Friday 28 August 2020

Automatic Knowledge

This is a short blog post about what I'm doing next, now that I have moved on from my job as a professor at the University of Sheffield. It's not going to be a self-indulgent retrospective, it's more for information and a bit of reflection. From 1 September 2020 I'll be working on my own business, Automatic Knowledge Ltd

Take a look at the website to find out more, but I'm going to be doing similar kinds of things (maps, stats, analysis) though instead of working mainly within academia I'm mostly going to be doing this with other organisations and businesses. I was doing some of this already and in fact it was taking up more and more of my time so I decided it was time to make the move. 

Oh, but since I really like teaching (and learning) I'm going to continue to offer my QGIS courses - see the Training part of the website for more on that too. I've already done these for Savills, the BBC, the FT, Regeneris and more.

The Automatic Knowledge website

What's that you say? Brand identity? Corporate logo? Well, I'm not very big on all that but if you see something that looks like this (below) on a map or graphic or chart from now on you'll know it comes from me and my team (talking of which, I'll be working with a couple of former associates from now on, as projects require it).

Why 'automatic knowledge'? Read more here

People keep asking (really) so I'm opening a small print shop as well

Anyway, that's what's next and I'm very much looking forward to it - expanding my consultancy work, building on existing relationships and making new connections. 

Get in touch via the Contact page on the website, via LinkedIn or via Twitter if you want to start a conversation about consulting work.

Free stuff
In my previous job I liked to share as many free, useful resources as I could with the wider data and spatial analysis community, and I'll continue to do that with Automatic Knowledge. It's a small gesture but I know many people have found my resources useful - because they've told me about it. So, on my new website, I have also added a Resources section where you can find the following datasets. It's all already available as open data but in all cases I have added to the original with useful extras. I will also continue to try to give back to the open source GIS world in the form of financial support to the QGIS project. I've done this before and in fact that's the only time Automatic Knowledge has been seen online previously, though in this example it was before I set it up as a formal business. I'd only used that name for anonymous donations in the past.

  • A set of geofiles (shp, gpkg, geojson) of all places in Great Britain - more than 40,000 of them. There are also some more useful goodies here, like a fully-formed QGIS project and instructions on how to style and filter the data.
  • My popular 'All buildings in Great Britain' layer. You can get this online already in small chunks but I have put it all together and also added for each feature information on which local authority it is in and the floor area of the building footprint. This is a geopackage (gpkg) only because of the size.
  • A 'UK local authorities (2020) with data' file. I've added a number of fields to the dataset, including ones to indicate what country or region an area is in, plus the latest ONS population estimates (mid-2019) for each area, broken down by single year of age. There is also a field indicating what kind of area each local authority is (e.g. London Borough, Unitary Authority, Non-metropolitan District). I've made this layer available in shp, gpkg and geojson formats.
This is a preview of the GB buildings file

Looking back, just a bit
I'm not really one for looking backwards, or for sentimentality, but it appears that I worked at the University of Sheffield for a total of 4,320 days (about 12 years). I'm also not one for deleting emails and I can tell you that I received a total of 190,020 during that time (using 71.67 GB of inbox storage space, despite deleting tons of attachments). 

Using a sophisticated mathematical formula to crunch the numbers, I can tell you that this equates to an average of 44 emails a day. Now, in the early days I wasn't getting as many as I did at the end, but I tried to answer them all, honestly. But really, why am I talking about email? I have no idea.

Anyway, if you email me now at my University address you'll just get an out of office (forever) autoreply and a picture of the Western Highlands of Scotland. 

A typical blue sky day in the Highlands

If you were a student during my time at the University of Sheffield, I just want to say thanks. Teaching and interacting with students was one of the best things about it and I feel like I learned a lot about myself, life, others, and so much more. I'm still in touch with many former students, so I hope that continues - even if it's just to ask me for a reference. I 100% enjoyed marking every piece of work you all submitted (plus or minus 75%). 

I'm so proud that so many former students have gone on to do great things, or just to figure out that they really weren't that into urban studies, planning or GIS in the first place - there are many roads, and finding the one you want to be on can take time! I can't take any credit for this, but it's good to have been able to join you for part of the journey.

Talking of students, see below for a 2009 Lille field trip photo - quite low resolution, unfortunately, but then again it was taken on one of those custom-built 'cameras' we all used to take photos with. 

I can't name absolutely everyone because the resolution is too low, but I will at least give a shout out to Rebecca (far left), Grant (front, crouching), Isaac (double wave, far right), Liz (middle-ish) and Justine (also middle). As for the small boy in the plant bit of the sculpture, I have no idea who he is but he wasn't a Sheffield planner. Talking of the sculpture, it's the Shangri-la tulips sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in the French city of Lille, right by the Eurostar station (the glass building in the lower background).

Click to enlarge - or click here instead

Right, that's more than enough of that.

I'm going to take a very short break and maybe do a little bit of Highlands and Islands touring before I get back to work on the projects I have lined up, but feel free to get in touch if you think I can help with any analysis, maps, stats or research.

Sunday 2 August 2020

Rain shadow maps

Each summer for the past few years I've experimented a little bit more with mapping techniques, so here I am again with another effort. You can see earlier ones on mapping marine traffic and shaded relief elsewhere on the blog but this time I've taken a little look at mapping rainfall. Well, it's mostly rain in the UK but of course to be accurate it's about all kinds of precipitation. But the effect I was playing around with also doubles as a kind of 'rain shadow map' effect and my first go was for the UK so rain definitely fits the bill here. Okay, let's start with a map of rainfall in Great Britain, below. This is a slightly edited version of one I already posted on twitter. Below that, you can see a new one for the contiguous United States, using the same style. The UK one only covers a short time period but the US one relates to 30 year averages.

The vertical peaks are exaggerated for effect

I find the patterns here really quite fascinating - e.g. Central Valley

I've done quite a bit of this kind of 3D mapping recently and of course there are upsides as well as downsides to doing this but I think this does a pretty good job of highlighting the peaks in precipitation and also the general pattern across the areas shown. If you enlarge the images you should be able to see things in a lot more detail. The Great Britain map is based on a 1km grid and the US one is based on an 800m grid.

Here are some other versions of the same kind of thing, for the US and also for Northern Ireland.

Simplified and stylised but you get the general idea

Hey, does it ever rain in Seattle, or San Francisco? How about Bakersfield?

The data for Northern Ireland is published separately to the rest of the UK

Okay, that's basically it but see below for some information relating to data sources and software. These visuals are really just me experimenting with the method and I suppose I'd classify them as a mix of science and art (if I'm being charitable to myself) rather than useful analytical tools. But I do think they provide an interesting overview of climate patterns and there is potential here with this kind of technique to take it further both for climate data and other stuff.

Plus, I like the idea of 'rain shadow maps' that use actual shadows to show where the rain shadow effects might actually be felt.

Data sources
For the US maps I used data from the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University, and there are all sorts of great datasets available. The data in the map above is from the Normals section of their website and they have lots of great ready-made climate maps available to download.

For the UK (although it's provided as GB and NI separately) I used data from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. This is available under an Open Government Licence but I also need to cite the following source:

Tanguy, M.; Dixon, H.; Prosdocimi, I.; Morris, D.G.; Keller, V.D.J. (2019). Gridded estimates of daily and monthly areal rainfall for the United Kingdom (1890-2017) [CEH-GEAR]. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre.

You may not be surprised to learn that these were produced in Aerialod. I did a bit of pre-processing in QGIS and some file compression in IrfanView but the visuals were rendered in Aerialod. I outputted the US ones at 5760x3240 pixels in about half an hour, once I got all the lighting and everything else just as I wanted. If you want to learn more about Aerialod, you can check out some of my earlier blogs on how to get started.