Monday, June 26, 2006


Overplot mashes quotes heard in New York

Mihai Parparita, a Google employee, has put together a Google Maps mashup he calls overplot. It mashes together the quotes from Overheard in New York, via the Google Reader feed of the data, with some geocoding via the Google Maps API, so that the quotes can be seen in their appropriate positions on the New York street map.

The technical details include having to use an overlay instead of individual pushpins, since there are so many clustered results to show, and the use of the canvas object to draw areas. Although there is a fallback to ExplorerCanvas to support IE, the code makes no allowances for earlier Mozilla browsers that didn't support the canvas object, which is a shame, since it looks as if this was a late change to improve performance - presumably the earlier code could have been left in place (with reduced performance) to cover a fuller range of browsers.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Geoportail - impressions of the homepage

France's new mapping service at GeoPortail continues to be suffering from huge demand, and hence to be generally unavailable. I did however once succeed in getting up the home page, a screenshot of which is shown here, and there's enough to be seen there to allow for some comments.

Friday, June 23, 2006


French support of Google Earth

With the (possible) launch today of, which has been rather hyped as the French challenge to Google Maps/Google Earth, I was doing a search for current French use of mapping, and came across the Gers Chamber of Commerce and Industry geomatics technology centre.

There they have some very well crafted KML files, which show information about the interior region of France, to the west of Toulouse. The files on offer include both sets of placemarks, and also presentation of statistics such as employment and population figures. Neat features about the KML used include snippet control, the addition of a fixed logo, and a copyright string down the left of the view, though unfortunately the statistics key now appears just where the (semi-transparent) controls of Google Earth 4 are.

It looks as if the data files were prepared with the help of GE-Data, a French company which specializes in producing data files for Google Earth.

... and as for geoportail itself, as I write this, the website is unavailable, so all we have to go on are some screenshots and early user reports.

GNT, a French tech blog, has coverage of the inaccessibilty of geoportail, IGN (which produced it), and of GNT itself, which happened to also rank highly in Google for the search "geoportail". The screenshot included in this report is quite unlike the others - I assume it is from an earlier prototype of the site.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Opera 9 ships, but still fails in its support of xml

The Opera browser has often been praised for its standards support, and with the release of the latest version, Opera 9, I had hoped that it may have added good support for xml.

Although web browsers are primarily used to browse HTML formatted documents, they can also be used to view a number of other types of documents. Foremost amongst these are xml documents, a close relative of HTML documents, but in many ways far more powerful - that x stands for Extensible. Viewing a raw xml file is rarely the best way to do it, so xml files are generally viewed with the aid of a stylesheet - written in xsl (Extensible Stylesheet Language), and the the process of transforming the xml into a viewable form is known as XSLT.

The Opera 9 spec document states that

XML support

Opera can parse and display XML documents. Opera can be both a validating and non-validating processor.

Documents with Content-type "text/xml", "application/xml" or with a subtype ending on "+xml" will be treated as an XML document. If a Content-type is not available, the ".xml" file extension will also make the document be treated as XML. Opera does not use US-ASCII as the default character set for text/xml, but otherwise follows RFC3023. We recommend using application/xml instead of text/xml or use explicit character set declaration.

XSLT, XPath, and XSL-FO

Opera has near-complete support of XSLT 1.0 and XPath 1.0

Opera does not support XSL Formatting Objects.

It sounds from that as if the support of xml is pretty extensive, but in practice there's aparently a lot of flexibility in those words. The "near-complete support of XSLT 1.0" seems to mean that they don't support the vitally important document() function - which rather takes the teeth out of XSLT. The document() function reads xml from a named document URL, making the XSLT process powerful, allowing it to pull information in from a number of xml documents. Consider a page of product information that pulls in current prices from a specific price document, and stock levels from another document.

(The previous version, Opera 8, had no support of XSLT, so partial support might sometimes be considered an improvement. However, in many cases its a step backwards - in Opera 8, since the XSLT instructions associated with a xml file are ignored, at least you get to see the raw xml data. In Opera 9, it starts to process the file, but fails on an unsupported base feature, so nothing but an error message is displayed).

Without fully supporting XSLT 1.0, Opera languishes a long way behind the other browsers in supporting xml - IE 6 has great support for XSLT, as does the Mozilla / Firefox family (if a little slow at times).

Update: A fascinating interview on Slashdot, with Håkon Wium Lie of Opera. He notes that:
From that perspective, it makes sense to leave ### half-implemented. You can claim support (and many journalists will believe you), and you also ensure that no-one can use the unimplemented (or worse: buggily implemented) features of the standard. The only way to change the equation is to remind ### how embarrassing it is to offer a sub-standard browser. And to use better browsers.
How true this is - the sentence could so easily apply be completed with XSLT and Opera filling in the gaps. Actually, the published quote was about CSS2 and Microsoft!

Håkon Wium Lie was the father of CSS, and I think reading the whole article gives an insight into the thinking at Opera - they view CSS as all important, and are happy to let XML and XSLT take a back seat. This also comes through across in another reply, which notes

... CSS is an intrinsic component of AJAX. The "AJAX" name sounds great, but allow me to propose a few alternate spellings that I find more accurate:

  • AJACX: Asynchronous JavaScript, CSS and XMLHttpRequest
  • ADJACS: Asynchronous DOM, JavaScript and CSS
  • ADHJACS: Asynchronous DOM, HTML, JavaScript and CSS
  • AJAHCS: Asynchronous JavaScript, HTML and CSS
  • AJACS: Asynchronous JavaScript, HTML and CSS

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Bloglines upgrades their Atom parser

Although Bloglines has been able to process Atom feeds for a while, it didn't do a very good job of it - in particular it would lose whitespace around hyperlinks, which made reading atom feeds a bit of a pain.

However, in "Duplicates; real and imagined" it mentions that it is introducing a new Atom parser, and the Atom protocol makes it much easier to detect duplicates, especially when articles are syndicated into different feeds.

It looks like this parser is available now - so now I can read Tim Bray's Ongoing in its full text form, rather than in just the summary form that he also made available in RSS format. (Looking at the stats from Bloglines, I see that Tim has 49 Bloglines subscribers for his Atom feed, but 3465 via his RSS feed - expect that pattern to change now that the much better Atom feed can be displayed properly).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


An API for Picasa?

I've mentioned before that Picasa is one of the few Google offerings without a (published) API. However, although unpublished, there are a number of integration points with Picasa that form a sort of unofficial API.

Specifically, Picasa offers the following
This uploading interface is undocumented, but has been reverse engineered by tabblo, who use it to offer a way to upload to the tabblo photo service direct from Picasa. They offer few clues as to how they did it, beyond this comment on a flickr forum, to the effect that
"we had to spend a couple of days reverse-engineering a complicated desktop application/server-based protocol, then more time debugging it, and as of late, more time bringing it up to date for the 2.5 release of Picasa."
Picasa has some other potentially useful integration points
Whilst the above are all undocumented, there is documentation provided for another integration point. If you look in the web directory under your Picasa installation, there is a documentation directory, and within that is a index.html file which documents the Picasa Web Templating System. This describes the templating system used when doing an export as web page from Picasa. In addition, you can also export as xml, which provides another fairly easy way to extract data from the Picasa system, for use in other programs.


Thursday, June 15, 2006


Keyboard shortcuts in Picasa

Picasa is a great tool from Google for organizing your photos.

However, its documentation is a bit sparse, and hard to find (and from a developers point of view it's one of the few Google offerings without an API).

Certainly underdocumented are the many keyboard shortcuts that the program offers, which both serve to make using the program easier and faster, and in some cases offer facilities that are not available with the mouse, or via the menus.

My favourites are:
See also


Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Google Book Search - Shakespeare

Google Book Search has put together a page specifically on Shakespeare, which ties in with their sponsorship of some theatre perfomances in New York's Central Park this summer.

A sidebar on the page suggests "Take a Literary Field Trip - Download Google Earth to visit the Globe Theater and other Shakespearean landmarks right from your desktop.", but unfortunately it doesn't provide a KML file link on the page to actually provide this tour.

There is also no actual search box on the page, so although you can browse through the various Shakespearean plays by title, you cant do a simple search for a word, or half remembered piece of dialog - surely some mistake from a search engine!


Major mapping upgrades from Google

Google's been releasing a whole load of new mapping features all at once:
Its going to take a few days for people to get their heads round all these new features, but its certainly going to make for interesting opportunities. There are of course plenty of things that can still be improved, for example


Sony SLR digital camera

Following on from Sony's acquisition of the photographic assets of Konica Minolta, they have now launched their first SLR digital camera, called the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100.

Its an obvious development of the Konica Minolta 5D, using the Minolta lens mount, and so compatible with many existing lenses. The highlights of the camera include
Oh, to get my hands on one to play with. In the meantime, there are hands on reviews (of preproduction models) at