Category: Blog

Aled Dilwyn Fisher and Adam Ramsay have kicked off another little debate about the recent past and possible future of “the left”, following a total failure to seize the much-vaunted opportunity created by the massive financial crisis in 2008. Why did anyone except the hard left – not known for their astute political realism – believe that we were likely to see a reshaping of international capitalism in 2008? Governments regulating and administering the major economic powers and their possible successors approaching national elections almost all lined up behind what Aled succinctly calls “deficit fetishism”. Even Obama’s green-tinged stimulus is undermined by States doing the exact opposite. Adam is interested in narratives about greedy bankers and corrupt politicians, governments running out of money and youth unemployment spirally. Me too, but his writing verges on a pointless delusion – that “we”, a small rabble of bloggers and activists on the fringes…

Read More Never mind the narrative

After packed weekends at weddings and the Green Party conference, and with my fiancee away for a week, I’ve spent a very nice weekend doing those things I always mean to do. Top of my list was to build a cold frame-come-greenhouse for overwintering my herbs. One salvaged broken chair, a trip to the DIY store and a few hours work later and I had fashioned the rather nice frame pictured opposite. It is sitting on our small balcony, the only space available to most Londoners. I’m not really sure which of the strawberry plants, rosemary, mint, coriander, broad-leafed parsley and the chives will survive the winter but at least they now have a cosy little added help. In between ironing, cleaning, sit-ups and press-ups, I’ve also caught up on some of the debate following the autumn Green Party conference. No mention online of my motion introducing policy on Community…

Read More Last of the year’s “garden” work

Coverage of “points of interest” in OpenStreetMap is a point of pride for many mappers. Our maps have much richer detail than commercial competitors, they provide endless handy data for mashups, and as a consequence have been a big focus of mapping party efforts in London. But should we really be so keen? I’m not so comfortable for two reasons. First, how up-to-date is our data? I’ve recently re-surveyed my local area in minute detail and found several takeaways, shops and banks that have closed down or changed hands. I’ve also discovered that we have very poor coverage of cycle parking in Southwark following two years of massive expansion by the council. How likely is it that these are being regularly checked and updated? I suspect “not very likely at all”, and have therefore decided to delete all my points of interest in my local area that I’m not confident…

Read More Are minor points of interest poisonous?

My latest experimentation in environmental maps has been launched on the Peckham Power web site. It grabs the set of energy generators in London (updated every hour from OpenStreetMap) and plots low/zero carbon generators on the map with icons and information to tell you what sort of technology each one uses. The idea is to, eventually, impress people who didn’t realise just how much of this exists in London already. In developing the code that creates the clickable points, I realised that the OpenStreetMap tagging schema doesn’t cope with the many different types of technologies very well. So I am currently taking a detailed proposal through the wiki process to rationalise and expand the “power=generator” feature – comments welcome! It will go to a vote in a couple of weeks. As Oliver Kühn has pointed out, data contributors aren’t always aware of the needs of data consumers. The very sparse…

Read More Low carbon power in Open Street Map

Rupert Read has posted some useful thoughts on how the Green Party in England & Wales can build on the historic election of our first MP, and on the rapid growth in membership in recent years. There’s much to agree with, particularly on making the internal systems and finances work. If anything, I think he has understated the importance of finances… even to stay still and retain our two London Assembly Members in 2012, our two MEPS in 2013, our MP in 2015 and over a hundred councillors in between. Here in London, a lot of thought has gone into our electoral strategy following the near-wipeout in May. I won’t digress into the London strategy here, but Rupert echoes comments from many party members I have spoken to in emphasising the need to blend realism and ambition. Rupert is also right to ask how we can tighten up our policies,…

Read More Turning green shoots into political roots

Some lively debate flared up on the tail of my previous post on OpenStreetMap governance, where I made my criticism of the “Just Fucking Do It” philosophy that was labelled “do-ocracy”. Harry noted in his diary that there has been some bickering on Twitter on the question of what might be wrong with the otherwise-excellent OpenStreetMap. My principal objection to the “do-ocratic” model is that it excludes “those who can’t” from setting the direction of the project, and that as a consequence OpenStreetMap is unlikely to meet the needs of a great many people. Did I mean that developers are lazily or selfishly ignoring others’ needs? No, I am aware of and indebted to the efforts of many volunteers working to make OpenStreetMap more accessible and usable. Only a handful of community members refuse to engage in grown-up debate. Do I mean to whine because I am excluded? Not at…

Read More Some clarifications – what is wrong with Open Street Map?

Thea Clay made the killer point in Chris Osborne‘s “What’s wrong with OpenStreetMap” session (video here). It was even better than Mikel Maron‘s observation that people should agree with founder Steve Coast just a little bit less! Foundation Board member Henk Hoff (a very nice-sounding chap) was describing the classic technocratic argument that in a “do-ocracy”, those who get on with doing things make decisions by default. Steve must have loved it, you just get on with useful stuff and avoid getting bogged down in pointless debates. Right? Thea pointed out that in a community of tens of thousands, only a few hundred can “do” stuff like making amazing tools and creating useful maps from the tags they’ve invented. I’m in the bigger mass of people who want to contribute data, see lots of good uses and ways in which OpenStreetMap can improve, but lack the skills to “just get…

Read More Political philosophy in Open Street Map

Being a Green, I’m not following Labour’s hustings for their Mayor of London candidate too closely. But being a realistic left-of-centre Green, I’m hoping that either Ken or Oona get elected into City Hall in 2012. Oona King hasn’t impressed me much so far. Her candidacy seems very light on detail, her policy pronouncements full of nice language but no specifics. As Martin Hoscik writes, Ken Livingstone is simply rehearsing his 2008 manifesto, with a few innovations (such as borrowing affordable housing money on the bond market) that are basically unfolding behind the scenes in City Hall already. But on the BBC Politics Show on Sunday, King did get one impressive point in. Livingstone is basically gearing up for a re-run of the 1980s, when he battled with Thatcher from the GLC. He wants to fight, fight, fight every cut (transcript here). But as King pointed out, once the Mayor…

Read More Ken vs. Oona – anything new?

According to my profile, today marks my fifth anniversary of OpenStreetMapping. When my friend Robert introduced me to this useless web site I wasn’t too excited. It only really showed about half of the British motorway network if you waited long enough for the very basic map to load, and editing, well, that took a lot of patience. But curiosity and Rob’s enthusiasm got me hooked, and in August 2008 I organised my first mapping party. Here is a blast from the past showing us adding in the first coverage of Reading, England: What followed were five years interspersed with many pleasant hours mapping parts of Reading and the surrounding countryside, St Albans, Criccieth, south east London, Hackbridge, Shrewsbury, Dumfries & Galloway and countless little excursions for walks. As a keen cyclist, I particularly enjoyed entering some of the first London data to create a really useful web map for…

Read More Five years of mapping (and why I started)

The self-appointed TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a shoddy demolition of The Spirit Level, which kicks off by claiming that “the best way of getting rich is by satisfying or anticipating the wants of other people”. Apparently they are ignorant of advertising (shaping and creating the wants of other people), which is projected to reach £531bn globally by next year. That’s roughly the same amount that the UK Government brings home in tax revenue. Or to take a specific example, research from 2008 suggested that American drugs companies spend roughly twice as much on advertising as they do on research – getting rich by promoting cash-cow drugs instead of researching much-needed medicines. Apparently they missed the collapse of the global financial system in the past few years, which was triggered by companies getting rich through risky trading practices far distanced from the wants of people outside the financial services sector. Those…

Read More The CrapAnalysis Alliance strikes again