Author Archives: Nick

The Northwest Digital Research Methods Festival: Researching the Digital/Researching Digitally

Liverpool Cathedral

I spent a great couple of days up in Liverpool, attending the North West Digital Research Methods Festival at the University of Liverpool. It was great to be back in Liverpool and catch-up with colleagues and friends from my post-doc days there in 2013-16. The city has changed quite a bit, and my old office now overlooks a major building site instead of a green park!

The conference looked at Digital Methods from a broad social science point of view. It was great to spend some time thinking about digital methods from a different perspective. Key to all digital methods are longevity and there were lots of discussions about how data resources are made available to scholars in the long term; including decisions made to simplify a website interface to ensure it will remain working for longer with limited support.

Warren PearceIt also made me think about how we process data. Warren Pearce presented on social media data and was critiquing the fact that we often focus on the text content of messages, and ignore the visual elements. This is missing out on a key element of the conversation (think of any social media content you have recently looked at) and the visual elements should be included in the analysis. My initial thought was that this was a technological hangover, with text being much easier to process than visual. However, I learnt that there is also a cultural element with text based information being seen as much more valuable than pictorial information. Warren also highlighted a fascinating visualization of the front pages of the New York Times, highlighting how it had changed from just text to a mixture of text and black & white images, then to text & colour images. Warren’s recent paper on the topic is at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1486871

There were a whole range of presentations looking the digital research and digital data, from a wide range of different perspectives. These included using physical objects to encourage interaction and engagement in a museum environment, to considering the best ways of increasing accessibility of digital archives such as photo libraries of African Rock Art or historical criminal life courses. Have a look at https://twitter.com/hashtag/nwdrm for Tweets from the conference.

The second day consisted of a series of practical workshops, which included one run by me on GIS. I was pitching GIS as a great digital method and I think I may have converted some people!

I had a 30 minute slot and managed to cover a very brief introduction to GIS, and did a practical using Google Fusion Tables. The materials are available here (http://bit.ly/digital-space) and please do drop me a line at nick@geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk if you are interested in learning more about GIS.

I would really recommend that everyone considers attending conferences outside of your usual ‘academic sphere’ – you never know what you are going to see, what ideas might be sparked off, or what future contacts & employers you could be meeting!

Cross-posted from http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/the-northwest-digital-research-methods-festival-researching-the-digital-researching-digitally/.

ESRC Research Methods Festival 2018

During the amazingly sunny weather a few weeks ago, I managed to spend a couple of days indoors, hiding from the sun at the ESRC Research Methods Festival at the University of Bath. Every 2 years, the National Centre for Research Methods have organised this conference to showcase unique and new methods from across the social sciences. The conference covered everything from ‘Multi-scale measures of segregation data’ and ‘Quantitative methods pedagogy’ to ‘Do participatory visual methods give ‘voice’?’ and ‘Comics as a research method’.

It was also fantastic to meet a range of academics and researchers who I would not normally meet. I met a number of people who I had communicated regularly with on Twitter, but never met in person before!

I was presenting in a session on ‘Multiscale measures of segregation data‘, where we were discussing different approaches to how deprivation can be measured across different locations. One of the major characteristics of grouped spatial data is the MAUP (Modifiable Areal Unit Problem), where the method used to group your data will have an impact on the results of any analysis. The session was a great collection of presentations, all of us looking at similar issues but often taking quite different methods to approach them.

I showed how using variograms based on the PopChange data set to look at spatial segregation can help avoid some of the impacts of imposing scales on the data, and instead use the data to tell us at what scales the variations are taking place.

Across the whole conference there was a range of content using scripting languages, and R and Python featured significantly across the board, to the surprise of some of the participants, including me:

Like most conferences, there were so many interesting sessions and it was often difficult to choose which track to attend! The keynotes were all thought provoking. Danny Dorling presented a range of interesting information on current levels of inequality in the UK, and warned us that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Donna Mertens called on all of us to think about how our research can change things, and if it doesn’t, why not?

It was a great methods conference, and reminded me about how many different methods are out there. If you would like a chat about how using GIS could help with your research or work, please do give me a call on 01209 808910 or email at nick@geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk.

Cross-posted from http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/esrc-research-methods-festival-2018/

Sunny London: Linked Data & ESRI

Earlier this week I have a very nice couple of sunny days in London attending a training course and a conference. It’s a nice change to attend a course (rather than delivering one!) and is also a great opportunity to add to my CPD log (particularly important for my Chartered Geographer status with RGS-IBG).

Some of my transport around London!

On the Monday I attended a half-day workshop on Linked Data, organised by Dr Claire Ellul at UCL and run by Bart De Lathouwer from the Open Geospatial Consortium. I’d come across the term linked data in various different situations, but hadn’t really done much with it, and this was a great opportunity to learn about it. The key bit about linked data is that it is solely formed from triples, sets of three, in the form “subject, predicate, object” such as “The pool – is – blue” or “student – name – value”. It also is a fundamentally different way of structuring data from a “traditional” relational database and so avoids many of the limitations, but also requires a completely different way of thinking about the data. This is quite a jump from what we are used to, and I think it will take a little while for linked data to properly take off. This is a good resource (http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1673) for some information on how OGC are working with Linked Data.

Queen Elizabeth II Centre, home for ESRI Annual Conference

On Tuesday it was ESRI UK’s Annual Conference, based at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre near Parliament. It was a great conference, with a massive range of examples of how ESRI’s various different products could be used. There were some great examples of using Strava data to help Jersey understand cycle route usage across the island; using this data to identify and remove bottlenecks in their infrastructure. We also had a presentation on how City Engine was used by Disney to help them develop the city behind the film Zootropolis (2016), allowing them flexibility to create and tweak a whole city design with limited time and resources.

A good turn out for the conference!

Unsurprisingly a significant chunk of content was on conversion from ArcMap to ArcGIS Pro, their new flagship product. There is a big focus around users having an identity and using this to both access local and remote resources for ArcGIS Pro (including, no doubt, an element of licensing). There was also a reasonably strong theme about pushing out GIS to non-GIS users, and making it easy to use for new-comers, particularly with the development of ArcGIS Pro which, for example, automatically includes a base map when you start a new project. Possibly not ground-breaking for regular users of GIS, but a big help to someone coming to GIS cold – now they have a map they can add their data to, rather than just a big blank space (when you start ArcMap).

If you would like a chat about getting more from your GIS (ESRI or other packages!), or GIS Training for small groups, please do email nick@geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk or give me a call on 01209 808910.

Cross-posted from http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/sunny-london-linked-data-esri/.

GISRUK 2018: A Return to Leicester

Last week I attended an amazingly sunny GISRUK (Geographic Information Science Research UK) conference in Leicester. I have fond memories of Leicester, as I completed my BSc Geography (2003-2006) and MSc GIS (2007 – 2008) there. Much of the university and city has changed, but an amazing amount is still the same – both in the Bennett building lecture theatres and certain well frequented take-aways!

University of Leicester – Attenborough Tower (L) and Charles Wilson Building (R)

I coordinated the Early Career workshops, where those early in their GIS careers (including, but not limited to, PhD and MSc students) came together for two half-day sessions to find out more about GIS as a career in academia and industry, to learn more and compare notes about their respective PhD/MSc experiences, and most importantly, to get to know each other before the main conference! We had a great variety of input from James Norris (Ordnance Survey / Group on Earth Observations / AGI), James Kendall (RGS), Dave Unwin (ex University of Leicester & Birkbeck), May Yuan (Editor-in-Cheif IJGIS, University of Texas at Dallas), Addy Popy (ESRI UK) and Katie Hall (ESRI UK).

Early Careers session in full flow

The main conference had a great selection of talks and presentations covering every application of GIS from archaeology, to crime, health, transport, and urban studies! It is always a challenge to work out which of the three parallel sessions to attend, and I can’t attend everything. Particularly of note for me was Alex Singleton’s keynote on ‘Why Open Data are Not Enough’, discussing some of the issues with open spatial data, particularly in terms of data longevity which very much reminds me of this XKCD comic, and still really hasn’t been solved for spatial data. This was rather well illustrated by the CDRC Data Store that has been developed through the Consumer Data Research Centre; there is no mechanism for ensuring this continues after the CDRC funding finishes, and this is the norm with many academic projects.

Alex Singleton: Why Open data are Not Enough

There was also a great presentation by Sam Cockings looking at how we can better model day time populations, from a variety of data sources. Integrating many real time data sources is going to be a key aspect of spatial data management in the future and I can see many projects using the skills and technologies Sam described.

Next year GISRUK 2019 will be in Newcastle University, and I look forward to seeing you there!

If you would like a chat about GIS Research, or GIS Training for small groups, please do email nick@geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk or give me a call on 01209 808910.

Cross-posted at http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/gisruk-2018-a-return-to-leicester/.

FOSS4G UK 2018: A success!

After 6 months or so of collaboration FOSS4G UK 2018 finally happened! I was a small part of the dedicated team who brought the conference together and it was an amazing experience. Thanks to James (@JamesLMilner), Tom (@tomchadwin), Isabel (@IsaUlitzsch), Sam (@SamRFranklin), Max (@GeospatialMax) and Dennis (@goldrydigital) as well as Jo Cook and Steve Feldman who gave us occasional nudges in the right direction with their experience from FOSS4GUK 2016 Southampton. Organising the conference felt a bit like organising a wedding(!) in that once we had picked the date, location, catering and sorted out the guest list, the rest more-or-less fell into place! Not that I intend to do either again in the near future!

FOSS4G UK 2018 Team Photo

Unfortunately I wasn’t around for the team photo on Friday, but I was there in spirit!

The conference itself went amazingly well and it was great to see so many people there who were so enthusiastic about open source geospatial software. Unfortunately I was only able to attend Thursday, but I managed to take part in some great workshops on pgRouting and Satellite Data, learn some new things, make some new contacts and baby sit the room-to-room live feed!

MacGyver putting in an appearance at FOSS4GUK 2018 in Mathilde Ørstavik’s Keynote talk on Extracting intelligent information from aerial images using machine learning.

It was a struggle to work out which stream to attend and I’ve seen from Twitter (#FOSS4GUK) that Tom Armitage went to town with the ‘May the FOSS be with you’ Star Wars theme, the highlight being a presentation using a light sabre rather than a laser pointer:

 

I still hope to have a run through of Tom’s workshop material when I get some time 🙂

FOSS4G UK 2018 Workshop

Everyone hard at work in the pgRouting, PostGIS and QGIS workshop.

We will post links to all the slides and material we can on the website – if yours are not there yet, send them over or submit a PR. I do hope we can do this again, and if people would like to volunteer for the next conference, please make yourself known!

If you’d like a chat about potential for OS Geo training for individuals or groups, please do send me an email nick@nickbearman.me.uk or give me a call on 07717745715.

Spatial Data and Spatial Analysis Training in Southampton

Over three days in January, Nick ran a series of one day GIS training sessions for the ADRC-E at the University of Southampton. The courses covered a whole range of GIS skills including understanding spatial data, finding GIS data, working with QGIS & R, and spatial analysis in GeoDa & R. The course participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds including PhD students; academics; health; economics; business intelligence and national statistics.

As well as plotting data on a map, the courses also covered more advanced spatial analysis, looking at buffers, spatial overlays, spatial decision making and spatial statistics. This allowed participants to get the most from their spatial data and use it in their future work.

GIS is a fantastic tool and something that can be applied in many different settings. Nick’s up-to-date knowledge and experience provides course attendees with the know-how needed to evaluate their own data, to create maps and perform the analysis within their workplace.


Photo credit: ADRC-E

“I enjoyed the focus on practical exercises – very useful! Excellent content for intro course.” course attendee, Introduction to QGIS: Understanding and Presenting Spatial Data, 15th January 2018.

We run courses across the UK, our training page provides details of our upcoming courses. If one-to-one GIS training would be useful for you or members of staff in your organisation, please have a look at our brochure or get in touch to find out more about our tailored courses for all skill levels.

TEDx Truro – Beyond Barriers

On a sunny Friday at the end of half term, Nick attended the TEDx Truro event, ‘Beyond Barriers’ running at Truro and Penwith College. TEDx events are the ‘little brothers’ of the main TED events, the world famous series of short videos given in the area of Technology, Education and Design under the banner ‘Ideas worth spreading’.

TEDx events are independently organised and the Truro event is in its second year, with a sell-out crowd of 250 attendees. This years talks covered a really wide range of topics, covering everything from dyslexia, gender dysphoria, mental health, sex work, to biochemistry, depression, robots and artificial intelligence.

There was an amazing buzz in the auditorium, this continued during the breaks; there was idea sharing, discussions and even a selfie with some local celebrities! It was a great networking opportunity, meeting people from Software Cornwall, Pirate FM, Plymouth University and a whole host of local SMEs.

The talks around the area of mental health particularly resonated, with both Will Coleman (from Golden Tree Productions, famous for being the driving force behind The Man Engine) and Emma Wright (working for a national cancer charity in Cornwall) talking about how they had often presented one face to the world at large, but at times had another that truly reflected their feelings and experiences, which very few people saw. Many other speakers also discussed mental health in passing, and it is vital for mental health to be discussed more openly and easily than it is at the moment.

TEDx was organised by a great group of volunteers, so many thanks to them for organising everything and making it run smoothly. They are already planning for next year – head over to http://tedxtruro.com to find out what it’s all about, and we hope to see you there next year!

Cross-posted at http://www.clearmapping.co.uk/our-blog/item/492-tedx-truro-beyond-barriers.html

Introduction to GIS and Confident Spatial Analysis, UCL, London

During a warm week in July, I spent three days at UCL in London running GIS courses in conjunction with Clear Mapping Co, the ADRC-E (Administrative Data Research Centre for England) and the CDRC (Consumer Data Research Centre). We ran three one day courses, developing the courses we had run at UCL in February. It was great to come back and increase the number of people who could benefit from using GIS and spatial data in their work.

We had a wide range of participants, from PhD students and researchers, to those working in Government, charities and a wide variety of other applications. We even had someone who was making the leap from working for a large commercial company to going freelance at the end of July – good luck!

Our colouring in exercise was a great success and really got the students thinking about how we choose the colours we use on a choropleth map, as well as how we select the classification boundaries for the data. We gave the students one data set, and the 20 students created 20 different maps. The lesson was to make sure you think about which colours and classifications you choose – don’t just stick with the defaults your GIS program gives you. They are always not the best!

During these and other courses, we found a few people who had experimented with the ggmap/ggplot2 libaries for making maps in R, in addition to the base R plot commands (which I tend to teach). I know there is quite a division between ggplot users and base plot users (see here https://flowingdata.com/2016/03/22/comparing-ggplot2-and-r-base-graphics/ for a good comparison) and while there are many pros and cons to each system, and some very good examples out there (https://rstudio-pubs-static.s3.amazonaws.com/79029_b56eaffe36ef44f29b8efc0a07d67208.html). I’ve not yet come across a pros and cons article for spatial data. Does anyone know of one?

It’s always great teaching GIS to people who haven’t used it before. There is so much potential with spatial data; for more information about the GIS courses we can offer and how GIS could be useful for you, take a look at our ISSUU or get in contact with Nick who will be able to develop a bespoke course suited to your requirements. Email Nick at nick@clearmapping.co.uk, or call 01326 337072.

Cross-posted at http://www.clearmapping.co.uk/our-blog/item/490-introduction-to-gis-and-confident-spatial-analysis-ucl-london.html.

HERG Writing Retreat at Dartington Hall

Over a fresh, sunny three days in early January, I joined 17 academic writers at Dartington Hall, Totnes for a writing retreat. What is a writing retreat, I hear you ask? Well, for academics working at a university, one of the key ways of conveying findings from their research is by writing papers that are published in academic journals. Writing these papers (often 5000 – 8000 words long) is a very time intensive task and also often key to promotion up through the university structure.

m00265_header_hall

Writing a paper can be a lonely task and is often something that gets pushed down people’s to do lists, because usually there are no specific deadlines, other than the ones you invent yourself (which are easily changed!). At the session we had participants with a range of experience, from PhD students writing their first or second paper, to experienced academics writing their thirtieth paper!

We used the opportunity to support each other by sharing ideas about writing processes, where to start and how to make the best use of the time available. We also had dedicated writing sessions (either 60 or 90 minutes) where we worked in the same room on our individual papers. This was a very new experience for me, and the “peer” pressure of everyone else writing (and not checking emails, Facebook etc.) for a specific period worked very well.

m00265_picture_hall

I was writing up an article on how we can ensure research is reproducible, using our recent PopChange project as an example. I hope to be presenting the research at the GISRUK conference in Manchester in March and will be submitting the paper for publication soon after!

My thanks go to Sarah Dyer and Dave Simm of the Higher Education Research Group for the Royal Geographical Society who organised the writing retreat and made sure everything ran to plan.

Cross-posted from http://www.clearmapping.co.uk/our-blog/item/475-herg-writing-retreat-at-dartington-hall.html

Creating choropleth maps in R with the darkest colour at the top

I’ve just been through the process of contributing to the source code of a package in R (in a very small way) so here’s a short piece on how easy it was, and why anyone can do it! I originally wrote this post in August last year, but waited to post it until the new version of maptools was released. I missed this (we are now at 0.8-39!) and have only just rediscovered this post. It’s all still relevant though!

I have been using the Maptools library extensively in my use of R as a GIS, as well as in my teaching material (hosted at https://github.com/nickbearman/intro-r-spatial-analysis). The default plot order in the legend is to have the darkest colour at the bottom of the legend, and the lightest colour at the top. This was just something I accepted, and to be honest, never really thought about before.

I recently delivered a training course on R to some staff at the ONS (Office for National Statistics, England & Wales) and they said that their best practice guidelines are to have the darkest colour at the top of the legend. They asked me how to do this, which I didn’t know!

After some fiddling about with an R script, I created a version which worked for them. I then thought it might be useful to integrate this into the Maptools library, and emailed the package author, Roger Bivand. He was very helpful, and I added the additional code to the sourcefiles for Maptools. These are now avaliable in version 0.8-37 (or later), which has recently be released. Running update.packages(“maptools”) should get you the new version.

To reverse the colours is a simple matter of changing the legend code in two places. Using the example from the helpfile, the original line:

legend(x=c(5.8, 7.1), y=c(13, 14.5), legend=leglabs(brks), fill=colours, bty="n")

The revised line:

legend(x=c(5.8, 7.1), y=c(13, 14.5), legend=leglabs(brks, reverse = TRUE), fill=rev(colours), bty="n")

To give you some nice visual examples:

Rplot Rplot_reverse

Or for those of you who have attended my R course:

normal-order reverse-order

The file I updated is at https://r-forge.r-project.org/scm/viewvc.php/pkg/R/colslegs.R?view=markup&root=maptools (this link shows the changes), and I also updated the helpfile. If you’ve done some R scripting, then it is not too difficult to do. Any questions, please post them here. Good luck!