Category Archives: bits

The Pragmatic Mapper (part deaux)

My pragmatic mapper post brought some interesting responses so I thought I’d outline it a bit more.

First, the title is a riff on The Pragmatic Programmer, a neat book.

It’s also an explicit riff on Linus Torvalds explicit pragmatism and differences of opinion with the more political FSF. The FSF is freedom for freedoms sake, Linus is freedom because it’s just better. I like the latter.

On the points of does the OS matter, generally, for some value of matter. Of course they do. They’re much like Microsoft. They’re a monopoly, they have lots of money and giggly lawyers and everyone hates them. They also have maps of the whole country. But do they matter to me, personally, or many OSMers? No. The political side and bringing down The Man doesn’t really motivate me. We make OSM because it’s better and cooler.

I do find it interesting that the responders think that a national mapping monopoly is somehow a good thing. I fail to see how this is different from a national monopoly on tea bags or cars. It seems that the argument is that the OS is relevant because it has lots of data and we could use this (pulls rabbit out of hat) in a flood emergency. Bit of a poor use of a lot of money just for that. Anyway, to respond to points in turn;

…I want someone to organise data cross the entire country. I want to operate a business dependent upon that consistency.

Thats fine, but you don’t need a NMA to do that. You could have regional agencies with individual contracts where an overseer body puts it together. You could, god forbid, use OSM when we’re there. On an economic note, even if you want all that, and you want an NMA that’s fine, just please don’t force me and the 65 million other citizens to pay for it as we might not want it.

…I want to know that environmental policies in the north and south are based on similar data, its analysis and methodology and applied fairly.

Cool, but still don’t need an NMA for it. We have policies in the north and south are based on similar data, its analysis and methodology and applied fairly in schools, hospitals, roads, universities, water, gas, electricity…. most of these just need an overseer not an NMA.

…In the case of an emergency, I want to know someone can put together a river network and all its tributaries and work on solving a hydrological problem effectively, if there is a need.

Still don’t need an NMA for that. Being a bit hardcore, the emotive issues of ‘think of the children!’ or ‘what if we get flooded’… well the insurance market is very clear about that. Don’t live in a flood plain. If you want amazing disaster recovery maps of your area, then pay for it but please don’t force us all to. We might want to, of course, just don’t force us. And Katrina is not a good example, the federal government distorts the market by forcing flood insurance through FEMA. It’s the same argument as keeping rural post offices. If people in the countryside want them, then pay for them. There’s no god-given right to maps and post offices.

…I want someone to survey and record the entire country in case I want to visit other parts, know what is there and understand where I can go.

What do you do when you go to the united states then? The country isn’t falling apart because they have different mapping providers in different parts of the country. I can find my way around Orlando and San Francisco just fine, despite them being thousands of miles apart and one with a map from Hertz and the other from the county sheriff.

…I want an agency who supports governmental operations in a neutral manner with spatial information.

So do I. It need not be a country-wide monopoly. And the OS are far from neutral. By definition they stifle competition and progress, without even waving around OFT reports.

…I want someone responsible for ensuring the education system produces infrastruture and knowledge to people so the geography of the land is know, recorded and stimulated.

University Geography departments would not be impotent without the OS. 11 year olds can still learn about geography without a free map.

I wonder if Openstreetmap honestly feel that they are ready to provide disaster response mapping, or have the resources in place to ensure that their coverage of the entire country is current to within one year or less.

Not yet, but we or someone like us will. And anyway, you don’t need an NMA for disaster response mapping.

It’s perfectly fair for OpenGeoData to think that Openstreetmap suits his mapping needs, but to call it superior, and to say that the Ordnance Survey is irrelevant is a little short-sighted.

Navteq are letting you submit errors and so are teleatlas with map insight. Our way of making maps is most definitely superior and it’s the future.

If you can, listen to this podcast which excellently summarises The Wealth of Networks.

To come back to the original post for a second, really the pragmatic point was to say should we spend our time campaigning against the OS, or just building our own systems and maps? Campaigning for open data from the OS, or change to government policy is just sticky tar. Would we have got anywhere in the past two and a half years by just campaigning? It’s very doubtful. We’d have publicity no doubt and a few more high-placed friends and enemies… but this way we have that and a mapping system, and a community of 5,700 people, and maps of Baghdad, and vast sections of the UK mapped.

I have some idea of what I’m talking about here, as I’ve been involved to varying degree with fipr, no2id and stuff.

But one thing I think would be cool to do is make a map of map charges. The idea is that the OS basically don’t respond to awkward questions through the Freedom of Information Act as they’re commercially sensitive… but if we all write to our councils and ask them then they have to give us at least some idea. My council just sent me a letter with the new council tax bill breaking it down by police, schools and so on.. but not maps. So, we can figure out who’s paying the OS too much or little. It’ll be interesting. What you need to do is find your council website and information freedom officer and write them a letter asking for this stuff. There’s a wiki page with a sample letter to help you get started.

As far as I know this data doesn’t exist anywhere.

OSM on a mobile

richard sent me this pic a while ago:

It’s from someones mobile at the xmas 2006 OSM meetup. It’s an osmarendered image put in to some magic app on a nokia mobile… If anyone remembers more info please add it to the comments. Anyway, a sign of things to come?

Turk meets GIS

Theres an absolutely fascinating use of Amazons Mechanical Turk (?) right now. There’s a HIT (a small task you get paid almost nothing to complete) that involves GIS:

Geospatial Vision are paying people to do image recognition on sequential video stills from a car that they are apparently then recombining in to videos. These are on their (flash only, sigh) site.

You are paid 5 cents to tag 50 images with yellow lines, manholes, drains, bollards and pedestrian crossings. They are also, from looking at the videos, using these locations to then magically classify the sign type (one way, no entry, speed limit etc). Most images have only one feature if at all, there were about 2,000 HITs last night and at 25 frames a second that puts it at about an hour of footage for $100. That is insane.

If you wanted to get data out of it, the video stills themselves could be captured from your screen like the above screen shot and put back in to a movie. People and number plates can be seen in the images… and street signs so you could figure out where they are. You could add bad data – bollards in the sky or whatever. Amazon have various methods to combat these attacks. But it’s all academic as they’re putting at least some of the work on their site anyway.

It strikes me that this is just scratching the surface of the potential of this class of problem, Mechanical Turk is still only known to a small subset of tech people really. People with big data sets would want entire teams of lawyers to look at this and have Snow Crash-esque schemes to keep people from ‘stealing’ their precious data. Could you imagine the OS ever touching this with a barge pole?

The barrier to entry is a little high in that you have to create a flash app or similar if you want to do more interesting HITs but simpler ones are done automagically with forms by amazon. The other barrier is that like many other companies they think the entire world ends at the edge of CONUS so you can’t really make use of it unless you have a US bank account.

There’s another HIT which just asks for an idea from you – what small program would you like to see that doesn’t exist? I imagine the person who did that one just sitting back and browsing ideas for things to work on. How meta can you get?

So we now live in a world where you can effectively treat data storage (Amazon S3), processing (Amazon ECC) and mass non-linear human intelligence (Mechanical Turk) as infinitely cheap and available. You can get programming, design, legal advice and more from rentacoder, elance and more.

Given this, I can’t think of much that you don’t have covered in Phase 1 of your average business plan. Or to look at it another way, the google kids have been living in this world for maybe 4-5 years.

So readers, if you had a big dataset what would it be and how would you get it processed using the above? Best idea gets $10 worth of HITs.

My Birthday Map

So my birthday is usually a total waste of time because it’s very close to Christmas Day. It means two-in-one presents that are a bit rubbish and everyone’s gone to somehwere better for the holiday, but this yeah I got an awsome present:

It’s a map of central London, approximately similar to this openstreetmap. I used to stare at it whenever I went past the antiques shop in central London (it was on my way home) it hung in. I even tried to buy it once but then thought I was a bit mad and didn’t as I could buy a low-end laptop for the price. It’s about a meter and a bit across by about half a meter down. It’s framed in gold leaf and is original, though I’m unsure exactly what that means in this context.

There are a few things I like about this. Firstly, it’s where I used to live on the western rim of Regents Park. The building is in the map (dated 1834), along with favourite haunts and most of my paper round(s). It also has where I (nominally) went to university and several other places I lived, pubs I’ve died in. So I know the area fairly well and it’s nice comparing it to what it looks like today.

I like the wave of development. If you look at Regents park and then east and west of it along a parallel, you can see a wave of development heading northward turning farmland in to London. A lot of rich people were made as these fields were built upon and their great-great-great (* some big number) grandsons still own vast chunks of it.

It’s slightly later than the periods of history that I like to read about but still very related map-wise. It reminds me of openstreetmap. OSM is incomplete and expanding to conquer everything that is un-mapped – you can see a freeze-frame of our map by just browsing it today. Similarly, the map shows a freeze-frame of those same streets being laid down in the first place as they swallowed up villages to build London.

I have no idea if or how it could be scanned in but I’m open to ideas. A lot of the map is vastly different (Paddington, Marylebone, Euston and Kings Cross stations arn’t there for example!) so I havn’t used it (much) for deriving street names. Interesting anyway.

So a big thank you to all who bought it for me :-)