The KidsRuby 1.0 Adventure

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Today my seven-year-old son and I embarked on a mission to learn how to program with KidsRuby 1.0. Before ever hearing of KidsRuby my son had expressed interest in programming so he could create games.

I use Python on a regular basis and had considered using the language to teach programming basics. However, there are few resources specifically for teaching Python (or any language) to kids out there. Those resources that do exist for kids are not well developed. That is why I was very excited when I discovered KidsRuby through Twitter (@kidsruby).
The KidsRuby 1.0 environment seems like a great way to get started with the Ruby language. It includes a code editor, a help tab with Ruby lessons and an output area where you can interact with your code.
This was my first experience with the Ruby language so as I go through the tutorials with my son I will be learning too. So far I am encouraged that my son has put in several hours learning with KidsRuby and keeps asking to do more. I have to pull him off the laptop so he can take a rest. As we get further into our studies I will post updates on our progress.

Add Custom Color Ramps To ArcGIS From The ESRI Mapping Center

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This post references ESRI ArcGIS Desktop 10.0. While the steps listed might work in previous versions of ArcMap, it is not guaranteed.
When you have a continuous raster such as a DEM in ArcGIS, you will likely want to adjust its color ramp to better highlight elevation changes. The default color ramps suffice for a majority of situations, however, your choices are still limited. To expand your list you could create your own color ramp or you could import a new .style file containing ready-to-use color ramps and symbols.
The ESRI Mapping Center provides a set of color ramps to help further depict raster surfaces. The ramps are divided among four styles which are Hypsometry, Hillshades, Events and CartoEffects. Following are the steps you take to add the new color ramps:
  1. On the ArcGIS resources page of the Mapping Center choose the Styles tab and click on ColorRamps2.0 to start the download.
  2. After you download the file, unzip it. Inside you will find four .style files and a .txt file describing the styles.
  3. Copy the four .style files to C:\Program Files\ArcGIS\Desktop10.0\Styles.
  4. Open a map document. 
  5. Click the customize dropdown and select Style Manager. 
  6. On the right side of the Style Manager click on the Styles… button. In the Style References window that opens click Add Style to List…. 
  7. Navigate to C:\Program Files\ArcGIS\Desktop10.0\Styles where you placed the .style files and select the first one. You might have to repeat this step once for each style.  
  8. After all of the styles are shown in the Style References list, make sure they are check marked and click the Set as Default List button. 
  9. Click OK and you should see your styles on the left side of the Style Manager. Close the style manager. At this point you can go to the symbology tab of your Layer Properties for a given raster and select one of the new color ramps.
Tip: Right Click on the color ramp dropdown and uncheck Graphic View to see the text descriptions of the ramps.

GISnation.com, Social Networking for the Geospatial Community?

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A new GIS centered web site called GISnation.com launched yesterday. According to the site’s mission statement its purpose is simply to promote “geospatial solutions” and provide a multi-use platform to showcasing GIS projects.
The site tries to pack a lot into its pages. It attempts to provide tools and services such as social networks, job boards, resource searches, news feeds, promotional challenges and project submission platforms. The social networking aspect itself is quite involved. There is a Facebook-like “wall” that you can post updates to, a blogging interface where you can create your own blog within the larger site, a file upload area, a photo gallery, a professional networking page where you can have a LinkedIn-like profile and a project collaboration area where you can work with others on a geospatial solution.
It will be interesting to see how the geospatial community reacts to a centralized site like this that combines multiple aspects of already established social media services in a GIS centered environment. As with any application that claims to be a social media platform, its value will be revealed by the users who engage with it. If the GIS user community has a need for what GISnation is attempting to provide, it could do well.
I will be interacting on the site in the coming days and will try to report my findings. Meanwhile, if you sign up for access to the site, leave a comment here and let me know what you think. Do you think it has a future?
Update: Apparently GISnation didn’t have much of a futre. The site doesn’t seem to be in existence any more. It’s probably just as well since ESRI already has established forums and GIS communities are already created on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

What is in Your Office Desk Drawer?

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So the other day I took a look in the top drawer of my desk at work. I’m not talking about the glance you give when you throw something in that you might need “someday”. I actually looked at what was in there. It was kind of scary what I had let accumulate. Here is a partial list of what I found:
  • Box of pushpins
  • Obsolete Autodesk, ESRI, and Trimble trial software and drivers from 3 years ago.
  • Short, flathead screwdriver
  • A Spaceghost Christmas ornament
  • Organic white tea bags (about 6 of them)
  • 12 inch ruler (I actually use this from time to time to measure margins, boxes, icons and other elements on printed maps)
  • 2009 statistical abstract of the United States
  • Four USB cables from unknown hardware purchases
  • Engineering ruler
  • Box of plastic forks
  • Bottle of instant Krazy Glue
  • More than eleven pens from geospatial conference vendors
  • Scissors
  • 12 volt power supply to something I probably threw away in 2010
  • Crossword puzzle book
  • Seven lip balm containers (Six were empty)
  • PS/2 to USB adapter
  • Sunscreen
  • Some flashy button thing from a conference
  • Various sizes of sticky note pad
Contents of my desk drawer
This was just the top drawer. I’m kind of afraid to get into the bottom two. It looks like I am going to have to do some winter cleaning pretty soon.

I am sure there are plenty of more interesting desk drawer content lists out there so leave a comment and let me know what’s in yours.

Social Media Speaks and the Government Listens

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The idea of social media command centers is not a new one. The best known centers might be from Gatorade and Dell who each use theirs for brand monitoring. But businesses are not the only ones accessing large amounts of social media data. Carahsoft, a private government solutions company currently markets the InTTENSITY Social Media Command Center, by the InTTENSITYCorporation, to the US Government intelligence community. According to InTTENSITY, their web based SaaS product officially launched in September of 2011, has the capability to anticipate and measure events as they happen or even before they happen, based on social media monitoring.
It could be like a real life version of the TV show Person of Interest. With this software, upcoming events mentioned in the social media cloud could be monitored and even interrupted as they occur. If your tweets and updates happen to be tagged with a geospatial reference (address, city, lat/long) social activity could be pinpointed with precision.
Since much of social media is by definition public communication (as opposed to a private phone call or email) there doesn’t seem to be a barrier to a government entity watching what flows through Twitter to monitor actions, speech or ideas it doesn’t approve of, then affecting it in some way.
InTTENSITY claims its software is capable of tapping into the entire Twitter stream as well as Facebook and blog sites and can monitor in up to thirty-two languages. Is software like the InTTENSITY Command Center just TweetDeck on steroids? Is it an innocuous use of social media technology? Or does its potential as a social monitoring tool pose a threat to individual and community liberty?
I am not suggesting that our government is using or will use this software for anything other than monitoring real threats to the American people. However, as our government is further enabled to follow our daily personal lives, we the people must follow them even closer.

Just Another Haphazard Recording Studio Thrown Together Using Parts from eBay and Craigslist

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I spent weeks meeting strange people from craigslist in parking lots all over town, searching eBay and cruising garage sales to find the best (read: whatever I could afford at the moment) equipment for putting together a sound recording studio at home. I don’t know exactly what prompted me to set up a studio. I guess initially I had thought I wanted a voice studio to read some of my own writing into an audio file for fun. I also mess around playing the banjo, Irish tin whistles and various other instruments and thought it would be interesting to see what I could do with a microphone and free audio mixing software.

When I wasn’t trying to buy equipment I was trying to figure out what the next piece I would need should be. I read plenty of how-tos on the subject of how to set up a studio at home. There were as many opinions about equipment as there were discussions. For that reason, this post is not about what to choose or how to choose it. Of course I will list out what I got and what I hope to replace it with, but I am just a hack at this so don’t take what I did as a serious recommendation.  So here is what I have:
Along with those purchases came a Radio Shack dynamic mic and an MXL 990/991 condenser mic set. I might try to use the MXL 991 to pick up the banjo. I decided to put it in the closet under the stairs since it is a small space and wouldn’t take too much to soundproof it. I can tell there is a little echo off of the closet door so I might have to get some egg crate foam or something to glue to the back of it. I only hope now that I won’t lose interest in the project before I get something recorded. Since I originally bought all of this stuff six months ago and only just finished setting it up, that is a distinct possibility.
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
M-Audio FireWire Solo Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
Dell Inspiron 6000 with M-Audio Interface
MXL 990/991 Microphones
MXL 990/991 Microphones
AT2020 with Voxguard
AT2020 with Voxguard
If I do get something recorded I will put it on the blog.