RSS Feeds

Sunday, 30 April, 2006

Whilst I use RSS feeds all the time, my impression is that most web users are not aware of how the technology can really benefit. Whilst the web providesa rich interface to access information, most people find that they continually visit certain sites to obtain new and up-to-date information. When this selection of sites exceeds half a dozen it becomes a real chore; enter RSS. All new news items are placed in a machine readable text file on the remote website; you can then let your PC go off check to see if there are any new items and bring them back together. Given that this is automatic it makes monitoring 30, 50 or 100 websites (including blogs) very easy. The BBC have a good introduction to RSS (and links to their RSS feeds) here.

In terms of software I use either Sage, which is an extension for Firefox (and therefore operates within the browser and bookmark system) or SharpReader. The latter has a superior range of features but may not always suite. There are may other feed readers (also called news aggregators) around, some of which are listed at the BBC site above.

Whilst some sites (e.g. BBC) maintain very up-to-date RSS feeds, the blogging paradigm is now being used to maintain whole websites of content, automatically generating RSS feeds (such as the one on this site). I principally use SharpReader to keep me on top of the growing list of blogs/sites I have.

Lectureship in GIS @ Kingston University

Friday, 28 April, 2006

It’s worth pointing out that we are currently seeking a Lecturer in GIS at Kingston University. This in the Centre for GIS which sits within the School of Earth Sciences and Geography. Full details of the position are available here.

AGI Open Source in GIS SIG

Thursday, 27 April, 2006

I was at an AGI organised SIG on open source software in GIS today. This was an excellent low key event that was (sadly) primarily attended by representatives from commercial GIS companies, with a smattering from academia. A shame then that there were not more end-users there.

When you speak about open source and GIS, most people would probably think of GRASS or MapServer. The surprise then, was that there was absolutely nothing about GRASS. To be fair, map servers are where much of the development (particularly in OSS) is going at the moment.

What was interesting is that commercial developers see OSS as complimentary to commercial software, not as competitive. They work in tandem. And commercial developers appear happy to feedback work in to the OSS movement (Note: Martin Daly from cadcorp gave a very good, and amusing [”yes, another programmer’s joke!”], presentation outlining OSS). What is therefore surprising is that there appear to be no commercial entities in the UK solely working on OSS in GIS in a manner similar to DM Solutions. Maybe a gap in the market!

How to make coffee. Part 1.

Wednesday, 26 April, 2006

Hill and Valley Coffee have written the first of a two parter on buying, brewing and enjoying your coffee. This provides an excellent overview on what makes good coffee, as well as principle brewing methods to get the most from each cup. This form parts of their blog which is available as an RSS Feed and something I check regularly!

Open Source Access to Garmin Tacklogs

Saturday, 22 April, 2006

Following on from my last blog, I spent a little time this week trying to extract data from the Garmin Geko’s so that I could load the tracklogs over standard OS basemap data. I was interested to see if there was a relatively painless open-source route and, after a bit of digging, came across GPSBabel. This is primarily a GPS data convertor, but also allows you to pull data straight off a unit. One command line later I had a GPX file (standard XML GPS logfile) of my data and was wondering how I could get this easily in to ArcGIS. Well, GPX2SHP came to the rescue. One more command line and I had my final shapefile. The shapefile had no coordinate system because GPSBabel had simply pulled off the raw data. Consequently, when it was loaded in to ArcMap it assumed it was Geographic data with a set datum. I wanted to change it to WGS84 and couldn’t see any obvious way to do it. Well, to cut a (very) long story short you need to use ArcCatalog and then right click on theshapefile and select properties. I had already looked here, however the somewhat counter-intuitive solution is to click on the Fields tab, select the Shapefield and then click on the “…” button next to “Spatial Reference”. This brings up the standard window for selecting a coordinate system and any changes can be made. However it couldn’t have been hidden any better without a lot more effort!!!!

End result: a nice tracklog that can be used within ArcMap.

Bottom of the Range GPS

Saturday, 15 April, 2006

A long time since the last blog! With a week’s leave and a week in Swansea (Gower Peninsular) on a First Year fieldtrip, there’s not been much time. The fieldtrip had nothing but stunning weather (see piccie), so really not an introduction to geography fieldwork ;) Anyway, on the project day I had my group of students using a low cost handheld GPS (Geko 201) to create tracklogs of some footpath surveys they were doing. Footpaths are a real hot topic in the UK as governing bodies are required to establish rights-of-way, as well as maintain them. We thought it would be interesting to see what the situation on Gower, in comparison to marked rights on 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps, was like.

What was interesting was that all my students had heard of GPS (although they didn’t understand how it worked). What was perhaps most surprising was that only 1 out of 12 had actually used one. What I find astonishing about the current crop of low cost units (and at 75 I think these really are low cost) is that not only are they very small, with a long battery life, but that the onboard software is genuinely intuitive and easy to use. A massive step on from the old “handheld” Magellan units the department bought a decade ago.

Elevation Models for Geoscience

Saturday, 1 April, 2006

I presented at the Elevation Models for Geoscience one-day meeting at the Geological Society last week. DEMs are increasingly permeating the geoscience arena and this conference came out of a highly successful internal meeting at the British Geological Survey last summer that discussed the application of NEXTMap UK DEM data. As an aside, I find that one-day conferences are often the most enjoyable and beneficial events to attend (as well as the cheapest!). The Geological Society is also an excellent venue (and convenient to get to).

The day saw a variety of presentations using different elevation datasets in different application areas. The tone was set with a very good key note speech from Dr Robert Crippen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This outlined the history, scope and applications of the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Further talks from government agencies (British Geological Survey, Environment Agency), academics (Royal Holloway, Liege, Durham) and commercial organisations (Halcrow Group) provided an integrated set of talks demonstrating the variety in application.