Category Archives: Conferences

Smart Mobility Meeting in Mexico City

Below is a presentation that combined my talks last Thursday and Friday at the Smart Mobility forums in central Mexico City, organised by ITDP Mexico and funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Prosperity Fund (respresented by the British Embassy in Mexico). The Thursday presentation focused on the third-party app ecosystem that exists around bikesharing in London and elsewhere, while the Friday presentation included more examples of private sector innovation using open data:

My week in Mexico City also included a visit to CIC at IPN (the computational research centre city’s main polytechnic) where I was introduced to a product building visualisations of ECO-BICI data to help create more effective strategies for redistribution. I also visited LabCDMX, a research group and ideas hub to study Mexico City that has been created by the city government, to give a couple of talks in their rooftop on visualising London transit and a summary of web mapping technologies. The organisers also squeezed in a couple of short TV interviews, including Milenio Noticias (23 minutes in). The week ended with a tour of the ECO-BICI operations, repair, management and redistribution warehouse, located centrally and a hive of activity. This included a look at their big-screen redistribution map and vehicle routing system.

Some of the companies and products I cited included CityBikes, Cycle Hire Widget, TransitScreen, ITO World, Shoothill, Waze, Strava Metro and CityMapper. I also showed some academic work from myself, James Cheshire and Steve James Gray in UCL GSAC and UCL CASA respectively, an article in The Guardian by Charles Arthur, an artwork by Keiichi Matsudaa and a book by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. I also mentioned WhatDoTheyKnow and heavily featured the open data from Transport for London.

I also featured some work of my own, including CDRC Maps, TubeHeartbeat, London Panopticon, Tube Stats Map, CityDashboard, Bike Share Map and London Cycling Census map.

ecobici

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High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

Twelve Talks

November is shaping up to be a very busy month for me, in terms of giving talks – I will have presented 13 times by the end of the month. I appreciate that lecturers might not agree that this is a particular busy month! Anyway, here’s a list of them:

  1. 1 November – CDRC Maps: Introduction and Impact (10m)
    Audience: ESRC/Moore-Sloan Meeting
  2. 3 November – Guest Lecture & Practical: Web Mapping (60m + 2h)
    Audience: Second Year Geography Undergraduates at UCL
  3. 9 November – Research Lab Update: Worldnames & CDRC Maps (3m)
    Audience: Jack Dangermond Keynote Lecture at UCL
  4. 11 November – London: Visualising the Moving City (30m)
    Audience: EU COST Action London meeting
  5. 15 November – CDRC Maps: Introduction (5m)
    Audience: Academic visitors from South Korea
  6. 17 November – London: Visualising the Moving City (60m)
    Audience: Geospatial Seminar Series (UCL CEGE)
  7. 22 November – Data visualisation for Bikeshare Systems (60m)
    Audience: CIC-IPN staff and students (Mexico City)
  8. 22 November – Web Mapping (60m)
    Audience: CIC-IPN students (Mexico City)
  9. 23 November – London: Visualising the Moving City (60m)
    Audience: Public officials and students (Mexico City)
  10. 23 November – Data visualisation design workshop (60m)
    Audience: ITDP staff (Mexico City)
  11. 24 November – Third-party App Ecosystems using Open Data (45m)
    Audience: Public officials (Mexico City)
  12. 25 November – Open Data and Innovation for the Private Sector (60m)
    Audience: Small businesses (Mexico City)
  13. 28 November – CDRC Maps: Introduction (5m)
    Audience: Academic visitors from Japan

I have also contributed material for a further talk given by a colleague – an introduction to geodemographics in the UK, for the Brazil governmental statistical service.

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High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

Mapping at the Edge – the BCS/SoC Conference 2016

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The British Cartography Society and Society of Cartographers* once again combined their two annual conferences together, for a two-day meet in Cheltenham in early September. After last year’s win for the DataShine website, I was there in a more passive capability, although my colleague Dr Cheshire, who collected a trio of prizes last year, presented on why cartographers should learn to code too – see his talk summary.

I like the BCS conference format – it’s quite a small conference, so there’s only two streams, unlike many trade-focused conferences the trade exhibits don’t dominate the space, instead the talks themselves are the main focus. The residential nature of the conference also promotes a relaxed feel. Stand-out talks for me included Ross McDonald‘s excellent summary of new features in QGIS 2.14, Dr Cheshire’s talk about cartographers needing to code, and finally a walkthrough on creating an impressive relief map using Blender 3D, from Steven Bernard of the FT.

A highlight was the awards ceremony – and not just because of last year’s win. Every Person in Scotland Mapped won the Ordnance Survey Open Data award. This simple but effective visualisation assigns each person in Scotland to a dot in a housing block, as represented in OS OpenMap Local, filtering out non-residential buildings. It combines population density information from the census, with area information for each block.

bcsconf_awards

There is an accompanying exhibition, showing the various entrants for the awards – this is a highlight for me, because it’s great to see many novel printed maps in the same place, many showing innovative ideas. You can’t beat a good large-print map. I particularly liked the GIS-powered reimagining of two classic Ordnance Survey mapping styles with modern datasets, by Charley Glynn of the OS – there’s a 19th century London style brought up to date, but my favourite is a reworking of the 1960s OS “Quarter Inch” style with the strong colours for mountains. It always looked good in Scotland, and Charley has produced a version with modern data for the West Highlands – see the extract above. You can buy it from the OS shop online.

I would love to see this idea expanded to cover the whole of the UK – a key of course is to have it all automatically generated. The human cartographer’s input is still required for label positioning etc – the “last 10%” of the effort is still manual.

I also liked the pop-up trig point at the OS stand:

bcsconf_ostrig

* It is a curiosity that there are two national bodies representing cartographers in the UK, especially considering that the field is quite small anyway. The BCS is larger and more industry focused, while SoC is smaller and more academia focused. It’s great to see both bodies coordinating their annual conference to be the same event, as happened last year and this year – long may it continue.

FOSS4GUK Conference

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I was at FOSS4G UK 2016 which took place at the new Ordnance Survey buildings in Southampton, a few weeks ago. FOSS4G is short for “Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial”, and the conference focuses on some of the key free GIS software such as QGIS and PostGIS. This was a UK-focused event, following on from the global FOSS4G in Nottingham in 2013, which I was also at. (The next FOSS4G is in Germany in August.)

The OS is a little hard to get to if you aren’t driving there – I ended up cycling right through Southampton from the central station. Once on site though, it’s a lovely new venue, light and airy inside, with the floors and desks of OS cartographers and digital information managers sweeping away to one side of the central atrium, while the conference took place in a couple of large rooms on the other side. Breakout was overlooking the atrium (above). Around 180 people attended, split into two conference streams.

Highlights included:

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Above: A nice demo of pgRouting usage from Angus Council who’ve switched to open source for asset access mapping. Open and effective code and mapping in a practical, real world context.

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Above: The software used for the Angus Council asset project.

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Above: Add Ordnance Survey Landranger-style hill chevrons to your GIS-created digital maps with this nice bit of code. I love these kinds of talks/demos, which you typically only get at these enthusiast/community-driven meetings like FOSS4G UK. Really interesting bits of code or hacks, demonstrated by the creator who did it just because they thought it would be cool.

foss4g_datashine
Above: I was pleased also to see DataShine getting a mention, specifically its use of OpenLayers UTFGrid for the attribute mouseovers. The talk was by a FOSS/OpenLayers consultant who’s written a book about the mapping platform, which powers most of my web maps. It’s always flattering to get mentions like this, especially as the speaker was probably unaware I was in the audience!

Outside in the atrium there was a mini-exhibition by the talk sponsors, including, intriguingly, ESRI UK, who are presumably keeping an eye on the FOSS4G community, their core business being far from open source (software), even if they have been very keen on demonstrating their products operating on open data.

FOSS4G UK was an interesting and useful couple of days, pulling together the professional and enthusiast geospatial community in the UK to see what’s happening in the space, and a good opportunity to network.

foss4g_mapmakers
Above: “MapMakers”, a housing development next to the old Ordnance Survey office, which is on the way to the new one from the station. The inclusion of the OS grid reference is a nice touch.

Mapping Data: Beyond the Choropleth

I recently gave a presentation as part of an NCRM Administrative Data Research Centre England course: Introduction to Data Visualisation. The presentation focused on adapting choropleths to create better “real life” maps of socioeconomic data, showing the examples of CDRC Maps and named. I also presented some work from Neal Hudson, Duncan Smith and Ben Hennig.

Contents:

  • Technology Summary for Web Mapping
  • Choropleth Maps: The Good and the Bad
  • Moving Beyond the Choropleth
  • Example: CDRC Maps
  • Example: named – KDE “heatmap”
  • Case example: Country of Birth Map – concerns of the data scientist & digital cartographer

Here’s my slidedeck:

(or you can view it directly on Slidedeck).

ICA/Esri Cartographic Summit

cartosummit_james
I attended the Cartographic Summit “The Future of Mapping” (#cartosummit) which took place at the Esri campus in Redlands, California, earlier this month. Some notes from the week, which was co-organised by Esri and the ICA (International Cartographic Association). Here are some notes about the event, which I’ll continue to add to/tweak over the next few days.

  • The attendee list included some key names in modern cartography, including Cynthia Brewer, creator of the “ColorBrewer” set of colour ramps which I use widely in almost all my output mapping, such as in DataShine and many of the datasets on CDRC Maps
  • It was a good natured event. The only map that came in for (justified) criticism from a presenter was – unfortunately – one of my own! Former TIME graphics director Nigel Holmes (below, showing an old US election map) was perturbed to find that my Dwelling ages map seemed to be suggesting that his old house was 50 years younger than he knew it to be. The problem was compounded by some notes he referred to in this blog, which indicated a low proportion of the dwellings on the area concerned were being mapped. It is fair criticism – the detail on my map implies a level of precision that is simply not true – my counter argument being that people like to see maps of recognisable features rather than generalised blobs representing villages and towns. I think what I need to do is revisit the mapping and indicate such low proportion areas using an “uncertainty” indication such as fading out the colour…
  • James Cheshire of UCL (photo above) presented early on the conference and got straight to the point – that good maps are hard to do and, when they are done right, it’s hard to spot the effort and skill that goes into them. The proliferation of bad maps throughout the web is testament to this. He used the production process he developed for his recent book on mapping London datasets, to drive home the additional steps (shown in bold above) needed to turn a good map a great map, and reinforced the need for time – there are plenty of tools out there that allow good maps to be produced, but great maps still need care and attention.
  • Alan McConchie of Stamen talked all too briefly about the wonderful basemaps produced at the studios, including the famous “Watercolour” digital map.
  • Gary Gale of W3W looked ahead and reinforced the point that far from being an old-style industry, cartography has never been more current or key.
  • Ken Fields of Esri gave us a dizzying tour of new cartography that he has been experimenting with over the last couple of years. He also gave a sneak peek of a very interesting looking book that he is currently working on…
  • There was good academic representation in the audience, however there were some notable gaps. Commercial considerations are understandable but it was a pity there were no representation from Google, HERE, CartoDB or – especially – MapBox. The digital cartography groups within these organisations are producing great things. MapBox, in particular with its huge number of GitHub open source projects such as CartoCSS. MapBox did get a mention in one of the later talks, relating to Esri’s ongoing work to implement the MapBox Vector Tiles (MVT) format. The absence is perhaps reflective of Esri being the co-sponsor and host, who may therefore be reluctant to provide the other organisations with a high-profile platform but it still remains the fact that no discussion of modern digital cartography can be complete and representative without including the excellent work by these groups. Having said that, the small guestlist and excellent facilities provided for breakouts and discussion, allowed for good networking opportunities and gave everyone time to discuss cartographical insights with key professionals, an opportunity likely not afforded at a larger, less focused event.

cartosummit_nigel

My key take-away from the event is that digital cartography is now more important than ever. The plethora of tools available in the “market” now for creating maps has never been larger, but the need to create maps, which present the data fairly and impartially while engaging the viewer and encouraging them to explore, is just as critical as it has ever been. Anyone can make a map now, but creating a great map is very much a skill.

A very timely, useful conference and very much shows the need for a dedicated cartography track at the major industry and academic conferences in the GIS/geovis/datavis fields.

cartosummit_attendees

In/Visibility and Difference – Visual Methods Workshop in Berlin

vmw1

I presented a talk on geodemographic mapping, at a visual methods workshop “In/Visibility and Difference” which took place in Berlin at Bard College (formerly the European College of Liberal Arts). The workshop was organised by the TransformIG project at Humboldt University in Berlin, which was also the venue for the keynote part of the meeting. Thank you to the organisers for organising an interesting and intensive workshop which presented a wide variety of visual and geographical techniques which are becoming key ways to structure and analyse sociological studies.

I structured my talk into four sections:

  1. An primer on improving choropleth mapping of socioeconomic data, moving beyond the basic “heat map” by adding regular geographical feaures (see photo below), labels and clipping coverage to populated areas, to explain the demographic patterns and highlight external influences. This is the technique used by DataShine to display Census 2011 aggregate statistics, and CDRC Maps to show geodemographics. I also outlined alternative approaches used by other research groups, such as cartograms and dot density maps.
  2. A tour of the geodemographic maps in CDRC Maps, including the Output Area Classification and a map of the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation. I also touched briefly on the problems of geodemodemographic classifications, where good/poor fits to the classification are typically mapped identically, and the “second choice” classification doesn’t get shown, showing some techniques to try and map these subtleties.
  3. An introduction to more novel methods of mapping demographic data, such as Lives on the Line and Tube Tongues, but highlighting the shortcomings of such maps too.
  4. Finally, a brief mention of mapping more novel datasets, showcasing the Twitter language maps for London and New York – again discussing the flaws as well as strengths of such maps.

vmw_me

I found many of the other talks very interesting – particularly the work by plan b – two performance artists who have essentially tracked their entire outdoor life over the last 8+ years, both creating GPS traces which they have turned into artworks at various scales and on mediums (including a 3D mould), but also temporal activity indicators which they have grouped together into small multiples. They term these the “birch trees” due to their characteristic stripy white/black columns (see top photo). I also liked the striking pictograms created by Migrantas who have created simple and powerful graphics, from stories from the migrant community in Berlin and elsewhere. Their work can be seen on billboards and walls in various places across the city. There was a good talk by Stefan Lindemann on “SuperLUX”, focusing on linear development along commuter lines to Luxembourg City and corresponding population changes – essentially an international take (due to the country’s size) of the more recent “Northern Powerhouse” project to connect the cities of the north of England.

There was one more map “treat” for me at the workshop – the closing keynote given by Caroline Knowles included her investigative journalistic project where she tracked the complete journey of a pair of flip flops – from oil in Kuwait, to factories in South Korea, then to and through the markets in east Africa, to the consumer, and then finally to the rubbish dumps of the region. A map illustrating the life cycle of the flip flops is below.

Thanks to Agata Lisiak and the TransformIG team for inviting me to speak at the workshop and the opportunity to learn as well as disseminate. (Photo credit for the top photo: Agata).

vmw2

ECTQG 2015

ectqg_2015_alistair

Just a quick report on the 19th European Colloquium on Theoretical and Quantitative Geography, which took place near Bari in Puglia, South-east Italy, earlier this month, and which a significant amount of the quantitative geography group here at UCL attended, including myself. The meeting was held at an agricultural college in a university town a few miles from Bari itself, and was held Friday-Monday, which emphasised the residential nature of the meeting.

A couple of frustrating aspects, which persisted throughout the weekend, were some relatively uneven grouping together of talks on unrelated topics into a single session, and also a relatively large number of talks were included on the programme despite being from presenters who had submitted abstracts but weren’t present at the actual meeting, resulting in quite a few gaps or sessions. In one case, the first of three OpenStreetMap sessions was cancelled after most presenters were absent, but the three sessions were later being regrouped (unannounced, so I missed it) into a single session with seven presenters squeezed into the time for five. In another case, one person had been allocated to chair one session while giving a presentation simultaneously in another stream!

Positives from the conference though were the excellent food provided, the weather meaning that several of the meals could be taken outdoors – as well as at the grand gala dinner in a hotel in central Bari. The local feral kittens also provided entertainment, particularly for us Brits who are suckers for such things! We also managed some time off to visit Monopoli, a lovely little town about 30 minutes from Bari, with a pleasant old town and central square, a small (sadly, too small) bikeshare system, and apparently almost completely off the tourist radar.

Next ECTQG is much closer to home – the Leeds part of the CDRC research group that I am affiliated with are organising it somewhere in Yorkshire in 2017.

Above: Alistair Leak discusses Ward’s hierarchical clustering for surnames, as part of his presentation at the colloquium. Below: An evening meal outside.

ectqg_2015_dinner

UKDS Census Applications Conference

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I was in Manchester a couple of weeks ago for a UKDS conference on applications of the Census 2011 datasets that have been made available, through the ONS, NOMIS, UKDS and other organisations/projects. The conference was to celebrate the outputs and projects that have happened thus far, now that the Census itself is four years old and most of the main data releases have been made.

It was a good opportunity to present a talk on DataShine, which I made a little more technical than previously, focusing on the cartographical and technological decisions behind the design of the suite of websites.

I enjoyed an interesting talk by Dr Chris Gale, outlining graphically the processes behind creating the 2011 OAC geodemographic classification. Chris’s code, which was open sourced, was recently used by the ONS to create a local-authority level classification. There was also some discussion towards the end of the two-day meeting on the 2021 Census, in particular whether it will happen (it almost certainly well) and what it will be like (similar to 2011 but focused on online responses to cut costs).

All-focus

After the conference close I had time to look around MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry) which is mainly incorporated around an old railyard, terminus of the world’s oldest passenger railway and containing the world’s oldest station (opened in 1830, closed to passengers in 1844). But I was most impressed by the collection of airplanes in the adjoining hangar (once a lovely old market building), which included a Kamakaze. I also had a quick look around the Whitworth Gallery extension which has been nominated for this year’s Stirling Prize.

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China: Fuzhou

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I spent a week in Fuzhou earlier in July, in China’s Fujian provice, presenting and attending a summer school and conference, respectively, at Fuzhou University. I’ve already blogged the conference itself (read it here) but during the week I got plenty of time, outside of the conference to get a feel for Fuzhou and this small part of China. Here are some notes:

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Bikesharing
There is a bikeshare system in Fuzhou, but it is small (by Chinese standards). I saw a few bikeshare docking stations during my trip, in particular one outside the university, which was complete with a (closed) booth for an attendant (I think this is where you get a smartcard to operate it). Each station has 10-20 docks, generally nearly full of the bright orange and green bikes, docked under a bus-stop-style shelter that also contains an alarm light, CCTV and loudspeaker, and red scrolling LED information screen. Adjacent there were typically 10-20 further bikes chained together, presumably for manual restocking by the attendant when they are there. The one thing I did not see, at any point during the trip, was anyone actually using the bikeshare bikes. The modal share of cycling is low anyway in Fuzhou (the roads are intimidating, but this doesn’t stop the swarms of electric bike users) but I wasn’t expecting to see a completely unused bikeshare system in a country so famous for the transport mode.

fuzhou4

Transport in General
Fuzhou is a city of nearly five million people – half the size of London. And yet it has no metro, tram or commuter rail (apart from a couple of stations right on the outskirts). So everyone travels by car, taxi (very cheap – £1 for most journeys), bus (10p per journey, air-conditioned and frequent), or electric bike. Probably 50% car, 15% bus, 30% electric bike, 5% taxi. Walking is not so popular as the roads are generally very wide and difficult to cross (you don’t generally get much space given to you at zebra crossing!) and likely because of the hot climate at this time of the year. The one mode that I saw extremely little of, is pedal cycling. I had heard that cycling has quickly become an “uncool” thing to do in China, it is interesting to contrast with the rapidly rising cycling use in London – albeit from a low base. London’s cycling mode share was also once much higher and also had a sharp fall – maybe London is just ahead of hte curve.

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Climate and Pollution
Fuzhou is a southern Chinese city. It’s around an hour’s drive in from the coast, where its airport is. It’s north of the many cities near Hong Kong – about 90 minutes on a plan from the latter – but south of Shanghai, and a long way south from Beijing. The climate is therefore quite hot and muggy at this time of year. As you might expect from a city of five million people where most people drive, a haze of pollution was often visible where I was there. However, the haze is not too bad. Fuzhou is helped in this by being surrounded on most sides by thickly forested mountains, which often rise up steeply, immediately beyond the city limits. One of these ranges indeed forms the Fuzhou National Forest Park which contains a wide variety of trees, including a 1000-year old tree with its elderly branches supported by concrete pillars! The masses of trees on all sides no doubt help with some soaking up of pollutants. Many of the large roads have lines of thickly foliaged trees running along them, and the bridges for pedestrian crossings, and highway flyovers, also have lines of shrubs and bushes all the way along them, which doubtless also help absorb pollutants and keep the haze under control. The street foliage also has the side effect of making many views of the city look quite pretty, with lines of green and purple plants softening the concrete structures and making the city seem to blend into the landscape.

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Urban Structure
Fuzhou is a city largely of apartment blocks. Strikingly, the centre of the city has virtually no construction going on – it is as dense it as needs to be, Fuzhou’s population does not need to increase, and the congestion need not get any worse. A few from the central hotel reveals almost no cranes, anywhere on the horizon, apart from some small ones for the aforementioned metro construction project. This is starkly different to the edges of the city, at the few gaps between the mountains, particularly along the road leading to the airport and the coast. There is a brand-new high-speed railway station at this edge of the city, and it also is the direction towards the shipbuilding and electronics industry factories that are a few miles distant. The area around the station is relatively free of apartment buildings, but huge numbers are currently being built, many 30-40 stories high and often built very close to each other, in clusters with distinct designs. The new station and the good road leading outwards it presumably the spur. This is infrastructure building, and developers responding to this, on a grand scale.

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Consumer Culture
One thing I noticed was that most of the Chinese attendees of the conference I was at had iPhone 6 phones. I’m not sure if this is representative of the Fuzhou population at large, but I was surprised to see no Huawei or Xiomai phones (both Chinese brands, i.e. home-grown). I have a Huawei myself – it is excellently built and I am very happy with it. Apple has done hugely well out of convincing people to pay thousands of extra yuan for the a phone with the Apple branding. Talking about luxury brands in general, Fuzhou has a cluster of these (Christian Dior etc) in a small mall in the centre, and also I spotted a Starbucks and McDonalds lurking nearby. But, Apple aside, in general western brands have little impact. And as for the popularity of the iPhone, the (official) Apple Stores have not made it to Fuzhou yet.

More generally, the food in China takes some getting used to, both the variety of produce and also the local varients. Lychee trees are everywhere (the region is where they were originally from) and there were plenty of other unusual fruits. The look of lychees takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant. Fish features in a lot of dishes, as do various meats – the buffet and “lazy Susan” format though thankfully means the more mysterious items can be ignored! Our host also took us to an upscale restaurant where we had a lot of very spicy food (rare for the region) and also some weak but pleasant Chinese beers.

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