Bangalore, Result!

Writing this from Spice Jet from Bangalore to Delhi, a flight we rudely pushed and shoved our way through the jammed up city and overstretched airport terminal to catch. SpiceJet is one of a half dozen Indian budget airlines reconfiguring Indian transport, at the same prices found back home, which seems surprising and unsurprising at the same time. We took Kingfisher (ala the Beer — these Indian conglomerates spread horizontally without any apparent reason) from Kerala to Bangalore on Friday (geez, just three days ago!) and that was one of the nicest flights I’ve taken anywhere, India’s answer to Virgin. Of course, we owe all measure of gratitude to our hosts across India whom have sponsored our travel between venues, and especially recently Jace who has stoicly juggled our crazy itinerary. And our most gracious host Dinesh and housemates at the servelots house, the kind of place I could chill out at in any city.

Bangalore started to reveal itself more today. At first it’s an endless traffic jam of self replicating architecture and streets, a supremely computationally compressible city, a slight textured variation on a basic theme of concrete and shops and rickshaws and Coffee Day and signs advertising politicians and Linux training. There’s no apparent geography or variation, mostly flat with no significant water features, it sprawls in every direction; and while Mumbai is just as jammed up by economic dreams, Mumbai has this kind of totally out of comprehension pulse, and a readily apparent interesting topography and history and real neighborhood difference. The oasis of the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens finally gave a bit of the spaciousness and peace I suppose Bangalore had in the past. This morning we half heartedly mapped around the reservoirs and paths, soon dropping that altogether for climbs up into Bamboo groves ala Fighting Tiger Hidden Dragon (we watched Hero late last night on Jace’s Mac after X11 failed us) and sneaking up on numerous young couples desperately attempting privacy (love at the risk of death, for real) in grottoes and within the large root flying buttresses of a gigantic banyan tree.

Most people know Bangalore as the Indian Silicon Valley. And you can see it in the cityscape deritous and certainly in the participants in the workshop. Still, it’s a relatively un-mediated world, overlaid with mobile phone fabric sure, but no where near the invisible and visible sensors and echoes and trajectories of information rich London or San Francisco. And this lack of mediation is so refreshing and confounding — almost every step and action in India involves direct communication and interaction with people without reference to some hidden ruleset or embedded system. Yet maybe not for long, as part of our objective with OpenStreetMap is to make the invisible visible, and jump start the headmap Metaverse where it’s needed.

Saturday night we trekked to a mourning party for some local Yahoos, a few had been laid off. It’s been almost 7 years since I left Yahoo, and dipping back into the familiar Yahoo world years later, on the other side of the world, was more culture shock than anything else more foreign. Death metal, mobile phones, beers. Crazy to hear some of the same technology ticking along in the depths of Yahoo, and hang out with these YouTube tweaked minds. We were introduced to Benny Lava, the phonetic translation of the Tamil Michael Jackson into English, revealing the real meaning behind these Bollywood and Indian musical dance numbers. As we were informed, no one talks about sex in India, but there are over a billion of them anyway. We want to work Benny Lava into the animation section of our presentation, but it would really need some very proper framing to go over well.

Ok, so the workshops. We met for two days at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and the participants were incredibly self motivated, technically competent, and familiar with the general field of mapping and GIS. There were folks building vehicle GPS+GPRS tracking devices, BarCamp Bangalore hackers, media artists from Shristi, students all the way from Chennai, an ecologist building collaborative and education focused ecoinformatics aggregators, and one chap equipping shepherds with GPS for therir 400 km seasonal trek through the back country of the Deccan plateau. The discussions and questions were excellent. And by the end of day two we had a great result with a detailed map of the expansive grounds of IIMB, based on GPS traces and now excellent Yahoo imagery over Bangalore (Yahoo must have updated recently, even Brighton has gone high def). And a nice movie of course.

There are some subtleties in OSM that people take time to get (or that we don’t explain adequately — I think we should update the survey tutorial presentation). One is that the GPS traces and the map data exist separately, and that the GPS traces are just a guideline. These measurements, and the tracing from imagery, and the other tools in the toolbox, all need to be understood for what they are in terms of quality and accuracy, and human judgement plays a big role. The well discussed suggestion of digitizing directly from GPS came up again, particularly from exposure to Tracks4Africa, where the usually off road wide open savannah tracks are amenable to automated processing (the other contrast of course is that you don’t get anything legally useful back from donations to Tracks4Africa, and maybe FOSS4G in Cape Town in September will be opportunity to recruit some converts). Wikimapia has made a big impression in India, some even think it’s a Wikipedia sponsored project, and explaining the subtleties here of derived works and potential for Google to claim ownership over derived vectors, in contrast with Yahoo’s permission to OSM to use aerial imagery, well it’s tricky.

The other difficult concept to really understand is that as a collaborative project, and that the work needs to be self coordinated and divided up in some way. We leave this largely up to participants to discover, as it’s an implicit experience based concept, when they discover multiple copies of the same street in the map. This particularly led to a lot of useful suggestions for improvements to JOSM and the API to manage conflicts, such as a simple indicator if anyone else is editing in the same region at the same time (this could even be done as a JOSM plugin with the current API calls) and when uploading JOSM should do the same sort of check on an area, not just on individual existing object conflicts, and if there is any overlapping activity ask the editor to examine them.

Other suggestions focused on management of GPX. There could be direct upload of GPX files from JOSM. OSM could accept waypoints as well. And GPX points could be edited in JOSM — to remove wildly erronous points for instance. This last point came up when we went through Photo Import in JOSM, which everyone was very excited about. It also revealed a bug, where GPX trackpoints without timestamps threw a fatal error, even if other trackpoints had useful information in them for photo mapping.

We also got to cover a variety of data exports. Converting from OSM to GML allowed us to easily produce Shapefiles with ogr2ogr for use in QGIS, and KML for basic Google Earth Overlay, and also covered osmarender to generate SVG, and mkgmap to make Garmin GPS maps. There was a brief tutorial on configuring OpenLayers to use OSM. And we got LiveGPS/gpsd plugin working in JOSM, reading from the NaviGPS and the eyeglass case GPS too. One of the nice surprises were a couple hackers who photographed a map of the campus in the dining hall (with no visible copyright), which they rectified with the MetaCarta labs rectifier, and displayed in JOSM with the wmsplugin. Nice work guys!

A very productive workshop which gave every indication of kickstarting an OSM community in Bangalore! Next stop Ludhiana.

3 thoughts on “Bangalore, Result!”

  1. Thanks Sean! And thanks for the book tip, I’ll need to pick that up. Though I feel like I’m only skimming the surface. I’ll need to revisit these and tease out even more adventure. Today was by far the most surreal experience of the entire trip, can’t wait to write it up. Now only 9 days left here, my lord…

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