A few upcoming talks

I’m talking at a couple of events soon, which I’m looking forward to.

Sometime over the weekend of 5th/6th September I’m talking at the Do Lectures at fforest farm in Cilgerran, Wales. Frankly, I’m mega excited just to go, let alone to get an opportunity to talk. I think I know what I’m talking about, but until I’ve written it down, all bets are off.

And then on the 23rd September I’ll be the at Association for Geographic Information 2009, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, explaining why location based services need to care more about place than space, and how you might use Flickr shapefiles and the Where on Earth database to do that. I’ll be showing off Boundaries, and some of the smart stuff other people are doing.

If you’re around at either of those, don’t be a stranger.

A world and a life in which you are always the centre of the map


iamnear is still chugging along. Yesterday I added postboxes, courtesy of Matthew Somerville’s postbox locator service, and made it work with Fire Eagle again. It’s not very exciting, but it’s useful.

On my todo list still is an evil twin of iamnear, designed to be difficult and disorientating in use, but rewarding in unexpected ways should you persevere with it. As Kevin Slavin recently said in his talk at the BLDGBLOG book launch: “a world and a life in which you are always the centre of the map… fuck that”.



Morse-it is a really well put together iPhone application for encoding, decoding and learning Morse code. There’s a little video showing it in action – skip to a minute or so in to see two iPhones side-by-side, one transmitting and one receiving. And then buy a copy, hold it up to your speakers and watch it do the same with this video. Clever.

Mapping the mobile Social Atlas

Snatching a moment at the back of Sketching in Hardware, I wanted to talk about the Dopplr iPhone app, and a few of the technical details and design decisions. In this post I’m going to focus on the map interface, as that’s the core of application. I’ll touch on other thoughts in a separate post later on.

the social atlas

One of the first things people notice upon booting up the app is that we’re not using Google Maps. Dopplr concentrates on city travel, and the majority of the most travelled to cities now have superb OpenStreetMap coverage. Using OSM gave us the flexibility to design our own custom map, reflecting how people use the Social Atlas: at human scale, often on foot, bicycle or public transport.

Matt Jones was inspired by Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City to develop a style specific to city size, human scale navigation. Matt wrote:

Lynch contended that we make legible mental maps of the city with 5 types of object: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks.

I’m trying to make a style that emphasises these, and eschews the ’satnav’ style car-oriented mapping. It must be noted that this is a style that works most effectively at city-scale zoom levels, which it’s intended for. It looks pretty useless at country-scale.

This was made possible because of Cloudmade’s superb Style Editor, a simple interface for themeing and tweaking OSM maps in the browser. In days gone by, we’d have had to spool up our own Mapnik installation, translate Matt’s thoughts and designs into code, and dealt with keeping the tiles up to date. We’re more than happy to let Cloudmade deal with that – they’re the experts.

To display all these beautiful tiles, we’re using route-me. Consider how young the project is, it’s in very good shape. We’re using a revision just before 0.5, and it’s proved stable and quick. OK, it’s not quite as smooth as the Google Maps library, and there a few niggles, but development is ongoing and Hal Mueller and the rest of the contributors are very responsive and friendly. I recommend checking it out.

I’ll touch on our data fetching and caching strategy for placemarks in another post. I think it’s going to need diagrams.

the social atlas

I winged about homogenous locative services in a previous, very grumpy post. I hope that we’ve shown a little bit of what’s possible with easily accessible libraries, tools and open data.

Of course, it’s not perfect, so do get in touch with the Dopplr team with your thoughts – this is the first foray into the mobile Social Atlas and your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Dopplr iPhone application

The Dopplr iPhone application launched yesterday. I was lucky enough to be the lead developer on it, so I’m slightly biased when I say you should go and give it a whirl – it’s free and doesn’t require a Dopplr account.

More to come when I get a moment.

Computational Wood

I’m at Sketching in Hardware for the next few days – a mini-conference on physical computing and the stuff floating nearby.

Matt Cottam just showed us this video about computational wood – wood grown with conductive ink. It’s mad and bonkers and genius, and a lot of fun.

Twitter direct messages to Prowl push notifications

I knocked together a tiny Ruby script that pushes Twitter direct messages to Prowl. It’s a bit messy, but it works.

As jerakeen notes, you’re not going to see this running as a neatly wrapped service for quite a while – it simply doesn’t scale. But if you or a trusted geeky friend can run this then it should suffice.

Incidentally, my house seems to be in a push notifications black spot. Is that normal? I have full 3G reception. It works fine in Shoreditch.