio" from "Station X". I have had it sitting on my desk for quite some time now, in the box, undisturbed... Tonight, I decided to whip it out and slap it together.

It comes in a small cardboard box. When you open it up, there is a small bag containing the components and a pamphlet that has a detailed description of the device.

The pamphlet gives you a run-down on how it functions and how to assemble it. This all makes me feel like a kid again :-) You should be able to zoom in on the photo a bit to read it (if you're interested).

On to the assembly, first thing I had to do was remove the bread board and slap on some stickers. Back in the day, one would have made this device using an actual postcard... now in 2008/9 we use environmentally friendly, cost-effective PCBs :-) This is what it looks like pre-assembly.

You have to slap on a postcard sticker, to give it that 1930/40's look... There's four leads exposed for earth, antenna and earphones.

So, what else is in the box? Let me take a quick step back and show the details below. You have the now-postcard-sticker'd bread board, four alligator clips, two wires (one for antenna one for earth), a microphone and a tuner.

Next step of the instructions was to attach all the alligator clips... See my brilliant work below:

Not much else to it, so let's make some noise! This is a shot of the unit fully assembled and prepared for use. Notice, my earth lead is not hooked up yet and my antenna is sitting up in a bundle on the desk... not ideal operating conditions.... So, let's get this show on the road!

Here, you can see the unit set up for operating conditions. Earth lead is attached to the metalic leg of my desk via alligator clip. The antenna was propped up in the blinds and is actually hanging down on the other side (which you can't see very well).

It took about 10 second to get tuned in to a station (note: it was 20:54 local time (GMT-5) during testing). Here's a picture of one happy Joe and his crystal radio during its first test.

I was able to tune into 1030AM and get some reasonably good reception. I used a portable am/fm headset to determine the station. Brace yourself, you are about to experience the world of crystal radio live!


Ok, you may now return from the edge of your seat. I did a little search into the source of the radio and came across this site. The site appears to have a rather diverse selection of educational materials. Awesome.

So, how do I rate it? I give it a 10 out of 10. I'd highly recommend it for kids who want to get into radio or adults who just love to have interesting stuff sitting around. I'll definitely be leaving this device by my desk, most likely pinned up on the wall... since it does make an excellent conversational piece.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Weather balloon - The Beginning

I had a dream the other day, that I sent my cell phone up in the sky attached to a balloon. In my dream, I wrote some code to send coordinates via MMS and I safely recovered it... When I woke up in the morning, I told my wife what I had dreamed and she called me nuts.

That morning I decided it: I am going to conquer the skies, via weather balloon.

Although in my dream everything went as planed, real-life is going to be a bit more challenging, especially in Florida (water, water everywhere...) I plan on embarking on two low altitude test flights, then two high altitude flights. The first flight will take place strictly to test out hardware. After all, this is my first balloon. My primary goals are to:
  • communicate effectively
  • retrieve the payload
Retrieving the payload is my biggest concern as Florida is pretty much all water. As a result, my design is going to consist of a payload that can float. Up to now, I have my balloons ordered from Kaymont, two KCI200s and two KCI1200s.

Pretty exciting eh!? More posts to come as I make progress.