august 2005 archives

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mapping Hacks review

Of course, I am aware that a review of Mappings Hacks is long overdue. But better late than never. Most people in the GI industry would skip this review from reading just the book title. The term hack brings to mind images of puberile computer geeks making up plans to infiltrate sensitive computer networks, while staring at a black screen. This publication certainly would not stand out from the line of other O'Reilly books on computer security, programming and Internet technologies, would it? Actually, as O'Reilly put it themselves:

The [...] Hacks Series reclaims the term hacking for the good guys — innovators who explore and experiment, unearth shortcuts, create useful tools, and come up with fun things to try on their own.

Holding a copy of the book in your hands, this motto becomes apparent at the first glance. While O'Reilly books are typically recognised by their engravings of animals on the cover — the Programming PERL book is even generally referred to as The Camel — the cover of Mapping Hacks has a brighter appearance. The full-colour photo of the compass and map on the cover refer to the traditional tools of the mapping trade, whereas the so-called hacks in the book explain the new tools of the trade, both on the desktop and on line. The interior also comes with many colourful graphics. After all, it's a book about cartography!

Across 9 chapters the hacks explain how to map your daily life, your neighbourhood, and your world using simple computer programmes and web sites. Quite a few examples are only pertinent to the States, as many geographic data sets are available for free. Another hack explains where you can get free geographic data sets for other countries and how you can make your government aware to change their copyright and pricing policies regarding geographic data sets. However, as both chapter 2 and 7 rely heavily on US data sets, these may not be so interesting to readers from outside the States. But let this not keep you from buying the book...

Are you looking to map all the countries you have visited, hack 3 explains you how to do this. If you are not completely sure about notations of geographic coordinates and how to convert from degrees, minutes, and seconds to decimal degrees, flip the pages to hack 25. The hacks in chapter 4 explain how to include a map in Flash, Java or DHTML of locations of shops, earth quakes or where you took your holiday pictures. Turn to chapter 5 if you like to make full use of your GPS device. There are enough hacks to entertain you in case a rainy weekend cut short your plans to go on a geocaching hunt. The hacks in chapters 6 to 9 cover more advanced topics and describe how to use various Open Source GIS programmes for geographic analyses and to build web applications.

The short hakcs and many graphics make the subject accessible to cartographers and GIS users with little programming experience. On the other hand, the technical hacks with bits of code in PERL, JavaScript and HTML provide software developers and web programmers with little knowledge of cartography and GIS enough information to write new pieces of code themselves and build new applications. The book mainly seems to cater for this group. However, in case you miss Arc/Info on a Unix machine and are not hesitant to enter a command at the prompt, you'll feel at ease reading this book. Furthermore, the many examples show that Open Source GIS is an adequate alternative for proprietary GIS packages.

There is an accompanying Mapping Hacks web site, where you can download various geographic data sets and Open Source GIS distributions. Some of the examples discussed in the book can be accessed online and the authors regularly write about the topics covered in the book.  permanent link for this entry

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Real-time and interactive, but why is it just not happening?

The highlights of this afternoon at SVG Open 2005 were the presentations about Denver's real-time flood warning system and about the Tirol Atlas. Why? Because these applications really show the strengths of SVG: on-the-fly generation of the interface from XML using XSLT and a highly interactive interface to visualise complex data.

On the way home, I tried to make sense of my impressions so far. Today and tomorrow morning the geo-information track makes up quite a bit of the programme. Further on in the programme, there's no separate geo-information track, but topics in geo-information are discussed anyway. Fair enough, it's better to support one format (SVG) to deliver vector maps that's even a W3C recommendation rather than proprietary formats from each of the GIS vendors. However, none of these GIS vendors is attending the conference. Also, with the geo-information track taking up so many slots, it's seems there's little adoption of SVG outside the (academic) GI community.

Presenters were still going on about the lack of support of the SVG spec by web browser plugins. Are there any representatives of Adobe in the audience? Furthermore, there are quite some cross browser issues. There is the pre-release version of Adobe SVG Viewer, commonly referred to as ASV6, that includes experimental features. However, it's still pre-alpha and provided primarily for developer evaluation and feedback. If you like to be really geeky, get yourself the latest Mozilla Firefox (a.k.a. Deer Park Alpha 2) builds that have a native SVG implementation as opposed to relying on plug-in SVG viewers. I hope you agree this is just not something you want the general public to have to deal with before being able to use your online map application! Looking forward to tomorrow, though.  permanent link for this entry

Attending SVG Open

It's been three years since I attended the first SVG Open conference in Zurich and two Flashtivals in Amsterdam and Rotterdam later and here I am: at SVG Open 2005 in the very town of Enschede, the Netherlands! Despite the usual blah blah (apart from Johan mentioning Droombeek!) during the opening session, the presentations this morning really showed me that SVG applied to the field of geo-information is alive and well. Who else to kick off this track than Andreas Neumann? If you liked the map navigation widget gallery here on webmapper, be sure to read his paper and check out Figure 10!

The interactive hiking map of Yosemite National Park (make sure you've got an SVG plugin!) application really shows the power of web mapping using web standards and OGC specs! Like to create your own app? There's a great tutorial available.

If these presentations give a flavour of the conference, it was definitely worth waking up for at 6a.m. this morning! Be sure to check back regularly or keep a close eye on your news feed reader as I'm sure there's going to be another update here soon.  permanent link for this entry

Friday, August 12, 2005

iPod plus maps equals...

Is there music in maps? Not quite, although I really like Ed Parson's point that the experience of the music industry may also apply to geographic information, i.e. the napsterisation of geographic information. Since last week, I have been playing around with my new iPod Color! Podcasts are becoming another way to keep up with the recent hype of location. Even Adam Curry himself (For Dutch readers: do you remember watching Countdown?) recently got excited about the possibilities of using the Google Maps API with GPS to overlay digital photos on a map. Also the IT Conversations podcast Geolocation: The Killer Map is worth listening to.

Ed Parsons took his thoughts a bit further and wondered whether postcasting is a potential means of distributing geodata. As of Tuesday this week, William Bright has brought Ed's thoughts one step nearer, when he lauched iPodSubwayMaps.com. On this website you can download tiled versions of various underground maps that you can view on your iPod.

The new iPod Colour displays 25 full-colour thumbnails at a time, and with the touch-sensitive Apple Click Wheel you can scroll through them the same way you scroll through song titles. When you see a photo you like, you just click the centre button to see it in full. So, when you tile an underground map into 220 by 176 pixel tiles, you get to see the underground map in the thumbnail view. Navigating using the wheel and centre button, you can zoom in to a particular part of the map! No need to get lost on the underground, just pull out your iPod!

When can we expect the next cartographic conference with scholars talking about iCartography? I bet it's going to be next one in the list:

  1. Cartography
  2. Digital Cartography
  3. Web Cartography
  4. TeleCartography (that's for maps on mobile devices)

Will the next version of iPod have a Flash Player, or even come with an SVG viewer? Will the Apple Click Wheel replace the Ajax-based Google Maps UI as the definitive map navigation widgetpermanent link for this entry

Monday, August 08, 2005

Degree confluences

On our trip from Gainesville to the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, we made a slight detour to visit the intersection of the 29th parallel north of the Equator and the 82nd meridian west of Greenwich, i.e. a degree confluence. Yes, it took some convincing. The land owner was not surprised when I asked permission to enter his property to hunt for the exact spot — people come to visit this confluence on an almost weekly basis, he told me —, but my girlfriend gave me weird looks when I suggested this. Is there a mark to indicate this point? How do you know when we are there? Where is it? Why do you want to go there?

As I learned from the stories of previous visits, this confluence was easy to visit. We left Interstate 75 near Ocalo and joined Highway 27 southbound that would take us past the confluence. Since the confluence is located left of the highway (going south), we overshot the location first by several hundred meters to find a place to make a U-turn. Then we parked the car and made the last meters to the confluence on foot. One by one, the decimals on the screen of the GPS unit changed to a magical 0! For some time we only had to move the GPS slightly, as the confluence travelled due to the inaccuracy of the signal until it moved to a spot on top of a parked RV.

After all, it was quite exciting to hunt for the confluence. The nearest primary confluence in the Netherlands is near Arnhem. In September, when I present at the 2005 SoC Summer School, I hope to visit the confluences near Gatwick (on my way in) and between Cambridge and Luton (on my way out). Let's see whether I can fit it in. Yes: I am hooked!  permanent link for this entry

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Google v. mapping hackers

It's recently been suggested that all the excitement around Google Maps and Google Earth has diverted many enthousiasts from participating in Open Source GIS development and free map data creation. So, instead of coming up with their own mapping hacks or contributing to the Open Source mapping community, programmers with an interest in mapping now rather create Google Maps mash-up. Also, these newcomers would take the availability of mapping data for granted and leave important initiatives such as OpenStreetMap standing in the cold.

Mikel Maron (creator of WorldKit and World as a Blog) made me realise there is a way in which Google may actually support collaborative mapping initiatives through its Ride Finder service. With this service, you will get a map showing the companies and where their vehicles are located by simply supplying a zip code, the name of a city or even a specific address. Remember London-based Zingo that connects you to your nearest cab driver? Ride Finder works for various taxi companies in cities across the US and plots the exact location of the vehicle on a map. Herein lies the benefit.

Peaking at the JavaScript that plots the locations on the map, Mikel found out he could download the locations of the vehicles. Over the course of a few days he ended up with over 40,000 coordinates that he plotted on a map of New York. As the vehicles use the street network, over time the traces could reveal the streets of the city just like Amsterdam Real Time. Mikel observes that the feed does not individually identify each vehicle, so it would be tricky to try and trace points together based on proximity and trajectory. But with a bit more effort from Google, the location data of these vehicles would be very valuable. Google may even start supplying the information to Navteq (in return for maps of Europe?) so they can keep their mapping database up-to-date!  permanent link for this entry

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mind your language

If you are still holding on to a desktop PC, websites can be derive a crude location from your IP address, using so-called IP geolocation services such as Quova and NetGeo. If you are the proud owner of a laptop with a wireless card, roaming all coffee bars that offer free wireless access, your location can be determined using Wi-Fi network access points, using services such as Plazes or Project PlaceSite. But with the growing popularity of VoIP, will your voice speak for itself in the future? In other words: Can we determine where you live from the way you speak? Sounds weird, right?

Remember the map of the US that shows the regional variations in the use of the terms Pop and Soda to describe carbonated soft drinks? Of course, this map by itself doesn't tell us much, but in combination with the Dialect Survey Maps, it may be possible to make a cross-reference!

Would VoIP geolocation only work for native speakers of American English? Well, there is variation in the use and pronunciation of any language. So, in Europe we would have to look for example at the work presented at the International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE). For his PhD research in Syntactic variation and Dialectometry, Marco René Spruit has produced various nice maps of the geographic variation in Dutch dialects.

The Meertens Institute has recently even published the Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects and the Morphology Atlas of Dutch Dialects with lots of maps. An online atlas using SVG is currently being developed!

However, I doubt whether VoIP geolocation will ever deliver us from the evil I am on the train remarks during mobile phone conversation, but these maps look very interesting, though!  permanent link for this entry