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 “Online mapping: Google, OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey”

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

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 “Plymouth Community Healthcare: happy outside the NHS”

Marconi on The Lizard: article on radio history for The Register

Following my article on Goonhilly Earth Station in December, The Register has published the other piece I researched while visiting Cornwall last autumn: on how Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian working in Britain, transmitted a signal from Newfoundland to Cornwall and changed the world.

The article is based on two sites on The Lizard peninsula, the southernmost part of Great Britain: the Lizard Wireless Hut, right on its southern edge, and the Marconi Centre and Wireless Field, just above Poldhu Cove on the peninsula’s western coast. Continue reading “Marconi on The Lizard: article on radio history for The Register”

Opening up on Beacon

After a year of writing every week on Beacon, with the articles behind a subscription paywall, in 2015 I plan to publish longer articles every month. I will also open up what I write on Beacon, so everyone can see it. (This has already been the case if you have followed a tweeted link to an article.)

I have also opened access to some of my favourite articles from 2014 on Beacon, listed below. Hope you enjoy them. Continue reading “Opening up on Beacon”