Monday, August 06, 2007

Google Earth a Real Eye Opener

Ever since I was a little kid I have been fascinated with maps. The arrival of the National Geographic Magazine was always a favorite time of the month because the magazine almost always had inserted within its shiny pages a new map of some exotic part of the globe. I vividly remember (because it is now mounted and framed in our family room) the LandSat® rendering of the United States published by National Geographic in the mid 1970s. Wow, an actual picture of our planet from space.
Before setting out on a vacation, I would spend hours pouring over maps of the intended destinations, studying the names of towns and other points of interest. When I began hiking in Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I quickly learned that topographic maps would help me select the easiest trails.
Google Earth takes mapping to a whole new level. This free service seamlessly integrates satellite imagery, high altitude aircraft photography and computer animation with a high powered database to provide a detailed aerial look at the world from as far away as outer space or as close as a few hundred feet above the ground.
Most likely you have already seen some of the Google maps on the TV news as most local and national news organizations use a commercial version of this software to help identify specific locations mentioned on air in the newscasts.
Using the Google Earth software on your home computer you can superimpose highways and roads on the screen. You can show locations of schools and municipal buildings. You can even “fly over” tourist locations like the Eifel Tower in Paris or the Great Wall in China. You can use it for directions like MapQuest® or locate specific locations based on latitude and longitude coordinates.
Some of the areas of the globe are rendered with very fine detail so that you can see your neighbor’s roof, car in the driveway and back yard pool. Other areas appear with less detailed. Some of the more sensitive areas, e.g. Washington , DC, are purposely kept less detailed in order to foil any unseemly use of the information.
To use Google Earth you must have a computer and high speed Internet connection. While there is no charge for the software, you must download it from Google. The process is easy and only needs to be done once. c.f. ( )
Some new GPS systems allow you to download information from a car or bike trip to Google Earth and the computer will retrace your route on the maps displayed. That has got to be a “cool factor” of 10.
I do have one warning …GOOGLE EARTH IS ADDICTIVE! You can spend hours looking at your old neighborhood or the route of last year’s vacation. It is also very educational as it can introduce kids to the concepts of longitude and latitude, topography and basic geography.

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