Public Speaking

Saturday, 28 April, 2007

I’ve just finished a two-day training course on public speaking with SkillStudio. Some might think a lecturer going on a course in speaking is a strange thing to do!! However, whilst I don’t have a problem in standing up in front of 100 or so people and warbling away, I do feel there is always room for improvement. Hence the course.

And finding a course on public speaking wasn’t as easy as I at first thought. After a few dead ends and much trawling of the internet, I booked myself on the Advanced Presentation Skills workshop which took place in a single training room with four other participants (normally, I gather, there are 8 in total). Whilst I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it covered the sort of ground, retrospectively, that I would have imagined. This included a videoed presentation at the beginning (and feedback), relaxation, warming up (neck and voice), intonation and tone, and a variety of exercises to practise this. There was also plenty of ground covered in structuring a presentation, writing endings and intros, “hooks” or “spices” to really interest the audience, movement, pauses, removing “umms” and “errs”. And lots of practise between it all. Day two, in particular, involved practising many parts of the presentation, lots of feedback and a final videoed presentation. Our trainer, Alison, was relaxed and very familiar with the whole topic. Whilst its not the sort of place that you give your CV at, she has done, training, acting, media relations, lobbying, script writing etc etc. And I have no qualms about her effectiveness and can only sing her praises when it comes to really rooting out ways of improving body movement, voice, structure, phrasing etc etc. She was really on the button.

So a really valuable two days that I can heartily recommend (as long as you can swallow the price). And to finish….. toned down evangelical preacher.

More on database right and spatial data…

Tuesday, 24 April, 2007

Clearly the GRADE report on whether geodata should come under copyright or database right (in Europe) is a topical issue, with this article recently published.

Geography is a flavour

Monday, 23 April, 2007

I recently came across the somewhat dated (well 2006) Starbucks advertising, Geography is a flavour (why the Americans can spell flavour correctly, but not colour is beyond me). Its interesting that the ad campaign focuses on the “where” and “why” of geographical thinking for understanding coffee tastes. It also moves away from the more recent trend in categorising purely by taste, as per many modern wines (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc).

However I think the last word has to go to the YouthBlog (you need to scroll down for the entry) which read the tag line slightly differently. And Ken, the last line was almost written just for you!!!

Rights of Way Surveying

Saturday, 21 April, 2007

I’ve just returned from a weeks field course to Swansea with the first year geography students. Yet again, the weather was fantastic and offered some memorable days at Oxwich Bay. This year we again did some footpath surveying, but this time targeted some areas that Carmarthenshire County Council were interested in. The county has ~2,500 km of rights of way (>90% footpaths) of which around 50% are open (which means they know little about the remainder). Most of these are in the more inhabited south of the county. We were therefore very grateful to Gary Carlsen, the Senior Rights of Way Officer, for his support. He provided copies of the definitive maps the county uses and suggested some routes to survey in and around Llandovery. What’s interesting about this area is that there are increasing amounts of tourism to the region (and its now the number one industry in Carmarthenshire) in the form of walkers, riders and 4×4. Yet it remains heavily reliant upon agriculture with some truly remote valleys.

On the day we had a real mix of results. The area I walked in (around Myddfai) is just inside the Brecon Beacons National Park and consequently, whilst in Carmarthenshire, is managed by the National Park. The paths were well signposted and maintained. Of interest was the construction of the LNG pipeline. In this area they were removing topsoil and placing it in “buns” at the side ready for replacement after the pipeline has been laid (thanks Colin!). As a result the footpaths were closed (and this was very well signed) which meant a walk back to the van by road (see the KML if you are really interested!). Of the student groups, one traversed the pipeline just outside the National Park and whilst the closure was well signed, many of the paths weren’t. Another, close to Llandovery, found a path re-routed, but generally in good condition. The last two groups had real problems. One found non-existant paths, overgrown and unsigned. The other was met with unhappy farmers, dogs, hedgerows blocking routes, a one-eyed farmer (seriously!) and a bungalow across the route. Upon talking to some of the landowners, anecdotal evidence would suggest that these routes were used for postal delivery on foot and have seen little or no use for about 20 years.

Clearly then there is much work for the council. The “definitive” maps are 40 years old and many rights of way remain to be established. And this has to be achieved by 2026 (Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000). In fact it has been estimated that it will require ~26M to bring all paths in Wales in to operation and ~8M per year to maintain. If this is amortized over 5 years, it equates to 400 per km. A huge undertaking, but with tourism the top industry something that would appear worthwhile.

Shrek Just Snorted in My Bath

Wednesday, 18 April, 2007

I think the photo says it all….

Shopping for men

Monday, 16 April, 2007

I bumped in to a friend in Tesco’s yesterday, both as we were looking for items (water filters and Quorn as it happens). Now shopping (particularly grocery shopping!) seems to be something that most men don’t, shall we say, enjoy. Its more a case of SAS planning, get in, do the job, get out as quickly as possible. That means some kind of list and prioritising their order in the shop so that they can be grabbed in the least amount of time. Groan… OK, its a spatial (aka GIS) problem (and Andy really did want to minimise his time). We have locations of items for “picking” and we want to minimise the route to collect them all. Classic travelling salesman network problem with a real world application. I gather from Andy (a database developer) that this is standard fare in warehouses (”back-of-shop”) and “us guys” now want it standard fare “front-of-shop”.

So, please, Tesco, can you offer optimised shopping routes for all of your stores if I give you a pick list?? This would also have a dual purpose in allowing you to optimise your grocery shopping service as well. Thanks.

Creating Polygons

Saturday, 14 April, 2007

I was sent some polygons (coastline) of a group of islands recently that Ken was using to produce a map for a joint project we have. The detail of the coastline was very good so we wanted to use this dataset however it was very odd!! On close inspection each island had an exterior buffer to (I think!) 1km. It was these buffers that were the polygons. Clearly we needed to get rid of the buffers and retain the islands as polygons (not least because we wanted to use to polygons to clip some other datasets we had).

So how to go about doing this? Well the first step was to convert the polygons to polylines, then go around in detail (and select)and delete all lines that were related to the buffers. This would then leave just the coastline. This was a fairly pain staking process as the dataset is quite large. Once complete, all we needed to do was rebuild the polyline layer as a polygon layer (doing a CLEAN and BUILD). And, it didn’t work…. At this point I asked Ken to work with the dataset (because I’m on leave!). He spent ALOT hours looking at the islands in detail and found a couple of spurious lines related to the buffer, but nothing else. There were, however, several very small gaps in the polylines (10-20m in size). This will stop the layer being created as polygons because there are, well, gaps! This required some further editing and merging of lines and conversion to polygon which… didn’t work. Thankfully Ken has got some hair, so was able to pull some out and then mull over it a bit further.

And the conclusion that he came to was that the standard ArcGIS tools wouldn’t work in our situation, possibly because the algorithms they employ are quite strict. A trawl of the internet brought him back to, you’ve guessed it, one of the BIG THREE add-on tool sets (mentioned earlier), in this case ET GeoTools. In particular the clean polyline and polyline to polygon tools.

Strange how most ArcGIS problems seem to end up with solutions not from ESRI but one of the BIG THREE!!!

PDAs: a dying breed?

Wednesday, 11 April, 2007

Two interesting posts on Palm Info Center got me pondering the future of PDAs. The first concerned an announcement by Dell, stating they were axing the Axim PDA range and so exiting the PDA market. This is big news because Dell entering the PDA market was a huge deal, marking the expansion of PDAs “to the masses”. Dell exiting the market is therefore equally big news and, as the article notes, leaves really only Palm and HP in the market (with a few smaller players). Much of the PDA functionality has been ported to the smartphone and this is where much development is moving. I’m still not entirely happy with the smartphone form factor and, for the time being, prefer to stick to two separate devices.

On to the second post which detailed Palms announcement of a new linux based operating system for a range of Palms later this year. Now remember that Palm OS was spun off as Palm Source to ACCESS who, wait a minute, are also producing a Linux platform for Palm!! Anyway, whilst the old PalmOS was elegant and easy to use it certainly wasn’t modern and suffered horribly when multi-tasking or doing media things. Clearly much development has been going on behind the scenes on the Linus development.

So has the PDA death knell been sounded? Well probably yes, because phones and PDAs are converging as smartphones. However traditional phone companies such as Nokia have a habit of releasing half-finished OSes that don’t do what they are meant to. Palm has a good reputation for development and an enviable back catalog of software and developers for it. The new Linux platform is supposedly being put together with the early involvement of developers. Whether the back catalog of material will still work is another matter. We shall see. In addition, will we see this platform rolled out to the Treo smartphones? I don’t know but its intriguing. So the next few months might be a good time to bag a Palm TX which is a nicely specced PDA and then look at how the new Linux machines perform. Watch this space.

Free Our Data: Copyright and database right

Tuesday, 10 April, 2007

I was intervewied by Michael Cross of the “Free Our Data” campaign at the Guardian last week. He wrote this up as part of an article titled New study casts doubt on Ordnance Survey’s copyright control, that followed up a blog entry summarising Charlotte Waelde’s report.

I was intrigued by the OSs response to the report. I quote from the article (Scott Sinclair): “We haven’t been able to consider the report in detail, but there is absolutely no doubt that intellectual property rights exist in MasterMap - it would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. In all our topographic information, there is copyright as in artistic works. Therefore use of those works without licence is an infringement.”

I find this amazing because the OS were one of several partners involved in the GRADE Project (which you have to remember was looking at the social, technical and legal aspects to a geospatial data repository) and had full access to the report prior to its publication on 13 March 2007 (a month ago!). And the report does not say that IPR ceases to exist. To the contrary, IPR most definitely remains, its just that Charlotte’s argument is that the Database Directive is far more appropriate for a product like Mastermap than copyright. The argument over “artistic works” remains however. Is Mastermap, the database, artistic in any way or simply a collection of facts??

More musings to follow…

The Brompton Mean Machine

Tuesday, 10 April, 2007

Being a commuter I have a mission to find the best way to get in to work. In fact, being a GIS lecturer seems to involve a mandatory long commute. I live about 60 miles away from Kingston and am the closest of the GIS group. And for all of us this means traversing across London where we all converge on Waterloo for a speedy South West Trains trip to Surbiton. So one of the key elements of the journal is getting across London. This aspect of the journey, in particular, encouraged me to get a folding bike and, specifically, a Brompton.

The Brompton is the grand-daddy of modern folders and produced by a “traditional” small engineering company. The quality of the product is excellent and, importantly, it quickly folds and unfolds. Not only that, but when folded it has the smallest volume of all standard production folding bikes. Important when on the train. And on that note, all rail companies in the UK accept folding bikes in the rush hour.

In terms of riding, it takes a little while to get used to the small wheels and consequently tight turning circle. However it is very manouvorable, important in heavy traffic. I’ve since added the extended seatpost (as I’m 5′11”), mini-bar ends and clipless pedals which increase the speed of the bike. So all in all an indispensable part of the commute that probable saves about 30 minutes in commute time!!