How To Plot A Coordinate Dataset In Google Maps


As an archaeologist I often need to plot coordinates on maps and plans. At every scale, really: from individual finds on the plan of an excavation trench to the distribution of something across Europe. Just dots of varying shapes and colours on various background maps. Most often, it’s GPS data from field walking and metal detecting. My colleagues in contract archaeology and academe use ArcInfo for these things, but I’ve never had incentive or opportunity to learn to use it. Also, once you know the software, you still need a map to plot stuff on, and those are expensive. So I’ve been wondering if I could somehow plot my coordinate data via Google Docs in Google Maps. Free software, free maps, free updated aerial photographs.

Turns out, you can. And today I figured out how. I believe it was David Petts who nudged me in the direction of Google’s “Fusion Tables”. And Hans Persson (who is an inveterate geocacher) asked me to write my findings up on Aard.

1. Data formatting
Convert your coordinate data to decimal lat & long after the WGS84 datum and with a decimal dot, not the Swedish decimal comma. For instance, my house is at lat 59.289576 long 18.258234. Call the northings column “Latitude” and the eastings column “Longitude”. (There are Excel macros to do coordinate conversions. For the Swedish systems, I find Robert Larsson’s on-line conversion utility handy, though it doesn’t do batch jobs.)

You may also want to add a “Text” column to describe what each point marks, and an “Icon” column that takes entries like “small_red” and “large_blue”.

(The Map function is pretty smart and also happily works with street addresses or place names if you put them in a “Location” column.)

2. Where to put the data
Stick this data into a spreadsheet in Google Docs. Save and close the spreadsheet.

3. Plot your dots
Now click the Create button on the start page of Docs and select “Table (beta)”. Tell the software to grab the data from the Docs spreadsheet you just created. (At this stage you can also tell it to disregard any extraneous data columns.) I don’t quite know how to conceptualise the distinction between these tables and standard Docs spreadsheets. But for practical purposes, tables are useful because (unlike spreadsheets) they have a Visualize menu including a Map alternative. Use it and zoom in on your area of interest.

4. Colour your dots
At first, all of your dots will be small and red. To get the software to use the data you entered into the “Icon” column, (such as “large_blue”), click “Configure styles”, change the “Marker icon” settings to “Column”, and select “Icon”.

Tell me how you’re doing with this, Dear Reader, and I’ll update the entry as I learn more. The first thing I want to find out now is how to create a dynamic link between my spreadsheet and the map, so that any changes to the data appear automatically on my maps. At the moment I have to make a new table every time I change the spreadsheet. Also, the only way I currently know of to get maps out of the software is screen grab, which doesn’t make for great resolution.


Boat Carriers

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Yesterday my dad had his boat lifted out of the water like he does every autumn to keep the ice from damaging it. I hadn’t seen the lift they used before: it’s a remote-controlled motorised thing, fast and nifty. Note the yellow control box.

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This reminded me of a fairly common motif in Bronze Age rock art, the boat carrier. Boats are extremely common, and sometimes you’ll find a guy lifting the boat, crew and all. I think this is probably a depiction of the Sea God. But it may also be a human lifting a wooden ship model. We have a few bronze figurines that look like they may have adorned such models. Or it may be both: people perhaps played the role of the Sea God in cult drama, brandishing ship models.


One of the most elaborate boat carrier images is the Brandskog ship near Enköping.

I Don’t Give A Damn About My Apple Products

Steve Jobs is dead, an unfortunate victim of cancer and quackery. I never paid him much attention while he lived. Nor did I ever care much about Apple’s products. “Aha”, I hear you say, “this is one of those ‘PC is better than Mac’ screeds”. Not so. Because I have been an off-and-on Mac user since the mid 80s. But I don’t care about Macs. Nor about PCs. I could go so far as to say that I’m a bit annoyed with recent versions of Windows. But it’s no big deal to me. These things all work well enough.

In ’84, my cousins’ first Mac introduced me to the mouse and the window environment. We drew in MacPaint and played Loderunner. They had a lot of gadgets, having turned me on to video gaming with their Atari console a few years previously. Then in the later 80s I played Uninvited and Dungeon of Doom with my friend Tor on his parents’ Mac+. My parents had a PC, and so do I still, running Win XP on the study machine and Ubuntu Linux on the home machine.

I did like the iPod when it came. I got the 2nd version of it in ’02 or ’03, 10 gigs with a Firewire interface, made after they got rid of the mechanical wheel but before they started making the miniature versions. Sure was a step up from MiniDisc! But getting music onto it demanded dedicated software, and you couldn’t get the files off it again. I never started using iTunes. Also, Firewire never really caught on and no later machines of mine have had it. So since I got my first smartphone in ’06, the iPod has been languishing in a drawer or Junior has been using it.

Also in ’06, I was issued a desktop Mac for my editor’s desk (yes, I have three desks; no, I do not have even one full-time salary). I still use it and it works fine. I’ve never been tempted to get an iPhone or an iPad, opting instead for Android handsets that are a bit cheaper and offer better integration with Google’s services. No, I don’t consider myself a Google fan either. If it works, who cares what brand it is?

Rode A Paunchy Plane


Rode a funny plane to Visby: an ATR 72-500. It’s a 1997 version of a French 1988 design with two propellers whose six blades curve rearwards. The rear undercarriage sits in bulky pods on the fuselage, right below the wings. Makes the plane look like it’s got a beer gut. And its cargo bay is right behind the cockpit! Pleasant ride though.

Neal Stephenson’s Subterranean Orgy Computer

i-5af72ea42f63ed1ac1b839434c847345-diamondage.jpgNeal Stephenson is an unusually inventive writer of historical and futuristic fiction. I have previously reviewed his 2008 novel Anathem here. And somehow I have now come to think of one of his weirdest ideas: the subterranean orgy computer in The Diamond Age.

This 1995 book bursts with far-out motifs and ideas, to the extent that I can’t say I really understood everything very well when reading it back then. I found the ending confusing and dissatisfying, possibly because I wasn’t entirely clued in to what happened or what it meant. But I did get this about the subterranean Drummer subculture. They’re a human computer cluster.

Every Drummer is infected with nanocomputers, microscopic smart particles that run code and talk to each other as well as to the bodily information networks of their host – importantly the brain. This overrides the host’s own consciousness, making each Drummer a mindless slave to their nanoparticles. Each one of them is in themself a walking computing cluster. Here’s when one of the novel’s main characters has been infected with the nano and enters a Drummer tunnel complex.

He could see the nanosites [nano parasites] in his skin. But for all he knew, he might have a million more living in his brain now, piggybacking on axons and dendrites, sending data to one another in flashes of light. A second brain intermingled with his own.

There was no reason that information could not be relayed from one such nanosite to another, through his body and outward to the nanosites in his skin, and from there across the darkness to others. What would happen when he came close to other people with similar infestations?

pp. 250-251, 1996 Bantam paperback edition

This suggests that whenever the nano in one Drummer wants to talk to those in other bodies, it can just blink its LEDs at them. But apparently this doesn’t provide enough bandwidth. So Stephenson introduces his computing orgy: the Drummers exchange nanites with each other by sexual intercourse. As punishment for a crime, our protagonist spends ten years semi-conscious in the Drummer tunnels, apparently crawling about and bonking whoever the nano deems appropriate. This is pretty risky, as the nano has severe cooling problems and fries hosts when the computation gets intense enough. Pretty silly in my opinion – why not just exchange saliva? – and it prompts a gratuitous mindless gang-bang scene that the novel would have been better without. But for better or worse, I must say that the Drummers are one of the most memorable motifs in this intriguing novel.

I Hate the Great Firewall

Here’s just short note to tell you, Dear Reader, that the Great Firewall of China is fucking annoying. I am unable to access Twitter, Facebook, any Blogspot blog and often most of Google’s services including Gmail.

Meanwhile, the Chinese populace is so closely keyed in to what’s happening in the West that girls in remote Qingtian are wearing exactly the same ultrashort denim shorts as their contemporaries in Stockholm this spring. But I guess the Great Firewall is intended to keep domestic dissidents from reaching an audience as much as or more than to keep the Chinese from learning about the outside world.

Somebody mentioned subscription proxy services. That’s what I would buy if I settled here for any longer period…

Recent Sb Flakiness Caused by DDoS Attacks

Dear Bloggers,

We have been forwarding reports from bloggers and users to our hosting service, Rackspace, over the past few days. After monitoring our traffic and these reports, Rackspace has determined that ScienceBlogs is experiencing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and has blocked a range of IP addresses involved. While this means that ScienceBlogs is now loading correctly for most users, the attack is still ongoing and other users may still encounter sporadic loading problems, or be blocked entirely if they were incorrectly included in these preventative measures.

We’re still working with Rackspace to determine how and why this has occurred, and to get the site 100% accessible again, but in the meantime, we’d like to collect IP addresses from users who are still experiencing problems. Please ask anyone who has brought this problem to your attention to send their IP address to If they have trouble locating their IP address, you can send them to this site:

Please also let us know if you are having any trouble accessing the backend of your blogs.

Wes Dodson

A Narrowed Social Horizon at Facebook

Here’s something Leif Häggström sent me on Facebook, originally apparently written by one Abby Smith.

Have you noticed that you are only seeing updates in your newsfeed from the same people lately? Have you also noticed that when you post things like status messages, photos and links, the same circle of people are commenting and everyone else seems to be ignoring you?

Don’t worry, everyone still loves you and nobody has intentionally blocked you. The problem is that a large chunk of your friend/fan list can’t see anything you post and here’s why:

The “New Facebook” has a newsfeed setting that by default is automatically set to show ONLY posts from people who you’ve recently interacted with or interacted the most with (which would be limited to the couple of weeks just before people started switching to the new profile). So in other words, for both business and personal pages, unless your friends/fans commented on one of your posts within those few weeks or vice versa – you are now invisible to them and they are invisible to you!!

HERE’S THE FIX: Scroll down to the bottom of the newsfeed on the homepage and click on “Edit Options”, click on “Show Posts From” and change the setting to “All Of Your Friends and Pages” Note: This is the fix for personal pages but I am unsure of whether or not the business pages are set up the same way.

Simply posting an update about it won’t do any good because lots of your friends/fans already can’t see your posts by default. You’ll either have to send out a message to everyone on your list (which I’m not even sure business pages can do and is a rather tedious method) or post an event explaining the situation like this one and invite your entire fan base and/or friend list. You can also tweet about it hoping that most of your fellow facebookers are also on twitter.

Wikileaks’ Non-Mountainous Non-Bunker


The current issue of Vanity Fair (#606, February 2011) has an interesting piece on the collaboration between Wikileaks, the Guardian and other old media. On page 110 we’re told that Wikileaks is “partly hosted on a server in Sweden that is lodged in a former nuclear bunker drilled deep inside the White Mountains”. This confused me for a moment, since there is no mountain range of that name in Sweden. Then I realised the journalist’s error and laughed.

The server plant alluded to in the article is indeed in an area known as Vita bergen, “the white mountains”. But it’s not a mountain range. It’s a low hill in central Stockholm. And the “former nuclear bunker” is one of the old bomb shelters cum garages excavated into the side of the Vita bergen hill. The place is easy to find, just take the bus to the Church of Sophia. In fact, a photograph of the facility’s entrance on page 58 of the magazine issue tells you its name: “Pionen – White Mountains“. Anybody can rent server space there.

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Eager For Better E-Book Deals


I’m eager to start reading more e-books. I rarely re-read books (except for work), and my friends rarely borrow paper ones from me, so I have little reason to hang on to paper books. E-books would be just the thing. But the prices aren’t any good. I either have to pay more for an e-book than what it costs me to order a paperback from England, or I can get it for free through illegal file sharing. It’s amazingly easy: just try googling a book’s title, your preferred file format and the name of a file sharing service like Hotfile or Megaupload.

I am well aware that I wouldn’t be supporting the authors I like if I downloaded pirated copies of their books. But on the other hand I can’t see why on-line book stores should expect me to pay more when they give me less. Ease and speed of access is a fine thing, but I am actually capable of ordering paper copies in advance to avoid finding myself bookless. If I do end up without anything to read, I can always get a public domain e-book from Feedbooks piped straight into my smartphone over wifi. In this manner, for instance, I recently enjoyed Mark Twain’s youth memoir, Roughing It.

An issue that I find weird and intriguing is how libraries should deal with e-books. Buying an e-book is legal, copying it for free from someone you don’t know is illegal, but copying it as a protected file with a library as intermediary is legal. Of course, you’re not actually “borrowing” anything as there is no limit to the number of copies of a file that a library can hand out. And Swedish libraries, though they were quick to begin “lending” e-books, don’t offer files for any of the most popular platforms on which people read them.

There’s also the issue of how public libraries should get at the files. Currently, in Sweden, they have an exclusive deal with an intermediary named Elib, which is owned by four major publishing houses. So instead of finding files promiscuously, wherever they may reside, for library users, libraries can only offer whatever Elib has. And only with copy protection. And only for not-very-popular platforms. When librarians could actually provide customers with much better service by simply asking “Have you googled the book’s title, your preferred file format and the name of a file sharing service like Hotfile or Megaupload?” I don’t understand why they would want to have an exclusive arrangement with anybody for e-books when they’ve never done so for paper books.

Now that books are no longer stuck in their paper medium, I can’t really see why I should involve a library, a physical repository, in getting books. Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t asked a librarian for help with selecting a book since I was a kid. My frequent interactions with librarians are always either to help me register a loan, or to get a book that I want out of the stacks, or for them to receive a book that I am donating to the library. It’s all about the low-level administration of paper books. I would never ask a librarian what I should read unless it was one of my friends whose taste I’m familiar with.

I want to buy unprotected e-books from on-line book stores for about half of what a paperback copy costs on-line. I don’t want to “borrow” the files, and I don’t want to pirate them. But nor do I want to get ripped off.

Here’s an interesting article in Swedish about e-books and public libraries. Thanks to Ellen Follin, librarian and chanteuse

And here‘s what sf writer Charlie Stross had to say about the future of e-books in May 2010. Thanks to Dear Reader SM for the tip-off.

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