Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yes Minister

No one could accuse government of being joined up or agile.

The conflicting priorities of different departments and initiatives have been exposed in the recent posts on Free Our Data on how OS licensing prevents public sector bodies from publishing "derived data" (data captured using OS mapping as a background or reference) in Google mashups - the problem appears to be around Google's terms which may imply some rights to the data published over Google Maps (there is a lot of lawyerish stuff in this that I don't claim to fully understand, US companies are usually pretty forceful on licensing and IPR). There are 2 lengthy threads in the links that outline the issues and some of the points of view.

There can be little doubt that creative use of geographic information is being stifled by this spat which seems to have dragged on for far too long. Some blame everything on OS and suggests that their senior management are deliberately obstructing the use of information that would be for the public good. My view is that the problem lies firmly with government. OS have been operating as a Trading Fund and continue to deliver on the targets that they have been set by their shareholder (HMG), one can hardly blame them for robustly defending their IPR within this framework. Remember that they settled a dispute with the AA over the unlicensed use of OS IPR in AA road atlases for a substantial sum of money (close to £20m I think) some of which ultimately trickled back into the Treasury's coffers. This is what publishers do to protect their rights. Look at the recent settlement between Google and the Authors Guild and the Asssociation of American Publishers.

We can't have it both ways - either we fund the national mapping agency through a grant and allow the data to be accessed at the cost of distribution (as the BERR report suggested) or we need to accept that an organisation that is tasked with generating its revenue through licensing is going to have to place some constraints on the use of its data to ensure that its revenue stream is protected. You pay your money (or not) and you make your choice.

For anyone who does not get the reference in the title enjoy this link to a clip from Yes Minister

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP membership map stumps Google Adwords

Charles Arthur in Guardian Technology pointed out this heat map built from the leaked BNP membership list and how the author had taken down the original mash up that had shown the postcode locations due to privacy concerns.

Have a look at the adverts that Google offers alongside this map -
BNP Peptide
Nick Griffin
BNP Canine
BNP Human

I particularly liked the link to from BNP Human
Thinking of buying? Compare 100s of retailers' prices at
The Canine links are quite amusing as well.

GeoCommunity '09 - do you want to be involved?

It is nearly time to start the planning of next year's AGI GeoCommunity '09 conference.

Would you like to be involved in planning the conference themes and program? It is an opportunity to contribute to our industry's leading event and it is a lot of fun.

Interested? Mail me through the Kontactr link on the right of this page and I will forward your details to the AGI or answer any questions you may have about participating.

The Machine Stops

When I first bought a car it was commonplace for people to carry out some simple repairs and maintenance to their car. it was also the norm that one had some basic understanding of how the various elements of the car fitted together and what they did - clutch and gearbox for example.

Today one often hears phrases like "you don't need to know how a car/dvd/computer works to be able to use it" Maybe or maybe not. Having just switched from over 20 years of Windows PCs to a Linux machine I am painfully aware that all of my accumulated experience of "how to ..." has largely been made pretty useless and in many regards I am lost and feel a bit uncomfortable. No doubt in a few months I will be happily tinkering with my Linux laptop at least I have the option and experience to be able to wipe it and install Windows if I really want to.

Talking recently with a friend who has been in computing since the late 60s, he was nostalgically recounting the time when he and his colleagues could take a fat manual off the shelf and delve into circuit diagrams to try and identify a problem (he is a boffin) and then with soldering iron smoking proceed to repair it.

The question for today is "does it matter that most if not all of us do not understand how our PC's work?" What happens when they stop working? Are we overly dependent upon systems which possibly no one fully understands?

EM Forster wrote a very prescient short story entitled The Machine Stops in 1909 (thanks to Paul Rajlich for hosting this version and Dave May for introducing me to it). Read it and say "no it could never happen" in our world of convergence, 3D, virtual reality, Second Life and couch potatoes.

Who does GIS?

Is ESRI now synonymous with GIS?

When you visit the front pages of the major vendors websites there is an acronym that seems to be missing from most - GIS.

Autodesk has no mention of GIS or Geo (although a search does offer numerous entries deeper within the site)
ESRI heads the page with GIS and Mapping Software
Intergraph uses Geospatially Powered Solutions
MapInfo has coined Location Intelligence, of course the company name, while it lasts, does rather eloquently describe what they do.

I suppose the terminology reflects the language spoken by each company's customers. In government it is Geographic Information, in infrastructure and utilities it is Geospatial and in the business sector it is Location Intelligence.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Do you twitter? When I first saw twitter I just didn't get it - it seemed like a Facebook status post without all the other Facebook stuff. Then someone used the term micro-blogging and I started to see how it could be useful to me, actually Facebook Status without all of the other junk is quite an attractive proposition.

Despite the many wonders of the iPhone I cannot use the virtual keyboard to type a blog post of more than a few words and even then I have to write within a window within the mobile Safari browser - not easy or very instantaneous.

Twitter allows you to blurt out 140 character thoughts, observations or links to interesting web pages which others can pick up as a feed if they subscribe to it and have a Twitter client on their phone, web browser or desktop. Now I have found a widget that pulls my Twitter feed (including the people on Twitter that i am following) into the side panel on the front page of this blog. Twitter feeds can also be geotagged if you are using a location aware device which is starting to stimulate some interesting (but not neccessarily useful) mobile social networking applications.

You can twitter me at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tiny Geocoder

Tiny Geocoder is a simple geocoder (and API) that returns lat long surprisingly well if there is no ambiguity. Not sure if this is a simplified front end to Google's API or whether they have their own geocoding database behind it. 

How many PND's have up to date maps?

Navteq announced an increase of 40% in the number of users updating the maps in their navigation devices. That level of growth might suggest that they are coming from a pretty low level of users. 

I wonder how many people are driving around with out of date maps and speed camera databases? Perhaps it doesn't matter. 

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lost in Translation

In case you haven't seen this already it may make you smile and shows that not all navigation errors are down to satnav.

According to BBC News Wales 

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated".

The blunder is not the only time Welsh has been translated incorrectly or put in the wrong place:

• Cyclists between Cardiff and Penarth in 2006 were left confused by a bilingual road sign telling them they had problems with an "inflamed bladder".

• In the same year, a sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading 'Look Right' in English read 'Look Left' in Welsh.

• In 2006, a shared-faith school in Wrexham removed a sign which translated the Welsh for staff as "wooden stave".

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Crowd Sourcing - "it's all about me"

In a great presentation on Neogegraphy and Spatial Data Quality Mike Dobson decribed the phenomenon of User Generated Content as "It's all about me"

Monday, November 03, 2008

If Obama loses apparently it will be my fault

A friend sent me this neat example of how the Obama campaign are using technology to reach the voters.

I promise I would have voted for Obama if I had been a registered US voter

There is a lot of junk out there

Never mind the wisdom of the crowd, this article points out the potential gullibility of the crowd. Although it is written from a B2B sales perspective, it does prompt some thought about trusting what you find online.