Mapper of the month: Allan Mustard (USA/Turkmenistan)

I “met” Allan Mustard when I saw his keynote speech on SOTM 2016. More recently, I read a few of his diary entries where he tells about his surveys. So I decided to contact him for an interview.

Who are you ?

I am the United States ambassador to Turkmenistan. I live in Ashgabat, and depending on one’s point of view am a professional diplomat, an agricultural economist, a political scientist, a Russian linguist, or an amateur cartographer. My official biographic sketch is here.

Downtown Ashgabat Downtown Ashgabat CC-BY-SA Allan Mustard

When and how did you discover OpenStreetMap ?

I discovered it in New Delhi during a posting to the U.S. embassy there, when looking for a better map of the city for my Garmin GPS.

What do you map ?

Mostly Turkmenistan, particularly the city of Ashgabat, but if I am traveling elsewhere and see something missing, I add it out of habit.

Is there any difference with your early days ?

I think I am a better mapper now! Now that most of the streets in downtown Ashgabat have been identified, I have shifted to surrounding suburbs and villages.

Dayahatyn Caravansaray Dayahatyn Caravansaray CC-BY-SA Allan Mustard

How do you map ? Do you make surveys ?

Yes, of course. My wife and I have spent many evenings, weekends, and holidays collecting street names, POIs, names of towns and villages. I discovered Mapillary at SOTM 2016 and have so far uploaded over 120,000 images, mostly in Turkmenistan. I also use Digital Globe imagery to update new roads and streets, since Turkmenistan changes constantly.

Are you an armchair mapper ?

Not really. There is so much data that needs collecting I tend to get out and travel, then edit to get it into the database. There are relatively few “armchair-style” information sources about Turkmenistan suitable for mapping, so getting out and about is best.

Which tools do you use ?

I use a Garmin nuvi GPS, two smartphones (iPhone and Android) with MAPS.ME and Pocket Earth, plus Mapillary of course. ID is my choice of editors–JOSM is more powerful but more complex and I simply don’t want to spend the time needed to master it. I rely on Digital Globe for some imagery, but also collect GPS traces. The Bing imagery for Turkmenistan is so out of date it is more of a headache than a help. FieldNotes can be useful at times, particularly when asking a local source to identify street names and POIs in an area the source knows well.

Yangy Kala Canyon Yangy Kala Canyon CC-BY-SA Allan Mustard

How do you conduct your surveys ?

Behind the wheel of a 2011 Toyota RAV4, with a GPS and an Android smartphone on the dashboard to collect data. Sometimes on foot, with my iPhone. If I am being driven somewhere in my official vehicle, from the passenger’s seat.

Where do you map ?

Almost all of the mapping for the last three years has been in Turkmenistan, with an occasional contribution for someplace I’m visiting.

What is your biggest achievement as mapper ?

Having created the single most comprehensive publicly accessible map of the city of Ashgabat.

Why do yo map ? What motivates you ?

I don’t like to get lost, and a GPS is only as good as its map.

What is the most difficult part of mapping ?

Keeping vandals from damaging the map, or people who really don’t know what they are doing from destroying my work. The OSM data working group has been a big help. After that, dealing with people who want to revert to old, obsolete names of streets–some of Ashgabat’s streets have had up to five names over their history.

What are your mapping plans for the near future ?

Work on the city of Mary, which is a four-hour drive east of Ashgabat. It has been neglected and needs some attention.

Do you have contact with other mappers ?

Surprisingly little. Turkmenistan is a police state and contact with foreigners is discouraged, so most local mappers will not interact with me.

Dinosaur Plateau Dinosaur Plateau CC-BY-SA Allan Mustard

Do you use OpenStreetMap yourself ? How ?

Of course. In the Garmin nuvi GPS (thank you, Lambertus!), in the smartphones (thank you, MAPS.ME and Pocket Earth!), for printing wall maps for use in the embassy (thank you, Igor Brejc, for Maperitive!). Since my embassy staff and I also add telephone numbers, it is turning into a decent business telephone book for Ashgabat (the last phone book here was published in 1993, and there is no online version besides OSM).

I am writing articles for the OSM wiki on Turkmenistan and Ashgabat to preserve the knowledge I’m accumulated during three years at this post. I have joined the OSM Foundation and make that small financial contribution, and encourage others to contribute a little money as well as data, too.

To conclude, is there anything else you want to mention ?

Mapping is a great way to get to know a city. The day I started giving directions to a motor pool chauffeur (I knew a new section of town and he didn’t, because I had already mapped it), I realized I really didn’t need to worry about getting lost in Ashgabat ever again.