Geoint 2006 — Day 1

Yes, it has been a very long time since I posted something with any sort of substance.  I have been distracted with other things; I think that is one of the things that i have a problem with–staying committed to a project until it is completed.  Granted, there is no particular completion date for this blog but, all the same I have some what lost interest in it in recent months and that is why I have not posted recently. Anyway, I am currently in Florida attending Geoint 2006.  It has been interesting so far but there is one striking difference about this community compared to the conferences I usually go to, no one has a laptop computer.  At every other conference I have been too, everyone has their laptop out.  Of about 3,000 attendees I have seen about 3 laptops including my own.  I hope that this is not an indicator of the level of technological adoption in this community; but I fear that it does.

Perhaps it would explain the relative void of GIS applications available on alternative systems such as Linux and MacOS X.  Being unix at the core these systems are most of the specialized processors I being developed.  By having viewers that only work on windows platforms we are ensuring that the developers of these systems are not thinking about how their product can improve upon the analysts existing experience but rather they will tend to redefine the problem.  A unified architecture that works across all platforms and that is made available to all government contractors on all networks would facilitate better integration with the specialized processors that the government is investing so much money in.  On a more encouraging note there does appear to be a large number of PDA’s and blackberries in use. Admiral Robert B. Murret, the new director of the NGA, was the first presentor of the day.  He discussed some of the successes that NGA has had in recent years in supporting the mission and the challenges that will affect the program as it strives to adapt to the changing world.  For the most part what I got out of the talk was that NGA has done a great job in supporting the end customer and that as we move into the future it will continue to reach out to industry and the international community to integrate data in order to support the mission.  One thing that did stand out to me was that in the past NGA has viewed it’s primary product as imagery.  In recent months they have tried to emphasize that NGA is the integrator of ALL geospatial data in support of the final mission.  This includes imagery but also other very important things such as elevation data, ionospheric models, etc. The second speaker was the chair of the 9/11 commission.  He was a very energetic speaker and had some good things to say. His talk most revolved around the upcoming changes in congress and that we need to understand that the means and methods used to fight the cold war are not relevant in todays fight against terrorism.  In order to fight the threats presented today we need to fully implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission and ensure that we are leveraging technology and new communication methods in order to foster innovation in the defense and intelligence communities.  He emphasized that Homeland Security was not, at least in his opinion, the right response to the terror attacks and that we needed to reform the way that congress does business. In the afternoon, the General in charge of the coordination of military assets during hurricane Katrina gave a talk on how geospatial assets helped and hurt his objective. The major point that I took away from the talk was that GIS applications were too hard to use–it shouldn’t take a "GIS" guy to be able to operate the system.  It should be as pervasive and simple as browsing the internet.  He was a no nonsense sort of guy which I liked and apparently the rest of the audience did too because he was the only one who got a standing ovation. The final panel of the day was a discussion of the future of "Geoint."  Pete Rustan was supposed to be on this panel but he sent one of his underlings instead.  I think this was probably my least favorite part of the day because I felt like the panel was mostly composed of people who had been in the community for years and are responsible for many of the practices and policies we have today just saying that it’s all terrible and needs to change without really saying what’s terrible, how it needs to change or how it can be accomplished.  There was one fellow on the panel whom I like quite a lot though–Michael Jones, the Cheif Technology Officer of Google Earth.  I got a chance to talk to him for about 30 minutes after the panel and I think that he has a lot of good ideas about how to run a company that fosters a culture of innovation and creativity.  He does not like the IR&D policy that contractors currently use because it does not encourage companies to take risk or to invest in "disruptive technology" but rather to only look at things that have a high potential to generate future billable contracts which results in low risk projects that do not push the envelope.  While he recognizes the need for companies to do this in order to protect themselves if this becomes the only form or "research" that a company or community participates in they are in danger of becoming irrelevant.  Here are some of the things that I took away from talking with him about how we can reform the system:

  1. ALL employees in a company should participate to some degree in IR&D efforts. No one should be so critical path on a project such that they do not have the time to dedicate even a small percentage to exploring new ideas.
  2. Failure needs to be an option; and even expected.  That’s part of the process and companies should understand that a good portion of ideas will fail for one reason or another but the few that succeed make all these failures worth it.
  3. There should be a subset of people that work on new ideas which are separated from the main company both geographically and ideologically.  Company cultures can poison otherwise good ideas.  Steps should be taken to try and foster new ways of thinking without allowing the company culture to destroy it.  By having a small subset of researchers that are removed from the rest of the company in nearly every way, they can approach problems from different angles that the company culture would have otherwise prevented.
  4. And finally ideas should be recognized and the people who come up with them and are willing to try them should be rewarded, whether the idea ends up working out or not. Rewarding ideas and not the success of ideas encourages an attitude of innovation and creativity.  It encourages employees to think out of the box.

Well, I think that’s a sufficiently long post for the day.  Hopefully I will be more diligent about posting in the future.