Archive for May 2008

Google Earth in the browser

Google have just launched a browser plugin which allows you to embed Google Earth into your web browser:

Currently looks like it’ll only work on Windows. The video above seems to make it easy to switch from a Google Maps API mashup to a Google Earth API – here’s a example and the plugin download is only triggered if someone selects the ‘Earth’ view.

Not sure if this would really give any great benefit to the MSG Presence Map, but if anyone can give me case when it may be useful then I’ll get it added!

Jabs and Needles

Things all seem to be moving on in my preparation for going away. I’m now one injection (for rabies) away from being all jabbed up – feel like I’ve been spending more time in the surgery waiting room than I have at work; and I also know all the nurses by name!

I’ve now got an approximate leaving date, likely to be 14 Sept, it may change a few days either side of that, but that should be fairly fixed as all the volunteers for Ethiopia will be heading out on the same flight. So I’ll be leaving work a week or so before this. I gave my notice in last week (I have a 3 month notice period!!) which was actually a bit of an anti-climax; everyone at work knows I’m going anyway, so it really was just a formality.

I’ve started to look at getting my house rented out whilst I’m away, had a few property management agencies round to have a look, and a few more still to see before I try and make a decision as to who to go with. Going to be quite hard to make a decision I think as so far they seems much of a muchness (esp as I have no referrals/experiences from anyone else to go on). Quite a lot to get sorted out with the house still, and figuring out what to actually do with all my stuff – some of it may be appearing soon on the intranet noticeboard or on Northampton freecycle…

Through the Square (javascript) Window

For the Cohere site, I’ve been trying to figure out how you can keep track of a pop up window using Javascript even when the parent page changes (to another page on same domain) and to know whether the pop up window is already open. I’m having exactly the problem mentioned in this forum post – but as yet no solution.

All the example scripts I’ve found so far will only work if the parent page remains the same. I.e. you’re testing whether the pop up is already open, but applying this test on the document/page that originally opened the popup. What I’m looking to do is subtly different – so the pop up remains open so as you are browsing Cohere you can add ideas to make connections between.

I would think that this ought to be possible, because if you open a popup window with the same name as an existing one, the old one will get overwritten – so it ‘knows’ that the pop up exists. Plus, this is all running from the same domain, so there won’t be any cross domain issues.

If anyone has any pointers as to how to achieve this, it would be much appreciated. Or if you have other suggestions for how the same results could be achieved. Cheers 😉

Cohere reCaptcha-ed

Yesterday, we discovered that some of the users on Cohere were actually spam, the usernames were random characters and the descriptions on these users profiles consisted entirely of links for loans, pills etc (all the usual spam). To try and stop this happening again I’ve added reCaptcha to the user registration form.

This was really easy to implement, the only slight change I had to make was to fix the code so requests to the recaptcha servers went through our proxy (shame there aren’t optional params to add proxy details – but easy enough to fix).

Time for Timelines

A couple of weeks ago, Peter (one of the OU graphic designers) asked me if Cohere could produce nice graphical timelines (the BBC has some really nice ones). He’s been tasked to produce one for one of the OpenLearn courses and was thinking about the best way to do it – and so it could be replicated easily (when he gets asked to make another one for another course). Peter pointed me at Simile from MIT – which is a kind of Google Maps API for timelines.

My response was that Cohere couldn’t currently provide exactly what he was looking for (we’ve not really worked on many different visualisations yet), however, you could use Cohere as the repository for providing data (via the Cohere API) to Simile. All we’d need to do would be add the facility to add a date to an idea/node, and another formatting output options to get the data in the way that Simile requires. (Note to self: should also add location option for ideas/nodes so they could be displayed on a Google Map as another visualisation option for Cohere)

Yesterday I had a go with this on my Cohere development server, so can now add dates to nodes and export in the correct format for Simile. I also created a little script so that I can show my blog postings on a Simile timeline:

This timeline is dynamically generated and shows the last 100 of my blog postings. If you’d like to have a look at the script I’ve used for generating this, then you can download it. Depending on where you post it up (relative to your WordPress installation), you may need to slightly alter line (no. 14) to point to your wp-config.php file.

The main downside that I’ve found so far with Simile is that is will only allow data to be dynamically loaded via XMLHttpRequest. This means that the data source must reside on the same domain as the page you’re displaying the timeline on (unless you can use a iframe as I have done above) – it would be fantastic if Similie could also accept data via JSON and so avoid the cross-domain problem (I’ll need to check whether this has already been added as new feature request in their issue tracker).

Then completely coincidentally, this morning I saw this post from Stuart about Dipity – an online timeline creator. So I’ve had a very quick play with it this morning – creating the following timeline (also of my blog):

This took about 30 seconds to produce, buy just adding the URL of my blog feed.

These two timelines, although displaying the same data, are obviously quite different with Dipity is far more graphical, though IMHO a bit cluttered and not so easy to read. Simile looks quite grey in comparission, though I’ve not yet explored the API fully and how you can customise the colours/display. Dipity is much quicker to get up and running with, but my feeling is that Simile would offer more flexibility (within bounds), for example I can’t tell yet if Dipity has the capability to show events which span a period of time (i.e. have start and end dates – as Simile allows).

(Looking at Dipity has reminded me that we should create an RSS feed for Cohere nodes).

Any pointers to other timeline visualisations appreciated 🙂

MoodleMoot08 – Padova, Italy

On Friday I gave an “Introduction to OpenLearn” presentation at the Italian MoodleMoot08 in Padova. The first day started in true Italian style – about an hour late – though to be fair this was actually more due to the fact there had been a train strike in the morning which had delayed a lot of the people arriving. The transport strike also explained why my bus from the airport to Padova on Thursday had been free, I’d tried to buy a ticket from the driver but he refused my money and just indicated for me to sit down, so I spent the hours journey wondering if the ticket inspectors would get on and I’d get fined! Fortunately not, and it was explained to me later that the refusal to take money is unofficial strike action by the drivers, for fear of robbery if they are carrying cash.

I was the only English speaker at the conference, but thankfully John Hannon (English teacher from Bari )translated everything on the fly for me, for the benefit of the entirely Italian audience of about 200 teachers. I just about managed to understand some of the other presentations, with help from little translations from the people sat around me.The conference was also being webcast – so I’m hoping that the replays will appear soon. [Update 15/5/08: the replay of my presentation is now available at:, my talk starts at about 1’08. Presentations from the other sessions are also available – all in Italian ;-)]

My presentation seemed to go really well, I certainly had plenty of people asking me about OpenLearn and our tools (especially FlashMeeting), so I gave a few demos when I could get on a PC with an internet connection. A wireless connection wasn’t available, which meant there was virtually no-one using a laptop on the audience (so no complaints about noisy keyboards), still I managed to grab a machine with in connection so I could give a few demos of FlashMeeting (or the FM project as it’s now officially called), though it was a little tricky with no web cam and no speakers!

Roberto Pinna from the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) dept at the Università del Piemonte Orientale gave me a demo of their MeetingPoint application – it’s a web based video conferencing tool, so similar to FlashMeeting although it uses the opensource Red5 server (rather than the paid-for Flash Comms Server). The main differences (that I can see) are that MeetingPoint doesn’t record the meetings for later replay (as far as I’m aware), but it has a plugin architecture, so if there’s a tool you’d like to embed then you can do so – or (for example) replace the provided whiteboard application with something else.

Luckily I had the time to spend the rest of the weekend in Padova as it’s a really nice city – not far from Venice (but far fewer tourists), but plenty of historic monuments, and being Italy, churches. It’s home to the second oldest university in Italy (Bologna University had opened 3 or 4 years before) and where Galileo taught and his observatory it still standing. Some parts of the old university are still standing (see my pics) – the crests you can see in some of these picture are the shields from the previous directors of the university and faculties.

Other sights I got to were the Basilica di Sant’Antonio and Cappella degli Scrovegni. St Antonio relics, seem to consist of slightly more gruesome relics than I’ve seen before (usually bits of bone), including his lower jaw, tougue and larynx… hmmm…

Far less grim were the botanical gardens – “regarded as the most ancient university garden in the world”.

Google Maps presentation

This morning I gave a little presentation about Google Maps at the IET Technology Coffee Morning. It’s a very quick look at some different things you can do with Google Maps…

(update: unfortunately the embedded links don’t seem to have come though on the slideshare version :-/ so you can download the original ppt)

iPlayer/Flash on Ubuntu Hardy Heron

A few days ago I mentioned that I was having problems with playing BBC iPlayer programs on my Asus Eee. I was also having problems with _some_ other Flash content – though not all.

Turns out that I’d installed the wrong version of the Flash plugin – actually I’d installed more than one and the conflicts were creating the same problems as if the plugins hadn’t been installed at all. However the instructions in the forum posting fixed me up.