Friday, January 18, 2013

While you have been testing...

I have been playing some more with google earth. My work at the Norwegian Hydrographic Service makes me a privileged person: this is as close as I can get to my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut (apart from diving of course). Modern technology makes it possible to make amazingly detailed images of the seafloor. Here is an example of Kongsfjorden, Spitsbergen. If you want play around with it yourself you can download the KML here. (tip: switch off "Water surface", you can find it under "View").

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Beagle goes Beta

Finally we have a presentable version we can use to test. We'll use the first chapter of the "Voyage of the Beagle" by Darwin. Click here to participate and download the KML. Mail your comments here.
Thanks for testing :-)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why the Beagle?

There are certainly easier travel books with which to begin a project. "The Voyage of the Beagle" reveals Charles Darwin as an energetic young man, full of wonder and willing to take chances. He writes of the injustices of slavery and gives first hand accounts of the genocide of indigenous people. Darwin's geologic theories on island formation and crustal uplift are remarkable considering that the plate tectonic theory was proposed more than one hundred years after his publication. Many people associate Charles Darwin with a specific place - The Galapagos Islands. For the longest time I dreamed of some day visiting these "enchanted islands." Of seeing the marine iguana or diving with sea lions.
So you see another reason for starting with the Beagle. The Galapagos Islands are a cool place. Last March I had this big idea. Simply put - I want people to read great books. In my marine science class I have used Google Earth to entice students to read. For some students this method of reading simply becomes a treasure hunt for others it sparks an interest in oceanography or marine biology. But for most the experience of watching videos, reading about related topics and viewing satellite imagery results in greater retention of details. When former marine science students are in study hall or physics class the following year, I ask them questions about Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone Around the World" and they are able to recall details that I included in Google Earth activities. That encourages me to continue teaching with maritime literature. The big idea was to choose classic maritime books and make a website and have other teachers try this method and give fed back and improve the way the content is delivered. In order to do this I reached out to my friend Boele. Last March I called him and explained the idea. Much to my relief he didn't hesitate and thought it would be a great project. Boele brings to this project his creativity and technical ability. In this website Boele will give technical updates. I will post on matters relating to the activities and books selected.

Fusion tables

Ira reads the books and carefully finds relevant coordinates to retell the author's story in a multidisciplinary way. He includes images and activities for each location. The activities include: videos, music, art, history and remote sensing. Many locations employ the richness of the Google Earth layers. The intent is for the user not only to read classic maritime literature but to become enriched about additional topics along the way. The chapter tours act as a thread connecting the story to content that technology has made available in the past decade. In order to keep track of all this material in a structured way, you need tools, preferably with spatial awareness.
The best known tool available is the Spreadsheet Mapper. It has come quite a long way and is currently available in a rather robust 2.0 version. It's very versatile but unfortunately tends to become unstable with large amounts of data and many edits. So the Beagle with 315 locations and an ever increasing amount of activities per point was a challenge.
In the past year Google Fusion Tables (a beta on Google Drive), has matured enough to be a valid alternative. Users can easily collaborate when handling large amounts of data. Also FME (see earlier post) can connect to it. We therefore migrated to Fusion tables and have not looked back. Fusion tables are spatially aware and generate KML files. So here is a KML of Charles Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle" as Fusion tables generates it:

click here for a large map

This KML is used as input for FME to generate more fine-tuned KML and tours. We will publish a beta this week of the first chapter of "The voyage of the Beagle", so stay tuned....