Building a KML feed with YQL and coldfusion

4 views of Comet Lulin, originally uploaded by eat your greens.

Following on from my javascript photo browser, for viewing astronomy photos in Google sky, I’ve written a feed to display Astronomy Photographer of the Year (APY) photos in Google Earth. The address is That link should open in Google Earth. If it doesn’t, add it manually in Google Earth via ‘Add > Network Link’ (some browsers save the KML feed rather than opening it).

If you’re interested in seeing how the feed is generated, have a look at the source code. I’ll also go through the code here to try and explain how it works. I’ve written it in coldfusion, but it should be straightforward to rewrite in any other server-side language.

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Ada Lovelace Day – Prof. Linda S. Sparke

A couple of months ago, I signed the following pledge over at

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

Well, more than 1,500 people signed up to do the same, so this post is dedicated to Linda Sparke. Why do I admire Linda? Well, firstly, she studies gravitational dynamics, building computer models of the structure and motion of entire galaxies. In fact, she wrote the undergrad textbook on galactic dynamics. Secondly, she also currently dominates the first page of Google for “remarkable warped and twisted”, which I think is an admirable achievement all by itself. Finally, what’s not to admire about someone whose contact details say “knock three times and give the password: F = G m1 m2/ r2“?

On a more personal note, back in 1989 I answered a note from Linda on the noticeboard in the Physics Department at Manchester University inviting final year students to apply for the PhD program in Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Consequently I spent 6 years in the UW-Madison Astronomy department, studying and working with some lovely people, including Linda, and eventually got my own PhD. So thanks Linda! May you continue to inspire people to study astronomy for years to come.

Mapping the sky with YQL and

Machine tags and Google Sky, originally uploaded by eat your greens.

Astronomy photographer of the year has been open for a couple of months now, and the astrophoto Flickr group has a few hundred photos now. The amazing bot has been scanning the group and about 70 photos have been tagged with their celestial coordinates, using astro: machine tags.

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Opening up data with YQL

Recently I’ve been following Chris Heilmann’s enthusiastic posts about Yahoo! Query Language (YQL). Chris has also written a good introduction to YQL for developers. It’s a SQL-like language for getting data out of open web services. Sort of a single syntax for interacting with a variety of services, such as the APIs for flickr, upcoming or twitter, without needing to know a lot of the detail of those individual services. One of its features is open data tables, which allows you to describe your own web services using a simple XML syntax, not unlike OpenSearch.

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Astronomy photographer of the year

Astronomy photographer of the year launched today. This is a collaboration between the Royal Observatory Greenwich (my employers), Sky at Night magazine and Flickr. It’s been keeping me busy for the last few weeks, mostly getting my head around the Flickr Authentication API so that I could build the entry form. There’s a Flickr group from which photos can be entered for the competition, via the form that I built on the Maritime Museum website.

The most interesting bit, from my point of view, is our collaboration with the amazing work done by the guys at Their robot will scan photos in the group, derive astrometric data (coordinates of the centre, orientation, angular extent and names of objects in the field) and then save that data as machine tags on each photo. The machine tags are all in the astro: namespace. There’s a brief overview of the tags on the web site. I’ve also scribbled some notes on how the machine tags might be used. I’d be really interested to hear what ideas other people have for the applications of this sort of data.

First steps with WAI-ARIA

On the line, originally uploaded by eat your greens.

The National Maritime Museum launched a podcast this summer. It’s called On the line and publishes monthly talks relating to the museum, the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House. Transcripts for each talk are provided by Casting Words – see Bruce Lawson’s blog for discussion of how great they are. I did the front-end development for the site, building it as a blog using Movable Type Open Source with the podcasting plugin. I also used WAI-ARIA in my markup for the first time. If you aren’t familiar with ARIA, I’d recommend taking a moment to follow the previous link and read Gez Lemon’s excellent introduction to the subject. ARIA is currently in ‘Working Draft’ status, but Bruce Lawson points out that it’s already supported in browsers and the W3C are encouraging authors to use it.

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This is not a photograph

This is geeky navel gazing, but, courtesy of flickr stats, here’s what people have typed into google in order to find my flickr photos, by order of popularity. Note that Daisy is more popular than tits!

  1. staffy cross jack russell
  2. tits too small
  3. facebook tits
  4. my tits
  5. stardust cover
  6. jack russell cross staffy

Does this mean more people are searching for pictures of Patrick Lauke than pictures of ladies’ breasts?