I am proud to have been awarded the Best Presentation Award for my keynote at the AGI South West Conference which took place in Bristol last Thursday in a hall with rock stars left and right. Me right in the middle – speaking about geospatial openness? How cool is that.
Now, what's wrong with this? Everything. First off the presentations were voted for by the audience. Which is good. But there were a dozen presentations in two tracks and only two keynotes in the plenary. Which means that most presentations were only seen by more or less half the audience. That roughly doubles the chance of a keynote to win.
What else is wrong? Pride is always wrong. Yes, many will disagree but please bear with me and let me explain. Pride in and out of itself is a problematic emotion (or shall we better say "state of mind"). Why that? Because pride locks us into what we did and prevents us from learning. It closes our mind to other things. From Wikipedia: "...pride refers to an inflated sense of one's personal status or accomplishments...". Wikipedia hurries on to relativize that pride can also have a positive connotation like a "...satisfied sense of attachment..." which is again wrong because attachment is bad. Attachment means clinging to something. But in a world where everything changes clinging to something will eventually make us suffer because we will lose what we have clung to. Everything changes all the time and that's a fact. So even from an egoistic perspective pride and attachment are no good. They will eventually only hurt us.
What else? Well, to be honest, in the past decade or so I have given twentysomething keynotes, conducted 50 workshops and gave 200 regular presentations before audiences between 10 and 2500 people. This admittedly gives me some expertize. So one reason I was invited to give a keynote probably was that I do that fairly well. (Ugh, can you see the pride rise again? It is a disgustingly intrusive mental state).
Anything else wrong? Oh yes, lots more. For example, please tell me what is "the best"? We live in a culture that has completely focused itself on a monotheistic notion of "there can only be one". The Highlander Principle. Hence all the monopolies. But this is crap. A big mental turd. There is several billion people around. How can any one of those be the best? Monopolies are bad, no matter from where and about what.
So let's be real for a change. This was nicely put in words by the authors of a recent mail to the members of GITA. Between other things they list future tasks they will offer and say: "...these will not be 'this is best' types of reviews, but rather analysis for completeness, accuracy and similar...". Aha. Well done. They split "best" up into an analysis of several aspects of "best". Which makes a lot more sense.
Lets check my talk for completeness. It presented three aspects of openness relevant to standards, software and data. How on earth can anybody talking 35 minutes be complete and do justice to all three aspects? It is impossible.
Next is accuracy. To be honest - my talks are typically highly inaccurate (from a scientific one-truth-only point of view). Because there are always many truths. One blatant example: I am known to postulate that only x% of revenue generated in IT comes out of selling proprietary licenses (to make a point why Open Source is perfectly viable from a business perspective). And to prove it I cite myself in a paper I published years ago in a FAO and FIG Commission paper where I cited Bruce Perens (another Open Source rock star) who never ever said that this is a fixed x% of anything. Because this figure is highly opaque. Nobody can tell how much cost can really be attributed to setting up and running an IT system. How high is the cost of women power required to transform data to fit into the newest version of software? How much revenue goes down the drain because the transition into the new system was delayed by x months? Forget it. Does not compute.
David Overton of dbyhundred giving a keynote about SplashMaps: Washable, wearable, wasterproof maps for the Real Outdoors.
Still - I invariably replace x by a number. Because otherwise it would look wishy-washy. And I even change that number arbitrarily. In my presentation at the Asia Geospatial Conference in 2011 (which btw also received a "Best" award) I said that the number is 5% because obviously in Asia license revenue is way lower than around here. The street market price for the newest version of Adobe Illustrator is US$ 1.50. After the talk people said that the cost for licenses is much lower in any given system, probably in the range of 1%.
At the last Cambridge conference two years ago I arbitrarily raised the percentage to 20 because the audience consisted of the directors of European National Mapping Agencies (who spend millions each year for Oracle licenses and I did not want to make them feel too stupid). After my talk a friend employed by esri told me that this figure is completely wrong and that his projects typically have a margin of 40% or even 60% coming in from licensing costs. And he is probably right. He is a sales guy and makes a living off selling licenses. Please pray with me that this share will always stay that high because this is how he pays his rent.
And he is a really nice guy.
In summary - I am a lier. Couldn't be worse. Accurate? Yeah, see you On The Highway To Hell. Blamblamm.
Everything is Relative (ask Einstein)
OK. Coming down again, rant mode ends. Why do I say all this? Because I strongly believe that there is a reason for diversity. Nobody is best. Nothing is best. But we all do the best we can (well, yeah, I am a hopeless case of seeing the best in people all the time) and everything is the best FOR A CERTAIN ASPECT. So don't go for the award winning software xyz but look at the problem at hand and then apply the best system suited to solve it. Or - better even - go to that guy you met at the last conference and ask her what she would do.
The AGI South West Conference
Now. The AGI conference organizers are cool. They know all of this. Which is why they had a second best award. Not like in "2nd place winner" but "also best". Which makes so much more sense. This award went to Clare Hubbard from the UK MetOffice presenting the "Lessons learned and challenges ahead" with their Datapoint program. This was a complete (as complete as you can be in 30 minutes) and accurate account of a really great project and if you have anything to do with open data please check it out. I will try to find a link to her presentation and post it here in the comments.
Clare Hubbard from the MetOffice UK gives an introduction to Open Data criteria.
And there was this other presentation by Tony Bush from DEFRA about the Air Quality Datasets which really drove home how important it is to release data openly and how difficult it is at the same time. And I loved Anthony Perkins' update from the Environment Agency Hackathon – an event organized together with Ordnance Survey's Geovation program to enable developer communities to make use of open data. Playful. Easy. We are only starting to understand what we can do. Just check this completely oblique app to get a taste: http://penguin.hodgetastic.com/ This is not meant in serious and is not about accurate data but it is about getting people intrigued and interested in their environment. It is best. No questions asked.
Phew. Towards the end I managed to include some geospatial aspects. This is just to justify that the OSGeo planet continues to reference my little blog.
Generic Geospatial Open Source
Oh, by the way, my presentation is probably the most concise and accurate summary of openness with respect to standards software and data I ever managed to get across in thirtysomething minutes. Please feel free to reuse and propagate wherever you want to enlighten people about openness downloads are available in my Publications section as editable ODP and and PDF and Online at Slideshare. Maybe I should also export some of the diagrams as images for use in other media, they tend to fall apart in different version of LibreOffice, wasOpenOffice and WeakPoint. The video version unfortunately has bad audio and cuts off after 29:59 due to a limitation of my camera so I did not upload. Should I anyway? I like to see myself talking about this stuff, it is usually entertaining to watch. Popcorn entertainment for nerds. He.
Yikes. Did you see it? There it was again, Ugly Dr. Pride sitting on my left shoulder and prompting me to promote my ego.