My new sites...

by Steve Email

I feel that I have fallen too far behind on this site to keep it going right now. I am still working on GIS projects related to motorsports and some of that work can been seen at my new website here:

I also have a page which shows off my motorsport experiences, as a mini-blog to keep track of what I have done:

Hopefully at some point in the future I will have the time to put this page to good use again, but right now with work and school I just can't do it.

Been a While...

by Steve Email

It's been what, six months since I last updated this blog? I just haven't had the time. I'm not sure exactly what I will be doing with the blog, since I don't have the time to update it consistently, but it will be modified soon. I'm thinking it will be more of a random news update for the other sections of the site. Right now I am working on those pieces. The main site will provide car enthusiasts with track maps, data and also an option to provide their vehicle's information (weight, corner G's, braking, etc), choose a track and receive a customized report of their possible performance. I'll also provide a forum for anyone who wants to drop a line or discuss anything related to the site.

As for me I will be working on this outside my normal work schedule and also preparing for grad school. Things are going to get busy...  XX(

ESRI UC Next Week

by Steve Email

I feel terrible that I can't even find the time to get on here and write something every week. I really dont understand how others can do this multiple times a day, unless they don't have a job...

Anyways, next week is the ESRI User Conference and I am excited. My map for the Rally Notes project is ready to go and will be on display in the map gallery. So if you are there check it out! Here is a link to it in the online gallery:

And you might notice it has been simplified in terms of the description of rally and notes. After discussions with a few people it was decided that the less complicated it was, the better it would be. So reading the Rally Notes section of this blog will help fill the gaps and the overall concept of what was missing from the map text.

In the end I'm hoping to win an award with the map. I think it has a good chance but who knows what the judges will be looking for.

Pretty soon I should have some more time to update the site. The home purchasing should be over soon and I wont be cranking out the map for the conference. I want to start working on the perfect lap project again, and I also have a couple new projects Id like to start writing about.

Lastly, Im on ArcGIS 10 now. Its good and bad. A lot of it just seems to be space saving windows and menu graphic updates but then I havent been too far into the new parts of it. Its already crashed a few times while editing (HURRAY!) so its helped get me back into the habit of saving often!

Mapping Driving Habits

by Steve Email

I found this map on CNN today that was part of a larger article about how nation-wide 1 out of every 5 drivers wouldn't be able to pass a drivers test. And to be honest with the types of situations I deal with on the road daily, Im surprised that it wasn't 4 out of 5 drivers.

Regardless, the interactive map showing bad driving habits was very interesting. The first thing it showed that blew my mind...California was not in the top ten for any of the habits! I both see and read about plenty of bad habits here in L.A. If you don't know of the wonderful site "LA Cant Drive" you should spend a few minutes and read some of the stories of what goes on here in the greater L.A. area. Granted, most of these stories are not habits listed in the CNN map, but they are terrible none the less. Obviously people aren't going to admit that they park across multiple spaces or have no problem leap-frogging an entire group of other drivers who have waited patiently, and so there would never be a way to map it.

Still it would be interesting to map out where those types of driving tend to take place...I can think of a few locations off the top of my head. Artesia Blvd and Vermont Ave in the city of Gardena. A four lane road splits into three freeway entrances. Most traffic is heading onto the 91 East and so those lanes stack up quickly. At some point those lanes become full and people stack into the other lanes to leap frog groups of people, often times with the end result being a dozen people cutting others off as the group moves through the intersection. Here is a birds-eye view:

I'd say at least 80% of the cars inside the red box will be merging left at the last moment, where the arrow points. As you can see in the photo, the far right lane splits off almost immediately. The first car in that line guns it and heads left while behind, others will sit in the lane and wait to move over if they cannot find an opening. Needless to say, I try to avoid it on my drive home.



Car Navigation Rant

by Steve Email

This past week my boss sent me a cool article about hand drawn maps. It really struck home as it reminded me of a story about my Aunt and Uncle from a few months ago. My Aunt is in the process of building her family tree and they recently visited Eastern Europe with a hand drawn map of the town and location of her relative's home. The problem with the map was that it was missing a North arrow and because of this it took them two trips to find the correct location. But why does this even matter? Because hand drawn maps are becoming a tool of the past. If you own a computer you have probably at one time used Google Maps to find a location and also directions to get there. Computerized navigation is making it much easier to get around in the world but in the end I believe it will harm us more than help us.

If there is one thing I notice in my day to day experiences with others it is that we need more people who have a sense of spatial awareness. Personally I believe spatial awareness is on the same level as generic common sense. Seeing fire triggers the thought to not touch something, while hearing someone walking next to you should keep you from suddenly veering in their direction. It seems like there are more people in the world who for some reason cannot grasp these concepts and on the road it causes much more serious problems.

How often are you driving on a highway, and the person in the lane next to you suddenly decides to switch lanes and almost runs you off the road? Then the look they give you is one of pure surprise, their face saying "THERE ARE OTHER CARS ON THIS ROAD!?" Or how about when you see someone cut across four lanes to make an exit? For the most part these are people who do not grasp where they are in the world and the last thing that we should be doing is promoting that!

I remember eight years ago heading out to a rally event I would be working at for the first time. It was out near Palmdale, CA and I had no idea about the area. As I neared the city I spent the drive taking in the area and getting a sense of where I was. Eventually I made it to where I needed to be and began my first day at the event. Later in the day myself and another guy who was at the rally decided to get some dinner at McDonalds. He offered to drive and so we got into his brand new Mitsubishi Evo with navigation. Now here is where our minds differed. When I was driving in earlier that morning I had seen a McDonalds sign on the side of the freeway two exits before the one I needed. This other guy was busy paying attention to his navigation on the way in and was focused elsewhere. So once again he had to rely on the navigation to find where the McDonalds was. Not a big deal in that case, but the navigation kept him from mapping where he was in his mind.

And that is what GPS navigation is ultimately going to do to all of us. The masses will blindly follow the robotic chick voice from their home to the super market because they can't picture the world outside of their own home. It still boggles my mind when I see a friend use their navigation system to get to a restaurant they have been to countless times before. Do we really need to shut down our own senses this much? When does it just become sad that we can't find our way around in our own city?

And this brings me back to the hand drawn maps. With more people switching to computer navigation, will we lose hand drawn maps completely? Will some of those who are currently aware of their surroundings lose that important ability? And regarding that story I started with and the hand drawn map actually making things more difficult...will people get lost anymore? Will stories about making the wrong turn to find an amazing view become a thing of the past as well?

In the end I'm not a huge fan of navigation. I'll probably never purchase one and the most I'll be found doing now is double checking a route and traffic on Google Maps before I leave. Personally I have more fun trusting my own decisions and seeing where it leads me rather than having a computer tell me exactly what to do.

CalGIS Conference

by Steve Email

I spent a few days this week at the CalGIS user conference which was held this year in Huntington Beach, CA. I had a great time and it was a definite eye opener to the new world of GIS and social networking. I always knew there would be a mix of the two, but after seeing a presentation from Stamen Design, I was blown away. If you check out their site you can see examples of the amazing work they do. I could only dream of being on that level myself. Beyond that the rest of the conference gave me small ideas here and there about new GIS work I'd like to meddle with.

Then on Wednesday while listening to one of the closing keynote speakers, Eric Waldman, I got excited. Eric works for Microsoft as a GeoSpatial Specialist for Bing Maps and he was there giving a presentation about the new Bing Maps and the new features coming with Silverlight technology. I have always been a huge Google Maps/Earth fan but after the presentation I saw, I drove home and jumped onto the new Bing Maps (be sure to check the bottom left for "EXPLORE THE NEW BING MAPS") myself and began playing around. I wanted to share a few things that I think will be great for the automotive community:

1. Map Apps - In the bottom left of the screen you will find applications that have been built for Bing Maps. Right now the services are few, but they are powerful. Twitter, Foursquare and Trafficland are all brought in automatically to provide a wealth of information. With the possibility to design new apps, many automotive friendly applications will definitely begin to surface in the future.

2. Street view - The Bing Maps street view is better. How? Well if you ever have the chance to see one of those vehicles running around photographing the streets, you'll see an extra piece of equipment on the ones harvesting data for Microsoft. That extra piece of equipment is LIDAR and it gives Bing Maps street view a full 3D perspective. This gives the user a more realistic view of buildings, the ability to remove people from scenes without harming photo quality and also a more interactive experience. I wish I had the words to explain it better but trying it out yourself will show you just how great it is.

3. Photosynth - Photosynth is a Microsoft program that lets you stitch photographs together in a 3D environment. The best way to describe it I feel would be to think about the movie Star Wars, when they would be looking at those 3D holographs of the Death Star. Its kind of like that. I spent some time building a few of my own for this blog. None of them are a full 3D experience because I didnt intend to use the picture for this type of program, but I will be heading out to a few auto events and taking the pictures required to take advantage of the full experience. Check out my photosynth of the Nurburgring! I would suggest also browsing around a bit too. You'll find cool examples where you can look at things from all directions or tour a house from the inside and out! Awesome stuff. Photosynth is also available as a Map App in Bing Maps. Turning it on will show any geotagged synths all over the world. You can find another one I have built by looking at Long Beach Harbor.

So those are the three big ones that will provide some great content in the near future. Currently I am working on the site more and learning the Bing Maps API so that I can bring in the Spatial Stage twitter feed, photosynths and other media to the site. But in the mean time I will be providing direct links to anything I throw together using these tools. And make sure to try it out yourself!

Back to Work!

by Steve Email

As you might have seen I've already finished up a new post in the Rally Notes project and today I just wanted to do a small write up about part of my trip. I was in Europe and one place I made sure to stop at was the Nurburgring. If you don't know about the track here is a piece of the wiki page:

"The Nürburgring is a motorsport complex around the village of Nürburg, Germany. It features a modern Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old North loop track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. The old track was nicknamed The Green Hell by Jackie Stewart and is widely considered the toughest, most dangerous and most demanding purpose-built race track in the world."

So my girlfriend and I stayed at the Dorint Hotel which is located on the North East side of the Grand Prix track, with our room having a beautiful view of the final turns and the starting line. My goal was not to drive the Grand Prix track but to drive the old loop, the Nordschleife. Obviously I would have to rent a car for that, so the internet search began.

Soon after, a member on a motorsport forum I frequent pointed me to a group called RentRaceCar. I want to take a moment to give them some credit because let me just say, working with Heide and her husband over email and at their office was a great experience. I had dozens of questions and they were always answered in a timely manner. And once I was at the Dorint Hotel, they even came and picked me up to get me to their location. At their shop I met a few others who were also renting cars to take onto the track. After the paperwork and formalities were finished, we got into our cars and headed over to the track entrance.

I had purchased a special "happy hour" package that included all wear and tear on the car and also a four lap ticket (for public driving, the track works like a toll road). But before I got to head out onto the track, the owner took my girlfriend and I for an introductory lap around the course. Driving us around in a VW Minivan with the knowledge to pass performance cars, I was shown the racing line and where to be cautious on the track. Meanwhile, a man who had rented a BMW M3 from another rental group had crashed on the track. Mr. Kleen explained to us how he has a deal with the track to be allowed to do introductory laps while other rental groups just hand over the keys and provide no insight to what you will be up against.

Once the introductory lap was over it was my time to drive, and hopefully not crash and burn! I was a bit worried because the weather was damp and sections of the track had rain falling. I drove a track prepped VW Golf V GTI, FWD with 220 hp and it was a blast! For whatever reason, I didn't feel like being cautious and from my first lap went all out. With my heart pounding I made my way through the course, hours of Forza 3 driving the track completely forgotten. Heading into one of the 70+ turns, a BMW Ring Taxi gets on my bumper and flies past me on the corner exit (it turns out Sabine Schmitz was one of the drivers that day!) And if you watch the video of her driving the track in 10 minutes with a cargo van, imagine her in a BMW 5 Series!

Porsches, Nissan GTRs and BMW M series littered the track (all passing me of course!) as I did my four laps with intermittent rain. I can't remember how many times the car's tracitional control kicked in, keeping my back end in line as I pushed my way through corner after corner. On the third lap I found that I was pushing the car too much, as going through Wehrseifen the traction control couldn't save me and the back end kicked out. So with some counter steer and my foot off the gas I did a small slide until the car was able to bite the track once again. I finished the lap and decided my fourth would be a slow one to take in the scenery. If I had crashed the car, I would have owed 8,000 euros to cover it!

But like I said, it was a blast and I am so glad to have done it. In a perfect world I would be heading back there every six months to rent another car and put in more laps. Who knows if/when I will make it back there but at least now I can say I've experienced it first hand.

Here are a few pictures my girlfriend snapped from that day:


Spatial Stage News

by Steve Email

Next week I am headed to Germany and will be back in early April. Originally I was planning to have updates ready to go that I could just quickly post from an internet cafe, but then I decided against that. I'm not sure how often I'll be stopping at cafes and I wont be working on any posts while I am there, leaving a huge amount of work to be done when I get back. So the posts I have been working on will be coming up as soon as I get back at their regular weekly interval.

You may have also noticed that I have been working much more on the Rally Notes project than the Perfect Lap one, and there is a good reason for this. The GIS industry has a yearly conference in San Diego, CA put on by ESRI and I will be there showing off the Rally Notes project. Last year I took 3rd place in category with a map I designed for the city I work for. This year I'm hoping the Rally Notes project can take home a 1st place in category and maybe even best overall? Probably not the latter but I can hope! The conference is in July, but I would like to be ahead and really have my work looking spectacular for the judges. So that means you will be seeing a lot more done for the Rally Notes project, but I will post news for the Perfect Lap as well, just not nearly as often. There is work being done for it though, as I have been building the data model for my small scale testing which I will run at Adams Motorsport Park in Riverside, CA. Its a go-kart track that allows time attack on Tuesdays. Time attack on a go-kart track seems rediculous to me, but I think its a great place to test everything before heading to Laguna Seca or Fontana. Once I get back from Germany I'll be finishing up the data for the track, building a hypothetical perfect lap and then heading out there myself. I'll have the Ralliart hooked up with my data logging equipment and we will see how it goes. I'll have pictures and video as well to help document it all.

Also starting when I get back will be the expansion of the website. Right now the only active section is this blog but I'm putting together rough sketches of what I will be adding. I don't want to talk about it too much right now, as things can change depending on what I'll have at my disposal. But soon after I get back I should have a news post up explaining things in greater detail.

Lastly I just want to say thanks again to those who have been supporting the site and sending me comments and critiques. And if you have an idea for a topic or addition to the site feel free to let me know! 

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