Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bajaj Center website

I have almost finished the website I have been creating for the new department of NARI. The words are not mine, although I initially wrote some of the content as a template. The layout, sketch and banner is my work, although they have gone through a number of changes based on feedback from the director and family. Now the website is online, any more feed back before it is advertised would be greatly appreciated.

I am mainly interested in design comments but I am sure the director would appreciate feedback about the content.

I feel the sketch could look more professional so let me know if you think I should give it another go. The director wanted me to place the sketch somewhere on every page. I am not sure if I have found the best place yet. I couldn't get it to fit anywhere else.

The banner I think could also be improved but I feel I have run out of creative energy with it now. The director ideally wanted something more simple, but I have not been able to come up with anything better yet.

I have also not tested it properly on Internet Explorer, so please let me know if you think something does not display the way it probably should. Unfortunately every computer shows web pages slightly differently. If you could send me any screen shots of anything strange that you see that would be most helpful. To do this on Windows, press the Print Screen button on the top right of your keyboard, open Paint and past the contents in. Then save and attach to an email.

The site address is

I have a day off tomorrow and shall go for long bike ride. Perhaps I'll have more news then. Actually, I went to see a sugar, ethanol and drinks factory today which was interesting. They are ancient facilities that look like they are about to to burst at the seams. I might post a few photos later if they are presentable.

PS. You may missed the update to my previous post. I am now famous in Phaltan having made it in the local paper. Now when I cycle about people call out my name and at the nearest opportunity tell me that they saw me in the paper. :)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

After the storm

Last night I was rudely awakened by claps of thunder and I could hear the rain falling in torrents. In the morning it was still raining so I put on shorts and a semi waterproof jacket and hoped that I could get in to work without getting my laptop too wet. However, when I left the house it suddenly stopped raining. Instead, when I was almost at NARI's I realised my real challenge: passing a flooded section of road. The fields were completely flooded and looked more like lakes and where draining at the lowest point of the road. Had made a pathetic attempt at crossing but decided not to take up the challenge with my netbook on my back. After waiting with a crowed of people on one side of the road for 20 minutes eventually a tractor passed and I was able to hitch a ride with my cycle. So, I have arrived at NARI. and of course few other people are here because they couldn't take their motorbikes and cars on the tractor trailer. My only problem now is that I just discovered that I have forgotten my charger at home!

Update 18 Nov 2009
My tractor ride even made it in the local paper!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A dogs life in India

Probably the sadest thing for me about this part of India, or probably most of India, is the condition of the dogs. Here the dogs are seen as pests, or at least treated as such. Most dogs here are literally starving to death. Their population is controlled simply by the amount of food they can find - and by road traffic accidents. No one cares if they die of starvation. When they come begging they are chased away with stones. When a motor vehicle approaches a dog in the road it does not alter its path. In fact on two occasions I have witnessed dogs being specifically targeted by motor-bikers.

Yesterday I saw a puppy laying dead beside the road. Today I saw crows eating it. This evening as I ate my thali a dog saw me eating and started to beg. I looked at it and could see that it was no different to the dogs that we have at home. Yet so different was its life. At home the dogs are proud and often think they are head of the family 'pack'. This dog had no place of its own to protect. It had no job. It was edgy and nervous - looking out for the next attack from a dog or a human. Yet at the same time, as it edged closer, its whole body expressed longing. Although all it wanted was a little food, you could see, that given a good home, it was capable of so much affection. This was an animal full of feelings and was caperble of giving so much love and devotion.

The next moment the animal was rudely shoed away and it dashed into a dark corner with its tail between its legs. No, wait. Its tail had always been between its legs. How could such faithful animals have been bred to be dependent on us and then be caste into the gutter?

What should I have done? What should I do? If I feed them I will reduce their suffering a little while I am here. When I am gone they'll probably be worse off than before. If other people feed them and don't prevent them from reproducing there will be more strays and more hungry mouths to feed. I have no easy means of talking to the locals about this. If I could, what should I say? Even with all the wealth in the region from the sugar plantations the poorest people are finding it difficult to survive. There are many tractors but and few jobs. There is no room for feelings in a mechanical world.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Pick pocket

The monsoon rains made a surprise comeback for the last couple of days. Yesterday I was waiting for the rain to stop near NARI's but it didn't stop. A local cafe, which had stopped serving food was kind enough to cook me a meal especially (they usually come out of a big pot). He still only wanted 40p for it but I gave him 70. I tried to chat with the locals while waiting, which was entertaining, but not much was understood. They wanted to see some pictures of London on my laptop. Eventually the cafe was shutting so I was forced to go home in the rain. One of the locals lent me his umbrella to hold above my head while I cycled home. I accepted because I wanted to keep my laptop dry. There were a few wobbly moments as I failed to see some pot  holes in the dark and the umbrella turned inside out. But I got home all right and surprisingly dry. I might start taking an umbrella with me on bike rides in England. Sorry, those of you with facebook will have already heard so far. But not this:

This evening the rain stopped and I cycled to Phaltan to investigate why my usb modem had stopped working. I felt real bling riding with my expensive bright flashing bike lights from the UK. I haven't seen one cycle here with lights. In town I had difficulty finding the place that could help me. A customer of one of the shops was kind enough to help and took me from one place to another. No payment was asked for all his help, but he did want to become my friend and we exchanged phone numbers. Eventually we found someone who knew of a shop that could help me so I hopped on that man's motorbike and he took me there. The whole precess must have taken most of an hour. First they confirmed that I needed more credit. Then they topped it up. Then I plugged it into my eee and confirmed that it still did not work. Then we had to spend ages calling different customer care numbers because, apparently, when my credit runs down to zero they deactivate the card. During this time I remember that my wallet is in my back pocket and being in a crowded shop I need to position my leg that it is snug against me that I can feel if someone tries to take it out.

When eventually I come to pay I reach into my pocket and bingo - I don't have just my wallet in my hand, I have two! Yes two wallets. You can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when I try and pay with two wallets. I look around and ask if someone is missing a wallet. I feel like a thief. Why has someone put another wallet in my pocket?

When they understand my confusion they help me find out who's wallet it is and go through its contents. There is no money in it. Eventually we figure out that it belongs to the first helpful guy I met with whom I exchanged numbers. I give someone else my phone because I can't understand most Indian people on the phone and Anand (his name) does not not speak a lot of English. They explain that I have his wallet and tell me he is coming. So I nervously wait, expecting to be accused of a thief or be begged for some money when he sees that it is all gone. Instead, when he arrived he was full of smiles and was grateful that I was honest enough to return it. He explains that he does not keep money in his wallet.

Well you tell me what to think of this one. Can I trust him? He seems quite well off so I don't think he is after my money. Since I approached him and most Indian people are actually honest (one gets a slanted image of Indian people if one only talks to people who approach oneself - i.e touts) he is probably a decent chap. Anyway, he would like to meet with me on my next day off, which will be Sunday.

The photo: A picture of the resident geko. I have not seen it since I blinded it with my flash. I hope it is ok :S

Friday, 6 November 2009

From Mumbai to Phaltan

After spending a day finding out about the possibility of buying a motorbike and then making a tourist trip over to Elephanta Island I decided I had had enough of Mumbai and would head straight to the rural agriculture research place, NARI near Phaltan. So on Sunday morning I headed to central Mumbai train station and bought 2nd class unreserved ticket to Pune (sometimes spelt in the more phonetic way, Poona).

The journey, again, was an interesting one - Indian style. There was a big rush to get into the train as soon as the doors opened. I was not in such a hurry as there didn't seem to be enough people to occupy all the seats, but apparently I was wrong. Each person aggressively defended a number of seats for their friends or family who would turn up later. Then the remaining seats were guarded by young boys who didn't have tickets but would only give up a seat in exchange for money. After walking away towards the next carriage the requested price soon dropped and I decided to pay the Rs. 10 (about 13p) in case I couldn't find another seat. I probably should have just cuffed one of the boys round the ears and claimed the seat for myself, but I later discovered other late arrivals were happy to pay the ransom.  So maybe it is the done thing if you want to turn up late and can afford to pay a little more. Still considering I only paid Rs. 50 for the 3 hour journey, another Rs. 10 seemed a rip-off. At first the journey was comfortable, but at the next stop a few too many people got on. Then the next stop many more people got on. Eventually we were packed in like sardines and I was squashed against the window sharing my seat with an old man and people where occupying every inch of floor and overhead luggage space. Still, I had a nice view of the mountain pass and I managed to wrestle myself and my bag out at Pune station in time.

I was not impressed with Pune, or at least of what I saw of it: it was lots traffic penned in by tall walls. Not a nice place to walk. But walk I did as I still prefer to find my own way and ask people where is a good place to stay. I headed to the backpackers area of town. Here I found a number of westerners dressed in purple robes that looked in a world of their own. They were attending an expensive meditation resort. I stopped to talk to one one of the robed people, but she didn't seem to know much, though she tried to be helpful. Other westerners all seemed to be in a mood and avoided eye contact. Was it the way I looked? Did they not like seeing other westerners in a backpackers hangout? What ever their reasons, once I had haggled the price of a room down to a more reasonable, yet still expensive rate of Rs. 300, I hung out chatting with the locals who were much more friendly. I also had a nice conversation with an Iraqi student who was in India studying for a masters in English.

The next day I walked around the market area and had a Rs. 20 shave and slowly made my way back to near the train station were I arranged to meet an intern from NARI who was on his way back after spending a couple of days in Pune. Having an hour to kill I was delighted to find a secret garden were I was able to lie down in peace. It was quite a luxury. I later found out on GMapCatcher that it is called Wilson Garden and located here.

After a dusty and bumpy ride on a bus with the intern we arrived at Phaltan and went straight to a local restaurant to eat. I was surprised how cool it was. I am told that it is due to the number of farms in the region: all the water evaporating from the field s the air right down as soon as the sun goes. I was told that the temperature often drops to about 12 C, even though every day it is a pretty steady 30 C.

So here I am in Phaltan. NARI kindly has provided me with accommodation, consists of a room, private toilet, kitchen and dinning room, with the latter two shared with the intern. So, although simply furnished, it is more than I need. Of course I wasted no time in finding out my coordinate

I have been keeping pretty busy since I have arrived, which is why I have not given an update before now. Life at the moment consists of getting up at 8 am, washing, having misel (curry on bombay mix with thicker curry on the side and a couple of chapati's. Then I hop on the back of the interns motorbike and we ride the couple of miles to NARI's offices and labs.

My first job is to create a website for a new centre, the Bajaj Center that will offer educational programs and host conferences on sustainable development. I have also been busy helping the intern finish off a brochure about the centre and today I designed a logo for the centre, attached. It is a stylised profile of the centre buildings. Let me know what you think as there is still a little time to modify or redo it. My next job will be to try and solve a technical problem with an ethanol lantern/stove that NARI developed.

At about 1pm I walk to the end of NARI's drive and eat a set meal at a road side cafe, which always consists of a stainless steel tray with some rice, chapati's, thick curry, a small pot of very sour liquid yoghurt and a pot of liquid curry. (I don't eat the tray.) It makes a good meal and tastes nice, but we have pretty much the same for dinner too and I am beginning to miss some fresh fruit and veg. On the weekend I must buy some in town.

I only get Sunday's off and unfortunately this Sunday will also be the last day that the intern will be staying here. It is a shame because we have got on well and it will probably get very lonely in this house all by myself. It feels a bit like when I stayed in Italy in a flat in a small village near the lab. Only then I had a rented car. I have to sort out my transport soon.

I am reserving my judgement about NARI still because I have yet to visit their animal husbandry department and to find out if they perform any research of which I would disaprove. But my first impressions are good and I like the challenge of solving the problem with the lantern, which is effectively stabalising the temperature of the ethenol gasifier. Any questions I have about NARI's policies should be resolved soon when I design their website, as I would like to include some policy statements on it.

As you probably saw on google maps on my above links, is that the surounding area is very green with fields. The main crop here is sugar cane. The land owners here are pretty rich. Unlike the North of India that I visited 5 years ago, most people have tractors. It feels quite industrialised, with an air-raid siron going off in the morning and evening - assumably informing the labourers when they should be starting and finishing work. This is nothing to do with NARI I should add, and whom I believe only uses oxen to plow its fields. The rich local land owners are easy to spot because they all seem to drive expensive big new silver cars and land rovers - quite the opposite to NARI's style, which strongly believes that all greed should be firmly kept in check. Half of the rest of the people here still seem to be able to afford motorbikes and the other half either cycle, walk or take a ride in a trailer.

Sorry, again this was a bit of a long one.

Until my next adventure, which might be this Sunday, good bye!

Friday, 30 October 2009

So, the adventure begins... but all is still well.

[0740 - Indian time - somewhere between Delhi and Mumbai.]

I had barely touched down on Indian soil and my adventure was already taking me for me for a ride. Yes, I was definitely back in India. I guess the adventure began really when I checked in to AirIndia. For five minutes the lady wrestled with her computer. Eventually she told me that all was done and that I would have to collect my bag in Delhi and recheck it in to continue my journey to Mumbai. Her supervisor quickly corrected her and said that I would not have to collect my bag but that I still needed to go back out to departures to collect my continuation ticket. This sounded a bit odd so I checked twice that I had heard correctly.

It was my plan to test the theory that one recovers from jetlag more quickly if one skips a couple of meals before having a meal at the correct time at the destination. So, having had only a very light breakfast it didn't take me long to drift in and out of sleep on the plane - about six hours earlier than I normally go to sleep. That was after I had played with my GPS dongle for a bit. :)   I was very pleased with my seat I chose next to an emergency exit as it enabled me to both be next to the window and get up to go to the toilet regularly without disturbing my neighbour - because without food I had to drink much more water. Being next to the window enabled me to wave my dongle at some satelites and I managed to pick up a weak signal. That is, until I approached Afghanistan and I could no longer get a lock on - I don't know why.  Pity, as I was mainly interested in knowing how our flight navigated past those countries there.

[1100 - Mumbai]

So, arriving in Delhi I was a little disorientated from previously dozing and I didn't stop to wonder why as we walked out to customs that other passengers were crossing our path to catch another flight. Well I was soon to find out that w itas my flight, and by the time I was asking whre to go they told me it was my fault for not hearing an announcement. Now why couldn't the staff on my previous flight have warned me when they kindly gave me a water bottle and I told them that I wasn't sure I would be able to take it through security as I catching the Mumbai flight?...

After fallowing them around the airport and being told to wait here and there I was relieved that they managed to retrieve my bag. I also heard a last boarding announcement for a Mumbai flight - I wonder if that was mine that had not left yet because they had to remove my bag for security reasons... Well I was in their hands now, and after a bit more following someone about I was told there was not another flight to Mumbai from that airport till 9pm. I suggested that maybe I could come back another day and make a trip to Delhi. That suggestion fell on deaf ears and I waited a bit it and was told that I was booked on a domestic flight from another airport and that a favour had been done that I shouldn't talk about it [whoops] and that a tip of $20 would be nice for good will. I wasn't at all sure about that: paying another $20 for where I was already supposed to be shepherded to and getting into a pushy taxi driver's car with a bit of simple paper with a flight number printed on it... I dragged my feet, asking more questions such as what time was it and what time was my flight and maybe it was best I just called it a day and caught a train some other time. I didn't want to lose sight of my bag again. After walking away to think I was called over again and told that the flight was already arranged and did I want it or not and that I could hop on a bus for a free ride to the other airport. I thought I had nothing to lose with that and got on the bus. I sat and waited. Then a couple of security guards boarded the bus and took away my bit of paper and I sat and waited. Then after what seemed an age they returned with my bit of paper and the bus drove off - funny ways through the airport grounds past various airline hangers. I arrived at the front of the airport at 0535 and my flight left at 0600. Every queue again seemed to take to long time and because everyone else seemed to be as frantic as me I didn't feel I could do too much queue jumping - though I tried. I was running back and forth to security scan and label my bag, to check it in and pick up my ticket, to go though security and then run back to security when I was told I was missing a security tag for my cabin bag and finally I made it on the shuttle and the doors closed behind me.

I arrived this morning in Mumbai just after 8am only two hours later than expected and again to my relief my bag made my flight.

So, I am definitely back in India. Everything is just that little bit more crazy, yet somehow things work and actually I love it - it feels like home. I feel a bit sorry now not to have tipped the AirIndia guy as maybe he won't be as willing to help the next tourist. But if I had tipped him and missed my flight but manged to send my bag to Mumbai, I would have definitely been swearing. Did I fall into a scam?

Sorry, this blog post has been a bit long and not well edited. I am wide awake yet dazed at the same time and am taking it easy at the Salvation Army Red Shield Hostel  before heading out in search of grub and an internet cafe. I'll let you know after tomorrow if the fasting thing really worked.

[1444 - found an internet cafe]

P.s. I walked passed the recommended tourist place to eat and had a very good meal for a fifth of the price at a workman's cafe.. Now full of yummy green looking curry, rice and ge patty (spl?) and chai.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I'm off!

Well, I am off tomorrow morning, but I probably won't get another chance to email my blog before I go.

Leaving has not come sooner than expected because I was originally planning to leave several months ago. At that time I was hoping to visit a friend in Malaysia to help study ants in the rain forest up 50 m trees. The opportunity passed as I awaited my thesis corrections to be checked. I am still waiting and I am still waiting to hear that my examination report for my viva in April has been submitted.

It wasn't all waiting. I had various jobs to do at my parents before I left. These included repairing a summer house in the garden that was beginning to leak and rot and putting insulation in the roof. I found a great deal for the loft insulation on ebay and including the cost of hiring a van for a day was able to insulate above three rooms for £150. Particularly in the kitchen, which previously had no insulation, a 30 cm deep blanket of glass wool made from recycled bottles seems to have made a noticeable difference. Then there were other small jobs too. But these jobs were not the only things keeping me from feeling ready to leave.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving behind my first long time girl friend, Kaily, drawn above. We met through a Spanish friend, Elena, who came to visit the UK and stayed with Kaily in London. I travelled from Brighton to go clubbing with them in London for a night. Having chatted with her on Don't Stay In after would we have barely failed to see each other every weekend since for the last three and a bit years. Was it the sweaty photo that did it or the florescent ginger beard? What ever it was, I am very glad to have met her and shall be very sad to leave her. For leaving her I am. We decided months ago that we wouldn't attempt a long distance relationship. I don't know when I shall be returning, but when I do come back, either we are still suitable for each other or we are not. Of course it is not without risk to hurt feelings: maybe one of us will find someone else and the other not. But I guess that is all part of life.

Anyway, it will be with mixed feelings that I go away. On one side is the excitement of being free, single and entering a new life, and on the other is regret at leaving the life I already have and the parts of it I love. On past experience of travelling alone, emotions tend to swing about, depending mostly on whom I meet. Will the butterflies in my stomach turn to lead? I expect at some point they will, but I hope at the end the journey will all be worth it. Anyone who is lucky enough also know Kaily please look after her when I have gone. The picture of Kaily above I drew as a leaving present and is a copy of a photo that I have had on my phone's backdrop for the last year.

Looking ahead now. I don't have a clear idea yet what I shall be doing when I arrive in Mumbai. My first place of call will be NARI (Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute) where I am keen to make myself useful and hopefully pick up some engineering experience at the same time. I won't bother explaining more about the place yet, as before I visit I won't have a much better idea of the place than you will get if you visit the website. I would have liked to have bought a motorbike when I arrived in Mumbai, as the mountain roads in between Mumbai and NARI look absolutely beatiful on google maps. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I won't be too much waiting around for the right bike and insurance forms, considering I won't need a motorbike at Phaltan, where NARI is based. I don't know if and for how long I will be staying there yet, but if I end up staying in Phaltan some time it will be easier to sort out a bike there.

So good bye everyone, and welcome to an onslaught of diary style blog posts. If you are reading this on facebook you can catch up at any time on posts you may have missed at, or if you want to make sure you don't miss a post you can request to be added to my email list. I expect to have two email lists like the last time I went to India: one for wordy messages with photos that will be also be sent to my blog and another one that will be used to let family know I am still alive.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Today's adventure has been removing a padlock that was left on my rucksack after the last time I went to India. Of course the key has long ago been lost. A hacksaw I had barely polished the steel U-bend and I was not prepared to hacksaw all the way through the brass body or to buy bolt cutters. I decided to find out how difficult it was to drill out a lock. I had never done it before. I was lock smith virgin.

Now I feel like a qualified bank robber. Holding the lock with a pair of pliers I drilled straight though the barrel of the lock. It took a few minutes drilling and moments wait to let the lock cool down a bit, a few taps with a hammer and screw driver to remove any remaining bits, and I was delighted to discover the lock now opened with my screw driver. Woohey!

Eight days till I leave and counting.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Mumbai ahoy!

I just booked a flight ticket to Mumbai for the 29th October! So I am really going back to India.

Unfortunately I only have a standard six month visa and I have read that getting a new one in Kathmandu is a nightmare and likely to fail so I don't know if I shall end up coming back after six months or flying to Bangkok. I would prefer not to fly unless I have to. One moment I am grumbling about animal wellfare and the next I am killing the plannet with CO2 emmissions. I don't know. I would take the train if it was safe.

Lots to do before I leave. I have been busy insulating my parents' attic and I need to re-enforce a beam or two that are splitting and close up the holes I made in the sealings; plus other small jobs. Then I have to do a little more shopping before I go. I want a good anti septic cream for nasty grazes that tend to go septic in hot sweaty weather. Iodine drops for emergency water treatment. A map. Sunglass case. Soap box. The list goes on.

I have already tried packing my bag and I don't have that much - mostly because I am not packing many cloths. But I seem to have countless little bits and pieces. I wonder how I am going to organise it. My laptop I want to bring is a major culprit. Along with it comes a mains charger, a surge protector, and travel adapter (I could have bought the surge protector in India, but I prefer having a low ampage fuse in the plug - so spare fuses), a 12 volt car charger so I can charge it off the motorbike I would like, my GPS, a rucksack with modified internal pocket to put it in. A security cable in case I want to lock it to a desk where ever I am volunteering.  Ear phones. A mic. Then there are my USB chargers for camera and mobile phone batteries. Don't get me started on my medical and sowing kits! Maybe when I am a seasoned traveller I'll give an itinerary of what I actually have found useful.

Ok off to bed now as I want to do plenty of work tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

GPS with a CVGI-B07 on Eeebuntu


This is not part of my travel diaries, but it is part of my preparation of going to India. I know it is not the greenest thing to do, but I am planning on buying a light motorcycle to get about in India with, which in my opinion, having in the past rented a Yamaha RX 100 in Goa, is probably the most enjoyable way of travelling off the tourist trail.  Because I want to avoid the major roads, the chance of me getting lost is probably quite high. So having a GPS system for locating myself as either a last resort or to check that I haven't missed a vital turning, to me sounds like more fun than it is to be ashamed of. In rural India it can be very difficult to ask for directions because often the people are no better at helping me read my map than I am pronouncing a town's name. I probably mentioned in my previous post that I bought an eeepc so that I can jump at the possibility of performing data analysis during my volunteer experiences. So this post is both a record for myself how I set up the GPS, and particularly I hope it will be useful to anyone trawling the internet looking for the solutions to the same problems that I faced.

I still don't know when I am going to India, but it probably will be mid October now. I am still waiting to here if my corrections to my thesis are sufficient, but am about to take the risk of printing it off anyway and leaving it at uni for someone hand in for me.

  • Asus eeepc 1000HD - my netbook
  • Eeebuntu base 3.0 - my Linux operating system
  • CVGI-B07 USB GPS dongle (was the cheapest I could find - £22 incl. p&p from ebay)
  • GMapCatcher - allows you to download Google maps for offline viewing. Also incorporates a GPS marker.
  • python - runs GMapCatcher
  • gpsd - translates the gibberish from the dongle into coords for GMapCatcher
  • Install python and gpsd. I already had python installed and I installed gpsd 2.38 through the Synaptic Package Manager.
  • Download GMapCather and unpack in a suitable place.
  • enter   tail -f /var/log/messages    into a terminal
  • Go outside if you are not already and make sure you have an unobstructed view of the sky.
  • Attach GPS dongle which will flash for some time while it locates satellites.
  • Then look at the text printed to the terminal when you plucgged in the device. Hopefully you have the PL2303 driver and it says sometime like mine: 
Sep 22 23:12:00 onyx kernel: [22297.432119] usb 2-1: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 17
Sep 22 23:12:00 onyx kernel: [22297.592456] usb 2-1: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice

Sep 22 23:12:00 onyx kernel: [22297.597554] pl2303 2-1:1.0: pl2303 converter detected

Sep 22 23:12:00 onyx kernel: [22297.615352] usb 2-1: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
  • Close tail with Ctrl C and enter   gpsd -bnN -D4 /dev/ttyUSB0   where the last part is taken from the port that was printed earlier - see above in red. Warning: Don't miss out the -b option for the CVGI-BO7 dongle - I'll explain below. Hopefully plenty of exciting gibberish will fly past your eyes and you might even catch a glimpse of some text saying that it has locked onto a Satellite.
  • To make more sense of all gibberish you might like to open xgps, which should have installed with gpsd. xgps will show you a graphical display of the number of locked in sats. Empty circles are not locked in. Red spots are week and green strong signals and yellow in the middle the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) is also listed for each satellite.
  • If you have a lock onto three or more satellites start in the GMapsCatcher folder, select Marker Centre from the GPS drop down menu that only appears when gpsd is correctly installed and running and zoom in and you should be taken to your current location. Oh, did I forget to tell you that you should have run GMapsCatcher before so that you can view the maps offline when you are outside?


Hopefully you'll have none, but if you do, here are the problems I encountered and how I solved or got around them.

- GPS does not lock onto Satellites.
  • Did you go outside? I never bothered but it does help particularly for first lock-in.
  • It seems to help to not plug the USB dongle directly into the computer but to the end of an extension USB cable.
  • I had the impression that installing/running roadnav or some navigation software once was needed to configure my CVGI-BO7 dongle as on a Windows, Mac and Linux computer it only would work once I had run such software. gpsd can't configure the dongle with the -b option set (I'll explain below). Roadnav only had a debian file for an older version of ubuntu but it still worked for me.
- You didn't listen and ran gpsd without the -b option? I wish I had been told myself! I thought I had bricked my dongle! When I sent the command the dongle light went out and when I next plugged it in the light would stay on and not flash or write anything to the serial port. It no longer could pass for Christmas decoration. The problem is that gpsd tries to optimise the device which obviously does not like it. Luckily there is a solution.
  • I found out that the CVGI-B07 GPS dongle uses a SiRF star III chip and that the company, SiRF, has a tool that you can download to configure their chips. You can download it from this link.  You want the demo tool, not the firmware. Install this on a Windoze PC and enter your dongle on the PC - after of course you have installed the PL2303 chip driver, which hopefully came with your dongle.
  • Open SiRFDemo and select your appropriate port. You can find the port number by clicking Start, right click on My Computer -> Properties, select the Hardware tab, Device Manager, expand Ports (COM & LPT) and you should see the port number there. You can remove the dongle and put it back in to make sure you have the right one.
  • Select the Baud Rate. 4800 worked for me and click the confirm button on that window. The main program should now load.
  • Click the little button that says "Connect to Data Source" when you hover your mouse over it. It should start doing stuff now.
  • Now select   |Action > Initialize Data Source. A window popped up for me at this point asking which software the chip was using. I chose the default one which was first in the list and which I found on this page but I can't remember which it was now - either GSW or GSC. On the next window I selected the option to reset and clicked send. After a few moments the dongle starting flashing again. Hurray! If you don't dare reseting it you probably can wait a week or a month or two until the internal rechargable battery runs down and the memory is cleared.
  • You can find some detailed instructions for using SiRFDemo here.
  • Using the -b option next time with gpsd prevents gpsd writing to the dongle. With the debug level set at -D2 occasionally psd complains, but it still does its job.
- Why do the markers in GMapCatcher look naf?
  • I had to hard code the path to the images  - eg replacing filename = os.path.join('images', 'marker_gps.png') with filename = os.path.join('/home/cjreeve/GMapCatcher/images', 'marker_gps.png') in the file,, and located in src in the GMapsCatcher directory. The problem was that the program otherwise looks for the folder images where ever you start the program and I use the Cairo Dock to start it and who knows which directory it looks in then...
  • The pin image that points to your markers (if you set any) looked too big for my liking so I scaled it down with some image editing software (The Gimp) but maintained the pixel size dimentions of the image.

That's pretty much it. I would currently recommend the CVGI-BO7 dongle, but this might change if it breaks as soon as I need it. I'll let you know. From my garden it locks onto 8 satellites (with SNRs between 25 and 43) in less than a minute after a days non use. It looks nice but is not branded and does not come with very helpful instructions. It comes with the Prolific 2303 Windows and Mac OS X drivers which work, but only has some old Redhat drivers for Linux. Ubuntu seems to ship with the driver so I had no problem - it just took me some time to realise. Let me know, anyone, if you found any of this information useful.

CVGI-B07 Manufacturer Specifications
  • Primary Function: GPS receiver USB dongle
  • Tracks up to 20 satellites.
  • Receiver: L1, C/A code
  • Max update rate: 1 HZ
  • Acquisition time
    • Reacquisition: 0.1 sec average
      Hot start: 1 sec.
      Warm start: 38 sec.
      Cold start: 42 sec.
  • Position Accuracy
      Non DGPS (Differential GPS)
        Position: 5-25 meter CEP without SA
        Velocity: 0.1 meters/second, without SA
        Time: 1 microsecond synchronized GPS time
      DGPS (Differential GPS)
        Position: 1 to 5 meters
        Velocity: 0.05 meters/second
          < 2.2 meters, horizontal 95% of time
          < 5 meters vertical 95% of time
  • Dynamic Conditions:
      Altitude: 18,000 meters (60,000 feet ) max
      Velocity 515 meters (700 knots) / second max
      Acceleration: 4 G, max
      Jerk: 20 meters/second, max
  • Antenna Type: Built in Patch Antenna
  • Minimum signal tracked: -159dBm
  • Dimensions: 74 x 25 x 14 mm
  • Operating temperature: -40 to +80
  • Storage temperature: -45 to +100
  • Operating humidity: 5% to 95% No condensing.
  • Power consumption: < 80mA at 4.5- 5.5V input
  • Protocol and interface
      NMEA output protocol: V.2.2
        Baud rate: 4800 bps
        Data bit: 8
        Parity: N
        Stop bit: 1
      Interface: USB port
  • Color: Blue
  • Manufacturer Ref: ZMZP1KZL0U

Product Notes

  • **This model is compatible with most brands of GPS software - however hardware specific software such as Garmin may not run on this unit. the manufacturer provides the GPS-enabled hardware only, not the software. No warranty or customer support regarding GPS software. Any software installation you undertake should be performed or supervised by a professional.

Package Contents

  • Model CVGI-B07 GPS Receiver USB Adapter
  • CD (English user guide; drivers for Mac, Linux, and Windows operating systems; GPS testing software)
  • USB cable
  • Display/storage box

Friday, 17 July 2009

My new blog: The Adventures of Superdoc

Hi, I have started this blog in anticipation of my travels to see how I might keep people posted - if they so wish. I must admit, despite the name of my blog, I am not a doctor yet, as I have not yet submitted the final copy of my thesis or attended graduation. I have, however, passed my viva so I hope that soon - sometime probably in January - I shall be worthy of the title Superdoc. 

By January I expect I'll be too far away to attend my graduation. I am not sure exactly where, but my current best plan is to head back to the fascinating land of India. My main goals while I am away are to volunteer and be of some use to someone and to learn more about what fascinating things there are to learn about - other than physics. Some of the things that currently interest me are all aspects of sustainable living that is sensitive to the environment and to animals. Because I don't want to entirely lose all of my analysis skills I am hoping at some point in my travels to help out with the analysis of a conservation project or something. For this purpose, and because I expect I shall be in a few places more than I will be travelling, I'll be bringing a nice wee eee pc with mee running eeebuntu

A good place to start my travels I thought would be Auroville, which is an experimental community of about 2000 people and growing, trying to do just that: live sustainably. There are some aspects of it that sound strange to me as an outsider, but there seems there is so much I can learn. The plan is to volunteer in the mornings planting trees as part of a reforestation project and then explore Auroville and hopefully I'll be able to get involved in some research project there. One of my long running interests are in alternative energy and efficiency, which is probably the sort of area I'll end up looking for a job. Thus I'll be particularly interest in the energy solutions they have and are implementing.

I'll paste more details below of the conservation project, the replanting of Sadhana Forest, in case anyone is interested in joining me. Also, if anyone can recommend any volunteer jobs that are affordable on a shoe string - I would be most grateful.



Sadhana Forest

Our main project is the reforestation of 70 acres of severely eroded land.  We are working to re-create the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest indigenous to our area.  This forest type is found only in Southern India and Sri Lanka and provides a rare biological richness due to its very high species abundance (over 1000 species of trees, shrubbery, and liana).  The Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest is now close to total extinction as only 0.01% survives. This is a last moment effort to keep this very rich and beautiful Forest on earth.


As part of our reforestation effort we are also working on water conservation and soil management.


Below is a brief overview of our activities since we started Sadhana Forest in December 2003.  This overview covers the almost five years from December 19th 2003 (the day we moved into Sadhana Forest which was then totally barren land) to December 9th 2008:


Indigenous Tree Planting:


We planted more than 20,500 Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest plants of 150 different indigenous species, and are constantly mulching and caring for them. 


Survival rate in average is between 80% - 90%.  Survival rate does not fall below 70% even on the most degraded soil


Water table recharge and conservation:


More than 7 kilometers of trenches have been dug and eight earth dams have been built, altogether storing more than 50,000 cubic meters of rain water. 


As a result of this work underground water level has risen by 6 meters from an average of 26 feet deep during 2003 (before Sadhana Forest was started) to an average of 6 feet during 2007 after four years of intensive water conservation work.


Outreach and Education:


A very warm friendship has developed between us and the villagers around. We work together to regenerate and protect our area. The project is very frequently visited by local people, especially kids. Every visitor is welcome and gets an explanation of the project and its value to the environment.


More than 1,600 volunteers, interns, and students from India and around the world have lived and worked in Sadhana Forest for periods of 2 weeks to 24 months. Accommodation in Sadhana Forest is always free.


Hundreds of children from the surrounding villages and from Auroville have planted TDEF trees. 


Over 50 kids are regularly caring for the trees they planted on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.


Twenty Ecological Living workshops were given as part of the Auroville Winter Integral Studies Program. Totally more than 600 people attended these workshops:


The second Van Utsav (Indian Forest Festival) was hosted in March 2006, with attendance of over 100 people from all over India: During the festival lots of relevant update environmental information and skills were exchanged between the participants.


A group of students from Plymouth State University, New Hampshire stayed in Sadhana Forest with their professor in January 2008 and their experiences are described at:


More than 4 thousand people have visited Sadhana Forest for a few hours and received a basic introduction to our work.


In June 2008, we started the Eco-Film Club. Every Friday we host 20-80 guests for a free environment film screen, tour of the project, and free vegan dinner.



Sustainable Infrastructure:


Sustainable infrastructure was installed that can host local and international volunteers.


All structures are built from local natural materials.  A solar system, dry composting toilets, and a grey water system have been installed. Water infrastructure has been built that enables to water trees on 30% of the land.


Our experience with volunteers has been very positive. Volunteers from all over the world create here a dynamic community atmosphere. Living and sharing in a communal atmosphere brings us in harmony with nature and ourselves. One of our volunteers put it very nicely in her letter to us when she left, "May there be many forests to grow people".


We are happy to welcome volunteers here any time of the year and always have plenty of space for them. We are fully committed to accept everyone that wishes to volunteer here and help recreate the forest. You do not need to let us know the date of your arrival unless you wish to do so. Please simply plan your trip so that you arrive to Sadhana Forest on any day Monday to Friday before noon.


Accommodation for volunteers is in exchange for a 20 hour work week, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week.


Other free facilities for volunteers include a small swimming pool, free 24/7 unlimited access to the internet with your own laptop, a small collection of books, daily yoga class, the use of several bicycles, and a playground for children.


Volunteers mainly plant, mulch and water trees, work in our little vegan-organic vegetable garden, maintain the community area, and spend time with the community kids.


We appreciate creativity and initiative and welcome any ideas you may have to improve our project and our community.


We practice an eco-friendly way of life including veganism, alternative construction, solar energy, biodegradable toiletries, and compost toilets.


Sadhana Forest is a nonprofit ecological project that does not generate any income.  Therefore we unfortunately cannot afford to provide free food for volunteers.  We have communal vegan 100% organic meals. We all equally share the cost of the food ingredients we purchase.  The total cost of food per person (including 3 meals a day) is 150 Indian Rupees per day (about $3 US).  In the future, when we grow our own food, we hope to pay less. Everyone takes turns organizing and cooking the meals and washing the dishes.  Depending on the number of people here at a given time, each meal has one or more cooks, plus help from whomever is around. 


Upon completion of 3 months of volunteering you will not have to contribute any more for your food.


Sadhana Forest is a 100% vegan environment, so we ask volunteers not to bring or eat any non-vegan food in the forest.  A vegan is a person who avoids the use of any animal products for nourishment or for any other purpose.  Vegans do not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy (milk) products, honey, or any other animal products. Our primary motivation to be vegans is to reduce animal suffering.


We expect volunteers not to use drugs and alcohol during their entire stay at Sadhana Forest, whether inside or outside of Sadhana Forest. 


There is a cigarette smoking corner just outside the forest's main entrance.


Please bring the following with you (for your convenience we are mentioning the local prices of the items in the nearby town of Pondicherry, so you can decide whether to buy them at home or locally):


1. A mosquito net (preferably rectangular shape and not round). Local price in Pondicherry is 150 Rupees (Approx. 3 US Dollars).


2. A torch (flashlight) preferably with rechargeable batteries.  Local price in Pondicherry is 50 Rupees (approx. 1 Dollar) and extra for batteries.


3. Ecological biodegradable toiletries: soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, and shampoo. Local price in Pondicherry is 120 Rupees (Approx. 3 US Dollar) for a sufficient supply of all toiletries for two weeks. We buy ecological biodegradable toiletries in bulk for 80 Rupees, and you can get them from us at the same price of 80 Rupees (Approx. 2 US Dollars) instead of 120.


The minimum stay is 2 weeks, though many volunteers stay for a few months or more. From January 1st to March 1st the minimum stay will be 4 weeks.


We are also very interested in longer term volunteers/interns staying with us for a period of three months or longer.


We are part of the international community of Auroville, 6 km north of Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu, South East India.


Auroville offers a wealth of courses, classes, workshops and treatments in many areas of interest, including yoga, meditation, tai-chi, shiatsu, watsu (water shiatsu), free dance and many other kinds of alternative healing therapies.


For more information on Auroville please visit


Our volunteers have found that the most convenient visa arrangement for visiting India is a "Tourist Visa". In the "object/purpose of journey" our volunteers suggested to fill in: "Tourism".


The cheapest and easiest way to reach Sadhana Forest from Pondicherry is to get a bus from Pondicherry to Tindivanam or to Sedarapet, and get off at a village named Morattandi (about 4 km drive from Pondicherry). Please phone us from Morattandi to pick you up. You can also take an autorickshaw from Pondicherry to Morattandi (maximum price 120 Rupees). 


The nearest international airport is Chennai. If this is your first time in India and you are arriving directly from Chennai airport to Sadhana Forest it may be easier for you to take a taxi to Sadhana Forest. Taxi reservations may be made online with Auroville Transport Service at: or with Unity Transport Service by email at uts[et] (cost approx 1500 Rupees), or you could organize it at the airport and the cost will be approx 2000 Rupees. The main disadvantage of finding your own taxi at the airport is that the driver is unlikely to know the way here. In this case phone us on the way and we will direct you here.


Please plan your schedule so that you reach Sadhana Forest any day Monday to Friday before 12 o'clock noon.


Our telephone numbers are 2677682 or 2677683 or 2902655 or 6532461.  If you phone us from anywhere else in India (with the exception of Pondicherry) you need to dial 0413 before the number.


If you have any other questions please feel free to write to us at aviram[et] or phone us at the numbers listed above.


Please circulate this information to anyone else you feel may be interested in interning or volunteering at Sadhana Forest.  It would be especially helpful for us if you would forward this email to any individuals that would be potential long term interns/volunteers.


Sadhana Forest, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India