Taarifa was announced in various mediums as being a winner of the sanitation hackathon. To this end two Taarifans are currently representing all Taarifans in Washington DC and San Francisco. More will come from this, I’m sure. However, all of the projects of the sanitation hackathon should be given the same pedestal and treatment.
The number of projects and energy that the sanitation hackathon generated should not be lost, and energised by the constant support and coverage;“The event featured nearly 1000 registered hackers at ten locations worldwide who developed some 62 new prototypes.” – Sanitation Hackathon Site
While this moment is still in the here and now we should all move forward, collaborating, instead of competing. From this solve the technical challenges within the sanitation issues which we face. Undoubtedly, it is a naïve and deterministic proposition to suggest that technology will solve the world’s problems. However, events like the sanitation hackathon have demonstrated that technologists from all walks of life can work together. Building a social side to these systems is a bigger problem than the technological ones, prizes and recognition aren’t replacements and should not be considered replacements for this. The hard work starts now.
Written and submitted in the Hotel Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.81669, 39.293198)
Last year I attended the H4D2 (Humanitarian for Disaster 2.o) organised by (and at) Aston University and Geeks Without Bounds. One of the outputs that I worked on was the HXL Extractor. Basically take data out of GeoSPARQL, a geospatial semantic database and fire it into a GIS program. One of the team members had already been experimenting with and semantic databases and triplestores (this was most definitely a good thing, allowing us to move quickly) so our ‘mission’ was to create a middle layer to connect to a triplestore, then using the WFS-T standard to fire the extracted data into a GIS program of your choice. Interestingly the ‘project lead’ was communicating with us from Geneva via Skype, this and the prior work bellies the need for clear and concise problem statements prior to the hack. Because some of the team had been able to think about what they had to do we’d been able to work more effectively, even while learning technologies on the fly.
Going to the International Conference for Crisis Mapping Hackathon in Washington a few months later, HXL was still going strong and I got to meet the instigator of the project CJ Hendrix face to face. He’d amassed a team which went on to rightly take first prize at ICCM, now its being used by by UNOCHA with papers forthcoming. The project is growing, as evidenced by the amount of work going on in the team repository. Understandably our small team in Birmingham just did a little bit, but every little bit, helps.
Now H4D2 is coming around again on April 12th – 14th. This will then be followed up by SMERST (Social Media and Semantic Technologies in Emergency Response) a more academic focused conference on April 15th – 16th. Most importantly, you didn’t need to code to contribute, all are welcome from designers, videographers, bloggers, journalists and you! Registration for the H4D2 is open and is again at Aston University in Birmingham. Register here: http://h4d2.eu/registration. It’s going to rock.
Written and submitted from the Serena, Dar Es Salaam (6.810617, 39.288284)
I recently had a whistle stop tour of Asia, from Hong Kong to Indonesia, finally to Kuala Lumpur. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was great, 12 hours working solidly, had room, great meal, service the works. Cathay Pacific were kind enough to upgrade me to Hong Kong. Drinking champagne into Hong Kong and what followed over the next three days of Chinese New Year will stay will me for the rest of my life. However, this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about my excruciating 14 hours of torture that Malaysian Airlines passed as “Malaysian Hospitality” from Kuala Lumpur to London.
A few hours after online check-in ‘opened’ I tried to reserve my seat. The online system just wouldn’t take me past a screen. No error message, upon clicking ‘next’ nothing would happen. Reload/relogin and the same thing. This resolved itself at 0645, where the √knack all, was available.
After a very speedy trip from downtown KL to Kuala Lumpur International, the first signs at check-in were dire. Using the business check-in desks (Sapphire status from Oneworld Alliance – consequence of flying BA a lot) I got the boarding card for the flight and apparently checked in my bags. Although as I was leaving, I hadn’t received a baggage tag and the airline assistant hadn’t apparently noticed the 20kg of Samsonite I’d lugged onto the conveyor belt.
I’d requested a seat with leg room or an aisle seat (I’m 6’6″/2 metres tall), however, they told me to speak to ticketing in the terminal. Upon entering security I asked for the same thing. I was informed that it would cost 7500 ringit (about £1500) for a better, business class seat. One of the things I’ve discovered since getting a mortgage, is that paying that sort of money for a seat upgrade isn’t probably not as needed as paying the mortgage. However, I was informed that the gate staff could be able to do something. They passed the buck onto the hosts and hostesses on the plane. Funnily enough they couldn’t do anything either.
The issue with them not being able to do this, was that they were too polite about it. A very nice hostess explained that the seating arrangement and legroom arrangement was designed for ‘asian passengers’. Ok fine. However what about Yao Ming.Potentially people from the Asia may be generally less tall, however Malaysian Airlines, you’re a global airline. Be ready for people over 6 foot to travel with you.
With a seat acquired and legs having slight movement issue, I shrugged them off and went into the normal flight routine; headphones, Economist and music playlists abound. Generally I smile and nod when someone sits next to me, cursory ‘hello’ and try to stay in my ‘zone’. I’d planned to add to the thesis over the flight, so being relaxed was an idea. The plane filled up and the safety announcement started to play. Then the piercing shrieks shattered through my eardrums.
I had two babies either side, two behind, joined a very young infant. As I looked around the mother with baby commented “You’re the unluckiest man on this plane”. Unsure if this was true, but it felt like it. Taking off the bassinets were affixed in front. The legroom became non-existent and it was impossible to move the movie screen. Slightly claustrophobic, it was very hard to move without knocking a baby trying to sleep, or person looking after said baby.
Getting the laptop out to work was difficult, but just possible, with the screen at an oblique angle. I started to tap away. With ‘The Thieves‘ (brilliant film!) on the screen the background noise was about manageable. Towards the end of the film, the sound of gunshots and diamond heist(ing) was broken by a chorus of unhappy baby. One started crying, then the other. Then all of them in succession. This continued for 4 hours. Nothing worked. Rammstein, Beethoven, Top Gear, Shantaram. You name it, I tried it. I asked the attendant if there was anything they could do, apparently there wasn’t. I tried to leave it an hour, fatigue was seriously setting in. Getting four hours sleep doesn’t bode well for a flight. The crying made sleep impossible, watching a film was hard – the noise just stresses, making it near impossible to concentrate.
Impossible to move, impossible to relax, being on your nerves wanting to sleep. It wasn’t a happy place. I requested to see the cabin services director, only to be told that he was resting. I sat on the stairs at the back for 3o minutes. After this shaved and washed, in an attempt to relax. Within 10 minutes of sitting back into the chair, the chorus was back, the situation was untenable. I requested for sleeping tablets, the best they had was Panadol. Was severely feeling let down by Malaysian at this point. Especially when the father of said child had been assigned another seat, from the overheard conversation between him and his partner, at his request, specifically for him to get some rest on the plane. Seriously Malaysian Airways, don’t let this happen again. Don’t inflict other’s spawn on others, inflict it on them.
The Cabin Services Director arrived shortly after. I was informed there was an aisle seat available and I could sit in it, surprisingly it has worse legroom, I didn’t care, it was vaguely quiet. However, this occurred six to seven hours after being on flight. Half way through one of the longest flights in the world. Why did it take so long? Why aren’t families assigned seats together? Why aren’t people with Oneworld status given priority on seats – this raises the question why should I fly with you if you don’t honour your status levels?
These questions have ruminated in my mind since. I hope that Malaysian Airlines can answer them. Otherwise British Airways and Oneworld more generally will need to clarify them. Genuinely I love the experience that BA provides (the reason I’m in Oneworld), code sharing is annoying, fine. However an experience like this has severely shook the sheen that flying with the Oneworld network and the value of the ‘status’ they’ve given me. This based off an earlier experience with American Airlines (another Oneworld partner). I hope they’ll answer them soon. Otherwise, it becomes a toss up between Skyteam and Star Alliance.
Written and submitted from Home.
Kate Chapman and I initiated the first community feedback session, timed for the Asia timezones. However, we had participants from across the timezones.
- Wanted: Cartography in OSGEO in consensus for a workshop, potentially using D3.js and CartoDB
- Wanted: “The best way of deploying MBTiles”
- Wanted: Food security and running a data driven election campaign
Issues with equipment and bandwidth this meant a true conversation was, IMO, hard to get started in a forum. We switched to text soon after it was started. However, the feedback was valuable to further scope what the community-at-large would like to see at FOSS4G in 2013.
Written and submitted from Taman Rasuna Complex, Jakarta, Indonesia (6.219665,106.837202)
Workshops and code sprints are an integral part of the FOSS4G conference. It’s an opportunity for those with awesome projects from a community, technological or novelty perspective to showcase exemplar projects and demonstrate the cutting edge of geo.
Our theme is “Geo For All”. Accordingly there are many opportunities and ways to develop the workshops and code sprints. March 4th is the deadline for workshops submission. Over the next month we will be holding Google Hangouts, not just in GMT but for those in other timezones, from the west and east of the Americas to the Far East and Africa. We are actively seeking participation from all members of the OSGeo community; old hands as well as new ones. This is an opportunity to contribute and shape the type of workshops and code sprints that, you, the OSGeo community would like to see at this year’s FOSS4G in Nottingham.
We’d also like to hold a hackathon, building along the lines previous hackathons like RHoK, Sanitation Hackathon and Angel Hack, to support truly open source geospatial projects.
What we’ll need;
- Problem Statements
Europe and Africa: To Be Confirmed W/C 18th of February GMT | EAT |
Asia: WIB: Thursday 14th of February: WIB: 1300 | CST: 1400 | JST: 1500 with Mark Iliffe and Kate Chapman
The Americas: Wednesday 20th February GMT: 20:00 | EST: 15:00 | PST: 12:00 with Matt Walker and Jo Cook
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Written and submitted from (22.287759,114.147477) Queens Terrace Tower 2, Des Voeux Road West, Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China.
WhereCampEU this year, rather earlier than normal, was in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. After the threatening of Snowmeggeddon in the UK, a jaunt to Italy was a welcome respite. An action packed unconference timetable started with a presentation on Taarifa by myself. This was a follow on presentation from W3G but focusing on the characteristics of developing technology; needing to know the users and how they’ll use the ‘solution’. Developing solutions to first world problems then applying in the developing world isn’t useful and is dangerous, however, is the method de jure in some organisations.
A presentation on how the World Food Program uses the OpenDataKit, for collecting information in South Sudan followed. It would have been interesting to have heard more about the rationale and why they were using what they were using. The use-case was a take picture, see what is about, the intelligence that they sought to gather. However, the presenter didn’t stay around, so if anyone in the geo-sphere knows, please get in touch!
CartoDB was given a live demonstration. We’re quickly moving past the desktop for GIS and spatial analysis and into the cloud. I’d like to know how these cloud based GIS services compare with ESRIs and MapBox’s offerings. It’s a brave new world!
Michael Gould‘s 37 things you didn’t know about ESRI was a passionate talk about ESRI from its inception to the present day. A leviathan in the GIS space, the culture is seemingly anything but corporate America. In the examples mentioned the social conscious dominates decisions; from the positing of boulders on the ESRI campus to the acquisition of new companies.
A Taarifa breakout design session occurred with a special guest appearance from a snow-bound London. But more on this in a later blog post.
The day ended with an OSM Q&A by myself and Shaun McDonald turned into a wide ranging discussion about the OSM project and the challenges within. Getting new contributors to keep contributing was one point of discussion as was the need for improved internationalisation and languages.
An evening of Pizza, Dolcé and Grappa followed. The night ended in a spectacular deli/bistro/bar known only to locals and lost where campers. Bottles of Chanti and Prosecco were enjoyed and toasts made.
Standing out the following day was Laurence Penny‘s updated 1-D Maps . It’s never the same things, constantly reinventing itself with from the acquisitions and collection held by Laurence. Going from Doom, the Mille Miglia to Roman Era Road Routing with a detour around the metros and undergrounds. It was 2 hours long. Words fail to describe the brilliance that emanates from the presentation. I really look forward to seeing it in an updated form.
A certain Henk Hoff of the OSM Foundation, brought proceedings to a close on a wide ranging discussion on the foundation, how it functions and operates. The day and conferenced ended over pizza, chianti and sambucca. Just the way things should end!
Written and submitted on the Rome to Milan Eurostar (having just gone through Bologna!)
After the Sanitation Hackathon one of the key lessons learnt was that the coders had scant knowledge of source code repositories. Learning how to checkout, commit and merge are skills that weren’t covered in detail during my own time at university, but were very valuable once hitting the world. In Dar code was shared through USB pens, version control was through separate folders, if at all. Kinu and TanzICT (two great technology incubators) invited me to stick on a developer hat and do a code repository Mobile Monday workshop - MoMo is about fostering cooperation and innovation between developers globally.
Github in my opinion is the best repository on the internet because of the awesome tools, cost for open source projects (free!) and using Git as the entry point. Also the documentation, is thorough with step by step guides taking you from being a novice to a git ninja.
The workshop was divided into two sections with a break in the middle. In the first section a straw poll was conducted to get an idea of the operating systems in the room. It was about 2/3 Windows to 1/3 Linux. This was followed by an introduction to source code management and a conceptual overview of the process of committing and pulling code. Everyone started to download the appropriate software to their computer and install the .NET framework! Break time.
Coming back after learning some new things about the attendees (like ice cream and favourite drinks) we started to go through the git lifecycle. We followed the help.github.com notes to setup and created a repository called “Kinutest” to get social and collaborate. After starting with the basics of committing and pulling, collaboratively code started to get generated. Issues were encountered with merging branches. This kicked off a discussion on merging using Nvie’s model for development. After 3 hours of frantic work and many learning experiences we ended up with some collaborately written README.md files and two PHP files!
Obviously this is only the start of the process. Going really deep into Git is something that can’t be covered in 3-4 hour session, it’s always a constantly evolving and learning process. The crowd were excellent, however at times they would just use their exuberance and charge on ahead. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, however can be challenging on trying to keep the entire group together on a task. But hopefully provides an introduction into code repositories. Did someone mention unit testing…?
Written and submitted from KINU Innovation Space, Dar Es Salaam (-6.77802,39.26721)
The format for the judging was adjusted slightly from the traditional ‘present to everyone’ approach. We set up in away from the main hackspace, where presentation groups presented to the judging panel composed of luminaries from the technology and sanitation sectors. In no particular order;
Jon Gore is the managing director of E-Fulusi a boutique mobile and software development company working in Dar Es Salaam.
Elias Chinamo is an assistant director of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
Jason Cardosi is the country lead for the Water and Sanitation Program.
Jones Mrusha is one of the founders of the KINU innovation hub.
Gary Gale is the Director of Places at Nokia.
More to follow on the presentation of the hacks and results!
Written and posted from the Sanitation Hackathon, COSTECH, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.77457, 39.24125)
The sun set, the heat rose, the hacking continued. Teams stayed until 0200 blazing trails into their respective code bases. Here is a short summary of the state of play;
Open Defecation Reporting refined their problem statement, going indepth for pretty much all of the first day. Now they’ve started developing a USSD reporting application. They’ve worked through issues of how to geolocate a USSD signal and how to derive coarse location by village. In their design they’ve looked at how to go from a open defecation area to an open defecation free area.
Electronic Performance and Monitoring had a look at various platforms from Ushahidi to Taarifa and a few other monitoring platforms. They were put in touch with the various software communities development teams and started to test the applicability of the platforms in solving the presented problem.
iWash and Behavioural Messaging refined their problem statement, starting with a Sample Behavior Messaging Content. From here the group looked at various SMS providers, building a platform for the dissemination of this information using a rules based approach. Here an issue needs to be resolved; money for paying for APIs. One of the issues was that they used their free credit for trying the API and now need a credit card to continue using the service.
Written and posted from the Sanitation Hackathon, COSTECH, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (-6.77457, 39.24125)
Phew. Quite a lot of acronyms. So without further ado;
- ICCM – International Crisis Mappers Conference
- RHoK – Random Hacks of Kindness
- DC – Washington DC
- NYC OEM – New York City, Office of Emergency Management
After the Rethinking Cities conference in Barcelona, I was travelling to DC for the conference for Crisis Mapping ICCM. I was hoping for a continuously eye opening conference from the cutting edge. However this wasn’t to be, see here for wider details. Serendipitously I then got pulled into Code for Change event, hacking for the NYC OEM. They wanted something with a workflow and tasking system that would allow citizens to report problems with fallen electricity lines, snow drifts and abandoned cars and the such like. After a short sprint and a great meet with the guys and gals at mWater it was off to DC for ICCM.
Heather Leeson and Willow Burgh were exemplary in getting a bright bunch of hackers together for the hackathon. I was pitching a new API for Taarifa, following REST-ful principles. The idea behind having an open reporting platform is great, however we also want the data we collect to be open as well. Also we’re starting to look at seriously integrating sensors into Taarifa, so the data can come in from sensors and get pushed out.
Above is a pressure sensor which Sam Wilkinson hacked on during the Washington DC hackathon while he was in Southampton (hands across the ocean!). Myself and Jeremy Baron (good to meet you!) where formulating the API, but were starting out as Django beginners. Needless to say we didn’t get to the point which Sam got in England, however we did know a little more about REST APIs and Django.
Combined with some tablecloth design and interface work – done while having dinner in Front Page Restaurant on Dupont Circle literally on the table cloth! We somehow got 2nd prize in the hackathon. It really shows how the Taarifa community is pulling together, with new taarifans complementing existing ones, across the world. I’m constantly astonished.
Written on the train from Nottingham to London St. Pancras and submitted just before the train pulled into the station (51.5362298,-0.129432)
Barcelona, London, New York then Washington. Instead of flying direct to Dulles International, I wished to fly into Reagan National (DCA) airport (~2-3 miles/10 minutes from central DC, as opposed to 90 minutes for Dulles). This makes getting in and out of central DC a snip, instead of a faff with the metro, buses and taxis. As I’d been travelling for a while I got a first class ticket from NYC to DCA, ¢50 upgrade free. The reason for this was simple; Concorde Lounge. Do not under estimate a shower after travelling for 18 hours.
The flights were ticketed and issued in Barcelona, the luggage was checked through to DCA, tickets were given to me and the One World desk checked me in. Short hop to Heathrow, wait for six hours then NYC to DC. However I left at New York as American cancelled my flight, claiming lack of payment;
Dear Mark Peter Iliffe
Thank you for your recent reservation on American Airlines. We were unable to issue your ticket and would need to speak to you to verify the payment details or if yo could provide us with another form of payment since this is the second decline. Please call American Airlines reservations quoting your booking reference XXXXX.
You will find the contact telephone under the Customer Service link for your country.
Our opening hours are Mon-Fri 07:00 – 16:30,
Please be aware that other airlines flights booked via American Airlines are on a request basis only and fares are not guaranteed until ticketed.
Thank you for your attention to this. American Airlines Reservations
I received that at 2228 on the evening of the 9th. My flight to NYC was at 0800 on the 10th. So no time to ring the UK centre – it wasn’t open. I phoned the US one. After being on hold for 30 minutes (at £0.56 a minute) and told they wouldn’t called me back, I cancelled, taking two days in New York instead.
A few things about trying to fly with American and by extension OneWorld.
- They can’t spell an automated email message. No-one has ever gone ‘Yo’ at me in an email before. Especially a major airline. This really annoyed me.
- First class doesn’t mean first class with them. If there is a payment issue and they can see that the ticket has already been issued, phone and email, don’t just email. For American this doesn’t seem necessary.
- I briefly spoke with the BA desks at Heathrow, they were as apologetic as they could be, however couldn’t really do anything. What is the point of clubbing up and staying in the same program if one of the partners just jogs off?
- If the person on the end of the phone asks if you can call them back do so. Otherwise you’ll loose their custom.
In the end I had two awesome days in NYC and took the train to DC. Passing through the American countryside at sunset was nice. A shower would have been better.
Written and posted from Washington DC (38.8988,-77.0279)
Geo is coming home. My home anyway, Nottingham. The Global Geo Conference FOSS4G, is now FOSS4G Nottingham 2013. We as the organising committee wish to make this the best year for geo. We want moar geoness than any other previous conference, raising the bar for conferences to come. We’re standing on the shoulders of excellent conferences at Denver, Sydney, Barcelona, Cape Town among others.
A small cabal within the LOC is charged with fixing the workshops and the hackathons. We’re not going to do it small. We’re not planning a hackathon in a small room with a dodgy urn of coffee. This is going to be better and better. We’re going to reach for greatness. 2013 will be the year for geo. Are you ready?
Written and submitted on the train between Nottingham and London St. Pancras Station (52.30467,-0.67508)
I was fortunate to be invited to give a talk at Mapitude. Unsurprisingly I spoke about community mapping, spatial data infrastructures in developing nations and Taarifa. I also touched upon open data and how services and platforms using open data need to be developed. I think that open data is great – for more info watch this TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee – however I believe open data is only the beginning not the end point of data development.
We need platforms and services, which are open and free to use for the vast majority of citizens. This presents opportunities for new business models, while the data should be free at the point of service, the costs of collecting and distribution (if not crowdsourced – I’m not implying crowdsourced is free to produce either) need to be paid by someone/something. Data is just data, it doesn’t help improve sanitation or water access but wrapping it into a service or platform could and should.
Platforms and services like Taarifa, Ushahidi and Open Street Map all are very expensive to run, however need to be free for the public good that they serve. I doubt advertising can fully meet the needs and costs – look at Facebook, whereas I believe over a long term grants and loans are unsustainable. A freeium model could be the way forward, tailored around a service being offered which the platform sits on, which is free up to a limit. Deciding on who to charge for an what is a difficult question and would be needed to considered carefully, with questions around licencing and ‘fairness’ paramount. As such the communities which create the open source software which drives the platforms and services need to be part of any decision that takes place and be at the heart of the community and process.
I’m not saying that open source platforms and services using open data need to make a large profit, this is a charitable enterprise after all, the profit needs to be reinvested to support innovation, be it buying equipment, investing in training or paying for hosting. However open data, open platforms and open services need to make money, which can be reinvested in supporting its community, providing free services to those that deserve and need it, while enforcing payment from those that can pay.
Written and submitted from Mokka City, Dar Es (-6.8162376,39.2885885)
As most of you know, I like riding motorcycles. I’ve even mentioned them a few times previously. Since 1530 on the 27th of November 2007, they’ve played a large part of my life. Being a ‘biker’ my friends, when the topic of bikes came up, would discuss stats like speed, acceleration to 60′ and the point that I would no doubt be killed in a gruesome fireball in a dumb accident. Stuff like that. Clarksonian-esque stuff. I’m annoyed and afraid but all of that, it’s just all wrong.
I recently took the annual pilgrimage to Skegness (you just have to do it, to see it’s wonder of nature, rock, fish and chips, crap weather and chavs) with a friend. He was riding a Yamaha YBR 125, while I was on my 650 Bandit. And it was grand. Speed wasn’t the objective, cruising the flat Lincolnshire countryside on the way there, then the twists, turns and drops of the wolds on the way back, via Lincoln itself.
It was a pure experience, speed cameras weren’t noticed or worried about. A feeling not felt in a long while, I believe since last being on the continent last year. This is the problem, because of the all the guff on the roads today it stops being a pure experience, soiled in someway. The youtube link is a track from Mogwai, “I know you are but what am I?”. There is a zen like state to it, I really enjoy long tours, lasting a week or two. As such the majority of riding isn’t fast and furious, it’s relaxing and needs a suitable soundtrack, hence Mogwai (on a side note I can finally listen to them again – happy about that!). In the UK it’s rare and nigh on impossible to get this feeling. Slovenia beckons.
Written and submitted from Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop (52.954335, -1.144121)
How do you engage different groups of people and keep people engaged? These people may be some of the most highly skilled and sought after professionals. They could walk into the larger IT conglomerates (The Googles and Microsofts of the world) and name their price. They have families, nice things. So why do they give up their spare time over weekends to work on something they will have known for 5 minutes beforehand, with the potential of pulling an all-nighter. For little or no reward. If there is a reward it’s unlimited coke, burritos and pizza with a dash of chocolate and crisps. I believe they do it for the thrill of the chase, camaraderie and the challenge.
In conversation with a good developer friend he added that “90% of open source software exists because people can’t get any software written at work”. He was quoting a source which I’ve forgotten, but if someone can enlighten me I would be grateful; It’s a great quote!
It brings me on to musing about the dynamic between management and leadership. When I was eighteen I was at a leadership seminar, which for the first hour found very tiring. A combination of ironing and shoe shining the night before with a refreshing run at period zero (circa 05:30). The second hour I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It started with the beach scene of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks gets disorientated coming up the beach, things go numb, then a solider is screaming at him “What do we do now, sir?”. Our hero organises his troops then, from the front, charges up the beach and his soliders follow him. They beach is taken, good guys win, bad guys loose. The end.
This part was led by a guy who, frankly, had been sunk a few too many times in his illustrious career. However he launched with gusto in leading by example, however impressed the point of knowing when to let others take the mantle. Being an exemplar shows to others how to act, even if they’re afraid, galvanising them into taking a deep jump into the unknown. But said leader needs humility to know when they’re not the best person lead and allows others to step up and show the same level of skill.
One of the sayings I’ve across (from my father) is “Too many chefs, not enough cooks”. In theory it holds, but in practice falls over horribly. Consider a developer team, hungry for success, in all probability educated at the finest institutions on the planet and capable of developing cutting edge software and hardware. Each one of those developers will have ideas on how the project could work better and given the opportunity probably would manage an aspect of the project better. In the context of a hackathon, I think consensus can be reached within the group, in trusting the individual coders, who are giving up their free time, effort and skills to achieve the best they can do. This effort inspires other people and by default, the people that first step out into the unknown become the leaders instead of managers. These people form a nucleus around which the project (with respect to Taarifa, but could easily be a product or service) is built, they lead (not manage) by example. This doesn’t particularly conform to a specific type of programming ethos, it isn’t Aglie, Scrum or Lean, it should just be common sense.
Written and submitted from the Novotel Docklands Hotel, (51.50789,0.02329)
Demonstrating any piece of software regardless of its inception is a hard task. You have to understand the group that you’re pitching to, even if ultimately, they aren’t the end user and have little technical inclination. It helps if the group you’re pitching to is enthusiastic. When pitching Taarifa today the group was enthusiastic, engaged quickly and wanted to participate further. I spoke my previous blog about having Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, though some of those concerns were allayed, some still remain.
The group to which software was demonstrated was a mixed bunch, comprising of field inspectors to managers in charge of implementing monitoring programs. Phones were unboxed the Hauwei (Lady?) Gaga and distributed to the workshop participants. They navigated to the dev.taarifa.org site and proceeded to make reports. There were two universal complaints; the keyboard screen was too small (therefore typing was difficult) and the Android system was using autocomplete . Users did not like when they were typing in something unrecognised by the system that it changed what they were typing, so they stopped. Secondly the feature took up valuable space on the screen. Barring these hardware related issues, participants were able to take photographs and make reports using the custom form provided especially for the workshop.
After this workshop we moved to field trails. After meeting the local administrator for the district our group of myself a colleague and an IT specialist from the Ministry of Local Government demonstrated Taarifa and it worked wonderfully. Taking on the district inspector and other local government officials our convoy delved into the countryside, visiting CDD (Community Driven Development) projects. The idea of CDD is that the local community raises money and the government either matches it or improves it by an order of magnitude. These projects then create a business selling or renting goods and services. Here we hit our first issue; network coverage. I can safely say that the EDGE network isn’t capable of uploading photos in any usable manner. This was expected, though due to constraints of time, a contingency wasn’t planned.
On our third and final visit the stars aligned and with 2 bars of 3G the reporting worked and worked very well. Visiting a local charcoal selling project (making around 100kg a day) the inspectors where able to file reports in a consistent manner without paper and repeat form filling. They really liked it, and wish to use it further. They like it so much that we’re now going to Northern Uganda, near the border with South Sudan to trial the project there.
Written and submitted from the Kampala Sheraton, Kampala, Uganda (0.3145283,32.5828674)
Taarifa is entering its endgame. Over the next week two workshops and two field tests will determine how the Ugandan Ministry of Local Government see the platform and wish to move forward with it. Currently there are three users, all with unknown requirements; the local civil servants (reporting), the national civil servant(s) (administrating) and the ministry (data users).
Currently the group which has been engaged the most are at the ministry level and as such dictate the forms and data-structure of the data which is to be collected. Taarifa (taking functionality from Ushahidi) is able to customise forms for data collection, in early stages it seems that Taarifa is being used to replicate forms directly, with – IMHO – a lot of unnecessary information. This boils down to asking what data the ministry actually requires to complete their job and that they use, instead of collecting data for the sake of it.
The Taarifa community is composes developers worked hand in glove with experts in water, sanitation and other fields. This brings a unique opportunity to design and implement software that focused on endemic issues not flashpoint crises. Taarifa could be badged as an e-government platform but goes beyond that in allowing two way interaction between government services and the citizens. This good on paper, however the platform is being demonstrated to the Ugandan Ministry of Local Government tomorrow. Engaging with them to better understand how existing functionality will fit into their workflows and what they further need is an important step and not one that should be taken lightly.
We already have buy in from the administrators on the system, now we’ve two user groups to get on board. This will be done with a series of workshops first with the Ministry then with the end users in the remotest parts of Uganda. We need more time for development, more time to understand the users and more time to operationalise. I have some fears, uncertainty and doubt. We have some bugs, and some misbehaving ‘features’. But the Taarifa platfom and community has come a long way since the London Hackathon. A roadmap is currently in production with ideas for big data visualisation. We’ve ported the code so the UI on a mobile device far outstrips known competitors (in our opinions!). This the future of Taarifa however this is pilot, and that time is now. Go big or go home. Yes, I’m a long way from home.
Written and submitted from the Kampala Sheraton, Kampala, Uganda (0.3145283,32.5828674)
Taarifa inception as hackathon project makes it special through it’s continued existence. From speaking to peers it seems that many hackathon projects are to create ideas not code. Fortunately we’ve stuck together, widened the community and now have members of the Taarifa community working on it for their dissertations, myself with my job within the World Bank deploying an instance of it to Uganda.
Within our own community we’ve got developers across the world working on little bug fixes and functionality. One member has taken on improving mobile UI upon himself and now the mobile web app looks brilliant on a mobile phone screen, decluttered from unnecessary components with things like inline labels ensuring things are ‘better’ on a phone. This is building upon a hackathon held at Shoreditch Design’s office where we shipped Taarifa 1.0.
With the forthcoming Uganda deployment (and potentially other applications) we have the opportunity to test and refine certain components. However building capacity in places where this is deployed is important. We hope by demonstrating Taarifa in developing innovation centres we can seed the ideas and principles of Taarifa (and by extension open source software) with them joining our growing community. This in turn would provide different perspectives on the requirements and ultimately filter down into software releases improving it.
The community is currently in the process of writing a Taarifa API consisting of entirely new code. We’ve just deployed a Q&A site on help.taarifa.org making it easier for users of Taarifa to ask questions and be a knowledge base for future users, avoiding the ‘goto github’ mentality which – in my opinion – should be for developers. Currently Nico and I are working on screencasts to give short introductions into installing and using the Taarifa system. Onwards!
Written and submitted from the Leicester, UK (52.6352614,-1.1378884)
A hackathon is a wonderful thing for any project, be it a community driven project like Taarifa or something that ships ‘professionally’. The idea behind it is simple, get hackers in a room, ply them with food, drink and ideas and 48 hours later reap the rewards of their work. The problem is it’s not often where a project continues after the hackathon. Taarifa in many ways broke that trend, by its developers continuously communicating, adding code, patching bugs and the such like.
We were joined by new developers, some who were corralled into the project by the original developers, other brought in by friends of friends. Taarifa as a project is getting bigger! Assembling for the first hackathon since the first we sought to address problems caused by new bugs and already existing ones. One of the mistakes of many coding projects (especially ‘hacks’) is that the developer is in the mindset of putting in new functionality before fixing known bugs. Bugs are always going to be found, but you’ll be building upon shifting sands if you don’t fix what you already know. Simply because when you go back and fix old problems, they’ll often break newer code down the line.
Part of this is about making it easier to develop and the code base ‘better’. At the original hackathon we took the Ushahidi code base because of the functionality which was included out of the box. We hacked it to make something that looked like it was working. However we now realise that this wasn’t the best strategy for sustainability. Though what we had done worked, it was not ready to be deployed and put into release. The opinion of the developers on Ushahidi’s code base, using the Kohana framework wasn’t good. Finding something as simple as a HTML header took two developers a few hours to resolve with more complicated issues requiring a ‘strong investigative ability…’
While this bellies the importance of documentation, sometimes this isn’t enough. Making code simpler and easier to use isn’t just good for new people joining a project, it’s good for your existing development team as well. In the context of a hackathon this is really important because time is also a consideration. In Taarifa practically all the ‘significant’ code base has been written in these two day sprints, and we’ve only had two events. To engage more developers and contributors in the project we now need to work on communications and other non-code matters. Now we’ve a bigger and more engaged community than before. We have contributors from many countries around the world, an active mailing list, github repository and live demo and development sites. To coin a ’90s phrase: the future’s bright. The future’s Taarifa.
Written and submitted from the Isle of Dogs, London, UK (51.487291,-0.0183036)
Taarifa is one of the best things I’ve been involved in. In various forms it’s had shout outs in the New York Times to Random Hack Of Kindness. One of my tasks is to help deploy it in Uganda soon. I recently sent this email to the Taarifa development mailing list. I feel that the role of a founder in a project always needs to be considered. I’m wondering what other people think?
Taarifa is a platform that is fix my street for slums. I’m unsure whether this post is a massive shout out to my ego or what. However I want to start a discussion on the role of the founder in community projects, be them open source or not. I do so mindful of a line from ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ ringing loud and clear; ”You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
At this juncture I should point out my love for another open source project, Open Street Map. I owe a lot to many members of the OSM community, either directly or indirectly. The OSM project and its community has shaped who I am over the years. From an exchange student dragging his local girlfriend mapping because she had local knowledge to going down some deep rabbit warrens elsewhere in the world. I love OSM, I love what it stands for and I love its community to the point where at one stage my health was severely compromised. However things within haven’t been plain sailing with a simple comment of “We are the Board! Shape the project!” effectively a call to arms for the project’s betterment taken as a powergrab by the board -nb I’m not singling people out for this one, the thread is included for reference, good luck if you reach the end!
In my eyes the OSM and its foundation OSMF are making the world better. Viewing it like accounts, they’re contributing more to the black column than the red. In my eyes Taarifa is doing the same, and should continue to do the same until something better comes along, or the project is dead. A lot of people in the skype channel and email have thanked me for organising Taarifa, going to talk to people and the such like. The truth is I’m just a loud, talky person. At times when things are starting maybe that is what’s needed. In future probably not. Taarifa is potentially going to be a foundation, at the very least it needs to do something around it’s identity and outward communications. It’s to be discussed at the coming hackathon and I think we should welcome it! We need to discuss what we want our structure to be, is it anarchy, benevolent dictator, committee? I don’t know, but together we should. Future plans regarding funding, grants, deployments all come under this, at it’s core where do we see this going?
My input now I think is to create the culture or influence it. I want people to love Taarifa as I do. I think the community and what we’ve done and accomplished is phenomenal. As such I’d like to shout a call-to-arms to Taarifans and other developers looking at Taarifa to JFDI if they believe strongly enough into it. Make things better, by consensus. If that isn’t working, fork the project and show why your solution is better. Then pull. Also difference is good. I believe it is ingrained in the Taarifa community’s inception that by defending and debating our positions this makes OUR project better; Remember the whiteboard sesssions! Which as it’s a humanitarian project, enables better usage and happier users which does ‘GOOD’. We’re getting new members who weren’t at the hackathon – hello there! – joining. Every person I speak to, sees how Taarifa can make a big difference, people in Uganda are hopeful, in some small way, the world is watching!
So what about the position of the founder and the quote at the beginning? Is founder the best way description; in some ways you on this list now are founders. I want to be involved in Taarifa for as long as I can, but not at the forefront. People change, they loose their hunger, they get different skills sets. And this is a good thing! One of the most contentious things I have is a business card where I’m purported to be a “Geospatial Innovation Consultant”. Geospatial Consultant fine, using ‘Innovation’ however is esoteric and buzzword bingo. At some stage in my life I innovated, I took a risk and though it cost me very dearly it apparently paid off. Now I don’t really innovate, I research, I just ‘do’. Not necessarily innovation, that baton has been taken up by someone younger, better looking with ‘nicer’ hair than I. My role should be to help them – whoever they are – to innovate bigger and better than before. I guess I’m seen at the forefront of Taarifa at the moment. But as an open note, if you think you can do it better do it. The project is bigger than me, you and the community. At the moment very deep decisions are being made or will have to be made, and they’re made with the information we have now, not 20:20 hindsight. The best team at the time should be guiding and shaping those decisions, not yesterdays team. At the hackathon, I remember drinking some cola, looking at each of the developers hacking and thinking ” I’m the dumbest guy in the room”. Everywhere on our table people created frameworks or made coordinate reference systems. Really smart things and all of you should be damn proud.
The time will come where I will need to step aside as being shouty. This is a natural process, not requiring politicking or a ‘nasty’ process. So I rally “You are the founders, shape the project, own it”. Personally I’ve only ever been able to see as far because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Your shoulders. Thank you my friends.
Will see YOU at the hackathon!
I recently attended the Crowd Sourcing In National Mapping workshop at the University of Nottingham (ie. in the other building from where I work) run by AGILE, EuroSDR and others (from my perspective special kudos to Jeremy Morley and Peter Mooney in making it as successful as it was).
This blog however isn’t about the event, that can come in a later post. I’ve been mulling over recently due to many factors; provenance of data, usage of data, licensing of data. This isn’t to say that the software platform isn’t as important, however the development of open source software has a long history, with usage, business models and licences all being smoothed over in the past twenty years or so. The impetus of digital economy in some areas has shifted focus from the platform to the data, some people are trying to control content (around this SOPA and PIPA are great examples) but this has created new models subscription (Netflix, LoveFilm) or ad-supported (Spotify, Hulu).
So what does this mean to Geodata? Arguably we have a lot more data in the wild now than we’ve ever had before. Tools like TileMill have really good UI/UX making ‘pretty’ visualisations a breeze, even for people with not cartographic experience. So why could we be living in the 1990s? I think we’re at the point of no return with licences. We can go two ways, one where everything converges and is awesome or it all falls down and goes wrong. In some ways I believe it’s like the development of Linux. Linux started out with a niche user base; sysadmin, hacker types, then started to filter into the wider public and corporations, the community gained more developers but also gained usability experts, designers and other non-coding contributors. While the majority of users of Linux don’t push back or contribute code, due to the mechanisms of feedback that now exist users at time unwittingly contribute to the wider project.
Currently there are more than 500,000 people registered with Open Street Map (this isn’t the only dataset out there, but it is the one closest to my heart, I’d also really like to know how many people use OSM that don’t contribute). OSM started out with a bunch of computer hackers with GPS’ making maps and having fun and has grown a into a vibrant global community. The attitude of JFDI was inbuilt, using some of the first editing software, tremendous wasn’t too usable, it had a high barrier to entry. Then it got easier, a lot easier. Things became stable, usability became key. OSM became a subject of research with researchers like Muki Haklay, Peter Mooney among others leading the charge. Like Linux, contributors other than the core group are coming on board, big business is seeing the potential, researchers are engaging with improving the project through academic means.
The ‘right’ licence for geospatial information is still a big problem, OSM is currently transitioning from Creative Commons to ODBL (a process that’s been around since 2008) with some real danger that some data will be lost from users not accepting the new licence change for whatever reason.Google’s Map Maker and the World Bank have stirred up the ire of a few in the community primarily about sharing data; Requiring that datasets derived from mixing map makers and dataset are given back to Google, clearly this gives a competitive advantage to Google as they then lock the data without making it available to other parties. Also what if the data you would like to mix isn’t able to be shared?
This really is only the tip of the iceberg. There are some really good research papers around comparing the quality of authoritative datasets and VGI (primarily OSM). In some cases the topological accuracy is ‘as-good’ in OSM (considering the equipment isn’t ‘professional’ and the contributors largely hobbyists) not mentioning the other aspects of quality like metadata, attributes etc. OSM has the adaptable data-structure to meet the bar set by authoritative sources and keep going. Projects like OSM GB are aiming to create data in the format, CRS and projection used in Great Britain and develop new automatic quality assurance processes to enhance (add value) to the dataset. What about joining this new VGI dataset and an authoritative Ordinance Survey dataset together, this would bring in the best of both worlds. Wouldn’t this just be a ‘good’ thing, but what about our licences?
Google’s previously pretty much ‘free’ service has changed lowering the number of free requests it will deal with. Consequently there have been a few important (IMHO) defections to OSM. Switching to OSM has never been easier with http://switch2osm.org/ breaking it down into simple and clear language. The delivery mechanisms (ie. the Internet) is in place, as is the bandwidth and capacity to deal with large geospatial datasets. User generated maps are becoming ubiquitous with Flickr and Twitter geotagging for us and citizens around the world are contributing with the barrier being lowered all the time. The licences we use shouldn’t inhibit people, with governments opening their datasets eventually the cost of using data will be driven to zero, be it a monetary or licence cost. In the ’90s the cost of software like Linux was driven to zero, sharing was free, money gained through value added services. Certain projects in the geospatial world like OSM (IMHO) have taken great steps in the right direction. In transitioning to ODBL, as a license that specifically covers the data and requires that users who ‘improve’ the data submit it back, this should be better for conflation but questions remain when mixing data of different licences. In 2012 different platforms all play along nicely, without visible overhead. In the 90s world of geospatial will different datasets move to a point when they can?
Written and submitted from the Nottingham Geospatial Building (52.953, -1.18405)
I’ve not cross posted previously, however this deserves it in its entirety. Due to various reasons it’s not possible to link to the originating page. In short Hunter S. Thomson is very good.
There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them – but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous.
Everybody has fast motorcycles these days. Some people go 150 miles an hour on two-lane blacktop roads, but not often. There are too many oncoming trucks and too many radar cops and too many stupid animals in the way. You have to be a little crazy to ride these super-torque high-speed crotch rockets anywhere except a racetrack – and even there, they will scare the whimpering shit out of you… There is, after all, not a pig’s eye worth of difference between going head-on into a Peterbilt or sideways into the bleachers. On some days you get what you want, and on others, you get what you need.
When Cycle World called me to ask if I would road-test the new Harley Road King, I got uppity and said I’d rather have a Ducati superbike. It seemed like a chic decision at the time, and my friends on the superbike circuit got very excited. “Hot damn,” they said. “We will take it to the track and blow the bastards away.”
“Balls,” I said. “Never mind the track. The track is for punks. We are Road People. We are Cafe Racers.”
The Cafe Racer is a different breed, and we have our own situations. Pure speed in sixth gear on a 5000-foot straightaway is one thing, but pure speed in third gear on a gravel-strewn downhill ess-turn is quite another.
But we like it. A thoroughbred Cafe Racer will ride all night through a fog storm in freeway traffic to put himself into what somebody told him was the ugliest and tightest decreasing-radius turn since Genghis Khan invented the corkscrew.
Cafe Racing is mainly a matter of taste. It is an atavistic mentality, a peculiar mix of low style, high speed, pure dumbness, and overweening commitment to the Cafe Life and all its dangerous pleasures… I am a Cafe Racer myself, on some days – and it is one of my finest addictions.
I am not without scars on my brain and my body, but I can live with them. I still feel a shudder in my spine every time I see a picture of a Vincent Black Shadow, or when I walk into a public restroom and hear crippled men whispering about the terrifying Kawasaki Triple… I have visions of compound femur-fractures and large black men in white hospital suits holding me down on a gurney while a nurse called “Bess” sews the flaps of my scalp together with a stitching drill.
Ho, ho. Thank God for these flashbacks. The brain is such a wonderful instrument (until God sinks his teeth into it). Some people hear Tiny Tim singing when they go under, and some others hear the song of the Sausage Creature.
When the Ducati turned up in my driveway, nobody knew what to do with it. I was in New York, covering a polo tournament, and people had threatened my life. My lawyer said I should give myself up and enroll in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Other people said it had something to do with the polo crowd.
The motorcycle business was the last straw. It had to be the work of my enemies, or people who wanted to hurt me. It was the vilest kind of bait, and they knew I would go for it.
Of course. You want to cripple the bastard? Send him a 130-mph cafe-racer. And include some license plates, he’ll think it’s a streetbike. He’s queer for anything fast.
Which is true. I have been a connoisseur of fast motorcycles all my life. I bought a brand-new 650 BSA Lightning when it was billed as “the fastest motorcycle ever tested by Hot Rod magazine.” I have ridden a 500-pound Vincent through traffic on the Ventura Freeway with burning oil on my legs and run the Kawa 750 Triple through Beverly Hills at night with a head full of acid… I have ridden with Sonny Barger and smoked weed in biker bars with Jack Nicholson, Grace Slick, Ron Zigler and my infamous old friend, Ken Kesey, a legendary Cafe Racer.
Some people will tell you that slow is good – and it may be, on some days – but I am here to tell you that fast is better. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba….
So when I got back from New York and found a fiery red rocket-style bike in my garage, I realized I was back in the road-testing business.
The brand-new Ducati 900 Campione del Mundo Desmodue Supersport double-barreled magnum Cafe Racer filled me with feelings of lust every time I looked at it. Others felt the same way. My garage quickly became a magnet for drooling superbike groupies. They quarreled and bitched at each other about who would be the first to help me evaluate my new toy… And I did, of course, need a certain spectrum of opinions, besides my own, to properly judge this motorcycle. The Woody Creek Perverse Environmental Testing Facility is a long way from Daytona or even top-fuel challenge-sprints on the Pacific Coast Highway, where teams of big-bore Kawasakis and Yamahas are said to race head-on against each other in death-defying games of “chicken” at 100 miles an hour….
No. Not everybody who buys a high-dollar torque-brute yearns to go out in a ball of fire on a public street in L.A. Some of us are decent people who want to stay out of the emergency room, but still blast through neo-gridlock traffic in residential districts whenever we feel like it… For that we need Fine Machinery.
Which we had – no doubt about that. The Ducati people in New Jersey had opted, for some reasons of their own, to send me the 900ss-sp for testing – rather than their 916 crazy-fast, state-of-the-art superbike track-racer. It was far too fast, they said – and prohibitively expensive – to farm out for testing to a gang of half-mad Colorado cowboys who think they’re world-class Cafe Racers.
The Ducati 900 is a finely engineered machine. My neighbors called it beautiful and admired its racing lines. The nasty little bugger looked like it was going 90 miles an hour when it was standing still in my garage.
Taking it on the road, though, was a genuinely terrifying experience. I had no sense of speed until I was going 90 and coming up fast on a bunch of pickup trucks going into a wet curve along the river. I went for both brakes, but only the front one worked, and I almost went end over end. I was out of control staring at the tailpipe of a U.S. Mail truck, still stabbing frantically at my rear brake pedal, which I just couldn’t find… I am too tall for these new-age roadracers; they are not built for any rider taller than five-nine, and the rearset brake pedal was not where I thought it would be. Mid-size Italian pimps who like to race from one cafe to another on the boulevards of Rome in a flat-line prone position might like this, but I do not.
I was hunched over the tank like a person diving into a pool that got emptied yesterday. Whacko! Bashed on the concrete bottom, flesh ripped off, a Sausage Creature with no teeth, fucked-up for the rest of its life.
We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time – and there is always Pain in that… But there is also Fun, the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on. BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your teeth clamping down on our tongue and your mind completely empty of everything but fear.
No. This bugger digs right in and shoots you straight down the pipe, for good or ill.
On my first take-off, I hit second gear and went through the speed limit on a two-lane blacktop highway full of ranch traffic. By the time I went up to third, I was going 75 and the tach was barely above 4000 rpm….
And that’s when it got its second wind. From 4000 to 6000 in third will take you from 75 mph to 95 in two seconds – and after that, Bubba, you still have fourth, fifth, and sixth. Ho, ho.
I never got to sixth gear, and I didn’t get deep into fifth. This is a shameful admission for a full-bore Cafe Racer, but let me tell you something, old sport: This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you’re ready to go straight down the centerline with your nuts on fire and a silent scream in your throat.
When aimed in the right direction at high speed, though, it has unnatural capabilities. This I unwittingly discovered as I made my approach to a sharp turn across some railroad tracks, saw that I was going way too fast and that my only chance was to veer right and screw it on totally, in a desperate attempt to leapfrog the curve by going airborne.
It was a bold and reckless move, but it was necessary. And it worked: I felt like Evel Knievel as I soared across the tracks with the rain in my eyes and my jaws clamped together in fear. I tried to spit down on the tracks as I passed them, but my mouth was too dry… I landed hard on the edge of the road and lost my grip for a moment as the Ducati began fishtailing crazily into oncoming traffic. For two or three seconds I came face to face with the Sausage Creature….
But somehow the brute straightened out. I passed a schoolbus on the right and got the bike under control long enough to gear down and pull off into an abandoned gravel driveway where I stopped and turned off the engine. My hands had seized up like claws and the rest of my body was numb. I felt nauseous and I cried for my mama, but nobody heard, then I went into a trance for 30 or 40 seconds until I was finally able to light a cigarette and calm down enough to ride home. I was too hysterical to shift gears, so I went the whole way in first at 40 miles an hour.
Whoops! What am I saying? Tall stories, ho, ho… We are motorcycle people; we walk tall and we laugh at whatever’s funny. We shit on the chests of the Weird….
But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.
The emergence of the superbike has heightened this equation drastically. Motorcycle technology has made such a great leap forward. Take the Ducati. You want optimum cruising speed on this bugger? Try 90mph in fifth at 5500 rpm – and just then, you see a bull moose in the middle of the road. WHACKO. Meet the Sausage Creature.
Or maybe not: The Ducati 900 is so finely engineered and balanced and torqued that you *can* do 90 mph in fifth through a 35-mph zone and get away with it. The bike is not just fast – it is *extremely* quick and responsive, and it *will* do amazing things… It is like riding a Vincent Black Shadow, which would outrun an F-86 jet fighter on the take-off runway, but at the end, the F-86 would go airborne and the Vincent would not, and there was no point in trying to turn it. WHAMO! The Sausage Creature strikes again.
There is a fundamental difference, however, between the old Vincents and the new breed of superbikes. If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die. That is why there are not many life members of the Vincent Black Shadow Society. The Vincent was like a bullet that went straight; the Ducati is like the magic bullet in Dallas that went sideways and hit JFK and the Governor of Texas at the same time.
It was impossible. But so was my terrifying sideways leap across the railroad tracks on the 900sp. The bike did it easily with the grace of a fleeing tomcat. The landing was so easy I remember thinking, goddamnit, if I had screwed it on a little more I could have gone a lot farther.
Maybe this is the new Cafe Racer macho. My bike is so much faster than yours that I dare you to ride it, you lame little turd. Do you have the balls to ride this BOTTOMLESS PIT OF TORQUE?
That is the attitude of the new-age superbike freak, and I am one of them. On some days they are about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The Vincent just killed you a lot faster than a superbike will. A fool couldn’t ride the Vincent Black Shadow more than once, but a fool can ride a Ducati 900 many times, and it will always be a bloodcurdling kind of fun. That is the Curse of Speed which has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. On my tombstone they will carve, “IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME.”
Hunter S. Thomson.
On the 22nd of December heavy rains and flooding hit Dar Es Salaam. Around 20 (that we know have died), leaving many thousands more homeless. This is clearly an issue. Over the short term there are issues with businesses, consumable goods and buildings destroyed. Over a longer term food shortages and public health issues like cholera and typhoid (caused by lack of access to water and clean sanitation) could become apparent.
As such gaining a view of what is going on ‘now’ is important, as this will help organisations like GFDRR and the World Bank among many other institutions make better decisions for the response. Common in disasters and crises has been the Ushahidi tool, however Tanzania has unique qualities which can be exploited in this situation. Step forward Envaya.
Envaya is a non-profit organisation based in the USA and in Tanzania developing and deploying software to aid community based organisations and civil society organisations in developing countries. For the past week or so I’ve been working with Envaya on various projects, importantly a questionnaire which will go out to Envaya’s network of CBO/CSOs to gain situational awareness many factors, including damage and access to water. From this information and data about the damage should then filter from the bottom to the agencies and organisations at the top to aid in their response.