Friday, May 31, 2013

Where's The Line?

First Michigan picks on Ohio, now it's picking on Indiana:

Border Line Project Gets Funds

But any time you can have fun with a lawyer it's a good day:

Owens remembers a telephone call he got from an attorney representing the victim of a traffic accident along the state border.
“He asked me what state the accident was in,” Owens said.  “I said, ‘I can’t really tell you. We don’t really know where the state line is.’”

Yessir, a very good day!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some Changes Afoot

Don't panic!  Long time visitors to this blog will notice a dramatic change to the layout and color scheme.  I decided it was time to ditch the dark background and clean up some of the text and graphics on the blog, all in the interest of making it easier to read.

The template changes have messed with the picture layouts on some of my early posts, and I'll clean them up over time.  I decided long ago that blogging should be about content delivery, not gimmicky layouts, so I decided to stick with one of the simplest layout templates available on  It just makes it easier for me to write and post.

If you like the new layout and color scheme please let me know by posting a comment below.

If you don't like the new layout let me know, too.  But just don't complain, offer suggestions.

As always, thanks for your loyalty!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trimble Juno 5

I got a chance to spend a few days playing with one of the new Trimble Juno 5 handheld data collectors and thought I'd give some initial impressions.

I've been discussing the Juno 3 series handhelds a lot lately on this blog.  They are great devices that offer a lot of functionality at a reasonable price point.  I think Trimble would agree.  My sources tell me the Junos 3 series have become one of Trimble's most popular selling data collectors.  But as good as they are, the Juno 3's still have some limitations.  First is processor speed.  The Juno 3 uses a relatively low capacity 800 mhz Samsung processor and there's a lot of overhead involved in just running the operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5.  It shows.  The Juno moves like a turtle on a cold morning when executing some processor or graphics intensive processes.  Still, they have proven to be stable & reliable devices and we rarely have crashes or lock-ups.  Things may run slow, but they run.

The next drawback is the screen.  It has a measly 3.5" QVGA screen that offers only 340 x 320 pixel resolution.  It's 'touch sensitive' only in the sense that if you imagine your finger as a stylus and stab the screen pretty hard with it (and in the right place) the screen will react.  Virtually all functions require the use of a hard stylus.  There are two good points about the screen, though.  First is that it's readable in sunlight.  Second is that the low resolution graphics put as little demand as possible on the already slow processor chip sets.  From that perspective I guess the screen functionality is acceptable.

Last year Trimble announced the new Juno 5 series of data collectors.  While the Juno 5 doesn't replace the Juno 3, it offers a new 'smart phone' form factor.  When I first read about the new Juno I dismissed it as a gimmick, a repackaged Juno 3 designed to appeal to the GenX crowd that can't work with anything that doesn't look like an iPhone.  But a few weeks ago at the ESRI Southeast Users Conference I got the chance to handle one and was initially impressed.  First, this thing is BIG, and it's HEAVY.  Think a Samsung Galaxy S4 on steroids (though it's not made by Samsung).  This Juno is heavy as in solid & rugged.  It impresses as a serious piece of hardware.  Next, the screen.  Lots of screen real estate and sharp as a tack with great resolution and contrast.  As good as most current smartphones.  I was impressed and I left the conference determined to get my hands on one to test.

As luck would have it my friends at NEI were more than happy to oblige.  They loaned me a Juno 5D for a few days as part of a larger hardware test and I got to spend a few hours getting to better know this new beastie.

The hardware specs are available on Trimble's website so I won't regurgitate them all here, but we see improvements over the Juno 3D in two key areas - the CPU, which was switched to a 1 Ghz Texas Instruments processor, and the screen which is a WVGA TFT panel offering 480 x 800 pixel resolution.  I have to assume there's an upgraded graphics processor too.

For those who have experience running either the original Juno S series or the Juno 3 series devices, the improved performance of the Juno 5 is an attention getter.  Finally, a device fast enough to make Windows Mobile so responsive you'd almost think it doesn't suck.  The screen responds to finger gestures just like you'd expect a smart phone's screen to respond.  No stylus needed.  Heck, the Juno 5 doesn't eve come with a stylus!

The two Junos side-by-side.  The screen on the 5D
is not just larger, but the quality and resolution is
exponentially better.

Trimble also put a lot of thought into the case design.  The Juno 3 series devices are well built and water resistant, but the case integrity is highly dependent on a number of rubber plugs that cover all the little ports the thing has - power, USB & patch antenna.  The 5D cleverly reduces the number of ports needing covers by combining the USB and power connector and designing the connector as an uncovered but permanently sealed series of small contact pads.  The layout looks similar to the old serial port connection.  The charger/synch cable has a connector end with a number of small spring loaded contact pins that mate with the contact pads on the device, and the whole thing is secured by two tried and true thumb screws.  I first ran into a similar arrangement with my DeLorme PN-60 GPS.  It's a design that eliminates the possibility of water intrusion and ensures the connection stays tight even under rough conditions like being bounced around in a car.  It works great.

The USB/power connector (on the left).  This 'port' is unprotected simply
because it's weather sealed and doesn't need any protection.

The Juno 5D is a smartphone with a big screen and it runs a number of power hungry applications (like Trimble's TerraSync or ESRI's ArcPad).  It needs a big battery, and the battery accounts for much of this unit's weight.  The battery cover is screwed to the back of the case with 12 miniature Torx head screws, and I'm guessing the manner in which it's attached plays a large part in the Juno's overall ruggedness and water resistance.  Reports are that the 5D has a shorter usable battery life than the 3D.  I believe it.  It's just the nature of the technology.  The 5D is just a more power hungry device.  Based on my limited testing I think you can expect to get at least 4 continuous hours of field data collection out of one of these handhelds before having to go for a recharge.  By the way, Trimble reports that the battery is replaceable, but it must be done by an authorized Trimble repair center.

Rear of the 5D case showing the battery cover
and 8 mp camera with flash

Trimble also gave the 5D an 8 megapixel digital camera with flash.  Compared to the somewhat muddy, low contrast pictures the Juno 3D's 5 megapixel camera delivers this one is pretty good.  Not iPhone good, but still not bad.

So how did it perform in the field?  I ran some simple point feature collection jobs around my office building using ArcPad.  Uncorrected accuracy was as expected - about 5 ft. for those points under open sky.  Running ArcPad on the larger, brighter screen was pretty interesting.  The high screen resolution renders the normally fuzzy low-res ArcPad icons in sharp detail, but they were pretty small as presented on the display.  It took a bit of practice to figure out just where to tap to get them to react.  But once I got that figured out I was off and running.  The 1000 mhz processor allows ArcPad to run pretty snappy, and there was no system lag when choosing to collect a point or move to a different screen. The digital camera is still slow to launch when collecting a photo point, but not anywhere near as slow as on the 3D (which is glacially slow).  Since ArcPad passes the photo collection process over to the Windows Mobile slow, clunky camera interface I don't think we can expect much more of a performance improvement here.

Based on my limited testing I really like this new unit.  It's a clear step up from the Juno 3 series in performance and features.  But it's not perfect...

First, price.  This thing retails for a whopping $1,800.  That is about $700 more that the Juno 3D.  Ouch.  Is the improved form factor, screen size and resolution and faster processor worth an additional $700?  I'm not really sure considering that the Juno 3D is still a very capable device and can do everything the 5D can do, albeit just a bit slower.  Keep this price factor in mind as we move forward in the discussion.

Let's next consider GLONASS, or the lack of it.  Really Trimble?  Really?  Trimble seems to want to position their GLONASS-capable devices towards the premium end of their hardware line.  That may have been an OK marketing move a few years ago, but today just about every smartphone and new consumer GPS coming onto the market is GLONASS capable.  Heck, Garmin's bottom-barrel low price leader, the eTrex 10 (currently selling for $103 on Amazon), has been GLONASS capable for over a year now!  The days of GLONASS receivers being a 'premium' product are long over.  Wake up Trimble.  At this price point I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect the 5D be GLONASS capable.

Next, software.  You pay $1,800 for a very capable piece of GPS hardware but it comes with no native navigation package and the ability to add apps is very limited.  No mapping or navigation software, nothing to casually collect waypoints or GPS tracks with.  Now, I realize this is a 'professional data collector', but it would be nice if Trimble ported one of their consumer-grade iPhone or Android apps over to the Windows Mobile OS and included it free on the device.  TerraSync and ArcPad are great data collection tools, but lousy street navigation tools.  As a geospatial project manager I expect a device with this capability to offer more software features.  There simply is no reason why I shouldn't be able to use it for things like work party navigation and jobsite familiarization, job check-in/check-out, have an eReader for portable document management, etc.

Last, I experienced a few lock-ups on the device while running ArcPad 10, mainly when trying to collect photos.  All of these lock-ups required a system reset, and all collected data was lost.  It seems to me that a firmware or OS upgrade may be in order.  I'd be hesitant to put this device into the hands of work crews until this issue is corrected.

So, is the Juno 5D worth the investment?  Certainly you can get all the functionality of the 5D in the much less expensive 3D.  However, the new smartphone-like form factor of the 5D is very compelling, and the performance improvements it brings to the Juno line mean something in the real world of field data collection: a better form factor, better screen, faster overall performance.  But the shortcomings are glaring and could have been easily addressed by Trimble before they released this device to market.

At the $1,800 price point I think the 5D is worth the investment only if your organization needs the improved performance this Juno provides.

But let's look into the future.  I think the 5D shows us where Trimble intends to take this very successful line of handheld data collectors.   We will never see a new Juno that looks like the 3D.  The smartphone 'experience' is where the field is headed.  From that perspective the Juno 5D is a good first effort.  It's going to be very interesting to see what future versions bring.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Trimble Fairy Dropped By

And barfed on my desk again...

Actually the good folks at NEI in Atlanta are loaning us some equipment to test for a week or so.   For the past 6 years we've been running Trimble R8 receivers and TSC2 data collectors for GIS data collection (I know, I know, that's like hunting mosquitoes with a bazooka, but it's what we found when we hired on with this little operation).  This combo has been spectacularly successful at the airport and has revolutionized GIS and Civil Engineering data collection.

But these systems are getting long in the tooth and we want to move up to a GNSS capable receiver/data collector combo that offers more versatility.  Rather than go the survey equipment route we are taking a look at some of Trimble's centimeter grade GIS/Mapping systems.  I like the idea of a GIS/Mapping data collector that I can run TerraSync, ArcPad or ArcGIS for Windows Mobile on, picking the application based on project and accuracy requirements.

So today NEI dropped off a GeoExplorer 6000 XH, a Zephyr antenna and a one of the new Juno 5 handhelds for us to play with test.

I'll report back in a week or so on how things go.

(By the way, I really like the screen on the Juno 5.  Compared to the screen on the Juno 3D... well, there is no comparison.  And this sucker is fast and the touch screen is responsive.  Almost makes you forget it's running Windoze Embedded Something-or-other 6.5.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Around The World On A Cup Of Coffee

My Grandmother was never one to let a good product promotion pass her by.  I think it was part of her fascination with her adopted country.  Where else but in America could you save up a few box tops or clip a few coupons, mail them off and the sponsoring company would send you something free in the mail.  Often these little give-aways would be handed down to one of her grandchildren.  It was always fun to visit Grandma - you never knew what she had waiting for you.  Usually it was just some small trinket from a cereal or soap company.  Occasionally it was something really neat.  One year she gave me and my brother miniature Civil War cannons she got from the Quaker Oats people - you know, the ones that shoot puffed rice out of a cannon.  Those cannons ended up shooting thousands of pretend cannon balls in hundreds of pretend battles we held on our living room floor.  Oh, the pretend carnage!  Even after I was all grown up and in the Army I'd still occasionally get an odd item or two from her.  Bless her heart, she never stopped thinking about us even long after we had left home and struck out on our own.

In the late 70's the Nestle company was running an advertising campaign highlighting the fact that their instant coffee, Nescafe, was the #1 selling coffee product world wide.  It was no idle boast.  Nescafe was (and still is) extremely popular in Europe, and Nescafe is commonly listed as a separate drink option on many restaurant menus.  A lot of Europeans prefer it over brewed coffee.  While I'm no fan of instant coffee I do have to admit that Nescafe is the least objectionable of the bunch.

As part of the promotion Nestle produced a series of small glass coffee mugs emblazoned with a world map.  Nothing fancy, just a highly simplified small scale map with a grid.  My Grandmother got a set and passed them on to my parents.  One day while home on leave my Mom passed along a couple of these mugs to me. At the time I was working as a topographer for the Army and maps were my business, so I thought it was a neat coincidence.  I kept one of the cups on my desk at work and even occasionally drank coffee out of it.  Over time the world map wore off and in a few years I was left with just a bare glass coffee mug so I pitched it.  Some where along the way I lost its twin.  It probably got chipped or broken during one of our many moves while I was in the Army.

Being a lover of all things topographic, even kitschy little glass coffee mugs with world map appliques, I always kept my eye open for replacements.  Last week I was cruising around eBay and decided to do a quick search for 'nestle coffee cup'.  I was surprised at the number of listings that came up for my long lost little mug.  Apparently Nestle had millions of them made and most are still available through eBay sellers.  I found a dealer who gave me a good price on a set of them and a few days later I was the proud owner of four gen-u-ine 1970s vintage cheap cast glass coffee mugs sporting world maps.

I love 'em!

So let's take a quick world tour courtesy of Nestle...

Eastern Hemisphere.  Hey, where's the British Isles?
Interestingly, they included Lake Baikal.

Western Hemisphere.  Florida's been squinched into a vestigial bump
but at least they included Puerto Rico.

Being a topographic geek I note that the far north and far south polar regions are cut off and the grid appears to be square, so I'm guessing it's a Universal Transverse Mercator projection.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

ESRI Southeast User Conference

I just got back from the 2013 ESRI Southeast User Conference in Jacksonville, FL.  Here's my overview of all the key topics presented or discussed at the conference:

ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, Cloud, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online,ArcGIS Online, Hosted Services,ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, Mobile with ArcGIS Online, Cloud, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS for Desktop, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, Cloud, Geoprocessing In the Cloud, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS for Server, ArcGIS Online.

And to wrap it all up: ArcGIS Online.

ESRI, you are sounding like a broken record.