Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world


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Last week I attended the AGI (Association for Geographic Information) Scotland Showcase– the first in a series of events designed to jump-start the AGI’s regional and special interest groups. It was extremely well-attended, with approximately 140 delegates, which bodes well for future events! The venue was fantastic too- at the rather lovely Hunter Halls in the University of Glasgow.

Not un-surprisingly there was a distinctly Scottish theme to the papers, and my take-away thought is that the Scottish GI industry does seem to be doing things on its own, separate from what’s going on in the rest of the UK. It was interesting to see a demonstration of the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure Metadata Editor, based on Geonetwork, and also to hear about the Crofting Register, and the unique challenges of mapping the crofts. I did see a few mapping portals full of so many bells and whistles, that their authors clearly need to go and read these articles pretty damn quick!

I gave a workshop on using PostgreSQL and Quantum GIS, using Portable GIS as the platform, which went surprisingly well given the short timeslot that we had. The instructions, emergency powerpoint, and pre-prepped postgresql database backup that I used can be found here. Note that the database is designed to work with Portable GIS and consequently YMMV.

I was slightly frustrated by one paper that I sat in on, entitled “Open Source for the uninitiated”. It felt a little bit like being transported back to 5 years ago, talking about packages being almost as good as the proprietary alternatives, and bringing up concerns about the level of support that people might receive. To me, this feels like damning with faint praise, and it’s never going to win hearts and minds (mixing metaphors, sorry).The one good thing is that there’s obviously still a need to raise the profile of open source, and to demonstrate the true worth of the packages.

Finally, a big shout out to my boss, who did a stonking presentation on “doing something with all of this open stuff”, not about open source but about open data, which won the delegate’s best presentation at the event.