My latest project: Chinatown Today

It has been forever since I updated this blog. Like many freelance Web-developers, I am so busy building sites for other people that I do not spend enough time working on my own little corner of the Web. Sorry about that.

This past year, all of my spare time has been devoted to a single project: Chinatown Today. I wanted to build a platform to relay all the voices in the community, using as many of my skills as possible.
After a few months of running a Chinatown blog on my own, I was soon joined by a whole team of volunteers.

Please have a look at the current version of the project, which grew far beyond what I hoped.

From a technical point of view, it was a crash course in WordPress programming, trying to catch up with lead programmer Victor Temprano.

I used my PHP and aggregation skills to develop a Chinatown-specific Instagram-crawler which I use to fuel our daily Instagram Selection.

This is an ongoing project, which is sure to evolve over time. I am proud to be a part of it.

To answer the eternal question: “What’s going on?”

For a long time, I have been playing with the idea of an app that would let people find out what’s going on in their immediate neighbourhood.

I made a prototype for a location-aware chat program.
It worked like an old-fashioned CB radio: users can only see messages if they are within ‘range’ of the source.
I still love the idea, but it would not work without a lot of users. So I put it aside.

Next, I thought of an app where venue owners (concert halls, theaters, community centres, libraries, pubs, sports clubs…) would publish their full calendar.
Users could easily see if it’s Quiz Night at the pub around the corner, or if there is a poetry reading at the library.
Again, I believe we need this kind of system, but getting everyone to publish their calendar would be a nightmare.

My thinking has shifted from “if you build it, they will come” to a more modest approach.

These days, everyone is posting all sorts of content on various social networks.
Several apps already let us aggregate content from all our contacts on our many accounts.
But I do not know of any convenient way to discover local activity, wherever we are.

So, here is my new idea :
Creating a real-time feed of publicly-accessible local content.

And in plain English:
See what’s going on around you (as long as people are posting publicly and adding their location)

For a start, I will try pulling content from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Instagram.

I live in Vancouver, on the border between Chinatown and Strathcona.

Flickr makes it easy to find pictures taken around my location :
Pictures around my location, sorted by distance
Pictures around my location, sorted by date

Instagram must have similar possibilities.
Several apps already filter content based on neighbourhood (though, living on the border between two neighbourhoods, I would rather filter based on distance from my actual GPS coordinates).
Instagram pictures from Strathcona
Instagram pictures from Chinatown

Twitter makes things even easier.
Tweets within 1km from my location. No account required.

As far as I know, Facebook requires an account for that kind of searching.
It needs further investigation.

It’s going to be a lot of work.
Feel free to contact me if you would like to help.

Update, June 24th 2014
I have created a prototype based on Flickr and Twitter.
I call it LocalLive.
The interface needs a ton of work, but the basics are here: choose a location, click ‘Go’ and get results.

Reading a simple XLS file with PHPExcel


// Load the library
include 'phpexcel/Classes/PHPExcel/IOFactory.php';

// Open the XLS file
$file = “testFile.xls”;
$objPHPExcel = PHPExcel_IOFactory::load($file);

// Get the active sheet (assuming the data is on the first sheet)
$sheetData = $objPHPExcel->getActiveSheet()->toArray(null,true,true,true);

if (count($sheetData) > 0) {

foreach ($sheetData as $row) {

// Get the values
$firstField = $row[‘A’];
$fourthField = $row[‘D’];