Fort Niagara Project, Pt.2: Conversion 1

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Fort Niagara Project, Pt.2:
Conversion 1
(back to Pt.1: Introduction)

This post describes my original Fort Niagara project (“Conversion 1”), in which I converted the Historical Development of the Fort webpages to the Google Earth platform without significantly altering the layout of the 20 original drawn blueprints, and including the (unsatisfactory as it turns out) number-labeling system intact.   The accompanying text descriptions required some simple editing, and in the course doing that I added hyperlinks to historical material (maps, biographies, event descriptions, etc.) available elsewhere on the web (Google Earth has an embedded web browser).  I spent a little under 2 months completing it (at the end of this post I link to the kml file for this first project  if you want to jump ahead).

The image editing  (done in Photoshop) consisted of

  1. Creating a screenshot of Google Earth’s satellite image of Fort Niagara taken from approximately the same angle and height as the drawn blueprints
  2. importing the screenshot into Photoshop as a layer
  3. importing the 20 blueprint image files into Photoshop layers
  4. lining up the drawn blueprints as best I could with each other and with the satellite photograph (fortunately there is a common feature in all the blueprints, the “French Castle” which dates back to 1726)
  5. Coloring the drawn lines in the blueprints to make them more distinctly different as viewers toggled between them in Google Earth [I made some cosmetic changes to the 20 blueprints but few editorial ones, and they remain consistent with the original image files from oldfortniagara.org]
  6. Adding a white outline to the drawn lines so that the blueprint images would stand out (“pop”) when overlaying Google Earth’s satellite image
  7. saving each overlay as a png image file in a web-accessible location (in my rice.edu webfolders)

Here’s a screenshot from the Photoshop file with the 1755 blueprint displayed:

The Google Earth (Pro) part consisted of

  1. importing the 20 processed blueprint images into Google Earth as Image Overlays
  2. lining the blueprints up correctly with the satellite image and deciding on a default “Viewpoint” and angle
  3. importing the descriptive text that accompanied each blueprint on the website (so it opened as a Google Earth “Balloon”)
  4. adding all the appropriately titled overlays to a Google Earth “Folder” formatted so only one overlay appears at a time (with the “radio-style button” option)
  5. saving the folder as a Google Earth file (kml)

Here are two Google Earth screenshots of Conversion 1, both showing the 1755 Overlay and with the right one showing the text Balloon (Image Overlay Balloons are opened by double-clicking the left-navigation label) In addition to the (edited) website text, the Balloon also contains some additional material added by me –  the historical map the blueprint is based (with weblink to larger image) and links to websites on historical events/figures mentioned in the text.

[I’ll post Version 1’s kml file at some point, currently it references image files on my C: Drive so I’ll have to put the images online and update the links.] – [left in to illustrate process]

Here is a link to my full kml file for Conversion 1 of my Fort Niagara project, which I worked on from 2/14/12 -4/4/12  (figured the dates out based on my Firefox browsing history).

To view it right-click on the above link and save it to your computer, then open the downloaded kml file (requires the Google Earth application).  It won’t work in Google Maps and I have not tried opening it in other programs that use kml files.

Yay!  Project complete, right? Nope.  I was unsatisfied –  Version 1 still seemed print-derived and didn’t take full advantage of the Google Earth platform.  My later efforts effectively render Conversion 1 obsolete, so I will not be developing it further.

In future posts I’ll describe some of the  shortcomings inherent in Conversion 1 of my Fort Niagara project and how I have tried to address them.

– Andrew Taylor 8/3/12

 

Categories: Fort Niagara Project

Fort Niagara Project Pt.1: Introduction

July 31, 2012 1 comment

Fort Niagara Project, Pt.1:
Introduction

One of my Geospatial Publishing projects (started in February 2012) is converting a section of the oldfortniagara.org website ( “Historical Development of the Fort,” now preserved in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine) to the Google Earth platform so that users can access the content in an intuitive and dynamic way.   The “Historical Development” pages consist of of 20 dated blueprints of Fort Niagara (located strategically where the Niagara spills into Lake Ontario in western New York State) detailing historically important points in the Fort’s development stretching from 1679 to 1935.
The fort blueprints are scanned from uncredited  hand-drawings based on original documents and historical maps where available.  They use a numbering system and key referencing various points of interest of Fort Niagara at that time.  Each blueprint is also accompanied by a written historical overview of the Fort at that time that references the numbered key.
Here is a screenshot of their  Fort Niagara cc.1755 webpage:

niagdev2019

These webpages represent a great concept and seem to have great content.  On the other hand they are probably a few years old and and likely derive from an even earlier print-based project.  My thought was that these blueprints could be added to Google Earth as transparent overlays over the actual Fort as it exists today, and viewers could easily click-through the various blueprints in a dynamic way.  Through my own technical, presentation and knowledge management skills, I could help to fully realize and augment the original developer’s vision.

Thus at it’s core my own Niagara project was conceived as a port-of-a-port (Print project>Webpages>Google Earth),  and certainly one of the appealing  things about it is the excellent semi-scholarly content that the Old Fort Niagara Association created (“semi-” because the sources are inadequately referenced).  I definitely feel what I have done/am doing is a tribute to the original.  The project has grown and changed since I began it – I didn’t fully realize ahead of time the amount of repetitive work the project would require (including going through the same process reiterated over 20 times for each blueprint and description!), and trying to make as seamless an interface as possible has been a challenge and an education.   Since I’ve already made a significant investment in the project, I want to complete a satisfying “final” product that will be of interest to fellow history buffs.

I should note that I have contacted the Old Fort Niagara Association (who created 99.5%  of the scholarly content in my version) but have not yet received a response from them regarding my own project.  I know they are updating their website,  may be upgrading the Historical Development pages my project is based on, and may not appreciate my conversion efforts (as a nonprofit association they hopefully have no issue as long as I credit them correctly and link to oldfortniagara.org).  If they are updating their “Historical Development of the Fort” pages it will be interesting seeing what choices they make and how their approach differs from my own solo effort.

Version 1 of my Project

Originally I intended to create a limited conversion of the web site’s material, just stretching the blueprints to the actual Fort Niagara site  in Google Earth and import them as transparent overlays, with the accompanying text included in such a way so viewers could click on the left navbar to read it.

I did most of the editing work in Photoshop – this consisted of

  1. Creating a screenshot in Google Earth of Fort Niagara taken from at the same angle as the drawn blueprints (a satellite photograph really, as opposed to a map)
  2. importing the screenshot into Photoshop as a layer
  3. importing the 20 blueprint image files into Photoshop layers
  4. lining up the drawn blueprints as best I could with each other and with the satellite photograph (fortunately there is a common feature in all the blueprints, the “French Castle” which dates back to 1726)
  5. Coloring the drawn lines in the blueprints to make them more distinctly different as viewers toggled between them in Google Earth [I made some cosmetic changes to the 20 blueprints but few editorial ones, and they remain consistent with the original image files from oldfortniagara.org]
  6. Adding a white outline to the drawn lines so that the blueprint images would stand out (“pop”) when overlaying Google Earth’s satellite image
  7. saving each overlay as a png image file in a web-accessible location (in my rice.edu webfolders)

The Google Earth (Pro) part consisted of

1) importing the 20 processed blueprint images into Google Earth as Image Overlays,
2) lining the blueprints up correctly with the satellite image and deciding on a default “Viewpoint” and angle,
3) importing the descriptive text that accompanied each blueprint on the website (so it opened as a Google Earth “Balloon”),
4) adding all the appropriately titled overlays to a Google Earth “Folder” formatted so only one overlay appears at a time (with the “radio-style button” option) and
5) saving the folder as a Google Earth file (kml)

Here are two Google Earth screenshots of Version 1, both showing the 1755 Overlay and with the right one showing the text Balloon (Image Overlay Balloons are opened by double-clicking the left-navigation label) In addition to the (edited) website text, the Balloon also contains some additional material added by me –  the historical map the blueprint is based (with weblink to larger image) and links to websites on historical events/figures mentioned in the text.

Yay!  Project complete, right? Nope.  I was unsatisfied –  Version 1 still seemed print-derived and didn’t take full advantage of the Google Earth platform.

In a future post I’ll describe some of the  shortcomings inherent in Version 1 of my Fort Niagara project and how I have tried to address them.

I’ll post Version 1’s kml file at some point, currently it references image files on my C: Drive so I’ll have to put the images online and re-reference it.

– Andrew Taylor 7/31/12

Continue to Part 2

[Footnote: in a mostly separate sister project I have created a Google Earth file (kml) with dynamic placemarks that reference sites at the present-day Old Fort Niagara Historical museum, but that project branched of sufficiently to justify discussing it in a future post.  I am mostly satisfied with how the placemarks project turned out]

Categories: Fort Niagara Project

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 and worked at Rice University from 2010-2016 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

Categories: Uncategorized