Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Looking down, looking across

Spy satellites are funny things. They show you lots of houses from the top - but do they really show you what's going on at the ground level?

We live in an age of google maps. We now have information at our fingertips that puts our childhood spy shenanigans to shame. Stuff that we would read about in awe as kids now is dated. It seems almost quaint to think of the Russians and the Yanks battling each other for supremacy by sending sophisticated aircraft like the U2 over each others countries and proxies - or even better - by launching crude satellites - when far more than that is now available thanks to high resolution earth pics from space - and photo merging programmes that allow us to zoom around at will on the landscape. The pics may be a year or two old - and taken on different days to ensure that the landscape is all well lit - but our landscape does not change so quickly anyway.

There have already been plenty of voices suggesting that our national security may be at risk. Others have different views of course. But it does seem that the terrible attacks on Mumbai last year were meticulously planned using google earth and gps finders.

What I saw today, however, was something of the other side. The BBC website has overlaid some of the clips of the current protests in Tehran, allowing you to 'see' where the protests are being held. Take a look here

Its somewhat bizarre to juxtapose the hustle and bustle of a protest on top of the largely silent streets that the satellite photos show us. There are of course images of buses and cars if you zoom up to the highest power - but these are stationary, fuzzy blobs. Google earth stops you in mid-air, above a silent and sunlit - and basically sleeping world. The genius of the BBC map is that you can click onto the places where people have shot footage of what is taking place on the ground.

I must say that I found the combination on the BBC map irresistible - to be able to see live action from where the action takes place was wonderful. I guess I was born just a few years too early. Looking at the Epi2000 programme I just downloaded, with its primitive GIS mapping programme I wish I could have had a class at university that brought the two together in a simple way. I know I can probably teach myself, but where to find the time?

Anyone out there who would like to help us map out our work - please do stop by Thane! It would be so powerful to see information vital to our 200 plus HIV positive friends play itself out across Thane. With a simple GPS reading from near their homes - and only using code numbers to maintain confidentiality- we could see how the different aspects of our positive friends lives: look at where people are taking what kinds of ART, map out treatment compliance, find out ways that access to services are being taken up, check out the locations of widows and orphans....

But with all of this, the basic fact remains: we know what people are going through. Beyond maps - we need loving hands and gentle hearts and strong and clear minds to meet and help our friends living with HIV. Mapping has its place. But the real work is actually going and listening. Taking a hot meal over and encouraging. Accompanying someone to the govt. ART centre to start on treatment.

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