Friday, December 14, 2007

Why didn't I think of that?

So my AGU talk was warmly received yesterday, for any first time visitors you might like to check out this summary post I made a couple of weeks back. More on the content of my talk in a later post.

Screen shot of one of Declan's Blocks

Definitely the 'find' of the conference for me was the work of Declan de Paor , not because it was the most impressive looking Virtual Globe application but because he used some simple features in very powerful ways. Firstly, he's created a simple box using Sketchup (a free program for making models to export to Google Earth) and put an image on the top taken from Google Earth and a side view of a geological section. At this stage, a pretty clever way of teaching geology but then his blinding idea was to give the block an elevation above the ground that varies by time. By moving the timeline slider the block slides in and out of the earth, excellent for students who need to get the idea of what a geological section represents. I've yet to work out exactly how this works and he hasn't published a .kmz file of it.

His other great idea was to use a network link to control students in a class. The network link his students have is continually updating and Declan puts images in as screen overlays into the source of the network link and gets students to find the location matching the image, so it could be the image of an island students have to find. When he's happy all the students have found the island, by saving a text file on his computer he can change the network link and the students get a new image on screen to find. Very simple, very neat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AGU, Polar Year and lack of time

I'm at AGU this week, its absolutely massive, 10,000+ earth scientists all milling around downtown San Francisco.

I caught up with Rhian from the International Polar Year at a special outreach session for them and hopefully I'll be talking to her and some of her colleagues about their Google Earth work sometime in the future.

What came out for me at the session was the enthusiasm of Polar Scientists for engaging with the public when it doesn't really score them any promotion points and they have to do it in their spare time. I think this kind of thing impacts on a lot of Google Earth projects (and I mean that for science outreach generally not just IPY), its always done as a minor part of someone's role or even in their own time. In this situation, tweaking and polishing up the design of a Google Earth project after the pain of collating the data together hardly ever gets the time it deserves.

The other thing I learnt is that if you are anything to do with Polar Science outreach you MUST use pictures of a penguins or polar bears in your talk :)

I'm talking at a special Virtual Globes session tomorrow so more on that later in the week.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Landscape building and Mobile devices

This week got swallowed by work on a big bid for a mobile project. The Google Earth part of the project will involve putting Google Earth on some field ready tablets and taking them into the field to explain former landscapes. For example, in the New Forest we teach a course to Geography students which explains how ice ages, 1000 years of human use for grazing and a second WW air site are all jumbled up into a modern day National Park.

View Larger Map

Previously we tried to do this with Sketchup but the free version isn't very good at building landscapes (althought the pro version has functionality in 'sandbox' apparently). Anyway, this week I discoverd another technique and I described it in a mini blog of mine.

From a design perspective its going to be very powerful to be able to combine former landscapes and a timeline although the size of the files could be an issue. The design is also controlled by the hardware, like many people trying out geo software in the field we have had problems with screen brightness, not being able to see all the colours in Google Earth severly limits its visualisation use. Which all goes to show, nothing like testing an idea to see how it works.