Greetings from Trivandrum! What a contrast this place is to Mumbai — I had forgotten the world can be quiet and green. We knew something was different when the classic and completely out of place American airline pilot, flying Deccan Air, announced “Have a pleasant stay in the Trivandrum area”. Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala, nearly in the very south of India, it’s tropical, has beaches and serves beautiful fish in its restaurants. Kerala is an interesting state — a democratically elected Communist government and home to the India’s very first IT park, TechnoPark, housing numerous very capitalist orientied technology companies and educational institutions. Their political and economic contradictions are resolved by a full embrace of open source software — we were picked up from the airport by a chap whose masters project utilizes Geoserver. We’re hosted here by IIITM-K, and again you couldn’t have asked for more generous or energetic organizing. Check out this amazing brochure produced for the workshop…
We have about 50 people participating this time, and the specialties and studies of this group were really great — environmental science, agriculture, geology, the local airport manager, emergency response. These are people with such a need for mapping technology, and they had heard about GIS. We were at pains to make the distinction between OpenStreetMap & web native geo and traditional desktop GIS, fielding familiar questions over issues of accuracy, community, reliability, and we made the point our tools are really about collaboration, relative ease of entry, and simply getting the job done. Also emphasized that OSM and GIS are not incompatible, they can speak to each other. There was a lot of interest in 3D, building digital elevation models out of OSM GPS data, and using OSM data within a GIS when the application requires it — like calculating agricultural area on steep hillsides.
Nearly half of the participants are a group of young women studying for environmental science masters at a nearby college. I’m told that other parts of India don’t give women such opportunity, so it’s really great to see. Still, it’s quite a challenge, as workshop leader, to engage them in the activities — they are very very reluctant to ask for help (let’s just say they don’t) and really seem to want to be lead step by step by step through the learning process. OpenStreetMap by nature requires a great deal of personal initiative, there’s nothing top down about it, from the technology to the process to its goals and aims. So there’s also this feeling that we’re not just teaching about OpenStreetMap, but the entire culture and ethic of open source/open data and entreprenuership.
Looking at the progress yesterday, we did a great deal. Introduced the concept, got everyone out collecting data with a GPS receiver, got the data into JOSM, everyone signed up for an OSM account, and editing some data in JOSM. Getting through that process is another matter, particularly the technical hiccups which just seem like a part of life in OSM, and India. Yesterday was particularly painful because it turns out there are major incompatibilities with the crippled, non-proprietary version of Java that ships with Fedora and JOSM, and we had no other immediate choice but to reboot all the machines into Windows. Ouch, but sometimes you need to go with what works. Generally I’m adjusting my expectations to meet the expectations of the participants, which is hard when I’d love to see OSM work smoothly right out of the box. Such is life in software.
Off to start today’s proceedings. We’ll split up into different tracks — some people progressed quite quickly yesterday and are ready for the next level, and some are going to be set up with just the Yahoo imagery, which is actually quite detailed in Kerala.