Showing posts with label google. Show all posts
Showing posts with label google. Show all posts

18 August 2015

Update #2 to Google Maps Directions to GPX data

I've applied several major updates to the tool discussed in this article. Update #1Update #2Update #3, Update #4 and Original post.

The Google Maps Directions to GPX has received its second update.

Try it

Change log

  • Support for short urls (e.g. "" links).
  • Support for multi destination directions.
  • Waypoints will now get a full address into their <desc> field if available.
  • Option to exclude creation of waypoints (external to the route).
  • Option to provide a custom name for the route.
  • Improved error handling and validation of Google Maps links.
  • Addressing an issue where if URL is missing sections the Google service will estimate the destination (this will most likely cause an incorrect route to be generated).

Changes to JSON output only 

These have not yet been integrated into the GPX format.
  • Inclusion of Google StreetView imagery where available.
  • Preliminary support for elevation profile data (only for walking and cycling directions).
  • Turn information available in markup format ("step" field).
  • List of all countries the route passes through.
  • List of all destinations in route (in addition to start and finish).

Try it

Map Link with Multi Destination Directions

Map Link with Cycling Directions (will have elevation data)

16 August 2015

Update #1 to Google Maps Directions to GPX data

I've applied several major updates to the tool discussed in this article. Update #1Update #2Update #3, Update #4 and Original post.

In a previous post I shared an experimental tool that I had been tinkering with that converts Google directions to GPX format.

After quite a few interesting suggestions and discussions with readers I want to present Update #1 to this tool.

Try it

Major changes

  1. New and more user friendly UI with error checking.
  2. More control over output format and output file types (the tool now defaults to generating a file that has the broadest compatibility with the GPX standard).
  3. Auto-generation of unique route point names (format "RPxxx").
  4. Option to include the full direction text with each route point in the <desc> field.
  5. Option to include a brief next turn information with each route point in the <cmt> field.
  6. Optional JSON response for future web-development
The new UI with all options

Try it

15 January 2015

Filtering the ESA Small & Medium Sized Enterprises on a map (#2)

The project discussed in this article has now been updated with newer data see post 3.

As a follow up on the work I did in an earlier post I decided to go ahead and expand my initial implementation quite a bit in an attempt to make it more useful for people looking for ESA vetoed contracting firms.

Try it

So I implemented two major enhancements:

1. Richer company info

Now when you click on a marker it will show you a much richer details about each company. Specifically its primary fields of expertise and contact information (in case you're interested in working there).

2. Filtering of companies

You can now hover over a little blue icon in the lower right-hand corner to open up a filter menu. By selecting individual filters in this menu you can limit the markers shown on the map to only companies that specialize in these fields.

Super useful. Wow

24 November 2014

ESA Small & Medium Sized Enterprises on a map

This article has been expanded and updated in post 2 and post 3.

Recently I had some business on the European Space Agency (ESA) SME Database. This database lists small and medium sized companies that have been cleared or granted privileges to work as contractors for the ESA.

The primary public access to this database is a long tabular list of company names and addresses. This data can be better presented today by overlaying it on an interactive map instead of a list. Using such a format can also make it easier for people to browse and investigate opportunities in specific areas.

So, in the spirit of being the change you want to see, I set out to create an offline parser (.NET) to source the list of companies from the SME database and then a simple PHP website to render the results onto a nice modern map (in this case Google Maps).

The change

First version is done and you are welcome to use it:

Try it

This first version is very basic. Currently the following improvements are planned

  1. More details about companies shown when the markers are clicked
         2015-01-11: Page now shows company fields of expertise as well as contact information 
  2. Filter companies by their sector and project types
  3. Select companies and print a list for future reference (in case you're job hunting)

4 March 2012


Like so many others I feel it is time to wean myself off my dependency on Google for search. It may come as a no surprise to anyone how relying on a single source for information opens you up to significantly biased view of the world and is inherently dangerous to do unconsciously. Although my field of work does not strictly require me to present an unbiased view of matters, recent policy and privacy changes for Google products have made me realise how, on an unconscious level, I immediately turn to Google search when I need to look something up and how that can impact my online experience in seemingly unrelated systems.

Cold Turkey
So I thought my best course of action was to completely remove Google search as my default go-to search provider. To begin with I chose to try out Bing (as it is the only search provider that offers a similar range of products I use from Google, i.e. search and maps). I am still disappointed that I couldn't use Office365 for free for personal use (I'd even settle for ads) but it seems that suite is solely meant for business users (big mistake I think).

So first I had to identify where my searches were originating from. I identified the following three areas in descending order of importance:
  1. My keyboard launcher, Launchy
    This is by far the most common way that I perform search on my computers. Fast and efficient but has contributed to this mental association that search == google as I need to type in the first letter of the provider I want and then press tab to enter my search term.

  2. Browser's address bar
    As I am a heavy user of Google's Chrome browser it has become almost natural to just start typing what I want into the address bar and then either press enter to search directly or pick from the drop down list. This is such a natural thing to do that I do it in any browser I use.

  3. Browser's search provider box
    After I stopped using Firefox as much as I used to I've stopped using the search provider box as much. But I still occasionally press Ctrl+K and start typing when I find myself using Firefox now and again. Neither IE or Chrome have this box anymore.

  4. Navigating to the search providers website to perform search
    This I almost never do on my main computers but occasionally do when using my phone to search for things. It is slow and annoying

How Easy Is It?
The single biggest difficulty I see is to change my own behaviour and the association I've made with Google and search, it will be hardest for item 1 as I need to stop typing "g <tab> <search term>" and rather type
"b <tab> <search term>"

Not so hard it seems. But I soon realised how instinctive that "g" had become. Most of the time I had already typed it and pressed <tab> before I realised. So that is going to be a challenge to change. Item 4 is so painful to do anyway that I don't see it as a problem at all (although it would be more of an issue if I used the search button on my Android phone more).

The rest is just a matter of configuring the technology to do what I want it to it seems.

Imagine my surprise when the simplest tool to configure to use Bing by far was Google Chrome and the biggest disappointment and betrayer was my old friend Mozilla Firefox.

Google Chrome 18
Simple. Clicking the spanner/wrench icon in the upper right hand side of the browser window, choosing Settings and simply choosing "Bing" from the dropdown list under Search on the Basics tab.
Voilà, now all my searches through Chrome are directed to the Bing website.

Total clicks: 3
Annoyances: None

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
Strictly speaking then no configuration is needed out of the box for this browser as it comes with Bing already configured as default. However that is also the only search provider it comes with by default. To install any other is more painful that I would have wanted.

IE'sCog Icon
But to choose a different provider it is necessary to click the cog icon in the upper right hand corner of the browser window

Choose Internet Options, clicking the Settings button in the Search section on the first tab. That opens the Add-ons window which allows you to choose a different search provider. I use the term "allows" in a very generous way as it is near to impossible to see at a glance how to use anything else than Bing. But it is there near the bottom left corner disguised as one of those hard to see links.

It annoyed me that they made it this hard to choose as it is obvious that this was a deliberate UI design choice of theirs, one that probably went through a lot of disccusion, refinement etc before being approved and implemented.

Total clicks: 9
Annoyances: Had to close and re-open the Add-on window for the new search provider to appear in the list and manually close all those windows I had opened. Choosing the provider requires you to open an additional browser window to select (plus an extra window opens to confirm settings for the provider after selecting it).

After digging around a little more my curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the little magnifying glass  icon that is present on the far right in the IE address bar. While this gives you convenient access to your browser history and favourites, I discovered that it also lists your search providers and gives you a quicker way to install a new one (step that completely bypasses all the windows mentioned in the previous method). Much much better and actually more clear what provider you're using than it is in Chrome.

The IE magnifying glass (kudos to whoever added the downward
pointing triangle as I would otherwise never have clicked it)

Lists all the provider you have installed and allows easy admin
Total clicks: 6 (2 if you already have the provider installed)
Annoyances: None apart from the aforementioned annoyance having to open a separate website to choose the provider.

Mozilla Firefox 10
"Et tu, Brute?" - Julius Caesar, on seeing his friend among the assassins.

Many know by now that Google made a large contribution (pay off?) to be and stay the default search provider for the Mozilla Firefox browser. The figures from their recent December 2011 deal are estimated to be around $1 billion dollars just to stay the default search provider for the next three years. That sure is one valuable instance of a textbox control.

However it seems rather straight forward to change the default providers, Firefox even comes installed with a choice of a few search engines as alternatives to Google. Simply clicking on the icon in the search providers box gives easy access to choose a different one

That is until you attempt to search directly from the address box!

After choosing Bing search I could not understand why all my address box searches still sent my search query to Google. There was nothing in the configuration section of the browser that hinted that the two boxes did not use the same setting and why one was using Bing as I requested but the address box refused to do as I asked.

It wasn't until I dove under the covers and opened up about:config (which is an advanced configuration system for the browser and not recommended for the layman user). There I discovered quite the jungle of configuration settings related to search in the browser. The one that interested me the most I highlighted in the screenshot below

Sneaky bastards!
Firefox still retains Google as the default search engine even though I've clearly chosen to use Bing as my search provider. Luckily it is relatively simple to change by double clicking on the row and type in "Bing". Sorted, now address bar searching will use Bing as default. Bada <pun>! Still I feel this kind of behaviour is deliberately misleading and under-handed.

Total clicks: 2
Annoyances: Does not change provider for address bar search, only for advanced users to discover and change.

Edit: Apparently Microsoft made a deal with Mozilla to produce a special Firefox with Bing browser.

Opera 11
I admit that I don't use the Opera browser on my computers all that much (almost never). However Opera is the only browser I use on my Android phone and it is simply brilliant there. But on desktop systems there are just to many alternatives that are better and sadly they have copied so many things from Firefox (or vice versa) that it just seems redundant to use when I already don't want to use Firefox.

Opera however suffers from a similar problem as Firefox, namely the disconnect between the search provider chosen in the provider box and the one that is used in its main address box. In addition Opera adds on yet another layer of confusion by adding the third search variant on their Speed Dial startup page.

These three boxes can all be set to different search providers. Confused?
Setting the default search engine to use is also not very straight forward as it should be. Same as with Firefox changing the search provider in the search provider box at the top right has no effect on either the address bar (still points to Google) or the Speed Dial box. You need to click the Opera button in the top left corner, choosing Settings and Preferences. Choose the third tab Search in that window and you are presented with a list of all configured search providers for the browser.
Editing the Bing Search Provider in Opera
To set the default search engine you need to double click the entry you want to set (Bing in this case) and click the "Details" button. Then tick the "Use as default search engine". Here you can also control the rather confusing Speed Dial search, reasons why you would want that different from your default one escape me.

Total clicks: 7
Annoyances: Obscurity and the disconnect between address bar and default search provider. Also the Speed Dial page is just plain confusing. But at least you don't have to dive under the hood to change these settings.

The technology can be changed easy enough (if you know where to look). But changing the learned behaviour is going to be harder, but I will give Bing an exclusive try for the next month.

This difficulty with Google in Firefox especially knowing how much Google is paying them for the install defaults feels like a sad regression back to the late 1990s when Microsoft was throwing its weight around in a similar manner bullying itself in a position to dominate the same market. I thought that showed clearly that all that got them was a lot of bad blood and eventually the involvement of US and European authorities when it became obvious to even the non-techies as they were clearly abusing their dominant market position to stifle competitors.

Perhaps moves such as these are the early indicators that the great cosine wave of technology firm's path to success has reached its maxima and has slowly but surely started its inevitable fall from grace. But I guess that might be better saved to a later post.