[Taxacom] Google Maps again

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed May 5 20:32:00 CDT 2010

I've previously posted here about the usefulness of Google Maps as a field tool and a kind of layman's GIS. There are a couple of new features and accessories worth noting. What follows is an edited version of a short contribution for Banksia (http://www.sasb.org.au/banksia.html), the newsletter of the Society of Australian Systematic Biologists.

(1) Plotting locality data

In the last Banksia I described how to plot a set of locations in Google Maps by home-crafting a KML file to sit on a Web server. There's an easier way to get the KML, although there could be a data security issue. A free Web service hosted by BatchGeo (http://www.batchgeo.com/) allows you to upload a whole spreadsheet full of locations and associated data. The locations are then plotted on Google Maps on BatchGeo's website. An option on the map is to save the data to a KML.

(2) Finding lat/longs

On Google Earth, you can get the lat/long of a point by hovering the cursor over it. The lat/long appears in the status bar at the bottom of the screen (or grid reference if UTM is selected in Google Earth Options).

Google Maps doesn't have this feature, but you can get nearly the same thing by first clicking on the tiny green lab flask at the top right of the Google Maps window, just to the left of the 'Help' and 'Sign In' links. A new window will appear, displaying the apps under development at Google Maps Labs. The two apps we're interested in are Lat/Lng Tool Tip and Lat/Lng Marker. If you enable the Tool Tip and save changes, Google Maps will now display the lat/long of the point under the cursor, in decimal degrees.

The Lat/Lng Marker works this way: hover the cursor over a spot, then right-click. At the bottom of the context menu is 'Drop Lat/Lng Marker'. Choose this, and a marker appears at the spot, again with lat/long in decimal degrees.

(3) Travel between localities

One of the most useful features of Google Maps is its ability to give you directions by road ('Get Directions'), with distances for each road segment travelled and an overall approximate travelling time. This feature can also be used with destinations specified by lat/long. Suppose you're in your office. Find the office on Google Maps and use the Lat/Lng Marker to get your lat/long. Enter the coordinates as starting place in the Get Directions box (A). Want to visit a locality for a museum specimen? Enter the locality as a lat/long in the destination box (B). Click the 'Get Directions' button and Google Maps plots a route for you from office to locality. You can add additional destinations and extend the route.

If you have a Google account, you can set up 'permanent' placemarks using My Maps, but the features described above can be used without a login. Marine field workers will have to wait for Google Maps to come up with a 'directions by boat' app...
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
03 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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