Technical Ramblings » Blog Archive » MetaCarta Acquired by Nokia

Technical Ramblings » Blog Archive » MetaCarta Acquired by Nokia – I guess this means that Nokia isn’t so much interested in “dumbly” owning Navteq, but sees itself as a serious player in the new world of geo-everything.

I just hope that MetaCarta’s APIs continue to be available.

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Freebase Gridworks: A power tool for data scrubbers « Jon Udell

Freebase Gridworks: A power tool for data scrubbers « Jon Udell – I’ve been a fan of Freebase, it’s Parallax, and SIMILE, but I had no idea that they were all created by the same couple of people.

I just watched their two screencasts on the new Freebase Gridworks and I think I said wow-ed aloud three or four times while watching.

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What If Everybody in Canada Flushed At Once? | Pat’s Papers

What If Everybody in Canada Flushed At Once? | Pat’s Papers – pretty neat graph

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An Idea for the TTC

I’ve oft-critisized the TTC (well, its management) in private for practices such as not opening up their data (in GTFS). Toronto’s transit agency is now the main holdout in the area. Actually, only one of the agencies has made their data truly public, the others have given it exclusively to Google. Anyhow, here’s an idea that would help them redeem themselves.

I noticed a few months ago that in a very large number of TTC subway cars, the maps, of which there are typically several per car, were entirely missing. It was pointed out to me that these are stolen frequently. So, here’s the brilliant idea. Sell the TTC maps.

TTC should send out a press release to the local media (couple of radio stations, the free newspapers that everyone reads on the subway already, etc.) announcing that a limited run of 200 of the maps will be sold the following week from the ticket both at the Bloor/Yonge station, for $15. No further advertising is needed, not even a little poster at the ticket booth. The media loves TTC stories, and this one will certainly be reported. All 200 will be sold within the first few days, at which point the TTC can put out a second press release bragging about the incredible demand and that they ran out far faster than expected, and will consider expanding sales and perhaps making them available at other stations as well.

The TTC will make money off this (profit from sales, plus reduced theft costs; not much, but they need whatever they can get), gain regard, and all at almost no work at all. The maps should be printed as-is, no need to make a consumer version of them or package them in any way. The only con I can think of is that the maps are probably not quite able to fit through the tiny window in the ticket booths that is normally used to pass money and tickets/tokens back and forth; I’ll leave this minor problem up to the TTC to figure out.

For those interested, you can see the TTC map (and a user-created similar map) on ahk2chan, an interactive map on the TTC site, and a Chinese version.

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Quizify blog

I announced Quizify recently, but I won’t usually be writing much about it here. I’ve created a separate Quizify Blog for anyone interested.

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egosurfing on

Via Alf, I learn that apparently delicious has long supported lookup by domain and path, not just absolute URL.

I took a look through all the bookmarks of my old website, Fagan Finder, and it turned up a few interesting things. The most popular page, with some commentary:

  1. URLinfo (688). This makes sense because it is (well, was) a useful tool for web developers, bloggers, etc., the typical audience of delicious, however it is definitely not one of the most popular pages by the site’s own statistics.
  2. All About RSS (568), with bookmarks spread over 34 different URLs. Aside from the bookmarks to specific sections of the page, this shows the results of moving the URL by changing the file extension, although I did use a 301 redirect. This page is no longer one of the popular pages in terms of traffic.
  3. Google Ultimate Interface (377). Aside from the oddity of this not-that-useful page being so popular, what’s interesting is that a long time ago I created a second version that failed to work in Mozilla, so I had it redirect to the old version for those users which I thought (at the time) would be rare… yet there are almost 6 times as many bookmarks for the Mozilla/Firefox version.
  4. Image Search Engines (322) – finally we come to a page that is actually popular among the general public; it’s also the only page on my old site that I updated “recently”
  5. Translation Wizard (201) – sadly this hardly works any more but I loved the idea and spent an insane amount of time to build this

Another thing I noticed is that a tool I’d once built but never referred to anywhere, and could only be found by going to a tag page on this blog and clicking “more” in the sidebar somewhere somehow has 10 bookmarks.

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Announcing Quizify

Back in early 2005 I hacked up a quick web app to help me study for the Arthropod Zoology course I was taking in university. It helped me so much that in 2006 I decided to remake it in a non-ugly and usable way and I demoed it at BarCampWaterloo in 2007.

There it rested, my “current” yet abandoned project until around September 2009 when my friend Ben began to refactor all the code.

Lately I’ve had the time to work on it more seriously. I’ve moved it to and it is now ready for the general public.

Functionality today is fairly simple but quite useful, at least in my opinion :-). Input a URL that includes a definition list (as in a <dl> in HTML) and it creates a flashcard-like quiz with the data.

I plan to continue improving it, but in the meantime, feedback is welcome. Oh, and the NLP APIs I was blogging about recently was related to this project, but for a feature that won’t be ready for some time.

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I’ve had this draft post about Aardvark for about two weeks now. Now that they’ve been acquired by Google, I guess it’s about time to finally publish it.

I first heard about Aardvark via the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list and eventually got around to trying it. Few things get past my initial attempt, but I’ve still got Aardvark. It’s a question-and-answer service where you can ask questions yourself and answer questions of others.

What I’ve enjoyed the most about Aardvark (beyond it’s ability to send questions to the right people) is how easy to use and friendly it is. I interact with it via instant messenger, and every message it sends me includes all the instructions I need, in a friendly way, without being too verbose either. It’s impossible to not understand how to use it.

Recently they published a paper – Anatomy of a Large-Scale Social Search Engine (the name is a reference to a famous Google paper) – which I found quite interesting. I was expecting more statistics about the usefulness and value of Aardvark than the paper had, however the interesting part is that Aardvark turned out to be far more sophisticated than I’d realized. As I read it I’d think of a way to make it even better, and later on in the paper, find that they’d already done that. One astonishing graphic in the paper is their graph of users over time; that’s some impressive growth.

Now that Google’s bought them, I only hope that they’ll allow the founders to keep doing the good job they’ve been doing… I’ve seen too many excellent products wither after acquisition (e.g. dodgeball and jotspot).

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Frozen Lizards in Florida

A few weeks ago I was in Florida, around the Fort Lauderdale area, and for the first couple of days, it was very cold, for Florida. Too cold for many lizards, that’s for sure. Here are a couple of my photos of deceased lizards taken after it warmed up. These are mostly iguanas and other large lizards, as I didn’t take photos of any small ones.

In the second photo you can see that something has removed the lizard’s tail, presumably after it died. The second-last photo shows three large iguanas lying on floating plant material, all of whom presumably froze and fell out of a large tree that reached over the water; the last photo is a cropped zoom-in of one of those three.

dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard dead lizard
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The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold by Frank T. Kryza | LibraryThing

I mentioned a little over a year ago that I’m now keeping track of what I read (using LibraryThing). I enter the book, the date I finished it, and a rating out of five stars, but I’ve been thinking for a while that perhaps I should do some reviews as well, especially for the good ones.

I recently read The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold by Frank T. Kryza, about some British expeditions in the early 1800s. Overall definitely interesting, and I was surprised to realized just how recently Europe had zero clue about what lay within most of Africa, Given how shortly after these expeditions most of Africa was colonized.

The main flaws of the book were jumping back and forth between different expeditions in different years, especially in the first half of the book. There are some excellent maps included, but most of them are far too small to actually read much, so I’ve located some of them online:

  1. Africae nova descriptio by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, from page xix
  2. Africa by Sidney Hall, from page xx

The third map from the book I would have also liked to have found; I contacted the British Library for help (mentioned in the book as the source) but they were not able to find it. I’m sure I could get it eventually, but that was the limit of how much work I really wanted to put into this.

Aside from the maps being too small, I would have appreciated having more maps that showed the kingdoms and cultural groups with their boundaries, as it becomes difficult to follow this well given the number of times and places described.

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