Decisions, Decisions: GeoGathering and ION GNSS

October 9, 2013  - By

Many may consider it a distinction without a difference, but quality matters, whether it concerns a life-changing decision or something as simple as which conference to attend. When resources are scarce, making the right decision, or sometimes just making any decision, matters — for many in our government this paradigm should reign supreme.

Over the past 24 months, it seems there have been more conferences and symposia that depend on government attendees cancelled or postponed than there have been quality events to attend. Politics aside, the U.S. government’s fiscal woes, which include sequestration and the latest partial U.S. government shutdown, are merely endemic of a much greater problem. Decision makers are unable to make decisions, negotiate or even consider compromise, and the last time I checked, decisions, indeed quality decisions, are critical to the success of any endeavor, be it government or business.

More than 2500 years ago, Pythagoras (yes the Pythagorean Theorem mathematician) said Choices are the hinges of destiny,” and make no mistake about it, the decision to not make a decision or the inability to act is still in the end a decision, just not an action or non-action of which one should be proud. And this inability to make a decision still affects your destiny today or our destiny where Congress is concerned. William James may have been thinking about the U.S. Congress when he said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that in itself is a choice.” Actually, my secretary summed it up nicely, extolling her frustration with our do-nothing Congress, “…in the end if I conducted myself as your employee the way Congress has conducted their affairs for the last 24 months, I would no longer be in your employ. You would have fired me long ago.”

Fortunately, for the rest of the world, there are people who seem capable of making momentous decisions on a daily basis — imagine that. And despite what the entrenched U.S. Congress doesn’t decide, the world does go on, even as the somnolent U.S. government shuts down and irrationally decides not to allow government employees and the military to attend critical conferences or symposia. Since Congress can’t do anything, it appears they want to mandate that everyone else emulate their indecisiveness. Despite the governmental ennui, there are some bright spots. In the last two months I had the pleasure of attending two separate conferences concerning GIS, GPS, GNSS, and PNT respectively that I highly recommend for your consideration. As I said earlier, quality matters, and both of these conferences have quality in abundance, especially in the areas of planning, presentations, location and attendees.


As the comfortable, casual name implies, GeoGathering 2013 was more of a gathering than a full-blown mega conference, but then, that is also what sets this event apart. Especially from the National Space Symposium, which also takes place in Colorado Springs at a major resort but which draws more than 10,000 participants.

GeoGathering 2013 managed to gather ~150 GIS participants from around the globe, and in its own way was just as informational as many larger events. The four-star venue was outstanding, as the Cheyenne Mountain Resort has always been a laid-back location with restaurants and ambiance almost second to none. GeoGathering played out comfortably, with little stress, over two days, 21-22 August, during which the Rocky Mountain weather graciously cooperated.

The event was subtitled “GIS for Gathering and Production Lines,” which simply means it was primarily about gathering and using GIS data and meta-data successfully in a business environment. If that sounds a bit dry, in actuality it was a wonderful conference, since the prime ingredient for any successful conference is the people and the venue. Both were outstanding. The networking time between speakers and panels made for a very productive two days. I highly recommend this conference for those interested in anything to do with GIS (geographical information systems). GeoGathering 2015 will be held somewhere in Colorado, and right now you can influence that decision by going to the GeoGathering website and voting on a location. See you there.


Institute of Navigation Global Navigation Satellite System Symposium

The first question I typically hear when I mention the acronym GNSS in a non-PNT-oriented crowd is “What is GNSS?” GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System(s), and is the standard generic term for satellite navigation systems that provide autonomous geospatial positioning, and sometimes time and frequency data, with global and/or regional coverage. This oft-used term has expanded to include GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou and other regional or global PNT systems. And for me, there is no better global technical GNSS event than the annual ION GNSS symposium. For the last two years, with an attendance figure of about 1,000 per year, this seminal event has been held in Nashville, Tennessee. Next year and the following year, ION GNSS moves to Tampa, Florida, the home of our elite military special forces.

If you would like the bottom line up front, several years ago I penned a review of the ION GNSS event and it went something like this: “The ION GNSS Symposium is simply the best international technical symposium on GNSS that exist today, bar none.” Frankly, my opinion has not changed. The GNSS symposium has not changed in quality, even though the U.S. military participation has dwindled significantly due to circumstances detailed earlier in this column, but in many ways the symposium continues to improve.

The venue for the last two years was the Nashville Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee — or Music City, as those of us in the U.S. know it — and it was a great location. This year, there were also FOUO sessions, which were extremely interesting, but because of the classification, I cannot say much more in this medium. The FOUO sessions were essentially a hold-over from the ION Joint Navigation Conference (JNC) event that was canceled earlier in the year due to the last-minute lack of participation by government participants. However, Lisa Beaty, the executive director for ION, assured me that the JNC 2014 event will take place come h*** or high water.

The new ION Military Division, which is headed by my long-time friend and colleague Jim Doherty (USCG, Ret), a former president of ION, now sponsors the Joint Navigation Conference, which is billed as the largest U.S. military navigation conference with joint service and government participation. The event focuses on technical advances in guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C) with emphasis on joint development, test and support of affordable GN&C systems, logistics and integration.

ION describes the JNC event as a conference that includes technical exhibits that showcase guidance, navigation and control technology products and services as well as operational products and demonstrations. With a decidedly operational perspective, the conference focuses on advances in battlefield applications of GPS, critical strengths or weaknesses of fielded navigation devices, warfighter PNT requirements and solutions, and navigation warfare.

As I mentioned, JNC is the annual ION event that normally features the FOUO U.S.-only presentations. Next year, ION JNC conference attendance June 16-18, 2014, is controlled by the Joint Navigation Warfare Center (JNWC) and is restricted to U.S. citizens only. The classified sessions on June 19, which typically feature a warfighter panel, which I have had the honor to help populate for the last several years, will feature 4-eyes access for citizens of the U.S.A., Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. All participants must establish a need to know and be approved by the Joint Navigation Warfare Center security office. The 2014 Joint Navigation Conference takes place at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWord in Orlando, Florida.

But that is JNC next year and I digress, so let’s get back to this years ION GNSS symposium. The amazing feature of this event is that you can literally attend a presentation on any aspect of GPS/PNT that you can name. For example, I wanted to attend specific presentations on: GPS time, PNT frequency stability, PNT atomic reference systems, L2C, L5, AEP, OCX, L1C, M2PS, and M-code, as well as jamming and spoofing mitigations. The problem, of course, is that there are numerous presentations on these topics, and many of them occur simultaneously.  You have to carefully plan your time, and I frequently found myself, along with many others, sprinting from presentation to presentation. I did not want to miss anything, and I can truthfully say there are very few conferences where this is the case. The ION Papers Committee does a great job screening the papers and making sure they are relevant.

Plus, one of the best perks of being an official ION member is that, in case you miss a presentation, the symposia papers are all available online at the ION site within just a few days of the event.

Don Jewell visits the Exelis table at the GPS World Leadership Dinner.

Don Jewell visits the Exelis table at the GPS World Leadership Dinner.

Galas and Awards

The after-hours highlight of the ION GNSS event every year is the GPS World Leadership Dinner or gala, which includes the GNSS Leadership Awards. Only 150 guests may attend, by invitation only, because there are typically more than 1,000 attendees at ION GNSS. This has become one of the “must-attend” events. This year, both Exelis and Lockheed Martin sponsored the dinner along with GPS World, and we are grateful for their sponsorship. Each GPS World editor nominates 10 guests, so be nice to your favorite editor this year and, who knows, maybe you will be among the elite next year (hint, hint)!

The GPS World 2013 Leadership Awards.

The GPS World 2013 Leadership Awards.

This year, as last, the gala was held in the sumptuous ballroom of the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, which was built in 1910, exudes Southern charm, and is dedicated to General and President Andrew Jackson, a true son of the South. Harking back to our earlier theme concerning decision-making, President and General Andrew Jackson made many difficult decisions in his tenure and one of his greatest quotes certainly applies:

“Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” — Andrew Jackson

image003And if you can’t quite remember your history, just pull out a $20 bill and there he is.

The food and camaraderie were outstanding as usual. The evening’s entertainment, which is always provided in the form of an original Alan Cameron game that has dinner guests participating in a novel event, this year was based on a clandestine “spoofer” at each table that had to be identified by Q&A only. It was a fine and fun evening, and for the award winners, it was a special evening. Four awards were given this year, to Satoshi Kogure, Attila Komjathy, Peter Grognard and my good friend Per Enge from Stanford. Congratulations to all the award winners — you never know, you could be a guest or an award winner next year. (A full report on this year’s dinner and awards will appear in the December issue of GPS World.)

ION Kepler Award

ION GNSS also presents prestigious awards at this event. This year, the coveted Kepler Award went to a good friend and colleague Dr. John Betz.

Dr. John Betz, winner of the ION 2013 Kepler Award.

Dr. John Betz, winner of the ION 2013 Kepler Award.

Now, the ION GNSS awards committee keeps the name of the award winner totally secret, in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall’s front porch. No wait, that’s another award, but they do keep it a closely held secret — so close, in fact, that this year’s award winner’s wife was not in attendance, even though she made the trip with him. So, while I had no idea who would win, I did happen to be sitting at Dr. John Betz’s table, right across from him, when the hints were announced by Dr. Jade Morton, the ION Satellite Division Chair and therefore also the luncheon and award master of ceremonies.

You see, there is a long-held presentation tradition associated with this award. No one knows who has won the award, but the announcement is not just blurted out. Rather, there are about ten hints given about the identity of the person. As the identify of the winner becomes apparent to those in the room, they are asked to stand up, signifying they have determined the identity of the award winner. It was clear to me who had won with the first hint, and of course it was clear to Dr. Betz as well. It was very interesting to watch his facial expression as he realized he had finally won. It dawned on him, and then there was a slight smile, but at the same time a very humble expression.

Dr. John Betz, a MITRE and ION Fellow, certainly deserves this award, and indeed, has deserved it for some time, so it was great to see his considerable accomplishments recognized. And, BTW, remember that you heard it here first: John is working on a book about GNSS that should be published in the next six months. It is not an edited volume, but rather an original work by Dr. Betz, and I for one can’t wait to read it. You can bet I will review it here at GPS World. Congratulations, John.

The other outstanding features of ION GNSS are the excellent and numerous exhibits, plus the time allowed between sessions that provide an excellent atmosphere for networking. And the excellent Nashville Renaissance Hotel, which is attached to the Nashville Conference Center, provided numerous quiet and semi-secluded locations for extemporaneous meetings and is a networking friendly location. The restaurants were excellent, as was the ubiquitous Starbucks barista-manned coffee shop located in the hotel. In other words, Lisa Beaty and her team always manage to choose an event location with accommodations and amenities perfect for this event. I am looking forward to next year in Tampa. Hope to see you there.

What Is Don Reading?

Both books reviewed this month came to my attention because, contrary to the old adage, I was able to tell a good book by its cover.

Phantom, by John Bell.

Phantom, by John Bell.

An Adventure Novel by Ted Bell

This is a singular novel, frighteningly prophetic in many respects and virtually unprecedented in the multitudinous grappling-hook approach employed to entice the reader. This is not a criticism, merely an observation, as I obviously thoroughly enjoyed the yarn.

Many novelists “set the hook” by using the old standby, “It was a dark and stormy night…the wind howled, lightning flashed.” Many novelists hook you with rollicking train stories, or Romanoff tales of excruciatingly frigid White Russian winters with Tsars, Tsarinas and Tsarvitches. They hook you with stories of beautiful bounding yachts or fancy racing cars. Or, in the late Tom Clancy style, they hook you with stories of Air Force One and the president versus terrorists, or of course the most modern genre hook concerns terrorism in any guise. In Phantom, Ted Bell does not pick just one of these hooks, he includes them all and more. It is a riveting high-action drama that will keep you turning pages late into the night. The cherry on top of this action-filled sundae of a novel is that the story is really about Singularity (with a capital S), which Ted Bell and many computer scientists today define as “that epic moment in human evolution when artificial, or machine, intelligence (in the form of extremely powerful, superhuman computers) first matches and then exceeds human intelligence by a factor incalculable.”

Author Ted Bell.

Author Ted Bell.

In other words, this novel is about all the hooks mentioned, plus it foretells a time when computers obtain parity with and then rapidly exceed human intelligence. Now, if that is not a hook, I don’t know what is. If you are wondering how Ted managed to pull it all together, you will just have to read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Remember, I was hooked by the cover, and it was not the picture of the beautiful yacht on the cover but rather the quote: “Ted Bell can really write” by James Patterson. Hook, line and sinker.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham.

West With the Night
An Autobiography by Beryl Markham (1902-1986)

The aviation enthusiasts among you may be scratching your heads and thinking, “Wait a minute, where have I heard the name Beryl Markham?” Beryl initially gained fame and notoriety not as a novelist but as a Kenyan-born British aviatrix in the tradition of Amelia Earhart. Indeed, Beryl was the first solo aviatrix to fly the Atlantic eastbound in the pioneering days of aviation. She was also an adventurer and renowned (the first female) racehorse trainer in Kenya, or in all of Africa, for that matter. She married three times, conducted numerous affairs, and was anything but conventional in most every aspect of her life. And, of course, she could write, and write very well. Many of her thoughts are so riveting and presented in such a unique way that you may find yourself going over them again and again just to experience the sheer beauty of her prose. The autobiography covers her early life and upbringing in Africa, and it is a tour de force of the written word. But don’t take my word for it, because this is the quote that caught my attention on the cover of this incredibly well-written piece of literature, that in my opinion should be required reading in every English Literature class today.

Beryl Markham in 1936.

Beryl Markham in 1936.

“Written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer…[Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers…It is really a bloody wonderful book.” — Ernest Hemingway

Until next time, happy navigating. Now, go register for a PNT conference, and then go read a good book.






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About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.