Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

In Which Jo Asks Her Blog if It Will Forgive Such Neglect

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It seems like all I’ve posted about recently is very quick updates on conferences that I’ve been to, and not a lot about what I actually spend most of my time doing. The principal reason for this is being too busy, but that’s getting a bit lame. Once upon a time I used to post lots of tips and tricks about things I’d figured out- sometimes just as a aide memoire after days of trawling through mailing lists and forums. Once upon a time I used to have opinions (sometimes quite strong) on what was going on in the geo-world. It’s time I got back into that mindset, so here goes with a random selection of musings, in no particular order,  from the last few weeks…

  • When using mapserver, the path to the log file for debugging must be an absolute path, relative won’t work. This is documented, but I missed it…

  • Also when using new versions of mapserver, if making a WMSGetFeatureInfo request from OpenLayers (like this example), you will initially get an error saying that “FORMAT is a required parameter”. This does not occur with Geoserver. You can’t simply add it in the options, because it’s not sent through as part of the request. You have to add it as a vendorParam, but this isn’t well documented.

  • Some of my colleagues/ex-colleagues have come up with a great workflow for producing publication-quality cartographic output from QuantumGIS and GvSIG. This is always one of the key excuses for needing expensive software, so it’s nice to give some alternative options. You can find it here, along with our guide for working with survey data in open source GIS. Anna and Christina have been doing some great stuff with open source GIS recently, in the rather more high-pressure world of field excavation rather than the rarified (read lower pressure) geospatial analysis work that I tend to do. What they have proven is that, with relatively small changes in workflow, it is possible to produce high-quality standards-compliant output, as part of a chain of contracters, using these open source packages, where we previously used to rely on proprietary software. Well done guys!

  • The ThinkOpen event in Newcastle a few weeks ago (see, I couldn’t resist a quick conference mention) was great fun and very well attended despite falling at the beginning of snowmageddon here in the UK. The focus of the event was on case studies for open source GIS, along with a chance to see some of the new things Ordnance Survey has been doing with it’s OpenSpace and OpenData initiatives. This was the first time I had seen audience electronic voting in a conference- with live results (sometimes).

  • The UK chapter of OSGeo is going from strength to strength, mainly thanks to the enthusiasm of the Centre for Geospatial Sciences at Nottingham, and a growing band of dedicated individuals. We’re getting ourselves on a stronger footing now for providing the kind of services that I have always wanted the chapter to provide, and I have high hopes for 2011 onwards!

  • I got voted an OSGeo Charter Member a few weeks back, which was a lovely suprise and very much appreciated, given the high number of extremely busy, dedicated candidates. Of course I will continue to do what I can to promote the foundation, particularly since the business case for open source GIS is stronger than ever.

  • I am more and more in love with QGIS as my primary GIS package. In the last few releases (1.5 onwards) it seems to have matured tremendously, and a whole series of enhancements have snuck in without me really noticing. If you haven’t tried it recently, download the most recent version- you will be pleasantly suprised! I also love the OSGeo4W setup method. This makes it incredibly easy to keep the software up to date, and to roll out unattended installs across a network.  I have an idea in the back of my mind about extending this to a USB stick, to merge PortableGIS with the OSGeo4W project. However, it’s just an idea at the moment and needs a bit of time to mature…

  • I’m teaching a couple of workshops on an Introduction to GIS over the next few weeks (snow permitting), and have been benefiting immensely from the material put out by Linfiniti and others. Much appreciated guys- and I will of course be putting my notes up when they are done.

Phew! Hope that’s enough to keep you all going!

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