Friday, October 3, 2008

How things come around

It amazes me how some things seem to work out, or come around, when you least expect them to. Even when an answer isn't really important to you.
A example that happened to me recently started out when I purchased an new gps (Zumo 550). Like most gadgets these days it's multifunctional, yes it is a gps, but it can also play music and games, hold pictures and can bluetooth to my phone and helmet intercom providing directions, music and the ability to take and receive calls whilst on the move (don't worry I won't do this). As with most boys toys it's great fun playing with them, especially when they are new. After a few experiments I decided to have a look on the web for points of interest databases (POIs) that I could load up. I found some, but I also found an interesting presentation from Ordnance Survey aimed at a high level sales pitch for their POI database. In the slides they show some graphical overlays of ATM's with criminal activity and also spatial analysis overlays. This got me thinking and I wondered how one might go about asking questions like "Show me all the criminal activity within a 1 mile radius of a particular ATM" in a quey and what systems you might have to put together to do it. Being a semantic person at heart I could see that it wouldn't take much to converts POI's to RDF, which could obviously be held in a triple store. I know about Oracle's spatial cartridge for holding spatial data (well it would wouldn't it) but I couldn't see an easy way to query both the triple store, lets assume Oracle's, and the spatial data in a single sparqlish statement. This was confirmed ( it just happened to come up in conversation) during a very pleasant evening in a pub with Dean Allemang a few days later.
The following week I was at ESTC2008 in Vienna where I found myself meeting and talking with John Goodwin from Ordnance Survey's semantic research group. He's doing some really interesting stuff, and we had a lot in common especially about introducing the Semantic Web into our companies. The next day we both attended a session given by Jans Aasman where he demonstrated some of the spatial features in Allegrograph and how this could be searched in conjunction with POIs. It was a great demo and it showed me how to solve some of the questions I had posed to myself a few weeks earlier, even though it wasn't going to help in my day job.

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