Welcome to Clover

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Posted by on 11 August 2017

Hi I’m Clover, Interpret/Abley’s latest recruit in the Auckland office.  

I put my paw up to give you a dog’s eye view of what it's like to work here.  I’m a very cute 7 year old Spoodle.  My Dad (Colin MacArthur) brought me into the office about 3 months ago after the dog walker called in sick. 

It was a great experience and I got to meet the rest of the team who are fortunately all dog lovers (I think Chris has a cat, but I’m not Felinist).  I don’t want to wag my own tail, but I like to think I offered a bit of calmness to the office on that day, and the team must have agreed, as I was soon employed on a part-time basis as a "Stress Relief Consultant".

My basic responsibility is to go from desk to desk with my big brown eyes and look expectantly at each individual, raise my paw, turn my head slightly as if I have just heard a noise for the first time and can’t work out what it is, and if necessary give a little whine or woof.  I encourage them to stroke me (I get my fur washed especially the night before so my fur is at its luxuriant best) as this has been scientifically proven to reduce stress.  Things can get pretty busy in the office and the team can get a little hot under the collar, something I have a lot of experience with.

I think I am doing a good job because in my recent 630 day review (90 in human days) I got lots of positive comments from the team “Who’s a good girl Clover”, and “You are so cute Clover” and “Your coat is so soft Clover” and so on.  I feel proud of the work I do because it has such positive results.  

It’s not all dog treats however and occasionally I get asked to "sit", "lie down", or "roll over".  Recently I was given the opportunity to go on a “Shake Hands” course at the local kennel which was great.  I love learning new skills that I can apply at the office.  

I also encourage the team to exercise and take them out on regular walkies which gets the heart rate up and gets them out of the office which is a good thing...you know what these IT people are like?!  They barely move from their desk without encouragement which can be pretty ruff on the body.

The remuneration package is pretty good, I get doggy treats throughout the day with a Pedigree Chum saver scheme.  I also get a monthly bone-us which is worth wagging your tail for.

If you don’t believe what a positive effect I have on the office then just read this article which proves my point.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/06/pet-dogs-are-the-new-must-have-accessory-at-the-smarter-office

Well I can’t sit here all day, I have humans to de-stress.

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Interpret takes part in GovHack Hackathon Challenge

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Posted by Steve Ford on 11 August 2017

Blog by Steve Ford, Graduate Consultant at Interpret

Recently I was in a team competing in the GovHack Open Data Hackathon, joined by Andrew Douglas-Clifford (The Map Kiwi) and Hamish Kingsbury (Interpret). This was my first appearance at an event like this, which bought together developers, storytellers and other people with a diverse range of skills to work on projects that make use of open Government datasets.

There was a strong spatial element in the projects that were produced this year, with HERE Maps taking the principle sponsor role. This was an advantageous occurrence for us, with many other teams consisting of only software developers.

Our concept development was a web application that allowed users to find nearby rivers, lakes and beaches of a swimmable grade. This used Ecan water testing data from locations around Canterbury and the HERE Maps API for routing from user locations to their potential destinations using FME. A swim-ability index based on the grade and distance to water features was created and the top three water bodies returned to the user.

Daunting would be one word to describe the lead up to the weekend for me, I was headed for an intense weekend of planning, strategizing, learning, data manipulation, development (that at times would seem way over my head) and presenting. There was also the prospect of cramming 30 hours of development into only a couple of days and the subsequent lack of sleep.

It turned out to be hugely rewarding. The team overcame the challenges of time, tiredness and having endless development possibilities from open datasets to create a well-oiled, functional and visually attractive app (considering the time constraints).

The prizes weren’t half bad either, with UE Booms and Samsung galaxy smartphones seemingly being distributed around the room at the conclusion of the event (and they were only the spot prizes!).

Definitely worth penciling in the dates for next year!

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Welcome back Stacy Rendall

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Posted by on 2 August 2017

Welcome back to Stacy Rendall, who has returned to work with our Abley and Interpret teams as a Principal Spatial Researcher. 

We’ve had a relationship with Stacy since 2010, when he was completing his PhD at the University of Canterbury. His thesis combined Accessibility, Activity Modelling and Energy Systems to quantify the transport energy resilience of urban areas. Stacy worked for Abley after completion of his thesis until early 2015, when he left with his partner to travel overseas.

Stacy spent two years in Scotland working for a range of organisations including The Highland Council, Derek Halden Consultancy and Route Monkey.  Clients he worked for included the UK Department for Transport, Shell, Scottish and Southern Energy, and Bristol City Council. While in Scotland his work combined transportation, web and API development, with specific projects focusing on safety, school travel, optimisation algorithms (electric vehicle charging, underground power line routing), and mobility surveys.

Stacy particularly enjoys the variety of interesting projects, great office vibe and social atmosphere at Abley/Interpret, and is loving the new office on Victoria Street!

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Exploring Arduino's and Raspberry Pi's

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Posted by Hamish Kingsbury on 31 July 2017

Technical Demo Blog - by Hamish Kingsbury

Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s are key components in any home electronics hobbyists arsenal (Not that the Raspberry Pi was built for hobbyists in the first place). The expandable and diverse nature of these two devices allows for an almost unlimited combination of projects and tools to be developed. I only scratch the surface in what is possible with these devices – I simply tinker. I have the necessary tools and components – breadboards, resistors, LEDs, sensors and jumpers; and am slowly developing the skills and knowledge necessary to play with these devices (Only fried one Arduino so far – the soldering iron slipped)

With the rise of IOT (the Internet of Things) I can see these small, customisable devices becoming more and more relevant. Stepping out of the hobbyist’s sphere and into commercial industry. The vast array of sensors you can couple with these (low powered) devices is simply amazing. GPS chips, WiFi/Ethernet/Bluetooth (inbuilt on many them), Cell Modules, SD Card readers – the list goes on. Do you need to monitoring temperatures across an area, or record sunlight hours? Spending a few $100 will get you 10s of Arduinos spec’d to do just this. Yes there are limitations to using devices like these, you need to develop the code, supply you own support and be prepared to do lots of trial and error. However isn’t that just half the fun?

Moving up from the ‘single’ purpose Arduinos, we have Raspberry Pi’s and other single board ‘computers’ (Banana Pi, BeagleBoard and CHIP to name a few). These devices run an Operation System usually based on some form of Linux (Windows has an OS for some of them too). With these more powerful devices you can do more complex tasks and Edge Computing. Why record thousands of data points and send them all back to a central machine for processing when you can only send through the processed data? Of course, there are instances where you want to keep the raw data, but you get the idea.

I bought some Arduinos into Interpret last week to demo them – there were very simple demos. The response from most people was to the tune of ‘What are these? But man, they are cool’. As IOT grows, and companies such as Vodafone and Spark develop networks to link these Devices, I am excitedly waiting to see what is in store for this small but growing stream of tech.

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STRICTLY SPATIAL NEWSLETTER - Winter 2017

Posted by on 20 July 2017

Catch up on the latest news and innovations at Interpret and meet our new team members in the latest Strictly Spatial newsletter.

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"THE SCIENCE OF SOCIAL" - ESRI USER CONFERENCE 2017 (SAN DIEGO)

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Posted by on 20 July 2017

Blog by Chris Morris, Interpret Group Manager

The Esri User Conference is many things: a conference, a place of learning, a technical demo, but it is also a place of social gathering.  A place to meet new people, a place to catch up with colleagues from the past, and maybe unwittingly meet colleagues of the future. The conference is inherently social, you cannot help but bump into people.

And bump into people I did - in some cases with people I hadn’t seen in 15 years, it is just that sort of conference. The social aspect is really important and there are numerous activities that encourage it. The 5km fun run, early morning yoga, the special interest groups, the job board, the final party in Balboa Park, are all there to encourage you to talk to others.

All the people at the conference have GIS in common which makes talking to others easy. You don’t have to worry about small talk and how to start a conversation. Even the most timid of people can start a conversation with a simple “how are you enjoying the conference?” as an opening gambit and the conversation flows, before you know it you are asking where they are from, what they do and 100 other questions all with a GIS theme.

The people I met were interesting, from the guy working in Ottawa, who was wearing an All Blacks top and works for a local authority, to the lady from Virginia Tech University who was presenting a paper on vehicle to vehicle communication and the influence of topography on single strength, to the Esri Redlands team with a specialist in Maps for SharePoint. Each had their own story and was willing to share their thoughts on the conference and their experience.

Meeting with delegates was just half the story.  The conference was also an opportunity to talk with Esri staff about all manner of things, from technical conversations about particular issues, to getting advice about a project, to discussing the future direction of an application.  It was easy to do, it just started with a simple “Hi”.

I also met with Esri on a number of occasions about business opportunities in the United States. Meeting had been arranged prior to the conference and meeting people in person was a really good way to forge a relationship  - this conference made it all possible.

One of the ways that delegates expressed their personality was through the graffiti wall. A black board with a supply of fluorescent pens, it was a great way for people to express their feelings about all kinds of things. I spent a bit of time reading what people had chosen to write and found the mundane, the thoughtful, the funny and the weird, as many personalities as there were people. It’s nice to feel part of such a big community.

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Strictly Spatial #34

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Posted by on 17 July 2017

In this issue of Strictly Spatial, we check out Snapchat’s new ‘Snap Map’ feature, we look at how Google is increasing the quality of street view images and we investigate trends in the amount of OpenStreetMap data available around the world. Finally,Winter is here…we look at how the Game of Thrones maps were created ahead of the upcoming season. Enjoy!

Over the years, Snapchat has increasingly ramped up its location technology services. Up until now that has been mostly limited to filters depicting the location where images are taken. They have recently released ‘Snap Map’, a service allowing users to see the location of their friends wherever they are in the world. The service is so detailed that a person’s character can even automatically show the activity they are doing at the time! Several parameters, including location, time of day and the speed that they are travelling are used to edit an individual’s ‘Actionmoji’ (for example they might be shown in an airplane!). You can read more here.34b

The quality of google street view images is not always the best. Often the images are distorted, washed out or otherwise affected by the weather conditions at the time they are taken. Google has come up with a machine learning based solution to this. The ‘Creatism’ system can enhance street view images by adjusting saturation and artificially modifying the lighting. You can check out some examples of enhanced landscapes here!.

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Each year, OpenStreetMap user Martin Raifer releases a visualisation of the spread of data on the platform around the world. The above map shows the density of data per square metre. The hotspots on the map unsurprisingly include the United States, Europe and Japan (New Zealand also does well!). Remote areas in Australia, Canada and Russia are visualised to indicate much less data. This website allows users to see the spread of data since 2014, with layers showing the difference between years.

The seventh season of the Game of Thrones is making its global premier on screens around the world this week. Fittingly, we thought we would take a look at how the stunning maps of the Game of Thrones world were created. Fantasy map drawer Jonathon Roberts was tasked with the job, basing his work on the Novel series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ which the TV series is based on. 12 maps were required over a three-month period, each two feet by three feet with very high expectations of detail. The resulting maps are simply outstanding! You can read more here. 

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 That’s all for this issue of Strictly Spatial, make sure you keep in touch through Facebook, @InterpretGS, LinkedIn or email!

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"The Science of Sessions" - Esri User Conference 2017 (San Diego)

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Posted by on 14 July 2017

Blog by Chris Morris, Interpret Group Manager

In my last post I suggested that the Exhibition hall was the heart of the conference, well the sessions are most definitely the brain.

Whether it's demo theatre presentations, technical workshops, Esri-led technical sessions, or moderated paper sessions, every subject and product is discussed and demonstrated. Sessions take place in the numerous conference rooms, from the huge rooms which seat 1000+ to the cosy breakout rooms that seat 50. In some cases, there are the right number of seats, in others it's standing room only. I can only imagine the logistical nightmare this event must take to organise.

The sheer number of sessions is a little overwhelming and it takes a degree in planning to be able to make the most of what is on offer. In previous conferences I found myself panicking that I wasn’t seeing enough and I would rush from one side of the conference venue to the other and back again attending everything and occasionally anything. This year I’m more relaxed. I’m targeting broad themes on transport rather than very specific topics and because of which I’m able to pick and choose sessions more easily.

My one big recommendation is to randomly walk into a session, any session, without having first looked at what the session was about. Why would you do such a thing when there is so much to see? Well because you can become so focused that you miss the little gems of information that you will only ever find out by accident. The conference is about learning but first you must open your mind to that learning.

The quality of the sessions is generally pretty high, especially if they are run by Esri. Occasionally highly technical staff are set free upon delegates, what they lack in personality they make up for in facts! Moderated papers are three 20 minute presentations by different users all loosely based on a single topic. Every so often you come across a moderated session where the individual presentation bears very little resemblance to the session topic and this can be a bit frustrating, but the general and accepted rule is that if the session isn’t want you expected don’t be polite and sit there, simply leave and head off to something else.

Today it was my turn to present about a project we undertook with New Zealand Police to identify locations suitable for safety cameras. I’ve presented a fair number of times during my career so I wasn’t particularly nervous about presenting here, but nevertheless you want to make sure you are prepared.  The presentation went well and there were some interesting questions afterwards.

The conference is almost over,  just a few final sessions tomorrow...it’s been a great week.

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"The Science of Software"- Esri User Conference 2017 (San Diego)

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Posted by on 13 July 2017

Blog by Chris Morris, Interpret Group Manager

It’s mid-afternoon and I’m sitting in the middle of the exhibition hall, somewhere between the Esri Electric & Gas stand and the Transportation stand. It’s nice to sit down, this morning’s first session started at 7am, anyone who thinks this is a break from work is missing something.

The hall is huge, it feels as though you can see the curvature of the earth, or at least you would be able to if it wasn’t for the numerous banners that hang from the ceiling blocking your view. Everyone is here, (including "HERE"), perhaps 200 vendors selling software, hardware, and services.

But vendors only make up a small part of the picture. Esri as you might expect dominates, taking up at least half the hall. The various business units are all represented with key Esri staff available on hand to talk to. Technical needs are catered for with dedicated product stands, there’s a surgery for your technical support questions, and numerous demo theatres where Esri staff take a deep dive into various products. It’s very impressive, actually its more than impressive, it’s totally immersive. Eight years ago I remember that actually getting to speak to an Esri representative was pretty hard work such was the low ratio of Esri staff to delegates, but now there is no problem.  I haven’t had to queue up once and have always managed to speak to exactly the person I need.

The hall hums with the buzz of conversation punctuated every so often with names being shouted across the hall as old friends and colleagues spot each other. Delegates move from stand to stand looking for the best giveaway (personally I frown upon such practice, the NASA stickers are for my kids, and Safe (FME) forced me to take a pair of their Safe Sockware socks because we are solution partners). To be honest freebies aren’t why most people are here, rather it’s the depth of knowledge, wealth of product information and creative direction supplied in part by the Esri start up corner that creates such an absorbing environment where new partnerships can be formed and business done.

Cityworks, Trimble, Geocortex, and HERE stand out with great looking booths. Others entice you with hardware, drones are in abundance, but PLW Modelworks promoting a VR headset and an interactive mechanical bull/bird that you lie on wins the prize for most interesting stand. Imagine lying on a large table which is roughly shaped like a bird. Strap your arms to its “wings” and as you flap your wings and lean this way and that, you fly around a virtual 3D cityscape which comes to life through your VR Headset. Is it a game, or does it have practical applications? I really don’t know!

I’ve already been here for a few hours and know that before the conference is finished I’ll be spending much more time here...for me it’s the heart of the conference.

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"The Science of Where" - Esri User Conference 2017 (San Diego)

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Posted by on 12 July 2017

Blog by Chris Morris, Interpret Group Manager 

It’s about 9:45pm after the first day of the Esri User Conference 2017 and I’m sitting down thinking about the day. The last time I was in San Diego was in 2009 and with that in mind I thought it would be interesting to think about the changes between now, and then, not just in terms of technology but also San Diego and the conference itself.

The conference has a familiar feel.  Arriving in San Diego over the weekend, I spent a couple of days getting reacquainted with the city. It’s a city I have enjoyed in the past as its vibrant hub known as the Gaslamp quarter is filled with busy bars and restaurants. Not much has changed over the last 8 years other than perhaps the names of the bars and eateries in the area. Last time I was here I was struck by the large numbers of homeless attracted by the year-round mild weather. It’s a shame to say that in 8 years not much has changed - indeed you immediately notice the large numbers of homeless who wander the streets in need of food and shelter.

The conference centre is huge, running the width from 1st Avenue in the west to 6th Avenue in the east. With an auditorium big enough to seat the 16,500 delegates, the largest number ever attending. Back in 2009 I think there were about 15,000 delegates, but to be honest I didn’t notice the extra 1500 people today.  You were still just as likely to randomly bump into someone you knew back then as you were now, which is surprisingly frequently as it turned out.

The biggest difference is of course the technology, so much changes so quickly in this industry. However, in a strange way that change wasn’t as apparent as you might think. Sure in 2009 there was no ArcGIS Pro, or Portal, but ArcGIS Online had just been released as a public beta and so at least the germ of an idea was there. What we have seen over the last 8 years or so hasn’t been changes in leaps and bounds but rather an incremental change with technology getting better rather than new technology replacing old. Either that or I have become so used to advances in many technical fields that I have become immune to change in my own industry.

The exception, perhaps, is in the mobile space where there has been wholesale change. 2009 saw ArcGIS Mobile, a predominant Windows Mobile Phone platform, leading the mobile charge. We are now in an app-focused world where tools like Collector, Survey123, Workforce, Navigator and Workforce are all multiplatform, working on any device, whilst AppStudio encourages you to build your own custom tool once and reuse on any platform.

What has certainly changed is the language used to describe our industry. Earlier in the year Esri launched “The Science of Where” as its new tag line. A calculated decision to propel our industry out of the IT backroom and into the science limelight. In 2009 the tagline was “Designing our Future”, but the focus of the conference was on the technology. Today there was less of a technical focus and more of a problem-solving focus. Esri, as every good Esriphile knows, stands for Environmental Systems Research Institute and it really did feel like that today, when we were being asked to stop thinking of ourselves as IT geeks but to think of ourselves as research scientists. Who could ram home that message better than Geoffrey West, theoretical physicist and keynote speaker who spoke with passion and knowledge about our role in shaping the cities of the future.

What’s changed in 8 years?  Well everything of course, but perhaps nothing quite as much as our role in society and in the workforce.

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