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 2

Photo – Addy Pope

This is the second part of EDINA’s developer review of FOSS4G 2013.  This time it is Mike Gale who will be providing his opinion on what was presented.

Who are you:

Michael Gale – GIS Engineer / Member of the EDINA’s Data Team. My job is to essentially deal with the vast quantities of GIS data we utilise at EDINA. I translate, modify, split and twist the data we receive into types and formats that our services such as Digimap can then offer to our users. I heavily use the Swiss army knife – GIS command line tools of GDAL/OGR and additionally Safe FME, Shell Scripting, Python & PostGIS.

What you hoped to get out of the event?

To discover the latest and greatest ways to utilise the tools I already use. I was keen to evaluate what advances and benefits PostGIS 2.0 could offer – particularly with 3D data, LiDAR point clouds & pgRouting. Additionally I wanted to discover new ways of integrating Python into my workflows.
Top 3 things you saw at the event (not the food or beer….)

(1) Chris Tucker keynote – is a new website that empowers a global user community to organise knowledge about the world spatially and temporally. It is essentially a social media platform where people can crowd source geospatial data and create “MapStories” with spatio-temporally enabled narratives. The best way to figure out what that all means is to check out the website!!

(2) Cartopy & Iris – Open Source Python Tools For Analysis and Visualisation – Dr Edward Campbell (Met Office)

Cartopy is a new python mapping library for the transformation and visualisation of geospatial vector and raster data. The library offers the ability for point, line, polygon and image transformations between projections and a way to visualise data with only a few snippets of python code. Iris is a python library that specifically deals with analysing and visualising meteorological and oceanographic datasets, particularly 3D and temporal data.

(3) LiDAR in PostgreSQL with Pointcloud – Paul Ramsey

PostGIS support for LiDAR data has been non-existent until now. Paul Ramsey has created a new spatial data type for PostGIS 2.0 that now offers the ability to import huge amounts of point cloud data, and additionally analyse the information with several new postgis functions. Pretty impressive.

(4) I’ll throw a comedy one in as well: “Up all night to get Mapping”:

Editors note: view at your own (ears) risk.

1 thing that you are definitely going to investigate further

The IRIS and Cartopy Python libraries.

Thanks Mike.  I hope to add another couple of review next week.  My overview, with links to as many reviews as i could find, can be found HERE


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. 

FOSS4G 2013 – 5 reasons you should attend

FOSS4G is the annual conference for anyone interested in Free and Open Source Software 4 Geospatial.  FOSS4G 2013 will be held in Nottingham between the 17th and 21st September. So what makes FOSS4G so important and why should you attend?

  1. Network – FOSS4G is the biggest gathering of developers and users of open geospatial software.  There will be over 700 people at the conference. This includes the lead developers on some of the larger open source projects such as OpenLayers and QGIS.
  2. Learn – You’ll learn a lot in a very short period of time.  No matter what your knowledge of open source geo from beginner to expert coder/developer you will learn something new at FOSS4G.  There are workshops for all levels that you can sign up to.
  3. Inspiration – You will be inspired by some of the major names in GIS and data analysis. The list of keynote speakers includes Paul Ramsey (co-founder of PostGIS), Kate Chapman (Acting Director of humanitarian team at OpenStreetMap) and Ben Hennig (Worldmapper Project).  For a full list of Keynote speakers, please refer to the FOSS4G keynote page.
  4. Double the fun – Visit AGI GeoCommunity’13 at the same time. Yes, that’s right FOSS4G and AGI GeoCommunity are happening in the same venue on the same week. This was no accident. GeoCommunity is a great event and the FOSS4G organisers wanted to bring the two audiences together. GeoCommunity’13 runs from the 16th to the 18th September.
  5. Can you afford to miss it?  – What does this mean?  Well, the conference package is quite reasonable given the number and diversity of talks on offer.  £165 for a day pass or £435 for the whole event (3 days and the FOSS4G Gala Night).  FOSS4G was last in Europe back in 2010 and it might not be back until 2017 as it moves between continents. So, if you are based in Europe attending FOSS4G might not be as easy for a number of years.

So, there are 5 pretty good reasons to attend.  I am sure there are many other reasons to come along.  To find out everything that will be going on at FOSS4G please look at the conference website and follow the event on twitter through the #FOSS4G hashtag.

FOSS4G 2013 takes place between the 17th – 21st September 2013 and will be held at the East Midlands Conference Centre, which is situated on The University of Nottingham campus. 

2012 FOSS4G-CEE Conference

Long time no post. Well the best things come to those that wait and today we have a guest blog from fellow EDINA Geodata team member James Crone. James attended the recent FOSS4G-CEE Conference which was held at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague between the 21st and 23rd of May. Over to James…..

Seen as an add-on to the global FOSS4G conference which attracts developers and users of open source geospatial software as well as managers and decision-makers and which will be held in Beijing this year, FOSS4G-CEE has a regional focus on all things open source and geospatial in Central and Eastern Europe.  The official language of FOSS4G-CEE was English.

The conference consisted of workshops followed by parallel presentation/tutorial streams, unconference birds of a feather sessions and post-conference code sprints. I only attended the presentation streams which ran from Monday afternoon through to Wednesday.

The Plenary session on Monday consisted of introductory talks on different strands of what is meant by Open. Arnulf Christl of OSGeo/metaspatial covered open software; Athina Trakas of the Open Geospatial Consortium covered open standards whilst Markus Neteler of Edmund Mach Foundation covered open science. A local Central and East Europe flavour was provided by Jiri Polacek of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadastre who covered cadastre and INSPIRE in the Czech Republic and Vasile Craciunescu of the Romanian National Meteorological Administration / who provided an overview of open source software projects, applications and research projects using open source geospatial software in the Central and Eastern Europe region.

On Tuesday through to Wednesday the presentations proper started. Thematically the presentations were grouped around the themes of INSPIRE, Case studies of the use of geospatial FOSS, Geoinformatics and the more technical data / development ones. As an opportunity to track changes regarding open geosptial software itself I mostly attended the technical data/development presentations.

There were many awesome things presented during FOSS4G-CEE but my top three were:

1. MapServer

EDINA have been using MapServer, the open source platform for publishing spatial data to the web for some time. The next release of MapServer 6.2 is promising improved cartography, map caching and feature serving. The first two of these were covered in two talks by Thomas Bonfort of Terriscope.

In Advanced Cartography with MapServer 6.2, Thomas described some of the improved features that will be available when it comes to rendering vector data through MapServer. Some of the nice things that will be included are improved support for complex symbols and improvements to feature labeling.

Nobody likes waiting for their maps. In a second presentation, MapServer MapCache, the fast tile serving solution, Thomas described MapServer MapCache which provides all of the features of a certain tilecaching system with added goodness in the form of increased performance, native MapServer sources without the overhead of going through a WMS and configuration directly within the mapfile.

MapServer 6.2 certainly seems like it could be a release to watch for.

2. PostGIS Topology

Vincent Picavet of Oslandia provided an introduction to graphs and topology in PostGIS.

Here at EDINA we use PostGIS extensively within such services as UKBORDERS and Digimap. Within our UKBORDERS service we provide academics with access to digital boundary datasets. As a result we`ve been tracking with a great deal of interest developments in the storage of topology within PostGIS. The benefits of using PostGIS topology are that we can store shared boundaries which is good for data normalisation and has benefits when it comes to the generalisation of boundary datasets. These and network operations such as routing were demonstrated in Vincent’s very informative talk.

Although not related to topology, in a later talk Vincent presented Efficiently using PostGIS with QGIS and mentioned numerous extremely useful features and plugins for QGIS for working with PostGIS. Once back in the EDINA office I duly installed the Fast SQL Layer plugin which has made working with PostGIS in QGIS even nicer than it was before.

3. TinyOWS

The talk TinyOWS, the high performance WFS Server by Vincent Picavet of Oslandia, showcased some of the features of TinyOWS. TinyOWS provides a lightweight, fast implementation of the OGC WFS-T standard. Tightly coupled to PostGIS, TinyOWS will be released as part of MapServer 6.2.

Real world use of TinyOWS was demonstrated in talk held during a wednesday morning session titled

IPA-Online, an application built on FOSS to assist Romanian farmers to prepare their application form for direct payments. by Boris Leukert.

The IPA-Online system allows Romanian farmers to prepare single area payment applications by drawing parcel boundaries in an online application to support EU subsidy payments and replaces a previously manual system of drawing the parcels on paper maps. Built around MapBender/MapServer/PostgreSQL/PostGIS with TinyOWS used to provide WFS-T and allowed for a very large number of concurrent users. The conclusion from Boris was that deployment of a system based on geospatial FOSS brought with it savings of time, money and the environment, saving the need for 1.6 million less paper maps having to be printed.

Overall attendance at FOSS4G-CEE was very worthwhile. Slides for these and other talks are available online for viewing over at the FOSS4G-CEE homepage.

Connecting archives with linked geodata – Part I

This is the first half of the talk I gave at FOSS4G 2010 covering the Chalice project and the Unlock services. Part ii to follow shortly….

My starting talk title, written in a rush, was “Georeferencing archives with Linked Open Geodata” – too many geos; though perhaps they cancel one another out, and just leave *stuff*.

In one sense this talk is just about place-name text mining. Haven’t we seen all this before? Didn’t Schuyler talk about Gutenkarte (extracting place-names from classical texts and exploring them using a map) in like, 2005, at OSGIS before it was FOSS4G? Didn’t Metacarta build a multi-million business on this stuff and succeed in getting bought out by Nokia? Didn’t Yahoo! do good-enough gazetteer search and place-name text mining with Placemaker? Weren’t *you*, Jo, talking about Linked Data models of place-names and relations between them in 2003? If you’re still talking about this, why do you still expect anyone to listen?

What’s different now? One word: recursion. Another word: potentiality. Two more words: more people.

Before i get too distracted, i want to talk about a couple of specific projects that i’m organising.

One of them is called Chalice, which stands for Connecting Historical Authorities with Linked Data, Contexts, and Entities. Chalice is a text-mining project, using a pipeline of Natural Language Processing and data munging techniques to take some semi-structured text and turn the core of it into data that can be linked to other data.

The target is a beautiful production called the English Place Name Survey. This is a definitive-as-possible guide to place-names in England, their origins, the names by which things were known, going back through a thousand years of documentary evidence, reflecting at least 1500 years of the movement of people and things around the geography of England. There are 82 volumes of the English Place Name Survey, which started in 1925, and is still being written (and once its finished, new generations of editors will go back to the beginning, and fill in more missing pieces).

Place-name scholars amaze me. Just by looking at words and thinking about breaking down their meanings, place-name scholars can tell you about drainage patterns, changes in the order of political society, why people were doing what they were doing, where. The evidence contained in place-names helps us cross the gap between the archaeological and the digital.

So we’re text mining EPNS and publishing the core (the place-name, the date of the source from which the name comes, a reference to the source, references to earlier and later names for “the same place”). But why? Partly because the subject matter, the *stuff*, is so very fascinating. Partly to make other, future historic text mining projects much more successful, to get a better yield of data from text, using the one to make more sense of the other. Partly just to make links to other *stuff*.

In newer volumes the “major names”, i.e. the contemporary names (or the last documented name for places that have become forgotten) have neat grid references, point-based, thus they come geocoded. The earliest works have no such helpful metadata. But we have the technology; we can infer it. Place-name text mining, as my collaborators at the Language Technology Group in the School of Informatics in Edinburgh would have it, is a two-phase process. First phase is “geo-tagging”, the extraction of the place-names themselves; using techniques that are either rule-based (“glorified regular expressions”) or machine-learning based (“neural networks” for pattern cognition, like spam filters, that need a decent volume of training data).

Second phase is “geo-resolution”; given a set of place-names and relations between them, figuring out where they are. The assumption is that places cluster together in space similarly as they do in words, and on the whole that works out better than other assumptions. As far as i can see, the state of the research art in Geographic Information Retrieval is still fairly limited to point-based data, projections onto a Cartesian plane. This is partly about data availability, in the sense of access to data (lots of research projects use geonames data for its global coverage, open license, and linked data connectivity). It’s partly about data availability in the sense of access to thinking. Place-name gazetteers look point-based, because the place-name on a flat map begins at a point on a cartesian plane. (So many place-name gazetteers are derived visually from the location of strings of text on maps; they are for searching maps, not for searching *stuff*)

So next steps seem to involve

  • dissolving the difference between narrative, and data-driven, representations of the same thing
  • inferring things from mereological relations (containment-by, containment-of) rather than sequential or planar relationsOn the former – data are documents, documents are data.

On the latter, this helps explain why i am still talking about this, because it’s still all about access to data. Amazing things, that i barely expected to see so quickly, have happened since i started along this path 8 years ago. We now have a significant amount of UK national mapping data available on properly open terms, enough to do 90% of things. OpenStreetmap is complete enough to base serious commercial activity on; Mapquest is investing itself in supporting and exploiting OSM. Ordnance Survey Open Data combines to add a lot of as yet hardly tapped potential…

Read more, if you like, in Connecting archives with linked geodata – Part II which covers the use of and plans for the Unlock service hosted at the EDINA data centre in Edinburgh.

Chalice poster from AHM 2010

Chalice had a poster presentation at All Hands Meeting in Cardiff, the poster session was an evening over drinks in the National Museum of Wales, and all very pleasant.

Chalice poster

View the poster on scribd and download if from there if you like, be aware the full size version is rather large.

I’ve found the poster very useful; projected it instead of presentation slides while I talked at FOSS4G and at the Place-Names workshop in Nottingham on September 3rd.

Posters and presentations

Happy to have had CHALICE accepted as a poster presentation for the e-Science All Hands Meeting in Cardiff this September. It will be good to have a glossy poster. Pleased to have been accepted at all, as the abstract was rather scrappy and last-minute. I had a chance to revise it, and have archived the PDF abstract.

I’m also doing a talk on CHALICE, related work and future dreams, at the FOSS4G 2010 conference in Barcelona a few days earlier. Going to be a good September, hopes.