GoogleEarth Feed

Planned project: Law enforcement map of the Adirondack Park

I am planning a Google Maps project explicating the bewildering array of police jurisdictions within the Adirondack park and would welcome input from people with some expertise in this subject. The Adirondack Park is a state park that occupies roughly 23% of the State of New York.

Most of the towns within the park do not have their own police forces -- exceptions being places with a robust tax base such as Lake Placid.

For the most part, the law enforcement agencies operating in these towns are not answerable to local town government.

NY State Police squad car is running & keys are in the ignition; no troopers are in evidence

In Essex County, where I now live, there are at least four police forces operating. There are the New York State Troopers, seen mostly along the highways, but also acting as the primary law enforcement agency in many areas. 

Then there is the Essex County Sheriff's Department which has just built an enormous jail in a county with almost no crime to speak of (one murder recorded in a five year period). The Sheriff's department administers the jail which apparently makes money for the county by renting out space to other counties with less capacious accommodations. The jail, called the "Essex County Public Safety Building," is at 702 Stowersville Rd. in Lewis, NY just off exit 32 on Interstate 87 (the Northway), so drive carefully near exit 32.

Orwelian name for the county jail: Essex County Public Safety Building

The squad cars of the Essex County Sheriff's Deputies look like this:

Essex Co. NY deputy

And then there are the New York State Forest Rangers:

NY State Forest Ranger


In Westport, I don't see them around much except in the winter when they stop into Ernie's, next door, for some hot food.

And then there is the United States Border Patrol. Who knew that there was an international border through the Adirondack Park? (Perhaps Homeland Security has found a gateway in the park to R'lyeh, the sunken city where the godlike being Cthulhu is buried?)

International border or no, the Border Patrol operates a check point on Interstate 87 in southern Essex County. This is apparently a post 9/11 Homeland Security thing for the purpose of inspecting vehicles for "illegal immigrants, narcotics, terrorists and terrorist weapons." I was hoping the Border Checkpoint 65 miles south of the border was going away when Obama came into office, but it isn't gone yet. (I find this deeply irritating.)

While I doubt they've caught any terrorists there yet, this checkpoint is probably good for providing billable involuntary tourists for the town of Lewis, NY, mentioned above.

In any case, these different police forces have radically different mandates, training, and patterns of behavior. What I would like to do is create a Google Maps Field Guide to law enforcement in the Adirondacks complete with identifying photos and police scanner frequencies.

I will probably start with Essex County, since the Adirondack Park is big. I would appreciate receiving information about publicly available data that might be useful for this project.

What my life in Essex County teaches me is that it is important to know who you are talking to before you talk to a cop around here.

Also, one thing I would like to know about is what, if any, policing is outsourced to private companies within the park. It is my impression that none of it is, but this assumption could be mistaken.

Disturbing reports on Hurricane Felix

The CNN headline on the front page read "Thousands missing after hurricane." The accompanying story explains:

Casualty reports have yet to come from at least 70 percent of villages and towns along Nicaragua's swampy jungle coast, where Felix slammed ashore with 160 mph winds on Tuesday, said disaster official Jorge Ramon Arnesto Soza.
. . .
About 11,000 Miskito Indians in the isolated region did not evacuate before the storm. Honduran officials had trouble getting to the remote region, but did manage to evacuate more than 3,100, according to regional army commander Col. Carlos Edgar Mejia of the 115th Infantry Brigade.

I don't have any good ideas of what might be done to help. I wish there were a means by which a clickable map with RSS feeds for press mentions of obscure locations in situations like this. I know how to do that by hand, but not programmatically.

the coastline hit by Hurricane Felix

UPDATE: Here's a rough Google Earth map of populated places on the east coast of Nicaragua and Honduras in the area where Hurricane Felix hit. The scariest feature is that a lot of the Honduras coastline in the area likely to be hit hard by Felix is villages on barrier beaches. Hurricanes can just plow right through barrier beach. (Download puerto_cabezas_pop_33625.kmz)

Here is an interesting Hurricane Felix photoset on Flickr showing damage at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

The Ghost of an Indian Mound at Cahokia Found in Google Earth's Elevation Data


Cahokia was once a city of 20,000 which was located where Collinsville, Illinois is now, just outside St. Louis. It is one of a small number of World Heritage sites in the United States. It was built by a mound-building culture, and flourished for a few hundred years about a thousand years ago.

We to Cahokia a few weeks ago while attending Nasfic. From our Collinsville hotel room, I looked at where we'd been on Google Earth and made an interesting discovery: the ghost of mound #31 lurks in the elevation data: An auction liquidation house now stands where mound #31 once stood. The elevation data shows the shape of the mound, whereas the aerial photo used by Google Earth shows the business that replaced it. (Download the_ghost_of_cahokias_mound_30..kmz)

Mound 31 was torn down in the 1960s as part of an expansion back when the building was a store called Grampa's. The main building was built in the 1940s as a nightclub. Mound 30 was torn down for the initial construction. GE probably uses the elevation data from the 1960s because it is 1 meter resolution. I'm guessing that this hi-rez elevation data dates from when the nearby interstate, which runs through the Cahokia archaeological site, was being constructed.

I looked into whether is was possible to do time-series digital archeology on sites like this, but the 1 meter resolution elevation data seems to have been a one-time thing, for Cahokia at least.

Cahokia Missing Mounds 30 & 31

Our photos from Cahokia are HERE.

8.0 Peru Earthquake and its nearby populations

I took at quick look on Google Earth to get of a situation involving the 8.0 earthquake in Peru, and it looks bad to me. Here's the USGS description:

Magnitude 8.0 Date-Time Wednesday, August 15, 2007 at 23:40:56 UTC Wednesday, August 15, 2007 at 06:40:56 PM at epicenter Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones Location 13.358°S, 76.522°W Depth 30.2 km (18.8 miles) set by location program Region NEAR THE COAST OF CENTRAL PERU Distances 45 km (25 miles) WNW of Chincha Alta, Peru 110 km (65 miles) NW of Ica, Peru 150 km (95 miles) SSE of LIMA, Peru 200 km (125 miles) SW of Huancayo, Peru Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 5.2 km (3.2 miles); depth fixed by location program Parameters Nst=271, Nph=271, Dmin=155.4 km, Rmss=0.83 sec, Gp= 29°, M-type=moment magnitude (Mw), Version=9 Source USGS NEIC (WDCS-D) Event ID us2007gbcv

Here's a quick look at the epicenters location relative to populated areas on Google Earth (I've got NASA's earthlight layer turned on.)


The brightest nearby blog is Chincha Alta, a city of 100,000, 25 miles from the epicenter.

There are several rivers nearby (think wall of water from debris falling into the river in the nearby mountains). Also there are substatial mountainsides not far away.

Shifting Focus

As the world spirals into chaos amidst wars and bombing plots, I am trying to shift my focus from intrigues involving private military firms and other strange little companies, back to the larger scale issue of how to best manage information harvested from the Internet, and how to transform what one harvests into the most easily visualized format (this, using Google Earth and other tools), since we think better about what we can visualize.

This morning in a waiting room, I learned from (I think) Time magazine that we liberal bloggers have shirked the subject of the Israel-Lebanon war, and they were all ready to steer me to places that would explain why we'd turned tail. Well, gee. Just short of a month ago I did my part to try to portray in a map the destabilizing properties of Hezbollah's new weapons. And later did some other related graphics. This though I am not fascinated by war or the military or war-blogging. It being summer, I traveled for a while on a family vacation.

I look at the global situation now, and I see a dystopian world that was foreshadowed by the menacing rhetoric underlying Iran's military maneuvers a few months ago: the new Hezbollah arsenal and accompanying acctacks on Israel and the airline bombing plots were what was supposed to result from us putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program. Except we didn't put a stop to it. Not really. And the scenario is unfolding anyway. I made my contributions to war-blogging this one, but is this really a job for bloggers at all? Did my knowing this, recognizing this, as it unfolded save anyone's life? I doubt it.

So I'm going to try to shift focus to the tools that help people pick up the pieces and move on. If I can think of something to do to help in the meanwhile, I'll do it. But marveling at the wounded world so easily tips over into voyeurism; and I have no desire for a vicarious ride through Hell.

My adventures of the past year have taught me a lot about what good can be done with information and community available on the Internet. And for me, that seems the right direction to go.

Speculations on where Israel will attack on the ground

Based on new information, detailed in Bill Roggio's post More fighting near Avivim; prelude to invasion?, I have annotated the graphic I did the other day on Hezbollah's new reach into Israel. The full annotated version is HERE. (For the uninitiated, note that this map's vantage point is Lebanon looking towards Israel.)

For Google Earth mavens: I'm on the road, so finding a way to do further work on the image was an interesting technical challenge. Not only am I not at my usual desktop machine, but I managed to leave at home the Firewire cable for my hard drive, so even though I have the drive, I can't access any of the programs on it. The initial image, posted the other day, was created using both Google Earth and Photoshop. I don't have access to Photoshop here, and I'm working on a much smaller monitor, here in my hotel room.

Luckily, I have InDesign installed on this machine, so annotations in this version were made using InDesign. I used Google Earth for reference, but did not introduce any new imagery created in Google Earth.

My Surprise Hit: the Hezbollah bombing range graphic

Night before last, I was asked by a good friend to do a quick Google Earth favor. Yesterday morning, I finished a draft of the graphic. I was asked if the graphic could be given to "Bill" to post (i.e. Bill Roggio of the Counterterrorism Blog). Sure, I said. And a little while later, I tossed it up on Flickr as an afterthought. Then I decided to blog the pic myself: Being a goddess of Google Earth, I have a different constituency than Bill does.

This evening, Flickr reports that the graphic has been viewed 20,363 times. I'm a bit bewildered by this, since it was created to help with a discussion among a very small group of people. Sure it was topical and was picked up by BoingBoing, but I've done topical stuff in Google Earth before and had it picked up by BoingBoing and other major blogs. And this one is running at about 20 times the popularity of the next runner up in my Flickr account. And the Hezbollah bombing range graphic is now about 5 times as popular as my previous Greatest Hit, a scan of some fake Yu-Gi-Oh! cards from my son's card collection.

The way the graphic is supposed to be used is at full rez in coordination with the list of missiles and their ranges that appears in the upper right. There are also distance markers for the concentric circles that you can't read except at full rez. I suspect that the majority of my viewers are not looking at it full rez, and most probably pay no attention to the list of missiles.

When the graphic was thrown out there to the public, I was expecting its general assumptions to be questioned. Those circles are deliberately fuzzy to keep people from getting the idea that they represent a greater degree of precision than they do. Instead, what has been mostly questioned are my politics and my decision to orient the map from Lebanon looking south.

A number of people have remarked that I (or someone) should do a graphic of what Israel can do to Lebanon. Here's the reason I'm not going to: that Israel maybe's got the bomb and could maybe transform Beirut into a green glass plain is not new information. Hezbollah's new-found bombing range into Israel is new information, and very important new information. Now, I don't think this would be a politic moment to explicate my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of Israel as a nation state. But in the past, blogger Gary Farber has been quite articulate on the subject of my failure to appreciate Israel. So this graphic isn't about whether I value Israeli lives over Lebanese. One of the general tenets of my personal politics is that if it shouldn't happen here, it shouldn't happen there, and this certainly holds true for members of the general public having bombs dropped on their heads.

Now, about the orientation of the map: I am tempted to speculate that there may be a class of persons out there who keep their heads permanently oriented due north. However, that would be unfair: somewhere around here, we have a t-shirt bearing the slogan, "Australia: No longer down under," showing the standard Mercator projection of the world upside down. So I do understand. But stilll . . . .

First of all, this graphic was created to facilitate a small group discussion. And there was some conversation about how to orient it. I tried a number of things, but what seemed most appropriate was to orient it from roughly the geographic point of view of those launching missiles, so that those things easiest to hit were biggest and closest, and so that the most speculative targets were smaller and further away. Also, I opted for an angled view, taking advantage of Google Earth's simulation of 3-D reality rather than a flat-on top-down view, to give a sense of verisimilitude. Apparently, I succeeded.

But it bears mentioning that even maps generally perceived to be "properly oriented" may involve distortion. Check out the rather good New York Times map. Can you tell me what the distortion is? I know because I used a piece of it as a Google Earth overlay.

All this having been said, I'm glad so many people have found my map worth looking at. Flickr now reports it's been viewed 20,512 times. At bottom my project, and the project of this blog, is to explore and improve methodology. And I hope in all those visitors, someone got new ideas of how to better use GIS-based visualization. Because exploring the possibilities of visualization is what I think I'm on about. And guess I must be doing something right.

Indonesia earthquake overlays for Google Earth

From Randy Sargent of the Global Connection Project:

Anne and I have generated dynamic overlays (VBR) from maps made by DLR's Center for Satellite-based Crisis Information.  The source imagery for these is Digital Globe and IKONOS, and they cover part of the city of Bantul, which took much of the brunt of the earthquake.

Overlay is available from:


A Week's Worth of Blogging in One Post

A few entertaining items:

  1. Alex Harrowell on a large quantity of disappeared guns:

    99 Tonnes of Guns

    Were purchased from leftover Bosnian war stocks for the Iraqi security forces by U.S. agents in BiH, and flown out of the country by Aerocom in four runs with the Ilyushin 76 ER-IBV, serial no. 3423699. But where they were delivered remains a mystery, and it is feared that the weapons actually went to the insurgents.
  2. An American named Michael Chemidlin, was arrested in Sierra Leone for photographing the place where Charles Taylor's war crimes trial is scheduled to be. Hard to tell what's going on from the news coverage, but the implication is that he is suspected of some plot to free Taylor. See Sierra Leone: Suspected Special Court Spy, Three Others Charged and US man held for war crimes pics.
  3. Further to the subject of fascist sexuality, Alex Harrowell emailed me a couple of hilarious links: BNP's council leader made film labelled as 'Marxist gay cinema'

    A BNP leader has produced and directed a "gay pornographic film", despite his party's criticism of indecency and hatred of gays.

    . . . and Video harms chances of BNP candidate

    Forty eight hours ago, few people had heard of the film HMS Discovery, a production in the "gay Marxist genre" for which Mr Barnbrook was producer, director and co-writer.

    But news spread quickly after activists from the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight leaked details to the area's two local newspapers, both of which put the story on the front page.

    Ah, the sexualizing gaze of the fetistish! Ban what you yourself find exciting!
  4. Nick Bicanic sends in a link to a show available on Google Video about Shadow Company, his forthcoming documentary on private military companies and security contractors.
  5. A really nice AP story (with an unreasonably menacing headline), which discusses how the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency helped with disaster relief following last fall's hurricanes: Spy Agency Watching Americans From Space:

    In an era when other intelligence agencies try to hide those operations, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is proud of that domestic mission.

    He said the work the agency did after hurricanes Rita and Katrina was the best he'd seen an intelligence agency do in his 42 years in the spy business.

    "This was kind of a direct payback to the taxpayers for the investment made in this agency over the years, even though in its original design it was intended for foreign intelligence purposes," Clapper said in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press.

  6. And finally, Robert F. Kane's trial for illegal possession of rocket launchers, in connection with Security Aviation's mysterious private military build-up, starts the 15th. I will be blogging it. As preparation for this entertainment, I suggest you read up on The Story So Far. For your convenience, I have posted a complete list of links to related news stories in my left-hand side-bar. For your convenience and for ease of reading, I'll also toss them in below the cut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! (Especially the stories from, The Anchorage Daily News, which are quite excellent.)

Continue reading "A Week's Worth of Blogging in One Post" »

RISE-PAK wins Stockholm Challenge Award 2006 in Public Administration category

Great news via email from Asim Khwaja, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University:

RISE-PAK has just won the award Stockholm Challenge Award 2006 in the public administration category.

Also known as the Nobel Prize of IT, the award is divided into six categories: Culture, Economic Development, Education, Environment, Health, and Public Administration - we have won in the Public Administration. More than 1,100 projects were in competition, out of which 151 were selected as finalists from 53 countries. We were one of the 6 winners.

Others finalists in our category are given at the bottom of the page at - they include include - The U.S. Government's Official Web Portal!

Khwaja, along with Jishnu Das of the World Bank, founded RISE-PAK as a rapid response to the Pakistan earthquake. The goal of their project was to set up databases and systems of reporting to try to make sure that aid got to rural villages and was not just concentrated in the cities. My contribution to this was to put RISE-PAK in touch with the Global Connection Project, and that we could offer help with maps through the use of Google Earth. The Global Connection Project also interceded with Google Earth on behalf of The Citizens Foundation and RISE-PAK to arrange for Google Earth to acquire up-to-date satellite imagery of the affected area from Digital Globe.

I've written a bit about this in the past. My previous RISE-PAK posts are HERE.

New satellite imagery of Iran's nuclear sites - now on Google Earth

Nantaz 25 February 2006Ogle Earth's Stefan Geens found some I found some new high-resolution imagery of Iran's nuclear processing facilities and turned them into an overlay: New satellite imagery of Iran's nuclear sites - now on Google Earth

Via a Reuters report today, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has released new commercial imagery of Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities taken by DigitalGlobe just a few weeks ago. The images are in a PDF report by Paul Brannan and David Albright, the latter an ex-UN arms inspector and nuclear proliferation expert. (ISIS, whose motto is "Employing science in the pursuit of international peace" has impeccable non-partisan credentials.)

The PDF is fascinating, but the main images lack easy historical comparisons. Luckily, Google Earth already has very high resolution imagery of both the Natanz and Isfahan sites from a few years ago, also taken by DigitalGlobe. What I've done is repurpose the images from the PDF, which are annotated, as overlays on Google Earth, so that we can see the progress in the construction at both sites over the past few years.

Here is the KMZ file.

Recall my suggestion of April 9th for helping stabilize the situation with Iran:

First of all, get current 1 meter satellite images of the entire country of Iran up on Google Earth. They're out there. It's really just a matter of money. As is obvious from the relentless theme of invisibility in the recent Iranian weapons tests, the feisty Iranian government has its head under the couch and thinks all kinds of things can't be seen. So let the world take a close look at every square inch of Iran, so a housewife in Pleasantville or Tokyo can look at and speculate about the purpose of suspicious looking ventilation shafts. Having such imagery publicly available will also slow down our own warmongers when they realize that that same housewife can do damage assessments on areas they might choose to nuke. And it would be helpful for disaster relief and therefore reduce civilian casualties in the event of an actual attack on Iran. (Good for everyone all around.)

Thanks, Stefan!

UPDATE: On a related topic, see also his post Hack alert: Terrorists don't love Google.

The Iran Stand-Off: What the Internet Community Can Do

This is the second in a series on Iran. The first was Iran Maneuvers: Of Missile Tests & "Salami Tactics", which discusses Iran's recent military maneuvers and the hardware tested. The third is Iran Stand-off: The devil is in the details.

Yesterday Seymour Hersh's article The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb? came out in the The New Yorker; a more accurate subtite for the article would have been Will president Bush resort to nuclear war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?, since that it really what is at issue in the piece. I do wonder why The New Yorker used such a low-key title given the article's actual argument.

Today, Reuter's published an article, Iran accuses US of "psychological war," labelling the Hersh article as psychological warfare.

There is really a lot to be said about the Hersh piece and the situation with Iran. But for the moment, I'll address just a few points. First of all, I believe that Hersh is probably giving an accurate description of the various opinions about what ought to be done about the Iran nuclear problem. What I found especially striking about reading all the material on the Iran military maneuvers was the extent to which the Iranian military and the US necocons were off on their own little planet fixinging for a fight, and the extent to which the rest of us are really not part of the conversation. So for me the most significant paragraph in the Hersh piece was this one:

[Robert] Joseph’s heavy-handedness was unnecessary, the diplomat said, since the I.A.E.A. already had been inclined to take a hard stand against Iran. “All of the inspectors are angry at being misled by the Iranians, and some think the Iranian leadership are nutcases—one hundred per cent totally certified nuts,” the diplomat said. He added that ElBaradei’s overriding concern is that the Iranian leaders “want confrontation, just like the neocons on the other side”—in Washington. “At the end of the day, it will work only if the United States agrees to talk to the Iranians.”

It seems to me that the moment the US uses a nuclear weapon in the 21st century, it loses all moral authority for preventing other countries from having nuclear weapos, and that the discourse for this century is very likely to become how to disarm that problem country the United States.

Another key passage thaht indicates to me just how far off the rails the thinking has gone:

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

Made it in Japan? Made it in Japan when we didn't know any better and didn't know what else to do. I don't think either of those excuses are available on the pulldown menu just now.

It seems to me that there are a few things the Internet community can do to promote peace and stability in the face of what looks to be a dangerously insane stand-off. (And wasn't that piece of deterrence theory only acting crazy? Not being crazy? Have we made the transition from acting to being?)

First of all, get current 1 meter satellite images of the entire country of Iran up on Google Earth. They're out there. It's really just a matter of money. As is obvious from the relentless theme of invisibility in the recent Iranian weapons tests, the feisty Iranian government has its head under the couch and thinks all kinds of things can't be seen. So let the world take a close look at every square inch of Iran, so a housewife in Pleasantville or Tokyo can look at and speculate about the purpose of suspicious looking ventilation shafts. Having such imagery publicly available will also slow down our own warmongers when they realize that that same housewife can do damage assessments on areas they might choose to nuke. And it would be helpful for disaster relief and therefore reduce civilian casualties in the event of an actual attack on Iran. (Good for everyone all around.)

Secondly, the Internet community should be taking on and dismantling the Iranaian censorship apparatus, because the information on the Internet needs to get to those innocent people most likely to get killed in this, and also cultural crosspollenization will reduce the chance of war.

Third, open source, free translation tools too and from Farsi and all the languages of countries on the UN Security Council needs to be easily available as quickly as possible.

While it may not be possible for the rest of us to intrude on the toxic relationship between the Iranian government and the neocons, it seems to me that these three things should be tried.

(See also Greenpeace's site Don't nuke Iran which links to a Google Earth KMZ file with casualty estimates for nuclear strikes at various locations.)

UPDATE: See my new post Iran Stand-off: The devil is in the details.

Welcome, Readers from India Curious About Google Earth

Looking at my referrer logs this morning, I notice I'm getting a lot of hits out of India on my Google Earth archive. I had a quick look at CNN to see what was up.  This is what's up:


Here is my response, originally written for inclusion in an article for the February 16th issue of Nature. (Our article was published, though this passage ended up on the cutting room floor.)

While there are occasional media articles about Google Earth having military applications, governmental and private military sources interviewed for this article said that they found Google Earth useful for the same reasons everyone else does, but that for military applications, Google Earth has a number of important limitations, chief among these, the freshness of the images and their lack of date stamp. Activities such as nuclear interdiction, and monitoring drug trafficking or troop positions require access to current satellite and aerial photography as well as a munificent budget for purchasing current imagery from private sources.

The tool of choice for the US military and for private military contractors under contract to the US government, for example, is Georgia Tech's FalconView, which is more sophisticated  than Google Earth in its ability to incorporate data from such sources as Predator drones in something approaching realtime. In summary, despite Internet rumors to the contrary, Google Earth is not a military grade tool.

Naturecover2There was also a piece of email circulating on the Internet making false claims about military applications of Google Earth which, as nearly as I can tell, was bogus.

On the other hand, Google Earth can be successfully used to assist with disaster relief. I direct your attention both to my Hurricane Katrina archive and my Pakistan Earthquake archive. In both cases, the existence of tools like Google Earth allowed spontaneous and effective responses by volunteers, using digital cartography to provide support for releif efforts and to meet the needs of individuals seeking information.

Let the world help.

McDaid on the Boskone Blogging Panel

John McDaid's Boskone trip report has a good write up of the blogging panel I moderated. I was hoping someone would do that, since it was a panel I was proud to have moderated. I thought it went really well: Boskone trip report: Doctorow rips IP a new a-hole, Cramer is the Eye in the Sky

It's always a pleasure to hear Cory Doctorow testify, and he was in great form this weekend for his special guest speech. He excels at expressing intellectual property issues with an sf-writer's eye for the telling moment. Discussing the corporate desire to plug the problem of analog to digital conversion (or, as he puts it, the 'a hole') he imagines a future camcorder that respects IP: a parent is videoing their child's first steps. Child walks in front of the TV, and the image goes black. Yes, the proposals are that dire, and without folks like the EFF out there fighting, this is the future we may well end up with.

Also wonderful was a panel on blogging with Cory, Kathryn Cramer, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Teresa warned that as the military-industrial complex increasingly takes blogging seriously, we can expect to see more "astroturf," or faux-grassroots sentiment being seeded into the blogosphere. And Kathryn provided a case in point of why blogging is worrisome to powers that be: she's increasingly using tools like Google Earth and Flickr to monitor hotspots, and finding that people gravitate to the site and feed her info not seen in the mainstream media. (She also just made the cover of Nature in a piece on mapping for the masses.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF "INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY," see Teresa's new post, What perpetual copyright means to me:

It is right that what’s new and unique in a writer’s work be recognized as peculiarly their own. That’s fine. But copyright is not a statement of inalienable natural right. It’s a social convention, intended to reward (and thus encourage) writers and publishers to produce more books. To pervert it into a claim of perpetual ownership, especially when that claim is being forwarded by large entertainment conglomerates, is the moral equivalent of driving a fence around the commons.

In the comments of that post, Charlie Stross makes a point that I think cannot be made often enough:

The semantic framing of the whole debate fascinates me.

Pet peeve: "pirates" and "piracy". It's a pretty extreme label to pin on a practice which is, on the small scale, about equal to shoplifting, and on a large commercial scale roughly equivalent to any other form of forgery (watches, scent, designer handbags, whatever). But it's an example of how the folks who pin the label on the donkey get to define the debate. Piracy, after all, is a Serious crime, and deserves draconian sentencing (twenty years! life!) ... which is a whole lot harder to argue for in the case of shoplifting. And indeed, the next time the MPAA or RIAA accuse one of their profit centers -- excuse me, infringers -- of shoplifting, it'll be the first.

If people who copy DVDs for their friends are pirates, what then shall we call the entertainment executives who insisted our electronic rights must belong to them even when they had no viable plans for developing these rights in a way that would benefit us? I know who the pirates are.

MEANWHILE, Octavia Butler has died suddenly and unexpectedly. I last Octavia at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, where she was attending the ceremony to induct Philip K. Dick into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I think I took her picture sitting on a bench next to Charlie Brown of LOCUS.  I did not know her well, though I encountered her socially from time to time and  although I know her work.

This is hard for me to think about. I keep bouncing off it to think about somethng else. The manner of her death -- a fall, bleeding in the brain, maybe a stroke -- reminds me of what I'm afraid of. David's mother died of a stroke in November; and I still haven't entirely come down from the ceiling from David's emergency angioplasty a few years ago. My incomprehension in the face of the suddenness of it remind me also of my reaction to the death of SF editor Jenna Felice in early 2001.

Haitian elections "off to a stumbling start";
One would-be voter dead of asphixiation; another dead of a heart attack; Polls to extend hours

From Reuters this morning: Haiti election off to stumbling start

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's presidential election got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after repeated delays as thousands of people trekked to polling stations in the capital only to find them still closed.

At a large voting center outside the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, at least 5,000 people milled about but there were no ballots or other voting materials to be seen an hour after the polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT).

At least seven other polling centers across the capital were closed, but a U.N. official said some had opened.

Cite Soleil residents walked by the thousands to voting centers outside the teeming seaside shantytown, many determined to return ex-President Rene Preval, a protege of the exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the National Palace.

A couple of days ago, I set up a CommunityWalk map for the Haiti elections was a way of organizing information in case things get weird. You, dear reader, can annotate this map and add your own information, including adding pictures, links to websites, audio or video, etc. Also, the CommunityWalk map is exportable as a Google Earth KML file which will retain these annotations. It's there should anyone want to use it.

Also, keep an eye on the Flickr photofeed for the tag "Haiti." (See also my post Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr.)

UPDATE from AFP via Yahoo: Crowds storm voting centers in Haiti; one dead

A 65-year-old man died of asphyxiation on Tuesday as crowds rushed the gate of a voting center in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Radio Caraibes reported.

At another voting center in the capital, a woman suffered burns as she fell over the hot exhaust of a police motorcycle as mobs stormed into the building which police desperately tried to keep closed until electoral officials completed preparations.

Anger mounted among the massive crowds that showed up early to vote but still faced closed gates two hours after the balloting officially started.

Similar situations were reported in other parts of the country.

Tension was particularly high around the notoriously violent Cite Soleil slum, where voters voiced their anger chanting "open up, open up."

Many voters around the country had to walk for hours to reach the voting centers.

UN troops in full combat gear were positioned in key areas of Haiti to prevent any violence during the elections held to replace Jean Bertrand Aristide who resigned the presidency and fled the country on February 29, 2004.

UPDATE from the Mail & Guardian in South Africa. One would-be voter dead of a heart attack: Crowds storm polling stations in Haiti, two dead

Voting got off to a rough start in volatile Haiti as angry mobs stormed voting centres that failed to open on time, with one person dying of a heart attack and another of asphyxia.

Several more people were injured or fainted as they were trampled or shoved by crowds that rushed voting centres.

Many voters rose well before dawn, walked for several hours only to wait in long lines to cast their ballot in the first election since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the violence-wracked country two years ago.

There were no reports of violence overnight.

UPDATE from Associated Press:

Haiti extends hours of presidential vote
Associated Press
Port-au-Prince — Polling stations opened late – or not at all – and scuffles broke out Tuesday as Haitians cast ballots in the first presidential election since a bloody revolt two years ago pushed this bloodied, impoverished nation toward total collapse.

Although polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. EST, some did not open until hours later. Because of the organizational problems, voting hours originally set to end at 4 p.m. EST were extended by at least two hours, Rosemond Pradel, the secretary-general of Haiti's nine-member Electoral Council, told the Associated Press.

From Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK: A Long Interesting Report on a Trip to Pakistan for Earthquake Relief

One of my New Year's resolutions was to finally get 'round to editing down this wonderful long letter from economist Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK on his trip to Pakistan in December for earthquake disaster relief. (My previous post on RISE-PAK was Asim Khwaja: “The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock.") Here is Jishnu's December 13th letter, a response to my asking how his trip went:

Part of my trip involved working with Lahore University of Management Studies faculty and students on a field trip. For me, working with volunteer students from LUMS in the field was an incredible experience. They would wake up at 5:30 every morning, brew tea, cook breakfast and hike off to the villages for a full day before daybreak. On walks, they would be crossing landslides, talking to each and every person they met and returning well after dark by torchlight. These are some of the most committed and enthusiastic people I have been fortunate enough to work with and their commitment to information and transparency is amazing (were this a holiday hike, I would definitely have viewed being pulled out of a warm sleeping bag at 5:30 as a dastardly act...)




1. Creating a universal list of settlements: One big problem in compiling and understanding the data is that villages are divided into multiple settlements, and there is no universal list of settlements available. Since text (specially with translation from Urdu to English) is not standardized, it is impossible to tell, for instance, whether the relief provided to "Berbazar" is the same as that provided to "Berbush" and which village this settlement belongs to. I worked closely with the UN-HIC towards developing their gazetteer of locations. Unfortunately, things are almost as prelim there as they were 1 month ago, with everyone still stuck with settlement names issues. Piet and I will be working on this more this week, and we should have something that will be made public by the end of this week. We are also working with the Population Census Organization in Pakistan on finalizing this. By the way, we came across, and this contains geo-locations for millions of locations around the world. If someone can send out an html crawler and capture the database that would be great (we did Pakistan).

2. Villages versus settlements: There is problem with what is a "village" and what is a settlement, but I am not sure that it is really bad. 3 villages that I covered in a recent survey are in the database as villages--Batangi, Gajoo Khokhar and Basantlok. Indeed, so are the villages that Jawad's group followed (Sund Ban, Chamata, Doba and Harama). The one problem is a village called "Muslundi" which is on the other side of a smallish stream (so batangi is at the start of this side-valley; basantlok is further down on the same valley. On the other side are Ratanser, which is in the census list). While this is NOT in the Noura Seri Patwar Circle list of village, IT IS in the Seri Dara list of villages--Seri Dara is the neighboring PC. So, my impression is that someone who is aware of the mauza-settlement issue and has a list of mauzas can sort this out pretty easily, but this is based on a very very limited sample. (One problem with going the settlement route is that most villages will have a Dhana, which literally means "top" and a kayer, which means "ridge").

3. Google Earth: Unfortunately, (a) no-one is aware of the VBR's (I told everyone I met, and sent them the link), (b) they work too slow on the broadband in Pakistan. I took the UN-HIC compound guys through it fairly carefully, and hopefully they are using it now.


1. RISEPAK was set up as a self-coordinating enabling environment, where all relief actors and those affected by the earthquake could come on a common platform by posting information about damage and relief. Constantly updated, these postings would provide regular information that could help target future relief to those who need it most.

2. By a number of accounts, RISEPAK has achieved a lot of what it set out to do. Within 2 months of its launch (its now 7 weeks), there are 1800 messages that have been posted, and updated information on 950 villages out of around 2500 that were thought to have been affected (close to 40%). In addition, the RISEPAK site has also proved useful in a number of other ways. Organizations have used our pre-prepared forms to organize their own information systems; most organizations have worked closely with our maps, which were the most detailed available at the time and bulletin board posts have allowed sellers and buyers to get in touch with each other. Some anecdotes:

a. One organization that we went to had not heard about RISEPAK. They insisted that they were very organized in collecting their data at the village level, and were using standardized forms to record this information. It turned out that the forms were the RISEPAK damage and relief forms about villages!

b. In a recent pilot (more on this below), Shandana (a faculty member at LUMS) was speaking to the army major in charge of a particular area. The major was adamant that they were doing a great job and were making their information transparent and accountable through their own website. When asked about the website, he said that they were using RISEPAK---something that he had developed a full sense of ownership over.

3. At the same time, a lot more can be done. What is very clear is that smaller organizations in the relief effort have used and posted to RISEPAK on a very regular basis. For them, RISEPAK has turned out to be a boon---it has developed the trust of most players by acting in a non-partisan manner, and organizations who are regularly posting to the site are able to point out the work that they are doing to the entire world. What they are doing is transparent, accountable and verifiable; at the same time, it allows for massive benefits in coordination among the various relief actors.

4. Key to the success of RISEPAK has been the central role of the Lahore University of Management Studies (LUMS) faculty and students. Early on, we realized that the RISEPAK effort was a bit rushed. If the system had been set up before hand and key organizations had been trained in its use, information would have been posted regularly without much prompting. As it is, we were working on the fly. This meant that relief actors had to be taken through the site, trained on using it, trained on the importance of data at the village-level and data had to be constantly obtained from these groups.

5. The LUMS faculty and students took this challenge heads-on. Instead of celebrating Eid with family and friends (Eid is somewhat like Christmas, only larger, since it comes after a month of fasting) faculty and students headed out to Islamabad and the affected districts to get this data collection exercise moving. In Islamabad they developed close networks with relief organizations, helped them systematize their data and start sending it into RISEPAK. They set up a team of volunteers who took in this data---from fax transmissions, e-mails and the website itself---and parsed, collated, and updated it on the website. Their field-teams also visited the affected district headquarters and started working with the district governments, the UN and relief organizations in the field. The activity led to a huge increase in postings to the website---RISEPAK had updated information on 200 villages before the LUMS team went out; within a week of their return, the numbers went up to 500, and now stands at just above 950.

6. I was fortunate to be a part of the next such team that went up; again, the students and faculty taking off from their hectic schedules in their quarter-break (7 days) to head up to quake affected districts and villages. Key to the medium term reconstruction and relief in the region was an assessment of how well government compensation programs have worked so far, and I went to Pakistan to work with the government and the UN and to visit the quake affected areas to arrive at some assessment.

7. In Islamabad, I met up with the team from LUMS (close to 35 students and 10 faculty members); we then headed out into different directions---one team went to Bagh district, another to Mansehra and a third (including myself) to Muzaffarabad. The team I was in consisted of 15 people including myself; some of these would work in the district headquarters, others would head out to villages (both those that are more and less accessible) to assess the state of compensation and data.

The Post-Earthquake Household Survey In the five days of the field-trip, much was accomplished.

1. The 12 teams that went out to the villages surveyed close to 3000 households in 18 villages---easily the largest independent survey of households in the post-quake scenario by an independent group. We branched out into Bagh, Muzaffarabad and Mansehra/Balakot and then chose villages according to a stratification based on close to road/far from road and large relief activity/low relief activity. I was in a group that went to "low relief activity and both close and far from road". In addition, I was also part of a team that visited a relief-camp in Muzaffarabad. These data are currently being collated, and will be made public for all agencies to use fairly shortly on the RISEPAK site.


1. People are very, very used to making lists in the villages we went to---indeed, it turned out to be harder to do a focus group than to make lists. The moment we sat down to do focus group, people would start gathering with ID cards to get their names entered. NOT entering names is, basically, NOT an option--we would have people running down to ensure that their names are on the list.

2. At the same time, there is very little movement across settlements within the same village. People are able to, fairly accurately, give names and rough family composition (total members and children) for families in the settlement, but not across settlements in the same village. Batangi, for instance is 3 settlements---lower Batangi (an abbasi settlement), main Batangi (chaudhuris) and dhana (mostly abbasis). The first day we went to batangi, drew up a list of settlements and then went to dhana. We made the list of families with the school teacher on the advise of locals and then went to every sub-settlement. The school-teacher missed out some families (abbasis) right on top---nevertheless, it would have been hard to miss them out all together, since the moment we sat at a central location, this was pointed out to us.

3. Another village, we went to is similar, though spread out over a larger distance. The village contains two settlements at a 1/2 hour walk from each other, and it is impossible to get names of households in one settlement sitting in another. To get a sense of how fast a village could be covered with just basic household-level information and damage, we split up and went to each settlement. We then asked people to gather at these settlements and completed close to 120 households in 4 hours or so. We then verified that households had not been left out, though am not a 100% sure.

Relief Camps Relief Camps are also reasonably easy to survey in---again, people are used to surveys and the kind of information we are asking about. There are problems with split families---don't know what we can do about them in terms of verification. People should e-mail the women who went to the relief camp (Nadia and Erum in the team I was with--erum is copied on this note) and ask them about their experience. Stories were very different depending on who was telling them---the relief-camp organizers, men, or women. There is absolutely no sanitation or toilets in these camps, and women are having a horrendous time. This is something that I know a lot less about...

Some highlights on the situation in villages

i) In Islamabad, a lot of people felt that villages had emptied out. This is far from reality. Despite the large number of casualties and injuries, the percentages are not as large as one might believe a priori. For instance, the 80,000 deaths means that 1.5% of the areas population died. I was working in one of the hardest hit areas, where all houses had been completely destroyed, yet on average, 2% of individuals in the villages died, another 2% were injured and another 1% were in relief camps. This left 95% of the original population intact in the villages----more critically, not one person said that they were planning to leave for the winter. This requires that the means to construct emergency shelters are made available immediately to the large population with destroyed houses, who cannot spend the winter in tents (since you cannot light fires in them). Ensuring the arrival of corrugated iron sheets (something that people have been pointing out for a while) will definitely save many, many lives.

ii). At least in the area I was in, the government and army have done an incredible and very fair job of giving compensation exactly according to government guidelines. Every person whose house has been destroyed received Rs.25,000 (roughly $400) and every household with a death received Rs.100,000 ($1,600). I believe that other field-teams are finding the same thing.

iii) While people feel that livestock are a major source of income in the area, they actually are not----close to 70% of the households interviewed did not own a single animal (buffalos, cows or goats).

iv) One key advantage of working with the LUMS team is that there were female students as well, who could talk to widows and other women, usually left out of the survey process (it is culturally difficult for a man to talk to a woman alone). Women's concerns were usually different from men's---while men were very concerned of the need for shelter, women, who have to deal with the everyday process of living were also anxious about the lack of warm clothing and blankets for children, and the lack of cooking utensils---something that was causing them a lot of unneeded hardship. Here is what one student has to say:

"Women’s responses tend to be more detailed. Men leave out what they feel is unnecessary, I personally found women more willing to take the time to communicate the smallest of details. However nuances such as the issue of dependence on other family members for a widow, or feelings of marginalization and perceptions of being harassed or mistreated require some probing before they are brought out. Again, these will seldom be expressed in the presence of male members of the community. Finally, women tend to have a better idea of other vulnerable women in the community, such as single mothers, and were helpful in identifying them. As with the other sex, one-on-one interactions tend to be more honest and informative. As the group size increases and people struggle to get a voice, responses tend towards the more "rehearsed" type. It is always better, I found, to initiate spontaneous conversation with individuals rather than wait for the more vocal members of the community to gather and lead the discussion" (erum haider)

Some thoughts on winter from Sadia Qadir 1. Clearly, this is going to be the large war. Here are some impressions from a student (sadia qadir)

1. Normal, un-insulated tents are not useful any more and the idea of moving to lower altitude areas is almost next to impossible. When asked them what are you planning to do one snowfall begins, they offer the plan that women and children are going to stay indoor while the men will take care of the outdoor chores. For fuel, they are depending upon (wrongfully so perhaps) the logs they have stockpile from the rubble of their houses. They plan to use it all through the winter season. Even though they anticipate they might run out earlier on, than expected.
2. The next best thing is shelter made from CGI-sheets. I had the opportunity to see one. This particular one was made in the triangular shape as that of a tent. It was however much more spacious. It was made with 20, 12-14 square feet sheets. I was told this is the minimum number of sheets required to build a shed that size, and sheets any fewer than 20 are useless. Quality (thickness) of these sheets is also an issue.
3. A small fire-place that was set in a corner and was also being used as a kitchen. Similar hearths have resulted in horrifying hazards in the usual fabric-tents. This is apparently their best chance to salvage from the extreme cold once snow falls. A family of 14 was staying here and I was told all of them fit in nicely at night.
4. Another, important issue is that of Kora (or Kori), which is a thin layer of suspended frozen moisture that layers the ground in this season. According to the people, sleeping arrangements comprising of floor-beddings, causes this frostiness to seep through the layers of bed linens and blankets and does not go away. As Shandana, suggested, perhaps providing char-pais (beds) will help combat this problem.
5. One of the limitations of initiatives like distributing CJI sheets is that people are selling them. Probably it's the fuel available to them, which leads over-estimating their ability to endure the winter. What ever the reason, the trend is been observed and confirmed by locals, the NGOs as well as other authoritative and operational bodies working in the region. This is perhaps, one of the major reasons many of the organizations are selectively distributing (and therefore accused of bias) the insulating tents and / or CJI-sheets.

Sadia (who is a doctor) also writes about health-issues that are bound to arise HEALTH PROBLEMS

In days following the earthquake, the bulk of presentations were that of extensive trauma -- mainly to the head, spine, pelvis and/or limbs, requiring surgical intervention. I was also told by doctors at Ayub Medical Complex, that a large number of amputations were carried out in the remote areas because enough resources were not available for timely intervention to salvage limbs. As I observed in Abbottabad most medical NGOs/camps came into the affected areas equipped mostly to deal with trauma cases. This requires specialized arrangements - such as x-ray facility, a small surgical theatre, relevant medicines, surgeons and OR nursing staff.

From what I gathered after speaking with the health care professionals working in the affected areas and the people, there is a high risk for Respiratory tract diseases (especially pneumonia in children), Gastrointestinal diseases particularly in areas where water is contaminated (there was an outbreak in Balakot over the period around Eid Holidays), infections particularly fungal skin infections as a result of damp cold weather (a large number of children affected in Bagh) and complicated wound healing.

Even now, most of the medical camps currently operating in and around villages, for example, near Sewar Kalu and Kafl Garh, are equipped to deal with trauma only. They have declined patients with complicated wounds and fractures, Obstetric & gynecological problems (including uncomplicated pregnancy) and skin infections. The irony is that residents of these villages have medical camps and professionals around but unable to help them. They have to travel to district hospital Bagh, which is 6km away and is not fully functioning as its building is also affected by the earthquake. To make the situation worse, these conditions usually are slow to develop and pursue an indolent course making it very likely for patients to get 'used to' their ailments until they reach an irreversible stage.

A dangerous alternative is consulting the traditional medicine-men in their areas. I personally witness such a case ~75yrs old lady resident of Kafl Garh, with a forearm fracture complicated in an attempt to fix through malish (massage). The entire arm was massively swollen as the bandage was tight enough to cut off most of the blood supply. This lady was declined medical assistance at the closely located camp and was advised to go to district hospital Bagh. She was brought back home.

An important element to consider in dealing with these people is - they are constantly prioritizing and reprioritizing their survival strategies and coping mechanisms. Prevalence of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) and acute stress syndrome (ASD) in these populations is still largely unknown but can be expected to be quite high. In the places I visited (Kafl Garh, Sewar Kalu and Kot Baroli) there are no mental health interventions so far. Point being, in there given state they are very likely to miss out or even deliberately put off for later significant health and nutritional concerns that they otherwise would take more seriously.

Data Flows

1. This is a large issue, and looks very much like the game we used to play called "chinese whispers" (sometimes called the "arab telephone" for no apparent reason). A couple of examples:

2. In the UN compound at MZD, we were told that the greatest benefit in terms of information would come from visiting the lower Neelum valley, of which little was known. This team then went to the union-council of Noura Seri, about 45 minutes from the city, and where roads had opened recently. The major in charge of the union council was very systematic in his record-keeping and had detailed records of the tents and food distributed to the villages under his command. He assured us that 90% of the households under his charge had been given tents, which we verified through door-to-door surveys. Further, compensation had been allocated exactly according to the policies laid down by the government. The key question, and one that needs to be addressed urgently, is what happened to the major's data by the time it got to Muzaffarabad--a 40 minutes drive away? If the district government of Muzaffarabad takes over the relief effort at this time, either a large data-gathering effort will again have to be undertaken, or they will have to fight blind in the face of the coming winter.

3. A second team went to Balakot/Mansehra in the North-Western Frontier Province. One mandate of the team visits was to work with district officials towards systematizing their own records and setting up data-entry systems at the individual level for compensation and relief. The picture in Balakot revealed the usual problems that face nascent data systems, leading to large problems later on. Some examples: In the list of individuals who had received compensation, names had been recorded, but ID card numbers had not (as an aside, 95% of households have at least one member with an id card, which serves as a unique identifier). Worse, there was no standard for translating Urdu to English names. With close to 10 Mohammed Afzal's in every village and with non-unique spellings for the same name, trying to relate this data to future relief will be a nightmare. Records of who had received disability payments were now virtually unmatchable to people, since they had been recorded on a separate form that omitted the village-name field.

4. The problem is not that governments are apathetic or uninformed about the need for systematic data exercises. In fact, everywhere we have gone, district governments have been delighted to work with us on strengthening their information systems. The real issue is one of capacity, the ability to work in remote locations and familiarity with data and data-issues that typically come after years of learning the hard way.

5. The LUMS team has brought this expertise to the relief effort, and it is one that they plan to maintain over the longer term. Guys: they need ALL the support they can get.

Jishnu Das is one of the founders of RISE-PAK and lives in Washington, DC where he works at the World Bank. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Economics.

Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) aka "Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers" Spying in Haiti; Whistleblowers Detained for Reporting Human Rights Violations

Tcpatrol_1I seem to have uncovered a strange little black ops organization that's spying in Haiti and elsewhere. Not long ago, they were also looking to drum up some business in the US in the Homeland Security market. I got a few tips from whistleblowers. But all of the most substantial information has come from one of their own employees who wrote me a number of long letters.

This post covers a lot of ground, ranging from a mysterious company owned by US ex-pats placing spies disguised as journalists in the audience of Haitian presidential debates, to CAG arranging for the detention of people who wrote to me to ask for information about CAG and complain about CAG's involvement in human rights violations in Haiti. So bear with me. This is my second post about CAG, and part of an ongoing series on Top Cat Marine Security. [UPDATE 1/27: The company operates in Haiti under the name "Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers." (Thanx, Reuther!)]

A while back, when I was writing about the would-be pirate hunters, Top Cat Marine Security, I got a query from someone in Haiti asking what I knew about a company called Consultants Advisory Group and if I had any idea of why they were following Top Cat Marine Security's sales leads.  I looked into the matter of CAG, resulting in the post Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): A Security Company Born Every Minute?  CAG had a domain name registered a week earlier (just about the time the US State Department issued Top Cat a cease and desist order) and CAG was using Melbourne IT's domain privacy service beloved of spammers and scammers. So I toasted them a bit to see what they had to say for themselves.

A CAG representative, Valerie Sendecki, obediently appeared to try to discuss matters, requesting that we settle this as "ladies." The resulting exchange was pretty strange, but the general upshot was that CAG, ostensibly staffed with ex-military and ex-"agency" personnel, wished to remain unknown and inasmuch as it was known, it wished to be known as a "management consulting" company. It was founded by US ex-patriates and is registered in Panama. And, very specifically, CAG did not wish to be seen as either a private military company or as a security company. They claimed to be management consultants.

Well. All right then. Management consulting.

So time goes by. I hear nothing further from my initial correspondent, Jordan Sage Thomas, who initially queried me about CAG. In her second and last note to me, she said that she had dropped CAG for her list of potential vendors, whatever that meant. And so I thought that was that.

Then, on January 10th, I got a note which read:

Sra Cramer,
    Dr Sage requested I send to you this MINUSTAH document concerning the use of Mercenaries by the UN in Haiti.  The TopCat Blancs are killing poor Haitians fleeing by sea from UN oppression in Cite-Soliel. The US spies called CAG are undermining the election process to prevent the popular election of Rene Preval and the return of President Aristide.
    Dr Sage is afraid that Comandante <Comander??> Sendecki of the US Navy is going to harm her for exposing this dispised behavior.  She has been reassigned to Jeremie and has no acess to internet.  This is her response to the abuse.  She advices you to be very careful as they having eyes many and wishes you the best of luck.

Mariely Puello

It came with an attachment in PowerPoint, which I will get to presently. But first, I want to be very clear that neither Valerie Sendecki nor CAG are in the employ of any aspect of the US government inasmuch as I have been able to check. I talked to some people who talked to some people and no one, I mean NO ONE, knows who the heck these people are. But to be very specific, Sendecki is not in the US Navy.

(I wonder how people got that impression. Has CAG represented themselves as having current ties to the US military?)

But, OK, is the UN using mercenaries to kill civilians in Haiti? I don't know. But there were recent news reports of civilians killed in Haiti by the UN. (Here is what Amnesty International has to say about that.) And what did Puello specifically say CAG was up to? "The US spies called CAG are undermining the election process to prevent the popular election of Rene Preval . . ." So the key claims are, then, that (a) CAG is spying (and that the company is what might be called a private intelligence company), and (b) that CAG is attempting to undermine the upcoming election.

(Both Valerie Sendecki and Mariely Puello agree that CAG is run by US citizens.)

Also, Puello claimed that "Dr. Sage" was concerned for her own personal safety. So I called the number at the bottom of Puello's letter and got a cheerful woman in the Dominican Republic who spoke only Spanish. I tried Jordan Sage's email address, writing only to ask whether Sage was able to receive email at that address.

Instead of a reply from Jordan Sage, I got a sinister message from Sendecki explaining that the phone line I'd called had been tapped (and giving the reverse look-up for my number to prove the point); that the two email addresses I had -- Jordan Sage's and Mariely Puello's -- were now under CAG's control. This sounded ominous, and so I asked Sendecki about the fate of my correspondents. She replied:

Sage and Puello were taken into custody by lawful authorities in Haiti and the DR.  Sage had diplomatic immunity so she has already been released and expelled from Haiti.  She's against democracy but of course she headed straight to the Miami from here.  Puello was detained for questioning by Dominican authorities and her status is unclear.  Both "ladies" agreed to give full access to their accounts and phones in order to fully confirm the extent of their treachery rather than be subject to further legal consequences.

On January 13th, I asked Sendecki for documentation to support her version of what had happened to these people:

Dear Val:

I would appreciate some documentation that these individuals were (a) lawfully detained, and (b) that Dr. Sage was in fact released, (c) the exact location and circumstances of Mariely Puello's detention with contact info and (d) that both of these individuals are in fact alive and in good condition.

I'm sure you will understand the reason for this.


As of today, January 18th, I still have not heard back from Sendecki, presumably because she is unwilling to provide the documentation I requested.

I spent a little while looking up the precise definitions of verbs like "arrest," "detain," "abduct," and "kidnap." The most value-neutral of these words is detain, in that the term does not address the lawfulness of the act. However the distinction between an arrest, on the one hand, and a kidnapping or abduction, on the other has to do with whether the detention takes place under lawful authority. So what I'm trying to establish is that CAG are not simply affiliated with kidnappers.

Given the evidence Ms. Sendecki has furnished me with, it's pretty clear that CAG has the skill set to do spying. The question is whether that is their core competency, or just a sideline. So let's have a look inside that PowerPoint document I mentioned earlier. It is seven screens long. It seems to document the following items of interest:

  1. There are "Topcat" patrol boats off Cite Soleil, and
  2. CAG provided "covert surveillance" in the form of operatives disguised as reporters who had color-coded press passes for "a public debate between representatives of presidential candidates  . . .  in Fort Liberte."

CAG has claimed in the past that they do not sell Top Cat boats, but only recommend their purchase. Are these "Topcat patrols" boats supplied by Top Cat Marine Security? Is so, who was the purchaser? And who was the seller? Did Top Cat Marine Security export these boats to Haiti? As discussed in a previous post on Top Cat, Top Cat Marine Security is not registered with the US Department of State to export items on the munitions list, as these boats are. And what is being done with these boats? Mariely Puello claims, "The TopCat Blancs are killing poor Haitians fleeing by sea." To the best of my ability to check, I established that CAG is not under contract to the UN. Just who is manning those boats?

And then we return to the subject of CAG, which looks more and more like a low-end private intelligence company. What are we to make of the idea of a private intelligence company stocking the crowd at a presidential debate with secret agents disguised as reporters? This would seem to support Puello's claim that their purpose is to undermine the election.

What is CAG, really, and who are they working for? I'd like to know.


Note that the PowerPoint document makes it appear that the United Nations seems to support the concept of CAG posing as press to spy on innocent people. I wonder what the UN really thinks. I doubt they are in the habit of deploying private spooks disguised as reporters.

The document user info on the original of the PowerPoint document displays Author as "pkf" (perhaps short for "Peace Keeping Forces"?) and Company as "UN."

On December 15th, Valerie Sendecki wrote to me:

I wish we could talk about this over a fine cup of Haitian coffee so
that you could enjoy the beautiful from the Hotel Montana.  It's

To the best of my knowledge, she's still registered there.

On January 7th, The Globe and Mail reported: UN commander kills himself in Haiti

The Brazilian commander of UN peacekeepers in Haiti was found dead on the balcony of his hotel room Saturday after shooting himself in the head, authorities said, in a blow to the 9,000-strong force and efforts to restore democracy in Haiti.

UN officials and Haitian police swarmed the upscale Hotel Montana where Lt.-Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar was slumped on a tile floor against the balcony, blood staining his white T-shirt.



Anyone know if this room -- the Presidential Suite -- was his room? [1/20 Update: I'm told by someone who stayed in the hotel during this general time period that the Presidential Suite was occupied by someone else, and so presumably Gen. Bacellar stayed in a different suite; apparently the hotel has a number of fine suites.]

UPDATE, January 19th: I have published an edition of the collected letters of Valerie Sendecki in pdf. Click HERE to download.

UPDATE: CAG's website's got a new look and an address in Panama: Sun Tower, 7th Floor, Panama City, Republic of Panama.

Now, they don't give a suite number for the Tampa location, but Suite 101 at that address has an awful lot of other businesses using it, suggesting that there may be a message center at that address. The Sun Tower in Panama City just happens to be the location of Panama Offshore Services, Inc., "Best source for Panama Corporation, Foundations & Offshore Accounts"! But it is actually possible that CAG has real offices at these locations. Can one of my Panama City readers take a stroll over to the Sun Tower and have a look?

So. Is this Panama office a place? Or just a state of mind?

For a Google Earth view of the image of the harbor at the top, click here HERE for the KMZ file.

UPDATE 1/25/06: I have an unconfirmed report that one of the two people Sendecki claimed had been "arrested" is OK. More later.

UPDATE 1/28/06: I received an email from a email address last night reiterating their refusal to answer any of my question or answer question from anyone associated with me (and if you're reading this, that probably means you, too), and requesting that I never contact them again. The signature on the email reads:

J Fullerton
Program Manager
Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers

I gather that its author's full name is Jay Fullerton. There exists a Jay Fullerton who published an article entitled "TTP for the Special Forces Battalion S2 at JRTC and NTC - tips for Joint Readiness Training Center and National Training Center" in 2001 in the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin whose bio reads:

Major Jay Fullerton is the S2 and Senior Special Operations Forces (SOF) Intelligence Observer/Controller at the Special Operations Training Detachment, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. His previous assignments include Platoon Leader and Company XO, 102d Military Intelligence Battalion, 2d Infantry Division; Assistant S2, 3-327th Infantry and S1, 311th MI Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); and S2 and MI Detachment Commander, 3d Battalion, 3d Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

(See also my two more recent posts: Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): Was the Company Registered in Panama by Rogelio Cruz Rios? and The Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) Web Site in History.)

UPDATE 1/28/06: I'm told by two different people that UN officials in Haiti claim that the PowerPoint document I received was "doctored." I had to change the file name to upload it to the Internet, since Typepad would not upload a document with spaces in the file name. The original file name was U2 -29  DEC 05 PM.ppt. (Copies available for inspection via email.) Other than changing the file name, I did nothing to it.

So. What, specifically, is doctored about it? (That part hasn't made it through the grape vine yet.) Can I please see an official statement in writing about the document? Anyone? MINUSTAH never answered my email. [UPDATE: see A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst.]

UPDATE 1/30/06: It appears a representative from CAG was all over the blogosphere this morning disavowing the contents of the Collected Letters of Valerie Sendecki. I stand by their authenticity.

Drying Google Earth in the Microwave, or Do the Bad Guys Really Have an Eye in the Sky?

There have been a couple of odd news articles about Google Earth recently.  From CNET, Innovations battle natural calamities discusses using Google Earth with natural disasters. Amusingly enough,  the reporter from CNET doesn't seem to  be aware that Google Earth has already been used to help with natural disasters. (See my Katrina, Pakistan Earthquake, and Google Earth archives.)

And then there's the somewhat loopy story from The Register, Al-Qaeda probes enemy on Google Earth. My first reaction was, well, duh. Then I read the actual story. It is entirely based on a multiply forwarded email:

It's preceded by the following which gives some cause for suspicion:

It [the email] was forwarded by a reader in the Navy, Mike, who in turn got it from a friend of his in the Marines. You may have seen it making the rounds already. The review of the weapons are one recently returned Marine's opinion [name removed to protect his identity] and does not necessarily mean a consensus has formed. If you scroll to the end you'll also see an assessment of our enemy's capability as well as those of our allies.

However, the email is plausible enough.

I'm not a journalist, but I have to ask: What kind of journalism is that?  This seems more like the kind of thing one checks out on Snopes, not runs as an article. The key claim is this:

5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and Google earth for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.

And the reporter from CNET was not the only one to pick it up. PCPRO did it too.  Here seems to be the entire piece, but again, no author is given, and it may just be a presentation of the circulating email.

Eye in the Sky by Philip K. DickGoogling "and Google earth for overhead views of our positions" produces 272 results, and that cuts out some which are formatted a little differently. In the majority of its appearances, it is presented as fact. And it's all the rage on the rightwing blogs where it is frequently referred to as "the truth" or as "intel," though it even appears in a diary at Daily Kos.

In only one instance in my quick skim through the Google hits did I see someone question the veracity. Someone pointed out that Google Earth images are not real-time and so it is actually impossible for Google Earth to show Al Qaeda "our positions" unless we've been holding those positions for an awfully long time, as seems to be the case with those secret CIA jails. I saw a Google Earth picture of one of those in The Washington Post, I think.

Actually doing what is described would involve making Google overlays out of current satellite images or aerial photos, which would either involve major purchases that no one would approve from the companies or governments holding the satellite imagery, or else using planes to take aerial photographs—and then the big story would not be that Google Earth was used by Al Qaeda, but that Al Qaeda had recognizance planes up in the sky taking pictures of our positions.  Google Earth just makes viewing the pictures a little easier once you've got them; despite the Washington Post's claim to the contrary, it is not an omniscient Eye in the Sky.

I had a look at how the phrase fared on Blogpulse:


What happened right before our phrase makes it onto the chart? Hint: That was the peak of the buzz surrounding the CIA's secret jails. So, um, who are we really, and what are these positions that people shouldn't be looking at? Hmm?

Now Google Earth is a very useful tool, and it would stand to reason that underground organizations would find it just as useful as I do. What I don't understand is why real journalists who are paid to do this sort of thing can't be bothered to get some real evidence before putting this claim in their articles. Perhaps they might also want to write about the grandmother of a friend of my friend who was in a bit of a hurry and so tried to dry her poodle in the microwave . . . And did you know that Al Qaeda is now using these exploding poodles in Iraq?

My suspicion is that what we have here is a piece of high-grade astroturf, which is to say an honest-to-God work of propaganda. (I thought they weren't supposed to write propaganda for the domestic market. I thought that was supposed to be illegal.)

MEANWHILE, Wired reports that the CDC is looking into using computer gaming as a way to better train people how to respond in case of an avian flu pandemic. (Via Declan Butler.)

P.S.: The book is by Philip K. Dick, copyright 1957. So the concept of the Eye in the Sky  isn't merely phildickian. It's Phil Dick's.

Old Farm Hill Park topo map

  Old Farm Hill Park topo map 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

There is the topo map of Old Farm Hill Park, an undeveloped park in my neigherborhood, superimposed on the Google Earth (Mac) satellie view. Terrain setting is 2, so I could see if the countours of the land approximated the contours of GE's terrain.

Interestingly, from this angle, the street isn't quite matching as well as the contours are. The original map is very large. The electronic image I used is from a digital photo I took after spreading it out on my picnic table. When photographed, the topo map was not perfectly flat since its had a few adventures kicking around the house, so there is some distortion.

Beta of Google Earth for Mac Out

Via Declan Butler, The Macintosh Beta version of Google Earth is out. It works, but seems to lack the built in browser of the Windows verision though a reviewer says, "The interface is identical to the Windows version." A little while after I started using it, my mouse began to lag and I needed to restart the computer. But that may have been coincidence;  I had a lot of other applications open.

See also Ogle Earth.

UPDATE: The built-in browser is there. The default preferences are just set a little differnt on t he Mac Beta.

Congo Earthquake, plus GoogleEarth Overlay

I just noticed that CNN is reporting that there was a powerful earthquake in eastern Congo:  East Africa quake buries children. Heres a quake map from the USGS site. I've made a Google Earth Overlay out of the USGS shake map.


And here's a screen shot of the overlay: [UPDATE: Anne Wright redid my overlay for me to make it work properly, and the URL is fixed. Thanks, Anne!-K]


And here's a link to the population density data set from the Central African Regional Program for the Environment:

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, plus Mt. Belinda errupting.

Science112505BubbleYesterday, after Thanksgiving dinner, I watched all of David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer, and so have a pretty good visual idea of what it's like to do research in Antarctica. This morning, I woke up to this disconcerting AP story, based on the cover story from the new issue of Science magazine: Old bubbles back global warming theory. Scientists drilled core samples of Antarctic ice and analyzed the gas content of the bubbles in them.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, says a new study that let scientists peer back in time at greenhouse gases that can help fuel global warming. By analyzing tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia, a team of European researchers shows how people are dramatically influencing the buildup of these gases.

ThomasstockerThe researcher is Thomas Stocker, Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Switzerland, Co-director of the Physics Institute. Here's the press release related to he article. (The article is in the issue of Science with a cover date of today, but as of this moment, they have not yet updated their website from last week's issue.)

(See also Michael Hopkin's article in Nature, Greenhouse-gas levels highest for 650,000 years: Climate record highlights extent of man-made change.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF ANTARTICA, NASA has a really cool picture of Mt. Belinda, near Antactica, errupting:


From NASA. Image from September 23, 2005. (NASA write up.) See yesterday's story in Nature: Fire and ice caught on camera: Volcano on Antarctic island flips its lid. On Google Earth, it just looks  like a while lump. This image would make a lovely overlay. (-58.399804, -26.386895) (Here's a rough KML; image.) Drop Off Locations

From Jon Schull of, a professor of Information Technology at Rochester Institutes of Technology, here is a new way to help with the collection of relief supplies for earthquake victims. It is organized through a CommunityWalk Map (map; KML network link):

Do you know of a regional (not a big chain) store that sells sporting goods and would be willing to act as a drop-off location for people donating sleeping bags, tents, and other goods for the earth quake relief efforts?

If so then you and your community can save lives this week, by helping rush donated sleeping bags and tents to earthquake survivors in India Pakistan and Kashmir before the harsh winter sets in.

One drop off location in each city is enough, but identifying the right the one requires local knowledge. A regional Sporting Goods store is ideal, because the owner can just say "sure, its a no-brainer. I get customers and and good will in the store and I save lives. I'll even offer a discount on replacement goods." Sporting Goods companies do well by doing good.

Who is that person in the cities you know?

Schools, churches, synagogue, and mosques are another obvious location.

Use this new page (login as "" with the password "" by clicking "Login" at the bottom right hand side of the screen and then click "Add Markers" at the bottom left hand side of the screen) and the wiki to identify yourself as someone willing to help and your location to suggest stores and store owners to contact to report on any contacts you have made. Go to

And then, help us organize donations in your community! Use your initative. Go to for details.

This is a rare opportunity to use the net to help people in where we desperately need to make friends.

Click HERE for more on Thanksgiving gear-drops.

Viewpoint for the Burgess Shale at Emerald Lake

Here is an attempt to recreate the view of the Burgess Shale near Field, BC as seen from Emerald lake, BC. (Click here for overlay.)

Google Earth could really do with some better satellite photos of the Canadian Rockies. Also, I'm not sore how good their data for generating the terrain is, in that the mountains still didn't look quite right, even if you took the fuzzy satellite imagery into account.

However, the most significant problem was that the tools for adjusting viewpoint didn't work the way I expected. I couldn't get Google Earth to let me raise my gaze enough to see the mountain ridge when I seemed to be in the right spot to see the Burgess Shale from the lake side.

And here is what the view actually looks like. The Burgess Shale is located where the ribbons of snow are on the upper right of the ridge.

  The actual view of the Burgess Shale from the shores of Emerald Lake 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

(By the way, I have more photos of the Canadian Rockies than you could possibly want to see in a Typepad photo album. And further to the subject of the Burgess Shale, the Royal Ontario Museum sells marvellous plastic Burgess Shale creatures. We collected the whole set.)

Muzaffarabad Landslides

  Muzaffarabad Landslides 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

Landslides outside Muzaffarabad as seen in Google Earth overlays. I've seen them in the background of photos taken from the city itself, but looking at it this way gave me a different sense of scale. Also, the collage effect of the perspective give a sense of the mashed provenance of the information, and adds a touch of surrealism.

The fullsized image is HERE. Note the houses by the compass rose for scale.

(Location: 34.400753, 73.483660)

Pakistan Earthquake Dynamic Overlays (VBR) available!

VbrcoverageGlobal ConnectionFrom Anne Wright & Randy Sargent:

New satellite imagery overlays for Pakistan earthquake are available. Release 3: This is now a dynamic (VBR) overlay, containing a large amount of imagery from:

  • Google/Digital Globe, in red to the right (KML file)

Big thanks to Kenson Yee at Google Earth for his round-the-clock efforts in making image overlays. Thanks to Kathryn Cramer and Declan Butler for their critical help in getting these together, and Google Earth for supporting our efforts.

For more information about the overlay, please see


Avian Flu Outbreak Maps

UnknownDeclan Butler, my current favorite science journalist, has updated his avian flu outbreak maps and added a network link. He says:

I'm getting the entire outbreak database soon, which is much richer in detail as to sizes of outbreaks etc, which I can extrude [from] the maps, so the who thing should be substantially better soon.

Declan Butler's Avian Flu Outbreak Map

And avian flu is a story that really needs good science journalism. Systemic health risks are very hard to understand for people without a good command of statistics.

Examples of health scare stories that were widely mispereived: When West Nile reached the New York area, Westchester moms panicked and for several weeks of glorious Indian Summer, wouldn't allow their kids to play outside. The real health risk in yards like mine was not West Nile, but Lyme Disease. Also, I had a severe lung infection requiring hospitalization just as the anthrax scare was peaking. I knew I didn't have anthrax, but very carefully went to my regular doctor an not to the ER because I was concerned I might be turned away as an anthrax hysteric. (At the time, NYC ERs were alleged to be turning away peole who said they had difficulty breathing.)

Butler has been tracking down the facts of the matter and putting a lot of them into his overlay.

UPDATE:  Here is his Connotea Avian Flu links page.

The Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake Zone: Getting the Picture

ValleyGlobal ConnectionIn the interests of expediting the Pakistan relief effort, Google Earth sprang for a whole bunch of Digital Globe images of the Pakistan quake zone most needed by relief organizations, and the folks at Google Earth have worked very hard to get the images processed into an overlay and now it's out! Hooray! Good work!

From Anne Wright at the Global Connection Project:

Got some happy news from Google Earth: They've got some static overlays of a strip of fresh Digital Globe satellite images from after the quake up.  The strip runs North/South from a little above the Naran Valley, past Muzaffarabad (misses it to the east), and ends up about level with Rawalpindi.  You've got to click on an individual red dot to pull in the overlay texture.  I've attached a netlink KML and a couple of placemarks containing nice views of the Naran slice.  If you click on the red dot right next to the placemarks it'll pull in the texture you see in the screenshots. Hopefully we'll have VBR of this up in the not-too-distant future, though we've got some technical challenges to overcome first...

KML files available here: (the main KML file) (a couple of placemarks corresponding to the screen shots).

UPDATE from the hard-working Kenson Yee at Google:

We have 3 scenes at:

Extents are lat/lon approximations.  These images are the 2k x 2k static overlays.

(Updated screen shots of the area covered are here and here.)








We hope for dynamic overlays of the same images soon, but to make it a little easier on you to use these current ones, Randy Sargent of Global Connection makes this helpful suggestion:

These are static overlays.  To use, load the KML into Google Earth  and click on the red dot over the area of interest.  In the bubble  which pops up you have the option to load a 2k x 2k overlay.

Depending on the RAM in your machine, you may notice your machine  slowing down after you load a number of these 2k x 2k images.  You  can unload images by going to the Places pane on the left and  scrolling until you're at the top of the "Temporary Places" folder,  where you'll see your loaded overlays like this:


Right-click in the pane on these and choose delete.

(Don't delete the entries of form DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN.kml, with the  red dot to the left;  these are the dots on the globe which let you  load and reload the overlays).

Google Earth Dynamic Overlay for Pakistan Now Available! (Plus "Home of the Piffers" and a Dragon Hunt)

Global ConnectionAnne Wright and Randy Sargent of the Global Connections Project have been working hard to get out dynamic overlays of the Pakistan earquake area.  (A dynamic overlay is one that automatically sunstitutes higher resolution imagery as you zoom in and so is much easier to work with.) Randy wrote a few minutes ago to say that the new dynamic overlays are ready:

A Pakistan dynamic overlay containing 1-meter imagery and maps for

  • Muzaffarabad
  • Abbottabad
  • Mansehra
  • Murree

is available at Contents: 10 maps from DLR / Space Imaging, available from

Here are a couple of screen shots:


Home of the Piffers? (KML file) Anne and Randy came across this while processing the satellite images. Anne wondered,

Do you supposed all cultures have analogs of high school glee clubs, or is this something else?

We asked around and are informed of this fascinating fact: Army units in that part of the world "have a fondness for writing on hill-sides"! ("Piffers" is short for the Punjab Irregular Force, regularized in 1865. What it signifies in 2005, I can't tell you.)

Wow. So, as you look at the overlays, watch for secret hillside writing. Another correspondent tells of a hillside drawing:

There is a large engraving of Sir Lord somebody slaying a dragon "hidden" off the road to Muzaffrabad.  I think I still remember how to get to it.  Every local ten year old thinks that he is the only one who knows about it.

At a certain point in mapbased disaster relief, I suddenly feel like I want to move to the place that I've been scrutizing from above. People's enthusiasm for the places they love is contagious. The annecdote of the hillside dragon pushed me over that line.

(I've asked my correspondent if he can find me the dragon, but perhaps you can? [I do not guarantee that these overlays cover the precise spot where the dragon might be found. But who knows what you might find.] AND when you're done with your dragon hunt, go make a donation to the relief effort. Those dreamy ten-year-olds need your help right away! How's 'bout $25? $35? $100?)

But OK, here are a few move screen shots: Manshera Helipad (KML file)


Ayub Teaching Hospital (KML file):


On a more somber note, here is a legend from a damage map of Balakot from the Eurpopean Commission's Joint Research Centre (do not follow this link unless your computer will handle an image 9000 pixels by 7000 pixels!) that you may find useful in estimating damage via these  overlays [the link from the image leads to a bigger version, though not huge, so it's OK to click on]:
11/6 UPDATE: See my new post The Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake Zone: Getting the Picture concerning a Google Earth overlay of newly purchased Digital Globe images!

Finally, the Population Density Map I Wanted Three Weeks Ago!

Today, I finally came across the map Pakistan population density map I was frantic for on the night of October 8th. The version I found is dated October 20th and seems to be credited to the European Commission Joint Research Center. Anne Wright created a Google Earth overlay of it for me so that I can give it out to you. She says, "The placement is a bit crude because it's in the wrong projection," but really the point of it is to get across where the people are in relation to other information about the earthquake. Here it is. And here is a screen shot:


How to Make a Google Earth Overlay Using CommunityWalk (Even if You Are on a Computer that Can't Run Google Earth!)

CommunityWalkI wrote up these instructions for an earthquake relief group this morning, but it seems to me that they are of general interest to the Internet maps community.

First of all, CommunityWalk is a Google Maps API site run by Jared Cosulich, a software engineer in San Fransico. (Currently, it will crash Safari, but Jared says he's fixing that.) Here he explains the general idea of the site:

Despite [the Internet's] ability to make the world seem so much smaller, the Internet has done surprisingly little for the smaller worlds around us; for our neighborhoods and communities. The idea for CommunityWalk was founded around these thoughts. When Google released its Google Map technology and Paul Rademacher hacked it, presenting the world with HousingMaps, a mashup of Craigslist and Google Maps, I saw the potential to bring my idea to a reality. Initially the idea was to make a site that allowed realtors to describe the communities around their listings. My mother, a realtor, saw great potential in this idea and has been using CommunityWalk for her listings ever since. As I developed CommunityWalk, though, I realized that CommunityWalk could be made customizable, providing a means for other people to share their communities. In fact there is no reason that CommunityWalk should be limited to local neighborhoods, it can easily be used to show the community of Major League Baseball Ball Parks in America or the community of dive sites that exist at a given lake.

On the morning of October 8th, following the Paksitan/Kashmir Earthquake, I reached to CommunityWalk as my tool of choice for making information about the disaster publicly available. So, OK, I've got all this information in there and you can add some too if you want. How can you, personally, get this info out again and deploy it as a Google Earth overlay?

(Note that the following instructions work as well for a CommunityWalk map showing the location of your cousin's wedding and reception as they do for my quake info.)

The files Google Earth uses as overlays are called KML files and have a ".kml" at the end. KML is a specialized type of XML and stands for Keyhole Markup Language.

Exporting from CommunityWalk to KML is pretty easy. Click on the Share button on the lower right:


... and then click the Google Earth button:


A KML file is generated which can now be used as an overlay in Google Earth. Note that at no time did you lay hands on Google Earth itself. Now, Google Earth's people swear that their Macintosh version is coming out real soon now. But until that time, Mac users can't operate Google Earth.

But with CommunityWalk, you can make, on a Mac, overlay files for your friends (or relief organization or garden club) who can use Google Earth. Neat, huh?

New Post-Wilma Google Earth Overlays Available

Global ConnectionFrom the Global Connection Project:

Google Earth static overlays of NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photography are
now available from: Images courtesy of NOAA

Release 2:  Approximately 1500 NOAA images, taken 10/25-10/26 Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more
quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays. Please let us know if you have any problems or comments.

- Randy and Anne

10/28 UPDATE: But wait, THERE'S MORE!

NOAA Wilma overlays for Google Earth, ~1650 images from 10/25-10/27

NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photographs are now available as Google Earth Overlays

Global ConnectionFrom Randy Sargent and Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project:

Google Earth static overlays of NOAA's post-Wilma aerial photography are now available from: Images courtesy of NOAA

This first release includes approximately 760 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 10/25. Included with these overlays are sub-sampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays. Dynamic overlays (VBR) will be available for government use later today.  We're working on a more efficient VBR server which we will experiment making available to the public in the next few days.

Please let us know if you have any problems or comments.

- Randy and Anne

New Pakistan earthquake overlays for Google Earth!

Global ConnectionI am delighted to pass on the following message from Randy Sargent of the Global Connection Project:

We've put online some new Pakistan earthquake overlays for Google Earth at

Version 1 features: Includes 10 images from Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information; Images broken into 2K x 2K chunks for high-resolution display in Google Earth

We're hoping to put up additional images from today, followed by a dynamic overlay tomorrow.

Here are a few of screen shots:




Have at it!

Clark Boyd's World Tech Podcast #55: A Must-Listen for Google Earth Enthusiasts

Worldpostcast55smClark Boyd's Tech report for The World (BBC/WGBH) has a podcast of the show from the other day, and the podcast (Tech Podcast #55) is much longer than the original show. Let me start by saying that this podcast is a Must-Listen for Google Earth enthusiasts. Yes, it has clips of me sounding really intelligent at the beginning, but that's not the part I'm talking about.

The part you need to hear is the interview from Anne Wright, of  Global Connection -- a collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, and National Geographic -- which was too long and info-dense for the original BBC/WGBH broadcast, but which outlines the vision behind some of the perks Google Earth users are currently enjoying, and what can be done with this technology and others out there on the market.

She talks about the origins of the Global Connection project, the National Geographic project, how Global Connection came to process thousands of images NOAA from Katrina and Rita for Google Earth overlays, how she and I came to work together on the earthquake project, and her vision of how things could work in the future. It's packed with really great stuff!

Thoughts on the Use of SMS Phones with Disaster Relief Maps

I drafted the following material about a week ago as part of a much longer essay on the possibilities of using maps over the internet for disaster rellief. Some of it drawns upon material from previous blog entries of mine. It was written before I thought there was a realistic possibility of integrating SMS phone information into maps I helped create. Now, if we can get the world out to those who need to know about the SMS Quake blog, we are much closer to the reality of that.

The context of the following passage is that when the earthquake hit, I was at the Wolfram Technology Conference in Champaign, Illinois. So I kept buttonholing smart techies to ask for advice on how what I was doing mightbe done better.

Some of the most interesting suggestions came from Luc Barthelet of Electronic Arts who had come to do a presentation on prototyping the game SimCity in Mathematica. We talked about the utility of having layers of data on the existence or non-existence of building codes, on the relative heights and ages of the buildings. And then he made what I thought was the best suggestion of all, though it probably can’t be implemented this time out: set up a phone number such that people can phone in pictures and information associated with specific coordinates; do this in such a way that it automatically annotates the map. I thought this was a truly visionary suggestion for several reasons.

First of all, some of the best personal reportage from the tsunami had been sent in by people writing on their cell phones and cell phones are a much more ubiquitous technology in the 3rd World than desktop computers with Internet connections. But more important, it seemed to me, was the beautifully humanizing aspect of such a technological innovation. He was proposing that we given disaster victims and relief workers voices, faces, proposing that we be able to see through their eyes.

Traditionally, the view from above—the narrative point of view of satellite or aerial photo—is military, that of the bomber pilot: You look at people that way when you think it might be okay to kill them en mass. One of the effects of having spent weeks scrutinizing aerial and satellite photos for people wanting information about their homes, their families, their pets, is that I am now longer able to look at aerial photos of damage in the same way. It has become much more personalized. I experience it as a stripping away of a twentieth century attitude of abstract detachment, an attitude that the legacy of World War II and the Cold War encouraged.

A few weeks ago, a Japanese fellow who is my age and goes by the handle of Earthhopper was testing out Google Earth's newly added images of Hiroshima and discovered an odd lack of clarity in the area of the Hiroshima memorial, the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome.

To correct this oversight, Earthhopper has used the same techniques that Shawn MacBride and the Google Earth Current Events community used to superimpose images of the New Orleans levee breaks upon satellite images, but this time on Hiroshima, superimposing photos of the devastated land on the overly-fuzzy Google Earth view of modernday Hiroshima. His photo caption read,

Image overlay of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, taken in 1945. The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

Earthhopper and I were both born in 1962. He is the son of a physician. I am the daughter of a nuclear physicist, though of the generation after the Manhattan project and who has never worked on weapons research. This lead to some interesting correspondence. Upon seeing his Hiroshima overlays, I wrote,

Each and every one of those several hundred thousand people had a name and a face and a life story. We have been encouraged to distance ourselves from this kind of information, encouraged to be overwhelmed by it. But is that just the way we are, or is it a political construct of the twentieth century? Can we get beyond it? It seems to me that this technique has broad applications in historical photography and in helping us forge a new psychological relationship with history.

What Luc Barthelet was proposing was even more radical and more humanizing: to give voice to those in distress that the 20th century view of the world gives up for dead while they are still alive.

ShareMeanwhile, my CommunityWalk Earthquake Map information can now be exported to a Google Earth overlay. Go to the map, click on the brown "Share" button at the lower right of the map, then click on the brown "Google Earth" button that appears in same corner.

Nature Reports on the Lifting of the UN Ban on Pakistan Satellite Imagery

Declan Butler's latest article in Nature about Pakistan disaster relief and the availability of satellite photography is up:

UN opens access to earthquake shots: Relief workers applaud release of satellite imagery.

High-resolution satellite images of Kashmir, which was hit hard by a magnitude-7.6 earthquake on 8 October, have begun to reappear on public websites, much to the relief of aid workers.

The pictures were removed last week from all public-access websites belonging to the United Nations (UN) and its relief partners, including the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters (see 'Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots').

A senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, told Nature that the UN decided to ban public dissemination of photos of the area after a meeting on 10 October. The official told Nature that the meeting discussed an official reminder from Pakistan about the political sensitivity of the area, which was issued after the earthquake. Pakistan and India have long fought over Kashmir, and there were concerns that pictures could compromise security in the region.

Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, told Associated Press in Islamabad yesterday that "No one in the Pakistan government has made a request that such maps be removed." Nature's sources emphasize that the UN decision was a precaution against a deterioration in relations with Pakistan.

After pressure from relief groups seeking wider access to the images, the UN met again on 17 October, and reversed its decision. It sent a memo to all involved parties on the morning of Tuesday 18 October advising them that the ban on photos had been lifted.  . . .

The lifting of the ban is "wonderful news", says Anne Wright, a computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Wright was involved in mapping the damage done by Hurricane Katrina and knows how useful such images can be.

She is part of the Global Connection, a consortium made up of Google and scientists at Ames and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, which is now scrambling to access the public images. The group hopes to produce maps of the Pakistan earthquake zone that are more detailed than those currently available.

Such Internet responses to disasters by diverse groups will "make responses to similar events in the future easier and more efficient", says Wright.

Now the big job is to go through all the stuff that just went up to find the images that are both good enough and relevant. Some are going to be good: no clouds, good atmospheric conditions; some are going to relevant, i.e. pictures of the places that need to be seen. We hope for  images that are both.

MEANWHILE, Nathan Newman reports on how Senator Diane Feinstein has "just introduced legislation to undermine what is known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, an old law dating back to the first years of the Republic that has been revived in recent years by human rights activists to hold corporations responsible for their actions in developing nations."

If the earthquake isn't a pressing matter of Pakistan's national security, then I don't know what is.

Taking a page from FEMA's playbook, Pakistan has apparently found a startling way to hinder relief efforts for quake victims: Block access to satellite images for the affected area in the interests of its national security. Surely a place like Pakistan would not replicate the kinds of mistakes made here in the US by the US government in the face of the Katrina disaster?

My little maps project, which had as its lofty goal getting useful maps into the hands of those doing disaster relief in Pakistan, merged Thursday morning with efforts by The Citizens Foundation (an aid organization in Pakistan) to get maps to its relief workers. This new consortium succeeded in getting high-rez maps into the hands of relief workers on the ground in Muzaffarabad by the 15th.

It turns out that this was accomplished despite a UN ban on the posting of hi-rez photos of Pakistan on the Internet (which we did not know about), apparently out of consideration for Pakistan's concerns about it's national security interests. We had a very hard time getting the images into the hands of those who could produce the necessary maps, but ultimately it was accomplished.

I emailed Declan Butler, a reporter at Nature, about this, mentioning the problems we were having getting images. He checked into this. This turns out to be because there was a United Nations ban issued on posting such images on the Internet. Declan Butler, tracked it down and wrote about the situation in a Nature story posted early this morning:

Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots:

Open-access satellite images are revolutionizing responses to disasters. Yet the government of Pakistan has forced aid agencies to remove pictures of earthquake devastation from the Internet.

Three days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Kashmir on 8 October, the Pakistan government appealed for high-resolution satellite images to help relief efforts. But, apparently to protect national security, Nature has learned that the government has since forced international agencies and relief organizations to remove these images from their websites.

The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters put high-resolution images of the earthquake zone on its website last Friday, then pulled them off hours later. The charter, a consortium of space agencies, was created in 2000 to supply satellite images and data to communities in need of relief following a disaster.

An International Charter spokesperson said: "To best aid relief efforts, we are no longer publicly disseminating pictures of the Pakistan earthquake. Publication of such images would compromise the ability of United Nations (UN) forces on the ground to deliver relief. We hope you understand the situation."

But a senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, says that the Pakistan government had demanded that no photos be made accessible to the public, because it feared the images could compromise security in the Kashmir region - an area that has long been disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The UN and other aid agencies need Pakistan's cooperation on the ground, and had no choice but to comply, he says.

An hour or two after the story appeared on the Nature site, (which is to say some time in the past few hours) the UN lifted the ban on posting good satellite images of Pakistan.

I hadn't psychologically adjusted to the fact that we really got the maps there in the first place when I read Declan's story this morning, which explained that "the Pakistan government had demanded that no photos be made accessible to the public, because it feared the images could compromise security in the Kashmir region." If the earthquake disaster isn't a pressing issue of Pakistan's national security, then I don't know what is.

Where is Michael Brown now? I guess now we know. But seriously, what were they thinking???

Now that the dam of secrecy has broken and the publically held images will be allowed out, here is where images both public and privately held can be found:

the EU JRC will probably have among the most extensive collections.

Unosat is the UN clearing house for relief images.

The International Charter "Space and Major Disasters"

DigitalGlobe has at the moment limited recent images because of cloud and rain, and Google is already working with them. has good images; it charges NGOs a fee, but also sells it to the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Let me explain one place in which the system is broken. The publically held images were withdrawn from circulation. The business model of the private companies is that NGOs [Non-Governmental Organization] have to pay a fee because some government or munificently funded charity somewhere is picking up the tab for the aid provided. If the UN orders that photos not be posted on the Internet, then who is going to foot the bill for the NGOs to get the pictures? Got it?  (Also, I gather that some of the private companies holding photos were observing the UN ban.)

SEE ALSO, Ogle Earth: Pakistan hampers aid efforts by banning high-resolution imagery:

That's a whole week in which aid was needlessly hampered, but at least reason prevailed in the end.

UPDATE: Not wanting to be left behind in the competition for pig-headedness, India apparently takes strong exception to us being able to look in on things in Kashmir. From  the Times of India:

Google earth under govt scrutiny

NEW DELHI: What was till recently an alarm on the fringes is fast developing into a mainstream worry. One day after President A P J Abdul Kalam placed on record the country’s growing concern about the threat posed by free satellite images, the science and technology ministry said that the government has started taking steps in this regard.

Speaking to The Times of India, science and technology secretary V S Ramamoorthy said, 'What is a matter of great concern is the sufficient resolution provided by the satellite images on Google Earth posing a security threat to various installations'.

At the moment, the ministry, in close coordination with other security agencies, is evaluating the images of the sensitive locations, he said.

The whole world is watching. Are you for people? Or do you priviledge other things above human lives? To both governments, that is really the question.

Given that the UN ban was lifted, I suspect that both governments decided to do the right thing.

Hi-rez Earthquake Zone Map: One of the Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen


This is a photograph, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, is a photo of a high-resolution printed map that emerged from a collective Internet-based attempt to get rescue workers in Pakistan the detailed maps they need in which I played a minor role: we did it. This map was sent to Pakistan early this morning. It will save lives. (This is not a press photo.)

Another thing I find very moving is that this morning, when I checked on my CommunityWalk Pakistan Earthquake site, I saw that someone had created a CommunityWalk map entitled "Lahore,"  (31.56, 74.35, i.e. in the earthquake zone) which has the subtitle "beautiful Lahore." It consists only of a satellite view of the city of Lahore, Pakistan, in the quake zone about 120 miles south of the epicenter, population  5,997,200.

MEANWHILE, Thierry Rousselin, in Paris, writes:

If you read french, here is a link to our blog where you will find examples of Formosat 2 images over Abbotabad (main hospital 45 km away from the epicenter).

About your comment on the lack of answer from the RS companies in a timely manner, I can understand NGO people's frustration after the incredible amount of quality data received after Katrina and Rita.

But to get good images over northern Pakistan is not easy. On sunday at 9:30 local time, there is a big cloud over Muzaffarabad. Fortunately, two hours later, when Ikonos comes, the cloud has moved a few miles and they get a good image. On monday, the sky is almost clear and the area coverage is good with Spot and Formosat 2. But during the week, meteo conditions worsen and it's pretty difficult to get a nice image.

So good timing in the distribution is also based on the number of good available images.

And Declan Butler, also in Paris, sent me a useful link to a different page in the USGS site than the one I've been frequenting: USGS Earthquakes: Earthquake Catalogs

In addition to web-based maps and html pages, USGS provides several alternative ways to obtain real-time, worldwide earthquake lists. Earthquake information is extracted from a merged catalog of earthquakes located by the USGS and contributing networks.

This page his links to things like earthquake RSS feeds, and KML files.

Global Alert Disaster System: Red Earthquake Alert Pakistan

The Global Disaster Alert System has put up a page of great information on the impact of the Pakistan Earthquake.

Especially interesting, for those doing Google mashup maps is this page which allow you to superimpose tectonic, population density, and other information on the map of Pakistan.

(Via Declan Butler.)

More Updated Rita Google Overlays

Anne Wright of NASA's Ames Research Center writes:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA

This revision includes approx 3,700 NOAA images of areas affected by
hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, 10/5, and 10/6. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more
quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

Satellite and Aerial Photos of the Pakistan Earthquake Zone: the Face of Death

Declan Butler, an editor at Nature, has sent me links to some really good imagery of the Pakistan Earthquake zone:

Also, the International Charter Space and Major Disasters photos are up and I see for the first time a good shot of the epicenter with the names of cities and towns superimposed. This is what death looks like:


Muzaffarabad, now referred to as "The City of Death," had a population of 700,000. I notice that my map's comment system now being used. Here are the comments associated with my marker for Muzaffarabad:


Reading this my brain freezes and I am temporarily unable to divide 2 by 7, but what Najam Wali Khan is saying is that in that rather large city, the earthquake had a mortality rate of nearly 29%.

UPDATE: I'm told by a relief oganization on the ground in Pakistan that some of the companies holding these useful satellite images are not responding to inquiries in a timely manner. Come on guys! Get with the program. Relief agencies need maps to save lives and they need them yesterday!

Nineteen Earthquakes trying to occupy the same place.

Firefoxscreensnapz002CommunityWalk One interesting result I obtain from my Community Walk earthquake site is that a small area, under 600 sq. Kilometers, is getting creamed by the "aftershocks," most over 5.0 on the Richter scale; one about 6.3. There were nineteen earth quakes in this small area over the course of a day and a half, someone with epicenters walking distance apart (at least as the crow flies). They average 5.45.

Amazing to watch. It's like a set-up for a Japanese monster movie: what ever's in there has got an awfully big egg tooth! Seriously though, what prior recorded examples like this are there?

I hope no one lived there.  I'm looking for a map indicating the relative population of areas like that. But big alert to what rescue operations are out there, get any people near there away, because this process doesn't look like it's done.

The USGS list of Asian quakes provides a longer list of quakes than the Wilber site I was working with previously. I don't know why that is.


Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth Available

Anne Wright from NASA announces:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA. This revision includes approx 3,200 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, and 10/5. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

The Neelum River has been blocked because whole villages have fallen into the water

Via DAWN, via   South Asia Quake Help:

Confirmed death toll in quake passes 1,800: officials ISLAMABAD, Oct 8 (AFP) The confirmed death toll in Saturday's massive earthquake, which rocked India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has passed 1,800, officials said. "The death toll is between 550 and 600 in North West Frontier Province and it is likely to rise," Riffat Pasha, the provincial head of police said. Some 250 people were confirmed dead and thousands more injured in Muzaffarabad,a government official said adding that "there is a massive devastation in the city.” "Village after village has been wiped out" in Azad Kashmir, an army relief official said from Muzaffarabad said. "The Neelum River has been blocked because whole villages have fallen into the water," the official added. (Posted @ 20:35 PST)

Meanwhile, I'll keep making additions and small improvements to the earthquake's Community Walk site.

BY THE WAY, can anyone give me GPS coordinates for Lahore? The India/Pakistan/Kashmire border disputes are playing absolute hell with my usual tools for extracting GPS cooridinates!