the blllog.

Introducing Noise

2017-09-19 11:00

I meant to write this blog post for quite some time. It's my view on the new project I'm working on called Noise. I work together with Damien Katz on it full-time for already about a year now. Damien already blogged a bit about the incarnation of Noise.

I can't recall when Damien first told me about the idea, but I surely remember one meeting we had at Couchbase, were plenty of developers were packed in a small room in the Couchbase Mountain View office. Damien was presenting his idea on how flexible JSON indexing should work. It was based on an idea that came up a long time ago at IBM (see Damien's blog post for more information).

Then the years passed without this project actually happening. I've heard again about it when I was visiting Damien while I was in the Bay Area. He told me about his plan actually doing this for real. If I would join early i would become a founder of the project. It wasn't a light-hearted decision, but I eventually decided to leave Couchbase to work full-time on Noise.

Originally Damien created a prototype in C++. But as I was really convinced that Rust is the future for systems programming and databases, I started to port it to Rust before I visited him in the US. Although Damien was skeptical at first, he at least wanted to give it a try and during my stay I convinced him that Rust is the way to go.

Damien did the hard parts on the core of Noise and the Node.js bindings. I mostly spent my time getting an R-tree working on top of RocksDB. It took several attempts, but I think finally I found a good solution. Currently it's a special purpose implementation for Noise, but it could easily be made more generic, or adapted to other specific use cases. If you have such needs, please let me know. At this year's Global FOSS4G conference I presented Noise and its spatial capabilities to a wider audience. I'm happy with the feedback I got. People especially seem to enjoy the query language we came up with.

So now we have a working version which does indexing and has many query features. You can try out Noise online. There's also basic geospatial bounding box query support, which I'll blog more about once I've cleaned up the coded-in-rush-for-a-conference mess and have merged into the master branch.

There are exciting times ahead as now it's time to get some funding for the project. Damien and I don't want to do the venture capital based startup kind of thing, but rather try to find funding through other channels. This will also define the next steps. Noise is a library so it can be the basis for a scaled up distributed system, and/or to scale down into a nice small analytics system that you can run on your local hardware when you don't have access to the cloud.

So in case you read this, tried it out and think that this is exactly what you've been looking for, please tell me about your use case and perhaps you even want to help funding this project.

Categories: en, Noise, RocksDB, Rust, geo

Distributed systems class with Aphyr

2017-09-14 14:15

I was in luck. Nuno Job organized a distributed systems class for his YLD crowd and invited friends over to join. The class was thought by Kyle Kingsbury (Aphyr) who is probably best known for Jepsen. I obviously couldn't say no to such an offer.

I really enjoyed it. Although I've been working on a distributed system for the most of my career, it was good to get a general overview of distributed systems from ground up. There is obviously more than just databases or what you learn at university.

We touched many topics, real world stories were told. Kyle did a great job, leading seamlessly from one topic to the other. He really knows what he's talking about, is funny and makes it an overall great experience. You find the contents of the class on Github, but you really want to have Kyle teaching it to you.

New things I've learned about

So there was something to learn for everyone. Here's a few things that I need to dig into deeper:

Categories: en

FOSS4G 2017

2017-09-01 22:56

The Global FOSS4G 2017 conference was a great experience as every year. Meeting all those people you know already for years, but also those you’ve so far met only virtually.

The talks

The program committee did a great job with the selection. Especially since there were so many to select from. Here are the most memorable talks:

  • “Optimizing Spatiotemporal Analysis Using Multidimensional Indexing with GeoWave” by Richard Fecher: The talked also touched the technical details on how they solve building a multidimensional index on top of distributed key-value stores. Currently they support Apache Accumulo, Apache HBase and Google’s Bigtable, but in theory they could also support any distributed key-value store, hence also [Apache CouchDB](http://couchdb.apache.org/ or Couchbase. I really enjoyed the technical depth and that it is based on solid research and evaluations.

  • “DIY mapping with drones and open source in a humanitarian context” by Dan Joseph: It was really nice to see that not everyone is using quadcopters for drone mapping, but that there’s also fixed-wing drones (they look like planes). It gave good details about failures and success. I wish good look with future models and the mapping itself.

  • “GPUs & Their Role in Geovisualization” by Todd Mostak: GPUs are now so powerful that you can do your multidimensional queries on points with doing table scans. That’s quite impressive. It’s also good to see that the core of MapD got open sourced under the Apache License 2.0.

Sadly I’ve missed two talks I wanted to see. One was [Steven Ottens](https://twitter.com/stvno_ speaking about “D3.js in postgres with plv8 V8/JavaScript”. It sounds daunting at first, but if you think about the numerous JavaScript libraries for geo processing that are out there, it makes sense for rapid prototyping.

The other one was Steven Feldman’s talk on “Fake Maps”. I always enjoy Steven’s talks as he digs into maps as much as I’d love to, but sadly don’t take the time to. Though he said that once the recording of the talk is out, I should grab a beer and enjoy watching it. I’m looking forward to do so.

My own talk went really well. Originally I thought being on the last slot on Friday — the last conference day — is bad, as people don’t have my time to approach you after the talk. But in the end it was actually good as I had several days to promote it to people who are interested. I loved that I was in the smallest room of the venue, hence it was packed. I’ll write more about the talk once I’ve cleaned up the code and pushed it to the master branch, so that you can all play with the spatial features yourself.

The keynotes

This year there were 5 keynotes, which I think is a good number. You always need to keep in mind that depending on the length, you might kick out 10–20 normal speaker slots. I enjoyed all of them, although in my opinion, for most of them 30 mins (instead of 45 mins) would’ve been sufficient. But I have to admit that I could probably see Paul Ramsey talking for hours and it would still be great.

Of course one keynote — the one from Richard Stallman — stood out. It surely lead to lively discussion within the community, which is really a great thing. I share the opinion of Jeff McKenna that I really respect what Stallman did and is doing and how much he is into it. Though it came clear to me that I am an Open Source developer who cares about openness and transparency.

The venue

The venue was a typical conference center, which had the benefit that the rooms were close together. This made switching rooms even within slots easily possible.

One thing I didn’t like was the air conditioning. Some rooms were cooled down way to much. Did anyone measure? I know, it’s a cultural thing and not the fault of the organizers. Though I wonder how much energy and money could’ve been saved when the temperature would’ve been lowered to an acceptable level only.

Sometimes there are discussions about the location of the OSGeo booth within the exhibition area. I think this year it was in a good spot. It wasn’t at the most prestigious place, that’s for Diamond sponsors. But at a spot where people actually gather/hang out, that’s a way better fit in my opinion.

The social events

The social events were nice and I was happy that I was able to bring in a well known and liked former community member into the icebreaker event. The icebreaker reminded me a bit of last year’s one. There it was possible to bring anyone who wanted to go there. I think the attendees had some vouchers, but I can’t recall really the details. Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to have one social event where you can bring in people that are in the area, but don’t attend the conference.

The code sprint

The code sprint was hosted at the District Hall which is a innovation/startup/co-working place. We had the whole space which was really nice. The different tribes, Java, MapServer, Postgres and Fancy Shit assembled at different spots and put up signs, so it was easy to find your way to the right group.


I also need to mention that the day before the FOSSS4G there was the JS.Geo at the same place as the code sprint. It was a really nice event and if I ever organize an English single track geo conference, I’ll get Brian Timoney as a moderator. He was so entertaining and really contributed to the great vibe this conference had.


This year there wasn’t a printed program brochure. It was all just available online at — the certainly cool — https://foss4g.guide/ or as app. I on my FirefoxOS phone was using the website. I think it could’ve been better to navigate, but it was OK and I didn’t really miss the brochure. The website based guide was OK when you were on your phone and on-site, to see which talks are up next. I don’t think it worked well if you tried to do some ahead of time planning.

The FOSS4G t-shirts look great, but I’m a bit sad that they were grey (a nice one though) and the Local Team had t-shirts in my favourite orange color.

Notes for future years

It might really make sense to not producing a printed program brochure anymore as probably all attendees have a smartphone anyway (though this needs to be checked by Local Team depending on the area). If you decide to go Web only, you should make sure it works offline and perhaps spending the time you would’ve spent on the printed one instead on the usability of the web one.

Categories: en, conference, geo

By Volker Mische

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