Monday, December 14, 2009

Up the creek: Google Map Directions in Kenya


Google is huge and rapacious. Of course. But I often love what they do. Google Earth is a fabulous tool and Google Maps and Street View astonishing. But when launching the new Google Maps Directions service for Kenya, perhaps they forgot about the Likoni "ferry" – the roll-on, roll-off lumps of rotting iron that link Mombasa Island with Kenya's south coast, and Tanzania.

If you use Google Map Directions to find a route from Bamburi (North Coast) to Diani Beach (South Coast), Google suggests you drive off into the bush, via Kinango and Kwale. This takes you round the back of the maze of creeks behind Mombasa island. Picturesque in parts, but very, very rough. Google says "about 2 hours 13 mins". I'd say "allow a day". And then curiously, the directions give up, just minutes from Diani Beach, as if exhausted, leaving you driving back up the hill again towards Kwale. The proper route goes straight across Mombasa Island, over the ferry, and down the coast highway. When the traffic is quiet, early in the morning (and if you're lucky with the ferry timings), you can get from Bamburi to Diani Beach in just over an hour.

Mad directions like these are teething troubles: give this two or three years to bed down and most of Kenya will be very navigable on Google Maps. Already the level of detail is impressive.

I'm wondering about Google Street View in Kenya, though. Is that going to work?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Richard Leakey interview


I've just been tweeted this superb interview by the always stimulating Paula Kahumbu (@paulakahumbu), CEO of Wildlife Direct, and now I see it's two years old. But it's so well crafted and delivered, and such a compelling and fascinating piece, that it's highly recommended viewing. Leakey's theory of the empathetic biped (Homo sapiens), that he expounds in the clip on p.5, is one I've never heard before. I find the idea that humans became human because one leg out of action means the whole creature is out of action – and therefore has to be looked after – just wonderful. As a thinker and a deliverer, Leakey is in a class of his own.

He makes great wine, too. And like so much else in his life, they said it couldn't be done.