Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Streetview Comes to Ottawa

Big News - I happened to come across today's version of the newspaper which isn't often. What I saw really jolted me - there was a story on Google Streetview cars prowling the streets of Ottawa, taking panoramas to be later implemented into the feature in Google Maps.

It was an article that dealt with the controversy that usually comes with Google's streetview feature. The thing is, a lot of people find it to be an invasion of privacy, even though the imagery is taken on public roads. To help the matter Google blurs out people's faces and license plates, though sensitive or embarrassing situations have still been caught on the streetview camera.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, "The service’s expansion to Canada will see cars and vans, each outfitted with a tall pole that has 30 special cameras attached to the top, driving through the streets of Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Quebec City, Saint John, Saskatoon and Winnipeg." So it's not just Ottawa but Canadian cities across the country. Finally.

In my opinion, I think this can be utilized to find out about places a lot more easier. For instance it can be used for travel purposes, real estate, surveys, and personal experience. I've always found the two unique things about both Google's platforms and Microsoft's. Google has the Streetview feature. Microsoft has Bird's Eye View. Both tools are unique to the main platforms. Microsoft added Bird's Eye imagery for Ottawa and other Canadian cities back in October. That was really good news. Now after waiting for a while Google has finally started sending vehicles to take their photos. This is great news because now I can visit anyplace in Ottawa without going!

However, I feel that Canada here has gotten the last leg of everything. The Citizen says "Canada is the latest country to be added to the Street View expansion. Google started offering images of streets in various cities across Britain earlier this month." I find that Google tends to focus on the U.S., then many various other countries first before ever expanding their applications to Canada. It always seems that Canada is the last on their list, and it's right next door to the country they focus the most on. So it can be pretty natural to feel left out at first. Microsoft's the same way pretty much.

All in all I think this is a very long-awaited expectation and I'm glad we're finally getting on board with this, although we won't meet without some opposition. Many privacy issues should come up. And according to the article, Quebec will be the most antsy about the whole procession. They have very strict privacy laws.
And there's no way everything's going to be perfect. Sometimes those Google cars happen on very embarrasing or sensitive things to photograph "including some of a man vomiting in the streets of Shoreditch, another man standing outside a sex shop and a third man being arrested by police."

Read the whole article here.

Can't wait till' it all comes out!

-Justin C.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Modelling Tips

Recently I finally managed to upload a model of a retail plaza to the Google 3D Warehouse. It took months of method, speculation, and temper + computer problems to deal with, but eventually it worked.
As with that final result, I've decided to write some tips that have evolved out of the many mistakes that I've learnt from as well as my experience.
For even further information, check out Google Sketchup For Dummies. I'm not kidding, it's a real book and it has served me well on various shortcuts and photo-texturing methods.

So, here are a few tips that I can bring to the basic discussion here:

1. A major factor in modelling for Google Earth is file size. A normal model cannot exceed 10mb in size. It's simply rejected if one tries to upload it.

To reduce the file size, make your model as simple as possible. The standard building outline is easily enough, and no interior rooms or decoration is required. I'd recommend not exagerating outdoor features such as window sills, window panes, frames, or steps. The lines and parts that come together to make a face or object are called polygons, and useless ones can be deleted.
Making a simple building is fundemental, but not the most space-sucking. What really increases the file size is this: Photo-textures.
This comes from my own experience. When taking your photos to texture onto the model, use the smallest-possible format they can be saved in on your memory card. For instance, if you have a 12 megapixel camera, go to the options and select the photo size to be 1.3 megapixels instead. The photo won't be huge in result. It's alright if you can't zoom in to it on the computer that way, because it's intended to be a texture, not a detailed piece of art intended to be blown up to a large poster size. Further more, you should then crop your photos to the exact wall or part of the building you intend on texturing, so you're only using a small percentage of an already small photo. That, or you can compress it down on the computer. I should also note that cropping it reduces the amount of time you have to arrange and position the photo texture on to the model.
Doing this will slow down the progress of the size of the whole thing altogether. And always make very well sure that it is as it is. For instance, if the computer says it's a little too large, use a trial and error process where you try to upload it anyway. If the 3D Warehouse agrees with your computer then it's safe to believe it's too large. I know this myself - I didn't do that once after finishing that exact model last summer and believed the computer even though I could've made sure, and in my wrath I deleted the whole thing.

Using the smallest photos possible and keeping it simple should keep the model under 10mb. (That's 10 megabytes).

2. Be inconspicuous. What I mean is when you are on location attempting to get your photos to texture. Some people feel odd when there's some person standing near a normal building, taking photos of walls...or something else more suspicious. For instance, I couldn't continue to take photos of a nearby McDonald's because the manager saw it as a form of trespassing or unauthorized visual depictions of the exterior of the building. It does sound ridiculous, but when I explained the Google modelling thing to him, he seemed to believe I was with Google myself and told me Google didn't have McDonald's permission. Google doesn't really need permission. Not for that type of building anyway. And there are millions of photos taken by millions of people who photograph McDonalds for whatever reason. I would agree that taking photos of a private residence wouldn't be acceptable and it's the owner's decision to model his property, but a commercial building can be photographed and modelled by anyone. I don't believe there's a law against it (not here anyway) or else I think Google would have made sure to make that clear to model-makers. Tonnes of people model commercial buildings for Google Earth. Look at New York City. I can remember finding a model of a shopping centre in Michigan. So to avoid confrontations from suspicious people, my advice is to time your expeditions at the right moment. Photograph the building on Labour day or on a holiday where nothing's open. You get the advantage that there's no cars or people in the way. Or do it whenever they're closed.
The thing is, people will get uneasy when there's a photographer who has no noticeable subject to photograph. Especially if they realize that it's a building. For all they know, they could be taking photos of people through the windows.

3. Be thorough. Texture everything. It doesn't all have to be photo-texture. You can 'color' the roof grey or brown or whatever. Any place that you couldn't reach with your camera you can simply color with a color that's close to the overal tone of the photo-texture.

One last good tip is the auto-measure thing. What I mean is you can draw a particular line, type in the measurement, hit 'Enter' and it auto-completes the line to the exact measurement you keyed in. This can also be applied to pushing/pulling, circumferences, angles, and more. It all depends on the unit of measurement you use.

So those are my personal tips for building realistic, Google Earth-ready models. The big, important one I think is the file size. Also be considerate in what you do model. Landmarks, public and commercial buildings are the best candidates for this. Keep away from private or independently-owned properties. They can model their buildings themselves if they want.

For all the modellers out there, I hope they get a lot out of this and I encourage them to keep doing what I think makes Google Earth so realistic and cool to use.

-Justin C.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Computer Models

Well, here I am again with a new computer. I got a new one. It didn't work. Then I got another new one and it works so well it is crazy. Plus it came with everything like the new flatscreen.

But here's the big thing: I managed for the first time in eight months to finish a previously impossible model for Google Earth!

This is a retail plaza here in Barrhaven that I've had much trouble trying to upload.
The big problems I encountered were space issues, slow systems, hard modelling feats and computer viruses. Plus my own temper. Yesterday I returned to work on it and got it done in two and a half hours. At exactly 10mb, the size limit for models in the 3D warehouse.
I should note that I have come up with many ideas and methods, such as taking 1MP photos instead of 12, cropping them further to reduce the file size even more, and eliminating as many unused polygons as possible. When I add photo-textures it also gives me more detail to exaggerate, such as columns and sunken-in store fronts and stuff I wouldn't know how to do without the photos to look at.
The major thing I found is that this computer is very smooth. Everything works seemlessly, without any idling or slowness. On the other computer when I added a texture it would slowly inch about when I postioned it instead of gliding with the cursor. It makes the process much quicker.
So I am quite proud of what I'm able to accomplish now and I will be doing many more realistic, detailed models in the future. My will-power to do so has been established again.
All thanks to a computer I got at Wal-Mart.
Now I've got to get to work.

Oh, and happy March Break everyone!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am NOT Defunct

Wait! I'm here! I'm writing another post, don't go...

I'm a really awful blog writer. I write and forget about it. My aunt isn't any better, but she has legitimate reasons for not posting. I DON'T.

Did I say I am in co-op again? I write articles on school stuff for the Barrhaven Independent. My first two were published this week and it's pretty cool. I will post a photo up later; now I'm at school, with nothing to do after failing to get information from a few people for my next two articles.
The reason I'm taking co-op is this: I need three credits to graduate. Plus just under thirty community service hours. I do not like that. I don't know why the Board of Education implemented that, because it has become an annoying nuisance lurking at the back of my mind.

I've been really busy lately. I got a new computer (thank God) and it works fine. I've been going to all the school events I would normally not go to, to take photos and interview people so I can write an article for it to be published. All part of my co-op placement. But also, my valuable photos have been in lots of different usage as many people need them. For the yearbook. For the paper. For school advertisement, and personal uses including my own: Record keeping.
I've also been busy in English and photography courses. We're developing film now, and reading a memoir in English. Co-op, that's well known.

It's almost March Break. On Friday I hope to do something with a few friends. I'll see my father quite a bit too. It'll be good father-son time because my half-siblings are going to England with my dad's wife.
I'm also on a waitlist for a job, and I've gone through a whole bunch of girls that I've been interested in. They all turned out to have boyfriends anyway.

It's slowly getting warmer. In my experience, March starts off brittle cold, then by March Break the temperatures rise steadily. By the end of March the temperature ranges from -5 degrees to 10 degrees. Then April ranges between 5 to 20 degrees and May has the same range only five degrees warmer. June is perfect, then July and Augest are blistery hot.

Can't wait.
In the meantime the weather is not decided between rain or snow. We'll see. I will post a photo or two later.