Tales from Boston – the FOSS4G TGP

This is my last post on the 2018 FOSS4G Travel Grant Programme (but you can look forward to several more about the 2019 TGP). I wanted to share some of the feedback that I have received from the TGP recipients.

In case you have forgotten, you can donate to the 2018 TGP now.

My name is Mayra Zurbarán, I am from Colombia (not Columbia!) and a PhD Student at Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia in Computer Science. As a junior researcher in the area of location-based information systems, this conference is of great relevance.

In Colombia, however the Free and Open Source movement is present, but lacks strength. Thanks to the Sustain-T project by Erasmus Mundus I was privileged to do my doctoral internship at Politecnico di Milano with Prof. Maria Brovelli; member of OSGeo and a keen promoter of the Geo for All initiative. During this internship I was brainwashed of everything I thought were the right tools for my research and was introduced to the FOSS4G world, which I am proud to say I have contributed in a small part; developing the Hotspot Analysis Plugin for QGIS and now working on the second edition of the PostGIS Cookbook.Paul Ramsey’s talks definitely pushed some buttons on how the open-source economy works and why it is relevant to contribute!

My previous experiences with similar events goes back to attending the ISPRS conference 2016 in Prague thanks to the GeoLab, led by Prof. Brovelli. Since then, I was very interested of getting to attend a FOSS4G event and as this was my first! I was super enthusiastic to finally see what all the well founded fuss is about and if it were not for the awarded grant this would not have been possible. Thanks a lot to the organizing committee for taking the trouble to take on the immense task of pulling this awesome and necessary event through for the GIS community.

The possibility this conference brings for networking with people working on relevant and the most up-to-date developments was definitely the most valuable aspect of attending the conference; besides, the possibility of watching the contents online for the ones I wanted to be present, but were happening at the same time of the ones I did attend is a great plus; not just for me, but for everyone who was not able to physically attend.

Thanks again and rest assure you’ve set the bar high for upcoming FOSS4Gs. Mayra.

Anna Petrasova

I am a PhD student at North Carolina State University, where I am part of GeoForAll laboratory focusing on the design of dynamic geovisualizations and tangible interfaces for geospatial modeling. I participated in couple previous local FOSS4G conferences in the US and in Europe and always enjoyed them tremendously thanks to the relevant content and community.  FOSS4G 2017 in Boston was no different, it was a great experience from the start to the last day.

During the first two days of workshops at Harvard I delivered a workshop From GRASS GIS novice to power user and in the remaining time I helped attendees in two other workshops. I participated in couple workshops before and I know that there are times when you get confused, or something doesn’t work for you and without help it’s very difficult to catch up. So I was happy to help out in my colleagues’ workshops where they had over 40 people.

The first day of the main conference as a volunteer I helped direct people to the different presentation rooms. Additionally, at the OSGeo booth my colleagues and I setup an interactive demo of Tangible Landscape – a tangible user interface for geospatial modeling powered by GRASS GIS and Blender. It attracted a lot of folks to OSGeo booth and showed non-traditional and innovative ways to use OSGeo and other free and open source software in research and community outreach.

Later on that day I helped to record presentations, which is a great way to serve as a volunteer and at the same time get to see the talks. Since I work a lot with topography, I was glad to learn about new Arctic DEM and how it was created using open source tools, which I didn’t know before.

The following day I presented my work on Visualization and analysis of active transportation patterns derived from public webcams, where my colleagues and I used crowdsourced work to get information about pedestrians from crowdsourced webcams and visualize it with open source software. It was encouraging to see the room almost full and it made it easier for me to network with people later on. Networking was a big part of the conference for me, and there were many opportunities to make connections during the conference,  to ask about job situations, and to bring new people to my project’s community (GRASS GIS).

Since this semester I take class called Tools for Open Geospatial Science, I really looked forward to seeing Richard Stallman’s keynote, and I summarized it on the class dashboard and posted it for other students to help them understand the importance of user freedom and licenses.

Although Boston is a beautiful city, it is rather expensive and so this travel grant allowed me to stay during the entire conference. I was able to participate in the code sprint, and although this event is short, I was able to accomplish several small tasks on my GRASS GIS TODO list and at the same time get some new people involved in improving documentation and tutorials.

Back to Raleigh I am taking with me many nice memories, ideas, contacts, but also stickers and flyers, which I will distribute when there is opportunity.

Harison Andriambelo, University of Antananarivo-Madagascar
The Open Source Geospatial Foundation kindly granted me a free registration for the FOSS4G 2017 meeting in Boston.  As a PhD student at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, this support was vital to allow me the oppportunity to participate in this conference.
I regularly use free and open geospatial software in my work on wetland conservation.  It was great to learn about the latest developments in the tools I use such as spatial R packages and QGIS.  Across the parallel sessions I saw many inspiring talks on applications of geospatial technologies.  I was particularly interested in the new approaches for processing data collected from drones for environmental mapping, and in the diverse ways governments and NGOs are building environmental-related solutions using free software stacks.  Overall this was a great conference with some fascinating plenary speakers, very helpful exhibitors and a friendly atmosphere.  The gala event in the aquarium was a nice addition to the programme.
Back in Madagascar, I am going to continue to explore using software that I learned about during the meeting, and I will share the potential of these tools with my colleagues.  I’m excited that FOSS4G 2018 wll be in Dar es Salaam.  Tanzania is much closer to Madagascar, so I hope to be able to attend again next year.

My name is Mohammed Zia.

I’m a PhD student and Geospatial Developer at one of the key GIS research and development centre at Istanbul Technical University, Turkey. I use FOSS4G and open-data for everything, whether it’s my research, a service developed for government and campus, or something else. Attending FOSS4G Boston 2017 was crucial for me, especially this year, for the following main reasons:

  1. It allowed me to connect, in-person, for the first time with like minded folks who believe in free-software and data movement. It was an overwhelming experience.
  2. It helped me to grow and learn as a team, since I was also in the Local Organising Committee.
  3. I met many potential employers where I had the opportunity to showcase and discuss my capabilities and skill-set.
  4. I met many great minds who helped me improve my understanding on many subjects.

All this would not have been possible without the financial support provided by the TGP. I was only able to cover a fraction of the whole expenditure, but TGP helped me cover the remaining part. I’m highly thankful to them and those sponsors who played crucial role behind the scene to help me, and many others like me, to attend this great event.

As I’m about to finish my PhD, with this newly built network, I’ll be able to move on to the next juncture of my career fairly easily. Meanwhile, being as the head of the GIS department of the lab, I’d encourage students to switch to the FOSS4G altogether and try to get involved with open-projects, not only in order to learn how to code better but also to make some solid contributions to a community that has always been so supportive and helpful in history. I believe that FOSS4G miss some educational part yet and there is a call for effort in that direction, although the current main focus is on software and data development and curation. I’m glad that being an academic person I was able to attend this event and now I’m thinking of connecting the dots in that direction.

I’ve attended many conferences in the past, but by far, this was the most successful and satisfying one. I’d love to get more involved with OSGeo activities in future with this new vigour and try to get more around gatherings like FOSS4G.

Thanks a ton TGP committee for letting me express myself and making my presence possible.


Jerome Oyetoro (abbreviated)

Generally, the FOSS4G conference 2017 in Boston was a success and an exciting experience. It was a gathering of about 1,139 Open Source enthusiasts, users and professionals from all over the globe who came to share their skills, experiences, interests and innovations in a two days workshop at the Harvard University and a three days conference at the World Trade Centre. The BLOC (Boston Local Organizing Committee) displayed a great level of coordination. The venues of the conference couldn’t have been better to host the number of attendees who graced the event.

eHealth Africa was duly represented with a presentation on “Using FOSS4G to Support Polio Eradication in West Africa”. Open Source for Geo Spatial is the way to go for the geospatial industry to reduce the cost of applications and foster collaboration and cooperation in solving the increasing challenges facing the world at this time from managing the sophistication of the mega cities in the western world to the poverty and health related issues in the developing world. I delivered a presentation on “Using FOSS4G to Support Polio Eradication in West Africa ” The presentation went well. The attendees in the presentation were excited about the great work eHealth Africa is doing on the polio eradication effort in Africa and are interested in our data. The presentation video was recorded and there was a promise to share the video at a later date.

Lesson learnt for me in the conference was huge and unquantifiable. I count myself as highly privileged to be given the opportunity to attend the conference. The hospitability of the people of the city of Boston was great, almost everyone I turned to for direction and guidance was willing to help, though a few were not. The conference organizers were very friendly and respond at the snap of the fingers to every request with smiles. This is for me a sense of belonging and breaking down racial barrier, disregarding cultural backgrounds and eliminating ideological differences to create a harmonious environment for the successful celebration of 2017 FOSS4G conference in Boston.

Most important is the increase in awareness in the need for collaboration, cooperation and contribution spirit that is required of everyone user and developer of the open source and free software for geospatial now and in the future. The shift from commercial applications in the industry is no doubt growing, even though, many GIS specialists still use the hybrid of the open source and proprietary applications.

I was shocked when I heard in the “Opening Planery” that $10,000 was what was initially available for grant, which then means there were only 10 recipients of $1,000 each plus granting access to the conference and the gala night which was another $850 in value. I counted myself lucky to have been considered for this philanthropic gesture by the good people of OSGeo. It went a long way to bring smiles and succor to me. Words are not enough to express my gratitude to Steven Feldman and Michael Smith for their flexibility, responsiveness, dedication, professionalism and hospitality. They handled everything with no fear or favor. They made it easy for the grant to reach everyone in the most convenient way demanded by the grantees.

I appreciate all the support given me from within and outside the organization from putting the presentation slides together, to fine tuning it, working through it, sharing ideas, contributing to it, to getting all the necessary travel documents together to making funds available without which the conference wouldn’t have been a success. The conference was a great experience for me and I do hope this would be sustained and most especially more attention would be given to Africa to build the community of OSGeo members. We are already building one in Nigeria https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Nigeria, but needs a lot of support to drive some of our programmes targeted at contributing to the OSM through Mapathon and other programmes.

Bridget Fleming, HOD Geography, St John’s College (abbreviated)

Preconference Workshop – Introduction to GIS Using QGIS

I attended an excellent preconference workshop at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard presented by Frank Donnelly, the Geospatial Data Librarian at Baruch College CUNY. (https://2017.foss4g.org/workshop-signup/#openModal-301)

Participants were able to bring both the tools and the knowledge they gained from this workshop to enhance their projects and the organisations they work for. As the incoming IEB Geography moderator, this workshop has enabled me to used local data to produce maps for teacher resources and resources for the final geography Paper 2 examination.

The course content for this workshop was generously shared with us and Frank Donnelly has given me permission to distribute his course under the creative commons licence. I will be sharing this on the SAGTA website and at the 2018 IEB geography teacher’s conference: https://faculty.baruch.cuny.edu/geoportal/resources/practicum/gisprac_2017july_fd.pdf

Web-mapping is a growing trend and the GIS skills learnt will be transferred to material that I plan to develop in the classroom. St John’s College has run three GIS course for geography teachers to date and the new course material shared at this workshop will be used to update future courses. The workshop was also a wonderful networking opportunity. St John’s College will also be involved in a pilot programme to test GIS resources to teach earthquakes and tropical cyclones. https://scieds.com/gis-explorations-of-earth/ Once we have tested these resources, they will be shared at cluster, regional (ISASA schools) and hopefully at national level with other interested teachers.

The conference full schedule with keynote speakers and paper sessions can be found here: https://foss4g.guide. Fortunately, all presentations were recorded – frequently I wanted to attend two presentations at the same time. All the presentation slides were also made available: https://2017.foss4g.org/post_conference/ This is now a wonderful resource for teachers who were not able to attend. Talks can be viewed and slides used in the classroom as a teaching resource.

Feye Andal

Last August 16-19, 2017, I attended the International Conference For FOSS4G held in Boston, Massachussets, USA. It is an annual recurring global event hosted by OSGeo. The FOSS4G (Free and Open-Source Software for Geospatial) conference is the largest global gathering focused on open source geospatial software. It brings together developers, users, decision-makers, and observers from a broad spectrum of organizations and fields of operation. I was one of the ten travel grant awardees under the OSGeo Travel Grant Programme (TGP). Through the financial support from OSGeoand UP NOAH have provided me, I was able to attend FOSS4G. It has given me the opportunity to gain knowledge on the on-going open-source projects around the world. My participation from the conference has provided me direct access to presentations from many organizations within the open-source community, allowing me to gain valuable information about what other projects are all about and where they are focusing their efforts. Attending this conference has provided me with opportunity to learn more about the latest free and open-source software for geospatial technologies and developments, but also increase visibility for the research organization I am working for, UP NOAH.

Favorite Sessions

  1. Breaking Up is Easy to Do: Leaving ESRI Behind for QGIS – A Case StudyThis, perhaps, was one of my favorite sessions. Alex Cohn discussed the reasons why their organization made a transition from using ArcGIS to QGIS and explained the impacts of this transition on their everyday operations for two years.
  2. It’s About People: Putting the ‘Community’ in ‘Open Data Community’This session was basically focused on solutions and challenges to empowering collaboration within the community using the MapStory project. MapStory is a free and open-source platform for crowd-sourcing global spaciotemporal data. Since it is a participation-focused open data platform, it emphasizes and revolves around the contribution of the global community.
  3. Lastly, I enjoyed listening to the talk of Steven Feldman about Fake Maps. Obviously, it was telling us about the power of maps that may mislead people through the message of the map intentionally, or through a lack of understanding. It was a fun and chill talk by Steven and I am sure that everyone loved it.

The Keynote

There were 5 keynotes for this year’s conference and I must say that one really stood out — the keynote from THE Richard Stallman. Dr. Richard Stallman launched the free software movement in 1983 and started the development of the GNU operating system in 1984. It is a free software — everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, with or without changes. It was a pretty long keynote though, but surely leaves discussion within the community about what an open-source software really is.

Wrap Up

Attending FOSS4G was quite rewarding for me. It is an opportunity that should not be missed. It was also great to meet the geo-geeks and learn so much from them.

I would want to take this chance to thank everyone involved in making this conference possible.

Next year, it will be held in Tanzania in August, and I hope to be there!

May the FOSS be with you!