Public Speaking

I’ve just finished a two-day training course on public speaking with SkillStudio. Some might think a lecturer going on a course in speaking is a strange thing to do!! However, whilst I don’t have a problem in standing up in front of 100 or so people and warbling away, I do feel there is always room for improvement. Hence the course.

And finding a course on public speaking wasn’t as easy as I at first thought. After a few dead ends and much trawling of the internet, I booked myself on the Advanced Presentation Skills workshop which took place in a single training room with four other participants (normally, I gather, there are 8 in total). Whilst I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it covered the sort of ground, retrospectively, that I would have imagined. This included a videoed presentation at the beginning (and feedback), relaxation, warming up (neck and voice), intonation and tone, and a variety of exercises to practise this. There was also plenty of ground covered in structuring a presentation, writing endings and intros, “hooks” or “spices” to really interest the audience, movement, pauses, removing “umms” and “errs”. And lots of practise between it all. Day two, in particular, involved practising many parts of the presentation, lots of feedback and a final videoed presentation. Our trainer, Alison, was relaxed and very familiar with the whole topic. Whilst its not the sort of place that you give your CV at, she has done, training, acting, media relations, lobbying, script writing etc etc. And I have no qualms about her effectiveness and can only sing her praises when it comes to really rooting out ways of improving body movement, voice, structure, phrasing etc etc. She was really on the button.

So a really valuable two days that I can heartily recommend (as long as you can swallow the price). And to finish….. toned down evangelical preacher.

More on database right and spatial data…

Clearly the GRADE report on whether geodata should come under copyright or database right (in Europe) is a topical issue, with this article recently published.

Geography is a flavour

I recently came across the somewhat dated (well 2006) Starbucks advertising, Geography is a flavour (why the Americans can spell flavour correctly, but not colour is beyond me). Its interesting that the ad campaign focuses on the “where” and “why” of geographical thinking for understanding coffee tastes. It also moves away from the more recent trend in categorising purely by taste, as per many modern wines (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc).

However I think the last word has to go to the YouthBlog (you need to scroll down for the entry) which read the tag line slightly differently. And Ken, the last line was almost written just for you!!!

Rights of Way Surveying

I’ve just returned from a weeks field course to Swansea with the first year geography students. Yet again, the weather was fantastic and offered some memorable days at Oxwich Bay. This year we again did some footpath surveying, but this time targeted some areas that Carmarthenshire County Council were interested in. The county has ~2,500 km of rights of way (>90% footpaths) of which around 50% are open (which means they know little about the remainder). Most of these are in the more inhabited south of the county. We were therefore very grateful to Gary Carlsen, the Senior Rights of Way Officer, for his support. He provided copies of the definitive maps the county uses and suggested some routes to survey in and around Llandovery. What’s interesting about this area is that there are increasing amounts of tourism to the region (and its now the number one industry in Carmarthenshire) in the form of walkers, riders and 4x4. Yet it remains heavily reliant upon agriculture with some truly remote valleys.

On the day we had a real mix of results. The area I walked in (around Myddfai) is just inside the Brecon Beacons National Park and consequently, whilst in Carmarthenshire, is managed by the National Park. The paths were well signposted and maintained. Of interest was the construction of the LNG pipeline. In this area they were removing topsoil and placing it in “buns” at the side ready for replacement after the pipeline has been laid (thanks Colin!). As a result the footpaths were closed (and this was very well signed) which meant a walk back to the van by road (see the KML if you are really interested!). Of the student groups, one traversed the pipeline just outside the National Park and whilst the closure was well signed, many of the paths weren’t. Another, close to Llandovery, found a path re-routed, but generally in good condition. The last two groups had real problems. One found non-existant paths, overgrown and unsigned. The other was met with unhappy farmers, dogs, hedgerows blocking routes, a one-eyed farmer (seriously!) and a bungalow across the route. Upon talking to some of the landowners, anecdotal evidence would suggest that these routes were used for postal delivery on foot and have seen little or no use for about 20 years.

Clearly then there is much work for the council. The “definitive” maps are 40 years old and many rights of way remain to be established. And this has to be achieved by 2026 (Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000). In fact it has been estimated that it will require ~26M to bring all paths in Wales in to operation and ~8M per year to maintain. If this is amortized over 5 years, it equates to 400 per km. A huge undertaking, but with tourism the top industry something that would appear worthwhile.

Shrek Just Snorted in My Bath

I think the photo says it all….

Shopping for men

I bumped in to a friend in Tesco’s yesterday, both as we were looking for items (water filters and Quorn as it happens). Now shopping (particularly grocery shopping!) seems to be something that most men don’t, shall we say, enjoy. Its more a case of SAS planning, get in, do the job, get out as quickly as possible. That means some kind of list and prioritising their order in the shop so that they can be grabbed in the least amount of time. Groan… OK, its a spatial (aka GIS) problem (and Andy really did want to minimise his time). We have locations of items for “picking” and we want to minimise the route to collect them all. Classic travelling salesman network problem with a real world application. I gather from Andy (a database developer) that this is standard fare in warehouses (“back-of-shop”) and “us guys” now want it standard fare “front-of-shop”.

So, please, Tesco, can you offer optimised shopping routes for all of your stores if I give you a pick list?? This would also have a dual purpose in allowing you to optimise your grocery shopping service as well. Thanks.

Creating Polygons

I was sent some polygons (coastline) of a group of islands recently that Ken was using to produce a map for a joint project we have. The detail of the coastline was very good so we wanted to use this dataset however it was very odd!! On close inspection each island had an exterior buffer to (I think!) 1km. It was these buffers that were the polygons. Clearly we needed to get rid of the buffers and retain the islands as polygons (not least because we wanted to use to polygons to clip some other datasets we had).

So how to go about doing this? Well the first step was to convert the polygons to polylines, then go around in detail (and select)and delete all lines that were related to the buffers. This would then leave just the coastline. This was a fairly pain staking process as the dataset is quite large. Once complete, all we needed to do was rebuild the polyline layer as a polygon layer (doing a CLEAN and BUILD). And, it didn’t work…. At this point I asked Ken to work with the dataset (because I’m on leave!). He spent ALOT hours looking at the islands in detail and found a couple of spurious lines related to the buffer, but nothing else. There were, however, several very small gaps in the polylines (10-20m in size). This will stop the layer being created as polygons because there are, well, gaps! This required some further editing and merging of lines and conversion to polygon which… didn’t work. Thankfully Ken has got some hair, so was able to pull some out and then mull over it a bit further.

And the conclusion that he came to was that the standard ArcGIS tools wouldn’t work in our situation, possibly because the algorithms they employ are quite strict. A trawl of the internet brought him back to, you’ve guessed it, one of the BIG THREE add-on tool sets (mentioned earlier), in this case ET GeoTools. In particular the clean polyline and polyline to polygon tools.

Strange how most ArcGIS problems seem to end up with solutions not from ESRI but one of the BIG THREE!!!

PDAs: a dying breed?

Two interesting posts on Palm Info Center got me pondering the future of PDAs. The first concerned an announcement by Dell, stating they were axing the Axim PDA range and so exiting the PDA market. This is big news because Dell entering the PDA market was a huge deal, marking the expansion of PDAs “to the masses”. Dell exiting the market is therefore equally big news and, as the article notes, leaves really only Palm and HP in the market (with a few smaller players). Much of the PDA functionality has been ported to the smartphone and this is where much development is moving. I’m still not entirely happy with the smartphone form factor and, for the time being, prefer to stick to two separate devices.

On to the second post which detailed Palms announcement of a new linux based operating system for a range of Palms later this year. Now remember that Palm OS was spun off as Palm Source to ACCESS who, wait a minute, are also producing a Linux platform for Palm!! Anyway, whilst the old PalmOS was elegant and easy to use it certainly wasn’t modern and suffered horribly when multi-tasking or doing media things. Clearly much development has been going on behind the scenes on the Linus development.

So has the PDA death knell been sounded? Well probably yes, because phones and PDAs are converging as smartphones. However traditional phone companies such as Nokia have a habit of releasing half-finished OSes that don’t do what they are meant to. Palm has a good reputation for development and an enviable back catalog of software and developers for it. The new Linux platform is supposedly being put together with the early involvement of developers. Whether the back catalog of material will still work is another matter. We shall see. In addition, will we see this platform rolled out to the Treo smartphones? I don’t know but its intriguing. So the next few months might be a good time to bag a Palm TX which is a nicely specced PDA and then look at how the new Linux machines perform. Watch this space.

Free Our Data: Copyright and database right

I was intervewied by Michael Cross of the “Free Our Data” campaign at the Guardian last week. He wrote this up as part of an article titled New study casts doubt on Ordnance Survey’s copyright control, that followed up a blog entry summarising Charlotte Waelde’s report.

I was intrigued by the OSs response to the report. I quote from the article (Scott Sinclair): “We haven’t been able to consider the report in detail, but there is absolutely no doubt that intellectual property rights exist in MasterMap - it would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. In all our topographic information, there is copyright as in artistic works. Therefore use of those works without licence is an infringement.”

I find this amazing because the OS were one of several partners involved in the GRADE Project (which you have to remember was looking at the social, technical and legal aspects to a geospatial data repository) and had full access to the report prior to its publication on 13 March 2007 (a month ago!). And the report does not say that IPR ceases to exist. To the contrary, IPR most definitely remains, its just that Charlotte’s argument is that the Database Directive is far more appropriate for a product like Mastermap than copyright. The argument over “artistic works” remains however. Is Mastermap, the database, artistic in any way or simply a collection of facts??

More musings to follow…

The Brompton Mean Machine

Being a commuter I have a mission to find the best way to get in to work. In fact, being a GIS lecturer seems to involve a mandatory long commute. I live about 60 miles away from Kingston and am the closest of the GIS group. And for all of us this means traversing across London where we all converge on Waterloo for a speedy South West Trains trip to Surbiton. So one of the key elements of the journal is getting across London. This aspect of the journey, in particular, encouraged me to get a folding bike and, specifically, a Brompton.

The Brompton is the grand-daddy of modern folders and produced by a “traditional” small engineering company. The quality of the product is excellent and, importantly, it quickly folds and unfolds. Not only that, but when folded it has the smallest volume of all standard production folding bikes. Important when on the train. And on that note, all rail companies in the UK accept folding bikes in the rush hour.

In terms of riding, it takes a little while to get used to the small wheels and consequently tight turning circle. However it is very manouvorable, important in heavy traffic. I’ve since added the extended seatpost (as I’m 5’11”), mini-bar ends and clipless pedals which increase the speed of the bike. So all in all an indispensable part of the commute that probable saves about 30 minutes in commute time!!

Data or no data

I recently received a LiDAR tile from the Environment Agency for some research I am currently doing. The EA are quite progressive in licensing small amounts of LiDAR for academic research. Anyway, the tile was duly delivered as an ASCII file; as the LiDAR data did not completely cover the tile area there were null (or “no data”) values. Now Arc-Info is quite grown up with the way it deals with null data and can happily import the file (as a GRID) and contrast stretch it correctly (the null values were coded as -9999). However I really wanted the file in Imagine (IMG) format as its more portable and I regularly switch between ArcGIS and Imagine. So I duly exported it from ArcMap and loaded it into Imagine to find it washed out. Ahhhh….. Imagine doesn’t handle null values correctly and so assumed the null values were real thus produced a “white” image. Not very helpful. I remembered that the latest release of Imagine supposedly supports null values so thought I would import the ASCII file straight in to Imagine. Same problem. The image information module lets you set the null data value, but its doesn’t appear to be a “real” null data value, just ignoring it for things like contrast stretches.

This then brought me to the second problem. The elevation units of the file were in millimetres. OK, write a quick spatial model to divide the image by 1000 giving me metres. Except it also divided the null data value. Reset the null data value so that the contrast stretch worked correctly. Finally things looked correct. Right, I thought, produce a quick hill shade of the area (in Imagine), load it in to ArcScene and get a nice oblique view (using the base heights from the original DEM). Which worked; ish. ArcScene didn’t understand the null data value Imagine had, so produced some nice -9.999m pits in the landscape.

OK, so I’m using ArcGIS 9.1 and Imagine 9.1, but really this should be a lot easier. Ultimately, it will be a damn site better just the subset the image to the smaller area I am interested in and make sure there are no null data values.

Deeply Touched

I run a Synology DiskStation DS-101j on my network principally for backups. Its a nice bit of kit with lots of goodies on board; printer server, web server (Apache, PHP, MySQL), photo server, ftp server… the list goes on. I use Second Copy to backup from my main PC and this takes about 20 minutes depending upon what is going across the network (and thats at least my 1Gb mail archive). I set the backup going at 10am this morning and returned at 4pm to find it still running. I was a little surprised to say the least and, after a little digging, found that it was backing up the entire disk. Wondering what had happened, the penny then dropped that we changed to British Summer Time last weekend which might be the root cause of the problem.

A little Googling later confirmed that this would appear to be an unfixed bug in the DiskStation and there were numerous wails and gnashing of teeth at the problems this caused twice a year. The obvious answer is to reset the time of the files on the DiskStation. In this case, adding 1 hour to all the files. A rather helpful message pointed to Chronos a freeware Windows program that allows you to manipulate time stamps on files and is incredibly flexible. It was a 2 minute job to select the files on the DiskStation and add 1 hour to time stamps, then set it running. This has indeed solved the problem (and introduced me to a useful piece of software), but it would be better if the root cause was fixed. Over to Synology…..

Horsepower: what does it all mean?

I was flicking through my Land Rover Enthusiast this weekend and saw an article on torque and horsepower. In it there was an explanation for the original derivation of the term which, because I didn’t know it (!), can be summarised as follows:

James Watt coined the term in 1782 in order to measure the work done by ponies in mines. His business was based upon improving the performance of steam engines, but he needed a baseline to compare against for mines that didn’t currently use steam engines. He therefore monitored the loads, and distances, that ponies hauled coal out of mines. Using the appropriate block and tackle, he calculated that, on average (and, I suspect, rounded!), a pony could haul a 150 pound load of coal (assuming mass was the same as force) over a distance of 220 feet during 1 minute. This gives a value of 33,000 foot pounds of work in minute which is, wait for it, 1 horsepower!

More Shapefiles

Shapefiles have been in my mind recently, partly due to having to swap data with a researcher in an earth science department. May earth science/geology departments have come to the GIS party quite late it would seem and use a variety of software for mapping, analysis etc. Anyway, a little bit of digging (actually not much at all as I only went to Wikipedia) and I found the Wikipedia entry which really is very good. I nice explanation of the history of shapefiles and the different files that make up the full “package”. There are also some very good links to the open specification, KML converter and other goodies. One of my favourites is Shape Viewer, freeware software for viewing shapefiles, exporting point coordinates and recreating index files (for damaged shapefiles). As a standalone VB project at only 132kb its a handy utility.