WherecampUK 2010 Recap

Last week I journeyed down on the train to Nottingham to go to WhereCampUK – an unconference for all things “geo” – but it was only a few months since the similarly named WhereCampEU of (which I never actually wrote something about) down in London. Before I share some of the best bits, here’s some of the similarities and differences.

* Less international folks

* Less big geo personalities and keynotes

* More OSM

* No T-Shirts

* More beer – we drank a large pub dry, literally. The next day, the landlord swore at me for pissing off their regulars.

* More cake

* Cheaper and quicker to run, setup and organise.

For more pointers in how to run an unconference, check out Steve Coast‘s latest post, where he writes about what he did for Wherecamp in Denver.  How I ran a successful unconference in 6 hours and you can too.

Overall, the event was great.

I ran two sessions. The main one was “What is Psychogeography“. The best part of this was sending all participants out with directions in twos and threes, for 10 mins before lunch. They had directions such as “left left right”, “follow someone”, “ask where the centre is, follow that direction, ask again”, “find hidden portals”, “find fairies”, “hear something, take a photo”.

I also quickly slotted in the NYPL Warper presentation, and included this slide. You get 20 points if you know what this refers to!

I also mentioned the words “neogeography” for the first time in the conference, and that was at 3:30pm, which says quite a bit about the use of the term.

Talks I liked were:

* Vernacular Geography & Informal Placenames

* Geo Games

* Education and mobile maps

* Augmented Reality roundup

* How streets get names

* Peoples Collection Wales

* Haptic Navigation

* OSM Talks including – Potlatch 2

* Gregory Mahler’s – I’m a Psycho Mapper!


AGI GeoCommunity – NYPL & Mapwarper

Yesterday I presented at the AGI Annual conference on the NYPL Map Rectifier. I was also able to launch MapWarper.net – to showcase the user submitted version of the code base, which you can get on github, should you like! I’ll put the slides up to slideshare asasp

I also showed the video of the newest Stamen Design work on the redesign of the interface. This interface will be applied to the application, and will be featuring at the British Library Growing Knowledge exhibition in a couple of weeks

The whole conference was okay, well organised, and well attended by fellow AGI Northern Group members. The soapbox – an evening even over beers – short 20:20’s but with the emphasis on ranting and comedy proved very popular, and was very amusing – keep an eye out for the videos when they come out!

The free W3Geo unconference which was on the day before the main conference, and as Ed writes, had the more interesting talks and energy here. w3g had a number of fixed keynotes and speakers, which I think was a good idea – it allowed people to attend knowing that certain people would be speaking. Alas, I didn’t really believe it was promoted that well beforehand.

The main conference had a number of interesting talks. The guys from CASA really do seem to be enjoying themselves. Survey Mapper was highlighted – essentially it’s an onlne survey application, but with, yes geography! It would be great to be able to allow the export of the results from a survey, and use this as a data layer in GeoCommons – to compare against any number of other datasets. They also showcased their work with Twitter – exploratory – one thing with pretty much all twitter map experiements is that people are so overwhelmed with the dataset, that the analysis, the task of generating information from this data tends to be overlooked. Most of the mapping done tends to show that, for the very first time, that people tend to live and do things in urban areas.

ESRI were keynoting, but with a somewhat downbeat “why doesn’t anyone understand and use GIS” cry, with a call to promote the usefullness of GIS to decision makers. Nothing new here, but in these economic times, seemed to imply that GIS budgets were being hit hard.

Nigel Shadbolt’s closing talk convinced me of the importance of linked data. However, the talk was more about the benefits and importance of Open Data as a whole, and he was speaking at such a higher level than most of the other talks were operating at. They were talking about “how to share” data, whilst with open data at a national level operates at a much more fundamental level

The Ordnance Survey have now escaped much of the fights and shouting what with the OS Open Data, and today have announced better, clearer, more generous terms for Derivative data (see here and here for more info on that

Platial – some lucky pennies

So one of the original poster childs of neogeography has folded – Platial have bit the dust! Geocommons have rescued some of the data (but I still couldn’t find my pennies there yet).

Way back in 2007, I used Platial for recording where I found lucky pennies on the streets. (Nowadays I use Flickr to record lucky pennies)

A year later, and 2008 saw Platial awarding me a StoryTelling Award – a t-shirt which I’m currently wearing whilst writing this post.

You can get the Lucky Pennies Map as a KMZ, or maybe from the page on Platial itself, but that page won’t be around forever.

WhooMS – a tiny public geotiff WMS server

WhooMS is a tiny public WMS server for those people who have a GeoTIFF and need someplace to serve it as WMS. I wrote it a while ago, but now its running for all to use.

It’s written in Ruby, using the Sinatra Web Framework, which basically means it can all fit neatly on one file.  It uses Ruby Mapscript to read the uploaded GeoTiff and serve it out to the world.

Nice and simple and basic. Got a GeoTiff handy? (EPSG:4326) give it a go. whooms.mapwarper.net

The code for it can be found on github: http://github.com/timwaters/whooms

Main caveat: when the disc space gets full, the older files will be deleted to fill up space.

WhereCampEU is a go! March 12-13 London.

We’re having a European WhereCamp in March 2010 – its in London!  The venue is the Guardian offices! It will be excellent!

WhereCampEU is a free unconference for geohackers, mappers, developers, mobile location folks, augmented reality enthusiasts, traditional geographers, neogeographers, psychogeographers, cartography geeks, romantic mappers and geo-hippies  (amongst others!).

Register now for early bird tickets!

Follow the twitter account at @wherecampeu and keep an eye with your RSS readers on http://wherecamp.eu/

If you would like to be a sponsor, and we’d like that very much please contact me at: tim@wherecamp.eu

just some words

Before a few posts about Psychogeography in Leeds here are some nice words:

guided walks
volunteered geographic information
ephemeral cities
social history
short cuts
imaginary urbanism
altered maps/radical cartography
travel writing
place based photo blogging
urban exploration
site specific sculpture
land/earth art
old maps
green space
performance art

mainly ripped off from neogeography.net

Tracks in Time – Tithe Maps for Leeds

Popped along to the official launch of West Yorkshire Archive Service’s (WYAS) Tracks in Time website and their new online mapping application, held at the City Museum. Earlier the prototype was leaked onto Secret Leeds to an enthusiastic response. I’d always been interested in this project, having been made aware of it when I was asked for some advice about it in the very early days of the project, by me living in Leeds, and recently with our work with the New York Public Library georectifiying and digitizing their historical map collection – so it’s really good to see it out there and completed!

Its a nice application (even if it has a bit of an old fashioned/council GIS feel to it) and works well, that used the code from a similar Cheshire Project.  The project is the culmination of some Lottery funding and although the Archive service is for the whole of the county, the project was restricted to Leeds. Gardline Infotech were contracted to do the offline GIS portion, and the folks at WYAS, with Leeds City Council and Cheshire Shared Services who put together the online version.

The system has two map panes, on the left tithe maps and on the right some more modern reference maps.

leed tithe map application

There is also  layers for land use and who owns what. Users can search for people and get these selected on the map – it’s a great resource. Searches can be exported as CSV file, which gets marks from me. Unfortunately, both these exports and the maps miss out the land value data, which had been transcribed, apparently due to a technical limitation in the software, which is a great great shame. I’d love to be able to compare the price of land as it was then to house prices now.

I think it was Stephanie? from WYAS, who was describing how it was not only people that can be searched, but corporations or other owners. A search for “railway” for example gave results for all those portions of land taken for new railways. Railway companies such as Leeds & Bradford Railway Company and North & Midland Railway are recorded, with land also taken for railway stations. On the map we see that the present day lines of the railways, before the lines were built. Its a particularly good resource for that time of the industrial revolution, and is strong in the north of england where a lot of the industry was taking place.

leeds west yorkshire tithe map

The 58 hand drawn tithe maps were scanned, georeferenced and digitized. The digitized vectors were tied together with volunteer transcribed apportionment information – over 29,000 records!

The maps are hand drawn.
The maps were scanned by the Coal Authority in Nottinghamshire. They have the largest facility in its kind in Europe. Some of the maps took up the entire table – they were over 3m long!

Tithe maps were not meant to be definative maps of boundaries or for navigation, they were never meant to be a record of rights of ways and roads. As a consequence, these maps have parts where some areas are out by 60m or more. Its also important to remember that the maps are hand drawn. There were only ever 3 copies of each made – one sent to London, one to the Diocese and one to the Parish. The Archive Service had a copy of all of the maps but sometimes only one of the were found – and some were in poor shape.

We had a chat with the representative from Gardline Infotech whose name I didn’t catch and Peter Lythe, the project manager for WYAS – and discussed some of the challenges.

Georeferencing the maps proved troublesome – in particular where maps had folds and some where the original surveys were inaccurate. The side by side panes help to disguise some of the inaccuracies where they occur. They used the historical buildings data to help pin point some of the areas on the maps, and then used OS MasterMap to get the tie points. Yes, I can hear alarm bells ringing too – by using OS Master Map, the georectified maps are derivative works of Ordnance Survey, and so you’d need to have an OS license to use them.

Gardline used Cadcorp and FME mainly to vectorize the data, and they did a good job.  I don’t think the vectors can be downloaded either – if they were the digitized land parcels vector GIS files would also be under this same license. There was never a requirement to make available these files available to the public at large for free – so nothing wrong happened, just another missed opportunity. The good news is that the transcribed data is separate from the maps and can be accessed and downloaded (without the land values field) – and the scanned source imagery would be free of OS tie-in and it wouldn’t take too much to georectify the source maps (and even remaining ones for the whole county) and vectorize them in a collaborative and open manner, as we’ve seen.

Overall it’s a plus to the city and a marvelous resource of the past for the future.

AGI North’s Where2Now Conference

Yesterday we had a great one day packed geo-conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Cheers to all the sponsors, the AGI, Rollo for organising it and GeoPlan for hosting it. Folks from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft were present.

Presented about Open Historical Maps – with the example of the collaborative georectification and digitization application being built for the New York Public Library. You can see the slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/chippy/open-historical-map-at-agi-norths-where20now-conference

Some things of note:

  • Theres nothing geoSpecial about geoSpatial.
  • GI is just bits on computers.
  • Google does testing of their cartography and maps live on users and have metrics to see how these groups interact with them.
  • Any successful geo presentation must either have a Vermeer’s Geographer painting or Snows infected pump.
  • Microsoft Bing maps are looking bling with the OS stuff.
  • Ordnance Survey looking to release toolkits in a box using OpenLayers, Geoserver etc. No vendor locks ins there!

All the presentations were filmed,
and should be able to be viewed here: http://www.geocommunitylive.com/
also  keep an eye on http://www.slideshare.net/tag/geocom for some more slides as and when.

Cool new Static Maps API for OpenStreetMap – GSOC Project

Pawel Niechoda, the student I was mentoring as part of the Google Summer of Code OpenStreetMap projects, has passed with flying colours by developing a very cool way to put OSM maps on your website, quickly and easily and with no javascript!

The Static Maps API helps with embedding map images into any website, and it has a wide range of markers and configuration options.

Simple one-line example: http://dev.openstreetmap.org/~pafciu17/?module=map&bbox=69.2,-47.2,71,-50&width=400&height=250

For example: a map with transparent polygons:

and ones with markers

I think the scale bar rocks too.

You can get the code here:

OpenStreetMap had 6 projects this year with GSOC:

  • Preprocessor to add altitude info to OSM data
  • Android navigation application using OSM data
  • Profile based traffic routing
  • OSM direction too for visually impaired
  • Automatic street sign detection and reading
  • Static Maps API


I really enjoyed being a mentor, and was very fortunate to have a very capable student to work with! Cheers Pawel!