FOSDEM 2018: the Geospatial devroom


Sunday, February 4th, was the second day of FOSDEM and the day dedicated to the Geospatial devroom. Back from the times when I was active in OSGeo, I co-organised a developer room focused on mapping technology, that hosted presentations for the whole day.


This year we had 15 talks about a broad variety of topics:


Intro Geospatial devroom Johan Van de Wauw
Join the FREEWAT family
FREEWAT (FREE and open source software tools for WATer resource management)
Pieter Jan Haest
Bicycle-sharing stations: profiling and availability prediction Raphaël Delhome
Pronto Raster: A C++ library for Map Algebra Alex Hagen-Zanker
GDAL Tips and Tricks
GDAL installation, Python usage, and Cloud GeoTIFFs
Jeremy Mayeres
GRASS GIS in the sky
GRASS GIS as high-performance remote sensing toolbox
Markus Neteler, Moritz Lennert, Markus Metz
GeoPandas: easy, fast and scalable geospatial analysis in Python Joris Van den Bossche
Open source Big Geospatial Data analytics Marc Vloemans
Spatial Support in MySQL 8.0 Norvald H. Ryeng
Distance computation in Boost.Geometry Vissarion Fysikopoulos
Building Rock Climbing Maps with OpenStreetMap Viet Nguyen
Building OSM based web app from scratch
How to find the way through the open source jungle
Nils Vierus
Privacy aware city navigation with CityZen app
The free open source app that let’s you explore your city and contribute to OSM
Redon Skikuli
Every subway network in the world Ilya Zverev
Rendering map data with Mapnik and Python Hartmut Holzgraefe
Efficient and interactive 3D point cloud processing
Combining the strengths of pdal, ipyvolume and jupyter
Mathieu Carette
AMENDMENT Mapping FOSDEM for accessibility Johan Van de Wauw
If you are interested in these talks, you can watch the video recordings and browse the slides used during the presentation. They are available in the pages linked to the table above.

FOSDEM 2018: the talks I followed


As promised, here is my post about the talks I managed to attend at FOSDEM this year. I must say that I was interested in only two talks when I went through the schedule, and both were part of the Community devroom. It was sort of expected for me, as I am currently not active in software development. But when I entered the Community devroom (after a long queue!) I decided to stay for a few more talks, that proved interesting and thought-provoking.

The first talk I followed was “What community can learn from marketing”, by Matthew Revell. My take home message is manyfold:

  • Marketing and  FOSS community management differ on a few but crucial fundamental principles. Therefore it makes sense to apply marketing’s lessons learned only when the core principles of FOSS projects are respected.
  • Marketing has done great work on the analysis side. Applying its tools to a free and open source projecs can help refine its goals and target userbase.
  • Similarly, marketing puts a lot of importance into planning future development. This attention can prove useful for FOSS projects too.
  • Matthew has been careful in wording his talk with variations of “if you do X, Y will likely happen” rather than “you have to do X”. It helps me filter the possible actions according to their consequences instead of following a protocol.

Then it was the turn of “You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do! So Use An FAQ!” by Simon Phipps and Rich Sands. It was great to listen to them unwind the topic together, with ease and humour! Here are the messages I brought home:

  • FAQs are great to showcase the project’s ideas, and are going to be read and tested by the developers, who will inevitably ask the project to make clear and precise statements.
  • FAQs require the ideas and principles to be transparent to the reader. It must be clear to all project members, especially the leadership, that showing transparency builds trust, even if it is not always easy to do.

I moved to the large La Fontaine room for “Python 3: 10 years later” by Victor Stinner. I’m ashamed to say that I never learned Python 3 properly, and I was so surprised to read that this version is around since so long. The release strategy was not really made to push for the new major version, so a lot of production code has not been migrated. Given the growing amount of user-provided packages, and the multiple options for distributing a Python app, the actual drop of Python 2.x doesn’t look imminent, but hopefully will be done more easily than before.

Overall, I got the impression that more speakers than last time were mentioning empathy, and more in general the importance of positive human interactions in the softtware development environment. I think it helps including more people, first of all the users, in the discussions, especially in this time where software users are the majority of the population, and therefore represent a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds. I am hopeful for the future of FOSS, in any form it will take, if it will be considered part of human culture as a whole.

Welcome to FOSDEM 2018! keynote – slides from the volunteer organiser

The migration route

This weekend I have been at FOSDEM in Brussels, to meet the usual immense crowd of open source software enthusiasts:


… and to help with the management of the Geospatial devroom together with Johan Van de Vauw. I’ll write more about this in another post, because this one is dedicated to the way to and back from Brussels. The way back, especially, that took me and my friends back to Italy.

As I lived in Italy, my geeky friends and I used to rent a van and drive all the way up to FOSDEM. I taught them the route that my family travelled since I can remember, as I moved from Belgium to Italy at two years old. It felt like teaching them my migration route, and passing on our knowledge of the good rest spots, cheapest petrol stations and so on. I have moved to Germany four years ago and didn’t have the chance to travel that route anymore, therefore it was a special joy to drive back with my friends once again. I took pictures like mad, like a tourist, and I was moved to tears when I heard my friends talking about the places along the way with more confidence than myself.

We left FOSDEM on Sunday evening, headed south. We had dinner in Belgium and continued towards Luxembourg, surrounded by snow. Belgium’s highways are lit, an exception in Europe. We stopped at a hotel in Luxembourg for the night.

The next morning we were greeted by sun and cold.


We quickly drove through tiny Luxembourg and entered France, following first the directions to Metz and Thionville, passing alongside the “highway cathedral”, the Église Saint-Joseph et Saint-Louis, then following the signs for Strasbourg:

Approaching Strasbourg there was snow again. We passed under the wildlife bridge (apparently used only by hikers, instead of deer and other large mammals), and through forests, white with frozen snow.

We didn’t drive through Strasbourg, and took the road for Karlsruhe instead; we exited the highway and crossed the border with Germany at Gambsheim, over the Rhine. We had booked a table at the Rhinkaechle, but arrived a bit too early, so we walked around the mighty hydroelectrical dam and its fish pass, one of the two largest passes in Europe:

After the meal and the required barge-spotting at the locks, we entered Germany and drove to Basel, where we would enter Switzerland:

The leitmotiv of Switzerland are the tunnels (the longest being Gotthard and Seelisberg) and the mountains:

We came out of the Gotthard tunnel to meet the blue twilight at Airolo, and drove uneventfully south until the border crossing at Stabio-Gaggiolo and finally Varese. The pictures came out increasingly blurred, and moreover it is a very familiar part of the road for me, so I didn’t take many.

Thanks to a comfortable car and change of drivers, we didn’t arrive too tired at our destination. It was great for the driver to have cruise-control, and for everyone a smooth ride at high speed.

I cherish this route and I’m happy to drive along it every now and then. For my friends it has become part of the FOSDEM experience, and the occasion for endless discoveries along the way (especially restaurants and industrial masterpieces). I thought about my affection for this route, that I felt stronger than the love of the places where I lived. And happier, too.

Happy new year!

Evening in Veneto

With this post I wish you all the best for the year that just started! I’d like to quote averagefairy, whose wishes resonated in me:

2018 is about little victories. we’re not putting pressure on ourselves to become everything we’ve always wanted to be because nobody can do that in a year. instead we’re focusing on making forward strides and we’re celebrating every single win no matter how small. — source: Tumblr

Speaking of little wins in my radar, I decided to practice drums, yoga, blogging and drawing on a more regular basis. I tested various apps and off-line tools, and I finally chose an app for activity tracking, Loop Habit Tracker. I can set how often I plan to practice a given activity and it produces nice statistics and graphs. I’ll let you know how it works in a future post!

Trip to Trentino – feeling home

Trento, rosso ammonitico

I found a few pictures from our last trip to Trentino and I thought about my strong feeling of belonging to that region. I lived there four years, and left with sorrow, as I quickly grew attached to its landscapes and peculiar history – human and natural, back to the dinosaurs and the ammonites in Trento’s pavements.

Every time I come back there, I feel an increasingly impatient joy when recognising mountain peaks, buildings, landmarks, and finally breathe again the many scents that were so familiar, and the overall freshness of the air. I definitely feel coming back home, then I feel puzzled because my home is currently somewhere else. Are they comparable? Will my current home ever become similarly familiar and yet remote, at the favour of some other corner of the Earth?

Val Campelle, Lagorai

Trento, ponte san Lorenzo

It’s hard to say. When I lived in South Africa I had the same feeling of home. I wonder how I would feel if I travelled back there.

Buffalos  @ Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve

On giving and receiving feedback

Today I visited a Montessori classroom (around 30 children, 9 to 11 years old) and had the chance to attend a presentation about animal welfare, created by one of the children. First, it was a feast to see how much information she collected, how she organised it into a meaningful sequence, and how she presented, both reading texts written by herself and initiating brief guessing games where all children gladly took part. The presentation lasted almost an hour, and awoke the general curiosity. Many children set precise questions and she answered with sincerity.


The most touching part for me was the final feedback from most of the people present, both children and adults (the teacher, the girl’s parents and a few guests including me): it felt sincere, accurate, carefully worded and spontaneous. I have read many articles and books about giving feedback and I thought I knew a lot, but was overwhelmed and almost surprised by how experienced everyone acted in that circle. I was equally moved by the quiet joy of the girl answering with a few words to each person, often with a simple, soft “Thank you”. It felt so right! She did a terrific job, put a lot of effort, time and passion into it, presented it to the whole group with an enviable nonchalance, then her classmates gave her positive feedback and a few points to improve: she deserved to be proud for that. It made me think of the times when my parents scolded me for looking too proud when I received compliments, and I am so glad that this girl, and the other children in that group, can practice this healthy feedback exchange from an early age so that it can become a natural, fully functional part of their growth.

Die Sonne genießen. N'Jumo, Orientalisch Kurzhaar.

On learning German: translation challenges

Some time ago in the underground I overheard a conversation between a girl with socks decorated with avocados and a guy with a postage-stamp tattoo. The girl mentioned her German course and he got the idea to improvise a translation quiz. It went approximately like this:

Guy (opening the girl’s notebook with the list of words she learned so far): So, how would you translate “silent”?

Girl: I think it’s “still”.

Guy: No, not in that sense – not in the sense of “mute”, either – no, maybe “quiet” would be a better word…

They took at least two underground stops to agree on which meaning of “silent” should be translated to German. I had to get out at my stop and I still don’t know if they succeeded 🙂

I am often in similar situations when I have a word in English or Italian in mind, and need to find its German equivalent. Unlike the other languages I know, there is rarely a 1:1 match, and the search for the appropriate translation becomes a quest full of surprises: how many translations are there for Blatt? See this post from Your Daily German! And how many for Anhänger? Check Wiktionary, and find out that it can mean either “trailer”, or “party member”, “fan”, and even “pendant”… And what about Gewalt? It is translated with either “power” or “violence” – I found it dangerously ambiguous at first, but then realised that “Gewalt” then automatically includes the possibility of misuse, which sounds to me a healthy warning sign.

My journey with German is then at the same time a journey of re-discovery of my known languages. I discover how German chooses words according to the functionality, and that apparently distant concepts look suddenly close, like in a perspective trick. French and Italian have less apparent connections among words, also because Latin and Greek roots are much more common and they don’t show their meaning so clearly as German does. As an example, I laughed a lot when I learned that “isosceles” is translated in German as gleichschenkelig – literally “with the same legs”. An isosceles triangle is “same-legged”! Then I checked what “isosceles” means, and it’s the Greek word for precisely “with the same legs”…

I like travelling in the meaning of words across languages. Sometimes I discover different points of view on a given topic, or the effect of a grammar rule that sometimes forces words to get a nuance they won’t get otherwise (I think mostly of grammatical gender). I think I didn’t get that 3D effect when I learned Italian and French, because they are very close, and I learned English mainly by translating 1:1. German doesn’t allow that so easily, and I am glad to be required to change my mindset and expand my views.

M. C. Escher: Magic Mirror (source: Wikiart)