south london sunday morning + local WW2 bomb damage

December 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Landscape photography by me (you can consider these photos licensed under the Creative-Commons CC-BY-NC license); map and colour code are photos I took of pages from Laurence Ward’s 2015 The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 which is available to buy.

The attack on London between 1939 and 1945 is one of the most significant events in the city’s modern history, the impact of which can still be seen in its urban and social landscapes. As a key record of the attack, the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps represent destruction on a huge scale, recording buildings and streets reduced to smoke and rubble. The full set of maps is made up of 110 hand-coloured 1:2500 Ordnance Survey base sheets originally published in 1916 but updated by the LCC to 1940. Because they use the 1916 map, they give us a glimpse of a ‘lost London’, before post-war redevelopment schemes began to shape the modern city. The colouring applied to the maps records a scale of damage to London’s built environment during the war – the most detailed and complete survey of destruction caused by the aerial bombardment. A clear and fascinating introduction by expert Laurence Ward sets the maps in the full historical context of the events that gave rise to them, supported by archival photographs and tables of often grim statistics. (



Using information and digital technologies to create positive change

December 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

In this blogpost I’m just posting a blurb for an event that took place in 2009 at SOAS, because the content of the blurb (especially the links) might be of interest to me and/or readers. I’m posting it now because I was searching through my email inbox for something else and this popped up and seemed of interest. I actually never made it to the event but have, since then, encountered the Tactical Tech Collective at a workshop on Open Data that I attended last year in Chennai. Anyways.

Thursday 5th November, SOAS Junior Common Room 7pm:


Using information and digital technologies to create positive change


10 tactics for turning information into action includes stories from

more than 35 rights advocates around the world who have successfully

used information and digital technologies to create positive change.

This project, from Tactical Technology Collective, includes a film

featuring 25 interviews with advocates alongside a deck of cards that

details info-activism case studies, features tools and provides advice

from people about the tactics and tools they have used in different



At this event parts of the film will be screened for the first time.

The audience will be engaged in a conversation that asks: Are digital

tools changing activism? What are digital activists doing and is it

making a difference? What are the risks and benefits of digital



Tanya Notley from Tactical Tech will introduce the project and explain

how it came about.


Tessa Lewin from the IDS at the University of Sussex will explain how

she uses animation as a force for change in Egypt with the Women and

Memory Forum (


Muzna Al-Masri an activist from Lebanon talks about the work of

Solidarity Maps in addressing rights abuses in Lebanon and Palestine


Stephanie Hankey from Tactical Tech will discuss the work of

international NGO, Tactical Technology Collective



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Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 4 – form vs content

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I had a brief chat with one of the participants of the Open Data Workshop, and one point came out that I wanted to share here given that I have written a series of posts about the workshop. This point could be summarised as the debate over form vs content. This participant recounted how she had a private conversation with one of the facilitators of the workshop about what she wants to do with maps – she wanted to ask him which of the online tools we had learned about might be appropriate to the task, and how to go about it. After her explanation, he said, “You should probably just use paper maps to do that.”

That’s fine – but I think that something we can take from this episode is that while the main sessions of the workshop packed in a huge amount of information on maps, mapping, data (quantitative, qualitative, spatial), and tools for managing, cleaning, using, calculating with and visualising data, this focus on form sometimes meant that the content – what the workshop participants actually wanted to do with data – slipped out of focus.

This is not necessarily a problem: probably all of us should have taken the opportunity to have a private conversation with one or more of the facilitators about what we wanted to do with data. I didn’t, for two main reasons: 1) In the project I’m working on we haven’t quite reached the point of getting all the data we want to work with, and 2) I know I have Comrade Vic (a pseudonym) to whom I can ask these questions later.

But, as this participant noted, there should have been a bit more discussion of our specific projects, if only to give some real examples which could be the focus of discussions about content: how to decide what data you need, where to get data, how to get data, how to establish relationships between different variables, how to use data ethically.

This comment on something we felt was absent from the workshop does not in any way negate the many positive things that were present in the workshop. All in all the workshop was really useful for me, and because of the workshop I now have a much better sense of what the possibilities are with the project I am working on.

Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 3

August 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Deepak says: “there was a guy mapping corporate presence in Chhatt etc and murders of adivasis. Started crying on second day. How can I  look at these deaths as data.” Me: “What is data is also not data. People are data, but they are also people. This makes me think of Žižek’s philosophical musings about theorising violence.”

It is not poetry that is impossible after Auschwitz, but rather prose…

A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must by definition ignore its traumatic impact. Yet there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. A distinction needs to be made, as well, between (factual) truth and truthfulness: what renders a report of a raped woman (or any other narrative of a trauma) truthful is its very factual unreliability, its confusion, its inconsistency. (Žižek, Violence, 2008: 3)

…the issue of human depth vs. empirical relevance (Nordstrom, Shadows of War, 2004: 52) – this was the website I got most excited about, and want to experiment with using soon. Why? Because there’s tools here for data visualisation. Example:

google maps allows multiple people to collaborate on creating a map, which can be public or “unlisted” (like sharing with a small number of people on dropbox).

google map maker

Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 2

August 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Presentation by Lucy and Laura from Open Knowledge Foundation

Lucy Chambers, Laura Newman.

Based in Cambridge, UK. Open access. Big focus on licensing. Peer-to-peer university are writing a course on licensing, worth looking at.

“We’re basically interested in data already paid for through tax-payers money; for example, we don’t think you should have to pay for research to be done, and then again to access it through an academic journal. We’re not interested in individual data which infringes on privacy.”

Me: “So who is OKF funded by?”

Laura: “Open Society Foundation, Pierre Omidyar [eBay founder, has set up a philanthropic trust thing], others including govt.”

Me: “So if some of your funding comes from govt, should your data be accessible?”

Lucy: “Much of it – e.g. our accounts – is available. We try to practice what we preach.”

Laura: “We don’t get money direct from govt, but through procurement.” – meaning? Over tea she explains: “means we have clients we do projects for, some of these are in govt.” – license: often a big lack of clarity about what you can do with it, whether you can use, re-use or redistribute it. it would be nice if someone put a clear copyright status on it. if you have data, try to make sure you put a license on it. – data can be used to examine conflicts of interest because has information about ownership.

Sexy data visualisations – particularly of interest for British citizens/tax-payers.

Kwestions in my hed

But what is all this visualisation shmisualisation useful for? Madam says: “Only little bit useful for activism.” But this response reminds me of something said to me long back by Pratiksha: “We need to expand our imaginariez beyond PIL.”

Map of all districts in INdia – (not all of them) – from geocommons and S. Anand.

Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 1

August 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

The last 3 days I attended the Open Data Workshop run at IFMR by Transparent Chennai, in Chennai. In the next few blogposts are some of my scribbled notes.

The facilitators are: Shashank Srinivasan, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Sajjad Anwar.

Some online maps/campaigns they find interesting: … which leads us to Voice of Kibera – biggest slum in the world, in Kenya, with no real maps on googlemaps. This project developed tools for people there to submit info that could be added to a map of the slum. Kibera got a presence on the web and attracted a lot of activists, gave them ideas for things to do. Last month the slumdwellers were ordered to be evicted. Some points raised in the discussion about this:

  • “The project taught people how to overcome their stage fear” – Sajjad
  • Having a web presence doesn’t necessarily mean the data has become open – because many people (e.g. most of the slumdwellers themselves) don’t have internet access.

A big focus of the workshop is on “open data.” I want to ask if “open data” is always good. As I’m thinking this, Sumandro points out that openness may not always be very desirable. It may be their very greyness that protects the slum dwellers. Making Kibera visible on the web means it is no longer “out of sight, out of mind”…ironically making the data on the slum open empowers the people who are already empowered: the building lobby who want to find the best bits of the slum to flatten and build on. – Comrade Vic is saying this map is google showing off what they can do. – interesting because it can show change over time. – interesting because they use a wide range of data collection techniques. – many uses, including detecting chlorophyll in plants (and therefore plant cover). WWF are looking at this raw image data to assess how wetland cover (water and vegetation) is reducing around a particular lake over a period of time. The Landsat dataset is freely available, e.g. from Maryland University, NASA, and other sources. – -Comrade Vic: but imagine how different it would look if instead of countries/continents it was looking at data per capita, or other dimensions, you would tell a very different story…as it is here, it reinforces the narrative of “Asia is the problem in terms of carbon consumption.” – Insurance companies have used this data to establish insurance premiums, and the city authorities were angry that information about such violent crime was being shown (portraying the city in a negative light)…such consequences have to be thought through before making things like this. – crowdsourced info on water sources in India. Set up in January but so far not much data there: because people don’t see any reason to add to it. So you need actionable items to provide incentives for people to participate in such campaign efforts.

Doing stuff with data

Delhi Digests: Presentation by Francesca from Tactical Tech – “Delhi has these two identities: aspiring to be a major world city, and already a world leader in e-waste recycling. Waste pickers engaged in this industry and public officials working on it as an ‘issue’ have very different perspectives on e-waste. We wanted to present the different narratives on e-waste in Delhi at the same time in the same space, and so came up with a map to do so. Part of the idea was that there are tourist maps of Delhi that show tourist highlights/destinations; we wanted to create an alternative map showing the e-waste highlights of Delhi.” But in doing so they were careful about what information to make available; “If some person makes a livelihood from taking apart electronic items in a slightly illegal way [e.g. using acid to take copper out of a product], we don’t put all the details of that person…Kohinoor Bibi lives in a place that is kind of identifiable but we didn’t give the exact location.” The website “is an aggregate of different materials; there are stop-motion videos where the items are dismantled, audio interviews, text sections featuring the highlights of the Basel Convention to other peoples’ research on e-waste, images and photographic reports of different areas or details of the e-waste-related processes.” They did this for Toxics Link. Toxics Link does a lot of advocacy work, and awareness-raising; they think this could be used in awareness-raising efforts, for example in local schools. “We would like to train Toxics Link staff to use the tools we used to create the website.” It was meant to be “an easy project to engage us for a couple of weeks, but it grew pretty complex…partly because another tool for navigation is a keyword search.” Choice between doing itself and crowd-sourcing: “With the latter it is hard to verify the data.”

Sajjad: The reason we asked Francesca to tell her story was to give you ideas to think about your own work. Here’s a pipeline to think about it. You have a story to tell. You need to figure out the process for doing what you want to do. Then you want to know what kind of data you want to use, how to acquire data. Political message, political effect, depends on your representations (how do you want to show the data, does it make sense to create a map, a graph, a chart, an article) and perspectives (when we work in a team we will have lots of different perspectives on the same story). You can have a campaign by putting this out in various media, and then thinking about actions that actually translate into policies or may or may not introduce change in peoples’ lives. That’s like a pipeline for telling as story using data.

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