Virtual Tour of Ireland

A few years ago, inspired by the fact that my parents were on holiday at the time, I decided to do some travelling of my own using Google Street View to simulate a journey from the comfort of my office chair. I chose Ireland as my destination.

I began by sketching a rough plan for my journey, starting from the idea that it would begin at the border with Northern Ireland and proceed anticlockwise. I sampled random locations around the coast, and where these pleased me most I proposed to take a predominantly coastal route, and where I felt an inland route would add more to the journey I sampled random locations along candidate routes and selected the most promising options.

That gave me a draft route to follow, which I would refine later. Preparations complete, I then entered Google Street View in Muff (just west of the border) and clicked on the road ahead to go forward.

My concept for the journey probably evolved over time a lot more than I can remember, and what it became was a quest to find the most scenic route around the Republic of Ireland that I could. I identified unmissable waypoints (coastal ones to begin with), then backtracked to find the most pleasing routes between those points — partly by random sampling to narrow down the possibilities, and partly by simulating drives along multiple routes and choosing the one I liked best. So altogether I simulated a lot of small journeys.

It became a long-term project, which I would resume once every few months when I was in the mood and had the time to spare. In contrast to a typical holiday plan (consisting of a list of destinations and the most convenient routes between them), my goal was to find a route that, as much as possible, would provide continual delights. And I recorded the route I decided upon as I went, surveying the scenery and wondering what stories were embedded in the landscape.

In the end I got as far as Donegal before tiring of the endeavour. It’s no coincidence that I stopped at a more densely populated part of the country — with two major cities, Donegal and Sligo, a mere fifty kilometres apart, and a network of towns surrounding them. I did try resuming the simulation further south but we’ll get to that shortly.

One problem I faced from the start was that linking to Google Maps is not a very stable way to save a route. All it takes is a minor change in Google’s algorithm, or for the Irish authorities to get it into their heads to upgrade a road, for the route recorded to no longer be a true record of my intentions. Worse, Google have announced that Classic Maps will soon be no longer supported, and I am deeply pessimistic about that. Last time I checked, the new Google Maps was crippled to the point of being quite impossible to use for simulating and recording a journey.

It’s been at least a couple of years since I last worked on the route, and it was always my intention to blog it someday. Having decided that now is the time, I spent several days recently re-tracing my journey from Muff to Donegal on Google Street View, refreshing my memory and making a few minor tweaks as I went. Section by section, I then recorded the route on video, holding a camera up to the monitor as I scrolled along the map. (This was an extremely frustrating process, and the resulting video is no polished production, but trust me: if you knew how many takes it took to get it to work adequately, you’d understand that perfection is not an option.) This video contains all the information one would need to mark my journey in a paper street directory and test it out in real life.

Here it is: Muff to Donegal, my way.

A few notes:

  • There’s nothing special at the marked waypoints. They are there simply to force Google to follow the route I selected.
  • I couldn’t always find continual delights. There are dead spots. But I made the best of them that I could, and they lead somewhere worthwhile in the end.
  • The route isn’t necessarily the most scenic in real life. Plenty of parochial factors influenced my choices, for example sometimes the Google Car just happened to be passing by at the perfect moment to get the most out of the landscape, with the sun shining at just the right angles.
  • Also, in some places the Google Car has recorded photographs more recently than my original journey through that region, so the reason I went one way and not another may no longer be apparent.
  • In the final approach to Donegal, I stuck to the main road (N56) and didn’t explore the sidestreets, because a lot of those sidestreets were recorded at a time of year when most of the vegetation was dead. It would have been pointless to try and choose between them.

In my early planning (back when the above was encapsulated simply by the phrase “coastal route”), I proposed that after continuing  more-or-less coastal to Westport I would follow an inland route to Galway and again to Limerick. The route I decided upon, after sampling a few possibilities, was a draft — to be refined, perhaps radically, if I ever got that far in the Street View simulation — but as with all drafts it gave me something to go on.

After my Street View simulation had stalled at Donegal, I revisited the far end of the plan I had drafted earlier and decided that Tralee would be a good place to re-join the coast. From there I started another Street View simulation en route to Dingle, where I proposed to do some sort of loop at the end of the Dingle Peninsula then follow a more-or-less coastal route to Cork. But there are still a lot of roads down that way that the Google Car has never traversed, and in at least one case its path was blocked by a giant puddle. Arriving at Cork would mark the end of my journey down the west coast of Ireland, but I did write down a vague plan for travelling onward (follow the N20 north to Mallow then the N72 east until meeting the R671, taking it north to Clonmel, then east on the N24 to Waterford).

In the following video, my draft inland route from Westport via Galway to Limerick, extended to Tralee, is appended with the route I was working on between Tralee and Dingle.

If you want, you can download slighly (but only slightly) higher resolution versions of the videos here and here. I won’t link directly to the maps, since Classic Maps is due to expire soon, but if you’re so inclined you can reconstruct them yourself.

Naturally, I am interested in hearing the opinions that Irish residents have about my virtual journey. For example: which parts of my route have you visited, which parts haven’t you visited, and which are the best places that I missed? I don’t expect anyone to test a portion of my route in real life or take on the project where I left off, but of course you’re welcome to do either. And for readers with nothing to say about Ireland, perhaps you have a pertinent comment to add about your experience with Google Maps. In any case, comments are open.

February website boycott

[Update 1/3/2015: This boycott is now over. During February I blocked nine domains altogether, averaging one every three days. Scroll down to see the list. I am now in theory unblocking all of those domains, although I reserve the right not to disclose the fact if I’ve decided to keep any of them permanently blocked.]

Autoplay audiovisual ads are a problem.

Online advertising per se isn’t going away, but the current environment — in which advertisers think they can get away with anything — is not acceptable. As a society we need to work out an informal contract between the advertisers and the consumers of the Internet. We need an arrangement that says: you may advertise, up to a point, but you may not cross this line.

One pillar of that arrangement must be our right to reasonable control over the number of stimuli that demand the attention of our senses. When I’m reading something online — or more rarely, listening to something — a random blast of noise (from either the same or a different browser tab) interferes with my ability to do so. I am forced to stop what I’m doing and take whatever measure is necessary to get rid of the offending advertisement. This is not an acceptable burden.

Imagine a world in which, whenever you turn the page in a newspaper, the radio automatically switches on. Or, the moment you’ve been listening to the radio for five minutes, the television automatically wakes up. But we don’t have to imagine that world — we are living it, and we want out.

So I’ve decided that I need to take some kind of action. Therefore, for the month of February 2015, I will boycott all websites on which an autoplay audiovisual advertisement appears, subject to certain qualifications, and I will name the offending sites in a list at the end of this post (to be updated as needed). Details follow.

  • First, I’m obviously well aware that online advertising is outsourced, and that individual websites are not responsible for the advertisements that appear. But … this is about not doing deals with the Devil. If the entity you outsourced your advertising space to did not offer you a choice as to whether autoplay audiovisual ads are acceptable, then we need to put pressure on them somehow.
  • Because I want to focus on the most egregious cases, some autoplay ads will be exempt. Advertisements will generally be exempt if they play within a feature video space on that web page (e.g. videos watched on Youtube or news reports consisting of a video followed by an article). But an exemption to the exemption is that even advertisements that play within a feature video space will trigger the boycott if the Pause button is unavailable or doesn’t function correctly while the advertisement plays.
  • At the end of February I will unblock all sites — unless I decide I’m better off without yours, which is my call. However, the list of offending sites at the end of this post will remain, unless I think of a reason to remove any.
  • The tool I’ll be using is the Minimal Site Block extension for Firefox. This could use a friendlier interface (you have to use wildcards, you have to include the “http”, and it’s unintuitive that you don’t need to press a button to update the blocked list), but it works, and is a good option if you want to manage your own boycott.

Obviously this is experimental. Hence the one month limit. Other people may have insights into better ways of taking action (whether a refinement of this boycott or a completely different approach), and one of my goals is to help start that conversation.


List of offenders so far:

  • www.science20.com
  • abcnews.go.com [absent Pause button: see bullet point 2]
  • www.newstatesman.com
  • www.latimes.com
  • www.dose.com
  • www.slate.com [will certainly unblock this one at the end of February]
  • www.mirror.co.uk
  • www.ibtimes.co.uk [not actually a 3rd party advertisement, but a video unrelated to the main article]
  • junkee.com

Miscellaneity from my desk drawer

Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve found that leafing through the contents of my desk can be a rich source of inspiration. My desk drawers contain records of my own creativity from the past, as well as other sorts of memories, and I’ve written many blog posts based on that material.

But there is a tendency for miscellaneity to fall through the cracks. If something is particularly significant there’s a good chance I’ve already blogged about it, whereas other items have always seemed too trivial to share even though they’ve been in storage for years.

Today I’m going to share three of them. They may be trivial, but there’s no telling what will resonate with the interests of readers and inspire an interesting conversation in the comments. That would make them well worth including on the blog.

1. A querying language invented while at university.

At university I majored in computing, which naturally included a subject or two about databases — SQL, relational algebra, and all that stuff. Elsewhere in the course I learned to read and write in EBNF notation.

For my own amusement I sometimes toyed with inventing my own programming languages — not implementing them (inventing and implementing are two very different things), but figuring out how the syntax would work and writing documentation for them as though they actually existed. In a sense it was my way of consolidating what I was learning, especially about trade-offs between different programming languages and things like that.

One of my inventions was a querying language with the same functionality as SQL, but a syntax based more consistently on relational algebra. I’ve uploaded a copy of my documentation. It may be complete rubbish, but over a decade later it hardly matters.

2. An email exchange about sensory integration.

This is another item from my university days, but not connected to my studies.

At an autism conference many years ago, I bought a textbook on sensory integration, which interested me enough to write an email to one of the authors. I described some of the games I played as a child, and speculated that (to paraphrase for the blog) there may be a correlation between people who are prone to motion sickness and people who find it hard to keep a tidy room.

My hypothesis was that since picking items off the floor involves continual head altitude changes, people who struggle with it might often be those who find it hard to modulate vestibular sensations while simultaneously concentrating on a goal-directed task.

The textbook author replied, saying: “I was also interested in your comments about tidying up and vestibular/modulation difficulties. I have certainly noticed that tendency in children but none has ever explained it quite so graphically. I certainly will think about that.

Or, as I once paraphrased it in a comment thread, she said that the idea was plausible and consistent with anecdotal observations.

3. A shortlist of aesthetically selected Arabic male names.

I’ve browsed the baby names website behindthename.com on numerous occasions. One time, on a whim, I decided to browse the section on male Arabic names, just to see what I liked the sound of. I was particularly looking for pairs of names that sound good together, consciously ignoring the fact that Western naming practices (first name plus middle name) are not usual in Arabic culture.

The three double names I liked best were:

I suppose these could be of use if you ever need an Arabic character for a work of fiction.

Links: Early May 2013

Some links. Not many, but that suits me: it means the blog post doesn’t take long to compose.

Interesting:

  • I didn’t expect to enjoy the NYT article on psychology fraudster Diederik Stapel, but on giving it a chance I found it surprisingly thought-provoking.
  • A fifty minute interview from the Guardian on the origin of life.
  • A brief history of traditional marriage in England. I bet there’s a lot more to be said, but this is an interesting and often surprising take.

Delightful:

  • Cheeky animal video of the month (monkey vs tiger).
  • Everything hangs in the balance in this fantastic work of art.
  • I won’t personally be ordering a copy of Planet of the Apes and Philosophy, but the Amazon page is worth a visit.
  • If you’ve ever dreamed of a utility to convert a Google Street View route into a hyperlapse video, look here. It’s not that utility, but rather a library of Javascript code that can be used to create that utility (hopefully we’ll soon see programmers publishing versions all over the web). The very limited demo version essentially goes to and fro between a start point and an end point, with a third point controlling the camera angle.

A personal postscript: I had a huge scare last night when I lost the message bodies of all 220-ish emails in my Thunderbird inbox! I published a blog post calling for help, and stated that it was a temporary blog post which would be deleted when the crisis was resolved. After a sleepless night and some moral support I did manage to get most of the messages back, and accordingly I’ll delete that blog post shortly after publishing this one.

Herewith a summary. Due to some software glitch (the trigger of which is a complete mystery), the Inbox file (which stores the message bodies) had been wiped clean of content, although the corresponding .msf file (which contains message headers, essentially) was still intact. Hence Thunderbird still displayed the list of messages, but not the messages themselves. To fix the problem, I had to use the Windows 7 restore facility to restore a previous version of the Inbox file (you know: right click on the file, choose Properties, choose Previous Versions, etc). I lost a few days of emails, but these were all receipts and other acknowledgements, nothing critical.

News and Links for Early February 2012

Dad’s birthday is coming up on February 11 as I write this, and I bought him a copy of Blood Work by Holly Tucker which I gave him on February 6. That was the day my parents and I went to see John Cleese on stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre. That was a good night out, and my cousin Caroline was there too (we caught up during the interval).

In addition I spent an afternoon with my friend Julia recently, and also caught up with some family friends in the same week.

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Highlights of the Christmas season

This post was originally a fairly long account of miscellaneous events between 10 December 2011 and 14 January 2012. But in a 2015 review of this blog’s archives, I’ve decided that most of it is not of long-term interest.

Among other things, it described:

  • My participation in Austalk, a nation-wide study of how Australians speak. At the time, the entire study was expected to take about a year, after which data would be made available to participants. But even now, in late 2015, that hasn’t happened, to the great annoyance of everyone.
  • The mini Christmas puddings that we often make at that time of year, according to the following recipe:
  • Read the rest of this entry »

General updates 2011: July (with Renaissance coffee mug for sale)

Everything’s going well in preparation for my upcoming holiday and computer upgrade.

I’m also planning to buy a laptop to with me. Mum will be staying home while Dad, my sister, her husband and myself go overseas, and the plan is to communicate via Skype — except that none of us have actually got Skype yet, so that’s the next thing to look at after I get the upgrade done. The plan has always been to upgrade sufficiently in advance of the holiday to make time to practice in between.

Renaissance coffee mug

I recently published a new product on Zazzle: a renaissance mug! The story behind this is that while I was browsing the web for a project at work I came across this book of Renaissance collages. My production supervisor thought it would be worth me creating a similar collage of my own, if not for the project then at least as an exercise, and this is what I came up with:

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Internet essay from 1999

The following is an essay I wrote for a university course called “Professional English” in 1999. In 2001, it was published in an edition of The Autiser (the magazine of the Autism Association of South Australia).

The Internet has changed a lot since I wrote this, but despite its obvious datedness I think the essay is worth preserving. I’ve made some small (cringe-proofing) editorial alterations from the original, but not made any substantial changes. Comments are welcome if you’d like to discuss the Internet of today with reference to the topic of the essay.

Is the Internet Destructive to Human Relationships?

My original image of the Net was one of all these sad, lonely souls, sitting isolated at their computers … I now see it as the opposite, a means for people to reach out to each other.

— An Internet user

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Conversations with Jabberwacky

The retirement of my old NetYP website has been a long time coming, and is now very close. With that in mind, over the next few days I intend to re-publish some items from the website here on the blog, after which I will finally be ready to dismantle the former.

Below are transcripts from a couple of conversations I had a few years ago with Jabberwacky, who in my opinion is the most appropriately named chatbot ever. Jabberwacky is programmed to repeat things that other people have said to it in what it perceives to be a similar context, and also has no short-term memory whatsoever. The results are often amusing.

For example:

  • It: What is your name?
  • Me: What’s yours?
  • It: What is YOUR name?
  • Me: I don’t think either of us are called What.
  • It: That is very true!
  • Me: My name’s Adrian, as it happens.
  • It: Don’t say that.
  • Me: Well, you did ask.
  • It: No. No I didn’t.
  • Me: This is beginning to look like the Monty Python argument room.
  • It: So are you.
  • Me: I could do Abuse if you prefer.
  • It: I do prefer that definition.
  • Me: It’s not a definition you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!

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Interesting Stuff: Early April 2010

Stuff worth reading:

In other news I’ve recently upgraded Firefox to verion 3.6.*, and here’s an updated list of the main add-ons I use. Theme: Whitehart. Extensions: Character Identifier, Coral IE Tab, Custom Toolbar Buttons, Extended Cookie Manager, Find Toolbar Tweaks, LinkVisitor, Tab Mix Plus, Zoom Toolbar.

I’ve not been managing my time well lately. Far too much to do, far too little done.