OpenStreetMap Pittsburgh Mapping Party

This weekend was incredibly busy. Richard Weait, Community Organizer for drove down from Toronto to come host a mapping party in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a mapping community around yet, and most of the participants were away this weekend. It was still pretty successful, as we talked about plans to expand the community in Pittsburgh, and ways we can do this on top of Fedora. I also got a chance to learn about alot of the nuances that go into mapping, although it really is pretty easy to do.

Mapping itself is pretty simple. Yesterday was rainy, so i spent the first half of the day going through the different programs, and testing how well they worked in Fedora. Once that was taken care of, we had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't. Overall, JOSM is an excellent program to work with, albeit it could use a few bug fixes and some polish. With some of the plugins, it's very easy to get working right away, produce quality information on the maps, and most importantly, to fill out bugs and clue other people how and why you did things the way you did. I think map making might be one of the easiest things to do to contribute to Open Source without knowing how to program or know alot about computers.

Over the past two days, Richard and i talked about a bunch of good ideas, some of them i hope bring to reality this week. He's been looking for a good tool to get new mappers set up mapping with the most minimal set up possible. Since all the packages we need have been made into RPMs, it should be relatively trivial to put a kickstart and liveUSB together to do the job.

We would like to gather interested people for a Geo SIG inside Fedora. If any of you readers out there love mapping and love Fedora, we would love to hear from you. If we're going to start giving away Fedora at mapping parties, then it will be good to have a SIG and export Fedora users around to help out.

OpenStreetMap and its sponsors are people who 'get' Open Source and Community. To this, i would like to be able to help Richard spread his message as much as we like to spread ours. One of the challenges that he faces when planning mapping parties is that he knows very little about the area he is going to. Out of a purely practical consideration, he needs help to make sure he isn't putting the party in an otherwise unsafe neighborhood. These parties are about having fun, not getting new mappers mugged or worse just for coming out to have an enjoyable afternoon. I invited Richard to join our Ambassadors mailing list, to ask the Ambassadors for help. I posted a quick email there a few days ago, so before you flame or bikeshed me, remember that you had your chance to do that on that thread. If you have the ability and the wishes to do so, please help him out with any practical information you can give him, as an Ambassador, about areas you know about.

On that same note, Richard mentioned another issue that he's been having, similar as we have been having. How do you measure community involvement. Sufficed to say, we may see our second user of EKG in the near future :).

We also talked about ways to open up more of a mapping community in Pittsburgh. Fortunately, a BarCamp has been announced for next weekend here in Pittsburgh. I'm hoping to do a demo of mapping in Pittsburgh, and hopefully starting something new. It should be fun to see how that goes.

Last but not least, no event would be successful if it weren't for one of my pipe dream ideas. Apparently, using a one-off schematic design, it would be reasonable to mass produce USB GPS devices that feed directly to gpsd for 12 USD per piece at lots of 10,000 or more. I'm sure for an extra 50 cents, we could get a green plastic cover. If you're thinking OLPC, you got it. What would it take to outfit OLPCs with GPS devices, and an activity designed around mapping and geo-caching? With large communities of kids being given new technology, they could all use OSM to map things around each other, perhaps collaborate on physical presence events, geo-cache, map their town for other people to see, and even share shortcuts through spaces they know. Since OSM is a free and open wiki, the possibilities are really endless. I would love to know if this could be done.

That's it for now. And now back to the regularly schedule school program of dooooooooom.

2 flames:

Eric zei

I'd be interested to hear more about this. I'm a closet cartographer and would love to start producing something that other people can use.

Yankee zei

Well, the hardest part i think is deciding what you want to produce without going over the top. Go to and check out your neighborhood and see what's 'missing' from the maps. Perhaps the street numbers are wrong, the names are misspelled, or you would like to see a good map of where all the best pubs are.

Since OpenStreetMap is a wiki, all you need to do is to start editing. You can either use the online editor, Potlatch, which requires flash, or use JOSM or Merkaartor. Merkaartor is available in Fedora already, although JOSM is still in the works.

If you can fill in information from what you know, then by all means, do so. Just be careful not to use a source like Google Maps which is copyrighted. The best way to guarantee that your information is both up to date and copyright free is to do your own surveys.

To survey, all you need is a decent GPS that can save tracks and a notepad or a camera. JOSM can import your pictures and line them up with your GPS readings, so you can see where you took the pictures. Some GPS models, like the Garmins, can mark numbered waypoints as well. You can use the waypoints as a frame of reference for your note taking, and the waypoints will be visible in JOSM as well.

Once you import your survey information into JOSM, it can be overlayed on all the maps, so that you can use your new information to fill in the details.

For more information, check out the wiki for OSM; it will give you far more detailed information.