Photos Spare Cycles MythBusters

Category: GIS

June 19, 2007

Video demo of ArcGIS Explorer

Pretty cool presentation of ArcGIS Explorer's capabilities. The presenter shows the ability to swipe between topographic and satellite layer presentations of Mount St. Helens. Along the way, embedded 3D Quicktime, photo, and Web markers are pulled up for additional eye candy.

Also: ArcGIS Online, ESRI's official resource for accessing ArcGIS-related resources.

Previously: ArcGIS Explorer now publicly available

via All Points Blog

June 3, 2007

Google Streetview: a stepping stone

Much was made of the Google's release of the Streetview maps, but I haven't seen any posts that really focus on what I see as the real potential here. Instead, there's been the fun efforts to find 'interesting' StreetViews as well as a cat in a window being elevated to a New York Times article on Google + privacy (note: you can have images removed by clicking on 'Street View Help', 'Report image as inappropriate'). Good and/or fun to discuss, but where is this going?

Following the thread in my previous post:

  • Google buys Keyhole and recoins their product Google Earth
  • Google buys SketchUp and makes it easy to create 3-D buildings for Google Earth
  • Google integrates 3D-like buildings into Google Maps
  • Google licenses technology from Stanford/Stanley for 3D license for creating drive-by 3D models of buildings.
  • Google releases StreetView, aka drive-by photos of buildings

I know its been obvious from the start that photo-textured 3D buildings is where Google is headed, but it sure seems like their getting much, much closer now. How long before the StreetView car gets a SICK laser?

I'll close with my own little StreetView find, something fit for Year Zero.


ArcGIS Explorer now publicly available

Back in high school (circa 1995) I got my mandatory training in ArcView, part of the ESRI professional GIS portfolio at the time. I nerdily enjoyed learning about the software: loading different data layers, calculating groundwater absorption, saving shapefiles, etc... Despite being usable by high school students, ESRI's software wasn't targeted at the consumer: they were about the professional GIS scene and remained there... until Keyhole/Google Earth came along. ESRI was embarrassed by Google, which demonstrated that there was in fact a market for consumer GIS tools. ESRI prepared their countermove, ArcGIS Explorer, while Google continued with its efforts by acquiring SketchUp and releasing StreetView (photo-textured buildings are sure to follow, especially considering the Stanley 3D license).

Well, after long being available as various builds, ArcGIS Explorer is now publicly available. I'm not sure how this is different from before, but it's different and it's probably good. ESRI has more GIS experience than Google, but they are late to the game and don't understand the market as well. They also have one more problem: it's not just about Google Earth, it's about what Google Earth can do for Google Maps.

May 14, 2007

MotionBased: Beta Player is a nice upgrade

Garmin-related lets you upload your GPS-indexed workout data to the Web for online viewing and dissecting (I use it with my Garmin Edge 305). While I wish Garmin could provide an all-in-one solution (the PC Training Center software is better in some regards, the MotionBased Web site in others), the MotionBased site is taking a nice step forward with its new "Beta" Player software.

The Player supercedes the "Map Player", which is an SVG-based visualization that shows you some of your based workout data on a map and lets you playback your ride (a dot moves along your path and reads off your workout data at that time/point). But the map was kinda klunky and zoomed poorly: you couldn't view local roads, which are the roads that cyclists predominantly ride on. The Map Player also only worked in Internet Exploder and required an Adobe plugin.

The Player swaps out the SVG map with a great Google Maps mashup, which makes sense given that they already use a Google Map on the summary page. This map is much larger and adds interactivity: you can click on any location to select a particular data point. The readout of the data is cleaned up as is a summary graph that lets you show two data series (elevation, speed, pace, total distance, etc...). Its a lot more useful and less klunky than before.

As the Player is still in beta, it only appears from time-to-time. If you're lucky enough to see a "Player" tab next to the "Map Player" tab, be sure to give it a try.


April 12, 2007

Google Maps adding 3D-like buildings

googlemap3d.b.jpg Google Operating System: 3D Buildings in Google's Street Maps

Google Maps now has isometric projections for buildings in select cities, possibly drawing on 3D building data they have been gathering with their Google Earth product. It's not as cool as Microsoft's Virtual Earth 3D, but at least it works in any 'ole browser.

Checkout Boston or read the Google OS blog entry for more.

February 12, 2007

Maps as culture

GeoCarta has a post on a new collection of Holy Land Maps available online. What was striking for me, in addition to the beautiful maps, was this Geocarta observation:

Most of the early maps are oriented to the east, reflecting the view point of European mapmakers looking in the direction of the Holy Land. It wasn't until the Renaissance that cartographers began drawing maps oriented to the north.

i.e. a simple 90-degree rotation in maps summarizes a key distinction between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

I also liked the subsequent tidbit: "Reviewing the collection, one can see a change toward the end of the 18th century as maps began replacing pictorial elements with symbols and legends."

November 13, 2006

The 4th Dimension in Google

Just last week at lunch, we were discussing Google Earth and MS's Virtual Earth 3D and how cool it would be once there is enough data to start adding a time slider to it all. Move the slider on Mountain View and you'd get to watch the town collapse all the way down to a stage coach stop. Move the slider over San Francisco and watch the skyline appear and the Golden Gate Bridge come into fruition.

Well, as it turns out, we were discussing a feature that is, in some ways, already there. The new Google Earth 4 comes with a time slider, which works with any timestamp data. It's not the all encompassing time machine, as it is a feature that still awaits massive amounts of data, but people have already put it to work with Hurricane Katrina, London buildings, and more.

There's also another feature they've announced that fits well with all of this: new historical map layers.

This, to me, is a critical tipping point for consumer mapping applications. Before, they could only show us the present. Now, they can show us our past, i.e. give us glimpses into our cultural memory, take a walk down Memory Lane in 3D. Now, we just need data.

Google Earth Blog: Google Earth 4th Dimension Redux

November 9, 2006

Virtual Earth 3D

I've been playing around with Virtual Earth 3D, and at least when it comes to flying through realistic 3D models of major US metropolitan areas, Microsoft has gone into the lead over Google Earth. You have to install an Internet Explorer plugin, which isn't so bad when you consider that Google Earth is a separate application and didn't have a Mac client for quite awhile. Once you install it, I've enjoyed easily switching between map, satellite, birds-eye, and 3D views.  For some reason I am getting SimCity flashbacks.

There's room for improvement. The zoom controls are very wonky: 3 out of the 7 zoom levels launch you into outer space and it loses track of where you are on the map! Their attempt at incorporating virtual billboards into the models is also fairly crude (see screenshots below) and they are still missing models for some very landmark buildings (e.g. Prudential Center and Fenway Park in Boston). Nevertheless, this delivers one of the best out-of-the-box 3D mapping experiences for this sort of software (i.e. Google Earth), and it seems that Microsoft made very good choices in acquiring Vexcel and Geotango to make this all work.

San Jose: nice model of the new Richard Meier City Hall building, but what's that weird spec over the hills? Why, it's one of Microsoft's floating billboard ads in the middle of nowhere!

San Francisco: When I last checked Google Earth, you couldn't get a good model of the Transamerica without downloading custom models (a pain, really). Virtual Earth 3D includes nice models of the Transamerica and Coit Tower, but I don't seem to recall a large floating orange billboard atop the Transamerica.

Boston: Impressive model of the Christian Science Church Park and Hancock building, but what's a Boston skyline without the Pru (Prudential Center, large flat area just above church)?

More info: * O'Reilly Radar on 'Spaceland' preview * Windows Live Local blog

August 7, 2006

What are these blue spots?

I was playing around with Wikimapia, which seems to be a fun site because people have annotated a Google Map so that you can find out various things like apartment complex names, bike path entrances, sites of former dumps, etc... One of the best features of the site is that you can easily select a region of the map to post to your blog, like I did above.

The area above is the entrace to the Dish loop off of Junipero Serra -- anyone know what those blue spots are?

And speaking of maps: I hope to see the Old Maps group of Flickr grow.

April 12, 2006

Cali was an archipelago

image by Ron Blakeybldgblog has done a nice job of putting together Ron Blakey's beautiful maps of the formation of the North America continent:

October 13, 2005

Final links before I go

August 29, 2005

Big Sur + GPS: Phase 3


Phase 3: Big Sur Photos + GPS + Google Maps -- COMPLETE

muhahahaha -- phase 3 was really, really easy. I have to hand it to Google. Their Google Maps API documentation is well-written enough that I had my photo map up and running in a matter of minutes. You can pretty much copy and paste the Javascript code you need. They even have AJAX code so that you can read in all the data from a custom XML file. The only hard part was figuring out the right image sizes and whatnot so that the point and click was easy and didn't bring my browser to a crawl.

So, if you care: Big Sur Hike Photos and Map (Google Maps)

I'm going to take a break now from the hacking, but I'm sure I'll move onto Phase 4 and Phase 5 soon enough. Phase 4 will probably just involve modifying the photomap page to have better photo browsing controls, i.e. have thumbnails of the photos to the right or bottom that you can scroll through and click to see on the map. Phase 5 will probably involve reading in images from a Flickr photoset and automatically adding the geocode tags. Also, one of the annoying bits about all these hacks is you need about 4 different sizes for the photos -- something that Flickr handles automatically.

Big Sur + GPS: Phase 2

Quickly on the heels of Phase 1, Phase 2 is now complete. I have merged the photos from the hike with the GPS data and loaded it into Google Earth (Google Earth file).. The end result is fun to play with: the photos transition from scenic vistas along the higher route into photos of streams and forest in the lower terrain.

GPS data by itself isn't ideal as there is a bit of "Guess which direction I was looking" game. With the Google Earth 3D terrain you can spin around and usually figure out which direction a single photo was taken, but after awhlie this does get a bit tiring. Perhaps next time I should bring a compass and further annoy my hiking companions.

Phase 3 will probably involve a Google Maps hack of some kind. Google Earth is fun, but it's not very Web-friendly. It would take at least a dozen screenshots to convey the route and photos together, and the end result would be flat and non-interactive. With Google Maps I would lose the 3D aspect, but I think it will allow people to actually interact with the route and photos.

Google Earth-loadable map, route, and photos (KML)



More maps in the extended

Continue reading "Big Sur + GPS: Phase 2" »

August 28, 2005

Big Sur + GPS: Phase 1

It's taken me almost a year to complete my project with my GPS Christmas present, but at long last I'm starting to put together the pieces:

If you have Google Earth you can load this directly into it: Big Sur/Sykes.kml

Hike route (starting at Pfeiffer Big Sur parking log):


More hike route in the extended

Continue reading "Big Sur + GPS: Phase 1" »

May 27, 2005

Google Earth details

Just got my copy of the Google Earth Beta. I can't test it just yet because I purchased the cheaper NVIDIA-only license for Keyhole that will only run on Chunk (my home laptop) (update: added my own screenshots below).

Looking at the feature list, it looks like this will be a big upgrade: * GPS support * new primary database with imagery for Australia, South/Central America, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, as well as hi-res support for all of Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, and, Massachusetts. * 3D buildings in select cities (update: added a screenshot of an awfully pencil-like TransAmerica building in the extended entry) * integrated driving directions (don't care about this per se, but this is integrated with the flyover feature, which hopefully will be more useful than it's previous "flying morass of pixels" incarnation) * extension to their previous markup language, KML, which is now KMZ (KML zipped). From reading the descriptions, it looks like it will be easier to create photomaps (both in UI as well as with scripting tools). It's rather hard-to-tell, though, because Keyhole never released a public specification of KML, and I don't see any released for KMZ yet, either. In the past people have reversed-engineered the XML spec, but hopefully they will be nicer this time around. update: Google has posted the KML documentation and tutorial. (thanks Mickey)

The UI looks a lot cheesier, like some misguided homage to OS X (screenshot), but if the features live up the hype, this should be a nice upgrade from Keyhole NV.

Update: woohoo! There's a lot more imagery for Japan now, and they've unfogged my birthplace (military base). Here's a shot of Mt. Fuji close-up (checkout the extended entry if you want to see a screenshot of Fuji looming over Tokyo Bay):


The flyover driving directions are also sweet -- the map even spins as you go through a cloverleaf. It's mostly an eyecandy feature, though, as it takes about as long for it to fly between San Francisco and San Diego as it does to do the actual driving (even on the fastest flyover setting). Also, they went a little too crazy with the driving directions (in the spirit of Google Maps), which means that you'll find amusing popups like:

Continue reading "Google Earth details" »

April 14, 2005

Craigslist + Google Maps Followup: Urbanrenter

As a followup to my Craigslist + Google Maps post, Josh sent me a link to urbanrenter, which does with the Craigslist/Maps brainmeld did, with a few bonus extras.

Urbanrenter uses data from Craigslist to display both macro- and micro-level rental details -- you can tell, for example, that living south of 280 is hecka expensive (darker map shading), and if you zoom in there are circles representing individual Craigslist listings. This provides a good resource for figuring out where you can afford to live as well as finding apartments for rent there.

Urbanrenter also features draggable maps like Google Maps, a feature that Peter Norvig noted as one of Google's "differentiating features" at the BayCHI panel two nights ago. The implementation is a little different -- Urbanrenter uses a single, over-sized map image, whereas Google Maps uses multiple map tiles, with some lying off-screen (somewhat akin to old videogame implementations). Google's implementation gets the nod for now (dynamically resizable, smoother loading), but it's good to see that others have this feature.

Overall, I'm also preferring the Craigslist + Google Maps meld to Urbanrenter for the task of finding an apartment. C+GM is easier to use overall -- Urbanrenter requires you to type in a street address or zip code (neither is an easy detail if you don't already live in the area) to get the listings, and the overlays showing the locations of listings is not as easy to read. These seem like small quibbles that could easily be fixed.

April 8, 2005

Craigslist + Google Maps

I've seen several Google Maps hacks since its recent release, but this one takes the prize for actually being useful: Craigslist + Google Maps

You can see all of the Craiglist apartment rent/sale listings overlaid on a Google Map, and if you click on a listing it will show you the details for that listing, including pictures. You can also narrow the listings down to your particular price range.

Having used Craigslist before to find housing, I know that this would have saved a lot of time and effort.

April 7, 2005

SF salt beds

I love it when my flight into the Bay Area takes me over the salt beds in the South Bay -- the color from the air is so brilliant, and each 'tile' of water is so distinct. They're not quite as impressive when viewed from the ground, partly because of the rotten aroma, though it is interesting to see the salt caked up on the retaining walls when you cross the Dumbarton Bridge.

I finally took the time to lookup more information about these salt beds and found out that they were started by Cargill Salt over a century ago, and many are still in active use today. The Cargill Web site has a brief virtual tour that explains some of the process of converting Bay water into the salt product.

In 2003, many of the salt beds were bought by the state/federal government to be turned back into wildlife refuge. The John Cang Photography site has a photo essay that shows the potential future of these salt beds, juxtaposing wildlife in the salt beds with the same wildlife enjoying the Palo Alto Baylands Preserve.

I also grabbed two images, one from Keyhole and the other from Cargill's site that you can compare. The shaded blue represents salt beds that are now under refuge status.


credit A Whole Lotta Nothing for reminding me of the topic (though his WAG may have a couple inaccuracies)

February 10, 2005

Maps, maps, maps

The launch of the high-wow-factor Google Maps has got my mind on maps (even more than usual). It looks like someone has released a Firefox plugin that will let you open up Google Maps locations in Keyhole (aka "The Other Google Maps") and Jon Udell has taken a peek into the easily retrieved XML driving Google Maps (should pure textual data, rather than pretty, draggable maps, be your thing). Of course, you could create your own maps using Illustrator, though hopefully none as bad as these. A map on screen isn't as cool as one printed on paper, so make sure you know how to fold your printed map the cool way so you can fit it inside a folder or notebook. Last, but not least, these flash-based visualizations of mid-Tokyo (with side-by-side comparisons to NYC) are pretty cool.

June 25, 2004

Y! Maps got Wi-Fi

In the never-ending battle between Yahoo and MapQuest, I now give the edge to Yahoo, which is including Wi-Fi hotspot locations on their maps:
- Mountain View

It is unclear to me how they are getting this data -- you won't find your neighbor's access point listed on it, and some retail locations I know of are missing (Dana Street). They do have every Starbucks and McDonald's listed (sometimes twice), along with apartment complexes, miscellaneous stores (Borders, Apple) and coffee shops.

This is good advertising for those retail chains and apartment complexes. It also means that the next time I visit Boston I won't have to walk up and down Newbury Street with my signal strength indicator trying to find a place to drink coffee :) (Boston Wi-Fi map).

(via asa)

June 20, 2004

Europe maps

A friend sent out an article about sign-stealing in Fucking, Austria, which naturally lead to a Google search for a map location of said town. Our searches lead to three great discoveries:

1) Fucking, Austria, has the best domain name of any city (

2) Their streets signs really are worth stealing, even better than Assawoman Dr., a sign that my friends had 'acquired' in college.

3) Multimap appears to be a great site for finding maps of European towns.

January 12, 2004

Tahoe vs. Superior

Bryan and I were having a discussion as to the deepest lakes in the US, in particular the Great Lakes vs. Lake Tahoe. I did some Internet research b/c I thought it was cool to surf through bathymetric images of the lakes and wishing that I still had/knew how to use ArcView. Here's the stuff that I turned up (he was right about Lake Tahoe being deeper than the Great Lakes, though both of us forgot about Crater Lake).

Lake Depth:
- Lake Superior max depth: 1330 ft (405 m)
- Lake Tahoe depth: 1645 ft (501 m)
- Crater Lake (deepest in US): 1932 ft (589 m)
- Russia's Lake Baikal (deepest in World/Russia): 5371 ft (1637 m)

Lake Area:
- Lake Tahoe: 501 km2
- Lake Superior (second largest in world/US): 82,414 km2
- Caspian Sea (largest in world): 371,000 km2

I moved the bathymetry of the two lakes to the extended entry due to size considerations.

Continue reading "Tahoe vs. Superior" »