San Jose Workploration Update / OpenStreetMap


“San Jose, what a crappy place!” Those were my initial thoughts when I had only seen the airport and the way from the bus station by Uber to my Airbnb. The city looked dirty and dangerous with lots of homeless people on the street, some of them annoyingly intrusive. Plus my Airbnb is located on a busy, loud and dirty road.

Luckily San Jose showed me other sides in the following week. Besides getting back into a work routine I walked daily to explore the city. I managed to find a shortcut to the city center along a railway track and skipped most of the traffic πŸ˜„

Railway Mapping OpenStreetMap

The railway line close to my Airbnb somehow feels special to me. The locals walk here like it was the most normal thing in the world, but for me I still haven’t fully gotten used to it.

It reminds me of the images and videos I’ve seen on YouTube where vendors in Asia have their shops on top of the railway and somehow fold it closed when a train slowly passes.

Maeklong railway market Bangkok, Thailand

Should I map the track or not? The locals clearly use it as a path in their day-to-day lives but on the other hand it’s probably more risky than a usual footpath.

In the end I decided to put it on the map because it helped me get to the city center way faster and avoiding the busy and noisy main roads. One mental model I learned from Farnam Street comes to mind: The Map is not the Territory. OpenStreetMap tries to get close to the territory and represent the world for what it is, not for some idealised state. That’s at least one prevalent view I’ve encountered in the community and one I adhere to.

The app I use for recording on my Google Pixel 6 phone is called OsmAnd. I then take the recorded GPX tracks and annotations (photos, audio recordings, video), copy them over to my laptop and use the JOSM (Java OSM) editor to add the information to the global OpenStreetMap database.

Afterwards any algorithm can use the information. In the example below I use the built-in routing feature on the OpenStreetMap website to navigate me from near my Airbnb to near CafΓ© Mundo, a really nice cafe / restaurant close to my home.


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