Behind The Site

Pulling together disparate data from multiple sources and putting a new spin on it is a challenging project. The way such a project starts is the realization that there is a vast sea of information that you know is ‘out there,’ but your vision to it is limited, or you just don’t understand it. You know that you could use this information to inform and notify others, if it was presented in a manner that is easily digested.

When I first looked at the data we had downloaded from Wichita and Sedgwick county, it was obvious that the fundamentals of what we wanted to do with goPLAYkansas were there, but it was in a format that most people would not understand.

Parks were made up of points (latitude and longitude) and there were points within those parks representing amenities. In some cases these amenities were obviously tied to activities like softball and baseball.

Where are the trails?

There is another set of data points that represents all the sidewalks, and trails in Sedgwick county.

This data, of the parks and the trails, is held in a special geo-spatial format. A format that is not compatible with the types of database servers available to web designers on hosting providers. It is a special format that the guys into such things have developed to make things like your car GPS possible. Most of us are all familiar with the most popular type of search perfromed on this data: “What is the shortest distance between two points.”

Since this type of search has become common place, the leading web database, MySQL, now includes geo-spatial functions. Like any good file format, however, there are different versions from different systems. The geo-spatial format for our current version of MySQL may, or may not, be the same version or format that the geo-spatial guys are using today. Just like MS Office documents, one version is not always compatible with another.

Our first hurdle was to convert the data into a format the database system on our hosting provider would understand.

Now that we had the data, what can MySQL do with it? After many hours of frustration and Internet searches with Dogpile we realized that our version of MySQL did not support the most common search, a distance between two points. Another Dogpile search reveals that we are not the only ones beating our heads against this limitation, and bird watchers have the solution. A fancy trigo-geo-something-or-other-function that you can apply to latitude and longitude points, (in plain text, not geo-spatial format) to get a distance between points. Best of all it was designed for MySQL.

With the distance calculation in hand we had a pretty good web site. You could find the closest parks from your starting point. You could find the type of amenities in the park, and with some data massaging, the type of activities the park supported.

But where are the trails?

We had to find a way to associate trail data (that included city sidewalks) to the parks. Thankfully, our version of MySQL supported the Intersect function on geo-spatial data. Intersect told us where all the trail points intersected with all the park points. With that query we were able to generate a new lookup that puts trails in our near the parks. Scripts were written to create those tables, so we know what steps to take as we collect data from the rest of the state.

goPLAYkansas is one of those new breed of websites that uses data and information from around the web to create a new look at the vast sea of information that is ‘out there.’ It makes full use of modern web browsers, especially the Javascript programming language. goPLAYkansas works best with an updated Internet browser that has a fast Javascript engine. If you are still slugging along with Internet Explorer 6 or 7 you may find the website sluggish, especially with parks that have odd shapes and lots of amenities or trails. Upgrading to Internet Explorer 8, or the latest version of Firefox or Safari will ensure that you have a fast Javascript engine and give you the best experience.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Recreation Alliance, Technology, Visioneering Wichita. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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