WorldKit 3.1 Released

Saturday, 30 December, 2006

Mikel Maron has released version 3.1 of WorldKit, the very functional, lightweight, web GIS client that we use at the Journal of Maps. FlashPlayer 8 is now supported, along with the addition of select zoom and pan buttons. There are three things that would really help our use of WK though:

  • scale dependent renderer for displaying points and polygons (i.e. a point when zoomed out and a polygon when zoomed in).
  • when hovering over an object the description text is displayed, but if this is too long it is cut off the display
  • being able to point it at a (MySQL) database to read objects rather than using an XML file

Converting old word processor files

Wednesday, 27 December, 2006

A while back I had occasion to look at some old files I had created as part of my MSc Thesis. These were generated in WordPerfect 5.1, a fantastic, state-of-the-art, DOS word processing package that really could “do it all”. And I really did shell out the ~250 for it. Well, times fell hard for WordPerfect and they eventually passed from Novell to Corel and remain plugging away in the background. This brings up the first lesson of format conversion; if a new version of the product exists it should be able to import all the old files pretty well. And at less than $100 WordPerfect is pretty cheap.

Of course you may not want to shell out any cash which brings up the second lesson (and warning!) of data conversion. Use something else! Microsoft Word has always vaunted its WordPerfect conversion facility (back in the days of Word 2), however it is far from perfect and on most of my documents makes a right dogs dinner of them.

The final lesson in format conversion is actually to use the software itself! If you still have it sitting on an old PC then you might be able to fire it up, edit the document, print it out or whatever. The alternative is to re-install on your nice new shiny PC. Which would work if it was running DOS (Windows 3, 95, 98, ME), but NOT (without problems) if it is running Windows NT, 2000, XP or Vista. Whilst the command window is certainly “DOS-like”, it is not DOS and there are many compatibility issues. Indeed my install of WordPerfect half worked, but would do some very strange things, then keel over and die. The alternative, which is used in many other areas of computing, is to get a DOS emulator and run WordPerfect inside that. And games fanatics, keen on maintaining playability for some of the classic DOS games, have come to the rescue in the form of DOSBox. Its a DOS emulator (doh!) and you just run your word processor from inside it. Simple to install and it worked perfectly!!

So that gets your original processor working on your new machine, from which you can load your original document and, indeed, edit it. What do you then do with it?? Well you could export it in to another format, but the real issue is preservation of the file content and layout. Which means you need a page layout document and, yes, PDF is the ideal candidate. Of course PDF is just post-script and all the decent word processors from the DOS era had postscript printer drivers. All you have to do is install a postscript printer driver (I went for an HP LaserJet), print the document to a file and then use Acrobat Pro to convert this to a standard PDF. It all works rather neatly and you can see the results in my MSc thesis!

Firefox 2

Sunday, 24 December, 2006

I’ve held off upgrading to Firefox 2 for a while now simply due to lack of time and the availability of Portable Firefox. Well both have coincided so I made the jump and very well worthwhile it has been too. Nothing is staggeringly different, but the interface is fresher (I’m using the QuBranch theme) and the slightly buggy memory leaks less of a problem. The nice additions (for me) are the spell checker (very useful for blogging) and session restore. The latter reloads any open pages from your last browsing session. Searching is supposedly easier with “suggestions” made by the search engines; I find this intensely irritating and there is no menu option for turning it off. This can only be achieved in the “about: config” page (accessed by typing this in the menu bar) which gives you access to loads of “hidden” Firefox settings. Extensions are now called Add-Ons (why?!), an anti-phishing filter is added (I’ve turned it off) and RSS feeds are handled better (although I use Sage). So all in all a well worthwhile download.

Academics For Academic Freedom

Friday, 22 December, 2006

After a lengthy absence from illness, I thought I would give a plug for the “Academics For Academic Freedom” campaign that recently received some press from the BBC entitled Academics seek right to offend. The title is perhaps a little misleading in that the campaign is seeking academic freedom, “the responsibility to speak your mind and challenge conventional wisdom”, and so contribute to open debate within society as a whole. As AFAF says on its website, “In today’s political climate it is harder than ever for academics to defend open debate.” Whilst the campaign has been running for a couple of months, it is perhaps reached wider press as a result of the release of David Irving (the BBC again). And I wholly support the campaign as it is vital that there is academic freedom to openly, and critically, debate current issues. In the current climate of political correctness, it is hard to imagine the strength of character required of the likes of Galileo (is the Earth flat?) and Darwin (”Origin of the Species).

Fingerprint of Error

Friday, 8 December, 2006

I bought a rather snatty Sony Vaio TX3XP laptop recently. Not only is it small (20×25cm) and light (1.25kg; its made from carbon fibre), but it also has a incredible battery life (~10 hours). Anyway, one of the features introduced on this model is fingerprint scanning to log on. It really works rather well and is a damn site easier than typing in a user name and password. That was, until I had a bath. Afterwards the skin on my fingers shrivelled slightly and I was refused access to the laptop!!

Inn on the Park, St Albans

Tuesday, 5 December, 2006

Another occasional haunt is the Inn on the Park in St Albans. Really a cafe-cum-coffee bar, its situated on the north side of the park in Verulamium and is a rather pleasant place to go in winter. The food is home cooked, the coffee good (naturally!) and its just mellow. The same cannot be said for it in the summer when it gets very busy, particularly as the “splash park” is only 50 yards away; avoid at all costs if you want peace and quiet!!

Ultra-Light KAP Rig

Saturday, 2 December, 2006

As a result og my KAP experiences in China, I spent a while thinking about a new ultra-light camera rig. The current rig, copying Scott Haefner’s design, weighs in at over 500g with picavet cross. For conditions such as I experienced in Wuhan, its very difficult to get the rig/camera to fly, even with something like the Dopero125. I’m not prepared to reduce the quality of the camera (and the Coolpix 8400 is very good) so the next alternative was the rig.

First off, nearly all of our images are verticals; the only adjustment we need is rotation and that actually is only required through 90 degrees (to align the frame). So the new rig (right; very many thanks to Martin Abbott for the effort here) has a single-piece carbon plate picavet with a light-weight servo for rotation and the arm of the rig attached directly to the servo. Scott’s rig was very clever in that he had designed a simple gearbox to remove any stress on the servo (i.e. the rig hung off the gearbox, not the servo), but it added to the weight. The rig arm is curved to allow the camera to balance. In addition the camera can be hung at the top or bottom of the arm and, if you want, the camera can be moved to a fixed pan or tilt position. We also added a much lighter 6-channel receiver (not shown), with the whole lot coming in at a staggering 91g. We haven’t tested it yet so the concern is how the strong the servo is, however just to be on the safe side there is a safety strap so the camera doesn’t plummet to earth mid-flight! Watch this space for some more results.

Earth and Life: the birth of a new journal…

Friday, 1 December, 2006

I received a circular last week to a new journal from Beijing entitled Earth and Life. in today’s very crowded marketplace I either applaud those that can find a niche that isn’t being serviced or sit back and scratch my head in wonder. Anyway, Earth and Life is aiming to be a weekly publication covering everything in the geosciences and, I think, uniquely has a “self-review” system. That is the author goes off and gets someone to review their paper and this review is then emailed in. Quite an intriguing system in terms of reducing administration, but will it be taken seriously as it’s obviously open to abuse. Time will tell I guess.

The other aspect of Earth and Life that made me smile was that of the 69 pages in the first issue, 68 were authored by the editor. I think that must be some kind of record!

Applied Geomorphological Mapping Working Group

Friday, 1 December, 2006

I have recently become the vice-chair for a new working group at the International Association of Geomorphologists on applied geomorphological mapping. Geomorphological mapping (the mapping of surface features based upon their morphology) saw a rise in interest in the late 1950’s, with an explosion in application in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Since that time work has been much more muted, but ongoing. The last decade however has seen a resurgence in landform mapping with the working group one expression of this interest.

The groups general objectives include:

  • Develop and deepen the theoretical basis of applied geomorphological mapping;
  • Develop standards, specific mapping procedures and legend systems for different applications and scales;
  • Disseminate the importance and effectiveness of the use of geomorphological mapping as a basic tool for those who deal with the physical environment, in order to;
  • Put a bridge between our and other scientific and professional communities.

Some of the intended outputs of the group include a professional handbook, digital atlas and at least one journal special issue. The target conference where primary reporting will take place is the IAGs 2009 International Geomorphology Conference - Melbourne.

The group is keen to involve individuals from across academia and industry, including those interested in geomorphology (!), engineering geology/mapping surficial materials and geomorphometry. Please subscribe to the AppGeMa mailing list if you are interested.

More Editorial Musings

Tuesday, 28 November, 2006

Some more musings on the role of editors in academic journals as a result of a paper I submitted a paper to the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology last year. In its original form, two reviewers highlighted both the strong and weak aspects of the paper. One suggested it would sit well if re-submitted (and actually noted that the topic was “excellent”. Warm glow!) as a short communication and on this basis the editor recommended a re-write. After six months (yes, I really should have done it sooner) I sat down and shortened the paper, re-submitting it. It then took another six months for the review to be completed before it was finally rejected. What surprised me was that the paper was reviewed from scratch and the original reviewers comments were abandoned, with one of the new reviewers stating it is “not likely to be of interest to the readers” (definitely not a warm glow on that count!).

So what is going on in all of this?? Well, I would normally re-submit a paper, addressing the points raised by the reviewers in an attached letter. An editor would be expected to check that these points had been correctly addressed and then either accept or reject on this basis. For whatever reason, the paper went out for a second review, which was not favourable. Clearly this placed the editor in a difficult position. Two sets of reviews, the first generally positive and the second generally negative. Which are “better”? In the end the paper was rejected but it clearly highlights both the role of the editor in the whole process and, more importantly, the careful selection of referees (something also highlighted by the IJRS article retractions). And it is referees that are both the strong and weak link in the whole review process. You need “experts” in a field of study, but can you find them? Are they expert across the scope of a whole paper? Are they biased? And will they do it?! Ultimately, these things need to be balanced.