Georabble Perth #16 shoots for new frontiers

From the Georabblepers, Tuesday 29 March 2016

The first Georabble Perth for 2016 reached for Mars and made it at least into orbit with an accidentally space and craft beer – based theme for Georabble Perth #16.

Chris Roach kicked-off proceedings talking about how to make our maps more accessible. Tim Berners-Lee once said “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”. How many of us think about making our maps accessible to those with disabilities? Chris showed us how, that with a little forethought, it’s possible to put our maps in the hands of those that can’t use a keyboard and even those with impaired vision through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Next-up, Dr Amy Parker took us into orbit with “Measuring a deforming planet from space”. Dr Amy wowed the local Rabblers with some very cool animations of mountains bulging, and the earth fracturing, created through Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, or Insar, if (like us) you are trying to say that after a couple of beers.

Danielle Brady and Dr Matt Adams tag-teamed to bring us a local story on using satellites to track fires from space. Dr Matt impressed with props including the giant original magnetic tape reels and something called a ‘facsimile’ we used to use to share maps of fires from space – totally bewildering most of the local Rabblers under 40. Danielle surprised with a few insights into novel uses for the technology – including using to help top-end tourists avoid trouble. On a more serious note – Danielle and Matt ended with a plea for the technology to stay in the hands of an educated public, rather than denied because it’s assumed we’re all too stupid to understand it.

Nathan Eaton gave the local Rabblers a choice of topics – mapping or craft beer – with craft beer coming-out a clear winner for the night. Well, we were at a bar folks. Actually, Nathan used the craft beer story to share the power of no-bull$#*! in business – reminding us that we are so much more convincing and successful doing things with true passion, rather than just pretending we care.

We didn’t quite make it to Mars that night with our special guest Chris Wesson via Skype. After some good martian-style technical improvisation Chris at least got to see us and has shared a few thoughts below. We’ll take a rain check on “Mapping Mars’ Chris for another time.

Thanks to the big crowd of Rabblers joining us for Georabble Perth #16 – great to see a few newbies joining the Twitterati for the night.

A huge thanks also to our sponsors – NGIS Australia and Landgate through WALIS. Cheers!

We’re making a call-out for some new organisers to join the local Georabble team. If you have ideas for topics, even if that means dobbing someone else in, or can help us with some drinks and nibbles for next time, we’d love to hear from you via

Stay tuned via #georabbleper for news about our next event.

In the meantime here’s some thoughts from our almost martian guest for the night – Chris Wesson …

How many were in your team? What type of roles? Did you use any automation?

Wow. Lots of questions there!

I work in a team of three but the Mars map was very much working alone with the support of Dr. Peter Grindrod, the planetary scientist at London Birkbeck who supplied me with the data and the initial idea.

The map was made with QGIS, ArcGIS, Illustrator and Photoshop.

As for automation; if you look at the OS VectorMap District product over the years, I have achieved some amazing results using full automation but this really depends on the quality of source data and the tools available … I’m not really into writing my own algorithms and so on.

So for Mars the biggest automation was using QGIS to create the contours. Most of the rest was prepared in the GIS but later manually improved in Illustrator and Photoshop.

You can read more about this on my blog post. My blog url isn’t the shortest, most-catchy in the World, but thankfully if you type my name into Google I appear at the top of the page – even above my namesake in the NBA, which I’m quite pleased about!

Did you always dream about mapping Mars? What did you dream about?

Haha. I dream about a lot of scary stuff!

I’ve always been interested in space and science. When I was young my parents took me to some place in France that had a massive planetarium with our whole solar system projected onto the ceiling. It was really cool and I guess it had a lasting impact.

I have since visited NASA’s Mission Control near Houston and last year I took my ex-girlfriends sons to the National Space Centre in Leicester – which by the way is awesome for kids, if that museum was in London it would be packed full of visitors from as far away as Perth!

Mars Map is a very innovative product. Any others for us to look out for?

To be honest, we never thought we’d top the amount of interest in our Minecraft map of a few years ago, but our venture into Mars has done exactly that!

I’m always looking to create something a bit different and we are lucky that Ordnance Survey gives us time to investigate and ‘play’. But ultimately we have to think of something commercially viable. Sadly there’s nothing to topple Mars in the pipeline just yet.

Although we have been working on an augmented reality version. It might be old tech now for some but we have some very creative people looking at both that and VR. The business is looking at smart cities and point clouds a lot, as for me, I’ve just started experimenting a bit more with 3D  by trying to learn to use Blender rather than ArcScene or QGIS2threejs.

What was the most difficult thing about mapping Mars?

This must be the most asked question since we shared the map.

To be honest the process was exactly the same as any other map. Once I understood the elevations and the referencing system, the biggest task I faced was creating a colour ramp that used typical OS colour values without appearing to drab and dull. I wanted to avoid vivid colours or making the map too red like other maps of Mars.

What makes you do what you do? Why spatial?

At university I studied Oceanography, Physics, Accounting and Management Science; so why is a good question!

I guess like space, geographic type subjects have always interested me and I happened to stumble across Ordnance Survey when looking for work in a local newspaper.

Although I do love the job that I do, so I might stick around in this industry for some time yet.

I am quite a laid back person though and family and friends are very important to me. For a better private life I’d be happy to live and work pretty much anywhere!

Who are your role models and people to watch?

In our industry there are too many people to mention.

I love the visualisation work of Andy Woodruff and the beautiful maps of Tom Patterson, both in the States, and I’m lucky enough to know other leaders such as Cynthia Brewer and Aileen Buckley.

In life as a whole I look up to Bruce Willis. Firstly I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for his acting but also like me he has a stutter which makes it incredible that he’s made it as far as he has.

If you would recommend a book to read what would it be and why?

Haha, I have to say ‘The Martian’ really, don’t I? I’ve seen the film but I’ve only read parts of the book when researching for the map.

What next for the guy that mapped mars?

Well I guess firstly I should plug that the map is available on our online map shop! [Rabble, Rabble, Rabble!]

But what’s next? Just last week I started experimenting with some proper 3D software.. so maybe something around that.



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