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home : columnists : columnists
January 21, 2020

7/30/2015 11:22:00 AM
Just Saying . . .: 10 Years of Google Earth
by Tom Sadowski

So, have you given Google Earth a try? A lot of people have. It's a computer program that allows you to zoom in on an aerial view of almost any part of our globe, and it's been downloaded more than a billion times. We aren't talking about people viewing it a billion times but downloading the ability to view whatever they want to see that Google Earth provides as many times as they want. That means it's more popular than "Gangnam Style" and, yes, even "Grand Theft Auto."

It's been around for 10 years and it might be time for a look, now that you've come out of that years-long coma. From your home desktop you can view the places that are or were important to you. It's all there: your old high school, the church camp your parents forced you to attend, your college campus, military base, your old house in Detroit if it's still standing (I don't mean your house, I mean Detroit), and let's not forget the prison farm from those "missing years."

It's simple to find a location and then calculate how far it is to the nearest church or liquor store, as you can easily switch between Google Earth and Google Maps, which has a good many establishments pinpointed.

Directly from the screen, measurements can be made of anything on the earth's surface. Maps can be drawn and routes planned. The program is rich in details that can be called up on demand. The names of roads, towns and bodies of water are available and the detail is so good that you can easily identify anyone's home where you may have been invited and see if they have a swimming pool in their backyard before you RSVP.

Here is a real-life computer application, that was imagined in many early science-fiction stories where the villain or the hero had 24-hour access to view any spot on the globe from a camera in space right there on a color screen in his or her laboratory.

Of course, in the science-fiction version the images were all available in real-time, whereas with the Google Earth version we have to settle for still photos, taken by satellite in the past but updated every time newer photos become available.

And if you don't want to look at the latest photos, you can direct Google Earth to show you the previous versions or any of the ones before that. The quality of the images degrade as you go back in history until the full-color image of your house rooftop turns into a 5-pixel black-and-white blob, but if you want it, the images are there for the asking.

Google Earth is a free application - unless you paid $400 a year for the Pro version, which allows you to peer into people's closets and, via one of the more obscure layers, offers you a portal into the head of John Malkovich. Recently, Google dropped the price of the Pro version to "free," which I'm sure delighted all the clients who paid that kind of money all these years. Bottom line: Cost shouldn't be a problem, although it is difficult to understand the pricing in terms of typical retail transactions - If Google Earth were footwear, it would be like walking into a shoe store and getting a really great pair of boots for free or the deluxe boots for $400. But if you wait, the deluxe boots would also be offered for free and the company that produced them would be making money hand over fist. Go figure.

It boggles the mind that such a wealth of information is free of charge. You just have to hand it to our capitalistic society to produce what can be seen as a huge and valuable socialistic resource. Google produced it according to their ability and the world uses it according to their need. Karl Marx would have some explaining to do.

So it's Happy Birthday to Google Earth. I've used it to verify the existence of the Nasca lines in Peru, the pyramids of Egypt, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Cuba itself, Niagara Falls, Santa's Workshop (right there next to Superman's Ice Palace), the airplane graveyard near Tucson, Arizona, and the Mississippi River.

Also, just as an exercise, I've determined that it's 3,512 feet to the liquor store. Thank you, Google Earth.

To contact the author, who is recovering from a massive computer meltdown, probably because North Korea found out he was looking at rush-hour traffic in Pyongyang via Google Earth, send e-mail to Don't use your real name. © 2015, Tom Sadowski

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