Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Spatial context (plus slideshare)

A quick post today since I'm supposed to be on 'holiday' and 'off' work. I've recently got into slideshare, for putting your PowerPoint presentations online. Very useful for conferences and even teaching too. I won't say much more than this, other than that the slides below relate to my relatively recent work on spatial context, deprivation, and area effects. Maybe I'll be back before New Year but maybe not...
Spatial Context 151208
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: deprivation spatial)
Thanks to Alex Hardman for getting me into this! Note that you can view the slides full screen by clicking the screen icon in the bottom right of the slideshare.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Simple is often better

When working with GIS boundaries, I'm often only really interested in them from a general point of view so that I can create simple choropleth maps. Also, if I'm trying to publish them over the web, there's no need to provide very accurate boundaries. Therefore, it's always useful to have different ways of simplifying boundaries. I have used various tools for this, including ET GeoWizards free tools and some of the in-built functionality of ArcGIS 9.x. However, the most convenient and flexible tool I've come across so far is MapShaper. They have an alpha testing version of their Flash-based interface here and it's really easy to use. There is a 16MB file size limit, but I've still found it to be very effective. It doesn't require much (if any) expert knowledge of GIS or of file formats, and you can simplify or smooth using a number of different methods (see images below). All in all, a very useful tool!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Urban Policy - a Time for CHANGE?

At the risk of becoming a prolific blogger, I want to add some new thoughts on the extent to which the arrival of Barack Obama as President of the United States will have an impact on my main field of study - urban policy. This is interesting to me for a number of reasons:

1. Obama's recent background is in Chicago; a city where housing and urban policy are high on the agenda and where it has been very controversial;
2. Policy-transfer from the US to the UK is increasingly common, but not unproblematic, so any new developments there will surely impact here;
3. He promised to create a White House Office of Urban Policy;
4. He talks of 'targeting' federal dollars to urban areas and effective spending on 'high-impact' programs, but isn't this ignoring the real causes which are not in the areas that need targeting?
5. It raises the prospect of more people taking note of the work we do (e.g.)!

For the time being, however, it's just a case of wait and see and keep working on things. Right now, I'm writing a new paper which explores the extent to which spatial targeting of deprived areas for things like employment is actually a fundamentally flawed approach when there is no guarantee that jobs created in, or nearby, the poorest neighbourhoods will be of benefit to residents there.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

ScreenToaster - a new tool

I've recently discovered ScreenToaster (via demogirl). What on earth is it? It's a tool for making toast online. Okay, not really. It's a really smart tool that allows you to record your screen activity, then upload it to their website where other people can view it. So, if your Mum wants you to show her how to do something it's great for that, but it could also be of use to people who teach various software skills - in Universities for example. It's not a replacement for traditional screencasting software but I rate it very highly as a new tool on the scene. Quick example below...

As you can see, the quality is very good and you just copy and paste the html text into your web page, blog or whatever and then share it with whoever you like. You can increase the size of the video to fill the whole screen and it remains quite high quality. I recommend it. That's all for now but more e-learning things will appear in the future...

Monday, 1 December 2008

World city rankings by search engine results

I've been thinking recently a lot about methods we use to rank, count and understand urban areas. This is a topic which the Globalisation and World Cities Group (GaWC) at Loughborough University in the UK have become world leaders in. I also wrote a paper about this some time ago and I'm still interested in it more generally but not so much from an academic research point of view these days. However, I was reminded about a paper which I referred to in the SGJ article mentioned above - a paper written by the aptly named Florian Urban. He looked at the representation of cities on the internet in his 2002 paper from the perspective of place marketing and representation. However, I wondered recently what outcome you would get if you simply entered city names into google (I did try others but google seems to return more results than all others). Not surprisingly, the results match those which are typically published and based on much more complex analyses...[read the caveats below too]

  1. New York = 827m ("new york city" returns only about 102m)
  2. London = 539m
  3. Paris = 597m
  4. Tokyo = 142m in English, plus 427m for 東京 for a total of 569m
  5. Hong Kong = 246m in English, plus 290m for 香港 for a total of 536m
  6. Los Angeles = 267m (quotes or not, doesn't seem to make much difference)
  7. Singapore = 221m
  8. Chicago = 337m
  9. Seoul = 35.5m
  10. Toronto = 157m
Caveats... New York could be the city or state, Seoul has some name issues that mean even if you use the simplified Chinese characters to seach the indexed pages result doesn't increase much, there is a massive English speaking bias here too (but then that reflects the real world to an extent). Also, the extent to which the web is US-centric comes out here. For comparison, Beijing/北京 returns (105+555 =) 660m. You'll also get different results day to day, with a general trend of increase.

Okay, so these results are not at all scientific, but they do quite closely match the kinds of rankings you see in the academic, popular and web press. What about cities in the UK? Well, we have Manchester at 139m ( swelled by football references?), Birmingham at 85m, Glasgow at 58m, Edinburgh at 53m, Leeds at 46m, Sheffield at 39m and Inverness at 14m. No doubt there's a lot of noise in these results but again it mirrors other ways of measuring.

In my work, I'm much more interested in the places far lower down the urban 'hierarchy' and not so much in rankings but it's interesting to see how this little exercise has turned out.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Screencasting, video tutorials, screen recording...

...call it what you like but the practice of recording what you do on your computer and making it available online is really beginning to become more widely used. I've been tracking things over the past couple of years - in addition to doing it myself and I've amassed quite a few bookmarks that mostly just sit there and get looked at by me when I need them. So, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my favourites.

First, best to start off with the software for screencasting in the first place. I use Camtasia 5.1 (now it's at 6.0) but am aware that lots of other people like Captivate (more bells and whistles?). Then we've got free apps like Wink (not bad) or Camstudio (the first one I ever used) or a new player called ScreenToaster (which I first saw on demogirl). Can't forget Jing (ahead of its time?) either of course. There's more on the wiki page but that's not exhaustive either. You get the idea; the tools are out there, take your pick.

Where did the term 'screencast' come from? If you believe the web then it's Jon Udell and in this case I've no reason do doubt it. However, maybe it should be Deeje Cooley we all thank.

What do people do with it all? Well, all sorts really. Demonstrating software for promotional purposes on YouTube (ArcGIS 9.3), creating training DVDs like KnowGIS (I've got it - very high quality), archiving tens of thousands of videos some of which are free (there's a lot here!), and the Idaho State Tax Commission also have their own take on screencasting GIS (I'm not making this up (but I am particularly proud of this find) - see). Not forgetting the web's uber-tuber demogirl herself (shameless promotion I know but it's a very useful blog).

What do I do with it and why am I into screencasting? I record software skills with voiceovers to help students learn and I'm into it because it works. It works very well, if it's done correctly. I'm now in the process of trying to widen my audience but that's for another blog. I hope with all the new capabilities that the method will be more widely available and that it won't just be techie-nerds who do it. Enough.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Area Effects - do they exist?

Much has been written in the academic literature about 'area effects', or how concentrations of poverty (or disadvantage, or deprivation, or whatever you want to call it) can act to create further disadvantage in terms of all sorts of things; from health to employment, to crime and so on.

Another issue here is the extent to which the geography of deprivation has largely remained the same in cities across the United Kingdom. So, if we look back in time
and follow neighbourhoods through to the present day many of the areas that we target with policy today were seen as 'problems' decades ago. Despite lots of money being spent on them, things have not got much better.

The Department of Communities and Local Government's recently published
Regeneration Framework has more to say on these issues but it also acknowledges the above two problems. But what can we do about it? Well, the Framework has three priority outcomes:

• improving economic performance in deprived areas;
• improving rates of work and enterprise in deprived areas; and
• creating sustainable places where people want to live and can work, and businesses want to invest.

Some good ideas but have we any reason to think it will be any more effective than previous approaches? Maybe. There is a growing realisation that, after 40+ years of area-based initiatives in England, something just isn't right in the approach we take.

The point of this post is to say that I concur with most of what's in the Framework but I don't there there is enough emphasis on the extent to which deprivation is a spatial
phenomenon, as well as an attributional one. What I mean by this is that the spatial manifestation of deprivation also needs to be tackled head on. But first, it needs to be understood - and this is what my current research focus is on. I've blogged on this before, but I just wanted to re-emphasise it here since the Framework was on my mind. There's also a reference to a paper that I co-wrote (bottom of page 55) with some of the spatial context material in it.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Yet another flow mapping post...

The reason for another of these posts is that I've been contacted by various people in different parts of the world (the USA, Australia, England) about flow mapping; how to do it, what to use it for and so on. Well, I think much more development is needed. I also need to keep blogging but I've been busy recently - poor excuse though. So, more results of my experiments in flow mapping... all of which use migration data from the 2001 UK Census.

First we have flow lines for the United Kingdom, at district level and then along the side I show different link magnitudes. This map shows 'gross' flows. That is, the flow lines represent the total link between two places (so, if A to B = 100 and B to A = 50, the gross link = 150).

On the second map, I've shown the same data but at ward level (n.b. there are about 430 districts and about 10,000 wards - as you'll understand, the migration matrices are pretty big). I've had to filter it to show only flows of 12 or more otherwise it's a jumbled mess.

On the third map, I've shown this data just for South East England, in the area surrounding London. This illustrates, to varying degrees of success, the level of functional polycentricity which exists in relation to household mobility.

Finally, I've attempted something different. I've produced a smooth surface raster, based on 2.5km cells, of all ward level migration. In some ways it is a success, but we can never really overcome all the limitations of 2D display. However, it does tell a story.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Field of dreams e-learning

In the film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character hears a voice saying 'if you build it, he will come'; 'it' being a baseball field and 'he' being the great baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. Okay, so I haven't been hearing voices and I'm not expecting any sports legends to use my e-learning resources, but I did built it (a screencast site inside the University's VLE) and he/they (users) did come - some of them are even spending hours looking at the content, which so far is not complete but there's probably around 4 hours content on there.

Anyway, the point being I had an idea I felt pretty sure was a good one and now people are coming. The unfortunate part is that I'm moving jobs so won't be able to continue it at Manchester, but will probably do something similar at Sheffield after I arrive. All posts have to have an image:

So, any e-learning boffins out there - building a dedicated screencast site is not that much work, it is very effective within existing VLE technology and students will use it. So far I've got about 160 users but this number should rise once the semester goes on. That's it for now.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Quotes for Planning

In a recent trip to Chicago for a conference on planning, I took a few snaps of quotes used to market a new hotel going up in the downtown area. The first one, by Daniel Burnham, is very appropriate to planning since he was responsible, in 1909, for The Plan of Chicago (also known as the Burnham Plan) and it is used by planners time and again to motivate, inspire and cajole. Not quite sure it has any impact but it is a good maxim. The next one symbolises (perhaps) public perceptions of planning and the role it plays in society more broadly. Probably not a fair comment but that is the way it is often viewed (Jane Jacobs' 1961 book is a good place to start looking - see this for very brief overview). The final quote, by Einstein, I think is good to keep in mind when making plans for places and spaces that will most likely be permanent. Again, depending upon your interpretation, it resonates with Jacobs famous text.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Screencast Tour

I've been working on a new site at the University of Manchester to host all my screencast content. The content is all locked away inside the University's virtual learning environment (VLE) which is now Blackboard rather than WebCT. Since it's locked away from public view, I did a quick screencast tour of it so that others might have a peek. The video below is a little small to get the full effect, but just sit really close to the screen. All content was produced using Camtasia (from 3.0 to 5.1) and is delivered in flash because that fits in with my Rules of Screencasting.


As you can see, I've customised Blackboard for the purposes of the site and all videos have one click access via unique thumbnails and appear in a new tab/window. This should be going live to students in the next few weeks. I've just over 50 on there so far on a variety of topics but hope to increase the number according to need in the near future. It was about time for another screencasting post, so that's it for now.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The New vs. the Old - Flow Mapping

Back again to a familiar topic - flow mapping. In the past all we had was paper and two dimensions. Now we have e-everything and things can easily be displayed in three dimensions (or 2.5D as we say in the GIS world). The reason for this post is that I'm currently revising some maps for a journal and I have come to the conclusion that some things just can't be effectively displayed in a static, old fashioned manner - they must be made interactive to work properly.

The map below shows about as much as it is possible to show in a traditional geovisualisation of migration. Here I have shown all moves into Manchester (the local authority) between 2000 and 2001, with reciprical links (i.e. where people have moved both in and out along the flow line path) in red, with unique inflows in yellow. I'm busy with other things now, and am still working a lot on the e-learning and screencasting side of things, so time to go...

Friday, 22 August 2008

How Many People Live in Inverness?

Coming back to a familiar topic here - that of the population of places. It is interesting in its own right - see this site for information on everywhere, but it is also pretty important in terms of policy formulation, implementation and delivery. Examples include Manchester's missing 25,000, (which equates to £7.5m in funding) and Slough's undercount of new migrants from outside the UK (which also has relevance for the Inverness case). Inverness is where I'm from and it's grown pretty quickly in terms of population over the past 20 years in particular, but there's some doubt as to exactly how many people live there. Everyone has ideas about this - from more generous figures (giving a 'city-region' population of 66,000 in 2001) to figures for the 'city' itself - a rather more conservative 40,949. This just illustrates the inherent difficulties in defining the population of places that have no statutory boundaries. Even if that was the case, the difference between city populations and urban area populations is often very large, as in the case of Manchester (the district) and the Manchester city-region.

So, I've done a bit of analysis, as follows. I attached the data zones for the Inverness city area (core city plus Smithton, Balloch, Culloden and other bits here and there) to the data zones for which we have mid-year 2006 population estimates and come up with a population of 54,685. I make no claims that this is a definitive representation of the population if Inverness but it does give an idea of how many people live in the area shown in the image below showing the google map of the population of Inverness that I've created. [The map may take a moment to load over a slower connection and I may eventually move it off the server it's on right now so the link may eventually die, but the screenshot below is good forever.]

So, once and for all the question has been answered. Or has it?

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Urban Change in Chicago

Not much to say today but I thought I'd post this photo from my recent visit to Chicago. I took it during a tour of Chicago public housing (see, we do serious things at conferences). The school is no longer there and much of the neighbourhood is no longer there but the sign lingers on. It makes you wonder why it was there in the first place. Chicago is fascinating from this perspective but it's people's neighbourhoods and people's lives that are affected so it was good to meet a local activist and get the low-down from the inside. It also made me think back to Hoop Dreams and the relationships between people and places.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Deprivation and Spatial Context - The NNIMD

Time for a short post on some of my more recent work. A lot of what I do deals with areas, deprivation and trying to understand the links between the two. Since I live in Liverpool and work in Manchester, I've got a good idea about how some of the most deprived (according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation) areas look, where they are and how spatially clustered they are. I also think that the way we identify which areas ought to be the focus of policy could do with some refinement.

So, here's what I've done. I took the 2004 IMD data and created what I like to call the NNIMD. That is, the Nearest Neighbour Index of Multiple Deprivation. I've written a paper on this for a journal (to appear around October 2009) but I decided in the meantime to update the work for the 2007 IMD and post on it here. The NNIMD takes the IMD scores for all neighbours of an area and averages them to give what you might call a 'spatial context' or 'neighbourhood' deprivation value for each lower layer super output area.

This process is repeated for the entire country (England) so that for each of the 32,482 lower layer super output areas we have a score which provides intelligence on the kind of neighbourhood it sits in, at least in terms of the IMD deprivation score. Yes, it's not perfect and yes there are issues with the definitions of 'neighbourhood' that we have to use, but it's a good start on the way to understanding local spatial context and the role this might play in neighbourhood outcomes. I plan to continue this work in the future, but for now here's a couple of graphics showing how Liverpool looks using the 2007 IMD (first map) and the 2007 NNIMD (second map). [Note: the colour spectrum goes from blue (least deprived) to red (most deprived).]

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Spatial Planning - The New Rock and Roll?

Okay, the title is totally tongue in cheek because spatial planning is not exactly everyone's cup of tea (in fact, it's not a cup of tea at all). However, it is important even though most people haven't heard of it and many others who have don't know what it's all about. Over the past couple of years I've been involved in two projects relating to spatial planning, both of which were sponsored by the RTPI. One of them was recently published in full and in executive summary format - they can be accessed here. Believe it or not, this kind of work does have an influence and can help us better understand spatial processes and how they might impact on all kinds of areas and a variety of different activities. A couple of thumbnails showing the cover pages of the reports resulting from this work...

July has been a busy month with conference, writing and visiting different places so hopefully there will be more activity here in August.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Writings from Chicago

There hasn't been much blogging activity here lately but that's because I've been preparing for the ACSP-AESOP Joint Congress in Chicago. It's a big planning conference held every 4 or 5 years by the US and European planning organisations ACSP and AESOP respectively. I am now at the conference. There are over 1,000 delegates and so far it's been very interesting (currently it is Tuesday 8th July here and the conference runs to Friday).

I am giving my paper on Wedensday the 9th of July in the 8am session so hopefully lots of early birds there. I decided to screencast it and make it available online. I think this will be a useful tool for anyone who wants to revisit what I've said because it can often be quite a difficult thing to digest so many presentations at conferences. The paper is on geovisualisation and spatial structure using an example from UK migration data from the 2001 Census.

About to sign off for now, but I've added a photo on the left showing the view of downtown Chicago from my window.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Everything is Connected

One of the things I said I'd be blogging about is urban issues and things to do with urban life, specifically as they relate to planning. However, I thought it would be good to do a quick post on the topic of connections and how it's really impossible to fully separate the urban from the non-urban or rural. This is a topic which a colleague of mine, Andreas Schulze Bäing explored in his PhD thesis and one which I do research on, but without so much focus on the rural dimensions. I'm also aware that I come from an area that is not exactly an exemplar urban area (the Highlands of Scotland), even though I've lived all my adult life in cities (Glasgow, Columbus (Ohio), Liverpool). So, if you're from a rural area like this...

... it doesn't mean that cities are irrelevant. In fact, given that they are now seen as the drivers of economic growth in many advanced industrial economies, we really should be aware of how things are connected. When you look at the major migration patterns in the UK, these kinds of connections are more obvious.

When you look at the patterns in even more detail, in this 3D image I created for migration patterns in the North West of England (high in-migration areas in red, out-migration areas in blue), we start to get a better understanding of the ways in which cities import people (mainly students and young people). However, they do export families who generally tend to rely on urban areas for a living but don't want to live there... But that's another matter.

So, everything is connected to everything else. This is exactly what Waldo Tobler's First Law of Geography states and I am a firm believer in it. Nothing should be studied in isolation (especially in planning) and that's why much of my work includes a spatially dynamic element. The relative importance of this connectivity may vary, but it is invariably important. We need to see the big picture if we are to understand what's going on in our own back yard, so to speak.

Friday, 13 June 2008

From Data to Knowledge using Google Maps?

About time for another post I think. This time about things I'm doing with data which I turn into useable information in the hope that it can generate new knowledge. Well, that's the basic idea. Specifically, I've been playing around with google mashup editor, kml and kmz files, and Index of Multiple Deprivation data for 2007. What I've been trying to do is work my way round methods to display IMD data on google maps so that anyone can view it, understand it and maybe even remember it.

One of the main problems with using IMD data is that it means using lots of polygons and when you try to load them in google maps they render very slowly and sometime you get a script error in your browser (IE and FF). This is something to do with the way it all works 'under the hood' but I've been trying to investigate ways to make rendering polygons quicker... We'll see. Here's an example I created quickly with google mashup editor for an area in North Liverpool:

http://jrf-googlemaps-test.googlemashups.com/ - see how polygons load slowly

I've been reading and listening and watching online and it seems once you get beyond about 100 polygons everything goes awry. The solution would appear to be image/tile overlays but then this has some limitations that go against what I'm trying to achieve (query clickability, for example). I know people at CASA have used similar approach with their Gmap creator (I've used this and it works very well) and I can understand why but I just wonder if there is another way...

Since I'm on the subject of CASA, everyone with an interest in GIS/spatial analysis should go and see MapTube. This is really part of a much wider project about spatial literacy - which I am all for! I've said enough today. Will try a less technical post next time.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

How Many People Live in Manchester?

A quick post on a common urban theme. Answering the question of how many people live in a city is very tricky. Do you use the political boundaries of the local authority? Do you use the extent of the urban area? Do you use some other definition? In a completely unscientific experiment, I've developed a different approach - and it turns out that the populations I come up with are not that different to those given for the city-regions of the places on my list.

Here's what I did...
I took the eight core cities in England, plus London and chose the main central train stations in each of them as the central location (e.g. Lime Street in Liverpool). Then I used a bit of GIS wizardry to calculate the population within a 15 mile radius of said stations (statistically significant distance determined after much spatial analysis... and a bit off the top of my head). Here's the results (using ancient 2001 Census data):

Obviously, these figures differ a lot from the local political entities with the same names (e.g. Manchester the district has about 430,000 people). Even though I've used a fairly arbitrary technique, the populations are a much better reflection of the urban population than others often cite. So, let's compare the figures. On Census day in 2001 London had 7,172,091 people, Birmingham city-region had 2,693, 917, Manchester city-region had 2,482,328 and the other cities on the list show similarities to the 15 mile figure. What does this tell us? Not much really, except that if we use a 15 mile buffer from central train stations we get a good approximation of city-region populations for the major English cities. Here's how it looked on the map:

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

My Rules of Screencasting

Others have written about how to do screencasts most effectively. Like I said in a previous post, much of it is very useful. I just thought I'd add my own rules that I use when creating screencasts just in case anyone is interested.

1. If it's worth screencasting it's worth sounding interested in it. Try to be enthusiastic without speaking too fast. (I may be guilty from time to time here)

2. Make sure you record the screen at sensible size. I use a window size of 800x600 and I get it to this size by using a great little app called sizer (see below).

3. Always record in Flash for movies of the highest quality and easy distribution over the web.

4. Use a good microphone - I use a Logitech USB mic and the sound is crisp and crackle-free. (My earlier efforts were not so good!)

5. Go easy on the 'special effects'! Don't use the George Mallory approach. Works great for mountains but not for screen capture software.

6. Plan but don't script. Know what you're going to do but not necessarily exactly what you are going to say. (And don't worry about little mistakes - they keep it human - if you are one)

7. Work towards a standard format that your viewers recognise and trust. I find this helps comprehension and makes learning easier.

That's all for now. There's loads of other things I could have included but they are the ones that I think are most important.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Cities are Back?

Just a quick post today regarding the issue of whether British 'cities are back'. Since the report of the Urban Task Force in 1999 and the much-cited 'urban renaissance' cities have been back on the agenda but in a more positive light than in the past. People now seem to want to live in them again, city-centre living has been given a new lease of life and huge amounts of public and private cash have been spent doing them up. However, is all of this a good thing? I would say that overall it is but I just wonder how sustainable it is. What are the implications if it all goes wrong and investors and people flood out of the cities once more? What if people don't really want to live in the shadow of tower blocks forever. What if it is not really a renaissance?

I took this picture in Glasgow in July 2004. Contrast between 1960's tower blocks at Red Road and 2000's new builds. Quite striking I think. An illustration of how urban policy plays out in reality. We'll have to wait and see how the urban renaissance pans out but for now I suppose we ought to wish it all the best and keep track of how things go.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Screencast Update

I've had a lot of positive feedback about my new screencasting project that I'm developing within Blackboard, the University of Manchester's virtual learning environment (VLE) of choice. A visitor from the US who is really involved in GIS education recently had the chance to see what I was doing and was particularly interested, and closer to home people also seem pretty enthusiastic. Obviously the VLE stuff is locked away from public view and it's not finished yet anyway, but here's an idea of how it will look to students:

In total so far I've completed about 30 screencasts but I aim to produce well over 100 for this project and now that I've got my production methods sorted out and streamlined I will start producing a lot more content over the summer. I'm going to continue to produce content that relates directly to different classes taught here at the University by me or by other teaching staff but I'm also going to do some stand-alone material that students can use as and when they want/need to. I don't like to script the screencasts because it can be a bit boring that way but I do have a plan that I stick to. There's a lot of advice out there but I think it's best to do what I know works after testing on students over a period time, although I do try to take on board what other more experienced developers have learned.

Finally, I think it's about time time that screencasting (or whatever you want to call it) should really be a lot bigger than it is. The technology is not new and everyone knows it can be done so why is it not ubiquitous? Before I sign off, I came across an interesting blog by a prolific screencaster last week - it's called Demo Girl and it's good reading.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

GIS Screencasts

A quick post about my ongoing work with screencasting and geographical information system (GIS) software. Screencasts are video demonstrations of computer activity. Since teaching GIS is a very hands-on thing, screencasting is an excellent way to reinforce and enhance learning. I don't just use screencasting for GIS though; I also use it to demonstrate any kind of software or even for showing how to download material from the internet for different modules I teach at the University of Manchester. Here's a small animated gif showing the kind of thing I'm talking about:

Software like ArcGIS can be quite intimidating to new students with no experience of GIS so I find that the screencast approach is particularly effective. I'd like to think it will be much more widely used in higher education and in the teaching of GIS in particular within the next few years. The software is not difficult to learn (I use Camtasia Studio 5 but there are lots of other good tools out there - see this). That's all for now!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004 to 2007

The new Indices of Deprivation for 2007 were released very late in 2007 and since this is an area I'm particularly interested in, I thought I'd blog on the differences between 2004 and 2007.

I've been exploring IMD 2007 just to see how it compares with IMD 2004 since authors say that they are comparable (but they do of course acknowledge that the methodology is not exactly the same).

For the most acutely deprived wards, there's not too much change, but the most deprived LSOA out of all 32,482 has moved from north Liverpool to south Liverpool (from just beside Anfield, Liverpool FC's stadium to Speke, by Liverpool John Lennon Airport). The list of the most deprived 100 LSOAs (about 150,000 people in total) is still dominated by the North West, with 68 out of the most deprived 100 LSOAs in England. It is also interesting to note the co-location of football stadia and the most deprived LSOAs. This phenomenon is perhaps not that surprising but it is replicated across Great Britian in other indices of deprivation. It also highlights the massive gulf between rich and poor in a very real manner.

More interesting are those LSOAs which have seen a significant change in LSOA rank. Using the 10% cut-off for change in rank (i.e. a move of 3,248 or more places up or down the list) I did a quick bit of analysis just to see how areas might have changed. In total, 2,374 of England's 32,482 LSOAs saw a change in rank of more than or equal to a 10% shift in their IMD category. That's 7.3% of all LSOAs, which seems like quite a lot. Most of these were not among England's 10% most deprived, but a handful were. Seventeen LSOAs among the most deprived 10% in 2004 experienced an improvement in their IMD ranking of 10% or more between 2004 and 2007.

Conversely, there were 11 LSOAs which declined by 10% or more between 2004 and 2007 to place among England's 10% most deprived. Most were in London. Overall, it's interesting to note the changes in ranks of areas and how extreme these can be. I just question if there can really have been that much change in 3 years in some of these cases and if so, what has caused it (gentrification? housing market pressures?). Are those LSOAs which have shown large improvements big success stories or statistical anomalies?

Lots of interesting nuggets when we compare IMD 2004 and IMD 2007.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

CommuterView, ONS, etc.

I got back to work after a week away and in my mail I discovered a new DVD from ONS. This was the CommuterView DVD I had been waiting for. What is it? It's an interactive flow mapping tool showing all commuting flows in the UK from the 2001 census, down to LSOA level. It's very interesting and is similar to the kinds of things I've previously done with migration data.

Another important development is that from April 1, 2008 the Office for National Statistics became the executive agency of the new UK Statistics Authority (UKSA). The UKSA is accountable to parliament rather than a government minister (as ONS was). The aim of this is to restore public trust in the quality and integrity of official statistics. They also have some pretty new logos.

Yesterday I received an interesting e-mail from a PhD student at MacQuarie University in Australia asking about flow mapping techniques, but they are looking at communication linkages in settlements in Bangladesh rather than migration/commuting in the UK. I'm going to try and be of help as it sounds interesting and any kind of global communication on flow mapping is surely a good thing.

What else? I've also been exploring the new tools available in Google spreadsheets and the 'heatmaps' in particular. These could be very useful tools indeed but I couldn't find a quick and easy way to resize my maps and there are still quite a few restrictions. Not a replacement for doing similar things in GIS but an interesting development. Still waiting on my new copy of Camtasia Studio 5. I'm working with 3 at the moment and plan to produce a 'how to use Camtasia' demo eventually - this will involve a screencast of screecast software. This is possible if you have two separate versions installed, just as it is possible to run Excel 2003 and 2007 on the same machine, for example.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Flow Mapping Frenzy

One of the GIS areas I'm really interested in is flow mapping, or dynamic mapping as some people call it. I did a lot of this in my PhD and am now in the process of writing a paper about it. This is also part of the reason I'm getting into VBA. Here's an example:

This map is an extract from a much, much larger dataset that has nearly 1 million flow lines in it. On the left the image shows inflows to Manchester from 2000 to 2001 and the other one shows outflows from 2000 to 2001. I like to think of this as the migration footprint of Manchester and even though many of the lines represent very little movement, the spatial extent is quite large. The message here, I suppose, is that everywhere is connected to everywhere else, but near places moreso (Waldo Tobler's First Law, anyone?). So, I'm into flow mapping, but only really as one more way of helping us to understand the way our world works. Although, I do have to admit that the nerd in me actually enjoys the technical side of it all too. There's really lots of different ways to do this kind of thing in GIS, but I used ArcGIS 9.x and Alan Glennon's Flowtools. I also hear that ONS are doing something similar to this with their new data visualisation unit - so have to see how that develops in due course.

My next paper is going to be much less technical. My post-PhD publication plan is to get 4 papers from my thesis and so far I've completed two quite technical pieces. Now I want to get back to the actual topic itself (spatial effects of regeneration initiatives in North West England). I might write something here about this soon...

Monday, 14 April 2008

Getting Nerdy?

I'm always thinking of new ways to do new things and now I've got to the stage where I think learning some new tricks would be useful for my GIS development. I've started off trying to learn Visual Basic for Applications with ArcGIS so that I can develop solutions to problems I have or might come across in the course of my work. I've used the work of other developers in the past and I think it's now time for me to try and develop some tools of my own. I don't imagine I will get very good very quickly since I don't have much free time but I am keen to get going. We'll see how I get on in due course...

I've put a widget for this blog on my personal pages at the University of Manchester, which Alex Hardman pointed out to me. He's already nerdy but then it's all relative I suppose. Other than the VBA thing, I'm working on my screencasting project which I hope will end up being really helpful to students who need to use software in their courses but get stuck at some stage. This is a work in progress but things are going well so far.

Friday, 11 April 2008

It has to start somehwere

I have just arrived in the blogosphere after much deliberation about whether or not I have anything useful/interesting to say. This should become clear over time. I aim to write on my work on screeencasting, e-learning, GIS, urban things to do with my work as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Manchester and anything else I want to. Perhaps other people with similar interests with their own blogs will find me and we can compare notes. So, what to write about today? For my first post I've decided to talk about my current work developing screencasts (eh?) for teaching here at the University of Manchester. A screencast is a video demo of some kind of computer activity. Read on...

Screencasting - Being in Two Places at Once
A lot has been written about
screencasting. It's not new. Neither is e-learning. Yet the two are not as well acquainted as they ought to be. In any class where software is taught there is only so much time that you can spend helping individual students, so having a back-up is ideal. This is where screencasting comes in. You just record your screen activity and then save it for playback later by ultra-keen, interested students (just like the ones at the University of Manchester). Host it on a virtual learning environment (a fancy term for web pages for university classes) and let students go wild learning all about it. Here's an example (reduced in size):


Essentially, it allows you to be in two places at once demonstrating a piece of software, or in the case of the above showing how to download data from an online data store. I suppose it really allows you to be in as many places at once as there are people using it. Isn't this the whole point of e-learning? As a result of my enthusiasm for screencasting, my interest in e-learning and the fact that I teach a range of different software skills at the University of Manchester (including GIS), I have embarked on an ambitious project which aims to produce lots of screencast content for students in the School of Environment and Development here.

There's not really much more to say about it at this stage but I'll be writing more in the near future.