Save Ernest Marples

If you’ve ever developed or been involved with a website that uses UK postcode data, you already know about the fees Royal Mail charges to use their database. This is great for Royal Mail (it earns them roughly £1.3 million a year), but for websites that are providing a public service that requires postcode-based geodata, it’s a nightmare.

Earlier this year, a few people decided to do something about this and created ErnestMarples.com, which provides a postcode API to not-for-profit websites such as PlanningAlerts.com, Jobcentre Pro Plus and The Straight Choice.

Last week, Royal Mail issued a cease and desist letter to ErnestMarples.com, effectively shutting down not only ErnestMarples.com, but all of the sites that depend on their API.

This has been covered elsewhere by the Open Rights Group, Tom Watson, The Guardian Free Our Data blog and Boing Boing. Since they’ve already done a stellar job of discussing the issues surrounding this story, I’ll keep the rest of this short:

This whole thing makes no sense to me. The postcode database was created with public money, yet Royal Mail demands exorbitant license fees for the use (or perceived use) of postcode data from sites that are providing a free public service.

If you’re as baffled by this as I am, I encourage you to sign the petition, which asks the Prime Minister “to Encourage the Royal Mail to offer a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites.”

Update: You can also vote for a free postcode database on the OSPI site.

(Thanks to Joe Lanman, who pointed me in the direction of a recent thread on the MySociety mailing list and got me thinking about this issue.)

The Thames is back on the map (and possibly zones)

I’ve been a bit obsessed with the recent changes to the Tube map. It appears that the story may be coming to an end.

According to a story on BBC News, TfL will reintroduce the Thames to the Tube map in December. And it sounds like zones may be back as well.

A TfL spokesperson had this to say:

The overwhelming public reaction is that the Tube and Thames should be reunited, so that’s exactly what we will do.

New maps showing the Thames will be reintroduced from December, the date of the next scheduled revision of the map.

We are also looking again at the provision of zonal information to ensure that it is widely available to customers and aim to reach a conclusion on that, also by December, when the new Circle Line service needs to be reflected.

In the meantime, I noticed two things.

Zones aren’t even provided in the “Index of Stations” on the new paper tube map. This makes me wonder if TfL aren’t considering a flat fee across the network (this is how it works on the New York subway subway system).

The second thing I noticed is an old Tube map with zones at Tooting Bec Station (pictured above). I don’t think this was there on Thursday, but it was there yesterday.

Hampstead Heath

Kite Hill, Hampstead Heath

After seeing this foliage map of the US (via kottke.org), I was initially a bit jealous.

Until I read this article encouraging Americans to visit London. Why? To see the view from the London Eye? To shop at Harrods? Nope. To see the fall foliage on Hampstead Heath.

I’ve mentioned Hampstead Heath recently and taken few photos there. It really is one of my favorite parks of all time, and it’s just a ten minute walk from my office. With any luck, I’ll take some photos of that spectacular foliage this fall.

It’s also one of the few parks I know of with an active twitter account. Apparently, Hampstead Heath’s catch phrase is “Heath love for all.”

New Tube map: no zones, no Thames

The new Tube map is significantly less cluttered than the previous version, presumably in an attempt to address some of the criticism the Tube map has received lately.

Most of the information that has been removed isn’t essential for most commuters; however, as Londonist points out, the removal of zones might cause issues. Personally, I don’t need zones on my day-to-day commute. However, this is crucial information if I’m travelling to some far-flung Tube station. How do I get this information now? I’m not sure. Do I have to wait in the ticket queue just to ask a TfL employee what zone Station X is in? At the moment, I can download the old map from the TfL site, but I wonder how long it is before it disappears. Of course, if I plan my journey in advance, I can always get the zone information from Wikipedia.

This raises some interesting general questions: Is less clutter a good thing when vital information has been removed? Is designing for the 80% always the best idea? When removing rarely-used features, what alternatives should be provided to ease the transition to the new, simpler version?

I should add that I really do miss the Thames, even though I can see that it doesn’t add any useful information.

London Web Standards May: Structuring CSS

It’s that time of the month again. London Web Standards will be meeting on Monday, 11 May.

This time, Justin Cormack of Squiz UK will be leading a discussion on Structuring CSS.

He’ll be covering techniques for creating modular, maintainable CSS. Along the way, he’ll be talking about Squiz’s mashable design, Nicole Sullivan’s Object Oriented CSS and dynamic CSS generation techniques, such as SASS.

It sounds like it’s going to be a fantastic presentation and should lead to the usual lively discussion.

If you’d like to join us, please RSVP on the meetup site.

London to Brighton (again)

Saturday was a fantastic day. Sunshine. Not too hot. Not too cold. The perfect day for a bike ride. In fact, the ride had been planned for some time. Charlie, James and I cycled from London down to Brighton.

What a ride

It was a fantastic ride. My favorite part was Slugwash Lane, which is a typical English country lane. Hedgerow alternated with small woods, where the bluebells were in bloom. It was lovely.

But the most rewarding part of the ride is the ride down to Brighton after climbing Ditchling Beacon. I stopped very briefly (~10 seconds) on the way up, but I pretty much managed to climb the whole thing. And it seemed much less grueling than last year.

It seems that Charlie enjoyed the ride to Brighton, as well. So much so, that he cycled back on his own.

Braver than me

For me, this was just a ride to Brighton on a lovely sunny day. For both Charlie and James, this was a preparation for a much longer ride. Both of them are going to be riding from London to Paris in the Big Issue London to Paris Bike Ride. That’s 240 miles in 3 days. Impressive.

James has a great post on why the Big Issue is worthy of your support, and Charlie has a similar post on why the London to Paris event is important for the Big Issue.

They invited me along, but I declined. I didn’t feel that I would be able to raise the money. What a wimp!

Show your support

So, to make up for my wimpiness, I’m going to urge you to support James and Charlie, even it’s just for a couple of pounds / dollars. Both of them deserve your support, both are very near their target and it’s for a great cause. Here’s how to support them:

I know both of them (and the Big Issue) will appreciate any support you can give.

WordCamp UK 2009 update

WordCamp UK 2009
I’ve been fairly busy (and preoccupied) over the last couple of months, so I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging or for helping out with the preparations for WordCamp UK 2009 (in Cardiff on 18-19 July).

Fortunately, a number of dedicated people have spent a considerable amount of time to make the event happen.

I’m quite excited about this year’s WordCamp UK, as a number of announcements have been made in the past week or so:

Last year’s conference was superb, and I’d highly recommend it. It was great to get a chance to meet and learn from people that are using and developing for WordPress on a daily basis. If you do decide to attend, I’ll see you there!

Update: I have closed comments on this post due to spam, but if you have something to say you can always send me a message.

London Corpse Walks

I’m pleased to announce first London Corpse Walk, beginning in Canary Wharf. It will finish six to eight miles from there, but at the moment the end-point is a closely guarded secret. The walk will start at 10.30pm on 8 March. We’ll be meeting just outside of Canary Wharf Tube station. You’re free to come along, just give me a heads up if you’ll be joining us.

But “corpse walk?” you ask. “What kind of a creepy enterprise is this?”

Allow me to explain.

As most readers of this blog probably know, I like a good walk. Over the last few years some friends and I have walked the London Loop and the Capital Ring. I may have missed a few stages, but we’ve basically walked around London twice over a period of several years.

Last month, we walked the last stage of the Capital Ring. At that point, we had a few options. We could stop going on semi-regular Sunday walks. We could make our way through one of the many books of London walks. Or we could create our own walks. We decided that creating our own would be the best option.

Prior to finishing the Capital Ring, I was talking to Dave Letorey, who mentioned that when he was living in Sheffied, he and his friends created their own walks. The only rule was that each walk had to begin where the previous walk ended.

This sounded like a great idea. Starting where the last walk finished would mean that we’d be more likely to explore new areas of London. I proposed to the idea to the Capital Ring walkers, who also liked the idea. We came up with a few additional rules and dubbed the walks “corpse walks,” after the surrealist game exquisite corpse.

After several months of discussion and planning, I’ve finally bought a domain and put up a website, where we’ll be announcing and recording all of the London Corpse Walks. Drop by have and have a look around. The site is still a work in progress, so if there’s anything you think we should add to it, just let me know.

Snow Day!

Photograph of snow on a wrought iron gate.

As anyone who follows me on twitter probably knows, it snowed in London today. I didn’t go into work, but managed to get some work done from home.

Nevertheless, Joanne and I managed to make a few trips into the snow. I’ve uploaded a a few photos to Flickr. Highlights include the many snowfolk on our street and visiting Stella at the Landor.

There were massive amounts of snow. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much snow. We were pretty sure the back garden was going to fill up.

Elsewhere on the web, Ben Marsh created an excellent application to document the #uksnow tweets on twitter. On Flickr, several pools have sprung up to document the day.