Thursday, 5 November 2009

Workshop Report

I've just got back from London after a trip for a one-day workshop on mapping software in health research organised by The Infectious Disease Research Network. It was held at the Royal Geographical Society buildings - a wonderful place filled with history from RGS expeditions of the past.

The day was arranged by Mike Head of the IDRN and the meeting chaired by Prof. Graham Moon of Southampton University. The talks were varied enough to sustain interest for over a hundred people stuck in one room for the day. The applied talks before lunch combined the usual stories of fieldwork adventures with the gritty details of database servers and web mapping platforms.

During lunch I set up my e-presentation. It was a series of animated slides talking about the use of open-source geospatial software. I also took the opportunity to distribute some flyers for my course in January and the OSGeo group. I talked through my case-studies several times to interested people and was losing my voice by the time I was finishing off my little sticky chocolate cake.

After lunch two talks grabbed the audience - Tim Fendley's amusing tales of new map systems for pedestrians around London was illustrated by screenfuls of comic signage, many of which I encountered on my London wanderings the day after. Chris Phillips from MapAction talked about the work of getting maps and GIS technology out to disaster areas to help co-ordinate search, rescue, and aid deployment.

 The final talk was from Mikaela Keller on the project. This is a system that takes news feeds and health data and maps it in real time. She talked about how a combination of computer language processing and human scanning produce reliable maps.  I'm still not sure how you could use this data to do rigorous statistical analysis but I don't think that's the point of it.

 After a summing-up from Graham we adjourned for wine and juice outside the hall, and then as numbered dwindled we remaining few jumped into a couple of taxis and headed for the John Snow pub in Soho. Dr John Snow was perhaps the first person to combine health and mapping when he plotted cases of cholera in 1854 and concluded the source was a water pump near where the pub that bears his name now stands. We raised our glasses to the good doctor after a day of discussion of the sort of work made possible by standing on his shoulders.

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