WhereCampEU 2012

I was at the third WhereCampEU “unconference” which took place in Amsterdam over the last weekend of April, following previous editions in London and Berlin which I was also at. The meeting was an ideal opportunity for me to feature CityDashboard which I unveiled at the CASA Smart Cities conference a week before, and to show a couple of the items that were popular at the exhibition that accompanied Smart Cities – namely the London Data Table and PigeonSim.

Amsterdam proved to be a challenging city (financially) to visit for the conference, as it was the weekend before Queen’s Day – which is essentially a massive party throughout central Amsterdam, resulting in expensive transport to get there and all the central hotels being booked up or extremely pricy. So it was that I ended up on the outskirts of the city, overlooking a motorway, although this did mean I got to use the very fast and efficient metro service into town each day. Pre-conference drinks were held upstairs in De Waag, the oldest non-religious building in Amsterdam and a fantastically atmospheric venue. The conference venue was a short walk from here.

To get to Amsterdam I took the Eurostar to Brussels, spent an hour and a half cycling around the city on one of the Villo bike-share bikes, and then got another high-speed train to Amsterdam. A nice way to see the countryside, but it did take six hours in total. My return was a 40-minute flight.

Unconferences have no set speaker schedule, but instead participants put a post-it note with their talk title on a grid of times and rooms, and everyone looks at the grid to determine what to go to next. The plan had been to present early on the Saturday and then just relax and enjoy the rest of the meeting, but the Saturday grid was very quickly full, and it wasn’t until Sunday lunchtime that I was able to squeeze in my talk. Although 26 minutes of my 30 minute slot was spent on CityDashboard, most of the tweeted photos were of PigeonSim (that I squeezed in the last four minutes) and my attempts at demonstrating the flying gestures…

There was as usual a wide range of geo and tech talks, one of the most unusual being a psychogeography session with Tim Waters – this unexpectedly involved a practical where we went out in groups and followed and observed pedestrians going about their business (an initial “meta” idea to follow the followers having been vetoed by Tim). I also enjoyed Jeremy Morley’s update on the OSM-GB project at Nottingham to quantify the quality of OpenStreetMap in the UK, and Peter Miller’s peek at a 2.5D rendering of OSM data. Peter also showed behind the scenes of ITO Map’s map layer scripts, these produce simple overlays highlighting particular OpenStreetMap content – these were the inspiration for similar functionality I incorporated into GEMMA. Finally, a short Geo-yoga (mimicing the shapes of countries) session was certainly an eye-opener. Parallel sessions meant I missed some more interesting talks, including one from Google on why Google can work with OSM.

Thanks to all the organisers for putting on another excellent, and free, WhereCampEU!