It's like Wikipedia but with maps. Like the famous online encyclopedia that anyone can edit the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project allows people to create a detailed map of the world around them. And it could become very useful in this cold snap here in the Midlands.
The project started out with users recording their movements with GPS and then unloading the data to the OSM website. But now companies and governments are donating official mapping data and even ariel photography. Under the rules of the project all the maps produced are free for people to use in almost any way they want.This is in contrast to many existing sources which have copyright restrictions.
In the Midlands OSM volunteers have been out and about creating some interesting new maps. You can find them on the Mappa Mercia website. Today we're all very exciting in the newsroom about the approaching snowstorm and the Mappa Mercia website includes maps of the routes for gritting lorries around the streets of Birmingham and Solihull. Indeed the project is even starting to add the locations of individual gritting bins.
These are projects the teams can tackle inside in the warm for the most part. But once the warm weather returns they'll be out once again mapping the missing bits and in particular blitzing the Black Country.
There's much more to this project than just finding your local gritting bin. Making map data available for free to anyone for any use is an extremely exciting idea in the internet age. And once the weather improves we'll be returning to it and hopefully joining the Midlands mappers on a blitz of the Black Country.
You can find the Mappa Mercia website here.
*ping!* An email arrives;
I was puzzled by your piece on BBC Midlands Today about dimmable street lighting in Worcestershire. The experts said that the lower levels would be indiscernible to the human eye. If this is the case, why aren't the lights set at that level all the time - saving even more energy and public money? It seems such an obvious question. Pity you never asked it.
Thanks Bob! Well of course it IS an obvious question and it only occurred to me as I was walking back to the car. So what's the answer? I put in a quick call to one of our guests from last night, Derek Powell from Worcestershire County Council.
Now according to him although the human eye can't detect the difference in light levels the level of dimming is measured by detectors which can. And there are strict rules about the light levels for roads based on the amount of traffic at various times of day.
The rules allow Wocestershire County Council to dim the lights on the stretch of road because there are just 1000 cars using it between midnight and 6am. During the rest of the day some 22,000 vehicles travel along the A44 at this point and the requirement is the light should be brighter. Those levels are not set by eye, but by electronic meter.
Mr Powell says often the first question the police ask him after an accident is did the lighting meet the British code? If it didn't then there is a chance the police could bring a charge of corporate manslaughter.
So the rules set the levels and even though we can't tell the difference, light meters and the police can. Mr Powell has actually asked the governing body to look into all this. These regulations were set in the early days of the introduction of these lights and they may well be changed and updated in the future.
So the final question is am I dimmer than Worcestershire County Councils dimable streetlamps? Well I can only say in my defence that standing around in the very cold means perhaps my brain wasn't working at peak efficiency. But we got there in the end.
If you want to call me dim (or suggest a story) then just click on the email link to the top right of the page.
So we're looking at the story of the Telford MP and the "scum sucking pig" tweet today. Covered in plenty of depth here, here and here.
Guido is even wondering if we might see Twitter claim the "first major political scalp".
By coincidence we had a quick lunch meeting today to talk about the upcoming general election. Which left me pondering over the sarnies if this would finally be the year the internet has a big impact on an election campaign.
It's not that I haven't been asked this question on and off for more than a decade now. But this year the technology is sufficiently advanced that is can simply drench the election process. Smart phones in every breast pocket behind every rosette.
Combine that with talk of a hung parliament and you have a campaign where everyone will be looking for the slightest edge and one careless slip in a Twitter update could be it.
The irony is of course we want our MPs to be accessible, human and just like us. To get elected though they'll have to think twice and then think again before pressing "send". They can take advantage of all the technology to appear human, they just can't use it like we do.
Happy Valentine's! If you are single and looking for love have you thought about widening your search to include alien lifeforms? According to the numbers the chance of finding the perfect partner is only hundred times greater than the chance of mankind successfully making contact with ET.
Why not kill two birds with one numerical stone and broaden out the search? Hey, a statistical edge is a statistical edge!
You might think research into girlfriends and boyfriends has little to do with the search for extra-terrestrial life, but you'd be wrong. You can apply the same formula to both situations and work out the odds.
That's what University of Warwick economist Peter Backus did with the aid of the Drake Equation which is usually used to estimate the chances of us making contact with intelligent aliens. Peter retooled it to work out the chances of him finding a girlfriend.
The good news is that two years on The Telegraph reports Peter has found his perfect lady and having had a quick chat with him I can report he didn't use any formulas to find her.
Of course what's really interesting about The Drake Equation is the potentially huge range of answers it can give you. Because we have no idea what numbers to give to all the variables in it. Even when you apply it to the more familiar area of human romantic interactions there's still plenty of educated guesswork.
But in the end that's the point, the original aim of the Drake Equation was to trigger discussion about the chances of finding intelligent alien life and not to provide a single correct answer.
And hey if you end up discussing it with a like minded individual you may well find love and then further refine the variables in the Peter Backus Equation yourself.
You can find Peter's full paper here.
What works in the laboratory doesn't always perform so well in the real world. And that's been the case with some of this new security scanner technology appearing in our airports and elsewhere.
In America scanners that "sniff" the air to detect traces of explosives have found the transition from sterile lab to the more dirty world of the modern airport pretty difficult.
This fact combined with recent attempted terrorist attacks has lead to plenty of renewed interest in scanners that don't "sniff" but instead "see" through the clothes of passengers to reveal what we might be hiding underneath.
Well the good news is that Malvern based Qinetic is about to introduce scanning technology that doesn't put you through a virtual strip tease.
Instead the SPO system shows the operator a live cctv image of the people being scanned and next to each person a "threat bar" which starts at green and shoots up to red if the computer thinks a passenger is hiding something under their clothes. At which point they could be pulled aside for further questioning.
The system doesn't emit x-rays or other radiation itself. Instead it passively observes the natural radiation from our bodies and interprets any interference caused by potential bombs hidden under clothes. In the tests we conducted it detected dummy blocks of plastic explosives, bombs stuffed with shrapnel and devices based on volatile liquids.
In America various versions have been tested out at conventions, a ferry terminal and an airport drop-off point. And now the US Government and the British Home Office are going to endorse the technology which should mean we'll see the camera popping up in plenty of locations both here and there.
Eventually if it can be adapted for hotter, dustier climates it may even be deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The bad news is there's a good chance you'll end up going through a "nearly naked" scanner at some point. But this is an extra layer of security that can quickly identify potential problems much earlier on. In the trials even the act of having the system trained on passengers lead to one chap with a guilty conscience making a dash for it rather than face walking past the camera. He was caught, pulled to one side and found to have several unpaid court fines.