Finding near locations with GeoDjango and Postgis Part II

This is a continuation of part I.

Converting phrases into coordinates

Let’s test out Nominatim – the Open Street Maps tool to search their map data. We basically want whatever the user types in to turn into map coordinates.

from geopy.geocoders import Nominatim
from django.contrib.gis.geos import Point

def words_to_point(q):
    geolocator = Nominatim()
    location = geolocator.geocode(q)
    point = Point(location.longitude, location.latitude)
    return point

We can take vague statements like New York and get the coordinates of New York City. So easy!

Putting things together

I’ll use Django Rest Framework to make an api where we can query this data and return json. I’m leaving out some scaffolding code – so make sure you are familiar with Django Rest Framework first – or just make your own view without it.

class LocationViewSet(mixins.ListModelMixin, viewsets.GenericViewSet):
    """ Searchable list of locations

    GET params:

    - q - Location search paramater (New York or 10001)
    - distance - Distance away. Defaults to 50
    serializer_class = LocationSerializer
    queryset = Location.objects.all()

    def get_queryset(self, *args, **kwargs):
        queryset = self.queryset
        q = self.request.GET.get('q')
        distance = self.request.GET.get('distance', 50)
        if q:
            point = words_to_point(q)
            distance = D(mi=distance)
            queryset = queryset.filter(point__distance_lte=(point, distance))
        return queryset

My central park location shows when I search for New York, but not London. Cool.
Screenshot from 2015-10-02 14-55-45

At this point we have a usable backend. Next steps would be to pick a client side solution to present this data. I might post more on that later.

Finding near locations with GeoDjango and Postgis Part I

With GeoDjango we can find places in proximity to other places – this is very useful for things like a store locator. Let’s use a store locater as an example. Our store locator needs to be able to read in messy user input (zip, address, city, some combination). Then, locate any stores we have nearby.

General concept and theory

Screenshot from 2015-10-01 17-16-31

We have two problems to solve. One is to turn messy address input into a point on the globe. Then we need a way to query this point against other known points and determine which locations are close.

Set up known locations

Before we can really begin we need to set up GeoDjango. You can read the docs or use docker-compose.

It’s still a good idea to read the tutorial even if you use docker.

Let’s add a location. Something like:

class Location(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=70)
    point = models.PointField()

    objects = models.GeoManager()

A PointField stores a point on the map. Because Earth is not flat we can’t use simple X, Y coordinates. Luckily you can almost think of Latitude and Longitude as X, Y. GeoDjango defaults to this. It’s also easy to get Latitude and Longitude from places like Google Maps. So if we want – we can ignore the complexities of mapping coordinates on Earth. Or you can read up on SRID if you want to learn more.

At this point we can start creating locations with points – but for ease of use add GeoModelAdmin to Django Admin to use Open Street Maps to set points.

from django.contrib import admin
from django.contrib.gis.admin import GeoModelAdmin
from .models import Location

class LocationAdmin(GeoModelAdmin):

Screenshot from 2015-10-01 17-31-54

Wow! We’re doing GIS!

Add a few locations. If you want to get their coordinates just type location.point.x (or y).

Querying for distance.

Django has some docs for this. Basically make a new point. Then query distance. Like this:

from django.contrib.gis.geos import fromstr
from django.contrib.gis.measure import D
from .models import Location

geom = fromstr('POINT(-73 40)')
Location.objects.filter(point__distance_lte=(geom, D(m=10000)))

m is meters – you can pass all sorts of things though. The result should be a queryset of Locations that are near our “geom” location.

Already we can find locations near other locations or arbitrary points! In Part II I’ll explain how to use Open Street Maps to turn a fuzzy query like “New York” into a point. And from there we can make a store locator!

Review of Tutanota

Tutanota is an open source email provider. It features easy to use end to end encryption. It’s notable as a modern, libre, and cheap hosted email provider.

Why not gmail

Gmail is easily the best email provider. It’s light years ahead of any open source system. It’s gratis for individual, education, nonprofit, and small business use. That makes it hard to compete with. However it’s also a giant proprietary service directing a huge portion of your communication to the world. As a free software advocate it’s hard to feel good about using Google services – especially ones as critical as communication. Google also took concerning steps to remove interoperability in it’s chat service by removing XMPP in the Google Hangouts.

In looking at alternatives I want something hosted (I do not want to deal with tech problems at home for something as important as email). I’d like something cheap – because even cheap is more expensive that Gmail. I also want something modern looking and easy to use.

The Good

Tutanota’s big feature is security. It’s not hosted in the United States. You can encrypt emails by clicking a button. It doesn’t sell your information to ad networks. It doesn’t leak your personal information when such ad networks or government agencies get hacked.

Tutanota has a modern web interface with native mobile apps (web wrapper, but acceptable). It’s minimalist but that isn’t necessarily bad.
Screenshot from 2015-09-27 15-29-41

Tutanota is easy to use. You can use their hosted version if you trust them and don’t want to host yourself. Setting up a custom domain was pretty easy. Aliases are no problem. It supports multiple users too (but I haven’t tested this out yet).

It’s cheap at 1€ per month per user for the premium account. It also has a free tier if you can go without a custom domain.

The Bad

Tutanota doesn’t support IMAP. That’s pretty annoying. I’d be highly annoyed if there was any decent open source email client – but as there is not I can forgive it. IMAP wouldn’t work with their security model. I wish they had it as an option with a big warning about security.

It lacks a lot of features you expect in email. As I said Gmail is way ahead here. No magic category filtering. No filtering rules. No contact book integration. Not even keyboard shortcuts.

Tutanota only recently open sourced it’s code. It needs to do more to promote a developer community. A public issue tracker would be nice. So would a contribution guide. Right now they only offer a user voice page that is more consumer focused. I left my feedback.


Tutanota is a great option if you want an open source email provider – but only if your feature requirements are minimal. It has great potential as they add more features. The world needs an easy way to send private messages and right now such privacy is a luxury for those very few who understand PGP encryption and can set up services themselves. I applaud anyone trying to make this easier.

Building an api for django activity stream with Generic Foreign Keys

I wanted to build a django-rest-framework api for interacting with django-activity-stream. Activity stream uses Generic Foreign Keys heavily which aren’t naturally supported. We can however reuse existing serializers and nest the data conditionally.

Here is a ModelSerializer for activity steam’s Action model.

from rest_framework import serializers
from actstream.models import Action
from myapp.models import ThingA, ThingB
from myapp.serializers import ThingASerializer, ThingBSerializer

class GenericRelatedField(serializers.Field):
    def to_representation(self, value):
        if isinstance(value, ThingA):
            return ThingASerializer(value).data
        if isinstance(value, ThingB):
            return ThingBSerializer(value).data
        # Not found - return string.
        return str(value)

class ActionSerializer(serializers.ModelSerializer):
    actor = GenericRelatedField(read_only=True)
    target = GenericRelatedField(read_only=True)
    action_object = GenericRelatedField(read_only=True)

    class Meta:
        model = Action

GenericRelatedField will check if the value is an instance of a known Model and assign it the appropriate serializer.

Next we can use a viewset for displaying Actions. Since activity stream uses querysets it’s pretty simple to integrate with a ModelViewSet. In my case I’m checking for a get parameter to determine whether we want all actions, actions of people the logged in user follows, or actions of the user. I added some filters on action and target content type too.

from rest_framework import viewsets
from actstream.models import user_stream, Action
from .serializers import ActionSerializer

class ActivityViewSet(viewsets.ReadOnlyModelViewSet):
    serializer_class = ActionSerializer

    def get_queryset(self):
        following = self.request.GET.get('following')
        if following and following != 'false' and following != '0':
            if following == 'myself':
                qs = user_stream(self.request.user, with_user_activity=True)
                return qs.filter(
            else:  # Everyone else but me
                return user_stream(self.request.user)
        return Action.objects.all()

    filter_fields = (
        'actor_content_type', 'actor_content_type__model',
        'target_content_type', 'target_content_type__model',

Here’s the end result, lots of nested data.
Screenshot from 2015-07-08 17:44:59

Open source chat

Web based chatting services like Hipchat and Slack are catching on these days. Such services are proprietary which severely limits your freedom to extend them and gives control over communication to a for profit company and probably the NSA. What free alternatives are out there? We have good old IRC and XMPP servers. But these are typically a no go for non technical folks and time consuming to set up. Let’s review web based offerings starting with my favorite.

Let’s Chat

Screenshot from 2015-06-03 23:13:31
Let’s chat is based on node and mongodb. It features a nice web interface and some very basic xmpp support. It is not federated sadly so you can’t talk with xmpp users outside your server. It has no hosted offering. Installing it was the easiest of the options I looked at yet very buggy and annoying. This is why Slack is winning folks. Anyway here’s how I ran it.

  • Install from git. Do not use docker due to this bug.
  • Enable xmpp in the settings. You must set the host setting due to this bug. Here is my settings. I also had to enable TLS to get xmpp to work.
  • I use the hubot connector for fun stuff like animated gifs and scripting – which makes it more comparable to slack which offers a lot of integrations.
  • For Android I use Conversations which is an amazing xmpp client.

While I really hated installing Let’s Chat due to all the bugs – I’m happy with it now that it’s running. While I speak a bit badly about all the bugs I really appreciate the work put into it.


Kaiwa is a web front end for an XMPP server. The huge benefit of this is you get a full XMPP server like Prosody which supports many of the more modern XMPP conventions (XEP’s). Federation is REALLY amazing and awesome except you will never use it because no one uses XMPP. In theory it would let you talk with people on other servers.

Kaiwa has some heavy requirements of a web server, ldap server, database, and xmpp server. ldap is a deal breaker for me. I would prefer storing user data by marking rusty nails that I must arrange myself in a garden of broken glass – because that would be far more pleasant than writing ldif files. The default kaiwa would lose all data when restarting docker even after mounting (looks to be an issue with the ldap container). I just gave up. Kaiwa also has no way to search history which is pretty important to me.


RocketChat is worth keeping an eye on, but is not finished or near feature complete as of this writing.

On just xmpp

XMPP is a standard for interoperable chat. That’s a great goal but also a big challenge. There is no good xmpp desktop client. None support images (Animated gifs I think are a big draw on why people like slack). The default chat client on Ubuntu, Empathy, hasn’t seen development in years.

Google used to champion XMPP but hangouts dropped most support except very basic one to one non federated chat. You suck Google.

Thanks to websockets it’s really easy to make chat apps. You can learn in a weekend. I made a simple app here with Django and Swampdragon. Learning XMPP on the other hand is hard. There are few resources and existing resources are out of date. XMPP tackles much more like federation so it’s unfair to compare it directly with websockets. Still, people are going to use what’s easy and that’s hosted proprietary services built on websockets. Hopefully open source can catch up. It would be great to see some crowd funded efforts in this space – I’d contribute.

The only time I will spam you

I’m applying to this $150,000 grant. We need 250 votes to be considered. Voting for us is an easy way to support projects like django-report-builder and django-simple-import.

We spin off these third party apps whenever possible. Burke Software’s main focus is an open source school information system. If anything on this blog has helped you please consider giving us a vote. Thank you!

Be warned the website requires a Facebook login. I apologize for that, I don’t even have a Facebook account myself and had to use my good old Testy McTest account to vote.