Saturday, March 10, 2007


During the past two-weeks I have been teaching my post-graduates about geographical position, latitude and longitude, degrees, minutes, seconds, and decimal degrees. It might seem very easy to seasoned geo-informatics practioners, but students were finding it a little difficult. The problem surfaced when I expected the students to make different sized boundary boxes around a central point to insert some of our OGC web maps.

Well, help is on the horizon with our Geo-calculator which I have put into the sidebar on the right-hand side. This Java-script will convert both Degrees, Minutes, Seconds to Decimal degrees and the vice versa. I have made provision for calculating both Latitude and Longitude independently so you can simply insert these co-ordinates in Google Earth and add a negative to the value if you live in either the Southern or Western hemispheres to navigate to the exact site. To illustrate how you can use the geo-calculator, I will give you the co-ordinates to the entrance of our Ecology and Informatics Lab at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Longitude 18 37 36.1
Latitude -33 55 53.4

You should type the degrees minutes and seconds with a space between each of them and then hit the calculate key to get decimal degrees calculated as follows.

Longitude 18.626694
Latitude -33.931500

Now type these co-ordinates into Google Maps, remembering to put Latitude first and then Longitude. Hope you find the Geo-calculator useful! Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


I got inspired and have been experimenting with the prepartion of cartograms[1]. The data used is biodiversity-related and includes the degree of threat and rarity of species extracted from the IUCN Red Data list of threatened species, with the link to the site here.

Unfortunately, I did not have the latest data prepared as GIS layers, so this is for the year 2000. This will be the sort of exercise you might be expected to do in your eco/geo-informatics programme: getting the latest biodiversity data from the IUCN Red Data list, prepare the data as a GIS layer and present it as cartograms. You will be expected to discuss your results and to post your article on the Weblog for general discussion, complete with a reference list.

Continents of the World

The cartograms have scaled each country's size to the value of the variable (e.g. number of threatened fish species). Further the maps are thematically shaded with red indicating the highest value of threatened or endangered status going through orange, yellow, light green to dark green which represents the lowest values.

Number of plant extinctions

Percentage of threatened plants in the flora

Number of rare plant species

Total number of plant species

Number of threatened invertebrate species

Number of threatened fish species

Number of threatened amphibian species

Number of threatened reptile species

Number of threatened bird species

Number of threatened mammal species

As you can see South Africa is a Biodiverse region that has high risks of extinction, especially for plant species.

[1]Gastner, MT and Newman, MEJ 2004. Diffusion-based method for producing density-equalizing maps. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 7499-7504.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Using OGC Web Map Services in your BLOG

What is an OGC Map Service?
When you start your course you are going to hear a lot about GIS Standards and Interoperability and the word OGC will crop up. Almost all of the major web-map development has in some way addressed OGC. An OGC architecture is firmly rooted in virtually all of the Open or Freely available GIS applications plus some propriety applications.

OGC defined

“The Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc.® (OGC) is a non-profit, international,voluntary consensus standards organization that is leading the development of standards for geospatial and location based services.”

The OGC is a consortium of 338 companies, government agencies and universities which in a participatory way are defining a set of development standards to spatially-enable the Internet and wireless environments for providing location-based services. It therefore represents an “Open” system to promote spatial technology in all walks of life. Of utmost importance was interoperability which in simple terms means a common platform for displaying and sharing spatial information. Also important was ease of deployment , with the OGC literature describing “plug and play” implementation of geo-processing applications.

OpenGIS® is a Registered Trademark of the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc (OGC) and is the brand name associated with the specifications and documents produced by OGC.

What are OpenGIS Specifications?

Firstly these are freely (at no cost) available technical documents that describe interfaces and coding standards. Spatial programmers will use this documentation to develop (from the basic architecture through to the interface) their geo-spatial products and services. The specifications within this documentation are the main OGC product and are based on the contributions of its various members. There is a set of specifications for implementation that accompanies the abstract specifications. These are aimed at more technical users and articulate the interfaces between various software components. Varieties of schemas (xsd, xslt, etc) are approved for support in developing various spatial software applications. In contrast to the very technical implementation specifications the abstract specifications provide a conceptual foundation based on OGC specifications. In addition to these specifications there are discussion documents that are produced by the various Working Groups within the OGC, but these are not necessarily used for endorsement or implementation. If you want to go into this subject area in more detail I suggest you view their site, which is where I got this information.

The influence of OGC on the spatial technology industry

Almost all of the major software developers have taken note of OGC, while some simply make their products OGC compliant, others have taken the initiative further. We have used an OGC Web Map Services from the Demis software provider ( in developing the interactive maps for the Global Invasive Species Programme ( One of the advantages was a really well packaged global base map that came with the application.

To view our OGC Web Map Service, you will need Shockwave to be installed. If correctly installed, you will see part of the world with Africa in a central and prominent place.

You can also put an OGC Interactive map in your application or BLOG. You simply need to go to the side bar (on the right-hand side) and download the OGC text file and copy the code. This will extract a Web Map Service (WMS) from our OGC server and put it into your application.

  • You can change which part of the world you are viewing by changing the parameters in the Boundary Box ~ BBox=-80,-90,80,90.
  • The above parameters will produce a map from the North Pole to the South Pole and from 800E to 800W.
  • Remember a negative Latitude occurs in the southern hemisphere, and a negative Longitude occurs west of Greenwich. Using a width of 440 will fill Blogger's main window.

Here is an example map showing just Spain using the Boundary Box parameters of -10,35,5,45.

Feel free to pull some maps from our OGC web map services. Explore the floating Map Menu - if you click on the (i) button and then double click on a country it will take you to information on invasive species for that country. You can turn on and off layers of information, maximize your map to the entire world, as well as pan and zoom. Enjoy the freedom of OGC web-maps.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Calling all Eco-freaks, IT Geeks and Space Cadets: big-time bursary opportunity beckons

If you think the answer is not 42, or are an eco-greenie, a cool blue, IT guy or a wild orange traveller, this could be the opportunity to fast-track your career with an MSc degree in Geo-informatics.

What is geo-informatics?

Well, geo-informatics is a spatial melting pot of disciplines from IT to Ecology, Economics to the Environment and Space Craft to Statistics. The essence is the understanding of spatial patterns and processes. The skills you will acquire will be communicated to people from all walks of life, from politicians to land owners, teachers to journalists - in fact, anyone environmentally and socially aware. This is BIG PICTURE stuff and we will use the technology to ensure your degree will be at the cutting edge of the applied sciences, so you are competitively prepared for the job market.

Travel the super-highway with your silicon chips: study mode

Here is some more cool stuff: all of your courses are on-line so you can work from any Internet-enabled location and when you feel like it - so there is no excuse to miss the lectures, and it’s not just boring text either! Many lectures have sound, action and some nifty quizzes with which to tease your knowledge. One minute you might be testing an expert system to screen the invasiveness of nasty alien (foreign) organisms that have gate-crashed our landscape, and in the next assignment, you will be predicting where springbok herds are likely to be found in 2050 when global warming really gets going. You could also be building a neat Internet presentation to share with your classmates on almost any topic that interests you.

The green stuff: the bucks

There is plenty of it, with a R60 000 per annum bursary and we hope to throw in a few more surprise pressies (I wonder what these might be?) To grab one of these eight bursaries, you need to be eligible to enter our post-graduate science programme at the University of the Western Cape (we know you got way more than a 60% aggregate!) and be prepared for a full-time commitment to studying in a participatory environment. We will like you if you come with a really good academic record and we will be even more impressed if you are creative in thinking and writing, can juggle numbers in your head and like doing a bit of computer coding on the side. Yes, we want a lot from you but it is a competitive game!

How to start the ball rolling?

The ball is in your court for the first serve, and you do this by building your own blog, then customising it with some clever code and creative colour and design. Finally, you will need to entertain us with your views, humour and insight, and send the URL along to us for consideration! If you already have a blog, give it a spring clean in the design department, add some great content and send the URL through. If you are successful , the blog spot will be your virtual home for the next few months.

Where will you study?

You can either be a glitzy Gautenger, 'n egte Kaapenaar or any other South African, but you will need to be accommodated at either the high-tech Innovation Hub, in the natural experience of the Pretoria CSIR campus (where the Meraka institute is), in the heart of the Winelands at the Stellenbosch CSIR offices or on the vibey UWC campus.

To find the right stuff, just point your cyber-mouse to

Remember, you need to get your blog URL to us at by 15 March 2007 to be considered!


Monday, February 19, 2007

Alphabet for Success

Accountable, accommodating, accurate, ambitious, analytical, applied, aware

Best you can

Co-operative, communicative, concerned, creative, critical thinking

Debate, dependable, diverse

Energetic, expressive

Fair, frank, free-thinking?

Getting it done, giving,

Hard working, honest

Independent, informative, innovative, integrative, integrity,

Judicious, just


Lateral thinking, logical




Participatory, precise, prepared, positive, professional, punctual

Quick, qualified

Respective, responsive

Self motivated, sensitive, skilled, strategic, sympathetic

Thoughtful, thorough



X ?????.... suggestions welcome!



About Geo-informatics

Geo-Informatics is the spatial hub of the IT industry. Town and regional planning and environmental and biodiversity management are increasingly becoming reliant on Spatial Information Systems together with the use of air- and space-borne observation platforms. Huge amounts of data are being collected which needs to be analysed. The derived results from such analyses need to be disseminated in user friendly formats that are regularly updated. The Internet has become the de facto instrument for disseminating information to broader audiences. With technological advances comes the need for training in the use and development of such systems. It is this milieu that the intended MSc and PhD programme in Geo-Informatics wishes to address.

Our principle aims are to harness the latest technology with an emphasis on Open Source technologies to develop and host web-enabled Spatial Technology Applications and provide training in both the development and use of such applications. The core to this technology is Web Map Services (WMS) which utilise Geographical Information Systems (G.I.S.) and spatially-enabled databases.

The CSIR and UWC are supporting the Meraka Institute and Department of Science and Technology (DST) with the development and strengthening of South African capabilities in Geo-Informatics. The specific outcomes of this initiative are:

  • The offering of a practical MSc level course in Geo-Informatics using an e-Learning environment.

  • The production of graduates who have capabilities in the use and application of relevant geo-informatics systems, tools and applications suitable for supporting the developmental and growth needs of all tiers of the South African government and industry.

  • The registering with SAQA of a Doctorate Programme in Geo-Informatics which is awarded through a thesis.

Offered at the MSc level, the course has three pillars (or focus themes), namely Natural Environment, Built Environment and Disaster Management. Selected modules from existing DST sponsored courses in Ecological Informatics and Disaster Management are used as a basis. New modules for the Built Environment theme are being developed.

Some of the benefits of this approach are:

  • Being Internet based, the course is open to anyone in South Africa, Africa and the World. The only requirement is for the person to register for the course at UWC.

  • The course is undertaken from wherever the person is located - the only major requirement is access to the Internet.

  • Students will get first hand experience in the use of existing and newly developed geo-informatics tools and support systems that are set to become the norm within all levels of government in South Africa.

  • Although the main objective is to deliver as many MSc level graduates after 2 years, the course has an earlier exit level, namely a BSc Honours in Ecological Informatics after 12 months. Those that qualify can continue with the MSc in Geo-Informatics for a further 12 months. An option to complete a PhD in Geo-informatics will also be available.

  • Specific modules (duration 4 - 6 weeks) or customised short courses are on offer for reinforcement or skills enhancement under the UWC’s Division for Life-long-Learning programme. These courses are mainly aimed at practitioners or officials that do not necessarily want to complete the whole degree course. Certificates are awarded if the modules are successfully completed.

All instruction will take place via an Internet based e-Learning methodology complemented by regular face-to-face and Video Conferencing based reinforcement by lecturers. During the second year the students will have the option to be placed at specific hosting institutions where they will complete the rest of the modules and a thesis whilst working and implementing what they have learnt whilst receiving direct coaching in a workplace environment.

Beware the Ides of March

The closing date for Meraka bursary applications is 15th of March 2007, this day is rather fatalistically referred to as the Ides of March and marked the day of Julius Ceasar's assassination. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Ides of March ...

In the Roman calendar, the Ides of March fell on the 15th day of the Roman month of Martius. The date is famous because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BC. Because of Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar and its line "Beware the Ides of March", the term possesses a foreboding of doom.

Contemporarily speaking, although the term Ides had real meaning only in the Roman Calendar, which had just been displaced by the Julian Calendar, the term "Ides" was still used in a vernacular sense for centuries afterwards to denote the middle of the month.

Hopefully rather than being a fateful day it will be a day of fullfillment for those who have applied themselves in developing a Blog that convinces the selection committee of your professionalism and motivation to undertake this course in Geo-informatics.

Reference (Note it conforms to the CSE style maunual)

Wikipedia contributors. Ides of March [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Feb 13, 18:47 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 19]. Available from:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Meraka Bursaries Applications Close 15 March 2007

YES... you can start your CAREER PATH with an entrance into the Honours programme in Eco-Informatics at the University of the Western Cape. If successful in the first year you can exit with an Honours or go onto a MSc in Geo-Informatics (a further 6 months coursework plus a 6 month mini-thesis).

R60 000 per annum bursaries are available!

That's right! Eight bursaries for study in 2007 and 2008 will be awarded through the Meraka Institute. Disbursement will be performance-based and highly competitive.

What do I need to have?

You need at least a BSc Degree with a minimum aggregate of 60% - this is the Faculty requirement for entrance into the Honours Degree Programme. If you have a four-year degree or higher degree it would be advantageous. Your academic qualification while important is not the only assessment criteria for these bursaries. You will also need:

  • Good reading, writing and numeracy skills;
  • To be creative, enquiring and critical;
  • Not to be scared of doing Statistics or Computer Scripting (HTML and CSS) - you do not need to be a computer programmer, but you need to be confident that you can develop web material;
  • To be strongly motivated to succeed, self reliant with good problem solving skills.

How do I apply?

This is the CREATIVE bit! You will need to build your own personal Blog using either the international Blog service provider or on the South African site Your Blog will be assessed for awarding a bursary based on content, creativity and consistency.

Once you have sufficient material on your site you can email your URL to MUmlaw[at] If you need some friendly advice you can email me, Rich at rknight[at] with your Blog URL and I will make some comments on your site to help you with your application.

What do I put up on my Blog?

Your Blog should broadly relate to Information Technology with a focus on the Natural or Built Environments or on Disaster Management/Mitigation. Also your Blog should tell us about yourself, your interests, your opinions and be expressive as well as creative. The Meraka Institute in association with the various partners will make the final decision on which applicants for the bursaries are successful. Bursary disbursement is dependent on your registration at UWC in the BCB NISL-EI honours programme, - but we will provide details when we notify you of the success of your application.

What will my responsibilities be?

You are expected to register at UWC and pay your academic tuition fees which for 2007 are R13 211. You will be expected to work longer than a normal 8am to 4pm day in order to get the good marks. Other terms and conditions will apply.

How will the programme be presented?

The programme is distance-based using a variety of e-learning resources. The assignments will be varied and challenging. Most of the instructions will be through the course Blog. In the first year there are 12 courses to be completed (each representing 100 notional hours). An Honours exit point exists at the end of the first year, but you should continue onto the MSc programme. In the second year there will be six courses plus a mini thesis. Interaction with other students is encouraged and we hope to involve students from other courses.

The programme is competitive, so you will need to make a big impact with your Blog and you will be in line to get one of these bursaries worth R60 000 per year for a maximum of two years.

The University reserves the right to cancel this programme if there are insufficient candidates suitable for admission.