gothic silliness

Podcamp Halifax Talk Notes

Today I gave a talk at Podcamp Halifax about OpenStreetMap, trying to stir up a bit of interest in "wikipedia for maps", particularly on the grassroots level here in the HRM. At the end, I promised I'd give the links to the various resources I cited in my presentation. If there's enough interest, I might try to write up a summary of what I was talking about here later to put these resources in context for those not lucky enough to hear me speak. Anyway, without further ado:

Applications of open geographical data:
- Walkscore:
- Travel time maps:
- Coming soon! e-mail me if you want to alpha test and a get a sneak peek of my transit planner for the HRM.

Why open geodata is important:
- Google maps terms of service:
- HRM's regressive geodata dissemination policy:

Editing OpenStreetMap:
- Best place to start is with the potlatch documentation:

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you. Feel more than free to email me at
gothic silliness

Livejournal FAIL

For the SECOND time, LiveJournal decided to replace one of my perfectly cromulent userpics with that of a Thai ladyboy (unfortunately taken down before I fully appreciated the humor in the situation). So if you're wondering why the image attached to this post (on livejournal) is stupid, that's why.

Apparently this is a known issue:
gothic silliness

Geobase: Free Canadian Geodata for all!

Up until today, I was under the impression that the options for someone wanting raw Canadian road data were quite limited. Yahoo and Google maps are great, but their terms of use prevent creative and novel use (it's against their terms of use create a derived work). OpenStreetMap is free of these restrictions, but its coverage can be kind of spotty in outlying areas. What's a geohacker to do?

Little did I know that the Canadian government makes a complete survey of this information available under an extremely non-restrictive license (basically all you need to do is provide attribution). One better, they've come to an arrangement with the OpenStreetMap project that allows them to import all this data (under the creative commons attribution license), which will (as long as some care is taken) bring OpenStreetMap up to the level of Yahoo or Google maps. I'm positively giddy about the novel applications this should make possible.

That being said, integration of the data into OpenStreetMap will probably take some time. However, if you're writing an application which consumes OSM data (like I am), there's no need to wait. All I had to do to get an extremely accurate and complete OSM file for the region of the Halifax Regional Municipality was download the Nova Scotia road network in KML and use gpsbabel to simplify and trim said network down to my region of interest, outputting the result in OpenStreetMap format:

gpsbabel -i kml -f RoadSegment.kml -x simplify,error=0.01k \
-x polygon,file=restrictpoly.arc -o osm -F hrm.osm

The result? Pure city road network win. Here's a quick visualization courtesy of a cheesy 100 line script I knocked up using PyGame:

The empty space in the middle is the Bedford basin. The dense structure towards the center is the Halifax peninsula, connected via two bridges to the city of Dartmouth. The cluster to the north is Bedford.

I'd like to emphasize that, internally, this is a complete map, with street names and everything. Apparently GeoBase also provides a data set with address information which could be useful for writing a free geocoder, but I haven't had the chance to look at that yet.

If all that was nerd speak to you, just wait. I'll be bringing this topic down to earth in a way that any conscious being can appreciate in a few weeks...
gothic silliness

Green Party Rally in Halifax

Green Party Rally in Halifax 3
Originally uploaded by William Lachance

Decided to head out to the train station yesterday to see the conclusion of Elizabeth May's whistle stop tour across the country. She gives a pretty good speech: definitely the most forthright and articulate person in Canadian politics these days. If you care about such things, you ought to listen to her appearance on cross country checkup last week.

Yes, this means I'm not voting for the NDP this time around. Maybe I'll consider them again once they start talking seriously about global warming and peak oil. As it is, their focus on "kitchen table issues" (basically a few new proposed social programs) seems like nothing more than politics as usual, a totally inadequate response to the serious problems we're facing. I've been cynical about electoral politics for a long time, but seriously guys, get real.

The crowd was decent (maybe 100?) in spite of the fact that there was virtually no advance publicity for the event. Not being an actual member of the party, I only found out about this through some digging on the Internet. I'll bet anything that with better organization, that number of people present could have been multiplied by 10. Something to think about...

gothic silliness

Lola with mouse

Lola with mouse
Originally uploaded by William Lachance

Friedrich caught another mouse this morning. I think that makes two for him, tying him with Lola (pictured) for number of vermin killed in the Côté/Lachance household.

It's incidents like this that remind me that cats are actually insanely useful animals. It wasn't too long ago that rodents were a huge menace to public health and the food supply. In order to prosper, we needed some way of controlling their population, and the domesticated feline provided.

Perhaps the development of civilization can be attributed not just to ourselves, but also the organisms that we have a relationship with. Not only cats, but domesticated crops, dogs, bees, and innumerable other things. Following this metaphor, perhaps the human animal can be likened to the nerve cells of a much larger organism: necessary for its development perhaps, but hardly sufficient.

Surely I'm not the only person to have thought of this.

gothic silliness

Macintosh Smackintosh

I picked up a Mac Mini earlier this week, primarily for work related reasons. The user interface is indeed as shiny as people claim, but I'm amazed at how often the whole operating system seems to _completely_ block on some stupid application. The most recent offender is iTunes: when faced with the task of copying a bunch of files from my desktop folder into its "music library" folder, the whole thing ground to a halt, completely locking up my computer (even my mouse wouldn't work). WTF? First off, why would iTunes have trouble with such an apparently simple operation? Was it written by monkeys? I can copy the same files in a fraction of a second using the file manager. Second, why would one badly-behaved application bring down the whole system? Does the mac have a terrible scheduler, does the UI just run in one thread, what?
gothic silliness

Cuisine Bangkok

I'm in Montréal for a few days. Had some time to kill yesterday, so I decided to check out if Cuisine Bangkok in the Faubourg was still around. Yes, indeed it is and a good thing too. Way above average Thai cuisine at food court prices. I got a plate of green curry chicken (with carrot and potato) and spring rolls for under $7. Divine. How do they do it? And why don't more of my friends in Montréal know about it? Go there you must. Strict vegetarians are excused, as I believe most/all their dishes are made with fish sauce.