Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Apr 27, 2016 9:17pm

guyana trip report

Guyana is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain. It’s not a big country, but it’s two-thirds rain forest and contains the oldest exposed rocks on earth, aged about two billion years. In the inland south of the country, the Wapichan and Macushi Amerindian tribes are asserting their place in the modern world using a combination of political, cultural, and technological means to map their territory. I just spent seven days there observing the material support work of Digital Democracy (Dd), where I’m a board member.

Saddle Mountain is culturally and spiritually significant to the tribe

Dd’s work in Guyana is arranged with the district council of elected leaders, and focuses on a group of environmental monitors covering this enormous 3,000 square mile savannah and the 7,000 square mile forest to the east. The monitors do two kinds of work: they map static sites using OpenStreetMap and Esri tools to compile a replacement for decades-old low-accuracy official maps, and they record evidence for economic/environmental abuses such as cross-border cattle rustling from Brazil to the west and destructive gold mining in the hilly forest rivers to the east. There are just a handful of monitors covering this area: Ezra, Tessa, Gavin, Timothy, Angelbert, and Phillip. They cover the entire Rupununi savannah, and their work typically centers on the northern village of Shulinab where we were guests of Nicholas and Faye Fredericks. Nick is the elected head of the village; he recently accepted the Equator Prize from the UN Development Program to indigenous organizations working on climate change issues.

The guest house where we stayed, newly-built to encourage visitors and possibly tourism

The monitoring work uses drones and phones to collect aerial imagery, and is definitely the more charismatic of the two efforts. Gold mining operations along the rivers in the hills alter the natural habitats of economically-important species, particularly through mercury dumping that can poison un-mined sections of downstream river. Dd’s Gregor MacLennan has been visiting Guyana for the past ten years, and has experimented with a variety of imagery techniques to create a temporal portrait of mining operations along the rivers in the hills. Due to persistent cloud cover, satellite imagery is only intermittently useful, while cheap, low-flying drones can be used in more kinds of weather. The current technology challenge centers on image-stitching; the best results we’ve achieved have come from the expensive Pix4D package, which demands an active internet connection for piracy control purposes. QZ recently wrote an excellent article about the monitoring work.

Dismantled Parrot quadcopter

Border monitoring relies on data collection with OpenDataKit (ODK) and smartphones. The smartphones work well in the savannah, especially now that the monitors have begun using motorcycle-to-USB charging kits to keep batteries powered. ODK is just okay; it’s a clumsy system, likes to have a central server for reporting and collating data, and seems to be designed for a institutional use-case that doesn’t match the need here.

Ron, Ezra, and the monitor team huddling around a smartphone demonstration of new ODK input forms

The static mapping effort is less exciting for outsiders, but more directly useful for the community. ODK has been in use here as well, but we’re working on some new concepts in peer-to-peer OSM editing using distributed logs with James Halliday a.k.a. Substack. James has previously been involved in Max Ogden’s Dat Project, he’s the author of a bunch of popular Node things including Browserify, and p2p architectures are his current jam. This part of the work, dubbed Peermaps, is super promising, and implements a number of concepts borrowed from Git and other distributed data tools. Gregor and James have submitted a talk proposal to State Of The Map U.S. The end goal here is a map of the territory, something the group has been collecting in Esri ArcMap format for the past few years. We saw a wall-sized laminated version of the map, and several area schools have requested print versions for use in classrooms. The data features accurate river lines, and numerous points of interest for cultural and natural features significant to the community. Mapping these features allows the community to support their territorial claims in discussions with the natural government more effectively than previous narrative descriptions.

Tessa, considered the most computer-savvy of the monitors, explained the territory map for me

Probably the most surprising thing about this trip for me was the sophistication of the political organization behind this effort. I had some “white savior complex” worries before I showed up because it’s often hard to tell from secondhand stories who’s really pushing the work, and whether partners are passive or active. In Guyana, the local community is organized into a district council of elected leaders (each called a Toshao) from the seventeen villages, strategy is determined through deliberation, and decisions are made and supported consistently. I spoke with people in Georgetown about the effort and word of Nick and Faye’s energy and creativity here has definitely gotten around. I was honored to be their guest. Dd provides material support, but credit for the recognition of the importance of data collection and the decision to support it through the monitoring program belongs to the community.

Angelbert, Ezra, Timothy, and the monitor team working on the data collection kit; James is on the far right

Ezra, one of the monitors, said at one point that “photos justify our land.” This phrase stuck with me.

Feb 15, 2016 1:27am

openaddresses population comparison

Lots going on with OpenAddresses since I last wrote about it in July. The continuous integration service is alive and well, we have downloadable collections of all addresses, the dot map is updating regularly, and the full collection has ticked over 220 million records.

Last year, Tom Lee (of Sunlight Foundation and Mapbox) made an offhand estimate of two people per address which has had me thinking about completeness and coverage estimation. At that number, we’re at approximately 3% of global addresses. Fortunately, there are a few gridded population datasets with worldwide coverage that make it possible to estimate coverage more precisely:

G-Econ is the smallest data set, and as a simple spreadsheet it’s the easiest to get started with. It has estimates through 2005 which is close enough for an experiment, and a number of interesting data columns beyond simple population counts about economic output, soil type, availability of water, and climate.

Using G-Econ, it’s possible to generate address/person comparisons for places where OpenAddresses has data, such as Europe:

From this image, it looks like Tom’s estimate of 0.5 addresses per person holds for much of France, Spain, and Denmark, but not at all for Poland where it’s lower at 0.2 (five people per address). The values for Estonia are strange, with almost two addresses per person in certain grid squares.

In the Western U.S., we can see the effect of overcounting Montana addresses via overlapping statewide and county sources:

I’m just getting started on this analysis, and hope to create fresh data on a regular basis as we generate scheduled downloads of OA data. I’d like to understand more about the relationships between population density and address availability, and potentially switch to the more complex and current GPWv4 dataset if this is interesting.

For now, check out these two things:

Jan 31, 2016 11:59pm

blog all oft-played tracks VII

This music:

  1. made its way to iTunes in 2015,
  2. and got listened to a lot.

I’ve made these for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Also: everything as an .m3u playlist.

1. Grimes: Flesh without Blood

2. Trust: Shoom

3. Klatsch!: God Save The Queer

4. Zed’s Dead: Lost You

5. The Communards: Disenchanted

6. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom: Relevee (Carl Craig Remix)

7. The Smiths: Rubber Ring

8. Hot Chip: Need You Now

9. The All Seeing I: 1st Man In Space

10. Missy Elliott: WTF (Where They From) ft. Pharrell Williams

Dec 1, 2015 1:33pm

week 1,984: back to the map

After 2½ years as Code for America CTO, I’m moving on to the next thing. Starting December 14, I’ll be joining a crew of former Stamen colleagues & clients, CfA friends, OpenStreetMappers, and co-geobreakfasters at Mapzen, part of Samsung Accelerator. If Mapzen was a game show, it’d be This Is Your Life. I’ll be combining my background in open source mapping and my more recent experience working on CfA technology products to lead a team making writings, demos, tools, and entry points for Mapzen’s work on routing, search, transit, and the brainmelting beauty of Tangram. We’re actively hiring (especially front-end developers), so please get in touch.

I will miss Code for America greatly, particularly the technology and product crew we built to deliver new communications and engagement approaches for digital government, the three years of fellowship classes we collaborated with, the whole staff of people making it work, and that one time my team dressed like me for April Fools.

This month is an especially hard time to go, with a major victory from Dan Hon on Child Welfare Services technology procurement—if you are a California design or dev shop, bid on this project to literally save children’s lives. It’s also an auspicious time to go, with a few key colleagues like Cyd Harrell and Frances Berriman heading out and a break between the 2015 and 2016 fellowship classes.


Nov 15, 2015 3:07pm

bike eleven: trek roadie

I‘ve started doing long monthly rides with a group of fellow Stamen alums. On honor of Eric, we call ourselves The Rodenbikes. At first, I was using the Schwinn touring bike with an internal hub, but after the July ride toting beers and burritos I decided it was time to switch to a bike better-suited to longer rides. One of us is training for the 2016 AIDS Lifecycle, and my heavy, crunchy retro-grouch bike was leaving me far behind.

Earlier in the year, I had already bought a used old-style Trek frame and wasn’t yet sure what style of bike I wanted to use it for. I decided to make it into a road bike:

This is my first regular road bike, with gears and slicks.

The frame is a 1982 Trek 311 “multi-purpose sport.” It’s at the low-end of the 1982 product line, using slightly-cheaper tubing and (I imagine) lower-grade components.

The paint job is in fine condition, and I bought it as a raw frame with no attached parts other than a headset to hold the fork on. I had been looking for something with the classic vertical Trek logo:

One of the first challenges I encountered on this project was parts selection. Initially, I attempted to piece together a groupset from separate purchases, pricing cranks and derailleurs individually and trying to arrive at a complete bicycle. After a few weeks of research and talking with bike stores, I learned that it would make more sense to buy a complete groupset from a single manufacturer that was known to work as a unit. I decided on the Shimano Tiagra groupset, the fourth-tier kit for road cycles. Researching bike components is surprisingly difficult. Shimano’s website is sloppy and unreliable, and seems to be written for an audience of mostly distributors and retailers.

Missing Link Bicycle Co-Op had the most helpful sales people, and assisted me in thinking through my options and their effects on performance and weight. I decided to buy all the parts with them, except for the wheels.

I bought the wheels used instead, to take advantage of lower prices and easy compatibility with major manufacturer parts from Shimano.

The other big challenge was cable routing, something I’d never done before with a road bike. On most modern bikes, there are cable stops on the frame and a plastic cable guide that screws into the bottom bracket:

The Trek 311 frame was built for downtube shifters, and lacked stops or a threaded hole for the guide. I had to improvise somewhat, and found Origin8 cable stops as well as a used metal cable guide in my parts bin from previous projects.

It looks like this from the bottom, with a pair of Origin8 singles routing the front derailleur cable under the bottom bracket and the vintage Shimano guide holding the rear derailleur cable taut above:

Finally, as the sixth bike in my one-car garage I had run out of room along the walls. Since this bike was going to be used for big occasional rides instead of regular commuting and shopping like the others, I rigged a pulley system to the ceiling to pull the bike up and out of the way when it wasn’t in use:

The ride has been great. We’ve done three big rides with it: 45 miles from SF to Halfmoon Bay and back, 80 miles around the Bay via Dumbarton Bridge, and 70 miles round the San Pablo Reservoir and along Richmond Bay Trail.

May 2016
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Recent Entries

  1. guyana trip report
  2. openaddresses population comparison
  3. blog all oft-played tracks VII
  4. week 1,984: back to the map
  5. bike eleven: trek roadie
  6. code like you don’t have the time
  7. projecting elevation data
  8. the bike rack burrito n’ beer box
  9. a historical map for moving bodies, moving culture
  10. the other openstreetmap churches post
  11. platforminess, smartness, and meaningfulness
  12. writing a new continuous integration service for openaddresses
  13. state of the map 2015
  14. bike ten: schwinn touring, v2
  15. blog all oft-played tracks VI
  16. 2015 fellowship reader
  17. bike ten: schwinn touring
  18. more open address machine
  19. open address machine
  20. making the right job for the tool