Oooh Lambert

I remember the sixth of December 1997 as the day I got to know how to read a map. A holy man came into my house, or that’s what I believed according to the legend of Saint Nicholas, and dropped an atlas and a globe on the couch. That day, I learned the capitals of some countries you wouldn’t have heard of in a million years (probably you have now, thank you Geo Challenge) and most importantly, I learned how to interpret coordinates! I spun the globe around and where it stopped I had to look up the details in the atlas. What a joyful way to spend time without social media around, just yet.

We’re 10 years later. Google has just released Google Earth and to my great pleasure I had a much better globe and atlas in one single program. For old times’ sake I flung my globe, that was after all these years still standing next to me on my desk, and chose a random coordinate, put it in Google Earth and… guess what… it worked!

Today, 2011, I’m an open data enthusiast and so much more. I’m working on the iRail project. The project aims at creating a general webservice for public transport in Europe. At this moment it works for the Belgian railway company and we’re working on support for the Dutch railway company and Belgian bus- and subwaycompanies. It’s the latter that made me feel very insecure.

The result of 100 lines of code (

This site let’s you convert an address into coordinates. An incredible tool for location-based open data! In the end an end-user doesn’t want to query on coordinates, but on an address. Let’s turn this tool into a webservice right? We scraped the NMBS (Belgian railwaycompany) before so this will be easy! At least, that’s what I though this morning. Today, in my breaks from studying of course, I have spent my time figuring out what these X/Y-coordinates meant:

X: 65591.206
Y: 171629.285

As this site is hardly documented I started googling what they could mean. On a very Belgian-looking (this is not a compliment) website I’ve found documentation: check it out for yourself. Apparently for some reason, please someone tell me why, Belgium started to use its own “Lambert projection” which uses the Hayford1924 ellipsoid. Too complicated? Well, not yet… It seems that this Lambert 1972 projection didn’t do the trick anymore and everyone was in need for a better, Lambert 2005 projection. Which was a lot better because in 2008 they decided to change this projection into Lambert 2008, which was not that bad because if you wanted to use 2008 instead of 2005 you only had to add 499 000m to each coordinate. This is a good thing because now the Lambert 2008 projection uses the GRS80 ellipsoid. Get it? Me neither. In fact, it feels like filling out my tax bill for the first time all over again.

Of course this had some implications since software that supported this projection became confused. They didn’t know what kind of Lambert they implemented and as a result showed wrong locations (typically exactly 1km off: the 1972 – 2005 problem). In fact I’ve had a hard time today writing a function, because there were no ready-made functions out there and because apparently the math is not that easy. If anyone would stumble upon this problem, the PHP code for the Lambert 1972 projection can be found HERE. You hereby get my permission to steal this “tools” class and reuse it elsewhere (WTFPL).

Is there someone who can tell me more about why Belgium is so keen on the Lambert projection? It is used by a lot of Belgian instances and I figured there most be some benefits over the WGS84 standard, which we have all learned as a kid: longitude & latitude… Any comment welcome

– Pieter


Killing dead time

Social media is not about losing a lot of time by being social instead. It’s about being productive in the dead-time-continuum. Let me explain…

If I were to become an autobiographist, «killing dead time» certainly would rank high in a list to qualify for a good title. Not that my life is that interesting – although describing the life of the people in it would be an interesting perspective – but it is true however that my life is filled with time that politely asks to be killed.

I used to love walking. I live in Ghent and walking from one side of town to the other is something I preferred rather than riding a bike. Why? If you would have asked some weeks ago I would have answered: “because I’m too lazy to maintain a bike”. But the main reason lies elsewhere. Being on the road gives you the great opportunity to overthink things. For instance if I go to a meeting on foot I know that when I enter the room I will be better prepared. Taking thought-consuming types of transport, such as a bike or a car, will make you lose your X minutes of thinking-time.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who has dead time – dead time being the time you are not doing your maintask -. A good friend of mine told me he always uses the toilet for approximately 16 minutes. That’s exactly the time he needs to finish this mobile phone game, extending his visit but making it a lot more fun. Of course we can recite an endless list – such as queuing at the grocerystore, waiting for a bus or plane or train, sitting on a bus or plane or train… – but that’s something every person can fill out for him- or herself.

When I discussed this idea with my father, people having too much dead time, we were thinking this could actually have a positive side-effect: people may actually do productive things. As he works as a researching in computer assisted language learning at the university of Antwerp he figured this might be exactly why language learning apps are very important. When are you going to learn a language? Not when you’re at your computer working for that customer whose product should have been ready yesterday, but when you’re at the airport waiting for the plane, or even on the plane, on your way to the next customer.

Seems like we weren’t the first to come up with this idea. Although our idea will get better implementations 😉

I think this is the reason for the success of social media. If you would look up the geolocation of your friends’ tweets (twitter messages) I bet you would be able to find out the exact location of the bathroom in their building. This is also the reason why I like the iRail project a lot: apart from planning your trip, iRail will also try to make your commuting as fun and interesting as possible: providing real-time social media updates from your train, letting your friends know you’re on this train or playing augmented reality games such as

It may be interesting to know that I just got of my bus, which I prefer taking over walking home now. During the trip I’ve catched up on twitter, I have read my email and wrote this blogpost.


New laptop

What I need:

  • 8GB RAM
  • ~14″
  • battery should last ~5hours
  • Solid State Drive
  • no Microsoft tax (I don’t use Windows™ so I don’t want to pay for it)
  • in €1xxx range
  • at least 2 mouse buttons and a ctrl-key (sorry apple)
  • should be very quiet

Anyone any idea?

I don’t care about gfx card but it’s a plus if it should work with open source drivers.

About Apple store, GPL’s, VLC and BeTrains

So there has been a lot going on about Apple’s infringement of the General Public License. For people wondering about the iRail project (yes, we do GPL too) and BeTrains, I will try to explain this hassle in human words.

First of all for non programmers, GPL explained: when you write a book you will obtain copyright on it. Each author is protected as soon as he wrote something in almost any country and all rights are reserved by you. As a consequence you might want to give people the right to redistribute your book, or the right to edit your book and redistribute it yourself. This is where licenses come in: you can license anyone to make a derivative work of yours. For text (wikipedia for instance) people use Creative Commons, for programs, programmers tend to use the GPL (General Public License).

The GPL license has only one basic rule which says the freedom of both the creator and the user should be respected. There are 4 freedoms that should be taken into account:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.

Of course this has been poured into the mould of lawyers and a pretty complex text came out which did that.

The problem with the Apple store today is that when you downloaded an application from it, you do not have freedom 3. I assume that R. Denis-Courmont (a VLC contributor and less importantly a Nokia employee) tries to change the Apple store to a more transparent system by telling them they infringed on the GPL with their VLC app and they should allow copying applications from one phone to another when they are licensed under the GPL. Instead of Apple adding 2 lines of code to their system which would allow people who downloaded GPL apps to copy those from one isomething to another isomething, they seem to have removed the VLC app from their store which resulted in irrelevant reactions, annoyed users and frustrated contributors.

So what’s the deal with iRail and BeTrains?

Good news! We are still on the appstore although we use the GPL. With the iRail npo (non profit organisation) we own 100% of the copyright on the BeTrains application and by adding it to the appstore we gave Apple the exception to put it online by ignoring the third freedom.

On one hand we do not agree with Apple’s decision. On the other hand we want to give our users the best experience. We believe that if people want to share it with friends they still can look up the source code on and they still can download the binaries from somewhere else and redistribute it.

Is this the solution for the VLC app?

I don’t know. The VLC team will have to look carefully at who owns the rights to the application and they will need each and everyone’s consent to give Apple this exception and to ‘waive’ this freedom for them. On the other hand the whole point at first was the question to Apple to allow people to redistribute their application under certain circumstances. What Apple’s philosophy is? I have no clue but apparently their products won’t suffer any sales-drops anyway.

– Pieter

The relentless absurdity of piracy

It’s generally known that piracy tends to have not so positive side-effects. It’s a word that victimizes one group of people and makes others the cause of injustice and misery. One thing pirates got in common with their victims: they don’t want piracy to happen at all. What if they could get a fair chance at achieving what they wanted in the first place? But… who were we talking about again? Pirates?

Identifying the pirates

Piracy in terms of intellectual property is not a neologism. In fact, it has been around since the beginning of the 17th century according to wikipedia. It meant and still means: «the infringement of exclusive rights in creative works». To my knowledge, it is only recently that people started identifying with pirates. But why would you want to be like such horrible beings? Right, the image has become ridiculous and people tend to like sarcasm.

I will not write about how copyright corporations abuse the term to shoot at… well… everyone. Instead I wanted to know how people deal with the current legislation. Therefor we can introduce the term «corporate piracy», which means «the prevention of innovation and exploration of creative works by big corporations».

X ways of being a pirate

First of all, let’s see how we can become a pirate. There are tons of reasons for corporate pirates to be calling you a pirate:

1. Download music online

Or watch some movies on a popular site like youtube or vimeo which may contain copyrighted material.

2. Organise an event

And put on a radio! Or your collection of expensive CD’s! Or your collection of downloaded audiofiles, it doesn’t matter.

3. Reuse music in new material

This is my favourite way. Take 1000 songs and mash them up into a 10 minute movie which is an entirely new story! You’ll be fined for every song and the claim might be around 1billion$.

If none of these things has ever been done by you, I’m sure you once lend your friend a CD of yours. Technically speaking this is piracy as well.

Two ways of taking this system

Ignore the system, just do what you like, if you get caught, you’re one of the unlucky.

Hm. Not a good way of dealing with injustice, is it? Also, the law won’t change very soon. At least, not in the right way, so don’t put any hopes on that.

Patch the system

Don’t be a pirate! I often compare pirates to hippies. They both hate the system but instead of helping building a better society they ignore it. Let’s make this business healthy again instead, let’s find a new balance between consumers and creative products. Let’s find a way in which consumers can become artists.

If you’re an artist, let’s rule out the middleman. In fact, if your music is any good, you don’t need any protection of your music. Your real fans will buy your CD. Others will have a listen by hearing it on the radio, getting it over the Internet, by getting a CD of a friend… But don’t say these people are pirates for being curious! In fact, these people are the most important link in the chain of mouth-to-mouth advertising. Since no middleman need to be paid, the percent of the money paid by a consumer for a CD going to you, will increase enormously. Also songs bought online will have a much higher return. This will make up for the money not gained by songs played on parties or levies pulled on empty carriers or Internet connections.

If this incentive for a new business model appeals to you, you might want to take a look at what creative commons is all about. In 2012 I hope to start an organisation in Belgium which helps artists to take their music to consumers in a brand new way.

– Pieter


No more iRail on BonSansNom

A lot of my latest posts on BonSansNom were about iRail. Because each community member of iRail has his own blog and we want every iRail community statement in one place, we started So this is my last post on here about iRail. If you want to stay informed about latest development, please add this blog to your RSS reader.

– Pieter

Meer concreet: Vervotte beantwoordt iRail

Samenvatting antwoord Vervotte:

  1. De rechtstreekse aanleiding van de cease and desist brief was een klacht van een klant waarbij de klant een kwaliteitsprobleem met iRail expliciet en onterecht toeschreef aan de NMBS.
  2. De NMBS is verplicht om haar belangen inzake intellectuele rechten te verdedigen. Ik heb wel aan de NMBS gevraagd om zich  wat soepeler op te stellen, als het gaat over het ter beschikking stellen van databanken die gebruikt worden voor gratis consulteerbare, informatieve applicaties op het internet.
  3. De NMBS geeft er momenteel de voorkeur aan om in dialoog te treden en op zoek te gaan naar een minnelijke schikking. Dat impliceert natuurlijk onderling respect van de betrokken partijen.
  4. De NMBS heeft contacten gehad met enkele grote bedrijven waarmee strategische partnerschappen kunnen worden afgesloten. De NMBS zal de contacten tussen andere softwarebedrijven en iRail niet beletten, als de samenwerking gebeurt onder de  voorwaarden die tussen de NMBS en iRail of andere bedrijven kunnen worden afgesproken en gerespecteerd.
  5. Om de rezigers degelijk te informeren en om te beantwoorden aan de doelstelling van het beheerscontract gebruikt de NMBS de  software HAFAS, die ontwikkeld werd door dat gespecialiseerde bedrijf.

Mijn bedenkingen bij de antwoorden van minister Vervotte:

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