Thursday, October 5, 2017

JGrasstools back in black: The Horton Machine - Part 1

I have to admit that when in far 2002, working at the University of Trento, Faculty of Environmental Engineering, we published the first release of The Horton Machine, I never thought we would ever change that name. The Horton Machine was a collection of around 40 GRASS modules written in C and dedicated to advanced Hydrology and Geomorphology. They represented the effort of the passed 10 years (now around 20) of professor Riccardo Rigon and his team.

At that time Riccardo and I were dreaming about a nice to use GUI for GRASS that would allow GRASS to be used more outside of the academic domain. In 2003 we started the JGrass project with that objective: create a userfriendly GUI for GRASS. The reaction of the GRASS community was bad, mostly (so they said) because Java was not open source. Also QGis was coming and becoming the natural choice for being an interface to GRASS.

Not at all in the mood of religious wars in 2006 we decided to join the java tribe and moved our resources to support the uDig project, where we happily lived and developed for many many years. We kind of stayed between two worlds, still using GRASS and its mapsets, but living in the userfriendly java world. :-)

At that time the processing libraries for Hydrology and Geomorphology (as well as LiDAR and forestry later on) were extracted into a library that could be used in standalone mode or inside uDig. That library, as a logical follow-up, got the name JGrasstools.

Had I only known better! In some (rare, but still!) occasions I and other JGrasstools developers have been asked why we still use the name JGrasstools, since we are not directly "bound" to GRASS. Well, I have been fighting over this a few times and had no hard feeling about this, apart of the huge work that it would have been to change everything. 

The last time it happened, was at the Foss4g conference in Paris. At the end of a great presentation given by Silvia about the tools we developed for forestry management using LiDAR data, (again) a member of the GRASS community asked the same old question in the questions interval dedicated to the presentation: Why do you still call it JGrasstools....?

This was the final straw for me. I still have to understand why people do certain things, but one thing was sure for me: we had to change that name, to make some of the GRASS community members sleep sweet dreams, and to be finally free!

So this is it. After 15 years of continuous development on the JGrasstools core, we go back to our origins: The Horton Machine.

The Horton Machine is now something more than just Hydrology and Geomorphology, there are other projects that support interaction with the mobile digital field mapping app Geopaparazzi, a module that supports interaction with spatial databases (also on android), the LESTO modules developed with the team of professor Giustino Tonon at the Free University of Bolzano... and beyond other things... also the plugins for the Desktop GIS gvSIG.

It has been quite an exercise to make this namespace migration and has taken me days between code refactoring, domain registration, maven publishing updates, documentation updating (still much work to be done there) and and and... but it is done now. Many will sleep sweet dreams, and I will be the first. And maybe at the next conference someone will ask a question related to the content of the presentation. Don't know what? A hint: "How did you get such a high single tree extraction rate from LiDAR data with your tools?" ;-)

 What will happen now?

Before the 13 international gvSIG conference we will do the first HortonMachine branded release and the together with it the connected release if gvSIG plugins.

Also maven releases of the modules will be done. At the time JGrasstools was at version 0.8.1. The HortonMachine will most probably start at 0.9.0. It sure should have been a major number, but well, we still need to reach the first major. :-)

In the next post we will show you what you will find in the release. Stay tuned!

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