Photo: Western Brook trail, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada. May 2017
Some of the web projects undertaken since 2009 are listed here. Serving large images by means of zoomable tile pyramids has been a recurring theme, and in hindsight one can see how the technology – and my skills – have progressed.
Scans of historical railway timetables from around the world, presented as zoom- and pan-able tiles, indexed for easy access.
Timetables were donated by a number of contributors. I built a book scanner (shown left) that used two Canon PowerShot cameras to capture page images at a rate of around 750 pages per hour. ScanTailor was the image processing software that helped to de-warp the images.
The website itself was completely hand-built. I wouldn’t do that now but, at the time, it was an important deep learning experience for me. It was my first website, and I wanted to understand CSS, PHP, MySQL and the like.
The project lost momentum when I was loaned a large collection and had to get it scanned quickly. Capturing the scans got too far ahead of the indexing, and focus on completing each timetable book before moving on was lost. The hosting plan at the time had a 10Gb storage limit, which also meant there was no simple solution for publishing everything.
Users continue to email in with requests for assistance. Authors and broadcasters checking facts has been the biggest category. To celebrate a golden wedding one lady wanted to locate precisely the train her parents had met on. A man from The Netherlands was using the data to underpin his train simulator.
There are thousands of scans filed if someone wants to take over the project. Despite no social media engagement from me or any recent updates, the site pulls in 1,500 visitors per month. Surely someone would like to take it on?
Back in 2009 when I was building TimetableWorld.com, PanoJS was the only open-source tile renderer I uncovered.
Visit PanoJS Project website.
The software was last updated in 2011, but the site contains links to more recent applications of it.
Here is my basic demo showing a map of West Germany’s railways in 1977. Simple, clean, fast.
Stitched OS 1″ Map
Andrew Rowbottom was an early adopter of tiling to present an out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey (Great Britain) map series as continuous stitched map. Google Maps launched in February 2005 and Andrew started building a compliant overlay less than a year later. His site (last updated in 2010) is www.ponies.me.uk/maps/osmap.html.
Andrew kindly donated his tiles for use in Timetable World but they sat unused on a DVD until more recently. I have since renumbered all the tiles to make them compliant with the Leaflet viewer. My site here is really just a proof-of-concept to try out Leaflet and display the map with layers from a number of free sources.
Visit OS 1″ Map
Lessons learned: Storing the tiles as 256×256 pixel JPEG files is reaching its natural limit with this site. The operating system has a large overhead to manage the file pointers and FTP uploads to a remote hosting service are slow and unreliable. A similar even-larger site (now defunct) took three days to upload. I have since built OpenTiles.org (see below) to utilise binary storage of tiles in a PostgreSQL database, which is much more complex but vastly more scalable.
Historical map series are widely available online, but only a few are available as continuous stitched maps. For example, much of the vast output of the Soviet military mapping operation – thought to have employed 100,000 people under the auspices of the General Staff (“Genshtab”) – was put into the public domain when the USSR fragmented.
OpenTiles is a live early-stage project to build the tools for stitching, reprojecting and hosting historical series in a cost-effective way. It now offers the Genshtab maps, and also Austria-Hungary 1898, pre-war Latvia and Allied maps of Germany. Tiles are hosted as binary records in a database and the web server renders these as files in milliseconds. Lots of work still to do, and I’m actively looking for collaborators.
The picture shows the Genshtab 1:500,000 series as a stitched mosaic. Each coloured square was a discrete sheet.
An article about OpenTiles is due to appear in Sheetlines, the journal of the Charles Close Society.
Maidenhead Athletic Club
I took over as webmaster for the Club in June 2016. The technology needed a major revamp, having been little changed in ten years.
A new emailer service (Mailchimp) for sending mass communications went live in November 2016 and a wholly-new website in January 2017. The Club now offers online registration, membership and payment services, and people can sign up for club events, voluntary activities and the like through the site. There is still work to do to use social media effectively, but that is in hand.
The site presents the Club in a good light, and the traffic levels are significantly higher than I expected. Some 2,100 people used the site in a few hours around the annual Easter 10 race organised by the Club.
Linden Avenue community website
A website to underpin a community campaign against building houses on the rear gardens of four properties in the street. The campaign was successful in 2013 and the website is now dormant.
Several times a year I am approached by developers fishing for access to the same land via my property, and it helps to be able to send them the web link. So far, none has been sufficiently determined to continue the dialogue.
Farndale Avenue, York
For a few years whilst my son was at York University (GB) I owned a very pleasant house that he shared with other students. The house is now sold, but the website was used to support the advertising of spare rooms. Using Gumtree, it was never a problem to find people, even for short gaps in the holidays.
Visit Farndale Avenue, York.