Category Archives: open data

Open Knowledge Foundation Belgium

If you need another reason to open another bottle of champagne: as of the 21st of September, OKFN Belgium has upgraded from a local group to an official OKFN chapter. Since the foundation of the legal structure in February this year, OKFN Belgium didn’t only had some community events (a general meeting and some Apps For X events) and a lot of board meetings, but they have also started 4 working groups.

Our community, iRail, is leading the official Open Transport working group in Belgium and open transport data is one of the main priorities of the Open Knowledge foundation Belgium. It’s needless to say that iRail and OKFN Belgium will be working together tightly in the future.

This means iRail is also getting involved in international projects, together with Open Train Times, OpenOV, opentransilien, the international open transport group, forum virium, trafiklab,  and many others. One of the first things on our list is creating an Open Transport Data Handbook. The Handbook will summarize the experiences from existing companies in opening their data and provide answers to frequently asked questions. If you think you’re perfect for helping out on this, send me a note!

In the mean time we have been working together with OKFN already, for instance to organize Apps For Flanders. There are more Apps For X events coming up and the chance that we will play our part is big.

 

Pieter

Mapnificent: simple tool, magnificent impact

Hi all,

Meet Mapnificent. Mapnificent is a tool created by Stefan Wehrmeyer which maps the distances from a certain location to its surroundings. The interesting part about this is that the distance isn’t measured in kilometers or miles, but in minutes it would take you to go there using public transport.

Impact of open transport data

It is a simple tool, but the idea behind it is an opportunity for a million use-cases. Distance gets a new meaning: instead of looking for a job in a radius of 10km from where you live, you could be looking for a job you can reach by public transport in 15 minutes.

Current status

Currently De Lijn is the only Belgian dataset on mapnificent. Wouldn’t it be nice if we also could add NMBS/SNCB, MIVB/STIB and TEC? The technology is simple, an open data policy is apparently a little difficult to push through a Belgian organisation, sadly.

– Pieter

Oooh Lambert

I remember the sixth of December 1997 as the day I got to know how to read a map. A holy man came into my house, or that’s what I believed according to the legend of Saint Nicholas, and dropped an atlas and a globe on the couch. That day, I learned the capitals of some countries you wouldn’t have heard of in a million years (probably you have now, thank you Geo Challenge) and most importantly, I learned how to interpret coordinates! I spun the globe around and where it stopped I had to look up the details in the atlas. What a joyful way to spend time without social media around, just yet.

We’re 10 years later. Google has just released Google Earth and to my great pleasure I had a much better globe and atlas in one single program. For old times’ sake I flung my globe, that was after all these years still standing next to me on my desk, and chose a random coordinate, put it in Google Earth and… guess what… it worked!

Today, 2011, I’m an open data enthusiast and so much more. I’m working on the iRail project. The project aims at creating a general webservice for public transport in Europe. At this moment it works for the Belgian railway company and we’re working on support for the Dutch railway company and Belgian bus- and subwaycompanies. It’s the latter that made me feel very insecure.

The result of 100 lines of code (maps.irail.be)

This site let’s you convert an address into coordinates. An incredible tool for location-based open data! In the end an end-user doesn’t want to query on coordinates, but on an address. Let’s turn this tool into a webservice right? We scraped the NMBS (Belgian railwaycompany) before so this will be easy! At least, that’s what I though this morning. Today, in my breaks from studying of course, I have spent my time figuring out what these X/Y-coordinates meant:

X: 65591.206
Y: 171629.285

As this site is hardly documented I started googling what they could mean. On a very Belgian-looking (this is not a compliment) website I’ve found documentation: check it out for yourself. Apparently for some reason, please someone tell me why, Belgium started to use its own “Lambert projection” which uses the Hayford1924 ellipsoid. Too complicated? Well, not yet… It seems that this Lambert 1972 projection didn’t do the trick anymore and everyone was in need for a better, Lambert 2005 projection. Which was a lot better because in 2008 they decided to change this projection into Lambert 2008, which was not that bad because if you wanted to use 2008 instead of 2005 you only had to add 499 000m to each coordinate. This is a good thing because now the Lambert 2008 projection uses the GRS80 ellipsoid. Get it? Me neither. In fact, it feels like filling out my tax bill for the first time all over again.

Of course this had some implications since software that supported this projection became confused. They didn’t know what kind of Lambert they implemented and as a result showed wrong locations (typically exactly 1km off: the 1972 – 2005 problem). In fact I’ve had a hard time today writing a function, because there were no ready-made functions out there and because apparently the math is not that easy. If anyone would stumble upon this problem, the PHP code for the Lambert 1972 projection can be found HERE. You hereby get my permission to steal this “tools” class and reuse it elsewhere (WTFPL).

Is there someone who can tell me more about why Belgium is so keen on the Lambert projection? It is used by a lot of Belgian instances and I figured there most be some benefits over the WGS84 standard, which we have all learned as a kid: longitude & latitude… Any comment welcome

– Pieter

Killing dead time

Social media is not about losing a lot of time by being social instead. It’s about being productive in the dead-time-continuum. Let me explain…

If I were to become an autobiographist, «killing dead time» certainly would rank high in a list to qualify for a good title. Not that my life is that interesting – although describing the life of the people in it would be an interesting perspective – but it is true however that my life is filled with time that politely asks to be killed.

I used to love walking. I live in Ghent and walking from one side of town to the other is something I preferred rather than riding a bike. Why? If you would have asked some weeks ago I would have answered: “because I’m too lazy to maintain a bike”. But the main reason lies elsewhere. Being on the road gives you the great opportunity to overthink things. For instance if I go to a meeting on foot I know that when I enter the room I will be better prepared. Taking thought-consuming types of transport, such as a bike or a car, will make you lose your X minutes of thinking-time.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who has dead time – dead time being the time you are not doing your maintask -. A good friend of mine told me he always uses the toilet for approximately 16 minutes. That’s exactly the time he needs to finish this mobile phone game, extending his visit but making it a lot more fun. Of course we can recite an endless list – such as queuing at the grocerystore, waiting for a bus or plane or train, sitting on a bus or plane or train… – but that’s something every person can fill out for him- or herself.

When I discussed this idea with my father, people having too much dead time, we were thinking this could actually have a positive side-effect: people may actually do productive things. As he works as a researching in computer assisted language learning at the university of Antwerp he figured this might be exactly why language learning apps are very important. When are you going to learn a language? Not when you’re at your computer working for that customer whose product should have been ready yesterday, but when you’re at the airport waiting for the plane, or even on the plane, on your way to the next customer.


Seems like we weren’t the first to come up with this idea. Although our idea will get better implementations 😉

I think this is the reason for the success of social media. If you would look up the geolocation of your friends’ tweets (twitter messages) I bet you would be able to find out the exact location of the bathroom in their building. This is also the reason why I like the iRail project a lot: apart from planning your trip, iRail will also try to make your commuting as fun and interesting as possible: providing real-time social media updates from your train, letting your friends know you’re on this train or playing augmented reality games such as http://www.chromaroma.com/.

It may be interesting to know that I just got of my bus, which I prefer taking over walking home now. During the trip I’ve catched up on twitter, I have read my email and wrote this blogpost.

-Pieter