Simon S


Simon S is the programmer behind the field guide app.


July Already?

6 July, 2011 14:24 by Simon S

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams

It's July, which means that the end of June has whooshed by. By rights, there should be a link to shiny open source Field Guide code right here. In this very spot. You may have noticed that there's not. I'm afraid its going to take a couple of more weeks. In the meantime, we'll be putting up some more posts so that you can hit the ground running when that link appears.

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Keep Plucking Chickens

8 June, 2011 15:29 by Simon S

In high school, I bucked the normal Maths/Science stream by studying French instead of Biology (yeah, I’m a rebel). So I spent my evenings memorising the past imperfect conjugations of irregular verbs rather than Linnaean classification systems. Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and while I still haven’t been to France to wrestle with verbs that need more fibre in their diet, I have spent a lot of time in meetings talking about how Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species should be displayed in the Field Guide.

When animals are shown in the listing or the search results, you see the thumbnail on the left, common name in bold and scientific nomenclature subtitle.

Screenshot from the Field GuideScreenshot from the Field Guide
Source: Museum Victoria

The subtitle is created and formatted using the taxonomic data entered for the animal. Genus and species names are always displayed in italics. Of course, you may not need to have a species or genus name for a particular animal. A fresh water pond may have dozens of different examples of Copepoda, but your average explorer is unlikely to have a microscope handy to tease them into their different genera.

The logic for creating the subtitle starts with species and works its way back up the taxonomic ranks. In the sample listing, the Yabby has an entry for Genus and Species and the subtitle becomes the full scientific name (e.g. Cherax destructor). The Spiny Crayfish only has an entry for Genus, so Euastacus sp becomes the subtitle. The Cyclops Copepod doesn’t have an entry for Genus, so the subtitle is created using the lowest taxonomic rank there is an entry for, Order. With the value, Copepoda, and Order: Copepoda becomes the subtitle.

And that’s how the taxonomic information about an animal gets converted into its scientific name within the Field Guide code. If you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s the start of a good mnemonic for the order of the Linnaean ranks: Keep Plucking Chickens Or Face Getting Sacked.

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Sounds and Pictures

31 May, 2011 10:48 by Simon S

Most of the information youre going to store about an animal will be simple strings. Images and sounds are the exceptions. Each image and each sound requires two pieces of information: a filename and a credit.

For images, the credit is shown in the bottom right corner of the image panel.

Closeup of image credit

For sounds, the credit is listed in the audio popover.

Closeup of audio credit

The filename for each image and audio file you use in the app should be unique.

When youre sourcing your images and sounds, get the largest, highest quality file that you can. Currently, the maximum size of an image on the app is 1024 pixels square. As memory, processor power and screen resolution of these devices increase, so will the maximum size of the image. Scaling an image down is easy, scaling up an image isn't except on television shows.

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Content is King

23 May, 2011 10:16 by Simon S

In the last post, I said that content was the star of the show. So what information can the field guide display about an animal? There are a few details for each animal that are mandatory. Each animal needs

  • at least one common name,
  • a square thumbnail image,
  • either a phylum, class, order, family or genus, and
  • to be in a taxon

The set of taxon values forms the top level list in the app. The taxon values in MV’s field guide are Birds, Butterflies, Fishes, etc, but you can define your own list. If your guide is only going to include frogs and toads, then your taxon list could be Burrowing Frogs, Froglets, Toadlets, etc.

These fields are required because they are the ones that are used to create the listings.  Every other field is optional. Okay, you probably should have at least one display image for each animal, but apart from that you can use the other fields, or not, at your pleasure.  Here's the full list of fields:

  • Identifier (e.g. catalog id)
  • Common Names
  • Taxon (informal name used as a navigational element, e.g. "Birds")
  • Subtaxon (informal name used as a navigation element, e.g. "Herons")
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species
  • Square Thumbnail Image
  • Distinctive Markings
  • Identifying Characteristics
  • Biology
  • Habitat
  • Native Status
  • Distribution Map
  • Distribution Description
  • Audio Files
  • Image Files
  • Local Conservation Status
  • National Conservation Status
  • International Conservation Status


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And so it begins

18 May, 2011 12:00 by Simon S

When we released Museum Victoria’s Field Guide back at the start of March, we stated that we’d be releasing the code under an open source license. So where is it? Well, the code needs a bit of a tidy up. There’s a lot of unused code to be pruned, along with a few short cuts and gravel roads that need to be paved.

The reason for the polish and the roadworks is to give you code that allows you to add your data, compile and have something that looks as good as MV’s Field Guide (even if I do say so myself), no code tweaking involved. Don’t get too focused on the code though, it’s not the droid you’re looking for.

The real star of the field guide is not the code, it’s the content. Even if we released the code tomorrow, it would take you a while to get your data, images, audio, icons, templates and splash screens together. That’s the purpose of this blog, to go through all the things that you’ll need to have to hand to publish your field guide when the code is released.

We’ll be blogging once or twice a week between now and when the code is published. Every comment gets read, so if you have any suggestions, or if you run into roadblocks and need answers, let us know.

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About this blog

We've released the source code for MV's Field Guide Project under a MIT style license. This blog will help you identify all the material you need to collect so that you can publish a field guide of your own.

MV's Open Sourced Code on Github

View all Museum Victoria's apps

Blog authors

Simon S is the programmer behind the field guide app.

Simon O is the designer behind the field guide app.