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Creating District Centres in CityEngine Part 2

Creating District Centres in CityEngine Part 2

Well I’ve got a little further with a little help from the very friendly people at CityEngine!  As you can see the model looks a lot better with now gaps between the buildings.

The rule file allows for multiple centres without a underlying map layer.
Where is The Royal Burgh of Tain? Google Maps vs Bing

Where is The Royal Burgh of Tain? Google Maps vs Bing

Update : the title was changed to remove the word fight as web mapping is not worth fighting about… 
A little post on the dangers of relying on your favourite web mapping sites too much.  I’ve just come from a nice holiday in the Highlands of Scotland and we were staying near a place called The Royal Burgh of Tain.   As you can see Google Maps (my web mapping of choice) doesn’t have it…. Bing does though.

Tain is only here according to Google 
The town of Tain is here on Bing but not labelled on Google…. uh oh

Not really much to say other than the residents of Tain might be a bit annoyed … at least tourists can find Glenmorangie Distillery, phew!

ESRI UK Conference – People I met

ESRI UK Conference – People I met

UPDATED: Various errors (spelling, grammar etc..) have been changed since the original was posted

It’s the brief encounters and interesting discussions that make all the difference at these types of events.  Often I learn more and come away more enthused from the people I meet rather than the presentations, I think this year was no exception.

I didn’t meet everyone at the dinner bash….

Below in no particular order are some of the people I met (apologies if you are not on the list, use the comments section to point it out!):

  • Nick Chappallaz ESRI UK – Nice guy obviously quite busy at the conference, and I apologise for using video that didn’t work on ESRI’s laptops!
  • Angela BakerESRI UK – She made me feel very welcome, and was very encouraging.   She expressed a love for Inverness (I up on holiday soon near there).   I just hope I gave her a presentation that works!
  • Andrew BloggKorec – As a well as a colleague whose name escapes me (I didn’t get his business card).   They are, as I understand it, the UK distributor for this neat bit of surveying kit GPS + Camera + Rugged looking Tablet PC + REMOTE CONTROL PLANE = Geek heaven? From SenseFly, check out the video here.
  • Lisa ThomasThe Coal Authority – She did a presentation on the Geo-Futures track after me, which I talk about here.    We had a very interesting chat at lunch on Day 2 (it’s always difficult standing up, eating and talking to a fellow professional who can tell when you’re making it up!), she told me of the interesting stuff that happens at the AGI meetings (I should probably go to one, one of these days).  We also discussed presentation techniques and how to cope with nerves…. thank you.
  • Richard GreaneyRusmoor Borough Council – It’s a shame I missed his session, but I did meet his colleague (sorry I didn’t get her name), and heard good things about his presentation.  He was also excellent company at the evening dinner/awards.
  • Richard Betts , Scottish Natural Heritage – Nice to meet him and hear that his bosses seem to give him the freedom to explore new and innovative ways of working.   Again he was good company at the awards dinner.
  • Steven Feldman Knowhere Consulting – Interesting gentleman with a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm, likes to be a bit controversial. I spoke with him about derived data (interesting discussion still going on here) and Rights of Way (RoW) as well as opendata – His suggestion/advice still ringing in my ears “JFDI”!
  • Stuart LesterBirmingham City Council – From a very big authority and doing great things, we talked about how to motivate people into perhaps working differently, joined up thinking etc…   I think the Planners of Birmingham could get some interesting stuff done with his help!
  • Elavvenil KarthikeyanBLOM – Came and found me at the end of the conference, he was interested in my presentation and was doing some interesting modelling of cities, mainly for TomTom and was very interested in CityEngine.  I think there is an interesting project here.  Perhaps he’d like to come back and chat with me and the people at Procedural.

A big thank you to everyone I met and spoke with, I really enjoyed it.

Continue to thoughts for the Future, suggestions for ESRI UK

ESRI UK Conference – Day 1

ESRI UK Conference – Day 1

UPDATED: Various errors (spelling, grammar etc..) have been changed since the original was posted

Julie Pearce presented an interesting piece on GIS use at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (it trips off the tongue doesn’t it?).   It is good to see how people are overcoming inconsistent and disparate data sets from a variety of sources/agencies.   The over-riding impression I got was that although complicated in implementation the concept is very simple.   I too wasn’t surprised by the level of farmer involvement and enthusiasm for the technology.  After all farmers are businessmen and women first and foremost!   They want, like all of us, systems that are simple, easy-to-use and cost effective.   I would have thought the main ‘fly-in-ointment’ here is a lack of provision of true (not just silly 1meg) rural broadband.   Another agency that should be lobbying government to properly fund a national fibre optic broadband network (forget urban vs rural it is a national issue!)?

Rowan Douglas from Willis Research Network tried to convince us that the insurance industry wasn’t evil!  After listening to him I’m almost inclined to agree.   It’s all about managing risk and then how society as a whole and through the wonders of insurance companies pays for things, when nature or other events interrupt our lives.   When it’s put like that you realise at the same time, that he’s correct and that somehow it doesn’t quite tie in with why our insurance companies put up our premiums without explanation.   Is their industry in need of an image makeover, I wonder?  Probably.

However his presentation did include a lot about analysis, modelling and trying to predict the impacts of disasters on people and the economy.   Some great stuff going on which I’m sure adds to the sum of human knowledge about how to cope better with ‘events’.

After that there was some really good thinking going on in the Army with a presentation from Major Andrew Williams of the Joint Aeronautical and Geospatial Organisation (JAGO).   Joined up thinking and connecting people to easy-to-use and interpret systems.  So all tiers of the Army and partners can be working from the same page.   Again it is a simple idea but difficult to implement in detail.  Portable and ruggedized servers for in the field use, using limited bandwidths.   I wondered if is there something the rural broadband campaigners can learn from here?

The ESRI UK people did what they do best with working presentations on the Crown Estate, GIS for a Low Carbon Economy (I’ll come back to this on day 2) and with the RSPB and map sharing.    Good demos I especially enjoyed the Low Carbon one as I can see this type of analysis being ever more important.

The Capability Track after lunch was a bit blurry for me as this was when I had my 10 minute presentation.  I would like to have gone to the technology track as well and learned about ArcGIS 10.1.   But listening to my fellow presenters I learned a lot and was most impressed with their presentations.  Anyway here is what I remembered please leave comments if you have anything to add or point out where I have missed something or got it wrong:

  • South Yorkshire Police – DI Gary Williams presented how they were “delivering more for less”.   Obviously, nearly everything that the police does can be located spatially.   Making it easy-to-use was imperative for them and hence the web based interface that was developed.   Now officers are able to have more information about where they are and why there are there.   Some detailed calculations of cost savings were also done as well.   It is odd to see how much a crime actually costs across the board including victim costs, but there you are.   Personally, I just want the Police to get on with it and not worry all the time about cost.   I want them to spend time doing their job correctly and not rushing through to save money, but maybe I’m in a minority…
  • Birmingham City Council – Presented by Stu Lester “Corporate Data reuse and Benefits”, okay I’m sure he doesn’t just want me to remember the Terry Gilliam stills from Monty Python right?  Fortunately I remember other things to about how bringing various data silos together can have tremendous benefits.   It’s important in a council the size of Birmingham too.   I talked to him more at the event as well and he’s got a lot of good ideas I just hope he can maintain that level of drive and enthusiasm!
  • Garsdale Design Limited (my presentation) – “The 10 Minute City” (video available here) about the potential of tools like CityEngine from Procedural to help us with master planning. I hope the video went down well click here to the article about my presentations.
  • RBSI – “Scene and Not Word”, another presentation from the insurance industry, surprisingly a lot of what they do to assess risk, claims etc may not have required a GIS system!   Fortunately they did choose GIS, and wow, do they have an awful lot of information about where we live and work!   Again most of us might not like the insurance industry until you need to claim from them (hopefully successfully).   Their GIS seems to hold lots of information and helps quickly and efficiently assess risk.   The automation of some of the processes of insuring properties can only make the job easier.   Although now all I can think of is “the computer says no” lady from Little Britain…
  • Wales and West Utilities – Talked about how from a standing start they managed to get up and running within timescales a GIS management system for their new company and network purchased off of the National Grid.  Honestly, wow! To start with no offices and rented IT, I think their achievements are pretty amazing.   Especially considering the legacy systems they will have inherited (pipes and systems).   What was encouraging was seeing how they weren’t just doing the bare minimum but looking at using the knowledge of where all their repair teams were to properly and effectively allocate them to the right place if an emergency came in.    The passing of data seemed very important to them too.   

Following on from the Capability and Technology Track we all came back to see Michael Palin who was late (I hope he wasn’t lost) so Walking with Wounded presentation came first.   I like that ESRI does this by getting someone in that is not to GIS industry focused for some inspirational presentations.   A very good and moving presentation you can find out more by visiting there site.   Next year its Everest!

Walking with the Wounded –

Then the star of the show Michael Palin came on for an ‘informal chat‘ with Richard Waite (ESRI UK Managing Director) this was good and everything you expect from Mr Palin who is now the President of the Royal Geographical Society.    However I wish he had come on first as Walking with the Wounded was a really tough act to follow.

Proof that he did make it: 

Michael Palin – silly walk = a little disappointed

There was an evening meal and awards ceremony, it was nice to talk to people informally and our table was pretty lively, I think we finished the wine….

Before the wine…

Attending the ESRI UK Conference

Attending the ESRI UK Conference

Okay why a post about some weird acronym type company?  Well in the world of GIS (Geographic Information Systems/Science), ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) a software/consultancy company is a big player.

Yes they are a big corporate entity but in some ways they feel more like a movement, so when their yearly conference comes round I get excited.   Not content with just advertising their products to their customers it feels as if you’re at an event for the GIS industry as a whole.   Whatever issue you might have with ESRI’s software ArcGIS etc… you can’t fault the staff’s enthusiasm and professionalism (well that’s my experience anyway) especially at events like this.

Why the blog post this year? Well because I submitted a paper about using some software in our workflow called CityEngine and was asked to do a presentation on both days.   You can find out more about ESRI here and ESRI UK here, I would also recommend some Wikipedia research on GIS.
You may have come to this post because I mentioned you somewhere, if you want to add something more (links, information etc…) or correct something contact me or add a comment to the relevant post.

  1. ESRI UK Conference – Day 1
  2. ESRI UK Conference – Day 2
  3. ESRI UK Conference – My Presentations
  4. ESRI UK Conference – People I met
  5. ESRI UK Conference – Thoughts for the Future, suggestions for ESRI UK
  6. Back in London – not really related to the conference more musings of visiting our nation’s capital.


I’m presenting at ESRI UK’s annual conference.

I’m presenting at ESRI UK’s annual conference.

Uh oh… presentation time…

On Monday the 16th and 17th May I will presenting at ESRI UK’s annual conference.   I have a dedicated page for this which you can find by clicking here.

I initially was going to talk about how ArcGIS has helped my company produce the large amount of mapping that was required for a city master planning project.  

I was also going to mention briefly how we were looking at new ways of doing this in the future by using a program called CityEngine.   In the end the people at ESRIUK asked if I could present on both days but with more of a focus on this aspect of our work.   So that’s what I’ll be doing!

Digital Elevation Models – OS OpenData to SketchUp : A workflow

Digital Elevation Models – OS OpenData to SketchUp : A workflow

Update: Geolocating the DEM in SketchUp has been solved see at bottom of page!

So you have SketchUp and you’ve heard wondrous things about the UK’s Ordnance Survey OpenData?!    In particular you hear there maybe some contour/elevation models out there for free as well!   This quick workflow guide shows you how get that elevation model into SketchUp so you can plan horrible developments in undeserving places (I’m a planner so I know…).


  1. Windows Vista (I’m sure XP, Windows 7 etc.. all work as well)
  2. SketchUp Pro (although you can import DEMs with the free version)
  3. MicroDEM – follow the install guide to get yourself up and running
  4. OS OpenData, in particular the Land-Form Panorama dataset, select the download option enter your details (it only requires your email address) and then wait for  523MB zip file to download
  5. Google Earth (to check your DEM is georeferenced properly)
  6. You need a basic working knowledge of MS Windows, SketchUp and some file management skills. 

Once downloaded you need to know what OS Grid square you want to import.   You can read the wiki article or I have used StreetMap and once you’ve searched for your location you can look just below the map and it says “Click here to convert coordinates” on this page LR seems to relate to the OS grid.

The Walkthrough

Double click on the ‘’ file and navigate to this directory ‘\DTM\ASCII\data’.   Yes there are other types of data (contours as DXF and DEM as NTF) but this is what worked for me.

1 – Extract a tile from the directory name corresponding to your chosen OS tile.  In this case we’re going to use Sedbergh, Cumbria tile which is under ‘\DYM\ASCII\data\sd\sd68.asc’.  You can copy it to any directory but in this instance I tend to copy it to the ‘mapdata\DEMs’ directory created by your installation of MicroDEM (you did install it right?)

2 – Load up MicroDEM and then click File –> Open DEM now navigate to the ‘mapdata\DEMs’ directory and select the ‘sd68.asc’ file.

3 – MicroDEM will ask you to pick its projection parameters as its OS OpenData my guess is that these settings are okay and then click ‘Mercator’ instead of ‘OK’

4 – The DEM should load up and look something like this :

Nice Colours?

5 – If you want to get rid of the legend and scale bar and any grid that may appear right click on the image and select ‘Legend/marginalia’.  Uncheck the boxes and click the ‘Grid’ button and select the option ‘neither’

6 – Click ‘OK(Close’ and say ‘yes to redraw… I often get errors and warnings at this point which I ignore….
Now click on the menu heading file again and save this as a DEM and in particular a USGS ASCII one:

7 – Once it is saved close MicroDEM and open up SketchUp…  I’m assuming you will import into a fresh new SketchUp Model, so click on the File menu and select import.

8 – Choose the file type DEM (*.dem, *.ddf) and find that file you saved in MicroDEM, before you click open click on Options:

9 – Here you can see I’ve entered 20000 points to import the lower the number the less detail for this tile 20000 as suggested by Chris Fullmer’s tutorial seems good.  I suggest you experiment with this to get what you want though!  Also I’ve check ‘Generate gradient texture’ this is entirely up to you, I suggest you first try with and then without.

The DEM should be imported and the axes, click the zoom extents button to check it’s all there:

10 – Now to get rid of all those lines, double click the DEM (to edit component) and select all of the DEM (keyboard shortcut : ‘ctrl-a’).   Now right click the selected DEM and  click on ‘Soften/Smooth Edges’:

11 – As per Chris Fullmer’s suggestion slide to around 90 degrees and check both boxes (Smooth normals and Soften coplanar)

12 – Et voila! You now have a terrain model for placing your models on!

mmm smooth elevation model!

13 – One important thing to note this is not GeoReferenced.  I haven’t figured out why SketchUp doesn’t load the DEM in the correct place.  If anyone has any suggestions please tell me (via Twitter or otherwise) and I’ll add it to this tutorial.

Geo-Reference (or Geo-Locate) your DEM

14 – First you need to know where your DEM is in Latitude and Longitude you can do this by going to Coordinate Convertor and putting in your OS tile number (in this case SD68), I suggest you select output as Coordinate Conversion only:

15 – You are now going to copy the Lat and Long coordinates into SketchUp so leave this webpage open and….

16 – In SketchUp click on the menu ‘Window’ then ‘Model Info’ and select ‘Geo-Location’

17 – Give the Country name and location something meaningful…. and copy and paste your latitude and longitude’s full number (and letter after) in the appropriate places.
Now to test it press the Preview in Google Earth button:

18 – If you’re computer is up to it you should see the DEM appear in the correct location in Google Earth, it may take a while to load though so be patient!

DEM Placed in GE

Mapbiquity & my first map: Cumbria Listed Buildings

Mapbiquity & my first map: Cumbria Listed Buildings

Okay my first mapping using Mapbiquity, please be patient sometimes the mapping takes a couple of seconds to load….