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Making home working work!

I was chatting to a personal acquaintance recently about work and we got on to the subject of home working.  The organisation she worked for was going through a period of change and they were planning on moving some of their office staff to home working on a permanent basis.  She was after my views on how we manage to make that work effectively at Astun. This blog, which is very much a manager's perspective, is what I told her!

Before we get on to to the two key themes of this blog - the Technical and Cultural - a quick bit about Astun first! 1. Astun's circumstances We employ around 21 people, of which 6 or so work from an office in Epsom, and the rest work from home on a permanent basis.  From my home in Bristol, I line manage 13 of those people, 3 of which are office based, the rest primarily work in the UK, as far north as Tyneside & Lancaster and as far south as Southampton.  I have one member of the team who is based in Seville in Spain.
2. Technical Use of technology …

Astun Conference 2018

In late September and October Astun hosted two regional conferences in Bristol and Leeds. In the current environment it isn’t easy to persuade people in Local and Central Government to take a day out of their schedules and travel to to a conference, so getting over 70 delegates over the two days was a strong indication of the value that Astun brings to its clients. After a brief welcome from Steven Feldman (Bristol) or Dan Ormsby (Leeds) Mike Saunt, Astun’s founder and MD, gave a keynote entitled “Much ado about Mapping” Mike talked about Astun as a passionate company, passionate about geo, passionate about open, passionate about the cloud and fanatical about support. He ran through the way Astun’s offer had evolved in the last year with new features, an improved user experience, simplified administration, more automation of cloud deployment and most importantly major investments in testing, quality enhancement and reducing technical debt. Then Mike moved on to the direction of travel for…

FOSS4G 2018 in Dar Es Salaam

Last month I spent a week in Dar Es Salaam at FOSS4G 2018, incorporating the HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team) Summit. It was one of an increasing number of occasions where I find my Astun Technology and MapAction roles overlapping, and made more enjoyable by being able to spend some of the time with colleagues from both organisations.

This was my fourth FOSS4G, and was a very different experience to the first three. Tanzania is the second African country to have hosted FOSS4G after South Africa, and so nationals of African countries made up a significant proportion of the delegates, most of whom, judging from those I spoke to, were attending for the first time. Their travel experiences were also a little different to mine - one delegate told me she had travelled for two days on a bus from northern Tanzania with no overnight stop, putting into perspective gripes from those of us flying in about stopovers and connections. The age and gender demographic was also significantly differ…
The UK Mapping Festival
Earlier this week, I spent two days at the UK Mapping Festival in London. The festival was an interesting departure from the usual format, with a number of related events taking place between the 2nd and 7th of September. As well a free exhibition there was an interesting line up of talks and workshops at the conference, with the content on each day moulded by the conference partners, who included The Association for Geographic Information (AGI), the British Cartographic Society (BCS) and the Society of Cartographers(SoC).

4th September : Underpinning Your Organisation’s Value Today (AGI) The morning session included keynotes from Tim Just of Innovate UK and Jamie Clark from the Geospatial Commission. Jamie spoke about central government now seeing geographic information as being critical to unlocking value within the UK economy and that the creation of a ministerial steering group for the Geospatial Commission was the key new element. The government is predic…

Beginning work on Gemini 2.3

The AGI have recently published the new standard for publishing metadata in the UK: Gemini 2.3, and at Astun we're pleased to announce that we have begun work on a plugin to use this standard in the Geonetwork Metadata Catalogue.

The deadline for migrating to Gemini 2.3 is December 2019, which seems like a long way away but will no doubt come around sooner than we expect!
What's Involved? Creating a new metadata standard plugin in Geonetwork takes several steps. Firstly we need to know what has changed between Gemini 2.2 and 2.3, and luckily the AGI have produced a handy document summarising this. Then we have to build the schema definitions and stylesheets so that Geonetwork knows how and what to display, both when viewing the metadata and editing it. This is the hard part! We need to add codelists and suggestions so that some elements can be chosen from lists rather than hand-typed. After that, we need to add in the new validation rules to ensure that the metadata created ac…

Going to the Geonetwork CodeSprint in Bolsena

The week of the 4th to 8th of June 2018 was the 11th annual Geonetwork Codesprint in Bolsena, coordinated by GeoCat. As in previous years, the Geonetwork developer team took over an ex-convent, just outside the small town of Bolsena, on the side of the lake of the same name, about 135km north of Rome.


View Larger Map

At Astun we've always had a firm belief in contributing back something to the open source software that we use, be that by sponsoring or providing enhancements, fixing bugs, or getting involved with conferences and hackathons. Due to the work we've been doing supporting and extending Geonetwork for our local Government INSPIRE metadata portal, for the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure portal, and with DEFRA, this event seemed like a good opportunity to meet the core developers face to face, to learn something new, and perhaps assist with some development.

I went along with no fixed expectations of what would be involved, or what I could contribute. I consider …

Reflections on the Amazon Web Services Summit, 2018

Last month, a handful of us from 'operations' attended the AWS Summit to keep up to date with what is going on in the Amazon Web Services world.  We've shared our reflections in this Blog and linked through to videos or slides of the sessions where we can.
What is the AWS Summit?Amazon run a series of global events in major cities around the world getting to each one every couple of years; 2018 was London's turn.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud hosted computing platform, that Astun use for pretty much everything.  Our own cloud products and services such as iShare in the Cloud, Astun Data Services, Geonetwork / INSPIRE are all hosted there.  Even if what you use from us is exclusively deployed on your own premises, all of software development and most of our internal IT is done in the AWS environment.  It is critical to our business.  If you think that we are putting all our eggs in one basket, it is worth remembering that AWS is a $22 billion p.a. business under…

QGIS 3.0: the time has come...

QGIS 3.0 was released in February, and although it's labelled an 'early adopter' release, with the long term release (LTR) available in October, there's plenty in it to excite not just the early adopters, but the rest of us too. We've had a chance now to have a good look at it, kick the tyres a bit and see what everyone has to say about it, so here are our thoughts.

There are a few big steps forward - for example 3D support and multiple map canvasses - and while many of the other changes are relatively minor on their own, put together they represent a major leap in usability and effectiveness. There's been work on consolidation, upgrades of core packages, efficiency and speed improvements, resulting in a slicker, easier to use and more tightly integrated application.

You could say that the 'easier to use' bit is the best thing about QGIS 3.0 - and when you think about it, that's not a description that could be applied to most application upgrades or…

FOSS4GUK 2018 Musings

A look back at FOSS4GUK 2018


Dan The whole event was great and I'm really glad I managed to go.  One person I was chatting to during one of the coffee breaks told me they were just so struck by what a friendly event it was compared to conferences they had attended - and I couldn't agree more! For me though, that manifested itself in the open and transparent way that the speakers and delegates shared their knowledge and expertise, with a real willingness to help others.  It really brings it home that the thing that is as amazing as the technology aspect of FOSS, is the real community of people who are working on it and with it.

In terms of talks and workshops (aside from all the fantastic Astun-led sessions 😊 which were great), other highlights for me were the sessions by Ross McDonald (@mixedbredie) and Tom Armitage (@MapNav_Tom), both of whom did great workshops and presentations around routing and cartographic visualisation; I used our QGIS in the Cloud environment for bot…

Using Fiddler to mock web responses

Introduction I recently had a need to debug an issue that a customer was having, but it seemed as though it was related to their data. I had two options, take a copy of their data and configuration files and set them up in my development environment, or find another way.
"The Other Way" What I really needed to be able to do was to return specific responses to certain requests, but allow other requests to go through unhindered, thus spoofing the client into believing I had the customer's data set up. That's when I remembered that Telerik Fiddler can be used as a proxy and has something called an AutoResponder which sounds like it could do what I wanted.
AutoResponder
The way the AutoResponder works is by matching the URL with a known string, and then performing an action if it matches (see the AutoResponder documentation for more info). This could be as simple as returning the response from a file, setting a header, or performing a redirect. The benefit to this is th…