Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Aircraft boneyard goes high resolution

Officially known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) facility, but probably better known as The Boneyard, the massive US airbase shown below is reputed to be the world’s largest military aircraft cemetery. Set up shortly after the end of World War II, the facility is located in Tucson, Arizona, on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, chosen for its high altitude and arid conditions, which allow the aircraft t0 be stored outdoors without beginning to deteriorating rapidly.

The site covers 2,600 acre site, said to be the same as 1,430 football pitches, and contains some 4,200 retired aircraft representing almost every type the US armed forces have flown since World War II, as well as 40 aerospace vehicles.

AMARG is also a major industrial centre, refurbishing aircraft prior to their return to flying status, or preparing them for overland transport. Officials at the base say that the parts reclaimed and aircraft withdrawn turns every tax dollar spent into 11 dollars in return.


February 28, 2010 Posted by | Aviation, military | , , | Leave a comment

Google Maps refined

In a classic example of Sod’s Law, no sooner do I air the thought that I seem to have missed any recent updates to the high resolution Google aerial view of my local area, than an update regarding Google Maps faithfully arrives on my desk moments after it has been announced.

This update relates to the appearance of detail in the various Google Map views, and how streets and similar details are shown. Much appears to have been done to refine how these appear on the maps and aerial views, with less obtrusive graphics being used, and finer detail being evident.

Google summarised the changes as follows:

Today’s changes are intended to keep the same information-rich map while making it easier to pick out the information that is most useful.  The changes affect both the ‘Map’ and ‘Hybrid’ styles, and include numerous refinements to color, density, typography, and road styling worldwide.  For example, in map view, local and arterial roads have been narrowed at medium zooms to improve legibility, and the overall colours have been optimized to be easier on the eye and conflict less with other things (such as traffic, transit lines and search results) that we overlay onto the map.  Hybrid roads have gained a crisp outline to make them easier to follow, and the overall look is now closer to an augmented satellite view instead of a simple overlay.

The old vs new view of the London area shown below gives a good idea of the subtle changes made, which work to give a clearer view of the desired area, and you can see more examples illustrating the old and new styles in Google’s more detailed account of the changes at Evolving the look of Google Maps

Google map style old and and new

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Maps | , | Leave a comment

Relevant Google Earth/Maps high resolution update

Thanks to an observant member who happened to be looking in the right place, we’ve discovered that the city of Glasgow and its surrounding area has received a high resolution imagery update.

Although we should get a note of these things as we are subscribed to the relevant blog for updates, that last relevant one we were alerted to was some months ago. This was the one that added aerial imagery to much of Scotland which was not already covered.

This appears to be a much more selective upload, with highly detailed aerial imagery of Glasgow and the surrounding area, showing much more detail than was previously available.

We’ve no idea what other areas, if any, are included, but we have identified this newest upload to be from the period of May 2009, so the images are very recent, and this has also been confirmed by virtue of the content shown in some of the images we’ve checked – yes, the neighbours have been getting new conservatories and extensions added this year.

If there are any other areas that have had a similar update, we’d appreciate you taking a moment to let us know in a Comment below – thanks in advance.

We’d liked to have known sooner, so might be searching for an alternative, and less official, blog that reports on GE ad related updates.

The sample below shows one of our featured sites, the large drum blender on the former ROF Bishopton site. Coincidentally, this just happens to fall on the transition line between the old and the new imagery, and clearly illustrates the difference between the two:

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Maps | , , | Leave a comment

Google Maps introduces Place Pages

Earth mapGoogle Maps has been enhanced with Place Pages.

Search results for places made using Google searches that led to maps have always featured a More info... option, either beside the search result itself, or within the popup window attached to the map marker.

Previously, this would open a small information window which offered further details on the subject. Now, clicking on the More info… option opens a new page relating to the subject place.

According to Google, a Place Page is:

a webpage for every place in the world, organizing all the relevant information about it. By every place, we really mean *every* place — there are Place Pages for businesses, points of interest, transit stations, neighborhoods, landmarks and cities all over the world.

This new page will display more comprehensive information about the place including photos, videos, street view preview and more.

Unlike most of the usual tools we tend to refer to for our information, which are generally of a historic nature, the will be complemented by the new Google Maps Place Pages, as these are primarily concerned with current information related to the subject location.

This new feature is a function of Google Maps and Google Search, so is not directly accessed from our embedded mapping, and you have to perform a search using one of these services in order to access the Place Pages.

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Maps | , | Leave a comment

Google Earth (and Maps) expands hi-res Scottish coverage

Rothesay in GE

Rothesay in Google Earth

A massive upload of new high resolution images was reported on May 9, 2009, for Google Earth, and described as including coverage of a large percentage of Scotland.

No further details or listings of the new areas covered were given, but it was noted that the data is yet to be pushed to Google Maps, so it is possible to compare the two (at the moment) to see if an area of interest has now been included in Google Earth.

As an example, compare the Google Earth view of Rothesay shown to the right to that of the same location as seen using the Satellite view option of Google Maps below.

If the view shown below is a cloudy, low resolution satellite image, then we’re still waiting for the high resolution GE images to be pushed to Google Maps, but if it’s clear of clouds, and in high resolution, then the job’s been done.

You can then use the + button to zoom in and tour the island from above.


Passing through on May 12, and I see the new imagery has been pushed through into Google Maps, so no need to wonder if/when it might arrive.

May 10, 2009 Posted by | Maps | , , | 2 Comments

The Sun… it hurts… please… make it stop.

Apparently The Sun is still being published, and page 3 is still being used as wallpaper, and the rest as toilet paper, or should be judging by the quality of story they still run. It’s a pity the joke about identifying Sun readers is largely visual, and doesn’t transfer to words.

One of the myths that pervades the net was that Google etc had somehow censored, or been forced to censor, aerial views that showed the naval base at Faslane, or the armament depot at Coulport. This is utter rubbish, as the supposedly censored images have been available for purchase offline for years, and were simply not included in Google’s coverage until a few months before The Sun found them. Had The Sun been as alert as it claims to be, and not following more important stories like those of amazing images that could show the lost city of Atlantis, then they could actually have found the images online at the site of the vendor (no, I’m not handing out adverts, it’s obvious who this is anyway), and at the well-known site.

Amazingly, I can freely embed a panable, dragable, zoomable, aerial view of both nuclear sites here, readily available for any terrorist to plan their attack from. I expect we shall appear in The Sun shortly, being described as the next big threat to nuclear security in the UK. Mind you, it would be a bit embarrassing for The Sun if they did do that, since we’ve had the same views on the two pages given above since 2008, and their ace reporters have failed to spot the threat we’ve been posing since we first aired those pages.

However, kicking The Sun is about as rewarding and productive as filling paper bags with smoke. It will continue to repeat myths as if they were facts, and then go on to quote those facts once they’ve been repeated often enough to become received wisdom, becoming parroted credulously as the truth.

Clicking on the big picture below will take you to better analyses of The Sun’s story, so there’s little point in me wasting more time on it, which gives me time to cut up some more handy squares of newspaper. I forget who I’m misquoting, they were replying to a letter when they penned the original, but I think of The Sun when I say “I sit here in the smallest room with your article before me. Soon, your article will be behind me”.

Sun Faslane

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Maps | , , , | Leave a comment

Ordnance Survey stifles development

ukmapI’ve been using GPS (Global Positioning System) actively since at least 1998, when the first receivers with decent basemaps hit the market, and their price fell to a (then) reasonable £400 to £500, or somewhat less if you were internet savvy back then, and bought online. These were quickly followed up by more advanced models with downloadable maps which boosted the resolution from road level to street level, and allowed them to be used for real-time point-to-point navigation with directions – something that had previously only been possible on a PC, and for real-time navigation had to be hooked up to a GPS receiver.

Now we have SatNav (I’m beginning to develop a real dislike of that term), and drivers that no longer look out their windows or take their brains out of the box, and look surprised when they sink in a muddy track, or their eight foot wide lorry get jammed in a six foot wide lane. Instead of admitting they are idiots, they leave the naturally dumb look on their face and say “The SatNav TOLD me to go down there”.

More serious has been the attitude of Ordnance Survey to the public use of data which their mapping contains. In effect, it’s their data which they assert their copyright over when they publish it, and woe betide anyone that uses it, even a little clip on a web page.

Now this has always been a bone of contention with those of us that want to pop a little pic somewhere, even on a personal web page that has no monetary value. Do it without permission, and you could be in trouble. This has upset some more than others, as they contend OS is funded from taxes (please see the Comment section below for clarification regarding funding), so if you’re British, you’ve already paid for it they say, so under “fair use” they say it should be free for use where such conditions apply. It’s public data and it should be freely available. Commercial applications are clearly excluded from this option, and licensing etc of map data in such cases in not argued against.

We appear to have a crazy (but not surprising situation since politicians are involved) where one arm of government has told Ordnance Survey to make a business out of its data, and another has decided that data should be “free”.

Over the years, I’ve watched a number of sites that used OS data either fold, or stop using the data either because of the cost, or if they’d paid up, because OS came back to them and claimed they had contravened some or other term of their license, and cancelled it.

See Who own Scotland? for an example, which seems to be unresolved almost two years after the OS pulled their license.

The same is true of postcode location data, which has caused all sorts of wrangles in the past. There are now individual sites were people are assembling lists of post codes and the areas they cover, so that the information can be accessed without having to pay for the privilege.

Now things are getting messy and silly, and we have The Mapping mess – Google v OS brought to us by The Guardian, which has run a long campaign to encourage public bodies to “Free Our Data”, and has got hold of a document from Ordnance Survey which warns local authorities about the implications of taking information gathered from OS data and plotting it on Google Maps. The basic message is “that’s our intellectual property – don’t think you can simply get away with handing it over to our deadly rival.”

If you have a rummage around the web for more new stories, you’ll find that Google have already altered their Terms & Conditions to try and respond to this silliness, and that they believe OS has also misrepresented the meaning of its terms.

An Ordnance Survey spokesman previously told the BBC the real problem was in Google’s terms and conditions which allow the search company, in his words, to “reproduce, modify and distribute content that is entered into their maps.” The spokesman said talks had been taking place between the OS and Google about changing those terms, but in the meantime, “We won’t allow people to overlay our information onto Google maps. We have to protect our information.”

At the time of writing (and this may have changed by the time you read this) even the Geograph project had been hit by this, and since November 13, the home page carried the message, “FYI: No Embedded Google Maps until further notice. We are needing to clarify a few legal issues at the moment, hopefully we will be able to enable the mapping or find a suitable alternative”.

There’s some further insight in Barry Hunter’s blog who provides the excellent who also seems to have been moved to delete parts of that site for the moment as a result of these shenanigans.

It doesn’t matter to me personally, I’ll never have enough money to even think of paying for OS data or map clips, or to afford being sued by them, but I do agree with the view that if the data has been obtain using public funds, then the public has a right to use it without further charge in “fair use” situations.

It’s all really rather silly, and is probably a fairly classic example of how greed can stifle development.

A while ago (there’s a post buried somewhere in our archives with the details), Russian mapping of the UK was unearthed, and was found to be highly detailed, and there was a suggestion then that OS was considering suing over copyright.

The map below comes for free from Google, from America, where such information, including zip codes (their post code system) is freely available (and just in case, the one above is free clipart, from the web).

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Maps | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Google map images rationalised

After moving the server, I thought it might be time to revisit the Google map API group. Re-organising the server structure had messed with the code, necessitating some minor re-writes, and I reckoned they might be something new to be had. I did fiddle with about 6 months ago when some new features were introduced, but everything fell apart and I didn’t have time to play with it then. Working and plain is still better than fancy and broken.

One of the downsides is that there’s a layer of coding that interfaces the Google map to our pages, and while it may be hard to believe that I had a tiny, hand in its birth, when the chap that created it improved it with a rewrite, he also made it almost unintelligible, as the language used is not one I’m deeply literate in, and there are a lot of optimisations in it now. While they make the code slicker, they also make it like gobbledegook if you haven’t come across all the coding fiddles used. Maybe a project for the long winter nights if it’s to get anywhere. Unfortunately, he seems to have evaporated now, so there’s no oracle to consult.

I don’t know if there are any significant or relevant toys in the latest version of the map, I ahven’t been keeping track in the past months, the main thing we need here is the ability to get lat/lon/NGR for a desired point of interest, and the current page still does that reasonably well for now.

The most interesting thing I noted was the coincidental announcement today, the day I happened to look for anything interesting, that the views and imagery displayed on maps created using the Google map API (in other words, the maps seen on any SeSco page) will now show exactly the same presentation as a Google map pulled up from – previously different data sets were used, leading to various gripes and moans apparently.

There will be some losers and some winners where there is a change of view, as some areas were better served than others in each set.

All I’ll say is that there are some damned cloudy views over Scotland – maybe one day they’ll go away.

September 19, 2008 Posted by | Maps, Site News | , | Leave a comment

Protected: Smug SeSco trumps Privacy International

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

August 8, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Enter your password to view comments.

See the “Nothing to Hide” people scurry for cover

I find it highly amusing that the government’s National Identity Database and ID cards bring out people who parrot the rhetoric of “What are you worried about if you’ve nothing to hide”. I suspect they can’t quite see that apart from the obvious flaw this plan has, and that government promises of safety and security of their data may be genuine, the plonkers that can access and use the data have, in recent months, proven themselves unworthy of that trust as they consistently lose data, and release information that they shouldn’t. And they selectively avoid the potential for misuse of that information by the government, which will not necessarily always be the same benevolent holder of power it may be today. It can change every few years, but why bother about such a trivial and unimportant little detail.

Google’s Street View photography service will soon go live in Scotland (maybe?), as the Google cars, which have a logo on their door and a metre-high camera rig on their roof, have been sighted in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds and Middlesbrough in the past week. Street View allows users of Google’s maps to view 360 degree photographs of streetscapes in towns and cities that have been catalogued by Google cameras.

In order to maintain people’s privacy, Google has implemented blurring technology in order to protect the identities of people and vehicles pictured. The technology blurs faces and vehicle number plates allowing high quality images to contain indistinct people and number plates. In any instances where position or angle defeats the automated blurring, individuals can report a face or number plate for extra blurring, and users can still ask for their image to be removed from the product entirely.

Although they probably don’t have the ability to do anything about the National Database or ID cards, that could really mess with your life, Privacy International, a UK rights group, believes the technology breaks data protection laws, and is out to hassle Google. Like all these groups with their own agendas, only what suits them is selectively pursued. Why does Privacy International not hit the headlines in the same way with something like the much more irritating and targeted Phorm? I have no idea, perhaps one should look at the consultancy client list of the those who are part of Privacy International?

If the no-one has anything to hide, then exactly what is Privacy International’s problem, other than to jump on the “Let’s have a go at Google” bandwaggon. In the UK at least, anyone is free to take photographs of anything they can see from a public place, and the road is a pretty public place if the Google are using camera cars. Privacy International is trying to muddy the waters by claiming that because Street View is being used for commercial ends anyone in the UK who appears in the photo needs to grant his or her consent. Really, with their faces blurred, and not the subject of the photograph?

And, as the folk that don’t like us saying NO2ID keep reminding us, if we’ve nothing to hide, then what’s the problem if you do happen to be photographed in a public place?

And to think, all I wanted to do was throw in a quick post about the Google camera car being out in Edinburgh, and that Street View might appear soon. Serves me right for doing a quick background check to see if there was any more info!

July 11, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | 4 Comments

Mapping union improves aerial imagery

One side effect of the link-up between Live Search (Virtual Earth) and Multimap that I mentioned recently is a new set of aerial images for Scotland.

I’m sure the details will be listed on a dedicated blog somewhere else in cyberspace, but I’ve long given up trawling them in the hope of spotting relevant updates as they happen. They’ll happen anyway, without me reading about them, and I’ll notice while I’m looking at a relevant view of the ground.

I’ve had a chance to look ate quite a few spots, where I can recall what the aerial used to show, and the new images provided by the service is much cleared and more detailed in many case – though there are, it must be said, still vast deserts with no detailed coverage at all… yet?

In terms of the age of images being presented by the revised system, I’m fortunate to live in a spot that has been updated, and from the houses shown can place the images to 2007, as we had (and are still having) a burst of frantic activity as surrounding houses and driveways are ripped apart and re-assembled. We also had some new road surfacing plus the installation of obligatory 20 mph zones (as opposed to the much more numerous, and strangely useless ‘advisory’ type) which have extended road marking and warning lights to show when they are in force. This compares with our incumbent of Google Maps, which has older imagery – I forget when we worked out the ones we looked at were taken – with our local version dating back to 2002 or so, and still the same today.

(I’ve just spotted the Google update, from the start of April, no joy for Scotland, with not a square inch mentioned in the listings. Maybe next time.)

I’m not criticising, far from it. One of the problems with the online mapping service is that there is a clamour for it to be up-to-date, so all the ‘kewl’ people can point out their abode (or advertisers show off their clients). However, for our purposes, while the updating process is welcome since it shows what we can find today, it is also a double-edged sword, as progress and development on the ground sweeps away many of the old and historic sites we are interested in. The older aerial view was actually a useful research tool. There is a method by which the old tiles (the maps and views are made by seamlessly tiling smaller images) can be called up, although I haven’t accessed it for ages, and it only works with Google Maps, so is only really of use to advanced users and programmers.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Maps, Site News | , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: