Open source software has caused a quiet revolution in computing since the creation of the GPL license by Richard Stallman back in 1989. Yet it has been slow to gain ascendency in many areas, including Civil Engineering. This short post discusses this issue in the context of the uptake of QGIS and R for spatial analysis work, with reference to a lecture delivered to undergraduate Civil Engineering students at the University of Leeds (see slides below and as a stand-alone html page here):
The week before last I attended the GEOSTAT summer school in Lancaster. GEOSTAT is an annual week-long meeting devoted to ‘geostatistics’ (or ‘spatial statistics’ - we’ll come on to the difference subsequently).
Having seen the impressive range of materials from previous ‘GEOSTATs’, I was greatly looking forward to the event as a hub of learning, research and community-building, organised by people at the cutting edge of the field. I was not disappointed. The purpose of this post is to say ‘heads up’ to people who are interested, not only in the field of geostatistics but also in free and open source software for geospatial applications (‘FOSS4G’) and research-focussed communities using and developing R more widely. For educators, this post also serves to highlight a cache of frankly amazing teaching materials that lie, largely undiscovered, online free for all to use.
A useful feature of R is its ability to implement a function differently depending on the ‘class’ of the object acted on. This article explores this behaviour with reference to a playful modification of the ‘generic’ function
plot() to allow plotting of cartoon bicycles. Although the example is quite simple and fun, the concepts it touches on are complex and serious.
The example demonstrates several of the programming language paradigms that R operates under. R is simultaneously object-orientated, functional and polymorphic. The example also demonstrates the paradigm of inheritance, through the passing of arguments from
plot() via the
... symbol. There has been much written about programming paradigms and R’s adherence to (or flouting of!) them. Two useful references on the subject are a Wikibook page on programming language paradigms and Hadley Wickham's Advanced R book. There is a huge amount of information on these topics. For the purposes of the examples presented here suffice to say that R uses multiple paradigms and is extremely flexible.
The 23rd iteration of the GIS Research UK conference (#GISRUK) conference was the largest ever. 250 researchers, industry representatives and academics attended from the vibrant geospatial research communities in the UK, Europe and beyond. GISRUK has become a centrepoint for discussion of new methods, software and applications in the field. I was on the organising committee, reviewed some excellent papers for the event (a full list of these is available for download here) and attended some truly ground-breaking talks. This experience has shown that the geospatial community in the UK is strong, especially with regards to growth in open access data and open source software in the field.
These are the updated slides from my popular tutorial, Introduction to visualising spatial data in R. These slides, and the entire tutorial, are open source and available to anyone free of charge online. See https://github.com/Robinlovelace/Creating-maps-in-R for more information.
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Some interesting links
The internet is awash with detritus. In the name of navigating the maze, these links highlight some more enlightened online content.
George Monbiot: investigative journalism at its best
R-Bloggers: a site endevouring to make statistics accessible and fun
Tom's bike trip: there are many 'bike trip' sites out there; this is one of the best
My presentations on Speaker Deck
TGRG website: the Transport Geography group I'm involved with
MASS profile: academic profile at Leeds
Powerstar Youtube channel: check out my videos
R-Bloggers feed: posts about R
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