Open Data Camp Day 1


If I don’t post a few notes from today’s Open Data Camp now, I never will, so here are a few things I scribbled down- it could be worse, I could have posted a PDF containing photos of the the actual scribbles!

So out of this choice

odcamp-sessions

…I picked, Open Data for Elections, Open Addresses, Data Literacy, Designing Laws using Open Data, and Augmented Reality for Walkers.

Open Data for Elections

I’ve been following @floppy‘s crazy plan to get elected for a while, so this was the easiest decision of the day: what drives someone to embrace the gory inner workings of democracy like this?

Falling turnout it would seem, and concern for a functioning democracy.

The first step of his journey was the Open Politics Manifesto, which I’ve so far failed to edit- must try harder.

Perhaps more interesting was how this, and use of open data, fits into a political platform as a service. It would be nice to have the opportunity to see a few additions to the usual suspects at the ballot box, and Eastleigh got a rare chance to see what that could be like with a by election. Perhaps open data services for candidates could tip he balance enough to encourage more people to stand.

Things that sounded interesting:

  • Democracy Club
  • OpenCorporates
  • Data Packages
  • Open data certificates (food hygiene certificates for data?)
  • Candidates get one free leaflet delivery by Royal Mail- I wonder how big they expect those leaflets to be!

Open Addresses

@floppy and @giacecco introduced the (huge) problems they need to overcome to rebuild a large data set without polluting that data with any sources with intellectual property restrictions. Open Addresses still have a long way to go and there were comments about how long Open Street Map has been around, and it still has gaps.

They have some fun ideas about crowd sourcing address data (high vis jacket required) and there are some interesting philosophical questions around consent for addresses to be added.

It will be interesting to see whether Open Addresses can get enough data to provide real value, and what services they build.

Data Literacy

Mark and Laura led a discussion around data literacy founded in the observation that competent people, with all the skills you could reasonably expect them to have, still struggle with handling data sets.

Who needs to be data literate? Data scientists? Data professionals? Everyone?

Data plumbers? There were some analogies with actual plumbers! You might not be a plumber but it’s useful to know something about it.

If we live in a data driven society, we should know how to ask the right questions. Need domain expertise and technical expertise.

Things that sounded interesting:

Designing Laws using Open Data

@johnlsheridan pointed out that the least interesting thing to do with legislation is to publish it and went on to share some fascinating insights into the building blocks of statute law. It sounds like the slippery language used in legislation boils down to a small number of design patterns built with simple building blocks, such as a duty along with a claim right, and so on.

Knowing these building blocks makes it easier to get the gist of what laws are trying to achieve, helps navigate statutes, and could give policy makers a more reliable way to effect a goal.

For example, it’s easier to make sense of the legislation covering supply of gas, and it’s possible to identify where there may be problems. The gas regulator has a duty to protect the interests of consumers by promoting competition, but that’s a weak duty without a clear claim right to enforce it.

John also demonstrated a tool – http://ngrams.elasticbeanstalk.com – exploring how the language used in legislation has changed over time, for example how the use of “shall” has declined and been replaced by “is to be”.

Augmented Reality for Walkers

My choice of Android tablet was largely based on what might work reasonably well for maps and augmented reality, so I seized this opportunity!

Nick Whitelegg described the Hikar Android app he’s been working on, which is intended to help hikers follow paths by overlaying map data on a live camera feed.

The data is a combination of Open Street Map mapping data, with Ordnance Survey height data, which is downloaded and cached as tiles around your current location. Open GL is used to overlay a 3D view of the map data on the live camera feed, using the Android sensor APIs to detect the device’s rotation.

I’ve just downloaded and installed Hikar and, while my tablet is a tad slow, it works really well. I live somewhere flat and boring but the height data made a noticeable difference when Nick demonstrated the app in hilly Winchester.

Still to come: Day 2!

DIY SOS


Last Friday was definitely the best day at work for a while: I wasn’t in the office, or anywhere near a computer!

Last year IBM celebrated it’s 100th anniversary with a celebration of service, and this year they donated 1000 hours to the Jubilee Hour book of service. Twelve of us spent a few of those hours volunteering for the Society of St James on a DIY SOS day:

Fortunately they seemed pleased with our painting skills and we managed to paint the communal corridors in one of their units of self contained flats. It’s amazing how much you can get painted in a day with that many people. Unfortunately, while there was time to start on the fences outside, I wasn’t able to con anyone in to coming home and finishing off my house!!

Thanks to Matthew Comer for organising the day and the photographic evidence.

↑ Hedge End 1/2 mile


Photo of village centre signpostFor a minute I thought an old half baked scheme I’ve been pondering to update town twinning might have been given a new lease of life: according to the Hedge End Blogger there are plans to install a ‘heritage sign’ in Hedge End. By pure chance, and with a completely random grant from Hampshire County Council, it seemed like Hedge End would be getting the perfect place to tie the physical and virtual world together.

Except, on closer inspection, it looks like the sign won’t be in Hedge End at all; it will be outside! Assuming I read the directions right anyway. Apparently there was a strong case for putting it in the middle of nowhere. The actual reason is a mystery to the internet as far as I can tell but was presumably something to do with being on the route into Hedge End from the motorway.

I would have much preferred Keith’s suggested location, near the library, for a couple of reasons:

  • I would get to see it more often (I rarely go past the proposed location)
  • for those of us without a smart phone, the library would also ideal for a taking out a loan device to see the virtual element of the mad twinning plan

Oh well, maybe an entirely virtual sign post could point the way to the heritage sign.

Update: found the right minutes with the vote to put the sign, ‘opposite Lamp 13 in Upper Northam Road…’ Nothing about the reason as far as I can see but Keith has shared that on his blog. I also remembered where I’ve seen one of these things before: Otterbourne. (26 September 2011)

Photo © Reuben Whitehouse (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Second anniversary!


Unbelievably we’ve been married two years already! We’ve had a nice chilled weekend to celebrate and yesterday ended up in Selborne, where there just happened to be cream teas available in the tea parlour at Gilbert White’s house:

Note the excellent jam:cream ratio and the correct cream-on-top arrangement. Tasty. We seem to be developing a distinct food theme to our wedding anniversaries, and there’s just twelve months to think up what comes next!

Year Gift
0.5 Hot chocolate
1 Cake
2 Cream tea

Instead of a honeymoon to look forward to this year, we should finally be moving house this month, if all goes well! The results of the survey arrived on Saturday and at least there were no surprises there.

It takes two


For anyone who couldn’t hear at the back (or perhaps even missed the live version completely!) here’s a recap of my slightly random BarCamp Southampton lightning talk. The loosely-connected-to-the-theme-of-the-day title on the schedule was:

AR Twinning or The perils of Town Twinning – modernising with augmented reality

As you drive in to many towns, you’ll probably recognise a sign like this:

Not the snow, although maybe that will start looking familiar, or “Hedge End”, or even the useful driving tip, but the bit in between; “Twinned with…” In this case a town in Belgium that I know almost nothing about. (I really should try and find out how to pronounce the name.)

It wasn’t the signpost that inspired the lightning talk though; it was an announcement in the local newsletter that the twinning association was dissolving. I wonder how many people could name the places their town is twinned with, know anything about it, have visited, or even know why towns have twins, so I’m not all that surprised about Hedge End’s lack of interest in twinning activities.

So is there a way to revitalise town twinning? Something that might help is lowering the barriers to participation; not everyone can commit to formal activities or take on permanent roles in a twinning association. Providing a means for ad hoc encounters between people in the twinned towns could naturally lead to more interest in finding out more and getting more involved. But how do you do that when Hedge End and Comines-Warneton are around 300km apart?

You could create some Twinning 2.0 social web site but for me that somehow loses the physical connection between the towns. Why would you choose people in one town over anywhere else in the world? Would a shared physical space be possible and, if so, would it stimulate more interest in an otherwise remote place?

So my hair brained scheme involves a signpost in each town. Not the kind you drive past, but one right in the centre pointing the way to the twinned town. A traditional sign from Hampshire might look something like this:

I had less luck finding one for Belgium, but you get the general idea:

If a town only has one twin, it might be a nice touch to switch the signs round, so Hedge End would have a sign post you’d normally see in Comines-Warneton.

Next, add some ambient indication of what’s going on at the other sign. In particular, it needs to catch people’s attention if there is anyone near the remote sign. Winchester’s Luminous Motion might provide some inspiration here:

This sculpture only reacts when it receives a text message, but the twinned signposts would need to communicate with each other automatically, and pachube could be an ideal way to do just that:

So if you’re walking past the sign post in Hedge End, and it indicates that there is someone near the sign post in Comines-Warneton, what next? With modern smart phones and augmented reality the possibilities are endless, from a simple chat, to video feeds, to exchanging town photos, to virtual tours, to AR games, to anything people in the towns come up with.

I realise of course that not everyone has these kind of devices (me included) but there’s a library in Hedge End which could conceivably loan them to people. Some of the activities would also be possible via any internet connection, but now there’s a highly visible physical focal point in each town providing an anchor to tie it all together. At least, that’s the theory!

I did finish the talk by claiming it would never happen, but it would be really nice to be proved wrong, and maybe the two sign posts could exist in a virtual form to begin with. Thanks to everyone who was there for the lightning talk in person, and thanks to everyone who made BarCamp Southampton happen… but that’s for another post.

Update: thanks to Katy’s comments below, I’m very excited to discover that Murrhardt actually has a fingerpost pointing to its twins! (28 November 2010)

Images © their respective owners :

  • Hedge End sign – Jim Hart
  • Map – OpenStreetMap contributors, cc by-sa
  • Corhampton sign – Jim Champion, cc by-sa
  • N333 sign – Faz Besharatian, cc by-nc-sa
  • Luminous motion – Sumit, cc by-nc-sa
  • Pachube – Connected Environments Ltd.
  • Noticings Layer – James Bridle, cc by-nc-nd

Tea pigs and traditional English ale


It’s about time I continued the series of tearoom related posts with a long overdue review of Ginger Two. In other drink related news, the Southampton beer festival has been running the last few days, so there’s a slight change to the previous two tearoom format. Unfortunately my acronym based link between the two is more tenuous than it might have been since the Hogs Back Brewery’s Traditional English Ale wasn’t even at the festival. Oh well.

Ginger Two, Winchester

Ginger Two is tucked just out of the way off the High Street. Winchester has much more choice for tea and coffee these days but this is definitely my favourite. We’ve been here before and they seem to have increased the amount of space they have since our last visit, so I guess they must be fairly popular.

We ordered cream teas this time; unfortunately they didn’t arrive, so we weren’t able to assess the jam to cream ratio. Apparently they noticed that the scones weren’t fresh enough. I’m impressed they care that much about the quality of the food they serve. (I wonder what they would make of Gavin’s misguided views on how to apply the jam and cream!)

Plan B was cheese scones with chutney, which I’d order again just for the smell! I’m a big fan of cheese and chutney so everything worked out nicely there.

I haven’t been anywhere else where the tea comes in temples but they do make an excellent brew. We even indulged in some tea pigs of our own to keep us going until our next visit, although you don’t get many in a box so I think we’ll be saving them for special occasions!

Southampton Beer Festival

I almost missed the beer festival this year but thanks to Twitter I managed to get hold of a ticket at the last minute. I had the usual dilemma of whether to try some of the local beers, or stick to beers from further afield which I’m less likely to see. I had a few from Hampshire last year so decided to do the opposite this year. Having flicked through the list of Hampshire beers after the event, it appears that I might have chosen unwisely! Apparently Botta’s Best is brewed just down the road in Botley- will have to try and find that somewhere before next year. Any ideas?

Of the tiny fraction of beers I managed to try, I think these two were my favourite:

  • Heritage Ale (Three Castles, Wiltshire)
  • Eddystone (South Hams, Devon)

And the wooden spoon goes to:

  • Chimera IPA (Downton, Wiltshire)

Of course they were all a million times better than anything at my local!

Hot Chocolate Anniversary


This weekend was our six month wedding anniversary, unfortunately Schott’s Almanac was no help at all working out what the traditional six month wedding anniversary symbol is, only starting after a whole year with cotton. Since there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon six month symbol, I choose hot chocolate after we enjoyed one at the end of a very relaxing afternoon retracing part of our wedding tour of Hampshire. If you’re in the area, I thoroughly recommend The Old House Hotel and the Marriott Meon Valley; they were both superb on our wedding day.

(I was pretty pleased with the results of tinkering with Open Street Map for our wedding invitations although, after stories of some of the detours our guests took, it may not have been worth it!!)

It’s been a mad six months which seem to have flown past with a brilliant honeymoon in Canada, (unsuccessfully) trying to move house and playing in the snow!

Niagara Falls

Looking forward to the next six months!