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Archive for December, 2013

The Internet is dead, long live the Internet

December 30, 2013 1 comment

Almost a year ago we posted a review on the Internet of things, an emerging global network of internet-connected devices and sensors, so with the end of 2013 fast approaching  it seems like a good time to see how things have developed over the last 12 months and what 2014 and beyond has in store for us. In his article How the internet of things will replace the web Christopher Mims predicts that the internet will change beyond all current recognition, with the role of the web reduced to displaying content. Although the dominant ‘species’ of the internet of things is currently the smartphone, with the latest versions kitted out with sensors and apps for tracking and monitoring many aspects of our lives, wearable technology – smart watches, wristbands, glasses, even temporary tattoos – will become increasingly prevalent as personal sensors and the medium for controlling the connected devices around us.

Accompanying these developments in the available devices are significant improvements in the levels of accuracy in location tracking with versions of GPS technology, such as Apple’s iBeacon technology,  that work indoors. With this increasing accuracy comes the emergence of ‘invisible’ or ‘spatial’ buttons, which according to Amber Case (Esri) are simply locations in space in which some response is triggered when a person or a device enters that space. For example, walking into or out of a room automatically turns the lights on/off, or turning on the security system when you leave home. Needless to say, the potential for using this type of technology as a marketing tool hasn’t been missed. British Airways has already launched a new campaign called ‘Look Up‘  with an interactive billboard in London informing passers-by what aircraft is passing overhead and current deals on that particular route.

Along with the changing role of the web, Mims also discusses the emergence of what some refer to as anticipatory computing, as the internet develops from simply responding to requests to anticipating those requests based on past location, actions and preferences. As with most technical innovations, there will be both benefits and costs; the benefits should mean we have much more control over the resources we use, the cost will be having to make a lot of our personal information available to make this happen.

Exploring the US Interagency Elevation Inventory

December 22, 2013 1 comment

The US Interagency Elevation Inventory offers the ability to display and download topographic and bathymetric data for the USA.  A collaborative effort from NOAA, USGS, and FEMA, the resource contains DEM, Lidar, IFSAR, hydrographic surveys, and multibeam and Lidar bathymetric data.

The site hosts have done a decent job populating the metadata, including vertical accuracy, point spacing, and data collection, and the inventory contains a good variety of data types and formats.  To get started, visit the link above and then “Launch the Viewer.”

In my case illustrated below, I was searching for Lidar data for the area around Meteor Crater, Arizona.  After finding it, I was then placed on Open Topography’s site at SDSC for the whole country, requiring me to select my desired area in Arizona again on this new map.  Oddities like this are common to federal data portals, as we document in our book.  Despite this, the US Interagency Elevation Inventory is a useful resource for elevation data.  

Downloading elevation data from Elevation Inventory.

Downloading elevation data from Elevation Inventory.

How might you be able to use this resource?  We look forward to hearing your reflections.

Ordnance Survey OpenData Masterclass

December 16, 2013 1 comment

In 2010 Ordnance Survey GB made available a number of medium- and small-scale vector and raster datasets (OS OpenData) for free that, subject to acknowledgement of copyright and the conditions set out in the OS OpenData licence, could be used commercially, adapted and copied as required. To assist end users in making the most of this resource, Ordnance Survey has been offering a number of masterclass workshops for a cross section of spatial data users including developers, government organisations and community groups. The material from the masterclass workshops are now available online as a series of self-paced workbooks covering:

  • Getting started with OS OpenData
  • Getting started with OS OpenSpace (web mapping service)
  • Styling OS OpenData vector products
OpenData masterclass

OS OpenData Masterclass

Ordnance Survey has also provided a showcase of applications to highlight some of the potential uses of the data.

The secret lives of phones: someone, somewhere knows where you are

December 3, 2013 2 comments

Geoff White, technology producer for Channel 4 News in the UK, recently published an interesting article documenting the secret lives of phones. As part of the Data Baby project the team at Channel 4 set up a mobile phone with some pre-installed and downloaded apps and a fake virtual identity. They then began to monitor the activity on the phone over a 24 hour period.  Although much of the activity on the phone was to be expected – the messaging and communication traces from calls, texts and Internet surfing – some of the activities on the phone came as a bit of a surprise to the researchers. Even when the phone wasn’t engaged in any deliberate user activity and was for all intents and purposes idle,  thousands of messages were sent by the phone to various servers around the world.

Data Baby phone communication

Global communication from the Data Baby phone. Source: Channel 4 News

Along with the text, images and other data packages, precise location details were being transmitted. In some cases that location information, along with details about the phone, was sent to advertising companies who subsequently used the data to target their advertising. Ad campaigns aside, it does raise some other questions about who else could have access to the data? The Channel 4 News team used a special device to intercept all the communication from the phone. Who else could use such a device and how else could that data be used?

The recent combination of always being connected to phone and wi-fi networks and the increasing use of data hungry and data generous apps have been responsible for this significant increase in the amount data about us and our devices that is transmitted. But how do we combat this? Is the solution to only have our phones on when we actually need to use them? That may appeal to some, but for many others the ‘always on’ lifestyle is here to stay. For most, myself included, The Channel 4 News article was probably a bit of an eye-opener. However, the more we know about how our devices and apps behave, the more chance we have of taking back control over the information we once thought was private.

Categories: Public Domain Data