Tag Archives: mapping

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder

The last week has been pretty uneventful, overall—I’ve been working on an iPad portal for one of our work clients, adding more functionality to Party Bus (I took it to the Thursday Hackathon for testing), and so on—until 8:06 last night, when a friend called to ask if we’d heard a loud explosion a moment ago. We hadn’t, but a lot of people on Twitter had. Soon, Reid had set up a map for people to track what they heard, and I hopped online to see if I could help.

We quickly discovered that while Google Maps does allow real-time collaboration, it’s not the best platform for a couple hundred people, many without prior experience editing maps, to be using all at once. People kept changing the map title and description. The map sometimes failed to load an edit button, and even once you hit edit, the controls could be confusing. Folks left comments with their location and experience, which Reid added to the map manually (not a terrible option, but inefficient).

Twelve hours later, we have a pretty good idea of where the sound was, and what it sounded like from different parts of Portland, but there’s still no real explanation. My favorite plausible explanation is that it was an earthquake boom, sort of a shallow quake we can hear but doesn’t produce a noticeable tremor for the seismograph. My favorite fictional explanation is that we’re in an episode of Fringe where everyone is about to find out we’re colliding with a parallel universe.

I really would like to know what caused it, but I also think this made an interesting demo for crisis information-gathering. If it had been something like a chemical leak, where these sort of point-by-point reports could be really helpful, we absolutely need a better mapping system. And we need it to be already in place when people hop online to find out what happened and ask their friends what they heard or saw, because people are most enthusiastic and interested in helping immediately after the incident. There was some activity around that at CrisisCampPDX with wanting to set up a preparedness Crisis Wiki, but we could do much more to get a good toolset in place now.


The food cart map has resulted in a few emails now and then from people who saw it somewhere or got an email from a friend, and wanted to say “hey, neato”. This past week I decided to find out just how much traffic the map is actually getting, and where that traffic is coming from.

It’s a bit more popular than I realized.

Since Thursday night, the map has been viewed 52 times. It’s mentioned on Chowhound, Metroblogging Portland, alt.portland, and the Portland Mercury blog. I am really proud to have created something that random strangers find useful.

So I think it may be time for an upgrade. I’d like to expand it outside the downtown area, and I’m open to creating more maps for other cities, if people want to tell me where their favorite carts are. I just need enough location details to find it on Google Maps (“on the north side of SW Taylor, between 2nd and 3rd, about halfway down the block” is usually enough info, but I like to take a quick snapshot to work from later, and if you happen to have a GPS device handy for exact coordinates, that’s even better).

I also think it might be helpful to provide short descriptions or reviews for the different carts, and maybe some additional details like the phone number to call ahead with your order, or the hours they’re open. All of this requires going around to the carts on weekdays, though, and just getting food and walking back consumes most of my lunch hour. I wonder how “I want to take a really long lunch so I can talk to people who run food carts” would go over at work.

If you have suggestions for carts to add, or cool things I could do with the map, please leave a comment.

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Mapping lunch

One of the projects I’ve had in mind for a while now was to list or map the downtown lunch carts, because for some reason no one seems to have done so yet (at least, I can’t find anything on Google). So this weekend I learned how to work with the Google Maps API in order to create a map of Portland lunch carts. After entering 41 carts into an xml file, I can see why maybe no one bothered with this before. There are way more of these than I realized, and I’m sure my list is incomplete. Plus trying to get the dots in the right spots involved a lot of tweaking.

The page isn’t really finished yet, but with the main parts in place, I thought I’d show it off. I haven’t had a chance to test it on Windows or with IE yet, so if anyone notices funny display issues, would you send me a screenshot?

My plan is to add a feature to let you map only a single type of food at a time, which will both reduce clutter on the blocks that have 15 carts and make it easier to tell at a glance which ones have Thai food. So that’s why there’s an oddly empty section to the right of the map.

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