Archive for November, 2006

Presentation Slides and Words from Running Stitch, “Pecha Cucha”

I’ve posted the slides and words from the Running Stitch Pecha Cucha. Was fun, met a bunch of interesting Brightonians.

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flickr Geocodr

Tim Waters (aka chippy) introduces a flickr geocodr! It’s starts from a small hack of mine .. chippy has really tricked this out, and made it actually work!

It looks up photos with the given text, examines the assigned location (10 million+ geotagged flickr photos), clusters the results, and returns the largest location.

It works remarkably well .. for cities, neighborhoods (“haight ashbury”, “hells kitchen”, “calle ocho”), places and landmarks (“empire state building”, “red square”). It doesn’t always work precisely (“statue of liberty”), but suspect this could be down to some tweak in the algorithm.

And this seems like just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this data.

One extension that could be possible is detection of linear objects; for example, take a look at “Bay to Breakers” flickr map

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Wrap Up UN Web for Development 2006

Web4Dev wrapped up last week, and Anna & I are back from NYC. It was a great experience .. the presentation went really well, we met many people at the UN and with NGOs/etc, and got a good insight into the United Nations system.

Wednesday morning, I gave my presentation of Wikis at the UN, the projects Anna and I worked on at the UNDP and INSTRAW, in the session on Collaborative Tools with Sarah Kerr. I was really excited to speak on this and advocate more wikis at the UN. The presentation was received well, and we met many people interested in wiki projects. It was even suggested to use a wiki to organize next year’s conference. The web4dev wiki we set up demo’d great, and I we had a bunch of attendees add details.

The entire event was webcast, and immediately archived; great job by the UN AV guys. Here’s the video of my presentation. You can download the slides from here watch out, this is 22MB!. And there’s the transcript of what I said.

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The Web4Dev conference proper was insightful, to understand how web development operates within the UN. However the impact on Monday, the Global Alliance-AIT sessions, was not positive. The AIT Global Partnership is a series of events to strengthen the UN’s use of technology through cooperation with IT corporations and professionals. Their sessions came off as a brazen sales pitch; during a panel on SOA (just web services and widgets, jargon for CX0), an audience member asked “What does this have to do with development?” and it appeared that the panelists didn’t even understand what “Development” meant in this context.

Now I definitely agree that public-private partnership is crucial to successful Development ICT. Sometimes the market responds in unexpected ways; for instance, Intel is apparently considering developing a competitor to the $100 Laptop. But Monday showed the dangers of such initiatives being hijacked by the private portion. AMD’s 50×15 project to have internet access to 50% of the world by 2015 is great, but will their educational initiatives be pushing open source software development in classrooms? Several times I heard the phrase “Open Source is not free”, referring to maintenance and other costs, which of course if true, but it was being used as a dismissal of open source as a viable option.

I think it’s more than a viable option .. it’s absolutely central to ICT in the developing world, not only because of the cost savings, but the freedom to modify and educational opportunities. Socially, open source software leads to open knowledge and open democracy, which I am pushing for with wikis. The UN itself works at cross purposes on this, with many open source initiatives, while at the same time licensing more and more from Microsoft internally. The UN itself could do so much to raise the profile of Open Source internationally.

I raised these issues during the final feedback session, and others in the audience encouragingly concurred. Overall there was a wonder on Web4Dev was all about, and a real desire to find that .. how can we continue to work together, finding leverage points with the UN system, working effectively, “UN 2.0”.

Another surprise was the call to build large and not “just release”. The school of thought to architect completely before building is alive and well .. while rapid prototyping and iterative development is accepted practice everywhere else on the web. Or at least a “lightweight” approach. One UN project which really impressed me was the UN Online Volunteering Service. They “connect development organizations and volunteers over the Internet and supports their effective online collaboration”. If you want to volunteer, you search for postings from organizations, get in touch, and get to work .. all online. They eat their own dog food .. a large part of the site redesign and translations are done by the same volunteers. The actual staff is only 3 people. Sounds like a Web 2.0 startup!

united nations coffee shop

Being inside the UN was great. The international style still feels so optimistic, formal and relaxed at the same time. Not too anachronistic, though the cafe outside the meeting rooms is probably the last place in NYC that allows smoking inside a public building (diplomatic immunity and all). Wonder if that will survive through the upcoming renovation. After the conference closed, we had lunch at the Delegates Dining Room, great food and a ridiculous amount of fresh berries on the desert table.

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Running Stitch, “Pecha Cucha” on Monday

Over the next month, Brighton is host to a GPS artwork/event, Running Stitch by Jen Southern & Jen Hamilton. Running Stitch is totally ambitious .. participants take a GPS-via-bluetooth-Mobile from the gallery, and walk the streets of Brighton. Their track is transmitted back to the gallery, and projected on a 25 sq meter tapestry hanging in the center, where volunteer seamsters sew the track in real time into the tapestry, climbing all over a two story scaffolding.

It’s a simple beautiful idea, capturing some of the great things I’ve seen in OpenStreetMap also. There’s an unusual awareness evoked by artifacting your own wanderings. And a real connection to the city and community.

This Monday, Fabrica is hosting a “Pecha Cucha” night. I’ll be presenting on OpenStreetMap, detailing on the rapid progress in Brighton. The other presenters look interesting, especially the people behind mybrightonandhove.org.uk, which I think has lots of complementaries to OpenStreetMap. See you there?

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Web4Dev wrapping up

Just finished my presentation on wikis and collaborative tools with Sarah Kerr. A good reception and heard about many existing wikis and intentions .. including a Central Bank and a yearly UN Conference. We demo’d a Wiki live, a conference attendee register, and got 13 live sign ups. More next week, including my slides, after I’ve absorbed the days here and am back in the UK.

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Weaver House, the technical coda

The full series of Weaver House posts..

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to gentrification. I love Brick Lane, and change. More, I’m astounded at the speed of the transformation, the huge global economic forces at work, and how they are channeled by local government and local people. When I became curious about this strange building (and my friends can hopefully understand this brief obsession), I never imagined the amount of discussion, planning, paper work, and attention was focused on it. Weaver House has been the fulcrum of London urban and global transformation.

So I’m not opposed to change, but I do think most people are at an information disadvantage. The local government and transport authorities have professionals, software, and data that average folks can’t match. They make things available under public disclosure laws, but wading through them takes concerted effort. Documents and plans are filed and keyed to so many different systems .. local planning, regional transport, parliamentary bills, international Olympics .. linking these together in any semantic way is an astounding task. Yet there’s one simple system which they all could easily hook into .. geography. I simply want to be able to search, and ask for all the information about a small half kilometer square area. That is why I’m pushing for GeoRSS, open geo data, and open source geo software .. not for the Web 2.0 holy grail of a good restaurant review .. but to provide the simplest and easiest way to organize information about the world, and put everyone on equal footing when it comes to deciding our future.

photo by uriba

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Weaver House, in the fringe for centuries

continued from part 4

weaver-house-live-local

Weaver House in Windlows Live Local

Weaver House is isolated in every direction, the nearest residential neighbor is almost a half kilometer away. That’s pretty unique in central London.

It’s attracted artists .. not the fashion oriented artists brooding and posing throughout Shoreditch, but more to down earth artists. One World 2004, a documentary on children in Columbia’s civil war. And a violin maker. There’s a non-trading company based at Weaver House, Trojan Thinking Limited, which I’d have to pay 18 pounds to learn more about, but judging by its name and the nature of public information on the Pedley Street Site, could well have been connected to protesting the development.

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Booth Poverty Map of Pedley Street and surrounds, from 1898-99. Purple and light blue are classed “Poor”.

British History Online reports on conditions leading to the construction of Weaver House .. “Weaver House in Pedley Street, part of the Hare Marsh estate, opened in 1929 with 16 flats”. It was the third council house built by the Borough, at that time Bethnal Green. This was a very tense time in the area .. historically very poor, and over the preceding decades the borough absorbed thousands of Jewish rufugees. This is the area where Oswald Mosley virulently stirred up by Anti-Semitism. The second housing estate built by the Borough was Lenin estate in 1927, named by the socialist controlled council, which actually opposed Jews becoming residents. Guess they didn’t realize Lenin himself had Jewish ancestry.

A liberal progressive council took over in 1928, and built Weaver House the next year. Perhaps to counter the past Anti-Semitism of the council, Weaver House is located in what was predominantly Jewish, dense slums and tenements. Even in the 1891 Census of Pedley Street, the majority of names are Jewish names. The earlier Bethnal Green Building and Social Conditions from 1876 to 1914 states that “by 1899 Jews formed at least 95 per cent of the population south of Hare Street and 75-95 per cent in Brick Lane and the Boundary Street estate (the former Nichol), but less than 25 per cent and often less than 5 per cent in most of Bethnal Green”. Weaver House was built in the ghetto.

WW II was responsible for the isolated position of Weave House. “Bombing affected 21,700 houses, including 2,233 which were destroyed, 893 made uninhabitable, and 2,457 seriously damaged.” I haven’t examined the Bomb Census, but with the area bordering the railway line, this was likely a prime target for the Luftwaffe. Amazingly, Weaver House was unscathed as everything around it was destroyed. Would be amazing to see post-war aerial surveys.

east end historic

Weaver was built on the Hare Marsh estate. The only remaining site on the ground is short stub of a street called Hare Marsh. This area hits much further back to 1653, when the former feudal lands were acquired by the Carter family in 1653 The area gradually built up, with poor being pushed out of the City of London proper sweeping in. The predominant industry was silk weaving, and brick making. It was always marginal and poor. Tower Hamlets has defined today’s edge of the economic wave as the “City Fringe”, pushing many refugees and immigrants (now Bangledeshi) further out, as marginal artistic and entertainment activities move in. The are weavers and plenty of bricks, but now the fashion and expensive homes are being built right there.

Tomorrow, final part, the technical reflection

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Weaver House, a reprieve

continued from part 3

The Pedley Street Worksite would have a big impact on the entire area, not just Weaver House. Weaver House is just the most sublimely ridiculous of a difficult situation, for planning a metropolitan wide change, triggered by global events (2012), and impacting local people.

Over 1000 people attended a January meeting protesting the major construction around Brick Lane. Apparently the actions were effective. Local Councilor Louise Alexander reported in May on a change..

announcement by the Mayor of London on 24th March that there would be no major intervention shaft to insert boring machines from the surface in Hanbury Street and consequently no tunnel to Pedley Street

though she is still highly suspicious that the issue is not settled yet, as Crossrail has not submitted anything formally to Tower Hamlet and that it all is slimed by politicking.

The Mayor of London’s Office confirmed that Crossrail tunnel plans scrapped for Brick Lane.

most-recent-brick-lane-plan

A bit more digging on Crossrail’s site found the non-obvious changes to the Hanbury Street Shaft

This revised strategy eliminates the need to:
• construct a shaft at the Pedley Street site;
• construct a temporary tunnel to link the Hanbury Street and Pedley Street shafts;

So no major Crossrail works. What’s going to happen to the rusting railways? Can Tower Hamlets plans for wild green spaces happen that much quicker?

And it’s still unclear what impact the East London Line Extension will have on this area.

Don’t get me wrong .. I’m not advocating for the rights of Weaver House above all else. What should be absolutely imperative is the information. To figure out what’s going on, without wading through confusing ambivalent and sometimes purposefully unclear sea of documents.

Even without these new massive construction works, Weaver House is a bizarre construction. Tomorrow, how did it get there

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Weaver House, the earth opens

continued from part 2

Get ready for a torrent. Just a little more scratching at the ground and it’s a total urban planning dam bursting.

One of the first hits for “Weaver House” at the Google was the local councilor’s weblog. Louise Alexander writes in February 2005

It (the East London Line) will rise up from the ground just north of Allen Gardens to join the viaduct where it will join Bishopsgate Goodsyard station. The trains will be in the back garden of Weaver House, which will lose its isolated place in one corner of the park. Spitalfields City Farm will lose half its ground, primarily where its famed greenhouses are situated. Access to Weaver House will be on a new road from Vallance Road, rather than via Pedley Street.

So that’s how Crossrail could demolish the three bridges leading to Weaver House .. by adding a new road leading east. Apparently my friends aren’t going to be living just off Brick Lane for much longer.

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Next are two letters to Parliament. The first letter from the Housing Association that owns Weaver House, filing a complaint about the “Pedley Street Worksite”, a temporary tunnel and shaft, out of which Crossrail excavation materials will be transported by a new conveyer, built on the old railway directly in front of Weaver House. Construction and use of the temporary tunnel will be over 40 months. Slightly understated, the new works “will cause a major increase in the levels of rail and road traffic, noise and dust” and TfL have calculated that “tenants at Weaver House will need to be re-housed for a period of 5-8 months”. At other times, “tenants would face great discomfort and disconvinience”. Concurrently, the new East London Line construction would run behind Weaver House, and operate 24 hours a day for two and half years. 30 lorries per day are expected to be entering and leaving the site during the peak phase. Mostly the owners seemed concerned that they might be responsible for re-housing tenants during this time.

The letter finishes with a quaint

Your Petitioners Therefore Humbly Pray your Honourable House that the Bill may not pass into law as it now stands.

Yet humble prayer doesn’t seem out of place.

pedley-street-worksite-photo

Even more staggering is the impact on Felix Frixou, who, by judgement of public inquiry, “lives at the worst affected property along the entire ELLX (East London Line Extension) route.” At the end of construction, he’d live with a “full live train service running 3.5 meters from bedroom windows and the rails about 1.5 meters above ground level”. From TfL, he simply asks for costs to relocate.

So basically my friends have just moved into the middle of the biggest construction project in London over the next five years.

pedley-street-worksite

Might be good to check in with Crossrail to see what they have to say on Weaver House. And they have a lot to say! Baseline noise and vibration reports, Environmental Statements, Construction Planning Reports, Technical Notes.

That building in the center, in front of the giant hole, is Weaver House. TfL and Crossrail admits that Weaver House will experience “significant impacts”.

In all appearances, Crossrail simply imagined Weaver House falling into a hole. Without any power of eminent domain, they simply barreled ahead, filing environmental impact reports, monitoring noise, and ignoring the impending terrible freaking experience for the people living there. How they could not have simply approached Weaver House with an offer of relocation is baffling; perhaps the sensible thing would be “bad precedent”.

Tomorrow, it’s all too much actually, but should it be

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Web4Dev

Anna and I are heading for NYC to attend the Web for Development Conference being held next week at UN Headquarters, NYC. Sarah Kerr and I are leading a “Workshop on Collaboration Tools, Blogs and Wikis” Wednesday morning. I’ll specifically be highlighting the experience of deploying two wikis at the UNDP and UN INSTRAW. I’m really looking forward to this, to promote the use of wikis within the UN, connect with UN people, and discuss lightweight geo tech.

(It also means the first Thanksgiving in the US for a few years. That means pumpkin pie. That means delicious.)

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