Scott Hanselman

How To: Use Google Earth or Virtual Earth to Visualize a New House Lot - Part 1

June 10, '07 Comments [7] Posted in Musings | Tools
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Required Tools
(assumes Windows, but there's comparable tools on any platform)

We were screwing around last weekend looking a houses and found a big empty lot that some folks are building houses on. I was surprised that the Real Estate folks (at least these) weren't very computer savvy. Everything's pushed around on paper. There's no kiosk, no 3D renderings, nada. I wanted to understand how the neighborhood would lay out and where houses would sit, but other than pencil sketches, they couldn't help me. Seems that this kind of thing could be very useful to a prospective buyer.

So, given my lunch hour...

(This isn't a house or neighborhood I'm looking at, I've just selected it for demonstration)

Most folks have used Google Maps or Virtual Earth before, but mostly just for driving directions. Few "civilians" (read: non-geek) that I've met have used Google Earth, which is a shame.

If you want to visualize your house lot, here's some steps to help make that possible.

1. Download Google Earth and find the lot.

The imagery is usually a few years old, but if it's an empty lot anyway it shouldn't matter. Put a pushpin on the area so you can get back there quickly.

 Google Earth (2)

2. Go to your Builder or Realtor's site and get the neighborhood map.

Often these maps are in PDF format. Open the PDF and get it as large as you can on the screen.

 

3. Edit the Neighborhood map and remove the non-map stuff, leaving the rest transparent.

Use the screenshot tool or press Printscreen to get a screenshot in the clipboard. Open your Paint application and paste in the picture of the neighborhood.

Untitled (72%) - Paint.NET v3.07

Once you've got your neighborhood picture in Paint.NET (or whatever editor) use the Eraser or Magic Wand tool set to low tolerance to select and delete all the whitespace that isn't part of the map. In this example I'm removing logos, the legend, everything. The checkerboard area underneath means "transparent" or "see-thru." This will make our map look much better once we put it into Google Earth. Now, be sure to save this file as a PNG, which is a file format that includes transparency.

4. Import the new transparent Neighborhood Map and resize

Now, go back over to Google Earth and click Add | Image Overlay and select your just-saved PNG file.

Goof: I realize now after this is all done that I kind of screwed up this example because I left some white border in the far right and very bottom, and a tiny white line on the far left of the neighborhood map. It looks a smidge sloppy. :( Make sure you double check your transparency and get all the non-map stuff removed cleanly.

Google Earth (3)

This step can be VERY confusing because Google Earth has no way of knowing what the "scale" of your image is, so it'll just fill the screen. You can't immediately resize the image and it can be very frustrating.

TIP: You have to Right Click the new Image Overlay in the Places pane, usually on the left site of the Google Earth screen. In my screenshot above it's called "Untitled Image Overlay." Right-click it and select Properties. Only when the Properties Dialog is up can you resize the image. You'll know you're able to resize when Kermit-green colored lines appear all around your image. Hover your mouse over these lines to resize your image. I encourage you to make the image partially transparent to make resizing easier.

Try to use existing or soon-to-be-connecting streets to get an idea how your neighborhood and lot will fit into the scheme of things. Remember that you can use the mouse wheel and move the view around WHILE you are resizing your image. Note that the Properties Dialog is "modeless" - that means you can do stuff while it's showing, unlike many other Dialog Boxes.

Google Earth (5)

Be sure to press "OK" on the Properties Dialog or you'll undo all your hard work. Now that your image overlay is positioned it is a part of the Google Earth system (at least on your computer) and you can few the lot from multiple angles and elevations. You can also move your Pushpin - again, only via the Properties Dialog - and point it at your lot.

Google Earth (6)

4a. Get better imagery in Microsoft Virtual Earth and a Static Bird's Eye Image

Microsoft Virtual Earth has flyover imagery from airplanes taken at an angle that are MUCH higher resolution than typical satellite photos. The pictures are also sometimes newer than those found at Google. Find your lot/plot in Virtual Earth, and click the Bird's Eye View icon under 2D imagery. Press F11 to put your browser into "Kiosk" Mode in order to get a larger image.

TIP: In Virtual Earth, click Share | View Permalink and notice the latitude and longitude numbers in the URL. You can "hack" that URL (you can edit it) and plug in the exact lat/long numbers from Google Earth to quickly get to the same spot in Virtual Earth.

Take a screenshot and put it in the clipboard. Launch your Paint Program and paste it in as a fresh image.

Live Search - Windows Internet Explorer (2)

Add a new layer in your Paint program. In Paint.NET, click Layers | Import from File and select your PNG file of the neighborhood layout that you created earlier. Make the layer slightly transparent to help with positioning. In Paint.NET you do this by double-clicking on your new layer in the Layers Floating Toolbox and changing it's opacity.

In an application like Photoshop you can use the Free Transform option to skew and warp your neighborhood map to match the angle and aspect of the Bird Eye View imagery. In Paint.NET I didn't think this would be possible, until I figured out the Rotate/Zoom tool. The tick is that you can actually click and drag that little ball to change any selection. You can also use the Pan and Zoom to affect your image. These are the tools you need to get your neighborhood map to fit. A second after you make a change - without closing the Dialog - the picture will update. By making small incremental changes you can line up the map to the photo. If you have trouble with things moving too fast, select the control you want to change and use the Arrow Keys to move things 1 number at a time.

rotatezoom 

You might even use the Lasso tool to grab a house in the neighborhood that looks just like your future home and place it on the lot as I've done in the sample below.

homesite

In a Part 2 post I'll show you how to start drawing your house (to the best of primitive ability) in 3D using the home plans and placing it into the Google Earth environment.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Can you show screenshots of an application you built for another company on your resume?

June 8, '07 Comments [10] Posted in Musings
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I got a great question in the mail today.

I'm writing to you because I thought I would give this question a shot, and you would probably know, or know someone I could ask. I realize there is a lot of gray spectrum in this question, but is there a simple answer? I don't know. Hence my email/message. Here goes.

I used to work for a company, I wrote a lot of dot net apps for an intranet. I took screen shots of the apps while I worked there. Can I display those screen shots on a resume page on my personal website with a brief description of the application? The apps have the company logo on them. Actual data can be blurred/marred via a paint program easily. Photos of anyone can also be blurred. My question is: Can I display, or give a visual of my previous applications that I have written to display the style and design of the application via a picture or photo? There would be no functionality, nor any secrets on how the application actually works beyond the type of technology used. At what point, if any, could someone post a screen shot of the application, with or without permission? Basically without infringing on copyrights etc.

I tried to keep it simple. I have spoken to some colleagues about this and no one can give me a clear cut answer. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.

Well, first, I'm not even close to being a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. That disclaimer aside, I say this.

  • Consider if the app is public or not
    • If the app is accessible on the public Internet - yes.
    • If the app is an intranet only app - ask your original boss (ideally ask before you leave the job).
  • Make it clear what you did and didn't do.
    • Make sure you indicate CLEARLY if you worked on the UI. If you did NO WORK on the UI and your showing a screenshot, always err on the side of full disclosure. "Here's what it looked like; we had a great designer who wasn't me."
  • Is a screenshot going to add value?
    • If it's a visual thing, and you were a contract designer, you need to work these agreements into your contact ahead of time. If you're a non-UI component developer, then do you really need a screenshot? I'd consider using UML diagrams, state diagrams, data flow diagrams, etc.  Again you'd need to ask for permission to use these.
  • Use sample data
    • Don't take the chance of a screenshot of any real data and "obfuscate" it. I've learned that blurring images to hide data is not 100%, do don't even try it. Seriously. I've started redacting data by digital white/black-out. But for this kind of thing, don't take the chance. Use sample data.
  • Make it clear who paid for the application development.
    • You're not trying to say, "here's an app I wrote," but rather, "here's an app I was paid to work on." In this case, I think it's reasonable not only to ask for permission, but to include some kind of watermark indicating who holds the copyright on the application. If there was a UI designer, include their details as well.

Again, this is all opinion. Any techno-lawyers out there? What do you say, Dear Reader?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Random Friday Lowercase-A arguments

June 8, '07 Comments [48] Posted in Musings
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My wife and I tend to lowercase-a argue about random stuff. We have a good time, though, it's part of our collective charm. We have "gentleman's bets." There was a good one yesterday while we were watching TV..."which of those chicks is a dude." Seriously, don't ever test my 'trannydar', you'll always lose.

Anyway, here's two recent arguments questions:

#1. A relative was reviewing the information of correlation that he'd learnt some time ago in statistics. It is possible for sets of data to be perfectly correlated, with a linear correlation co-efficient of 1, although this is very rare. Sets of data can also be correlated in a non-linear fashion such as in the form of a binomial or other polynomial function.

He was looking at his energy bills over the past year in comparison with the average monthly temperatures over the same period, and have come up with the following data (currency values converted to US dollars). What sort of relationship can you deduce, if any, between the bill and the temperatures (in Fahrenheit)? Can we say there is any correlation between the data? 

AverageBill/$,150,140,137,118,110,90,84,82,96,98,120,143
AverageMonthlyTemperature,38,41,45,48,54,57,64,69,77,79,85,90

#2. Discussion around this one went on animatedly for hours, and she's still not convinced. I've pasted it in her original phrasing so as not to get into more trouble. ;)

1a. What is the probability of two siblings having the same birthday (month and day)? (Specifically not twins. We're looking for the probability of siblings having say, January 1st or December 25th as their birthday.) Please explain your answer, I wouldn't want Scott to get too lost!

1b. Does your answer to 1a change if one of the siblings has already been born, and the other isn't? Again, we're looking for an explanation along with the answer.

An answer or two (maybe the right ones? Who knows?) will be added to this post tomorrow.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Video: Twittering your Diabetes on NBC11 News in San Francisco

June 8, '07 Comments [19] Posted in Diabetes
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image Hey look, it's me on NBC! Well, it's the local News in the San Francisco Bay Area (even though I live in Portland), but it's coverage!

Marianne Favro, the Health Reporter from NBC11 contacted me for an interview after hearing about Twittering My Diabetes , so I went down to the local NBC Affiliate and recorded a bunch of footage.

Of course the footage they used was the least awesome, including me saying (at one point during the 90 minutes) that diabetes "is wicked hard, and doesn't get any easier." It's magical how that kind of quote can get pulled out of an hour and a half of raw footage and make me sound like an idiot. ;)

Anyway, it turned out OK. The only major glitch is when they showed my Glucagon (sugar shot for major lows) and called it Insulin, but who notices that but me?

Go check out the Video up at NBC11 with the creative title: Diabetic uses Twitter.com. It also featured Biz Stone, one of the co-creators of Twitter.

Action Item and Note to Self: Come up with new Web 2.0 name like "Biz Stone" or "Guy Kawasaki", as "Scott Hanselman" is very Web 1.5. Any ideas?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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DasBlog June 2007 Release

June 4, '07 Comments [11] Posted in DasBlog
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It's hard to run an Open Source project, not unlike herding cats. However, we've got an enthusiastic and involved team over on the DasBlog Developer mailing list, but sometimes we forget that even though there's been like 100 posts this week, most folks just look at the last release and figure, "oh, it's been 9 months, this project is dead." That's our fault. We should be releasing every month. (We do, we just don't package it up and put it on SourceForge - lame of us.) I give SubText credit for keeping their project moving along and feeling fresh.

We're still very actively working on DasBlog, and we're slowly getting our heads screwed on right. To be clear, the DasBlog 1.x codebase does support ASP.NET 1.1 and ASP.NET 2.0 as well. Currently, for June, here's what's going on:

10 June 2007 - Feature Complete for 1.x. No new features added after this point.

17 June 2007 - Last day for commits. Have patches for bugs submitted before this day.

18 June 2007 - Everyone who's interested should test the Daily Build we release as the final beta.

The bug bar for any check-ins after June 18 going forward should be:

  • Bug breaks a major feature without any possible workaround
  • Security issues
  • Performance issues that would keep High Traffic Blogs from using the build
  • Totally embarrassing low-impact bug (typos)

If all is good, this will be the final 1.1 compatible version, and the final 1.x release. The next release will be all 2.0, with the new version number being 2.x. We'll also aim for a release that runs under Medium Trust. Thanks to Clemens for kicking us in the tuckus.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.