Google Earth: The Globe is in My Hands

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The bygone decade has been a witness to many a technological marvels. A realization has come upon the human mankind, that anything worth a thought, is worth trying. They dreamt of flying, so we had an aero plane, they dreamt of communication, hence came the Internet. Talking of Internet, Google’s monopoly over the extant technology is not a new phenomenon. Google, powers the Internet with its popular search engine, which is used by most of the Internet users to find their way out in the World Wide Web. The term “to google” is now akin to surfing the Internet.

Google has been blessed with some of the brightest minds of the planet. Hence to watch Google extend its monopoly over a host of other Internet based technologies such as E-mail hosting, language translation services and Web acceleration doesn’t come as a surprise. In 2005, Google chartered into an unexplored territory i.e. satellite imagery services. In 2004, Google acquired a company called Keyhole Inc., which had developed a software called Earth Viewer 3D. Google later renamed it, as Google Earth.

Google Earth is a virtual globe, which maps the earth using three different technologies, satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D globe. The images obtained are then superimposed to give the high-definition and detailed pictures of our planet. It is available under three different licenses, Google Earth, with limited functionalities; Google Earth Plus, which was later discontinued; and Google Pro, the licensed version that comes at 400$ a year, mainly for commercial purposes. The product is available for PCs, running on Microsoft 2000 or above, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or above, Linux Kernel 2.4 or above. A browser plug-in for Google Earth was also released in 2008. A version for iPhone OS was also made available as a free download from any App Store. The web based mapping software from Google has been a revelation in the field of futuristic technologies.

The amazing tool has changed the way we see our planet, quite literally. With the capacity to show images from a height of 15000 ft to a mere 25 ft with shocking clarity, easily makes it one of the coolest applications of the modern era. Its importance in this era of seamless information has never been questioned; it is an intuitive technology for navigating global maps information. Best of all its features, it is totally Internet based and doesn’t require any download. It can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. We can toggle between maps, terrain, satellite, Street View modes to gain different perspectives of any desired location. The layered functionality of the software allows you to view various sites such as parks, schools, malls and many more.

We often shudder at the thought of studying geography. The subject which appears dull academically may be presented in a more visually appealing manner to be able to reach greater number of students. This is where Google Earth is being used by an ever increasing number of educators as a teaching aid. GE is fast becoming a pedagogical tool in classrooms. GE’s highly visual information is being incorporated in numerous lesson plans, from history to geography, social studies, economics etc. Students are a benefitted lot, now. They have an aerial view of any geographical site in their lessons; they can even create their own personalized maps on GE. Climatology, History, Archaeology, Earth Sciences all the “dry” subjects have become interesting again. Learning has never been such a fun.

Google Earth, software that uses high resolution satellite images of the entire planet to allow the user to get an incredible moving aerial view of our world, has stimulated some serious applications in archaeology–and seriously good fun for fans of archaeology. On the one hand, an amazing archaeological discovery was made using Google Earth when scientists saw a huge V shape clearly visible in the Welsh river of Teifi, near Cardigan. The unusual anomaly in the water was explored by divers who found that it was a fish trapping device installed in the river over 1,000 years ago. The 853 foot (260m) trap was artificially created using quarried rock. Dr Ziggy Otto, a marine expert said: “Its age is unknown but because of its now entirely sub-tidal position this fish trap is very old, possible dating back more than 1,000 years, when the sea level was lower,”

Google Earth, since its inception has made some pretty amazing discoveries. In 2007, Google Earth discovered a rather unfortunate building design which has since become known as the Secret Swastika. The Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in San Diego was built unwittingly in 1967 in the iconic shape which symbolized the Nazi regime. The American Navy spent a princely amount to rectify the shape of the building with extensions that would hide the architect’s obvious oversights. A spokesman was reported saying: “We don’t want to be associated with something as symbolic and hateful as a swastika”.

Google Earth has had its share of controversies too. The world security agencies alleged that the terrorists were using GE to plan their attacks on various countries. The recent one involving the Indian authorities, where Google was asked to fuzz the photographs of key nuclear and government installations, which they thought was a threat to national security. The Indian officials later cooled down, when informed that the images were not real time, and dated back to at least two years. Google has recently got into trouble with its new Google Earth layers in Japan. Although they’re not providing any new information that wasn’t already out there, the “power of the Google” has brought on a fresh controversy.

It’s not about the technology; it’s about our ignorance regarding the technology. As they say, we fear what we don’t understand. People feared intrusion upon their privacy, just because GE provided such high-quality images, with amazing clarity. It was absurd, as was proved later.

Technology is like a double-edged sword. Put it in right hands, they will protect you, or else you would be placing yourself in mortal danger. The 26/11 attacks in Mumbai proved that terror has great access to technology. That doesn’t mean that we stop producing newer technologies, just fearing that they will be used against us. We have to make sure that they don’t fall into wrong hands.

Till then its thumbs up for Google Earth!!

Manas Ranjan

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jacobian/368401445/]

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