London

Presenting Bomb Sight at geomob

Last week I presented a talk on the Bomb Sight project at the first geomob meetup of the year. I posted the slides on SlideShare afterwards, but I'll add some more narrative here in case you missed the presentation and want to find out more about the project.

Bomb Sight was a year long academic project to map the London Blitz Bomb Census, funded by JISC with the support of the National Archives and the University of Portsmouth. The project team was led by Dr Catherine (Kate) Jones of the University of Portsmouth, detailed knowledge of the archive information provided by Andrew Janes from the National Archives, the web app built by Patrick Weber of Location Insight Ltd, the mobile app by me (Geobits Ltd) and the design of both by Jasia Warren.

The Blitz was a period of London's history that saw prolonged bombing with high explosive bombs during 1940 and 1941. A million houses were damaged or destroyed in London alone, and many other UK cities suffered a similar fate. More bombing continued later in World War II with the arrival of self-propelled V1 and V2 bombs.

The Bomb Sight project used maps from the Blitz Bomb Census Survey which were compiled by the Ministry of Home Security to give an overall picture of where bombs fell across the UK. There are a lot of maps held by the National Archives that relate to WWII bombing of London and other cities, and because we only had a limited amount of time, the project is only covering the area around London (referred to then as Civil Defence Region 5) and for the period of 7 October 1940 - 6 June 1941. The Blitz started in London a month before this, on 7 September, but mapping of bomb locations by the Ministry of Home Security only began on 7 October. We have also included data from the first night of the Blitz, which comes from London Fire Brigade records. The maps were previously only available to access in their original form in the Reading Room at the National Archives, but the Bomb Sight project has now made them available to citizen researchers, students and academics who want to explore the maps.

The main features of the project have been creating digital maps of the Bomb Census, digitising bomb location data from these, analysing the information within various geographical boundaries, combining the information with geolocated stories and photos from the time, creating a web mapping application to explore the information, and creating a mobile application to help people explore bomb locations while they are out and about in London.

The maps for the project came from two collections held at the National Archives. The first set of maps (HO193/13) shows bombs that fell over night during the eight month period from 7 October 1940 - 6 June 1941 without any additional information to show when each bomb fell during that period. We used 35 of these map sheets to cover the London area. The second set of maps (HO193/01) details the bombs that fell on a day by day basis, using colour to depict the day of the week, and different symbols to show the type of bomb that fell. Due to the large number of these map sheets (over 500) we just selected nine of them that show bombing for the week between 7 - 14 October 1940. Each of these maps was then photographed, loaded into a GIS package and georectified to match its geography up with a modern map.

Manually digitising all of the bomb locations from the aggregate maps provided the landing sites of 31,373 bombs, 28,325 of which fell within the current day boundaries of Greater London.

Visualising all of these points on a zoomed out map shows a mass of red dots covering the London area. We investigated some alternative ways of visualising the data at this scale (such as a heat map), but we decided this method helped to convey the impact of The Blitz on London as a whole. The image was one that was widely used by the media when reporting the project.

The website brings together the various datasets (first day of the Blitz, first week of mapping, 8 months of mapping) overlaid on modern OpenStreetMap data or on the original map images (see the layers icon in the top right of the map and click '1940s Bomb Maps' to enable them). You can explore the map by panning around, search for a location you're interested in, or browse information within various geographical boundaries using the 'Explore London' menu. When you are zoomed in to the map you can click on any of the markers to view more information about the bomb as well as some contextual information.

Each digitised bomb has its own information page (e.g. this one near Bank Station) showing the type of bomb, a map of its location and others around it, a current day address for the location, stories from locals mentioning nearby places, and a selection of nearby photos from the time. The photos came from the Imperial War Museum archives, where they are provided in an easily searchable format and with a licence to use them free for non-commercial purposes.

The example bomb information page shown in the presentation was for a bomb that landed near Bank station. I think this bomb is probably the one that The Register claimed was missing from the map in their article London Blitz bomb web map a hit-and-miss affair, but it's difficult to be certain.

There are a number of considerations around accuracy that should be taken into account when dealing with these maps. The original maps were an aggregation of data that was coming in from various sources, presumably of varying levels of accuracy and precision due to the sheer amount of damage that each attack would cause. The base maps would potentially have had accuracy issues as well, especially around the edges, where one sheet meets another, and over the years the paper may have warped slightly. There is then the digitisation process, which can introduce errors and inaccuracies during the georectification of the maps and also while digitisation of each point, which is converted from the original pen mark to a pair of coordinates near the centre of the mark.

As part of the digitisation process, the location of each bomb was reverse-geocoded to determine the nearest street address, to help give some context to the data, and to assist with searching. Looking up a historic location using a modern dataset can give some incorrect results at times, whether its because the bomb didn't actually fall where we think it did (see the note about accuracy above) or the road name has changed name over time, including as old buildings have been knocked down to make way for new developments (e.g. bomb at More London Place).

The technology behind the website is all open source, with PostgreSQL/PostGIS as the database, GeoServer to provide WFS and tiled WMS interfaces to the data, Leaflet and OpenStreetMap for the mapping, Django/GeoDjango to build the dynamic website and Bootstrap to provide a responsive user interface framework suitable for desktop, tablet and mobile devices. The website sits behind the CloudFlare content delivery network (CDN), which caches all of the pages and map data from the site and serves them from their own servers located closest to the end user, meaning that the load on our server is much reduced.

Bomb Sight Android appAs well as the mobile-friendly website, we built a mobile application (currently available for Android and hopefully for iOS in the near future) which replicated some of the mapping features and also added an Augmented Reality interface to help explore the data in the context of your own surroundings. The application was built using the Android SDK, Phonegap to provide a framework for cross-platform development, Leaflet and OpenStreetMap for mapping, and the WIkitude SDK for Augmented Reality functionality that allows you to see bomb locations overlaid on what your camera is seeing in front of you. If you want to find out more, you may also be interested in my post on choosing an AR library for Android, a technical overview, or a walkthrough of the prototype. There are some screenshots posted here too.

The outcomes of the Bomb Sight project were the georeferenced bomb maps, providing a digital record of an important event in the history of London and the country, the sharing of all of the data with the National Archives to help reduce use of the original paper maps and aid with their preservation, the opening up of maps that were previously only accessible if you were able to visit the National Archives, making the information available to a wider audience and providing a geographic framework for the study of the impact of bombing on the social and economic climate.

The media response to the project was phenomenal, and the initial response completely overwhelming, as we struggled to keep the site up and running under the immense traffic (see my post on scaling from 40 visitors a day to 6 every second).

The project is officially at an end, but there are a few things that are still to come as we find the time to work on them. In the next couple of months, we will be providing data downloads for non-commercial purposes, allowing researchers to investigate the data in more detail, and after that we will be adding some tutorials to the site to help people find their way around. I'm also planning to port the Android app to iPhone when I get a chance.

All of us on the project team would quite like to work more on the project as and when possible, on these planned updates, and also on expanding the project further if we can...

The data we are using is only a small subset of the data available in the National Archives. There is potential - if we can find both time and funding - to expand the temporal coverage of bomb data to cover the entire period of the Blitz and the rest of the war, including mapping the V1 and V2 bombs that were launched into London later in the war. We could add more detailed reports (known as BC4 reports) to the site, which were written reports that described many of the bomb sites. We could also include more contextual information around each bomb location, such as more photos, user-submitted stories and comments. And of course, London wasn't the only city that was bombed during the war - there are many other British cities that were bombed, and many European cities that were hit even worse by Allied bombing.

If you would like to find out more about the Bomb Sight project, have a read of the project blog, or tweet us on the project at @BombSightUK.

Bomb Sight: explore London during the Blitz

For the past few months I've been part of a team working on a project that's helping make available information about where bombs fell in London during the period of World War II known as The Blitz.

Secret until 1972Records and maps from the WWII Bomb Census survey 1940-1945 have been available at the National Archives in Kew since they were declassified in 1972. The public has been able to access the original records there if they knew what they were looking for, and can get to Kew to visit the archives (something that's well worth doing, if you get a chance) but the maps hadn't been available online... until today.

Bomb SightThe Bomb Sight website launched today to make this information more accessible to the public. Covering the period between 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941, you can find out where bombs fell during the Blitz and also access photos and stories that relate to that area during the war.

The project was funded as part of the JISC Content Programme to digitise a subset of the maps and make them available online - in both raster and vector forms - and provide a mobile augmented reality interface to explore where bombs fell in the area around you.

The main bomb damage map is the place to start exploring. Zoom out to get an idea of how badly hit each and every part of London was, or zoom in to an area (e.g. bombs falling near Tower Bridge) to see more detail.

You may want to use the layers menu to switch from the modern map to the original maps used to record bomb locations.

You can click through to see a little more information about each bomb (e.g. these two east and west of Tower Bridge) and see related information about the area.

You can also explore statistics for all areas of London down to a borough (e.g. Southwark) and ward level (e.g. Riverside, Southwark).

Keep an eye out for the Android app I'm working on for the project, which will be coming soon. In the mean time, you can already explore an area using your phone, simply by visiting bombsight.org in your browser.

If you're interested in the work we've been doing with the project, follow us on Twitter @BombSightUK, and please help spread the word to others who may be interested in exploring London's past. You can also read some more information about the work over the past year in the project blog.

Drupal developer with an interest in all things geo

After two years of working from home, I've decided it's time to make a move back into an office and look for some contract-based or perhaps permanent work in London.

I have four years of experience using, developing and helping guide the development of Drupal projects as well as a background and interest in all things geographic, from maps to open data (as you've probably seen from the topics I cover in my blog). With these skills I am looking to find some work as a Drupal developer for an organisation based in London, ideally integrating my geographic interest. Alternatively, I'm open to other opportunities that I may be suitable for.

If you have, or know of, any positions coming up from January onwards, I'd love to hear from you to discuss the details. You can find out more information about me in my CV (pdf) or on my LinkedIn profile.

London Drupal pub meetup

I've been back in London for almost two years now and haven't met that many people working with Drupal, partly due to working from home I think, but also because there don't seem to be too many events (outside of paid training events and the like) that are aimed at Drupalers in the London area.

As I was looking today to find out if there were meetups happening already that I wasn't aware of, I came across a thread on groups.drupal.org asking about regular meetups, and left a comment to say I'd be interested if there was anything happening. In a city the size of London, there are surely enough people working with Drupal to get a group of people together every now and then for a social event. I for one would love to meet more people in the area who are working with Drupal, and maybe have a pint or two in the process.

By the end of the day, there was a meetup organised: London Drupal Pub Meet- September Meetup. Brilliant!

If you're interested in coming along, sign up to the meetup.com event, and I'll see you there!

edit: the event will be held from 7pm on Monday 28 September, at the Square Pig, Holborn.

Back the Burgess Park bid

Map of Burgess Park

Burgess Park in Southwark, South East London is fighting for a chance to get £2 million of London tax payers' money to help regenerate the park. Created on land which was heavily built up before the war, the park has never really been completed, and could benefit greatly from a boost to bring it closer to completion.

In true web 2.0 fashion, Southwark Council are promoting this bid through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

If you're in support of improving the area, you can back the Burgess Park bid by signing up to the Facebook group the council have set up.

Map of Burgess Park based on data from OpenStreetMap, CC-by-SA.

London Heathrow Terminal 5 preview

Heathrow Terminal 5 London Underground roundel by terminal5insiderThe public opening of the new Terminal 5 at London Heathrow airport is less than a fortnight away and the Queen officially opened it yesterday. I was very pleased to have been given the chance to take a look around while it was in its final stages of preparation the week before last.

Having found the British Airways office, a small group of us (people who had blogged about Terminal 5 or may be interested publicising the opening) were given a tour of the terminal by a BA guide. Paul Parkinson of the This Week in London podcast was also on the tour and gives a great overview of the afternoon in his latest episode, and the terminal5insider has been doing a great job of sharing Terminal 5 photos and videos in the run-up to its public opening.

So, what were my impressions? Looking at the terminal from a distance, it doesn't look all that impressive, and it's only when you approach that you start to realise the sheer scale of the place. Departures are at the top of the building, with a passenger drop off area that gives great views of the countryside out towards Windsor. Entering the terminal via the pedestrian bridges, you start to get a better feel for the building, with a number of floors in view beneath you and an airy departures area welcoming you in. Standing in the main hall, the first thought I had was that it reminded me a little of Stuttgart Airport but on a much larger scale.

The terminal is laid out in such a way (see a diagram on the BBC News guide) that passengers should just flow through from the entrance to the gates with little hassle. In the door, to the self check-in kiosks, drop your bag off at one of the many bag drops and then pass through security to the main shopping and departure area. One thing that I really liked was that even before you go through the usual hassles of security (now even more complex, with biometric information being taken for domestic passengers) you can already see the sky through the glass walls on the other side of the terminal.

Terminal 5Even arriving from the Tube, it looks like there will be a relatively comfortable and short trip from the platform, through the wider than normal ticket barriers, and straight up the escalator to the check-in area.

Transport around the airport is set to be made easier as well, with the introduction of the ULTra PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system scheduled for 2009, initially taking people to and from the car parks (apparently only for privileged passengers) and later around the rest of the northern side of the Heathrow complex. I also read somewhere that travel on the Tube and Heathrow Express between terminals will be free.

It's obvious from the tour and from the photos that security will be paramount in Terminal 5, with cameras designed into the fittings and signage wherever possible, self check-in desks that have space for a camera to be embedded at some point, the added biometric security, and the new design for X-ray scanning machines that physically separate off anything that needs to be checked by hand (which also has the added disadvantage that it's easy to lose track of where your trays are when passing through), to name just a few of the features.

All in all, I was very impressed with the new terminal building, the only real niggle I had being about the precedence of advertising over information in some places (such as arriving into the baggage collection area to be greeted by an advert instead of pointers to the correct belt, but it's still vastly improved over the design in the other terminals where Vodafone adverts take precedence and you actually have to hunt out the information screens).

I'm looking forward to trying it out as a real passenger, and will probably take the Tube out there to take some photos around the place when it opens to the public on 27th March.

Why you shouldn't navigate by postcode

Thanks to a blog post I wrote a couple of years back, I was recently invited on a tour around the new Heathrow Terminal 5 before it opens to the public later this month. More on the tour in a later blog post (also listen to the This Week in London podcast for a walkthrough of the new terminal ).

To get to the British Airways headquarters for the tour on Monday, I had typed the postcode (UB7 0GB) into the Transport for London Journey Planner website and found a set of connections that should have taken me there with plenty of time to spare. It did strike me as a little weird that the headquarters were situated so far from the airport itself (see the same location on Google Maps), but didn't think too much more of it as mt flatmate and I started on our journey to Uxbridge and the end of the London Underground Metropolitan line.

Walking through a residential estate and arriving outside the Uxbridge Royal Mail delivery office, I did start to wonder where the British Airways office was. Named Waterside, it was bound to be next to some water, and of course there was a canal flowing through to lull me into a false sense of security. With desperation growing, we walked into the delivery office to inquire there. As I walked towards the counter it suddenly started dawning on me that BA had perhaps had their mail directed to the delivery office. The Royal Mail guy confirmed this, saying something along the lines of "They do have a PO Box here, yeah. Did you follow your TomTom to get here?".

We were already running later than planned, and it turned out we were miles away from the actual headquarters bordering Heathrow (see map). Luckily we managed to get a taxi and caught the tour group just as they had given up hope on us arriving and were starting to head off.

Postcodes can be a great way of finding a location, with mapping websites and journey planners typically having knowledge of postcode locations across the whole of the UK. That said, how can they be useful considering their sole purpose is not for telling everyday people where something is, but instead for telling a postal delivery worker where to take the mail? How do you know when a postcode is going to relate to a building (often for large users such as businesses, schools, hospitals, etc.), a street (as is often the case), or somewhere completely unexpected such as a postal depot?

Perhaps this is where the user-generated databases of postcodes can start to step in. I've added the postcode UB7 0GB to the New Popular Edition Maps website that allows people to add postcodes they know the location of, as long as they can work out the location from 1940s Ordnance Survey maps. The database of postcode locations is then available to anyone without restriction.

Google doodles in Hyde Park

I was in the Apple section of a department store in town yesterday having a test drive of the latest MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops when I noticed that they had Google Earth running on them. Trying the MacBook Pro out first, I was very impressed with the responsiveness of the machine when exploring in Google Earth. The MacBook wasn't quite as impressive, but still very nice and an improvement upon the iBook I've got at the moment.

Google Maps version of Hyde ParkAs I was exploring, I zoomed into London and specifically into the area of Hyde Park and its north eastern corner. I had spotted a road pattern that didn't look quite right on top of the imagery that was being shown. Hyde Park is full of criss-crossing paths that are really quite distinctive from above, but what I was seeing didn't fit that pattern at all.

It rather looks like a glaring intentional error has been introduced, perhaps so they can tell when people have copied their maps verbatim (read the Maps that Lye page on the OpenStreetMap wiki for more information).

Yahoo Maps version of Hyde ParkWondering if it was perhaps a series of paths that had been introduced after the aerial imagery had been taken, I took a look at Yahoo Maps to see what they showed and they didn't have the paths included.

I suppose the logic in adding erroneous data here is that it doesn't matter if you follow it as you're in open space anyway, and so it won't matter to pedestrians if the paths don't actually exist.

London Oyster card craziness

I had been meaning to blog about this a month ago but never did, though a post by Jo Walsh has just reminded me about it.

Jo writes about being frustrated by the transport system in London and especially the changes introduced by the Oyster card - the touch in-touch out replacement for paper tickets.

I don't mind the Oyster so much: it does add a certain level of convenience, and the prices go up less quickly than the non-Oyster equivalents. It does have it's problems though and Jo summarises some of the major ones, mostly social, but below is one of the first-hand negative experiences I've had with the technological side of the system (I'll ignore times in the past when I've tried to get onto a bus, lacked credit, jumped off, topped up the card, chased alongside the bus to the next stop and then got on that same bus, noticing the Cheshire-cat grin on the driver's face) added as a comment to Jo's post:

Last time I was travelling through London, just before Christmas in the midst of the fog chaos, I managed to leave my jacket in the loos at Heathrow. Realising I'd forgotten something, I got off the tube at Hatton Cross and jumped back onto the next train going back to Heathrow. Leaving the gates, I spotted a 0.20 on the display and thought, that's a good deal for a short journey! Luckily I found my jacket again, and went back to the tube.

This time, the gates wouldn't let me through, giving me only a cryptic number for the reason. The guy at the open barrier wasn't much more helpful, especially after I told him I knew I had almost 8 quid on there. He told me I had no credit and I should see the guy at the ticket desk.

At the ticket desk I was told the same thing, that I didn't have any money on there. I kicked up a fuss, knowing that I had money on there, and thinking that the last journey had cost me 20p. I explained the situation about 5 times, and he seemed confused. There was no record of me going into the system (I'd touched in, and the gate had opened), but then I'd come out, back to where I'd started. To them, after I'd told them what had happened, that was me going in without touching in, going one stop down the line, starting another journey without first touching out and then in again, and touching out for the first time. (Although why I got charged a double fine automatically, without them knowing that I'd touched in at the same place, I have no idea).

I didn't leave the desk until he'd re-credited the fine (minus a fee for a single journey, if necessary). Thankfully, he did just that. I was very grateful because he didn't have to, but as someone who was f*cked over by the system, I would have been very angry if I wasn't reimbursed.

The London Underground guy told me that the Oyster cards had caused more trouble for the staff behind the desks than the perceived benefits, and wished they were never introduced.

As you say, the queues may be shorter, but they take longer because the queries are hellishly complex.

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