The Way of Saint James – Principal French Routes

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Microsoft PowerPoint - legend_4.30.pptx
[Click to enlarge]

I wanted to show and write about the above map visualization, which derives from one of  my early Google Earth-based  GIS projects (mostly created during Christmas week 2011).  I put off posting about it until now because it was inspired by a class trip to France organized and led by one of our Rice Art History professors, medieval scholar Linda Neagley.  Along with the GIS classes I took for THATCamp Texas 2011, digitizing Gothic architecture images for Professor Neagley was a big inspiration for my GIS experiments.  Medieval pilgrimage also provided a natural target for GIS visualization in Google Earth.  I’d put off mentioning my project as I was uncomfortable about focusing on Professor Neagley’s project, but she’s seen it recently and thought it was an interesting angle of perspective.

A major source of  data and knowledge for this project was  Peter Robins, a European pilgrimage enthusiast/expert and creator of The Walking Pilgrim website, “[his] contribution to the current interest in walking old pilgrim routes in W Europe. It is primarily about routes, both current and historical, which is my main interest. It’s not about spiritual guidance or any of the religious aspects of pilgrimage. It includes my routes database, information on medieval itineraries, plus my suggestions for routes to the ports of S England, and to the shrines of N Wales.”

The KML linestring data (the Ways depicted are “Real” geocoded linestrings, not drawn) my geovisualization uses do not all derive from Robins work per se, as there’s plenty of pilgrimage stuff on the web and it took some time before I realized that most of the best stuff I found was from Robins.  Given the day back again the linestrings  probably would all have come from The Walking Pilgrim,  since a few months after I began Robins generously responded to an email and explained how to download his linestrings from his website. The route distances were also adapted from Robins routes database.

I had already managed to create kml linestrings for many of the routes from based on data from various other web sources, I believe the pre-Robins routes were: le Puy, Arles, Vézeley, Aragonés and Francés.  Many derived from’s grande randonnée “Long distance Footpaths” website, for some reason they didn’t have an ideal Paris-Tours route.  for the visualization shown here I included many of  Robins other Compostela-directed pilgrimage routes as unlabeled dark-red  linestrings, partially to show other routes but also because they evoke veins of Christ’s blood going toward Compostella, and mirror the Milky Way above.

Peter Robins pointed out to me that the modern hiking paths are unlikely to have been the medieval paths – modern highways are more likely to run over the routes taken in the “moyen age.”

Pilgrimage maps from books in the Rice Library collection
While digitizing images of medieval reliquaries (the elaborate containers, as opposed to the relics, i.e. bones, True Cross piece, etc.) from the Treasures of Heaven exhibit catalog in-house for Professor Neagley’s class, I noticed that the acompanying modern map of medieval pligrimage routes from the book wasn’t very detailed and I decided to go hunting for and scanning Camino Santiago (AKA Way of Saint James) pilgrimage maps in a systematic way.

This project is pretty much over now, partially because I don’t remember the organization of all the files. The KML (Google Earth) file became so complicated that it frequently became corrupted and required lots of maintenance.

I think people have to do projects to learn how to do something – working on this one taught me a lot about Google Earth’s strengths and weaknesses as a Geohumanities platform, and about what I might want to do going forward.
– Andrew Taylor | October 24, 2014


“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

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

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.

Google Earth map of medieval architecture images

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Wanted to write about a successful  (it works the way I meant it to) GIS  project I did last January  in which I georeferenced ~100 password-protected photographs of French medieval architecture and made them accessible through Google Earth and Maps.   Here’s links to 2 versions of the map I generated, which  publishes well to both the Google Earth web plugin and Google Maps as it utilizes only the  Placemark and Balloon features.
If the sidebar menu of the Google Earth desktop version were necessary I would have had to replicate myself using web scripting languages such as JavaScript or Python as it isn”t available in the default Google Maps or the GE plugin platforms.

[NOTE:  Rice image management has been switched from a locally-hosted image database to ARTstor and the old database discontinued, so while the maps below still work, the pages linked to from within the maps no longer exist. The project would work the same way targeting ARTstor, however I’m not going to redo this particular project – Andrew Taylor 3/19/2014]

Rice NetID is required to link to full-sized images and metadata.   Unlike the Google Earth desktop version, Google Earth Plugin prompts users to download the images rather than opening the image automatically, I could conceivably change the code if necessary.

Google Earth Plugin version (browser-based)

Google Maps version (browser-based)

Google Earth Desktop version (must be downloaded)

Screenshots (PDF)

Since coming to  Rice University in 2010,  I’ve administered the Art History Department’s online digital image collection (~85k images total), which is currently published on “Owl-Space IMM” an MDID2-driven database located on a Rice IT server.  The images and metadata on this map derive from and hyperlink to the  IMM database records.

For copyright reasons, access to the images and metadata is password-protected.  For this project, I had to generate a KML script and then  batch-processed specific details for each separate asset from an Excel spreadsheet I generated.  The 6 fields referenced in the spreadsheet consist of basic metadata, geocodes,  links to the images and metadata in Rice’s IMM database, as well references to derivative images I created that were not password-protected (~260ppi on the longside for Fair Use, as opposed to the 3,000 ppi full-size IMM-based images).

I’ll probably discuss this further, but it worked out pretty well and could have been effectively applied to a far larger set of images.

Here’s a screenshot of how the  data and images display in  Google Earth Plugin followed by the empty KML script I batch-filled (<<[Excel field name]>>):

 Rice is currently transferring the Owl-Space IMM-based image assets to ARTstor’s Shared Shelf hosting platform at which point the IMM server will be discontinued.  I expect a similar process would work to access ARTstor-based image assets utilizing a map interface.

Üsküdar, Istanbul map by Jacques Pervititch

September 11, 2012 3 comments

Last Friday I scanned a number of maps from a 1930s Istanbul insurance atlas for a professor and decided to convert a single page of it into multiple image overlays for Google Earth.  The output consists of a large map focused on the Üsküdar neighborhood on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, with a small map of the larger area surrounding it inserted in the lower right hand quadrant of the page.  It was interesting to reverse the proportions by stretching the small map to match the larger area in Google Earth and stretching the larger map to match the smaller area (of course this means the smaller area map has higher resolution).

The web version is here, but doesn’t show modern roads.

If I were really trying to do a full conversion (I just did this as a lark), I would have processed the title portion and legends as separate screen overlays which would allow them to  retain the same zoom level and be visible even while the user zooms in on various parts of the map.
I am using the screen overlay feature with my second-edition Fort Niagara project and it works very well.  If I could figure out Google Earth’s Regionation feature it would be even better, GE Regionation is kind of my technical holy grail at this point.  I don’t think it quite works yet, but Google Earth regionation should allow for multiple overlays to display or disappear automatically depending on the altitude or the percentage of pixels visible in the overlay’s image file.

Here’s a link to the KML file, which must be saved to your computer and opened with Google Earth to view.  Please write if  there are problems opening it.

Here is a link to a summary of the Pervititch book on ArchNet.  I consider my 1-page-derived project to be Fair Use.


Hi Alex,

I did some detective work (about his Comment, below) and found the street you were looking for, here it is in a Google Earth Plugin Overlay (for some reason it was zooming in too close on my computer but it works).
Tepe Skokak
Now the street is named Duatepe but it still exists.  This 1906 map also shows the synagogue you mentioned.

Not sure where the address No.10 would be located, but good luck with your genealogical research.

Below is the full map that the Overlay came from, in low resolution with the overlay area outlined in black:

Here’s the information about it:
The Plan D’assurance de Constantinople, Vol. III: Kadikeui
(Haidar-Pacha & Moda) (planche 58)
Mapmaker/Publisher: Cha(rle)s Edouard Goad (1848-1910)
London, Montreal, Toronto, 1906
Printing Technique: Choromolithograph
Dimensions: Approx. 40×50 cm

Maps of İstanbul Haritaları 1422-1922
by Ayşe Yetişkin Kubilay
ISBN: 9789944264198; 9944264199

Best wishes,


Digital Humanities Post

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I went to the first meeting of a discussion group at the University of Houston about Digital Humanities.  As a technology, Information Science, and database person, rather than a scholar, I was in the minority.  Wrote the following comment on History Professor Caleb McDaniel’s blog Digital History @ Rice offering my thoughts on what Digital Humanities is and where it’s going.

It obviously reflects my own concerns and interests.

The makeup of the UH reading group Friday was about 10-12 humanists, 2 librarians, and myself, (an IT/Library tweener basically, run the Art History Dept’s image database and have an MLS).  Prof. McDaniels and myself were the only Rice people there.  It seems to me that Academic Libraries are positioned to become the resource-support providers for digital humanities, but I think that structure will also need to include technologists and yes, computer scientists.

I see two basic types of production generated by Digital Humanities – research work created by scholars that uses digital tools to analyze materials, and digital publishing projects that present information in an accessible format to the wider community both scholarly and otherwise.  These can be major multidisciplinary projects.  An example of this kind of project is “Mapping Gothic France” from Vassar and Columbia (, described as

“A joint project from the Media Center for Art History at Columbia University and the Art Department at Vassar College, Mapping Gothic France is a visual exploration of the parallel narratives of Gothic architecture and the formation of France. The site, currently in beta, includes databases of images, texts, charts and historic maps, allowing users to triangulate French political and architectural history geospatially and temporally in addition to offering a narrativized accounting of France’s Gothic structures.” (

Obviously an ambitious project like this requires an entire team to realize and is not entirely a scholarly endeavor.  Other aspects of it would involve project management, programming, database management, information architecture, and presentation design.  Think of the credits rolling at the end of a movie, with a humanities professor taking the role of writer, director, producer depending on how you look at it.

Categories: Digital Humanities

Learning Javascript

August 27, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m currently trying to get back into learning JavaScript as my first programming language.  I considered taking a Computational Science Course here at Rice U. which uses Python as the first language, but I don’t want to stress myself out too much or become intimidated by students with more attention to invest in a course.

I have two JavaScript projects which I am trying to do more-or-less concurrently.  One is following Code Academy‘s online curriculum, the other reading and doing the exercises for the online book Eloquent Javascript.

I’m not  as fast a learner as I’d like but if I’m patient I know I can learn new skills through repetition and practice.  I consider myself to have a poor short-term memory but a great long-term memory.  The key is to keep banging my head on that wall a bit every day and not worry about how long it iss taking me.   I learned how to play the harmonica as an adult, and I can remember not being able to do play things that are very easy for me now (bending, vibrato, improvised soloing, etc.), even though I’m not currently practicing or playing out.  Knowing I’m pretty good at something I remember not being able to do at all (unlike reading, riding a bike, etc.) is very empowering.

I have read several anecdotes from long-time professional writers responding to questions about how they wrote so many books, articles etc.  The answer is that they wrote 2-3 pages every day for 40 years.  It adds up.

Categories: Virtually Learning

ESRI’s Jack Dangermond on ArcGIS Online, GoogleEarth and Google Maps

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Received an email link to “a series of questions to and answers from Esri on a variety of topics.”

Thought I’d include this one below.  I played around with ArcGIS Online last year and it wasn’t flexible enough for what I was trying to do, which was to create a smooth, dynamic user experience.  It is a new product and will unquestionably get stronger.  Intrigued by the statement that ArcGIS is for organizations, the implication from that being that Google Earth is for individual developers who require more customization options. – Andrew

Q: Is ArcGIS Online like Google Earth and Google Maps?

In some ways, yes. It provides the same kind of high-quality basemaps, imagery and geocoding services in easy-to-use web and mobile apps that virtually anyone can access and use. Beyond these similarities however, ArcGIS Online is quite different. ArcGIS Online is for organizations. It is focused on providing geospatial services including:

  • Easy mapping requiring no GIS expertise
  • Geospatial content management for an organization’s authoritative data
  • Full integration with other enterprise systems (IBM Cognos, Microsoft Office)
  •  Full integration with ArcGIS – i.e., desktop, mobile, and server technology. This includes full server integration.

ArcGIS Online has the following characteristics:

  • All content remains under the ownership of the user
  • Open access with advanced API (REST) support to the most popular development languages
  • Many free apps and APIs for the web and all mobile devices (iOS, Android, and Windows)
  • Ability to manage content and user access
  •  Ability to create collaborative maps
  • Full integration with Microsoft Office (Excel, PowerPoint, and SharePoint)
  •  Low cost, scalable subscriptions for organizations
  • Access to a large and growing collection of user-shared geospatial content (hundreds of thousands of maps and datasets)
  • Easy configuration and customization
  • Hosted application templates
  • Administrative capabilities for data and user management
  • Flexible and scalable to meet an organization’s system needs as demand grows.
Categories: GIS miscellany