‘Tis the Season to be GIS Savvy, and share!

ESRI Inc. in the USA sponsor what has become a globally celebrated, collaborative and vastly tweeted event known as GIS Day every 18th of November. This year’s participants included many American universities, Google Maps, #gistribe, Geoawesomeness, many Maptime chapters and probably millions more around the World.

OS and I didn’t officially get in on the act this year but like so many other geopeople around the globe, we and I have definitely been trying to do my bit for the GIS greater good of late.

On the opposite side of Europe this week in Moscow, the open geoinformation community has been busy knowledge-sharing at Open GIS 2015, albeit via some rather green-looking slides. Nearly 400 people are said to have attended.

Here in Britain, the rest of the OS CartoDesign team and I have spent some of the last month developing yet more stylesheets for both ArcGIS and QGIS, Charley led a QGIS-themed maptime meetup this month, and we have also been supporting QGIS UK User Group meetings around the country of which I attended the 4th Scottish meeting at the University of Edinburgh. Probably quite different to the Moscow event but certainly the weather as I left was typical Russian! In fact the local well-prepared women were sporting ushaknas.

Ross McDonald and his regional counterparts are really starting to put on some great meetings to bring together not just the QGIS but also the wider OSGeo community with increased cross reference to the even larger open geocommunity at FOSS4G. I found the day to be genuinely successful, nothing truly ground-breaking happened but everyone seemed to take something from the event and so I thought I’d share some of my notes. I’m sure most of these people would be happy for you to contact them should you wish to find out more.

Saber Razmjooei (Lutra Consulting) gave an overview of the new QGIS Lyon and the process of QGIS releases and updates. Then came two workshops, I gave a mixed presentation/workshop session on cartographic labelling in QGIS using OS map data with the presentation showcasing the the advances in data-driven QGIS labelling and the rework of names data in OS Open Map and OS VectorMap, and the workshop showing the advantages of QGIS’ new rule-based labelling; and Heikki Vesanto (thinkWhere) ran a workshop on QGIS Print Composer and Atlas, which I believe have also undergone recent improvements (but obviously I wasn’t able to see).

Amy Taylor (Cawdor Forestry) talked through some of the more popular QGIS plugins. I need to go away and investigate some of these further. She mentioned numeric vertex, table manager, auto trace, mmqgis which was mentioned at @MaptimeSoton along with go2streetview, gazetteer search, gis2web, and as an OS employee I need to have a play with Tom.bio productivity tools apparently which includes OS grid squares both for reference and data filtering, e.g. the number of species by grid square, and output can be turned into shapefile data.

Seb Hudson (West Dunbarton) gave us a great local authority example use case in calculating the steepness of slope from routes combined with LIDAR data to assess and plan routes for road gritting. One for my next batch of product images no doubt!

Ross Scullion (Inverclyde) used the road graph plugin for a school walking routes project. In terms of data the school gate points were added to the road network (à la OS MasterMap Sites) and with the plugin it becomes easy to calculate shortest route which could be useful for Educational Services or be able to construct a safest routes catalogue. I actually thought of how schools and councils fund some pupils taxi fares if they are forced to travel greater than expected distance to school. Processed routes can be manually edited but there was no snapping. Measurements, etc. will update. The tool is really for roads and with speed data, quickest route etc. can be calculated. Interestingly for the walking routes they used this and set dual carriageways etc. to a speed of zero to block the tool from choosing them. Ingenious!

Steven Kay talked about submitting plugins. Steve is a great guy if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him. Problem for me is that he makes technical stuff look so damn easy that I don’t tend to keep up. Anyway plugins need to be written in Python or C++, and he alerted folk that Python 3 and QT5 will be the norm in QGIS3. His basic tip was to not bother with using obvious keywords. Apparently in a sea of plugins, it is now required to make yours not just be searchable but stand out from the crowd.

Paul Rodger (Scottish Water) gave arguably the most cartographic of the lightning talks. He mentioned TauDEM as a toolset that might be useful (once Lutra help explain how to use them!), in the mean time he uses a somewhat complex looking process in GRASS and uses SAGA to create a DTM with grid spline. Paul exported out some of their data with imagery and gradiented water fill with QGIS2threejs, and whilst nothing complex it was visually one of the cleanest QGIS2threejs exports that I’ve seen. Various OpenLayers plugin issues with proxy servers were debated at which point my technical interaction level was surpassed! Again a plugin apparently came to their rescue.

Ross showing us the How?
Ross showing us the How?

Ross McDonald (Angus Council) showed us how to set up a QGIS repository, Gemma McAusland (OS) spoke about how we use Open technologies at Ordnance Survey, Tom Armitage (EDiNA) spoke about QGIS training at the University (of Edinburgh) and mentioned the Unlock API for historical names which was intriguing, it is on GitHub.

Steven Kay came back onto stage to present Hi-Res DEMS and 3D viz which seemed to cover pretty much everything cool you can do in OSGeo* inlcuding using the Lighting tool (under Terrain Analysis) in SAGA to create solar insulation maps, and using the time manager plugin to create easy visuals, e.g. sunlight over DTM or DEM over the course of a day, done in SAGA, easy to do just takes a long time to compute/process… Steve exported STL into Blender (an optional extra step to increase visual quality).

Blender (*not OSGeo) is apparently also good for hillshades, SAGA Visibility (Points) tool good for line of sight analysis (rendered in QGIS) and raster calculator can be used to calculate building heights from DTM using SAGA tools.

Steve also showed route planning without a road network! Just a DEM and least-cost-path analysis which apparently really works. And he also assures us that QGIS2threejs of point clouds also works but needs lots of RAM! Here’s a taste of his slides:


Not much of summary of the day, Gemma and I already shared that internally at OS and here I wanted to share something perhaps more usable in my notes for those who couldn’t be or were not there. A bit messy but might be useful to someone, somewhere!

So get in touch with these people, add them to your Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever, ask them more about the above and let’s continue this wonderfully informal social networking of GIS professionals.


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