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Spatial Computing (Essential Knowledge) - Shashi Shekhar and Pamela Vold ***

A part of the increasingly interesting MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, the topic of this book may at first glance be puzzling - but it's about something many of us use every day - information technology that makes use of spatial information, such as the GPS sat nav system.

One oddity of this series is that it is very inconsistent in the level the books are pitched at. Some are way too technical for the general reader. This one, though, is a straightforward descriptive text with very limited technical detail. There's nothing here that is likely to baffle someone from outside the field and lots of information on where the various technologies have come from (including John Snow's famous map-based identification of the source of a Victorian London cholera outbreak), the basics of how they work and where they are likely to go from here.

If you actually have a need to know this stuff, it's an ideal primer. My only real concern about the book is that I'm not sure I did need to know - it felt a bit too much like doing homework. In their preface, the authors say 'How could a technology used by billions of people around the world not have an accessible guide to describe it to a broad audience?' I think, for me, the answer is 'Because it's not very interesting.' I love using this stuff, but I didn't find reading about it particularly inspiring.

That's not to say that the book won't be useful, whether you've been set an assignment on remote sensing, positioning systems or geographic information systems or you work in a field that makes use of such technology - but as a daily user of GPS, I've already got the basics and I really didn't need to detail.

For those with an interest in the field but limited knowledge, though, it's an excellent, pocket-sized introduction.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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