Locate that postcode

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/geopostcode/

Many of you will probably remember the news story a while ago about the forced closure of ernestmarples.com, a website which provided a free postcode geolocation API that was, in turn, used by several other organisations running public service websites.

The reason it was shut down was because postcode geolocation data is the property of Royal Mail, who charge a fee for its use through the “Postzon” database.

Following the closure, a petition was created on the PM’s website for the release of a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites. This gathered 2,333 signatories, which is pretty good going. However, the government response, either deliberately or through simple misunderstanding, focussed solely on the Postcode Address File (or PAF) database – that is, the database of every single address in the UK. That’s not what ernestmarples.com was using, and it’s not what the petition was really about.

What ernestmarples.com was using was the data contained in what Royal Mail calls “Postzon“. That’s a list of postcodes together with geographic coordinates of the postcode centre and information about which council ward, etc, it belongs to. Despite not going down to the level of individual addresses, the Postzon data is still hugely useful for a lot of applications. Geocoding to a postcode is helpful for things like local weather reports, “show me my nearest…” applications, overview navigation, etc. All the stuff that was being provided by the earnestmarples.com API until they were shut down, basically.

I think it’s reasonable to make a distinction between Postzon and PAF, at least for now. The PAF is an absolutely huge dataset that changes very rapidly – it changes every time a house, office, factory, warehouse, shop etc is built or demolished – and hence costs a substantial amount to maintain. I think it’s broadly acceptable that the Post Office should be able to recoup the costs of maintaining it when making it available to other organisations. However, the Postzon data is essentially static, and only changes when a postcode changes. So the cost of keeping it updated is relatively minimal, and hence there’s really no justification for charging for it – especially since, unlike the PAF, it doesn’t actually play any role in the delivery of mail. Other countries, such as the US, make their equivalent of Postzon available for free.

In the light of the government’s unsatisfactory response to the previous petition prompted by the closure of ernestmarples.com, I’ve created a new one. I’ve tried to word it in such a way that the government can’t possibly avoid responding to the main point by waffling on about the PAF instead. If you think that basic postocode data should be free, then please sign this petition:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/geopostcode/

We need a minimum of 500 signatories to force a response from the government. So your signature counts.

If you want more information about why this matters, then I’d encourage you to have a look at these websites:

http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/
http://ernestmarples.com/blog/

Incidentally, if you’re thinking that this petition isn’t necessary because the government has already made a commitment to releasing the postcode data, then think again. That promise is a very vague and woolly one, and still subject to various consultations. You can be sure that vested interests will be arguing strongly against the full release of Postzon or anything like it. And the fact that such proposals weren’t mentioned in their response to the previous petition is very telling. A significant aim of this petition is to remind the government that we, their electorate, are asking for this. There’s a lot of activity going on to try to persuade the government to rlease the Postzon data. This petition is just one small part of that.

Go on, sign now. You know it makes sense.

Everybody hurts sometimes

They’re all stuck.

Look at me.

Silence is gray.

Silence is golden.

Silence is a stone in my mouth.

Nobody can see me.

I had no idea.

They’re going to miss me.

Here we go again.

What is she thinking?

17 years…

If I had a gun.

How’m I gonna do this?

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

Stop singing. Stop singing. Stop singing.

You die, you turn to dust.

I’ll talk when I want to.

Why won’t you answer me?

Vamos a perder toda nuestra dignidad.

No tenemos mas tiempo.

No more tears.

Then can I grieve…
…at grievences foregone.

She’s gone.

Goodbye.

There’s nothing I can do.

Leave me alone.

New Year, New Year

I wasn’t planning on making any New Year resolutions as such, but then had second thoughts and decided to put a few down anyway. So here, in no particular order, are the things that are on my list for 2010:

  1. Lose weight. That’s a bit of a hardy perennial, really, and to be honest it’s not really a biggie. I’m not hugely excessive in the chubbiness department – I’m still at the stage where I can call it “cuddly” if I need to – so I don’t have any major targets here. But I am a bit above the ideal weight for my height, and, given that growing taller isn’t really an option, I could do with knocking off a few pounds. The main aim is to go from a situation where my clothes – especially my trousers – are just a tad on the tight side to one where they’re comfortably loose. If I can manage that, I’ll be happy.
  2. Get debt free. By the end of 2010, I want to have no debts other than the mortgage. I’m actually not all that far away from that anyway, so it ought to be relatively easy to achieve.
  3. Write more stuff on my blog. This was actually last year’s resolution; I didn’t achieve the target that time but that’s not going to stop me from trying again.
  4. Get out more. When I first moved to Stoke, I spent nearly every weekend out and about in the surrounding countryside, getting to know the area and just enjoying the scenery. Since moving to Evesham, though, I’ve done very little local exploring – most weekends are spent either in the house or shopping. That’s not to say I’ve done nothing – I have done a fair amount of local investigation – but not to the extent that I have done in the past. Partly, of course, that’s because I now have a family living with me, which makes things a bit more complicated, and partly also because the Vale of Evesham (and surrounding areas such as the Cotswolds) aren’t, frankly, anything like as interesting or visually spectacular as the Peak District and Snowdonia, the two places I spent most of my weekends after first moving to Stoke. I think I need to go a bit further afield – I haven’t been to the Malverns yet, and the Brecon Beacons are also in reach, so those are my immediate targets.
  5. Make music. Since leaving Stoke, and the Hope band, I’ve barely played a note. I need to get the keyboards set up and the guitar restrung and start playing again.
  6. Buy my wife flowers more often.
  7. Get involved in national politics. 2010 will be an election year; I want my voice to be one of those which helps shape our future. This is probably the most vague and amorphous resolution, since I don’t really have any detailed plan for achieving it. But it’s also the one I feel most passionately about, so I’m determined to find a way.
  8. Get the cat done. Kittens may be cute, fluffy and adorable, but they eat, wee and poo and it’s a pain in the neck trying to rehouse them.
  9. Tidy up the house, and keep it tidy. A resolution which I may well achieve by the simple means of hiring a cleaner.
  10. Travel. Other than the brief trip to Brussels last May, I haven’t been out of the country since our honeymoon in Ireland. And the trip to Brussels reminded me of how much I enjoy going to (relatively) far off places. So a big target for this year is to take a family holiday outside the UK, for the first time. That’s going to be interesting, to say the least – I’m not sure I really fancy flying with a three year old and a baby (which will have arrived on the scene before we’re likely to go anywhere), so our destination is probably going to have to be somewhere accessible by ferry or the tunnel. Ireland again is an obvious choice, but I rather fancy visiting Amsterdam – I haven’t been there for many years, and it would be nice to go back. France or Spain would be options too – does anyone have a gîte or a villa we could borrow?