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CASA Conference – Advances in Spatial Analysis and E-Social Science

A writeup (not mashup) or write along of the one day CASA conference at UCL – Advances in Spatial Analysis and E-Social Science. Comes in three sessions with presentations on current CASA research work and a punchline panel session at the very end.

Session One

Online exploration of cultural regions, migration and ethnicity using the geography of personal names 
by Paul Longley & Pablo Mateos
Paul Longley is talking about the Surname-Profiler at www.spatial-litteracy.org The first slide is showing a very early map outlining the origin of welsh names in 1881 and the change through to 1998. He then goes on to the profiler websites where they attempt to map the world surnames with origin and location. This database contains some 8 million surnames. Using some screenshots, Longley talks through the options and features of the page. The projects potential really is the visualisation of the spatial dimension of names currently but also over time. However this is not well demonstrated here. The project h sparked of a number of detailed related investigations, for example research into realties between surnames and genetics at the University of Oxford or the definition of regions based on Surnames in James Cheshire’s PhD here at UCL Geography.
Pablo Mateos takes over to demonstrate some applications for this work. The first bit is looking at neighbourhoods, with an example of Kreuzberg in Berlin. Observations based on door bell signs, People tend to cluster by building. Similar ethnic groups seem to prefer to vie close. Over al Mateos’ idea is to create a surname based ethnicity classification. This is the basic idea of onomap.org For the clustering the group has also started to use network clustering algorithms producing some intriguing graphs.
Applications for this are in public health, cancer research, political party representation and residential segregation.
In Germany and the UK they are working on projects to analyse the residential segregation. The main problem they are facing is the lack of public available ethnicity data across Europe.

Spatial Interaction Models for Higher Education by 
Alex Singleton & Ollie O’Brien
They are working on partial interaction models and it seems they are summarising a lot of the ongoing work at CASA and related researchers. Mainly the focus is on commuting and how citizens get to a destination, might this be work or shopping. The project in a second stage is focusing on education and the impact of the move from schools to university. For this they are using a partially constraint model because there are more pupils than places at university. One of the motivation is the question of how the geodemographics affect the pattern of university choice. Regarding the data they are using the NPD national pupils data base for schools and the HESA individual students records for universities. Because of the large number of individual indicators and factors, they have simplified the the source aggregating some factors. For example they ignore school types or assume that pupils go to school within the ova authority they live in or make the universities a one subject destination. This is really a dramatic simplification of the problem, for me Some additional factors would have made the model more exciting. What does it represent if there is no longer a reason to choose a specific university, based on subject, quality or financial possibilities. The initial goal to research the impact of the geodemographic background of the pupil on the choice of university moves further away.
The model is written in Java. The presented results of the model compared to the actual data are surprisingly similar, well actually there are no differences to be made out from the back of the ranks.
I am guessing that we are dealing here with a lot of social factors, such as demographics background, financier circumstances, knowledge and performance levels that are not taken into account. The fact that some students simply go to the university they are offered a place is here not represented and will increasingly not be if there will be a stronger focus on cost diastase relationships taken from the Wilson entropy models.

The Dynamics of Skyscrapers Scaling, Allometry, and Sustainability by 
Michael Batty
The main focus of the talk will be on the distribution of skyscrapers in the city. Batty describes that the distribution will not at al be normal, since it is based on growth and competition. The data is based on the Emporis database on high building.
Interestingly Batty points out that the development of skyscrapers in size is somehow interlocked without economical cycles.
A first finding he points out is that fact that the floor highest in Paris are only 3.25 meters compared to Dubai with a floor hight of 4.32 meters. This is really a dramatic difference which I can not believe to be true. Skyscrapers are purely based on engineering and financing parameters and a difference of one meter, especially over the 160 floors of the tallest building, are a trey dramatic difference.
Batty points out that there are some basic differences between the distribution of skyscrapers compared to cities. Tall buildings mainly become more, they get not destroyed often, and they do not grow as such.
One of the major problems Batty is dealing with here is the fact that the Zip law really is only looking at the top end of the graph. This was because the calculation was without computers much too tedious to go much beyond the top 200. Looking at 200000 examples show a different graph, where the tail dramatically drops off.
The interesting part of the talk really is the bit about the rank clocks where Batty visualises the change in size over time.

Image taken from digitalurban / Rank Clocks

Development of an urban growth model using high-resolution historical data by 
Kiril Stanilov
Stanilov is looking at growth data of a section of western London he had digitised in painful detail from historic maps. He introduces the topic with a note on the increasing detail research in other fields of science but not in urban modelling. It is still largely based on the Triers concentric model of the city.
The data collection is abased on OS historical maps since 1875 with equip intervals of 20 years, resulting in seven time layers. From the maps Stanilov interpreted also the land use type.
From the growth he identifies three types, nuclei, scattering and infill to characterise the different stages of growth. In detailed patterns he points out that there must be a relationship between infrastructure and new development. He demonstrated this with maps and graphs highlighting roads and rail way stations. However the question of the actual relationship between the two elements are not specifically investigated. The question of what ceps first, the road or the development, the rail way station of the housing area remains in the air.
The model, as demonstrated, is extremely close to the reality. With each increment in time the model follows the actual patterns even though the growth was only constraint by the overall amount of land use to grow over each time unit. Stanilov points out what hasn’t changed is that relationship between land use and accessibility.
One of the difficult elements of this model really is that the historic data shows a period of filling land as the city grew outwards. The current conditions are completely different, since the city now is existing. Dealing with existing urban fabric is definitely different.

Session Two

The research frontier in urban modelling: the agenda and the challenges by Alan Wilson
He is demonstrating retail model for London and how the interaction with the software is structures.
He then makes a comparison between the existing conditions in the city to the cities DNA. This is a very tricky jump in thinning I am not quite able to follow. Wilson the goes on to refer to classical scenario elements such s the possibility corridor.
He the develops the DNA idea into the ‘genetic medicine’ indicating an universal cure for any retail related decline. To follow this thought you not only have to accept the universal concept of genetic cures, the concept of the DNA needs to be adapted. The existing condition is a state and not a basic unit containing the information on how the individual units are structured and built. However Wilson goes on to show two further studies, one is a detailed retail predicting model again for South Yorkshire and a transport model for the Western part of the United States centred around Chicago, focusing on the development of the railway lines between 1760 to 1860

On-line Spatio-Temporal Analysis of Network Data and Road Developments by Tao Cheng
The starting point is the observation that todays cities are increasingly congested and the demanded mobility explodes. The detail case study is the Greater London area also in light of the 2012 olympics.
The major of London has reduced the congestion charge zone, this project is employed to develop methods to reduce congestion despite the smaller charging zone. The approach chosen is a network modelling route with the obvious challenges of data management. The amount of data rise to 20 GB monthly. The main point of the methodology it the possibility to integrate space and time. For the analysis Cheng is using time-space aquariums to visualise the amount of traffic over time on specific roads.

Twitter Tags and Real-Time Visualisation of Complex Geographic Data with MapTube by Richard Milton
Introducing the tweet-o-meter developed as a part of the genesis project by Steven Gray. Milton shows the mapped location tweets in London that we produced in a collaboration with digitalurban, urbanTick and Steven Gray. The video plays nice, but the sound is not suitable for a presentation. It is impossible to hear the explanations. Anyway, for details head over to urbanTick/twitter and watch the full series of posts on the topic.
Milton then moves on to show the development around the UK snow map developed by Steven Gray using the # tag as a collecting parameter. People were tagging their snow related tweets with a #uksnow code followed by the postcode and the amount of snow fall between one and ten. Miltons aim here is to compare the crowd sourced snow weather data with the accurate Met Office weather data. The conclusion on this experiment is not quite clear, but partly it is that the amount of snow indicated by the crowd is not reliable and can not be used as a scientific data set.
The third and final work Milton demonstrates is the new version of mapTube, now with the integrated ability to directly import CSV files from a web source. Also since there now are some 800 or 900 maps on the mapTube service it is in need of a organisation method to find the maps desired.
The last bit, since there is one more, are the mod maps developed at CASA for the BBC. The one pressuring point on this visualisation and mapping technique really are the temporal aspects of the data, especially since today Milton was talking about Twitter, GPS and mobile device generated data. This might be a future step for the mapTube development.

Session Three

Tales of Things and electronic Memory – Creating and Mapping The Geography of Everything by Andrew Hudson-Smith

Image taken from taesofthings.com / Project logo.

For the final bit of the day the long awaited and pretty much kept secret project presented by Andy Hudson-Smith finaly comes to the stage, ‘the World of Things’ – “What if we knew the geographical location of everything?’, ‘What if everything in the world was tagged?’, ‘What if everything could tweet?’
All this is part of the TOTeM project that came out of a Sandpit pitch as a collaboration between the Brunel University, Edinburgh College of Art, University College London, University of Dundee, University of Salford. A more than a million pund project concerned with the internet of things. The project is built around the idea of linking multimedia data to real object via a machine readable tag in the form of a QR code. The vision is that personal memories in tis way can be linked to physical object and narratives can be passed on together with the object.
Hudson-Smith demonstrates the different aspects of the website and how to tag object via QR Code or RFID tag, using a self-made RFID to Bluetooth reader.

He then also introduces a few possible partners, the British Library London Olympics 2012 with whom a collaboration on tagging and linking could be beneficial. For the Future Art Festival they are working with artists and an Oxfam shop for a week tagging and recording for all the incoming and outgoing object.
Anyway we’ll probably hear a lot more about this project in the coming days and weeks. There was an article on the New Scientist‘s front page on Tuesday 2010-04-13 and the website talesofthings.com will launch on Friday 2010-04-16.

Panel Discussion with Mike Goodchild, Keith Clarke, David Maguire and Carl Steinitz
The last bit of the conference is a panel discussion on the aspects of GIS.
Carl Steinitz gives a short introduction. He gently hits out to the earlier shown projects, from railroad modelling to mapping existing large scale data sets. It is quite clear from the beginning that he aims at a very different kind of scientific research. He points out the importance of scale and context of the research. It matters what the question is and it matters what the
He then again hits out on the work produced at CASA, saying there if far too much visualisation produced without understanding the meaning or the message. He makes it very clear that the output often is crap and can not communicate its content. He criticises everything from music, to colour codes.
The approach he presents is a division of different elements that can be combined at will to get different outputs. Maybe the world has moved on since the elements were freely dividable and analysed separately. But the main point he is making here, is that not one single model can explain everything, but different models can explain different aspects. He makes an important separation between design decisions and growth structures and calls his approach geoDesign.
The other members of the panel react and respond to his critical position with different versions. Some clearly agree, others point out that there is something to this new approach of crowed sourcing and data collection outside the established reliable official bodies.
This session was clearly the best bit of the conference, naming and pointing out the ‘hot’ points, beside the usual talking and presenting. In this sense it was a good round of and shake up of this one day conference.

Other comments and reviews can be found on twitter using the #casa tag or on knowwhere.