Landsat 5 Decommissioned

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 18:45:46

It is with great sadless that we learnt of the passing away of an old friend today. At the grand old age of 29, Landsat 5 was put out of its misery due to lack of capability and, well, simply being too old. Younger and better models are snapping at its heels and it just can’t cope any more - with its eyesight failing and a general lack of energy, the cold solar winters, no fuel allowance, and increased welfare maintenance, enough was enough. However it was a start that burned long and bright - Landsat 8 won’t replace you, just take over your duties.

Or as NASA would say:

“Now in its 29th year of orbiting the planet, Landsat 5 has long outlived its original three-year design life. Developed by NASA and launched in 1984, Landsat 5 has orbited the planet over 150,000 times while transmitting over 2.5 million images of land surface conditions around the world.”

KindleFirmware Update: 3.4

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 14:45:18

Kindle updated the firmware for its keyboard (and other) ebook readers to version 3.4. Amazon have always been good with long support and incremental improvements to stability (a rare thing in the “I can top that” IT industry). Whilst this latest firmware was trucked out with barely a mention it is worth noting that there are some significant changes:

improved font for reading
parental controls (Apple please note)
support for latest Kindle ebook format
support for picture/comic books
sync of audio books

These are are hugely worthwhile, however, for me, the biggest update isn’t mentioned at all:

better PDF reading

OK, its still not perfect, but now we get the option to exactly pick the part of the page to zoom to rather than the slightly botched “left-page” and “right-page” views. What would be even better would be support for user-defined zoom levels - this would allow sizing of the PDF page for the landscape screen. I can live and hope, but credit to Amazon for genuinely improving the user experience.

Non-sense about science

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 18:33:36

Yes, The Express is at it again; that bastion of Britishness, source of high quality news stories that just might make The Sun look like evidence based journalism has decided that to sell more copy it needs to advocate alternative treatments for cancer. Sense About Science, who I’ve blogged about before, try to make sense prevail and as they say:

Lots of you got in touch when, last week, The Express carried a terrible article advocating alternative cancer treatments. Sile spoke to them. They refused to change it. Cancer Research UK wrote a letter. They refused to print it. Oncologists and other experts responded in our For The Record.

The editor responded that the science view will have a chance to put forward its side at some future point. We asked whether, if the doctor prescribed him useless medicine and gave him the wrong advice, he would be satisfied to know that some weeks later someone else would be given good advice and the right pills. No joy there. Exasperated that they refused to edit the online version which was being linked to from many web discussions, we did it for them:

The corrected version has been viewed thousands of times now, and if you can link to it from further blogs and websites that would be great.

Benugo Waterloo: great location, good product, service…..utter FAIL

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 08:49:14

What can I say, Benugo have a fantastic location at Waterloo for a coffee bar. For a station, its relaxing and peaceful, however can they get their act together to deliver their core product? No. Last week, one person ahead of me to pay for coffee, three people ahead of me waiting for coffee…. how long did it take? Ten minutes and in the process serving two people behind me in the queue. This isn’t a one off and clearly they haven’t got a clue how to deliver a rapid service in such a location. Maybe their restaurants are better, but at this location they are a complete failure. Go downstairs to Costa where they know their product, clientele and service.

London buses and mapping

Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 17:17:04

I have been exploring the use of London buses a little more recently and so naturally started looking at routes and timetables to see how accessible different parts of London are; for instance, did you know that the number 188 runs from St Pancras to the O2 Arena? No, neither did I. OK, its not going to replace the tube as it takes well over an hour, but even so, some routes have surprisingly good connectivity. However Beck-style route maps become a horrible tangled heap of spaghetti once you have more than a few routes and you need no better example than London buses - here are all things maps and the map of central London shows that they don’t even try to represent it because it’s so horrible. What you need to do is break the route down in to “where am I” locations and then provide routes from there, such as this example from St Pancras. However an interactive map is the most obvious solution and TfL do provide one using the Google Maps API. It took me a while to figure out how it worked (OK, I’m not quick!), but it’s actually rather pleasant to use (you NEED to maximise the map)!! Like the PDF maps, you type in “where I am” and it then presents your location with a legend showing ALL the buses that pass close to you. If you click on the bus route in the legend it then shows it on the map. Fantastic….you can now peruse routes from your location. Two things are missing here though:

1. It would be nice to see all those routes live on the map and then click on single routes to highlight them. I appreciate this could get spaghetti like in certain areas but interactivity would help this.

2. Please provide approximate transport times for each route - at the moment you don’t have a clue how long it takes (and again I appreciate rush hour will be much slow - maybe a fastest/slowest time range?) and need to go to the detailed Journey Planner and make sure you only select buses and then enter your start and end point. A big faff!

RGS Children’s Lecture

Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 20:21:44

Christmas sees a proliferation of lectures and meetings with, increasingly, many aimed at children (perhaps exemplified by the Royal Society). Not to be out done, the Royal Geographical Society holds their own Children’s Christmas Lecture…. and an excellent event it was this year. Chris Lloyd, author of the What on Earth books brought along his giant wall map and gave a spell binding talk on the history of the universe and everything in 55 minutes, with the able assistance of his 14 pocket coat and an enthralled group of 500 children. A great mix of comedy, history, science, performance and language - a real tour-de-force in allowing kids to explore and see an overall structure to understanding the universe so that when they delve in to bits of it later on they understand where it all fits. This was followed by some dinosaur themed activities and a giant map of the world which transfixed my daughter. A brilliant afternoon, so keep your eyes peeled next year.


p>Giant Map, Royal Geographical Society by mike48 ) on
Giant Map, Royal Geographical Society by mike48

EPoD - be stunned by nature

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 09:08:30

I stumbled across NASAs Earth Science Picture of the Day a while back after doing some research around another of my favourite RSS feeds, NASAs Earth Observatory Image of the Day. This is arguably better (but maybe I’m just used to satellite imagery now!), in part because the imagery is far more varied and therefore the accompanying discussion fascinating. I learn a huge amount from the variety on display here with often stunning photography. And as a sometimes keen photographer it is interesting to look at the metadata for the imagery to see how they were shot.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 15:26:50

I know this did the rounds a while back but the remote sensing and Arduino worlds have firmly collided with the great ArduSat project. A tiny 10x10cm cubesat packed with lots of sensors that are Arduino controlled. Trying to launch summer 2013 but I guess see how the project develops. It went forward for extended funded up to $100,000 which was successful so interesting to see how it goes!

Chartered Geographer

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 14:55:50

In the last post I mentioned the Chartered Geographer (CGeog) accreditation run by the Royal Geographical Society. As I said in that earlier post, CGeog offers professional accreditation for those using geographical skills and knowledge on a daily basis and allows you to put those tantalising CGeog letters after your name! However it is much more than that…. as Wikipedia notes, Chartered status is awarded to a person

“who has gained a level of competence in a particular field of work and as such has been awarded a formal credential by an organization in recognition; it is considered a status of professional competency…… Chartered status originates from and may normally only be awarded by Institutions that have been incorporated under Royal Charter by the British Monarch.”

So there you have it - recognition of professional competency and of significant status (Wikipedia’s entry on CGeog).

Application criteria require a geography (or related degree) and a minimum of 6 years using geographical skills full time in the workplace… and then a requirement to maintain a minimum amount of continuing professional development. This is a key part of Chartered status in any profession - not just a validation of your professional capability, but a commitment to the profession on your part and a requirement to continually strive to exceed that competency.

Besides the core CGeog application, there are specialisms that applicants can choose to submit to: geomorphology, GIS and teaching. All have very active communities which drive these specialisms (and strangely I find myself being able to submit to all three!)

For academics it is perhaps easier to demonstrate professional use of geography and besides the standard application form and CV (yes, you keep that up to date!), there is a personal statement about your wider commitment to the subject. Overall the CGeog is a highly valuable and worthwhile status that derives value from the high standards required and demonstration of competency and CPD. It is an ideal career development opportunity for MSc students to get on to, particularly if they have been in the workplace for several years and is also suited to well established professionals to demonstrate their capability and leadership to both staff and “customers” alike. The final part of my personal statement sums things up (for me):

“Demonstrating excellence in geographic research is part of the remit of an academic career. As such it is the “extra-curricula” aspects of geographic skills and knowledge that are of importance to further aspects of the “geographic mission” that RGS is a part of. Attaining Chartered Geographer status is not about the accreditation itself, but rather the process needed to achieve and maintain it. As geographers we want to evangelise about the importance of “geographic understanding” and one way this can be furthered is through accreditation and the attendance and use of CPD as part of that process. In this sense, Chartered Geographer is vital to the health of the subject.”

GIS as a profession…in the UK

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 18:16:48

Following on from my previous post on David DiBiase’s paper of GIS as a profession, it’s worth pondering the UK situation briefly (and no reflection on the original US centric paper….you obviously can’t do this for every country in the world!).

In the UK we (particularly) have the Association for Geographic Information - broadly speaking an advocate of GIS. Or, as they say:

“The Mission of the AGI is to maximise the use of geographic information (GI) for the benefit of the citizen, good governance and commerce.

The AGI exists to represent the interests of the UK’s GI industry; a wide-ranging group of public and private sector organisations, suppliers of GI software, hardware, data and services, consultants, academics and interested individuals.”

So there we have it, an industry body to represent all. That’s a big step forward in terms of professionalism. The other being certification and CPD. The AGI realised this was an important step - given the advanced body of knowledge represented in the work performed by GI professionals (and the AGI is thinking wider than the definition DiBiase uses), the academic background forming the specialised education behind it and the requirement to continually train and development as a professional. It was therefore natural to seek a professional accreditation programme. AGI could have developed its own, but this is both time consuming and costly and, as luck would have it, a better option presented itself.

The Chartered Geographer Accreditation Programme is designed from the ground up to offer professional accreditation for those using geographical skills and knowledge on a daily basis. Given the wide “geographical” remit, one of the strengths of the programme is the sub-specialisms; currently GIS, geomorphology and teacher. The AGI has led the way in assisting with the development of the Chartered Geographer (GIS) sub-specialism. There is no curriculum linked with this, rather it’s a bespoke assessment of an individual’s professionalism and this is where it’s strength lies: offering the profession a strong (Chartered) foundation from which to develop it’s core georgaphical strengths further.

GIS as a profession?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:50:12

A thought provoking article from David DiBiase at Esri Inc on Strengthening the GIS Profession. It outlines some of the history of the profession, the growing importance to the economy, primary traits of a “profession” and whether GIS meets them. A useful read for all aspiring and current GIS professionals.

Puppy Linux

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:08:46

I came across the rather excellent Puppy Linux recently….OK, there are many Linux distributions most offering far more sophisticated OS implementations, however what is so satisfying about Puppy is that it is small, fast and very usable. A full OS that fits within 100Mb (250Mb with OpenOffice) means that it runs entirely within memory and is very fast. Want to be as discreet and private in your PC habits?? Carry Puppy on a CD/USB, boot directly in to it and run office, web browser, email directly off it. Comes with a variety of tools to work with your PC as well. Incredibly satisfying to use!!

Lack of educational leadership from Central Bedfordshire UA?

Friday, November 2, 2012 at 09:18:42

As a governor at a school in Central Bedfordshire the last few years have been exciting times….. central government have pushed through a breathtaking raft of changes with the Academies programme a central plank. Whilst I may have reservations about some of the policies implemented, I can make no bones about an elected government choosing to act, however central government policy can be quite a crude tool with practise varying considerably on the ground. Indeed government wants it to vary as implementation needs to match local conditions. And whilst government is keen to remove the middle tier of school management (that is local authorities) in order to give greater flexibility and autonomy to individual schools (and move to being directly funded/managed by central government) the responsibility for failure still lies with this tier.

So, as a local authority, what are the options for being involved in this process? They are:

(1) Active Engagement - admit that the role is changing to one that is supportive, requiring active engagement and the delivery of well managed services. Schools run themselves now, but responsibility rests with the LA so have the leadership ability and capability to know when to step in.

(2) Active Disengagement - admit that the role is changing but rather wash your hands of any responsibility whatsoever, pull all services and meet the minimum statutory requirements, stepping in as you watch schools implode and fail. No educational leadership ability or capability becoming politically asinine.

The latter appears to be the route that Central Bedfordshire has taken - not content with sitting back and watching the effects of central government’s Academies programme, they have also removed their services to minimum requirements. In fact schools are actively encouraged to become Academies (regardless of their circumstances) in order to move them away from LA responsibility. Perhaps the most damaging lack of political ability has been the LAs position on 2-tier and 3-tier education. This is a long running debate within the LA and the solution? Open up to a free market, let schools choose to go 1-tier, 2-tier or stay 3-tier, have multiple transition points and no vision for a single education journey that a child can make. In fact this implosion of structured provision (particularly within Dunstable) will lead to the slow painfull closure of a raft of schools and the individual lives and aspirations of the children in them. The latest “helpful advice” is no better example of this… under the guise of parental choice the LA now has to explain to parents that it’s inability to provision an educational journey makes things… well complicated. In fact so much so that we now have to have a flow chart! This doesn’t make encouraging or pleasant reading.

The lack of political will, educational responsibility and social care of the incumbent Conservative council (and leader James Jamieson and Educational Portfolio Mark Versallion) is disappointing…… the debate is not whether 1/2/3-tier is the correct system, but that the elected members make an informed decision and take responsibility and leadership for the structural implementation of that decision knowing that 37,000 odd children are dependent and reliant upon them.

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