Friday, November 27, 2009

Osprey Tracking in Google Earth

Screen Shot of the Lock Garten Osprey Project looking east over the west European coast

Recently I was talking to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) about their work with Google Earth. They've produced an interesting blog, map and Google Earth file for following the progress of migrating Ospreys that spend summer in Loch Garten. I think its a very good use of Google Earth and maps so deserves some promotion.

Suggested Improvements: There are some easy improvements that they could make. For example, they instruct you to set up a network link. It's easier just to include a network link in a KMZ file as I've done here:

They could also produce a tour, I've produced one in the KMZ file above (and below), its pretty basic but you get the idea of what could be done. They could also think of putting the project in a plugin as below:

Use of plugins has obvious advantages but there are also some drawbacks as I've discussed here.

My final suggestion would be to produce time slider functionality, it would be nice to be able to animate the animal tracks in time as in this whale shark project. If you're not used to operating the timeline see notes*

I was told they get an 'insane number of hits' to the blog already so I think developing the Google Earth part of idea further would be worthwhile.

*To get the whale track to animate, load the file and find the time slider in the top left corner of the GEarth screen. If you roll your mouse over it you will see two sliders, drag the left one to the left so they separate slightly and then drag the right one around to animate the track. The big red cross and little red cross show links to images that are now broken, however, the animation still works enough that you can get the idea of what's possible.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2D Maps vs 3D Visualisation

Via the ever readable Mark Harrower of Axis Maps* I find that Ed Parsons has been discussing cartography. Part of Mark's post:

"Ed Parsons dislikes Cartographers 'more than anyone in the World'

The title was one of the opening statements made by Google’s “technology evangelist” Ed Parsons in a recent talk for the British Computer Society. In the talk he argues traditional street maps are bad (all of them) because they fail to engender a sense of place and because they abstract the world using map symbols. He goes on to say Streetview is good and doesn’t suffer any of these problems. So is Google Earth. The take-home message is that 2D is bad! Maps symbols are bad! Photos are good! And paper is bad! [subtext: Google doesn't make paper, but if we did, we might soften our stance].

Here is my concern: I’m not aware of any research to support such simplistic claims...."

Provocative Ed: If you watch the talk you'll see that Ed admits he is being deliberately provocative and that he didn't know someone was going to video him so I take his comments with a pinch of salt . However, he does advocate the use of 3D visualisation over traditional 2D symbolization with phrases like:

"[a paper style map is] caught up in old cartography that doesn't give you a sense of space"

So its an opinion worth discussing, to do that we need to start with a wider view of technology.

Manic Miner, watch at your peril....

The GeoWeb is not necessarily a Destructive Technology: Ed's argument relies on 3D spatial tools (like streetview, Google Earth topography) being ‘destructive technologies’. For example on slide 22 (the video FF controls don't seem to work) he discusses an old ZX Spectrum game Manic Miner which only used 8 colors. He makes the point that although he (and I as it happens) enjoyed playing the game when we were young, no teenager now would touch it as its outclassed by todays games with millions of colors. His argument is that static paper maps are similarly going to disappear because the GeoWeb is a destructive technology. However, not all novel technologies are destructive, the arrival of VHS players in homes seriously dented cinema takings in the 80s but people are still going to cinemas to see films today. In the same way I suspect paper maps are going to survive as useful tools for a while yet despite more people getting smart phones that show 3D spatial tools. For example, a paper underground map of London for tourists has the following advantages; ultra light, requires no batteries, highly usable, requires no wifi and can be easily scribbled upon.

Video Showing Augmented Reality on a Smart Phone

Augmented Reality vs 2D Google Maps: Ed anchors the discussion as being about 3D spatial tools vs paper maps. I think this is a misleading framing of the question, paper is not interactive which is a serious disadvantage but that doesn’t mean interactive 2D maps will disappear. I propose a more relevant question: Is 3D augmented reality (AR) necessarily better than a 2D map with symbols? For example, if my iPhone had AR I could leave London Waterloo, hold it up and it would show the camera view with overlay labels of cafes I might like to go to to get a coffee. If my chosen cafe was hidden from view down a street is AR better for planning the route to get there than the existing 2D Google Map with cafe icons? I don’t know the answer so I agree with Mark that I want to see research results before I’ll believe any claims. However, I do think that deciding when to use 2D or 3D is dependant on context and I do know of research that suggests that in many situations the old style 2D map will be better as I outline below.

2D is Hardwired into your brain: Children were tested on how successful they were finding a hidden toy in a room. To help them they were either shown a photograph showing the location of the toy marked or a scale 3D model which also had the toy visible inside it. The kids were better at finding the toy in the real room when shown the photo (Marzolf and DeLoache, 1997). Fascinating isn't it? The researchers explanation was that kids are 'preprogrammed' to understand that 2D photos represent objects but they have difficulty identifying symbols in a 3D model in the same way. The logical conclusion is that 2D maps may offer a faster way to comprehend certain spatial relationships than the kind of 3D representation we see in GEarth, Streetview or AR because we are hardwired to understand 2D symbols better than 3D ones.

I Love 3D: That being said, Streetview is hugely useful in certain situations, I used streetview to preview neighbourhoods when I was flat hunting recently and it performed excellently. Also, I can’t wait to get AR tools on my iPhone.

Conclusion: I agree with Mark’s opinion that Ed’s discussion was too simplistic and he should back up his claims with user testing. I suspect that such user research will show that although AR looks cool, in lots of situations a 2D map representation with symbols will be better.

*I have just recently quoted his blog post about problems with thematic maps in GEarth in a research bid document

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Climate Change Tours: Elephants

Screenshot from Save the Elephants Climate Change Tour

Recently I reviewed the introductory GEarth tour on the Climate Change in Google Earth site. I thought it was interesting in a number of ways but thought that they had tried to do too much in a short time. I've also discussed the use of video and Google Earth on the site here.

Last Mali Desert Elephants: I've looked at some of the 'sub tours' on the same site (click elephant icon to view) and IMHO they work better than the introduction. The Mali Elephants tour is done in collaboration with Save the Elephants and describes what that charity does to support elephants in Mali and how climate change is affecting them. Here are some quick notes:

  • Quality Commentary: The voice over is professionally done.
  • Lovely Story: The narrative for the tour is very good, they tell an excellent spatial story with good photos. The photos are static rather than moving around too much which is a criticism I made of the introductory tour.
  • Sprint: At one point the tour explains that an elephant, being freed from a waterhole sprinted to be back with her family. There is a trail marking her route that they obtained through GPS and it works well in GEarth.
  • Others Minor Pro points: Nice referral screen at the end to their main web page, Pace was good, they used annotations to lead the eye to the right area on screen.
  • Unexplained Pink Areas: At one point the areas the elephants range is being discussed and pink areas appear on screen. Firstly, 100% pink is too intense, they should have reduced the opacity. Secondly, I was left confused about what the areas actually showed, it needed explicit explanation from the audio track.
  • Unreadable Labels: When showing the surface water in the area the labels cannot be read.
  • Scale: When viewing desert in Google Earth users have no way of judging distance, a scale bar with a reference in the commentary would have helped users get a sense of the huge distances the elephants are covering.
Extra Stuff: I would have liked to have seen them animate the track of the elephants so we could see them moving, animation is very engaging as a visualization tool.

But overall good work, well done Google and especially Save the Elephants!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Tutorials For GEarth v5

I'm pleased to announce the end of a project I have been working on since the start of summer: A new set of tutorials for GEarth v5. I tested them out on some teachers recently and got excellent feedback, excuse me for blowing my own trumpet about that but I can't help being chuffed. If you're interested in having a look this is the first 3 of 11 chapters and the supporting materials.

What's Good about the New Tutorials:
  • Cool Outputs Straight Away: Within half an hour I have my students successfully putting a video in a placemark pop up balloon and producing their first tour. Rather than take them through all the basics (placemarks, polygons, lines) before letting them do 'cool' things I show them how easy it is to produce rich, complex content with Google Earth early on.
  • As Tutor I take responsibility for the learning, unlike other tutorials there is no need to worry what is important to learn, I have made those decisions for the student. I think students prefer this to open ended learning where they have weaker guidance what they need to learn.
  • Supporting KMZ materials: The tutorials come with real GEarth content which students work on. This format allows me pre-process the materials so they can concentrate on the learning outcome. For example, if I want them to draw a Polygon on an island the tutorial instructs them to open a KMZ file which instantly flies them to the right location rather than having to navigate to it manually.
  • GeoWeb Design: Unlike other tutorials I don't just explain how to change the color of an icon, I cover design principles too so that users understand what color to choose. I'm careful not to produce separate design teaching from the main HowTo content, its all mixed together- separate out design bits and users are likely to skip them. In my experience, they are focused on learning the skills rather than the principles.
  • Modular Design: The tutorials are modular (in education jargon: Learning Objects) so you can tackle one about how to produce polygons in Google Earth without having done the one about basic navigation, although they do logically follow on from each other. This not only gives me flexibility in putting together packages for different groups it allows me to add in customised content, so a set of teachers could learn how to produce a tour with the normal content and then tackle a customised section of the tutorials where they are asked to produce a lesson plan involving the tour functionality.
  • Paper format: The tutorials are designed to be printed out, this means students can easily look from instructions (paper) to screen - video or web based format means the student has to manage windows on screen. I've also found that students have a sense of ownership of a manual - its theirs to keep and scribble on - they just don't have that with a website tutorial.
  • Instill Confidence: One of my aims in teaching is to instill confidence in students to encourage them to be able to go off and build their own resources. I was pleased to see explicit comments saying I had achieved from the feedback forms given to school teachers in my recent teaching session. Unfortunately, part of this confidence comes from my teaching so you may not pick this up from just looking at the tutorials.
Unlike my former tutorials (see below), I'm not publishing all of these. They're designed to be customised so if you're interested in getting some training in producing maps with GEarth get in touch and we can discuss costs. I am already using them in face to face mode but there are website and web conferencing options I can offer. If you're desperate to get some training and have no access to funds I list some options for you below.

My Old Tutorials: This isn't the first set of tutorials about Google Earth I have produced, in the past I've published;

  • '' ( itself is inactive): Video tutorials for GEarth v3 on how to produce a map in GEarth
Other Tutorials: I'm also not the only person producing tutorials, here are the other resources I rate;
  1. The official Google Earth User Guide
  2. Google Earth Outreach have produced a really good set of tutorials
  3. Jamie Buchan-Dunlop has produced a set of manuals in conjunction with Google

13 Nov 09:
Added cc licence after a query: Please apply this licence to the tutorial files.

Creative Commons License
Google Earth Tutorials by Richard Treves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License
Google Earth Tutorials by Richard Treves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.