Underground Serendipity

Social media is increasing serendipity, it’s pretty clear to me. This isn’t a very great example, but interesting to stumble across this cross-species structural similarity in two posts in the same morning. How much are human cities meta-excretions of our simple local actions.


Derinkuyu, ancient underground refuge city. via Warren Ellis”.

Ant Colony

Excavated ant colony. Placement of fungal gardens and trash rooms (the bulbous nodes between air tunnels) creates heat gradients, resulting in air flow and CO2 emissions to the surface. via BoingBoing

GPS is not a crime

Keeping a close eye on the developing story of the arrest of two GPS surveyors in Gujarat, India. Their crime .. a GPS system fitted in their car, and videos of places they surveyed. If that sounds like your favorite crowdsourcing mapping project, you have cause to be concerned. Chippy blogs they were working for a mapping company contracted by Nokia. That’s a legitimate, international corporation folks .. not a bunch of hackers wandering around with GPS talking to themselves (into audio recorders).

It’s likely these guys simply ignored common sense. Filming military installations anywhere is likely to generate _some harassment_. But common sense may soon not be enough. Are railway stations and five star hotels now militarily sensitive locations? Will lists of sensitive areas be published publicly, so mappers know to avoid them? Unlikely. Which leaves the absurd possibility of not knowing if you are violating the law until after you do so. Reminds me of the creepier trends in the US post-9/11, a world we’re hopefully leaving behind next month, and it saddens me to see this trend reemerge in India.

What’s dangerous is that the recent attacks in Mumbai give authorities an excuse to overstep authority, to incarcerate on flimsy pretenses and to widen the definition of suspicious activities and sensitive areas. Google Earth and GPS are again technological scapegoats

Details emerging from investigations following the attacks reveal that among their arsenal of weapons included a cache of ICT gadgets like satellite and mobile, and GPS equipment that were cleverly used to keep battalions of security forces at bay for hours.

Your mobile phone and GPS is considered a weapon. And I had thought it was actual weapons that had kept the security forces at bay. What else should be considered weapons? Boats? Food? Oxygen? All were employed. GPS and Google Earth are part of our lives, and pointing at these seriously overwhelmingly beneficial technologies is seriously lame blame game. Just deploy a GPS jammer with security forces.

There’s a hundred more plausible reasons why this happened vigorously discussed in this thread. And don’t forget that GPS and Google Earth (funded by In-Q-Tel) both started as military technologies; it’s one of the more astoundingly clear headed strategies of the US military that generally, more information in the public sphere increases security. The OpenStreetMap of Mumbai was itself used to elucidate the situation in Wikipedia’s comprehensive coverage.

We’re seeing the same absurd suspicion rear its head in Egypt, reasserting the illegality of GPS within iPhones. Of course GPS are everywhere there, I spoke about GPS mapping in Egypt this year, and OpenStreetMap in Cairo and Egypt as a whole is taking off.

What can we do? The India OSM talk list has suggested that local chapters may help present an official govt facing organization for such matters. The fact that the arrested mappers in India worked for a company working for Nokia makes this seem unlikely. And if we asked for permission, would it be granted? No. And we never have asked for permission!

I’m concerned. Mapping started as a military technology, and that outdated view is still held widely .. especially in places where OSM is needed most, where mapping is of crucial social benefit. Bloggers are arrested frequently under repressive regimes. We must be poised to come to the aid of mappers when the repression spreads.

Mapping the West Bank is going rather well, thank you.

Mapping the West Bank is going rather well, thank you.


This is surprising news to you if I ranted to you about the project over the last few months. Delays and debates over direction drove disarray. We all had different takes how to move forward from a pilot to a full project, and wondered if it could be done at all. Almost all of our original mappers have left the West Bank for overseas jobs. The West Bank is probably the hardest place to organize a mapping project — politically unstable, controversial insecure and tense, economically chaotic. Lots of holidays. Myself I was overextended with the trip to Africa and more UN work.

The crucial point of my debate centered on volunteerism. JumpStart has primarily been a job creation and training organization, providing opportunities to get economies going while doing good work. OpenStreetMap is a voluntary project, driven by people’s passions. Mapping is hard work, and it should to be fun to be sustainable. Could a hybrid succeed? It seemed to me that the introduction of direct paid work into a bottom up project could damage initiative and the long term viability of community data. And Palestine seems to lack a volunteer spirit overall — decades of well meaning NGO projects have cemented the idea of money for performing a public good, without any real hope of overall results. Adding to the complication, open ended voluntary projects can’t work to deadlines, and that’s incompatible to NGO organizational structures.

Well never mind that. Push ahead and give it a try. Talk to everyone. Just go and see what sticks. I’m providing technical support, and the ever able and genial project manager Chris Weaver is pushing things forward with minimal dither.

We had a mapping party at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. They’re equivalent to the Census Bureau, and are actively transitioning from paper based surveys to digital maps. They’re busy, but maybe there’s a chance to work together. We met with a German geologist map fanatic, with maps maps and MAPS, incredible stereoscopic maps. And an incredible mental lay of the social land, pointing out the players and the connections to follow and hard earned advice. UN-OCHA occupied Palestinan territories heroically collect data and produce excellent maps of closures, checkpoints, security apparatus, settlement boundaries, the wall. These maps give the clearest view of the daily situation for Palestinians, do check these out. Unfortunately, the data is copyright, can’t go into the commons due to liability .. which is such a lost opportunity. There is a lot of map data floating around of unknown provenance (infringement). Palestine, like many places, is a story of duplication of effort, restricted access, when the free flow of this information would be of greatest benefit to all. And like many places, without a ready source, we just do it.

Chris and his uncle

Relationships matter in the West Bank more than most places. Perhaps with chaotic authorities with limited authorities, these ties are the enduring social fabric in which things really get things done. A distant relative of a friend connected us with the National Council for Development, a grassroots NGO based in Hebron. They had immediate dynamic interest in the project, and offered all kinds of advice and assistance. Through them we hooked up with the Palestinian Yellow Pages. They had just started a project to map businesses in the West Bank using GPS and placemarking in Google Earth. We bring a more suitable platform, they bring enthusiastic ready to go teams. Relief International has a network of computer labs across the West Bank.


In short order, the project is rolling, and Hebron is starting to grow.

The First Palestinian Spy Satellite

Back in August, we were mapping Bethlehem, and relaxed in this wonderful park, transformed from a former Israeli military base (and before that Jordanian).

We did some kite photography. The first Palestinian Spy Satellite.

Former Israeli Military Post

Here’s the remaining military structures.

Was a military post, now a BBQ

Some of the BBQ area of the park.

The last photo, before it tumbled out of the sky

The wind was fierce, and the rig came loose, plunging 100 ft to the ground. This is the last photo that cheapo Canon ever shot.

I promise, more soon on the recent trip back to the West Bank.