London Silicon Roundabout meet-up

I went along to a “London Silicon Roundabout meet-up” last week. It’s a very dragons den style business pitching sort of event, both in the presentations later on, and in the kind of conversations people were having while socialising beforehand. I did my best to describe to a few people, but I shall have to polish my pitch a little. The various projects we have on the go at the moment, make for a rather confusing story. I probably should’ve stuck to describing our iPhone app ‘UK TravelOptions’.

After the socialising with beers on the roof terrace, there was a more formal sit-down presentation session. I think the presenters were told they had five minutes and then given 15/20 minutes. ~100 people in the audience. Some were real investors. Many, like me, were just enjoying playing the role, imagining ourselves to be investors. Lots of chin scratching and awkward questions being asked. These were the presentations and some of my thoughts on them: – User generated news site a.k.a. citizen journalism. Well presented. They have algorithms for deciding if content is unconfirmed vs credible (which he over-egged the sophistication of). Also rating mood of an article on a percentage level. This idea reminded me a lot of (ancient history). But I mainly found it interesting that they’d gone for localised city-based news sites. He didn’t really explain why. – iPhone app for meeting up with friends. Meetings are auto-arranged matching by location (a geo app!) and also by your free time calendar. They’re building their own more exclusive friends network. Just your close friends, rather than hooking into twitter and facebook networks. It was a slick presentation, but it’s doomed to fail. There’s a huge critical mass challenge with that idea, worse, a “geo-critical-mass” challenge. This has killed many other “find friends nearby” app ideas which have gone before it. – I wanted this to be a good pitch. The idea is obvious from the name, and it’s a good one. As a student I was bristling with untapped computer programming enthusiasm, and a need to earn some peanuts, but no obvious gateway into casual part-time skilled job. Companies (as far as I could tell at the time) were only looking for full time graduates. And yet since then I’ve come across countless situations where I’ve thought “surely we could hire a student to do this fun bit of website coding”. Sadly the pitch scored a big FAIL because he didn’t show the actual website! Also his claim of quality (of freelancers) was not backed up with a convincing explanation. – eductional mobile app. Presenting educational content and testing interfaces within a mobile app, but also a platform for creation of content. It was clear they’d engaged with school teachers and academics, and figured out clever ways of letting them, or persuading them, to do simple content authoring for mobile screens. This was my favourite talk. Education is a fun software genre. Mobile education is going to be big. I wonder if john mckerrel’s examtutor apps were one of the competitors they’d checked out. I’m sure my android app will be if I ever release it 🙂

Tag Bento – tagging of objects in photos. Didn’t really understand the idea of this one. Photos of products. e.g. make-up bag spread out on a table. These were ‘tagged’ with linkified areas of the photos taking you to sites for purchasing them. Users could create these object tagged product photos, but it wasn’t clear why.

“I’ll tell you where I am… I’m out”

placr tube-radar

placr Tube Radar on an iPhoneHere’s something I’ve been working on at placr:

>>>> <<<

[ is a bit different these days, but the tube stuff is actually available at ]

Have a play with it. The site is designed to work well on mobile screens. You can get to it by typing ““. [update: These days that’s also something different. Sorry for the confusion]

The red and blue lines indicate tube performance in terms of “headway”. The time between trains. Closer to the centre means shorter headway (good!) further from the centre means… waiting around a while.


placr Tube Radar at London Bridge

You can compare the data over the past 24 hours (red) with the “normal” levels (blue) which are averaged over a longer time period, but at the same platform and same time of day. Hopefully this will give an indication of how good or bad or erratic your service is likely to be today.

If you’ve chatted to me about what I’ve been doing at placr, you’ll have noticed I’m fairly hopeless at describing it. So hopefully this will give you a better idea, although this is only part of part of what I’ve been doing. We decided it was time to bring some stuff to the public-facing surface from one of our projects. We’ve spent a while gathering and analysing performance metrics of the tube, and this is one kind of output we’re seeing. To get this out in time for the tube strike was a bit of a last-minute rush, so it may look rough around some of the edges, but here’s hoping some people will find it useful (or at least interesting) over the period of the tube strike.

Cycling to work in London

I started cycling to work about four weeks ago. Yes. I took the plunge and became a “London cyclist”.

Cost was the first thing putting me off. I considered a dodgy Portobello road market £50 bike, or a more ligit second hand one for about £100 from Camden cycles [scruffy bike shop which no longer exists]. Then pondered whether it’s worth spending that much when the bottom end new bikes (e.g. halfords or decathlon) start at about £150. Then I realised that the bike is only part of the cost. There’s the padlock, lights, hi-vis clothes, and helmet to buy. So does this mean I might as well spend a bit more on the bike? I probably would have ummed and ahhhed about that forever, but then I found an old cobweb-covered brown bike in Grandma’s garage. Problem solved!

New bike parked

Of course, as long as you use the bike to commute, saving tube fares, even quite expensive biking equipment pays for itself within a few months. I really wasn’t sure if that would actually happen though. There were a few other things I was worried about:

Death, and the danger of it. I always perceived cycling London streets to be quite a dangerous undertaking. I think most people do. I’m cautiously learning how to do it, having only ever cycled on the hilly country roads of Holmfirth half a lifetime ago. I now have a more first-hand appreciation of and their very nifty display of three levels of cycling routes: quietest, fastest and balanced (try it!) My journey to work has plenty of options, and I can mostly stick to quiet roads, but in fact that’s probably true of most London journeys.  I was nervous about crossing big junctions like on Holloway Road here, but actually traffic lights usually allow a little rest, and then saftey in numbers as a whole flock of cyclists make the same crossing. Meanwhile more minor junctions like at Offord Road have yielded my closest encounters of a near-collision kind. I haven’t died yet, and on the whole it feels a lot safer than I was expecting.  Plus the exercise will be doing my life-expectancy some good.

Punctures. So far I’ve had none, but my cycling buddies have talked a lot about them, so I guess it’s just a matter of time. I imagine this will be a big pain in the ass, but as long as I can go a while without it happening…

Oily Brokenness. So far I’ve had none of this either, although my handlebars seem to be coming slightly loose. I noticed London bike shops don’t seem to sell a full “toolset for cyclists”. I found one during a trip to Amsterdam (along with a cheap padlock) So yes. I have tools. I think I’m ready for some oily brokenness, as any man should be right?

Sweatyness. I don’t have shower facilities at work, so I thought this might be a problem, particularly in the summer. But again, not as bad as I had expected. I guess you never really get the heat of the sun at commuting times, and fortunately my route to work is vaguely downhill ( shows nice altitude profiles too)  I change into a fresh T-shirt when I arrive, and hopefully don’t smell much.

Drunkenness. I imagine having a bike could be a bit of a drag when I want to have a spontaneous after-work drinking session. I don’t seem to be doing that much these days (open to invitations), but I’ve noticed my cyclist friends have developed a knack for drinking sensible numbers of pints. Not really something I’m known for.  Bah! …surely I can ditch my bike somewhere safe enough (or I could drink sensibly I suppose)

Cycling in the rain
Bad weather. Will I just be a fair weather cyclist? This also remains to be seen. I wasn’t a fair weather cyclist on the way home last night. In the gathering darkness and rain (and perhaps even a bit of an autumnal cold wind) it felt pretty miserable. It wasn’t even raining hard, but I got absolutely soaked. But I kind of enjoy facing the elements. The rain made me day-dream about kayaking as I cycled along, and I made it home well enough. I guess it gets harder as the weather gets more severe. If it’s too miserable I will give up and take the tube.

But let’s not forget the people cramming onto tube carriages would’ve had a fairly crappy journey too. This is the best thing about cycling to work. For most people (millions of people) the commute to work is dead time. Sure you can try to make use of time spent on the tube. I got really organised about making sure I had a good book to read, but even so, the daily drudge of “mind the gap” and “move right down inside the carriage” was really starting to grate. It feels fantastic to have escaped it. Journeys to work feel like a lively and invigorating time now. Not only that, but I can actually get into work in 30 minutes instead of 45!

Becoming a London cyclist is a bit of a leap into the unknown, but I now feel stupid for not having tried it earlier.

Aid Information Challenge

I’m at the Aid Information Challenge day watching the final hack presentations. This seems to be part of a series of hacking events happening at the Guardian offices, following on from rewiredstate National Hack the Government day (where I made the find my nearest registry office/hospital thingy).

The idea is to get techy types to meet with people from other areas, in this case aid organisations, and look for ways to bring their skills to bear, preferably in the form of super-quick super-agile thrown-together-on-the-day “hacks” which get presented at the end. I probably should have got more involved in a mapping hack. There was a fair bit of this going on, and I got into a few conversations. Lots more potential for OpenStreetMap hacking and promoting OpenStreetMap by getting it into projects.

Instead though. I mostly busied myself with throwing together this slide deck “OpenStreetMap For Aid Information” which I then presented:

OpenStreetMap For Aid Information

I originally thought I’d have two minutes to talk at the end of the day, but I actually talked for 20 minutes as a side-line talk during the day.The main emphasis of my talk was on two nice recent aid information examples Haiti and Kibera. Some related links:

I also mentioned London events.

WhereCamp.EU How was it for me?

WhereCamp.EU Logo by Sophie GreenWhereCamp.EU was pretty mind-blowing. I wrote a few posts to the official site during the event:

From a personal perspective it was massively enjoyable and rewarding, but the whole thing flew by too quickly. Preparations started months ago, but suddenly on the day there was so much to do, and at the same time so many people I wanted to chat to and fascinating sessions I wanted to see.

It got off to quite a blurry-eyed start due to geo-curry with the team the night before, followed by staying up late to prepare slides. As organisers we decided we would need to seed the unconference “wall” with some post-it notes in the first session slot, to get things going and spur other people to participate by setting an example. This meant I was feeling stressed and tired from the off, but it worked well, and despite a lot of people being new to the unconference style, a great atmosphere of participatory buzz carried the proceedings forwards at an alarming pace.

You can read more about my session “The State of the States in OpenStreet Map” on the WhereCamp.EU wiki


This got a pretty small audience because I was up against some awesome sessions from the other organisers, but I guess I’ll get the opportunity to re-use some of these slides on some other occasion. I might change the background colour. I’d had a few beers with the geo-curry, and the purple-green gradient seemed like a good idea.

I also contributed to the OpenStreetMap Q&A Session (mainly by asking the first question)

On the Saturday I ran another little session called “OpenStreetMap Practical – Never edited OpenStreetMap? Bring your laptop and we’ll show you how”, which kind of worked, although it clearly needed longer than the 15 minutes we had.

The event left me completely shattered, and I was quite surprised when I popped into the pub for a quick pint afterwards to be confronted by a massive crowd of geo-people all enthusiastically continuing the discussions.

I’ve just been checking out some blog responses and write-ups of the event: Gary Gale ( , Guardian Open Platform blogEd Parsons , Steven Feldman (giscussions) , jokru , Eamonn Neylon , James Cheshire (  As I say, from my perspective the whole thing flew past very quickly and it was quite difficult to know whether the event was actually going well, so it’s gratifying to know that people enjoyed it, and found the format successful.

WhereCamp.EU tomorrow

WhereCamp EU is tomorrow! I’ve been organising the posters:

We have a small team of organisers who are all people from the London geo-conference/meet-up circuit. In particular we have Chris Osborne who frequently puts together the very popular #geomob events, and Gary Gale who seems to live his entire life at geo conferences. These combined with a team of five or six others (including myself) have come together to plan two days of geo-map-technology goodness.

We were very successful with our marketing of the event before and during release of the tickets. Maybe a little too successful. It’s a limited capacity venue, and it is very much at its limit. Some people were slow to book their place. These people …well you can’t come (especially Steve)   Sorry about that 🙁

The posters involved lots of fun playing around with sponsor logos (In truth it was only fun at first, and quickly became a big hassle. But anyway)  We are of course hugely grateful to these organisations:

Gold sponsors: GoeVation & OS OpenSpace, and Guardian Open Platform.

Silver sponsors: Axon Active, bing maps, ERSI UK, Google Maps,

Bronze sponsors: DBVU, ito, nestoria, SVGOpen, and Yahoo! Developer Network

Being an “unconference” we haven’t actually planned the content of the conference in a lot of detail. This is where we’re relying on the imagination and motivation of the attendees.

“The attendees drive the content of the sessions on the day instead of having a prescribed schedule and set of content. Therefore, the event is what you make of it, and is only as fun as the people who attend. So be prepared to speak and contribute.”

This may sound chaotic, but I’m reliably informed that it does actually make for an fun and fulfilling event. Looking down the list of attendees, I can see that there will be plenty of amazing ideas. Should be a fair amount of OpenStreetMap related stuff hopefully. I’m excited to see what kind of sessions people come forward with.

OpenStreetMap Jigsaw

I got an exciting Christmas present for my dad. Pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog so I’ll tell you about it here (shhhh)

OpenStreetMap Jigsaw3

There’s a bunch of different sites for ordering custom jigsaw puzzles. Obviously the normal thing is to use one of your own photos, but how about a jigsaw map? ….open licensed of course. A map could be a cool image to use on a jigsaw puzzle, because its a nice intricate image, with evenly spread complexity (compared to some photos at least) and it becomes a puzzle of geographical knowledge rather than just colour matching.

I decided to order one from which does 1000 piece jigsaws! This is 66 x 50 cm (26 x 20 ins) and costs £29.99 (+ £2.79 delivery) I sent them an OpenStreetMap image which was 7168 x 5448 pixels, here’s what I received a few days later:

OpenStreetMap Jigsaw 1
OpenStreetMap Jigsaw 2
I’m pretty pleased with the result. It comes in quite a nice box. The box and the jigsaw pieces themselves are with a papery finish, not gloss (maybe less durable)  The text of the road names came out a bit on the small side. I think the fuzziness you see in the photo is actual fuzziness of the printing rather than camera blur, so yes the text would definitely benefit from a few more pixels, but hopefully it is not too painful to read while doing the puzzle.I knew that this was a danger as I prepared the image. An interesting “feature” of is that, despite a deluge of information on there, it doesn’t tell you much about what kind of image you’ll need until after you’ve made a credit card payment. In fact the image upload page is available with all this information, but you’re not linked to that until after paying.

Even then it doesn’t actually tell you what pixel dimensions to go for, but you can work it out. The information is: “If possible save the picture at around 300 dpi (dots per inch), that is the resolution we work at. If you crop your picture before sending it, then try to have the picture size in the ratio of 25:19;”. The printed image is 26 x 20 inches, so it’s recommending 7800 x 6000 pixels. Now I sent a slightly lower res image at 7168 x 5448 pixels. To be honest I’d already faffed around a lot with the image at this size, before reading the instructions on this page, and I couldn’t be bothered to re-do everything. But also I figured they were probably erring on the high side at 300dpi, and I knew the text size was going to be an issue. If I’d sent a larger image (covering a large area of map) then the text would have printed even smaller.

Of course what I should have done, is generated the map image myself, using a custom Mapnik stylesheet with larger text for printing. I notice Holger Schöner has some nice examples of this: ‘Mapnik maps for other resolutions’ on his demo page. But I was too lazy, so I used the BigMap perl code which creates a big image by tile stitching. I did actually use a custom CloudMade style with no buildings and no residential grey patches showing. This was because the coverage of these things is irritatingly incomplete at the moment (I organised a special mapping party to tackle this back in September, but there’s still a lot of work to do on that) and it would have annoyed me to have these problems showing on a jigsaw.

I may regret this though because it means fewer recognisable details for the purposes of puzzle solving. In fact it remains to be seen how do-able this 1000 piece puzzle will be. I was thinking afterwards perhaps I should have gone for a 520 piece one, or maybe I should have added a slight graduated fill to the whole background (make it easier to roughly place pieces). Or maybe that would be too easy. We’ll have to wait and see how my dad gets on. I’ll get back to you on that after Christmas!   ( UPDATE: Doing the OpenStreetMap jigsaw )

30th Birthday BBQ

Big thanks to everyone who came and helped me celebrate my 30th birthday! Lots of people came and squeezed into my back garden for a BBQ. It was really great to assemble this random collection of mates. It was that classic slightly odd meeting of worlds, with groups of kayakers meeting OpenStreetMappers, meeting friends from back home, meeting brothers and sisters, and everyone in-between. Having said that we did partition off into different parts of the garden quite effectively. Hopefully everyone had fun. Much meat and beer was consumed, and best of all we actually had sunshine!

Comedy highlight was hearing everyone singing “Happy Birthday” with a dawning collective realisation that I was actually upstairs on the toilet at the time!

Where’s Harry?

More photos on facebook

Sunshine and Feijoada

For my girlfriend’s birthday we had a big weekend of sunshine and fun. I took her for a posh meal in the OXO tower on Friday, then we had a party on Saturday, with a sunny garden full of people.  Friends from Holmfirth travelled here for the weekend, so on Sunday we all went for a sunny walk in hampstead heath and and look around sunny Camden market. I’ve just stuck many sunny photos on facebook, but here I’d like share this photo with you…

Feijoada! We had to go shopping for a special kind of black beans to make this Brazilian dish. The big Morrisons didn’t have them. Eventually we found them in a little supermarket on Severn sisters’ road, and we bought their entire stock. About 20 tins of beans for the party  …Yummy!