QR Codes

QR Codes are one of those technologies, if you haven’t heard of them, that you’ve probably already come across. And like most things that gradually become pervasive, you realise they’ve been around for a long time. QR Codes are simply 2D barcodes. Rather than scanning a line and extracting a short series of digits, you image a 2D array and extract (more) data. Of course the reason most people aren’t particularly concerned with barcodes is that they don’t have a barcode reader, but regularly see them in use at the supermarket. It’s also not much use either…. you don’t have a backend database matching the barcode so it’s use is limited. However the explosion in the availability of smartphones and inclusion of a camera means that large swathes of the population now have a 1D and 2D barcode reader in their pocket.

The QRCode was created by Denso-Wave way back in 1994; of course you’d have needed a dedicated reader for it back then and whilst its use appears to be far wider in Japan it has been more limited elsewhere. That is all changing simply because by moving to 2D….. you can store more data!! Not surprisingly the (ISO) specification allows codes of different sizes. The larger the code the greater the capacity. And clearly you can encode anything you to from plain numbers and characters to XML data such as vCards and URIs. As a result there has been rapid take-up by the marketing industry: stick a QRCode on an advert, put in it a URL to a website with a special offer and you have a great campaign for instant interaction.

So how do you create QRCodes? Well the standard is open and, as a result, there are a plethora of online services. There is a nice roundup of sites here, including a stand-alone encode/decoder for Windows. Perhaps more useful for online QRCodes is dynamic generation via the API for Google Charts. This website is a service which generates the QRCode and also shows you the code to paste in to your webpage (in an IMG tag). The power here is that the “message” itself can be replaced with dynamic code as I’ve done on the template for the pages in this blog. So the QRCode below is dynamically generated for the URL of this unique page.

One might argue there is less use in putting it on a blog because a reader can simply use copy/paste from the address bar of the browser. It’s the print world where it is powerful (let’s face it, who wants to write down a 50 character URL!). I am involved in typesetting at the Journal of Maps and we use LaTeX. And, yes…. someone has written a barcode generation package that includes QRCodes. Again we can dynamically enter the DOI for the article and have it automatically generated at document creation time. The code is so simple its unbelievable really:

\imagetop{\begin{pspicture}(30mm,30mm) \psbarcode{http://dx.doi.org/\dx}{}{qrcode}

This article shows how to use LaTeX to create a business card the embeds a QRCode vCard. If you scan this with your phone it will offer to add it to your contacts automatically; now that really is useful.

The opportunities really do start to open up…400 characters for a 57x57 QRCode is a significant amount of data. You can put paragraphs of text in or entire XML encodings. For neogeography you could run a geocaching quiz that encodes the next destination in the QRCode; encode in a Google Map URL and it will show you where to go. Remember, you don’t need a GPS for this, simply get the code and move on. Which means if GPSs aren’t pervasive then liberally spread out QRCodes could operate as spatial identifiers. For organisations you could have asset tagging where its not only the ID for the object, but the metadata about it as well. I’m sure there are 1000s more applications, so keep an eye out for them!

LiDAR for Dummies

DLT and Autodesk have just published a small booklet, LiDAR for Dummies. It’s hardly a state-of-the-art textbook, but it does succinctly summarise the operation of LiDAR. At least worth a quick look at given its free.

ArcGIS for Android?

Well it looks like ArcGIS is coming to the Android platform. The more general smartphone area shows that iOS and Windows will also be supported. Indeed to iOS version is out, Windows due imminently and Android to follow shortly thereafter. The mobile blog keeps things up to date. Not surprising the choice of platforms; difficult for any large-scale developer as the mobile space is so varied at the moment. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops. Smartphones are the modus operandi for alot of work the; integrated GPS and fast processors make it a no-brainer and if they aren’t careful, Google will very rapidly fill this spot.

Droid Backup

Backup is critical for any mobile device so what’s the best way of making sure your Droid is recoverable should it get lost (or stolen)?? Well one neat starting point is Prey which is installed on your phone or laptop and allows remote activation to send reports back about where the phone is. It can auto-start your wifi, take photos with the camera, send back location information and lock the system. A great way to try to recover a lost/stolen device.

Your device will often have quite alot of data onboard so how to save this? Well the earlier post on syncing is a good start: contacts and calendar are two of the biggest areas you want back up.

Another one is apps that have been downloaded and installed on your phone. Google provide no simple (out of the box) method to save downloaded APK files (which are just ZIP archives), so if your phone gets mullered you have to download them all again. A great option here is to use Android Mate. This is an apps organizer that allows a multitude of useful things like installing APK files, navigating the file system, uninstalling apps and, yes, backing them up. If will extract the apps and save them in an APK file backup. This will be on your SDcard but thats easy enough to copy off on to a PC

The other main backup app is Titanium Backup; the free version requires root access. This is immensely powerful allowing batch operations for backup and restoration of apps, as well as removal of apps that come installed with your phone and can’t be uninstalled through “Manage Applications”. A great way to remove crap from your phone and backup apps and their data, as well as system data to your SDcard. And in case you’ve wondered, all base install apps on your phone are in the \system\apps folder. You need root access to see these.

The ultimate in backup is to create a custom ROM with all your base apps in it. It’s a bit like ghosting your device and means you can get back to a fully working base version should everything go wrong (or you just want to start afresh). More on that in another post.

Organizing Droid apps

One thing that is strangely absent in Android is an effective method for organising access to your apps. OK, you have five homescreens which you scroll between. Seems a bit of a faff to me and not a great solution. Or you press the apps button to list all your apps… but that is all of them and you have no way of filtering it for just the ones you want. On Palm OS you categorised your apps and they appeared on the screen for that category. It was an effective solution and so I looked for something similar on Android. Apps Organizer does this pretty well; I’ve hunted around a bit and I’m sure there are probably better app organisers but this does the job well. Create your categories, tag your app and your done. Then create a link from your homescreen.

Droid Calendar/Contacts Sync

The number of people that lose their phone and all their contacts….. too numerous to count. With PDAs, synchronisation was done to a desktop app (HotSync for Palm and Active Sync for Microsoft), but with a 3G access common and cloud computing pervasive many people now sync their phones to an online service. This is very easy to do out of the box for a droid device. Set up a GMail account and then enter the details in your phone.

I also wanted a desktop app and, of course, all my contacts and calendar were in my Palm T

Android USB Drivers

The first step in starting to do more interesting things with your droid device is to connect it to your PC. For that you need some USB drivers. OK, I know when you plug the phone in a PC will automatically recognise the on board usb storage, but you actually need “developer level” access to the phone. Google’s software development kit provides this and an awful lot more…. in fact so much more that it’s a right faff to get it all. So to save some effort read this thread to see how to download and install just the drivers themselves. These will then give you the access to the phone needed for working with the ROM.

Note: ZTE also produce drivers which are specific to the Blade and can be used to tether it and use it as a modem.

Unlocking and Rooting your Blade

The first steps to getting your San Francisco (aka Blade) to do what you want it to do are:

1. Unlock the device so you aren’t tied to Orange
2. Gain root (superuser) access to the operating system so you can add apps that rally get under the bonnet

So, without more ado:

1. To unlock phone:
Type *#06# to get the phone’s IMEI number. Then visit:
http://www.nextgenserver.com/calculator/
Type in the details and use the phone model SFR-341
Put a non-Orange SIM in to the phone, start it up and enter the unlock code.

(Note: the Orange help pages are actually quite helpful!! And… if you stay on PAYG for at least 3 months you can request an unlock code from Orange. Seems the simplest option!)

2. To root the handset, the simplest option (given the Blade is running Android 2.1) is to use Universal Androot
Download the app
Copy it to the SD card on your phone
Install either Linda File Manager or Ghost Commander from the Market
Use the file manager to install the application on to your phone
Run Universal Androot

All very simple; some useful apps that make full use of root access include Titanium Backup (the best backup app for your Droid) and AdFree (for removing app ads).

Yes, this is my droid….

I have finally succumbed and laid my Palm T

FGDB Support coming to software near you…..

James Fee notes that ESRIs file geodatabase is finally to be (sort of) opened up with a beta of the API coming out in January (C++ based). The binaries (but probably not the source code) are being released and as the blog notes:

“This API is targeted for advanced developers who require access to the File Geodatabase without an ArcObjects license for purposes of interoperability.”

So you won’t need to buy ArcGIS by the sounds of things to read FGDBs, but it will be a Windows only solution (until its reversed engineered anyway).

Digital elevation models for research: UK datasets, copyright and derived products

Smith, M.J. (2010)
Geological Society Special Publications


The UK is served by a wide range of digital elevation models (DEMs) that have a variety of technical specifications from several different vendors. The abundance of data presents researchers with a complex range of choices dependent upon their application (and therefore ‘fitness-for-purpose’) and desired use of intellectual property rights (IPR). This paper explores current DEM datasets of the UK and presents their use within the context of claimed copyright and IPR. In particular, responsibilities placed upon grant holders for the lodgement of research outputs by UK Research Councils places new emphasis upon data access, derived data and data re-use. The complex interplay of rights between research output stakeholders (data suppliers, data creators, data users) presents a difficult scenario for both data repositories and data depositors.

Motion Charts

Motion charts really hit the scene a few years ago when Hans Rosling presented a series of wonderfully simple and stunning talks at TED. They are worth watching just for the way in which simple but effective social indicators can be visualised and then used to explain complex societal issues. The software used to produce the visualisations is called GapMinder. In essence, it is a scatter plot that can incorporate coloured, proportional, symbols and then animate them through time. Google saw the power of this and subsequently bought the IP and have incorporated in to Google Docs as a motion gadget.

This is one (also below) I produced comparing the number of pupils on roll in Central Bedfordshire schools against their Total Revenue Income. The vacancy rate for the school can be shown using the proportional symbols and the school stage using colour. The time slider along the bottom shows 7 years of data so you can see how each school varies through time.

Setting up motion charts is relatively painless and here is an excellent tutorial (in 4 parts). Note that if you don’t format your data exactly correctly, the plot will appear to continually load…. it’s actually an error. The best thing is to look either my link above or from the tutorial and mimic the data set. The temporal element is added by dumping the next year of data below the previous year. Temporal databases remain a thorny issue and this approach, behind the scenes, will use a pivot table to separate the data and then load it in to the gadget.

Being Google, you can embed this in to web pages as Ive done below.

LiDAR Hacking

Great article on lidar hacking over at Lidar News. Need I say more….

Population swap?

Really nice map and explanation over at Strange Maps….. “what would happen if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

UK Public Data Corporation

Interesting article over at The Guardian on the creation of a public data corporation next year potentially to include the OS, Met Office and Land Registry. This has the potential to reorganise Trading Funds as we know them at the moment and possibly sell of parts of the businesses to the private sector. If nothing else, this government is moving at a fast pace…

CrossRef Annual Meeting: what’s happening in the world of DOIs?

I attended the CrossRef annual meeting yesterday (see previous post). It’s the first time it’s been held outside the USA and London was certainly a fitting venue. Hosted at One Great George Street just opposite the Treasury, it was very good day. Day 1 (which I didn’t attend) was based upon technical sessions, whilst Day 2 gave an overview of current “status” and up and coming developments, followed by invited speakers in the afternoon. It was an excellent balance of presentations in a relaxed setting. All credit to CrossRef, they got the pitch just right.

So what is happening at CrossRef?? Well clearly the biggest service is as a clearinghouse for academic publishers to lodge DOIs… and they are very reasonable priced, but they are now starting to produce lots of value added services, which include:

  • DOI Resolver: resolve a DOI to a landing page
  • DOI Lookup: you know the reference but not the DOI (and the excellent Simple Text Query)
  • CrossMark: soon to launch service identifying changes to the “status” of an article. Due to the nature of publisher, once a PDF is “published” it is a permanent record, but how do you inform readers of changes to the status of the article?? Corrections, addendum, erratum, letters etc?? Simple, more metadata linked to the article.
  • CrossCheck: plagiarism detection service using the iParadigms service which also forms the TurnItIn service. Publishers need to submit the full text of all articles for this to be good.
  • Cited-By Linking: count the number of citations any article receive. In an academic world which success is (at least in part) measured by the number of citations this is a service that aims to “compete” with Scopus and Web of Knowledge. It is a different service though and again relies upon publishers to deposit all there metadata correctly. So it really sits between Scopus, Web of Knowledge and other citation services. The big benefit being that it counts citations to all DOIs… so content not indexed by Web of Knowledge (e.g. data, books) or in places where there is no Impact Factor will be counted. Very useful!! Publishers need to deposits all references in all articles: a lot more work for small publishers!!
  • ORCID: this links very closely to the previous item. ORCID is an open version of ResearcherID and intends to provide researchers worldwide with a single ID which could be used by institutions and funders to identify individuals and their outputs. They are finalising the funding model and setup and have a beta underway based upon the ResearcherID setup.
  • CrossRef Labs: experimental work at CrossRef, including interesting items such as encoding DOIs as QR codes, TOI DOIs (tiny DOIs for tweeting etc), metadata search, PDFStamp and PDFMark. All interesting and useful.

AGI’10: Open Source GIS

I gave a talk at the AGI this year on Open Source GIS. I’ve now placed the slides online as there were loads of URLs in them. The talk is by no means comprehensive in terms of open source geospatial software, but I gave a broad-brush approach providing examples of software from a wide range of domains we often use in the geospatial world. One extra element (as I’m a proponent of portable apps) is that, where possible, I’ve given links to portable (USB) versions of the apps. Hopefully this will prove useful to people.

27,000 for a degree….

So there we have it, the cost of a degree looks set to march onwards to 27,000, plus living expenses. Not an insignificant amount of money. The BBC provides an alternative discussion, but in essence prices are rising to 6,000 pa, with an upper cap of 9,000, although this will come with requirements for fair access. The concern of many universities is that, with the removal of state funding, 9,000 will only allow them to tread water and probably slip back in real terms.

There are some other articles around the issue: $200,000 degree, 2yr degrees… I guess we’ll see if a market will develop and, indeed, if we see a rise in state-funded science courses.

Blackboard Woes: uploading marks

Spent ages going around in circles today trying to upload marks in Blackboard. I’ve just finished marking 80 odd essays, with comments, and wanted to upload this back in to the Grade Book. Easy I thought… I know BB is a bit fussy, so download the marks, add my entries then upload. Didn’t work (note: Firefox just bombs; IE and Chrome work fine). To cut a long story short and help other people who come across the same problem:

  • download the marks as a tab delimited file for the specific grade item of interest and make sure you tick “Include comments for this column”
  • load in to Excel and copy/paste your marks across (obviously make sure the marks go to the correct students!) and save
  • BB seems to like a slightly peculiar form of tab-delimited file where every field is enclosed in quotation marks. This is normally reserved for text fields and neither Open Office or Office97 maintain that. I ended adding these manually (using find/replace) in a text editor
  • upload back in to BB but make sure you select tab-delimited. The auto option doesnt work!

Voila! Your marks and feedback should now be in BB.

The Geospatial Revolution

For those who missed it first time around on the blogs, Penn State University Public Broadcasting are putting together a 4 episode series on The Geospatial Revolution. This is a (relatively!) high budget project that is executed to a very high standard. The first episode covers why geospatial is important, what it’s used for and where we are going. Almost a who’s who of interviews. Episode 2 is now out covering the use of geospatial in different “market” areas.

Not to be missed.