Wednesday, December 24, 2014

GIS Movie: Roman Britain from the Air

London is a Roman invention (43 AD)

Why did the Romans build (what we now know as London) here?

Oxford Street, Edgeware Road, and Marble Arch all speak to Roman spatial and planning sensibilities.

Roman walls edge down into the ground, running all the way around the old city, as seen in underground car parks.

Shots of helicopters cut to maps.  We have commentators narrating the entrenched Thames through radio, telling how bridges spanned the river and linked up the old Roman world.  A web of roads across what is now England.

[I saw a white Roman road marker today on my ride up towards St Ann's Hill and Chertsey, at a spot where the Founder's Building jumps up on the hill.  The white stone inscription is faded, fronting the old road bed, saplings folding into forest]

Staines, we know, was a Roman town, bulldozed to make commercial space.  Now Debenham's greets the visitor, calling out across the railway tracks.  Heading north from Chertsey, a cold front down for Christmas Eve, cycling amongst walkers on the Thames.

This is the edge, the way out, tunnelling under the M25 to go home.

GIS Movie: Soldier-Poets of the Somme

A GIS movie par excellence, much of the story is told through animated low elevation mapping of the fields, battlegrounds, and trenches of world war I.  This movie looks at the experiences of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and JRR Tolkien, and the way the war shaped their words and their spaces and came to haunt their lives later on.

French villages, shown on old photographs stitched together to give complete landscapes, tagged with 3D pointer-labels, look old and sepia-toned.  They look bleak, ashy, barren; then we suddenly see layered on top what the place looks like today: bright, green, sunny, a far cry from century ago.

Here's a link to BBC Two's player for Soldier-Poets of the Somme.

PostGIS predictions for the new year

One of the few times I get to do 'pure' GIS is around the Christmas break, after grant proposals, teaching, marking, reading, writing, and other activities finally wind down.  This holiday I've taken some time to explore the latest version of QGIS (version 2.6, 'Brighton').  There are no major changes to report, but I have come across a new OpenGeo plugin (by Boundless).  This promises true integration of PostGIS/Postgresql GIS databases and spatial querying with free and open-sourced GIS software.  It makes it really easy to do 'true' object-relational spatial/SQL queries from an 'easy to use' desktop interface.

This development will, I predict, start to see the eclipse of ESRI or even the toppling of the industry-leader from its hegemonic perch.  Preaching to the converted, perhaps, I think it is time to commit to QGIS.  While ESRI's ArcGIS suite of tools is nicely curated and can be demonstrated to have evolved from the very rigorous academic provenance of the Harvard Graphics Lab (including Dangermond, Chrisman, and others), QGIS will by pass the dinosaur in the new year, and race ahead to lead the pack into the future.  (Alongside doing GIS you'll often find me with Pixar movies playing in the background so that I have something to focus on when I look up from pondering spatial indices or maps).

I'm excited to report that, as director of Royal Holloway's new Geospatial and Visual Methods Lab, we are acquiring a full suite (19) of iMacs with QGIS and Google Earth Pro installations.  I believe this new lab will be 'on the ball' when it comes to cloud/server-side mapping and integration with mobile devices such as phones or GPS.  It will also be a 'traditional' GIS lab in the sense that the GVML will run desktop GIS tutorials for georeferencing, multiple data frames, database design, and LiDAR mapping.  We will have ESRI capabilities on the Windows side of these 'dual boot' machines, but the fact that these machines run slower in 'dual' mode gives a disincentive to do so (or put another way, it gives an incentive to use QGIS).

I believe GIS will become truly 'post', and that this is a good thing.  GIS may already be dead.  If so, then what we've moved into is a space of mapping that is becoming truly boundless, or at least unbound.  GIS 'unbound' is integrated, qualitative, mobile, distributed, geospatial, and web-oriented.  We still need the desktop to learn fundamentals of projection, framing, and joining but only as one site among many.  It is exciting to think about moving more into the field, about that 'opening of the field' that GIS can become, even as we realise that GIS itself sous rature, is ever-increasingly an 'absent-presence' in mapping worlds.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Refrains for the body of GIS

Inspired by Derek P. McCormack's book Refrains for Moving Bodies, and unable to attend to reading group devoted to discussing it (led by Harriet Hawkins), I devote a blog post to an area of productive overlap between performance/dance study and GIS/geoweb.

GIS (let's just call it that, everybody does anyway) is a moving target.  What's more, it dances.  GIS performs, it is performed on the geoweb, in mashups, overlays, and various trans-disciplinary foldings.

At first I thought no GIS and dance have nothing in common (at the same time as I thought, almost intuited that they must in some way be related).  Then overlays kept repeating themselves, differently each time.  And then I knew.

That GIS and dance overlap, overlay, and perform difference in their intermingling might not surprise.  The non-rep, more-than-rep crowd able to espouse such theories more freely than I certainly have the upper hand here.

But it's not about that is it?  It's about staying on top of the unfolding of metaphor, of difference, of repetitious ways of being and doing GIS that involve bodies, rhythms, and blocks of spacetime.  Lefebvre and Guattari.  Deleuze and Tarde.  Dewey, Dawkins, and Pierce.

The names keep repeating, the foldings keep happening, diagrams keep mapping themselves into this bodily thinking about GIS that happens when I walk, when McCormack reminds me about Montreal, Massumi, and Manning.

A Laurel and Hardy movie, the soundtrack of which is played overtop of OK Go's Nike video. Assorted quotes.  Here are some of my favorites so far (underlined, and starting from the last), all to my mind applicable to GIS/geoweb practices:

"the wager here is that the affective refrain of one register of experience and experiment can fold into and inflect the other as part of an ecology of practices composed of multiple refrains, some of which work, some of which don't; some of which cross a threshold of consistency, some of which don't" ( page 161)

"allying Bergson with Spinoza does not lead thinking out of this world, nor does it precipitate a privileging of the virtual over the actual.  Instead, it requires us to think of how bodies are composed through the transformative actualizations of virtualities" (page 146)

"moving images have a nonrepresentational quality: that is, to grasp their participation in the generation of experience means understanding them as more than merely symbols whose effect registers primarily through and within processes of cognitive sense making" (page 143)

"the tendency to proceed by going out into the world, reporting back, and then analyzing events is inadequate to the task of apprehending the affective and processual logics of the spacetimes in which moving bodies are generative participants" (page 118)

I only hope to walk this talk, to talk it through as a locating, imitating, map-made thing.

Where is the body of GIS?  Thinking it through.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Top Ten Books of 2014

The top ten lists are starting to show up in places like The Economist so I thought I'd weigh in a bit earlier than last year.  Here's my top ten list for the year, in some vague order.

1. The event of the year for books is without doubt Nancy Turner's magisterial Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (McGill-Queen's University Press, @scholarmqup).  Turner's two-volume set is the result of a lifetime of work in coastal Northwestern North America.

2. Another great book in the same series as Turner's (MQUP's Native and Northern Series) is Shelley Wright's Our Ice Is Vanishing/Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq

3. Jennifer M. Groh's Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are is an event.  This book summarizes and pushes forward our understanding of the state of the art in brain-space-knowledge, from Harvard UP/Belknap.  This appears in the same year as former McGill student John O'Keefe wins the Nobel Prize alongside May-Britt and Edvard Moser for discovering the role of the hippocampus in human cognitive mapping (aka the brain's GPS). 

4. Benjamin Lytal's A Map of Tulsa made my list this year, one of only two novels to do so.  The link goes to a Guardian review of the book.  It helps, but is not required, to have been to Tulsa or any part of Oklahoma.

5. I believe Jeremy Black's The Power of Knowledge (Yale University Press) could be accurately described as his magnum opus.  It posits information as the historical driver of cartography, power, knowledge, and much else.

6. Maps: Their Untold Stories (London: Bloomsbury), edited by Mitchell and Janes, appeared in my pigeonhole this year for review in Journal of Historical Geography.  It is a fantastic introduction to maps selected from national archives near London.

7. Graham Robb, The Ancient Paths had to make my list for boldness and risk-taking.  The link goes, again, to a Guardian review that does justice, I think, to a book that is well worth reading.

8. Rob Kitchin, The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences (London: Sage) has that Ground Truth-level of impact feeling to it, and I strongly urge anyone with an interest in geospatial technologies, GIS, mapping, data, cartography, mashups, and related topics to read this book.  Could easily be justified as the #1 book for the year.

9. Royal Holloway professor Andrew Motion's The New World (Random House) makes my list due to the quality of the writing and the subject matter.

10.  Ballas, Dorling, and Hennig's The Social Atlas of Europe (Policy Press, distributed by U of Chicago Press) is a kind of event, relying upon cartograms to re-envision Europe using equal- and proportional-area cartographic sensibilities.   

Spatial media/tion by Agnieszka Leszczynski

I'm including a link to a recent Progress in Human Geography article by Agnieszka Leszczynski (University of Birmingham, UK).  I noted in a recent tweet that a new paper by Leszczynski is always an event, and we hope to have her to Royal Holloway soon for a presentation of her work.  Here is the abstract of the latest new theoretical development:

This paper builds on the designation of networked spatial information technologies (both hardware/software objects and information artifacts) as ‘spatial media’ to advance media as an epistemology for engaging these presences as both channels for content and as cultural apparatuses. Doing so directly asserts their materiality as coincident with (new) media techno-cultural productions. This allows for a theory of mediation that belies narratives of ‘virtual’–‘real’ spatial hybrids by instead understanding spatiality (as the nexus of material sociospatio-technical relations) as always-already mediated – i.e. as the ontogenetic effects of the contingent, necessarily incomplete comings-together of technical presences, persons, and space/place.

epistemology, location, materiality, mediation, spatial big data, spatial media

Data revolutions and Google's balloons

Two stories in yesterday's Independent caught my eye.  The stories are not unrelated, though their relation consists almost entirely in an overlap at the geospatial level (meaning the data is georeferenced to known ground control points).

The first story has to do with a push by Government, supported by the Open Data Institute, to provide support in the form of apps for massive new datasets.  Property, rights of way, and flood data (with 15 minute interval water-level measurements), would be available through new mapping apps and Google Maps mashups.  This is part of The Data Revolution noted by Rob Kitchin in which data assemblages and new co-productions of data are emerging and re-coding the world.  Other Open Source Data Values include: "Parking, football and antisocial behaviour" allowing motorists in Westminster to find parking spots; health applications for accessing anonymised patient records; and public building information for valuation and identification of empty building stock.


The second story is about Google's balloons, and sets of engineering processes, trials, and tribulations associated with Google's push to provide worldwide wi-fi access.  This is most certainly related to concerns in the ICT4D world around digital divides, access, and mobile technology with expensive reliance upon satellite signals being a prohibitive factor to uptake in many locations.  The entry of potential global wi-fi access would be a paradigm shift in the global south, where Google's efforts are focused.  The south has less land-mass, making it an easier testing ground for the large unwieldy balloons that Google's engineers are barely able to control.

The outlook on both fronts is very promising in terms of broad data access and popular mapping application.  Government and industry will see new forms of innovation and uptake as the push for open government data services to the public proceeds.  The social implications of these two open data initiatives are massive, tying into economics (see the new digital economies alliance for sharing best practices, G8-style, page 25); education (introducing computer science and coding concepts into school curricula); and health (involving new forms of self-identification and verification for access).

Geospatial analysis and social critique alike must heed these new developments, consider them using our best scholarly tools, and offer considered comment.  The new developments are very exciting and it is clear that we are entering a brave new world of the data revolution.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Straight Line (Psycho) Mapping and the HS2

According to Tom Jeffreys, author of an interesting story on psychogeography and mapping in yesterday's Independent, all maps lie, especially when they are produced in support of the proposed HS2 route in the UK.

Placing himself firmly in a tradition of systematic wanderers, mappers, and psychogeographers such as Iain Sinclair and Guy Debord, Jeffreys notes that the field of wandering psycho-mappers is saturated, especially in urban milieux.  His mapping project starts from Euston and makes its way through countryside, starting out through the Edgelands (aka The Unofficial Countryside) now favoured by these oddly motivated individuals, the counter-mappers.   Sinclair himself did something like this in London Orbital, and as we know Sinclair sets the gold standard (alongside Self, see below) for truly psycho geographies.

How does a person actually walk in a straight line anywhere anymore?  Answer: they don't (and Jeffreys didn't either).  The author of Mind the Gap only made it through about half of his planned 10 day journey, resorting to hitching a ride in a car to complete the London-Birmingham leg.

What is the point of walking in a straight line, other than to demonstrate spatial stubbornness, prove a point, and achieve pyrrhic victory, of the sort people like Will Self seem to favour in the absolutely fabulous Psychogeography (in which he 'walks' from London to New York via their airports/airplanes)?

The answer: to show that all maps lie, that the ground truth is never what we think it is, and that it is full of local ephemera, individual perceptions, and communities in jeopardy of being sliced in half by the lines the map introduces into life-worlds willy-nilly should we choose to follow its dictates blindly.  Which is exactly what the mappers of the HS2 are proposing to do.  Therefore, read this article:  Mind the Gap.