About this blog

'Going Spatial' is my personal blog, the views on this site are entirely my own and should in no way be attributed to anyone else or as the opinion of any organisation.

My tweets on GIS, Humanitarian, Tech, Games and Randomness

Thursday 17 November 2011

Cloud Computing, GIS and the Crisis Mappers

The International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM) this year in Geneva brought together a large and varied crowd of about 400 persons all eager to learn from each other and share common experiences of using GIS, mapping, social media and ICT in responding to humanitarian disasters.

The Crisis Mappers is a movement of likely minded individuals and organisations who see the utility of using social media, crowd sourced data along with web- and mobile-centric tools to provided support to the responders and the public to complex humanitarian emergencies. Co-founder and co-directors Patrick Meier and Jen Ziemke have been drivers of this rather remarkable gathering.

In addition to the one-man band organisations, there were some large commercial heavy weights such as Google and Esri Inc, non-governmental organisations and research institutions as well as a smattering of respected United Nations organisations.

Of interest to me, were the discussions of leveraging social media tools (twitter, facebook, youtube, ushahidi etc) to provide data and information that would compliment existing sources of data. Large volumes of data being stored and manipulated and displayed might require a lot of resources and everyone appeared to be using some form of cloud based technology to collaborate.

Esri Inc has thrown it's weight in and has started to really engage with the crisis mapping community by providing a set of tools and applications for Social Media.They have also created an Open Street Map editor (link) and a plug-in to Ushahidi, the link goes to a recent Australian example, a new one is due soon.

A lot of the participants were users of GIS in one form or another and most used some form of cloud infrastructure for their participatory work. I made notes on all the ignite talks (5 minute presentations with 20 slides only changing every 12 seconds)...so this made it for a nice fast delivery.

A highlight for me was Adam Finck of the NGO 'Invisible Children' and their implementation of the Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA) Crisis tracker. The talk concentrated on an early warning system for those on the frontline, warning of ongoing attacks, tracking the movements of the LRA and historical data. It's role is to spread the news of one of Africa's longest wars and advocacy of social media as an agent of change. The data and application is all hosted via Salesforce.com, the well-known cloud-based CRM provider. http://www.lracrisistracker.com/media/video/lra-crisis-tracker-introduction

The second day was all self-organised sessions and two stood out:

-Making crowdsourced data, 'actionable' remains a problem. While everyone is familar with twitter, facebook etc. Representatives of 'user' organisations, especially the major UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF etc, say it would be very unlikely that they would rely solo on crowdsourced data to trigger relief actions. Certainly crowdsourced data would give a strong corroboration to more established lines of communications and could speed up the pace of actions. For example, tweets (if they're geocoded) could give strong evidence of a specific event with a geographical property. Very useful for speedily allocating resources for example. However, it is unlikely that an international response will be triggered off by a single tweet or a million tweets

- Verifying crowdsourced data. Can one trust crowdsourced data? A great example of trusted crowdsourced data is OpenStreetMap (OSM) - where tens of thousands of users each can edit any part of the OSM map with their work being peer reviewed, probably in real time. However, the thrust the talk was the more well known crowdsourced data that was subjective in nature such as tweets, short wave radio and SMS. Questions over quality, accuracy and 'trustfulness' were all explored. One can't verify and QA a tweet can we? Thus the problem of event driven data, ephemeral in nature; very fluid and subjective in content poses significantly problems to decision makers. However, if this data is someone geolocated (many can be) if there's 1000s of tweets from one area, all about the same event (told through the eyes of the tweeter)

The event was a success with all participants hungry for their work to be mainstreamed and accepted into the humanitarian practise. GIS and intelligent mapping was evident throughout the conference with everyone aware of the utility of having a location or place to link up a wide variety of ephemeral crowdsourced data. Data and information remain big topics as everyone tries to grappy with the well known issues of access rights, ownership, data standards, interoperability, quality and in the case of social media, trust.

The International Network of Crisis Mappers is the largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policymakers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection between humanitarian crises, technology and crisis mapping. The Crisis Mappers Network was launched by 100 Crisis Mappers at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping in 2009. This website has since been accessed from 191 different countries. As the world's premier crisis mapping hub, the Network catalyzes communication and collaboration between and among crisis mappers with the purpose of advancing the study and application of crisis mapping worldwide.

Monday 7 November 2011

ArcGIS 10.1 AMI now available - my thoughts

The latest from the ArcGIS Server Blog about 10.1

Of great interest to my team is the availability of the 10.1 AMI both for the Windows platform and significiantly, the Ubuntu environment too! 10.1 has been in beta for a while and will continue to be in this state until later this year. 10.1 is still slated for a 2012 release.

From what I have seen (and what was already hinted at the Esri Dev Summit this year) - ArcGIS Server 10.1 is a radical change in the current architecture. Gone is the ArcGISSOM, the ArcGISSOC has disappeared and AGS now ships with a built in web server! All making it very portable and quite sexy. I just hope performance matches the expectations.

Clearly, 10.1 is designed for large deployments and cloud environments.Will update more when I get more time on it.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Scottish Natural Heritage with our data services

Our online map services was highlighted on the BBC this week: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-14898280

A World's first online service that displays an up-to-date and accurate picture of Scotland's Greenspaces. The cloud servers we had running spiked a couple of times but held steady and we had the knowledge that we could quite quickly, bring up new servers in a matter of minutes if required.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Our own cloud?

With a bunch of old servers coming back and planned for decommisioning, we are seriously considering setting up our own Private cloud that is hopefully compatible with Amazon Web Services. There's a number of options around that we are considering:

Having our own private cloud means that we can continue to research into cloud technologies without having to pay our current provider (in this case, Amazon Web Services) while we 'mess around'. Of immediate interest is our need to move Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) from one region to another, vitally important after AWS suffered yet another outage recently which was widely covered here and here and here. More seriously, one of the issues was the discovery that some disk blocks in their Elastic Block Store (EBS) were being deleted by a rogue process. This was probably only discovered when, during the outage, clients moved across their services from the affected zone to a new zone, or spun up new instances from their stored AMIs and finding out, too late, that these templates were not viable.


Rather lazy of me but I re-directed a lot of my blog material to an internal company facing one instead. I am now going through a process where I clip out useful bits (with the okay from my employees) and populate this blog. I should have plenty to post but it has been a bit too long!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Esri Developer Summit 2011

I was lucky enough to attend the Esri Developer Summit 2011 between March 7 - 10th. This was held (as had all the other previous Dev Summits) in Palm Springs, California. Arriving a Los Angeles international after a 13-hour flight was tough but it was alleviated somewhat when a limousine  pulled in to take us the two-hours from LAX to Palm Springs.

Wish I went to this summit instead of the user conference. Very relevant and I had a chance to chat to some guys at Amazon Web Services (who were Gold Sponsors at the Summit) about various bits. All I can say is that the future looks bright and it looks like cloud services.

Microsoft was present the highlights include the presentation of the Kinect and ArcMap. Very nice.

Some useful presentations from the dev summit that I found very interesting include:

A Road Map for ArcGIS Server Developers

Advanced Map Caching Topics 

ArcGIS Server Performance and Scalability - Testing Methodologies 

ArcGIS Server Performance: Case Studies

Architecting ArcGIS Server to Scale

Best Practices for Designing Effective Map Services 

Working with Image Services 

All the above presentations had immediate relevancy in our work in creating and managing map caches.