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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Where can I get free Datasets of Malaysia?

Recently, my post on Vegetation Maps and Stimulated Minds sparked some discussions on missing information and gaps on the maps (why the sea is red or the lakes are missing). It hit me to the core that when I produce the map, I need to ensure the maximum amount of perceived accuracy and proper cartographic representation for the maps I produce.

Hence, I commenced a continuous project to create a geodatabase of freely available of GIS data of Malaysia (since Malaysia do not practice open data - hence the search gets difficult). Coincidentally, the big GIS FB group Admin talked about collecting datasets to make it available to anyone in the group (last count : more than 5000 members)

As I am regular producer of Malaysian maps for many people, I have assembled (work in progress) a list of sources. For those who are interested with complete metadata description (terms of usage etc.), please contact me directly on the blog.

Administrative Boundaries/Electoral Boundaries

  1.  (Coarse resolution ,outdated boundaries of state, district level boundaries - Perak Boundary is inaccurate, Labuan has been omitted) - home to other coarse resolution data like roads, population density
  2. (Fairly accurate state boundaries of Malaysia - no statement on terms of usage)
  3. For Electoral boundaries, there is no freely available spatial data (please lodge the request privately to me and I will seek approval from the source)

Topography/Bathymetry/ Physical Features

  1. (For bathymetry for general purpose - please do not distribute the data from one person to another, download straight from the website)
  2. (Topography for non-commercial purposes)
  3. (Topography data (coarser resolution))
  4. (Coarser resolution for Topographic data)
  5. (For hydrographic, hypsographic features in excel format with coordinates). Those who want to access a cleaner version, please contact me privately

Water Body/Rivers

  1. (Downloading freely available Open Street Map Data of all vector features including rivers and water bodies - not complete)
  2. (Water Polygons for coastlines, sea and oceans)
  3. (Lake and Wetlands)
  4. (For non-commercial purposes, water bodies)

Vegetation/National Parks

  1. (Forest cover, changes)
  2.  (National Parks for non-commercial purposes)
  3. (Gazetteer for estate, forest reserves and other vegetation features)

Mineral Resources

Human Built Features

  1. (For roads, railway, points of interests and other human built features
  2. For North-South Highway assets (i.e. SOS telephones, points of interest), please contact me directly for data distribution.
  3. (Gazetteer for selected human built features - population areas, transportation features)
If you know any additional sources, please contact me and will update the source. For those who want the data with proper documentation and metadata, contact me via the blog. We can talk more on data distribution

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Vegetation Maps and Stimulated Minds

Recently, I have been inspired by the Human Footprint maps of National Geographic Maps. Human Footprint map of Africa was built on four layers representative human impact on the environment -Africa Human Footprint Map. I wanted to make a map similar to this for Malaysia. Unlike National Geographic Maps continental coverage map of Africa, my area coverage was 300 000 sq km or so (100 times smaller than Africa). Hence, the difficulties in finding data needed for human footprint map of Malaysia increased.

Since Malaysia do not practice open data policy, searching GIS data needed for any map is like going for treasure hunt. Fortunately, I had access to older version Open Street Map road network dataset and DIVA GIS datasets (for the rivers, lakes etc.). The key part of the map is to show the disturbance of tree cover (this may include oil palm, rubber and general forested areas) in Malaysia. I was fortunate to stumble on Global Forest Change where I got the crucial data. Once the dataset were obtained, the remaining part of the map project is purely cartographic work. Using +QGIS , I used layer blending to highlight the density of the road of various areas. I used Print Composer to create multiple maps in one map. The above map is one example of this project.

Once I begin to advertise on social media circles, I see people's mind stimulated:
  1. Why does some areas of Peninsular Malaysia is experiencing higher loss of vegetation? Is it because of the increased oil palm plantation area?
  2. Why does some map has incomplete dataset of the lakes? If you refer to the first map of the post, some of the red areas are water areas? 
  3. Why does the Sea are is coloured green or red? It can confuse people - this has been corrected
  4. People spoke highly about the quality of the map that was produced in +QGIS 
  5. For the maps of Borneo, some raised the Indonesian state borders are not accurate. I countered that  the map focuses on changes to vegetation, not so much of anything else. However, I am willing to hear any free sources of updated boundaries.
  6. A person requested similar maps for Borneo (below are the three maps I supplied him) after seeing it on the social media
  7. These maps are the few maps I made had great social media reach in terms of sharing and liking (be it promoting QGIS or the topic it covered).

Tree Cover of Borneo

Important tips in +QGIS when I was producing the map:

  1. Print Composer (For better looking North arrow, please refer to step 28)
  2. Vector Symbology (For options to feature blending - i.e. road density, refer to Layer rendering)

Ask a map or general mapping enquiry at blog contact form

Friday, 28 August 2015

Interactive Time-Based Animation Map

This Article is work in progress
by Pemanducomm

As the Post heading suggest, I am pleased to inform you that I just launched the Railway History Map of Malaysia. It was built on solid research and powered by ArcGIS Online - Malaysian Railway History


Two years ago, I designed multiple map platform to understand the nature of the Railway. It contained operational year of the railway, number of tracks and status of operation of the tracks. Refer to Malaysian Railway Portal. However, it lacked one thing - Time capability. I revisited this project and focused to create a map of railway network evolution of Malaysia.

I believe so far no one has built such a map. Why I don't start one? Make a foray into the world of time based animation.


The number one challenge of the project is the data for the operational years for the railway. As railways come and go, I need to know when they first being in operation and when they became disused. I downloaded DIVA GIS for the base railway network layer. I made a policy if there is no operational dates or years for the railway, it will not be shown on the map. DIVA GIS showed a lot of unknown railways which I have no evidence to back them.

On the Attribute part, I scouted heaps of blogs, railway fan sites, Wikipedia and every possible source available online.


I have made every attempt to ensure the highest accuracy of the dataset. Below here is the accuracy level of dataset
  1. Railway Network of Malaya: The opening date and closure date of the network is mixture based on the year and date level accuracy. Upgrading of the railway line to double track from Padang Besar to Gemas has resulted some of the previous tracks becoming disused. No definite year or date is found when the track got disused. Disuse status of Pasir Mas to Rantau Panjang is yet to be found. Subang Jaya to Subang Airport 1980 rail link has no disuse date.
  2. Railway Network of Sarawak: The only evident railway with opening and closing year is around Kuching.The route is drawn based on 1940s army map of Borneo. Railway from Brunei to Miri is not shown due to lack of information
  3. Railway Network of Labuan: The railway track is based on 1800s map of North Borneo. It is meant for general viewing, not determining the absolute alignment of the track
  4. Railway Network of Sabah: The only railway network in Sabah is shown in the map is the passenger based route. Since there insufficient evidence for commercial plantation railways, they are omitted in the map
  5. Railway Network of Sarawak: Significant amount of assumption is required to determine the disuse dates of networks of Bukit Timah to Tanjong Pagar (via Singapore City Centre) and Tanjong Pagar to Pasir Panjang. Various websites and blogs have placed contradictory information on the alignment histories of the networks above. 
Train Station opening date accuracy varies. Most of them have accuracy to year level with few stations with complete date level accuracy.


3. Wikipedia
4. KTMB Railway Museum in KL Old Station (For verification of Pelabuhan Klang to Pulau Indah Railway
5. MySin Chew (For opening year of Port Weld Station) 


3. National Library of Australia Online Map Catalogue

Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan

1. (Refer to Kuching for railway alignment)
2.{access_type:%22NLA%20digitised%20material%22}%20%23[format:Map]&offset=2&max=6 (For Labuan and Sabah Railway Alignment)
3. (Credit to Peter A. Weenink for showing timeline of Labuan railway service)
4. Wikipedia
5. (For Kuching - Batu 10 Railway Line history
I, Danesh Prakash Chacko, hereby acknowledge completely all the source listed and unlisted below in the publication. Hence, I do not exercise the ownership of the attribute data (the operational years of the railway network and train stations). Should errors and omissions are found, please submit on the blog comments as below.

Monday, 20 July 2015

My Foray into CartoDB

 One of the significant milestones of self learning this year was developing web maps using CartoDB.

My profile for CartoDB (

I first learned about CartoDB through the Spatial Vision training (during the IMIA AP 2014 Conference). In this blog post, I will explore the ups and downs of using CartoDB for web map visualization

Why CartoDB? Up to 2015, the only online GIS platform I am accustomed with is ArcGIS Online. However, I would like to brush up my skills on new areas such as CartoDB. If you look at my profile above, I have developed around 6 maps for various topics .

If you want to design simple maps without much tweaking, CartoDB is easy tool to deploy web maps. They continuously improve the options for you to have for symbology or labelling. One thing that sets apart CartoDB and ArcGIS Online (from my personal experience) is the customization of the tools available in CartoDB.

If you have good programming and web design knowledge, you can exponentially enhance the experience of CartoDB maps. Let me give you a good example. Refer to this link: Sarawak Electoral Visualization

Example 1: Electoral Visualization

I was exploring myself on how to visualize electoral issues of the delimitation exercise in Malaysia. What started out as my personal hobby project, it evolved into a fully embedded map for my NGO's Homepage (

Referring to the link (Sarawak Electoral Visualization), basic tools of CartoDB weren't of much help. As I proposed CartoDB map to my NGO, they were happy to take onboard on the idea. However, my NGO has placed some expectations on the contents to be shown. After sourcing the datasets from my NGO, I was tasked to show the interrelationship between electoral seat category, representation value and its correspondence to local boundaries.

While it sounds simple, the basic tools of CartoDB could not meet the criteria of the symbology needed (i.e. the representation value or showing the symbol of administrative boundaries). I spent a significant amount of time to research html codes and examples of CartoDB to bring the source codes needed for the  visualization.

Subsequently, with close collaboration with my NGO, I spent additional time in writing out the correct terms for the legend and other necessities for the map to be understandable. Finally, I embedded the map of my NGO's website and customize the right size for the embedding. The default embedding option of CartoDB would result of compression of items in the layout.

Example 2: Time Based Visualization

Similar to ArcGIS Online, CartoDB has ventured into time based visualization (now with new enhancement). For only point based data, Torque (and Torque with category) allows the CartoDB users to visualize time based changes (which is becoming a big trend in maps). I previously designed on ArcGIS Online (and Mango Map) a static map of all the dam locations in Malaysia. It was built on intense research every possible freely available information back in 2013.

Referring to the link (Malaysian Dams), one of the big challenges I faced initially was the original dataset did not have proper timestamp needed for CartoDB. Preferably, in your shapefile or data file, the timestamp should have proper date or date-time format. I have created this dams dataset two years ago for static map and pop-up purposes.

The second challenge was the cleaning-up of classification. It was found through CartoDB upload there were duplicate classification values (i.e. Dams/Irrigation, Dams / Irrigation). I spent some amount of time in removing the duplicates in QGIS.

Since CartoDB torque visualization works for point based data (for the moment), I chose Torque with category to visualize the construction (opening date) history of 70+ Malaysian Dams and categorized them with the purposes. This allows the user to see where the dams are being constructed and see what types of dams are being related. I customized Torque category to show cumulative changes (as dams are rarely taken down). Choosing a suitable base map was another of challenge of its own as you want your content to be the Figure.

I did spend additional time to produce a understandable symbology for the dam purposes. I will be making further changes to make it more distinguishable. The rest was history. CartoDB Torque tool worked very well and now charting history of dams.


CartoDB has been a great tool with steep learning curve. My advice is before you embark on CartoDB maps, do consider your level of html experience and willingness to spend time, energy and (if necessary) money to develop the map. CartoDB email support is Great! They are swiftly respond to support enquiries.

Tell me your CartoDB experience...

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Map Projection Headache

Recently, I was thrown into map projection issue and this pushed me to my technical limit. For this article, I will not reveal the full context of the area it happened due to privacy reasons. I was tasked to identify the locations of new road intersections, geometries and other road aspects for new housing subdivision. This task is important as the organization needs to submit these new roads information to state government in a particular format (not in GIS format).

The reason this task became a map projection issue is because the drawing file that was supplied to me had a projection that was unknown to me. The organization contracted an external party who surveyed the locations of the new roads. The projection they used was customized UTM for the subdivision area. Originally, when the drawing file was supplied, the projection parameter was not visible in QGIS. For this work, I had ArcGIS and QGIS only and no FME or any other projection converter to help.

I approached the organization to supply the coordinate system that is attached to the drawing file. I stumbled upon a projection (let’s call it Projection A) that I have not encountered before. Fortunately, the organization supplied the parameters that is needed for ArcGIS/QGIS to visualize the line works.

Having said, I need to match the location of these new roads with the organization’s existing road network. Having no experience about Projection A, I made an attempt to do direct projection conversion from Projection A to one of the MGA zones (where the subdivision is located). The outcome was not desirable as the subdivision was positioned in the sea! After making some futile attempts to convert, I gave up on my own approach.

The following day, I contacted the state roads department on the projection A parameters and conversion process. The person who manages the section was kind enough to spend her time to walking the process. I had to de-project Projection A to GDA and reproject it back to MGA projection. Since I was use ArcGIS for this process, I contacted one of my ESRI contacts on how to implement this process in ArcMap. He worked out the implementation process (he was kind of puzzled by the name of the projection A).

I had a serious relook into projection parameters I initially set in Projection A and corrected any inaccuracies. Following the procedures outlined by state roads department and ESRI, I successfully brought the new roads into alignment with existing road network. It was Momentous occasion as it solved my riddle for past two days.

Below here is attached image of the new roads that pushed my mental skills.
New roads of a new subdivision which aligned well with existing road network
Due to privacy reasons, the location of the roads, the name of the projection, organization and state road department are kept hidden.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

QGIS Sample Atlas

Recently, I have been pushing myself to test my capability in generating high quality cartographic works in QGIS. Since I took on a mini project on Malaysian state of Kedah, this atlas was truly a combination of open source data and open source software.

For data in Malaysia, I manage to obtain through third party sources for district, subdistrict and voting locality boundaries. In Malaysia, these sorts of data are super hard to find (generally all forms of datasets for large scale maps of Malaysia are not for free). The roads, railways, rivers and land use data was sourced from Open Street Map (I recommend Avoid choosing QGIS tool for Open Street Map as you get good coverage of the dataset with minimal attributes (making them redundant). The terrain is not exactly open source as it came from ASTER GDEM and hence, it restricts anyone to produce commercial maps.

The software I used was QGIS. In order to produce 200+ page atlas (based on sub district levels), I used Print Composer. It is the equivalent of Data Driven Pages in ArcGIS. I have made full use multi map concept where I can pinpoint the reader where they are (the inset maps). The legend size remains difficult thing to adjust (now I realized there is legend customization through filter) as it dominates a significant chunk of the map. The scale is tricky part and I resorted to numeric figure as QGIS hasn't improved on the variable scale legend. Now, I also realized there are better options to choose from for the North Arrows.

How about the map itself? I used pretty much standard colour schemes for every dataset for the atlas. Hillshading worked out very well  for the Bandar Padang Mat Sirat and Bandar Yan (impressed with QGIS capability). Choosing the colour of roads required much judgment as the terrain colouring exerted its influence significantly. The text visibility has been controlled after much playing around and deliberation. The original dataset of roads showed many road segmentation, Using the blending option, I was able to show a full continuity for the highways.A lot of judgement was used to determine how many layers are relevant to the atlas and which ones need to be kicked out.

Below here are some examples of urban, semi-urban and rural settings of Kedah (viewed through maps). When the final product came out, I was impressed with QGIS capability. For more maps, please contact me here.

Sunday, 24 May 2015


Speaker from Responsible Gambling Foundation (Victoria) on how QGIS is applied
for assessing the proximity of pokies (gambling areas) and gamble help centres
On 14th May 2015, in the beautiful Crown Towers site, Digital Mapping Solutions (DMS) hosted a well-attended QGIS Forum. They brought city councils, companies and freelance cartographers together to listen about the progress in QGIS and its application in real scenarios. DMS is the forefront in advocating QGIS to many of its clients, active participant in QGIS development and conduct many training of QGIS. For those who don't know, QGIS (formerly Quantum GIS) is an open source GIS and increasingly adopted globally.

Despite being hosted in expensive Crown Towers (next to the Casino), DMS surprisingly hosted the morning session about QGIS with sumptuous breakfast for FREE! They are generous indeed especially the heavy breakfast! For this discussion, I will point out specific things you need to know about QGIS (which was discussed in the forum).

  1. How can I submit an issue or feature request for QGIS? Proceed to the website here
  2. How can I retain the layer file in QGIS? The .qlr file is the equivalent of ArcGIS layer file . Refer here
  3. Group layers in QGIS. Refer to this YouTube link
  4. You can import a CSV file containing a particular font setting which allows QGIS to customize the labeling based on the imported CSV.
  5. How can I produce a map where the main focus stands out as a figure? Use Mask and watch this YouTube link :                                   
  6. In the print composer, you can add the raster image as background and use blending tool to adjust the visibility strength of raster image
  7. How can I customize a legend that is only relevant to the map content? I would like to have the legend to show the layers visible on the map. Use the filter (in Legend). Refer here (Go to Legend Items)
  8. Presets can control the number of map layers viewable and it is useful for the multimap concept in print composer. Refer here
  9. QGIS is not just for desktop maps, it is also for publishing web based maps. Use qgis2leaf and read here for more details.
  10. In the forum, we have seen the demonstration of city councils of utilizing custom forms in QGIS. Refer here on how to create QGIS custom forms
From the presentations, I have noted city council organizations have been slowly dropping off the commercial GIS software in favour of QGIS. This is because the councils would like to lower the software maintenance cost and cheaper GIS distribution within the organizations, However, before embarking such transitions, each organization must undergo fundamental training in QGIS. 

I hope you find the 10 tips above allow you to explore more in depth the power of QGIS in various aspects.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Map is Power

The map above converts complex statistical information to
chunks of  relevant knowledge pieces
This is part of my submission to International Map Industry Association (IMIA) blog
Like many cartographers, I am always fascinated with maps. I could be staring at any floating globe or spending quality time with my atlases. Maps has been one of the best graphical tools to convey knowledge. Knowledge is Power. Hence, Map is Power too!
Through my personal globe and many atlases, I came to know the vastness and complexities of the world. Maps simplify the complexity of world into chunks of knowledge relevant for the audience. For example, atlases have many thematic maps which shows the interrelationships of nature and mankind. A thematic map reduces multiple relationships to a simpler one where you and I can understand the world. Since the dawn of mankind, maps has served to further progress of humanity. From finding food to 3D modelling of disasters, maps have informed us what to do. Hence, Map is Power!
Like what other blog contributors mentioned, most of the map history is dictated by the professional surveyors and cartographers. Vast majority of the populace lives by and accept the standards and shapes determined by map-makers. Hence, the power of maps and the knowledge conveyed to the world is predetermined. With the advent of technologies and global geographical volunteers, the centre of power has shifted away from the map-makers. Today, non-cartographers(or surveyors/GISers) are the forefront in providing the new geographical information and most importantly, new maps.
I captured a lot of free geographic information for many years but there wasn’t a platform for me to make it publicly available. Then, I stumbled upon the OpenStreetMap and it was Power in action. As I am from Malaysia, freely available datasets (we take granted this in developed world) is very hard to be obtained. OpenStreetMap provided me and other geographic volunteers to break down the mammoth dataset barrier in front of us. Before Google Maps showed all the bus stops locations of my home state, I filled up the bus stops and route paths on Open Street Maps. Other users also chipped in by updating the attributes. It is clear example how new technologies are bringing power of maps to a bigger audience. Maps impact people and people impact maps.
With the advent open source datasets and open source technologies, maps are empowering more people than ever. Civil society and individuals are creating maps more than ever in history of mankind and interpreting the world in their unique ways. Barriers are coming down and map mashups are everywhere. Geographical analysis is advancing further and giving new insights to businesses and governments. We know exactly where to put our store or next school. We can visualize predictions using time-lapse features of various GIS software. Don’t you feel map is so empowering? Map is Power.
In conclusion, in our current lifetime, we have seen how maps have empowered us. More importantly, we, both the consumers and producers, have been empowered to shape the maps. Maps will continue to evolve (from drawings on ground to virtual reality) but always to stick to its main purpose. Conveying knowledge in a simplified manner and giving us the power to act. Map is Power!
Danesh Prakash Chacko, volunteer/pro-bono GIS consultant in Melbourne (Australia)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Creating an 'Atlas' using ArcGIS and QGIS

Usually when I produce maps, I produce a single map based on single theme. However, back in my uni days and work training, I have learnt an important cartographic component in ArcGIS and QGIS.

A sample Local Government Area map of New South
Wales built on ArcGIS
It was about building an 'Atlas' in GIS. Multiple maps stored in one PDF and ready for print. This knowledge was put to the test when one of my Account Manager said he wants a map of all his clients (October 2014). His clients are spread over one state and he had a list of them in Excel. Good thing was they were Local Governments only.

In April 2015, another Account Manager approached me and asked me to produce a map of local governments and water authorities in New South Wales. You may think why do we need an Atlas style product for these two instances?

In this discussion, I will be discussing the challenges behind making these two 'atlases' and some comparisons between QGIS and ArcGIS.

Challenges/Issues to Consider 

  • Data - In Australia, they have free data for Local Government Areas. However, the free data they had for the road network and localities are nearly 10 years old (Sourced from Geoscience Australia).
  • Intended Audience - Account Managers use these maps as rough guides where their clients and prospective ones are found. Sometimes they may use for rough planning when they traveling around to see multiple clients. Hence, just showing the local government areas (LGAs) is not enough. I cannot expect my audience to know every LGA by name and location. Due to that, I incorporated roads and localities to give good geographical insight
  • Level of Information Displayed - This becomes an issue on how many towns and cities the map should contain. If you refer to the first figure above, I classified the localities strictly to towns and cities. My Account Managers doesn't need to know every town or populated area in LGA. They need to know LGA name, the main town (s) and some roads connecting between towns.
  • Scale - The most difficult issue I faced. New South Wales has over hundred LGAs of varying size and it is impossible to have clean map with all names of LGA. That is why the concept of mapbook was used in these two instances. ArcGIS and QGIS uses one shapefile to break down the mapbook into regions. I used Tourist Regions to divide the various states in Australia to produce multiple maps. However, in the context of New South Wales, I felt Tourist Region is very general division. I chose Statistical regional divisions to show more zoomed-in views of Sydney area. Sydney has many smaller size (only area we talking about) LGAs. 
  • Text Layout - Text is necessary evil. I have ZERO intention of using any other graphic software to beautify the map. I am producing the map on the go and would like to deliver fast to my Account Managers. I fully capitalized Maplex Label Engine (in ArcGIS) to position text at best. 
  • Software - I have used mapbook approach twice (in real life situation) so far in my cartographic career. The first instance, I was motivated to use QGIS to produce mapbooks for many states. The second instance, I used ArcGIS as I have not used Data-Driven pages before.Both instances they were learning curves for me.


I was very much grounded to ArcGIS (the only GIS software I knew at university). I came to know QGIS through my current work and learned further through QGIS training. Some opinions:
  • In both GIS software, the final layout and content to be displayed are nearly the same. You can change the paper size, adjust the legends and placing inset maps in ArcGIS and QGIS
  • From my experience, time consumed from the collecting data to final output are nearly the same for both software.
  • However, the KEY difference between ArcGIS and QGIS I have noticed is the cartographic presentation. In ArcGIS, they have more in-built colour schemes than QGIS. Hence, I spend less time in determining on one of the fundamentals of maps. In text labeling, I was pleased both in performance by ArcGIS and QGIS
If you ask my stance, I tilt to ArcGIS due to my longer exposure comparatively to QGIS. However, the essence of this blog post is not about which software is better than other. In these two instances which used two different software, it is principles of mapping that played a big factor:
  • Who is my Audience?
  • How much information my Audience needs to see?
  • Is the datasets needed for the map readily available?
  • What scale level should I utilize? Should it be fixed or dynamic
  • What is the best position for the labels
  • Is the overall map layout conveys the right information the Audience needs to know?
Resources I used for building the map books using QGIS and ArcGIS

Atlas Generation in QGIS  and map book in ArcGIS: 

Friday, 27 February 2015

This Week in GIS

Presenter on Dominican Republic GIS (GeoRabble #6 Melbourne)
This week we will examine some key discussions of GIS or applications of GIS which I encountered this week

GeoRabble #6

Cramped in a dungeon style room in a bar, GeoRabble #6 is a hub of discussion, networking and exchange of GIS knowledge. Whether you are user, developer or owner of geospatial business, GeoRabble is a place to rabble about our love - GIS ! We had multiple presentations (no Sales Pitch!) in two hours - crisis leadership, Bushfire management, open data in Victoria, evolving Melbourne, UAVs and Application of GIS in  Dominican Republic. All speakers covered a great deal of material, the challenges and success of the GIS applications. For this blog post, we focus on two:

Dominican Republic

After listening to many presentations, 100% of the presentation were purely focusing on Melbourne and Victoria (nothing wrong but we need to expand our minds). I wanted to hear something international and we had one! The speaker is senior consultant and signed up for Australian Aid Volunteers program (a Australian federal program of sending professional and technical volunteers to developing program.

When she saw the opportunity, she met the language and technical requirements needed for the volunteer. She was posted to one year in Dominican Republic for GIS implementation in Emergency Management. Dominican Republic is subjected to multiple hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes (let's remind ourselves of Haitian earthquake in 2010).

Her assignment was to coordinate and establish a multi-agency geospatial team for disaster management (EIGEO). It was built under the recommendation from United Nations. The purpose of EIGEO is to gather, store and produce information for Emergency Commission (Dominican Republic)

First challenges she faced:
  • Difficulty in obtaining GIS data or outdated GIS data
  • No trained GIS staff
  • Uncoordinated GIS activities and lack of sharing of data among government agencies
  • Politicized environment which acts as an impediment for data sharing
  • Work culture which is very different to Australia
Process of setting up EIGEO:
  • Creation of National Information Systems for Disaster Management
    • Built on Open GIS tools
    • Identify and follow-up on dataset gathering
    • Building a system
  • Activation and response during Emergency
    • Create a GIS crisis team
    • Developing protocols in emergency response
    • Training in QGIS, radar interpretation and other geospatial aspects
  • Collection and organizing the data
    • Identifying gaps in the datasets
    • Spatial analysis such as hydrological analysis (since hurricanes and tropical storms do affect the Republic)
  • Seeking support from international organization
The biggest challenge identified:
  • Sustainability of the project. The concern is whether EIGEO and the project itself will continue in light of cutbacks of Australian aid budget

Changing Melbourne

The final presenter is a GIS analyst within urban planning company. His presentation was pulling publicly available 1945 imagery of Melbourne and overlaying with current imagery using Mapbox (his personal initiative). Basically, we got the chance to see the huge changes between post-war and current Mellbourne. The link is here.

Some quick overview changes we saw:
  • Significant American military presence in Melbourne in 1945. Today, most areas has been converted to industrial or residential areas
  • Former farm and orchard areas in Melbourne fringes have been converted to massive housing estates and Melbourne International Airport (Tullamarine)
Read more here.

Assetic User Conference

Assetic Board during the Conference

 Saroo Brierly

My company organize biennial conferences to bring our clients and partners to discuss and learn where our software is heading too. Although the focus is heavily on asset management and how the software are capable of solving your needs, GIS is not ignored in anyway. Part of the conference itinerary was an inspirational speech by Saroo Brierley.

Some of us has watched the brief story of Saroo. He was invited to our conference to present his story - the quest to see his long-lost family back in India. More importantly, the way he found his family was through memory maps and Google Earth. Hence, mapping(!) is so critical in removing the burden in his shoulder- where is his family.
Saroo and how Google Earth helped in his family search

He got lost in a train to Calcutta (Kolkata) and he was adopted temporarily in orphanage. He was subsequently adopted by Tasmanian family and offering him the love and the family he lost. As he grew older, he had a burning desire to find his family. Using his photographic memory of landmarks of his suburb and his train journey, he began to search in atlases where his family resides. As time proceeded, Google Earth began to help him though internet (up to 2011) was very slow. With advent of broadband internet, he began to ramp up his efforts in tracing exactly where the village was.

Finally, one morning, he received a big surprise. He has nailed his area in Google Earth and found the name of the town. He contacted the FB administrator of town to verify the name of his birth area. After receiving correction, he organized flight to India. He arrived in his town, struggled a bit to find his old home and he wasn't sure whether he was in the right town. Finally, after talking to locals, he found his old home and met his mother for the first time in 20+ years! It was an emotional story for the audience who were listening

Location Analytics

A senior ESRI Business Manager spoke at the conference the importance on leveraging location in areas of asset management. ESRI has a vision of enterprise collaboration and encouraging data sharing within the clients.

She stressed that location is very important aspect in our lives. More so, the next 5 billion internet users may no longer use desktop PC to access internet. Hence, the organizations like councils and ESRI need to build scaleable apps to accommodate the new need and approach to internet.

She mentioned in Australia up to 67% of the population use smartphone, nearly 15 million internet users and each Australian (those who access internet) use up to 3 devices to access internet. Plus, commercialisation of IT meant our home internet experience will brought across to our work places. Hence, we need scaleable apps
ESRI presenter on ArcGIS online and integration with predictive conditions of roads

She stressed once more than spatial data is critical for organizations and government functions. Maps are vital for our progress and no longer under pure GIS/geography domain. She also demonstrated how ArcGIS Online helped the local government to visualize the road conditions in the next 10 years.

This concludes my report today

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Surveying Question? I forgot....

This post is not about learning or understanding something new. However, this short post is warning to my friends (or readers) who are studying architecture, civil engineers, urban planners and environmental engineer. All of you would undertake one or two short courses on GIS and surveying.

Sample survey plan from New Zealand (not related to client site)

Recently a friend of mine asked me two separate questions on surveying. First, he was asking about backsight and foresight (leveling). I have distanced away from surveying for past three years. Basically, he was asking to clarify Rise and Fall Method. I did quick internet search and mentioned to my friend there are some important principles.

Rise and Fall Method is one of the ways to transfer heights from one fixed point to multiple points. This process is called leveling. A surveyor start out at fixed permanent datum (height) and carrying the heights along a distance (of selected points). It is important procedure in construction works.

To learn more about Rise and Fall method, read here

If you read the article above, the important principles in this method are:

  • the difference between the sum of the rises and the sum of the falls, and
  • the difference between the first and the final R.L. or vice versa.
The second matter of surveying got bit complicated. My friend had to compile a survey request and scout out a suitable quotation. A feature survey for a future development site. First question I got asked is what is feature survey? Personally I was unsure what is it all about and I thought it included cadastral boundaries. I quickly checked with my professional surveyor contact what exactly is feature survey. There were three types of feature surveys (from purely locating things to complete boundary determination). He recommended to me that it is best my friend to discuss directly with a surveying firm,

I assisted my friend in writing a simple survey request for quotation which included dimensions and other engineering features to be identified. Now, my friend got some quotes and we leave it here which surveying firm will be chosen.

The points here:
  1. If you are town planner, architecture, civil engineer or environmental scientists, never, never forget what you learnt in surveying and GIS. It will haunt in your career
  2. Especially when it comes to surveying, if you are unsure about definitions, it is best to direct your client/affected friend to the surveying firm. Surveying covers legal matter and hence, as a GIS professional, you just need to exercise caution when advising.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Mapping Tale in South America : Ecuador

After visiting Venezuela for 14 days, I visited Andean country of Ecuador. The name of the country is the living memory of French geodesic expedition of 1700s. While the purpose of my travels wasn't about mapping, I manage to integrate some mapping elements into the trip.

Instituto Geografico Militar (IGM)

IGM is the official state mapping agency of Ecuador and by reading the name, you have an idea that is under Ministry of Defence. It is perched on a southern hill in Quito (the capital) and many locals may associate IGM with the planetarium which is next door to the IGM building. As this is military area, you are required to carry your identification card and park the car according to military standards (you face car front to the road).

I visited IGM on two purposes: To obtain maps and Ecuadorian atlas and secondly, to get a proper contact within IGM. The previous day, I visited Cotopaxi which is the most famous volcano in the country. I was looking for topographic maps of Cotopaxi. It was Thursday morning and the counters were severely understaff. Most of the people walking around happens to come from the Ecuadorean military. I waited for my number and IGM was a paradise for map lovers. There was a huge (I mean huge) topographic map of Ecuador (1:500 000) - click on the link here (choose Mapa Fisico del Ecuador). Me and my friends spent our short time observing we have traveled for the past two days and where would we be going after IGM. My friends were attracted by aerial photography of key geographical sites in Ecuador which were found on the walls.

The time came for me to ask the staff what was the index number of maps of Cotopaxi. I have to purchase two maps (1:50 000) to get complete outlook of Cotopaxi - each costed around 3.60 USD (which is very cheap). This is where things got bit frustrating for me and my friends. The buyer of the map pays in one counter and get a receipt. Then, we need to queue and present the receipt to the plotter. It is UNFORTUNATE to see that they do not have existing printed maps of Cotopaxi. This costed our time at the office. Since the map produced is around A2 size, I have requested the plotter staff to fold it. He pointed to me to go to another counter where we present the receipt and get the staff to fold the maps. Finally, we sign off at the receipts that IGM has completed the works we need.

So next time you visit IGM and to purchase the product, please allocate some time for the printing and folding of the product.

I was told that IGM do not publish the national Atlas of Ecuador in print. However, you can view the digital version here : . Got to GeoEduca, then Nivel Basico, you see the links to National Atlas of Ecuador 2013. Everything you need to know the Ecuador is in the atlas.

Back to the topographic maps of Ecuador (only basing 1:50 000), I noticed some interesting things:
i) The maps they sold to me were outdated (currency was ranging 14 -25 years ago).
ii) These two maps were produced at two different timings. You notice a difference that can't escape from your eyes.
2000 1:50 000 Topographic Map of Cotopaxi

The above map was produced with the collaboration with National Imagery and Mapping Agency (now NGIA) from America. Due to this, it is rarity to see the English legend and glossary presented hand-in hand with the Spanish Equivalent on Ecuadorian topographic map
English-Spanish legend and glossary for 2000 Topographic Map of Cotopaxi
The below map was purely prepared in Spanish and complete in its compilation in 1989. It covered northern part of Cotopaxi.

Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo from the monument in Quito
What is the reason why Ecuador named as it is? For those who are versed in Geodesy knowledge, Ecuador played an important role in shaping our understanding of Earth's shape. We all know the Earth bulges on the equator. However, many centuries, there was huge controversy and debate on shape of the Earth. Newton stated that Earth bulges on the equator and flattens on the pole (oblate spheroid) while Cassini theory state otherwise. To put an end to the debate, French government organized expeditions to Finland and Spanish colonized Ecuador in late 1700s. The main aim to find any difference between one degree latitude at the higher latitudes and the equator.

If you visit Mitad del Mundo, they have a building dedicated to explore the geodesic history and expedition to Ecuador. I traveled a significant length from Quito to Banos along the Andes. What I was surprised the expedition for geodesic measurement covered far greater lengths than my journey (going to Cuenca).Triangulation involved for the measurement went from one summit to another. One can imagine the difficulty of doing triangulation on steep slopes and clouds obscuring the sightings.

The outcome of the expedition proved the theory of Newton and most importantly, giving the name of the territory to become Ecuador (if not, it may the country could have been named as Quito?). The geodesic expedition brought the Enlightenment values to Ecuador, which was locked in Spanish world. This paved the independence movement in Ecuador and subsequently, kicking out Spanish rulers.

Mitad del Mundo, in theory, situated the equator. There is some discrepancy on the width and exact position of Ecuador. It was surprising to hear that indigenous people came to very close conclusion where the equator is situated.

Today it is a tourist site where geospatial and non-geospatial people visit regularly to experience the two hemispheres (like Greenwich)

Data Solution

As mentioned on the first subheading, I got the chance to visit IGM. As I was traveling with my friends, one of them happened to be an architect. He mentioned to me that when he produce plan for architecture, he digitize the roads manually. He wanted to ask at IGM (since the opportunity) where he can purchase the vector dataset of roads in Quito. Unfortunately, our time was very limited and we didn't get the chance to ask.

Hence, from my years of experience, the solution is open data. That means my friend does not need to fork out money or travel to buy the data. He can do from at home. He just need to know where he can get it. But the challenge, he needs .dwg format (AUTOCAD format). I was thinking to do a conversion from shapefile to .dwg but for his interest, I sought a website that offer ready made .dwg format.

After much search (after return back to Australia), I found a website which offer the data he needs (focusing just on Quito). The wesbite is (For Architects, important!)

All in all, all the mapping elements were covered in one day of my trip in Ecuador. I hope all readers are enlightened by some sites to be visited in Ecuador and some solutions for Architects. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Looking Back!

It is time of the year (hopefully not too late) to examine what the blog has achieved and how you helped the blog in these achievements

Early in the year, I have made the point to shift the focus from Malaysian centric topics to mapping centric topics. Yes, I achieved this as the posts are reflecting a balance level of topics on Malaysia and the world.

Let's examine some of the consultancy works I did in 2014:

  •  Producing a simple map of Mauritian region for architectural project
  •  Developing a fast way to identify a new centre line for a new road in an Australian City
  •  Listing out the principles of geographical naming in Malaysia (in English) for external  consultant
  •  Advising and working with my Election NGO on cartographic matters for electoral  delimitation
  •  Strategic advice on how to improve cartographic design in ArcGIS
  •  Advice my Ecuadorian architect friend where to get free vector data of his country

Some of my major works I completed in 2014:

Some of the key mapping events I have attended in 2014:

How did you help the blog in these achievements?

  • Sharing, retweeting and Google+ my blog posts
  • Commenting on my works on my blog and social media
  • Seeking advice from me on cartographic matters!
The question how did my works helped you?

Let's see how the blog evolve to in 2015

Thank you all!