Visualize California Wildfires

Map of the 2018 Camp Fire size over Detroit

I really appreciate journalism that helps me empathize with people affected by tragedy. That’s what caught me when I saw this map from NBC News:

Overlay of the California Camp Fire on a map of Detroit.

I can read “200 square miles” in a news article and that sort of washes over me. But the map makes me stop and consider that this is going from Redford to Grosse Pointe. From Dearborn to Warren. People in the area know that is a huge swath of land. I can’t imagine being stuck in evacuation gridlock, trying to get from Hamtramck to Livonia with wildfires all around me.

Then I saw the drop down and realized there are more fires.

Google Maps thoughts

After the bajillionth Google Maps site it hit me: Google Maps is at its core a nifty UI widget for a common type of data. The OS doesn’t provide a widget for dealing with location data, and the web browser as a subset of OS widgets certainly doesn’t (hello combo box!). That’s like 10% of what makes Google Maps so cool, which is a lot considering how cool it is. People with location data are scrambling to put their data in a format that’s usable. Google Maps is literally changing the way people think about place.

Your homework assignment tonight is to think about what common types of data people have, and what kind of UI widget could be created specifically for browsing that data. Then create a multi-billion dollar business around your new web service. Bonus points for sucking up to my sympathetic nature towards the Semantic Web.

Cool stuff I noticed about Google Maps

If you haven’t been to Google Maps yet,

  1. Get yourself some better RSS feeds
  2. Go to

Here are some cool things I’ve noticed about Google Maps. I think this is going to be one of those posts I update a lot in a day.

  • The URLs are fairly clean. You can look up an address from your location bar by putting “” before it. For example: Evergreen Terrace, Springfield
    You can also specify the latitude and longitude by passing ll=$LAT,$LON where $LAT and $LON are decimals. That means you can make a bookmarklet that would show you the location of a blog based on it’s GeoURL. In fact, I did just that: Map GeoURL
  • They use semi-transparent PNGs for routes over street maps (do they get this to work correctly in IE?). That means they only have to dynamically generate route images, all the map images can be static.
    Also, they’re using XSL on the client side, from a brief glance it looks like app uses XMLHttpRequest to query the map server, then rendering the result with XSL (but I could be completely wrong). Update: as simple as possible, but no simpler has an in depth look at the mechanics.
  • Google Local searches are based on what’s on the map by default. For instance, search for your address, clear the search box and search for pizza. Since the map is centered on your address, it will search around you. If you double click somewhere on the map to recenter and search again, it will use the new map center.

  • You can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move around the map. + and - zoom.

  • On the driving directions, you can click on the step number to see a cool zoom of what you need to do for your turn.

  • Google owns Keyhole, who make a really cool product with pictures of the world. Hopefully those pictures will get integrated real soon.

  • Ted Mielczarek has written a Firefox extension to load the current Google map into Keyhole. I don’t have Keyhole (there’s a free demo, but not for the Mac) so I haven’t tested it and can’t vouch for it.