Financial Markets

Nothing to do with GIS, but the collapse of the financial markets has been making such headlines, even more so in the UK with the ex-CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland being given a nice tidy 16M pension (you read that right) which he can take from age 50 entitling him to a rather pleasant 650K per year for life. And that’s before any other pensions he has.

In the UK I think it is probably fair to say that no single entity, organisation or person engineered or precipitated the collapse, but rather everyone was complicit at all levels. The government (and in particular the then Chancellor Gordon Brown) was hungry (or greedy?) for income from financial markets and left regulation to a “light touch”, the Financial Services Authority played ball, the banks followed the mantra of “pile it high, sell it cheap” believing they could maintain pyramid type selling returns on their investments and the general public…. they took as much as they could get for as little as possible with scant regard for the consequences. OK, so it’s a gross generalisation but there is a considerable amount of truth. And it does feel a bit like a “them and us” situation; we’ve got the money and no matter how bad we cock up, we get to keep it all and more.

The apologies by the banking bosses several weeks ago to the commons select committee was somewhat hollow and certainly it was on “their watch” that much of this happened. I personally think they deserve a life sentence for the pain, suffering and havoc they have caused but this doesn’t go far enough. What they should really get is 30 years of community service making best use of their skills. So that means, for example, for Sir Fred Goodwin, managing something like a hospital trust, on a fixed salary, but as #2. He doesn’t make the decisions, but asks permission first. They owe a rather large debt (both real and metaphorical) to society.

Microsoft’s Earth

We had Johannes Kebeck from the Virtual Earth team at Microsoft (covering EMEA) talking at Kingston this week. This can almost be seen as a direct follow-on to Ed Parsons from Google who spoke last year. Ed’s talk was very much semantic, looking at spatial searching and how Google are trying to be cleverer about delivering results to the end-user. Johannes, in stark contrast, was a whistlestop tour of everything spatial at Microsoft that left me quite breathless. The sheer scope and vast vision is quite compelling. OK, Microsoft is not doing this for our benefit, but rather a peachy slice of the estimate $80B online advertising market. Yes, you read that right….. $80B. With Google the market leader by such a large margin there is a lot of catching up to do and any slice of that pie is worth a lot of money!!

So what were the themes; well Virtual Earth with vertical and oblique imagery much collected by their own company Vexcel. Automated generation of 3D city models, textured with imagery, incorporation of third party data such as businesses, POIs, time, traffic and weather. Integration with existing MS technologies such as SQLServer, Live Search, DirectX, Visual Studio, Windows Mobile and (of course) SilverLight. And then this is released upon the community to develop in to mashups. And integration in to Groove, Office, SQLServer and SharePoint. Mashups (a la Yahoo Pipes) generated through PopFly. Adding a variety of industry standard spatial data formats, leveraging beta research products such as Image Composite Editor, Photosynth, and HDView to generate rasters. The acquisition of Caligari now allows the free generation of 3D models. They have set their sites firmly on the webGIS front-end and have a strategic partnership with ESRI for the spatial processing, whilst using SQLServer for all the data storage.

I could have hyperlinked all of these items, but I thought I would leave you with Johannes last slide listing a whole variety of links. The scope is simply vast and only a company such as Microsoft could leverage such resources. It’s not necessarily the future I envisage or even one I agree with or want to engage with. But parts are certainly transfixing and with Microsoft putting it’s weight behind GIS, a lot is going to be happening.

The Cookie Cutter: a method for obtaining a quantitative 3D description of glacial bedforms

Smith, M.J., Rose, J. and Gousie, M.B.
Geomorphology, 108, 209-218.

Recording the position and attributes of subglacial bedforms, particularly drumlins, is paramount in determining the extent, and dynamics, of former ice sheets. This paper presents a method of deriving 3D properties of glacier bedforms (drumlins in this case) in order to quantify bedform dimensions and acquire information necessary for further investigations, such as calculating amounts of sediment moved subglacially and hence interactions between a glacier and a deformable bed. The method developed here is a semi-automated technique, called cookie cutter after the baking implement/ process. This method is applied to 5 m spatial resolution DEM data and is based on manual geomorphological mapping of the DEM images, which forms the judgmental part of the process. The mapped bedforms are then processed individually using an automated technique which is described in detail with worked examples from western Central Scotland, which was last glaciated during the Last Glacial Maximum and the Younger Dryas. The advantages and potential sources of error are discussed and results from the sample area are used to compare the volumes of drumlins in an area of LGM glaciation with those in an area glaciated during the Younger Dryas.


I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and one of his mantras is to clear your mind of all the things you need to remember and to keep it clear. This may involve a post-it note (and I do keep them all round the house) or jotting it on your PDA (see previous post on Ninerpad). Sometimes you’re just not in a position to do this and I came across Dial2Do recently which offers another route. It’s an automated phone-in service which uses speech recognition to perform a variety of online tasks such as setting reminders, txting, emailing etc. So if you need to remember something simply dial up say “email”, then “me” and then speak your message CLEARLY. When you get back to your PC you’ll have a reminder sitting in your Inbox. Very handy.


The British Library have just launched an online beta service supplying theses from UK Higher Education institutions. It has wide support from a lot of universities and contains PhD theses. I assume there are others as well but I have found that nugget of info yet. E-theses are automatically harvested from those university repositories that already have them, whilst others will be scanned from the Boston Spa centre. Nearly all electronic delivery methods are free (although this can depend upon the individual institution) and there are currently over 250K in the database. I’ve just ordered a dissertation so I will report again on the process, but on first glance this is hugely impressive and a vital resource for researchers.

UK Satellite Launcher?

An interesting article at the BBC this week reporting an initial proposal to develop a UK developed/based satellite launcher. As the article reports, the UK last launched a satellite 38 years ago as part of the Black Arrow series. Unfortunately the programme was canceled a few months before the first successful launch of a satellite on the grounds of cost. As ever, it was decided that all further launches could be bought cheaper in the US.

What makes this interesting is that it is a purely commercial proposal leveraging UK excellence in low cost engineering and business. The companies behind it are, not surprisingly, SSTL and Virgin Galactic. SSTL have a proven track record in micro-satellites, whilst Virgin helped bankroll the development of White Knight Two produced by Scaled Composites (and based upon the US Pegasus system). This is an air launch system and is intended to provide “tourist” flights in to space. Virgin clearly want to make the most out of the system and see the potential for low-cost satellite launches. And low cost? Well rather than the $5-10M currently quoted, they reckon they can get closer to $1M. And it does remain a proposal at the moment, but with two such big names with proven track records there is considerable potential.