A productive day on the transit development front. Finished up a few big features related to hbus.ca and Transit to Go:
Sped up the graph and database generation by an order of magnitude. Not too exciting from a user perspective, but I should now be able to iterate the codebase much faster.
Better transit stop / street graph linking: No more does libroutez simply try to find the closest street level vertice to link to when merging transit stops with street information: we now actually create _new_ street level vertices as needed and link to those. Upshot? Slightly better directions and prettier polylines. When I first thought up the algorithm a month ago, I thought I was totally brilliant, only to later find out that Andrew Byrd had done something almost identical a few months earlier for graphserver. Ah well, at least it’s implemented.
I coded up a script to automatically generate synthetic headsigns for GTFS feeds which don’t have them. This was needed to provide a sensible view for the Edmonton version of Transit to Go. All the props in the world for opening up your data guys, but can’t you do better than saying that all your buses go in the “1” direction? There’s a reason why it’s a required field you know. Not only would it help me, but Google Transit would give better results for your city as well.
With yesterday’s work out of the way, there weren’t too many extra steps required before I got a basic version of Transit to Go running for Edmonton. There are definitely bugs and rough edges (the bus names could definitely be better described/formatted, and there’s some serious geocoder issues), but I think the heavy lifting is out of the way. I guess now would be a good time to open up an invitations to anyone in Edmonton with an iPhone to become part of our free private beta. We’d love to hear what you think! Just send an email to email@example.com.
Because I don’t have enough spare time projects (this is a joke), I decided to take on the task of adding a must-requested special iPhone/iPod-touch friendly view for the WifiDog authentication server (used by the infamous Île Sans Fil) after being inspired by the WifiDog camp held a few weeks ago at Station C. I finally finally finished up a prototype today. It’s a bit of a hack, but a relatively clean one: hopefully some version of it can be integrated into trunk, and users with mobile devices will have a better experience when they’re on the go in Montréal (or any other area with a community-oriented wifidog deployment: I hear there’s lots).
For those interested in grubby details, you can track the progress of this work on the WifiDog ticket tracker.
Oh glorious day, the Nexus One is now available for purchase in Canada!
I’ve been feeling less and less enthusiastic about the iPhone lately, in particular after the ridiculous lawsuit against HTC. It’s no secret that we at Navarra have been doing quite a bit of work on that platform, as have my associates at Mindsea. As long as there’s demand from our clients, that won’t change, but as an individual I’m feeling less and less enthusiastic about supporting a company that (through its actions) demonstrates hostility to the ideals of autonomy and innovation that I hold dear. Now that an attractive alternative is available on reasonable terms, I’m seriously considering switching horses in the not-too-distant future.
First, I’m overdue in announcing Transit to Go a.k.a. “the iPhone transit map that’s demonstrably more useful than a paper schedule” a.k.a. “your bus departure in 15 seconds or less, no matter where you are”. I wrote up a blog post about it for Mindsea‘s site, if you’re interested in finding out more.
Second, all this transit excitement has made me start thinking about better routing and geometry algorithms again. I’ve been experimenting a bit with Brandon Martin Anderson’s prender framework, used by the infamous Graphserver, and have been pretty happy with the results. It basically lets you do processing visualizations in python (i.e. no Java coding required). Here’s a quick picture of it in action, rendering the Nova Scotian road network, as distributed by geobase.
The neat thing about this framework is that you can render quickly to an arbitrary level of detail, which should prove very useful when troubleshooting the behavior of some of the code I’m working on. If anyone is interested in running the framework on MacOS X (like I was), my fork of the project has the appropriate patches.
>>> import neocoder
>>> g = neocoder.GeoCoder("greater-hrm2.db")
>>> g.get_latlng("14 Johnson, North Preston")
SQL: select firstHouseNumber, lastHouseNumber, length, coords from road where name like 'Johnson' and firstHouseNumber <= '14' and lastHouseNumber >= '14' and placeName like 'North Preston' limit 1
One new years resolution I have set for myself is to blog more about what I’m working on. I’ve learned over the last year that the audience of people who care about your projects in development is vanishingly small. Thus, the need for secrecy in order to make a “PR splash” is rather small: announce far and wide when you have something that people can use by all means, but don’t worry too much about talking about what you’re working on with the internets.
In this spirit, some projects I’m 99% certain I’ll be releasing publicly in 2010:
neocoder A lightweight geocoding library, with wrapper libraries for your language of choice. Written in C++ using SQLite and boost regular expressions. Will support both OpenStreetMap and GeoBase GML as input. Currently in development on github, hoping to release with routez (as its geocoding component).
routez A generic travel planning web service, written in python using the django framework and the libroutez libraries. This is basically the software behind hbus.ca the goal for 2010 is to clean it up and make it generic by clearing out the Halifax-specific stuff (mostly just the geocoding and site theme stuff at this point), then release it to the public under the Affero GPL License (was originally going to with GPL, but Simon Law convinced me otherwise: more on that in a future post).
Transit To Go A dedicated iPhone client for the routez software, developed in collaboration with Dmitri Dolguikh and Bill Wilson, two talent developers from Halifax. Has some innovative (in my opinion, anyway) details on how things will be viewed. This one’s going to be proprietary, but will be affordable and awesome.
Besides this, I have a few more irons in the fire; however, I’m hesistant to talk about them just yet. Just getting the above done in the midst of my work with Navarra (to say nothing of having a life in there somewhere) is going to be challenging.
Thoughts? Would be particularly interested in hearing from people working on similar projects to neocoder and routez. Despite how it may some times appear, I don’t have a NotInventedHere mentality: I’ve done as an exhaustive survey of the field as I could before deciding to work on my own projects, and what I’ve found just hasn’t been the right fit for what I’m trying to accomplish. However, the world’s gotten so damn big that I’m not sure if I’m missing something.
So I haven’t been blogging much lately. Story of my life, I’ll try to be a bit more active in the new year.
I’m now back living in Montréal, which has been great. Very sad to leave Halifax and all the goingson, but I’ll be back to visit. And I’m not done with disruptive transit-related apps for that city. Au contraire. More news on that soon.
Started to use a new piece of hardware at the Navarra office today, which resulted in the following gem being added to the GNOME notification area. Would anyone care to guess what the following icon is supposed to represent?
I think it’s fair to say that Halifax’s first iPhone hackathon for charity was a big success. The idea was pretty simple: get a group of people (developers, marketers, artists) together over a weekend and try to produce as many iPhone apps as possible over the course of a weekend. Sell the apps on the app store (or otherwise monetize them), then donate the proceeds to charity.
I think we managed to get a group of about 15 together. After the weekend was over, we had three apps in various stages of completion. They are:
PostCard: Send post cards, with a local twist.
Meet me here: A streamlined way to tell your friends where you are.
Civic Snitch: Report on problems in your neighbourhood using your phone. A front end to the amazing fixmystreet.ca (this is the one I worked on).
As usual for a hackfest, the energy level was amazing. In addition to seeing the familiar faces of MindSea, Applied Logic, Hand Puppet and Say Hi There, it was fantastic to meet the new faces at North Knight and an amazing group of unaffiliated (yet crazy competent) developers. A weekend is a bit too short a time to do anything but a trivial iPhone application, but we got a good start on all of them. Rumor has it that the postcard application is quite close to completion. Another few hacking sessions and we should have some apps that are good for release.
It’s hard to do justice to the overwhelming feeling of WIN that came out of this. Since co-founding Navarra a year ago, I’ve been at a ton of conferences, hack weekends, and other networking events and this has by far been the one I’ve felt the best about. What made it so great?
First and foremost, the feeling that the work you’re doing will be used for good.
The opportunity to take part in something untested and different. In these difficult times, charities are looking for new ways to fill gaps in fundraising: can software developers help?
The Halifax Hub‘s open concept space which did so much to facilitate collaboration and communication (as it always does).
DJ Rich.Ness spinning tunes for us to enjoy all of Saturday night
So what’s next? Well, that’s something we’re working out with a lawyer. The idea is to create some kind of legal structure that allows us to safely collect any app store proceeds and get them sent to charity, though we haven’t yet finalized on what that will look like. The hope is that we can create a model that can be reused in other cities (iHackMTL anyone?).
Likewise, the final decision on which local charities will be receiving the proceeds has not yet been made. Something like ten organizations submitted proposals before the hackfest. It’s great to see so much interest, but it’s obviously not possible to accomodate everyone this round. It’s fair to say that at least one app will be going directly to an organization which helps in some way to address poverty in the HRM. I think there’s a collective understanding among the participants at the hackfest that we’ve been quite blessed by circumstance and good fortune and that there’s a responsibility to help those who haven’t been so lucky.
As for the apps themselves, the plan is to put the source up on github ASAP under the MIT License. I’ll be sure to post an announcement when this happens (though this is of course only of interest to the hardcore geeks).