Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

FOSS4G the First Day

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Well that’s the first official day of FOSS4G 2007 over and done with. A good time was had by all I believe. We kicked off with the opening sessions- of which the highlight for me was the lightning talks. Just like last year, Schuyler Earle managed to say more thought-provoking and interesting things in fifteen minutes than, well, most other people can. His talk was entitled “Latent Semantic Analysis of the FOSS4G 2007 Conference Programme”, which sounds dull as ditch water but succinctly highlighted the clusters and trends amongst the various talks at this year’s conference, dressed up in high end stats speak. 7-dimensional hyperspheres anyone? Of course Autodesk made their big announcement about the acquisition of Mentor and the planned open sourcing of their projection and transformation tools. I wish that meant more to me, but I don’t know much about it…

Paul Ramsey’s Survey of Open Source GIS was another look at the growing trends and developments in the discipline- I look forward to comparing it to last year’s for an overview of what has been going on. Sometimes at the coal face it’s difficult to see the wider picture after all. Following on the subject of trends was Brady Forrest from O’ Reilly Media, who was looking more specifically at trends in neogeography and the geoweb rather than all facets of geospatial software. Then it was my talk on Portable GIS, which I raced through like a train and kind of forgot to mention thatI haven’t actually got t hosted anywhere yet because the package is so big. That seemed to be reasonably well received- I got nice comments and questions anyhow, which is good enough for me, and now school’s out and I can enjoy the rest of the conference.

This afternoon I saw the sessions on Quantum GIS, OpenStreetmap and GDAL/OGR. Bizarrely, I found out that Nick Black, presenting on OpenStreetMap, worked for Oxford Archaeology North recently as a surveyor. It’s a weird thing in our office that people can work for us out on sites in other parts of the UK, and never visit the main offices! Concentrating on his talk though- I had seen Steve Coast talking about OpenStreetMap in the past and have always been a little ambivalent about their claims of greatness- but clearly it is taking off and gaining a lot more legitimacy. I still don’t get how this data can be reliable though. Not in the sense of whether there are mistakes- but how do you know how complete it is? The answer that Nick came back with was that you don’t know the Ordnance Survey dataset is complete, you just hope it is. But the thing I have a problem with is that the Ordnance Survey do at least have standardised survey practices and bench marks for reliability that should lead to relatively consistent data sets. When you are relying on a group of loosely organised individuals, how do you know that people have walked down every alley, tagged every road as a road and not a street or highway or track or path or motorway? If OpenStreetMap could explain that to me then I would be a big supporter of it. I am already keen on using the data in ArcMap with the new plugin, but I need some measure of reliability.

All of this afternoon’s talks were, on one level, to do with community participation- which seems to be the big theme this year. On a purely personal level, I certainly feel more part of the community as I’ve spent a year actually doing things and talking to people. I got to put faces to quite a few names today, which is always nice- though often the faces are nothing like I expect!

Finally I went on a long walk this evening around the Beacon Hill Park, Ogden Point and Fisherman’s Wharf- what a fantastic place! Photos follow shortly on Flickr, although again I must complain about the woeful lack of Otters and Seals…

Oh- if you want a copy of my talk (but not the actual portable GIS yet) then you can find it here