Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 in links

A quick summary of my 2007 as the web sees it -

Carlo and I visit Addis Ababa and Nekemte in Ethiopia - Exeter Ethiopia Link newsletter (pdf)
BCS HQ London. Fifty Years of Fortran.

Leeds. High Performance Computing.

Google Developer Day, London. (Impossible)

Web2ForDev, Rome. A climate mashup. (Fran├žais)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back to mashups

ICT update published a very nice article on my climate change mashups presentation at Web2forDev - A climate mashup. You can even listen to me and Carlo talking about why we feel this sort of experiment is valuable.

Of course we're far from the only, or even major, players in the field of weather mashups, the most famous of which is probably Weather Bonk - recently acquired by The Weather Channel. I wonder if that will result in more innovation or less? I'm sure their Weather For Your Route will soon become a standard feature of route planners. Though probably the biggest news is that Google have just added a weather layer to Google Earth.

So now I need to get back to WeMapr and get the chart import working properly.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mobile computing

No so long ago I used to work from home, in fact most days for nearly seven years. I enjoyed it, though it is most certainly a lifestyle choice rather that a career move. But then it's lifestyle choices such as exercise, diet, hobbies, and spending time with friends, family, even pets, that seem to improve happiness, health, and the like, far more than business meetings, report writing, etc.

It seems odd, but working and living in one place was what made me value portable computers, even mobile phones - though I'm still not a big user of the latter. Why? Because when you have ready access to email and www whenever you choose, it's then a pain when you haven't. I never really found that laptops were the right tool. I had one, and have owned others since - I'm typing right now on a Compaq nx6325 which I rather like. What I like about it isn't that it's portable. I like that it has decent size keyboard and screen, connects to a wired network and various gadgets, runs off mains electricity, is very quiet and small enough to sit on a table and leaves room for other things, even writing with pen and paper. What I did like back then was the original Palm Pilot because it was small enough to carry around all day and switched on and off quickly and easily. OK it didn't really give me access to email, but it did give me access to my (recent) emails, and most of the time that was enough. Later I got a, slightly, more advanced Palm IIIe and even a Nokia WAP phone. If I still worked in that way - four days at home, one travelling two hours by train, meeting, meeting... then train back home I guess I'd be toting a BlackBerry or similar. I don't, hence the rest of this post will consider rather different mobile computers.

In 2005 when I first heard about the One Laptop Per Child project I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Of course there were plenty of folk who declared "I want one too" and there were, and remain, plenty of objections. See here for a long list of them. With my inclination to experiment, the obvious choice for me was to try and find, or build, the nearest thing I could to a OLPC. Why? So I might be able to help in some way, and have fun of course. I'd already experimented with Linux, mesh networking and of course owned much simpler solid state computers - Palms. So what was out there? Well as luck would have it Nokia had just announced their first Linux based Internet Tablet, the 770. Now in October 2007 Nokia have announced their new N810 Internet Tablet, and a couple of weeks ago at Web2forDev I got my hands on a XO, the One Laptop Per Child. So today I'm able to say I have no desire to own a OLPC, but a fairly strong desire to continue to own an Internet Tablet. I don't think that Internet Tablets have any particular educational merit, but I still feel they can be useful for developers targeting the OLPC platform. What won me over to the Internet Tablet is that it's a handy thing to have around for my own use, and in the end that's what personal stuff is about.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Today I received the latest mailing from the OUBS (Open University Business School) which listed various seminars that are supposed to help me keep my business knowledge up to date - it's a few years now since I took various courses leading to an MBA. Perhaps because yesterday was my last day managing a team, well as a full time job, I glanced through the list with a less than serious frame of mind and wondered if these events would be of any use to me other than perhaps as fodder for a history of management fads.

This set me wondering if anyone actually took the trouble to study management fads, and a bit of googling led me to

Perhaps at present such research is best left to the professional cynics such as the gifted Scott Adams.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mashing maps in Google Earth

As I've already been asked a couple of times to show how I combined maps and RSS feeds in Google Earth during my presentation at web2forDev it seems sensible to write a short note on it here.

Overlaying charts
This really is very simple. For those who like to experiment then all that needs to be said is - select the menu item Image Overlay... from the Add menu. There's even a keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+O. For those who would like more detailed instructions these can be found in the Google Earth user guide
Tip - for global charts like those I was showing it's easier to use the Location tab and enter 90N, 90S, 179E, 180W in the appropriate boxes.

Overlaying RSS feeds
As most feeds don't have geo-location information for each item, some processing is required. Fortunately there are at least two free services that can do this work for us. The easiest to use is the GeoNames RSS to GeoRSS Converter. Here's an example, showing the form of the URL required to present the Web2forDev blog on Google Earth

Clicking on that URL might not launch Google Earth, so instead use the Network link... option in the Add menu of Google Earth. It may also be necessary to "ignore errors" when the feed is read. So it's easy, but not yet ready for prime time, so I prefer to use Yahoo! Pipes, and I'll write about that in a future post.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back from Rome

I'm home now, had a long lie in, unpacked my bags, felt I should try and write something about the last week, realised I still felt quite tired so decided to read other folks posts. Thankfully others aren't as lazy as me so there are two reviews of my presentation out there already! Thanks guys!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Map mashups the easy way

On the Wemapr website I'm gathering together the resources I'll need for my presentation at Web2forDev so it was great to see on the LatLong blog that Google have made adding maps to web pages even easier. See
Google LatLong: YouTube-style Embeddable Maps for the details and a video tutorial.

View Larger Map

Curiously almost as soon as I'd posted it this entry was copied and the language "mashed" to drive traffic to a blogger hosted porn site. I'm not sure how long it will stay up, but Google on "wemapr" and you might see it listed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Catching up

I'm not at work this week, yippee! It's great to not have to go into Exeter every day* - not that I don't love my colleagues (just in case they're reading). I've not gone away, just using the time to chill out and, more usefully, catch up with stuff I've either neglected or just got behind with. My personal email inbox has grown far bigger than my work one - that can't be a good thing.

Now is not the best time to report on Wepoco progress. Things are happening but it's still quite political, so I'll do the link thing.
As I shall be giving a talk at web2fordev I've been keeping one eye on what others are saying about web 2.0 and the like. Are you looking for answers? Here's a quote that caught my attention.

"Web 2.0 flips the information delivery model upside down — it's now about global access, and information at your fingertips, aggregated from sources that you don't even necessarily know about, or care where they exist. Based on a set of search criteria, information in all its rich forms — media, video, audio, images, documents, text — all will be assembled together in context and delivered to users and applications for real-time experience. ",1000002138,39288093,00.htm

Oh dear, surely this is just a poor expression of the "semantic web" not at all what I though web 2.0 was about - wikipedia being one example of the web2.0 phenomenon, social networks (MySpace, LinkedIn, etc), blogs, and mashups being others.

Anyway, I'll save my further thoughts on that for the conference. My "are you looking for answers?" line reminds me of something I read today. This time it's a quote that reads "there may be 10,000 civilisations capable of communicating with us". It's from the Radio Times, an article about Adam Hart-Davis's new TV series. My thoughts are - sure, and there might be none. It's not that I don't believe that there might be planets elsewhere with living creatures, or that some of those creatures might be able to do remarkable things such as fly, it just that I don't see why they should be capable of communicating with us, after all what possible evolutionary benefit might that have? Anyone with pets or livestock knows it can be damned hard communicating face to face with non-human species on our own planet, and in almost all cases impossible at any distance.

Clearly intelligent communication is not something that is easily achieved between species. The fault though can't be with other species, it must be with our own. After all, we appear to be not just slightly smarter than other species on our own planet, but a lot a smarter. That doesn't make sense if being smart was a survival thing. After all, antelope don't run ten times faster than cheetahs. So with no obvious next smartest predator (or prey) the best thing I can suggest for why humans are so smart is that it looks good, like a peacock's tail. Which sort of explains why women like men with a sense of humour and why women make good interviewers when you're looking to hire smart folks.

So I'm left thinking that SETI probably shouldn't be scanning the universe for prime numbers, or whatever they think they might find, but they need to be looking for a joke - and perhaps also consider what sort of alien would be looking for a human date!

*every day - note the space, it matters!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Development 2.0

A little while ago Wepoco got a mention in an article in FreePint

I keep meaning to write something about that article since it does seem that something quite significant is starting to happen and Wepoco seems to have drifted into its orbit. Trouble is I'm not really sure what to write. So instead, in true Web 2.0 style I'll just rely on links, tags and the opportunity to edit this post later.

Here's something else on Development 2.0

And here's the Web2fordev blog I only discovered today

Reading this makes me think I should plan to be in Rome in late September.

Oh, and as a reminder to myself here are some scattered thoughts for a possible article.
  • Low cost IT - what happens when the computer costs less than the electricity it uses? (expect this to happen within 10 years!)
  • The bottom of the pyramid as a service provider (monitoring the state of our planet).
  • Why do we always have to wait (yet another) generation? (the curse of formal education).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

unreasonable acts and impossible things

Continued from unreasonable-acts-and-impossible-things part 1.

Part 2. Impossible.

The Google folks had very sensibly chosen to start their Developer Day 2007 at midday (registration from 11am), this meant I was able to buy a cheap(ish) rail ticket getting me into Paddington at 11:20am. I think it was about 11:55 when I walked through the door of the Brewery, and perhaps because it was so close to the kick-off I didn't have to queue for my pass and goody bag. I was a little disappointed that my pass just had my name on it, since when I registered I'd given myself the title Technical Wizard. Oh well, maybe next time.

I'll not attempt to summarise the talks, since others will surely do a better job, and many of them are available on youtube - see

Anyway, being one of the last to arrive I sat at the back of the hall only vaguely aware of computer graphics being shown on a screen at the front of the hall as loud music played. Soon the keynote began with Chris DiBona talking about Google's relationships with open source and Ed Parsons talking about mapping and the like - all good stuff. Then it was back downstairs for the free lunch.

The first session after lunch was more about open source. It's good to see Google regarding both the use and contribution to open source projects as strategic activities. The next session was Peter Birch's "Google Earth and the GeoWeb". Early in this presentation was a demonstration of a time line of buildings in London. It's well worth a look, see This answered one of the questions I had about support for time and animation. Another of the Wepoco team had suggested that I make the Google developers aware that in meteorology we use at least five different sorts of time. What he meant was that unlike events that have happened, events that are forecasts to happen have several time parameters associated with them, such as when the forecast is for, when it was produced, when it is valid, the cut off time for observations used for the forecasts, and others I forget right now. After the talk I walked up to the front to ask Peter about using time in different ways but as I passed the screen at the front I was stunned to see the graphics being shown between sessions included the Wepoco website - shouldn't that be impossible? How many websites are there in the world? How could any selection, random or otherwise include ? The site has almost no traffic and pretty much only provides information of use to people who don't yet have access to the Internet! But there it was - an impossible thing! It completely threw me, I had no idea what it meant. I'm not sure even now, three days later, I know what it means, but it didn't half make Alberto excited when I told him the next day - once he had decided I wasn't making it up. Helped greatly by Google's blog search which revealed -

It's probably good for Google that I went to the Developer Day alone, otherwise I suspect they might have had to deal with a bunch of drunk Wepocoists when the free beer arrived in the evening.

So now let's see if this bit of unplanned publicity can help Wepoco escape from the tar pit. I do hope so.

(19/06/2007) The Google Developer Day mashup video is now on youtube

Saturday, June 02, 2007

unreasonable acts and impossible things

Part 1. Unreasonable.

There's a programme on the TV here in the UK called Grumpy Old Men, it's supposed to be funny and sometimes it is, a bit. I have a few problems with it though, these men aren't old, heck most are little older than me, and that isn't old - believe me! More importantly they're not grumpy, they're perhaps slightly intolerant (esp. of fools) and wonderfully unreasonable.

As George Bernard Shaw apparently said - "Reasonable men adapt themselves to their environment; unreasonable men try to adapt their environment to themselves. Thus all progress is the result of the efforts of unreasonable men."

One of those grumpy old men is Bob Geldoff for f**k's sake - so what do you expect?

Now I make no personal claim to have made any great progress in anything but I do want progress to happen - with a passion. So like very many people who work in IT, rather than doing the reasonable thing with the money I earn, like buying expensive toys and exotic holidays, I write software to give away, experiment with stuff, and generally try to disrupt the very "ecosystem" that pays my wages. (OK, so I buy toys and take holidays too - sometimes).

Unreasonable behaviour can of course irritate others, it's not the purpose, but with so many reasonable people about the eventual conflict is inevitable. Maybe one day I'll figure my own way of dealing with this, but for now I simply draw on the lessons of great unreasonable folks of the recent past - Forty-Second Boyd and Grace Hopper are wonderful examples from the US military.

So what's this blog post all about? Yes, I know, I'm drifting. Trouble is that for the last 4 months the Wepoco project has been moving far too slowly as the team tries to find a way of integrating dreams of a low-cost hi-tech distributed delivery of weather services to millions of poor farmers with the reality of a bureaucratic network of state controlled weather services. So when I got a chance to spend a day immersed in geeky wonderfulness there really wasn't any contest. So on Thursday 31st May 2007 off I went to London for the Google Developer Day.

The Wepoco website uses Google Maps. It was pretty much my first attempt at AJAX programming and I'm quite proud of it. What's there today is no longer just my work, other members of the team have contributed the graphics and server-side code and helped in various ways. The website is far from perfect and has all sorts of problems that we're working on as time permits - but most importantly it's been a great way of learning what is possible on the Web in 2007. We've also found out things that aren't possible. For example it's hard to created printed documents from the web graphics, there's no easy way of showing animated maps and it hardly works on a slow dial-up line in Nekemte. This gave me several questions that I hoped I might be able to put to the Google team in London and, perhaps, they might even like to help with the project. I'd heard about Googlers having 20% of time for open source projects.

(to be continued....)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Official Google Blog: New team members for

It seems that Larry Brilliant and his team at have identified many of the same issues as over the last 12 months.

"We live in very complicated times. Global health, poverty, and climate are inextricably interrelated, and it is the poor of the world who bear the heaviest burden. " Official Google Blog: New team members for

I say - seek complexity! It's not the same as mess, it's in studying and working with complex systems that we often find simple and powerful solutions. The climate system is complicated, mobile phones are complicated, even Google Maps is quite complicated; but applying knowledge of these and other things will change the world for the better. I'm sure of it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wepoco news

I've written a short piece about the recent trip to Nekemte in Ethiopia for the Exeter-Ethiopia Link March 2007 newsletter. It's on their website at

Also Google Maps and Google Earth now has high resolution imagery of Nekemte. I'll try and put together a virtual guide to the places Carlo and I visted.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Nokia N800

Here are my first impressions of the new Nokia N800 Internet Tablet (from Nokia, Finland). I've owned the old 770 tablet for 12 months, so this is a quick comparison with that gadget.

New features.

  • Webcam. Popping it out starts the video phone application, which is a nice touch.
  • Stereo speakers. Better, and louder than the mono speaker 770. Makes the N800 a very useable portable Internet radio.
  • Built in stand. Compliments the above two features.
  • Two SD memory slots. No longer restricted to a single RS-MMC slot. I added a cheap (£20) 1GB SD card immediately.
  • Faster processor and more RAM (128MB cf 64MB) makes browsing the web much faster and less likely to result in a browser crash. Everything seems more responsive.
  • Audio player has support for Real Audio streams, so it's easy to use the N800 with BBC radio streams - on the 770 this required the video player and was more fiddly.
  • Headphones (well bud things) with microphone, so don't have to use the built in one.
  • Headphone (and power) socket on short side rather than on long side, so it's easier to use headphones with the gadget in a pocket.


  • No hard cover. This is a shame, as I rather liked the way closing the cover switched the 770 off - except when I wanted it to stay on :-(
  • The power and zoom/volume butoons on the top are now tiny and look cheap, which is a very odd change. The buttons on the 770 look, and work, much better.

Overall I'd say that the N800 is probably worth owning if you want a small gadget to surf the web via wi-fi. Of course this is what both the 770 and N800 were designed for, but the 770 seemed to struggle at times with many web sites. Don't let the size and shape fool you, this isn't an advanced personal organiser, it comes with no suitable software, though you might find something useable to download - see

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ethiopia trip

The first Wepoco field trip was a great success. Carlo and I travelled to Nekempte in Oromia, Ethiopia to investigate the possibility of a pilot project to establish the benefits of advanced climate and weather information to subsistence farming. I'll post a link to the trip report on my blog soon, but for now here are some of the photographs.