Recent diary entries
A friend got me a set of Soviet military maps dating to the 1970s and 1980s, which are uncopyrighted and unlike Soviet military maps of foreign countries contain original cartographic data and are not based on stolen copyrighted materials from foreign sources. I have thus begun examining them when the weather is bad for usable data. Two new route numbers emerged, the P-3 and P-10 national highways, which have been duly added to both the map and the Turkmenistan wiki article. The maps have also helped identify some villages on roads less traveled, where the names were preserved from the Soviet period into the current period (not many, but a few, and every little bit helps).
The map of Turkmenistan is actually useful. Today I needed to buy an elastic bandage, which involved a trip to a pharmacy. We have mapped enough pharmacies in Ashgabat that finding two pharmacies nearby was easy. The bandage was made in Dashoguz, and cost 16 manat (about $4.50 at the official exchange rate).
Well, not really, but welcome heavy rains are drenching Ashgabat and environs. This is good news for the wheat crop and sets the stage for successful cotton planting in another couple of weeks. This is a desert, so rains in winter and spring are a blessing.
For collecting ground-level imagery, of course, it’s not that good. Today I scouted a couple of textile mills to nail down their names, but could not really collect imagery, so did it the old-fashioned way–scribbled their names onto a FieldPapers printout. While at it I found a couple more street names in an Ashgabat suburb, Yasmansalyk, and then came home to update Bereket based on imagery collected some time back but never analyzed. So rainy days are good for something in cartography, too, not only agriculture!
The only way for certain to identify villages in Turkmenistan seems to be to drive to them, find the town hall (‘‘geňeş’’), and record the name either by photographing it or, if lighting and the angle don’t permit, punching it into the smartphone or GPS. Ann’s and my curiosity got the better of us so over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend we have identified the villages of Ahal obasy, Tagan Baýramdurdyýew adyndaky geňeşligi / Gökdepe obasy (yes, that’s the full name of the village), and Täze Eýýam, which has had its name changed officially.
I wish all mappers out there the luck of the Irish!
This weekend my hardworking laptop uploaded my 500,000th ground-level image to Mapillary. This is the single most extensive database of ground-level imagery for Turkmenistan anywhere. Others in the embassy have contributed roughly another quarter of a million images. We still have a few highways to collect but the bulk of major highways in Turkmenistan are now available to mappers anywhere in the world.
Friday, March 8, was International Women’s Day and thus a local holiday. I therefore had a three-day weekend for some exploration. In reviewing the OSM map I found some blank spots close to home, so probed nearby villages that were unidentified, explored unmapped roads, found a couple of farms and a fast food place, identified several factories, updated a town hall, and found a rather large cemetery way out in the boondocks as well as the municipal garbage dump and a satellite uplink station (just how does one tag a satellite uplink station, anyway?) In the process Ann and I gave away several sets of books of American children’s literature the embassy has had translated into Turkmen. The map is in a bit better shape and several Turkmen children have something to read! The three days passed in a flash, but this was one of the best three-day weekends ever.
Business took me to Dashoguz for three days, including surveys of the surrounding area and observation of conditions in rural villages. In the course of travel I collected over 30,000 Mapillary images (now being uploaded, be patient!) plus eight previously unmapped gas stations. I also collected station numbers for two already on the map, and deleted station 40, since it has been demolished to make way for new residential apartment buildings.
My team and I also collected several dozen village names, as well as major streets and POIs in some of the towns and cities in Dashoguz province.
You might ask why gas station numbers are a focus. In Turkmenistan each station number is unique. If a traveler’s car breaks down, he will tend to look for the nearest gas station for help. If we have the database of gas station numbers in OSM, it will be easier for friends to find broken down motorists stranded at a gas station. We also collect hospitals and clinics, and map them, as well as police and government offices.
Bouygues, the French construction firm, has won tenders for five new buildings, and they are well underway: two bank headquarters, a new state tribune, a convention center, and a luxury hotel. Rönesans of Turkey has two more contracts, an expansion of the Nusay Hotel and construction of the Garagum Hotel near the airport. GAP Inşaat of Turkey is building a new burn center (hospital) on Bekewe köçesi. I’ve added those construction sites to the map and where possible have added photos of the billboards about the projects to Mapillary, such as this one for the convention center.
My current effort is to finish collecting gas stations so that travelers in Turkmenistan can easily find them, and to geolocate and label properly the major performing arts centers in provincial capitals. We stage our summer and winter film showings in these theaters, and I was surprised to discover that while on the map they were not tagged properly.
Haven’t finished uploading the images from the last trip and this weekend collected about 30,000 more on a three-day excursion to Turkmenbashy via Balkanabat to open our winter film showings (“Black Panther”, “Home”, and “Princess and the Frog”) in those cities. Updated the maps for Balkanabat and Jebel a bit, cleaned up the M37 highway, deleted a demolished gas station, and generally cleaned up the map along that highway in a few places. Ashgabat to Turkmenbashy is about 600 kilometers one way, so we did ok on data collection.
The previous weekend Ann and I visited Gokdepe and identified two hospitals plus explored some residential developments under construction. Lots of updates!
Sunday I had to go to Mary to open our winter film festival, after which I went down to Yoloten and doubled back on the P-25 highway to Bayramaly, a road not traveled by anyone in the embassy in living memory. On that section of the P-25 we confirmed one gas station I was 99% sure from imagery was indeed a gas station, and we found three more that were not obvious in the imagery. We added other POIs found along the way and I am presently uploading about 10,000 ground-level images to Mapillary.
Of course, the best part of the day was fresh fish for lunch at the Lebap Cafe in Hanhowuz, deep fried in cottonseed oil.
Many thanks to the fellow mappers who urged me to delve into Osmosis and use it to extract excerpts from the OSM database so that I could then use Maperitive to generate a wall map of Turkmenistan’s highways. Osmosis is a challenge–the documentation is obtuse, frankly–but I managed to pull some extracts from the OSM database, feed them into Inkscape (another rather challenging piece of software), produce an SVG file that could then be lightly edited to remove unneeded items, and then pump out first a PNG file and then convert it to a JPEG using Corel Photo Paint. The result is a roughly 60” by 81” or so wall map of Turkmenistan’s highway network, from highway=primary to highway=tertiary, plus railroads, cities/towns/villages, and gas stations. I can now send it to a print shop. This was not a trivial task but the result will be quite useful to the motor pool chauffeurs at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, and perhaps to others as well.
Sorry, I could not resist posting this when it popped up on Facebook. It would never have occurred to me that GPS traces can be used to create art. However….
Happy New Year to one and all!
The authoritative list of provinces, districts, and municipalities of Turkmenistan coupled with the legal definitions of types of municipalities have allowed me to categorize the “cities” of Turkmenistan following visits to many of them or collection of on-the-ground data about them either directly or through third parties. I am almost done with the list of “cities” (şäherler).
I have not yet located one city on the list: the city of Dostluk in Lebap velayat. There is a village called Dostluk that is part of another village council (Serdar geňeşligi), but it is unlikely to be a “city” unless the authoritative list of municipalities contains an error (always possible and not to be completely disregarded). Where is the mysterious city of Dostluk in Lebap velayat? It has to be there, somewhere!
The data volume for all of Turkmenistan is too large for Maperitive to handle, so I have contacted Igor Brejc, Maperitive’s creator, and he has produced, charging only his standard fee, a wall map-sized SVG image of Turkmenistan and its trunk, primary, secondary, and tertiary highways plus cities and towns. I am presently editing it with Inkscape to produce a wall map of Turkmenistan’s highways at the request of the American Embassy Ashgabat motor pool. First, a big thanks to Igor (https://scalablemaps.com/), and second, to the OSM community that has encouraged and tutored me along the way, as well as contributed a lot of data to the Turkmenistan map. This map, when ready, will be the most up-to-date wall map of Turkmenstan’s highway network.
I have also started work on a new wall map of Ashgabat, and so have updated the Maperitive mrules file for it, which you are welcome to peruse via the OSM wiki at https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/OSM_on_Paper/Printing_via_Maperitive,_Easy_Poster_Printer_and_Microsoft_ICE/Ashgabat_city_Maperitive_style_file It is not yet a finished product. I still want it to render the airport terminals as white, and my efforts so far in that regard have led to naught. They remain brown, like other buildings.
My best wishes for the holiday season to one and all!
This week I uploaded my 400,000th Mapillary ground-level image. This is, I suspect, the largest collection of ground-level imagery of Turkmenistan. Some of the images were taken after sundown of the M37 national highway so as to map U-turns visible even with only illumination from headlights.
All 13 border crossings between Turkmenistan and its neighbors are now mapped, named, tagged. All but one of the known national highways has been drawn, tagged, and had relations established (the missing one is in a border zone and I cannot drive on it without special permission). Next I have gone down the list of municipalities in search of a) missing cities and towns, and b) mistagged and misnamed cities and towns. Some bear names from the Soviet period, others have not been updated since the current government either restored an old name or assigned a new one. Slowly but surely the data in the Turkmenistan map are improving. The next editions of Lambertus’ Garmin map, MAPS.ME, and Pocket Earth should have much improved routable maps for Turkmenistan.
When Ann and I started this 3-1/2 years ago we focused on simply getting street names and POIs entered–raw data were lacking. Increasingly we find ourselves doing quality control, cross-checking names of municipalities with locals who live there and can tell us both what is on the sign and what it used to be called. For example, I suspected that “Imeni Kirova” had been renamed because it is not listed in “Districts in Turkmenistan” and Kirov was a Russian Bolshevik. Sure enough, a check with a resident of that area revealed a new name for the municipality. Some municipality names are transliterations from the Russian and thus are not what is on the signs, which are all Turkmenized. This takes detective work, but again, slowly but surely it is paying off with improvement of the database. I take all this as a sign of progress.
Turkmenistan aspires to renewed status as the “hub” or “crossroads” of Central Asia, harkening back to the days of the Great Silk Road that connected Xian in China to Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Antioch, and from there to Rome and beyond. I thus took it upon myself to check out and ensure proper mapping of as much of Turkmenistan’s national highway system as I could, and then to check out its border crossings with neighboring countries. They are now all easily identifiable, both national highways and border crossings, I think properly tagged, and in the case of highways, every gas station I could see has been added to the map (still have a few FIXMEs out there, and there are undoubtedly some gas stations I haven’t found yet, but…) So far other mappers and I have mapped 156 gas stations in Turkmenistan, up from the very few on the map in 2015. Turkmenistan is ready for higher volumes of motor traffic and has a better road atlas on line to help navigate!
Ann and I celebrated the Monday holiday of Veterans Day, November 12, by driving out to Hauz Han about three hours east of Ashgabat, heading north on the P-9, then turning east on it to Mary. I had never been on that route and we collected two gas stations plus took lots of ground-level imagery using Mapillary. I will upload that imagery plus imagery collected on the P-25-to-P1 drive when we next come stateside and have access to high speed internet. I have already uploaded the GPX files Mapillary generates, however, so can tweak the highway itself as needed.
I used MAPS.ME to collect some POIs along the way, including marking some new U-turns on the M37. Turkmen Auto Roads State Concern is putting up guardrails to separate new dual carriageways, so mapping the U-turns is an ongoing effort. Some of the village and farmers association names have changed so I have more editing to do, updating names of municipalities to match the signage. Gulanly is now called Gokhan, for example, renamed in honor of one of the sons of the mythical Oguz Han, progenitor of the Turkic peoples. I tried to capture the signage on Mapillary.
We stopped for lunch at the Lebap Cafe in Hauz Han, to eat fresh fish (grass carp) deep fried in cottonseed oil. If you are in the neighborhood, I recommend the Lebap Cafe!
Much more of the P-1 national highway in Turkmenistan is now a dual carriageway divided highway, so the last couple of evenings I’ve been updating it based on GPS traces collected and marker tags inserted via MAPS.ME during travel on November 8. It’s done, but there will be more to do over time. Pavers were working, and the right of way of the new parallel lane, long neglected, is back in play on much of the P-1 route. All bridges appear to be up, so it’s now a matter of bulldozing, grading, graveling, and paving.
Special bonus: We found a new grocery store near our house in Ashgabat today.
Just got back from 2-1/2 days on the road, during which inter alia I traversed the P-25 and part of the P-21 national highways in Turkmenistan. I collected roughly 38,000 ground-level images with Mapillary, but will delete some before uploading due to quality issues. Got good GPS traces, however. Tried using MAPS.ME to collect POIs but there are issues due to its limited universe of categories. I ended up using “Attraction” as a default tag just to mark POIs geographically (including U-turns on newly divided highways and such), and now am plowing through them at my desktop computer to correct them to something resembling reality and OSM guidelines. I hope this will not garner too much opprobrium from the OSM community. I’m cleaning up the mess I’ve created as quickly as I can, but I did want to collect data as I was traveling!
Insomnia hit last night for the first time in years. With nothing better to do I cleaned up gas stations in Turkmenistan, identified stations without numbers and placed FIXME tags on them, added data where I had collected it but not got around to updating the map. Is there some way of getting overpass turbo to count stations for me? When Ann and I started this project in 2015 there were very few gas stations mapped. There seem to be a lot more now, between our work and the work of other mappers here.
Hope to get back on the road next week to do some more exploring.