My Preamble to the Song “Belleau Wood” by Garth Brooks

•November 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We’re taking a slight break from the techno stuff today…

I wrote this preamble as an introduction to the song “Belleau Wood” by Garth Brooks (Sevens – 1997) as many people have asked me about the background story:

“I’ve always been an avid book reader. And so it was that I was ten years old when I came across a true and surreal story.

“The year was 1914 and the major European powers were fighting the ‘Great War’ or the ‘War to End All Wars’ – what we know now as the ‘First World War’. What began in the early summer of that year was only expected to last for a few weeks or months at the most. Instead, it would drag on for four years with some of the bitterest and bloodiest fighting the world had ever seen.

“On that cold, Christmas Day of 1914, an informal truce was declared – there would be no fighting on this day. And something magical happened.

“Eighty-three years later, Garth Brooks released a song that resurrected the memory of that moment in history for me. And so I dedicate this to the memory of those in harm’s way – and to those who believe we can do better.”

I had a more descriptive narrative for the third paragraph written but removed it so as not to ruin any surprise the listener may experience when hearing the tune for the first time:

“On that cold, Christmas Day of 1914, an informal truce was declared – there would be no fighting on this day. And something magical happened. With a reprieve from the fighting, soldiers from both sides of the barbed wire laid down their arms and turned their backs on the war, gathering together in ‘No Man’s Land’ to sing Christmas Carols, toast each other, exchange photographs, and even play a few games of soccer.”

To this day I am still awestruck by the historic event  – and I am given hope.

If you’re interested in learning more about the “Christmas Truce” there’s a great article available at Wikipedia as well as a children’s book and several movies: Joyeux Noël (Fiction); The Christmas Truce (History Channel) .


ESRI User Conference 2009 Recap

•November 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

For those who didn’t get to attend the San Diego User Conference in person this, ESRI spent some time putting on local presentations of the Plenary Session. My co-workers and I attended the one given in Bellevue today and came away quite impressed. T.J. Abbenhaus, Heather Glock, & Leah Saunders were outstanding in going over the highlights. The only thing missing were the freebies.

Quite a few things from ArcGIS 9.3.1 were reviewed although the refresher was nice. Besides the significant improvements to the ArcGIS Server rendering I think layer packages and ArcGIS Online (which Jack Dangermond described as “GeoFlickr”) are going to go over big. We’re going to have to start enhancing our FTP site by providing layer packages which include the symbology that so many users have asked for in the past. Also mentioned was an ESRI Business Solution named MapIt. This was developed by ESRI to take advantage of Microsoft platform & technology such as SQL Server 2008 spatial datatypes, SharePoint, Bing maps, Excel & Silverlight to implement GIS-enabled enterprise solutions. Very interesting.

Next up was ArcGIS 9.4 rumored to be available around the time of the 2010 User Conference. Many changes to the user interface will be introduced – most for the better as long as it doesn’t go “ribbon” on us. I especially liked the dockable windows (which don’t cause a screen refresh) and the addition of edit templates. The map book capability has been greatly improved. Other changes or additions include an open API to the file geodatabase, replication of SDE data (non-versioned and multiple schemas), a new mosaic imagery catalog, the inclusion of some features from Image Analyst (the ENVI rooftop demo was awesome), and the ability for non-licensed clients to view Maplex labels. An interesting Python script was also shown that allowed reconnecting the data sources for multiple map documents – very cool.

After that, there were introductions to and demos of the Map Templates followed by a short overview of the “Creating Effective Web Maps” seminar.

All in all, a fully worthwhile use of the day!

RCA Studio II

•August 15, 2009 • 4 Comments

RCA Studio II (1977) I came across the article “Fifteen Classic Game Console Design Mistakes” and was blown away. The RCA Studio II was the first video game console we had as a family. I believe my dad brought it home for Christmas – either 1977 or 1978. To indicate how surprising that charitable action was we didn’t get an Atari 2600 until 1983, cable until 1984, or a VCR until 1989. So the fact my dad, not being either an electronics or games guy, bought this console with three game cartridges (Baseball, Blackjack, & Tennis) was unexpected. To be honest this unit wasn’t anything really special. The unit only displayed in black & white, the graphics were blocky and unattractive, most of the games required two players, and the games had some quirks:

  • Bowling“, one of the five built-in games, had a propensity for producing splits unless you hit the pocket just right. Also, if I recall correctly,  there was no carry over for spares or strikes so they scored 15 and 20 points respectively.
  • Patterns” & “Freeway“, two of the other built-in games, were interesting for the first minute and quite boring after that.
  • Blackjack” was irritatingly un-winnable. If memory serves me right the House popped up natural 21’s much more frequently than the players. And don’t even try holding on 16 or 17!
  • Baseball” had one of the most non-obvious features I’ve ever seen. You had to catch the ball in the thick parts of the the glove when fielding a hit – if you caught it in the center of the glove, the thinnest part of the glyph, the ball would pass right through.
  • Tennis” was classic Pong and not much else.

If you’re really interested in learning more about this ancient piece of the hardware, there are pages for the emulator, technical information, screenshots (where these images were linked from), and an FAQ. Updated 7/21/2014: Discovered the website I originally linked to broke the image links. Thankfully, I came across these two sites and was able to recreate them myself:

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

•August 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Just some of the lists (in no particular order) I’ve collected from the various newsletters I subscribe to. I’ll update this as I come across any more interesting lists. So without further ado:

Note: all links will open in a new window.

Creating Effective Web Maps

•June 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

Went to a free seminar hosted by ESRI titled “Creating Effective Web Maps“. The handout (PDF) and slides (PowerPoint) are available from the seminar’s website. Here’s what I got out of it:

  • Layer Packages : this helps solve one of the classic problems of sharing data and layer cartography by exporting both into a single file (LPK) that can be shared. These files can then be automatically loaded into ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Explorer Release 900 from a download link.
  • ArcGIS Online Sharing Web : This is a new portal still in beta form that will allow users to upload and share maps, data, and services in addition to the aforementioned layer packages.
  • Map Templates : These are professional-grade quality templates for cartography and data models developed by ESRI’s own mapping center as well as the user community to serve as standardized symbology and storage if wanted.
  • Map Service Publishing Toolbar : Available with ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1, this new toolbar includes tools to analyze and help optimize map documents destined for map services and for the creation and publishing of Map Service Definition (MSD) files.
  • ArcGIS Server : At 9.3.1, enhancements have been made to the ArcGIS Server map service engines for faster creation of cached services and high-performance rendering of dynamic map services (with an emphasis on cartography & symbology). Four Analyst Extensions (3D, Spatial, Networks, & Geostatistical) are now included with the Advanced Server Edition while Editing is now included with Standard. There’s also a new licensing option named “Web Map API” which I’ll need to learn more about.
  • Virtual Earth : ArcGIS Desktop users now have direct access to Virtual Earth basemaps while ArcGIS Server licensees can purchase blocks – 100,000 transactions for $250.
  • ArcGIS Web Mapping APIs: Learned more about the JavaScript, Flex, and Silverlight API’s for building web applications. There was talk on the existing sample viewers available for the JavaScript and Flex, the latter being demonstrated more fully including the addition of downloadable Flex widgets, with mention of one coming soon for Silverlight when that API is out of beta.
  • Live User Sites : Lot of promotion for several live (and impressive) user sites such as the City of Greeley, Colorado’s “ORIGIN Property Information Map“, the State of Maryland’s “StateStat” showing the dispersion of stimulus money, Virginia Emergency Operations Center’s “VIPER” (which is not a public-facing site), and “Solar Boston Map“.
  • Building Web Maps Using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript : A new instructor-led class from ESRI specifically aimed at creating modern-looking, high-performance web maps using the JavaScript API. As of the date of this post it’s only being offered in CA, MO, GA, & AZ.

All in all, a very worthwhile half-day seminar especially considering it was free. Many people, including myself, would have gladly paid for the content. Thank you ESRI!

Old-School Programming – The Good Old Days?

•May 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

I read an article over the weekend that had me waxing nostalgic over the good old days of programming – except they weren’t all good. Here’s just a few items from the article (and some of my own) that I can relate to:

In many ways, things have improved and gotten easier. But I also think that without the benefits and the trial & error of yesteryear I wouldn’t have the insightful knowledge that I have today which in the end makes me a better software developer – and more appreciative. What was unthinkable yesterday is possible today.

Changing the Registered Owner and Company Names in Windows

•May 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes it’s necessary to change the name of the registered owner and/or company for a Windows installation. Unfortunately, there is no built-in utility for doing so. Instead, as described in this Microsoft Knowledge Base article, you’ll have to use the Registry Editor (regedit.exe) to do so.

  1. This is an optional step but you can verify the current name settings by running “winver”.
  2. Open the Registry Editor and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion.
  3. There are two registry keys named “RegisteredOrganization” for the company name and “RegisteredOwner” for the owner name. Simply change the values to whatever you’d like.
  4. Close the Registry Editor.
  5. Run “winver” to verify your changes were made.

That’s it – no reboot necessary.