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Month: November 2010

GIS timelapse video Part 1

GIS timelapse video Part 1

Okay I’ve started experimenting with some data I have access to, the new time attribute function in ArcGIS10 and my new YouTube account.

So can anyone guess what data I’ve used and where it’s located (honestly if you know me it’s not that difficult!)?  Clue first point has a year of 1946 and there are over 350,000 entries…. oh and I’ve blogged about it before 🙂

New Domain name: (same host)

New Domain name: (same host)

Whilst I’m still hosting this blog on, I thought it time to have my own domain name, so here it is : inspired yes?!

Happy GIS day!

Happy GIS day!

Okay I like maps (you may have noticed) and apparently today is GIS (Geographic Information Systems) day!   Its all part of Geography Awareness Week… Okay its more of an American centric ESRI event but still it’s an important event to raise awareness on the usefullness of GIS in today’s world.

Mapping Cumbria – Designation Datasets

Mapping Cumbria – Designation Datasets

Listed Buildings Near Sedbergh

So in my travels to find GIS data for Cumbria I’ve been looking at national data sets.  One interesting site I’ve found is from English Heritage who allow the download of ‘designation datasets’.

The following datasets can be downloaded in zipped folders containing ESRI shapefile format files:

  • Listed Buildings
  • Scheduled Monuments
  • Registered Parks and Gardens
  • Registered Battlefields
  • World Heritage Sites
  • Protected Wreck Sites

Ignoring the ESRI centric nature of the data for the moment this is a surprising lot of data to release, being a map man though I’m very happy!

As you can see from the screen captures (above and below) I’ve managed to extract the dataset and make it into something usable in Google Earth as a KML file.  Of course you can equally use ArcGIS Explorer.

I’ve used this point shapefile data, excel and my knowledge of Images of England website to create clickable points map that brings up the building listing and if available the photograph.   It’s really using the Listed Buildings ID and combining it with a search term to link through to the appropriate page on Images of England.

I’m slowly building up quite a dataset of Cumbrian related material, and combine that with the Portable Antiquities Scheme live datasets you can make some quite useful maps.

That’s a lot of listed buildings in Cumbria!
The Great Grey Asby (Part 2 – Thoughts) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

The Great Grey Asby (Part 2 – Thoughts) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

It was part way through these #gab10 presentations that I realised what bothered me so much:
Great Asby Village hall and the attendees!
Can you see it?  Well of course you can, the majority of attendees look somewhat, how shall I put this? Grey-haired?  I know @loulouk’s post suggest there was no one under 45:

“All of them, I think, were over 45. Bar Rory’s team, the guest speakers and a few ‘experts’ invited along, no one in the hall was under 45. Someone apparently said they were struggling to enthuse their local parish with the opportunities broadband would bring to the community, and that they had responded that if the older generation couldnt be enthused then maybe the under 20’s could be. The reply? There aren’t any, they’ve all left because there is no broadband.” Source : A Shiny World “#gab10”

Well I was there and I am 32!   But the point is well made, but I think I have an answer to this riddle of why few younger people turned up.  
  1.  for me I had to leave early as it was bonfire night in Sedbergh at 7pm
  2. Saturday’s are difficult for many if you work all week a meeting in the middle of nowhere about computers isn’t that enticing…
  3. I got my invite via Twitter, how were other people identified?  My guess is through Parish councils and local businesses?   If it’s via community groups we know these are not attended well by working age younger people, just because we don’t have the time!

This really goes to the heart of the matter and I know from Twitter and blog posts that a lot of people went away heartened and enthused by this initiative.   “Boo!” to BT and “hurrah!” for local community projects.   I left feeling differently, and yes I know I left just before the round table sessions.  So here are my general thoughts and please note I often like to play devil’s advocate!
There’s a reason why I don’t live near my parents home and business in Sedbergh, and this may come as a shock to some of those at Great Asby on Saturday, it is not due to lack of superfast broadband.   Broadband is way down on my list of priorities when choosing a house.   Is it affordable and near where I work?   That’s what I care most about.   I live in Carlisle and broadband speeds are shockingly bad, so bad that my parents house in Sedbergh outperforms mine at home.   Do I care that much?  Not really as Carlisle is where I could afford a house.  I basically can’t afford to care.
Essentially my family (wife and daughter) and I been priced out of certain areas in Cumbria.  Whose fault is it?  It’s the retired people, or people like my parents (who could retire but choose to work) the news that the over 50s are taking over Cumbria is not a surprise.   With their final salary pensions and young retirement age they got on to the property ladder long ago and now post work have decided to purchase houses in rural areas without it seems much thought as to their future (when they need care for example).   Combine that with Cumbria’s Local Planning Authorities’ obsession with limiting new houses and allowing barn conversions only for holiday homes.  We young working age families never had chance of being able to afforde houses in rural areas of Cumbria.
At Great Asby you’d be forgiven for thinking that broadband will solve everything, the young will stay if they have fibre optic in the village.  No we won’t and we can’t, fibre optic broadband will just add more value to the house prices and working age young people with families will still not be able to afford living in these rural areas.
To avoid the perils of house price rises due to superfast access we need to ensure that fibre is universal (that way it isn’t part of the purchase decision on a house).   I would think most people want a national infrastructure for fibre broadband (I do), but to deliver a national infrastructure either the Government needs to step up and do it or large private companies need to be forced to do it.    Either way, small local projects funded with what is effectively peanuts cannot deliver in a comprehensive way a meaningful solution.   Sorry but they can’t.  
This argument that national fibre is prohibitively expensive to deliver is nonsense.  Yes it is expensive but we could perhaps look at what government spends its money on, for instance do we need the ability to blow half the world up with nuclear weapons (I’m talking trident)?   Or here’s a novel thought: if fibre optics will truly change our country for the better perhaps we’ll recover those costs and then some!   Remembering the meeting I know that fibre has a life of 50 years or more…   The railways were very expensive to build but have paid us back in revenue and new business opportunities over and over.   Let us not think short term costs here, we should consider this a long term investment, not a long term cost.
Most people boo’d at the mention of BT in the meeting probably because they seem to be abusing their monopolistic position.  But let’s face it, that’s the nature of capitalism and it’s not necessarily BTs fault.   BT is a private company looking after themselves and their shareholders (and shareholders are often pension providers I might add!).   Rather than criticising and complaining about BT we should be using its massive reach and infrastructure as part of the solution.   Any superfast network must be a national project, because exclusion is a national issue whether you are in a rural area or in a inner city deprived area.   
The people meeting in Great Asby were there to ensure that rural areas are not excluded from access to the internet at superfast speeds.  The issues being tackled at the meeting are bigger than some piece of cable being laid and we shouldn’t forget that.  This is not really about the technology this is about access to services now and in the future.

A Last Word … 

It was a great meeting and I was surprised at the number of attendees I just hope that expectations are not raised by the politicians and civil servants so much that even small successes are seen as disappointments.

I also hope those that attended are active within other areas to, for example planning and the provision of new affordable (by that I mean cheap not shared ownership) homes in villages as well as using local services such as the post office.

As important as fibre optic broadband is there are other things out there of equal or more importance.  My advice/hope is that these extraordinary people who attended Great Asby on Saturday are not distracted by the flashy technology.

Related Links
The Great Grey Asby (Part 1) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

The Great Grey Asby (Part 1) #gab10 #ruralbroadband

Apologies for the title but if you attended you’ll know why I’ve called it that and if you read on (part 2) you’ll find out why!
First find Great Asby…
So on Friday the 29th October I received a direct message (DM) from a Louis Mosley (@louismosley) who works for Rory Stewart the MP for Penrith/Eden area.   The message was an invite to attend a “Broadband Champions Inaugural Meeting”.  This was somewhat out of the blue, now I’ve had the occasional discussions with people on twitter in regards to rural broadband access (@RuralUK and @cyberdoyle to  name but 2) and I followed various threads.   To me there seemed to be people and communities out there doing interesting things to get there internet access.
So I looked into it and saw that Rory Stewart would indeed be attending and that this was part of a long running campaign to get broadband access to rural areas.   Not only that but Cumbria had been chosen as a pilot area to receive government funding (£10-15 million) to increase access to broadband for rural communities.   I won’t go into more details about the history of it or indeed the specifics if you want to read more look at the related links at the end of this post to start you off, this post would be too long otherwise.
The other thing I’ve been doing at the moment is reading Rory Stewart’s book (on my Amazon Kindle) ‘Occupational Hazards’ if you know what I do and have seen my previous post you’ll know why.  
The upshot after some initial research was that I decided to go, I really didn’t know what would happen or who would be there but looking at the map I thought that this might well be poorly attended and somewhat of a ramshackle meeting.  With a politician trying to convince the locals that he actually cared….  (I’m a cynic)
So on Saturday I drove off to Great Asby (an adventure in itself!), when I arrived cars were parked everywhere (they’re still there on StreetView!), so my initial thought about it being poorly attended was trashed immediately.   I was glad I came and now very curious.  
After what can only be described as a good queue (we are in England afterall) I collected my name badge and entered the hall which was packed with people, however something was not quite right and I just couldn’t place my finger on what bothered me (I’ll come back to that in a bit).  
I recognised a couple of people, one of whom I’ve been doing a job for, but otherwise a lot of strangers.   On ‘registration’ we were given a luggage tag and asked to pin it on a map of Cumbria as to where we represented.   I noted that, if I’d known they wanted a map on a single piece of paper I could have helped out there!  
It was here at the map where I met @imhelenj who recognised me from my name as someone from Twitter (unusual apparently to be yourself online, or perhaps a lack of imagination on my part!?).   I must make my first apology, I am normally quite confident but for some reason I was a little nervous and my brain wasn’t quite engaging so words didn’t come easily as a I struggled to look up in my head twitter names and jpgs!  Did I know her?  Had I talked with her?  She had been in some of the conversations but I don’t think we have ever talked directly and just recently she retweeted something of mine .  
During the time before the meeting started @RuralUK found me and said hello.  Again please accept my apologies I was a little overwhelmed and conversations weren’t exactly flowing from me.  In hindsight @RuralUK and I have plenty to say to each other as we have chatted on twitter on a number of occasions.
We all sat down (if we could find a seat) and Rory Stewart got up and presented a very good session we learnt about Great Asby’s broadband initiative as well hearing from people like CISCO and BDUK.   There was also some good Q&As with most of the people who presented.  Rather than me repeat all that we learnt you could just watched the sessions online from here.  
Part 2 will be my thoughts on and from the Great Asby meeting.
Related Links
An interesting day at the office: #GIS & #masterplanning in #Iraq

An interesting day at the office: #GIS & #masterplanning in #Iraq


The Westmorland Gazette ran today with a news piece about a project I’ve been working on at Garsdale Design Limited .   It’s been a really interesting project and a wonderful to know that our work from a very small family firm in Cumbria can have the potential to make such a big difference for people.

We’ve been working on the master planning project for Nasiriyah (a city in Southern Iraq, Dhi Qar) for over two years now, and you may have got hints from this blog that I was working on something interesting!

Iraqi Planners in Kendal

We also held training sessions here in the UK (in Liverpool) for the Iraqi planners that will eventually take ownership of the master plan.   This was a great opportunity to meet town planning and local government professionals from a very different environment.    Despite all the sad stories that news organisations like to print about Iraq they were all very upbeat confident professionals who wanted nothing but the best for their country.   It was a very positive and friendly experience for both parties.

As we are a small firm everyone needs multiple skills outside their specialisms.   I maybe a planner but I’m also the IT guy responsible for our website/social networking, general systems and backup procedures as well as a projects GIS, I’m often involved in CAD and word/Indesign production as well.   It’s not a boast its just what you have to do in a small team, and it certainly keeps you on your toes!

The Masterplan

Extract Map Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar, Iraq

My involvement has been with the many aspects of the Planning standards, GIS and mapping as well some of the report writing.

I did the research of existing Iraqi standards and master plans (from mainly Polish firms in the 1980s) as well as helped create the new planning standards.  

There were also instances where facts on the ground changed during the project for instance water and sewage treatment plants were being completed before whilst the project was just getting started!   This was not a problem (but it did require some updates to the GIS!) as to wait for planners to figure out where best to site these plants would be unfair and harmful to the local population.

The GIS for Nasiriyah

Here in the UK I have managed and updated the GIS for the Nasiriyah project.   It’s been a steep learning curve as although I know the capabilities of GIS and how it can add real value to a project some of the more technical/programming aspects I am not so familiar with.    

Capture those GCPs!

Our Iraqi partners (Iraqi Planners Group) did all the major surveying and photography in Iraq.  They collected together large datasets and sent them to us as geodatabases (ArcGIS).   Difficulties with the datasets were mainly down to language barriers.   Our Arabic being ‘limited’ meant that we relied on their English skills and our use of Google Translate which sometimes led to confusing labels and fields.   However we have close contact with our Iraqi counterparts and these were quickly ironed out.

Satellite Imagery was also purchased that covered Nasiriyah city’s existing size on the, this was georeferenced with appropriate Ground Control Points (GCPs).

Well that’s all for the moment about the project I’ve been working on obviously I can’t let you know everything but if you are interested you can visit Garsdale Design Limited’s website for experience sheets on the project.  

I’ll just leave you with extracts of some the mapping I’ve done for the project…. it would be nice if people had questions or comments about any aspects of the project.

Early Landuse Map

Issues with old Master Plan
Time in Residence
Game changers? Any suggestions?

Game changers? Any suggestions?

Does this do anything for you? Source: Wikipedia

Warning a more than slightly geeky post is about to happen! This list is not in any particular order… (warning most of the list below is linking to wiki)

  1. Commodre 64
  2. PC 1512
  3. Microsoft Windows 3.1
  4. Microsoft Word for Windows
  5. AutoCAD
  6. InkJet printers
  7. iPod 
  8. SketchUP
  9. Freedom of Information/OpenData
  10. GIS
  11. PlanningPortal and Planning Delivery Grant
  12. Kindle
  13. Twitter
The items on the list above all have something in common, yes they are technology related but that’s not necessarily it.   It is an incomplete list in many respects and depending on who you are and your interests you may wish to add and subtract from the list.

So what do they have in common?  As the title of this post suggests they are technologies, software and ideas that I consider to be ‘Game Changers‘ and by that I mean that these have changed how we do things or think about things completely.   I must stress this is a personal list and is based on my bias towards technology, but I think you’ll get the point.

The idea for this post really started with me thinking about how best to produce drawings and display boards in the office where I work.  In the past AutoCAD has been more than adequate, but now I have more choices than I know what to do with and I don’t necessarily have to choose AutoCAD!  The trouble is a lot of people’s mindsets are stuck a few years behind and if its always been done a particular way it’s difficult to change that mindset.  For example I could produce a display board entirely in AutoCAD or SketchUp or combine it with Photoshop and InDesign to get something really special.

So there you have it, a silly little idea for a blog post but one that I hope makes us re-evaluate the jobs we do now and look at things different;y.

Below is my reasonings for each item on the list, would you like to comment on any of them?  I would appreciate it!

Commodre 64 – Okay my family had the Commodore Pet and Vic20 before it, but this was what made computer ownership an integral part of the family environment.   Not just good at games it could Word Process as well!   (some might add ataris, amigas and bbc micro here too).
PC 1512 –  The first computer that looked like something we might have today in our household, with a pre windows DOS (I think MS not DR, but I could be wrong), it was mainly for business.   Working at home using a computer became a reality for us.  I first experienced Elite and pinball on this beauty as well as weird things
Microsoft Windows 3.1 – What can I say a graphical pseudo OS running that made using a PC easier for more people.  Gone was most of complexity of command line DOS and hello to world of icons, windows and desktops!  Game changing because Windows basically hasn’t changed an awful lot since then.  (I am aware of other graphical OS out there, but windows I have used throughout)
Microsoft Word for Windows – (more specifically 2.0)  Up until my first contact with Word I really had no use of anything else for I was to young.  But I’ve only ever used Word in Windows, I have been known to dabble in WordPerfect and OpenOffice but these have never come even close to the familiarity and ease of use I get from Word and all its incarnations.  Word processors allowed people to be free from typewriters and correct errors before they were printed.  Once you could do that the nature of how people worked changed, drafts could be perfected and seen by many more people for instance!
AutoCAD – My first dabble in the world of work was at an architects office where my mother worked, drawing boards and the smell of ammonia for the copier are what give me very vivid memories. Combine that with the ‘salty’ language of the resident architects and the smell of cigarettes and pipes (not from my mother on either account)!!  Here a computer was purchased and after school I got to play on it, it had AutoCAD (release 11 I think) and digitizer, there was also a plotter which used real pens to plot drawings!  Some didn’t see the writing on the wall, but the days of using razor to get rid of mistakes on your drawing were long gone as the result of AutoCAD.  My first job outside of university was using AutoCAD and every subsequent office I’ve been to has basically been at least 2 or 3 versions behind the latest release, which shows how useful AutoCAD can be.

InkJet printers – Printing at home anyone, and cheaply?  Enough said.
iPod – Not so much the device but the whole ecosystem.  The shockwaves of this product are still to this day upsetting the music industry who until Spotify came along were playing catchup to a technology and product which changed the business model entirely.   I see the iPod as having basically reduced recorded music to next to valueless in monetary terms.   Real money can be made by artists but this is from live performances, and advertising (tv/radio or to sell a newspaper).   With an electronic format why are artists not looking more at getting away from the traditional album format?  
SketchUP – 3D modelling software that is the easy to use, if you are even remotely CAD/computer literate this product is amazing and for most people free!   With its layout tool and easy export to many formats this is the way forward.   Forget AutoCAD, it is too expensive, difficult to train someone in and for the most part far too powerful for most uses.  SketchUp means anyone can make a 3D model that looks professional.

Freedom of Information/OpenData – The concept of being able to access government held information freely sounds so reasonable one wonders what we did before to discover what our elected officials and government got up to…   Forget the naysayers that dislike the amount of time which is wasted chasing up ‘stupid’ questions from the public, this has made people think about government differently.  As to OpenData well, as soon as someone figures out how to make use of the flood of data from government and make it usable things will be different.  Which brings us neatly to :
GIS – Geographic Information Systems, before this it was called a map.  Nowadays you can’t escape GIS, its everywhere and that’s why you don’t notice it.  Google/Yahoo Maps? = GIS, SatNav? = GIS, postman/courier? = GIS, rubbish/trash collection? = GIS, Planning Applications? = GIS.   Had enough yet?
PlanningPortal and Planning Delivery Grant –  A bit different this as it relates more to my profession.  The planning delivery grant in the England and Wales forced and encouraged Planning departments to get more efficient and go online by offering financial incentives to meet various Pendleton Point criteria.   Before this came in very few councils made it easy for the public to find the planning departments section of their website.   Pendleton made it a key requirement.  
Is that important to have a link on a council’s frontpage I hear you all ask?! Well yes considering that residents often need the planning department and are consulted by them as well.  Hiding your consultation documents and planning applications is hardly open and transparent is it?   Yes a paper register is kept that you can see if you visit the council offices, but who can take time off from work to do that?  Suffice to say I think the Planning delivery grant was one of the few government schemes that has increased participation of residents in the democratic process.  As to the Planning Portal, heaven forbid that us professionals are forced to stop spending money on printing and delivery of planning application documents!   
Kindle –  Yes, yes my blog post and radio debut due to a kindle blah blah…  Hang on a minute though, the Kindle like the iPod has challenged a long established industry of paper, bricks/mortar and publishers.  Yes other eReaders are available, but Amazon’s delivery method and their Kindle (hardware and software) is amazingly simple.  

Publishers must get a grip on this and innovate with the technology and not just sit there like the music industry did until it’s too late suing ‘John Smith’ for allowing his children to download music that they can listen to for free on radio…  

Oh sure there are deep meaningful conversations to be had about the nature of book reading, and the relationship between publisher, authors and the consumer.  But just remember technology and in particular the consumer adapts.   For instance I didn’t know this until recently but you can’t purchase legally any Harry Potter book for an ereader.  Why? Because of the fear of piracy?  Sorry but that ship has sailed if I want a copy of any Harry Potter book electronically I can get it now with the help of a search engine… result one lost sale for publisher and author.  I’m not advocating stealing (that’s what piracy is often) but there are ways to get good profits out of digital sales of books (not just film rights!).

Twitter – I’m not going to be a typical twitter advocate here,  after my initial scepticism and resistance I came late to Twitter.  Perhaps it was the constant twitter this, and twitter that from radio DJs (I’m looking at you BBC) but I hated the idea.  Why on earth would you share with the world your life’s smallest details??!  Who the hell cares if celebrity A is drinking with celebrity B.  

Oh and an endorsement from Stephen Fry a person I respect and admire greatly didn’t do it for me either, as far as I was concerned Twitter was for patting famous people on the back.

Then for some unknown reason I caved completely, I think I had searched for something to do with GIS and then realised a whole community for GIS users were on twitter. Damn it!  I joined up and have slowly realised that twitter is populated almost without exception with polite helpful people.  Of course this is a product of who I follow and what I’m interested in.   

The fact is that now news and information I would not have found otherwise comes to me.  Yes I still use Google and my main sites but for the most part I sit in front of Hootsuite (a twitter client) soaking it all up.  As to it being a game changer think of it this way:  

If you are in a small business advertising is a bloody nightmare and expensive too.  What if by being yourself you could talk to your potential customer base directly.   For the most part you only follow people who interest you, so my contacts are mostly GIS and planning related (as well as localgov).   This works in reverse so people will follow you and look at your links because they are interested in what you have to say.   This brings me to state the bleeding obvious “content is important” give people interesting articles or weblinks and they will trust you further and look more closely out for your ‘tweets’.

All I can say is try it out and get involved, you will see pretty quickly that twitter, far from being a social tool is a simple and potentially effective tool for communicating with prospective clients as well as gaining knowledge.

So that’s my list apologies for its length, but now I would really like your comments, anything I’ve missed out or that you agree/disagree with?  I won’t be offended, but I will be interested!