Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Creating Tours HowTo 3: Adding Audio

This is the third part of a series on creating tours: Part 1(Simple Tour), Part 2 (Adding Elements)

Adding an audio commentary:
Once a tour has been produced you can add an audio commentary recording over the original as described in this Google Outreach tutorial. Adding audio in this way is easy but the quality of the commentary can be improved if you write a script. The work flow I've evolved to do this:
  1. Record a tour without audio as in the 'Adding Elements HowTo'. Don't add any placemark text notes and save it to the places column.
  2. Run through the tour recording how long each segment of the tour takes. A segment could be something like the flight from a high view of the UK down to a view of the Houses of Parliament.
  3. Work out exactly what you will say in the time the segment takes. E.g. 'now we fly down to view the Houses of Parliament', test your words to see they fit the time slot.
  4. Repeat from [2] each segment of the tour to build up a script to use in recording the audio commentary.
  5. Set the tour playing but then click the record audio tour button as described in the Google Outreach tutorial. Google Earth will play your original audio free tour and record you reading out your script as well.
  6. You may find you don't get the audio correct first time even when you've worked out a script. In this case close the tour dialogue at the bottom of the screen with the cross then double click the tour in the places column and have another go. When you're happy, click the disc icon in the tour dialog to save the tour.
Editing a Tour: Just as you can add audio to a tour using the Google Earth client, you can also add extra sections to it (scroll down the tutorial page to learn how). I don't advise doing this, you can add to a tour but it isn't possible to edit parts of the tour (e.g. change the view) or delete sections without getting into XML editing. Not being able to properly edit a tour limits the use of being able to add extra sections. Another Virtual Globe (ArcGIS Explorer) has added the ability to edit tours in this way (although in Explorer they are called presentations), so I'm optimistic we will see this ability in GEarth soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ArcGIS Explorer 900: First Look

ESRI have released ArcGIS Explorer (hereafter 'AGE') I'd heard that it has a 'presentation' system like GEarth's tour so I dived in and had a look. In the rest of this post when I refer to presentation I am talking about AGE's system, when I talk about tour, I'm referring to GEarth's system. These are some first notes concentrating mostly on the presentation facility.

Download Problems, PC only:
First up I needed to install .NET 2.0 and a server pack to get the program installed. That will have put a lot of newbies off if it is a common need. Oh, and its for PCs only. Grrrr.

Slide Metaphor for Presentations: AGE has adopted a slide metaphor for presentations, so it becomes more like a powerpoint presentation rather than a movie clip, tours follow a movie clip metaphor. Importantly this makes editing a presentation much easier than editing a tour users. Here's some other notes:

Presentation Pros:
  • Thumbnails: The slides are represented as thumbnails making it much easier to locate where you are in a presentation than when editing than wading through kml code to edit a tour.
  • Move, Delete, Recapture: Just as with powerpoint you can move and delete slides. You can also recapture a slide if there's something you want to change on it.
  • Layer Controls Robust: I have had problems with the robustness of GEarth tours when handling layers (turning placemarks on/off etc). After a few experiments, I haven't managed to fault AGE on this.
  • Titles: Slides have a title feature which you can use to put a title at the head of a slide view, it has some nice formatting controls as well.
  • Next/Previous controls: Instead of play, AGE uses next/previous buttons, very handy if you want to use it for a presentation. In a tour you would need to code this in as a pause. You can also have a continuous movie like presentation if you wish by setting the slide time to be 10 seconds.
  • Full Screen: In presentation mode AGE automatically flicks to full screen mode which is a nice touch.
  • PowerPoint Import: You can't directly import powerpoint into AGE but by exporting your powerpoint to .png files you can easily bring them in as what are termed screen overlays in GEarth. Editing control of screen overlays in AGE is much easier than in GEarth.
  • Transition time: You can't control the time the transition takes from slide to slide
  • No audio record feature (a big disappointment)
  • Advanced features of tours such as animating models isn't possible (AFAIK)
Beyond presentations AGE has some other useful features I've noticed such as:
  • Base maps: A variety of base maps is available
  • Data Types: The ability to pull in multiple data types (Arc GIS, KML, Arc GIS online and others)
  • Contextual Help: Contextual help is available when you rollover items in the ribbon.
  • 4.2 Controller: AGE controller looks a lot like the old GEarth 4.2 controller which many (including yours truly) prefer to the new 5.0 controller.
However its lagging behind GEarth in many features such as:
  • Time control
  • Historical imagery
  • Quality of imagery (from my brief flights around),
  • Imagery Streaming Speed
  • Google Ocean
  • Google Planets
  • Flight Simulator
Summary: I think this is a very interesting entry in the Virtual Globe market. I think they've recognized that a vital feature (maybe the killer app?) of Virtual Globes is tours/presentations and they're ahead of GEarth in this respect at the moment by making presentations easy to edit and put together. However, all the advantages of GEarth mean I won't be abandoning it just yet.

Relates To:
  • My review of Snoovel which is trying to make GEarth tours more editable.
  • My lazyweb request for a graphical editor for tours in which I suggested that a slide metaphor for tours would be a good idea.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Personal Website Update

Whilst things are relatively quiet at work I've been updating my personal website. Its now got video talks, details of my publications and I've added some more of my project details.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eddie Iz Running Via Google Earth

Eddie Iz Running Tour: Click to Play and Turn Speakers On!

Eddie Izzard is a popular English Comedian, he's doing an amazing 40 marathons back to back for charity around the UK. He's tweeting, taking photos and reporting his position as he goes so since its for charity, I got the material together and put it into GEarth and produced an audio tour.

Quality and Platform: The quality of the tour and the materials are a bit rough and ready (I need to get a better mic!) because I'm limited in time on this project but I hope it puts the idea across that a trip or expedition can be excellently presented using the GeoWeb as the main platform. I've discussed this before in the context of a trip Stephen Fry took.

Twitter and Maps: All the materials in the tour were manually collated by myself but tweets/photos can be automatically put in a map as in this non-official site (that appeared after I'd started work on this).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brahmaputra Lesson Plan Update

Screen Shot of Tour. Click to Play, NB: Uses Audio

Over the last week or so I've been updating a lesson plan I published last year to use the new tour facility in GEarth. The above is an audio tour to show what the lesson plan is about.

New Materials: Download from my personal website under 'Brahmaputra Flooding....'. Features include:
  • NEW Delivered via tours making use much simpler for the teacher
  • Helpful notes on how to use GEarth for Newbie teachers
  • Ideas for extension exercises for students
  • Links human and physical geography considering effects of global warming
In the materials I've produced tours which use pauses rather than audio, the idea is that the teacher plays the tour and when it pauses describes/discusses with the class what is shown on screen - rather like a powerpoint where slide transistions are replaced by GEarth flights. I used the new material for a global warming conference to a 6th form I did in December and it worked extremely well.

Design Notes on the Lesson Files:
  • I added the 'press play to continue' screen overlay because I thought the user needed more visual feedback that the tour had paused/was playing.
  • I turn elements on and off in my tours more than most people seem to. I think its good practise to annotate tours to help guide the user's eye to where they should be looking.
  • I think the use of GEarth tours with pauses replaces the need for PowerPoint in this instance. Obviously it only works for certain situations but I know ESRI are developing even more tools to make other Virtual Globes more useful in presentations (you'll be able to import PowerPoint slides into their Virtual Globe)
Update 16:13, 12 Aug 09: Edited to include Frank's comments

Monday, August 10, 2009

3D in Flash API: Google Flat Earth

Recently I blogged about the need for a Google Flat Earth. Remarkably the Google people got right on it and2 days later they released 3d for 3D Perspective in the Maps API for Flash which makes it possible.

I've swept my drive in anticipation of the Ferrari I've now asked for :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Creating Tours HowTo 2: Turning elements on and off

Screen Shot of the Goldman Prize tour

This is the second HowTo about tours of a 3 part set. It builds on Creating Tours HowTo 1, In this HowTo we learn how to turn elements on and off in a tour.

Adding Elements:
A more advanced tour than we previously discussed uses elements (e.g. placemarks, ground overlays, polygons) in the places column which are turned on and off to illustrate the topic of the tour. The Goldman prize example (screen shot above) plays in the Google Earth plugin, if you haven't got it there's a link to get the google earth file instead. It uses placemarks but you can use more sophisticated elements as in this Lake Chad Example which uses screen and ground overlays for text and to show the shrinking lake respectively.

To construct a tour turning elements on and off:
  1. Create a new empty folder (right click temporary places in your places column > Add > Folder). Name it something sensible.
  2. Copy the elements you want to appear in it from elsewhere in the places column (right click the element, then select copy, select your new folder, select paste) or create new elements within the folder.
  3. Untick any original elements you have just duplicated in their original location in the places column and all the elements in your new folder.
  4. Record the tour turning elements on and off but only from your new folder.
  5. When you have finished the tour click the stop button in the tour dialogue. The tour will play itself automatically but the elements will not appear as there's a bug. The workaround is to save the tour (floppy disk icon in the record dialogue bottom left of your screen), name it something sensible and then play it again - it should now work.
  6. Drag the tour element that you've just created in the places column into the new folder if it isn't there already.
  7. Make sure all the elements are turned off and save the new folder as a .kmz file (right click>Save As). Google Earth records the visibility of your placemarks when saving a .kmz so the tour will automatically open with the elements unselected, by doing this you avoid the problem mentioned in [4].
Why Use a Folder? Google Earth records your tour as a series of instructions, it will look for 'Placemark X' to turn on and off in your places column if this is included in your tour. By saving all the elements in a folder in this way we ensure they appear in the places column of your users so the tour will play properly.

The camera viewpoints discussed in the previous post can be used as before, but note that it is not necessary to save any camera viewpoint placemarks in the new folder, their location is stored in the tour part recording automatically of the KMZ. Removing them from the folder is good practices as it unclutters the view in the Places column.

Adding Text Notes: You can add placemark text notes to your tour by adding placemarks and opening them in a tour. For example, if I was producing a tour of the Southampton University campus I could mark the School of Geography building with a Placemark called 'Geography'. In the description I could add detail such as 'We run a successful program of Undergraduate, Masters level and continuing professional development courses'. In the tour I would fly to view the building, make the placemark appear by ticking its box in the places column. When the users had had time to register what the placemark's name is (a couple of seconds) I would then click it in the main screen to make the description appear.