Online mapping: Google, OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey

For ComputerWeekly.com, I have explored the options available for online mapping and how they are used by councils. Google Maps, OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey’s open services all have strengths and weaknesses.

Google Map Oxford

Google Map of central Oxford

OpenStreetMap Oxford

OpenStreetMap of same area

Google Maps are familiar to most people and good on roads, but weak on many other features. OpenStreetMap is in some places excellent – just look at how the two compare in central Oxford, and who knew the Weston Library, not even named on Google, was next to the Cumberbatch Building? (No, not named after Benedict Cumberbatch.)

OpenStreetMap includes details no-one else has such as cycle routes and private paths, but as a crowdsourced operation quality varies. Of course, anyone who wants to can help with improving it. If you just want a map image you can use as you wish, it’s the place to go; just click on the ‘share’ box and arrow logo on the top-right of the screen.

If what you’re mapping is within Great Britain, Ordnance Survey has the most consistent mapping at a uniformly high quality. Its OpenSpace web map builder looks good and is fairly easy to use, although you do need to get an API key and there are a few wrinkles. For example, the HTML code it produces can be used in WordPress, but you need to install a plug-in to make it work. I also cut out some header and footer data in what OS passed on; this could all be a bit easier. Continue reading

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For Beacon: Spain, a holiday playground that should be taken seriously

I have published a piece on Beacon on Spain and its decades-long quest to turn itself into a holiday playground for foreigners, in particular Britons. This can encourage tourists, second-home and retirees to see it only in that light.

The country is much more interesting than that, not least as to why Spain has worked so hard to encourage visitors, such as by converting its historic buildings into parador hotels. Giles Tremlett, in his book Ghosts of Spain, argues that at least some of this is a way to paint over the country’s fascist past, although its leaders were responsible for starting the chase for tourism.

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Life in GCHQ: form-filling, bulk interception and internal emails

The Edward Snowden files provided a lot of material on GCHQ. Some of it, such as the existence of a chess club, a social media service called SpySpace and in 2011 a sports day at the Civil Service Sports Club in London, was fairly innocuous. Some of it was explosive, and the detonations continue to this day with the disclosure that parliamentarians are not exempt from bulk surveillance.

What the Snowden material couldn’t provide was any kind of overview of life in GCHQ; that isn’t what you get from a dump of documents. Neither could it provide information on whether a practice had stopped, given the UK government’s neither confirm nor deny policy.

On The Register today, I have pieced together material that comes from the recent reviews of government surveillance, primarily drawing on the report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC (PDF). These got most attention for their recommendations, but they also provided quite a lot of insight into how GCHQ works. Continue reading

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Plymouth Community Healthcare: happy outside the NHS

Guardian Healthcare Professionals Network has just published two articles by me. The first is on Plymouth Community Healthcare, an expanding healthcare company running NHS and social care services in and around the city.

The organisation argues that its status as a not-for-profit, no-shareholders community interest company is better than being part of an NHS trust. It reckons the services it runs are often lost within trusts focused mainly on acute or mental health; that it is more flexible and in tune with local needs; and that it is able to focus its spending on its local area, which NHS trusts can’t do. Continue reading

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Visit to the Spaceguard Centre in Powys for the Register

The Register has published my article on a visit to the Spaceguard Centre, near Knighton in Powys. This privately-run observatory is Britain’s only facility dedicated to monitoring Near Earth Objects (NEOs), large Earth-bound asteroids and comets that could do anything from blow out thousands of windows (as happened in Chelyabinsk in 2013) to taking us the way of the dinosaurs.

The good news, according to Spaceguard founder Jay Tate, is that unlike the dinosaurs we have a space programme, and are perfectly capable of spotting and moving any rogue NEOs before they hit. Best not to nuke them like Bruce Willis – turns out you can simply nudge them on to a different course.

We do need to get better at the spotting part than at present, which is where Tate and the Centre come in, through educating visitors and using the entrance fees, donations and gift shop receipts to fund more spotting.

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