Monday, May 21, 2012

Google Maps API for Dummies

...or at least I wish that's what this post was, or that I could find a Google Maps API for dummies book or website....or anything.  So for those of you who find this post looking for such a thing, I apologize for my inadvertent Search Engine Optimization (SEO) leading you here.

I've spent a lot of time over the last two weeks complaining about Google and then learning more about the amazing things you can do with their products.  This has only gotten worse since I decided to become proficient with the Google Maps API.  You might have noticed the interesting semantics of the previous sentence.  I've decided to become proficient at things before with mixed results, for the most part though I end up with a modest improvement in a particular skill which I can use to, in some way, make things better.  On occasion I've fallen flat on my face, and this Google Maps API decision has me losing to gravity once again.   

This provides me the first opportunity to quote a Disney movie in some time.
Merlin: Don't take gravity too lightly or it'll catch up with you.
Arthur: What's gravity?
Merlin: Gravity is what causes you to fall.
Arthur: Oh, like a stumble or a trip?
Merlin: Yes, it's like a stumble or a- No, no, no, it's the force that pulls you downward, the phenomenon that any two material particles or bodies, if free to move, will be accelerated toward each other.

So, a bit more on this stumble.

Before you get excited and click on that, let me explain a bit more. Or did you already click on it?

It's taken me a solid week to get anything working here.  I have had some hosting space, doing nothing but taking up space at the cost of about 70 bucks a year.   Dealing with simple issues like not having your naked domain ( redirect to and a host of requisite website annoyances slow things down but the good news is I've got most of that stuff fixed.  Now I can focus on the laboratory part of things.

When you go to you are just as likely to find a page that doesn't load as a map with some strange coloring or just a base map of Ann Arbor.  The point is this is truly my new little map laboratory.  That means,  some experiments will work, and others when mixed incorrectly will blow up like wort remover from Mr. Turkentine.

Ah ha...another movie reference. This isn't the original clip, but it will suffice.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Brushing up on Google Earth Tours

By now I was hoping to have a great selection of pictures from my recent trip to Prague and Paris.  Unfortunately, it looks like those are still a couple of weeks away.  However, this delay seems like a good opportunity to put together a quick tour in Google Earth to show my favorite views of the city as we saw them.  This is, of course, nothing more than an opportunity for me to brush up on some of the more advanced Google Earth tools I bashed last week.  

It's not pretty, but if you open this link to a KMZ file in Google Earth you'll be taken on a quick survey showing you views from the Hunger Wall and Vysehrad.

Surprise, surprise, another compatibility issue has come up.  To view this tour, you must have the Google Earth program.  Wouldn't it be nice if, when playing a tour on your computer you could create a youtube video?  After all, Google does own YouTube.  Oh well.  If you don't have Google Earth, you need to get it.  You can do so here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Grr Google, Grr Esri

Over the last year or two Google has been moving to give all of its products a more uniform look. From blogger, to ad sense, ad words, Google Maps, Search, Google+, Youtube, everything looks distinctly more Googly than two years ago. When Larry Page took over as CEO he nixed the projects that weren't helping the company or didn't have the potential to be big ticket items and invested the money in developing projects like Google Glass.
I was easily able to embed that youtube video and if you watch it, the Google Ads will pop up and Google will make a few cents. I've come to except this sort of seamless compatibility across Google products (and even outside Google products). However, as Google Maps continues to expand, so grows my frustration with compatibility issues between Google Maps and Google Earth. A while back I made a video questioning why Google has a separate iPad app for Google Maps and Google Earth. While Google Earth the program is becoming more and more obsolete (because it's not browser based), the functionality of beginner level user generated material far exceeds that of Google Maps, the program which is no doubt used by countless more beginner level users. Combining the two programs seems like a no-brainer.

Of all the issues I've come across in the Google Earth vs. Google Maps conundrum, one stands out above the rest. Google's own Keyhole Markup Language does not render the same way in both programs. One can go into great detail and create engaging maps in Google Earth with little to know programming experience, but that same file will not be as rich in Google Maps. Pretty, scaled and colorful labels in GE are rendered as boring red points of interest on Google Maps, where the user has to click on the point of interest to get any info. And the customizations possible in GE pop-ups are not available in Google Maps. You can create excellent maps from scratch in Google Earth but you can only share them with people that use Google Earth. I'd like to think GE is installed on every computer, but its not.

I was hoping that Esri's free would be the answer to these problems. It is not. While it is orders of magnitude better at allowing edits to selected features (like changing all of the dots that represent swimming pools to blue, or all of the states with Republican Governors), it simply lacks full HTML integration, removing an infinite layer of customization. does not allow a user to create features, rather you must upload a shapefile. You're really only to create fancy things with subscriptions. Sure extra money for some advanced features are nice but the movement is definitely towards free and comes up a bit short. So, now we're stuck with three platforms, all of which excel at a portion of map making or editing but none of which is a consistent go-to solution.