Google Earth and News: Make Your Own Street Views (and More)

A render of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado...
The Flatirons of Boulder, CO, as rendered by Google Earth. (Image via Wikipedia)

Recently Frank Taylor blogged about a cool Google Earth trick that could be an intriguing visual online news tool: homemade street views.

The example he cites is from Taiwan, where developer Steven Ho lives. Taylor wrote:

“[Ho] has been waiting for signs Google would bring Street View to Taiwan, but finally couldn’t wait any longer. So, he spent a few days making his own Street View panoramas for National Taiwan University campus. It turns out March is the month when the Indian azalea bloom, so he decided to take his street view photos along the famous Royal Palm boulevard. Steven took the time to not only take 150 panoramas, but also process his KML [Keyhole markup language, which is to Google Earth what HTML is to Web browsers] so it looks and acts just like Google Earth’s Street View imagery. He also added in some 3D buildings for the campus and the palm trees.”

The result is impressive. If you have Google Earth installed (and I recommend upgrading to Google Earth 5.0, which was released in February), then download Ho’s Taiwan street view and open that file in Google Earth. After it zooms in on Taiwan, click on any of the camera icons to start your visual wandering of the campus.

If you don’t have Google Earth, here’s a video screencast of what the experience looks like:

This made me think: What if a news organization offered this kind of immersive experience related to a news story or ongoing topic?…

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links for 2009-03-31

Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

Photography imported on the site by...
NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

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links for 2009-03-28

  • "Of the apps by Crestron, Lifeware, Z-Wave and Control4 we've seen here at CEDIA, Crestron's seems to be farthest along (pictured above). It can control multiple rooms in multiple houses all via Wi-Fi or AT&T data, and is a free download and add-on. Z-Wave, probably the most accessible system that you don't have to have a Cribs-worthy home to run, will sadly charge you $10 a month for the privilege of freaking out your pets while you're on vacation or locking your doors from bed. Lifeware's app is still in its nascent stages, but it will pack more Media Center integrations"
  • Another device to watch…
  • "I've been talking with Richard Rosenblatt at Demand Media quite a bit, he has a model that is really gathering momentum. A caveat, we share an investor in Oak, but it wasn't Oak that created the lucky coincidence of Richard and I sharing a flight from LA to San Jose earlier in the week. Demand is based in LA, and like many successful companies there, is often overlooked up here in the Valley or out in New York. But Richard and his team are quietly building a major media company in the flats of Santa Monica. I won't give away all of Richard's secret sauce, but he has a content strategy that really groks search and social media (you can see on example of it here, with YouTube, and get a sense of what he's all about here, in his talk at Web 2 last year)."
  • You knew it had to happen…..

links for 2009-03-27

  • First, about the addictive stuff, which you non-tech obsessives call the bad habits. When I heard that Jennifer Aniston had broken up with John Mayer because he said he was too busy to see her—but he kept posting tweets online—I knew that Jennifer Aniston, if in some alternative, bizarro universe we were dating—would have dumped me, too. You see, my love of the way technology keeps me connected to the planet mostly likely matches—or outstrips—John Mayer’s. (Maybe we should date?)

    If you are dating me, you ARE dating my devices.

  • "Having a phone isn't even a privilege anymore — it's a necessity," said Rommel McBride, 50, who spent about six years on the streets before recently being placed in a city housing program. He has had a mobile phone for a year. "A cellphone is the only way you can call to keep up with your food stamps, your housing application, your job. When you're living in a shelter or sleeping on the streets, it's your last line of communication with the world."

    Advocates who work with the District's homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets.

  • This is actually a very good point, and news orgs and other institutions could play a huge role here: "The only way e-book readers will emerge from their current state of irrelevance is if the manufacturers of the device decide to make them free or as close as possible to free and then make their money on the e-books. At that point, consumers would be more than happy to pick up a Kindle or a Sony Reader and buy cheaper books at their leisure. And by doing that, everyone wins: the installed base will increase dramatically, e-books will sell far more copies than previously imagined and the niche market could finally become a mainstream alternative to print books."
  • Full text of the book. Save it as PDF or use Instapaper to create a kindle-ready e-book.
  • The use of Google Earth to make a virtual discovery, which then led to an actual one, is just the latest example of how the spread of satellite technology — and related computer applications such as Google Earth — are changing the way scientists, conservationists, and ordinary citizens are monitoring the environment and communicating their findings to the public.
  • "After brainstorming a bit we came up with the idea of a ThemeSong server. Basically, we thought it would be awesome to walk into a room and have our own theme song be played.

    "After some work, I have an initial release of ThemeSong available fo those interested in using it for themselves. ThemeSong is written in Adobe AIR and leverages the Roomware Server in order to detect Bluetooth devices in proximity. ThemeSong provides the ability for you to remember devices (mostly phones) and to assign entrance and exit theme songs that you would like to have played when that device is present (discoverable) or absent (undiscoverable). "

    (tags: music tools fun)
  • Intriguing data visialization. What could news orgs do with this?

links for 2009-03-26

  • "When the Bangor scientists studied the section of the brain that responds to angry, happy or neutral faces, they found something interesting: This area is also tied closely to areas of the brain associated with survival instincts–like your fight or flight reflexes. When you detect anger in your vicinity, your facial recognition center suddenly lights, allowing you to better detect possible threats. Or, as one researcher puts it, “The ability to remember who is angry may have been of evolutionary importance in enabling us to respond to a threat situation. Remembering who’s happy is less important as it bears no relation to our own immediate safety.”

    "As a side effect of this–our brains being wired to pay more attention to anger–any pissed off dickhead who is otherwise irrelevant, will still seem much more important to you than a reasonable person who should otherwise take priority. It’s not nec the case that there is more negativity, it’s just that you pay more attention to it."

  • It would be a bit ridiculous to subscribe to the full Lifehacker feed (or other frequently updating sites) with Pingie, because no one really wants 18-plus text messages a day. However, now that you know how to slice and dice Lifehacker feeds to get only the content you want, services like Pingie or previously mentioned Web-alerts could come in very handy with our Feature feed or our daily download recommendations. Pingie is free to use, requires an email address to set up your account.
  • I haven't tried it, but I will: "Register & use it anywhere, anytime No download. Compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, Linux. Capture videos of onscreen action in one click. Record screencasts, tutorials, demos, training, lectures and more. Share and stream videos online in Flash. Embed them on blogs and webpages or send them by email."

Twitter via text messaging, on the cheap

homeless guy on his phone
Image by Malingering via Flickr

UPDATE: Right after I posted this article, David Herrold told me (very nicely) that you can indeed turn device updates on for individual Twitter friends via the Twitter interface or by texting “on username” to 40404 from the phone number you’ve connected to your Twitter account. So you don’t need to convert RSS to SMS to get text updates from specific Twitter users. Still, the strategy I outline below is helpful for following Twitter search queries and hashtags via text messaging.

Technically, Twitter is designed with that frustrating 140-character limit so it can work even over the barest of bare-bones cell phones via text messaging. But even so, twittering by text messaging is cumbersome and a little financially risky.

A colleague e-mailed me with a Twitter question. She wants to use her mobile phone to send and receive tweets via SMS text messaging, but doesn’t have a data plan for her phone. (Hey, there’s a recession on, you might have heard.)

Yes, you can indeed read and post to Twitter solely via text messaging if you choose. I do think it’s a good idea to get set up to post to Twitter via text. You never know when you might need it.

The tricky part lies in receiving tweets via text messaging, while controlling costs…

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links for 2009-03-25

links for 2009-03-24