Friday, February 27, 2009

Hudson Plane Crash in Google Earth

I'm not often one to be overawed by content in Google Earth but if you watch one thing today, have a look at this: Its a tour following flight 1549

as it crash landed in the Hudson River and is really something special. Its by Jeral Poskey via Google Earth Blog, make sure you turn on 3D buildings layer to watch it.

The voices of all the flight controllers are added in real time. As Frank notes, the coolness of the pilot is amazing. Also you can hear the flight controllers talking really quickly about all the normal things they say like runways and altitudes - obviously they can talk at this speed because they and the pilots are used to hearing the set phrases. When the pilot reports the bird strike you can hear the controller's speech slow right down, obviously because this is not what he normally gets to say. You can just imagine the adrenaline pumping.

One thing that I thought worth adding was video of the event - I had a look on YouTube and here's something that I think adds to the tour:

Video of the Crash in Google Earth

but I don't think that comment should detract from an excellent piece of work by Jeral.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Blog or Twitter?

You may have noticed I've started twittering, there's a feed on the main page of my blog. Originally I thought twittering sounded like a sure fire way to interupt me constantly and stop me producing anything. However, talking to a friend I realised its a 'pull' technology rather than 'push'. No one expects you to read all their tweets. However, there still wasn't a good reason to actually tweet myself until I reflected on how I use this blog.

Blog as Notebook: This blog has multiple purposes but one I didn't predict when I started is that it serves as a kind of notebook. By writing things that can be read by all I'm forced to write better prose than I would if I was scribbling notes only for myself and I record all those useful links properly too. I probably search for something in my blog every other day or so on average and its been useful to see how my thinking changes on things.

Twitter and Lack of Time : The problem with this is that many of my ideas would make an interesting blog post but I don't have time to write them all up. Writing the basics of an idea in 140 characters (all you get in a tweet) is a challenge but it also gives me an excuse to jot an idea down without devoting an hour to writing it up in normal blog post. So as an experiment I've started tweeting and following some twitters to get the hang of it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HowTo: Create a Simple Tour

UPDATE 23/7/09: I've now produced a more up to date tutorial that describes an easy way of setting up camera views for a tour (named 'HowTo 1' as it describes the first of a series I'm producing).

The instructions Google provide for the tour functionality in GEarth 5.0 are OK if you want to create a tour around a geographical feature in GEarth such as Mt Everest but often you want to annotate your tour or turn placemarks on or off e.g. to show photos such as this one:

In this tutorial I'll talk you how to best create an annotated tour like this one. Don't be put off by the tutorial length, I've just been detailed in places so as not to confuse people, its not really that complex:
  1. Create a folder (in places column click a folder such as 'Temporary Places', click 'Add' in the menu bar and select folder).
  2. Create placemarks, polygons or other elements to be included in the tour (see buttons on the top of the main screen). I've created a tour of Cleobury Mortimer in the UK with placemarks with photos in them and a polygon showing the rough extent of the town.
  3. Check the elements are in your new folder (if you click the minus in a square to the left of your folder they should shrink up into the folder). If they aren't, simply drag and drop them into the folder.
  4. Turn all the elements you have created off by unticking the tick box to their left
  5. Click your folder so it has a blue background then click the 'Record a tour' button in the main button bar above the main screen. It's a video cam icon.
  6. Click the red 'record' button in the box that appears bottom left
  7. Move to a position where you can see an interesting view associated with your first placemark (or other element) you created to be in the tour .
  8. Turn the placemark or element on. If its a placemark you may want to click it in the places column to view the pop up balloon too. You may want to turn it off again before moving to the next step but you can choose what you do and the tour will still work.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for all the elements in your tour.
  10. Click the record button again to stop the tour. It should play what you've just recorded. If you're happy with it, click the disk icon in the tour control box bottom left. If not close the tour control box and return to step 5.
  11. The tour should appear in your new folder. Turn off (i.e. untick) all the elements in your folder except the tour. Then right click your folder > Save Place as, then save the folder as a file to somewhere sensible.
You can now email it or post the file you've created on the web. It will contain your tour and all the elements you created to be in the tour.

  • Creating the folder is necessary to ensure all the elements in the tour are sent with the tour. My making you turn each element on ensures that the element control works properly and also can be useful when you have lots of data to show - you build the complex map up part by simple part.
  • Step 11 is needed so that when the user open's your file then only the tour is clicked. The replay will get mangled if you don't have the tour in this state.
  • If you want to use elements from the GEarth layers column then you must copy them into your created folder. Many placemarks in the Layers column can be simply copied (right click > copy) to your new folder. This does not mean that it is legal to do this, I'm not a lawyer so I can't advise on the legaility of doing this.
  • You can also record historical data and other clever things in tours but I thought I'd stick to simple things to start with. A simple and very useful next step is to click the microphone button instead of the simple record button and record audio narration of your tour.
  • Those who are happy to edit kml files can manually edit tours. John Bailey will probably produce a guest post here in the future about such advanced tour production.
  • If you have multiple files open with multiple tours you could have problems playing tours. If things aren't working as they should, make sure you close the tour box (bottom left) before opening any other file with a tour in it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Google Tech Talk

This is my Google Tech talk which I also gave to AGU in December 08:

They didn't capture some of the annotations I used on screen very well so you may find it useful to view the presentation too (sorry for the quality, I had to hack something together because of the size of the original PowerPoint)

You may be worried that I'm becoming a little obsessed with the new tour functionality in GEarth 5.0 so you may be pleased to know there is no mention of it at all in this talk :). I'll be commenting on my fellow AGU Google tech talkers soon.

This was my AGU talk in 2007

Friday, February 13, 2009

Historical Imagery in a Tour

So I've been experimenting today with recording a tour that manipulates the historical imagery timeline. To see the example you will need to:
  1. Open the file, open the folder (if it isn't open already)
  2. Turn on the historical data button (clock icon, top bar if the time line is not visible top left)
  3. tick the square to the left of the 'Southampton Uni Time tour' tour (if not ticked already)
  4. click the name of the tour so the background goes blue
  5. double click the text of the tour to start it
At the start of the tour, I move through the time data so that the historical images will load up on slow connections. If you're lucky enough to be on a quick connection i.e. you can see the images fully loaded as I do this you can fast forward and turn me into pinky to get to the main part of the tour.

  • Its very neat.
  • Annotating the view as I do with polygons really helps the viewer see what you're talking about.
  • I have a 3DConnexion mouse, for the last year its been used as a paper weight as I can't usually be bothered to switch from my ordinary mouse to fly around in Google Earth. When you do a tour it really does come into its own.
  • Although the GEarth 5 documentation notes that you have to turn on the historical data it doesn't explain that you have to tick and select (by clicking the text) the tour to get it to turn on elements in the folder correctly. I've been testing this and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, I'm not sure if I'm missing something or if its flaky.
  • The ability to stop a tour, navigate into something that takes your fancy, restart the tour and have it fly you back to the point you left it is very smart.

Time Tip: Edit in Google Earth 5

Update 16 Feb 09: Cory and Barry point out in the comments that the time dialogue isn't there to change the 'main' time tag, i.e. the one that will control whether an element is visible or not when you use the timeline (the one that's been around in earlier versions of GE) but its to do with the new 'gx' time tags. Read their comments for details but I will say here I think this isn't great for usability, a dialogue labelled 'time/date' is going to cause confusion for people who won't know which time tag they are editing in properties.

I haven't seen this flagged anywhere on the web yet so a quick tip:

Instead of having to edit the KML to add a time tag to your data so it can be viewed with the timeline you can now edit it directly in Google Earth:
- Right click in the places column > Properties > View > Date/Time.

I actually got a friend to build me a little .NET application so I could edit time tags in KML as it was so tedious to do it manually (and I kept on making mistakes). Neat that this has been added in GE5.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Updated Video Tutorials

I have discovered that my YouTube videos (original announcement post) about how to construct a basic map in Google Earth have become corrupted. So I've updated the video tutorials off YouTube in higher quality, the new Google Earth file can be found on this page of my online tutorials. Note this is for GE 4 so the controls look a little different now, it should still be useful though.

I came across the problem as I started experimenting with the tour functionality to see if I could use it for the same teaching purpose. If you're interested, I found it too fiddly for this use (admittedly not its main purpose).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Google Latitude: GeoWeb Killer App?

As if Google Earth 5.0 were not enough, Google have launched latitude:

Brady Forrest offers thoughtful discussion of it.

The Rise of Latitude (or similar technology): Unlike Brady, I'm not interested in the ins and outs of 'is this right for Google' or 'what will people build on this', my view is a bigger picture. This location sharing is an obvious killer app of mobile web devices: when we all have phones that are location aware (through GPS or other technologies) we are obviously going to want to know where friends, family or colleagues are (my discussion of the magic powered rival to this technology). Google isn't the first into this field but, as per usual, it gets the blogosphere talking so Latitude may become the dominant technology in this area.

Checking Mobile Web Maps Every Day: The history of the PC tells us that it really took off as a device when managers started buying them so they could use spreadsheets for financial calculations. Spreadsheets were the killer app of the PC, I suspect Latitude (or similar) will be the similar killer app of mobile device mapping. It will shift looking at web maps from something people do once in a while to something they do every day. Ask the man on the street what he has done with Google Earth so far and he'll answer: 'I've used it to look at the image of my garden. You can see my patio set'. In the near future, he may be looking at web maps on his iPhone 5 times a day to find out where his kids are.

And that's when GeoWeb usability may really take off.

John Bailey on Producing a Tour

corrected John's link and acronym 12/2/09:

John Bailey of AUF UAF added an extensive comment to my last post about Tours. Its worth reproducing parts of it here, I've added comments:
It’s best to structure your file as a Document which contains a Folder (with all your Overlays, Placemarks, etc) and a tour (not in the Folder).
And later:
Note that Placemarks, description balloons, Polygons, Polylines, Models, Overlays (but no exploring ability for PhotoOverlays), and even NetworkLinks can all accessed by the tour.
Good advice there, highlights added by me. I'd already thought that the tour allowed the turning on or off of any element (overlay, placemark, polygon) to be recorded, however, tinkering with the code and the KML example of updates (which is how tour does it) just didn't work for me.

For those of you who want to record a tour but not mess with the KML that drives it:
If the file is loaded already and the features are currently a mixture of on and off, check the top level box (should be for a Document or Folder) and turn everything on. Then start the Tour as described above, and the visibility states set in the feature KML and AnimatedUpdates will take care of everything.
I'm not sure John didn't mean 'and turn everything OFF.' as in, turn everything off and then the tour will record you turning them on.

The creator of the GE5 tour has also surfaced as Googler Dan Barcay:
However, don’t take my word for it. This blog post is by the Googler who put an incredible effort into make the tour function a reality.
If its possible for one person to give tumultuous applause, Dan gets it from me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tour: Test Drive

I've had my first serious test drive with the tour functionality today so here are some quick notes:

Layer Change Recording: IMHO the best use of the tour is not to showcase the wonders of Google (mountains in 3D, undersea volcanoes and the like) but to add data, interpretation or annotations as the narration continues. So the ability to turn on and off layers in a tour is crucial. To see what I mean compare Frank's tour of the Grand Canyon (no criticism of Frank by the way, I'm just making a general point) with the Brahmaputra Lesson plan tour I've just created (warning 2.3Mb) :

Audio Tour of the Brahmaputra

You can see that my polygon around the Himalayas is annotation and that I've added an overlay image which is data (or maybe more annotations if you want to quibble) and that the layers turn on and off themselves. In essence, my tour is a mash up of my elements that I'm presenting against the GEarth canvas whereas Frank is talking about the canvas itself.

Stefan at Ogle Earth, reports that the tour doesn't record overlay changes. Well, I got it to do so but maybe that's because my overlays were in folders. You'll note that I instruct the viewer to turn layers on or off via the audio narration, that's because of flakiness that I found, see note below.

Audio and Movement perform well: In recording this I had little problems with the flight not recording correctly or the audio not syncing. It all worked as expected except that the tour does not seem to fly the camera view to the right starting position sometimes.

Beta Flakiness with Layer control: However, the layer control is flaky in parts, sometimes it just doesn't seem to work at all and it gets confused if you fast forward, rewind or move the play head about. So I'm not going to use the tour functionality in anger just yet but, hey, that's what beta versions are all about :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google Earth 5.0: Timeline update

I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere that not only is there historical imagery available available in GE 5.0 but that the old timeline controller has got a facelift and a revamp so it is in line with the new historical data controler . I've published my thoughts on the old timeline controller before so here's some more comments:

5.0 Improvements:
  1. The range bars are now more visible and clickable. Good.
  2. The controller is more substantive on screen with a border and more obvious buttons. Also good.
  3. There is now a step functionality, you can press play which is continuous, drag the play head or step forwards or backwards through the data. That's useful but I can think of other things I'd rather change about the controller before adding more functionality.
  4. You can zoom in and out of the timeline for a more detailed view. Again, could be useful but I can't think of many GEarth projects which would benefit.
Outstanding Issues (IMHO):
  1. No visual indication that timestamped images aren't visible as you play the timeline because they are still downloading (little vertical columns being filled in the timeline perhaps?)
  2. It is still difficult to understand exactly what time data in the places column is being viewed on screen.
  3. The location of the timeline has moved from top right to top left so if anyone has put their logo top left (like the rightly popular NSIDC) will need to move it.
For [1] and [2] details see my earlier post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Google Earth 5.0: Tour functionality

I woke up yesterday morning to find the world had changed. London was covered by 10cm of snow, the heaviest snowfall here in 18 years. I woke up this morning to find the Virtual World had changed, Google Earth 5 has arrived with Mars, Oceans and historical data available. Wow.

Tour Backstory: Frank and Stefan have been posting prolifically (1, 2) about Google Earth 5, so I won't do a general round up. Instead, I'm going to explain why the tour functionality is my favorite of the new functions and why it is so important. Watch this video if you don't know what its about:

I hear on the grapevine that this has been some Googler's project for a couple of years now, if this is true s/he deserves a great cheer: IMHO this is the most important change to Google Earth since the timeline came out.

Tour as Introduction: In Google Earth as in any communication technique introductions are vital. You need to summarize quickly what they user can get from using your content and explain how you have structured it for them, I've written about this in detail as part of my tutorials including the characteristics of video introductions (take time to produce, big download for the user but visually captivating) vs text introductions (quick to produce, small download for user but less captivating). Well now we have a third option, the new tour functionality is visually captivating as it is a kind of movie clip, its easy to produce and its a small download (essentially a kml file).

Tour as Presentation: If you are preparing a talk in which place is the most important consideration, instead of using PowerPoint (informed critism about its failings) you can now create a tour in Google Earth instead. The slide transitions will be converted to a much more meaningful 'FlyTo' transition between places. I have given a lot of presentations (usually as part of a larger presentation done with PowerPoint) using Google Earth recently and I was forever double clicking placemarks to take my audience to a new place - the old tour functionality wasn't worth using IMHO. Now I can pre-record my talk tour with smart controls to fast forward, pause, rewind as I wish. I can also automatically rotate the view from one point without having to fiddle with controls whilst in mid speech. Wonderful! And I'll get my students to do it as assignments too.

Tour as Teaching Tool: I can now produce a file that flies students around Google Earth turning on and off placemarks to make teaching points and giving them audio commentary (why audio is so good) at the same time. I can also put a pause in the presentation having told them to go and do something and they have to press the tour 'play' to continue with the tour. That's a very nice way of teaching geography when I'm not there at the front of the class to show them.

Very. Very. Good. Now excuse me while I try and clear the snow from my car...