London

Terminal 5

Terminal 5Whilst travelling back through London last week, I noticed this new sign showing the extension of the London Underground Piccadilly Line that will take passengers to the new Heathrow Terminal 5 that is being built.

The only thing is, it's really confusing. If you were to look at that, how would you expect to get from the city to Terminal 5, considering trains appear to go straight from Terminal 4 to Terminals 1,2,3, bypassing T5 completely. If that's not going to confuse bewildered tourists, I don't know what will.

A sad day for London

Today has been a very sad day for London, the antithesis of the celebrations which were due yesterday for winning the 2012 Olympic bid. This morning unfolded as one of the worst days in London's recent history as terrorists attacked first the London Underground and then a bus near Russell Square.

I managed to avoid the attacks - although apparently by quite a close margin - though I know many others were not so lucky. My heart goes out to those who had this cowardly act inflicted upon them for no reason, their familes, their friends, their loved ones.

My department had today arranged a trip for the people on our course to pay a visit to the Ordnance Survey in Southampton. We had left London by about 9.20, unaware of any of the events which had happened on the Underground in the preceeding half an hour. Garbled reports of power surges and then terrorist attacks started to filter through to the radio on the coach but it wasn't until later that we realised the extent of what had happened so close to the place we had left from.

Map of my morningThe whole day has left me a little shaken. To show you some of the reasons why, I have created a map (partly to learn more about programming using the Google Maps API) that plots the events of this morning. You can scroll around and click on markers to find out more.

It is frightening how close these events were to affecting me and the people I was with this morning, my friends and so many other innocent people in London. The London I came back to this afternoon is a different London, a London I never wanted to experience.

Open Geodata Forum

I read earlier in the week about a discussion on open geodata occuring in London this week. Being interested in what they had to say I thought I might as well pop along and listen to the presentations. Open geodata, for those of you who may not know, is any kind of data which has some kind of geographic reference (such as a postcode, a place name or anything else which references a place on earth). In the US, much of this is freely available to the public because just about everything produced by government agencies can be used without any restrictions. In the UK however, there is a Crown Copyright placed on just about all of the geographic data produced.

The first presentation this evening was basically talking about ways of creating new geodatasets which could then be reused, by sending people out on the roads with GPS receivers, tracing roads off satellite or other aerial photography or using maps on which the copyright had already expired (dating back to the 1950s). Steve Coast, the guy presenting, had begun to develop OpenStreetMap and was actually another UCL student, although on a different course to the one that I am on.

The second was by Gesche Schmid, a local government manager of ICT at Medway Council who highlighted the uses of geographic data in local government using a couple of different examples from across the board. It was interesting to hear, although hardly suprising, that 75% of data within local government is considered geographic. Medway are one of the councils that has their own online GIS system, Medway Map Service, from which they apparently had to pull their electoral ward boundary data because of inaccuracies. A point which Chris Lightfoot of MySociety later mentioned as well, having worked closely with election data over recent years as a key part of a number of their projects.

Giles Lane of Urban Tapestries, a geo annotation tool, then talked about location based services and their potential social uses without the expense of embedding expensive GPS chips in every mobile device.

By this point in the presentations I'd started to get a nasty headache from looking at the projection screen so I wasn't able to concentrate as much as I wanted.

Jo Walsh was next on stage. An open source developer and co-author of the Mapping Hacks book, she talked for a short time about the ways she'd like to see the open geodata movement progress before introducing Roger Longhorn, a geodata policy expert who was heavily involved in Euopean Union geodata policy for 7 years.

Chris Lightfoot of MySociety then gave a short talk about electoral data and its quirks, pointing out just how difficult a task it is to ensure the data is all accurate and up to date. Nick Whitelegg then gave a quick introduction to his countryside mapping project, Free-Map.

All in all I'm glad I attended. It was good to hear a range of different perspectives - including a director of the Ordnance Survey in the audience answering some of the questions people had about government funding of the OS. I just wish my head wasn't hurting quite so much by the end.

Centrepoint photos

London Bus infront of Centre PointCentre PointI was in central London earlier this evening and so took the opportunity to capture some photos as the sun was starting to go down, lighting up the Centre Point building by Tottenham Court Road tube station with a nice warm glow. After taking the first I was almost hit by a bus coming up Oxford Street from behind me - but at least I got a nice photo from it (after altering the lighting on the bus slightly).

Why do systems not talk to each other?

In the world of networks you can barely move without being subjected to a computer network in one form or another. They're everywhere and affect all parts of our lives, so why do we trust them implicitly when they can't even talk to each other?

Traveling back to the Isle of Man today for an Easter break, I came across this problem of systems not communicating with each other. Because two systems weren't talking to one another it created confusion amongst passengers. The passenger information display system at Luton airport was showing my flight in a slot ten minutes earlier than the scheduled one and with a different airline code. After checking the screen and not seeing my flight I instantly checked my ticket to see if I'd arrived on the right day.

After a little checking I noticed the flight and headed to the check-in desk which had the same, different, details. They gave me a boarding card with the original details and pointed me to the boarding gate which showed the wrong ones. The tannoy announcements came out with the original details.

Which am I meant to believe? What if there had been a major difference? Why was there a difference in the first place?

Admittedly this seems to have been a bit of a rant about Luton airport but how often do you come across systems which could communicate more effectively with each other than they currently do? How much could those improvements improve customer satisfaction? The simple answer is 'often', and 'very much' respectively.

Transport for London recently improved their experience for travellers in London by capping the amount one person spends daily on their public transport usage as long as they use their Oyster card. By collating all of the data collected across their vast network of entry gates and other card readers they work out how much each user has spent. This stage they have to do anyway to enable a centralised charging system, but they have gone a step further and introduced the cost-savings benefit to the system as well.

I suppose at any one time the ticket machine you are using may not know what has happened earlier in the day - especially in the case of busses, where there is no physical link to the rest of the network - but by the end of the day the central system will know what transactions have been made on each card and apply the benefits after that. As long as money isn't debited from the card instantly (or there is flexibility in the process) the user knows that they can travel as frequently as they like across London's transport network within one day whilst holding just enough credit for a day travelcard.

Mental note to self: post things earlier in the day so my brain isn't only half awake and not fully able to explain things!

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