Education

Degree certificate

My official degree certificate arrived at home today, with a nice suprise.

Based on provisional results I thought I'd come out with a high Pass level mark, though not quite enough for a Distinction. Having now received the certificate from UCL, it turns out I have actually been awarded a Distinction in MSc Geographic Information Science. It was brilliant news when I found out!

A bit of an update

It has been almost three months since I last posted to my blog, so I think a bit of an update is in order. I'll hopefully get back into blogging on here from now on as well...

Last thing I wrote about was my laptop dieing on me during the middle of my dissertation. I struggled along with just university resources, which were mostly ample, though not as flexible as having my laptop would have been. When I discovered that I could get insurance money back for a the cost of fixing the machine (almost as much as replacing it) I decided to make the bold move I've been wanting to do for quite some time - going back to using a Mac. I've had my shiny new iBook now for over two months and I'm loving it.

So, back to the dissertation - I got the work finished, even if it wasn't everything that I had hoped to do. Despite that I still came away with a good grade for the project and for the course in general. My degree certificate came through in the mail last week but I have to wait until next September for the graduation ceremony. It'll be good to go back and see everyone again and catch up on what people have been up to for the year.

With education over, I had a couple of options open to me as to what to do with myself. During the summer I was contacted by an organisation in Stuttgart, Germany who were interested in my skills and interests in the area of GIS and web development. After flying out for a conference and an interview - as well as a visit to the Volksfest beer festival - I was offered the job.

I accepted, and just a few weeks later I came out to start in the role as a Software Engineer to develop and implement geographically oriented tools in a mostly open source environment.

Visit to Ordnance Survey

Our visit to the offices of Ordnance Survey in Southampton yesterday was fascinating, with a chance to get an idea for the breadth of stuff they do and learn a little more about some of their work. For those of you who may not know who the OS are, they are the National Mapping Agency for Britain.

The tour of their headquarters started off with an introduction to some of the new research projects they are working on at the moment such as innovative ways of visualising the geographic information they hold about houses, allowing them to be depicted as a 3D object, for example. Next up was a refresher on some of the details of OS MasterMap, the 'definitive digital map of Great Britain', and an overview of some of the potential applications that it could be used for.

After lunch we were taken around a number of departments within the organisation, from cartographic generalisation to their printing services and finally their photogrammetry department.

The guys who showed us the generalisation were basically demonstrating the sort of work they need to do to remove/select/alter clutter such as text from their vast database of geographic information so that they can produce useful 1:10,000 scale maps. They were completing the work that their automated generalisation algorithm started but that requires that human input at present.

The print floor was really interesting to see as we were guided from the order processing stage right through design, making of printing plates, to the actual print presses, guillotines, folding machines and finally to despatch.

The final visit of the day was to see the photogrammetry and aerial photo department who plan the flights that take photos during the summer months and then process all of the information that comes back for inclusion in a number of their products - the most obvious of which is the OS MasterMap Imagery Layer that will provide aerial photo coverage of the whole of Great Britain. They've recently invested in digital technology to simplify the process slightly, and apparently the images returned are of an even higher quality than the optical imagery they are using currently.

Exam results

The final exam results of the year came out last week, and generally they looked a lot better for everyone than the first semester results of the January exams.

We weren't told exact results but I managed to get Passes with Merit in Management in GIS, Spatial Decision Support Systems and in our Group Project, along with a Distinction in Advanced Topics in GIS - the more technical of our modules this semester.

To celebrate, and generally just to treat myself, I flew to Salzburg for three days to enjoy some time on one of the lakes nearby. More on that later.

Exams are over

I had the final exam for my MSc on Tuesday, on the topic of GIS Management. It is strange to think that that was the last exam I will ever take as part of a formal education, one that has lasted 18 years of my life. Exams have never been a strong point of mine - instead prefering the use of coursework and other methods of examination - but they don't appear to have gone too badly.

Although the taught part of the course is now over completely, I still have the dissertation to do over the coming months. The title of the dissertation will be "Spatial analysis and representation of usage patterns for a web-based store finder system".

The first task I need to perform is to present my project proposal to the staff and other students in the department next Thursday. In order to do this I will need to start reading around the topic a little more to see what work has been undertaken already and try to structure my ideas for my own project. To help me organise the articles I will be reading over the course of the work I am trying out the Backpack online organiser which allows me to keep an online personal space to store all sorts of information. My first forays into the world of Backpack can be seen publicly on my MSc Dissertation References page. I may stop updating it as I'm only experimenting with the service at the moment but it is proving to be useful so far so the likelihood is I will continue with it over the summer.

MSc progress

Well, having started my MSc in Geographic Information Science at UCL back in September of last year, it's now starting to come to an end - or at least the teaching part of it is. This evening I have handed in my last piece of coursework, and next week my final exams begin. This semester I'm taking three modules that have exams and each of them is three hours long. They're basically placed a week apart, leaving a nice period in between for revision unlike in previous years in Manchester where I've had a day in between if I'm lucky.

Following the exams I'll be working full-time on my dissertation for the summer. June to September seems like a long time until I start thinking about exactly how much work I will have to do over the summer. Luckily it's work I'll enjoy doing so there are no real issues. Still, I'm sure the summer will go very quickly, hopefully involving lots of time spent in Regents Park and on Hampstead Heath, both of which are really close to where I'm living. If there are any wi-fi hotspots around there, I can even work while I'm there!

For my dissertation I'm lucky enough to be working with a company I've been fascinated by since the early days of the internet. Earlier in the term a GIS developer (who is also a UCL alumni) came in to give a presentation on the company he worked for, Multimap. With this being just at the sort of time when we should have been thinking about a dissertation to take on for the summer months, two things clicked in my head and I thought I'd get in touch with them to see if they had anything I could help them out with as part of my dissertation. I was very hopeful as they were basically doing exactly what I wanted to do - geographic information for the web. My whole course of education has been based on the fact that I'm interested in geography and computing and especially the areas in which they combine. That desire explains my choice of topics at A-level, BSc level and now MSc level. (If only there was some way of combining photography with them as well!)

I was really happy when Multimap got back to me and asked me to come in and meet them over lunch to talk about the possibilities. So now I have a dissertation topic to work on after the exams, in an area that fascinates me and with a great company. What more could I ask for? After I've researched the area in more detail, I'm hoping to create some geographic analysis software to help them out with some of the work they do. I can't really go into it yet, but hopefully will be able to in the future. I've been discussing non-disclosure agreements with them and my course tutor over the past few days and frankly it's fascinating - if a little scary at the same time. Whilst being aware of them, I've never had to deal with NDAs before at all.

The website I created as the final year project for my first degree (BSc Computing and Geography with Industrial Experience) up in Manchester was designed as a project on its own - not being worked on with any organisations - so there were very few restrictions as to what I could do. Originally I would have had more input from other organisations but sadly that plan never worked out, so it was a complete standalone project in the end. I still managed to achieve a comfortable 1st class mark for the project though, which I was extremely pleased with.

So, next thing on my agenda is to make sure I'm prepared for the first of my final exams on Tuesday...

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