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Rhombic Triacontahedron

5:02 pm PHT

I’ve mentioned in passing here on this blog that my favorite number is the golden ratio. If you know me, this should not be surprising at all. Two of my favorite school subjects are math and art after all, and aside from fractals (which I also really love), the golden ratio is a concept that straddles both fields, having numerous interesting mathematical properties and being used as an aesthetically pleasing proportion in the arts and architecture. I’m quite sure that I am far from alone in having the golden ratio as their favorite number.

While fractals and the golden ratio provide countless beautiful geometric figures and shapes, I’ve never really had one that I can consider as my most favorite shape. There are several fractals that I like and two of them are the famous Mandelbrot set and the Heighway dragon curve. And the golden ratio has many associated shapes, the golden spiral being the most well-known.

 A rhombic triacontahedron.

Given the many beautiful shapes available, it was only late last year that I finally selected one geometric shape as my most favorite: the rhombic triacontahedron (shown above). This is a three-dimensional, 30-sided ("triaconta-”) convex polyhedron (”-hedron”) having identical rhombuses ("rhombic”) as its faces. But what’s interesting is that all of these 30 rhombuses are golden rhombuses, that is, their two diagonals are in the golden ratio.

 A golden rhombus.

I have to admit with some embarrassment that it was only last year that I became aware of this polyhedron and its numerous connections to the golden ratio. (It’s not just the rhombuses.) I’ve known for quite a while now that the more familiar icosahedron is connected to the golden ratio: if you arrange three golden rectangles such that they are intersecting with their centers coincident and mutually perpendicular to each other, their combined 12 corners coincide with the vertices of the icosahedron. (I actually used this knowledge to create a stable stellated icosahedron as a Christmas lantern back in high school.) The dodecahedron, being the dual of the icosahedron and having regular pentagons as its faces, is also connected to the golden ratio: the ratio of a pentagon’s edge to its diagonal is golden. And if you dually combine the icosahedron and the dodecahedron such that their edges intersect, their combined vertices are the vertices of the rhombic triacontahedron. This also means that the icosahedron’s and dodecahedron’s edges, being coincident with with the diagonals of the golden rhombuses, are in a golden ratio. Not only that, but various orthogonal projections of this remarkable polyhedra also contain various lengths in a golden ratio.

 An icosahedron and a dodecahedron embedded in the rhombic triacontahedron.

 The golden ratio found in the 6-symmetry orthogonal projection of the rhombic triacontahedron.

It’s therefore no surprise that I’ve selected the rhombic triacontahedron as my favorite shape. It incorporates the golden ratio, my favorite number, in numerous fascinating ways, much like the way the golden ratio itself appears in many unexpected and amazing places.

You can explore this shape a bit by checking out this simple web app that I designed to help me create most of the illustrations on this blog post.

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Visiting Rizal’s Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld

1:04 pm PHT

It’s common knowledge among educated Filipinos that José Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, studied ophthalmology and wrote his famous subversive novels Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo in Europe. Rizal stayed in various cities, such as Madrid, Paris, and Berlin, but out of all these places, what really sticks in my mind are Heidelberg, Germany and the nearby town of Wilhelmsfeld. You might say that this is probably due to his poem To the Flowers of Heidelberg, but the more accurate reason is that in researching for places to feature on Vista Pinas, my virtual travel blog, I became quite familiar with the various Rizal-related places in Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld, thanks to the extensive information posted online by travelers and by the Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg chapter of Knights of Rizal. Two such places that I’ve already featured are José-Rizal-Straße and Rizal Park, both in Wilhelmsfeld.

In writing about those places for Vista Pinas, I resigned myself to the reality that I most probably would not be able to visit them because opportunities for international travel is limited, I already have a bucket list of places that I really want to visit, and Heidelberg is quite out of the way from the places on that list. So imagine my ears really perking up when my German colleague told me in Frankfurt (when I was there for my company’s staff meetings) that Heidelberg was only an hour away by train when I asked him for recommendations of places to see in and around Frankfurt. Of course, I could not let the opportunity to see the places where José Rizal stayed pass me by.

Fortunately, I previously allotted myself a full free day during my trip for sightseeing and so reserved that for a day visit to Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld. I did extensive research looking up train and bus timetables and plotting Rizal sites on my map. I also read up on non-Rizal sites in Heidelberg since the city is a popular tourist destination in itself (which I’ll talk about in separate post). So after having lunch on August 19, I found myself on a regional train that left Frankfurt and was zipping through the German countryside towards the Neckar River, where Heidelberg stands.

 View of Heidelberg Castle from the city’s Old Bridge


After arriving at Heidelberg’s central train station, I immediately walked to the main bus station (passing by one of the marked Rizal’s sites along Bergheimer Straße) and hopped on a bus going to the mountain town of Wilhelmsfeld. The ride took around 30 minutes and that amazed me because while Rizal studied ophthalmology at the University of Heidelberg, he stayed at the house of Pastor Karl Ullmer in Wilhelmsfeld. There were no buses at that time and so Rizal took a few hours each school day to walk the distance to and from Heidelberg. No doubt Rizal found the near-daily walk through the woods conducive to reflecting on the Philippines and his novel Noli Me Tángere, which he finished during his stay in Wilhelmsfeld.

I arrived in Wilhelmsfeld and alighted in front of the town hall. I was immediately surprised to see a flag of the Philippines flying proudly beside the flag of Wilhelmsfeld. And there was a signpost pointing in the direction of Calamba, Rizal’s birthplace, with the distance posted as 10,361 kilometers. I only realized then that Wilhelmsfeld is a sister city of Calamba.

I then walked to Rizal Park along Karl-Ullmer-Weg, a footpath named in honor of Pastor Ullmer, Rizal’s gracious host in Wilhelmsfeld. When I arrived at the park, I almost didn’t recognize it because it looked totally different from the photos I’ve seen online (like this one). The park apparently was renovated sometime in the last couple or so years and gone were the trees that provided shade, although there were new tree saplings planted around the area. It would be interesting to see how the park would look in the future when the trees have fully grown. But the larger-than-life statue of a pensive-looking Rizal is still there on the original hexagonal fountain area as are the busts (though moved from their original spots) of Ullmer, Becker, Virchow, and Blumentritt, friends and mentors of Rizal.

After visiting the park, I trudged north and arrived at José-Rizal-Straße, specifically at the house of Pastor Karl Ullmer, where Rizal stayed. The house can’t be missed because on the fence there’s a street sign naming Rizal’s street and a National Historical Commission of the Philippines marker below it. The black granite marker (which replaced the original steel plaque) declares that the house was where Rizal finished his novel. A fountain that used to sit in the residence’s garden was later donated to the Philippines and it can now be found at Rizal Park in Manila.


I left Wilhelmsfeld and took another bus back to Heidelberg. There I did some sightseeing around the city and also visited the other marked Rizal site, and this is the apartment at the former address of Ludwigsplatz 12 where Rizal resided before staying with Pastor Ullmer. Of course the actual apartment no longer exists and the historical marker just marks the site.

As I mentioned before, I also passed by the marked site at Bergheimer Straße 20 before going to Wilhelmsfeld. This site was where the University Eye Clinic used to be and where Rizal studied ophthalmology under the mentorship of Professor Otto Becker. He used his knowledge to cure his mother’s eye disease when he went back to the Philippines.

There is another Rizal-dedicated site in Heidelberg and this is Rizal-Ufer, a long riverside footpath located in western Heidelberg. I planned to visit it and take a photo of the plaque commemorating Rizal but unfortunately, it was too far away and I no longer had enough time to go there before sunset after all of the sightseeing I did around Heidelberg’s Altstadt (Old Town) district.

Despite that minor snag, I consider my trip to Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld to be a success. I finally saw for myself the places where Rizal stayed and which I had only previously written about. Immersing myself in Philippine history combined with seeing old German architecture and culture was definitely one of the my biggest highlights of 2016 (next to my career change, of course  :)).

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Three-Month Essay

10:30 am PHT

Unless you didn’t pay attention, you should know by now that I left my 12-year job at Canon and started working for Cadasta since March. The update of my profile on Facebook and LinkedIn should have made that abundantly clear. And it should also be obvious that this career shift was what I alluded to in my post last year, though I didn’t expect back then that I would eventually end up where I am now.

In my previous work, new employees are requested to provide an essay describing their experiences with the company after being with it for three months. Cadasta does not request something similar so I decided to post my three-month essay here in my blog instead.

But before I share my thoughts on the past few months, let’s backtrack to late last year. I had actually set my sights on joining a different company whose office was closer to home, where the line of work was similar to my previous job, and where company policies were vastly more relaxed. I had even gone on an initial interview with my potential boss with the mutual understanding that we would eventually work with each other—the salary being the only negotiating point. Unfortunately, business conditions with that company’s parent corporation prevented us from inking the deal.

As many people say, when a door closes, a window opens. And what an opening that was. A friend of mine shared that Cadasta had a couple of slots for a remote web developer position, which greatly appealed to me. While I didn’t think that I had a good shot because I didn’t have the relevant experience in the major technologies used by the company, I nevertheless grabbed the opportunity. Fortunately, I passed the general and technical interviews and was invited in December to join Cadasta, besting over a hundred other applicants. (I later learned that it also helped that I came from a developing country as Cadasta values diversity, but I was assured that I got in primarily on merit.)

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So how is working for Cadasta? I will admit: it is really cool. I can work wherever I want (or at least where there’s decent Internet access) and whenever I want, just as long as I get the job done and provide value to the company. I get to contribute to open source software, something which I really appreciate, and the nature of working with a diverse team of people scattered in different timezones is challenging yet refreshing. If I’m feeling sleepy, I can take a quick siesta without feeling guilty and I can take a half-day off without needing to get prior approval. Moreover, receiving a very competitive salary is the icing on the cake.

Comparing the working environment between the previous and current job is like night and day. Not that working at Canon was a nightmare—I wouldn’t have stayed there for 12 years if that were the case. My work there was intellectually stimulating and fulfilling. I got to learn a lot and was able to impart my knowledge to other people. My superiors were all very supportive. And my colleagues were some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of spending most of my day with. The difference is not between bad and good, but rather like the difference between black and white.

For instance, many friends were surprised to learn that smartphones are strictly prohibited in my previous office and that Internet access is allowed only in limited instances. Being an R&D subsidiary and developing technologies that would provide competitive advantages in the consumer and enterprise market years in the future, my previous company understandably takes information security very seriously. Technical and policy measures, such as NDAs, were put in place in order to prevent leakage of trade secrets and other confidential intellectual property. (This led to in-jokes on social media where we used references like “Company Confidential” when talking about our employer.) Contrast that with Cadasta where the cloud platform we are creating is open source and our development is visible to everyone through GitHub.

As another example, I mentioned that I can now take leaves without needing explicit approval (we just use sensible judgment to warn our colleagues ahead of time and avoid inconvenience). In my previous work, there are very elaborate leave approval policies and procedures. And even if you comply with them, it is not a guarantee that your leave will be approved, something that a friend of mine bitterly learned and eventually led to his resignation. I myself had to jump through multiple hoops (i.e., levels of approval) in order for my London trip to push through.

% make

Warning: This post becomes quite a bit technical from here on out.

Being a programming geek, what can I say about being a developer at Cadasta? Well, it’s also vastly different from what I’m used to. In my previous work, I was a hardware engineer. So I used specific languages, like VHDL for designing hardware components, and e for testing those designs. We also used Perl for scripting purposes. Outside of work, I also use Perl as my general-purpose programming language of choice and I do front-end web development using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.

For Cadasta’s cloud platform, we are developing it in Django which uses Python as its programming language. Before Cadasta, I have zero experience with Django (though I experimented with a different, Perl-based web framework before) and have never really programmed in Python. I once customized (read: mangled) a Python script to produce a GPS-driven animation for an OpenStreeMap event in 2010, but that was the extent of my Python experience and I didn’t really study the language—only learning enough of it to be able hack the script to do what I want.

Python is actually quite a big contrast from Perl. Perl famously has the motto “There’s more than one way to do it” (lovingly abbreviated as “TMTOWTDI”), while the Zen of Python states: “There should be one—and preferably only one—obvious way to do it.” Nevertheless, I’ve grown to love programming in Python and I definitely believe that being exposed to Perl and Python with their contrasting philosophies makes me a better developer. (Cue in the Lisp/Haskell/Erlang geeks.)

As for Django, I am amazed at how powerful, yet very customizable, it is. I’m actually now considering using it for developing future websites. Its object-relational mapping (ORM) is the best I’ve seen (though I haven’t really seen a lot), and I like how the platform provides an optional admin interface that let’s you quickly populate and edit the tailored content for your website, letting you put it up quick and easy.

% printenv

In my previous work, we use an in-house proprietary version control system for holding all of our source code. We also access a network of servers where we would run all of our software. Contrast that with Cadasta where we use Git via GitHub for version control, and a virtual environment on our own computers that was setup using Vagrant+Ansible. (The VM taxes my laptop, so I’m planning to get a new one soon.) The only major similarity between my two jobs is that the development OS is Linux. Of the other Cadasta technology choices, I’ve only ever used Git/GitHub so it was not a total start from scratch for me. (BTW, I really, really love Git. I remember seeing a presentation explaining how Git works from way back and I instantly loved its overall elegant design.)

Working with a distributed development team scattered all over the world presents some challenges. (Of course.) Unlike in my previous work (and in most other companies) where you can turn to the person next to you to ask a question, you can’t do that in Cadasta. So we work asynchronously and use Slack as our primary collaboration and communications tool and Trello for tracking non-development issues and tasks.

The development team also has a weekly online meeting (using Zoom) to help keep us all on the same page. That obviously presents timezone challenges. In our current meeting schedule, I attend the meetings at night while those on the west coast of the United States wake up early in the morning. Being in a tropical country, I never had to worry about daylight saving time, but now I have to be aware of DST switches in Australia, Europe and North America. Aside from the weekly meetings, the whole staff also has a weekly pair-call system where we get randomly paired-up each week in order to have a half-hour online chit-chat about anything. This is to help us get to know each other in lieu of the proverbial water cooler talk.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to professionally for the past three and a half months. I’m quite happy having the opportunity to contribute to Cadasta’s success and I look forward to finally meeting the rest of the staff—I’ve met our CTO, Kate, through OpenStreetMap before (she’s the current Chair of the OSM Foundation and former Executive Director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)—when we have our staff retreat in Germany this August. (Hopefully I won’t have any problems in getting a Schengen visa.)  :-)

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One Gross Months of Existence (Or Why Continue Blogging?)

11:43 pm PHT

On this day, one hundred and forty-four (a.k.a. one gross) months ago, I published the very first post on this blog, marking my official entry into the blogosphere.

While it might be accurate to say that the present state of my blog is moribund because I have written only 4 posts in the past 2 years, I still consider vaes9 to be a living part of my online presence—a personal space where I am free to say what I want without accepting some social network’s terms of use or granting a commercial company an irrevocable license to use my content as it sees fit. In fact, I have recently moved the blog to its own domain name,, after staying on for the past 10 years and on before that.

I’ll freely admit that ever since I became active on Facebook and previously with Plurk, and after I got more involved with offline activities in the local Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap communities, my personal blogging took a hit. I used to be able to write multiple entries in a month. Now, I am posting articles hundreds of days in between. There’s only so much I can do with my limited time after all. And with the ease of posting on mobile Facebook with its ready audience on hand to like your written stream of consciousness, crafting a fine blog article is a chore in comparison. (I actually used to post entries on my blog like how I would nowadays post on Facebook. Case in point: this Twitter-length blog post to celebrate this blog’s first anniversary.)

Why continue blogging? Why not preserve this blog as a digital archive of a bygone era, when blogs were the kings of the Web and social media was not yet mainstream? Well, aside from the aforementioned freedom from commercial interests, I think blogs are still the proper media for publishing long-form content—the type of writing where you think your thoughts through, where you do prior research, and where you polish your text as if you are writing for a magazine or a newspaper column. My philosophy is thus: social networks are reserved for the viral and mundane, while blogs are for the considered and profound.

Now, the only problem is finding the time to write.

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Fighting Inertia

6:15 pm PHT

Being an introvert and with a great deal of introspection, I know myself well enough to describe myself as an inertial person. That is, I don’t really like drastic changes. I don’t like moving around. I take comfort in the familiar and the routine. I rarely engage in new experiences unless the benefits are worth my while. This is especially true when it comes to major life decisions. I will not uproot my life unless the need for change is great and beneficial.

So now I am approaching a big fork in the road.

The change in direction was a long time coming. I suspected of it a few years ago, but events earlier this year helped me make a decision. Fortuitous entreaties from down south cemented the choice. If things go as planned, by the end of the year, I will be actualizing one of those aforementioned major life decisions.

I will not be elaborating on the decision here because I know that some people affected will be caught off-guard. And the specifics do not matter now in this space. What matters for me right now is that I put in writing the feelings and emotions that goes with the decision. It’s been more than a decade since I last had a comparable change, and the thought of abandoning what is currently familiar and replacing it with something unknown gives me anxiety and apprehension, but anticipation as well. Doubts still linger like moths around a lamppost, but every consequential step towards the fork in the road (like writing this entry) firms my resolve.

I feel a hint of bitterness and disappointment. There is also a tinge of regret because the change could have come sooner had some people been more forthcoming. Then again, the current circumstances does feel like a blessing in disguise and the timing could hardly be better. I just need to work up the determination to prepare for the change and make the transition smooth.

I am an inertial person, but enough force has been applied. There is no turning back.

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Experiencing British Theater in Manila instead of in London

12:15 am PHT

Act I: The London Non-Experience

One of my regrets during my trip to London was that I wasn’t able to experience British theater. As you may know, West End is the London counterpart of New York’s Broadway and there are usually around 40 productions ongoing at any given time. My not seeing any of them was not for lack of trying though.

When I was in London, I checked out the various theater guides and visited online review sites to decide what to see. I really wanted to watch The Book of Mormon, the award-winning satirical comedy musical from the creators of South Park, but their least expensive ticket was a whopping £37.50 (around 2,700 pesos)! In fact, the West End musicals were the most expensive with most having £20-tickets as their most affordable. So I settled with watching a regular play instead where the least expensive tickets cost around £10.

After checking out the reviews, I settled on The Crucible, a Tony Award–winning American play starring Richard Armitage, which you may know as the bloke who plays Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit film series, in the leading role. So I went on a Wednesday evening to The Old Vic theater near the Waterloo Station to catch the 7:30pm show. Naïve that I was, I expected to be able to buy a ticket at the venue but I ended up queuing instead for the ticket returns. Of course, nobody showed up to return bought tickets. It seems I underestimated the demand for British theater and I guess I should have reserved a ticket weeks in advance.

Act II: Coriolanus at Greenbelt

Surprisingly, I was able experience British theater here in Metro Manila instead. The British Embassy kicked off their GREAT (as in “Great Britain”) tourism campaign by screening a recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a tragedy about the Roman general Caius Martius Coriolanus, last September 5 and 6 at Greenbelt 3. Starring Tom Hiddleston, which you may know as the bloke who plays Loki in Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers films, in the titular role, the production was staged at the Donmar Warehouse theatre from late 2013 to early 2014. During the January 30 show, National Theatre Live broadcast the performance live to cinemas, theaters, and arts centers all over the world. It was the recording of that live broadcast that was screened at Greenbelt.

I’m not really familiar with Shakespeare’s works and Coriolanus is one of the lesser-known tragedies of the English playwright, but I was already familiar with the play having seen the 2011 film adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes, which you may know as the bloke who played Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. Fiennes portrayed the titular Roman general and also directed the movie, his first. The play’s political and fascist themes were wonderfully adapted to the modern-day world and the film is the best direct film adaptation of Shakespeare that I have ever seen.

Because I was already familiar with the material and I wanted to compare the film and the play, and because I wanted to see Tom Hiddleston do a serious role, I watched the 10:00pm screening of the play last September 6, the very last show.

My verdict? I love it!

The Donmar Warehouse, where the play was staged, is a small 251-seat theater in London that was originally a warehouse (hence the name) and provides an intimate viewing experience for the theater-goer. In lieu of elaborate Roman-era sets, the producers of the Coriolanus opted to go with a minimalist design using only a ladder, several chairs, a podium, painted squares on the floor, and projected graffiti art to provide the setting. The actors also wore Roman-inspired modern costumes and the production relied on electronic synthesized music during scene transitions. The modern-minimalist design served to highlight the acting and dialogue and it was quite effective.

Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the unsympathetic Roman general was visceral and I consider his performance to be better than that of Ralph Fiennes’. I also have to give props to Deborah Findlay, who plays Voluminia, the proud mother of Coriolanus. She practically stole every scene she was in.

I was actually amused that the screening had a real 15-minute intermission between the 2 acts to allow the audience to exercise their legs and go to the comfort room. The screening was also enhanced with behind-the-scenes interviews of the cast and crew before the play started, and an interview with the director, Josie Rourke, prior to the second act.

Watching the play cost me 400 pesos and it lasted three hours but it was definitely time and money well-spent. I actually find the National Theatre Live’s concept of broadcasting British productions live to the world a great use of modern technology in promoting the arts. I hope that Coriolanus will just be the start here in the Philippines and that next time will be an actual live broadcast and not just a recording. After all, if I couldn’t experience British theater in the United Kingdom, seeing them here in Manila is the next best thing.  :)

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Maps and Ale at OpenStreetMap’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in London

11:58 pm PHT

As I mentioned in my previous post, aside from presenting at Wikimania 2014 about various collaborations between the Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap communities, I was also able to attend the London celebration of OpenStreetMap’s 10th anniversary. This was held in traditional fashion in an English pub. In the Philippines, social meetups are often held in American-style cafes like Starbucks; but in the United Kingdom, they are held in pubs. The London OSM community have regular fortnightly meetups usually held in pubs, and the 10th anniversary celebration was no different. So even though I’m not big on alcohol, I was pretty excited to go to a pub and meet like-minded map geeks.  :)

For the anniversary party, the chosen pub was The Artillery Arms, a cozy corner establishment along Bunhill Row selected for its proximity to the Wikimania 2014 venue. So after the conference sessions were done for the day and I have had a light dinner, I, Tim, and a few other OSM people who attended Wikimania trooped north a few blocks to the pub where we were greeted with a noisy group of people from both the OSM and Wikimedia communities.

I was quite surprised to see Frederik Ramm from the German OSM community fly in to attend the festivities. I was also able to meet Grant Slater, one of the sysads that help maintain the OSM servers. Frederik and Grant were on a table conversing with Luis Villa, the Deputy General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Katie, my Wikimania-OSM buddy. Seeing Luis at the pub and having an interest in OSM was surprising for me, but it turned out that Luis participated in the creation of the Open Database License, of which OpenStreetMap was the impetus. Joel Aldor, a fellow Wikimedia Philippines member, also attended the party and he talked with some people there about the plan to eventually incorporate OpenStreetMap into the Philippine Cultural Heritage Mapping project that Wikimedia Philippines is doing.

I couldn’t visit an English pub and not have something to drink, so I ordered a pint of London Pride, the premiere brew of Fuller’s. As I’ve said, I don’t drink much so I couldn’t say if the ale was good or not, but it went down well and I got a nice little buzz when I finished it over geeky map discussions with Katie and Tim. I forgot what we talked about but I think it involved Wikidata, which Katie is working on, and the Wikimedia OSM tile servers, which Tim was helping with.

And that was how I capped off my celebration OpenStreetMap’s 10th anniversary: with a traditional pub meetup/party in London, the birthplace of OSM.  :D

Of course being a London event, Harry has his own writeup of the anniversary festivities. Nice to finally meet you, Harry!

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Presenting about Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap at Wikimania 2014

3:51 am PHT

Harry Wood, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Many of my friends and colleagues know that I spend much of my free time contributing to OpenStreetMap and to the Wikimedia projects, of which Wikipedia is the most famous. I get a real sense of fulfilment in knowing that my voluntary work—whether online by contributing freely-licensed geographical data or encyclopedic content and media, or offline by organizing events, running workshops, or giving presentations—provides a tangible benefit to the whole world.

So, it was a really amazing opportunity that I got to celebrate an important event in each project at the same time in the beautiful city of London earlier this month. First was Wikimania, the annual international conference for the Wikimedia movement. And second was the tenth anniversary of OpenStreetMap. It’s a fortuitous coincidence that both events happened on the same weekend and that Wikimania was held in London, the very same city where OpenStreetMap was born.

Fortunately, my Wikimania presentation submission was accepted and so it was that I found myself in front of the Fountain Room at the Barbican Centre on the morning of August 9 talking to packed room about the two open-content projects that I am most passionate about. I have been to two previous Wikimanias (2011 in Haifa and 2013 in Hong Kong) but this was the first time that I became a speaker instead of just an attendee.

My presentation tackled the history, status, and challenges of collaborations between Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap. Both projects have many similarities and it is a fact that OpenStreetMap was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and it is not unusual that OpenStreetMap is often introduced as “Wikipedia for maps”. It is therefore no surprise that there is a lot of interaction between the two projects, ranging from enhancing Wikipedia articles with dynamic maps sourced from OpenStreetMap to a joint activity between Wikimedia Indonesia and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team to map and write articles about Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo. Of course, as with many other collaborations, there are challenges and problems encountered. The difficulty in further collaborations between OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia (namely, sharing of geodata) is mainly related to the incompatible licensing and legal norms adopted by the two projects.

I think my presentation was well-received because a few people approached me afterwards saying that they liked my presentation. Harry Wood, a prominent member of the OpenStreetMap community in the United Kingdom, stated that I did a great job during the Q&A, while Luis Villa, the Deputy General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, told me that he enjoyed listening to my talk—which was really great because I took it that I didn’t mess up the legal points during my talk.  :)

Throughout the conference and during the OSM 10th birthday party in a nearby pub (this deserves a separate blog post), I got to meet a lot of people from the OpenStreetMap community in the UK and elsewhere—many for the first time and some again from past events. Among the people who are also active in Wikimedia were Katie (User:Aude) from the US (currently residing in Germany), a lady hacker whom I’ve met several times already; Tim (User:Kolossos) from Germany and Liang (User:Shangkuanlc) from Taiwan, both of whom I ate noodles with last year in Hong Kong; Holger from Sweden, whom I first met at the OSM Mapping Party in Haifa; Susanna from Finland, who is spearheading Wikimap (aka the maps with a time slider); and Andy (User:Pigsonthewing) from the UK, whom I met for the first time and who gave a presentation after me introducing OpenStreetMap and proposing tools to automatically add links between Wikipedia articles and OpenStreetMap objects. Other members of the OSM community that I met for the first time were Harry (whom I mentioned above); Jerry (User:SK53) from the East Midlands community; Grant Slater, OSM sysad extraordinaire; and Frederik Ramm, arguably the most vocal OSM contributor from Germany. There were a few other people I’ve met but I already forgot their names (sorry!). All in all, I had a really great time chatting with these people and learning what they were up to and what activities they were pursuing.

I would like to give my sincere gratitude to the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimania 2014 Scholarship Committee for selecting me as one of the travel scholarship recipients. I wouldn’t have been able to come to London without it, and I wouldn’t have had the amazing experience of celebrating and sharing my passion for OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia with other like-minded people.  :D

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Finding Heritage in a Box

4:07 am PHT

Yesterday, I found myself in heart of Quiapo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Using OpenStreetMap for Disaster Risk Reduction

3:03 am PHT

 Facade of the Guagua Municipal Hall

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

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

The Need for Disaster Risk Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

The ESSC-OSMPH Pampanga Trainings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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