From Pune to Mumbai

Hello from the Homi Bhabha Centre in Mumbai! Homi Bhabha is known as the father of India’s atomic energy program, that was developed right next door to here.

First catch up from Pune. Yesterday got data off the NaviGPS devices, making the IndicTrans guys very happy. Schuyler got party render working (and has some patches to submit) and we made this animation. Bought 10 SD Cards to replace the incompatible ones supplied by the GPS distributor (duh). Patched together presentations for the workshop today. And then rapidly hit the road for Mumbai.

The car hurtled down the ghats while we hacked on the presentations for the first real public workshops. The degree of car sickness this transmits is profound. Stopped for tea about halfway. A guy sitting nearby asks about my t-shirt .. “FooCamp? Is that anything like BarCamp?” .. what? just about the last thing I expected to hear in the middle of India. It was along the Mumbai-Pune corridor, sure, but! He turns out to be a Mumbai based web entrepreneur — it really is a gold rush here. A hour later we’re in Mumbai, driving through the most awful toxic air I’ve ever had the lack of choice to breath, sourced from something burning which definitely should not ever be burnt, ever, in a dark, torn up near apocalyptic landscape of diesel trucks, cement, and probably millions of people. The air cleared as we neared Powai Lake for the home of our host, Professor Shah. And we continued to near it for more than an hour, as our Pune based driver got completely and utterly lost, in a way only possible if the passengers are two cartographers. The cartographers curse. Taxi navigation in India is based on asking unlucky roadside pedestrians and fellow taxi drivers, who fate is to not ever say “I don’t know” but at the least give a shrug in a vague direction with no bearing to the destination. Somehow we found our destiation, which leads to speculative models on partial, or even negative, information in transit routing actually solving directions problems. Anyway, the misery was entirely relieved by the citing of a real city elephant .. elephant in Bombay! The home of Professor Shah was a comfortable contrast to this surreal journey, making it even more surreal. Sleep came easily.

Ok — taken a couple days to get this out and day two of the Mumbai Workshop starting soon, more later…

Pune, yesterday

The impressive first day of work was offset by some hiccups on day 2. Jetlag and hard work caught up with me, and I had to rest off a minor fever yesterday (everything is fine this morning!). Our plan for yesterday was to do a dry run of the OSM workshops with the crew from Indictrans, Schuyler took charge on this, and it’s good thing we did. The SD cards supplied with our NaviGPS units were not compatible, a known problem, but I had figured that the distributor would know enough to send the right cards, and I was wrong. There’s also a bit of tedious setup required for each unit, which needs double checking. So this morning we’re doing some shopping for SD cards, wherever they can be bought in India (no Best Buy).

On the positive note, the participants took very detailed useful notes as they surveyed, and we figure that even without the GPS traces, it should be possible to reconstruct their data. The Yahoo imagery over Pune is detailed enough for this. And it’s possible that the unit’s internal memory recorded the data, and we can salvage from there. So another task for today.

The AND India data was imported on Monday, and Mumbai looks good, but the roads over Pune are off by 200m in some points. We’re not sure what the cause is, perhaps the creation of this data was not done in the most methodical fashion. So we’ll do a bit of an investigation, and see if AND can provide any guidance.

Tonight we travel to Mumbai, and tomorrow we hold the workshop. So also going to polish off my OSM presentation and include new relevant developments for India.

Pune, Day 1

Hello from OpenStreetMap Pune! High on the Deccan Plane, refuge from the heat and crowds of nearby Mumbai, it’s only a small Indian city with just 5 million people! “Oxford of the East”, with scores of universities, and India’s fastest growing city freshly imprinted with the physical manifestations of globalization and computers and consumerism (my favorite absurd ad so far is for a not-sexy compact car called the SX4 – “Men are Back!”), Pune sprawls in semi-orderly grids, filled with the usual chaos and cows, out into the countryside with new IT parks and luxury apartments. You’ll see this when we’ve made the map.

We’re hosted here by IndicTrans, a crack team of developers specializing in i18n/i10n (they say the spelling of my name in Hindi is माईकल), open source, and GIS. They’re working with CRIT who organized the Mumbai Free Map work and the other Free Map work, and CRIT have funding from the UNDP to take free and open mapping to India, especially for urban planning in sprawling Mumbai. So part of our time here is helping to set up a work plan for them, and it’s focused on building on appropriate features in OpenStreetMap.

To start with, we’re taking existing data sets and importing them into OSM. kleptog (big thanks!) started the import of the donated AND data for India, which has good detail in Mumbai and Pune, and VMAP0 over the rest of the country. The Mumbai Free Map is a digitized set of maps from the Mumbai municipality, incredible detail, but digitized into CAD and not directly transformable into OSM — so the plan is to use the WMS interface from there, and set up a process for students to redigitize supplemental data like landmarks, and recheck the AND data. There’s also possible data available from the Maharastra state and the city of Pune, negotiation is needed on the licensing. But that data is in Shapefiles, so the another task is to build more of a supporting toolset for Shapefile import into OSM; it’s something we do again and again for OSM, recently completed in Merano and Sudan and soon Arezzo, and there’s got to be a common procedure set. I18n and l10n into Hindi and Marathi is a big focus for Indictrans, and a big need for OSM, so we’re investigating JOSM, the website, and perhaps in the long term the core tile rendering as well. There’s a need among the CRIT folks for SVG export, so we’re looking at building this directly into the osm site. And with the sporadic network in some parts, offline modes and local caching may be a good task to tackle here, and has application much much more widely, for instance in humanitarian response.

The crew at Indictrans and their sister company all live together in a kind of company supported hacker hostel, which is actually a very traditional set up in India. An intense living environment, with parallels to Silicon Valley, except here the house comes with a lovely women who does all the tasty cooking and cleaning and tea making, and really a kind of surrogate mother for these young engineers. And they play cricket in the living room. They’ve been very very welcoming and generous and buzz with the new energy of this place.

Lunch today, delicious, at a restaurant near the office, wow.

Tomorrow we’re doing a sort of dry run mapping party with this crew for the upcoming more public workshops in Mumbai, Trivandrum, Bangalore. Schuyler and I are fleshing out the presentations and schedule and plans, so really Pune is a quick staging stop for the rest of the month. Been up since 5 this morning, and it’s 11 now while I write this, and it’s been an exhilarating productive day. And just the first day. Going to be quite a month.

Free Map India: A Series of Workshops in February 2008

This month, Schuyler Erle and myself will hold a series of multi-day workshops in several India cities. Researchers, students, programmers, activists and members of the community are invited to participate, learn, and take stewardship of their city. These will be very practical, hands-on days, covering the entire toolset of OpenStreetMap and empowering participants to lead the growth of free and open mapping in India. We will map India!

This kicked off by just idly chatting about bringing together Mumbai Free Map and OpenStreetMap. Schuyler had worked with CRIT over the past couple years to bring extensive geographic data of Mumbai online, and spread the word of open source geo. Why not share with OSM? Well that quickly spiraled into an idea for a continent wide month long trip. And it would have remained just an idea, if not for the amazing organizing that has taken place in just a few months. We’re now geared up to visit six cities — Pune, Mumbai, Trivandrum, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkotta — and educate, and learn, and discuss, and MAP! If anyone reading is based in these cities, or has connections there, and are interested in participating, please do get in touch.

We’ve been organizing on the FreeMap wiki, and will also be bringing the OSM India wiki page up to date. You can find full details on the workshops there. There’s a Google Calendar for the OSM India events and dates in the OSM Current Events calendar as well.

So I will be blogging, obsessively if there’s time, on Brain Off, posting photos to flickr with tag freemapindia2008, making animations and other artifacts, and of course, maps.

Thanks everyone who has helped bring this to reality — I can’t quite believe this is actually happening. Fantastic!