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Scrappy GIS tutorial

Scrappy Server RackThis weekend I have had the pleasure of taking part in the European GIS Education Symposium at University College Cork.

I organised a workshop on Scrappy GIS, using simple web mapping tools in this case Google Maps Engine Lite to teach the concepts of GIS, without needing a GIS !

The tutorial is online here and should take around an hour to complete. It could form a great introduction to GIS at any level, and is of course a bit scrappy itself !

Scrappy is popular approach at Google, building simple and cheap tools from what you have to hand rather than waiting for the ideal solution, the famous Lego rack used for Google’s first server is the classic example of the approach.

Now I’m off to find a pint of Beamish..

Upcoming Specialist Meeting on Spatial Search..

The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) is hosting a specialist meeting on Spatial Search, the call for papers ends on September 20th and proposals are requested on three topics..

  • Computational: What are the current computing challenges in spatial search? What are the limits of spatial indexing?
  • Geospatial: What kinds of spatial search are utilised in the geo-spatial domain?
  • Cognitive: What do we know about how humans conceptualise and perform information searches and how space helps?

It’s good to see GI Science addressing this topic as it offers great potential in a post SDI age..

SoC 50th Anniversary talk: Potential and propaganda

Last month I had the pleasure of presenting the 50th anniversary lecture of The Society of Cartographers in London.

My slides are below..

The slides I must admit are not much use of their own, but you might get some idea of the narrative of my talk. My key message I think was to highlight a paradox, although maps are more widely used that at any point in history the role of cartographers in achieving this has been at best peripheral.

Maps are more widely used because they are fundamentally more accessible, available to us on the mobile devices that are so important to our daily lives, and the maps themselves, manifestations of massive databases of geographic knowledge, are increasingly useful to us at a personal level, they can answer (in some cases literally) questions such as “Show me how to get home by Bike”.

These Maps or the now many other ways geospatial knowledge is communicated are the products of teams of software engineers, user interface designers, product managers and visionaries most of whom have a limited knowledge of cartography, just take a look at my good friend Ken’s excellent Cartonerd blog to see the results good and bad !

But there is an important role for cartographers, to help design future maps or services based on their knowledge of design and the intricacies of geographical information, have we as a industry forgotten or perhaps we never understood the axiom that in cartography “Less is more”

Of course I use many examples from Google to illustrate how much the approach to mapping has changed online in just the last decade, so I was accused of pedalling “Google Propaganda” ! OK maybe so, but there is a bigger picture here of course and other venders could provide similar examples..

There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in map making, perhaps the art and science of cartography needs to reset it’s scope now the media of communication is the screen rather than the page, but the potential surely is huge !

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 19.05.41




Well at least one person thought so !

Digital TV and paper maps

Did a short package with Dutch TV yesterday in Amsterdam talking about the differences between the maps of the great Dutch cartographers of the 17th Century and modern Google Maps.

In some ways there are surprising similarities, both in effect are all about discovery, earlier discoveries of new lands to exploit have been replaced by personal discoveries of places important to the individual a result of yes the democratisation of mapping.   

The 17th century maps of Blaeu et al are currently on display in Amsterdam at an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Het Scheepvaartmuseum, which is worth a visit if you get the chance.

As a amateur video geek I was impressed to see that even network TV now make use of digital SLRs for video production, not quite the shift mapping is going through from paper to mobile phones but still a significant step from the last generation of big professional video cameras.

Digital video technology has fundamentally changed TV production, I'm sure nobody on the production team of "Een Vandaag " know how to use cine film… I wonder when we will say the same thing about paper maps ?


Less Map, More Apps

I was able to make a flying visit to the State of the Map US conference yesterday in Washington DC. As usual it had the higher than average GIS conference energy levels, but it felt really different to previous events to me..

Firstly the conference was a step up in terms of the professionalism of organisation, congratulations to the local organising team even if they owe me a T-Shirt !

The real difference I guess compared to SOTM events in Europe was more focus on the opportunities that the map as a dataset provides to other organisations and companies to build additional products and services many of which are commercial.  The large investments made by Map Box and those announced by Digital Globe in developing the ecosystem around OSM are evidence of this..

Perhaps as a result  of this perspective the big topic of the weekend was the ongoing debate around the ODbL licence and it's impact on the use of OSM within third party products.

Is it more than a cliche then to say that the US is more entrepreneurial than Europe ?   


Google Faculty Research Award call open !

The Google Research Awards  programme is open again open for applications and now in addition to computer science/GIS related projects the scope has been expanded into policy areas and we’re eager now to attract top notch researchers to submit applications on Internet policy matters.

Researchers can apply for up to $150,000. However most first time awards are funded at the amount needed to support basic expenses for one graduate student for one year, or around $50,000. Please see the FAQs for more details on eligibility and budgets.

Applications for the next funding round are due by April 15th.

Each funded project will be assigned a Googler as sponsor. The role of the sponsor is to support the project by discussing research directions, engaging with professors and students, and overseeing collaboration between the project team and Google.

In the last round the following Geo related projects obtained funding..

  • General Bounding Mechanism for Constraint Programs
  • Modeling the World’s Appearance
  • Building Entrance Recognition from Street-Level LiDAR and Video Images
  • Improving Terrain Perception in Web Maps
  • On Relating Visual Elements to City Statistics

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions..