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.

Continue reading Building a KML feed with YQL and coldfusion

Don’t let Mukhametkuli Aymuradov die in prison

Mukhametkuli Aymuradov is a 63-year-old businessman who was imprisoned in 1995 in Turkmenistan after an unfair trial. His family have been informed recently that he will be released on 2 May 2009. Amnesty International have asked that pressure be kept up on the Turkmenistan authorities to honour their promise to release him. He is in extremely poor health and his family are worried that he is being denied access to the medical care that he needs.

I’ve drafted a letter to President Berdymukhamedov welcoming the news of his release and calling on the authorities to ensure that he is released promptly on 2 May. Feel free to download the letter and send copies yourself. We will hopefully have copies for people to sign tomorrow night during our regular letter-writing at Greenwich Picturehouse.

21st March was also New Year, Nowrouz, in Central Asia. Please also consider sending a card expressing support to Mukhametkuli Aymuradov’s family.  Flower themes are most appropriate, with a message such as “we are thinking of you during the Nowrouz festivities”. Cards should be addressed to:
Mukhametkuli Aymuradovu
AH-K3 poselok Ovadan-depe
rayon Ovadan Depe


Wonderful news from Gitti Dunham, Amnesty’s coordinator for Central Asia. Mukhametkuli Aymuradov was released from prison on 2 May.

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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An open letter from Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov

Human rights activist Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov was released from prison in Uzbekistan in 2008. Blackheath & Greenwich Amnesty was one of the groups that wrote letters on his behalf. Saidjakhon has sent a letter of thanks to an Amnesty member in Scotland.  He wants us to publicize his letter so that others who have
also written letters and cards and petitions on his behalf know how grateful he is for their support and what a difference it has made. What follows is an unofficial translation of the Russian letter.

Open letter to Mr Angus MacEwan living in Lochinver, Scotland

You are the hero, not me

Dear Angus, this is a letter from human rights defender Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov from Uzbekistan, the one who after the Andijan events in May 2005, was jailed for disseminating information about those events.

You wrote two letters of solidarity to me. Being in prison, I could not reply to you and now I am able to reply to your letters, which I am doing with gratitude.
Continue reading An open letter from Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov

A flickr badge for Astronomy Photographer of the Year

After a discussion at work about promoting Astronomy Photographer of the Year, I had a look at Chris Heilmann’s unobtrusive flickr badge and hacked it very slightly to display the latest favourites from the competition.

View the Astronomy Photographer of the Year group on flickr.

If you would like to add a badge to your own pages, you will need the CSS file fjb.css and the slightly modified script fjb.js. Chris gives instructions for using the badge.The only change I’ve made is to add a parameter, feedUrl, to the settings at the beginning, which contains the full URL of the flickr feed that you want to display. If you want to change this to a different feed, remember you want the JSON feed, not RSS, so make sure the feed URL ends in format=json.

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.