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.