UAVs, spatial data and data use: GISRUK 2019, Newcastle University

GISRUK is the annual GIS Research conference in the UK which showcases the latest in GIS (Geographical Information Science) and Geomatics Research from the UK and across Europe. I attended the 4-day conference at Newcastle University and it was amazing to see the latest developments from across the geospatial community.

One of the key themes for me that emerged from the conference was the debate between whether spatial data is ‘special’ or is it data just another data type, one among many? For many years when GIS was a niche area requiring specialist skills to use, there was a clear argument that spatial was special. Now the bar of entry to using spatial data is much lower, through the use of tools such as Google Earth, Tableau and even ArcGIS Pro, which means many more people can get the benefit of using spatial data and analysis. Spatial data is another tool in the toolbox of analysts, which allow us to be solution architects (solving problems) rather than geo-engineers (tinkering with projections and file formats). I don’t think we are yet at the point where using spatial data is as easy as using an Excel table, but we are so much closer than we were even just 5 or 10 years ago. The traditional desktop GIS package (ArcGIS / QGIS) is no longer the only way of working with spatial data: advanced users have more data science orientated solutions such as Python or R, and non-technical users can get great maps from Tableau. In fact James Bowles found many organisations in the third sector (charities and NGOs) use Tableau to do data analysis (including spatial analysis) rather than using tools like ArcGIS.

Spatial data is becoming more widely accessible, with many users in the third sector choosing Tableau for their spatial analysis, over traditional desktop GIS such as ArcGIS or QGIS.

One of the regular features of the GISRUK Conference Series is a key focus on Early Career Researchers, those students who are currently studying MScs or PhDs. About 60% of them will go straight to work in industry after their studies, so this is a great opportunity for them to find out more about working in industry. Both junior staff and senior consultants came in from ARUP to explain what ARUP do and why the students’ skills are vital in industry. One of the big areas of growth is the combination of remote sensing and machine learning; these skills are very sort after by industry and there are some very exciting developments in the earth observation field.  Machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) are gaining a lot of coverage, both in terms of how and where we use them, but also from the point of view of ‘how do we use AI ethically?’, and ‘what new questions do we have to think about when we are using AI & ML?’. One of the keynote speakers, Prof. Renee Sieber talked about the importance of public participation in what she termed ‘GeoAI’ (AI applied in a geospatial setting) and the fact that the fact that AI is not unbiased at all; it reflects our societal biases and we need to be careful when using it.

The use of spatial data is fundamental to all of the work presented at GISRUK, and availability of data is often not as clear cut as it really should be. In the panel discussion on ‘How will the opening up of geospatial data help the GIS community?‘ one of the key elements that was discussed was data infrastructure. The provision of metadata is often quite important in terms of being able to select suitable data for specific projects, and if we are to further develop automated data process (including data selection) then comprehensive metadata is key to much of this, and currently fairly lacking. Dr Gobe Hobona, from the Open Geospatial Consortium, demonstrated how the OGC have been instrumental in developing a range of standards that are key to the interchange of spatial data between different software and organisations, including the provision of metadata. Gobe also mentioned the developments of UAVs, both as tools for spatial data collection but also as transformative decides in geospatial interoperability, allowing access to more and more varied data sources. They are also very cool, such as the spectacular swarms of UAVs we saw at the recent Beijing Olympics!

Upcoming Trends identified by the Open Geospatial Consortium, including UAVs and indoor geospatial solutions (see also https://github.com/opengeospatial/OGC-Technology-Trends).

UAVs were mentioned across many different themes in the conference, including for data capture, combination with AI (to identify cracks in road surfaces) to impact on birdlife in wildlife reserves. They are clearly now entering a phase where they are part of a wider toolbox, rather than a novelty in themselves, and so are maturing into a new data source and product. There was also a very interesting presentation by Kevin Minors on crowd management, including techniques for modelling the crowd as a whole from a series of static data points, which has a wide application in highly variable crowds, such as railway stations.

Overall this was a great conference with a fascinating insight into the cutting edge of research in spatial data and GIS. Next year GISRUK is at UCL and Birkbeck, University of London, April 21st to 24th – see you there!

To find out more about new GIS technologies, how to use them and how they could benefit your research and analysis, sign up to the Geospatial Training Solutions mailing list or send me an email!

Cross-posted from
https://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/uavs-spatial-data-and-data-use-gisruk-2019-newcastle-university.

Spatial R – Moving from SP to SF

I recently ran my ‘Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS’ course for the NCRM at the University of Southampton. This was the first time after I had updated the material from using the SP library to using the new SF library. The SF (or Simple Features) library is a big change in how R handles spatial data.

Working with RStudio at University of Southampton

Back in the ‘old days’, we used a package called SP to manage spatial data in R. It was initially developed in 2005, and was a very well-developed package that supported practically all GIS analysis. If you have worked with spatial data in R and used the syntax variable@data to refer to the attribute table of the spatial data, then you have used the SP package. The SP package worked well, but wasn’t 100% compatible with the R data frame, so when joining data (using merge() or match()) you had to be quite careful, and we usually joined the table of data to the variable@data element. For those in the know, it used S4 data types (something I discovered when I generated lots of error messages whilst trying to do some analysis!)

The SF library is relatively new (released Oct 2016) and uses the OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) defined standard of Simple Features (which is also an ISO standard). This is a standardised way of recording and structuring spatial data, used by nearly every piece of software that handles spatial data. Using SF also allows us to work with the tidyverse series of packages which have become very popular, driven by growth in data science. Previously, tidyverse expected spatial data to be a data frame, which the SP data formats were not, and often created some interesting error messages!

The Geospatial Training Solutions ‘Introduction to R’ course is very well established, and I have delivered it 14 times to 219 students! However, it was due for a bit of a re-write, so I took the opportunity of moving from SP to SF to do restructure some of the material. I also changed from using the base R plot commands to using the tmap library. As a result, it is now much easier to get a map from R. In fact, one of the participants from my recent NCRM course in Southampton said:

“It was so quick to create a map in R, I thought it would be harder.”

Participant on Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS, 27th March 2019, University of Southampton

They were blown away by how easy it was to create a map in R. With SF and tmap, you can get a map out in 2 lines (anything staring with # is a comment):

LSOA <- st_read("england_lsoa_2011.shp")  #read the shapefile 
qtm(LSOA) #plot the map

You can also get a nice looking finished map with customised colours and classification very easily:

tm_shape(LSOA) +
tm_polygons("Age00to04", title = "Aged 0 to 4", palette = "Greens", style = "jenks")
+ tm_layout(legend.title.size = 0.8)
Count of people aged 0 to 4 in Liverpool, 2011 Census Data.

However, unfortunately not all spatial analysis is yet supported in SF. This will come with time, as the functions develop and more features are added. In the practical I get the participants to do some Point in Polygon analysis, where they overlay some crime points (from data.police.uk/data) with some LSOA boundaries. I couldn’t find out how to do a working point in polygon analysis* using this data and the SF library, so I kept my existing SP code to do this. This was also a useful pedagogical (teaching) opportunity to explain about SF and SP, as students are likely to come across both types of code!

*I know theoretically it should be possible to do a point-in-polygon with SF (there are many posts) but I failed to get my data to work with this. I need to have more of an experiment to see if I can get it working – if you would like to have a try with my data, please do!

The next course I am running is in Glasgow on 12th – 14th June where we will cover Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS, alongside a range of other material over 3 days. Find out more info or sign up.

The material from this workshop is available under Creative Commons, and if you would like to come on a course, please sign up to the Geospatial Training Solutions mailing list.

Cross-posted from
http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/spatial-r-moving-from-sp-to-sf.

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 https://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/the-northwest-digital-research-methods-festival-researching-the-digital-researching-digitally/.

Book review – Cartography: an introduction

Cartography: an introduction
Second Edition. BCS £12-99
http://www.cartography.org.uk/product/cartography-an-introduction-second-edition-2017/

The British Cartographic Society have updated their classic book ‘Cartography: An Introduction’, developing the first edition from 2007. This book is a great overview of key cartographic concepts, covering everything from colour and symbology to fonts and the finer points of kerning. The book is accessible and a very valuable resource to anyone involved with  cartography and looking to make better maps.

The book is split into easily accessible sections, starting with the basics (What is a map?),  developing on the key theories (projections, datums and coordinate systems), and applying these in a variety of settings (thematic mapping, symbology, page layout and many
others). Everything you might expect to be there is present, including scale, generalisation, colour, text and font usage.

There is also a discussion of different types of maps (choropleth, dot maps, isolines and a whole range of others) with a great repertoire of selections. I particularly like the mapping examples they provide within each section, where they show a variety of great designs, as well as demonstrating how a poorly designed map can be improved. This allows us to see why a particular design is bad, and what we can do to improve it. Even the often forgotten and ignored modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) gets a mention, reminding us to be careful with
aggregated data.

The book is packed with useful tips and rules of thumb (“If you use more than 12 colours on a map, it becomes very hard to interpret” and “Labels on coastlines or the edges of large lakes look better if they are places out at sea. Try not to straddle the land/water boundary”). I was slightly surprised not to see more on Colour Vision Deficiency (colour blindness), with the rule of thumb I have often used: avoid using different shades of red and green on a map (as red-green CVD is the most common form).

Many cartography books are often either explicitly software specific, or clearly show the influences of one specific piece of GIS software. This book manages to be software independent, although the legends will look familiar to regular ESRI users! The concepts are written in a way where they can be applied to the map making process in any software or medium. The book finishes with a list of key tips or things to check if you have 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 50 minutes to finalise your design.This pulls out the key aspects and accepts that sometimes we don’t have enough time to spend on the design as we would like.

‘Cartography: An Introduction’ is available at a very reasonable £12.99 from the BCS and it is a book I would recommend to anyone creating and designing maps on a regular basis.

Nick Bearman

This book review was first published in the Society of Cartographers Bulletin (PDF, 2.6MB).

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