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If you selected this book, it's possible you did so becauseyour eye was attracted to the maps on the cover, or you were curious about the term "geographic information system" and it's acronym GIS.
Or maybe not.
But it's entirely possible that you're one of those people who dreamed as a kid about visiting far-off lands, that you have a desk drawer somewhere stuffed with National Geographic maps dating back to 1968 - not to mention a road atlas so tattered and beat up only you can read it.
It's possible as well that you've bookmarked half-dozen sites on your web browser that let you do things like chart hurricanes, or that bore your kids with school report facts about the surface area and exports of France. Maybe you're one of those people who just likes knowing stuff about the world around you, or even if you have'nt looked at a map in years. No matter which group you fall into, you're in luck, and not just because you selected this book.
You're in luck because you live in a time when the quality and quantity of information about the world around you - geographic information - is expanding at an astonishing rate. It's possible now to make maps in minutes, from information freely available on the internet - maps so packed with useful information accessible with only a few mouse clicks, that they're no longer just maps.
Rather they're smart maps, made possible by geographic information systems (GIS). Everyone, including people who never look at a map, will find they can make life much easier and more interestring. GIS has been around for years, but the digital revolution has created, and continues to create, many new applications for the technology. GIS is now used by industries and governments worldwide in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.
GIS technology is helping people make better decisions in a host of areas, such as agricultural and natual resorces management, and enviromental control. It's helping businesses streamline customer service operations,coordinate enterprisewide problem-solving, and revolutionize logisitical planning. It's saved millions of dollars through increased productivity and efficiencies.
A GIS is a kind of supermap, computer software that links geographic information (where things are) with descriptive information (what things are like). Unlike a flat paper map, where "what you see is what you get," a GIS can have many layers of iinformation underneath its surface. Moreover, that descriptive information is virtually unlimited in both depth and breadth.
If you look at a road on a paper, about all you see is a name and maybe a highway number. If you click on the same road in a GIS map, you might find not only its name, but also how many lanes it has, when it was built, what the road surface is made of, when it was last painted, and whether you can see that spot on the road from a mountain 20 miles away. With the right software, you can even create an animated scene in which you're flying down the road as if in a helicopter.
And everyone can use a GIS. It's not just technology for industries and governments. You can use a GIS at home - to show the most scenic route to a vaction spot, to draw maps to a garage sale or for school reports, or to chart the housing prices and SAT scores in an area you're thinking of buying a home. You can use GIS at work - to chart where your best customers are likely to live, where the cheapest office space is, or just to find out how many Italian restaurants there are within ten minutes of your office.
Most of this kind of information is a lot easier to get than you think. Local and state governments, as well as the federal government, provide the bulk of it, and those governments put it on the Internet. What they don't put on the Internet is ususally available down at city hall or the county courthouse or the local library. And most of the time, since it's public information, it's free.
The tool that allows you to explore all this digital information, a software program called ArcExplorer, comes free on the CD included with this book. It does a lot and it's easy to learn, Once you've mastered it, we can show you how to get even more powerful software.
In this book, we'll introduce you to some of the basic ideas behind creating digital maps, and then with the help of the CD, you'll put these ideas to work by following simple step-by-step instructions. You'll use real information from cities around the world. By the end of the book, you'll be able to create stunning digital maps for any purpose, using data from sources all over the Internet. You'll be hooked on GIS.