FOSS - 2012, alt update

Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 08:55:02

A nice list of FOSS software, with a particular focus upon geoscience and academia. Everyone will find something new and useful both in the main list and also the comments (good pickup from GoGeo).

Some of the new picks for me included Shotwell (wish there was still a Windows port) and SQL Manager (a Firefox extension). The latter is particularly useful where you want to store structured data in a database that you can use SQL queries on. And the following two catches are quite interesting: tutorial on creating maps in R and Natural Earth data.

What is education for?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 16:12:20

A seemingly innocuous question that is thornier to answer than you might think….. indeed, what is education for? Thinking historically, there is an element of child protection related to the implementation of mass education for all. Try to reduce child labour. If you take a more behavourist view of history, then it was also a means by which the labour force could be trained for the industrial employment market. However, in a 21st Century education system, what are we actually trying to achieve? Before you can think about school organisational systems and curricula, you need to know what it is you are trying to achieve. And thinking about the massive changes in schools at the moment, Academies, Free Schools etc etc, what are these intended to do (and, in true Ken Robinson style, don’t say “raise standards”. Everyone automatically wants to do that, but what standards?!).

I mentioned this to a group of 21-25 year olds recently and got a sea of blank faces….. to “teach” was the mantra. Donald Clark, in his 50-blog marathon, has written about John White who has spent a considerable amount of his career on (and off) the topic. He uses “autonomy” as the central underpinning reason and, to quote Donald,:

“Autonomy, not reason or any other end, is chosen, as it defines, in terms of the self, what one must learn to be a fully functional adult in a complex world. In this sense it avoids the narrow strictures of an inflexible, over-academic curriculum, but it widens education out to deal with the individual as a rounded functioning being. The learner needs to avoid being the slave to desire but also being a slave to a given authority.

His alternative is an education that promotes rational, freedom of choice. The curriculum therefore needs to foster moral, intellectual, financial and practical autonomy to allow people to lead happy, healthy, lives, form relationships, cook, find jobs and think for themselves. The system is stuck in a mode that allows the people who benefit most, the middle-class, to defend its outmoded values, as it has served them well.”

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at Shift Happens (and the different YouTube versions). This gives a nice media based idea to the challenges facing children as they move to transition to the modern employment market. It’s drastically different from the one I inherited. And in this sense White’s philosophical argument is strong. A pure academic focus (organisation/curricula) is outdated, outmoded and ill-equips children for the future. We need to move to something that really meets the needs of state and child for the future. If you were to simplify this down, you would like to produce economically useful people (to the state), who are happy and can operate successfully in a modern culture. That incorporates all the entities identified above. If we start from this basis, how would we organise our schools?

North Korea’s Satellite Ambitions….

Friday, April 13, 2012 at 22:59:38

….ended up in the Yellow Sea. Hopefully the rocket launch in North Korea hasn’t escaped people’s attention over the last week, not least because of the diplomatic tensions it has caused and the potential for using this launch as a test for the development of ballistic missiles. Anyway, the “reason” for the launch was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung and to place an EO satellite in to orbit. Jonathan Amos has a nice piece highlighting the difficulties in rocket launch and satellite development.

Wellcome Trust goes OA - academic publishing and the future

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 07:27:14

An interesting story over at the BBC about the Wellcome Trust publishing it’s own open access journal, eLife. It’s good to see this debate becoming ever more public, a topic I’ve covered before, and again. Unfortunately it’s quite a complex topic and the BBC article is quite narrowly focused which doesn’t really do justice to covering it fully. Something that does need to be done.

In short you could probably summarise it as:

1. WHY: researchers need to publish as part of their annual appraisal, the better the journal, the better your standing as an academic ….. O, and because you want to inform your colleagues and wider academic community of your research and findings. Let’s not forget that the government is the primary driver in metric driven accountability through the Research Excellence Framework, a game which universities are more than happy to play.

2. HOW: a journal is established in a topic area with the sole purpose of publishing relevant material. Authors send an article in which is then peer-reviewed and, if accepted, typeset and published (in print, electronically or both). That is the service they provide.

3. FUNDING: we have a mish-mash of funding models for publishing research, but they boil down to reader pays, author pays or free. The dominance of model will depend upon the subject area.
(a) Reader pays (subscription) is perhaps the most common (it would be interesting to see statistics on the mix of journal funding models though) - authors can submit as many papers as they want which are then peer-reviewed. Anything actually published has to be purchased by the reader, much like a book and this is where universities come back in, buying subscriptions to journals.
(b) In the author pays model, the author has to pay a fee (typically in the region of $2,000+) for an article to be peer-reviewed. It is not guaranteed publication and can be rejected at this stage. The journal makes its published material freely available with no subscription.
(c) Free - actually this dosen’t exist, so let’s dispel that myth. Publishing a journal costs money - the editorial office, peer-review management, managing editors, marketing, copy editing, typesetting, printing and web dissemination. Someone, somewhere, has to pay. You can of course have it cross-subsidised so that neither author nor reader.

So where does that leave the Wellcome Trust? Well here’s a few salient points:

1. Copyright - the publisher holds copyright in the typeset physical representation, the journal in the as-accepted physical representation. Not the work itself.
2. Paywall - (publicly funded) research work is hidden behind a “purchase to read” paywall. This is partly true - yes, you do have to purchase an individual article, but the copyright rests in the typeset version. The author can still disseminate the “knowledge” widely (which they do through posters and presentations at conferences).
3. The accusation of excessive profit, monopoly and a cage on knowledge is acceptable, at least in part. Some journals are excessively expensive and published with the sole purpose of profit. This isn’t a route we want to go down and Wellcome Trust are attempting to change this element, which is good.
4. Journals cost money to publish! Someone, somewhere, has to pay for this service to be performed and the product delivered.

What is the best model? Well there isn’t one, as it will be subject and market specific. As such there won’t be a sticky plaster, one-size-fits-all, answer. For well funded subjects such as physics, engineering or medicine, open access where the author pays is neat and simple. It can also make a profound difference where literally life-saving work can be disseminated widely.

However if you move out of this area to less well-funded subjects (which receive little or no government funding) and things become more difficult. With no government subsidy on publication, and the unit cost (the published page) still the same, how do you fund a journal? The obvious answer is subscriptions (i.e. reader pays). Yes, I do object to excessive costs by publishers, but that is a slightly different debate and an area where publishers can be directly questioned. The worry from areas such as geography and history, is that a government move to OA will, literally, kill-off journals and profoundly impact the health of the subjects they serve. This is a serious debate beyond public access to knowledge which needs to be acknowledged, flagged and taken up.

Gatewing bought by Trimble

Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 19:27:00

Hot on the heels of Geo12, Trimble announced yesterday that it had acquired Gatewing (an industry comment here).

An interesting move that really ups-the-ante and brings small drones in to the arena of major mapping. Clearly Trimble not only wants a piece of this pie, but to actively develop it in to markets where it already provides terrestrial solutions that this can add to. And I bet Gatewing founders are sitting on a nice big healthy pile of cash which is nice for 4 years work (well, and some, because they were working on it before then). A good success story and also showing how much potential low altitude aerial photography (LAAP) and photogrammetry are showing at the moment.

KAPping in Delft

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 15:21:08

I’ve just spent a couple of days delivering an introduction to KAP for MSc students at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft. More specifically it was a series of lectures, fieldwork and practical around this topic area, but starting more generally introducing aerial photography, providing some definitions, history and a broad-brush starter. This led in to photointerpretation and stereoscopy, a topic seemingly missing from most geography related undergrad and postgrad programmes. It’s almost anti-tech, yet is one of those skill areas I frequently find myself revisiting. Lectures on day one finished with an introduction to low altitude platforms and some of the recent applications before we focused on KAP and then introduced the kit itself. After lunch we headed out to Zandmotor, the beach area that my colleague Paron Paron is currently using KAP to trial monitoring.

Yet again I have managed to visit the Netherlands when there is virtually no wind! There was slightly more than last time so we managed to fly the kite, but I only had my smaller Sutton Flowform so no chance in flying the camera. Next time I will bring the lightweight rig and compact camera. The morning of day 2 saw a brief introduction to photogrammetry and then a practical using both a standard vertical air photo set and a KAP photo set performing aero-triangulation in LPS.

All in all a very good two days and Delft is a very pretty location.

Txt polls…..

Monday, April 2, 2012 at 08:41:56

It’s good to bring a little more interactivity in to talks and presentations, particularly where you want to generate some feedback, produce discussion points or gauge audience consensus. In an analogue world we might use a questionnaire, perhaps at the beginning of a class, and then feedback the results at the end. If it was distance learning or over a longer period of time we might consider a Delphi Probe. In a digital world we can take advantage of instant feedback to generate interactivity in class: these are generically called personal response systems (PRS) which use either IR or radio “clickers” to register a response to a question on screen. However you need to set the kit up or have them permanently installed, all of which is a faff or too expensive. As a result I’ve never much bothered with them. However the alternative is…. sitting in your pocket! Yes, the mobile phone offers by far the simplest and easiest solution, through txting. This isn’t new and txting is being used in an increasingly varied number of interesting applications, however it is reaching a certain level of critical mass.

I use the PollEverywhere service which is simple, efficient and effective. I can set up free form or multiple choice questions and, the killer output, a live graph on the screen that updates in realtime (either through their website or integrated in to your PPT presentation). The majority of people are happy to participate either because txts are free or they want to participate. PollEverywhere is free up to a 30 participant event then you have to pay. Good for lectures though and you can export results if you want to. Well worth experimenting with.

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