Thursday, 21 December 2017

Part 4 of an almost sequence - adding EO, GDPR and power to the mix

Back in the day I did an MSc in Applied Remote Sensing - yay - and for a while, working with Landsat and SPOT data to devive new insights and present information in then new ways, it seemed a potent tool, but then the music kind of died. GIS was the new kid on the block, funding of satellite borne sensors went soft, internet bandwidths (then) and imagery didn't work too well together. Today, we seem to have come full circle, and while 'remote sensing' sounds unfamiliar, the world of EO is seriously 'hot'. Among the major change agents has been the post 9/11 requirement to find out more about 'stuff' often a long way from 'home' and Moore's Law across the capacity of the related tools and technologies (storage, bandwidth, processing, compression etc).

Depending on how you classify 'flocks' of micro/nano satellites there are c.1000 live image collection sensors in orbit, providing daily coverage (or at least the potential for) the entire planet at spatial resolutions from 30cm upwards, ever increasing spectral ranges and with increasing radiometric resolution. We see it on the news, in the media so much that this isn't news. A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words; to turn that image and the visual cues and insights therefrom into something of value you extract and codify those 'words'. A series of "pictures" is worth a whole lot more and time-series is again a familiar visual media motif.

Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, go on, look it up) was (and remains) one of the go-to algorithms that extracts, in this case, 'words' about growth and senescence in crops that the end user can deploy in studies of land cover, land use, yield, soils, planting, weather and more. In the dim and distant past I used this and other image processing techniques on multiple (and at the time costly (still dirt cheap compared to trying to acquire that information on the ground)) images from Landsat and SPOT to look at seasonal and annual studies in support of extension, planning and other interventions in Africa.

Now, with daily and in some cases free coverage from Copernicus, Planet, earth-i, Digital Globe to mention some significant players on the one hand, the leadership shown by Google (Cloud/Compute and all its EO data) and the explosion in the application of artificial intelligence techniques to imagery on the other, the study of shadows of oil storage containers in China as a proxy for economic health, the counting of containers in ports and the $bn valuation of Climate Corp when acquired by Monsanto in 2013 are just some of the headlines.

From there it is but a short step to some truly intrusive analytics. Using thermal imagery to target those with ineffective insulation? Good, right, leading to positive intervention, reduced bills, lower emissions. Using daily optical imagery to study domestic patterns? Whoa, like when cars are or aren't parked or have or haven't moved you mean? I do. Never mind the spy in the sky seeing what paper you're reading, who cares, but the postie always delivers at 11 right and no one is home again except on a Thursday (guess that's the cleaner right, small van) til 5:30 except in the school holidays (they have kids right). OK, OK, so easy to get carried away.

Much of the source of such insights is available as open data. We can all get to it, yay. Not so many of us have the expertise to set about extracting those insights and deliver value to end users (hence the Climate Corp deal). Intermediaries have always been a fundamental part of the value chain especially with the complexities of imagery though the advent of analysis ready data (ARD) may move some sector or application specific intermediaries further up the value chain. Intermediaries bring together EO data and the tools to analyse and extract information from that data with other data sources to meet end user needs. That additional data might also be open, it might be licensed, it might be the end users own data; brought together - mosaiced, triangulated, whatever - it is easy to see how property and people can be identified, associated and 'valued'.

As this article for geospatialists illustrates (and perhaps dramatises), the personal is everywhere in location data, oft-times directly but even more inevitably when you bring data sets together. The call here is to geospatial intermediaries to be mindful of and comply with their obligations under GDPR when so-doing - for effect I think the author talks of control, defusing, aggregating of a dangerous substance - data!

Hyperbole perhaps. Has the open data horse bolted, can or should the genie be put back in the bottle, should data releases be degraded, should even open data releases be tracked (per HMLR for example), how quickly does open data deteriorate in the wild, what are the incentives to data producers to continue to collect, validate and publish such data? Good and pertinent questions all, not for this post though.

But we need to be as careful in addressing these questions as we are in complying with GDPR's implications. There is a significant asymmetry in the datasphere in that much of the power to collect and assemble the data and to publish and create these insights is the opposite, residing with mega-corps and although Copernicus has it's own portal clearly not the resources of a Google to lavish on interfaces and user experience. Which gives rise to a tension. The privatisation of the digital public realm is building a parallel data realm to which 'accessible' data, open, licensed or otherwise, offers a counter-point, a choice, the absence or weakening of which would reinforce that asymmetry.

Convenience, ease-of-use, apps and much that makes the digital consumer world relies on this asymmetry. Are we questioning of or inured to the implications of what is coming down the track and do the capabilities 'out there' at-scale demand a response in discussions about openness?

EO is back, for sure, yet the ramifications are only beginning....

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Openness, identity, identify, propriety, triangulation - a moment?

Not that we're quiet at the moment but something must be in the air - so, like buses, another post!

courtesy (c) MediaBuzz 2017

Steve Wilson has managed to capture in this post, on a specific case to do with health care data, arguably amongst the most sensitive of personal data, a sense that 'we' have lost or are losing (what limited) control we might have had, over our data, over who collects it, on whose behalf they collect, how they analyse and process it - in particular what other data they "join"* [see below] it to, on whose behalf that is in turn done, who that is sold or supplied to.

* join - a short-hand here for the vast array of, to many, unfathomable ways in which 0s and 1s from X data set are ingested, validated/verified, analysed, combined, associated or otherwise linked, directly or indirectly, using techniques and methods in and from data science, statistics, information science, physics, geography, operations research et al with many other data sets to derive new insights, inform new products, define new actions, reinforce get/know the picture....(various other short-hands such as AI or machine learning (ML) or even natural language processing (NLP) have made their way into the public domain)

Kieron O'Hara has written on privacy (including the end of), guidance on anonymisation (for data sharers), on online obfuscation, on the semantic web and, per this post, on (de)anonymisation; among his nuggets are 'vaguing-up' and individual consent-based treatment (in the debate over geographically defining a crime event). Remembered here is the line from the 2011 Transparent government, not transparent citizens: a report on privacy and transparency for the Cabinet Office: "There are no complete legal or technical fixes to the deanonymisation problem".

We are familiar with the argument that government, parliament, legislation and regulation struggles to keep up with the rapid evolution of tools and technology, giving rise to horses long having bolted, poor governance, weak compliance et al. Deanonymisation, hacks, leaks, mash-ups are a daily occurrence whether in the media or otherwise. It seems millenials especially are sanguine (why is less clear) about personal data, expect to receive personally targeted ads, will most benefit from triangulation of data sets, be it in health care, dating or at work and so those with their levers in theory on the handles of power should be equally chill. [Those same millenials didn't get much of a say in the EU referendum so that argument works both ways].

As these Smart Cities, surveillance state and related twitter commentary pieces suggest, the language of and about the technology and what it does/produces is instrumental/influential in our acceptance, adoption, anger or passivity. Smart = good, surveillance = bad (or less good, given certain arguments)? Either way there should be a more open debate about the surveillance society, from 2006!

And so back to openness, open data, the role and impact of open by default policy as applied to data. If deanonymisation is a given, which may seem counter-intuitive, or requires aggregation to such temporal, geographical or other levels as to detract from meaningful utility, what can be done, going forward (remembering what horses are already out there) to provide some level of protection from the abject, infinite processing power of the cloud and those who would seek insights, information etc for prurient, research or other ends. Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) are one tool. How you apply a PIA, to what element of the process, can though be perverse (or appear to be), as pointed out here. With 'lists' from hacks being publicly tangible in a headline grabbing way that land ownership can't despite Anna Powell Smith and Guy Shrubsole's best efforts, perhaps that was HMLR's focus, and anyway related data sets (e.g. Companies House) are already open, so even if that does make individuals identifiable that's ok, isn't it? After all, "the most interesting thing that will be done with 'our' data will be done by somebody else" [ref a lot of people].

This has been a compelling narrative behind open data release - do interesting things, find new insights, create new value, build new businesses. But as the BT/InLink story suggests, despite the always on availability of the cloud, the willingness of VC to invest and an extensive start-up infrastructure, the value seems to more broadly be accruing to those who already have - UK unicorns are in short supply but UK start-up and SME-land remains vibrant, with 40000 employed in my own part of the digital data economy alone, mostly intermediating to drive value for end users. In theory a national data infrastructure is agnostic (net neutrality not withstanding); but does the on-going capture of the public realm by a privatised, commercial surveillance state already heavily inter-twined with the State (see Snowden or JG Ballard) create a two (or multi-) tier data economy?

In Open data comes to market from a 2013 workshop at Policy Exchange, O'Hara is clear that "It would be absolutely wrong for a provider with state backing to invade existing markets", "Government needs to take the views of those demanding data and supplying information genuinely into account in decision making" and 'government as brand'. State benefit drives state backing or at least not getting too 'in the way'? Where to draw the line, what to release, on what terms (this is key - PIA, privacy, security, context, mosaic potential), what not to release, who to empower, what to allow, how to do that, who's going to shout loudest, who's shouting close by, where do the benefits accrue, what messaging, what evidence?

Challenges for policy makers, but 'a moment' and words to the wise for all players in the data mosaic? After all, re-identification (deanonymisation), per Steve Wilson, and subsequent analysis, association, enrichment and publication can be catastrophic.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Delivering a data infrastructure - appropriation, the value chain and intermediaries

Apropos of not very much and being as it is almost the Friday before Christmas, some ponderings.

There has been a bit of a spat (I caught some of it on Newsnight) about cultural appropriation brought on by a journalist seeking expert input to improve the quality, insight and value of their work/output. I doubt if there is a single Twitter user who hasn't had or seen a similar request across their timeline. Various epithets might be applied to such requests/exchanges: open, transparent, accessible, sharing, what the web is for etc. It sometimes seems that others might equally apply: cheeky, cheapskate, lazy. This is especially true when what one is being asked to impart is part of the value - the knowledge, insight and wisdom that comes with age and experience, of those being asked. So, easy right, don't answer, don't engage and lose the opportunity to be cited, cross-referenced or widen your social and professional graph. Conflicted?

But then does the actual 'community' become 'divided' whether actually (as in parallel universes of people with little engagement - broadcast vs narrowcast) or philosophically (as in incumbents vs disruptors, complacency vs innovation, nasty vs nice or variants thereof). Innovation has been democratising access to knowledge, if not necessarily wisdom!, since we started writing on tablets (Sumeria, not apple), accelerated by the printing press and the web of course.

In the case of a bald request there may or may not be mutual benefit with likely short-term gain to the enquirer and the promise (and remember hope is not a strategy) of a hard to measure and even harder to attribute positive feedback loop in the longer term for the sharer/donor/muppet and even more remotely to their employer. Fora, like stackexchange, or collaborative offerings, like OSM or openlayers, offer more tangible communities of mutual interest where there is an output, a product that continually improves/develops and delivers benefits through wider use and capability.

One question then relates to that value chain, the appropriation (disruption, dilution, diminution?) of the business model on which it is or has been predicated, the intended and unintended consequences both in short-term and maybe necessary "shake-up" of that chain, vertical, industry etc and in the longer term shape and sustainability of what evolves, comes after.

You only have to look at the state of the roads and stare open-mouthed at some of the repair "techniques" to see the consequences of BAFO and other procurement drivers/models in an environment strapped of every penny. With most UK economic forecasters pessimistic for the next decade and with any number of metrics across health, education and social care (to name but 3 at the heart of what it means to be a modern society) demanding investment from central government, it could be seen as ironic, controversial or counter-intuitive that government is being asked to do more (by the NIC) in other areas. But without broadband improvement the UK Digital Strategy will not benefit the many. Without a modern data infrastructure modern decisions and insights are harder or impossible to come by.

A high speed fixed and wireless communications infrastructure, delivered by the private sector, driven by government, is pretty easily understood by every stakeholder, from the citizen to civil servant to the commentariat. A national data infrastructure is an altogether harder proposition to convey, let alone to see constructed. Much has been made of the spewing forth of open data as the basis for that infrastructure, including some pretty interesting assumptions, some suspect models and some eye-watering numbers (anyone recall Francis Maude's £6bn). No wonder the clarion calls continue.

I noted a couple of weeks ago, "The evolution of a more open data world is to be welcomed as it will usher in new products and new services, likely in ways and in markets that were not foreseen. But that access will actually, as with LinkedData and xml, be, directly, for the few, not the many. Genuine actual access to the value of geographic content is in being able to see and obtain that value directly in the products and services sought by markets and users. And that comes back to investment - in tech, in people and in marketing. There are hundreds, 000s of exciting things that can be done with data, full stop; getting them to market to drive a return on your investment and/or to drive adoption and/or integration that changes behaviours, processes and benefits in ways that are tangible and measurable is perhaps an alternative measure of accessibility.

So data infrastructure, by precedent and by extension, demands a coming together of the data creators with those that (or may choose to) provide the tech, skills and comms to enable that exploitation and that value. The role of such intermediaries will be critical, indeed has been critical since at least the launch of Landsat in the early 1970s. Who are the intermediaries? Today it is a growing array of businesses that in geo alone is estimated to employ 40000 people across start-ups, SMEs and larger enterprise, paying taxes, innovating, beavering away, often a tangential but fundamental part of delivering end user value and return on investment.

Many commentators reference the transport sector as an exemplar of what those intermediaries can do for you and for UK plc what with the profusion of apps that materialised following the release of opening up of their data and feeds by TfL. The citizen-centric, ad-supported, often hard to measure impact-wise, app economy is very far from the only game in town when it comes to intermediaries, characterised as it often (mainly erroneously) is by references to Shoreditch, roundabouts and beards! A long established and successful economy of aggregators, processors, analysts and domain experts embraces the data deluge, focused on end user workflows, use cases and processes at the heart of the UK economy, in construction, in land and property, in housing, in asset management, in energy and infrastructure, renewables and agriculture and for the public sector.

This constituency is the heart of web 3.0 or whatever you want to call it, ready, willing and able to perform a critical role at the heart of a national data infrastructure and to talk about how that can be delivered.

So, with apologies to Peter Gabriel "Come talk to me"!

Monday, 27 November 2017


I guess we all think we know what access means - I can get hold of things or through to my target. Of course the definitions go much wider.

There is tendency though, not unusual of course when pedalling a personal agenda, to look at access through a single lens. Before, I go there, I should declare my interest in what follows. As a founder of emapsite, the few of you who read this will think there is a specific axe to be ground here owing to our track record as a successful OS partner, turning OS and other data assets into products desired by our customers, and that specifically I am railing (or about to rail) against the the Chancellor's announcement that the government will be creating a Geospatial Commission and what follows on from that, as confirmed in today's Industrial Strategy. I defer to the Urban Dictionary.

There have been some cogent posts from those with long interest in and insight into open data including those by Ed Parkes, Leigh Dodds and Owen Boswarva that are all well worth reading. 30/11/17 - I somehow omitted Steven Feldman's Jekyll and Hyde post on the matter.

Other than a common thread concerning the uncertainty that comes with the language being used by the Chancellor, if there is a single idea that links these posts and other commentary it is the allegedly thorny matter of 'access', specifically to OS MasterMap but more widely, with the cost i.e. the licensing terms and conditions of that access somehow getting in the way of obtaining and using what is commonly agreed to be a rich (if flawed) resource.

I doubt there are many who enjoy reading and understanding let alone creating licensing documentation but read and understand them you should! Again noting that I am not writing this on behalf of Ordnance Survey, if you were to invest the time in so doing you might come away with a plan of engagement, either directly or with existing OS partners, that provided you with the very access you sought in order to meet the needs of you or your customers to make you and them rich (sic). I'll leave you to enrich your life with the reading ;-).

The bottom line though is that 'access' is not really the issue. The 'issue' is having a cost attached to your business proposition that either makes the proposition a non-starter (i.e. the market won't give you a margin because the actual or perceived value to them is lower than what they're willing to pay and you have neither the marketing resource or evidence to convert enough of them), 'just might make it' (returns a wafer thin margin) or dents your ambitions by having a cost you hadn't planned for as you hadn't done your market research on both the supply and demand side.

Turns out that in business 'costs of sale' are normal, who knew, so few tears there - and for most the investment in people and technology makes the investment in understanding licensing pale. With the falling costs of any input propositions gradually become more attractive be it at bulk or transactional level - everyone gets that. As an aside an organisation like IronMan is worth getting on for $1bn and much of its value derives from being able to assemble huge numbers of volunteers to execute their events in return for discounted kit and event entry but most business while equally human capital dependent operates with another model!

For those wanting "all the data" (to create derived products or for analysis to meet a market need for example) then there have always been ways to access the data at no cost. That there is a royalty once a product is ready for market is the 'complaint' but that there are costs has always been evident so we come back to the responsibility to research the supply as well as the demand side of any brilliant idea. It is those costs that are alleged to be a barrier to innovation or perhaps more realistically to the successful application of that innovation. While one could again take issue with a business that "would be successful if there weren't all these costs involved" there is a wider discussion to be had about value and whether cost of the data component of a product, innovative or otherwise, element is genuinely a barrier (to take up) or whether there are other more prosaic less 'accessible' factors (as well).

A planning application requires a map or plan, typically costing £8-£25 for a residential plan. The added value to the property through its construction or extension is measured in 10s of £000s with architects, structural engineering, groundworks, legal fees, consents and more all representing significant investment sums. An EPC can cost £120. The plan is a fractional cost yet less than 20% of planning applications are accompanied by a plan, the presence of which would doubtless solve untold time and money at hard-pressed planning departments. Is freely available detailed mapping going to change any of that; is anyone going to invest what it takes (in tech, in people and in marketing) to change any of that? The most cost effective change (with the net benefit accruing to all of us through cost and time savings at local authorities and improved decision making in one of the bottleneck areas of the "housing crisis") would be to require all applicants to submit a plan with their application.

A large scale commercial development worth 10s of £ms could under existing licensing spend 10s of £000s on licensing location content (mapping, addressing, imagery, perils and more) to ensure compliance, good governance etc. Fractional, again. Not sure there would be public sympathy for the beneficiaries!

Will the pennies saved by your insurer make a difference to your policy selection decision, will they even pass it on? The benefits may not flow in quite the expected direction.

The evolution of a more open data world is to be welcomed as it will usher in new products and new services, likely in ways and in markets that were not foreseen. But that access will actually, as with LinkedData and xml, be, directly, for the few, not the many. Genuine actual access to the value of geographic content is in being able to see and obtain that value directly in the products and services sought by markets and users. And that comes back to investment - in tech, in people and in marketing. There are hundreds, 000s of exciting things that can be done with data, full stop; getting them to market to drive a return on your investment and/or to drive adoption and/or integration that changes behaviours, processes and benefits in ways that are tangible and measurable is perhaps an alternative measure of accessibility.

While those of us who are geographic data geeks (to a greater or lesser extent) are excited by and are already deeply embedded in the ingestion, processing, maintenance, update, interpretation, product creation and service delivery that provides that accessibility, one imagines that it is the latter perspective (and the funding mechanism for the long term sustainability of Ordnance Survey and others) that will be focusing the minds of the Geospatial Commission over the coming months!

Friday, 20 May 2016

this land is your land?

You may have noticed there's another consultation about Land Registry's future. And it's nearly closed so get consulting if you haven't already.

And I mean get consulting NOW! Unless that is you have now, had had until now or never will have any interest in any of the following - whether or not you actually own or have rights in the land and property that you think you have rights in, who has rights in the land or property that you may be interested in acquiring rights in, who, more broadly, owns what (that's for transparency and related junkies and journalists et al), the literally existential matter of land and property and so on.

Are you crying foul sir? Well, it's more to do with trust and confidence - a familiar theme from last week's missive about addressing.

Now there may well be things wrong with HMLR and its business model but at this stage that's not really the point. The point is that we, the owners and future owners (via our banks and mortgages) of the 85% or so of property that is currently documented by HMLR, and the whole value/supply chain (estate agents, conveyancers, removals, planners, developers, the lot) put our collective faith in the currently sainted Land Registry when it comes to the acquisition and exchange of property and promissory notes. Accountable to no shareholder (other than as a Trading Fund to government) HMLR is an integral component of the property boom of the last 20 or more years.

What could fracture the confidence of lenders, buyers, sellers, borrowers (and potentially moisten the lips of barristers)? Doubt i hear you say? Distrust? Suspicion? Uncertainty? We all know what that does to a stock valuation! What will it do to land and property sales? Who really owns that? Do I even own it? I am sure I did pay for it but now I can't even find it! And so on.

It is damnably difficult to get the approvals to gain access to HMLR's data, arguably for good reason. That data and it's perceived absolute authority and uncorruptibility are the basis for our prosperity. Hacked land registration (ownership, liens et al) data throw the whole system into disrepute overnight.

I don't wish to speak ill of interested parties but there may well be incentives that we can all imagine that would undermine that current confidence.

So, am off to consult.......

Monday, 16 May 2016

addressing a single source of truth

While personal physical mail seems in terminal decline (and even my junk mail seems to be following suit, if not online) the matter of addressing seems forever in a state of flux - one moment all the right noises, then righteous indignation and carpet chewing, then barely a ripple on the pond. I'll try not to rehearse recent history (mainly because I know Bob Barr (and others) will correct me) but suffice to say that relatively recent 'events' might indicate that the waters are about to become choppy once more.

The March budget contained a commitment to an open address register with upto £5m of government backing. After the Postcode Address File (PAF) went with RMG into the private sector in 2013, with the possibility of an open national address gazetteer stalled (and the NAG 'brand' in the hands of Geoplace) and with openaddresses struggling, surely this was a glimmer of hope for open data advocates.

To my mind the notion of a £5m stimuli to the delivery of a single consistent national address data set that meets the gazetteering, delivery, identity and other challenges and opportunities that extend from the allure of such a thing represents but a drop in the ocean and really begs the question as to what that £5m can do, what else might be done and whether it is all going to be wrapped up with a suitable sustainability commitment to meet the alleged needs of those that cannot or will not use products that currently meet their needs (as well as those who absolutely rely on those existing products to meet their public tasks, from emergency services, utility companies, the ubiquitous delivery vans et al).

Now £5m might seem like quite a lot to splash in this area but whoever ends up getting whatever is really in the pot is going to discover very quickly that it goes nowhere near solving the challenge.

Which kinds of lead one to wonder what else might be done and with what consequences. The obvious answer would seem to be that the notion of an open address register has sharpened this minds of those who argued for it and seek to get it delivered and they have landed on the idea of opening up Geoplace's NAG in some way. So is the £5m for them (Geoplace is an OS/LGA joint venture)? Excluding PSMA revenues from addressing are allegedly in the £10m+ area per annum with a substantial share of that going on to RMG. RMG may not notice the loss (PAF already generates them over £20m) but Geoplace/LGA/OS sure will if they have to maintain NAG for the foreseeable future. Having to maintain it works both ways - fine if there is a government spending commitment but if that were not forthcoming would GeoPlace have to maintain it (and with the CSR pretext of selling public assets (see section 10.5) why would they)? What next then for open addresses?

Which finally brings us to what characteristics of addresses make such a gazetteer fit for purpose. For sure, all of completeness, consistency, accuracy, currency, geocoding, links to other data sources (property, people, organisations, ownership, value, security, H&S etc etc) or other attribution as you would expect. But under-pinning all of that are implicit factors such as the trust, confidence, integrity, brand, longevity required of the market in the provider.

As those factors are eroded, or are seen or perceived to be at risk of erosion, so adoption and utility are diluted. The risk is that a negative feedback loop ensues and, fast forward, there is no single source of truth, no one to trust and no one to blame. Deliveries, emergencies, emergency deliveries even, potentially falling foul of a fragmented, dated, incomplete, inaccurate data set. Opportunities develop for market specific sub data sets attracting new entrants, commercial pricing and the possibility of multiple versions of the single source of truth.

Doomsday scenario? Maybe! But £5m was never enough and is an irrelevance (except perhaps those seeking to bid for it) alongside the resource commitment, physical infrastructure, political will and commercial nous needed to sustain trusted addressing for UKplc.

As PAF licence fees (£75-£15k) illustrate myriads of users (over 35000 I believe) will adopt a product if the licensing and pricing make sense and the brand is trusted. It may well be that in seeking to create a more widely accessible single source of addressing truth the powers that be will land on the idea that the current primary source (AddressBase family from Ordnance Survey) would fit the bill if only more people could be persuaded to use. The key tool in that persuasion is the licence fee. So maybe that £5m could be a sweetener to OS while they get the address licensing sorted (almost freemium anyone?), cushion OS from a possible dip in revenues while the market gets re-educated and then earns back the revenue foregone in years ahead. Perhaps not altogether open addresses (the risks I think are real) but a new and sustainable model (and one that leaves space for innovators bringing other content to the address/delivery/identity/navigation/value party)?

That might be seen as an injection of public capital to help move the separate discussion on private capital further along the corridor too!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Chasing photos (Pt 1, hopefully)

Two weeks ago I was wandering the street of Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka when I contrived to mislay my camera, a dated Canon model Canon EOS XT 350D, black with a 55-200mm zoom lens. Re-trace footsteps at hotel (Bay Vista Hotel), nearby laundry, the ultra-slow Mandarin restaurant over the road, nada.

Now is not the time to point fingers but ultimately I believe I put it down during some form of transaction and that when the penny dropped that it was no longer to hand, too much time had passed (overnight basically) to be absolutely sure but also enough time for the new 'owner' to have decided what to do.

Tragedy with such things is not the camera but what's on the SD, sorry CompactFlash, card - luckily backed-up before leaving UK but still the whole trip - Jaffna, islands, Uppaveli, Passikudah, Arugam - in brain memory only and if the new owner has "erased all" then even this blog is for nothing. So typical, so why blog about it?

Well, on the off chance that the SANDisk 4Gb CompactFlash card still exists with the photos on and that the battery has gone flat (it was well down but yes I know it's £4.99 on ebay for a charger, 21 of which have been acquired on the uk site in the last month) then possibly the camera is literally sitting around somewhere be it in Sri Lanka or on someone's travels.

Anyway, once back here and "over it", I have become slightly obsessed with the notion that the interweb can find my camera and SD card. How might that be you ask? Turns out there are a number of sites that endeavour to help:

Stolen Camera Finder

You can test SCF as I have made a couple of my own images on Flickr public....

Camera Trace

Camera Found

Specifically - Example image off my camera from 2014

You will see lots of reports of lost, quite a few found but it appears not so many returned to owners - a Venn diagram of these different communities would I think show only a thin overlap!

Facebook Lost and Found Camera


Photosearch is unavailable

Plus I have used Flickr for years and their recent upgrade includes auto-upload and much improved search tools.

The key to most of these sites is your camera serial number - mine is 3520738633 - and the fact that it may be stored and retained in the EXIF that accompanies every digital image. I say "may be" because it seems looking back that not every image has the serial number in. Anyway it looks like these sites are essentially crawlers going to Flickr, Picasaweb and others (though it seems many sites - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc strip or corrupt the EXIF data but happy to be corrected on that).

All very well but still why blog?

Basically, because so far have had no joy at all and have been trying date ranges, serial number, locations, tags (I'm guessing of course), camera type and serial number.

The search tools unsurprisingly rely on matching your search parameters with publicly available data. This means for example that any photos uploaded with the latest Flickr uploader will not be searched by these tools as they are private by default (although of course a user could change that plus they may be surprised with what is automatically uploaded if they look at their photostream - the CF card probably had a thousand or more images on!). The same applies to Panoramio, 500px, picasaweb although I think only Flickr makes the full EXIF searchable.

The camera contains no automatic GPS chip or geo-tagging so relying on others to tag photos and/or make them public seems a tad ambitious. But then maybe this exercise is too - which is to use the power of social media to crowd source the serial number 3520738633 from private and family and friends on Flickr.

The camera can go hang - I reported it to the tourist police in Arugam Bay by phone when I got back to UK as I forget to do it there even though they are just down the road from the hotel; though am yet to get a report number the hotel did call me say that the police have been in to follow up which based on a text message is pretty impressive imho though whether it will impress Columbus Direct remains to be seen - the real desire is get hold of the images.

So, the purpose of the blog?

It's to see whether having tweeted the link to this post that that desire is ever realised!

So, to my small band of followers a RT would be great (can this go viral?) and if I get to write a Pt 2 I'll be delighted!