Mark vs Cancer

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Planet Erf

"It's just an inch from me to you, depending on which map you use."--Jewel

Maps, like telephones, have always fascinated me. I've been known to stare at a road atlas for hours with no particular objective, just for entertainment. Museum exhibits with maps are invariably my favorites. My wife gave me an atlas for my birthday a few years ago because she couldn't figure out what else I would like and knew a map would be a surefire winner.

It's something I can't explain, but maps allow me to place myself somewhere in the here and now, to feel like my future destinations are something known to someone. Maybe I'm somewhat of an agoraphobe, but maps serve as a comforting anchor point in the otherwise frightening vastness of the universe. "It's okay," my inner child says, "Somebody's already mapped this out . . ."

So it's no wonder I love Google Earth. (Or as my son says, "Google Erf.") If you've never spent an hour surfing through this virtual world at supersonic speed, touring actual satellite images of every important structure you've ever been in or every mountain you've ever climbed, then you're missing out an exhilarating experience, and your life is the lesser for it.

The effect of Google Earth is dizzying. The opening screen starts with a panned out image of the whole planet. Type in any destination, and then watch the earth automatically rotate towards you and seamlessly zoom, zoom, zoom through the atmosphere until an image from a satellite reveals the round, blue baby pool in your backyard and your silver truck parked out front.

Go to the Grand Teton and tilt the image so that you are looking at the same looming facade that Ansel Adams captured a hundred years ago, and then rotate wildly around it to catch its every contour from every angle. Zoom in and the pan around to track the exact route you will be climbing this summer.

Go to the new home your hoping to buy and check if the neighborhood has got sidewalks, how big the trees are, if the backyard is landscaped, whether it's got a covered porch or room for a garden.

The images aren't real-time, but they are vividly detailed, and the real magic is in the program's seamlessness. There is no choppiness, only a smooth ride around the globe on your very own Google magic carpet. Go to Brazil, Russia, Africa, China, Iraq--but be aware that the army has blurred the images over militarily sensitive areas due to their extreme accuracy.

So if you haven't already, go download Google Earth. It's free. Check it out for an hour and see if, by the time you're done you don't think the world is just a little bit smaller, a little more personal, and little more precious. Maybe you'll even want to give your tree a hug, your neighbor a cookie, and your distant friends a phone call.

It's a small world, after all. Happy Earth Day!

5 comments:

Goose said...

I also love to stare at maps and I have spent some time on google earth. It is amazing how much it covers of the earth, it doesn't cover everything. Try Bo, Sierra Leone and it comes up with nothing really. With that said though it has Accra Ghana pretty good and everywhere in the USA. Maybe that is what I will do next time I have a little down time.

Danalin said...

I think that all Fosters love maps...am I right? Tyler is also a big fan of Google Earth and I have looked at some of the images he's pulled up, but I have to admit that I do not share the love maps. You've made me want to check out Google Earth, though, and maybe that's a start for a blossoming desire to know a little more about this world in which we live and how to get around within it.

Tankfos said...

I love google earth. I blows my mind! I haven't spent a lot time looking but it seems to me that you never see people in any of the pictures. Have they been edited out or are they just too small to see. I love it!

Matthew said...

Wendi will tell you that I am a Google Earth fanatic, and can spend hours poking around. It really gives you a sense of scale.

You can mark stuff you find. For instance, I have a place mark for nearly every place I have ever lived, and many for places I've hiked or traveled to.

I guess this love of maps IS a Foster thing, judging by the comments! If you like maps then Google Earth is heaven.

Dad said...

I too love Google Earth. It is amazing technology. Don't know how they do it but it blows me away. the pics are somewhat outdated I have found....sometimes as much as a year or more. Still it beats anything else out there and is quite useful adn really more fun than anything. I have even used it to find substations I had to go to and the equipment in the sub. Amazing!!

I wonder if the CIA knows about this.....or better yet if the Russkies know about it, or better yet the Chineses. Shhhhh don't tell them.

Dad