Archive for June, 2014

June 16, 2014

Prep Step 2: Data collection with Garmin GPS unit

GPS Images

The next step of my preparations was to learn how to use a GPS unit to collect data. Although mobile phones now have the same, or perhaps even more, capabilities as a GPS, the one key thing that a GPS device offers is durability and dependability. Not only are GPS waterproof and drop proof, they also take two AA batteries that you can get anywhere, and have a 24 hour battery life. They also don’t require access to mobile internet. All of these qualities make it excellent for use in the developing context. Phones on the other hand are cheaper and more widely available, but are fragile, need to access internet, and have a shorter battery life. I have to think about all of these factors because Beni only has a few hours of electricity per day. The best action to take will be to bring a good amount of both technologies and bring extra things like portable battery chargers and extra batteries. Prep Step 3 will describe my experience using a mobile phone application for data collection.

The first step in using the Garmin device was the most difficult. I had to figure out how to create my own img file to serve as the background map for the Garmin device. This is where the work that I did in JOSM fits into the picture (see Prep Step 1). When I am finished editing the base map of Beni I will upload it and it will be added to the global OSM map. Then I will retrieve it again using a web program that converts a chosen area selection of OSM and e-mails you a link to a downloadable zip file that includes the img file. It can take one or two days to receive the files and because it is a free service they ask for donations. The “gmapsupp.img” file can be downloaded onto the cards of several GPS devices that can then be enabled once the device is turned on. Mission accomplished! All of the Garmin devices will have the same base map for participants to navigate and work with. Because I can’t really test this part of the process with the Beni map, I downloaded the OSM Garmin img file for Cambridge.

The next task was to learn how to use the device to collect data. I discovered that the Garmin device is quite limited in this respect. I thought I would be able to edit existing Points of Interest for example, or be able to rename existing streets. This is not the case; the only thing that the Garmin unit can do is log what are called “tracks” and “waypoints”. Tracks literally mark your journey with a connected trail of points over time that save the coordinates. Tracking can be enabled or disabled and there is an option to have it enabled while it not being visible on the map. I will enable the tracking because anyone editing the map later will need to know where the groups of mappers went in the city to make sure there are no holes in the gathered information. Waypoints are points that can be logged at any time and can be used for the marking of any Points Of Interest (POIs). It can be marked by choosing to save a waypoint where you are standing, or you can toggle the mouse to select a nearby element such as a road or a building. A title can be given to a waypoint as well as a short note, and you can change the icon that represents the waypoint on the map to better express what it is. Originally I had planned for participants to input the POI and street names as the waypoint titles, and use the note category for descriptors such as type or condition, but I realized that it would take a long time to input the names, especially on devices that have to toggle across a keyboard to select individual letters. The best option will be to send out participants in groups that have a GPS user as well as a physical note-taker with a legend that shows what information to include. I am also planning to use a tool called Field Papers that I will talk about in Prep Step 4. After the storage on the device is full or a task is complete, the data can be uploaded to the computer either by USB connection or removing and reading the MicroSD. After the points are transferred they can be cleared from the device to leave space to go out and collect more. The waypoints and tracks from the Garmin device are “gpx” files that can be opened directly in JSOM or QGIS. A program called GPSBabel is handy if using a different brand device where conversion is required.

That’s about it for preparations with the Garmin device. One task I have yet to do is write out a step by step procedure to use for teaching participants how to use the device. Another thing I need to do is figure out how to get my hands on a few more units to bring along without going broke… :P


June 15, 2014


The following weekend I celebrated Caitlin’s birthday with Bethany and Tiffany. Caitlin had the great idea of going to the Dundas Buskerfest on the Friday night. After a dinner of fries and chicken nuggets and watching How to Tame a Dragon (awesome movie!), we headed out to see what the festival had to offer. There were some great entertainers! The first show we saw was The Real McCoy: a comedic juggling and balancing act; the next show we saw was called Acrobuffos and was an all too humorous mime act that created a dramatic water balloon gladiator fight between two volunteers from the crowd. Next we saw a fire act and storytelling show called In Spiritus done by a group of young international circus and dance performers. The final act that we saw of the night was a group of improve rappers, The Flow Bros, who made up their raps on the spot based on audience suggestions. All in all it was a memorable evening! Credit goes to Tiffany Kleinsteuber for the wonderful photos!

Brent McCoy In Spiritus


June 15, 2014


On the weekend of the 31st we had a wonderful family gathering to celebrate my Grandma and Grandpa’s birthdays. Grandpa turned eighty-eight (achtentachtig, the most phlegmy word in the dutch dictionary), and Grandma turned eighty-two (though she will tell you that she is twenty-eight). All of Grandpa and Grandma’s kids came, my Mom and her four siblings. There was also a good gathering of grandkids because my sisters and I came as did many of the kids of Dick and Marie-Ann with their kids. I counted five children, seven grandchildren (ten if you include the in-laws), and twelve great-grandchildren! And this isn’t even all of them!  We enjoyed a simple dinner together of burgers and hotdogs and a potluck of salads. The adults socialized in the community lounge while the toddlers were passed from lap to lap and the kids played outside. I joined Rianne and Jayna for a while to draw chalk and blow bubbles. It is crazy to think that my grandparents are over three times my age… for some reason I can’t imagine living my life two more times over. What’s hard to believe is that all of the technologies that we are familiar with today were invented in their lifetime. I consider myself blessed to be able to get to know my grandparents and hear even just a few of their stories.

Grandma and Emma Lee


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June 12, 2014

Prep Step 1: Tracing roads in JSOM


JOSM is a free software that is used for offline editing of OpenStreetMap (OSM). If you don’t know what OpenStreetMap is, it is an open source online map that can be edited or downloaded by any registered member. The easiest way to describe it is to call it the “Wikipedia” of mapping. There are now millions of people who contribute and I recently signed up because I learned it would be a valuable tool in generating a globally positioned map of Beni. JOSM allows you to select an area that you want to download from OSM and then has the option to put a tiled Bing satellite image behind it. Then using editing tools it is possible to add to the map by tracing new elements such as roads, buildings, or waterbodies, or adjusting existing lines and information. I am in the process of tracing roads and creeks because it is all I need to make a preliminary base map.

One might ask why I am tracing the roads of a place I have never been to and what if I make errors. The reason I am doing it is because I need to create a base map that I can add to once I go to Beni. If I do not create a base map, I would have nothing for the mapping participants to even follow or know where to go or what neighbourhoods to explore. They will use this information as a base but will then add to it and correct any errors by physically being there. That means that OSM will have errors for a small amount of time, but will soon be made accurate as we gallivant around Beni and document refinements and edits. The mapping participants will be able to collect information beyond just the tracings by documenting data such as road names, road types, paving types, and what condition they are in. They will also be mapping other things such as buildings and places that are Points Of Interest (POIs) for the community (as will be described in Future Prep Steps 2 and 3).

While the line information can be shared with OSM, we have the choice of whether or not to add the detailed information or keep it for our own use. JOSM always encourages people to upload the content back to OSM, but what is nice about the program is that you can always wait until the information is accurate before uploading, or choose to upload only the elements you want to contribute to the public map. Another great feature of JOSM is that it can export the information as gpx tracks that are compatible for download onto Garmin devices or GPS Android applications for use in the field (Future Prep Steps 2 and 3). JOSM can also export as geoJson files that can be used in coding or to import the same elements with their data into QGIS, an open source Global Information System (GIS) (also for a future Prep Step).

There is an online editor called iD that essentially does the same thing as JSOM, but it edits OSM directly. I like JSOM for the ability to wait, its exporting capabilities, and also because work can be done offline, a key thing to think about when working with technology in a developing country where internet can be spotty and expensive. I’ll be bringing all of these programs over on a USB key to avoid any need for downloading big files from the web! One may also ask why I am not just editing this information in QGIS, a program that is capable of doing the same thing. The reason I have decided to use JSOM is because its connection with OSM allows me to use really helpful tools such as this website (future Prep Step 2) that formats base map img files of a specified area from OSM for Garmin devices. Editing in JSOM is also much faster than in QGIS just in the way the interface is designed. QGIS will come into the picture later on when it is time to manipulate the data that we collect to create our own custom maps and corresponding databases. Lastly, JSOM is great for preliminary work because it is valuable to contribute to OpenStreetMap, not only because I am benefiting so much from it as a tool and resource, but also because others will benefit from an open source base map of Beni.


June 9, 2014

Beautiful Objects

Here’s me testing out my camera with some of my new favourite objects.

My collection of plants is growing and I just transplanted them into bigger pots yesterday!


I was so happy to get a package in the mail from my Italian friend Marianna. She made these lovely handmade soaps and lip balm.


I found these little votives at the Art of Home store down the street. They are simple glass cups wrapped in wood veneer that have different patterns printed on them. They light up pretty well in the sun but are even more lovely at night with candles burning in them.