dhrasmus's diary

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No Man's Land

Posted by dhrasmus on 21 January 2013 in English (English)

My most recent surveying and OpenStreetMap edits both took place in the town of Badger, Iowa. A road based on imported data was wrongly shown to cut through a city park. I fixed that and added some of what I learned from a stroll around town.

My first edit to the OpenStreetMap was to mark that a restaurant had gone out of business. I think about obsolescence a lot. When we add features to a map, how long do we expect them to last? It’s exciting adding features to a map, turning a white void into something more defined. Do people get as enthused about removing things that are no more? Buildings catch fire, monuments are wrecked by a freak storm, shops close up for good. When starting a business, there’s motivation to get on a map: you want people to find you. If business someday dries up, however, getting off the map is probably the least of your concerns - even if that means people will be making a trip in vain.

Badger is a small town, 561 people in the 2010 census according to the Wikipedia. On a Friday afternoon, the post office, a gas pump/convenience store, and an insurance agency were the only buildings on the small main street that were clearly open for business. A little further down the street, and not where OpenStreetMap says it should be, the public library is also closed for the day. I was told residents get their groceries and most everything else from Fort Dodge (10 miles away) or Humboldt (12 miles away). Unless you live in Badger, there’s not many reasons to be there.

I sent messages to OpenStreetMap’s “other nearby users” some time ago, and have seen no response. I wonder how many messages they’ve already gotten from others that they haven’t responded to (see footnote 1). It occurs to me that it may be a long time before anybody who lives in or has visited Badger updates the town on OpenStreetMap. Therefore I concentrate on features of the town that look like they’ll be there for a while, such as the city parks (one of which has a trio of disc golf baskets, a pleasant surprise) and ignore those that don’t. I couldn’t make heads or tails of one place on main street: was the diner really “opening soon,” or had somebody just given up on it?

How do you decide what features to map? Does the presence of others nearby affect how you do it? How long do you expect your contributions to last before the physical features you mapped change? If you’re not there to record that change, who will, and when?

(1) A social networking website I once used would tell you what the likelihood was of getting a response from any particular user: whether respond very often, occasionally, or rarely. Similar functionality, if implemented on the OSM website, would reduce the amount of time squandered with trying to contact nearby mappers -- some of whom may be dead, complete hermits, or simply no longer interested in mapping.

Location: 1st St SE, Badger, Webster County, Iowa, 50516, United States of America

The Mapping Continues

Posted by dhrasmus on 15 November 2012 in English (English)

I reached another milestone today: for the first time since I started mapping, I got a funny look. Why today? I attribute this to my mapping location. When I do mapping in urban environments, I look like just another person using a phone, or maybe a crazy person who should be avoided. In rural environments, there is nobody around to receive a funny look from. Just me!

This time I was using OSMTracker-Android to capture a photograph that contained the essential details of the gas station: that it was 24 hours, a telephone number, the name of the place, etc. When I walked into the convenience store to see what their coffee, food, and beer offerings were -- they had coffee and a grill with hamburgers, and Blue Moon, not bad for such a small town -- is when I got the funny look. They said I'd appeared confused and asked if I was okay.

Driving across the country from Oregon to Iowa, one realizes something: OpenStreetMap has lots of room for improvement in its gas station coverage. As a driver, it's good to know how far away you are from the next gas station so you don't get stranded. I discovered the MapQuest app for Android works pretty nicely, showing nearby gas stations and sometimes even prices, but data coverage is pretty spotty in parts of I-80 and not something I like to depend on.

On the sitting-in-front-of-computers side of things, work has been progressing well on one of my map-based projects, It uses OpenLayers with default OpenStreetMap style for the slippy map, and MapQuest static images on individual pages for wifi hotspots. I like how the MapQuest rendering emphasizes parks nearby and de-emphasizes churches. Having prominent churches on a map makes some sense in Europe where their size and architecture cause them to stand out, but less in an environment where they simply blend in or worse, look like a warehouse. Being able to create my own custom-rendered map images might be useful for the purposes of the Portland wifi map, for instance to illustrate how far wifi coverage extends. I don't know if that's something practical and simple to get started, or if it'd be a massive time-suck. Hard to tell from looking at the wiki. Have any of you done it? What'd you think?

On the homepage of that site, I've made an initial attempt to explain to ordinary people what's exciting to me about OpenStreetMap. When I first discovered OSM several years ago, I didn't understand what the big deal was. The turning point was probably when I discovered MapDroyd on my first Android tablet, and OsmAnd after that. Being able to edit a map, and have my edits show up in a file that anybody can download and use offline: that's huge! Oh, and the Open Brewpub Map...

Beyond First Edits!

Posted by dhrasmus on 26 October 2012 in English (English)

It’s been a few months since my first humble OpenStreetMap edit. I wrote a diary post for that occasion, and was pleased to have received a nice welcome as well as some tips. After that, I didn’t do any edits for quite a while. Just recently, I’ve been adding details to the area near where I grew up.

Why was there such a gap? Largely, it was was my hesitation to use the editing tools. Reading diaries and user pages and what-have-you on the OSM site, I see a lot of suggestions for others to JOSM. It’s “powerful,” the “best way,” etc. I could tell by looking that JOSM is loaded with functionality, but I felt overwhelmed. The screen just showed me too much I wasn’t ready for. I did use it for my very first edit -- I changed some tags on a local business. But adding something new was, and still is, something I feel I’ll have to work up to.

Time passed, and I decided to try Potlatch 2. It looked much friendlier to a beginning like myself, but I had problems with it. I didn’t find the editing mode that would have let me add tags that weren’t built into the interface. Potlatch’s suggestion to “Add new points by dragging them onto the map” sounds clear enough, but I must not have noticed that at the time. My instinct wanted me to click the icons and then click the map where I wanted to add that feature. Oops. I also had trouble with how the mouse worked: I kept accidentally drawing red lines all over the place, which would make the panel icons disappear. I think I discovered that escape or enter worked, but then I’d have to delete the way I accidentally created. This was frustrating.

I can’t explain what changed, but now in Potlatch I feel more competent. I understand dragging icons, and I discovered how to add my own tags with advanced editing mode, got better at not accidentally starting to add nodes or draw ways. The “source” key is still a minor cause for confusion. I read that “survey:YYYY-MM-DD” is recommended for data added via GPS, and that “Bing” is recommended when tracing from Bing. Sometimes, according to the Bing imagery underneath and the shape/location of my GPS data, it’s clear that trees or buildings or something messed with my readings, and I make a guess at the location. For that I’ve been putting something like “survey:2012-10-25 with Bing correction” - hopefully that works. In essence, I wanted to make the point that I’ve been there in person and am not tracing far-away places. When I traced a basketball court, it bothered me a little to use “Bing” as the source. I felt I wasn’t clearly making the statement: “I WAS HERE.”

I can imagine my future self becoming a whiz with JOSM, wanting to show off how OpenStreetMap editing works, and scaring some poor stiff away from ever trying to edit OpenStreetMap. It recalls some friends of mine and their reactions whenever Ubuntu comes up in conversation: horror at the thought that they might someday be forced to frantically type commands in a little black box. I’ve decided that, for the sake of my helping future OpenStreetmap contributors, I will become proficient with Potlatch, and won’t show JOSM to anybody until I’m sure they can handle it.

Yesterday I bicycled and walked around a university campus where nothing but buildings were mapped. using OSMTracker-Android I started logging benches (one of my favorite features - I love getting outside and reading in a new environment) and footpaths, but ran into some hardships. First of all, the GPS traces I’ve made didn’t line up with the aerials very well, and all the cyan lines indicating where I’d been made it hard to concentrate on the map underneath. I was dogged by the feeling that I was doing the footpaths wrong. Are the paths I’ve already put on OSM something wheelchair users could depend on to route themselves around? I doubt it, but I don’t know how to check. Added complication: lots of stairs on the campus. I logged their locations, but don’t know how to tie the steps in with the footpaths. That’s what relations are for, right? I think I have lots of reading to do before I’m able to do it right. So I’ll be sitting on my footpath and stairs data until I figure that out, with some anxiety that somebody will beat me to it. If that does happen, I’ll probably experience some mixture of annoyance and relief.

Ideally I would meet some local person who knows what they’re doing with this, and we could have a nice discussion and swap ideas and they’d say “Oh, ways and relations are easy! You just ...” But there don’t appear to be too many fellow OSM contributors near me. The only people I see appear inactive or have made no edits, and people in this area are an insular bunch. To generalize, they divide their time between work, family, and solo hobbies which they hope to monetize. I’ll write to the nearby people, but I don’t have high hopes.

I’d be delighted to hear your comments and feedback. You may have noticed I asked some questions here as well... Until next time, happy mapping!

Location: 4th Street Northeast, Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa, 52401, United States of America

First Edit!

Posted by dhrasmus on 27 July 2012 in English (English)

I've just made my first edit to OpenStreetMap! I marked a restaurant in my neighborhood in Portland, Oregon as closed. It's been closed for several weeks. I did that by removing the tags "name" and "restaurant" and "cuisine". Hopefully that's the right way to go about it!

Viewing the history of the area, it looks like either my comment got clipped, or I spaced out and forgot to type the whole thing. Maybe trackpad caused me to highlight and type over. Oops. Not sure how to edit the comment, if that's possible. If I could have done anything else better, I'd love for somebody to let me know.