FOSS4G (PDX + NOR) Summary

Or, my rather unordered ramblings on what happened last week.

On the city and social stuff (PDX)

As a European I enjoyed it a lot! Portland has great public transport, is very bike-friendly, close to nature and is about the right size for me. It’s well known for its beer, but maybe less well known is that the Willamette Valley outside Portland is chock full of vineyards and wineries. I went on the FOSS4G wine tour and had a great time!

Another tour I was on is the Keep Portland Wired tour, which also was a blast! It’s a real shame that not more people showed up. (The closing keynote went over time, so I had to bail out to make the tour, I guess a lot of people prioritised the keynote.) We toured the offices of Jive software and Mozilla’s office/working space in Portland. At Jive we were showed around by the company’s founders, two really nice fellahs who were happy to to engage with a bunch of geogeeks. They gave good insights on their experiences starting and running a tech company in the USA, and a killer tour of the building. Their offices were in the old Federal Reserve building, so the facilities included a indoor shooting range and a bank vault with a massive steel door, both of which had in typical Portland fashion been converted into bicycle garages. Otherwise the offices were typical movie-style tech offices with cool gadgets and free snacks and food all over. Local Portland craft beer was available on tap, of course.

Mozilla was also awesome as expected (totally impartial judgement from the guy with a Firefox sticker on his laptop.) They had a slightly different vibe, as one might expect from a non-profit, idealistic type organisation, but were still equipped with a bike garage and Tardis stylings on their refrigerator. Nice conversations were also had in this space, and Firefox swag was secured! (They also had free beer and stuff.)
The FOSS4G parties were good fun too. The opening reception was interesting, a vey nice building filled with interesting folks. I missed the Null Island party because I needed a rest, but in hindsight after talking to other attendees, I kind of wished I went anyway. The Gala evening had a misleading name, insofar as anyone in a tuxedo would have been sticking out like a gangrenous thumb. The location however was nigh on perfect for the gathering, at the World Forestry Centre, with lots of cool interactive museum exhibits for all the geeks to play with and cool local food options.

I got to the Mapbox closing party after the walking tour. Super-hipster post-industrial space with heavy freight trains rolling past, and recent OSM edits being projected on to the wall. Beer, wine, snacks and a great atmosphere. What else could you expect from a Mapbox  party in Portland?

Got to meet some really cool people, like Lyzi Diamond from Code For America, who wasted no time in getting me to promise I’d have a go at gauging the interest for Maptime in Norway. Kristin Bott, who did a great job on the organising committee and whose vision for more diversity in our space I totally share.  Vladimir Agafonkin of Leaflet fame who actually remembered my last name from the internet and said nice things about the Leaflet plugin I made at work, practically making me swoon. Also, like a true Norwegian I spent lots of time talking to other Norwegians, which is very useful. Why not do your local networking on the other side of the globe?

Signpost helpfully showing me the way to Norkart's Lillehammer office.
Signpost helpfully showing me the way to Norkart’s Lillehammer office.

Trends & Impressions (PDX)

  • Macs. Everywhere! Come on folks, hooking up a Linux machine to projectors has gotten much better, only like 37% painful. You have to suffer for your art!
  • Javascript is surging ahead. FOSS4G isn’t a web tech conference yet, but you could probably pick your talks to make it look like that if you wanted to.
  • Lots of buzz about vector tiles and personalisation of maps. Nice to see the stuff that was future-tech back when I wrote my thesis is rapidly becoming reality. (Still bleeding edge though, but three more years from now it’ll be pretty pervasive, I think.) The talk on adaptive maps by John J Czaplewski was a very interesting conversation starter on what we might do with these technologies.
  • WebGL is  also maturing nicely, a lot of libraries and apps coming together now. We shall see which ones emerge victorious from the Thunderdome of adoption rates in a few years.
  • Speaking of the Thunderdome, in my opinion both the Leaflet + Mapbox GL combo and OpenLayers 3 are in sum promising a lot of the same things when they’re done, but neither are done yet and have different things finished. (OL3 even replicated MapBox Gl’s big party trick by showing off drone/sat video overlaid on a map!) So there is still room for both!
  • Like Atlefren mentioned, projections are hard and people would rather go shopping, so use WGS84 for vectors and Web Mercator for maps unless you actually have a compelling scientific reason. (Like if your data *actually* has the kind of accuracy and precision that warrants a local projection, or you’re mapping something north/south of 80 degrees. His observation on more and more non-classically trained folks entering the field also holds true. (AKA. you don’t need 5 years of univerity geomatics to put a pin on a map, and on some levels it probably doesn’t help, either!) But I still feel that scientific rigour has its place, especially for those who are making the tools everyone else wants to use. (But then again, that might just be the five years of university talking.)

Random Observations (PDX)

  • Somebody needs to make a LCARS interface for GRASS.
  • Compostable utensils and cups that still feel like plactic confuse the hell out of me, I never know which bin to use.
  • Dear Portland: “MAX Light Rail” and “Portland Streetcar” are really just two different names for “Trams in Portland”. Why not just call them “the large tram” and “the small tram”.
  • Did not see any werewolves or supernatural policemen while visiting, did see at least two locations I recognised from episodes of Grimm.


Two days after I got back from Portland I attended the local Norwegian FOSS4G event, where 86 happy hackers and useful users of open source geospatial software in Scandinavia’s most coast-liney country (award-winning fjords!) got together for a day of presentations and chatting. Together with Alexanno I did a ten minute lightening talk on impressions from FOSS4G PDX, in which our rate of speech steadily increased throughout as we tried to cram in more and more information in the allotted time.

The other talks were also very interesting, like Bjørn Sandvik’s presentation on the impressive open source-based stack the journalists at NRK use to publish maps with their news stories, and the talk on how the Norwegian Defence Research Institute makes maritime monitoring systems  for the coast guard using open standards and open source. We were told that the Norwegian Armed Forces mandate OGC compliance in their internal secured systems, which is pretty cool. OGC standards, open source software, and things that are expensive and make other things explode. Can it get any better?

I believe all the slides from the talks should soon make it out to the internet, sadly not full recordings like the big FOSS4G does. Next year we’re hoping to attract a bigger crowd of students and others to FOSS4G-NOR, making it less dependent on the big companies. All in all I’ve had two great FOSS4G’s in two weeks, and I hope to attend many more in the future!

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