Reloaded Blog

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Camping in SweetWaters

Tonight I am staying at the SweetWaters Tented Camps ( these are first grade tents with running water and furniture) in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy on the Laikipia Plateau, nestled between Mt. Kenya and the Abderdares.

The conservancy houses orphaned/rescued chimpanzees from Congo, Cameroon and other parts of central and westerm Africa. It was founded by Jane Goodall. There are also breeding populations of Black and White Rhinos, various other rare herbivores are also conserved. I got to pet and feed sugarcane to a tamed black rhino called "Morani". Here you can just sit outside in the dark with a small ditch separating you from the animals at the water hole, it is a great experience indeed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Watching Elephants from TreeTops

After all the excitement of last week I am relaxing this weekend in the Aberdares, watching elephants and buffaloes from the windows of the wooden lodge at TreeTops. We also went for a game drive but visibility hampered by the dense thicket in the park. Stay in the hotel , up all night spotting game and chatting with people is more fun.

I did a fair bit of chatting last Friday as well doing an interview with Bertha from Nairobi Star about growing up and education in Kenya and life afterwards. I demonstrated the the time based refugee tracking in WorldWind at UNHCR-Somalia which happens to be in the same building as Nairobi Star.

Friday, November 23, 2007

NASA and its value to the people

Since its inception NASA has tried to justify its raison d'etre, in the beginning it was the space race with the Soviets, but with the warming up of the cold war that incentive has evaporated. These days the public want real deliverables from NASA and the perception is that it is over-funded and under-performing. This is where NASA needs to communicate to the populace how it will directly benefit them much like the national education (NASA has much to educate people about) and health agencies (Space observations can track pollution levels) . This article brings out the discrepancy between people's perception of NASA funding and the reality.

"In a survey ... NASA’s allocation, on average, was estimated to be approximately 24% of the national budget (the NASA allocation in 2007 was approximately 0.58% of the budget.)"

Misconceptions indeed ....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Visiting FAO-SWALIM, UNHCR-Somalia and Wananchi Online

I set myself up for a busy day on Tuesday the 20th. Running around Nairobi all day and visiting various contacts Maurizio had dug up. I also had to get to Loita house by 6:00 pm for a talk to SkunkWorks, a Nairobi gathering of techies.

First visit to FAO-SWALIM was fruitful, Craig was eager to embrace the OpenSource ideas and spend their limited budgets on setting up infrastructure in Kenya and capability development rather than on expensive software license purchases. They also have a lot of satellite and thematic data to share and are taking steps towards making it publicly available.

Next I went to UNHCR office for Somalia, John Marinos was trying to publish the data peace keeping, protection forces and aid agencies gather on displaced populations to Google Earth. A small bug in GE due to the asymmetry of KML import and output was frustrating his efforts. This bug is basically discarding the thematic palette information for KML icons when multiple KMZ's are being aggregated. So I had to script the aggregation myself and send him a master KML which can be kept updated with monthly data, ultimately I hope the database will be able to automatically generate proper KML's for distribution. These KML's had folder based time-tags, so I went ahead and extended the WorldWind KML Parser to respect these. Now the TimeController can be use to play through series and fully appreciate the grim reality of life in Somalia. I will try to add a time slider as soon as possible.

The final meeting was at Loita House - Wananchi Online. A selection of SkunkWorks members turned up, my talk on satellite sensors - SAR and Optical went without a hitch. People really perked up when I started demonstrating WorldWind. Lots of questions arose on performance in low bandwidth, age of data, data costs, methods for acquiring street data and building heights: there seems to a lot of need in Kenya for base mapping data and few very expensive sources.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Open Source SAR Analysis - Story of RAT

I have a few more minutes at the airport, the flight is delayed. This is a good time as any to announce that now I am an official RAT - Radar Toolkit developer with commit access to the berlios svn. My contributions so far are only in the "IO" segment, ALOS-PALSAR CEOS, TerraSAR-X COSAR and XML metadata loaders. I am hoping to contribute some dual-polarimetry analysis tools as my skills develop.

SAR is a very specialized sensor without wide spread application, as such good SAR programs are few and far between. Most so called commercial packages are half-hearted commercialization attempts from university research groups. RAT is a robust open-source alternative chiefly developed by the enthusiastic Andreas Reigber at the Technical University of Berlin. IDL is the language of choice for these folk, it is similar to Matlab, high-level and and mainly procedural. Obejct and events support are sort of patched on. Other attempts at similar toolkits have been by Atlanta Scientific-Vexcel-MDA using Python-C base and an OpenEV viewer and by ESA in TCL (PolsarPRO) but neither of these in my opinion offers the easy extensibility and ease of use of RAT, provided you somehow procure an IDL licence. I similar parallel toolkit in Matlab will also come in handy, but the development of this has been sporadic, I really need to dig up the bits I wrote during my undergraduate work and start something going.

One of the best SAR features in RAT so far in my exploration is the LLMMSE Speckle filter, it produces a clear image from the standard speckled SAR image.

Final day in Mombasa - Amenities Failure

For the last day in Mombasa, Kenya struck back with vengeance. The power and water failed for the day. We were glad to be getting out as the five-star service tore apart at the seams. The only cooling was the pool. I did however manage to go to Kilifi and see the swahili huts and a beautiful pristine super white sound beach with clear blue water. The best part was it was totally unpopulated, except for a few sand-pipers and crabs.

Now waiting for the flight back to Nairobi and roaming the net, GPRS is such a boon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend in Mombasa - Life on the Beach

Here continues the greatest monologue in my life. I am spending a 3-day weekend in Mombasa , in the Sarova Hotel with a white sand beach just outside the window. Spending time with the family is a delicate balancing act, when you get around it life on the beach is a lot of fun. When you are not losing the rooms keys attached to giant fish in the pool.

Having drinks in the beach bar, lazing about in the pool, taking morning dips in the sea-weed encrusted water. I took a ride on a camel and we went looking for sea-life among the corals, the tropical fish and echinoderms ( starfish, sea-urchins etc.) are beautiful and find a great habitat among the coral. You have to dive or at least snorkel to fully appreciate them. The family insisted on recording every activity with forensic precision. Mombasa feels like some old asian town, with its mostly swahili and arabic population, lots of somali have come in recently as well. We ended up in a packed narrow-lane in the old town looking for a "Kanzu"-traditional swahili long dress. I felt like I was back in the cloisters of chandni-chowk in Calcutta.

I have one more day here, the plan is to see Fort Jesus (old Portuguese Fort), Mamba Village (Crocodile Farm) and Haller Park. Lets see what happens plans never turn out as planned.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mobile Net in Kenya - Vodafone VMC with Safaricom SIM

Restless while being disconnected from the net I took the first opportunity to get my Vodafone Mobile Connect Card from Australia working here with Safaricom. Safaricom is the local representative of Vodafone, the operate the network while Vodafone does all the back-end, billing etc. I am not exactly sure of the relationship, which seems to be fraught with confusion and corruption allegations. As long I can get the net I will bear any back-hand deals, they are for the greater good.

Since Jerry works for Safaricom now I called him up and got the relevant APN and PAP/CHAP authentication details to make my Huawei hardware work properly. He came into the party a bit late, but I definitely owe him a drink.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pyramids better wait - Story ni Ndefu

So I am finally in Kenya, having fun here but the pyramids have to wait a few more years in addition to the thousands they have for me to get to them. Unless some ultra-religious group comes to power in Egypt and decides to knock them down like the Bamiyan Buddhas. The visa from Kenya did not materialize.

Meanwhile I have been shuttling around Nairobi-Thika-Juja trying to stay in touch with people and see the sights. Today we ended up in Lake Naivasha, riding in a small boat, spotting birds and hippos.

The other major event was a giant get together of all my friends from Mang'u , after some 7 years. People have moved ahead and become lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, pilots and one is even standing in the Kenyan elections. We went on expanding and taking over Kengele's until there were nearly 50 people. I nearly burned a hole in my wallet buying everyone a round of drinks. Catching up was fun and there were excited groups swapping mobile numbers. I need to do this more often.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On my way

Leaving Australia on another grand adventure to Nairobi then hopefully on to Cairo. Wait for me pyramids.