Random musings from the front line (well, more like the support trench, or perhaps the castle 10 miles away, supping Chateau Lafite with the General Staff) in the battle for curiosity, inertia, grammar and a Dachshund called Colin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Googling the Earth

CLICK HERE for full size picture of my Dad's house - as seen from spaceToday is only the 7th anniversary of the founding of Google, that appears to be so succesful because (unlike other search engines), the front page of the website is purely dedicated to ... er .... searching the internet. Unlike Lycos it doesn't try and get you laid (Love at Lycos- what the ranting idiots at the Daily Mail called "Adultery.com"!), unlike Yahoo it doesn't offer pop-up-plagued web hosting, and unlike MSN, it doesn't try and take over your entire computer. However, behind the front page, Google has expanded to now offer email (Gmail), shopping (Froogle - geddit?), news feeds, blogging (er - Blogger), picture sharing (Picasa or Hello) and much more. BUT. There's now a new way to waste hours and hours online that I've just been introduced to. And I'm terribly sorry if you all know about it already. Yes, dear reader, I today found the delight, the wonder, the amazing resource that is... Google Earth.

Although it's only a Beta version at the moment, there's pretty much full functionality of the free version and it provides a half decent coverage of the land (rather than oceanic) parts of the planet. After downloading the program, and connecting to the internet, anywhere you choose (ie your house - as that's where everyone looks at first) can be located, zoomed into and examined. Most parts of the USA are incredibly detailed, as are major cities of the world, and most large European towns. In the bits in between, you can identify roads and groups of houses, although the overall effect is rather blurry (like a drunken airliner passenger looking out of the window). And the residents of Guildford have really drawn the short straw, as it was cloudy on the day when the satellite was allocated that particular patch of Southern England, and all you can see is a 100 square mile expanse of cloud tops!

Gibraltar with no labelling

Gibraltar with 'Keyhole' labelling selected

Nevertheless, it's still a very impressive program, as can be seen from the example in the top image. The picture is of a house in the USA, chosen not-quite-at-random, and you can clearly make out a white car in the driveway, a small swimming pool, balconies, gardens, nearby golf greens etc. And that was taken from miles above the surface, using civilian technology - just IMAGINE what the military versions can see. Google don't specify when exactly any given image was taken other than "within the past year or two", but my cursory examination of the Spinnaker Tower image shows it was taken in the last 6 months - probably around Easter.

Being Google (and therefore very fluffy), anyone can contribute towards the labelling of the various points of interest around the globe, using a bulletin board system (called Keyhole BBS). Completely unregulated and uneditable, unfortunately this can actually be a bit hit and miss, as the two images of Gibraltar (side by side above) demonstrate. In popular and interesting areas, images are completely swamped with information, some of which can be useful, but lots of which are not, and various parts of which are downright misleading. In the Falklands, for example, the islands are swamped with Argentinean propaganda slogans and placenames (Port Stanley is renamed Puerto Argentina, for example), and several random US desert airstrips are "positively" identified as being the mythical Area 51. As if the US Government would allow THAT to be displayed!

A Royal Naval frigate. The sailors on which are probably dressed as women, running up The Rock As you might imagine, all sorts of obsessives and conspiracy cranks inhabit the BBS discussions about Google Earth, and the "Military" board is particularly fun to read. However, the truth is that although the images of various air stations, naval bases and army camps are militarily useless, they are very interesting to look at if you are into that sort of thing, and it's amazing what you can find if you know where to look. So, in case you give a damn (which I doubt), if you zoom into the picture of Gibraltar, alongside the southern-most breakwater is a British Type 23 Frigate, with generators running (exhaust smoke, so no shore-supplied power connected) but not going anywhere soon (large gangway leading to the Flight Deck at the back). James Bond, eat your heart out!

13 Rants & Replies:

Blogger garfer said...

Given the number of jets buzzing about up here, I'm sure they've got a shot of me peeing in a bush while pissed.
I'm still waiting for the Fujitsu Siemens cable monkeys to finish their work. Next month, the delights of broadband will be mine.

8:01 pm, September 28, 2005

Blogger Steve said...

Ah yes, Google Earth. Working in IT and thus surrounded by geeks all day, I confess that when this was first downloaded in the department, we lost half a day of productivity.

Even the boss stood there open-mouthed.

I like the shot of the frigate - that's pretty cool.

10:48 pm, September 29, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

garfer - that's a whole new website - "Google Pub Closing Time", where the entire UK CCTV network is seamlessly integrated between 11pm and 2am for the amusement of teetotal voyeurs. Do I win £5?

Steve - welcome! Not particularly able to measure "productivity" in my job, I can still concur in the wow-factor of the program. I did nothing all day last week other than zoom into my family/friends/enemies houses. And then pretended I was bombing them from space. Maybe I should get out more...

10:53 am, September 30, 2005

Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Sheeesh. Daaaammmmit. I was supposed to be WORKING today...

Did you check out New York, with 'buildings' enabled?


3:50 pm, September 30, 2005

Blogger Mister Whiskers said...

Errm... um. Am I the only one to find this all a little bit creepy? I don't want Google satellites peering down at me when I'm trying to pollinate flowers...

with my COCK

2:05 am, October 01, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Mark - No I hadn't - wow! When you're doing that, did you use the "Tilt" facility to then fly through the buildings horizontally?

Mr W - er .... OK. But as there's only one photo of a given area you'd either have to have an enormous flower, or a huge rooster with which to peck at it. AMazing what chickens can do now...

1:46 pm, October 01, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Google Earth Reveals Giant Genetically-Modified Chicken Experiment - Exclusive Pictures!

6:28 pm, October 01, 2005

Blogger Bud Wiser said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:17 am, October 02, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Does Google Earth have a feature that lets you drop bombs on the Land of the Cingular Ringtone?

3:48 pm, October 02, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

If only. Although I've now deleted the post, so no-one knows what you're talking about, Miss P. Apart from me, and Mr Cingular Ringtone of 334 Spam Avenue, Detroit.

7:07 am, October 03, 2005

Blogger patroclus said...

Merkin, I kind of imagine you as living a James Bond-type lifestyle, which obviously doesn't leave you a lot of time for blogging. But just for the record, you don't post nearly enough for my liking. More please!

9:48 pm, October 04, 2005

Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Merkin - curse you dammit. I haven't been able to put Google Earth down since you told us about it. Yes, I tilted as I flew through through New York. Though I was a bit disappointed that they don't seem to have got round to the streets at the top of Manhattan Island. Yes, I flew over Tierra Del Fuego, figuring that was probably the closest I was ever likely to get to it in this life. Yes, I examined my house, and my previous house, and my mother's house which is rather sadly low-res still. I have to report that the day they did North Herts the weather was brilliant. Ditto half of RAF Lakenheath. You can actually see jet fighters on the ground.

All of which raises a few questions. Don't the military have anything to say about this?

8:57 am, October 05, 2005

Blogger Merkin said...

Patroclus - I know I know - sorry. No internet-capable computer access at work, which is where I have been for the last week, staying in grotty hotels at night, missing my access to the Blogosphere. If only my employers could afford laptops, or BlackBerry, or non-grotty hotels. Sigh.... Anyway, normal service will be resumed just as soon as I open a week's worth of junk emails, letters, curry menus and bills.

Mark - the way I see it is that the pictures on Google Earth are useless because they are deliberately non-time-dated, and are nowhere near detailed enough to identify anything secret. However, if you look at Faslane Naval Base you can see that the UK government has obviously asked for the water of the Loch to be pixellated, as you can see nothing of any interest, although the land part of the base is very detailed. I wonder why....

5:02 pm, October 05, 2005


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