Alfred Sawatzky's diary

Recent diary entries

Does OSM bring the world together?

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 6 February 2011 in English (English)

Other titles for this diary entry might be...
- you really can get there from here
- around the world with OSM.
- Shanghai is just down the road from Dublin.

I was recently reading an article MapQuest Launches Additional Crowd-sourced Mapping Sites and Enhanced Developer Toolset where the general manager of MapQuest was quoted as saying "...MapQuest’s new worldwide routing is based on OSM data submitted by map contributors, effectively providing for directions from Dublin all the way to Shanghai." I know that MapQuest's routing engine works quite well (I use it for my own cycle routing application), but "Dublin to Shanghai", surely that is just hyperbole to make a point.

So I decided to try routing Dublin to Shanghai. Surprise... it works. I also tried Dublin to Hong Kong. Dublin to Jerusalem. Can't do that with Google ;)

OSM user andymac had a recent diary entry about a trip from London to Mongolia. A MapQuest route for a possible itinerary is here. (I wish you a good adventure!)

All this routing between such faraway locations made me thing that there really is a road that connects diverse cultures and and locations. And if there really is a road that connects us then there is also hope that people will travel down that road and make contacts and exchange ideas. I realize that people have been travelling these roads for centuries, but in this age of air travel, it is refreshing for me to be reminded of the fact that we are all just "down the road" from each other.

Thanks to the OSM community for making these connections! Thanks to MapQuest and other OSM service providers for investing in apps like the routing service to make these connections visible to the world.

Location: Ara, Boulder County, Colorado, 80309, United States of America

#OpenStreetMap + #Maperitive + @MapQuest = BoulderBikeNetwork

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 1 February 2011 in English (English)

reposted from my blog...

I like cycling. I like OpenStreetMap. I discovered Maperitive a few months ago and thought I would try my hand at rendering my own custom-styled map tiles. I don't have a PostgreSQL database nor do I currently have the time to learn it. It turns out, that I don't need to if I am working on a city-scale project.
Together with Maperitive's scripting language and some Python scripts that I wrote, I have put together a framework that anyone can implement fairly easily to create their own tiles for a localized area and then host it on a web server (I am using Amazon S3 for my tile server). I hope to publish my steps in the next month or two.
And then not too long ago I discovered that the MapQuest Open Initiative made bicycle routing freely available based on the OpenStreetMap data. How cool is that! So now I can ride my bike while surveying for OSM and if I tag the paths correctly, everyone can route on them properly within a few days of me uploading the data.
You can see my BoulderBikeNetwork sandbox area at
Note: just today I saw this map that does alot of similar things that I have been thinking about. It is exciting to see the many uses for the OSM data!

Location: Ara, Boulder County, Colorado, 80309, United States of America

Anyone using OSM data at utility companies?

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 26 January 2011 in English (English)

My day job is to work as a Smallworld consultant to large utility companies (gas, electric, telco, water). I'm trying to figure out how to sell these large companies on using OSM as their landbase. By nature, these utilities are very conservative and slow to change. I did a presentation at the Smallworld Users Conference this last year (PowerPoint presentation here:, but I also need to figure out a better way to get utility users hooked.

My ultimate goal is to get an organization like British Telecom or Deutsche Telekom to use OSM actively in their GISes. But I might need to start off with a small electric cooperative first. I think that having a large company use OSM would only help drive the OSM project forward.

Any ideas? Anyone had experience using OSM at a utility or convincing a utility to proceed with OSM?

Why Parking Aisles are a Good Thing

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 25 January 2011 in English (English)

This is a repost from my blog entry at

I have been mapping parking aisles in my neighborhood. I was hoping that someday some OSM-based routing engines would tell me where I could take a short cut on my bike or on foot that would take me through the parking aisles and foot paths rather than around the parking lot.
I found such a situation in my neighborhood today at the Table Mesa Mall. You can see that I have added parking lot, parking aisles (not very straight but I will clean them up), buildings, shops and even stairs.
My scenario is that I am leaving King Soopers grocer on the west side of the complex and want to travel to Savers on the east side. I put the query to both (which uses OSM data) and (which uses data from somewhere else). Open.Mapquest sends me via the shortest route through the parking lot... Google sends me around the periphery.
Clearly, as Google gets more data into their dataset, their routing will likely get better... but that's the point, isn't it... that OSM also didn't have the data but then I came along and added it... and then MapQuest took that vector data and updated their routing web service.
Go OSM!!! Good job MapQuest!!!
Here are the two results (you can click on the image to get a larger view)...

Location: The Hill, Boulder, Boulder County, Colorado, 80302, United States of America

Yahoo imagery in JOSM

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 27 November 2010 in English (English)

I have been working with the JOSM plugin building_tools ( ). I only discovered it a few days but it is making my building-tracing tasks faster by a factor of 5 to 10. What a great tool!

I am noticing, however, that the resolution of Yahoo imagery using Potlatch 1.4 is much better than the Yahoo imagery available in JOSM. I'm wondering how I can get better resolution Yahoo imagery in JOSM to match what is available in Potlatch 1.4. I have created a short video ( ) describing the problem and would love to hear feedback from others about how to accomplish this.

Mapping airport gates and amenities

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 18 November 2010 in English (English)

MapQuest's Project HotSpot ( has an interesting concept. Help MapQuest Open survey major landmarks to prove to the MapQuest/AOL investors that OpenStreetMap investment is worthwhile. Seems like a worthy trade-off considering some of the work that MapQuest Open has contributed to OSM as of late.

Unfortunately I do not live near any of the 10 listed major landmarks nor do I have any plans to visit them anytime soon. But I do plan to be travelling through a few airports in the near future. My home airport is the Denver International Airport (DIA). Thanks to OSM user "zephyr", the outline of the concourses has been made and the gate locations added. I started adding gate refs yesterday. So I was wondering, as you travel through DIA (or any other airport for that matter), you typically have time on your hands... would you be willing to survey gates/amenities (or other stuff listed in

While airports are typically not major landmarks, they are a place that many people travel through and many of those travellers have mobile devices with mapping capabilities. Imagine the possibilities if they could go to one app or site to get the OSM maps for any airport they are currently at.

Happy travels!

Munich, Germany airport has started mapping amenities and even walkways and stairs:

You can get DIA information from

Location: Denver, Denver County, Colorado, United States of America

Addresses in South Boulder

Posted by Alfred Sawatzky on 16 November 2010 in English (English)

I have been experimenting with loading addresses into my neighborhood in South Boulder. I think addresses are important information for future routing, but the labels produced by the rendering engines seem to clutter the map. I think the labels are the right size, but the nature of having an address at each property parcel seems to add too many points. While address ranges might reduce the clutter, having parcel-based address locations makes routing more accurate.

I'm not sure what to do.

Location: The Hill, Boulder, Boulder County, Colorado, 80302, United States of America