Archive for ‘Thesis’

September 20, 2015

Arrival in Exeter

My lanyard: Proud to represent UCBC!

My lanyard: Proud to represent UCBC!

The one downside sometimes to couch surfing is that it isn’t always possible to find a host for all of the days. I had this problem for my trip to Exeter. Two weeks before I left I sent out requests and only found a host for the last three nights of my stay. By the time I tried to contact additional couch surfers it was too late. Then when I called a hostel in Exeter upon arriving in London I found out that it was full and that it was the only one! What I should have realized is that other conference attendees would be couch surfing and staying at the hostel. I called the hostel again the day I was to arrive in Exeter, and luckily there had been a last minute cancellation! The hostel was called Globe Backpackers and it was a very charming, gezellig sort of place. There was a common area with a large table and couches, free wifi, and a fully equipped kitchen. I was happy to be able to cook for myself for the first two nights and I met a lot of friendly people from around the world. What was interesting about this place is that it had a lot of permanent or semi-permanent residents of all ages that had become like a family. It totally made sense because the weekly rate was cheaper than what you would pay to rent a place. It was also cool to meet conference attendees at the hostel, especially since I didn’t know anyone attending the conference.

The conference didn’t start until the evening the following day and so I spent that time honing my presentation and getting feedback from Archip and Othy. I was nervous for the presentation especially because I feel like I faltered so much for my thesis defense back in June. At the same time though this felt different. Here people assumed I was already a master of my topic and I had nothing to prove. What was funny is that most people I talked to thought I was presenting doctoral work!

On Tuesday afternoon I walked over to the University of Exeter campus with Somo, a fellow conference attendee from India who was also staying at the hostel. We picked up our conference materials and hung around in the building until the plenary lecture started in the evening. The hub of the conference was in a building called the Forum, which is a beautiful atrium addition that has a fantastic undulating timber gridshell roof with scattered triangular skylights. It was designed by WilkinsonEyre beginning in 2008. The building looked very familiar to me and then I realized that it is cast as the court house in the second season of Broadchurch that I saw on the plane on my way to Nepal.

The Forum

The Forum

The first plenary lecture was given by Will Steffen and Jamie Lorimer. Will Steffen is performing climatic research that is trying to prove the concept of the “anthropocene”, that we are now in a new geologic era (that has replaced the holocene) where humans are now affecting the the geological make-up of the world. Some argue that this era began with the industrial revolution in the mid 17th century, but his hypothesis is that it began in the 1950’s with what he call’s the “great acceleration”. It was a very interesting talk! Jamie Lorimer approached the same topic  from an ecological standpoint and addressed some of the ideas from his book called ‘Wildlife in the Anthropocene’. He talked about the concept of “rewilding”, which is essentially the recreation of “natural” habitats and presented the different sides of what it means to live alongside nature in this era. He referred to some interesting case studies coming out of the Netherlands such as the Oostvaardersplassen, a large manmade nature reserve that is re-introducing wild-life, and Ecoducts that are wildlife corridors that bridge the highways that cut across the Veluwe.

Following the lecture there was a reception. I psyched myself up and managed to approach and talk to a few people who weren’t talking to anyone. What did I have to lose? On the way back to the hostel we passed the Exeter Cathedral that looked very beautiful by night. What a full and interesting first day in Exeter this had been!

Exeter Cathedral


June 30, 2015

Thesis Defence!

Ready to begin The day finally arrived for me to defend my thesis! I defended on Wednesday June 3rd at 10am. My parents, some good friends from Maranatha, and a few friends from school came and watched. In the gallery I set up a mini exhibition of four posters with a table of coffee and snacks from Monigram. I presented for half an hour and then sat down and answered questions posed to me by a panel of critics that included my supervisor, two committee members, and external reader. I was very nervous for the presentation and it threw me off that I couldn’t see the audience. I finally felt like myself again when I sat down for questions. I feel like the presentation could have been better, but this was a learning experience and I’m sure I will improve with practice! Afterwards the panel left to deliberate and came back to announce that my thesis was accepted with only a few small revisions. My thesis document is now available for download from UWSpace. I will also have a link to a video of my presentation up shortly! Presenting The panel

June 30, 2015

Thesis Posters

Poster 1



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March 18, 2015

Paper Towns

Here is a clip from John Green (vlogbrothers) talking about where the term “paper towns” comes from. It actually relates to the practice of mapping and how the map often informs the space instead of the other way around.

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December 9, 2014

Visiting Researchers

If we can’t go to them, then they’ll just have to come to us. This was our solution to best use the time that I have left before I head back to Canada in mid-December. I was supposed to be a visiting researcher to UCBC in Beni, but instead we brought Congolese visiting researchers to Uganda! Last week two of our colleagues Othy and Archip came and joined the international staff in Kampala for two weeks of GIS training. Both are alumni of UCBC; Othy is a professor with a degree in Computer Engineering and Archip is a researcher at the Integrated Research Institute (IRI) with a degree in Communications. It has been such a blessing to have them here! They are a piece of Beni and have an incredible joy, energy, and hope for Congo that is contagious!

Every day the work has been intense because we have been making up for lost time. The first three days were a review of OpenStreetMap, OSMAnd, JOSM Editor, Garmin Devices, ODK Collect, QGIS, and how to build custom surveys. Next we jumped into training on how to fly the quadrocopter drone that the IRI purchased to use for developing maps from aerial photography. We taught ourselves how to manually fly the copter but also to automate take off and landing and set a preprogrammed path for it to follow. We are now in week two and are diving more into QGIS to continue developing the base map, and working together to develop the UCBC, IRI, and BeniAtlas websites. There is great and exciting work happening here and I feel privileged to be a part of it! I am sad that I don’t get to be there to see these projects through, but am looking forward to keeping in touch and working with the team remotely. These two weeks of training have been a great conclusion to my time here.



Calibrating the drone

Calibrating the drone

Curious spectators

Curious spectators



Flying the Drone

Test Flight

November 23, 2014

The Problem with the News

One thing that has been frustrating about recent events in Beni region is how poorly they are reported on by the media and therefore how distorted the situation must look to westerners. There was one particularly bad article that came out on Reuters and Yahoo a few weeks back that claimed an act of cannibalism without having any witnesses to the event. I was happy to find an article a few days later that countered the article and condemned the practice of using clickbait and stereotypes to gain readership. This is a similar lesson for news coverage of other conflicts around the world.

November 23, 2014

A Look into Congolese Politics

During the recent insecurity in Beni, I have begun following more news of the Congo and reading more materials in an attempt to try to understand some of the complexity of Congolese politics. Here is a blog I found by Jason Stearns called Congo Siasa. He is the author of the book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters that I read a while back. He wrote one post in particular that discusses the recent insecurity. It’s a few weeks old but I want to share it because it does a much better job describing the situation than the news.


October 27, 2014

Around Beni

Here are some photos of points of interest that the team discovered around Beni.IMG_0228




Water reservoirsIMG_0301







Traffic circles (rond-points)1413196357999Markets

October 27, 2014

Sur Terrain


It was finally time to go out in field! For four days we met with the volunteers each morning, everyone partnered up, and we gave them an area of Beni to explore and map. The task was to find and fill out surveys for the following elements and place them on the map:

– roads: name (if applicable), type (primary, secondary, residential, footpath), condition (good, mediocre, bad), and coordinates

– bridges: name (if applicable), size (road bridge, footbridge, crossing), material, condition, and coordinates

– points of interest: name, type, subtype, photo (if have permission), and coordinates


One of the core team members stayed at a meeting spot to collect the phones from the teams when they returned. I stayed behind two of the days and went out in the field the other two days. It was a great experience to explore and see different parts of the city. Beni is a very dynamic and beautiful city and I hope that some of the photos I put up in this and the next post will capture some of the life of this place!

At the end of every day I took the phones home to take the data off of the phones and charge them with the few hours of electricity that I had between 6:30 and 10pm. I printed the field papers on the portable printer that I brought along. It was an exhausting but rewarding week! Credit goes to Jessica, Bora, and Archip for these photos.

IMG_0329 IMG_0315


October 26, 2014

Data Collection Tools

The first phase of my research involves creating a base map of the city of Beni. Before I came to Beni I traced the streets of the city using a program called JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap) Editor that I then uploaded to OpenStreetMap and can open in a desktop GIS program. The map is incomplete because it may have errors from tracing from an image and also because there is no road information such as road types and names. I learned that another important element to include on a base map of Beni is bridges. Beni has a large network of creeks that run through the city and there are hundreds of bridges of all shapes and sizes. Lastly, not many people know road names and so people find their way around using points of interest. Points of interest are also useful for preliminary research of the city, such as knowing how many schools or clinics are in the city. The only way to collect most of this information is to go and find it in the field.

In preparation for coming to Beni I researched methods for collecting data in the field. After exploring and testing several mapping application tools, I chose to use three tools called ODK Collect (with FormHub), OSMAnd, and Field Papers.

  • ODK (Open Data Kit) Collect is a smart phone application for creating and employing custom surveys. A project leader can create the survey using Excel, upload it to FormHub, and then download the survey onto the phone. Multiple field volunteers can then use the same survey in the field. All of the data that gets collected gets saved onto the phone and then can be uploaded to the FormHub website when there is access to a wifi network. The data is automatically compiled and available for download from the website as a csv, xls, or kml file. The application allows for a variety of question types including taking a photograph and collecting the GPS coordinates. It took a lot of work to structure the survey and create all of the questions and hints in both English and French.


  • OSMAnd is an application that can also collect GPS coordinates, but the real strength of the application is that maps can be downloaded onto the phone so that they can be viewed without internet access. Since I was intending to send groups to different parts of the city, it was important for them to have a way to locate themselves on the map. Even a physical map would not be enough to locate oneself since it is very difficult to distinguish which road is which or where the limits of the neighbourhoods are. Since OSMAnd uses the OpenStreetMap base map, field volunteers are able to locate themselves on the map that I traced. OSMAnd also has a tracking option so that we can see where the volunteers go when they are in the field. This is useful if we need to double check the location of a road or point of interest, or see where we might have missed an area. Lastly OSMAnd has the ability to show the areas that each group will be assigned to explore (see last post). I used QGIS to save the divisions as a gpx file that can then be made visible as a layer in OSMAnd.


  • Field Papers is a tool that combines digital data collection and physical note-taking. I chose it so that we would have a back-up in case we have technical difficulty with the phones or need to double check any information. On the Field Papers website it is possible to tile the OpenStreetMap base map into a print-ready pdf of the desired area. Field Volunteers can then take the papers into the field and mark them up at the same time as collecting the digital data. After the data collection is complete it is possible to take a photograph of the papers and upload them back to the website, where they are automatically geolocated because of a scan code that is on each page. JOSM Editor has a plug-in for FieldPapers so that allows the elements to be traced offline.


By word of mouth and text messages, we recruited a group of students who were interested in learning the GIS tools and join us in the field. I originally had the goal to recruit ten to twenty people, but we had thirty students come to our first meeting! We went through an introduction of how to use the tools and then the students partnered up and spent time wandering around the grounds and testing them out on the phones.