Underground Serendipity

Social media is increasing serendipity, it’s pretty clear to me. This isn’t a very great example, but interesting to stumble across this cross-species structural similarity in two posts in the same morning. How much are human cities meta-excretions of our simple local actions.


Derinkuyu, ancient underground refuge city. via Warren Ellis”.

Ant Colony

Excavated ant colony. Placement of fungal gardens and trash rooms (the bulbous nodes between air tunnels) creates heat gradients, resulting in air flow and CO2 emissions to the surface. via BoingBoing

More in the pursuit of Geographic Democracy

I wasn’t at all satisfied with yesterday’s results. GeoWeb San Francisco has 3d buildings, oblique views, streetviews, yelps. 6 out of 10 demo maps feature San Francisco. I made that up. But really SF has to be the most digitally mapped place on the planet. That’s why I tend to focus my efforts on the other side of the world .. does SF really need another map? I guess so. None of that glitz adds anything to democracy, and yes maybe it’s worthwhile paying attention to your own backyard.

San Francisco Electoral Districts

So I did something about it. Finder didn’t turn up anything, so searched and found shapefiles from the state and the city. Processed. And uploaded to GeoCommons, and made a map of San Francisco Electoral Districts: City Supervisors, State Assembly and Senate, and Congressional. All in one map. Bravo GeoCommons!

I mean, it could be better of course. The path is not as smooth as it could be by a long way. I’ll complain below. And the result is a little hard to visually parse .. though that’s the nature of overlaying polygons. Anyway, by toggling layers, it’s easy enough to compare two sets of district boundaries, and see that the differences make no sense whatsoever. Where’s the revision history?!


Really the primary issue is how much can reasonably be done on the web. GeoCommons needs to address a wide non-professional audience, without the burden of GIS. What kind of operations can commonly be expected and incorporated into a simple workflow, and what is left off the 80/20 cliff.

When I first uploaded the assembly district boundaries to Finder, and viewed in the map, there was nada. Turned out the shapefiles are in a California State Plane projection, and Finder doesn’t notice or complain. There’s no way to submit a “.prj” file .. yet. So I had to do the transformation myself. Used OGR.

ogr2ogr assembly_districts_4326.shp assembly_districts.shp -f "ESRI Shapefile" -t_srs EPSG:4326

I then tried uploading again. It works! But dang slow. 80 detailed assembly district polygons in California. But I’m only interested in the two overlapping San Francisco. And I don’t want to simplify .. the precise boundary is crucial in this application. Couldn’t I just tell Maker that for my map, I’m only interested in features in this particular view? Seems simple enough to explain to the user, and generally useful. But not there yet.

Finally the styling. It’s maybe impossible to style four polygon layers in such a way that they’re all discernible in a single view.


But yea, GeoWeb! Here’s an interactive web map, with reusable data, without any programming required, just tools. We’re on the right path.

Burning Man Earth at Web 2.0 Expo

I’m in NYC this week, spoke this morning with Andrew about Where 2.0 tech on Web 2.0 Expo. And on Burning Man! In the greatest non-temporary city in the world. That was fun.

Tomorrow we fly to Nairobi. So much to write about, maybe someday I’ll catch up with life.

Weaver House, the Golden Years


Weaver House is still standing, my friends still live there, amid a transformmed landscape. The new East London Line emerges from the back yard, and eyes level view of the formerly tranquil corner is summed up in the picture above. Amazing and what a shame.

A little while ago, I received the message below from Hamstall Ridware, resident of Weaver House back in the 80s, when rent went for the exorbitant £11/week. This was the Golden Age of Weaver House, a forgotten corner of pre-gentrified dreaming East London.

I used to live there in the 1980s when it was by and large used as a hall of residence for the nearby London College of Furniture. Originally a “council” house, it was by that time owned by a housing association based in Bethnal Green. Some couple of years before I lived there, a few of the residents were offered the chance to buy their flats under Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” scheme. The price of each flat was around £9,000. Nobody to my knowledge took up this offer (I bet a few have now though!) since rents were exceptionally low at around £8 per week, so the association embarked on a slow programme of refurbishment. By 1985 when I lived in flat 8, the rent had increased to £11, although this was the new increased price for a refurbished flat. You would be staggered at how many people thought this was extortion, but for this you received a newly fitted kitchen, modern but utilitarian bathroom with enamelled steel bath, heavy duty grey curtains and a rudimentary gas fire. Residents of non-refurbed flats hated the uniformity of it all, preferring their non-fitted kitchens, ’30s style bathrooms and Belfast sinks. Some flats were charming, some arty, some squalid, but all were cherished.

A fair proportion of residents were students at the London College of Furniture (LCF) which also had a musical instrument department. (The college is now part of the London Metropolitan University I think) A bigger proportion were ex-students who refused to leave. I could bet money that the violin maker is a hanger-on from those days. When I took up residence in Flat 8, I was asked to promise to leave after I finished college, although I don’t recall ever signing anything to confirm that I would. Since the LCF also had an interior design department, a certain artiness always existed at Weaver. Some flats were the epitome of shabby chic before anyone had ever thought of the idea, and outside were always a few interesting motors: the odd Citroen GS, a tatty VW Karmann Ghia, the obligatory Morris Minor Traveller and a couple of old BSA Bantam motorbikes chained to the railings.

The signal box on legs at Fleet Street Hill (the Hut of Baba Yaga!) was already by that time empty, and there was a yard beside it containing Pedley Street Autos, a genuine bomb-site car repairers. If you exited Weaver and looked to your left, there was a superb bit of graffiti reading “Try living here Jones”. AFAI recall, all the brickwork of this wall and all surrounding railway property was high quality grey/blue engineering brick. The reclamation yards must be making a fortune. The archway of the bridge at Fleet St Hill was home to many tramps and vagrants, most of whom got to know the bohemian residents of Weaver and knew they could call on them in times of dire emergency, otherwise they kept themselves to themselves. One such person was a scrawny woman of indeterminate age called “Skinny Jean”. Last time I looked on the webby, the signal box on legs had gone.

Gone! But not forgotten.

Internationalizing OpenStreetMap in the Summer of Code

Arindam Ghosh project proposal to internationalize OpenStreetMap has been accepted by Google Summer of Code, and I’ll be mentoring. Congrats Arindam, and the other three SoC students.

Internationalizing and localizing is crucial to growth of the project. There’s many facets here, from the website itself, to the tile rendering, and other tools. We’re going to be flexible and see what’s possible this summer. Internationalization is deceptively complicated, especially when you throw Indic renderings into the mix, but I’ve been here before with My Yahoo! And Arindam is very enthusiastic.

California Fires were Baja California Fires too

On Saturday, I attended Guinevere Harrison’s thesis talk on Neogeography. It’s interesting to see the work of our “field” contextualized for an art criticism audience. Of course, the links between neogeography and art criticism go deep, with Locative Media fostering us techies in the early days, particularly Ben Russell of the Headmap Manifesto.

One shocking item Guinevere discussed was the wildfires last fall. The fires and ash didn’t stop at the border.

Baja California Fires

I never heard about this. Tragic that our media, especially the bottom up media, totally failed to get this message out, and that a political border led to a conceptual divide. The environment doesn’t pay intention to our nationalistic designs on the earth.