Friday, October 31, 2014

Code Wars

In pursuit of a faster, shorter, surer way of getting around (in addition to trusty Lat Long, for reasons explained by the various promoters), there's now Open Location Code (with a demonstration site). The inventors, two Google engineers, seem to have examined the shortcomings of What3Words and MapCode and other systems, and have released a solution - an algorithm, as open source. The output is similar to that generated by MapCode, but as an algorithmic solution, it removes the need for a lookup in a data file (that would need to be maintained). It remains to be seen if this latest entrant (only four days ago) will gain traction, like say, MapCode which claims usage by 50 million, but it does have 'open' and being implementable by anyone going for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Open World

The World Bank's data on a number of development indicators for all countries is now open data. The USA has an Executive Order ( May 2014) to make 'open and machine readable the new default for government information'; and one example is the new open data policy by USAID. The EU has an open data portal and at least five EU countries have portals of their own to help find their open data. Saint Lucia has decided to make government data open data. 

Open data has become the new standard. It's different from public information in that the data can both be found and easily accessed. A report published on the web as a PDF file is public information. A published spreadsheet or text file that can be imported relatively easily for analysis would be open data. Governments are the biggest producers and consumers of data - so the operations of government offices should be early beneficiaries of an open data approach.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

UnderCHIKV Syndrome

Total Chikungunya (CHIKV) cases in the Americas have risen to almost 750,000 (Total Cases = Confirmed+Suspected Cases). Since Chikungunya and Dengue have similar symptoms (fever, joint pain), there could be mis-counts of Suspected Cases; however, the severe, often hobbling, joint pain caused by Chikungunya probably makes that a minor possible error.

A deeper look into the reports being provided to citizens by official regional public health agencies, using map, charts and timelines, highlights anomalies such as very old numbers (1, 2 and 3 months old) being published in current status reports - which suggests that the Chikungunya epidemic is presently under-reported in the Caribbean and in The Americas.

The data compiled to produce the maps, etc. is available as #opendata for download or interactive exploration (no login needed).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lost In Space

ArianeSpace has reported, in so many words, that the fifth and sixth satellites in the planned Galileo constellation, Europe's next generation Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), were placed in a wrong orbit. It's the oddest thing. This delays Galileo from achieving what the European Space Agency (ESA) refers to as Operational Capability, which would bring exciting new applications of GPS including 'guiding cars, running trains and landing aircraft'.

Galileo is planned to be the first interactive GPS service. It would be 'interoperable with [USA's] GPS and [Russia's] GLONASS'; would 'deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the metre range'; would 'guarantee availability of the service under all but the most extreme circumstances'; would provide a 'global Search and Rescue function' that would relay distress signals to rescue coordination centres as well as a response informing the user that the signal had been detected and that help was on the way ... and would 'inform users within seconds of any satellite failure'. Unfortunately that last feature is probably working in overdrive at this time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Viral Maps

Three of the leading public health agencies in the Americas  provide data and/ or map the Chikungunya epidemic sweeping across the Caribbean and the continental Americas. The Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that 'chikungunya case counts are publicly released every Wednesday', though these could not be found on its website, and provides a static presence/ absence map showing countries where local transmission has been documented.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) provides a weekly report every Friday (usually late in the afternoon) of Chikungunya counts for most countries of the Americas (including the Caribbean) and a static presence/ absence map showing countries with both local and imported cases (travellers to the country). The PAHO map also highlights 'sub-national areas' with local transmission of the virus, e.g. the Divisions of Guarico, Carabobo, Aragua, Vargas and Miranda in Venezuela and the State of Florida in the USA. However it is not known whether the map is intended to communicate that these areas are Chikungunya hotspots within a country.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) provides a weekly report like PAHO, of Chikungunya counts for the 20 CARICOM countries and 11 others, but every Monday, and an interactive map. The CARPHA map has a useful timeline feature illustrating the progression of the disease through the Region and mouseover info boxes showing the number of cases in a country. Both PAHO and CARPHA seems to face issues with old data from at least some countries,

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Forecast: Ebola Hurricane 10%

The Belgian doctors who first described Ebola fever to western medicine in 1976 asked three questions whilst investigating the epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) - one was 'Where?'. These doctors diligently made maps from their information to help understand and defeat the epidemic back then. 

Ebola fever can spread fast; contagious and deadly enough to form a threat to experienced doctors as much as patients. If the current Ebola epidemic leaps into the Caribbean, as Chikungunya did only eight months ago, its spread might seem like a hurricane in comparison.

Timely and accurate information is a necessity in preventing incurable, deadly diseases from becoming epidemics. Forty years after "Zaire", do public health and immigration authorities in Caribbean nations use modern information management, mapping and spatial analysis tools?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Map Code

Here's another attempt at a global reference system. MapCode has assigned short postcode-like codes to all parts of the globe. Though its method is not fully described it does seem to be systematic - for instance, the position with mapcode GUY 9Z.LK is located between GUY 9Z.LJ and GUY 9Z.LL, each separated from the other by a few metres. It apparently produces more than one version of a mapcode for a given location. One version includes the country code, as in the examples above, and another is an international code 'independent of territorial borders'. This seems useful, though it's not clear why some locations have four versions of a mapcode. However, using any one mapcode related to a location, consistently gets the same location. With its consistent framework, the shortness of mapcodes seems to be a strength - GUY 9Z.LK is indeed easier to remember than '6.81726 deg N, 58.15884 deg W', and potentially equally useful in the many ways georeferences are used today. The system is apparently in use by a stated 50M car navigation devices.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wot's That Word?

Here is an interesting take on a better global reference system. What3Words (W3W) divides the world into 3x3m spaces (57 Trillion of them) and assigns each a specific 3-word address. So giving someone your address apparently becomes easier. Or does it? I can see how telling, emailing or texting someone that my location is  'acrobat.explanatory.supper' might sound easier than '6.81726 deg N, 58.15884 deg W'. W3W says 'each square’s address contains totally different words to its nearby squares'. But therein lies a problem. This new global addressing scheme of W3W doesn't do something important that the old fashioned degrees N/S/E/W system provides - context. You can't relate any W3W address to anything else by yourself. You can't tell what a neighbouring location might be (one of mine is 'freehand.construing.uneasy'), etc..

In contrast, saying my location is approx. 6N, 58W allows people from many professions or high-school students to swiftly understand that my location is ... tropical ... West of Greenwich ... around South America. And to easily further figure out that say, Castries, Saint Lucia located at 14N, 60W must be to my North, or that Paramaribo, Suriname located at 5.8N, 55W must be to my East. 

It seems that W3W has uses - e.g. word games, poetry competitions. But a global addressing scheme W3W is not.

So why bother to carefully divide up the globe into 57 Trillion 3x3m squares? Regretfully, I think it has something to do with the following W3W option - 'You can purchase an additional, personalised address for any 3m x 3m square'. Paying US$2 per 3x3m of (cyber)space is a steal. But for whom? Thanks Tony.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Post GIS

The Bahamas Postal Services will release a new series of stamps on July 21 in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems (BNGIS) Centre (July 26, 2004). The special issue of four stamps features a 15 cent stamp, a 50 cent stamp, a 65 cent stamp and a 70 cent stamp. Text and image copyright Government of The Bahamas. Thanks GSDI.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Here's a very listenable talk from a 2014 URISA conference about what is Open Source and Open Source Web Mapping, with descriptions of three cases of actual implementation. Here's an alternative link to the 26 min video as well. Thanks Alan.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Trinidad & Tobago Data Upgrade

Trinidad & Tobago (Surveys & Mapping Division) will soon complete high-resolution aerial mapping of the entire country, with imagery and elevation data being produced. Statements by the Hon. Minister of Land & Marine Resources and the Commissioner of State Lands have been reported indicating that "the data will form the fundamental datasets upon which the proposed National Spatial Data Infrastructure will be established". Further outcomes will include "elevation models, design of settlement layouts, planning of development and infrastructure like roads, development of flood-mitigation plans, disaster-management planning and assessing the quantity and quality of State Lands. The imagery and elevation data will be available to all public agencies for use in enabling the services they are required to provide." This will be fabulous for the development of Trinidad & Tobago.

P.S. With T&T's participation in UNISDR's Resilient Cities initiative, I wonder if this dataset will be made Open Data, as Hampshire UK recently did with its own similar dataset. Thanks GSDI.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Resilient Cities

ESRI is supporting the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) 'Making Cities Resilient' initiative, that will help countries around the world, and their cities in particular, map and visualize their disaster risk. This adds to the splendid support ESRI has already shown for the Obama Climate Data Initiative

Making data available - Open Data - so that it's available to the combined brain power of all-of-us to better plan a country's development, as well as simultaneously make more of us better informed citizens, is the new and inspiring way to go - to build disaster-resilient countries. In the insular Caribbean, participating cities are from Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba. Guatemala and Honduras are noticeably participating in a big way (30+ cities each), along with many other Latin American countries.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drones & Lasers

An interesting proof of concept that generated 3D data over tropical forest (DEM and height of trees) using drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to fly LiDAR sensors has been completed in French Guiana. Interestingly though drones have limitations such as range compared to small aircraft and helicopters, their combined lower flying speeds and heights above a forest canopy gains more dense point clouds and better data. There are implications for tropical forest monitoring and carbon sequestration estimates, presumably at a much lower equipment and operational costs than conventional airborne LiDAR surveys.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ESRI & Open Source GIS

Open Source GIS is here to stay it seems. The/ one of the leading software providers, ESRI says, '[ESRI] supports more than 200 open source projects in our GitHub organization, and over 600 Esri developers that directly collaborate on these and numerous other personal open-source projects. We have released projects that cover nearly every level of the technology stack, from web frameworks to mobile apps to big data geoprocessing'. Read the full article by Andrew Turner, CTO, ESRI R&D Center.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New in Jamaica

Jamaica has become the first country to implement nation-wide the free health and hospital information system - GNU Health™. It does not include a GIS or mapping component as far as I can tell, though it does provide 'epidemiological and other statistical reports'. Though free it is not Open Source. However, this is major news in the non-traditional use of free software at an enterprise level in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Utilitarian Utility

Here's a simple but fabulous GIS application developed by the Belize Water Service (BWS) and TBSL on ArcGIS Online, showing how to reliably and more easily inform citizens about mundane but important city administration actions. (Where there's a will, there's a spatial dataset and  ...). This is what a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) means to our fellow citizens - really useful information. Thanks Emil. P.S. The situation information is live, and may change tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NSDI Developments

Governments at opposite ends of the Caribbean have put forward new legislation that concerns  their respective National Spatial Data Infrastructures (NSDI). The Bahamas Spatial Data Infrastructure Programme (BSDI) Bill was moved on Jan 8, 2014 in the Bahamas House of Assembly, and the National Assembly of Guyana passed a Land Surveyors (Profession) Bill on Jan 16, 2014. The Government of Guyana has drafted a new version of its National Policy on GI (the existing one was approved in 2001), and the Government of Belize is currently in the early stages of drafting a NSDI Policy for Belize.

Monday, January 13, 2014

007 Likes Linux

Not a GIS topic per se, nor involving the Caribbean but, according to Ubuntu, UK CESG has scored Ubuntu 12.04 LTS as the best when evaluating it, Windows, Apple, Android and other operating systems, in its guidance for End User Devices Security and Configuration in the UK public sector. The obscure sounding CESG was once the Communications-Electronics Security Group, and is now the UK National Technical Authority for Information Assurance, a sub-organisation of GCHQ, and 'advises organisations on how to protect their information and information systems against today's threats'. Whether the spin is correct that Ubuntu is the best, or not, it's clear that this Open Source software is established at the Enterprise level.