Video : “The Instant City—Geodesign and Urban Planning” at the GeoDesign Summit 2013, Redlands

I know you’re probably all fed up of this by now…. You can view my presentation at the GeoDesign summit here, or at the ESRI video site (you can download it for offline viewing too!) or eventually on ESRI’s Youtube site

Translating text for ArcGIS – Google Translate + Excel – A quick guide

This is a useful tip that has been pointed out to me by a colleague, so useful in fact I have to make sure I note it down somewhere.   Until my idea is incorporated into ArcGIS this is a quick and dirty workaround for translating Arabic labels in ArcGIS.

Yes, but what does it mean?

We have received some GIS data from a client, it’s landuse in a geodatabase with Arabic labels.  Trouble is our maps are needed in English!   In the past we’ve tested the Microsoft translation tools (for office) against Google’s online translate tool and found that Google does a much better translation.

So how do we translate this large landuse table quickly and easily?   Use Excel of course!   Please note that this bullet point list assumes you know ArcGIS and Excel quite well, to instruct from a beginners point of view would be a bit to long winded for me.

  1. First create a field name for the English Translation in ArcGIS
  2. Open a new Excel document
  3. Copy (using this method) the table from ArcGIS into Excel.
  4. Create a PivotTable that lists the row labels (in this case Arabic Landuse)
  5. Copy and paste this list out (so the text is static, you probably don’t have to)
  6. Copy the Arabic text into the text box at

    Google Translate
  7. Now Copy that English translation text list back adjacent to your Arabic landuse list into Excel

    Pasted back into Excel
  8. Now you have to use some Excel magic, select the English and Arabic text and under the Formulas tab (in Excel 2007) define a name ( in this case I called it English Translate)
  9. Once you have done this go to the English Landuse field name column and type in code like this “=VLOOKUP(E7,EnglishTranslate,2)”.   E7 is the Arabic landuse in your original table in Excel, EnglishTranslate is that Name you defined above and the number 2 is the column number of the EnglishTranslate you need to use if matched.
  10. Then click and drag copy this down your English translation field to check it works.
  11. Now copy back this data into ArcGIS or Join/Link it.

Well that’s it if you have any improvements/questions/suggestions please add them in the comments section below!

The emergence of true Geodesign

This is part 7 of a larger blog post, you can read the introduction here.

It’s still a difficult concept for me, I have to admit, when it’s explained to me it seems to stupidly obvious that it hardly needs pointing out or given a name.    Yet it’s useful to give what is coming a name, I say what is coming because I believe true ‘geodesign’ has not been done yet.

I regard ‘geodesign’ as the term we will use to explain how we will manage, create and plan things in the future by taking into account as much of the knowledge we have at our disposal from sensors, theories and analytical tools.   When I say “as much of the knowledge we have“, I don’t mean how we do it now.   For instance when planning a new city I don’t actually design by taking into account the sum of all human knowledge about that area and all the data current, historical and projected that relate to it.   Nor do I take into account all the theories new, old and emerging that might be of relevance to urban form or planning or environment.  Shocking isn’t it?  Well, of course not really, no one can do that and if they say they can I’m pretty sure they’re lying.

We are starting to see the emergence of true Geodesign, all the technological pieces are lining up, ubiquitous sensors, internet, communications infrastructure, social networks, computing power.   Now all we need is someone ( a Geodesigner?) to piece it all together into a unified global framework or system.   So perhaps the last piece in the puzzle is probably that transactional database of the world that Jack has talked of.

Like driverless cars, the technology has been there for a while it just needs someone to fit it all together into a complete package.


Internet of things

This is part 6 of a larger blog post, you can read the introduction here.

Feeding into the transactional database of the world would need to be a vast number of sensors.  Well that’s all happening now, buildings, engines, animals you name it large parts of our world are being monitored at various levels.

The trouble is that they’re all in their own data silos with limited interactivity to the outside world.  One concept that came from David Bartlett’s presentation was that:

“people are the smartest sensors we have”

Of course these ideas feed into each other and there’s probably someone out there fitting all the pieces together as we speak…. lets hope the appropriate checks and balances are built in from the ground up!

Next 7 The emergence of true Geodesign

A transactional database of the world

This is part 5 of a larger blog post, you can read the introduction here.

Possible but is it desir
Possible but is it desirable?

At the summit Jack Dangermond told us of his idea of creating a transactional database of the world.   I think a central repository of all scientific knowledge in relation to the earth.   A place where anyone with a computer and access to the internet could access all the sensor logs and all the analytical models that existed.   Now there is an amazing if a little scary idea.

I think as long as no one organisation or government has total control over this database then it may have a huge amount of uses for humanity and the planet.   The real implementation issues are not technical though, it’s the financial, political and social aspects. Perhaps this EU INSPIRE directive is the start of it all then?

Next 6 Internet of things

Conversations and short attention spans

This is part 4 of a larger blog post, you can read the introduction here.

People do like conferences and summits for the conversation, I’ve personally found it almost of more value than the people I’ve come to hear speak.    But really this idea of conversations was brought up in a number of presentations at the Summit.   Communicating ideas and new theories as well as data is getting increasingly complex.   As the internet and it’s various types of networks start interacting (social, mapping, work, games etc).   Twitter/facebook et al have shown there is an appetite for conversation on a global level between people who have no connections other than their love of LOLCats (or GIS either is valid in this context!).

It’s not my fault!  The computer broke my attention span

What amuses me most about some people who are anti-social media is the familiar lines of young people having “too short n attention span, nowadays” yet almost in the same breath saying they have “no time for social media”.    I think that humans have the same attention span they always did.   It’s just we have access to so much more information that we have adapted to absorbing snippets of information from multiple sources.   Whilst we scan web pages and social media streams we still manage to read books of more than a few pages (then share that over a social network) and we still watch TV shows of more than 10 minutes for 24 episodes (I wonder what show I could be referring to).   It’s not just the entertainment media either, educational programs like those made by Brian Cox or Sir David Attenborough have never been more popular.   So the idea of short attention spans of the newer generations is false.

What I think needs to be much more connected is this idea of story telling (via maps for example) and conversations.    ESRI for example has an amazing array of tools and systems to tell stories an relay information via maps but no way of enabling that conversation on a global level, except via other people’s social networks.   Perhaps we need a new kind of social network that operates like and with existing ones but with an emphasis on sharing data, research and analytical process and tools.   I think that this has the beginnings of another blog post about the logical future of ESRI.

NB : I’m aware of the irony of writing one large article then splitting it up for readability….

Next 5 A transactional database of the world

A Bill of Rights for the planet?

This is part 3 of a larger blog post, you can read the introduction here.

Earth (Source : NASA via Wiki)
Earth (Source : NASA via Wiki)

In one of the discussions on the sofa at the summit the idea of creating a Bill of Rights for the planet came up.   I’m very wary of writing something down and calling it a ‘right’.   Without going into too much detail, correct me if I’m wrong, but owning a gun is a ‘right’ in the USA isn’t it?   Regardless of the side you are on in that ongoing debate you can see that words written down as ‘rights’ have to be very carefully written and the intentions of the person(s) who wrote it have to be understood too.

The idea of a Bill of Rights also feels quite an American concept to a British person like myself, and it feels quite wrong, as I think rights are not as static as we might of first thought.   However I think there is utility in talking about the rights and responsibilities of ourselves and the planet we live on.   It fits nicely in to this idea of a long term plan assessed over generations of humans not just a single generation.  I think we need to start thinking bigger as a species and beyond our limited lifespans, as we become more powerful and more able to control the destiny of our planet earth.

This will be subject to a more detailed blog post topic for me in the coming weeks.   I have a simple idea and I think a Bill of Rights for the planet does not have to be as complicated as this one :  wikipedia – Sustainable Design In fact I think it can be boiled down to a single statement or phrase that everyone can agree on regardless of a political  religious, cultural or other affiliation.   Whether it can be the binding root of all laws and activities we do on this planet of ours is another matter….

Next Part 4 Conversations and short attentions spans