Tallguy's diary

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Missing Maps - Sierra Leone

Posted by Tallguy on 29 June 2016 in English (English)

Training in Freetown

Missing Maps training involving American Red Cross volunteers in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 3rd June 2016

“Good thanks, and you?”
“Great. How do you fancy a trip to Sierra Leone?” ………………………

At various times in my life I’ve ended up training subjects including IT, and when Missing Maps started, training was my main involvement. I’ve been to many Mapathons, stood out the front, and done my best to make mapping ‘happen’ for people struggling with software & strange terms.

The trip to Sierra Leone was slightly different. 32 volunteers needed training in how to carry out surveys using software on mobile phones. Essentially they were carrying out a survey of village & health facilities, how many people, what sanitation – all of the things you would expect the American Red Cross would need to know in order to plan their operations. In addition some training would also be given to MSF personnel – similar sort of thing, but each organisation has its own version of the questions.

In 2014 I’d been one of many people trying to remotely map the areas affected by Ebola, tracing from satellite imagery. Sierra Leone, Guinea & Liberia, were mapped remotely, and names added as best we could. Some ground survey information had been added, but when you started looking at the information, you realised that it was lacking in the sort of detail you’d really like to see in a map - when we arrived in Sierra Leone, OSM had one water point mapped for the entire country.

Our first 5 days were in Freetown, planning and then delivering the training. Each morning we were carried by MSF car through heavy traffic in Freetown and I started to understand a little about the city. I could see people carrying water containers, others were having their morning wash at the side of the road. As we descended towards the coast I could look out onto a large open landfill site and its inhabitants – I couldn’t see all of it, but it was at least the size of a football pitch. The river we crossed appeared to have many uses.

We concentrated on training the 32 volunteers who were to carry out the surveys. Many knew very little about mobile phones when we started, but we demonstrated, tested and practised until they understood enough to be able to do their surveys. The power cuts, wifi problems & equipment problems were all taken in our stride (we all had missing luggage, but luckily, enough had arrived for us to carry out the training). Our evenings were spent amending training plans, adapting to the changing needs & time scales. I’d even managed a brief trip round the market buying some clothes (When I first arrived I had only what I stood up in – if anyone finds a holdall with clothing for a Tallguy I’d be very interested).

I spent my weekend either travelling or making preparations for the week ahead where I was to be based in Kenema.

Supervising - based in Kenema

Red Cross Staff in Kailahun, Sierra Leone

Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday was spent travelling on a wide mixture of roads, some wide tarmac roads in better condition than the UK, and some roads that had never been surfaced and were so steep and uneven that my driver negotiated them in bottom gear in our 4x4, while we bounced around in the cab bruising our elbows on the doors. We were attempting to find some of our volunteers to make sure that everything was okay with them and their work. Everyone had mobile phones, but this didn’t help much as there was very little in the way of signal.

At times we stopped before crossing bridges, walked over them, & jumped up & down to test them before driving over them. A lorry stuck in the mud caused a 4 hour detour. A brief phone call to one of the volunteers, who was surveying habitations with no roads at all, before the signal dropped off went something like….
“Glad you’re okay, where are you?”
“I’m walking in the forest being bitten by beasts”
“Which town are you near?”
“I’m walking towards”….. and the call dropped.

My local driver was impressed that I could tell him the name of the villages which were coming up, and advise him of potential routes. He even enjoyed the game of slowing down on the approach to villages so I could take a photograph of the sign. He and his colleagues were even more impressed when I installed OsmAnd on the phones of those who wanted it, and gave them a brief training session. The drivers were an interesting group to talk to – at least one had been a local businessman who had seen his business gradually decline following Ebola.

Alongside the main roads you could see piles of sacks ready for sale. These were often filled with charcoal but had coya leaves in the top. Buy one, put the coya leaves in the bottom of your BBQ, add charcoal and light. You could see the rough shelters the charcoal producers used, in their little patch of cleared vegetation. Heavily used roads ending in piles of sand beside a river where they extracted large amounts of sand by hand – bought by the local builders. I’m not sure if the main aim for the people doing the digging was the sand or the potential diamonds – there were many diamond offices in Kenema.

Started, but not completed buildings with no roofs were a frequent sight.

My final days in Kenema were spent training staff in the potential uses of OSM - paper, phone apps., analysis, and how surveys for such things as water points could be carried out. The amount of detail in OSM was a surprise to all that I trained and I think we can expect lots of use.

In Freetown I found that Pete had been very busy, surveying water points and making contacts with many local organisations. We carried out a mapathon on one day & part of our last day was at a conference where we gave a presentation on Missing Maps, before finishing our packing and catching the ferry & plane.

Excuse me if I’m quiet for a while - still trying to replace all my lost clothes. Oh, and about 200 water points to add, 50+ village names and a few bits of road aligning to do.

Certainly an experience, and one that I’d be happy to repeat.

Most of my gps traces have been uploaded to OSM, so it you’re working on or anything else in Sierra Leone, have a check for downloadable gps traces.

For more info on Missing Maps, please see If you’re interested in finding out more & learning a little about ‘remote’ mapping, or something more technical, come along to one of the Missing Maps Mapathons - there are events throughout the world - if it’s in London, UK, you might even see me (Tall, bald, grey beard - easy to spot!).

Location: Freetown, Western Area Urban, Western Area, 00232, Sierra Leone

Swanley, Kent, UK - Missing Maps Monday sessions

Posted by Tallguy on 28 February 2015 in English (English)

If you fancy getting involved in the Missing Maps Project, or Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team - HOT, but don’t fancy a trip to London for one of the Mapathons which are held there, how would Swanley, Kent suit you.

Brief explanation for those not familiar with HOT or “Missing Maps Organisation”

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) are a team of volunteers who map areas needed by the Aid Organisations.
The American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontiere (Doctors without Borders) (MSF) and HOT have teamed up under the banner “Missing Maps” with the aim of mapping those areas in greatest need. There is much more information on their individual websites which you can access from their logo’s on the Missing Maps website.

Weekly sessions in Swanley

A small team of us are organizing a weekly Monday afternoon session based in the Christ Church Centre, Swanley (The map below is a clickable link) Swanley, Kent Christ Church Centre

If you already know how to map using the Tasking Manager, then come along and socialise whilst helping with the mapping - we have the upstairs rooms booked from 1.15pm to 4.30pm for Monday afternoons starting on the 9th March 2015. Please send me a message if you are coming in case we are getting full.

We’re also running a couple of training sessions, each an hour and a half long, starting respectively at 1.15pm & 2.30pm aimed at getting someone with no knowledge of OpenStreetMap & how to edit, through to using JOSM or iD and making a real contribution towards mapping the areas needed by the Aid organisations. These are bookable sessions for up to 8 people - please message me to book a session.

For our first session on the 9th March we’ll aim to do more work on an area in Epworth, Zimbabwe where MSF need a detailed map to help them deal with HIV - There is a lot more information under the description tab of Tasking Manager project #868 . The aim is to get the whole of this project complete before a ground survey at the beginning of April.

What do you need?

Please bring a laptop & mouse (There are a couple of spares in case they are needed - let me know if you need the use of one). Nothing fancy, just a basic laptop which can connect to WiFi. You’ll be using a web browser - iD does not work with Internet Explorer, so install an alternative such as Firefox or Chrome. JOSM is a Java application, and it would be good if you followed the link & installed it before coming along.

Skill level - If you’ve followed the links on this message we should be able to teach you the remaining skills needed. You’ll never know unless you try!

I hope to see you at one or more of the sessions - contact me from the links at the bottom of this message for more info.

Cost - Free!

I forgot to mention the cost - free to you. But it would be really good if you did some mapping for Missing Maps Project as they are making this all happen.

Thanks for reading.
Tallguy = Nick

To book a place please click here

Location: White Oak, Swanley, Sevenoaks, Kent, South East, England, BR8 7SS, United Kingdom

London Missing Maps Mapathon December

Posted by Tallguy on 16 December 2014 in English (English)

Ho, Ho, Ho

Antlers, what a good idea. If you want to break the ice & chat with a bunch of nice people, try wearing antlers. I hope I haven’t given too many people my cold - honestly, it’s just been a little nuisance until yesterday when I nearly lost my voice.

I’m certain that the Missing Maps Team deserve a brilliant Christmas for all the hard work they put in making these events run so smoothly - It’s a pleasure to work with you guys & Thank You. I’m including all the HOT people who turned up to help - brilliant, you’re advice (and waiter service delivering mince pies) is invaluable.

Great progress folks - I can’t wait to see the full stats when you’ve all finished any squares you were working on, but 34% done during the course of one evening, and many more squares started & just needing a little more work - that’s impressive!

Impressive stats folks

I’d like to see all of you at future mapathons, it’s always amazing how quickly people progress - if you’d like a little light reading, have a read of LearnOSM section for Remote, Armchair or Mapathon mappers which aims to helping you with everything you will need to map remotely for these tasks. Personally I find it displays quite well on my phone.

LearnOSM is something I’ve become deeply involved in now - it’s the ‘HowTo’ for many things that the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team - HOT promote, so it includes many sections on how to map, how to use JOSM & iD, and for NGO’s how to extract & use the data that OSM produces. It’s worth spending time delving around in there - there’s so much information that no index is ever going to do it justice - you just need to spend a little time delving around.

A little help please.

  • It would be really great if you could finish the squares you started on - it’s much easier for you because you know what you did, and what’s still to be done.
  • If any of you have got photo’s of buildings, huts, roads & any of the other structures that we are mapping in Africa, and you can release them to HOT with no copyright restrictions so I can add them into LearnOSM it would be very helpful - a picture says a thousand words.
  • Translation of LearnOSM - always welcome if you fancy having a go. Links are off of the site (click on the pencil). It’s amazing how many people all over the world want to help, and if we can give them the information in a language they can understand it makes a big difference.

Have a Happy Christmas & a Terrific New Year,

and I hope to see you all again in the future at another event.

Nick - the Tallguy with antlers, bald head & a cold!

Location: أم تيمان, Am Timan, Salamat, Chad

Missing Maps London Mapathon 30/09/2014 Skills Matter

Posted by Tallguy on 2 October 2014 in English (English)

What an evening!

60+ willing volunteers with laptops in a room (Big thanks to Skills Matter) with a team of helpers & great things happened. We talked, they worked & occasionaly we answered questions or helped in some other way. Some of our team were elsewhere in the world giving feedback to our new mappers, and some more were learning & helping using web links. There are quite a few photographs on Facebook - search for Missing Maps Project.


Well, I’ve never seen anything so good so quickly. Our mappers coped with the squares magnificently, checking what had already been done, adding missing details, and marking the squares as complete. Validators checked the squares, corrected any slight errors, gave feedback (messaging system in the TM works extremely well for this) & marked the squares as validated - we do need more validators though - might have to see if we can train some of our more regular volunteers in this.

Our Team

You were terrific. They wouldn’t have done it without you - the whole package is needed & I don’t know the names to thank everyone. There will be many unsung hero’s and you should have a warm glow inside from knowing that you helped to make it work. Advertising, contacts, paperwork, ordering pizzas, standing at the door, making the technical bits work, admin - more admin. There’s a lot of work needed, and I for one am grateful that you helped to make it happen, On the night I was really pleased to see many helpers giving advice - Dan, Harry, Nataly, Ralph, Richard, to name just some who willingly gave their time & expertise.

& Now

## Validating / Feedback - to come I’ll try to make sure that everyone who was at the session gets feedback on at least one of the squares they compete - it may take me a while though. Don’t wait for the feedback, keep mapping & keep learning. Mistakes happen, when you find out you’ve been making one, see if you can go back over the squares you’ve already completed & correct your previous work. If the square has been validated, the validator has probably already corrected any small errors. Personally I spend part of my time researching & part of my time mapping - have a read through or any of the links from

I’d recommend that you sign up for HOT emails - this link for a howto:

If IRC is your thing then (obviously I’d recommend the HOT group!)

More to come

Mapping - there is plenty of scope - the Task Manager contains many worthwhile tasks / projects. We trained mainly in iD, but there are other map editing programmes and future mapathons will cover options. If this was your first mapathon you only saw the tip of the ice berg - there are other HOT volunteers adding names to villages & towns (have to be careful of the source, so there are special instructions on this), mappers who validate, and volunteers who write software - boredom is not an option!

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see more of you with HOT and the Missing Maps Project - let’s get it mapped before the disaster happens!

Missing Maps Project mapathon - 26th August at British Red Cross building

Posted by Tallguy on 28 August 2014 in English (English)


If you followed a link in a message to get to this diary entry, you’re probably one of the people who went to the event. I’m the old, tall, bald & bearded one who stood at the front & talked for part of the time.

The event was laid on by a large team of people all hoping that we could give new mappers the information they need to get started mapping for HOT, from , but I think we’re all aware that with such a big group of people ‘zero to hero’ is unlikely in the 2 hours that were available. We’ve given you a start & we’re planning to help you keep going, but we do need you to try! It’s a simple process but sometimes there are little hiccups with the software that can make it seem difficult, just keep trying & you’ll get there. By the way, I still make mistakes - it’s a human thing, just don’t let it stop you & try to learn from them.

I’d recommend that you sign up for HOT emails - this link for a howto:

If IRC is your thing then (obviously I’d recommend the HOT group!)

There are quite a few places to get more help from (The tasking manager has recently been upgraded & many of the screenshots are out of date - we’re working on updating the guides, but the principles are the same). has several different modules & it’s worth reading them. contains more information and links.

I’ll be validating shortly, and I always try to leave feedback on the squares I validate – I’m intending to start on (#606 - Central African Republic. Refugees in Cameroon, Garoua-Boulaï - Meidougou ), and then move on to (#624 - Ebola Outbreak, Eastern counties, Liberia, road network ) . I have other bits & pieces to do as well, so please bear with me if it takes a long time before your squares are validated.

There will be other Missing Maps Project events, and I hope you can come to another. We have concentrated on the information for new mappers, and kept things simple so far, but there is plenty of scope for variety, with faster methods of editing, importing the names of objects after surveys ‘in the field’ by local people, and perhaps you would like to try validating?

Feedback to us / me. What can we do to improve? We need to know please.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to validate some of your squares soon.

Nick (Tallguy)

Missing Maps Project mapathon - evening of 29th July

Posted by Tallguy on 30 July 2014 in English (English)


This is the text from a message being sent to all the attendees of a mapathon held in the MSF offices in London - Hopefully it will be of help to someone.

“Hi, and thank you for helping to make the ‘Missing Maps’ session such a success. I’m the old, tall, bald & bearded one who stood at the front & talked for part of the time.

All of the people who helped the evening work are hoping that you will persevere & do some mapping from , but I think we’re all aware that with such a big group of people ‘zero to hero’ is unlikely. We’ve given you a start & we’re planning to help you keep going, but we do need you to try! I meant what I said about it being a simple process, but sometimes there are little hiccups with the software that can make it seem difficult, just keep trying & you’ll get there. By the way, I still make mistakes - it’s a human thing, just don’t let it stop you & try to learn from them.

Personally I’d like to try to organize a regular mapping session at which we could go along, do some mapping, learn a bit from each other, and drink coffee - the coffee’s optional. Learning from each other is a lot more fun than reading instructions on a web site. Would you be interested?

I’d recommend that you sign up for HOT emails - this link for a howto:

If IRC is your thing then (obviously I’d recommend the HOT group!)

There are quite a few places to get more help from (The tasking manager has recently been upgraded & many of the screenshots are out of date - we’re working on updating the guides, but the principles are the same). has several different modules & if you’re new to mapping it’s worth reading; should be updated during the course of the day (keep checking for updates please) - there are also links from it to other guides to mapping. Loads of links - you can spend your life reading & never get any mapping actually done! ….. think the title is self explanatory.

When you mark a square as ‘finished’, it should be validated by another mapper. That mapper will leave feedback which you can use to improve your future mapping. I’m one of the people that does validating, and my aim is to get you to map more squares, but better! Check for how to get that feedback.

Feedback to us / me. What can we do to improve? We need to know please.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to validate some of your squares soon.

Nick (Tallguy)”

Armchair mapper?

Posted by Tallguy on 20 June 2013 in English (English)

Foot survey today

Obtained a few address numbers in Swanley, Kent, UK, using KeyPadMapper3. I’ve uploaded the address nodes to OSM, but deliberately left them as nodes at the moment. ## My profile I’ve spent a few minutes updating my profile. I like to survey areas, and am interested in working with other mappers - if you are interested in working with me, have a read of my profile page & see if there is something of interest. You don’t have to be anywhere near Swanley!


Nick (Tallguy)


Posted by Tallguy on 4 April 2008 in English (English)

Hoping to work further on ncn1 in Dartford area later this week. Think I can fill in some of the missing bits, but need the time to cycle there.

Borough Green

Posted by Tallguy on 4 April 2008 in English (English)

Have added a few roads from memory, will be doing more work on this area - Daphne knows area well & will get her to carry a GPS. Does seem to be a poor satellite signal there, so not all tracks are as accurate as would like. Am waiting on new GPS to come into stock - perhaps when this arrives will improve the tracks.

Durham, Maidstone, Dartford & Swanley review

Posted by Tallguy on 4 April 2008 in English (English)

Had a quick (long actually!) look through the mapping done so far in Durham, Maidstone, Dartford & Swanley.
Think I've now corrected all the errors I made previously;
Pilgrims Way, have made a residential road again,
Birchwood Rd - now a road again.
Other bits look okay now - if anyone reads & notices something wrong, let me know or i'll keep making the same mistake!