“Do a barrel roll!” a virtual dogfighting rabbit screamed into a virtual dogfighting fox’s ear in Starfox 64 and BAM! 14 years later, a Google Easter egg was born. Dorky? Sure. Awesome? Yep. And that’s not even getting into the ironic fact that Peppy Hare – an old male rabbit with a grown daughter – has somehow changed genders and is now laying Easter eggs of his own. Peppy may be surprised from the sudden turn of events, but we’re not: Google has a long, storied history of dropping arcane, geektastic tidbits in the dark corners of its products. And we’re here to show them to you!
Most of the world's nearly 7 billion inhabitants don't have the means to physically explore every corner of the Earth, or even a quarter of it. That doesn't mean we're not intensely curious about this rock we live on, which might help explain how Google Earth has been downloaded over a billion times since it launched six years ago.
A German court last month declared street-level photography by Street View's car-mounted cameras to be legal when it dismissed a lawsuit alleging personal and property rights violations on the part of Google's Street View service. Despite the legal victory, and contrary to what most people might have expected, the company has decided against returning to the streets of Germany with the camera-toting vehicles it uses to collect street imagery for its popular Google Maps and Google Earth services.
Some people have the neatest toys to play with. Jason Holt, a software engineer for Google, relates on the Google Lat Long Blog how he and some co-workers put together an eight-screen display for Google Earth, christened Liquid Galaxy, that shows off the “impressive imagery” of the geo database.
The set-up consists of eight screens, a video projector, and “some spare Linux workstations.” A specially modified Google Earth client is used to synchronize views across multiple computers. The panoramas from Google Earth are played back using a “flipbook” process created earlier to show off images from the Tour de France. The whole thing is held together with a specially constructed steel frame that allows disassembly so it can be transported to conferences.
According to Holt, “It felt more like a ride than a computer program, something between an observation-deck and a glass-walled spaceship. As a result of this totally seamless, immersive experience, we decided to name it the Liquid Galaxy.”
Liquid Galaxy was on display at June’s Google I/O conference, and will make an appearance at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen. Liquid Galaxy’s next U.S. appearance will be at AGU in mid-December.
Google has conveniently spurned its own Adsense policy by adding Adsense ads to Google Earth. The Adsense policy clearly bars developers from milking desktop applications using Adsense ads. The ads appear on the right side, in the search section of the application, and whenever a user clicks in one of the red markers. This could prove to be a precursor of a full-fledged invasion of the desktop, which could open a new revenue stream for developers of desktop apps.
Advances in technology can be amazing. At the same time they can be threatening. Especially when they crash into existing cultural predispositions, as Google is finding out in Switzerland. Apparently, the Swiss (and a few other countries in Europe) are fond of their privacy. And, in their opinion, Google’s Street View poses a direct threat to that privacy.
The Swiss penchant for privacy is old news--who doesn’t know about the strict anonymity of Swiss banking laws? It’s not surprising, then, that the country’s federal data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, announced it would take Google to court unless it did a better job protecting the privacy of those it captured with its Street View cameras. In particular, Thuer wants better blurring of faces and license plates, and a lower camera view so that things not normally viewable from the street, such as walled gardens or private streets, would not be shown.
Google’s Matthais Meyer respond by saying “We believe that Google Street View is absolutely legal, also in Switzerland.” The company, he said, would “vigorously contest” the case.
This is not Google’s first run-in over privacy concerns. Japan has already made Google agree to reshoot images from a lower camera angle; Germany has demanded erasure of raw footage of faces, house numbers, and license plates of individuals who don’t want to appear in Street View; Greece has so far said no to Google’s requests to photograph its streets; and villagers in Buckinghamshire in England formed a human chain around a Google van to block it from photographing its streets.
Street View is an amazing technology. I used it to successfully track down locations for photographs I took last year in Tokyo--even on small, out-of-the-way side-streets. But is the loss of individual privacy too high a price to pay for my convenience?
Google CEO Eric Schmidt is ready to put the hard times behind him and his company to usher in a new crowd of technological innovators. On the Google blog today, Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research, made an open offer to anyone who thinks they can make a difference to seek out Google for employment.
In the entry, he cites the success of Google Earth, Android, and Google Chrome as reasons to be technical innovators. He quoted Schmidt saying, “Innovation is the technological pre-condition for growth.” Eustace reiterated that the Google Chrome was the last in a long line of Google projects to receive the Founders Award, a multimillion-dollar stock bonus to all team members. "(The) future is shaped by small teams of creative people who want to make a difference. We're on the hunt for these kind of people -- let us know if you think you're one of them" said Eustace.
This is a much different attitude from earlier this year when Google made job cuts or lost some employees who felt their career path were best suited elsewhere.
The internet giant defines the new tool as the progeny of “Google Maps and a gigantic bin of building blocks.” At the moment, it is possible to create 3D building in around 50 cities across the globe, though the 3D buildings can be viewed from anywhere in the world. The user is free to choose any building in the cities currently covered by the tool.
The model has to be created using the existing aerial shots of the selected location and 3D shapes. The finished product can then be submitted for review to the Google 3D Warehouse (an online repository of 3D models). If chosen, it is added to Google Earth’s 3D building layer.
“One of the best ways to get a big project done — and done well — is to open it up to the world. As such, today we're announcing the launch of Google Building Maker, a fun and simple (and crazy addictive, it turns out) tool for creating buildings for Google Earth,” Google’s Mark Limber (Product Manager) and Matt Simpson (User Experience Designer) wrote in a blog post announcing the launch of Building maker.
While the world has proven itself capable of misusing Google Earth in many different ways, its latest application has been to steal fish.
That’s right folks, it would appear that high end fish thieves have been employing the same software that was used to find a downed aircraft, to find valuable koi in people’s back yards. According to Police Community Support Officer Gregory, “Google Earth shows what is in your garden and you can see people’s ponds. One of the properties targeted has an eight-foot fence and is set back from the road. The pond is in the corner and can’t be seen. Unless you were standing right next to the wall, you wouldn’t be able to hear the running water.”
And, while they make a riveting point, Google stands up very well under pressure. A spokesperson of theirs replied: “Google Earth is built from information that is available worldwide from a wide range of both commercial and public sources. As such, Google Earth creates no appreciable increase in security risks, given the wide commercial availability of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery of every country in the world. Criminals could use maps, phones and getaway cars but no one would argue that these technologies are responsible for the crime itself, that responsibility lies with the perpetrator.”
Google Earth has already been used to find Atlantis (sort of), help British looters, and even allow you to explore Mars. But, thanks to a determined rescuer, it’s now been used to track down previously hidden airplane wreckage.
Volunteers searching for the wreckage of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett’s airplane had come up empty handed in all previous attempts to find his whereabouts. However, shortly after the team had given up hope, one of the rescuers found a picture of a forest fire that had been taken the same day as the crash on Google Earth, and thought that it was in the similar area. After alerting the family and setting up a website, they were able to find the exact area where the picture was taken, and the wreckage.
Sadly there wasn’t a happy ending for the families of the two that were lost in the crash, Marcy Randolph and William Westover, but it does provide closure.