Starting out with QGIS

Something I’ve been doing when I’ve had a little time over the past couple of weeks is playing around with GIS tools, specifically the fantastic open-source QGIS. It’s available as a package for Debian 8 – the version in Debian’s repo is a little out-of-date (2.4) so if you’re interested, I’d advise adding the QGIS repo to your sources.list as outlined here.

I’ve started off by using the instructions on Anita Graser‘s blog, which are super clear and easy-to-follow. I wouldn’t have been able to make a start with obtaining data from OpenStreetMap without this! I grabbed the data from Geofabrik, specifically the West Yorkshire shape files.

However, I’ve made a few changes. I’m interested in UK mapping and it’s been a bugbear of mine for a few years that Google no longer respects the proper UK colouring of roads, preferring everything to be imperceptibly different shades of orange, grey and white. I’ve made a bit of an attempt to alter Anita’s .qml styles to reflect actual UK road colours, and figured out how to add road labels. You can see the results of my first bit of playing around below, with a map of Wakefield, in Yorkshire (picked at random because it has a decent variety of map features). You can click the image to see it in full:


It’s not a bad start, but I’ve still got a few problems that I’ll be working on solving:

The roads are the same width regardless of zoom level, as you can see from this rather sparse zoomed-in shot of beautiful Junction 39 of the M1:
I’d like them to go thicker as you zoom in… as it were(!)

And I’ve not yet worked out how to add town names without also adding the name of every restaurant, bus stop, public toilet and office building in town (that’s the style I’d like for town names, rather than the names of random betting shops and car parks):

I’d also like to do something a little better with minor roads, which look a bit of a mess at different zoom levels. But apart from that, I’m pretty pleased with how things are going. I’ll upload my UK .qml styles here once I’ve played around a little more and got things how I went them. I’m aware I’m likely to be treading paths that others have long since travelled before me, but this is very much a learning curve for me and something I’ve wanted to try out for a while.

I’ll hopefully be doing a lot more with this over the next few weeks – it’s absolutely fascinating stuff and something that’s totally new to me, despite being an inveterate map geek! Now that I’ve started off able to make some simple maps, I’m hoping I can start doing something interesting with adding data to them.

New blog time!

Welcome to my new blog! I don’t know how you’ve stumbled across it, but hello anyway. My name’s Alice, and this is a site I’ve set up to post – well, whatever comes to mind, really. I’ve had blogs in the past that have been on one subject, and they always fizzle out after a while, so I figured I’d just grab myself a space I can call my own, to geek out about whatever I fancy.

I’m interested in open-source and free software, the cool stuff you can do with Linux and Raspberry Pi, radio, cities and urban planning – lots of stuff! Right now, I’m (slowly) learning to code and I might use this as a space where I can post about my progress. Anyway, thanks for being here – I don’t expect that I’ll update this site with any kind of regularity, but if you’re interested do check back from time-to-time.

I’ve got the site hosted on freebie space from the fantastic Uno Broadband. (They’re the most no-bullshit ISP I’ve used here in the UK.) It means I can keep it here without updating it regularly, and not sit around thinking – oh god, I’m paying £8 a month to host this thing, I’d better post up any old crap.

It’s going to be a place where I can just keep it simple, nothing too fancy – just a plain, old-fashioned blog like we used to have before everyone got into Twitter and social media and so on. Thanks for popping by!