Crowdsourcing and Open Street Maps

I think Open Street Map is going to become a really big thing.  Wikipedia-like.

What Wikipedia is to Britannica, Open Street Maps is to Teleatlas (provider for Google Maps).  Open Street Maps are end-user created maps.  Street or park missing in your new subdivision?  Just go and add it yourself – no need to wait for Google to map out your neighbourhood.

From what I’ve seen in the last 18 months, I think it will soon be the best, most current map of anywhere.  When I first checked my Toronto address, maybe 18 months ago, the street was mapped, but the street name was incorrect.  By about a year ago, my street was properly labelled, but the Ottawa neighbourhood I grew up in was not.  Now, not only do I see Ottawa suburbs completely mapped, but I see gravel roads in cottage country properly mapped and labeled.  Incredible progress in very little time.

Here’s a neat talk on information becoming accessible:
(shows how Haiti, which had no commercial maps at all, was completely mapped by volunteers following the earthquake).

Now, the Open Street Map map of my neighbourhood is far better than Google’s.  See how the walking trails are mapped near Yonge and Lawrence in the Open Street Map:


The map data is there, but the open tools aren’t quite there yet.  You can download the raw maps, but the software to view them is still pretty simple.  Also, easy to use routing / directions just isn’t there yet…

Old Video Games

Does anyone recognize this?

Wico Boss Joystick
Wico Boss Joystick


Whenever someone asks me if I play video games, I like to say that I stopped playing video games when they started taking up more than 2 floppy disks.  I think I was only a very casual gamer, and as games got bigger, one had to put more time and effort in to them to get more enjoyment out of them.

In any case, there are many emulators out there that allow one to play video games from all of the early game systems.  I had been using a Logitech game pad to play them, which, of course works great.  But when I saw this Wico Boss for sale at a thrift store a number of years ago, I just had to pick it up.  This particular joystick has an Atari style interface/connector, and will not plug into a modern PC.  One can build custom interfaces – there are many designs published on the Internet.  I built a parallel port adapter some time ago, and it worked great in Windows using the PPJoy driver.

I decided I wanted a USB interface such that the Boss would just appear like a regular joystick to a PC.  My initial plan was to gut a USB game pad, and use it to put together my own interface.  In the end, I decided to just pick up a pre-made Atari to USB adapter from

Atari to USB Adapter from Raphnet
Atari to USB Adapter from Raphnet

I’ve been playing with it for a few days now – it’s a great way to re-visit games like Dig Dug.  While digging around for background on this and other joysticks, I came across the history of Wico.

A story about point and shoot cameras

In 2005, the cost of digital cameras had come down to the point where I could justify one.  I was looking for a point-and-shoot, and for just under $400, I picked up a 3.2 megapixel Canon A75.  It was a great camera – in truth, I didn’t need anything more.

Two years later, my first daughter was born, and soon enough she was walking, then running, and the camera captured every moment.

It was a sad day when, late last year, the camera began to suffer from a manufacturing defect best described here:

Although I knew Canon would repair the camera for free under a recall, we were about to leave on a trip and could not wait. Without much research, we picked up a Fuji S1500. It cost less than we paid for the A75, but we figured there had been 5 years of digital camera product development, and figured pretty much anything would be fine.

We were dissappointed. It was significantly larger – noticeably so. It took some great photos outdoors – everything seemed really sharp, but indoors, it seemed not to do what we wanted. The video function, which worked, albeit with merely adequate quality on the A75, was almost not useable on the S1500. It seemed to constantly re-focus, and all you could hear on the audio track was the camera re-focusing as the video came in and out of focus.
We sent our now 5 year old Canon in for repairs, and it was repaired and shipped out, at no cost to us, the same day we dropped it off at the depot. We went back to using the A75.

My requirements are simple: I need a camera that is easy to carry, takes a photo when I click the shutter release such that a running two year old appears in the picture.  It needs to work great on “AUTO”. The photos have to look OK on screen.  Photos suitable for printing and beeing able to take the occasional video is a bonus.

Now, having played around with the S1500, and going back to the A75, we had a clearer idea of what we wanted in a new camera so in addition to the above requirements, we added the following criteria:

  • We wanted better indoor photos
  • We wanted a smaller camera that we wouldn’t mind having on hand (a camera phone would be ideal – but we haven’t seen one that met our subjective quality criteria)
  • We wanted less shutter lag

We narrowed it down to the Canon G11, Canon S90, Panasonic LX3 and Panasonic GF1.  Initially, the latter might not seem to belong in the same category – it costs several times more, but met our “great pictures” criteria, was small when used with the pancake lens, and could provide SLR-like capabilities if we chose build a collection of lenses.

In the end, they are all awesome cameras.  We decided we valued the size of the S90 over the functionality of the similar G11.  We decided for our purposes, the GF1 was overkill, and perhaps this segment of mirror-less SLR-like cameras would take off, ensuring the development of similar cameras in the entry-level SLR price range.

And, the deciding factor between the S90 and the LX3? We ended up with gift certificates for a store that didn’t stock the LX3.  Decision made.

I’ve been playing with the S90 for a week.  Click.  Great photo.  Just how I like it.