FOSS4G UK, a personal view

FOSS4GUK 2018 logo

Last week James Milner and his organising committee staged a brilliant FOSS4G UK at the Geovation Hub.

For the first time in ages I wasn’t organising a FOSS4G (well I did help with some financial bits and pieces), I wasn’t presenting (except for a lightning talk) so I could just hang out listen to interesting speakers and learn some cool stuff in the workshops.

Here is what I enjoyed in roughly chronological order):

Day 1

Joana Simoes

Joana Simoes of GeoCat gave the first keynote on SDI’s and containerisation – it sounds very techy but it wasn’t difficult to follow and gave a fascinating explanation of why you might want to use containers (in Joana’s case Docker) to create a highly scalable and simple to maintain infrastructure.

The rest of the morning was filled with a QGIS stream which included “QGIS: A Sustainable Open Source Project” by Saber Razmjooei of Lutra, “Publishing MapAction Maps: A QGIS Plugin” by Ant Scott of Astun and MapAction and “QGIS Anywhere” by Martin Dobias of Lutra. As QGIS 3 starts to roll out, you cannot help but be impressed by the increasing ambition and professionalism of the project.

In the afternoon I sat in on Tom Armitage‘s brilliant “Data Visualisation with QGIS” workshop. I am a pretty basic mapper who can just about hack together some data in QGIS, this was a bit of an eye opener. Tom took us on a journey through some of those deep down dialogues – draw effects, layer and feature rendering settings, multiple styles, the Size Assistant. Those of us who managed to keep up made 3 or 4 pretty impressive maps and learnt a lot on the way. Somehow my maps weren’t quite as good as these:

In the evening there was the now mandatory FOSS4G party at a local pub, great conversations, plenty of wine and beer and absolutely tons of food (much of which breached my healthy eating guidelines). Oh and we managed to get AC Milan vs Arsenal on the big screens so I was very happy with our first win ages.

Day 2

Jorge Sanz
Day 2 started with a superb talk from Jorge Sanz of Carto. Once again it was technical but accessible and although it was based on the capabilities of the Carto product, Jorge emphasised that all of the code was open source and that you could build your own Carto stack rather than using their enterprise service. I’ve been a fan of Carto for a number of years and have proposed it to some clients as a solution. I signed up for a free entry level account a few years back which is a good thing because now they have gone completely enterprise and no longer offer free accounts (boo hoo) to new users. Still if you haven’t got a free Carto account the QGIS2Web plugin by Tom Chadwin is a great and simple free option.

Next up was Thomas Starnes of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds talking about “Open Drones”, this was a fascinating talk particularly for people like me who are so vector centric that we think imagery and 3D are just eye candy.

Then it was off to the Lightning Talks session where I had cobbled together a few thoughts, more questions than answers, on the “Open Communities – we love to hate …”. The theme was that we tend to be tribal and sometimes we can lapse into fundamentalism all of which creates a tension within the community. Sometimes we are more united in our opposition to some other group or camp than we are in furthering our vision for our open community. The ideas are still forming and I plan to explore them further in a couple of talks later in the year (assuming the proposals get accepted).

The afternoon session on visualisation was all round brilliant. First up was Charley Glynn of the OS introducing their GeoDataViz Toolkit which they have open sourced. This is a great resource with colour swatches, icons, workshops and loads more stuff.

This slide would have had Ken Field on his feet cheering from the other side of the planet:

Oliver O’Brien dazzled us with a colossal collection of code snippets and tricks for OpenLayers

And then we were treated to another tour de force from Tom Armitage riffing on a Star Wars theme. The audience loved it.

Last up was Ross McDonald talking about the different ways to visualise thousands of individual journeys to school.


Peter Batty

And then to finish off the afternoon my good friend Peter Batty of Ubisense delivered the closing keynote on “Geospatial Industry Trends”. Peter is a brilliant presenter, makes stunning slides but most of all is always thoughtful and thought provoking. This talk was no exception. Early on we learnt about Ubisense’s use of open source at some of the largest telcos and utilities in the US

Then Peter compared the effort that has gone into creating OSGeo software with what it took to build the Empire State Building

OSGeo person years > Empire State Building

Who’d have thought?

Just in case the audience were feeling a little exhausted at the end of the two days, Peter strung together an amazing video collection illustrating where we might be in 5 or 10 yers time. He concluded with this provocative (deliberately?) slide

And that was it, just time for James to wrap up

I had one last push to get people to donate to the FOSS4G Travel Programme, during the 2 days we collected $440 to help people travel to Dar es Salaam this summer. You could add to that by clicking on the donate link

And then it was time to go to the pub for a last drink and to say goodbye to new and old friends from near and far until the next time we have a FOSS4GUK (rumour has it that FOSS4GUK 2019 will be hosted somewhere in Scotland next year).

All that is left is to say thanks to the wonderful sponsors who made the event so affordable and who contributed their staff’s time and energy


Apologies to all of the other speakers whose sessions I missed and haven’t mentioned, particularly my pals at Astun.

You don’t have to wait until 2019 to experience the FOSS4GUK goodness. Fortunately there will be several more opportunities this year including FOSS4GNA, FOSS4G France, FOSS4G Europe and of course the big one, FOSS4G2018 in Dar es Salaam.