Thoughts on web development, tech, and life.

Month: March 2007

Has it really been five years already??

My Stanford class book pageI can’t believe it, but Stanford is already telling me to get ready for my five-year college reunion this fall. Five years–that’s as long as I was in college (including my Master’s degree) but this five years sure went by a lot faster than the previous five! Then again, I just passed my five-year anniversary at Plaxo (the math is a bit funny because I started working at Plaxo before I finished my MS, which btw is not advisable for one’s sanity).

Anyway as part of the reunion they asked everyone to make a page for a “class book” that they’ll be distributing. It’s a one-pager where you share some of you Stanford memories and give an update on your life since graduating. I think they expected most people to draw their class book page by hand and snail-mail it in or use their web-based pseudo-WYSIWIG editor, but I wanted a bit more control. So I downloaded the template PDF and opened it in Adobe Illustrator, which converted it to line-art (wow–product compatibility, who knew?!). Then I was able to add the type and graphics in Illustrator and save the final copy back out to a PDF.

For me, life since Stanford meant three things: doing NLP research (this is the reunion for my undergrad class), working at Plaxo, and getting married. As scary as it is to consider that five years have gone by already, when I actually stop to think of all the wonderful things that have happened since then, I consider myself extremely fortunate. I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I could really use another five years like this one!

One quick technical note: Since I embedded lots of photos in my class book page at their original resolution (I just scaled them down in Illustrator so they would still print at high quality), the file ended up being almost 200MB. When I first exported it as a PDF, I kept all the default options, including “preserve Illustrator editing capabilities” and the resulting PDF was 140MB. Clearly I could not e-mail this to Stanford nor post it on my web site. So I tried again, unchecked the Illustrator option, and also went into the compression settings and told it to use JPEG for the color images (which of course the originals were, but the default PDF option is to use 8-bit ZIP). This made a huge difference and the PDF was only 3MB but still high resolution. I also tried the compression option “Average downsampling at 300 dpi” for color images, but that essentially took out all the resolution in the images, so as soon as you magnified the document at all, they were very pixelated (looked more like 72 dpi to me). Apparently just telling it to use JPEG with the original images is plenty.

Handling GeoCoding Errors From Yahoo Maps

One of the best features of Yahoo’s AJAX Maps API is its ability to geo-code full-text mailing addresses into lat/long on-the-fly, so you can say for instance “draw a map of 1300 Crittenden Lane, Mountain View, CA 94043“. (By now, Google and MSFT also offer geocoding, but Yahoo had it way earlier because they embraced JSON-P at a time when everyone else was still scratching their heads).

Yahoo does a pretty good job of geocoding addresses even if the format is a bit weird or some the info is missing, but of course they can’t always figure it out, especially if the address is garbage to start with. Their API indicates (somewhat cryptically) that you can capture an event when geocoding completes, but they don’t tell you what data you get or how to deal with it. Since there doesn’t appear to be much discussion of this on the Internets, I thought I’d provide the answer here for the record.

When creating a YMap, you can register a callback function to get triggered every time geocoding completes, like so:

var map = new YMap( ”¦ );
YEvent.Capture(map, EventsList.onEndGeoCode, myCallback);
function myCallback(resultObj) { ”¦ }

Yahoo’s API claims that you can also pass an optional private context object, but as far as I can tell they never send it back to you. Of course you can always use a closure around your callback function to achieve the same thing.

Now for the part they don’t tell you: your callback is called with a single resultObj argument. You can figure out the contents of this argument by just writing your callback function to take an argument and then writing console.dir(resultObj) to print out its full nested structure in the unbelievably useful Firebug (Joe, you’re my hero!). Here’s what you’ll see:

var resultObj = {
  success: 1, /* 1 for success, 0 for failure */
  /* Original address you tried to geo-code */
  Address: “1300 Crittenden Lane Mountain View, CA 94043”³,
  GeoPoint: {
    /* This is a YGeoPoint, which also has a bunch of functions you can call */
    Lat: 37.424663,
    Long: -122.07248
  ThisMap: { /* reference to the YMap */ }

So in your callback function you just test for resultObj.success, and if the geocoding failed, you can show an appropriate error message.

One trick I found for showing an error message is that you can embed a hidden div with an error message inside the map-holder div you pass to the YMap constructor, and YMap won’t get rid of it. If you use absolute positioning and give it a z-index, you can then show it when geocoding fails and get a nice “Map not available” right where the map would normally be.

Here’s a working example of handling geocoding and showing an error message. Thanks Yahoo! for the great API, and hopefully some of this info will find its way into the next rev of your API docs. :)

PS: Special thanks to Mark Jen for finding me a decent code-writing plug-in for Windows Live Writer! Boy did I struggle with getting WordPress not to mangle my code in the eval post!

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