Saturday, April 22, 2006

House hunting...

Recently we decided to get into the house hunting game -- this time it was to buy rather than rent. Being 2006, the starting point in Australia is pretty much Realestate and Both great in their own right -- but unfortunately the biggest draw back was I found both user interfaces very limiting -- and almost designed to ensure that you spend as much time as possible on their sites and find as little as possible. I guess they make money by selling ads.

I searched around to see if there would be some nice API, with documentation to help me get to data that would interest me. Sadly, the businesses that operate these sites do not provide such access - so, I ended up hacking up a script that screen scapped the data I was interested in and then pumped out a single page with all of the properties that matched by criteria with just the information I wanted.

Now for the next problem -- I wanted to get a map, and a map that actually indicated which direction the plot was facing. Realestate guys use UBD, this draws a big fat circle to indicate the address -- but nothing much else. Victorian Land Office does have wonderful information including the plot size, the direction it is facing and a whole bunch of other useful information -- but this is on yet another site. Surprise, surprise -- no easy to access API for these website.

The good news was that Street-Directory, did provide a map with an indication of the direction the land was facing, but still no details on the size. Realestate agents provide a vauge (mostly positive) snippet about the house -- pretty much in marketing speech. So I modified my screen scapper to plug into Street-Directory maps to get the additional information. During this experiment I also found out that Microsoft Maps provide street level maps for Australia, with documentation that tells one how to get the map -- with one catch, you cannot take the image it splits out, you actually need to hook into the page it generates.

So, current status:
* A hacked up script that gets useful information from RealEstate and Street-Directory all on a single page.

Wish list:
* A web API for RealEstate and Domain (even it is a WSDL ~ I'll accept it, with regret)
* A document from Street-Directory about their API, I've worked out most of the keys
* An API that opens up the Victorian Land Data
* The API that provides the planning permits/house details from the local council

Just incase you are wondering about privacy issues, all of this is currently available for free -- just from 4 different websites, which at their own discretion may change the look and feel of their applications breaking my scripts. And if the fee is nominal, I would even pay to use this API.

I never did understand the power of Mashups, Web-Service .. until now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Clean up whtieboard photos..

Scanr takes any photos taken using a mobile phone (or) digital camera of the whiteboard and then cleans it up + provides a more useful JPG. They even have a version that can do some OCR given a good quality photo of a printed-document.

For the last few years, I have been pushing the Agile practice of creating models on the whiteboard - till we start writing code. The only pain was that previously the photos were mostly posted directled as taken by the camera. However, I have always felt the need for a solution that would just clean up these pictures by applying some basic image filters on it.

It seems simple enought to use, but I do not know their business model and how they plan to survive -- so let us hope for the best.

-- Rajesh