Category: Thoughts

10 years ago today at 50,000 feet !

At just after 9:00 am on the 29th May 2003, I achieved a lifetime ambition and flew  Concorde ! Concorde had six months of service remaining with British Airways so the rush was on for fellow Aviation geeks to organise the trip of a lifetime.

The journey was perhaps the last occasion that I could describe as an example of glamorous air travel. The dedicated Concorde lounge at JFK’s Terminal 7 had a real buzz about it, although the usual compliment of banker and celebrity passengers was supplemented my people such as myself who were here for the ride..

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Clearly visible through the wall to celling windows was the flagship of British Airways fleet, G-BOAC. After the obligatory glass of champagne it was time to board and I took my seat 6D inside as everyone says the rather cramped cabin, similar to a modern Embraer E jet .

I had specifically chosen to fly back from New York to London on flight BA002 as my Concorde experience for what happened next.. Anyone who flew on Concorde will tell you the take off was like no other experience  after all it was the only commercial airliner to take off using afterburners ! But the take off from New York was even more special, because of the need to carry out noise abatement procedures very quickly after take off, Concorde made a hard left turn, enough to make you feel both pushed down and back into your seat from the acceleration - very roller-coaster like !

This video give you some sense of this unique departure..

 

Very quickly after take off the afterburners are switched off and there is a noticeable deceleration and reduction in noise. After a few minutes and another glass of Champagne and canapés, it was time to really get going.. the Captain made a short announcement switched on the afterburners again which felt like a kick in the back  and we rapidly accelerated to Mach 2.0 1330 MPH and an altitude of 56,000 feet.

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At such a speed and altitude there was no real impression of speed, other than perhaps from the heat felt when touching the small windows, the heat a product of air friction.

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Looking out of the window produced a view quite different to the 747 flying only half as high as Concorde. The sky was much darker and it is possible to just about see the curvature of the earth, and the thin blue line which represents the vital but very fragile part of the atmosphere in which we all live.

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I will never in all likelihood be as high or travel as fast again in my life as I did for those couple of hours ten years ago,  indeed the captain made the point at that moment there were only five people higher than the 100 passengers in Concorde, and they were on the International Space Station !

I completely understand the economics of why Concorde no longer flies, but is still seems wrong that the technological masterpiece on which  I flew now sits in a Museum at Manchester Airport !

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

 

 

Inspire a moonshot not a blueprint ?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to take part in the ImaGIne conference organised by the European Umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information in Dublin. The conference although not very well attended did contain both excellent presentations and perhaps unusually great discussions which really seemed to address some of the key challenges of using geospatial technology in Europe.

A talk on the use of Geo in the context of Europe brings us inevitably to the Inspire Directive and it’s progress and impact. Inspire which came into force almost exactly six years ago is the programme to build an European Spatial Data Infrastructure by October 2020.  Inspire was the topic of much discussion at the conference as this year a number of important articles of the directive must be implemented.

An obvious concern expressed by many, included myself, is the difficulty of legislating to build an information system over such a long time.  Developing quite prescriptive  rules as to how to share information is almost impossible with the speed of technological development online.

The issue is perhaps more problematic when you think that many of the ideas and principles enshrined in the Directive were developed during the five years leading up to 2007, a time before social networking, big data and the mobile internet.

In hindsight of course perhaps a less rigid approach which articulated the principles of sharing environmental data and their benefits might have been a better outcome, concentrating on policy issues around reuse of information rather than the actual mechanics. And yes of course I accept the point that without harmonisation of data and the creation of (limited) metadata data sharing is difficult, nether-less often inspirational ideas are best when they plant the seed of an idea and accept that how the idea is accomplished may differ.

Before the conference in Dublin, I was asked to speak at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels and was asked to bring along a object which to me represented the Inspire programme. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments, but I brought along my rather battered copy of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon“.

Along with HG Wells, Verne is credited with pioneering science fiction, and with this book although published in 1865  demonstrates the power of a inspiration idea. Both Wernher von Braun and Robert H. Goddard cite the book as a catalyst for their interest is rocketry and space exploration. Published 100 years before the actual moon landings Verne was able to make some uncanny predictions, correctly suggesting that three men would leave the earth in a capsule launched from Florida after much political horse trading!  Of course technology moved on and 1969′s great achievement was made with liquid fuel rockets and computers not the large cannon suggested by Verne – still the idea was the inspiration !

So perhaps we should look at the Inspire programme in the same way, a moon shot idea that today may be achieved is different ways to at first considered..

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

 

So does Open GovData allow SME’s to flourish?

Within the first few weeks of joining the Ordnance Survey 10 years or so ago I was shown a prototype map of the New Forest printed on silk, for reasons anyone who has read the “Innovators dilemma” will understand it was never turning into a product, and I still have  the prototype in a drawer at home.

So when my old friend from the OS David Overton  launched SplashMaps via Kickstarter last month I immediately supported the project.

I supported the project not just because I think the product is a great idea, but that is is a real example of Open Government Data supporting small business innovation.  As David points out, he was willing to license commercial data from the OS, but the usual licensing maze in Southampton actually made using the newly available OS Open Data and OpenStreetMap data a better alternative.

If you believe in the principle of open government data, support it with your bank account and help SplashMaps meet it’s target.

Written and submitted from the Hilton Hotel, Vienna  (48.206N, 16.383E)

Bad maps.. really a search problem

So now everyone knows making a map of our little planet to make available to users of mobile devices everywhere that is both accurate, up-to-date and detailed is hard. And with the benefit of hindsight and industry expertise we can smile knowledgeably at the mainstream tech press falling over themselves debating and theorising over Apple Mapgate !

But are we all missing the point, I have seen very few comments in the specialist or mainstream tech press that really address the true issue here.. Making maps work well on a phone is not actually a cartography problem.. yes you can use poor maps or conflate content from various sources without care producing a poor map, and people might get lost… but the reason we all use maps on our phones is that they help us find stuff – maps on smartphones are interfaces to local search.

Local search has all the issues of web search plus the added complication of needing to explicitly locate relevant information in relation to the location of the user.. To be successful you need a geocoded search index of places, an algorithm to identify terms that relate to places and of course some maps to put it all in context.

To be fair to our friends in Cupertino the maps are not that bad, all maps have some mistakes, but the bigger issue is the lack of a true geocoded search index of places and the search algorithms that sit around it.

Local search is in many ways what makes smart phones smart, because the users location and the location of things around them provides a set of contextual pointers to relevant information. If you are a lucky owner of a Jelly Bean powered android smartphone have a used Google Now, just think about how many of the information cards are related to location.. weather, travel information etc.

To make good maps that are globally consistent, accurate and up-to-date is hard and takes lots of people as well as clever software, as it is a business of relationships with many different providers of local data, and potentially local community groups. Transit directions are a case in point, they are not difficult to do technically, but the number of organisations that you must partner with to obtain data runs into the thousands   – it really does take years..

To understand local search is much harder you need the maps from above, plus the ability to crawl, create, maintain and understand a geo search index, and to query it in ways that provide value to you end users – that takes decades…

Maps on smartphones are so powerful and useful because they are far more than a digital version of an A-Z street atlas.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

 

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#NBCFail : One is not a Mused

So just how bad is NBC’s coverage of the Olympics.. I spent a few days last week in the US so I got the opportunity to actually experience it.

Well compared to the BBC, it was never going to win any prizes, but actually is not so bad once you get over the bizarre time delay theatre..

Just as with the BBC there was the expected focus of national sportsmen and women, but where as the BBC will also cover sports where TeamGB are not doing very well, for NBC if there was no TeamUSA medal winning then the sport does not exist..

So the efforts of Sir Chris Hoy, The Brownlee brothers et al has gone unreported.. indeed it appears if there was not enough success then the evening show may be cut short for other special programming .. a new Matthew Perry comedy for example !

The key problem for NBC I think was that they had just one channel to play with compared to two mainstream channels and at least another ten red button channels for the BBC plus of course the web and mobile..

IMHO the BBC have done a brilliant job recognising London as the first non linear, multi-channel, multi-platform Olympics. This is not news to NBC, but NBC need to keep a core audience for their advertisers who perhaps are not quite there yet !

What is unforgivable however was the editing of the opening and closing ceremonies, cutting out in one the moving tribute to the victims of London’s 7/7 bombing, and then in the other last night cutting Muse, the Who and Ray Davis classic anthem to London, Waterloo Sunset !

To paraphrase the great Eric Idle who was also bleeped by NBC ..

“NBC’s a piece of shit when you look at it !”

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

 

The Martian Invasion

No one would have believed in the first years of the twenty first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than mans…

H.G. Wells had it wrong, the invasion of Mars by robots from earth !

Good Luck NASA, JPL and Curiosity the most ambitious landing since Apollo 11,  an autonomous spacecraft lowering a rover the size of a small car onto the martian surface from 20m altitude is truly the stuff of science fiction.

But I get the impression that few people seems interested… Rocket Scientists will I guess always find it hard to compete for coverage with the olympics.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)