Anatomy of a Placemark and Literacy Implications


It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee waiting for the qualifying sessions for the Hungarian Grand Prix.  It’s held at the Hungaroring and the Formula 1 community is divided about the track.  Some people love it; some hate it.  It’s one of the slower tracks but that’s because of all of the turns.  That may bode well for passing which isn’t something that you see regularly in this highly technical racing format.  As with any Grand Prix, it can get terribly exciting when there’s rain in the forecast.  I’ve already checked Accuweather International and they’re talking about sunny weather.

As is my custom, I also fire up Google Earth and go looking for the race track.  While it may be difficult to see your house when you take Google Earth for a spin, there are some landmarks that are relatively easy to find in this electronic version of a scavenger hunt.  Namely, freeways, airports and auto racing tracks.  So, I spin the globe, head for Hungary, and look until I find the track.  You can start to make it out at an elevation of about 4km.  Zoom in to 400m and you can start to make out some of the advertising painted on the circuit including the big Shell logo on Turn 2.  The images that you see were from the original picture date of May 25, 2007.  I wonder if different sponsors will be there for this year.  We’ll see shortly.

The Hungaroring is set in such a beautiful setting and you can see the wonderful interior forest and the smaller tracks contained in the complex.

There’s a lot that you can see just by looking around.  My apologies to Yogi Berra.

Previously, I had downloaded an archive of Placemarks of all of the current Formula 1 Racetracks.  I turn on the Placemark for the Hungaroring.  As happens sometimes, the Placemark isn’t quite on the track but is close.  Double click on the Placemark, and you see Google Earth rotate into place.  Single click and up pops a great deal of information about the location and also some details about the history of the race.  This now gets very interesting as I check out the length of the track, the number of laps in a race, and so on.

All of these things can be experienced by a simple point and click approach to computing and that’s good for most people when they just wish to do some quick browsing and some quick referencing.  It does require that someone has done the work and created the files for you.  It also means that you must have access to the Placemark files and hope that the original author was accurate in her/his research.  Such is the promise of resources in this Read/Write Web world that we’re living in.  From an end user perspective though, we’re just experiencing the “Read” portion.

What about the other side, the “Write” portion of the web.

It’s a little more interesting and challenging.  Just as not everyone blogs, not everyone creates and gives away Placemarks.  Why?  Undoubtedly for a lot of reasons, but it does require some originality and a desire to understand and create some new knowledge.  It’s an area where we need to focus.  It is easy to consume and not too difficult to create, but often it doesn’t happen.

So, what does a Placemark look like?

Once you have it in place, point to the Placemark, right click on it and copy.  Open Notepad or any other text editor and select paste.  You should get something that looks like this.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<kml xmlns=”http://earth.google.com/kml/2.2″&gt;
<Document>
<name>KmlFile</name>
<Style id=”default_copy5″>
</Style>
<Placemark>
<name>Hungarian Grand Prix</name>
<description>Hungaroring

Location: 20 km north east of Badapest
Latitude/longitude: 47°34&apos;55.42&quot; N, 19°15&apos;01.60&quot; E
Track Length: 4381 m
Laps: 70
Total Distance: 306.663 km
First Grand Prix: 2003
Last Grand Prix: 2005
Grand Prix: 3
Years: 2003-2005
Address: 2146 Mogyorod
Pf:10 (Circuit) Formula One KFT
Mgyrod 2146

Internet: http://www.hungaroring.hu</description>;
<LookAt>
<longitude>19.25386167547642</longitude>
<latitude>47.58250115740432</latitude>
<altitude>0</altitude>
<range>2380.14834542471</range>
<tilt>0</tilt>
<heading>0.0169624776046808</heading>
</LookAt>
<styleUrl>#default_copy5</styleUrl>
<Point>
<coordinates>19.25789122615184,47.58291841962744,0</coordinates>
</Point>
</Placemark>
</Document>
</kml>

If you’ve ever looked inside a web page or an RSS feed or an XML file, it shouldn’t be foreign reading.  You’ll notice “tags” like <LookAt> and </LookAt>.

As in any application, a tag opens and closes a block of information.  Between the tags is the heart of the information and the location where you get to share your information with anyone who cares to read it.  Therein lies the important part of the Read/Write Web – it’s the “Write” part.

Based upon geographic location, the author gets to tell you a story about the pin that she/he stuck into Google Earth.  It’s not cryptic code.  It’s pretty straight forward once you understand the tags.  They’re what Google Earth understands and interprets.

How do you create them?  Well, since it’s just text, any text editor will do.  Notepad is good, create them right in the Google Earth application or go and search for alternatives.  Now, it gets very exciting.  In the classroom, you can very easily create Placemarks of famous places, cities in the news, or even the infamous “Where I spent my holidays”.

Looking for a Level 4 activity?  You can string them together and make a tour of a Placemark collection.  You’re only limited by your own creativity.

Now, we’re talking literacy and yet another way to exploit the power of the Read/Write Web in the classroom.

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