Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Minutes from the last minutes of 2017

2016 paved the way for a 2017 that took me in a couple new directions but mostly fell along the same themes.

This summer, I traveled to the Wikimania conference in Montréal to continue promoting closer ties between the Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap movements. There’s a long road ahead, but tight coordination between the projects is feeling more inevitable now than it did back in 2015.

Mapbox also sent me to State of the Map U.S. in Boulder to make the case that OpenStreetMap needs a mobile software ecosystem to stay relevant. I’m still busy crafting that OSM-powered map library for iOS. But business needs sent me on a detour building a turn-by-turn navigation library to complement it. Well I love detours, or longcuts, as I remind myself after forgetting to make that left turn for the dozenth time. Maybe I need a smartphone after all.

Then again, I love the fact that I can be an unabashed roadgeek and get paid for it. The U.S. road system is fantastically idiosyncratic, so the state of the art in navigation software falls quite short still. My typical hobbyist obsession with route shields and the like can ultimately benefit the motoring public through better software.

When it comes to navigation, my job formal qualifications amount to riding shotgun on the hour-long bus ride home from school – lest I get motion sickness – plus navigating from the backseat during road trips, keeping one eye on the radar detector and the other on the Watchman. But if nothing else, those experiences help me counter the Calicentrism that shows up in surprising ways in this field.

Speaking of California, OpenStreetMap’s coverage of San José is really looking up these days. As I briefly mentioned in Boulder, our coverage of points of interest is beginning to rival more established sources. To prove it, I manually counted the entries of the local phone book, thereby cementing my reputation among Mapboxers as a phone geek.

Mozilla finally killed off support for the extension platform that made Firefox a household name and kept the browser relevant during all these years of Chrome hegemony. Mozilla couched it as a speed boost, but Vietnamese speakers quickly discovered my keyboarding extension, AVIM, among the casualty list. They really have no good alternative for writing in their language. Hopefully I’ll be able to revive AVIM atop Firefox’s new extension architecture (really, Chrome’s) in the new year. It’ll involve some lobbying and mucking around in Firefox internals, which is a road I didn’t anticipate taking when I took over that extension a decade ago.

Another hobby of mine succumbed to technical debt this year: the blog you’re reading. It’s hobbling along again, thanks to a last-minute upgrade. But it’s only a matter of time before I have to move it off Movable Type. It’s been a solid 15 years or so.

Time flies. I flew a bit this year too, but not enough to shake the roadgeek out of me.


Short-term memory

  1. Minutes from the last minutes of 2017

    (12/31/2017)

    2016 paved the way for a 2017 that took me in a couple new directions but mostly fell along the same themes.

  2. Finding Wilson Boulevard

    (5/21/2017)

    About 18 years ago, my family took advantage of Labor Day weekend to make our first day trip to Chicago, to finally see the bustling Vietnamese community whose clearance we had happily bought for years.

  3. Minutes from the last minutes of 2016

    (12/31/2016)

    A blog post authored on December 31st is all but guaranteed to be a year in review. But I’ve procrastinated on updating this blog for well over a year, so you’ll get more than you bargained for.

  4. Mapbox

    (3/03/2015)

    A couple weeks ago, I started at Mapbox, a startup focused on advancing open data and GIS technology.

  5. A nation of handouts

    (2/14/2015)

    Years ago, I started to collect government-issued road maps, procuring them for free by stopping by roadside welcome centers and signing their guestbooks. Look what happens when I take the collection out of its shoebox.


The name’s Minh Nguyễn. I’m a San José–based software developer, free content and open data enthusiast, and ardent defender of diacritics everywhere. Since March 2002, Minh’s Notes has been home to my occasional insights and frequent attempts at humor.