Deep memories

As I was writing the post about putting the news in context, I was exploring neighbourhoods with Open StreetMaps, Google Maps and Google Earth.  I was having a great time just noodling around here and there.  I almost forgot what I was doing and that would have meant not writing the post.  Such is the bane of a forgetful mind.

It’s funny how looking down on locations can give you an entirely different perspective.  Close to Forster Secondary School is the University of Windsor.  Just about all educational buildings can be quickly identified by their tracks and football/soccer fields.  So, spotting the University of Windsor was a piece of cake.


It’s certainly so much easier when a school has artificial turf and their names painted on it!  Even I could find it with no problem.

This, compared to my old high school.


We had real grass and, if the overhead cameras had taken a picture on game day, you’d see a fairly well lined field.  I say “fairly” because one of the challenges of a real turf multi-purpose field is that it is seldom flat so when the field is limed, the lines are never perfectly straight.  As a football coach, I’ve blamed many such things as a shortage for a first down!

Of course, if you have a new school, then you get all the goodies.  Air conditioning that works and a beautiful new playing field perfectly visible from space.


As Grade 8 nights approach, I’ve always wondered why school districts don’t do a documentary to promoted themselves “Great athletics happen here”.

To show that I don’t play favourites, here’s a picture of St. Thomas of Villanova which is right around the corner from my old high school.


Now, what’s really unique about this school is the design.  If you look, you can see that the school is built in the shape of a “V”.  I was always impressed with that.  You just can’t do the same thing when your school starts with the letter “S”.

How’s that for a lead-in to what I really wanted to talk about today.  I’m happy with myself.  Like most people, I can be forgetful.  I mean, how many times have I walked into a room and forgot what I was going to do.

I love this quote –

“Did you ever walk into a room and forget why you walked in? I think that is how dogs spend their lives.”
    -Sue Murphy

So, tying all this together.  My mind was happy when it remembered a post from a long time ago.  2009 is the date in the post.

It’s called “Google Maps Typography” and is one person’s attempt to find every letter of the alphabet using Google Earth in his state in Australia.  It’s a fascinating look at earth locations other than looking for football fields!  Each of the letters is linked to the original location so, of course, you can see the original in context.


Here’s a link to a similar project.

There have been so many interesting things discovered from the air using Google Earth.  It puts an entirely different spin on your community, your province, your world.

What letters can your students find in your community?  It’s an interesting question and just doing the task is a rich combination of computer skills.  Of course, the simple task is to find the “what”.  It gets really interesting when you search for the “why”.


Where hasn’t Google been?

Recent events have probably drawn more interest and, hopefully, inquiry about our world. 

I know that I was hit this morning.  I was reading about the arrival of some refugees in Windsor. 

‘I just want to live a normal life, a safe life’: Syrian refugees arrive in Windsor

It was another important feel-good story of how Canada is embracing some of those who have left their homes.  In the middle of the story, the report indicates that the London Diocese had supported people from “Syria, Iraq, Eritrea”.  Eritrea?  That was a new county to me.  So, I did what seemed natural.  I asked Google Maps to find it for me on its world map.

Got it.

My next step was to take a look around using Streetview. Out I dragged the Pegman and nothing turned blue which is the usual indication that there was imagery.  Was Google Maps broken?

So, I went somewhere I knew that there had been images – Windsor – yep, it’s working.

So, back to Eritrea.  Still nothing.  I ended up dragging Pegman around a number of countries close by and noticed that some had been well mapped and others not at all. 

Now, inquiry is getting the best of me.  Obviously, there are some places that had been mapped and others not.  What about world-wide?

This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.  I zoomed out as far as I could with Google Maps and just couldn’t fit the entire world on one screen.  Maybe I need a bigger monitor?  Doing things, I also realized how North American centric my mind was.  Every world map that I’ve ever seen has North American on the left and Europe/Asia on the right.  Ditto for South American and Africa.  And, Australia is always way over there on the right.  Probably by logistics, we see bits and pieces of Antarctica but that’s about it.  If I was a student in Australia, what would a world map look like there?

For this experiment, since I couldn’t get the entire world on the screen at once, I decided to carve it up into pieces.  Even that was difficult since I couldn’t get the entire continent on the screen at once.  Time to play with the zoom on my screen in addition to the zoom in Google Maps.  Pegman got really small!  But, I knew where it should be and the cursor still changed to a grabby hand so I was able to pull it out for this purpose.

At this resolution, except for a thumbnail concept exploration, the maps aren’t particularly helpful.  If you’re looking for actual streetview imagery, zooming in rather than zooming out is a much better strategy.  Try hitting Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, for example, from this distance.

But the visual is so interesting.  Probably not for what is mapped but for what isn’t.

Some of the reasons are easy.  In northern Canada, there just aren’t any roads to map!  But, is that the only reason for the rest of the world? 


I learned that…

…from my daily readings.

I had a question thrown at me this morning after I posted an article I was reading

Doug @dougpete did you read this article?”

In fact, yes, I did.  I read all of them.

When I’m reading, I’m looking for stories that:

  • solve an immediate problem
  • solve a problem that I think I might have in the future
  • provide information about technology that I own
  • provide information about technology that I might own some day
  • are of interest in computer science
  • are of interest in education in general
  • just strike my fancy

In this case, I had an immediate problem.  I had followed the suggestion to upgrade my iPad to iOS 9.2 on Apple’s recommendation and some of my applications were either crashing, locking up, or just not launching.  If you’re a use of Apple technology, you know how frustrating that can be – it claims to “just work”.  There is little help diagnosing problems and usually the results come from an upgrade to the application.  Apple is notorious around here for breaking things with upgrades.  It’s to the benefit of the developers that they eventually understand the new upgrade, modify and release a new version of their code, and life goes on.  So, I was looking to see if others were having problems and if there was a solution.

I should also reiterate that I have Diigo as my default search engine.  Using, any Twitter message with a link it in gets tucked away in my Diigo account.  Over the years, it’s become fairly big and very helpful.  So, I will send articles of interest with their URL to my timeline, knowing that they’ll eventually end up in Diigo.  When I search Diigo, unlike a regular search engine, I’ve found results that I’ve already read and deemed worthy enough to tuck away.  It’s searching as I know it.

So, back to reading.  Yes, I read the stories.  Perhaps not entirely digesting them on first bite because some take some time to do some digging and experimentation.  One such story was this one “21 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Try“.  Some of them I knew; others helped me kill an hour experimenting.  This one was completely new to me.  Google Maps Tips 7: Access the Google Earth ‘God View’.  I knew of the integration of Google Earth with Google Maps but didn’t realize all the tilt and zoom fun.

All with this one little button when you activate Google Earth from Google Maps.

So, I “went” out to Howard Avenue and looked north.  Normally, I’d be looking down on the area.  Instead, this time, I tilted the view so that I could see downtown Windsor and downtown Detroit in the distance.

I decided to move in for a closer look.  Wait for the data to come across and the buildings in downtown Windsor and downtown Detroit pop into place.

There’s Caesar’s Windsor, the Chrysler Building, Renaissance Centre, Ponobscott Building, Comerica Park, Ford Field, …  I’ve done flyovers and looked “down” on these buildings before but this gave me a whole different experience.

It was so impressive.

Without my daily readings, I might never have know how to do this.  Now, I’m addicted and off to scope out other world locations from a new point of view.

It might be old news to you but it was new and inspirational for me.

Don’t stop me now; I’m learning.


The learning continues here – BeetleBlocks

Always be learning – I think it’s a great motto for survival in this day and age.

So, I’m working through my list of things to learn more about from the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference.

I thought I knew of all the block programming languages.  After all, I’ve worked my way through Alfred Thompson’s big list.

But I picked up on a new language during Sylvia Martinez’ keynote address.  It’s called BeetleBlocks.  It’s another language that builds on the promise of the original Logo concept.  Among all the things that you can do is drive an object around the screen.  You start, as typical, with a blank screen.

What’s new with this picture?

All of the other tools that I have worked with previously have had an X and Y plane.  Notice in this case, there’s also a Z.  Yep, we’re now talking programming in three dimensions.

If you’ve used Scratch (or similar languages), you already have a valuable set of skills.  Now, just extend them!

I dragged a few blocks out onto the desktop and started poking around.  I was excited now. 

What can people who know what they’re doing do?  Fortunately, the resource comes with plenty of examples and I’m speed learning by going through the examples provided and modifying them to see what happens.

If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re right at home.

Since the results are in three dimensions, it only makes sense that you can provide different views for the results.  In particular, the wireframe really showed me what was happening.

This project, currently in Alpha stage, and only supported on the Google Chrome platform (although it seemed to work fine in Firefox) is a very worthy addition to your set of tools for programming. 

It seems to be the logical next step for students who are proficient in Scratch programming and are looking for more inspiration. 

I hope that the product continues to mature and, who knows?  We may be talking about this as the Hour of Code approaches.


An Important Update

This week, Peter Beens tweeted about a new Google service.  It’s called Refugee Relief.

It’s a way to contribute online to help the crisis that we see so often in the news these days.  Google will match your donation.

In addition to letting us know of this initiative, Peter has updated his Alphabet/Google A-Z document with a direct link.  The document is now 12 pages long, complete with the services that Google provides for the online community.

This is worthy of bookmarking as there’s a solution for any problem where Google has an answer.

Got the question – does Google do that?

Answer the question with the link to his document.

Clipart on Demand

Sometimes, I could just kick myself.  I always seem to be the last to know.

I was working on a document yesterday and got the text right.  I thought a couple of pieces of Clipart would be nice to break up the text and to illustrate the message I was trying to create.

So I did what I always did.  I looked to the collection of clipart on my hard drive and then went searching for something in my collection of nline Creative Commons resources looking for something that had a friendly license that I could use.  As I was doing this, the little voice in the back of my head said “It’s too bad that this is a multi-step process.  Shouldn’t there be a better way?”

I completed the document and had a few minutes so I thought – if I don’t look, I’m guaranteed not to find it.  If I do look, there might be a chance that I could.  I was using Google Docs, as per usual, for the creation so I went poking around the add-ons.  You can see, from the green checkmarks, some of the add-ons that I’m already using.

As I’m scrolling, I see lots of great enhancements that would make a great word processor even better.  It didn’t take long until I got frustrated looking, but hey, this is a Google resource – I’d be better off searching.  So I did.

Son of a gun!  I added it immediately. 

That voice in the back of my head started talking again – you know about Open Clipart.  I searched this blog and, sure enough, I’d written a blog post about it before.

The acid test is always to search for “house” to see what’s available.

37 pages of results is good enough for me!

I found a suitable piece of Clipart for my document, just tested to see how easily it was to insert, re-size, wrap text around the image and was impressed.  This is a keeper.  How did I last so long with the old method of juggling multiple resources to get the job done?  D’uh.  It’s now a permanent part of my configuration.

I guess I should pay more attention to my own blog.

Where Have You Been?

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Law and Order, you know the importance of cell phone pings to solve various crimes.  As a phone moves from location to location, it needs to connect to a service in order for the phone to work; that’s just how it works.

Now, Google has a similarish service called Timeline.  Clicking this link should take you to your timeline if you’re logged into your Google account and you have your location history enabled.  I gave it a shot.

The first map that was displayed sort of showed that I’m an Ontario-type of traveller with most of the travelling done along the 401, with a few sidetrips to the Niagara Falls area.  None of this was any big revelation; I know where I’ve gone and I always take my phone with me.  The little red dots that are displayed are cell phone location check-ins as I travelled.

There were a couple of outliers though and those were interesting to check in to.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog or a CSTA member, you know that I was the Program Chair of the recently concluded CSTA Conference in Grapevine, Texas.  That would explain the red dots in Texas!

Clicking a dot reveals the location underneath.

So, it was no surprise that I was at the airport, then there’s the hotel/conference centre, and then a couple of interesting location.  Fireside Pies.  I swear; I wasn’t there.  But, as we were driving around looking for a parking spot for the Mexican restaurant that we ate at, I remember seeing it!  And, the Bookstore at the University of Texas at Dallas wasn’t on our agenda but I remember seeing it as we went to the Computing Centre.  So, I guess close does count in this case!

Google assures us that only we can see the locations in the description of the service.  Of course, those of us who are foolish enough to blog about our trips have already revealed the locations to those who read the post anyway. 

Make it stop!  If this is a little freaky, then it’s probably time for you to check out your privacy settings.  This blog post explains how to do this and more.  In the meantime, on your location history timeline, you might be interested in seeing most visited places.

I seem to have a weakness for parks and ONRoutes.

In the classroom, this would be a very engaging and visual activity for students (they all have cell phones, right?) and a great launchpad to an awareness that there are things out there unseen.

In the meantime, if you’re going to commit a crime, make sure you turn off your phone so that you’re not leaving digital tracks!