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October 2005

Happy Halloween

Designed by Peter Hartwell; carved by Kathryn Cramer. Pleasantville, NY. (For more of our Halloween pix, click here. For other people's pumkins, see Flickr.)

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!

Farewell to the House of Sticks

Houseofsticks_1Over the weekend of the 15th and 16th, our House of Sticks fell down. To the left is a picture of the House of Sticks in October of 2002. That's me with the tummy. Elizabeth was born a few days later.

I have been putting of writing about this, since it marks sort of the end of an era for me. When Peter was very small, under three as I recall, he wanted me to build him a tree house, but I didn't want to build him a tree house at anything like the usual height because I was afraid he would fall out. At the time I was cleaning up fallen branches in the wooded area of your yard to make the yard more playable.

And I had this great idea: I could use all these nice long sturdy branches to make a groundlevel treehouse, which we called the House of Sticks. I think we began it around June of 2000. It actually took me over a year to construct it, working off and on, and in fact it wasn't just me, but Peter and I, since I let him help put in the decking screws that held it together. Making the walls was easy enough. First I made a pile of sticks all cut to the same length. And then I screwed them to sturdier sticks to frame it.

I briefly contemplated a House of Straw made of straw bales and a House of Brick involving fake brick from the hardware store, but decided that not only was that too much trouble, it also might involve large piles of rotting straw bales, and futher that I was not insane so I should put the thought right out of my head. (I also did not want to get into the kind of straw bale construction that involves protecting the bales from moisture.) One hand-made playhouse was enough.

Our yard is very hilly, which is why I was concerned to make it playable in the first place. And it turned out to be remarkably difficult to find a spot level enough to site the house of sticks without having to do really a lot of site preparation of a kind I didn't want to get into.

Houofsticks0501Eventually, I settled on an area near the edge of our property line which, while mostly flat, also was one of the wetter areas of the yard. But unless I wanted to something involving pouring concrete, it was the best spot in the yard for the house.  Here I am with the house assembled, but still lacking a roof.

I was all ready to build a roof right away, but I have a Mechanical Engineer for a mother who kept telling me that each proposed design for the roof was going to be too heavy. And so I think it was the spring of 2002 when the House of Sticks finally got its roof. (Most such structures do not have the benefit of an engineering consult.) I ultimately settled on the wooden latice roof you see in the first picture.

Once the roof was up, I planted wisteria next to it with the intention that the wisteria engulf the structure, weaving between the sticks and giving it greater stability. The wisteria had other ideas. It wanted to run up to the weathervane and stay there. Most of the weaving that went on was done by me, not by the uncooperative wisteria.

Here is Elizabeth in the House of Sticks last October, a photo I took with my cellphone camera:


Each winter, the house would sustain some damage, and each spring I would go out with decking screws and a few more sticks to shore things up. The house was made of sticks from the yard, not from commercial lumber, so I knew that ultimately it would rot out and have to be torn down. This past spring, most of the new damage looked unfixable, so I knew that this was probably the last year for the House of Sticks.

So we came home from Washington, DC two weeks ago, where we had celebrated the kids' birthdays with their cousins attended Capclave. The House of Sticks had fallen down in a storm while we were gone:


In a day or so, I'll start tearing it down. But for me it has symbolized what I think is best about my mothering and so it is hard to part with. I have a photo album for it on Flickr, to which I'll add other pictures as I come across them.

Next spring, we'll build something else.

Cindy Lee Berryhill: "When Did Jesus Become a Republican?"

CindyleeFurther to the subject of women taken out of circulation because of taking care of children, singer/songwriter and anti-folk heroine Cindy Lee Berryhill is emerging from semi-retirement. (I was not able to make much in the way of helpful sugestions to questions like How do you go on tour with a toddler?)

Her son Alexander, is now about 4. She appeared on Air America on October 21st. She is currently working on a CD, and on her webite, you can now listen to her new song, "When Did Jesus Become a Republican?" (click on the link in the upper righthand corner).

My husband David was in California and visited Cindy and her husband, famous rock critic and former executor of the Philip K. Dick Estate, Paul Williams. David took a lot of pictures.

Here's a nice shot of the Berryhill Williams family:


Not Going to WFC

A couple of people have asked whether I'm attending the World Fantasy Convention in Madison. Yes, my husband is heads the board of directors of the organization that oversees the convention from year to year, and yes, this year's theme, "The Architecture of Fantasy and Horror," would be a perfect venue for me, since in the 1980's I edited two anthologies of architectural horror, The Architecture of Fear, for which I won a World Fantasy Award, and Walls of Fear, for which I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. But NO, I'm not going.

I would leave it at that, because of course with every convention there are some people who can attend and some who can't and many of those who can't can't for reasons that are not fair, like not having enough money. And certainly, over time, I've gotten to go to a lot of conventions. But I wanted to spin this out for you a little in terms of science fiction and its social policies and what happens specifically to women.

A while back I wrote a bit about the situation of childcare at conventions at which I was able to show up. I had great difficulty being able to attend the convention program because of the lack of childcare at conventions. While other people attended the program, I would usually be in the halls with my kids, no matter how interesting I might have found the goings on inside.

People took me seriously. In response to may complaints, some changes were made. Not enough, but some. I had an impact.

But now, for the most part, I am not getting to those halls in the first place. One of our book contracts was not renewed and so money is tight. The Glasgow Worldcon had put me on the best batch of program items I had ever been assigned. But I had to cancel because the plane fares never came down to the level we could afford for a family of four. And back last fall, I had to eat a ticket to France for Utopiales because our family-member childcare for the trip fell through, and we couldn't afford to buy childcare on the open market in Westchester. (I haven't managed to get to Eurpore since Peter was born in 1997.) Between Utopiales and the Glasgow Worldcon, that's two trips to Europe cancelled in the past year.

And I'm not going to Madison. With my son in an elementary school that is very pushy about its attendance policies, we couldn't really bring him given the complexities of getting to Madison. Childcare for the weekend while I went out would be amazingly expensive here. We make $90,000/yr below the median income for our school district, so for the most part, I can't buy babysitting at market prices. (A sitter for an evening out costs about $15/hour around here, so I don't get out much.) The noose tightens, so I'll probably seeing less of people who expect to just see me around, if only in the halls though not in the panels or evening parties.

I would lay on you my grandmother's line, "I'm not complaining, but. . ." (When I was a kid I would always believe her: that she wasn't compaining, even though that line always prefaced a complaint.) But it would be a lie: I am complaining. But I'm telling you folks in the science fiction field about this not because I expect you to fix it for me, but because I'm sure I'm not the only woman you are losing access to over things like this.

Forbes, Blogs, & Corporate Warfare

I finally got round to having a look at the Forbes article by Daniel Lyons on blogging that everyone's been talking about: Attack of the Blogs.  Mostly what it's really about is not so much about blogs at all but about good old corporate warfare being waged on a new battlefield by anonymous bloggers who are just the usual corporate shills. Lyons writes:

Some companies now use blogs as a weapon, unleashing swarms of critics on their rivals. "I'd say 50% to 60% of attacks are sponsored by competitors," says Bruce Fischman, a lawyer in Miami for targets of online abuse. He says he represents a high-tech firm thrashed by blogs that were secretly funded by a rival; the parties are in talks to settle out of court.

There is probably no firm basis for these statistics, but what information this passage seems to convey is that this is not about someone like me getting upset at, say, Northwest Airlines, and writing about it. Much of the objectionable activity is strictly business. (Lyons does not, I think, necessarily speak for the magazine as a whole. David Ewart at Forbes wrote quite favorably about my own blog not long ago.)

There is one moment of high comedy in the Forbes blog articles: In the Who Is Pamela Jones? sidebar, the writer strikes a deeply conspiratorial note. (Put on your tinfoil hat for this one!)

In February an intrepid reporter, Maureen O'Gara, decided to uncloak the mystery after she found a phone number Jones had left with staff at the federal courthouse in Nevada where a related SCO suit was filed. O'Gara traced the number to an apartment in Hartsdale, N.Y., 10 miles from IBM headquarters in Armonk. O'Gara spoke to the building superintendent and later found Jones' mother in Connecticut, but she never got hold of the shy blogger herself.

The implication is supposed to be that the pseudonymous blogger obviously works for IBM in their Armonk Corporate Headquaters. As a longtime Mac user, I am about as anti-IBM as they come, and may I also point out that the Armonk school district line runs right through my yard. So I live a whole heck of a lot closer to IBM than "Pamela Jones." But more to the point, Forbes's Daniel Lyons seems deeply ignorant of the nature and geography of Westchester County: Westchester is a forest of heavy-duty corporate affiliations. Not only is Westchester fairly heavily populated, but this is the kind of place where people who run and own corporations like to live. It is also a bedroom community within commuting distance of New York City. Does Lyons have even the remotest clue how many corporate headquarters are within commuting distance of that address? And never mind that, that the address in question is in commuting distance to Madison Avenue? The whole NYC PR and advertising infrastructure? (I find it a little unsettling that a writer for The Capitalist Tool is unaware of where capitalism in the US is headquartered.) But again, this has not much to do with blogging.

Where the article is relevant to the behavior of actual blogs not run by corporate shills masquerading as bloggers is the  matter of anonymous gang attacks orchestrated by blogs and that actually cross the line into criminal behavior. I agree with him that this is a problem and have written about the subject at length in the past. It seems to me that the worst of that kind of behavior should fall under Racketeering laws. My local DA's office didn't agree, or at least declined to pursue the matter when I raised it.

The funny thing is, either Daniel Lyons is ignorant of the history and origins of the techniques he decries, or he thinks that the real problem is that the attacks are targeting businesses -- Lyons uses as an example one that sells anthrax detectors and fat substitutes -- not just individuals like, say, me. Not only do Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all link to one of the bloggers who is one of the principle architects of this kind of attack, the Forbes site even contains a review of that blogger's site in which the reviewer remarks that the worst thing about the site is that "the 'now playing' feature doesn't stream music." (There is even some circumstantial evidence that that blogger was one of the sources used for the article, unless you accept the idea of Jeff Gannon as victim, which I have a hard time with.) Face it Dan: you guys get off on conservatives on a rampage, no matter who it hurts.

I suggest Lyons do a little more digging, or, if that's not what he's into, stop trying to blame attacks by one company on another on blogs.

Oh, and by the way Dan, do you think that maybe some of those corporate shills maybe learned their tactics from the blogs Forbes's reviewers have been steering them towards?  You write:

Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.

But a few of us have seen this before. I do not disagree with your poor beleagered businessman, who cried,

"Some of these bloggers have just one goal, and that is to do damage. It's evil."

I know. I have walked in those shoes. Sometimes bad ideas evolve in parellel, but I think this one has a lineage. Go trace it. Look up, for example, the verb "to freep."

Last year, I wrote to the Wall Street Journal suggesting they cut their link to the blog I was being attacked by (an orchestrated group attack that involved, for example, death threats, threats of rape, etc.). The WSJ didn't do it because they didn't care. And the business community, given voice by Dan, now wants me to pity the poor purveyors of anthrax detectors?

If I can just deal and get on with my life, why can't corporations be expected to do likewise? I have my own tactics and strategies which seem to be pretty effective, and if corporations want to pay me, I'll let them in on the secrets. But please don't send me corporation offering eight-hundred bucks a month to suck up to them. If I choose to please corporate executives, it will be for my own reasons, not for theirs.

You corporate people keep your nasty little wars to yourselves and don't try to involve the rest of us.

(See also Xeni Jardin & friends at Boingboing. Also Cory at Boingboing.)

Conditions of Absolute Reality

InjuredIn the past three weeks of confronting the situation of the Pakistan Earthquake (admittedly, from the comfort of my own home), I have often been reminded of the opening passage of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Many evenings I have felt when I've gone to bed that I've come a little too close to those conditions of absolute reality. I am having a really hard time with Halloween, for example. Years ago, as a teacher of horror writing, I was nearly impossible to gross out. The class I taught attracted really bright early entrance students who sometimes seemed to make a sport of trying to gross me out, and instead I would say things like, "but wait, is that physically possible? I don't think so. You just can't do that with a can of hairspray."

But here I am at 43, with an 8-year-old son, completely banning anything remotely gruesome from our Halloween celebration. I would like to claim that this is just good parenting, but my aversion goes considerably beyond that. Rather my mind's eye is just too good at visualizing the absolute reality of the situation in certain parts of rural Pakistan. Bad injuries. Untreated for three weeks. No one will sleep indoors for fear of being crushed in their sleep. Aid agencies still having not arrived. When I look at those maps, I'm pretty sure that I know what I'm looking at.

But I hadn't looked at it yet.

Well, this afternoon, I was perusing certain tags in Flickr, looking for live reportage, not just redistribution of press photography. I didn't used to know what three-week-old untreated wounds look like.

Now I know that I had nothing to fear from the manufacturers of fake Halloween gore because they really had no idea, no imagination for just how bad it could be.The photographic point of view is so caring. The lens is smeared not for effect but because the photographer is out in the field under rugged conditions. And the people look so greatful because someone has finally arrived to help them.

By the conventions of blogging, I suppose I ought to link to the pictures. If you go to my Flickr page and paw through the photos of my contacts, you'll find them. But I don't want to make it easy, since they are not, shall we say, lunch safe. I am still adjusting my reality to them.

They don't tell me anything I didn't already know. Rather they point out to me the limits of my own imagination.

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

Pakistan: What happens next matters.

There's a lot of stuff I've passed on blogging lately. I just wanted to say that I am as interested as anyone else in what became of people in the path of Hurricane Wilma, the Bush administration as we know it lurching towards its unhappy ending, and whether Judy Miller keeps her job. And I have a couple of blog posts of interest to me personally on other subjects saved up for when I get a moment. (I did manage to get out a cute kid post.)

When the tsumani hit, I thought it was the disaster with the largest number of casualties in my lifetime. I looked into the matter and was deeply ashamed that I didn't even recognize the name of the Tangshan earthquake.

Mostly what I've been on about is trying somehow to convey the urgency of a situation in which over three million people are living without a roof over their heads, of whole cities with many injured without a single surgeon available to help, of winter weeks away.

The easy way out is to think that there's just nothing you can do. But that isn't the case. And yes, giving money is nice, but those red plus signs do not rain down upon the afflicted adding to their hit points allowing them to survive. The situation is much more complex than that.

And you know it, don't you?

If nothing else, bloggers can keep it on the front pages, which keeps up the stream of aid donations. But the whole surround in which two countries hold in reserve the possibility of firey death for everyone involved, i.e. a nuclear war between two heavily populated counties, and that this is the excuse of stymied relief efforts just has to be over. The degree of abandonment by the international community these people are experiencing is something that should not hapen to anyone anytime anywhere.

This isn't just about counties far away full of people you would never have met anyway. This is the modus opperandi of the 20th century right there in our faces if we care to see it. This is the Ghost of Cold Wars Past come back to haunt us.

What happens next matters. Try to save them.

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

WolframTones: The Ziporps Gets a Soundtrack

WolframTonesHere's a game for a rainy afternoon: Have your child choose a drawing that the child feels could use a sound track. In this case, my son Peter and I decided he would use a picture he draw a few days ago, a Feel Better Creature he'd drawn for a boy named Ashar in Muzaffarabad:


Peter decided that the creature was called a Ziporps. (If you like Peter's creature, there are many more at

Then go to WolframTones and open up one variety of controls or another an let the child play with it until he or she has a satisfactory soundtrack to go with the drawing. Here is what Peter came up with (and here is a longer version). This is a screen shot of what Peter did to create his composition:


About the soundtrack for his creature, Peter said,

The soundtrack would be perfect for it because the Ziporps goes like the sound of it's tail clenching onto something. The cymbal drum things sound like that. Also he's scuttle-running. His ecosystem is usually either a pond or a river. He's swimming really fast after a bunch of pond fish and ducks. he's trying to figure out where they're going. Because he knows wherever ducks are going, there's food for them and there' s food for him. He eats duck weed and tiny fishes. He's mostly an omnivore. He's a happy creature and he makes people feel better by doing clown stuff and he jumps up on rock ledges and slides down like it was just sand and it looks as if it is moving. That would really amaze someone.

Peter is 8 years old and lives in Pleasantville, NY. He is in the third grade.

Also, if your child would like to draw a picture to make a child in the area affected by the earthquake feel better, upload the picture to Flickr with the tag "earthquakefeelbettercards," and email me and I'll see that the  picture gets where where going. Ashar's dad has agreed to make sure pictures get printed out and given to children they would help.

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!

6.0 Earthquake in Pakistan

A little less than an hour ago, there was a 6.0 earthquake in Pakistan [Sunday, October 23, 2005 at 15:04:21 (UTC)] at 34.880°N, 73.030°E, about 85 miles north of Islamabad. (Here's the AP story.)

MEANWHILE, here's another interesting piece from Indian seismologist Arun Bapat, on the potential for using cell phone technology to as a warning system for precursors of big earthquakes: Cellphone can warn of earthquake.

Frog on the Window


A frog on the window by our front door, 8:45 AM, 10/23/05, Pleasantville, New York. I think it's a spring peeper. I don't know why it's on the window, except for the obvious fact thatthe house is warmer than it it outside. It's a wet, rainy moring. The current temperature is 43 °F / 6 °C.

Pakistan: lack of tentage

From the MapAction blog, David Spackman reporting from Pakistan delivers this horrificly dry passage:

Tonight we produced a map that shows the provision of tentage across the districts. These statistics (best estimates) tell us that the requirement for tents is 455,726 and tents delivered is 62,075.  A huge discrepancy and an indication of the magnitude of the task facing the relief effort.

The MapAction relief team is based in Islamabad.

Injuredaredying10/23 UPDATE from The New York Times this morning:

On Friday morning, more than 100 men, wrapped in shawls, showing the signs of 13 nights spent outside, stood politely in line for a tent. Syed Tasneem Shah said he had come here every day for the last 10 days. He had a 1-year-old baby to care for. His wife and elder daughter were dead, his mother badly wounded. "They just say, wait, it will come today, it will come tomorrow," Mr. Shah recounted. He waited another day.

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!

Quake Benefit Tonight in NYC!


Via South Asia Quake Help:

SAWCC Earthquake Relief Fundraiser
Performances & Silent Art Auction
Friday, October 21, 7pm

Asian American Writers Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th floor
(btw. 5th & 6th aves, NYC)

Please join the South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC) to help raise funds for earthquake victims in South Asia. 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Edhi Foundation and to community members giving direct aid at the grassroots level. Please bring in-kind donations of painkillers, blankets, and warm clothing. Home-made food will be served.

For more information on in-kind donations:


  • Musical Guest: Falu - "Hidden Gem" hot pick in Pop Montreal Festival, September 2005
  • Performances by: Alka Bhargava, Edward Garcia, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Tahani Salah, Suneet Sethi, Saba Waheed, Kron Vollmer
  • Visual Art for auction donated by: Jaishri Abichandani, Amanda Cartagena, Chitra Ganesh, Swati Khurana, Maxwell Fine Arts, Saeed Rahman, Chamindika Wanduragala

Directions to Asian American Writers' Workshop
N, R, Q, W, F, B, D, V, 1, 2, 3, 9 to 34th Street; 4, 5, 6 trains to 33rd Street

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.

Faces from a Remote Village in Kashmir


This photo, uploaded to Flickr in March, conveys a wonderful variation of personality among children in a remote village of Kashmir. The photographer writes:

These kids raced after our vehicle as we drove through their village in Kashmir, shouting with excitement. They exploded with laughter after being photographed.

These are the kind of people we should be thinking about when we hear about aid workers not yet having reached remote villages by now, twelve days after the earthquake.

Did that building behind them survive? Did they? Are they still waiting for help?

PS to Bloggers: OK. I would also like to see Karl Rove rot in jail. But aren't there more important things to blog about just now?

South Asia Quake Help has Set Up an SMS Line

South Asia Quake Help has set up a blog that accepts posts from SMS phones. (For my futher thoughts on the potential of this, listen to my BBC interview aired this afternoon.)

We now have updates via SMS on a new blog, Anyone can post there. That means you.

To post to this blog, at present, you will need a phone that can send SMSes (text messages) to an email address. Send your updates to sms2blog AT gmail DOT com

We're working on a method by which you will be able to send updates to a cellphone number. We hope to have a number from Pakistan to which you can send your messages to be relayed to this blog.

Anyone who'd like to volunteer the use of their phone number for this purpose, please email quakehelp AT gmail DOT com.

A little later they posted this heartening update:

. . . we now have a cellphone number in place in Pakistan. So, to send messages that will appear on,

You can mail sms2blog AT gmail DOT com


You can send an SMS to Imran Hashmi at +923008568418.

Please give your location and name in your message.

MEANWHILE, this is the letter I sent to the Public Editor at the New York Times this morning:

Dear Byron Calame:

This morning the BBC reports, "The UN says the Asia quake aid situation is worse than last December's tsunami and calls for a massive airlift." But the entire matter has fallen completely off the front page of the New York Times website. To scan down the NYT front page just now is to see a world in which the earthquake never happened.

Surely, the Times is aware of the severity of the situation? Some crucial line of communication between the NYT and the public is broken here. Please fix it.


Kathryn Cramer

NYT UPDATE 10/21/05: This is a little more like it!


The story has since allen off the front page of the NYT web edition, butis featured prominently on the newstand print edition.

Pakistan: "Not Enough Tents in the World"

The Daily Times in Pakistan has this completely boggling line in the leadup to one of its articles:

UN says not enough tents in the world for survivors

Here's a screen shot of the page so you can get the full flavor:


In some of these places, it gets cold at night at this time of year. People's houses were destroyed; they have only the clothes on their backs. I have been looking at's situation map dated yesterday and while it provides useful informtaion, what I find most notable is what isn't there. There is much too little information for the population density.

This morning, there were two aftershocks (see also this link) in the area of Allai Tehsil, where a Mapaction map says that there are 44 villages; one aftershock measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, the other 5.8, (not to mention a 5.2 that I just noticed a few miles away). South Asian Media Net has a chilling story entitled All roads to Balakot, what of the others. It discusses the area I just mentioned:

Pasho, Tandool, Jambera, Gateela, Bathkool and Banna areas in Allai tehsil were not approached by the rescuers and relief organizations.

You've probably never heard of Allai Tehsil. Neither had I. Except I've been looking at a small area of aftershocks I've come to refer to as the "Eggtooth Quadrant." And I wanted to know whether the area was inhabited and what the population density is/was. I call it that because watching the aftershocks come in on the USGS list is like watching a baby chick trying to peck its way out of an egg. As I remarked on October 9th, "It's like a set-up for a Japanese monster movie: what ever's in there has got an awfully big egg tooth!" At the time I wrote that, there had been 19 earthquakes in a fairly small area. As I write this, there have been twenty-nine aftershocks in the quadrant defined by the coordinates 34.865, 72.974), (34.865,73.302), (34.56, 72.974), (34.56, 73,302); 26 of which are 5.0 and up, the largest at 6.3.


This screen shot doesn't show scale, but some of these epicenters are walking-distance apart. Purple = 4.0 - 4.9; turquoise = 5.0 - 5.9; blue (1L) is 6.0 - 6., in this case a 6.3. The brown marker is a village or town I can see on the satellite image. I don't have a name. On the population map I'm looking at, Allai Tehsil (44 villages ) is about where marker 17 is [Magnitude 5.6 Date-Time Wednesday, October 19, 2005 at 03:16:21 (UTC)]

I have yet to see an earthquake damage map that takes these aftershocks into account. Because of lack of communications, it is hard to know whet the effect is there: At very least, these aftershocks have been discouraging people from occupying what buildings remained standing after the big quake; this in a situation where there is little in the way of alternative shelter and at least in some parts no aid is flowing in, meaning few if any tents. Also, this area  grades upwards into the mountains. In a piece I blogged a while back, Indian seismologist Arun Bapat remarks, "Seismic vibrations have more amplitude at higher elevations." What can this mean about the impact of these aftershocks on the local population?

MEANWHILE, from the areas with which it is possible to be in contact, I have received a set of photos from The Citizens Foundation, which I have postd on my Flickr account.

Also, from Rehan of Super Technologies Inc., Pensacola, Florida, I received the following note:

We have created a small portal for interconnecting different organisations who are trying to help in Pakistan to different people, Please have a look at it, and let others  know about it.

Again the aim is to be more organised using the net and telephony as much as we  can. site is and a tiki is on

It has been 3 days only since we started it so its not really the best, but we are trying our best and are open to suggestions.

Today, the official death toll has risen to 79,000. I expect it to go much higher, given the extent to which affected areas have not yet been reached and the living conditions of the survivors. Think about it: Not enough tents in the world.

Meanwhile, the entire matter has fallen almost completely off the front page of the New York Times website. To scan down their front page just now is to see a world in which the earthquake never happened. There is a tiny squib about "Pride and Politics After Quake." I missed it the first time through.

10/20 UPDATE: From the front page of the BBC site (which hasn't forgotten that there was an earthquake):


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.