Tube Station Walk times

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 12:22:54

Some MA Students at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design have generated a “walk-time” map between stations on the London Underground. A nice little project and, as they state, nearly all stations are less than 10 minutes apart which makes it easier to walk.

Virtual Earth license NextMap

Friday, February 23, 2007 at 22:17:54

An interesting news item this week shows that Microsoft has licensed Intermaps NextMap Great Britain for Virtual Earth. I have used NextMap quite a lot in my research and also look at the quality of the product (Geomorphology paper) and, nationally, its currently the best DEM around. So its quite interesting (and exciting!) that such a product can find its way into everyday used.

Demise of the AGI Exhibition

Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 19:00:48

Well it had been on the cards since the the AGI took over the exhibition from CMP after the 2003 show at Earls Court, but now its “official”. From a recent email:

“In response to feedback, the residential conference format will not include a large-scale public exhibition as in previous years”

Which in “normal speak” means “we’ve canned the exhibition and gone back to the conference only and, to save money, we’ll hold it at the cheapest venue we could find.” Its a shame because the exhibition has been a valuable part of the GI industry in the UK. Certainly the Solutions Centres that I have been involved in have been enjoyable experiences. The last CMP organised Solutions Centre was a huge success. Neither of the Chelsea exhibitions were successful, due mainly to the appalling show space at Chelsea. The Design Centre in Islington was a brilliant venue but the footfall disappointingly low. The AGI should see this as a major failing; whether this is their fault is a mute point. Maybe footfall was decreasing anyway…

Anyway, I can’t help but think that ditching the exhibition is destroying the community (thanks Ken) rather than “Building a GeoCommunity” (conference theme!).

Sat Nav …. Again

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 12:03:28

Thankfully there are others out there that believe that there really is very little place for sat nav in this world (see earlier blog). Maybe just interstellar travel….

As has been quite widely reported (and first in The Daily Mail), the sleepy village of Exton, Hampshire, is the first in the country to have a “Do not follow sat nav” sign. It could equally have read “Use your brain and save your wallet: buy a map”.

Is a degree really worth it?

Saturday, February 17, 2007 at 20:49:36

Another open day and another good article by Mike Baker on the price of a university degree. He notes the relief from the government with an increase in UCAS applications even after the introduction of top-up fees. This is good news for Tony Blair as, importantly, it shows that students are voting with their feet and going to university. However there are some interesting anomalies. More women, a drop in numbers in Wales/Northern Ireland and large gains in more vocational courses. A 35% increase in tourism for example (although this is probably against a lower base), against a 3.5% increase in geography.

At the end of the day then, the government wants us to take on board the (disputed) figure of an extra £400,000 over a graduates lifetime. However life is harder for the current generation (financially) and is it really worth the payback? A hard question for any 18 year old (or mature student for that matter) to answer, but ultimately comes back to whether they will be better off than their peers. I have a lot of sympathy with the current student crop; I never had to pay student fees and received a grant. I didn’t have the plethora of courses open to me that are available now. However, and I will harp back to this point, I did the subject I enjoyed and subsequently succeeded at it. So please, anyone wanting to go to university, do the same.

Relative Values

Friday, February 16, 2007 at 22:23:40

We all know that inflation increases the actual cost of a product over time, whilst the relative cost (to, for example, earnings) remains the same. Well are you interested in the relative cost of items at two different dates? Do you really want to compare two prices and see which is the more expensive? Well the website Measuring Worth allows you to do this for the US$ or UK£ from 1800 to the present day.

Relative cost isn’t an exact science and, in fact, you need to measure price increase in some way. There is no ideal measure and, as a result, the website calculates relative prices in five different ways: retail price index, GDP deflator, average earnings, per capita GDP and GDP. They all converge on somewhat similar values, but can (and are) different.

I visited the Ben Cruachan Hydroelectric Power Station (440MW) some years ago and noted from the display that the total cost (in 1966) of the project was £13M (and a dozen or so deaths). Sounds pretty good, especially in comparison to the Dinorwig Pumped Storage System (1728MW) which cost, in memory serves me right, about £1.2B (1983). Of course we not only have inflation, but the further confounder of decimalisation. Anyway, doing the calculations from the completion dates dates and, in comparison, Ben Cruachan cost ~£100M. OK, thats still a fair way short of £1.2B, but it does generate considerably less electricity and, of course, is not a like-for-like project. Anyway, its a good illustration of how raw figures can really illicit the “wow” factor when reality is something else.

Blosxom: the zen of blogging!

Monday, February 12, 2007 at 08:32:14

Those interest in the IT side of blogging will have noticed I use Blosxom for my blog. This is a remarkably lightweight (in size) Perl script that dynamically builds all the pages and makes the RSS feeds available. It is template driven with all content simply text files held within a folder structure. However it is an extremely capable system, easily portable across servers and extensible through plugins. The plugins I currently use include Blosedit, breadcrumbs, atomfeed, calendar, feedback, find, flatarchives, foreshortened, menu, moreentries, seemore, truncatez and writeback. The beauty of these is that you can get exactly the look and feel you want. Sadly development of Blosxom has ceased, but there is plenty of information over at the Unofficial Blosxom User Group and the project itself has now been moved as an open source project to Sourceforge.

CD Ripping

Monday, February 5, 2007 at 08:39:34

I have been extending my mp3 collection of late by ripping some more of my 400 odd CDs. I should say that I buy all the music I am interested in as albums (CDs) and subsequently rip them for listening too; I’m not a fan of illegal copying (or, for that matter, Orwellian DRM schemes dreampt up by money grabbing music executives. No one in mind… Sony).

Anyway, if you look carefully at the CD-audio specification you will realise that it is very different from PC based media. Principally in that the are no sectors and no error correction. In essence your PC will not know what is where on a CD which makes the accurate ripping of CDs quite a challenge. The main software I use for ripping is called Exact Audio Copy and it approaches this problem in two ways. Firstly it analyses your CDROM and works out how it operates. Secondly, it works on the principal of repeated samples; if you copy a “sector” of the CD twice, they should be the same. If not, then there is a read error. EAC also plays CDs, burns CDs, links to freedb for track information and many other “niceities”. Its also small and can run from a USB stick.

EAC has recently added in support for a AccurateRip. This extends the idea in EAC to a social network through the use of check-sums. Once a track is ripped, create a checksum and upload that to an online database. When someone else rips a track they can compare their checksum to the one in the database and, if they match, it is probably a good rip. The more checksums submitted the greater the accuracy. And it all works rather well.
doesn’t come with any encoders so you need to grab these yourself. Lame is probably the best open source encoder and you need to download binaries for Windows. You can then use either the DLL or standalone EXE file. I go for the former as it is quicker and easier, but hasn’t got the same flexibility, I set EAC to rip at 96k/bit stereo CBR. I tried listening to a variety of bit rates at both CBR and VBR and this was fine for me. It only gets used on my Palm so this offers a good trade between file size and quality.

AccurateRip is principally designed to work with dbPowerAmp, but is also supported by EAC. It only comes as an installer and you need to point it at your EAC installation directory where it sticks one DLL file. Unfortunately if you have already installed dbpoweramp before some funny things seem to happen to the registry and AccurateRip within EAC will always give the error “This key disc cannot be used for offset detection.” In this instance you need to need to delete all registry keys for AccurateRip (by searching through the registry) and then try it again. Should work fine then!

Microformats: the spatial web for human reading

Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 19:25:56

Following on the theme of Neogeography, it is worth pointing out that great strides have been made amongst non-GIS folk in the realms of Web2.0 in order to “spatially enable” our internet experience. The likes of Mikel Maron (of Worldkit) have brought location to the forefront of websites, such that places like Flickr now fully enable location in terms of meta-data. There is no better demonstration than through the use of GeoRSS. Machine readable feeds (a.k.a. RSS) are great for looking at website updates and also displaying spatial data. So much so that it is now rapidly becoming a full format and is even fully supported by software such as cadcorp.

Anyway, the main thrust here is that this is a machine format. What about standard readable formats? Well XML is the obvious route, but its not really a web format yet. The next step back from this is therefore markup within HTML that support location. And this already exists in the form of microformats; a structure of tags that add semantics (meaning) to the content of a web page in the same manner that XML does. This markup is embedded in the page for utilisation by the web browser. Its early days yet, but some interesting things are now being done with microformats. On the spatial front, most notably Grease Route, a Grease Monkey script (for Firefox) that parses a page for spatial microformats (notably either the address or location tags) and then offers a location map or route via MapQuest. Have a click on the globe icon (dynamically appended by GreaseRoute) on my webpage next to my department address.

Train Ticket Price Increases

Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 10:24:02

There seems to have been much written on the recent train ticket price increases. Whilst some fares remain protected (to an extent), others do not. To take the route I travel, for example, a day peak return ticket in to London costs £22 and, in fact, remains unchanged. To Surbiton it used to cost £22.40 and has now risen to £26. A staggering 16% rise. Changes like this simply cannot be excused and the Labour government has done a pretty poor job of maintaining a balanced rail system. Yes, since privatisation we have new trains, mostly punctual trains and, generally, a better service (although try telling that to people traveling on First Great Western). However the single biggest sticking point has been the HUGE cost this has entailed. Someone really needs to unravel, in simple-speak, what is actually going on. We have had large increases in train passengers, apparently large increases in road travel and rapidly rising costs. I appreciate that it is difficult to absorb rapid increases in passenger numbers but it really doesn’t seem to be handled very well. And in the middle of all this we have Labour sitting, looking very smug. And it is ironic that the face of “integrated transport” (NOT) in the UK has been John Prescott; I can’t imagine a worse public image to present…

Portable MapServer

Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 22:47:44

I co-convene (with my new colleague James O’Brien) a third year module on Internet GIS. In it we cover some of the broad technical and cartographic issues relating to web map servers, both lightweight, client-side solutions such as WorldKit, and server-side software such as ArcIMS and MapServer. There is a heavy dose of practical work which is designed to give the students an “edge” should they go in to industry.

Anyway, running ArcIMS and MapServer causes a bit of a headache for us in a university network environment. Given these are open labs we are not allowed to run any services on the Windows boxes. As a result ArcIMS is run in a virtual machine; not ideal, but it works. This year we have added some MapServer practicals so the question was how best to do it. Well the excellent O’Reilly Web Mapping Illustrated (written by Tyler Mitchell of DM Solutions) suggests the use of MS4W (MapServer for Windows!) because it is a distribution that includes apache and all the libraries need to run MapServer. Unfortuantely, the opening batch file runs, yes you guessed, a service. I threw this at our GIS technician (thanks Nick!) and, after a bit of “hacking” and a short visit to Portable Apps, he came up with a neat solution. Portable Apps have released portable XAMPP which is a USB version of Apache, mySQL, PHP and Perl. He’s integrated this in with all the MS4W libraries so that you run apache and can then start MapServer. A neat solution which means you can take MapServer anywhere and get it to run with no services involved at all. Neat. You can also grab it here.

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