Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Improvement brings unexpected map losses

I mentioned the partnership between Multimap and Live Search a little while ago, and the promise then was of better UK aerial imagery as one of those map providers is also the source of some of the highest resolution aerial images available over the UK.

So far, this appeared to be borne out by any of the areas I happened to visit using their services, and this was further boosted by the arrival of new areas covered bt these images, and of Bird’s Eye views, in very high resolution, of many additional areas.


I happened to be revising some page content on subjects located on the Kintyre peninsula, and was rather alarmed to find that views I had previously referred to for information were no longer available. These early pages had a number of hand coded views (these are now partially automated to avoid hand coding), so I know I wouldn’t have written them if they hadn’t led to high resolution views.

To say the least, this is a little disappointing, as it should be a relatively straightforward task for the software teams at these two heavyweights to pick the appropriate image provider, and not leave the visitor looking at the irritating message/graphic that signals there is no image available, when there used to be.

The images are still available elsewhere, so it’s not as if they’ve been removed from circulation.

Hopefully, they’ll be reinstated – or I’ve got a lot of pointless links to find and delete.


Jun 5, 2008 Posted by | Site News | , , , , | 2 Comments

Scotland gains Virtual Earth Bird’s Eye views

bird viewAs of May 2nd, Microsoft has released a 22 terrabyte data update to its Virtual Earth mapping system, which has included a number of Scottish areas within its Bird’s Eye views. These are:

  • Aberdeen, UK
  • Cumbernauld, UK
  • Dundee, UK
  • Dunfermline, UK
  • East Kilbride, UK
  • Edinburgh, UK
  • Falkirk, UK
  • Glasgow, UK

It’s also worth looking around the edges of the ‘official’ areas, as coverage can be found to extend further than might be assumed from the names given.

You will find these available when you use Microsoft Virtual Earth to view of our locations in the relevant areas, or their Live Search mapping service – watch for the Bird’s Eye option becoming bold, rather than greyed, when images are available.

Better still is to use Mutimap, which we recently mentioned was sharing information with Virtual Earth, or Live Search.

Using Multimap, you get the advantage of what we feel to be a better interface than that now offered by Virtual Earth – it has a proper slider to set zoom level, and doesn’t force you to zoom through every level using only + and – buttons, and has the further advantage of offering users the option of browsing areas using Ordnance Survey mapping, available when zoomed in relatively close.

Further advantages of the Multimap view are Camera and Area icons that appear over the view when in Bird’s Eye view mode, showing where the Bird’s Eye view is centred, and the extent of its coverage.

The best way to find out out about the various options is really just to play with the maps and views for a while, and notice how the various options are automatically flagged in the area around the option buttons shown to the top left corner of the map, which change to reflect the features available.

Best, however, is at best (sorry) a relative term, and from the tests we’ve tried on some of the more obscure spots we’re interested in, we’ve found that by using Live Search in 3D mode and switching to Bird’s Eye view, we can get more viewing options, and zoom in closer to the selected point. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re winning any better resolution in the view, but does mean getting closer in to the available view, which can still be useful if the source image is good enough.

It seems that both providers have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s just a case of trying both in cases where you want to extract the most from what’s available.

May 5, 2008 Posted by | Maps | , , | Leave a comment

May. Only 3 days old and already downhill

thunder cloudWith only 3 days of May (only 2 if you consider the 3rd is only starting) gone, things are not proceeding in a positive, productive, or happy manner.

First off was a freak occurrence that meant I only discovered that I had returned home from a 7 mile wander with a blood-soaked foot the previous night, when I saw the evidence the next morning. Having arrived home fairly late, and not felt anything was amiss, I had just tumbled into bed in the dusk. Still, no real damage done, just a nuisance. And no, it wasn’t a rusty nail I hadn’t seen, much more freakish.

Next, I discovered that some work I had started on to change the way info is organised and presented on the Main Site was, as near as makes no difference, almost identical to that on a similarly themed site that has just undergone a revamp and relaunch.

Plus, although I hadn’t settled on anything, I had been fiddling with the colours used on the forum, and the other site had used a combination that I thought worked well, but were not my personal favourites, so I was very undecided. Now, having seen the combination in use, I like the overall effect and combination, but can’t use them.

In both cases, I feel like our old friend, Captain Mainwaring of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon, who was often heard so say “Ah, I was wondering when you were going to spot that.”

While I can probably carry on with the organisational changes – which might, on reflection, be as well to be aligned with other, similar sites, as this could be a good thing – the appearance issue is another one altogether, and now that the other is out and in use, I’ll have to go have another ‘thunk’.

It was reminiscent of the forum style way back when the forum made its first appearance, old hands may remember the black & white format it had at that time – by back & white I just mean shades of grey as in a black & white photo, not just the use of only black and white colouring – although it sort of worked, it was just too dull and grey, and caused problems with text and readability too. When the forum software was revamped a while back, we just went with some minimal tweaks, purely for simplicity as there had been a number of other changes too.

The present appearance is clear, but I was finding it to a bit too much like ‘Baby Blue’, so had been looking for something a bit ‘harder’ but still clearly readable. Guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Given the way things have gone at the start of the month, I’ve decided that May is best taken as a month ‘off’, therefore, there will be probably bevery little new activity from Yours Truly. Current pages being worked on the Main Site will be tidied away, but nothing new (unless it’s from my own stock of outstanding subjects). Flits into the forum to be sociable, and the occasional fiddle with contributed pages to tidy them, but nothing extensive – if you make a mess, I’m afraid you’ll have to fix for the time being if I don’t spot it, or am busy.

And I may be busy. As noted in some of the updates here, Live Search and Multimapping have changed and merged to an extent, meaning their mapping has vastly improved over Scotland (and the UK of course), and I have been rewriting some of out mapping code and adding aerial mapping links to out Main Site links, much of which needs to be tidied.

I’ve also been thinking about ROC Posts, and I probably have the biggest database and collection of data and photographs of these in Scotland – much of it published and shared in Subterannea Britannica RSG already – it seems silly not to have it on the Main Site, which currently only has the post locations mapped. The ‘problem’ is that all the info is located in an offline database, and the Main Site uses a flat file system where each record is basically a web page. My expertise is with the former, but I need the data in format of the latter. With almost 340 new pages needed, this is not a case for a few nights key-pounding just to transfer a few lines by hand, and I need to write a proper routine to extract the data for each record, reformat it, and have it create a new page for itself and past itself there. At the same time, since all the location info is in the record, it seems sensible to catch this too, and reformat it too, so that it arrives on the new page as an embedded map, plus creating the page variables that feed all the other map and aerial view links.

And, while I’m at it, I should add all the links to the Sub-Brit reports too, which have even better pics as they were taken with large format kit…

Maybe June will be an ‘off’ month too 🙂

May 3, 2008 Posted by | Maps, Site News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New maps added – Ask – Yahoo

With the loss of at least one alternative view thanks to the Live Search and Multimap merger, two new (to our pages at least) maps have been linked to the spots occupied by our subjects.

These are Yahoo! Maps and

While these do not generally have as much to offer as the others, their content has grown over time, and without picking on anything specific (since it is almost guaranteed to change anyway) they do feature some older content, which is very useful for comparison.

If you do choose one of these options, do bear in mind the reduced coverage over Scotland, and don’t be too disappointed if you get a blank screen, or a message asking you to zoom out, as they don’t have anything to display at the current zoom.

Don’t forget, if you want a quick, convenient, and easy way to compare the views provided by the main players in the online aerial view game, use the Flash Earth link on our page. As with all the other map links on one of our pages, this will take you directly to the subject location on the selected map, from where you can pan, zoom, and change the type of view as required, and also the image provider, in the case of Flash Earth.

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

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.

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

OOPS – Excuse us while we change

If you follow our Aerial Virtual Earth (Live Search) map links, you’ll probably find yourself presented with a few changing screens before you arrive at the Aerial Multimap view – which we already link to separately.

This is out of our hands, as it is due to a tie up which has taken place between the two online map/view providers, under which Live Search will be serving up the images provided to Multimap by Getmapping for the UK.

We’ll be leaving things alone until the dust settles (again), and will then take a look at what difference it makes to what we can deliver through out own automated map and aerial view links. Having read the initial blurb from Live Search, it would seem that we will be able to link to their views and imagery, provided we program our links to use the US, rather than UK, service. At the moment the two differ, so provide comparative views of given locations, and have different areas of coverage.

As noted, this will be looked at once things settle down, as we don’t want to revise our links, only to find someone has had a ‘Good Idea’ and changed things again, so undoing our work.

Our own mapping changes

For the next week or so, we’ll be playing with some improved code to allow is to to use British Grid References more easily. At the moment, we just change everything to always include WGS84 latitude and longitude, and Grid Refs, since they work with just about all the online mapping services, but sometimes we just want the local views, so the it would be easier if we simplified the functions we’ve created to date (and we didn’t have access to some when we started, and had to literally hand convert the numbers. A lot of sources also only have British Grid, so it would be make things simpler if we just needed to enter that, and have the code insert the lat/lon conversions automatically, where needed.

As always, this is complicated by the need to make it compatible with what already exists, or add some more code to change all the old stuff (on almost 600 pages now).

Apr 12, 2008 Posted by | Maps, Site News | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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