Category Archives: FOSS4G

Matrix: What’s it all about?

I’ve recently come across a new piece of software that could revolutionise communication – and yes, you have probably heard that before, in many articles on the Internet! However this one might actually be useful (although maybe not revolutionary yet), and be a significant improvement on the many different systems we have for instant messaging (IM). At the last count I regularly use Teams, Slack, WhatsApp and Signal and also sometimes use texts, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Telegram for IM, and there are probably some others I have forgotten as well.

This is really helpful, to avoid situations like this:

XKCD explaining why a system like Matrix is important

Matrix is something that might be able to replace all of these, and bring them into one interface, so you can have all of your IM communication in one piece of software. Matrix is an open source, distributed protocol for instant message communication. It’s a bit like email, but for IM. The email analogy works really well – because Matrix is the protocol (like email) and you can get many different clients, like you can for email (Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, …). You also have a Matrix address, much like an email address.

Within Matrix you also can have specific chat rooms (think like Slack Channels, IRC rooms, Teams teams, etc.) as well as 1 to 1 messaging. The big advantages for me are that it is open source (the only open source option for this, I believe) as well as being end-to-end encrypted. It also has bridges which allow you to join in other platforms from your Matrix account, and this is the big thing for me. Now when people send me messages in WhatsApp, Signal, Teams, Slack or anywhere else, I can a) actually find their message easily when I hear a sound and b) reply to it all in one place!

The other key bit of the puzzle is the client. I use a program called Element, which is one of the main clients for Matrix. There are others available as well, and you can use whichever one you like. You can also switch between platforms and all your messages and rooms you have joined will still be there.

The Element interface

This is my Matrix address: @nick:nickbearman.ems.host and if you go to https://matrix.to/#/#nick:nickbearman.ems.host in your web browser, this will open up the (Matrix) client of your choice (Element by default), give you the option of signing up for an account on Matrix and then allow you to send me an instant message.

You can also join rooms in a similar manner, e.g. the recently created OSGeoUK chat room on Matrix, to discuss Open Source Geo things: https://matrix.to/#/#OSGeoUK:matrix.org. If you are in to open source Geo, please join us there!

There are also lots of other resources including Matrix’s FAQ page, this post explaining what Matrix is, and this much longer post discussing how Matrix could be really useful in open source software development, and some background info on IRC too.

Matrix also updated the XKCD comic above with their current bridges, so you can talk to all of these through Matrix

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

*For bridging to other environments, you need admin access in Teams / Slack to set this up, which requires the organisation who admins the system to allow you to use the bridges on their system!

FOSS4G UK 2019: Open Source, Geospatial, Sun and Lego

Edinburgh view from Salisbury Crags, just above Dynamic Earth

I had a wonderful three days in Edinburgh attending the most recent FOSS4G UK 2019 conference, based at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has never had better weather, and I was assured by the locals that this was not normal! FOSS4G conferences have a special vibe to them that makes them unique to any other sort of conference. Various people have already written about that vibe, much more eloquently that I can.

There was a great selection of workshops and talks, and I ended up attending primarily workshops, which is a first for me. I have a particular interest in collecting data in the field, and so went to the workshops in QField and Input; both mobile phone apps to provide an interface to collect data on your phone, and then synchronise this back with a QGIS project when you get back to the office.

The wonderful Kirsten Reilly from ThinkWhere hosted the workshop on QField, explaining how we could setup a project in QGIS, synchronise this with the app to go out into the field. We had some of the usual technical issues, but nothing unusual for a practical session.

I also attended the Input workshop, run by the skilled Saber Razmjooei of Lutra Consulting. Lutra have developed Input as a alternative to QField, re-creating the app from scratch, and ensuring that Input can be operated on iPhones as well (QField is currently Android only). There are a lot of similarities between the programs, with QField being a bit more developed (i.e. less buggy) but Input having a cleaner interface and slightly more features. We actually also got to go outside and test the app out, which was great. My phone (a Fairphone 2) was actually not very happy with either app and my experience wasn’t flawless (but your mileage may vary, as they say).

The key differences are:

  • QField only works on Andriod, Input works on Andriod and iOS.
  • QField uses a cable to transfer files from your computer to the phone and back, Input uses the cloud (a website called Mergin, developed by Lutra) to manage the synchronisation process.
  • One key feature that Input has (which QField lacks) is the ability to record tracks (or lines) logging the route you took, where as QField can only record points.
  • QField is relatively mature whereas Input is very new.

Overall I would say that Input just edged ahead of QField. If you are looking to use these in the field, try out both!


One great talk was from Mike Spencer, discussing the pros and cons of using R or QGIS for cartography. There are so many options out there, and his talk gave some great examples of amazing outputs from R and QGIS. There was a whole slew of talks that I would have liked to have attended, but couldn’t because things clashed. Fortunately all of the talks at FOSS4G UK 2019 were live streamed and recorded, which allows anyone to experience the conference.


I led a workshop on contributing to QGIS documentation, which was very well received with 10 participants. Contributing to documentation is a key element of open source software and is something that often gets neglected. We covered how QGIS documentation is structured, how to work with GitHub to make changes on the web, and how to work with documentation locally. The workshop was only 90 minutes long, so we didn’t have time to actually make any changes to the QGIS Documentation, but we did have great fun experimenting with the example repository I made for it. Thanks to denelius, Nikosvav, mikerspencer, SteveLowman, myquest87, hopkina, cearban and TBreure for attending and getting involved.

At the Community Sprint on Sat 21st, a group of 9 of us had a go at a variety of coding and documentation issues. I led a group of three experimenting with a number of QGIS Documentation issues. We all had a deep dive into GitHub and learnt a lot! We fixed a range of issues from unclear documentation to new features in the QGIS Master that needed to be added into the documentation. These included:



The organising committee put together a great conference and captured the unique feeling of a FOSS4G conference. Many thanks to all of them, and they even created a Lego video to celebrate the amazing conference. FOSS4G conferences happen all across the world, so keep your eyes open for one near you in the future!


Also posted with xyHt at
https://www.xyht.com/spatial-itgis/foss4g-uk-2019/.

 

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.