Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

George Brannon’s Vectis Scenery

October 2, 2017 Leave a comment

George Brannon’s Vectis Scenery
A Digital Adaptation of an 1830s Pleasure Trip to the Isle of Wight, U.K.

This cartographic journey features 42 copperplate engravings depicting scenic landscapes and buildings on the Isle of Wight (Latin: Vectis) . The engravings, the overview map and the written guide were all created and published in the 1830s-40s by longtime Wight resident George Brannon (1784-1860) in his promotional travel book Vectis Scenery. Vectis Scenery was “published annually between 1821 and 1875, and then intermittently until about 1884 upon demand” (Ken Hicks). The work was continued by his son Alfred after Brannon’s retirement in 1857.
An innovative publishing entrepeneur, Brannon also published various additional maps and tourist books of the Isle of Wight as well as individual prints of his engravings (including many that were not included in this 1840 edition). Note that the historical map used is from a later 1847 edition and chosen primarily due to its being available as a higher resolution digital image.

Each depicted view is accurately located on the map and accompanied by its creation date (either of composition or first printing), its title and by Brannon’s longer description taken from the book, which is written in a promotional style and often features quotations adapted from contemporary poetry. Brannon, being his own printer, also created eye-catching banners using varied and unusual typefaces and cursive script.  Each side links to the source page on the Internet Archive website for comparison with the original publication.

Vectis Scenery was an ambitious and complex multimedia project for its time, and thus a worthy and appropriate target for this new digital adaptation.  This digital adaptation was created in December 2016 using Knightlab‘s  free digital journalism tool StorymapJS.

Principal source: 1840 edition of Vectis Scenery shared by Brigham Young University on

Categories: Uncategorized

Using the Google Earth API as a 3-D viewer for non-georectifiable old maps

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

[NOTE: this no longer works online, as the Google KML Gadget that supported this implementation has recently been taken offline and the Google Earth API itself is being “deprecated”  (the KML does still work in Google Earth’s desktop version). This is a lesson to never be dependent on a specific tool or process – tech advancements will leave you behind.
– AGT 12/2014]

This is an experiment I did last year – it uses the Google Earth API as a viewing engine to explore a historic map, and I’m fairly happy with how it worked out.

To explore the map  you need  the Google Earth API installed on you browser.

It’s easy to forget that a 2-dimensional vellum  map like this was designed to be viewed in 3 dimensions, not from the Top-Down, North-is-Up perspective offered by most Desktop Computer setups (Tablets address this shortcoming somewhat because their screens can be viewed from multiple viewpoints and angles).    Changing viewpoints is especially important for this map, which is drawn from multiple perspectives.

Using the Google Earth API as a map viewer restores that 3D experience.  A user can look at this map from any angle and change their point of view virtually at will.  This also benefits from the excellent Google Earth interface, which many people are already familiar with.  Of course the Google Earth API could be used to view any flat image, not just maps.  I should mention that the compass direction is accurate according to the cathedral’s location in Google Earth’s satellite image, that both the map and “carpet” are GE Overlays and that the original map is much more detailed than this overlay image (and all the text is legible).

[This version no longer works because the Google Earth API (web) was deaccessioned.  However I utilized Google Earth to create the following 3D video tour of another historical map using the same concepts described here.

– High-resolution 3D video tour of Le Plan Scénographique de Lyon c. 1550

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Faceted Semantic Browser: American Furniture, 1635-1900

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

[The Library of Congress regrettably discontinued the 6-year-old Viewshare service on 4/20/2018.  I created a rough video of the project before it was discontinued.  The metadata and assets are platform-independent, perhaps I’ll recreate this project on another platform at some point. – AT 5/18/18]

Here’s a link to a semantic browsing tool I just built to explore some of the furniture assets contained in the Rice Art History Collection.  It utilizes the Library of Congress’ Viewshare tool, though I made most of my (very extensive) metadata changes in Excel.  Viewshare’s visualization platform (based on the Simile Exhibit engine) is quite powerful and can be effectively applied to any rich dataset.

While this experiment only utilizes 170 image assets, it effectively demonstrates how a semantic browser  can help users explore a subject area using metadata “facets”.  It features furniture images used in a current Rice Art History course, Dr. Joseph Manca’s HART 339/539: American Art and Architecture 1620-1800.


Viewshare is a powerful tool, but unfortunately most of the editing work had to be done in Excel.  There is no way to update an imported dataset from within Viewshare, or even update a single record directly – you have to re-import the dataset and recreate the View from scratch.  Being forced to redo all your work in Viewshare in order to correct minor errors becomes tiresome (e.g., the materials facet lists “Ash” and “ash” separately).  There is also no easy way to show multiple images for the same item, so mostly I’ve selected only one image for each piece of furniture.  Being an imaging specialist, I would probably work around this by combining multiple photographs of an item into a single image file.

Viewshare doesn’t support database-driven views, you have to upload a preformatted flat spreadsheet, but it does support one-to-many relationships somewhat through it’s “Augment” field feature. For example, if you upload an Asset “Wicker Chair” with a Location field containing “East Haven, CT;Connecticut” and then run Augment, identifying “;” as the delimiter, Viewshare will create a new field containing both “East Haven, CT” and “Connecticut” as 2 separate Locations for that one Asset.  It is irritating to troubleshoot your data, but it does work.

Like most so-called “automatic” visualization engines, Viewshare is “garbage in, garbage out” – the results are only as good as the data provided by the user.  While the metadata from our collection was decent, I still had to completely overhaul it, and honestly it still contains a few small errors (e.g., some block-and-shell furniture is only listed as Colonial for Period Style, and some Federal-period pieces should also be listed under Neoclassical).

I also added links to the individual items, museum websites, Period/Style descriptions and Creator biographies where available. While I am by no means a furniture expert, I do believe that Viewshare projects such as this one can truly help people expand their understanding of a subject area.  Building this View certainly taught me about furniture styles, though of course I’ve spent far more time building it than the average visitor would spend using it.

Semantic Browsing engines such as the ones Viewshare allows are very hot right now, which is another way of saying this is still an immature technology area.
Still, I can’t recommend Viewshare highly enough, and it’s only going to get better.

– Andrew Taylor, Associate Curator of Visual Resources, Rice University

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Google Fusion Tables: Colonial and Federalist architecture

August 2, 2013 Leave a comment

[Google Fusion tables were discontinued December 3, 2019]

Haven’t been updating this blog, but here are some of the New Media and Technology projects I’m experimenting with.  Probably I’ll reboot the entire blog at some point to reflect what I’m engaged with currently.

  • I’ve been experimenting with Google Sheets and Fusion Tables as tools to organize and display “cultural object” images and metadata.
    • Here’s the fusion table I set up containing 364 examples of Colonial and Federalist architecture.   Only small images are accessible but it’s still pretty cool, especially the (semi)automatic Fusion Table map.
      Our collection  hosts 3,576 images of these 364 sites, for an average of 9.82 images per site.  Of course this Fusion table only includes one image asset per site at the moment.  Google automatically geocodes the site location based on a single asset’s metadata record (the geocoded pins are mostly accurate).   You could then 1) include all 9.82 assets for each particular sitepin in its pop-up window or more likely 2) stick with one image but include a hyperlink that opens all 9.82 images together as an ARTstor image group.   This fusion table is proof-of-concept –  I doubt I will develop it further, but it works.  If I was really going to optimize it, I would transfer it into a more robust, customizable platform such as the Google Earth API.
    • Here’s a link to my image labeling spreadsheet, intended to allow professors to create bare-bones metadata for their digital images, not as an end-product display platform.  This professor only gave me 36 images so far but said he likes it and would give me more.   I also did a similar Google sheets table containing all my personal images on my work computer (almost 2,600) which works the same way, though with so many personal images included I don’t want to post it until they are culled.
      I love that the images are easily accessible on the web, but with 2,600 images it’s too slow right now and I’m considering ways to make it faster.  I may split the table up into multiple tabs (or even separate files) but I don’t really want to.  I’ll add more details about this at some point.  I’ve pitched the spreadsheet to various Rice Professors as a tool with which to consolidate their digital assets.  I don’t think they really understand what’s valuable about it that other systems don’t provide, I’ll have to create a good demo sheet to show them.
  • I’ve recently been assigned with maintaining the Department of Art History web pages, which is a nice change of pace and not too difficult.  Formerly the Department utilized the Ektron CMS for it’s website, but now has a customized Drupal page (12/01/15).
  • Taking Coursera’s MOOC Maps and the Geospatial Revolution
    • While I enjoyed the Python MOOC, life conspired to distract me and I only got through the first 4 of 9 weeks.  This Geospatial Revolution MOOC seems to be less intensive than the Python one and because I have some GIS experience I’m hopeful I’ll be able to keep it up.
  • Signed up for an Adobe “Train the Trainer” class which I was asked to join after purchasing their Creative Cloud software.  Have no idea how intensive that will be.

Hopefully I’ll get some time to work on these projects!

– Andrew Taylor

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Simile Timeline project, “platform independence” concept and Rice Python programming MOOC

April 24, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been experimenting with Timeline, a widget from MIT’s SIMILE project, and intend to build one and share it online.

The goal is to create a Louis Armstrong recording Timeline from the 1920s, with images and linking to the recordings (should all be accessible on YouTube in some form).

Basically Armstrong’s 2os recording locations are predictable and uncertain at the same time .  During the 20s he  mostly recorded in Chicago, then New York, then Chicago again, but many of the specific recording studio address are unrecorded (data example:  “OKeh recording session – Chicago, IL – March 1, 1926”).  As a result,  the temporal element is primary, the spatial element secondary.

I’ll probably just put in a divider indicating that he’s back in Chicago after 11/9/1926, maybe with light commentary on events surrounding the move.

[12/16/16 note: I ended up doing a similar project but used TimelineJS (created by Knightlab guru Zach Wise.  My project, currently lying fallow, is Timeline of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (1917-1923), focused on Armstrong’s mentor Joe Oliver.  The research aspect is built on a foundation of brilliant scholarship by the University of Richmond’s Gene Anderson and that of many others.]

I might also port it to the Neatline platform, though I don’t expect that to work as well given that the demo projects seem focused on the map elements rather than the timeline.  I may be wrong on this, but the best way to find out is to create it.

The goal is really to create a platform-independent dataset that can be easily plugged into any platform with minimal fuss.  With technology advancing so rapidly, the important thing is not a project’s particular implementation on any one platform,  but rather easy accessibility to the data and media assets that constitute the project.

[I am also currently taking a 9-week Coursera class created by Rice computer science professors, An Introduction to Interactive Programming in PythonI’m enjoying it so far and recommend that anyone interested in learning programming take a look at it.]

“The Map is Not the Territory”

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Found this interesting quote and observation (among many) in the essay DONALD REMEMBERS VINTAGE SCI-FI: The Cortico-Thalamic Pause: Growing Up Sci-Fi by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan). It used to be available online but is now published as part of Fagen’s book Eminent Hipsters.

One of [Count Alfred Korzybski’s] most quoted sentences is, The map is not the territory. In other words, don’t confuse the word with the object, the description with the thing itself. People who want to sell you something intentionally take advantage of this confusion. For instance, political speeches, TV commercials and Fox News use language rife with “truthiness” instead of truth and containing “factoids”, not facts.

That’s way better than “The Medium is the Message,” but then I’m not a big Marshall McLuhan fan.

Categories: Uncategorized

ESRI changing ArcGIS Online’s Terms of Use

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I found the following email from ESRI today very interesting.  At least ESRI is not deleting users’ already-existing privately shared material, but it still may put small users in a bind since they’ve selected ArcGIS Online based on the earlier terms, invested time and energy learning to use it, and now the free product has changed (here are ESRI’s purchase options).  ArcGIS Online is still a fairly new product undergoing constant development, so service changes are probably unavoidable at this point.

This issue is somewhat reminiscent of Instagram’s recently-aborted effort to change their Terms of Use so they can sell their users’ uploaded images (apologies if that’s an oversimplification).

Notice: Terms of Use Update

You are receiving this e-mail because you have a free ArcGIS Online Personal Account and Esri has updated the associated Terms of Use, effective December 1, 2012. We want to inform you how the update affects the way you can use your ArcGIS Online Personal Account.

What’s changing?
We are changing the name from ArcGIS Online Personal Account to ArcGIS Online Public Account. The ArcGIS Online Public Account will continue to be available at no cost and, as such, is licensed for personal, noncommercial use only.

Under the updated Terms of Use, ArcGIS Online Public Account holders can:

  • no longer share items privately or create private groups
  • continue creating public groups and sharing items publicly, or keep all items private for their own viewing
  • keep private groups and private items if a personal account was created before November 30

(Note: We will not make any existing private groups and associated items public.)

If you want to continue to create private groups so you can share items privately, you can purchase an annual ArcGIS Online subscription, which also gives you access to all ArcGIS Online features and services.

For answers to any questions or if you need help, e-mail Esri Customer Service at or call 1-888-377-4575.

Customer Service

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Tracking Hurricane Sandy in Google Earth (Google Earth Blog)

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Google Earth Blog  is great, have to read it more.  It has this post about Tracking Hurricane Sandy in Google Earth,  done on October 26.  It includes the following screenshot showing satellite imagery of the storm.

What other platforms besides Google Earth present beautiful globe-simulating data visualizations like this?  For clients, end-users or visitors, presentation and ease-of-use, not the source data, are primary. Google Earth is strong in both areas.
I believe a satellite image-based globe simulation such as Google Earth (if it is accurate) is a more accurate model of the real world ( “representation of reality”)than any map projection.

Relevant but out-of-context and with a slightly different focus: here’s an excerpt from a recent post by ESRI Education Manager Joseph Kerski on the Spatial Reserves blog (has an accompanying video). :

One of the themes running through our book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is that maps are representations of reality.  While almost everyone reading this statement is likely to agree with it, in the fast-paced world that GIS analysis and creating maps has become, it is easy to lose sight of this fact when staring at tables, maps, and imagery.
…How many other data sets do we tend to see as having firm boundaries, when the boundaries are not really firm at all in reality?  How does that affect the decisions we make with them?  Even the boundary between wetlands and open water were originally interpreted based on land cover data or a satellite or aerial image.   As we state in the book, even contour lines were often interpreted originally from aerial stereo pairs.  And each data set was collected at a specific scale, with certain equipment and software, at a specific date, and within certain margins of error that the organization established.  Maps are representations of reality.  They are incredibly useful representations to be sure, but care needs to be taken when using this or any abstracted data.

Categories: Uncategorized

Articulating my current preference for Google Earth over ArcGIS (c.2012)

November 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Contributed  the following post to a Google Earth vs. ESRI discussion on StackExchange, detailing my current preference for Google Earth over ArcGIS, example screenshot at the end.   – Andrew

This isn’t really a response to the initial question about Google Earth Enterprise (which I haven’t used) but more to the series of responses already made. I’m comparing Google Earth (not Maps) to the ArcGIS examples I’ve looked at – maybe ESRI’s ArcGlobe can approximate some or all of Google Earth‘s features.

I identified with Optimize Prime’s initial post. I am still fairly new to GIS but have a graphics background and for a year have been building maps in Google Earth Pro, as well as trying to learn ArcGIS Desktop through online courses and trying out ArcGIS Online. Here’s my 2 cents and feel free to educate/correct me.

Unlike Google Earth (more a globe simulation than a flat map) the ESRI maps I’ve seen use outdated cartographic tropes (heavy language, I know).

Most ESRI maps still have a fixed “North is up” perspective (“tyranny of Mercator” I like to call it), an overhead view with no angular capability (and no close/distant visualization), and seem to be focused more on manipulating the data (back-end processing) rather than publishing it (front-end). I’m more focused on on-screen viewing rather than creating map printouts, though even for printouts these concerns are relevant.
I’m interested in digital history, and it’s nice to be able to view geocoded American Civil War data in Google Earth from above Washington, at an angle facing the American South, with Earth’s curve clearly displayed (or from any other perspective). Can ESRI do this? If so, how?

I’m not sure how relevant ArcGIS’s powerful data-processing features are to the client/end-user. All they see is the published product and to me Google Earth makes things look fabulous and offers valuable changes in perspective. Where necessary, I can do quantitative database processing outside of Google Earth and then import the results as graphic objects. This doesn’t work for everything, but in many cases it works very well.

The below image and icon symbols is derived from a “mini-port ” in which I’ve been tinkering with, of some of the ideas from Visualizing Emancipation, a cool historical geoproject being developed by Scott Nesbit  of the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.  While I emailed it to Professor Nesbit, this little experiment doesn’t have any seal of approval from the VisEma project’s team and is just a visualization by me.  Also adapted a Seasons-based Legend for the Civil War years (1860-65) that I might write about later, that was fun as well.

Documentation is Key

July 28, 2012 Leave a comment

[Most of this was written in July 2012 with minor edits in 2018 – I think it still holds up well as a snapshot of my work at that time.  AT/10/21/18]

In this blog I intend to write about concrete applications of geospatial technology with a focus on my own projects, which at this point utilize Google Earth as a publishing platform.

I am an information professional enthusiastic about GIS technology, New Media, and the emerging discipline of Digital Humanities.  I began exploring GIS software and technology after attending THATCamp Texas 2011, a Digital Humanities conference held at Rice University and organized by NITLE Labs Director Lisa Spiro (now Fondren’s Digital Scholarship head) among others.  A THATCamp session introduced me to  Rice’s GIS Data Center and I began an ongoing process of learning KML (“an XML language focused on geographic visualization”-OGC) and JavaScript, developing GIS presentations in Google Earth Pro, and taking online ArcGIS courses offered on ESRI’s Virtual Campus.   Everything takes time of course, and I am applying David Allen’s GTD concepts to generate momentum and decrease inertia in my work and life in general.

Perhaps a little more about me. I am a  technologist,  database manager, imaging expert , presentations specialist and various other things.  I live in Houston, Texas. From 2010-2016 I worked at Rice University as Associate Curator of Visual Resources for the Department of Art History, which involves metadata and database management, image scanning, image editing primarily in Photoshop, and providing Technology and A/V support to the HART faculty.  I single-handedly converted and imported HART’s 45,000+ images into ARTstor via the company’s Shared Shelf hosting service, which was a large task but turned out well (metadata crosswalk I created and used for that).  At the request of Fondren Library’s Lisa Spiro, I also helped professors and grad students create and publish image assets for Rice’s Imagine Rio project,  first to an MDID2 database and then ARTstor, starting with the project’s beginnings in January 2011 through March 2013.  You may notice some similarities between my work and their institutional projects—this is inevitable given our common interests and the nature of historical materials.

Fortunately timestamps in this blog and elsewhere (e.g., link, link) demonstrate that my spatiotemporal ideas, original or not,  don’t derive from theirs at all, and I expect the reverse is also true.  In fact, spatial history projects have been in circulation for well over a decade, and arguably for centuries.  Unfortunately for me, the Library’s digital scholarship team wanted their people to take over my image database work and manufactured a job redundancy.  My position in the Art History Department was eliminated in December 2016.  Enough about that.

My [July 2012] passion is figuring out how to meaningfully publish Digital Humanities material using geospatial software such as Google Earth Pro and ArcGIS, and create web-based mash-ups that utilize GIS and timelines (a recent interest is Exhibit, part of MIT’s Simile Project).  It is important for humanists to develop a more empirical understanding of geospatial and temporal information and how it relates to the subjects that they study (particularly history and other social sciences).

One point I would make is that my interest is not maps per se but rather how best to share  geospatial (and related temporal) information.  At it’s core, Google Earth is not a map at all, it is a composite image of the surface of the Earth constructed to mimic the real-world physical planet.  Maps can be superimposed on the surface of the GE globe, but unlike pre-digital maps, Google Earth is a simulation of the Earth as a physical object, though a very limited one as Google Earth is basically a two-dimensional  plane artificially textured by inexact elevation data (this sentence sounds good, not sure if I agree with it).

I hope to explore/explain some of my digital projects in plain language, which should develop my writing and documentation skills and connect with others with similar interests, particularly scholars of history and other social sciences. – Andrew Taylor 7/28/12

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