Edited Version August 26, 1998 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

"Manifold System 4
High End GIS and Network Analysis
Very Low Cost"

Dimitri Rotow
Marketing Manager
Manifold Ltd.

EIIP Tech Arena Moderator: Amy Sebring

The original transcript of August 26, 1998 online Tech Arena discussion is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: On behalf of the EIIP, I am pleased to welcome you to a special event in our Tech Arena. Our topic today is "Manifold System 4: High End GIS and Network Analysis for Very Low Cost."

Please hold all questions and comments until we get to the Q&A portion of the program about half past the hour. We will review the instructions at that time.

I will also point out for any newcomers that when a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a web page will display in another browser window.


And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Dimitri Rotow, Marketing Manager for Manifold Ltd. For those of you who attended the online class I presented in April, this was a product I mentioned during that session. I speculated at the time that you might need Microsoft Access in addition and Dimitri wrote to me and pointed out the error of my ways! Welcome Dimitri and thank you for taking time to be with us today.


Dimitri Rotow: Thank you, Amy. Hello, everyone. It's a pleasure to be here. Today, I'll be introducing Manifold System, a new type of mapping software.

I'd say there are four generations of mapping software. I'll illustrate these with sample pictures from Manifold that show capabilities typical of each of these generations.

The first generation is software that uses computers to draw digital maps of a given area on demand. My first slide is a screen shot of a small map showing an area in the Himalayas. Amy, if you could please display that now.

[Slide 1]

Dimitri Rotow: It can be a real benefit to have virtually any map at your finger tips when managing an emergency situation. It's great to be able to zoom in or out as necessary, or to add or delete map information to get exactly the right map that's needed.

Frequently one wants more than just a pretty map. One needs the data "behind" the map. The second generation of mapping software combines map-drawing capability together with data base capability to create a Geographic Information System (GIS).

In a GIS, the pictures of objects on the map can be used to fetch data base information associated with those objects. My second slide shows a part of a database table associated with a map of states in Mexico. Second slide, please.

[Slide 2]

Dimitri Rotow: For example, one might combine a map of locations of fire stations with a database of equipment that is located at each station. Using standard database techniques such as queries, one could use such a map/database to find all fire stations equipped with certain chemical hazard equipment and display them on the map as unique icons.

In a simple GIS, the database capability is a "display only" capability. In a more advanced GIS such as Manifold, the database capability can be used to manipulate the data in sophisticated ways.

In our screen shot, for example, one can simply point and click to sort columns, to change items, and so on. The combination of database and map drawing is the key to visualizing complex data sets such as demographic data.

In the next slide, we see the populations of individual city blocks in Palo Alto plotted as different colored dots. Next slide, please.

[Slide 3]

Dimitri Rotow: That's great. Now, suppose we want to draw an area covering part of the city, and automatically find how many people live there? That's a request for analysis.

The third generation of GIS software adds analytic capability, the ability to use the computer to "think through" complex relationships or mathematical tasks. This goes by a variety of names depending on the function performed. For example, one might have a database of hospitals drawn on a map of a coastal zone. A classic "spatial" analysis would be to find all hospitals that are located within one mile of the coast.

My next slide shows a region in the Sierra Nevada mountains with old gold mines and "buffer zones" drawn around the maps at 250, 500, and 1000 meters radius. Next slide, please.

[Slide 4]

Dimitri Rotow: The small red numbers show the elevation of each map using database function. One could use such a map in searching for a lost hiker, to see if perhaps he's fallen into an abandoned mine. More sophisticated analysis might use map data of terrain heights to draw contour lines that could show what areas would be flooded at different waterline heights.

So what is the fourth generation? In our view it is a matter of integration using modern software techniques. Previous generations of GIS software have tended to be map-drawing programs that have had database and then analysis capabilities "bolted on" as retrofits.

Sophisticated analysis is rarely present. When present, it is difficult to use and stratospherically expensive. For example, some famous GIS packages cost thousands of dollars, yet they still use "command line" user interfaces like MS-DOS or UNIX used to use. We prefer modern, point-and-click Windows interfaces.

In my next slide, we see part of Manifold's "point and click" spatial analysis toolbar. (Next slide, please) Using modern interfaces, even a non-expert can do sophisticated spatial analysis.

[Slide 5]

Dimitri Rotow: In our view, a fourth generation GIS is one that has been designed from inception to integrate analysis, database, and map drawing, and which has been created within modern Windows technology using the latest user interfaces.

Manifold System is such a fourth generation software system. It has been developed using the same technical methods that have allowed PCs to revolutionize computing. Just like PC's do more yet cost less than the minicomputers of an earlier era, Manifold uses modern technology to accomplish far more than earlier GIS's, yet it costs only $79.

Take my last slide (Amy, please) as an example: this is a preview of 3D visualization using a new Manifold product, our 3D analysis package.

[Slide 6]

Dimitri Rotow: The blue areas in the preview rectangle are the areas in the map that are visible from the blue dot. The main 3D image shows a "line of sight" running from the blue dot to the red dot.

With older systems, a simple "line of sight" analysis costs thousands of dollars. With Manifold, you get that plus you get the zones visible as well as a simple line.

Amy, do I have time for a few words outlining the contents of the System, or should we move on to Q & A?

Amy Sebring: Yes, go ahead and add a few words if you like, Dimitri.

Dimitri Rotow: Manifold works with geographic data from a wide variety of sources, or with so-called "abstract" coordinates. Geographic data uses latitudes and longitudes, while abstract maps use X and Y coordinates. Abstract maps are like CAD diagrams.

In geographic work, Manifold supports numerous map projections and earth ellipsoids. These include UTM and State Plane Coordinate systems. One can use Manifold to convert a map from one projection into a different projection.

In abstract work, Manifold can display data that originated in CAD diagrams. For example, you could display a map of a chemical factory that was originally drawn in AutoCAD, and use the various database and analysis facilities of Manifold on that factory diagram as you would with an ordinary GIS and a geographic map.

Finally, Manifold has the unusual ability to import databases and to create networks using any fields as X and Y coordinates. This is used in two ways: first, to visualize databases as plotted diagrams for data mining purposes, and second, to draw maps of purely abstract networks such as the relationships between pages of a web site or between computers, routers, and other elements in a computer network data import.

Other vendors tend to sell import capability as separate modules, or to sell data in proprietary formats. It can be very profitable to take public domain government data (such as USGS maps), convert it to a private GIS format, and then sell the data to the "captive audience" of one's GIS products.

We take a different approach. Manifold includes converters for the major government formats: DLG-O, SDTS, VPF, TIGER95, and TIGER97. We also convert data from AutoCAD DXF, ESRI SHP, and MapInfo MID/MIF. Finally, Manifold can import data from nearly any database and numerous types of networks using SNMP, TCP/IP, and DNS. Our native database format is Microsoft's own MDB, so we can directly read any Microsoft standard database such as Access.

This makes it possible for Manifold users to download free government data from sources such as USGS and to use that data as they see fit. Likewise, one can use TIGER/Line data on streets, boundaries, and Zip+4 codes for free. This is all copyright free stuff, so you don't have to pay a third party anything to make copies for all the people on your team.

As part of creating great maps, Manifold has a host of formatting and editing features. It includes the ability to automatically change the way an object is drawn based on the content of a data field associated with that object. This is commonly called "thematic mapping."

We also provide a wealth of editing capabilities. Objects may be created, moved, cut, pasted, distorted, aligned and more. The "morph" tool performs global edit operations, such as "orthogonalizing" an area of the map, or fixing broken data problems such as points that don't match up with lines.

This reminds me, Manifold can treat any drawing of points and lines as a network for network analytic purposes. If you draw a map of a road system, Manifold can automatically analyze that drawing as a real network, to do things like compute distances, find emergency service centers and the like.

Our approach to analysis is to encapsulate math within black boxes we call "solvers." There are about 150 solvers in Manifold now, covering the areas of Spatial Analysis, Geometry, Networks, Statistics and utility solvers.

Solvers can be simple things, like finding the mean and variance of some data attribute associated with a group of objects you've selected, or they can be profoundly deep things, such as solvers that find incident clusters using Gabriel networks or provide spatial/surface interpolation using Akima method.

Either way, you don't have to know the math to use the solver. All of the solvers are "point and click" black boxes that hide the math within a simple, mouse based user interface.

However, if you like to do custom work and feel ready, willing, and able to write your own solvers, you can do so using the Scripting system built into Manifold. Every copy of Manifold includes Microsoft's Visual Basic scripting system as well as a full script editing user interface and sub system.


Well, that's about 5% of the system I've mentioned. For the rest, I'd suggest a visit to our rather large web site. In conclusion, we believe that the affordability of Manifold coupled with unprecedented analytic capability would be especially helpful to the emergency services community. That concludes my prepared remarks.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Dimitri. I am sure we are going to have a question about system requirements, Dimitri; would you like to summarize a recommended system?

Dimitri Rotow: Just about any 150Mhz Pentium or Pentium II running NT or 95 will do. We recommend 64Mb of RAM because RAM is cheap. The more the merrier, and the same with hard disk.

Amy Sebring: Do we have some questions from our audience ready?

Audience Questions


Isabel McCurdy: Does this have international applications?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. About 40% of our market is international. This is supported by our provision of the Digital Chart of the World, for free.


Amy Sebring: Can you drop any customer names, Dimitri?

Dimitri Rotow: Sure, just about all branches of government, something like 100 universities. USGS in particular is becoming a big Manifold user, as are the Los Alamos, Livermore and Russian nuclear weapons labs (a first, I think).


Amy Sebring: What kind of response are you getting from users?

Dimitri Rotow: The first is that people are blown away by what they get. Even after perusing the web site, people do not realize how "big" Manifold is.


Amy Sebring: In particular, do they find this easy to learn quickly?

Dimitri Rotow: For simple things, yes. For more complex things, it takes more time. Some of the concepts in Manifold are there to support serious expert use in fairly specialized areas. So, for example, if you are not a networking analyst you won't know what some of those solvers are for. But then again, they're inside a menu so if you don't need them they won't interfere with your other work.


Avagene Moore: Does the software include an online tutorial?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. The user manual is an online document that includes 286 topics, including a series of user examples. We are also providing case studies on line at the web site.


Amy Sebring: Dimitri, you mentioned the World Map --- any other data that comes with it?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes, I should clarify that the distribution CD includes 625 MB of free maps and data. These include the complete US GNIS, the national transportation atlas database (which includes the US highway system, waterways, airways, etc.), a complete collection of USGS base maps, census Zip code extractions and much more. However, it is North American data, because this is where all the free government data is located.

The Digital Chart of the World is the sole example of a detailed data set that covers the entire world. You can download it for free from our FTP site in Manifold format. Other people sell this same public domain map/data set for about $1500, so it is a big deal for our international customers.

We'll also be publishing the successor to DCW, which is called "VMAP0" and has numerous corrections and additions the FTP sites include over 30,000 megabytes of free data, including the 14 CD USGS map set of the US in 1:100K scale, census bureau extractions, demographic data and more. We like free data!

Amy Sebring: free=good

Dimitri Rotow: Yes.


Amy Sebring: Any more questions from our audience? Just jump in anytime with your question mark. Can you explain a little more about the TCP/IP capability?

Dimitri Rotow: Sure. This is not really a GIS thing, although it is becoming more popular with GIS users. Everyone depends on networks these days so it is becoming very common to want to map networks. There are two ways of doing this. One is to show the routing of network cables in a facilities diagram or big map and the other is to show the logical structure of the network in terms of connectivity (or lack thereof).

We do both. In particular, Manifold can actually reach out into your network and using the IP addresss and other TCP/IP information, draw a map of the network. A related topic is the use of SNMP (so called "simple" network management protocol), which enables Manifold to reach out and collect hundreds of data attributes for objects on your network. You can find out which systems are running NT, which are on UNIX, how routers are set up, and much more.

When this information is integrated with a facilities map or wide area map, you can get a better handle on the network. This I think will be critical in future emergency situations, like when a flood might cut a major communications link, etc.


Amy Sebring: Dimitri, I understand from the website you will be adding GPS capability also?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. Everyone wants GPS.

Amy Sebring: GPS=Global Positioning System (I think).

Dimitri Rotow: Right. The new generation of low-cost GPS receivers make it possible to ride around with a hand-held, $200 GPS, a laptop, and Manifold and inventory assets like bridges, track the courses of streams, and much more.

Manifold includes a "solver package" capability that lets you load new solvers into the system. We are providing a number of new solvers, including the GPS solver, for free download. The GPS module allows you to download "batch" information from the GPS (like stored waypoints), or to work with the GPS interactively, such as hitting a button and getting a position or altitude.

We've also tossed in some cool additions. For example, Manifold's GPS unit is unique in that we allow you to hit a button and synchronize your PC's clock to the GPS clock. This is special because GPS clocks are atomic clocks accurate to millionths of a second. So, why not get the same accuracy when setting your PC's time? It's a small thing, but cool.

Amy Sebring: Dimitri, let's wrap up by having you tell us a little about the company, and how this all evolved.

Dimitri Rotow: OK. We're privately held. The company originated in a programming / math team that did the math work for the joint Intel / Department of Defense massively parallel super computer. We later decided to bring advanced math capability to PCs by encapsulating the math inside "solvers."

Manifold evolved from a series of "visual workbench" tools we created that enabled people to apply those "big" math solvers to real world tasks using a visual interface. We like GIS because the data sets in GIS are very large. For example, Manifold can image the paved road network of the entire world. That's about 200 megabytes, so make sure you have plenty of ram in your PC. Anyway, such tasks are much larger than many network or data mining tasks.

The important point is that we did not start with a "drawing" program and bolt on analysis. We started with the analysis and database and visualization all at the same time. From a cultural perspective, we are PC renegades.

The money behind Manifold is the money we made in the late 80's bringing the PC revolution into the mass market. That was a good time, when we helped drive the cost of serious computing from $100,000 a minicomputer to $2000 for a desktop Pentium II with six gigs of hard disk. You couldn't even buy six gigs of hard disk in the 80's on a minicomputer!

I don't mean to obsess about price, but it is a factor that drives real world utilization. Now, we'd like to bring that same PC philosophy and culture into the GIS market, which we feel is more like the minicomputer market of the 70's and 80's. Time for a change!


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Dimitri. With this kind of price, there should not be anyone who cannot afford GIS tools. Let's wrap up with the site address <http://www.manifold.net>

Dimitri Rotow: Thanks for inviting me, and thanks for listening.

Amy Sebring: Thank you audience, and since our time is up, we will close down the Tech Arena for today, but we will be in the Virtual Forum room for a few minutes longer, and you are welcome to join us there for open discussion. Thank you for your cooperation.

After the close of the formal hour of discussion in the Tech Arena, the speaker and audience moved to the Virtual Forum for a few more questions and comments relative to Mr. Rotow's topic.

Amy Sebring: Most excellent job, Dimitri!

Dimitri Rotow: Thank you Amy. I had a good teacher.

Avagene Moore: Dimitri, great presentation! I don't know a great deal about GIS but I am impressed with your software and all its features.

Ann Willis: Very interesting.

Isabel McCurdy: Clap, clap, Dimitri.

Dimitri Rotow: You guys are fun and merciless!

Amy Sebring: I like the renegade part!

Lori Wieber: Very impressive system. Nicely presented, Dimitri!

Amy Sebring: Let me point out that Dimitri's most interesting bio and picture are in the background info. If you will wait for the banner to come around and click on it, you will go right to it. Also, when the transcript is ready, it will be posted in the same place with links to the slides as well.


Amy Sebring: I can't wait to get my hands on it. I think I will buy a copy for home, just to really get into it in my other "spare" time! I know I will love the solvers. Dimitri, a stupid question from me. Let's assume I have a spreadsheet with a list of points defined by a name, lat and long. Comes right in?

Dimitri Rotow: OK.

Amy Sebring: Or let's say it is in mdb format.

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. You can use ODBC to get it from Excel, or write it from Excel to a database file first. The mdb we can read directly.

Dimitri Rotow: In fact, it's one of the examples in the manual.


Amy Sebring: Also other common db formats such as ascii, dbf?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. We rely on ODBC to read the various db formats. These include ascii, csv, dbf, etc.

Amy Sebring: And then from within Manifold, I can select an icon to represent those points.

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. When you import points, the default icon used is a small gray dot so that they are immediately visible. Thereafter, it is literally a few mouse clicks to make them anything you want.


Amy Sebring: I can also set up my own icons, correct?

Dimitri Rotow: Yes. Manifold can swipe (excuse me, "utilize") icons from almost any application in your system using standard Windows icon formats. This means you can also use shareware and freeware packages to create your own icon libraries.

For example, when you guys get around to posting *your* photos, we could make icons of them and use them for points on the map where we all live. ...an addendum... We can also use (in NT) photo realistic, 24 million color, patterns for areas.

Kevin Farrell: Cool.


Amy Sebring: Did I understand that Manifold will be selling a handheld GPS unit?

Dimitri Rotow: No. We will provide the GPS interface software module that will allow you to plug in and use any one of the zillions of new generation, cheap, handheld GPSs. We're all done with the hardware market!


Amy Sebring: Ok, I must have misunderstood that part. When will GP's and 3D modules be shipping?

Dimitri Rotow: They're in beta right now. The 3D module will probably ship within three weeks. The documentation is the delay, while the GPS module is having birthing problems. It works great on 90% of the GPS out there, but we are having some troubles with about 10% of the GPS units. So, we want to debug this some more before shipping.


Ann Willis: Does you software perform datum transformations? For example WGS84 to NAD.


Amy Sebring: Will these both be add-ons for extra cost?

Dimitri Rotow: Two questions: yes on datum transformations, and yes/no on extra cost. The GPS module will be free. 3D will be extra cost together with some other solvers, probably about $100.

On datums, properly speaking these are ellipsoid models. We support about 16 earth ellipsoids, including the NAD and WGS series. This is pretty intense for only $79, no?

Amy Sebring: I am going to have to go. Thanks very much again, Dimitri, for an excellent job and very good info. Yes, pretty intense. Bye all.


Ann Willis: What other line of work do you do to subsidize the software?

Avagene Moore: Dimitri, thanks so much for your time and effort in the Tech Arena. We do appreciate the great presentation today! Bye Amy.

Dimitri Rotow: See you Amy. On subsidies. Manifold is now profitable, and has been for some time. So, as they say in Reno, we are now "playing on the casino's money". Our capital is no longer at risk.

We were willing to hang in for a few years without profit, but now we can use the cash flow to grow faster. In our minds, that means more sophisticated product sooner while keeping the price low. I figure by this time next year we will be outselling (in uni volumes) all other GIS vendors combined.

Avagene Moore: Congratulations to you and Manifold!

Dimitri Rotow: Thanks. I've got to go now. I really appreciate this invitation and opportunity. Send email to [email protected] if you have any questions to follow up. Cheers!

Avagene Moore: Dimitri has been very patient today. Thanks so much. Thanks to you the audience also.

Dimitri Rotow: Good bye, everyone.