ICCC Freshers Trip 2008

I can’t help feeling a little old when hanging around with Imperial College Canoe Club these days, but the “freshers trip” (first trip of the university year) is still an exciting time for freshers and older club members alike. Just at the time when all these new beginners are joining the club and nervously taking their first paddlestrokes on moving water, the weather turns really wet and the UK kayaking season steps into full swing. Beginner kayakers and peak river levels! This unfortunate combination occurrs every October. Personally I relish the extra challenge of advising newbies on how to stay upright, and fishing them out when they fail to do so.

This year was certainly challenging. We had a relatively high proportion of beginners arriving in the two bus loads and three car loads to the Lake District …and flood conditions which made the news!


Flooded River Lune

Read the Freshers Trip 2008 Trip Report for the full story and see more photos. Happily the weekend passed without a hitch… well OK… without any serious incidents. All in all I’d say the kayaking season just kicked off in style! Awesome fun, but I’m aching and blisterred and bruised today.

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Skating round Wembley stadium

Last Sunday I spent the whole day roller-blading around the streets of Wembley. I managed to get a sun tan (in October!) and it was the most exercise I’ve done in a long time. It’s taken about a week for my legs to stop aching.

It was the Wembley Mapping Party, a gathering of OpenStreetMap enthusiasts who were surveying the streets gathering street names, pubs, bus stops, post boxes, and other such details to go on a map.

Here’s my GPS trace

Wembley Screenshot of JOSM

Notice the interesting circular loopy bit. That’s Wembley Stadium!¬† I was also on personal mission to bag another stadium. I skated in a loop around the base of the building to get this GPS trace which I could then use to map it out reasonably accurately. OpenStreetMap did already have it, but the outline was drawn around yahoo aerial imagery which was out-of-date, showing the smaller previous stadium before it was rebuilt. The more circular footprint of the modern stadium should be showing up soon on openstreetmap (here)

This was a fun loop to draw by GPS, but most of the time the process of mapping out London is a bit more straightforward. We can rely on Yahoo! Aerial Imagery to give us a road layout, and so it’s mainly a matter of collecting street names (eliminating the orange unnamed streets) Anyone can get involved in that. It’s not too complicated. Create an account and try editing!

South France holiday

Aigues Mortes rampartsI said I would blog about my nice holiday in the South of France (catching up on a blogging today)

We were staying with a bunch of friends in a villa somewhere between Nimes and Montpellier (map). September was pleasantly hot but never too hot, and pleasantly un-crowded with tourists in the various places we visited: Montpellier, Nimes, Pont do Gard, Carnon Plage, Petite Rhone, and Aigue Mortes. I was surprised by the number of things to see in these places. Even the local un-touristy towns like St Christol and Somieres, were fun to look around, with charming historical steets, and a mediterranean sun-baked atmosphere.

It was great to catch up with Nick again, and Latham’s antics with Beany’s pink poker set were highly entertaining. On this holiday I learned to play poker properly for the first time, having tried and failed to understand anything on many previous occasions. I think I’m missing the part of the brain which is good at remembering card game rules.

So I should present you with all my gloriously sunny holiday snaps now… but I can’t. I carefully separated out my photos so that all the boring photo mapping pictures of street signs were seperate from my proper holiday snaps. I then left my holiday snaps on a laptop locked in a cupboard in the other office. I’ll stick ’em on facebook eventually.

Among the mapping pics I did find this nice picture of the medieval walls of Aigues-Mortes. This was a highlight of the holiday actually. Running around the castle walls like a medieval knight carrying a message for the king… with only 20 minutes to go until our parking ticket ran out! In fact I’ve¬†created the wikitravel.org article for Aigues-Mortes

Wiki Wednesdays – 1st October

Last night’s London Wiki Wednesday was held at the BCS offices, and a load of BCS folk came along. They’re a funny old bunch, and judging by their comments, they found the wiki wednesday people rather odd too.

I explained one detail of using wikipedia to somebody who had been experimenting with editing there. Basically I had to show him the finer points of picking through a wiki history display to figure out what had happened to his contribution. I guess this isn’t the easiest thing for a newbie to grasp. Interesting to follow through useability problems from a newbie’s point of view. I wonder if there’s scope for interface innovation to make that easier.

Someone had reverted his contribution, and explained why in their editing comment. Perhaps the thing which really went wrong here, was that the explanation was very brief and therefore unclear (the newbie didn’t even register that this was the explanation) Wikipedia these days is full of people who will revert edits in a somewhat cavalier manner, and this is surely putting off a lot of potential new contributors. On the flip-side though, wikipedia articles need to withstand a bombardment of sub-standard edits somehow. I guess “defenders” of wikipedia need to try hard to engage people with useful explanations about how to improve their contributions. Basically we should always assume good faith, but when faced with people pushing biased viewpoints or promotional links, engaging in conversation can be the last thing you want. Not an easy balance to strike, but I do think a lot of wikipedians are too harsh and disdainful with their reverting these days.

But wikis are not just about wikipedia! Wiki Wednesday discussion came around to MediaWiki several times (a pleasant change from the usual “enterprise” slant) This was despite starting out with a discussion on the evils of Microsoft Sharepoint, which I don’t really have much experience of (thankfully!)

It was good to meet Dario Taraborelli. If I was doing a PHD, I’d want it to be on topic like his. Interesting stuff! He showed us some of his work on wikitracer and analysis based on spidering to gather wiki metrics across many different wiki websites.

Dario Taraborelli

This is something I’ve experimented with myself. More than two years ago now, I was practising my skills with ‘TIBCO BusinessWorks’, and created a web-scraping bot to generate a list of wikis by response time to help with early building of the database at wikiindex.org. Bots are fun! That reminds me. I need to fire up my more recent java creation again some time. The “most active london wikipedians” bot.