Monday, June 9, 2008

Geospatial Day at OS Bootcamp

Last Monday I attended an interesting event for the first time: OS Bootcamp (where the OS in this case is for open source, not operating systems). I had heard of these events before, but never made it out until I had the excuse that the latest edition was going to be all about geospatial software (a topic related to my thesis - more on that in the next few days).

OS Bootcamp started as a free mini-conference to help students gain basic skills generally used in open source software development, from web programming to databases, C++ programming to Eclipse. There were five given before the geospatial day, but the latest was the longest, having talks for an entire day. Free food and drinks are always provided, including sandwiches for lunch in this case.

The first set of talks weren't of huge interest to me in that they focussed on business rather than technology. Andrew Ross, who founded OS Bootcamp, began with his thoughts on the business value of open source, focussing on the cost savings of reusing code that somebody else has designed, developed, and tested. Tony Bailetti of Carleton told us about the Talent First Network and the Technology Innovation Management Masters degree. Emma McGrattan explained how Ingres became the most mature open source database available for enterprise use, and how it integrated new open source geospatial libraries.

Things started to get interesting when Dave McIlagga outlined the significance of open source geospatial software in Ottawa. I had no idea how strong the culture of open source apparently is here. Dave asserted that there is a strong relationship between the community, industry, government, NGO's, and academia. He listed the following trends he thinks will be important, particularly in relation to location. I feel they are definitely relevant to my mapping idea.
  • Wireless is (or will be) everywhere. This will allow for a synchronization between reality and information technology.
  • Consumers want real time information, like weather, traffic, and so on.
  • There is also a desire for "real" reality (think augmented reality!).
  • Technologies need to be geospatially aware to be able to make good real time decisions, requiring geospatial software to be well integrated with other technologies.
  • There is an increasing importance placed on "where," and this context awareness is again important for effective decision making.
After the next talk, a survey of some open source geospatial software available today (a mile wide and an inch deep), Zak James presented a way to use Amazon's cloud computing services to create a tiled map application, similar to Google maps. I found it useful to get some details on how you can use the power of other peoples' computers, and how much it could cost. There may be potential to use such a thing for research projects, given the right grants to pay for it.

Julien Lacroix and Paul Spencer demonstrated the many cool things that can be done with OpenLayers, "a pure JavaScript library for displaying map data in most modern web browsers, with no server-side dependencies." The website features a gallery of examples. I can definitely see some uses of OpenLayers and its vector capabilities for some innovative augmented reality web applications (perhaps even on mobile devices).

As a bit of a twist on the usual technical talks, Scott Mitchell discussed how open source software could be used in academia from the perspective of a non-technical geographer. A fresh perspective is always eye-opening, and it was motivating to hear about how professors in other departments are making use of the high quality software available free these days. Of equal importance are the disadvantages of OSS in this context. For instance, there is no institutional support for this non-standard software, so a professor that uses it must also administer and fix it himself.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that my attention span could not handle much more. I suppose that's why all the other OS Bootcamps are much shorter in terms of length and number of talks. There were several other talks that I should have been interested in, including one that had a great geometry focus, but my mind had wandered, waiting only for the draw for the GPS and Playstation III at the end of the day.

Despite this, I felt the event was really well put together, and am considering attending the next Bootcamp to see if I can't learn a few new tricks in Eclipse. Who knows; I might even be able to convince the husband to tag along.

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