Codename “Dallas” Data Subscription

Fig 1 – Data.Gov subscription source from Microsoft Dallas

What is Dallas? More info here Dallas Blog

“Dallas is Microsoft’s Information Service, built on and part of the Windows Azure platform to provide developers and information workers with friction-free access to premium content through clean, consistent APIs as well as single-click BI/Reporting capabilities; an information marketplace allowing content providers to reach developers of ALL sizes (and developers of all sizes to gain access to content previously out of reach due to pricing, licensing, format, etc.)”

I guess I fall into the information worker category and although “friction-free” may not be quite the same as FOSS maybe it’s near enough to do some experiments. In order to make use of this data service you need to have a Windows Live ID with Microsoft. The signup page also asks for an invitation code which you can obtain via email. Once the sign-in completes you will be presented with a Key which is used for access to any of the data subscription services at this secure endpoint:

Here is a screen shot showing some of the free trial subscriptions that are part of my subscription catalog. This is all pretty new and most of the data sets listed in the catalog still indicate “Coming Soon.” The subscriptions interesting to me are the ones with a geographic component. There are none yet with actual latitude,longitude, but in the case of’s crime data there is at least a city and state attribution.

Fig 2 – Dallas subscriptions

Here is the preview page showing the default table view. You select the desired filter attributes and then click preview to show a table based view. Also there is a copy of the url used to access the data on the left. Other view options include “atom 1.0″, “raw”, and direct import to Excel Pivot.

Fig 3 – Dallas DATA.Gov subscription preview – Crime 2006,2007 USA

There are two approaches for consuming data.

1. The easiest is the url parameter service approach.$format=atom10

This isn’t the full picture because you also need to include your account key and a unique user ID in the http header. These are not sent in the url but in the header, which means using a specialized tool or coding an Http request.

	WebRequest request = WebRequest.Create(url);
	request.Headers.Add("$accountKey", accountKey);
	request.Headers.Add("$uniqueUserID", uniqueUserId);

	// Get the response
	HttpWebResponse response = (HttpWebResponse)request.GetResponse();

The response in this case is in Atom 1.0 format as indicated in the format request parameter of the url.

<feed xmlns=""
  <title type="text">Data.Gov - U.S. Offenses Known to Law Enforcement</title>
  <rights type="text">2009 U.S. Government</rights>
  <link rel="self" title="Data.Gov - U.S. Offenses Known to Law Enforcement"
href="$format=atom10" />
    <title type="text">Colorado / Alamosa in 2007</title>
    <link rel="self" href="$format=atom10
&$page=1&$itemsperpage=1" />
    <content type="application/xml">
        <d:State m:type="Edm.String">Colorado</d:State>
        <d:City m:type="Edm.String">Alamosa</d:City>
        <d:Year m:type="Edm.Int32">2007</d:Year>
        <d:Population m:type="Edm.Int32">8714</d:Population>
        <d:Violentcrime m:type="Edm.Int32">57</d:Violentcrime>
        <d:MurderAndNonEgligentManslaughter m:type="Edm.Int32">1</d:MurderAndNonEgligentManslaughter>
        <d:ForcibleRape m:type="Edm.Int32">11</d:ForcibleRape>
        <d:Robbery m:type="Edm.Int32">16</d:Robbery>
        <d:AggravatedAssault m:type="Edm.Int32">29</d:AggravatedAssault>
        <d:PropertyCrime m:type="Edm.Int32">565</d:PropertyCrime>
        <d:Burglary m:type="Edm.Int32">79</d:Burglary>
        <d:LarcenyTheft m:type="Edm.Int32">475</d:LarcenyTheft>
        <d:MotorVehicleTheft m:type="Edm.Int32">11</d:MotorVehicleTheft>
        <d:Arson m:type="Edm.Int32">3</d:Arson>

If you’re curious about MurderAndNonEgligentManslaughter, I assume it is meant to be: “Murder And Non Negligent Manslaughter”. There are some other anomalies I happened across such as very few violent crimes in Illinois. Perhaps Chicago politicians are better at keeping the slate clean.

2. The second approach using a generated proxy service is more powerful.

On the left corner of the preview page there is a Download C# service class link. This is a generated convenience class that lets you invoke the service with your account, ID, and url, but handles the XML Linq transfer of the atom response into a nice class with properties. There is an Invoke method that does all the work of getting a collection of items generated from the atom entry records:

    public partial class DataGovCrimeByCitiesItem
        public System.String State { get; set; }
        public System.String City { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Year { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Population { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Violentcrime { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 MurderAndNonEgligentManslaughter { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 ForcibleRape { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Robbery { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 AggravatedAssault { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 PropertyCrime { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Burglary { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 LarcenyTheft { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 MotorVehicleTheft { get; set; }
        public System.Int32 Arson { get; set; }

public List Invoke(System.String state,
            System.String city,
            System.String year,
            int page)

Interestingly, you can’t just drop this proxy service code into the Silverlight side of a project. It has to be on the Web side. In order to be useful for a Bing Maps Silverlight Control application you still need to add a Silverlight WCF service to reference on the Silverlight side. This service simply calls the nicely generated Dallas proxy service which then shows up in the Asynch completed call back.

private void GetCrimeData(string state, string city, string year, int page,string crime )
  DallasServiceClient dallasclient = GetServiceClient();
  dallasclient.GetItemsCompleted += svc_DallasGetItemsCompleted;
  dallasclient.GetItemsAsync(state, city, year, page, crime);

private void svc_DallasGetItemsCompleted(object sender, GetItemsCompletedEventArgs e)
  if (e.Error == null)
      ObservableCollection<DataGovCrimeByCitiesItem> results = e.Result as

This is all very nice, but I really want to use it with a map. Getting the Dallas data is only part of the problem. I still need to turn the City, State locations into latitude, longitude locations. This can easily be done by adding a reference to the Bing Maps Web Services Geocode service. With the geocode service I can loop through the returned items collection and send each off to the geocode service getting back a useable LL Location.

foreach(DataGovCrimeByCitiesItem item in results){
   GetGeocodeLocation(item.City + "," + item.State, item);

Since all of these geocode requests are also Asynch call backs, I need to pass my DataGovCrimeByCitiesItem object along as a GeocodeCompletedEventArgs e.UserState. It is also a bit tricky determining exactly when all the geocode requests have been completed. I use a count down to check for a finish.

With a latitude, longitude in hand for each of the returned DataGovCrimeByCitiesItem objects I can start populating the map. I chose to use the Bubble graph approach with the crime statistic turned into a diameter. This required normalizing by the maximum value. It looks nice, although I’m not too sure how valuable such a graph actually is. Unfortunately this CTP version of Dallas data service has an items per page limit of 100. I can see why this is done to prevent massive data queries, but it complicates normalization since I don’t have all the pages available at one time to calculate a maximum. I could work out a way to call several pages, but there is a problem with an odd behaviour which seems to get results looped back on the beginning to finish the default 100 count on pages greater than 1. There ought to be some kind of additional query for count, max, and min of result sets. I didn’t see this in my experiments.

One drawback to my approach is the number of geocode requests that are accumulated. I should really get my request list only once per state and save locally. All the bubble crime calculations could then be done on a local set in memory cache. There wouldn’t be a need then for return calls and geocode loop with each change in type of crime. However, this version is a proof of concept and lets me see some of the usefulness of these types of data services as well as a few drawbacks of my initial approach.

Here is a view of the Access Report for my experiment. If you play with the demo you will be adding to the access tallies. Since this is CTP I don’t get charged, but it is interesting to see how a dev pay program might utilize this report page. Unfortunately, User ID is currently not part of the Access Report. If this Access Report would also sort by the User ID you could simply identify each user with their own unique ID and their share of the burden could be tracked.

Fig 4 – Dallas Data.Gov subscription Access Report


The interesting part of this exercise is seeing how the Bing Maps Silverlight Control can be the nexus of a variety of data service sources. In this simple demo I’m using the Bing Maps service, The Bing Maps Web Geocode Service, and the Dallas data service. I could just as easily add other sources from traditional WMS, WFS sources, or local tile pyramids and spatial data tables. The data sources can be in essence out sourced to some other service. All the computation happens in the client and a vastly more efficient distributed web app is the result. My server isn’t loaded with all kinds of data management issues or even all that many http hits.

Fig 5 – Distributed Data Sources – SOA

Augmented Reality and GIS

There have been a few interesting items surfacing on augmented reality recently. It is still very much a futuristic technology, but maybe not too distant future afterall. Augmented reality means intermingling digital and real objects, either adding additional digital objects to the real world, or in an inverse sense, combining real world objects into a virtual digital world.

Here is an interesting example of augmenting a digital virtual world with real world objects borrowed from street view. The interface utilizes an iPhone inertial sensor to move the view inside a virtual world, but this virtual world is a mimic of the street side in Paris at the point in time that Google’s Street View truck went past.

Fig 1 – Low tech high tech virtual reality interface

Fig 2 – Immersive interface

In this Sixth Sense presentation at TED, Pranav Mistry explores the interchangebility of real and virtual objects. The camera eye and microphone sensors are used to interpret gestures and interact with digital objects. These digital objects are then re-projected into the real world on real objects such as paper, books, and even other people.

Fig 3 Augmented Reality Pranav Mistry

Fig 4 Merging digital and real worlds

A fascinating question is, “How might an augmented reality interface impact GIS?”

Google’s recent announcement of replacing its digital map model with one of its own creation, along with the introduction of the first Android devices, triggered a flurry of blog postings. One of the more interesting posts speculated about the target of Google’s “less than free” business model. Gurley reasoned plausibly that the target is the local ad revenue market.

Google’s ad revenue business model was and is a disruptive change in the IT world. Google appears interested in even larger local ad revenues, harnessed by a massive distribution of Android enabled GPS cell phones. It is the interplay of core aggregator capability with edge location that brings in the next generation of ad revenue. The immediate ancillary casualties in this case are the personal GPS manufacturers and a few map data vendors.

Local ads may not be as large a market source as believed, but if it is, the interplay of the network edge with network core may be an additional disruptive change. Apple has a network edge play with iPhone and a core play with media iTunes & iVideo, Google has Android/Chrome at the edge and Search/Google Maps at core. Microsoft has Bing Maps/Search at core as well as dabbling less successfully in media, but I don’t see much activity at the edge?

Of course if mobile hardware capability evolves fast enough, Microsoft’s regular OS will soon enough fit on mobiles, perhaps in time to short circuit an edge market capture by Apple and Google. Windows 8 on a cell phone would open the door wide to Silverlight/WPF UI developers. Android’s potential success would be based on the comparative lack of cpu/memory on mobile devices, but that is only a temporary state, perhaps 2 years. However, in two years the world is a far different place.

By that time augmented reality stuff will be part of the tool kit for ad enhancements:

  • Point a phone camera at a store and show all sale prices overlaid on the store front for items fitting the user’s demographic profile. (Products and store pays service)
  • Inside a grocery store scan shelf items through the cell screen with paid ad enhancements customized to the user’s past buying profile. (Products pay store, store pays service)
  • Inside store point at a product and get list of price comparisons from all competing stores within 2 miles. (product or user pays service)
  • Crowd gamer will recognize other team members (or face book friends, or other security personnel . . ) with an augmented realty enhancement when scanning a crowd (gamer subscribes to service, product pays service for ads targeted to gamer)

And non commercial, non ad uses:

  • A first responder points cell phone at a building and bring up the emergency plan overlay and list of toxic substance storage. (Fire district pays service)
  • Field utility repair personnel points cell at a transformer and sees an overlay of past history with parts list, schematics, etc, etc (utility pays service)

It just requires edge location available to core data services that reflects filtered data back to the edge. The ad revenue owner holds both a core data source and an edge unit location. They sell ads priced on market share of that interplay. Google wants to own the edge and have all ad revenue owners come through them so the OS is less than free in exchange for slice of ad revenue.

Back to augmented reality. As Pranav Mistry points out there is a largely unexplored region between the edge and the core, between reality and virtual reality, which is the home of augmented reality. GIS fits into this by storing spatial location for objects in the real world back at the network core available to edge location devices, which can in turn augment local objects with this additional information from the core.

Just add a GPS to the Sixth Sense camera/mic device and the outside world at an edge location is merged with any information available at core. So for example scan objects from edge location with the camera and you have augmented information about any other mobile GPS or location data at the core. Since Android = edge GPS + link to core + gesture interface + camera (still missing screen projector and mic), no wonder it has potential as a game changer. Google appears more astute in the “organizing the world” arena than Apple, who apparently remains fixated on merely “organizing style.”

Oh, and one more part of the local interface device still missing, a pointer. NextGen UI for GIS

Fig 5 – Laser Distance Meter Leica LDM

Add a laser ranging pointer to the mobile device and you have a rather specific point and click interface to real world objects.

  1. The phone location is known thanks to GPS.
  2. The range device bearing and heading are known, due to an internal compass and/or inertial sensors.
  3. Distance available from the range beam gives precise delta distance to an object relative to the mobile device.

Send delta distance and current GPS position back to the core where a GIS spatial query determines any known object at that spatial location. This item’s attributes are returned to the edge device and projected onto any convenient local object, augmenting the local world with the stored spatial data from the core. After watching Pranav Mistry’s research presentation it all seems not too far outside of reality.

GIS has an important part to play here because it is the repository of all things spatial.

Big Bing Maps Silverlight Control 1.0 Release Today

Lots of interesting new stuff to explore in this 1.0 release of the Bing Maps Silverlight Control. That seems like a mouthful, and I’m sure it will be acronymed to something like BMS Control, but the one thing that immediately stands out from the announcement is this:

“Sessions will be used with the Bing Maps AJAX Map Control and the Bing Maps Silverlight Control. A session is basically defined as loading the map control and exploring at will, no tile limitations.”

  • “Bing Maps AJAX Control all maps rendered onto the client upon the initial request is considered 1 session. Session includes any requests for geocoding, routing or search.”
  • “Bing Maps Silverlight Control – all maps rendered onto the client upon the initial request is considered 1 session. There are no services built into the Bing Maps Silverlight Control, so you would use the Bing Maps Web Service for geocoding, routing and search, but will include those too.”
  • “Bing Maps Web Service all maps, geocodes, routes and searches will each invoke 1 transaction.”

“With the new terms of use for the Bing Maps Platform you get 125,000 sessions per year for FREE. You also get 500,000 transactions a year for FREE. “

Educators – free unlimited use of the Bing Maps platform

Not-for-Profits – free unlimited use of the Bing Maps platform

Commercial, non-commercial and government – proof of concept development free

More details here:
Bing Maps terms of use changes benefit educators, not-for-profits, and developers
Bing Maps Silverlight Control 1.0 released
Terms of Use

This alleviates a big concern I had originally with use of the Silverlight Map Control CTP. Transaction based licensing did not align with Google pricing and was nearly impossible to predict for tile navigation, which is the engaging part of Silverlight Control. This announcement wipes out these problems and makes my job as a developer a whole lot easier.

Thanks Microsoft!