Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Google Maps available for the UK

Google Maps has expanded its coverage to the UK. Although it is available via the UK domain name, it still seems best to get at it via the main .com address, since that offers the "satellite" view that is missing from the UK domain entrance.

The maps used are unfortunately vector based maps - great in one respect in that they are easy to offer in multiple zoom levels, but they really do produce a poor quality map. The UK is very fortunate to have some of the best maps in the world, as produced by Ordnance Survey, and rival online mapping services at multimap and streetmap use that data.

The vector data also seems to be rather shot through with errors - I've found misnamed roads all over the place, and even when names are correctly named, the algorithms for automatically placing names on roads do a far worse job than individual human placement can achieve.

The search features now accept postcodes, but a national grid reference is not recognized, which is a shame since it's so easy to do, and that is how most UK locations have been accurately specified for decades.

The satellite data view is only available at very poor zoom level - again rival services are still well ahead of Google on this one.

The travel directions feature seems fairly competant, though I noticed that it tends to quote longer journey times than other offerings do - perhaps it is trying to apply US speed limits to UK roads.

Google Maps also seems to have acquired a prominent "Terms of Use" overlay link which appears on all maps - that's interesting to see , especially as Google have officially acknowledged the genius of Paul Rademacher Craigslist/Maps combo real estate listing, via endorsements on both the Official Google Blog and as the featured project at Google Code.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Autostitch for creating panoramic images

Autostitch is a program that is capable of producing some quite amazing stitched panorama images with little effort.

The program is available as a fully working demo - which takes a directory of images, and produces an stitched panoramic image as output. "Advanced" controls allow quite a bit of flexibility in the process, but just letting everything default produces a good enough output with a significant "WOW" factor in most cases. The one thing many users will want to change is the output size, since the default produces a screen sized image, which is often smaller than just one input image given most of todays digital cameras.

There has been a good discussion about the program in the Panoguide forums. The researcher who produced this program also worked as an intern at Microsoft, and there is a similar feature built in to Microsoft's Digital Image Suite 10 based on some of his work.


Not AJAX, just CSS on its own

AJAX is pretty much the flavour of the day for interactive websites, but that need for Javascript to be turned on in the browser is occasionally a problem.

Stu Nicholls, at the CSS Playground specializes in producing effects and demonstrations that use (or ab-use, dependent on your point of view) only CSS with no Javascript. He goes to a lot of effort to make his examples work in multiple browsers, yes even IE with its rather broken CSS support.

The photo galleries Mk I and Mk II are probably the most fully featured examples, but there are plenty of other great examples as well.

One thing I did notice as I toured the site (which practices what it preaches, in that the site as a whole uses many of the effects and ideas to good effect) is that CSS styled controls may look like standard controls, but at least in my browser (Mozilla on Windows) they can fall short on usability. In particular, there are a number of controls that show a scroll bar, but for which the mouse scroll wheel has no effect.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Why is this area obscured in Google Maps?

I was looking for Southampton College, Long Island University, which I found in Google Maps fine in the map view. However, when I switched to the satellite view, the area has been deliberately obscured.

I wonder why this is - it's apparent that there has been quite a bit of heavy construction in the area when you compare the edges just outside the obscured area with the 1994 aerial image (black and white) which is available via TerraServer.


Blog entry spam by WebLogs Inc

I read a number of feeds from blogs by WebLogs Inc.

This morning I find that they have engaged in a massive spamming operation of their own feeds. It appears that they have some new blogs to publicise, and instead of simply adding a new entry to their existing blogs (which I'd consider poor judgement since the new blogs have nothing to do with the subjects of the old ones), what they have done is orders of magnitude worse. They have actually added a new line to every existing blog entry - this means that suddenly my feed reader shows lots of apparently new blog entries for each of the blogs. In addition to the huge inconvenience this causes, wading through new entries that aren't, this also destroys valuable metadata in each of the posts, namely the last updated time. Previous to this spamming, I could see when a blog entry had been updated after it was published (perhaps to correct a fact that was wrong in the original post), whereas now all entries have an updated time of when the spamming was added.

This is certainly a very poorly judged action by WebLogs Inc - I wouldn't be surprised if it drives readers away from their blogs.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Lickr - Flickr, without the Flash

I've been viewing Flickr for a while now, but have always found it hampered by its reliance on Flash for parts of its UI.

My solution up to now has been simple - I don't have Flash installed in my browser, so I get the fallback simple display of a jpg image, with all its advantages of ability to save, set as background image, zoom the image etc. The minor downside has been the loss of annotation functionality.

Now I have a further choice - via Firefox and GreaseMonkey, Lickr is a userscript which disables the Flash image feature, and replaces it with HTML driven code to do the same thing. This is great, and I hope that the Flickr team take the author up on his suggestion of using the code which he has very helpfully provided under a BSD licence.



Terraserver - the forgotten Microsoft service

With all the interest that Google Maps is getting, especially with its "satellite" images features, Scoble notes that Microsoft has been offering the same aerial image data via its Terraserver site for a long time. In fact, the data via Microsoft is even more detailed, since it shows the USGS data at its full resolution (where objects 1 foot across can be seen), which is about a magnification of three compared with the full zoom at Google.

They also offer a feature like the Google Sightseeing blog, which they call Famous Places.


Google maps - more advanced usage

The combination of Craigslist and Google Maps makes for a really impressive real estate listings service as a demo by Paul Rademacher.

Engadget has a good lesson in how to Make your own annotated multimedia Google map.

MyGmaps provides a service to make the whole process of using Google Maps with your own custom data very easy.

Friday, April 08, 2005


More on Google Maps "Satellite" images

As I explore around more, its clear that most of the so called satellite images are anything but - the detailed images at high zoom levels are simply aerial photographs, probably taken from a plane.

There certainly are satellite images mixed in as well, for areas without detailed covereage, and my impression that the whole USA was covered is very wrong - there are many areas where (at particular zoom levels) the coverage just gives up - either reverting to grainy satellite images, or to the "no data" message.

Like many people, I've been doing a bit of aerial sightseeing, and can recommend:
See also the Google Sightseeing blog for more interesting locations.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Google Maps integrates Keyhole satellite images

Google Maps (and Google Local) now have satellite images thanks to the Keyhole acquisition Google made a while back.

With this change, Google Maps now thankfully recognises that there is a world outside North America - at the resolution of the initial world view its now possible to switch to the satellite image view, and scroll anywhere in the world.

Zooming in of the satellite images is possible, as it is for the maps, though not all areas have images available in all resolutions. Of the 15 zoom levels, its possible to view the whole world down 6 levels, below which the system states "We're sorry but we don't have imagery at this zoom level for this region. Try zooming out for a broader look". Mexico and the Northern reaches of Canada can zoom in 12 levels, whilst the USA is covered down all 15 zoom levels as far as I can tell. At the same zoom level, the maps and satellite images are not an exact overlay of the same area.

The images are labelled in the bottom right of the scrolling area as "Imagery © 2005 Digital Globe, EarthSat", and carry a repeated visible watermark at random locations stating "© 2005 Google", which frankly seems overkill (and a bit of a liberty, since the data they are showing at least at the highest zoom level in the USA is clearly the USGS (US Geological Survey) image data. Ironically, by altering the data to add the watermark, they have created an original work - which is copyrightable!)

(The USGS censored the data before making it available in 2003, notably in the Washington DC area - for fun see what Fark.com thought was under the White House blurring earlier this year.)


DxO Optics Pro adds Minolta 7D support

DxO Optics Pro is one of the smartest photo processing applications there is. The job it does is to produce the best possible images from digital camera files, comprising steps of
Version 2.2 came out just over a month ago. The software works by a careful analysis of how individual makes and models of body and lenses work (ie. exactly which distortions they produce), and the pricing model offers two levels - an "amateur" level ($139) which covers the lower end of digital SLR bodies, or a "professional" level ($219) which includes all supported bodies. Both levels come with one lens profile, and additional lens profiles are at additional cost, ranging from $24 to $89.

Although the rest of the website has not caught up with all the details, the program now supports the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D, and a range of lenses.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


GreaseMonkey for IE

GreaseMonkey is a very useful extension for Firefox that allows user scripts to be run on particular websites.

Todd Ostermeier is working on GreaseMonkeyIE to provide the same functionality for IE. Now if only it installed/worked on the full Mozilla browser, rather than just Firefox...