The Eee Pad Transformer – my romantic tragedy

As a happily married man, falling in love again is not generally thought to be a good thing.  However last night I did. Not only that, but my wife was not happy.  I had better explain…

We are going away soon to the US so that I can be best man at my best mates wedding. Elizabeth and Jet are coming too, and we thought that as we will spend  a lot of time in planes, and waiting around that being able to distract ourselves with a good film or two would be a good thing.

We looked around a bit (quite a bit actually) and it came down to a decision between getting an iPad2 and an Eee Pad Transformer.  We knew exactly what we would get with the iPad2, but the Transformer was a bit of an unknown.  After deliberation, we opted for the Transformer.  The reasons?  It is cheaper – significantly – something like £200 all in, the ability to read websites as they are meant to be (flash) and we read many many good reviews from very well respected websites.

Out of the box the Transformer is amazing. After a quick charge, and logging in with your Google account, it knows exactly who you are – not only that but your contacts are downloaded, your photos are there, and all docs.  The unit itself is slick, image amazing and clear.  The Honeycomb UI – no problems with it at all (I haven’t experienced yet any of the problems with 3.01 that others have).

So what nearly caused us to return the Transformer only hours after receiving it? The things we wanted to use it for (films specifically) are so blinkin difficult to get on it!  I spent hours last night looking for ways to transfer films on, and woke up early again this morning to do the same thing.

The problem isn’t the unit specifically, it isn’t even the OS that runs on it. It is with Google.  I can see why people crow about the iPad.  The simplicity of having a store where you can select a film, and download it is just what you need.  The time and angst trying to find the right file coding for Handbrake, working out how to transfer it on to an SD card (which is not as easy as it sounds) is very close to not being worth the hastle.  Google need to address this, and quickly.  There are companies such as Netflix and Amazon who in the US allow for file download. The closest we have in the UK is BlinkBox which just allows download to PC.  It is a conflict that goes to the heart of the Android ideology – freedom to use which app you like, when you like with little control from an equivalent App Store, with amazing multitasking  etc. etc, but when the main competition is Apple, that likes to hand hold you through every process you have a problem.  it is not good enough to be good enough, you need to be the best, and sorting out this problem soon is critical.

Luckily, I have managed to find the right package to sort out the films – it isn’t perfect at all, but I can live with it until Google get their act together. And  I can stay with the tablet I love 🙂

Grrr… How to create a Fusion Table


Earlier this week, I came across a Guardian article about where schools were on strike – it included a Google map that had each Local Authority highlighted to show what percentage of schools are on strike.  Now, I have made my own map in Google before, and carefully drawn around each territory to show where we have School Representatives, but it is painstaking, and definitely not as professional as the Guardian one.  It made me wonder how they managed to create it.  If you want to skip to the end, then here is what I made!

The answer was in Google Fusion Tables – and after a couple of minutes of tinkering, I was hooked.  The possibilities here are amazing. But also quite a bit of learning to do – and as with everything new, lots went wrong.  Here is how I managed to create my Fusion Table showing all of the different areas of the UK, and where Scholastic have school representatives:

First.

Golden rule: don’t build your data table in the Fusion Table itself – it is a very long winded and convoluted way.  Either build it in Excel or Google Spreadsheets, as you can import them when you are finished.

Get yourself some location data.  Now it depends which type of map you want to show. If I had wanted to show points in the map, then a place name, or postcode would have done and I could have skipped happily onto the next step. But I wanted to show each area as a layer on top of the map.  This is a lot more complicated.

I did plenty of Google searching to find the right data.  In the end, I found some from Nearby.Org, which isn’t perfect, but I can refine over time. To draw polygons over the right data you need a string of coordinates that show the edge of the area you want to cover.  Now, most coordinates come looking like this:

54.91567645	-1.743341174
54.91925706	-1.724644054
54.91056256	-1.718651474

Unfortunately, the lovely way that Google works, you need to reverse these codes, so they end up looking more like this:
-1.74334117369273,54.9156764522577
-1.72464405391863,54.9192570581909
-1.7186514736122,54.9105625612723

Second

Once you have all of the location data (and in my case I have 164 different lines in my database, each with up to 4000 coordinates in) – you can start to build up your spreadsheet.  I wanted to show the Rep name, Area name, phone number, email, Area number (more on this later) and finally the location.  Here is an example of mine.

All of the columns are self-explanatory, apart from location.  In the location column, you need to put in the KML data for the areas you want to show.  This can be done with the following code:

<Polygon> <outerBoundaryIs><coordinates> -2.51998453948394,51.6881171980821
-2.51981095720608,51.6881179666459  </coordinates> </outerBoundaryIs> </Polygon>

Now to do this for all areas would be very time consuming, had it not been for the wonderful concatenate function in Excel.  By using this, it saved me hours of coding work.

Once you have this in your table, you can then import it into Fusion Tables, using the import function.

Third

Once you have imported it, you can click on ‘visualise’ which allows you to show the data you have in your table as a map.  As long as you have included the KML data here, you should have no problems.

All of the areas are red to start with, and you then have to work out how to change each area.  If you click on Configure Map Styles, then on Polygons, fill colour, buckets, you can then set the colour to be what you want.  Now as I had numbered my areas, I was able to set the number of ‘buckets’ to 100, and then I could say that bucket 1, should be green, 2 blue etc. etc.

Once you have done this, you have pretty much finished, you can grab the embed code and put that into a website or blog post.  There is, however much more you can do. You can merge tables to compare and contrast different sorts of data.  The visualisations are much more than maps, you can do timelines, heat maps, charts, storylines…the list is longer, and the possibilities pretty much endless.

Have you used Fusion Tables before? What for, and how have you found them?  I can’t wait to get stuck into more complex, but funkier data!