Top 5 geo books for Xmas

Following up on yesterdays post about presents for geo-geeks, here is a list of books that geo-geeks might like to receive this Christmas. There has been a recent flurry of map related books and this list will focus on these more mainstream publications rather than the technical titles you might find in the “Books” section of GoGeo.

1. Around the world atlas:  this looks like a great modern take on the classic atlas for children.  Bright, colourful and full of interesting facts represented by infographics. Price: £32


Around the world in 80 pages

2. Maps: This book of maps is a visual feast for readers of all ages, with lavishly drawn illustrations from the incomparable Mizielinskis. The maps show not only borders, cities, rivers, and peaks, but also places of historical and cultural interest, eminent personalities, iconic animals and plants, cultural events and many more fascinating facts associated with every region. Price £11.


Maps and more

3. Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands:  A small book that only contains maps of remote islands.  Many of which you have never heard of, and that you will probably never get the chance to visit.  The cartography is quite simple, but that is the beauty of this book. Most of the islands could easily be Treasure Island if you allow your imagination to run aways a bit. Price £10


Pocket Islands

4. The Lands of Ice and Fire: If you are into the Game of Thrones then this is a must. A dazzling set of maps, featuring original artwork from illustrator and cartographer Jonathan Roberts, transforms Martin’s epic saga into a world as fully realized as the one around us. Price £20.


Game of thrones

5. From Here to There: A series of hand-drawn maps that map both real and imaginary places as well as some slightly “off-the-wall” maps.  From Here to There bridges cartography and art. Price £10


Hand drawn maps


Creating a transparent overlay map with mapbox-ios-sdk

For this blog post i have managed to capture on of EDINA’s mobile developers.  Their guest article will describe how to create transparent overlays for mobiles using mapbox-ios-sdk.

I am working on a historic map overlay, where the user can adjust the transparency of the historic map. The user can then see the how the land use has changed over time by using the slider.


I am going to use the map-box fork of route me. Looks like a good bug fixed version of Route-me and map-box do seem to have great some great products.

Unfortunately it doesn’t have an have an API to dynamically change the opacity of a tile source out the box. So I added it.

Its pretty easy to add. Each tileSource has a RMMapTileLayerView container when added to the map. Within that can manipulate the CALayer.opacity to get the desired effect.

I added a fork to github for testing

And example of use – the code is in github. Do a ‘git clone –recursive’ to install the submodules.

And example of use. In the  main view controller.

- (void)viewDidLoad
    [super viewDidLoad];
        // Do any additional setup after loading the view, typically from a nib.
    RMOpenStreetMapSource * openStreetMap = [[RMOpenStreetMapSource alloc] init];
    RMGenericMapSource * weatherMap = [[RMGenericMapSource alloc] initWithHost:@"" tileCacheKey:@"cloudCover" minZoom:0 maxZoom:18];

    self.mapView.tileSource = openStreetMap;

    [self.mapView addTileSource:weatherMap];

    self.overlay = weatherMap;
    // rough bb W = -30.0 degrees; E = 50.0 degrees; S = +35.0 degrees; N = +70.0 degrees
    NSLog(@"zooming to europe");
    CLLocationCoordinate2D northEastEurope = CLLocationCoordinate2DMake(70,-30);
    CLLocationCoordinate2D southWestEurope= CLLocationCoordinate2DMake(35,50);
    [self.mapView zoomWithLatitudeLongitudeBoundsSouthWest:southWestEurope northEast:northEastEurope animated:YES];

    [self.mapView setOpacity:0.5 forTileSource: self.overlay];


//hook up a slider to manipulate the opacity.  

- (IBAction)changeOverlayOpacity:(UISlider *)sender {

    NSLog(@"Slider value changed %f", sender.value );
    [self.mapView setOpacity:sender.value forTileSource: self.overlay];
If you found this blog useful, you might want to look through the archived articles on EDINA’s developers Geo-Mobile blog


FOSS4G – a developers review – part4

The 4th and final EDINA developers eye view of FOSS4G 2013.  This one is from Tim Urwin who is the Digimap Service Manager.  Tim has been working at EDINA pretty much from the start of it’s internet mapping adventure and has seen software and toolkits come and go.

Who are you?
My name is Tim and I’m the senior GI Engineer at EDINA in charge of the Data Team and I’m the Operation Service Manager for Digimap. My interest in attending FOSS4G centred around three key components of the Digimap Service: WMS Servers, WMTS options and Database, although I delegated most of the latter to Mike due timetable clashes.

What did you hope to get out of the event?
My aim was to catch up on the latest state and future options of current software used by EDINA services and to find out more about the various open source WMTS options available.

Top 3 things? (Ed – no trains Tim!)


  • Chris Tucker’s MapStory keynote was inspirational and well-presented and it is certainly a site I’ll be tracking to see where it heads.
  • Ben Henning’s key note on think before you act for cartography was quite thought provoking.
  • Paul Ramsey’s PostGIS Frenzy talk was as funny as it was informative, and I only caught the re-run. Lots of good information combined with useful tips. (Ed- Paul’s a star, there wasn’t enough room for everyone first time round so he kindly offered to repeat the talk)
  • Honourable mention must go to the Festival of the Spoke Nerd – very, very funny
What will you investigate further?
MapCache and MapProxy WMTS software to replace our existing tile caching option and catch up with all the presentations I couldn’t attend due to timetable clashes. (Ed – remember that all the talks (hopefully) will be available on the FOSS4G YouTube channel when we get them sorted and uploaded)
One closing thought is that it was heartening to see that despite all the professional headaches that Digimap has caused me over the years that our approach to and delivery of the service has been validated as several leading data supply agencies have very similar service architectures. Built with Open Source software at the core, although there with some proprietary components for certain tasks. The primary differences being in WMS and caching software options, although they’ll be closer aligned once we upgrade to a more modern tile caching platform. Now only if we could also have their hardware – they have significantly larger number of servers :)

Oh and as I wasn’t allowed this in my Top 3 – seeing 45108 running again after 16 years of hard work by its custodian group.

FOSS4G – a developers review part 1

Panos – Edina Developer

As well as being part of the Local organising committee, EDINA sent a number of developers to FOSS4G.  In the first of a series of guest posts we find out what the developers thought of the event and what they will be following up.

First up is Panos. Panos graduated with an MSc in GIS from Edinburgh University 3 years ago and has been working for the geo team at EDINA since.

Who am I and in what I am interested in?

I am Panos and work in EDINA as software engineer. I maintain a service called UK Data Service Support and I am working on a project an EU FP7 project called COBWEB which focuses on mobile GIS development and sensor data. As you can see from my background I am mainly interested on mobile development, GEOSERVER and sensor data frameworks. I managed to attend most of the presentations that have to do with these topics.

What was I expecting?

I was expecting to see some more alternative mobile development solutions from the ones we use here in EDINA (Openlayers, jquery mobile, phonegap) and some more applications on sensor web. I am quite happy that I discovered some new software such as 52North and the fact that other people developed their mobile app with a similar way to us. So, let’s take them one by one:

Mobile development:

  • Most of the projects focused around OpenLayers mobile/leaflet/jquery mobile/sencha touch and phonegap.  EDINA have used a similar blend of technologies in our mobile app, Fieldtip GB. There were many similarities in how they designed their apps, the feedback they received from users, the workflow they followed and the problems they had with touch events on different devices.
  • The outcome is that they would take a similar approach but they would perhaps try an alternative to phonegap.
  • One smart approach they had on visualizing lots of vector data on a small screen was to use MapProxy to merge raster and vector data to deliver a WMS.  The touch event of the users then searches for the closest feature and the app asks for the corresponding WFS returning information for the correct feature.


  • Geoserver 2.4.0 has some new interesting features. The most interesting for me is a monitoring system for checking what kind of users are using the app and what kind of data they are accessing. It’s a nice solution for monitoring the use you have on GEOSERVER and there is even a GUI for it.  I plan to investigate how we might implement this in the UK Data Service Support.

Sensor Web:

  • Unfortunately, the work that has taken place on this is quite limited. It’s mainly about hydrology.
  • North52 ( seems like a promising framework that can adapt to all different scenarios about sensor data. Some people have used for covering the scenario of if someone should go for hiking by considering factors such as birch pollen, meteorology and air quality. This may be useful for COBWEB.

Following up:

I’ll definitely try to investigate the new GEOSERVER functionality and 52North framework in order to see how I can benefit from them in my new projects. I’ll keep you posted with my progress. I would also like to say that these 3 presentations that I watched are not the only one that I found interesting. There are more that are equally interesting such as leaflet, geonode, ZOO project, cartoDB, iris project and cartopy.  You should be able to watch these through ELOGeo in a couple of weeks.

FOSS4G – after the dust settles

Olympics of Geo?

FOSS4G 2013 has been and gone. What can i say, it seemed to go well. It is is hard to tell when you are so involved in organising an event as you notice all the little things that didn’t quite go as intended and you tend to be trying to do a hundred things at the same time. Archaeogeek has written an excellent post about the event from an organisers point of view so i wont repeat that here. Highlights. There are so many to choose from, seeing 200 people make, and then wear, Robin Hood hat at the ice breaker or seeing delegates sitting cross-legged on the floor when all the seats and stairs had already been filled. But here are my top 3:

  • OpenLayers 3 showcase – OpenLayers is awesome and version 3 looks like it will reinforce OpenLayers place as one of the best open source web mapping out there.  New features include map rotation with tilt features “in the pipeline”.
  • QGIS 2.0 Dufour – Quantum GIS is dead, long live QGIS.  The latest version is slicker and packs more features than before. Download it now and start exploring it. You can see some of the cool stuff in this slideshare.
  • Paul Ramsey – the man behind PostGIS did more talks than anyone else, re-running one that was so popular that we couldn’t squeeze everyone in.  His closing Plenary was a call for us to become “open source citizens”.  Certainly one of the most inspirational presentations i have seen in a long time.
  • OK, so this makes it a top 4, but it is a worthy inclusion.  Arnulf Christl winning the Sol Katz award.  Long overdue and a true hero of the OSGeo world.

and the winner is…….

So what’s next?  Well, I hope to post a number of short “reviews” written by people who attended the event which will have their own top 3 lists.  We, the organisers, hope to make all the talks available through EloGeo so that anyone can see what was presented at FOSS4G.  In the meantime, you can scroll through the 4500 tweets from the event if you have the stamina.

FOSS4G 2014 will be held in Portland. Looking forward to it already, just have to work out how to get there……

Other write-ups of the event:

A big thanks to everyone who made this possible, all the LOC team, you know who you are, the volunteers and the staff at the East Midlands Conference Centre. 

AGIScotland 2013 – New directions in Geo

The 2013 AGI Scotland event marked a slight change in direction for the AGI, this being the first “showcase” event that they have run. 6 showcase events and the annual GeoCommunity event are scheduled across the year.

It was fitting that the first plenary speaker was from the Scottish Government. Mike Neilson is the Director of Digital and represents the top end of the digital restructuring that has occurred in the Scottish Government. Mike reinforced the importance of digital in governing a country and that there was a push to make more public services available on line. This would encourage the public to get online, but Mike was acutely aware that there was a danger that moving services online would exclude those who could not get online, perhaps due to financial constrains. Improving digital connectivity was important as Scotland, especially Glasgow, currently lags behind the UK average which impacts on the social and economic development of the Country.

At a recent meeting of the Spatial Information Board, 6 priorities were agreed and these will form the focus of activities in the immediate future. These are:

  1. effective use of spatial data thru inspire
  2. data sharing and collaborative procurement
  3. build GIS capabilities capacity
  4. embed spatial data within broader data agenda
  5. promote awareness of benefits of wider use of spatial
  6. mechanism for hosting spatial data

The restructuring of digital data teams in the government seems to make sense and looks to provide sensible, hierarchical structure. However, the Scottish Government are looking for feedback and input from the GI community on what they see as being important and where they think digital data is going.  To provide feedback you can contact shonna or follow them on Twitter @digitalscots

The second plenary speaker was Anne Kemp, Atkins. Anne pointed to the changing role of the GI professional and urged us to step out of our insular groups and comfort zones and to interact with other groups who use spatial data. Anne strongly believes that Building Information Models (BIMs) are the future for many aspects of GIS. BIMs focus on the lifecycle of anything in the built environment, from planning to operational management. Calculations suggest that effective use of BIMs can save 20% in the cost of construction and operation of new infrastructure.  The use of BIMs has been mandated by the government for England and organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Highways Agency, are currently aligning themselves to meet the 2016 target. Interestingly the Scottish Government does not have a similar mandate and seems to have no plan to do so. This raises interesting questions. Many large engineering companies and consultancies are GB wide organisations and tend to operate to organisation wide best practices, of which BIM is almost certainly going to be. Will much of BIMs seems to just represent industry best practice, mandate from central government which then filters down through local government would ensure best practice and potentially interoperability across infrastructure. Certainly the feeling from the floor was that if BIM was being adopted wholesale south of the border and that BIM management was seen as an exportable skill-set, it might be sensible to mandate it in Scotland as well. (cough trams, cough cough Scottish parliament, cough).

Next up was a double act from SEPA’s Dave Watson and Duncan Taylor who introduced Scotland’s Environment Web (  Scotland’s Environment Web (SEWeb) brings together information on Scotland’s environment. It merges environmental data, information and reports, from known and trusted sources, so they can all be viewed in one place. SEWeb links to 30 WMS which are organized in themed groups. Dave and Duncan outlined the pro’s and con’s of this approach.


  • Each organization is responsible for their own data
  • Reduces development time and maintenance
  • Maintains 1 version of the truth
  • No singl point of failure


  • Many points of failure which it is hard to track and sometimes confusing for the user to know who to contact if there are problems


  • No standard look and feel to symbology and styles
  • Issues with data scales.

The current work represents Phase One. Phase Two will allow users to download data and there is a business case to support forestry assessments.  There is a longterm aim to add WFS capabilities to SEWeb.

One of the sites that feeds data into SEWeb is Scotland’s Soils, run by the James Hutton Institute.  The soil map is based on the 1984 1:250,000 mapping and has 580 different mapping units although the web map uses a simplified unit scheme. You can also access the data through an iPhone app which gives you access to the soil structure at over 600 points across Scotland.

It is great to see this data being made available, but I can see the “ugly” issues mentioned by Dave and Duncan.  Just move from Scotland’s Environment to Scotland’s Soils and the maps are very different. From a usability side of things the map controls are completely different.  We, as GIS professionals, have no problem knowing how to use either. They are intuitive to us, but we are experts. The average member of the public may well struggle. Imagine if they finally learn to use 1 map interface then find that the map on the other site is completely different. Not ideal. The solution would be to develop a consistent interface and share the code. However, this would mean that all partners would have to agree to use the same libraries to build their web maps.

Other highlights from the event included Astun Technologies Mike Saunt who talked about “Doing something with this Open Stuff”.  Mike showed how local government was making data available, and importantly, accessible. Councils could then share data feeds automatically therefore saving time and money. However, Mike highlighted some of the problems that arose when making data open with examples where url’s did not resolve because of typo’s. More worryingly was an organization that was promoting it’s WMS but was also serving a WFS. The organization was not promoting or linking to the WFS and Mike suggested that they may not be aware that they were serving the WFS.  The solution is to ensure you understand what you are making available and why. If you don’t have the skills in house then get someone in to ensure everything is set up correctly.  This is kind of what Astun do and using services like theirs is a cost effective way of working.

Another talk that really shone was Crispin Hoult from Link Node. Crispin introduced the concept of GIality which is the use of geospatial data in augmented reality. This makes a lot of sense. You have a location aware device with a host of sensors in it and can use this to visualize changes to a landscape while you are actually in that environment. This semi-immersive technology would certainly help the visualization of developments like windfarms or new housing estates and takes us beyond the “comfortable” use of overlays on paper maps.

The day finished up with Anne Kemp talking about the future of AGI Scotland and the strengthening community of GIS professionals in Scotland.  There was mention of the Chartered Geographer in GIS qualification but it was pointed out that to become chartered you had to join the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) which did not have a remit in Scotland. Anne noted this and said she would look into it.  She also mentioned other recognised professional qualifications such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who offer a GIS orientated qualification. Will be interesting to see how the CGeog GIS issue progresses this year.  It does seem the best suited but is not perfect if you are living and working in Scotland.

OSGIS 2012 – Day 2


The second day of OSGIS 2012 saw a full day of short paper presentations and a couple of workshops.  The day started with a keynote from Prof. David Martin, University of Southampton.  David is  Director of the ESRC Census Programme and his talk looked at the data that will come out of the 2011 census. It also discussed the future of census programs in the UK.  The take-away points for David’s talk included:

  • Lots of new fields such as “do you intend to remain in UK?”
  • 16th July 2012 – age/sex distribution LADs released
  • Nov 2012 – release to the OA level which will be of interest for Geographers
  • Spring 2013 – multivariate stats and some new stuff like time dependant location data which will be interesting for disaster management/response and answering questions such as “who is where/when?”
  • Access to longitudinal data and data about individuals will still be restricted to secure labs

David made some interesting points including crediting the CDU in Manchester for making the census data far easier to access and analyse.  The data is in excel format and has the crucial area codes which we geographers love.  

He showed some analysis of work place zones which modifies the census units based on where people are during the day (work place) which should make disaster planning more efficient. It was also noted, light-heartedly, that this could be used to determine where to locate your burger van during the week.  

Next up was Ian James, Technical Architect for the Ordnance Survey. Ian’s presentation was on how the OS was embracing the open source opportunity.  The OS now use open source solutions for internal activity and client-facing interfaces.  It took a while to convince the whole organisation that open source solutions were more than capable of handling large and valuable datasets.  It is now clear that some open source solutions are in fact better than their proprietary counterparts.  However, Ian stressed that open source was not free.  There is always a cost associated with software, with open source solutions there is no up-front licence fee, but there is cost associated with training users and administrators or buying 3rd party support.

After coffee, the conference split into parallel strands, I switched rooms to catch certain presentations and my write up will reflect this.  You should be able to watch the presentations on the OSGIS 2012 website.

Matt Walker, Astun Technology demonstrated the open source system Loader, a simple GML loader written in Python that makes use of OGR 1.8.   Matt showed us how Astun were providing TMS/WMS for various clients and how they managed to run it all through Amazon web services.  Top tips from Matt included:

  • Amazon web services are great, you can even have fail-over instances, but be sure to manage your system or risk running up bills quite quickly
  • Use PGDump to increase postgres load times (4x quicker)
  • MapProxy rocks
  • UbuntuGIS makes life easy
Next up was Fernando Gonzalez who presented the possibilities of Collaborative geoprocessing with GGL2.  GGL2 is an evolution of GGL which was a scripting application for GIS.  GGL2 makes scripts much simpler, fewer lines of code makes it easier us humans to read.  GGL2 is available as a plugin for gvSIG and QGIS.  If you want to find out more about GGL2 the look at
EDINA’s Sandy Buchanan gave a demonstration of Cartogrammer which is an online cartogrammer application. It allows users to upload shapefiles and KML files and then create cartograms.  This is very neat and really does remove the technical barrier in producing interesting info-graphics.  The service makes us of ScapeToad and is available as an online service, a widget and an api which can be called from your own website.  We will let you know when it goes live.
Anthony Scott of Sustain gave an excellent presentation on the work he has been doing for MapAction.  If you don’t know what MapAction is or what they do, they provide mapping and GIS services areas that have suffered natural and humanitarian disasters.  Infrastructure is important if aid is to be delivered and this requires knowledge of the what is on the ground at the time, and in some cases, what is left. Take 5 minutes to look at their website and if it sounds like something you would like to support, hit the big red donate button.
Jo Cook, Astun Technology, looked at how you might use open source software and open data to do something useful.  She looked at taking GeoRSS feeds from sites such as NHS Choices and PoliceUK to extract location specific information, link it with other open data and then make this publicly available. According to Jo, you can do quite a lot with very basic python scripting. The last slide of Jo’s presentation has a list of useful resources, seek it out when it is made available on the OSGIS website.
The best presentation prize went to Ken Arroyo Ohori, TU, Delft. Ken demonstrated some code that he had written which fixed overlapping and topologically incorrect polygons.  PPREPAIR looks brilliant and is available in GitHub.  Ken plans to make it into a QGIS plugin when he has time, i think this will be really useful.  Nice aspects include being able to set a “trusted” polygon class which would be assumed to be correct if two polygons intersected.  Ken demonstrated ppgrepair’s capabilities fixing polygons along the Spanish/Portuguese Border. Because two mapping agencies have mapped the border independently, when you combine the two datasets you get horrible overlaps. Ken’s presentation was clear and informative and his ppreapir really does look useful.
The event finished with Steve Feldman of KnowWhere Consulting.  Steve has been working in GIS for many years, but is, by his own admission, not a techie.  He approaches the subject with a business hat on and it is useful to hear this perspective.   Steve reiterated the point that Open Source was not Free software.  It is commercial software with no massive up front lumps sum and no long term contract. You can pay for implementation and support.  You can fund developments that you want, rather than functionality you dont need. Steve suggested that the “Free” was a confusing term, but a member of the audience suggested that Free also related to not being tied to a contract or service provider.  You can opt in and out as you wish.

FOSS4G 2013

Steve then took the opportunity to officially launch FOSS4G 2013, which will be held in Nottingham in September next year.  This event will be huge and is definitely one to put in the calendar now and make sure you get along to it.  There will be over 500 delegates from around the world all focused on doing more with open source geospatial tools.  In fact, better than that, volunteer to help at the event.  The local organising committee needs extra people to help make FOSS4G 2013 a success. If you want to help, pledge your support on the pledge page and someone from the loc will get back to you.
 So, another great event.  Thanks to Suchith, Jeremy and their team for making it happen.  OSGIS will not happen in 2013, but FOSS4G will more than make up for it.