Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts on The Paperless Map

I was reading The paperless book by Todd Sattersten over at O'Reilly, a similar discussion around maps occurred to me.

Sattersten references Stacey Madden who argues that, no offense to e-books, but they aren't "books" and we should reserve that word for a physical medium. Every time I've read that kind of argument on the Internet, as in we should reserve x word to mean only an older meaning of x, the person arguing that has already lost. Hacker/cracker anyone?

I am sure there are those who argued, when maps first came to the web, that they weren't really maps, they were some other medium. However, if they did, you don't hear those voices anymore. Perhaps that's because of the strong history of GIS before the web, or because maps are primarily used for a vehicle to convey information, not generally as a completed composition. Those who know more of the history of cartography, please point me to any debates I may be unaware of.

Sattersten describes an experiment where readers are invited to participate in the compilation of a book by purchasing content as it's developed and adding their comments and feedback. It's actually hard for me to imagine bothering doing that with a book, especially if it's one of fiction, but I can easily imagine contributing to a map. I just actually don't see the need to put an end point on it, as in "this map is done."

Of course, I have had many discussions on the superiority of paper maps over digital maps in certain circumstances, say out in the field where your device may not have a reliable source of power, or where the large format may make it easier to share with others. I wonder if tablets will start to fill the latter use case. And I've admired the bridging technology of the digital pen with GIS.

I think we made the transition with maps a long time ago, thank you CGIS. So while the GIS world got a surprise when we started moving to the web, it didn't immediately dismiss the medium as not a map. In fact, one of the things I've heard from GIS folks that are surprising to non-GIS people is the question "Why would I care about web maps? They're only about making maps."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Easy Panorama creation with Ice Cream Sandwich

I was hanging out with +Dan Galpin in China, and he was showing me an Ice Cream Sandwich phone. ICS comes with a panorama capability in it's phone. He took a few photos and sent them to me. I spent a few minutes and pulled them up into custom Street View panoramas.

It was pretty easy to do, but there were a few caveats. The panoramas didn't contain any location EXIF headers. Not sure if that will be part of the final release. My demo didn't require it since I was just using a free floating panorama viewer. Also, the panorama camera didn't always go a full 360 degrees, so the seam between the two ends was a little uneven. The only other issue was figuring out where the center of the panorama was and coding that into the heading of each panorama. Still, it was a nice and easy way to display these panoramas. Oh, and take a look at the full version, it shows the copyright information for Dan that I coded into the panorama.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Google Developer Day Berlin, start of day

I'm excited to be here in Berlin, at the last Google Developer Day of 2011. It's hard to believe we're on the cusp of 2012, and getting ready for a whole new season of conferences. At Google, we're a little worn out from 2011:

 (Photos from Tel Aviv)
But we're amazed by the turn out here in Berlin, over two thousand. The most of any GDD this year, possibly the biggest single event we've ever thrown, outside of the US. The event is being held at the massive ICC Berlin. It's so big that I'm not going to the keynote, because I'm afraid I wouldn't have enough time to make it to my session which only starts 15 minutes afterwards. Seriously, this place is like the Death Star. We keep expecting to see little robots racing down the halls, and given that it's GDD that's an actual possibility.

One of my complaints about GDDs is that there is so much great content, but I never get to go to the sessions because I'm working. In a tradition going back to the first German GDD, we've got a track devoted to speakers from universities in Berlin speaking about some cutting edge research. I can't wait till the videos go up. But the truth is, I'd rather be talking to developers anyway, I learn so much from you. So if you're here, see you at my session, or in the GTUG area, or exploring some of the sandbox events. For the rest of you, see you on Google+.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I recently took a break from blogging, mostly due to travel. I've been on the road for almost 4 weeks, traveling around the world. Literally, around the world: San Francisco, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Bern, Berlin, and on Sunday I go home to San Francisco. Excited about that actually.

But I'm back to blogging, and feeling reflective. I thought I'd share a couple of things I'm thankful for before next weeks' Thanksgiving festivities in the U.S.

  • I am thankful for my work. I get to travel around the world, meeting really amazing and interesting developers who are doing great projects such as the iOnRoad app developers, or the folks from PointGrab who demoed using Google Earth:

  • I am thankful for the Internet, or rather for the fast connection I enjoy most of the time. While I was in China for about one and a half weeks, the Internet connection was terrible. I didn't really get it, the Great Firewall of China, before. I thought certain sites were blocked, OK, but I could go on with my life normally. Nope. It seems all sites, at least all non-Chinese sites, are filtered, even if they are not blocked. They appear to be checking each site and each bit of content as it loads. Sites of my favorite web comics, for instance, such as PVP, loaded slowly. Yes, PVP is filtered in China. The image of the comic would slowly, pixel by pixel, appear. It was torturous because I didn't know which pages would load and which wouldn't. Most people I talked to used a proxy, a VPN connection to outside of China, but even that was slow because of course you're adding on layers of connection and other servers routing your content. And yet they also told me there is lively debate within China on the net about the GFWC.
So I am thankful for these things. I hope to be writing more about what I'm thankful for in the next week before Thanksgiving.