Feature request for Google Earth

Wouldn’t it be nice, if you could not only save places, but also bookmark your favorite content simply by marking it with a star, like in Google Reader and GMail? And what about sharing? Having a RSS feed of your shared places and items, no uploading hassles, all automatic, perhaps with some more social features, like those you’re most probably adding to Google Reader right now – statistics of most shared/starred items with global tagging…

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Vim – next level in text editing

As someone who spends considerable time in front of a computer screen (or two), I knew that there were two groups of people, supporting two text editing systems – Vi/Vim and Emacs. The relations between these two is like the relation between Windows and Linux – both are considered superior by their supporters. I knew that both are supposed to take text editing, particularly for coders, to the next level in speed and possibilities, and that both are supposedly harder to learn, because most people are used to “classic” style of working with text using arrows and ctrl-arrows, shift for selecting, home/end, etc.

I also knew that this style of text editing is very limited – getting the cursor to the right place on a page full of text takes numerous arrow- and ctrl-arrow key presses, or requires you to grab the mouse. For a large group of computer users, this is no problem. However, if you’re using your computer for programming, and are interested in seriously boosting your productivity (not to mention other advantages, like being able to switch between platforms), everyone who’s made the jump will tell you that it’s worth it.

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Flight mode in Google Earth

Just a little tip for your next Google Earth visit. Besides the normal Google Earth navigation mode (Ctrl-T) there’s a “flight mode”, which can be turned on by pressing Ctrl-Alt-A or just Ctrl-A to start from current position.

You can control your plane using arrows, but usually you’ll need more precision. In flight simulator mode, when you click the left mouse button, your mouse cursor will take the shape of a cross, and every mouse movement now controls the plane. Another left click will switch the control mode off – the cursor will be an arrow again.

It takes a while to get hold of the controls, because even with the mouse everything is really sensitive, and you have to count with certain inertia. Basically, first you’ll want to make your plane fly straight. Using Ctrl-A to start from a flat angle, and then levelling the plane using just up and down arrows is a safe way to start, although in order not to loose height you might also want to increase throttle (using Page Up), close flaps (using Shift-F), and retract landing gear (using G). You can then use Ctrl and arrows to just look around instead of changing direction.

Use Ctrl-H to reach the complete help for GE flight simulator. There you can find more help and all the keyboard shortcuts. Enjoy!

UPDATE: With the release of Google Earth browser plugin, more interesting “simulators” are available – for example, you can visit http://www.paraglidingearth.com/ for a worldwide directory of paragliding sites, and use Google Earth as a paragliding simulator by clicking on “Fly this site”!

Another interesting use of the GE browser plugin, not a simulator, but a rather interesting visualization of various statistics, can be found at http://www.earthatlas.info/

Need more help with Google Earth? Visit Video tutorials for Google Earth at Google Earth Blog or Google Earth Basics page 

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Orb – accessing your media from anywhere

Last weekend, as I visited my parents’ house in Brno, I asked my brother, if he has heard a recent mix by Scratch Pervertz. He didn’t have it, so I went on the net to find it. Before I even typed in the name, I realized that there should be an easier solution. I connected to my computer in Prague with VNC, in ten minutes I had set up my Apache server so that it allowed access to my music directories, and we could listen to the mix in question. However, I thought, perhaps there will be some better solution. Something that would go beyond simply accessing files as they are – something that would for example convert them to different bitrates, so that it would be possible to listen to them on mobile phones. And what about videos? It would definitely be nice, if it would work with videos too – I could use the same approach, simply use a HTTP server to access my files, but that is even more impractical then accessing music, because of the need for bandwidth. I googled up one or two solutions for Windows, but I didn’t find one that would be powerful and yet simple enough. And as I already had access to my music that night, I didn’t pursue this matter further. Next morning however, a new post was out on Lifehacker, covering exactly this topic. And there it was – Orb. A service, that allows you to access media on your computer from anywhere, and when I installed it on my home computer, I found out that it is actually better then I would have hoped. It allows you to browse your media, catalogue them, tag them, create playlists, etc. It can also convert and resample your media to several format and bandwidths. And it allows you to access not only music files and movies, but also pictures and documents. And it works – not only can I listen to music and watch anything I have on my home computer at work (where it works flawlessly even behind a very restrictive, port 80 through SOCKS proxy), but practically anywhere where I can get a decent GSM connection on my Nokia N70. And while the movies don’t look like much, for the small mobile display it is actually pretty good, and in places where the mobile bandwidth is less occupied, there is no problem increasing the quality. Now this is something I didn’t know I wanted until a few days ago, and I’m already wondering how did I manage to live before that :) Not that I would need to fill my head with “media” all the time, but in the times when I do want some entertainment, this is very comfortable. There’s no need to recode movies, if I want to watch them “on the road”, there’s no need to copy stuff, or carry it with myself… and it just works. Great. You need to have a decent upstream on your home computer, of course, and it needs to be running, but mine is running most of the time anyway and my connection is 1.5 Mbps, so no problem there. Actually, I could see something like this replacing portable players in the future. I mean, I’m already used to having net access everywhere I go, and even though it is just Opera on a small mobile phone screen, it is still better then nothing when you need information, or when you want to catch up with reading some blog posts you starred with Google Reader. So why should you settle for carrying a few gigabytes of media on yet another gadget, if you can have access to all that is on your computer and on the net? There are limits, of course, the mobile bandwidth often isn’t good enough, and you will also probably reach the FUP data limits (10 gigs on my phone), but still…

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The Influence of Web 2.0 on Business

is the name of my final paper on UNYP. I’d appreciate any comments and feedback, particularly in next day or two, since then I’ll bind it and it’s officialy done. The topic covers Web 2.0, blogs and social software in general and their influence on organizations. A year ago when I started it still seemed like a relatively new thing, today I’m not so sure, but I’d say that at least here in Czech rep. the majority of people, even those using the Internet, don’t have a clue about these things. Not that I’d be helping, since they often would not read in English, but anyway.

UPDATE: I changed the name and there are also some slight differences in the text.

The Influence of Web 2.0 on Business.pdf

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is quite an interesting service, which follows what music you’re playing, and uploads the results so that a lot of classic data and Web 2.0 magic can be done. Other people can see what music you’re playing, you can see what they’re playing, you can get recommendations, tag and comment on tracks, artist, etc. I’ve known last.fm for quite some time but never actually began using it, since I had trouble running the plugin. I’ve finally overcome that trouble (I needed to switch off a setting in Winamp that decoded all mp3s with the mp3pro input plugin) and so my last.fm statistics (not really representative right now as I’ve just started) are available. And as I know you too have an interesting taste for music, please let me know your last.fm id in the comments :) I’ve also noticed (after who knows how long) that half of the site doesn’t work with Internet Explorer. Some things should be fixed now, however YouTube playlists still cause the main column to be too wide and disappear on the right. Well, sorry, you should use Firefox anyway. I’ve also fixed the blog RSS feed, added feeds for last links and music production, and redirected all feeds to FeedBurner.

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Discovering Google Earth

I finally got to install this thing, and I’m overwhelmed. The feeling you get when you look at a place where you were standing a year ago (a cliff above a botanical garden near Cape Town, 34°20’42.52″S, 18°55’39.40″E) is nothing but godlike. It is like an upgraded view from a plane, except that while sitting in a plane you can’t zoom and rotate. I can see myself driving in a car somewhere in SA (I’m going again this Christmas I hope), pausing to take a look at my notebook, and seeing – now this valley nearby looks pretty, let’s have a small detour… Wow. Strongly recommended.

When I get to process photos from my two previous SA trips, you’ll be probably getting coordinates for every picture :)

Update: I got stuck at it for the whole day, and today I’m getting stuck again. This is a way to make geography an interesting subject in schools. It is a way to fall in love with this planet, if you don’t already love it here. It is a way to understand how it works – you can see the land of India colliding with Asia, and how the Himalaya comes out of that as a drapery on a blanket. You can see the lungs of this planet, the forest of Amazonia, with it’s fields of cloud and the cancer of deforestation – which, seen like this, looks really scary. You can see huge volcanoes in South America. Colors and fractal shapes everywhere. And then the work of humans. Look how huge is Tokyo and it’s surroundings. Look at the amount of smog above Shanghai. Look at the detailed cities of North America and western Europe. Awesome. Google Earth seems to be an amazing achievement. They have done it again. They’ve succeeded in changing the perspective of how we perceive information. I’ll be hungrily awaiting each new detailed place. Thanks, Google! By the way, I started adding some content in Czech rep., which was (until now at least, ha ha) quite poor on information signs.

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