Geohash toy: code released

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a small toy app I’d written to explore geohashes. Now I’ve cleaned the code up a little, upgraded it to rails 3.1 and released it here on github. Enjoy.

A small toy to explore geohashes

For an app I’ve been building, I’ve been looking into geohashes. For those who don’t know, the geohash format is a simple way to encode latitude and longitude into a single string. As an example, Nelson’s Column in London (51.507794, -0.127952) has the geohash gcpvj0dyds.

Geohashes have a couple of interesting features. First, as you remove characters, you lose precision. gcpvj0dyds fairly accurately points to Nelson’s Column; gcpvj0d represents the South-West of Trafalgar Square and some of the Mall; and gcpvj covers most of Central London, as well as Islington and King’s Cross. A geohash doesn’t really represent a point, but rather a bounding area within which a point may lie. The longer the geohash, the smaller that bounding area.

The other interesting property geohashes have is that nearby locations usually (but not always) share similar prefixes. So much of North London is in gcpv, while much of South London is in gcpu. However, due to the Prime Meridian passing through Greenwhich, South East London has the geohash u10h – wildly different than the other two.

This probably sounds a bit complicated. I was having trouble getting my head around the concept, so to try and get to grips with geohashes I’ve written a toy app that draws them on a map. To try it out, go to, click the map, zoom and play. If you find it useful, let me know.

Update: This code is now available [on github](

Tip: Automatic bundle exec for rake and other gems

It’s irritating to run gem commands like rake, cap, rspec and others, only to find they needed to be executed via bundle exec. As a simple solution, I use a simple zsh function, combined with aliases for commonly used commands.

Here’s the function (which I’ve named be):

if [[ -a Gemfile ]]; then
  bundle exec $*
  command $*

It’s very simple. If there’s a Gemfile in the pwd, it runs commands through bundle exec. Otherwise it just runs them.

I’ve combined this with some aliases for much less pain and less frustration:

alias rake='be rake'
alias cap='be cap'
alias rspec='be rspec'