Posts Tagged ‘home’

Gary’s Law Of Conference Failure

I wasn’t at WhereCamp EU in Amsterdam recently. At least, I wasn’t there in person, but according to Mark Iliffe and Giuseppe Sollazzo I was certainly there in spirit. You see, at WhereCamp EU in Berlin last year I was doing what I usually do at conferences; watching a talk, laptop on lap, live Tweeting furiously. This particular talk contained a live demo and a backing track of Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, a live demo can go wrong and did go wrong, which prompted me to say

Never work with children, animals, sweet soul music or live code demos. You have been warned

Although I’m sure someone might have said something similar before. That was last year’s WhereCamp EU. This year’s WhereCamp EU, thanks to Messrs Iliffe and Sollazzo, seemed to have elevated that random Tweet to a law. A law which happened again at WhereCamp EU in Berlin. More than once. And then again at Mark’s PhD presentation.

So it’s official. Gary’s law of conference failures is now codified as never work with children, animals, sweet soul music or live demos. And before you ask, I’ve learnt the hard way, never, ever, to do a live demo, because what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Photo Credits: Uncle Zirky on FailBlog.
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Grepping And Grokking The Etymology Of Grep

I’ve been thinking a lot about the etymology of place names recently. That’s a slightly verbose way of saying that I’ve been thinking about the origin of place names and where they come from. Take London for example. That’s pretty easy as most sources of information seem to agree that London derives from Londinium, the name of the Roman settlement from which the modern metropolis of London grew.

Then there’s Teddington, the town on the River Thames at the upstream limit of the Tideway, where I currently live. Some people believe that the name derives from Tide’s End Town; Rudyard Kipling was one of the people who subscribed to this version of the name’s origin. Scholars though tend to believe that the town was named after a Saxon leader, called either Todyngton or Tutington, which morphed into the modern day name over the centuries.

All well and good but this sort of debate over the origin of a name is continuing even today and in a much more geekier vein. To paraphrase John Cleese in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch, I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a discussion of the origins of the UNIX command grep. If you know your UNIX command line, you’ll probably know that grep is the tool you use to search inside text files. Indeed, just as Robert Heinlein’s grok has become part of today’s technical culture as a synonym for understand, so grep has become a synonym for search … I’m just grepping for the time the restaurant opens.

GREP. A photograph only a SysAdmin could love!

If you’d asked me last week how grep got its name, I’d have said with high confidence that it’s an acronym for General Regular Expression Parser, G .. R .. E .. P, grep. But Mike Burns over at Giant Robot offers up an alternate etymology, albeit a rather contrived one to my mind, that the name originated from the commands to search for text within the ed text editor, thus when looking for the regular expression “re”, you’d issue the command g/re/p. All of which looks nice and convenient but only works when you’re looking for the string “re”, which isn’t that much of a common event when you think about it.

A bit of background research yields even more versions of how grep got its name. John Barry’s book Technobabble offers up a whole slew of alternatives.

  • The November 1990 issue of the SunTech Journal states that grep is an acronym for Get Regular Expression and Print.
  • The December 1985 issue of UNIX World, thinks that it’s really Globally search for a Regular Expression and Print.
  • A technical writer at Hewlett-Packard offers the alternative of Generalized Regular Expression Parser.
  • An Introduction to Berkeley UNIX disagrees; it’s Generalized Regular Expression Pattern.
  • Don Libes and Sandy Ressler in Life With UNIX thinks it’s Global Regular Expression Print.
  • And finally, the authors of UNIX For People prefer the definition as Global Regular Expression or Pattern.

That’s 8 differing and conflicting definitions.

And the point of all of this etymological meandering? Well, today’s internet community prides itself in being the ultimate source of information in today’s society. Yet I find it deliciously ironic that we can pretty much agree on the origins of place names dating from Roman and from Saxon times but can’t agree on the origin of a UNIX command that was created on March 3rd. 1973. The irony becomes even deeper when you consider that UNIX systems formed the backbone of the origins of today’s internet and World Wide Web and that a substantial proportion of the servers on the net today still run UNIX, and thus still run the grep command.

Photo Credits: Danny Howard on Flickr.
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The Uncertainty Principle Of Maps Sites (And Eddie Izzard)

I should start off by saying that I don’t mean mapping web sites. There’s no Ovi, Yahoo!, Google or OpenStreetMap web sites in this post. No, this is a blog post about Eddie Izzard (at least slightly), Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (even more ephmerally), the (death of) RSS, maps and cartography (generally) and (in the main) web sites about maps and cartography.

A strange set of bedfellows you might think (you might also think I’ve been overdosing on LISP as there’s way way too many parentheses in the first two paragraphs alone) … but bear with me.

Eddie Izzard, in his Dress To Kill stage show (“cake or death”), was musing on the way in which people perceive history and this got me to thinking about RSS. But first, this is what he said …

Yes, and I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Oh, yeah. You tear your history down, man! “30 years old, let’s smash it to the floor and put a car park here!” I have seen it in stories. I saw something in a program on something in Miami, and they were saying, “We’ve redecorated this building to how it looked over 50 years ago!” And people were going, “No, surely not, no. No one was alive then!”

sketchmap-Apostle Islands, WI

And the RSS connection? Well in 2005 ZDNet were predicting the death of RSS by way of the death of the RSS reader, and then last year TechCrunch composed an epitaph for Really Simple Syndication saying “Rest in peace RSS. It’s time to completely cut RSS off and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore”.

Yet for me at least RSS is very much alive, well and part of my daily routine of news and information gathering and acquisition (which includes Twitter, but it’s by no way the sole source). Sorry, went back to parentheses there; I’ll try to curb this.

And under my RSS group that contains feeds from sites I’ve noticed and want to read again (yes I could have bookmarked them but my RSS reader, still alive and well in the form of NetNewsWire, aggregates them for me in a way that I find works) and it struck me the other day that there’s a hell of a lot of maps and cartography sites alive and well.

So to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? That can be summed up neatly by saying that the observer affects the observed. So is this part of a renaissance of interest in mapping and cartography in general or are there more mapping and cartography sites out there because we’re looking for them and people are responding to a perceived need? With this in mind, here’s a list of sites you should probably read at least once because they show just how much variety and interest there is on the topic of maps out there on the web.


Strange Maps – If you read one maps blog, read this one. It never ceases to inform, amaze, amuse or any combination of the three.

Mapperz – The Mapping News Blog – Regularly updated roundup of what’s new in the world of maps and GIS.

The Map Room – Jonathan Crowe’s Weblog About Maps – Links and articles on maps, map collections, map related resources and anything much map related on the web.

Fuckyesmaps – A boy and a girl with a love for maps. Need I say more?

Fuck Yeah Cartography – More cartographical profanity but basically anything that explores interesting representations of space.

Cartophile – Whoever the anonymous author of this Tumblr powered blog is, one things for sure and that’s that they love anything maps and cartography related.

Cartastrophe – What happens when maps go bad.

Atlas Obscura – Curious and Wonderful Travel Destinations, A Compendium of the World’s Wonders, Curiosities and Esoterica – Not strictly maps related but an online atlas of the weird and wonderful that’s around the world. Punch in your home city or area and be amazed.

Know of any more that should be in my (not dead yet) RSS feed? The comments would be a good place to let me know, you know.

Photo Credits: pixn8tr and Justin Masterson on Flickr.
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An Open Letter To Prospective Minicab Drivers

Since I started my new job, Terminal 5 at Heathrow has become close to a second home. This means I’ve been taking a lot of local minicabs to the airport early in the morning. The experience of frequent use of minicab services has been interesting, to say the least. With this in mind, I offer this up as a list of do’s and don’ts for anyone considering plying a trade behind the wheel of a 5 year old Toyota Avensis.


Turn up on time; if I order a cab at 7.00 AM I expect it to arrive at 7.00 AM, not at 7.15 AM with a cheery “don’t worry, the roads are usually clear at this time of day”. They’re usually not.

Either knock gently on my front door to avoid waking the rest of the household or call me on my mobile when you’re outside; the controller took my mobile number for a reason when I made the booking.

Give me a receipt if I ask for one; lots of people travel to the airport on business and asking for a receipt shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Having a pen to write out the receipt is also helpful.

Take the fastest and more direct route to the passenger’s destination. Driving a route which describes 11 of the sides of a dodecahedron because “it’s a short cut” or because “my satnav told me so” isn’t going to be met with any other tip than “learn the Highway Code and your local area, in that order”.

Weekend with an iPhone 6: Mini cab


Ask for help in programming your satnav en route to get you to Heathrow. It’s one of the most popular destinations around this area. It’s a big airport with 5 terminals and lots of planes. If you memorise the route to just one of the local destinations, this should be the one.

Drive the wrong way down a one way street, attempt to do a 37 point turn in the middle of the street with an increasingly enraged queue of cars behind you and then attempt to blame it on the local council because you didn’t notice the two, very large, No Entry signs at the end of the street. The fact that all the cars on the road are parked in the opposite direction to your direction of travel should be considered a significant hint.

Run the meter in the vain attempt to charge me more than the fixed price quote that I’ve already obtained from your controller the night before. Heathrow Terminal 5 is £20.00 from my house; attempts to charge me £35.00 from the meter will be met with a £20.00 note and utter derision on my part.

Don’t attempt to argue with me that my house isn’t in the neighbourhood I mentioned when I made the booking; I’ve been living here 10 years and all of my neighbours plus the Royal Mail are in agreement as to which neighbourhood we’re in. The fact that it’s also written in large red letters on the street name signs is also a clue. Having said that, if you miss the large red No Entry signs at the end of the road, you’ll probably miss the large red letters on the street name signs.

Jump red traffic lights on the way to the airport. Even more so, don’t jump red traffic lights and when I point out that you’ve jumped a red traffic light, stop the cab in the middle of the road, reverse into the oncoming traffic and try to argue that the light really wasn’t red when you jumped it. The presence of other driver gesticulating violently through their rolled down windows with the elbows jammed onto the car horn might also be considered a contextual clue.

Turn right on a no right turn junction because “you know a short cut”. Even more so, don’t turn right on a no right turn junction, jumping a red traffic light into the bargain and in doing so cut across the path of three lanes of fast moving traffic which misses colliding with the passenger side of the car by a fraction of a millimeter. I’m liable to get irate under these circumstances.

Photo Credits: pixelthing on Flickr.
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What’s Wrong With OpenStreetMap? Have Your Say

At the end of this week, anyone with even a passing interest in OpenStreetMap will be descending on Girona to be at the annual mapfest that is the State Of The Map conference. Sadly I won’t be there this year, as I mentioned in a post earlier this year. But Chris Osborne will and he’s hosting a panel discussion under the intriguing title of What’s Wrong With OpenStreetMap, with all the attendant controversy that such a title might engender. Yesterday, he asked for points around which to build the inevitable conversation that will ensure, so here’s a list of points that I’d love to see debated.

OpenStreetMap - Coastlines

Is OSM Finished? The terms complete or finished mean different things to different people. OSM certainly has global coverage but at what point do you say that the project is complete and that it’s refreshing and maintaining the data from this point on?

Is OSM Just About The Map? Building the OSM map has been an amazing achievement, but the current explosion of interest around location and geo has been as much about linking disparate geographical data sets as it has been about displaying a map. Should OSM look beyond just the map and become more about enhancing and expanding the reach and scope of the data?

To Fork Or Not To Fork? Healthy debate is an essential part of any collaborative process but from following some of the, err, heated discussions on the OSM mailing lists, healthy debate often descends into all out flame war, which doesn’t solve anything and merely showcases a clash of mutually opposed viewpoints and personal agendas. Forking a project has given a fresh lease of life to many collaborative open source projects; is this the future for OSM?

The Unfortunate License Question? Crowdsourcing open geographic data certainly works. It’s worked for OSM and even traditional map data vendors are seeing the benefit of this approach. But there is not and cannot be one single source of geographic truth; almost all successful uses of geographic data, both commercial and not for profit, aggregate data from a variety of sources to meet the particular needs of the project at hand. Yet despite a new OSM license, the terms and conditions are in some ways more restrictive than the traditional data vendor’s licenses. The irony of which is that the license under which Britain’s Ordnance Survey has released their open data allows aggregation and comingling far easier than that of OSM. Is the current OSM licence too restrictive to allow its use beyond the open source licensing community?

I look forward to seeing the Twitter steam and blog posts that come about after the panel has finished. Good luck Chris, hope you make it off of the stage in one piece!

Photo Credits: Peter Ito on Flickr.
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For The Cartographer In You: A London Maps Meetup

It may have escaped your notice but London is pretty much map mad at the moment. If it’s not documentaries on the BBC it’s exhibitions of maps at the British Library.

Which seems an apt and fitting time to organise an ad-hoc, impromptu, totally unofficial gathering of latent geographers, geo-wonks, map-nerds, professional cartographers and anyone else who likes maps.

Fully intending to use the week off that I have between leaving my role in the Geo Technologies group of Yahoo! and starting my role as [redacted] with [redacted] in [redacted], I’m going to be going to the Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art exhibition at the British Library in the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd. June 2010, followed by a few geobeers in a local hostelry and a cheeky curry afterwards.

Relief map of old London

Anyone who would like to join me are more than welcome. I’ve created an Upcoming event for those who’d like to sign up, if you don’t have a Yahoo! id and don’t want one, add your presence in the comments and if you don’t want to do that then just turn up. See you all, however many of you there are, outside the main entrance of the British Library at 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB at 3.00 PM.

It’ll probably be geotastic you know.

Photo Credits: Mildly Diverting on Flickr.
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The Evolution of Geotastic!

Sadly the domain is already taken but even so a Google search on “gary gale geotastic” shows as the prime hit (and we’ll just conveniently gloss over the “did you mean: gary gale egotastic” suggestion).

And now, hot out of a FedEx package from comes the next step in the evolution of geotasticism … the Geotastic! hoodie!

Now Even Hoodies Are Geotastic!

Guarantees instant geotasticness to the wearer. No, really. You saw it here first, beware of imitations.

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Facebook’s (Creepy) Bid For Your Homepage

Most browsers have a variation on the theme of a home page, which automagically loads your favourite web page when you start the browser or open a new browser window or tab.

A lot of web sites try to capitalise on this, offering earnest entreaties to “make me your home page” … “no make me your home page” … “no, choose me for your home page, I have so much personalised content”.

They’re needy and somewhat neurotic entities these web sites, it’s not like I can have all of them as my home page.

Most of them personalise their content for you, based on a registration setting or some other insight, to give you what they think is the information your looking for.

This is not creepy.

A large amount of web sites are advertising supported and serve up ads which, again, are personalised, either from a demographic, behavioural or geographic point of view (sometimes it’s just from plain old fashioned key word matching with often hilarious results).

This is still not creepy.

But then this morning Facebook told me it wants to be my home page.

We've noticed you use Facebook regularly ... That's Creepy

Like most people I’ve evolved a filtering mechanism which understands why I’m being asked and which either ignores such pleas or uses the minimal amount of effort and mouse clicks to convey the message “buzz off, you’re not going to be my homepage and don’t bug me again“. I’m politely paraphrasing here you understand.

But when Facebook offers to be my home page because, and I’m quoting here, it’s noticed I use Facebook regularly … that smacks of Big Brother and is most definitely creepy, whichever way I look at it.

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Placebook … Facebook “Places” In The Wild

After much teasing and tantalising, one of the long rumoured Facebook location features is out in the wild in the form of place community pages. They vary in scale from a hamlet in Spain

… through to New York City.

It’s clever though not particularly sophisticated at this stage; a simple exposure of Wikia’s underlying geo metadata and it probably took very little effort to implement. Facebook appear to treat places as people, hence the exhortation to connect with the place.

For now there’s very little additional geo element present though what is there is probably enough to get people to connect with and like local community places or places they already feel a connection with, their home town, neighbourhood, honeymoon spot and so on. That alone should yield valuable demographic and (geo)targetable information.

This is pretty much a classic case of  picking low hanging fruit for Facebook and a far better exemplar of a place than the somewhat clumsy rebranding of Google’s small business listings as places, though the browse places page seems to suggest otherwise as it’s very POI heavy.

It will be facinating to track how this feature of Facebook develops and matures.

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Fighting GeoBabel on Two Fronts

The well known, highly opinionated and occasionally error prone Tech Crunch seems to think there’s a location war going on.

A search for the keywords location and war on the site yields strident post titles including Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns on Geolocation On Its Website, Location Isn’t A War Between Two Sides, It’s A Gold Rush For Everyone, What Did The Location War Look Like At SXSW? Like This and Google Escalates The Location War With Google Places.

And Tech Crunch are right, there is a location war going on, but it’s not the war that Michael Arrington and crew are thinking of; this war is much more insidious. It’s the war against GeoBabel and it’s being fought right now on two fronts.

Babel by Cildo Meireles

Front number one is your place is not my place. You may think we’re talking about the same place, the same POI, the same location, the same city or neighbourhood but we’re not. You’re fluent in Gowalla, I’m fluent in Foursquare and the rest of the internet is fluent in Geonames, OpenStreetMap and WOEIDs, each with their own subjective view of where. GeoBabel.

The second front is we think we’re speaking the same terminology, we’re not. Recent articles and comments, not exclusively restricted to Tech Crunch, have bandied about the terms place, map, location, centroid, coordinate, long/lat and used them interchangeably and inconsistently. GeoBabel again.

There’s little doubt that the dream of location as a key context is now on the cards and we’re rushing headlong to meet it. We think we’re all speaking about the same thing, but the sad truth is that we’re speaking about totally disparate concepts and terms most of the time.

Until we solve this GeoBabel in the making, the location war will be lost without most of the people impacted by it ever knowing it was being fought.

Photo Credits: Nick. J. Webb on Flickr.
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