WhereCampEU was this past weekend and by all accounts it was a blast! In case you don’t know, WhereCamp is based on the BarCamp model meaning that it’s a conference which is free to attend at which anyone can speak. The schedule is blank until the day of the conference when any of the attendees can announce their talk by putting it on “The Wall”: a big grid drawn out using masking paper allowing you to choose a time slot and a room.

It may have started out blank but the schedule was packed with great talks by the time the conference got going. I tried to go to as many as possible but, especially on the first day, many of the rooms ended up full to bursting. I was also tired because I’d just got off a 24 hour flight from Sydney so I did end up missing a few slots. Harry’s already posted photos of the wall and the talk titles have been copied onto the wiki, now it’s just up to the speakers to add some info about their slot (I’ve only just done mine).

The first talk I went to was about “GeoPrivacy, Your thoughts”, a discussion introduced by Chaitanya. It was interesting but most of the discussion was about privacy on the internet generally, rather than specifically location privacy which interests me most. I later caught the end of the Pedestrian routing talk as they came to the conclusion that for ideal results it really would depend on the user (a young female is likely to want to walk down different streets to an older male, probably). I also found a talk about using Apple’s iPhone “MapKit” library quite interesting as so far I’ve only used the route-me library. It also gave me the opportunity to plug my LocationManagerSimulator code. There was a few talks around the concept of “place” too, with my recent switch on to using “places” these were quite interesting.

The evening involved geo-beers kindly sponsored by Axon Active:
Enjoying geo-beers

Day two started for me with my own talk on Hacking Location into Hardware. I had intended to discuss my “Weasley Clock” a little and talk about how it worked. In the end I think I just rambled on too much and probably didn’t actually help people to understand how either the hardware or the software was put together, but hopefully I was entertaining at least.

I actually quite enjoyed the talk titled “A little light relief. Using global terrain data in your maps”. I only really attended because it promised light relief (and I only just got the pun today!) and because it was being given by an old colleague – Simon Lewis but it ended up being quite interesting and inspired me for some visualisation I need to do soon. The talk covered various aspects of Simon’s attempts to add terrain and relief shading to maps using a selection of open source tools.

I have to mention that one of “my” biggest contributions to the event was actually the logo, which I asked a friend to produce. Though I knew the logo was good originally it looked really great when printed out and mounted on posters, t-shirts and blog posts so I’ll definitely thank Sophie Green for producing that. I’ve used her for my business cards before and always been happy with the results.

And there’s more geotastic geogoodness to come with Where 2.0 in two weeks. I will be talking about my experiences of tracking my location for the past few years in a session titled Why I Track My Location and You Should Too. It’s based on the session I’ve given at a few events already but should have fully new material. Maybe this time I’ll actually answer the question of “why?”, but more likely I’ll just show more pretty visualisations and hope no-one notices!


So one of the great events that I’ve, er.. delayed writing about was the annual OpenStreetMap conference “State of the Map”. This year it was a 3 day conference (previous years had been 2 days) with the extra day accommodating the various commercial people that have started making use of OSM data. It was a great idea to bring in some fresh faces to the conference and actually gave me my first speaking opportunity of the weekend, talking for five minutes about The following two days took a more traditional course with various members of the community talking about the ways in which they are using and working with the OSM data.

A selection of countries gave a “State of <country>” type talk, these are always really great to hear, especially for the smaller countries where perhaps Internet access or access to GPS technology is not so great. Often in these locations there isn’t even any existing map data so there’s a great opportunity for the OSM community. The talks from Pakistan and Brazil were particularly memorable and were only made possible due to the great OpenStreetMap Foundation “scholarships” program which was a great way to make sure we had attendees from all areas of the world. It was also good to see these attendees being handed GPS devices as part of the GPStogo program which hopefully they’ll take home and use to collect many more GPS traces.

The OSMF Scholarship attendees

The conference took place this year in Amsterdam and it was my first time visiting the city, though I didn’t see much of it in the first few days while at the conference we fortunately stayed on (we being my wife and I) to spend another few days in the city for some rest and relaxation. We had a great time there and I had plenty of opportunities to use my (still relatively new at the time) DSLR camera as you should be able to see from the photos scattered around this post.


I managed to make it three years running speaking at a SOTM conference not only with my 5 minute segment about but also with a full half hour on Saturday afternoon talking about OpenStreetView. This is my idea for a project to try to create an openly licensed database of street-level imagery, and ideally some really impressive software to go with it. The talk went well though I had an “interesting” Q&A session afterward, obviously people are still concerned about the privacy aspect even when related to what I hope will become a very open project. Unfortunately at the time I hadn’t completed the software side enough to launch the project, and as you may have noticed I haven’t yet launched it, more on that soon.

Woman with child on bike

Next week I’ll be attending another conference, and again will be speaking about OpenStreetView. Ed Parsons has written about the conference that he “was disappointed with the introspection and backwards thinking demonstrated … and had all but given up attending” which doesn’t sound like a big vote of confidence. The conference is AGI Geocommunity and fortunately a big effort has been made by Stephen Feldman, Chris Osbourne, John Fagan, Rollo Home and many others to improve the situation leading to a really great and interesting looking programme.


As mentioned I’ll be speaking about OpenStreetView again, but this time I’m intending to have something launched and usable beforehand. It won’t be particularly pretty, it won’t have a huge number of features, and it probably won’t have a huge database of images, but I’m hoping this will all change once I open it out and get more people involved. My aim with the project is to build a database of images and metadata which can be built upon by others who are already working on the software side for viewing these things. It should also provide a home for imagery being created by various people who are already building hardware solutions for collecting it. Unfortunately (for the project, good for me) I’ve been very busy over the summer with paying clients but I’m hoping I can get things finished off this week to allow upload and moderation, then the fun can begin!

I also can’t talk about conferences without mentioning another speaking date I have coming up in November. While the AGI is a national group aimed at representing the interests of the whole UK’s geographic information (GI) industry, they also have smaller groups aimed at bringing together the GI community in different areas. The AGI Northern Group achieves these aims in the North of England with a monthly meeting and this year their first full-day seminar – the AGI Northern Group Where2Now Conference. It’s being held on the 10th November in Harrogate and I’ll be speaking along with a great list of people. Ticket information isn’t yet available but put the date in your diary, check out the linkedIn events page and head over to Tim’s blog for more information on the speakers.

If you’re going to the conference next week and we haven’t met before then please do say “Hi!” I’m really looking forward to it, not just for the great content on offer but also for the opportunity to meet up with some old friends that I haven’t seen in some time, and also to meet some new faces. I’ll close this blog post out though by quoting Tim Waters and his write-up of the SOTM conference, it’ll be interesting to see if the AGI Geocommunity conference can generate just as much emotion:

Yes, I got a bit emotional at the third OpenStreetMap conference, held in the CCC, Amsterdam last weekend – mainly because this globe we are on is the only one we know – we really are mapping our universe, doing it our way. Creating the world we want to live in.
Tim Waters

UPDATE 2011/11/16: It’s now possible to buy a WhereDial “Weasley Clock” just like this one!

Last weekend I went to the Howduino hack day which by good fortune was happening on my doorstep, in Liverpool. The day was organised by two friends of mine – Adrian McEwen and Thom Shannon – who have been doing hardware hacking for quite some time now and wanted to open things up for more people to get involved.

Howduino Logo

The day was partly named after Arduino (with a bit of Scouse humour mixed in – “how do we know?!”). From their website:

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software.

Basically you get a circuit board that has a USB slot, a power slot and a set of digital and analogue inputs and outputs. You can load software onto the circuit board via the USB slot, the software can then run on the board when it is disconnected from the computer and can operate other hardware through the inputs and outputs. Adrian used one of these devices to make the famous Bubblino twitter monitoring bubble machine and the Mazzini power monitoring project. Thom has used it to make, amongst other things, a light tracking mini.

Though Howduino got its name from the Arduino boards, the day was actually more of a general hardware hacking event. Sophie Green spent most of the day making artworks using “brush bots” which were incredibly simple devices made from motors and batteries mounted on toothbrushes. Some people built a “drawbot” from scratch on the day and a few people tried making racing radio controlled cars with movements controlled by twitter hashtags.

My project was suggested by Grant Bell, he thought that I should use to create a “Weasley Clock”. This clock is described in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, it is used by the Weasley family to see where each member of the family is. Instead of telling the time, each hand shows a photo of one of the family members, the clock face has a number of locations written around the edge, such as “Home”, “Travelling”, “School”, “Holidays” and even “Mortal Peril”!

Weasley Clock

Now one way in which I could’ve handled this would be to create a web page that showed my location on a picture of one of these clocks. That would be fairly easy to do but much less interesting than the hardware hacking version. I started off by getting hold of an old clock. My Dad has been tinkering with and fixing clocks for years, and often gets given old clocks and told “This stopped working years ago, thought you might like it” so fortunately he has a few lying around and gave me this one:


I spent a morning taking it to pieces carefully and working out how it worked, until I pulled the back off it and the chime spring caused an explosion of gears:

Howduino preparation

I then took all the bits to Howduino together with a stepper motor that I’d taken out of a floppy drive. After a short while working with Aaron from Oomlout we managed to get the stepper motor going but then I had the problem of connecting the motor to the clock. After many hours of trying to glue and solder the small stepper motor on I finally decided to ask around to see if anyone else had stepper motors. Fortunately someone did, a much bigger motor that could fit through the black of the clock mechanism and unbelievably had a gear on that meshed perfectly with the gears in the clock. With the application of some super glue and a few pieces of metal “salvaged” from an old printer I got the motor attached and turning the hand reliably:

Once that was done I had to write some software. The software for moving the clock is fairly simple. As the motor is a “stepping” motor it can be controlled very reliably. One step of the motor moves it by a well defined amount, with the gearing from the clock 150 steps of the motor turns the minute hand around in a complete rotation, meaning 12 × 150 = 1800 steps will turn the hour hand around completely. I knocked up some Arduino code that reads the current location of the hands from the EEPROM memory on the Arduino. To reset it I manually move the hands to “midnight” and zero the EEPROM memory. I can then tell the Arduino to position each of the hands by an hour. As the hands are still geared together I can only put the hour hand between one hour and another, while the minute hand can be precisely positioned. When the clock has moved to the position you’ve requested, it saves the new location of the hands to the EEPROM memory again so that it’s safe to be powered off.

To get my location I’ve knocked up a MapMe_At class which can request the location for a user. It makes a HTTP request to, using the Arduino Ethernet Shield, pulls down the location and uses a very lightweight JSON parser to pull out the label for the favourite location that I’m currently at. From my core code I then request the location of two users from every minute, convert that location to a position on the clock and then move the hands. When it works it looks really good, I’m only running the clock forwards at the moment because some of the gearing for the chime is still there and makes funny noises if I run the clock backwards, this means that it can take nearly a minute for the hands to move but considering it’s unlikely for location changes to happen that often this should be fine. I do seem to have a problem whereby the clock stops working after running for a while so I’ll have to do some debugging, but as you can see from the photos and the video it is looking pretty good at least!

Weasley Clock

Weasley Clock

(Unfortunately hardware hacking can have its casualties, as you can see the glass on the face of the clock was one)

I’ll be taking the clock along with me on the next Tech Bus Tour from London to Liverpool. I’ll be updating the face to show our progress between the locations as this should be more interesting than showing that I’m “Travelling” constantly. I’ll also open source the Arduino source code when I get around to tidying it up.

UPDATE 2011/11/16: It’s now possible to buy a WhereDial “Weasley Clock” just like this one!

UPDATE 2009/01/04: The code is now available on github, I haven’t had time to fully clean it up and add comments throughout but hopefully it’ll be useful anyway. Download the code here.

If you’ve been following my Twitters you’ll be well aware that I’ve just spent the past week in San Francisco. I came here to attend, and speak at, the launch event for CloudMade’s new APIs for location based services. CloudMade is a company that was launched around 18 months ago by Steve Coast, the founder of the OpenStreetMap project, and Nick Black, a core member of the OSM project. The aim of their company is to bring the power of crowd sourced data, specifically OSM data, to more developers and to commercial companies around the world. The first step of this was of course to develop some products to make this possible and to make them available to the world, hence this event.

The event was split into four main sections. Steve started by giving an overview of the OSM project, its history and some glimpses of what’s likely to happen in the future. Nick then came on stage to explain their ideas behind forming CloudMade and what they’re doing to get OSM data into the hands of more people. After this I and four other developers who have been working with CloudMade’s APIs got on stage to give 5 minute presentations about our experiences developing with the new APIs.

Andrew Turner, CTO of GeoCommons, explained how they have integrated CloudMade’s tiles into their Maker application and talked about how the new Style Editor enables great looking mashups. Jaak Laineste of Nutiteq told us how they’ve been integrating CloudMade’s tile, geocoding and routing services into their Mobile map libraries. I talked about my experiences working with the new APIs, though I won’t go into too much detail here as I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for Thursday. Andre, of Advanced Flash Components, then showed us a live demo of CloudMade’s APIs being used in a flash application and showed the speedy responses that the API gave.

Cragg Nilson then talked more about the specific products that CloudMade are making available and how people can get access to them. Finally a Q&A session allowed some light interrogation of the CloudMade team before we moved into another room for demo sessions. Jaak, Andre and I all had a plasma screen each that we used to demo what we’d discussed in our talks. The CloudMade team also demoed various other applications that were using their services, centred around a large range of mobile devices that are able to access the APIs using various applications.

I’ve been really impressed by what CloudMade are offering considering they are still a young company. While a large reason for the quality of their offerings is down to the great team they’ve built up, they do also have an advantage in that the data they’re using, and the license it’s built upon, allow them to offer so much more to the developers using their products. The OSM dataset is incredibly rich and can cover a wide range of features that often don’t get much coverage from standard data providers. Also because the data is free CloudMade can make all of it available in their APIs without having to worry about extra charges such as you might get if you wanted to return vectors from existing data providers.

Now the good news, if you’re reading this thinking “I wish I could’ve gone to San Francisco and seen these great talks”, you need not fret. The whole event is being repeated in London on Thursday 12th. It’s currently oversubscribed but if you are interested in going I believe they’ve managed to arrange extra room so there shouldn’t be a problem with more people going. This page should give more details about the CloudMade launch event in London.

Oh yes, and as a hint to what I’ll be talking about on Thursday, take a look at the new logo for one of my existing mapping sites: logo

BarCamp Liverpool Logo

Wow, BarCamp was such a long time ago. Though I had an amazing weekend and felt really inspired by the end of it, real work brought me back down to earth pretty quickly 🙁

So far I’ve only been to one BarCamp, in Manchester, that was really good but only lasted for one day. I’ve also been to a WhereCamp which is basically the same thing specialising in location based services, this one did involve an overnight stay and was also fun (this one actually took place in the Googleplex!). Having had so much fun away from home I was really looking forward to having a BarCamp in my home town.

Something that I’ve been planning for a while to do at the next Liverpool Mapping Party, when I get around to organising it, was to prepare a big printout of the OSM coverage of Liverpool, get some stickers printed up with POI icons on them, and invite everybody to place stickers where there was missing POIs on the map. As I hadn’t got around to organising a mapping party I decided to do this at BarCamp and try to get everyone interested in editing the map. Cue me spending 3 hours the week before trying to finish all the surveying of South Liverpool and then spending hours on the Friday before BarCamp trying to input this data and prepare a PDF file of the map, suitable to be printed at A0 size. I managed to email my PDF over to the printers at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, fortunately they managed to get it printed within the hour so that I could pick it up on my way to the iPhone event. Unfortunately though the print-out came out looking great, and the vector-based PDF file had given a great result, for some reason all the road names were missing! This is the second A0 printout I’ve done that has had problems so I’m definitely going to have to spend more time on it if I try again.

South Liverpool is mapped on OSM?!

This is a photo of the map at the beginning of the weekend. Unfortunately it didn’t look much different at the end, only a few people bothered putting stickers on it. This was a little surprising to me but I guess that actually most of the people at BarCamp were from outside of Liverpool, and most of the ones from within Liverpool were from the parts that had been mapped. There was also an issue that the map was at such a small scale, and the stickers so big, that each one covered an area of about 1km2. I think the idea could still work but definitely needs to to be done with a larger scale map, more like the type of area you’d try to cover at a mapping party.

The talks at BarCamp were quite varied. Unfortunately as it has been so long now I can’t remember too many of the ones I went to, and I haven’t been able to find a full set of photos of the sessions board. Adrian did a good writeup here that you should read. I do remember a few of the sessions I went to though including one from Gill Hunt of Liverpool Ventures who talked about VCs and how to look for funding. Last thing on Saturday there was also the “Bitchin’ Pitches” session. I used this one to talk about my iPhone app iFreeThePostcode, it was good to get up alongside all the other pitches and talk about my app, but as I wasn’t really looking for money or anything like that there wasn’t actually all that much point and I didn’t end up winning a prize.

In the evening we all went to the bar downstairs at which Microsoft was sponsoring drinks. Beer tokens were handed out by the organisers which we all dutifully exchanged for beer at the bar. The “Bitchin’ Pitches” session also continued into the party with the best pitches being repeated in front of everyone. Melinda Stockington pitched her idea of a site that allowed you to log how often you read books and Adrian pitched his Arduino based Mazzini project for which he won first prize!

Due to the effectiveness of the MS sponsored drinks we were a bit late arriving on the Sunday but when I got there I decided to go for the “Let’s talk about sex” session as I couldn’t find anything else that interested me. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a load of Geeks talking about sex, it wasn’t quite as scary as you might expect though and most of it was a discussion of relationships and the Internet, including things such as the volatility of the “relationship status” on Facebook. Much amusement when someone suggested the use of HTTP error codes in sexual situations, the following being the ones I found most amusing:

  • 411 Length Required
  • 413 Request Entity Too Large
  • 405 Method Not Allowed
  • 416 Requested Range Not Satisfiable

I don’t know if we covered normal status codes on the day but I just noticed the following could be used too:

  • 100 Continue
  • 201 Created (pregnancy ensues!)

After this I went to a talk about “CodeWiki” which unfortunately I wasn’t really paying attention to at the time. This was followed by John O’Shea’s discussion about his Meat License Proposal. Again I wasn’t really paying attention at first, sitting at the back playing on my laptop. After a while though his talk made me pay attention, basically he’s proposing that to eat meat a person might have to obtain a “Meat License”. To get a license the person would have to have killed an animal with their own hands. It sounds fairly grotesque, but I found it a really interesting proposal and raises some good questions about how much we know of what goes into making the food we eat. Afterwards I talked to John about some work that he’s done as co-director of an artist’s collective that could make some good use of maps, hopefully I’ll be in touch with him again soon (just as soon as I get around to replying to his email!)

Later on in the day I gave a talk about the use of location tracking services on the iPhone. Really it was just to give me an opportunity to talk about and get some opinions of what people expected from this type of service. It was also good to chat to Paul Stringer about his experiences from creating Coffee Buzz.

The final talk that I went to was Adrian’s Don’t Just Change the World… Improve It!. This was a good inspirational talk, it reminded us that the North-West was the birthplace of the industrial revolution and probably has a few environmental debts to repay, so if we can get involved with this side of things it would be a great way to repay those debts. Maybe I just liked his talk because his last slide was one of my photos!

This artwork was actually just outside the door to the venue for BarCamp and it really summed up Adrian’s talk well, this quote is definitely something to live by:


First law of the cosmos

Wow, I’ve just had the most geeked out weekend ever, so big in fact that I’m going to have to split it into two blog posts. It started on Friday with The Amazing iPhone event. I had been planning to go to this event for a few weeks but it was only on Monday of last week that I got a call telling me that the organisers would like me to give a short 5 minute talk at the event. Obviously I jumped at the chance to talk about my experiences of iPhone development, and of course to hawk iFreeThePostcode and my own freelance services!

The Amazing iPhone was essentially an opportunity to launch a report that the guys at Kisky Netmedia have spent the past few months putting together. The report is a freely available (CC licensed) download that looks at the iPhone and covers the effects it’s having on the overall mobile landscape, what opportunities it’s creating and what development skills are required to create apps for it. Phil Redmond, the creator of such TV hits as Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks actually gave an introduction to the event and explained the reasons that he loved his iPhone and how he saw it representing a real change in the culture of internet use in the future. Katie Lips of Kisky Netmedia followed this by giving an overview of the report. The report starts by introducing us to the iPhone and then tries to explain the fanaticism and dedication shown by people who own one, also covering “The Cult of Mac”. It then talks a little about the history of the mobile phone business, covering what came before the iPhone, the players involved in the industry, how they worked and mistakes they perhaps made. We’re then taken through a timeline of the iPhone’s entrance into popular culture and some statistics on sales, growth and market share. The report goes on to cover many other subjects including the attempts by existing manufacturers to compete with the iPhone, who is using the iPhone (consumers and enterprises alike), before going on to talk about apps, the app store and the development skills required to create your own apps.

Three developers then gave an interesting mix of their opinions on iPhone development. Dave Verwer of Shiny Development talked about his recently released Charades app and talked about his experiences as an existing Objective C and Cocoa developer starting out on the iPhone platform. Matt West of Westbright Ltd then told us about his upcoming Zombie Slayer game and told us about his previous work on Palm devices and the difficulties he had handling the distribution process, which is made much easier by Apple with the App Store. Lastly I gave my talk, unfortunately I’d been really busy preparing for BarCamp and so had only knocked together my slides a few hours previous. I began by giving an overview of my background in web development and my involvement in the Open Street Map project. I then talked about iFreeThePostcode, the reasons for its existence and why the iPhone is such a good device for it. I followed this by mentioning my routing app, how the limited specifications of a mobile device made this sort of app more difficult to write but how the capabilities that the iPhone has should allow me to create a great app. If you’re interested you can see my slides on slideshare.

After our talks Paul Stringer, also of Kisky Netmedia, gave a half hour overview of how they set about creating an iPhone app – CoffeeBuzz – and the insights that this process gave them which they then put into the report. After this we had a Q&A session which saw all the speakers answering questions offered by the audience. My main input of course was on location related questions but a good range of questions were asked, including of course the inevitable “I don’t want to use O2, can I hack the iPhone?”. After the event we all hung around to enjoy some free refreshments and chat to the attendees. It was good to see such a varied crowd including other local developers through to people from a variety of different businesses. I’d definitely recommend reading the report so head over to The Amazing iPhone site now to download it.

Though I’ve spent most of the past three years writing JavaScript, the first five years of my professional career was spent writing PHP. Just 6 months after leaving university I was leading the project to rebuild the website (now This site was, and still is, one of the leading websites for football news, results and stats. As you can imagine this was a big challenge for someone pretty much fresh out of uni. To get the project finished in a short space of time we brought in a few contractors including a guy called Noel Walsh, and a guy called Jeremy Coates. At the end of the project we said “thank you and goodbye” to the two contractors, and I never heard from them again. That was, until a month ago when I got a LinkedIn request from Jeremy.

Soon after, Jeremy invited me along to the monthly PHP North West gathering and while I was there Jenny Dunphy managed to persuade me that I should sign up for the upcoming PHPNW conference.

phpnw08 PHP Conference 22/11/2008

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. The topics in the schedule looked quite varied and interesting but I’ve been away from PHP for a long time and there was potential for me to be bamboozled. On the other hand I might learn huge amounts to bring me back up to date. For most of the day there was two tracks running so I’ll give a quick summary of the talks that I attended here and then finish with a few conclusions from the day. I didn’t take any notes on the day so some of these may be a bit sketchy.

Welcome Keynote: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

In this talk Derick Rethans reminded us all that simple solutions can be far more useful than heavily designed systems in many cases. He reminded us that JavaScript should only be used when necessary, and that pages should always work without it. He also pointed out that though frameworks can be great, there are times when they can just be unnecessary and might slow things down. He also showed us a few of his favourite examples of sites that could just do with being a little more basic. This was quite a light talk but was a good intro to the day while we were all still waking up.


Adrian Hardy’s talk was a good introduction to the use of the EXPLAIN statement in MySQL. He took us through a number of examples of increasingly complex SQL statements and showed how EXPLAIN could be used to alert you to the inefficiency of the queries. He also did a good job of explaining the best ways to create indexes on your tables and simple ways to make sure they get used.

Regular Expression Basics

Ciarán Walsh took us through the basics of regular expressions. Though the subject matter was, as promised, quite basic; it was also thorough and hopefully would give a head start to anyone who hadn’t really used regular expressions before. I have written many regexes before but still found the talk interesting and did learn a few things that I hadn’t used before: using the ‘x’ modifier to allow comments in a complicated regex and the ability to use named matches, and the demos of the ctype functions were also useful.

What’s new, what’s hot in PHP 5.3

Johannes Schlüter is the release manager for PHP 5.3 and he took us through some of the new features that we can expect to see in the next release. This was especially interesting for me as I’ve been away from the PHP community for so long that everything he talked about was new. He started by explaining how 5.3 actually contained all of the features that had been slated for the 6.0 release, except for UTF8 support which is taking longer than expected to finish. The new features include such wonders as namespacing (with the contentious backslash operator), PHP archives – PHAR files – which should hopefully ease distribution of PHP code, support for anonymous functions – a feature of JavaScript that I’ve been wanting recently when writing PHP – and, surprisingly, new support for GOTO!

From HTML to Drupal in 30 minutes

With a few potential projects coming up that will require many aspects that you would find in a standard CMS I was quite interested to see what would be covered by this Drupal tutorial. James Panton and Chris Maiden took us through the process of pulling the homepage for the PHPNW conference into Drupal. The main aim of the session was to show how simple it was to create a new theme for Drupal, trying to avoid the classic problem of CMSes that all installations look the same. They started with the original HTML file for the PHPNW conference site and replaced sections of code to add in the dynamic parts that they wanted which was a great way to show the possibilities for reskinning Drupal. I might have liked to see more mention of the capabilities of Drupal but they did a good job of covering what they needed to in the thirty minutes they had.

HTML 5: What’s that all about?

Smylers, a fellow Leeds University alumni, took us through the process by which HTML 5 is being designed and the aims that the W3C and WHATWG groups have for it. It was good to hear that with HTML 5 they’re trying to take on board the issues that have cropped up with previous versions of HTML and the design processes those have had. It seems that the main aim for HTML 5 is to ensure the browsers behave as similarly as possible, offering a level playing field for website designers. The spec for HTML 5 will go into detail about what the browser should do if it comes across HTML that it doesn’t recognise, the priority here being not that browsers expect perfect websites, but that the browsers will be able to guarantee that they handle the bad markup in the same way as other browsers. The spec will even offer a full set of test cases, a first for a HTML spec.

Twittex: From idea to live in 7 days

Now I hadn’t intended to go to this talk, I didn’t really think I’d find it too interesting. I’ve done PHP projects, I didn’t feel that I needed to listen to how someone implemented their code, which frameworks they chose, that sort of thing. Fortunately this wasn’t what Stuart Herbert talked about, the talk was in fact more around the management and marketing of the project, and the issues they had. He explained that on the day that Twitter announced that the UK would no longer be having twitter SMS updates, he decided that his company should work on a project to bring SMS back. They worked on the project over the course of a week, essentially 6 days coding and 1 day testing, and ended up first to market. Unfortunately when they tried to publicise their efforts they found that nobody was interested any more, a week had passed since the announcement and people weren’t so excited any more. Stuart took us through some of the lessons learnt such as the fact that they should have announced their intentions as soon as they had decided to start the project. TweetSMS and a few other sites had done this and had allowed people to register their interest so that once their solution was ready, they would have a ready supply of people willing to pay money to receive SMSes. They did manage to get an impressive product out after 7 days though by building on their existing infrastructure.

Panel Discussion: State of the Community

The final session was a panel discussion chaired by Jeremy Coates with Steph Fox, Ivo Jansch, Scott MacVicar and Felix De Vliegher answering questions. They started by answering some pre-selected questions and then went on to answer some questions from the audience. The questions covered a variety of topics and the discussion got quite heated at times (backslash namespace operator!) Overall though I enjoyed this session and it was definitely a good way to find out the general state of the community and see what people’s opinions were on various matters.


Overall I think the conference went well, I certainly enjoyed myself. It was well organised and I didn’t really encounter any problems during the day. About the worst thing I could say was that I didn’t find any sandwiches that I liked for my packed lunch (these were provided for us), but with central Manchester right next to the venue that wasn’t really a problem. Registration was painless and probably quicker than I’ve had at any other conference I’ve been to. The selection of talks was good and varied, finding enough good material for two tracks at the first conference was a pretty impressive achievement. Fortunately I can say that over the course of the day I didn’t find myself bamboozled and I did manage to pick up plenty of new knowledge from the talks. I really hope that they put the conference on again next year and I’m sure I’ll sign up if they do!

So “State of the Map” is over for another year 🙁 But it was a really good weekend! The standard of the talks was really high and the organisation of the conference in general was very well handled.

Though Saturday might have seemed to have a slightly more commercial slant (partly due to my own talk) I think in general it didn’t detract from the experience at all. As far as I can remember ITO were the only company launching a product and that product has obvious and immediate benefits to the OSM community. The main other commercial speakers – myself and Ed Freyfogle of Nestoria were talking about our own experiences of trying to use OSM data, and other crowdsourced data, and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned will be valuable for the OSM community.

Apart from this the various “State of <insert country>” talks were interesting as it’s really good to see how various countries are progressing in OSM, and it’s good to see how coverage is increasing at a generally rapid pace. I’m just noticing that there was no “State of Great Britain” which is perhaps a little odd. I suppose we assume that everyone knows what it is, when in fact many of the attendees were visiting from foreign countries (they’d have to be or we couldn’t have so many “State of <insert country>” talks!) My favourite had to be the Italy one which featured this video:

Apart from this there were also lots of talks about how people were using the data. Unfortunately this year there was no pulsing maps but work is continuing on renderering the data, there’s a number of people aiming to get routing services going with the data, and there was also newer uses such as Wikitravel’s Free World Travel Guides and more active development on uses with mobile devices.

Ed Parsons also talked about Google’s Map Maker, in general covering the same ground as his earlier blog post but offering more reassurances that Google was not out to destroy OSM and would most likely be willing to work with the OSM community in the future. He raised similar concerns on the current OSM CC-BY-SA license to those I made so hopefully we will be able to make a switch to an alternative license before too long.

The new license was mentioned a few times during the weekend but the difficulty of obtaining pro bono legal help has been slowing it down. It’s hoped that a second lawyer may take a look at it in the next week or so. Also Ed and I both expressed interested in getting Google and Multimap to take a look at the license too with a view to the companies using OSM data if the license is suitable. No idea what will become of that though. In Ed’s talk about Map Maker he also listed the countries currently being mapped by Google. The long list of Caribbean countries inspired Gervase Markham to set up an OSM fieldwork pledgebank. The idea is that if 60 people pledge to donate 10 pounds and an hour’s mapping effort then Grenada, and other Caribbean countries, will be mapped in OSM in no time, and hopefully a lucky one of the 60 will get to go to Grenada to do some OSM fieldwork!

Chaitanya has already blogged his weekend review and I thought he summed it up pretty well in his post:

The main reason I see OSM getting viral adoption and growth in the future is the pragmatism within the community. From the founders down everyone is already (only 2-3 years into its existence) asking what do we do now that we have (or very quickly acquiring) data? What applications can we build with this? What do we need to change to make OSM even better, make it a viable data choice for commercial uses ahead of the likes of TA and Navteq etc etc. Bravo!

morning after sotm 2008

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Not really a review, just thought I’d mention that day one went really well, even without SteveC managing to get there for his keynote. My talk seemed to go ok although I rushed through it and then was told I didn’t have any time for questions as the previous talks had overrun. A few people have grabbed me for questions though which is good. I’ve also published my slides on slideshare.

As I say the day went really well, the theme of the day was “OSM in the real world” which meant that there was a slight commercial slant, but also a number of demonstrations of how people are using the data. This is one of the most important things about OSM, the open availability of the data which I’ve been intending to blog about sometime but not had time.

If you want more information about what was talked about you can take a look at the schedule, some reports here or Chaitanya’s blog where he’s been putting notes for each talk.

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So I’ve now been up basically all night (5:14am, no intention to go to bed). Unfortunately I haven’t spent the whole night hacking, in fact the hacking task I was working on – getting the search API into the ruby library – was completed hours ago. I’ve actually spent the last 5 hours or so playing Rock Band.

We started playing cooperatively with two guitars and a drum set until around 3am when we got complaints about the noise of the drums (even though they’re not real, whacking some bits of plastic with real drum sticks makes quite a lot of noise!) Funnily enough though, the complaints came not from the sleepers but from the people playing Werewolf in a big group!

But back to the search API. I’ve added three new classes to the mmruby library: MMSearch, MMSearchFilter and MMSearchRequester. To perform a search you need to create a MMSearch object and then pass it to the MMSearchRequester class’s static search method:

s = { :data_source => '', :address => { :qs => "L19 4UD" } ) } )
r =

I have realised that there’s actually the routing API that also needs doing. It’s unlikely that I’ll get around to doing that today but I’m sure I’ll do it before long. I’ll post again once that’s done.

Again, not thoroughly tested just hacked together, any comments appreciated. Download mmruby-0.2 here.

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