Sussex Dinner

A pretty big update in order. I know it’s been a while but I’ve been predictably snowed under yet again with work. This time it’s a daily commute from Gosport to London (some three hours each way, give or take signal failures and strong winds!).

The downside is that I’m getting almost no time at home that isn’t spend sleeping or trying to sleep. The plus-side is that it’s given me an opportunity to work through my much-neglected library of books that I’ve gathered over Christmases and birthdays and have yet to read.

Actually, I just end up on the laptop all the time, doing more work. Still, I’m getting paid for (most of) it, so can’t complain.

Last Wednesday I managed to get back down to Havant and along to Brighton in time for the Sussex Geek dinner. This is basically an opportunity for a bunch of like-minded people to socialise [yes, I realise that is an oxymoron with geeks], and learn a bit more about each others’ work.

The event is organised by Simon Harriyott, so my thanks go to him for organising yet another wonderful event.

I’ve felt a bit guilty over the last few months having missed at least two of these dinners due to being overseas, but it’s good to be back and I look forward to making a regular appearance.

Simon has recently begun inviting guest speakers to the dinners – a great idea in my view, and this event was well covered by Mikel Maron, a developer involved in OpenStreetMap. Mikel was very keen to talk about the technical and logistical aspects of such a project, which – given the audience – was very well received.
OpenStreetMap is a project aiming to map the planet using readily-available commercial GPS receivers and a lot of volunteer time. It’s quite an ambitious project, although some progress has already been made: the Isle of Wight is fully mapped, thanks to a series of workshops held on the island. Brighton is close to 100% coverage.

There are some interesting legal and copyright issues. For example, you can’t just trace Google Maps – that would violate copyright. In fact, it seems you can’t even refer to the maps for guidance or to double-check – it all has to be original work.
The various mappers track this by placing so-called Trap Streets, which are fictional roads placed in various locations designed specifically to spot copyright infringement. It’s a good idea, but I wonder how many SatNav systems have tried to guide people down these fictitious roads (although, I presume they’re normally cul-de-sacs).

OpenStreetMap’s coverage for the rest of the UK is less detailed. Gosport, for instance, has very little more than the main road, and that only goes to the outskirts of the town. It’s certainly not navigable!

But the point of this website is that it encourages the user to go out for themselves and map their area. I quite fancy mapping Gosport, if I had the time and a GPS device, for nothing other than the feel-good factor of the contribution. Heck knows I get about enough to accumulate some pretty widespread data!

I’m still not convinced about OpenStreetMap’s sustainability – a few good companies have backed it technically, and I understand that MultiMap sponsors one of its developers, but it’s surely a long way to go before the entire country is mapped (even the end of 2008 seems incredibly ambitious). Still, I like the idea of the workshops focusing on particular areas – if 100% of Sussex could be mapped, for instance, then it’s of immediate benefit to everybody who lives and operates in Sussex. A more general coverage of, say, 10% of the whole country is of almost no use to anybody.

Incidentally, I never recognised Mikel’s name at first, but when I came across his blog afterwords ( I immediately recognised it; I’m sure I met and chatted to him at the BlogTalk conference in Austria in 2004. Is it sad that I recognise URLs before names? Almost certainly!

During the evening, I also got around to meeting a few other people, although my natural tendency to hover in the corner and eat sausage rolls limited that somewhat. I had a good conversation with Clive and Ian. Clive runs a website listing pubs in Horsham, which is an ideal research project for me. The latter two are working on a website that offers free video training. This is, and you should have a look at the site to see lots of diverse and interesting video tutorials from fixing cars, 3D rendering, to Python programming in German.

Unfortunately I had to head off fairly early to get to bed for work the next day (4:30 start), but it was good to see a nice crowd of people and I look forward to the next one.