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Finding Heritage in a Box

4:07 am PHT

Yesterday, I found myself in heart of Quiapo.

I’m the type of person who would not normally go to the more chaotic parts of the Metro, prefering to stay in the more orderly areas like the Makati CBD and Bonifacio Global City. And I really do not like unplanned events and spur-of-the-moment decisions. So it was quite a surprise for me that I let myself get tagged along with Joel Aldor and Manolo Noche to the unveiling of the Boix House in Quiapo. ("Boix” is pronounced “bosh”—don’t ask me why. It’s supposedly a Catalan surname.) It was a decision that I did not regret.

Boix House is a heritage building located along A. Bautista Street surprisingly one block away from Quiapo Church and right beside the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, which was unfortunately closed that day. Boix House was built in 1895 and I’m actually amazed that it survived World War II and avoided getting burned down because the whole most of the structure was made of wood. One really interesting trivia that I learned was that Manuel L. Quezon used to board there during his days as a law student at the UST. Due to that bit of history, the place was renamed as the MLQ Dormitory in his honor (at least during the 50s).

The event yesterday wasn’t actually a real opening of the heritage house for tourism. The structure is still in dire need of restoration and the tenants occupying the ground floor still need to vacate the building. A group of young heritage volunteers just cleaned up the some areas on the second floor for the event with some sections still closed off for safety purposes.

Nevertheless, I saw the potential of the place. When fully restored, I think it would be a beautiful showcase of the turn-of-the-century Filipino architecture. The building has a nice central courtyard (not so nice now because the said tenants added an iron roof to cover it to provide additional living space) and I was told that there used to be a fountain there. The main staircase from the ground floor was quite unremarkable as it currently stands but I suspected that walls were added around it on the second floor so that additional boarding rooms could be built. If the walls could be taken down and the balustrade restored, the staircase would become a more welcoming entryway to the living room.

More than the house, remarkable as it is, I was also pretty amazed by the number of people who attended the event. Despite the heat, people of all ages visited the unveiling, including hotshot tour guide Carlos Celdran himself. The event had a simple photo exhibit containing pictures of the volunteers cleaning up the place. There was a message wall made up of manila paper where visitors can write words of encouragement and other walls had simple illustrations of other heritage structures in Manila. (Well, I was told that the walls were plastered with manila paper to cover the numerous graffiti left by boarding students. Hehehe.) There was even a modest “cocktail” snacks consisting of pancit bihon, puto, and kakanin as well as simple musical performances. The event is definitely not your formal affair but I feel that its significance is no less important than posh arts and culture openings located in galleries and museums.

It was actually quite inspiring to see all of these people congregate in a really modest place. Much like the feeling I get in Wikimania when I see people from all over the world be really passionate about Wikipedia, the enthusiasm people expressed for the potential of Boix House left me with a good feeling inside.

Would I become an ardent heritage advocate like all of those people? I would have to say no. But that is simply because I am already very passionate about Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, and free and open culture in general. Much as I would like to help out on all things that would make the world a better place, I simply do not have the time to fully embrace other worthy causes.

That said, my experience in Boix House seeing all of those people excited about heritage did leave me with a desire to help in any way I can. After all, what’s the use of free and open culture, if part of the culture that we are freeing is lost?

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Using OpenStreetMap for Disaster Risk Reduction

3:03 am PHT

 Facade of the Guagua Municipal Hall

Last November 5 to 7, I and a few other volunteer mappers from the OpenStreetMap Philippines community joined the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) in training the local government of Guagua, Pampanga (OSM) in contributing to and using OpenStreetMap with an eye for disaster risk reduction.

While I’ve done my share of OpenStreetMap-related training before, the Guagua training was the first time that I really took time off from my usual routine and went outside Metro Manila to teach people about OSM. I have to say that the experience was very fulfilling.

The Need for Disaster Risk Reduction

A day after our training in Pampanga, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), possibly the strongest recorded typhoon ever to have made landfall anywhere in the world, tore a path of death and destruction through the Philippines. Yolanda is now one of the country’s top two deadliest tropical cyclones after the official death toll exceeded 5,200.

According to the 2012 World Risk Report, the Philippines is ranked third out of 173 countries that is most vulnerable to natural disasters. (This is the same rank the country got in 2011, when the report was first released.) This high rank is partly due to location: the country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire (resulting to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) and is also right in the middle of the Northwestern Pacific Basin, which is the world’s most active region for tropical cyclones.

More importantly, the Philippines’ high rank is also due to a lack of resources and coping mechanisms for addressing disasters. Typhoon Yolanda is just the latest in a long line of natural disasters that concretely manifest the country’s vulnerability.

It’s not enough to be reactive to calamities but to also be proactive. We need to assess and reduce the risk due to natural disasters. While the Philippine Government already has a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), and each province, town, and city have their own similar offices, I think disaster risk reduction (DRR) is still in its infancy in the country.

We have an inflexible building code that is not strictly enforced and may not be enough to withstand strong earthquakes and 300-kph storm winds. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau only started updating their geohazard maps for the whole country in 2011 and many local government units still don’t know what to do with them. Our weather bureau PAGASA is under-equipped and understaffed and we have only begun enjoying the benefits of DOST’s Project NOAH. And our citizens still don’t appreciate the importance of preparing for disasters or even knowing the severity of incoming calamities as evidenced by the deaths in Mindanao due to Typhoon Pablo and the devastation in Tacloban due to the Typhoon Yolanda storm surge.

The ESSC-OSMPH Pampanga Trainings

The Guagua event I attended was actually the last in a series of 3 trainings held in Pampanga. The first was held in Candaba last October 7 to 9 while the second was held in Lubao from October 23 to 25. This series of trainings was initiated by the World Bank—East Asia Pacific (WB-EAP) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) with funding from AusAID.

Maps and geographical data is an intrinsic component of disaster management and WB-EAP and GFDRR has identified OpenStreetMap as a key project since it aligns with the World Bank’s open data initiative. In partnership with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the ESSC piloted a six-month project to train three municipalities in Pampanga. The training aimed to teach the LGUs on participatory mapping using OpenStreetMap to generate the base geographical data that can be used for DRR, and on using InaSAFE, a software tool that can be used to generate disaster scenarios and their impact and relief requirements using geographical data. If you want to learn more, just read the project brochure.

I was unable to join the first two trainings since I was quite busy at work. Fortunately there was some slack time in November and I took the opportunity to join Maning, Feye, and Dianne from the ESSC, and Rally and Erwin from OSMPH in going to Guagua, Pampanga. We had around 30 participants attend the training and we had a good mix of people coming from the municipal and barangay governments, including Councilor Joan Carreon.

The first day involved giving the participants an overview of the training and then introducing them to OpenStreetMap. We then had them try out the JOSM software to edit the map of their places using their personal knowledge.

The second day saw us split into five groups and going out to five areas all over Guagua to collect data through field surveying. I and Dianne were assigned to Brgy. San Nicolas 2nd in the Betis district and we were joined by Brgy. Chairman Michael Valencia and several young people from neighboring barangays. We went around San Nicolas 2nd noting down the location and names of points of interests and taking pictures of establishments. We also used GPS devices to collect tracks. Mr. Valencia also pointed to us the borders of his barangay and this was duly added later in OpenStreetMap.

After a quick side trip to see the beautiful ceiling art of the Santiago Apostol Parish (Betis) Church (deemed a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum) our group then took a look at an ongoing public works project to divert Sapang Maragul. (During times of heavy rainfall, Sapang Maragul overflows its banks and floods the Betis district.) We then headed back to our training venue and started editing OpenStreetMap to add the data we collected earlier while us facilitators demonstrated how to make use of GPS tracks, how to geotag photos, and how to use the Field Papers in JOSM.

On the final day, we continued editing OpenStreetMap. After lunch, the participants then had a mini-workshop on creating a plan on what other geographical data needs to be collected and how to do it. After that, Maning showed various ways of downloading and using OSM data. Finally, the use of InaSAFE was demonstrated.

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Requiescat in Pace

7:15 am PHT

 Homer Supe: 1986–2013

“Wala na si Homer.” Those were the first words our manager said when he held a special section meeting last November 15. I initially didn’t comprehend what he meant until my female teammate began crying and I was then taken aback with the sudden realization that we would never see Homer again. About a week before, Homer had taken a medical leave of absence and I didn’t think much of it. I never realized that Homer’s condition was quite severe.

Homer joined the company in 2008 and I’ve only really gotten to know him when I joined his team in 2011. He was one of the liveliest people on the team mostly populated by introverts. As a colleague stated, there was never a dull moment with him around because he would always steer the conversation to absurd topics. In the company, he was known as a street dancer and usually performed together with the other members of the company’s Dance Club during company events.

While he was known to be a jolly fellow, Homer took his project tasks seriously. Our team had depended on him for facilitating project deliverables and in technical roles, I’ve observed him concentrate on difficult tasks. I’ve heard that he had also been a very responsible brother to his three younger brothers, a role he took when their parents passed away. This responsible side of him is actually a surprise when you see how messy his desk looked being covered with numerous pieces of paper and empty Coke Zero cans, his favorite drink.

When I went to his wake two days after his death, the experience of seeing him lying peacefully was surreal. Homer was the closest person I’ve known to pass away. I sadly realized then that this will eventually become a normal occurrence moving forward.

It has been a month since Homer’s death. While our team has pretty much adjusted and moved on, we still remember his jolly side by leaving a couple of Coke Zero cans on his now-clean desk.

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Why I’m Going to the Million People March

9:23 am PHT

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook the following status in reaction to one of the many news articles about Janet Lim-Napoles:

The BIR says its going to crack down on professionals like us because we dont pay our taxes correctly. When you read stories like this, makes you question why should we when it goes to people like this. So disgusting!!!

At first, I disapproved of the idea that any citizen should evade paying tax on the sole reason that it will just be corrupted by the government. Even if we know that corruption is rampant, I thought that this was no excuse for us not to do our civic duty of paying taxes. As Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” I guess I was surprised by the revelation of BIR that some professional pay less income tax than public school teachers.

But seeing at how this latest political scam is playing out, I cannot help but agree with my friend. I’m a bit jaded with government corruption particularly when political padrinos get “commission” on public projects. But when you hear news about of ghost projects, bogus NGOs, and people pocketing billions of pesos with absolutely nothing to show for it, it makes me angry. And when some people, like the Napoles family, flaunt their wealth, the word “angry” doesn’t begin to cut it.

I will admit that I’m a bit envious that I cannot avoid paying taxes as a form of civil disobedience, like some in the professional sector. As an employed citizen, my income tax is withheld by my company and correctly remitted to the government. There’s no going around that.

Since I can’t show my indignation by avoiding paying taxes, then I would like to show it in the way the Filipino people have done it: through mass demonstration. I’m mad, angry, disappointed, and absolutely disgusted, and that is why I am going to the Million People March in Luneta.

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Goodbye, Google Reader; Hello, Feedly

7:02 am PHT

Like many other people, I was very dismayed to learn that Google was discontinuing Google Reader. I had hoped that Google would not push through with their plan, but given Google’s history and resolve (I think the decision to shut down Reader was not taken lightly and was likely debated internally at length by Google management) I eventually accepted Google Reader’s fate.

Since Google gave a 3-month window (until July 1) for users to migrate to another service, I decided to wait until near the end of June before switching. I wanted to see which among the many competing services would rise to the top and in my view, Feedly was the obvious winner. Feedly capitalized on Google’s decision by quickly adding new features to make the transition painless for Google Reader users. And given that many Google Reader users switched to Feedly, the danger is hopefully less that Feedly would suffer Google Reader’s fate.

So I took the plunge and migrated to Feedly in the last week of June. I found the transition to be as smooth as advertised and all of my subscribed feeds, including their categories and tagged posts, were imported. And by configuring Feedly to the Titles Only view mode—I have not found any use for Feedly’s other views—the functionality was quite similar to Google Reader.

That said, I quickly hit a limitation in Feedly, a limitation so bad that I can’t quite recommend Feedly as an adequate replacement for Google Reader. Basically, it appears that Feedly can only present a month’s worth of posts from your subscribed feeds. This is in stark contrast with Google Reader where you can go back (and search!) through many years’ worth of feed posts as long as somebody has subscribed to that feed early on. I’m not the only one who noticed this limitation (example) and this issue apparently has been ongoing since last year, way before Google decided to ditch Reader. What’s disturbing is that I can’t find any response from the people at Feedly addressing this issue despite the many postings from disappointed users on various forums and feedback sites.

It may be that Feedly does not have the resources that Google has in storing years’ worth of posts on their servers. I also doubt that the other competing services have better resources. And this is exactly why I was dismayed by Google’s decision. While it may be true that because Google Reader completely dominated the feed reader space, that there is stagnation in the “market”, and that Google Reader exiting will spur innovation, Google Reader had value due to network effects and Google’s enormous resources.

For instance, there are times when a post is deleted from a blog for various reasons, yet there would be a copy in Google Reader because Google managed to access the feed before the post was deleted. I personally find this valuable. Now it’s all gone together with Google Reader. This also applies to blogs that have been deleted: Google Reader would still have a copy of feed posts from that deleted blog.

For now, I’m still using Feedly as my feed reader and it does help me keep up with the sites I have subscribed to. But the situation is not as ideal as Google Reader still being in service.

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38th MMFF: Thy Womb

1:55 am PHT

I was a bit disappointed with last year’s crop of Metro Manila Film Festival entries. Among the eight films, I only had interest in watching three: Thy Womb, El Presidente, and Sisterakas (in decreasing order of preference). Thy Womb received numerous accolades at foreign film festivals and that’s the main reason why I was interested in this Brillante Mendoza–directed piece. And since Thy Womb was threatened to be pulled out of theaters due to poor performance at the box office, that was the first film I saw.

Thy Womb tells the story of Shaleha (Nora Aunor), the wife of Bangas-An (Bembol Roco). They are a Badjao couple living in Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines. She works as a midwife but ironically is not able to produce any offspring for his husband due to her infertility. She finally agrees to let Bangas-An take a second wife and most of the film is spent depicting the couple’s search for a bride.

So what did I think of the movie? The one word I would use to describe it is educational. The movie had no overarching plot and I daresay is a slice-of-life kind of film. There was hardly any conflict or climax and I found the post-climax scenes quite abrupt especially when compared to leisure pace of the rest of the film. So I wasn’t particularly impressed with the film as a storytelling vehicle, but I was very fascinated with its depiction of Badjao life and culture.

Living in cosmopolitan Manila and being connected everyday to the Internet, I found the contrast with Badjao culture enlightening. I’m sure Direk Mendoza did plenty of research for this film and seeing the lives of our Muslim brothers in the south was very educational. People in Tawi-Tawi live with bandits, insurgents, and the military the same way people in Metro Manila deal with traffic jams. I was also a bit surprised that they still practice arranged marriages there and that it is the groom that pays the bride’s dowry. There was also a lovely episode in the film depicting a Badjao marriage and reception (with Mercedes Cabral as the bride). While Thy Womb placed dead last in the box office among the MMFF films, I feel that the film would be better served by including it as required viewing in the Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) subject in high school.

Brillante Mendoza lamented how foreigners loved the film, but Filipinos are not supporting it. Well, having seen Thy Womb, I have no doubt that the film can be popular in the international film festival circuit. However, I think that the the average Filipino and also mainstream foreign audience would find the movie quite boring. So I don’t fully agree with Mendoza’s statement that the foreigners love the film. The most financially successful films are the ones that provide entertainment and sadly, Thy Womb is not that kind of film.

P.S. I have two additional quibbles with Thy Womb. First, as a Filipino, I find the Tagalog dialogues from the non-Badjao actors a bit jarring, especially when they are answered back in Tausug. But to foreigners, it’s all Greek to them so they would not be really distracted by it. Second, I really find it implausible to see Lovi Poe as the Bangas-an’s second wife (not really a spoiler). She’s far too pretty for such a role.

P.P.S. Jessica Zafra’s review is a good read.

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Documenting the Philippines’ Cultural Heritage

1:34 pm PHT

Below is the speech I gave as President of Wikimedia Philippines during the Awarding Ceremonies of Wiki Loves Monuments Philippines 2012 held last night, October 20, 2012, at the Filipinas Heritage Library in Makati.

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. Well, as cliché as it may sound, no writer can explain a complicated concept better than a well-done illustration. No amount of words can describe the the location of a place better than a well-crafted map. And no length of flowery language can adequately show the beauty of arts and culture than exciting videos, lively music, and colorful photos.

For instance, the Miag-ao Church, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines, has a beautiful relief facade that is quite hard to describe. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

The central feature of the bas-relief facade is a large coconut tree which reaches almost to the apex. On the church’s facade the coconut tree appears as the “tree of life” to which St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder is clinging to. The lesser facades feature the daily life of Miagaowanons during the time. Also depicted are other native flora and fauna, as well as native dresses.

While that description can use some improvement, I think we can all agree that even for someone gifted with a vivid imagination, he would be hard-pressed to picture how exactly the bas-relief that adorns the front of this Baroque church looks like by just reading the article.

© 2011, User:Alienscream / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Even though Wikipedia has become the world’s largest and most popular reference work—thanks to you, the editors that create and maintain the articles, and the readers that patronize this wonderful project—its articles lack illustrations, images, and photos to show what mere words cannot explain. And for cultural heritage sites in the Philippines, we actually lack both: photos and articles.

So in Wikimedia Philippines, we organize projects to build up Wikipedia and its sister projects in the country so that the whole world can learn of the unique blend of Eastern and Western culture that has made the Philippines what it is today. We hold Open Web Day events and workshops in colleges and universities to teach students how to contribute and write articles for Wikipedia. And on the visual side, we hold photo contests like Wikipedia Takes Manila, which was held in 2011, and Wiki Loves Monuments, for which we are having the Awarding Ceremonies tonight.

Wiki Loves Monuments is a worldwide photo contest aimed at generating photos of world heritage and cultural monuments and where all pictures are released under open copyright licenses. The annual contest started in 2009 in the Netherlands, became a Europe-wide competition last year, and is now a worldwide event in 2012. In fact, the Guinness World Records has recently awarded last year’s event as the largest photography competition in the world. Well, they would now have to update their records since this year is even bigger! 15,000 users from 36 countries and territories have uploaded more than 361,000 photographs.

I am particularly pleased with the turnout in the Philippines. 2,300 entries totaling more than 7.4 GB of data were submitted by 319 participants. This makes our country the 15th highest by number of participants, and we have uploaded more photographs than countries like Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and Denmark.

But, more than the prizes, the numbers, and the world records, we hope to encourage more Filipinos to help in documenting our cultural heritage. We need more photographs and articles in Wikipedia. And as we aim to show through Wiki Loves Monuments, you don’t need to be a skilled writer to contribute to Wikipedia. Just go out, visit our cultural sites in the country, take photos, upload them, and let the whole world see that it really is more fun in the Philippines.

Thank you very much and good luck to all the finalists!

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Ang Nawawala

12:39 am PHT

At times it felt too long, and I find the premise a bit implausible, but Marie Jamora’s Cinemalaya film Ang Nawawala is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

When I read Philbert’s 4.5-star review of the film and then a friend’s declaration on Facebook saying “I guarantee it will be one of the best films you’ll see this year”, I knew that I had to see the movie. And so I hauled my ass off to SM Megamall last Sunday just so that I could watch the film (since it was only screening in Megamall that day). And oh it was so worth it. I can definitely see why it got the Audience Choice in the New Breed category of Cinemalaya.

The film tells the story of Gibson Bonifacio (Dominic Roco), a twenty-year-old guy who has elective mutism due to a traumatic event he witnessed during his childhood. His family, also affected by the event, is a bit dysfunctional, with the dad (Boboy Garovillo) awkwardly trying to be cheerful while the mom (Dawn Zulueta) being cold and distant.

Gibs, as our protagonist is called, seeks escape from this environment by traveling and studying outside the country, or going out on gimiks with his friends in Manila, or when at home, by locking himself in his room to smoke pot or to listen to music on his vinyl collection. He also looks through the world through his camera, capturing scenes of everyday life as if as a shield that lets him stay withdrawn from the world.

After three years of being abroad, he returns home for the holidays with his mother simply greeting him, “you’re late”. Then while out checking out Manila’s underground scene with his best friend, he meets this girl named Enid (Annicka Dolonius) who shares his interest in music. With her, he begins to experience the magic of love, with all of its ups and downs.

I have a special place for poignantly emotional films. While I very much enjoy blockbuster action films, movies that mess with your mind, and comedies, stories that tug at your heart like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hotaro no Haka, and 100 leave an indelible mark in my mind.

And what a mark did Ang Nawawala leave on me. I turned off the radio while driving home after the screening since I felt silence was a more appropriate accompaniment to what I felt when I left the movie theater. I guess I can see quite a bit of myself in Gibson. Like him, I’m still very much an introvert. And while friends who know me can attest that can be quite social and assertive when needed, I still maintain a sort of independence and aloofness, and having the innate need to be alone.

Dominic Roco played Gibson with such earnestness that you can see his emotions playing out on his face and expressive eyes despite staying silent for most of the film. Dawn Zulueta was also very effective as the withdrawn mother. And it is extremely pleasing to see a very emotional movie with so very little melodrama. No shouting and slapping of faces, and no dramatic dialogue carefully designed to be reposted over and over again on Twitter.

One of the film’s main theme is about silence and of things left unsaid. Yet I find it remarkable that all of this is beautifully set against the live songs of the local music scene. I’ve learned that Marie Jamora directed a lot of the music videos of our local artists and the film shows her love of music, something that I appreciated in this film. (And it deserved its Best Original Music Score award.)

Ang Nawawala actually tells a very simple story. But it is in the little silent moments and experiences that one truly finds oneself.

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OpenStreetMap Philippines: 2011 Year in Review

5:32 am PHT

2011 was a pretty good year for the OpenStreetMap project in the Philippines. Aside from the usual Mapping Parties, the community has organized or participated in several other events, some of them outside the Philippines. 2011 also saw the release of a more improved and usable OSM Philippine Garmin map, and OSM contributors made 2011 the best year in terms of increase of data in the Philippines (thanks to Bing).

By many respects, 2011 was the most active year for the Philippine OpenStreetMap community. 2012 will have quite a bit of a trouble topping the high bar that the previous year has set, but it’s a challenge that I’m certainly looking forward to.  :)

Mapping Parties and Research Papers

We had four Mapping Parties in 2011. All of them were held in Metro Manila and the the target areas were:

  • The Scout Area of Quezon City (February 12)

  • The whole town of Pateros (June 11)

  • The southwestern portion of Makati (July 23)

  • The area in and around Greenhills in Mandaluyong and San Juan (December 17)

Of the four, the QC Scout Area and the Greenhills Mapping Parties had the most participants, while the Pateros event had, in my opinion, the most impact in terms of increased coverage. You can check out how the a portion of Pateros was improved in the following visualization.

Aside from these Mapping Parties, Maning and Rally also attended a mini mapping event organized by Philip Paar, a German who was doing academic research on mapping slum areas. The event took place in mid January 2011 and the target was the Gawad Kalinga Telus Village in Quezon City. Philip visited Manila a couple of times before, mapping three other Gawad Kalinga villages, and for the Telus Village event, Maning and Rally participated to provide a local’s perspective.

Philip has published his research together with his co-researcher . You can check two of the papers they wrote in the following links.

Conferences, Hackdays, and Meetups

On September 17, OpenStreetMap Philippines gave a workshop at Software Freedom Day 2011, which was organized by the Computer Professionals Union. The workshop had around 50 student attendees and we gave them an overview of OpenStreetMap and had them try their hand at editing the data via Potlatch2.

In 2011, Maning started to organize the Philippine chapter of OSGeo, an international group that promotes the use of free and open source GIS software. OSGeo and OpenStreetMap enjoy a close relationship in many countries and there is actually some overlap in members between the two. And so during OSGeo Philippines’ third meeting held on December 3, I gave overview of OSM to the attendees.

In addition to these local events, Maning became the first ever Filipino (based in the Philippines) to attend State of the Map (SOTM), the annual conference for OpenStreetMap contributors, users, and supporters. In 2011, SOTM was held in Denver, Colorado from September 9 to 11 and Maning fortunately got a travel scholarship which lets him travel and attend the conference for free. Maning gave a short presentation on the state of OSM in the Philippines.

Maning also attended a regional FOSS4G in Tokyo and Osaka in Japan in November. FOSS4G is the OSGeo counterpart of OpenStreetMap’s SOTM, and while Maning wasn’t able to attend the global FOSS4G event in Denver (right after SOTM) he was able to attend the Japan conference where he saw how active the Japanese mapping and GIS communities were. Incidentally, SOTM 2012 will be held in Tokyo.

Finally, several OSM contributors met in Maning’s office on February 18 for the Garmin Hackday. While no actual hacking occurred that day, lots of ideas were discussed and many of them were implemented to create a much improved OSM-PH Garmin map.

A better Garmin map

As mentioned, an improved Garmin map based on OSM data in the Philippines was developed using some of the ideas shared during the Hackday, and was officially released on July 26. (Garmin is a brand of GPS navigation devices that is quite popular in the Philippines and the OSM Philippines community has been providing maps for Garmin devices since the late 2007.)

Among the improvements include better address search which was made possible because of new features added to mkgmap, the software we use to compile the Garmin map from OSM data. The map also had a fresher style with a lot more types of POIs (points of interest) shown. You can check out all the improvements on Maning’s blog post.

Impressive data growth

The numbers speak for themselves:

Data statistics as of January 3, 2011:

  • Number of nodes: 1,528,760

  • Number of ways: 127,544

  • Number of relations: 645

  • Number of contributors: 701

  • Total road length: 59,969 km

Data statistics as of December 28, 2011 (with percentage increase in parentheses):

  • Number of nodes: 2,778,737 (82%)

  • Number of ways: 283,621 (122%)

  • Number of relations: 1,769 (174%)

  • Number of contributors: 1,238 (77%)

  • Total road length: 91,461 km (53%)

The growth is quite impressive. All five data points have shown an increase of more than half and some numbers have even more than doubled compared to a year ago!

A large portion of this growth is definitely due to Bing Maps allowing OpenStreetMap to trace from it’s available satellite imagery. We still haven’t exhausted the possibilities of extracting data from Bing so expect further growth in 2012.  :)

Image credits: Map by ITO World (CC-BY-SA 2.0). Photos by Maning Sambale, Philip Paar, Harry Wood (CC-BY-SA), Eugene Villar, and an unknown photographer at FOSS4G. Other maps from data by OSM contributors.

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Mannasoft’s Philippines DigiMap is a Waste of Money

12:24 pm PHT

I was browsing the map section of Bestsellers in Robinsons Galleria in early October and I discovered this CD software named Philippines DigiMap (v2.0.0) produced by a company named Mannasoft Technology Corporation. Being the map geek that I am, I was initially intrigued by this product, which when installed (Windows only, I presume) supposedly lets you browse a digital map of Metro Manila and search for POIs (points of interest). Unfortunately, its 300-peso price turned me off. But the clincher was this notice printed on the back of the packaging:

Upon installation, Philippines DigiMap may be used for 15 days. To extend use, activation code is required. Please call or email at the contact info below.

Is this for real? Is this software so good that I need to get it activated? I’m not even sure if the activation is free (and I’m too lazy to contact them to find out). Besides, in this age of Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, both of which are free, why would I pay 300 pesos to get a digital map that I likely couldn’t use in a mobile setting, and can’t use for real-time navigation? It’s true that you need an Internet connection to browse Google Maps, but there are tons of offline solutions that are often free. I thought that Periplus’ Metro Manila Atlas was a not worth its price, but Mannasoft’s Philippines DigiMap takes the cake.

Mannasoft actually has a website which seems to contain the same map data: www.directorymanila.net. I browsed their online maps on that site and I was quite unimpressed. They used the KabeetMaps model of only showing a map of each city in Metro Manila one at a time instead of the continuous and seamless map that Google and OSM provides. In addition, I tried the search functionality for their Makati map and I couldn’t get it to work at all. And oh, their street network is wrong in many places and outdated in others.

Well, if there’s one nice thing that I can say, it’s the fact that they provided floor plans of Glorietta so that you can locate interior shops. This is actually a nice and almost unique feature that they could capitalize on. Unfortunately, their Glorietta floor plan is also outdated, they even show the shops in Glorietta 1 and 2 which are long closed and gone.

Oh yeah, here’s the final nail in the coffin. It seems that their GIS and cartography solution is so poor that they couldn’t even make their own overview map of Metro Manila (as seen on the front cover of their packaging). I made that Metro Manila map for Wikipedia back in 2003 and I could definitely recognize the tell-tale shape and colors. See the visualization below to compare. Look especially at the outline of Makati and the northern border of Valenzuela.

If a company had the gall to steal a map somebody else made without following the generous open license or even providing any attribution, then I think they couldn’t be trusted to provide an accurate and updated map, much less entrust them with 300 pesos of your money.

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