FOSS4G Tourist Advice - Ogden Point

One of the pleasures of living in Victoria is taking a stroll along the Ogden Point Breakwater [Map]. The breakwater protects the “outer harbour” where the cruise ships dock (where the old Canadian Pacific steamers used to dock) from the rough waters and weather of the Straight of Juan de Fuca just beyond.

It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Legislature downtown to the breakwater. Walk down Belleville Street away from the Empress to Oswego Street, turn left, walk Oswego to the water, turn right, walk along the water to the foot of the breakwater.

Ogden Point Breakwater

The breakwater is open to walking from dawn to dusk, and is about 1km from the shore to the lighthouse at the end. Being “out in the ocean” provides unobstructed views of the Olympic mountains to the south in Washington, and the Sooke Hills to the west. It is also common to see wildlife hanging out on the inner side of the breakwater – harbour seals, blue herons, and sea otters.

After your stroll, you can pop into the Ogden Point Cafe, which sits at the foot of the breakwater and have a coffee and a dessert. The views from the Cafe are very nice too.

Proprietary Companies and Open Source

Dale Lutz, the VP R&D of Safe Software has a very thoughtful piece on what they are going to be showing at FOSS4G 2007, and how Safe fits into the open source world as a company that makes its money selling proprietary software.

I think Safe Software is a great example of how proprietary companies can gain from involvement in open source and from adopting an “open source mentality” of frequent releases and frank and honest conversations with customers about technology (and its occasional drawbacks).

One of the things I find particularly interesting about Safe is that they directly fund development of the GDAL project, which includes the “OGR” vector file format library. The OGR2OGR tool in that library has core functionality (file format translation) that overlaps what Safe’s FME does. A less self-aware company would feel a great deal of worry about having any involvement with an open source project that contains the seeds of a direct competitor. But Safe has enough internal self-regard to recognize that the population of people in the market for a polished product like FME does not really intersect with the population of people satisfied with a simple tool like OGR2OGR. OGR2OGR is only a theoretical competitive threat; in practice it is nothing of the kind.

Full disclosure, Safe has also provided direct funding on two occasions to the development of the GEOS geometry operation library, which now ships (along with GDAL and other open source libraries) in the FME product.

Blame Bernanke

It’s a hard week to be an American in Canada, with the US greenback falling to a 30 year low against the Canadian dollar. When the US Federal reserve cut interest rates yesterday, the loonie piled on another cent-and-a-half. All this adds up to some expensive beers for American delegates at FOSS4G, sorry guys! Back when I started planning in January, it was looking like a much cheaper trip for you folks.

USD vs CAD 2007

FOSS4G 2007 - Under a Week to Go

Disturbingly, the date of the conference just keeps marching relentlessly closer, without consulting me on how much I have left to complete before the big day.

Quick stats: 640+ registered, 318 in workshops, 300+ for banquet, 120 presentation, 28 posters, 12 workshops, 18 labs.

Here’s what’s going on:

On Friday, people start to arrive, some of the workshop teachers, other folks from far away who are leaving time to do some tourist stuff and get over jet lag, and so on. I will be sitting down with our organizing company (Sea To Sky Meetings), the Conference Centre staff, the AV contractor staff, and our workshops organizer for a final walk-through of the schedule and all the physical details. How rooms are configured, and when; what food arrives, and where; all that great stuff.

On Saturday, we have an orientation meeting for volunteers, and stuff delegate bags. Inserts from exhibitors, the program, maps, some coupons from local attractions and merchants, t-shirts, etc, etc. Also we move as much stuff into the conference centre as possible (workshop handouts, etc) so we don’t have to do it on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Open Street Map folks will be having a mapping party today.

On Sunday, we take over the conference centre as our lease begins (at noon) and start setting up the 6 full computer labs needed for the workshops. The conference really will start to “feel real” at this point, as Registration opens at 3pm and real live delegates will start showing up and picking up their credentials. Workshop and lab teachers will be coming in through the early evening to check out their class rooms and make sure things work. Folks should be arriving at the airport and on ferries all day long. I will be spending much of my day at an OSGeo board meeting. The Open Street Map mapping party will be into day two at this point.

On Monday, things kick off with the workshop sessions. I’m teaching my “Introduction to PostGIS” class in the morning, to 84 hopefully enthusiastic pupils. About 50% of the delegates will be attending workshops, so the other 50% will presumably still be arriving and registering as the day goes on. The exhibitors will also be hard at work, putting up their displays and getting the integration showcase up and running. I’ll probably go help with that during the afternoon. At the end of the day, the OSGeo general meeting goes in the Lecture Theatre (a really pretty room), and simultaneously the workshops team has to tear down 4 of the 6 classrooms to make space for presentations the next day. The remaining 2 classrooms will be used for labs during the rest of the week. After the AGM, everyone will converge on the Sticky Wicket for beers, turning it into a chaotic madhouse.

By this time, having spent Sunday at a board meeting, taught a 3-hour class, and spent the remainder of the day talking continuously, greeting people, and spending a couple hours at the Wicket, I expect my voice will be shot. I find I don’t talk all that much in my day-to-day life, so transitioning from Quiet Paul to Talking All The Time Conference Paul means that I basically thrash my vocal cords in the first 24 hours and spend the remaining days whispering as loud as I can.

Tuesday, plenary day! As conference chair, I get to greet the assembled hordes, and serve as MC during the plenary session. Howard Butler will take up the mic to host the lightning talks. I’m really looking forward to Damian Conway’s talk, having seen him at OSCON some years ago. That OSCON talk felt like a Full Brain Massage, with equal measures of humour, crazy puzzles, and great observations. Then talks and labs begin! I have a talk right away in the Lecture Theatre, my oh-so-popular “Survey of Open Source GIS”, which I will once again try-and-fail to shoehorn into 25 minutes. Perhaps I will just collapse in a heap on Tuesday evening, but I imagine I will have one or five business meetings to do. I hope visitors have a sunny evening and take a walk to Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ogden Point Breakwater and don’t spend their whole evening in BoF sessions.

By Wednesday, things will be cruising along, with a full day of presentations, demos, exhibition hall, and the poster presentation at lunch time. Everyone will be in town, folks will be relaxed and settled in, and there’s a huge number of talks to choose from. I’ll be speaking yet again, this time doing a “PostGIS Introduction and Case Studies” talk, and followed by my colleague Kevin Neufeld’s excellent (he did a test run last Friday) “PostGIS for Power Users” talk. Wednesday evening, about 50% of the attendees have signed up for the evening Banquet at the Royal BC Museum. We’ll be starting with a private IMAX screening of Titanica, then heading to the third floor galleries for First Nations art, Victoria history, and lots of yummy food.

On Thursday, we wind things down, with a morning of presentations, labs and demos, and then the closing plenary. Again, MC duties fall to me, but I will get to lean on Adena Schutzberg, who is going to lead our closing panel, and then do a little conference re-cap for our entertainment. The workshop committee will spring into action one last time, and tear down the remaining 2 classrooms, and the exhibitors will all clear out, and the conference centre will fall silent. Lots of folks will head home at this point, but some developers will remain…

For the Friday code sprint!

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Discovers Google Street View

And she does not like what she sees.

Apparently the problem is not the US-style “expectation of privacy” – which is hard to have when walking down a public sidewalk – but the Canadian statutory concept of “personal information”, which has specific protection under our privacy legislation:

Stoddart doesn’t have a problem with [Google satellite maps]. However, she warned that high-resolution pictures such as those available on Street View could contravene the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

“Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA,” Stoddart writes.

As usual with internet curfuffles, the problem seems not to be the infraction per se, but the scale and visibility of it. The cameras on my bank machine are collecting and storing recognizable images of me all the time without my consent (my personal information!) but it is a quiet and invisible process, and does not end in a public distribution step.

I am trying to think of any other situation where my identifiable image might be captured and then published without my consent, but so far am drawing a blank. (Oh, here’s one, when I walk home I end up in numerous people’s tourist shots of the BC Legislature and I am sure some of those people publish to Flickr – which brings us back to the scale and systematic nature of Street View.)