Tag Archives: maps

Cat Visible on Google Maps Shock

But it’s not the size of the cat that’s the issue…

Goodies Kitten Kong toppling the Post Office Tower

Google Maps’ new Street View feature provides a street-level view of buildings, composited from images filmed by camera trucks which have explored and photographed every alley and byway of — for the moment at least — a few major American cities. Street View is an early outrider of a new wave of digital services which take ‘pervasive’ to a new level. Pervasive, or invasive? To Oakland, California resident Mary Kalin-Casey, the sight of her cat Monty peering out her second-story window in the Street View panorama of her apartment block meant that Google had peered a few pixels too far into her private world. According to a New York Times report:

“The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives,” Ms. Kalin-Casey said in an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building. “The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

Her husband quickly added, “It’s like peeping.”

“Quickly”, one assumes, as the stopwatch is obviously running out on their 15 minutes of zeitgeisty fame.

Concerns about privacy are understandable — but the real issue here is what happens when this information gets mashed up with the rest of the digitally-tagged world-of-tomorrow-afternoon. Close your curtains, hunker down behind the sofa with your cat and laptop, and stay tuned.

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Worldmapper

Another killer app for the graph-terbators amongst you.

toy exports.pngtoy imports.pngWorldmapper is an evolving collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. A collaborative project between researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Michigan, Worldmapper starkly illustrates the various inequalities of our modern world. For example, toy exports (top) vs. toy imports (bottom). More maps — such as those covering death, disease, violence and exploitation are being produced for the site. Expect to see them in The Economist or Independent very soon.

Maps reproduced with kind permission of the Worldmapper team. © Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

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Time Travel

The London Underground map reloaded.

timetravel_no_zones.pngGraphic design student Oskar Karlin has reworked the London Underground map from being a systematic diagram to one based on time. Read more about the project and view more pictures on Karlin’s blog.

Via digg.

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Hacking the Hurricane

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has galvanised both grassroots users and internet heavyweights such as Google into action.

GoogleEarth has had possibly the most vital week of its short existence in providing photographs of the affected regions that can be accessed by both rescue workers and those needing to see if their homes are still there. The New York Times tells just one of many stories that are emerging:

“I hope someone can help,” someone using the name ZuluOne wrote to an online bulletin board. “I’m trying to get a current overlay for the area around 2203 Curcor Court in Gulfport, Miss.”

Mr. Sprague knew that ‘current overlay’ meant a bird’s eye view. And an altruistic impulse combined with an urge to play with a new technology propelled him into action. Using his PC, he superimposed a freshly available posthurricane aerial photograph over a prehurricane image of the same neighborhood. After 15 minutes, he had an answer.

“Actually, it looks like your house looks pretty good,” Mr Sprague told ZuluOne by email. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t look so good for some of your neighbours. Best of luck to you and your family.”

Zulu One posted for help on a GoogleEarth bulletin board. Many American refugees are using GoogleEarth because it enables users to zoom in on any address for an aerial view drawn from a database of satellite photos. As soon as Katrina struck, the Google Earth team along with grass roots users such as Mr Sprague were working on completing a database of the area and the damage wrought and posting them a Google Earth bulletin board.

Most of the images originated with the Remote Sensing Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been posting them to its website since Wednesday.

Taking their lead from the online volunteers, Google, NASA and Carnegie Mellon University had by Saturday night made the effort more formal, incorporating nearly 4,000 post hurricane images into the GoogleEarth database for public use. According to John Hanke, a general manager in charge of the Google Earth service, “It was 100 percent a reaction to what
they (the grassroots users) were doing. They knew about the NOAA data before Google did.”

In a related grassroots online collaboration, at www.scipionus.com, people are plastering a Google street map with electronic pushpins marked with information such as ‘casino boats destroyed’ and ‘minor wind damage’. The NOAA images are also being used officially – helping the Army Corps of Engineers to assess levee damage and to determine major shoreline changes as well as damage assessment.

Other tech companies have also been quick to respond. Freedom4Wireless, a wireless company based in Lake Mary, FL, has sent a team of workers in trailer trucks to the hurricane area. When they arrive they plan to build ‘ad hoc wireless networks’ that will provide rescue workers with VoIP phone networks and police radio capabilities. In addition, the equipment is solar and battery powered, so it can provide communications where none exist. Such moves will be crucial not only in the relief effort but in rebuilding the infrastructure of the affected areas.

Bulletin boards have lit up with people searching for loved ones or offering help. According to Jim Buckmaster, CEO of community site Craigslist, their lost and found section typically receives one or two posts a day. Now it is receiving hundreds as people use the site to search for loved ones lost in the hurricane. Even the Missed Connections and Women Seeking Men sections – typically for those seeking romance – have become filled with notes of condolence and support. Buckmaster says, “It’s striking, the poignancy of people looking to provide temporary housing, this outpouring of generosity, during this horrific devastating natural disaster.”

Even popular blogs have used their huge readership to support the effort. Gofugyourself took a break from dissing celebrities to post a list of organisations helping in the relief effort and numbers to turn to that was more comprehensive than that on CNN.

The Internet has also supported the growing criticism of George Bush’s administration and the tardiness of the official response to the disaster. Political blogs have been helpfully providing online reruns of key televisual moments when the authorities had to face down the pure anger of the people on the ground.

The rolling news sites are finding rich pickings in quotes from New Orleans Mayor Nagin’s condemnation of the situation, “They are spinning and people are dying.” But political blogs like crooksandliars and wonkette have been providing full transcripts and quicktime video clips of key moments that will haunt the Bush adminstration until well after the clean up operation. Included are the moment when CNN anchor Anderson Cooper berated congresswoman Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana and Kanye West’s unteleprompted and heartfelt announcement that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’. Even if NBC managed to cut short West’s outburst, it can now be rerun for billions on the web – helping it become one of the defining statements of the tragedy.

The Cooper/Landrieu exchange is copied below.

COOPER: Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?

LANDRIEU: Anderson, there will be plenty of time to discuss all of those issues, about why, and how, and what, and if. … Let me just say a few things. Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. … I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts.

Anderson, tonight, I don’t know if you’ve heard — maybe you all have announced it — but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating.

COOPER: … I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

And when they hear politicians slap — you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now. Because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats, because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there’s not enough facilities to take her up.

Do you get the anger that is out here?

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I Can See Your House From Here

Fancy a quick virtual flight anywhere in the world?

uk from spaceMaps are one thing. A zoomable satellite globe showing pretty much everything on the planet down to a small few metres in size is something else. Once the toys of CIA cold warriors and Bond supervillians, the average punter now has a choice of not just one, but at least two such systems.

Nasa’s WorldWind is the educator’s choice, showing all kinds of cool true- and false-colour images, weather systems and much more, but suffers slow load times due to high demand. For instant gratification and amazement (‘is that really my beautiful house? Whose car is that outside?’) download Google Earth, which like most other Google toys is snappy and responsive. A 30 second ‘flight’ from New York to a few hundred metres above Canary wharf is both spectacular and smooth.

With both systems, the detail of images depends largely on how many satellites cover an area, and how much interest there is in what they show — detail in London is down to a few metres, whilst images from Tokyo seem razor sharp down to a couple of feet. The Siberian Steppes are, unsurprisingly, shown in less detail.

Both systems require newish PCs and fast broadband, but if you want a God’s eye-view of the world, are worth the download and some play time.

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New Maps are Streets Ahead

Forget (just for a minute) online music: there’s a new battle underway between two of the biggest dotcom survivors. This one’s being fought over maps. The winners? Everyone.

map showing location of Tayyab Kebab HouseBoth Google and Yahoo have recently released online mapping services — given an address, they will show you the location, how to get there, and allow you to search for nearby businesses. Yahoo’s service covers just the US and Canada, whilst Google already has the UK online as well, with plans for global coverage. Want to find a curry in London E1? Easy.

So far, so dotcom — these services may look like Streetmap on steroids, but the business model is the same old same old — show some search results, and hook in some relevant ads as a revenue stream.

But shortly after the launch of Google Maps, something important happened. Hackers took the code apart, analysed how it worked, and started building their own services using Google’s data. We’re not talking just sending a friend the link to the map co-ordinates for a party, we’re talking fully-functional, complex applications based around the Google data and (gorgeous) Google Maps interface. Early efforts include Paul Rademacher’s housing map, which hooked into the Craigslist database of available rental properties across the US, and the (in)famous Chicago Crime Map, which is searchable down to individual police beats. A nice way to find a safe route home (or as a cynical acquaintance would have it, ‘a neat way to locate a dealer’).

Hackers have exploited online services in this way before — in the UK there has been a long-simmering dispute between Streetmaps and coders about the reappropriation of their data. Such repurposing has generally stripped out the ads which create Streetmap’s revenue stream. The understandable response of a traditional business to seeing its profits eroded? Call in the lawyers.

But Google and Yahoo did something altogether untraditional — impressed by the creative work being done without their permission, they formally published the programming interfaces to their mapping systems, and officially opened the system to hackers under reasonably accomodating free licenses. Crucially, they’ve done so in such a way that they can still place ads and make money from systems developed by others. It’s win-win: coders get to make cool new services, and Google and Yahoo still make a profit: a ‘very now’ business model.

But why are people so fired up about free access to good maps? In the UK at least, the answer is simple: maps cost money. Lots of it. The official UK map data is copyrighted and maintained by the Ordnance Survey. Commerical use of their data is expensive. As a reaction against such mapping monopolies, there is a worldwide movement for the development of copyright-free, grassroots-maintained cartographic data. Understandably, it’s a slow process. So the sudden availablility of excellent map data, with the bonus of complete working programming tools to harness it simply for all manner of new applications, is a godsend to developers. The only real concern is articulated by the ‘open maps’ activists: that Google and Yahoo are, after all, commercial services, and as such reserve the right to change the terms of service, or even pull them completely at any time. This is a powerful argument in favour of the grassroots approach, but for many developers, its a moot point: they have a cool idea and they want to do get it online today, not years from now when the openmappers have finished pacing out London street by street.

So far, there has been little sign of UK-specific applications built on Google’s or Yahoo’s systems. The UK is an epicentre of the open mapping movement, and many of the most impressive UK-based projects, such as Heath Bunting’s Skateboarders’ Map of Bristol are already built on free data. But as new developers get on the mapping bandwagon, that’s sure to change — ethical concerns aside, the newly licensed commerical services are easy to use, pretty to look at, and have already picked up impressive momentum.

Today you might not have access to a continuously-updated anti-gridlock site, or an at-a-glance map which will help you find an affordable property in a high-ranking school catchment, but don’t blink — give it a couple of months and the way we look at our city will probably have changed forever.

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