OSGIS is now in it’s 4th year and has really become one of the main events that brings together users and developers of open source geospatial tools. The nice thing about OSGIS is that it attracts an even spread of delegates from the commercial, the public and the academic sector. This cross-sector mixing is, in my opinion, very healthy for the geospatial sector.
Day One of OSGIS 2012 featured workshops where users could get hands on experience of software under the guidance of expert tutors. The morning session saw an introduction to GeoNetwork, a geospatial catalog service, and and overview of the OSM-GBproject which has made in-roads in topologically correcting OSM data. These workshops are integral to the ethos of OSGIS as they are designed to empower both novices exploring the potential of open source software and the expert users looking to refine their skillset and discuss technical problems.
After lunch I opted to attend the session looking at the educational use of OSGeo Live. For those of you that have not heard of OSGeo Live, it is a bootable DVD which allows you to investigate OSGeo software without having to instal and configure it on your own computer. This is an excellent way to explore the functionality offered by the numerous packages such as uDIG, QGIS, Openlayers and GeoServer.
Barend Kobben of ITC in the Netherlands outlined how OSGeo Live was used in teaching and why it solved many issues. Increasingly universities are assuming that students will want to use their own laptops rather than relying on open access labs. This means that the tutors have no control of what computer students will use to complete course work. Supporting multiple operating systems and system configurations is virtually impossible. Using OSGeo Live removes the necessity to configure systems. Just put the DVD in the computer,reboot and go. Well, most of the time. Not all computers are set to boot from the DVD drive, users would have to access their BIOS to set their boot sequence. Running the OSGeo Live from a USB stick or on a virtual machine potentially reduces the hassle of dealing with boot sequences.
Jeremy Morley of Nottingham Geospatial Institute echoed Barend’s experiences. Jeremy had used Oracle VirtualBox and then taken snapshots on a Storage Area Network (SAN) to ensure that students work was backed up. This looked promising but didn’t scale when 20+ students tried to access the SAN. Unfortunately, the snapshots were tied to a single machine ID, students would have to use the same machine eachtime they accessed their work. This was not an acceptable solution. Jeremy switched to running OSGeo live from a USBstick and this was an improvement, but again, was not without it’s own issues. The FAT32 format reduced the usable space on the 8 Gb drives to just under 5Gb and cheaper USB sticks were prone to burning out and failing. But, the solution was acceptable and Jeremy was able to deliver the course to to the students. Next years course will be refined in light of discovering these issues.
As an aside, Jeremy flagged the potential need for more Geographic Information Systems courses to support the wide and varied technical applications which require in depth knowledge of computing. There has been a trend of Geographic Information Science courses over recent years where students are taught how to apply GIS to solve scientific problems. However the maintenance of systems and interfaces which allow data to be published and interacted with is important but forms the base of only a handful of course at the moment.
During the discussion of these two papers, it ws suggested that a Cloud Space to run GIS would be useful, if you could configure what tools you wanted. A figure of 4Gb was suggested as a reasonable workspace. This would allow users to analyse data but would have to carefully manage their space. You could always “do with more space” but you could teach with about 4Gb of space.
The first day closed with a presentation by Jiri Kadlec of Aalto University, Finland. Jiri, by his own admission , was new to open source GIS and set himself the challenge of managing and translating data in differing coordinate systems. Projections and coordinate systems are always a challenge. The theory is that you should be able to get from any “system” o any other “system” by passing through WGS1984. Jiri found QGIS to be the bet of the bunch but it was not perfect. Juiri also put together a neat little projection comparison tool which many of the audience thought would be an excellent aid when teaching students about projections, or for showing representations of land areas in different projections.
The day finished with a drinks reception and a visit to some of the sights of Nottingham. Fortunately, some of the best historic sites just so happen to be pubs and the Jubilee Campus is the site of the old Raleigh bicycle factory.