(updated 12/12/2012)

Google Earth...

There is something known as a "killer app", which is an excellent application (program) that can only be run on a computer with certain modernizations, causing those with an older computer or peripheral, or lesser Internet service, to finally upgrade.

Google Earth is such a program. If you have not already found this application, prepare to be amazed...

Download and install Google Earth.

The program is free, and does not take up too much space at all. It installs well, and may ask to be run using ActiveX, and this is acceptable. There are some computer hardware and software requirements and recommendations, and you must have a high-speed Internet connection.

Recommended configuration:

What's it gonna do for me?

You will see the Earth presented in amazing satellite photo detail. You will be able to spin the earth in virtual 3D, center in on any part, zoom in on any part, rotate the view to see it from any direction, tilt the view to see from above or relative ground level, and animate the view to virtually "travel" across it.

When I say spin, center, zoom, rotate and tilt, there are excellent intuitive controls to handle these functions. And when I say zoom, I mean that you will be able to zoom in from seeing the earth in its entirety, to seeing cars on roadways and people on the ground.

The animation aspect is very appealing - the image can spin, or move, or advance, at different rates, so it feels like you are in a flyover at an altitude of your choice.

It gets better...

You can enter a country, city, street address or postal code and be taken right there. You can enter an origin point and destination and be given directions. You can zoom in on any part of the directions and see what's there.

And better...

You can superimpose street names, directions, road names, and points of interest. You can see latitiude, longitude and elevation indicated as you move about. You can take predetermined sightseeing tours, jump to attractions like the Eiffel Tower or the Forbidden City in China, or to natural wonders like Mount St. Helens. (You might even be able to find Bin Laden yourself in the mountains of Pakistan!) Superimposing of points of interest like gas stations, banks, golf courses, schools appears to be available, too.

For $20, you can get Google Earth Plus - which adds GPS device support, the ability to import spreadsheets, companion drawing tools, and better printing.

Why do I need high-speed Internet?

...because the data "streams" in, building the images as you request them, briefly blurry at first, sharpening as more data arrives, sharpest after several seconds of high-speed data retrieval.

To use many of the features of Google Earth without installing the program, visit Google Maps, findable by browsing to google.ca, clicking on More >>, and choosing Maps. Start by entering your own postal code, then learn the few controls there are to produce useful maps and directions. The satellite imagery can be viewed by clicking on the Satellite button. Google Maps is far less commercialized than Mapquest and other map-making websites, so I have replaced Mapquest on my home page with it.

Using Google Earth - a followup...

A number of useful features of the Google Earth program are continuing to come to light. Some I have found on my own, some I have been asked to find, and some have been shown to me.

Help can be found at www.keyhole.com.

1) The 3D aspect did not seem to be available, so I had to look it up. From Google support on this feature, you can make 3D images of some places, like U.S. cities. Boston and Chicago are but two of the cities available in 3D. 3D features appear like grey boxes in the dimensions of the real buildings at a given location. When the view is tilted, one can see the virtual buildings rise against the skyline.

3D buildings and terrain...

With Google Earth, in 38 US cities, you can see buildings in 3D from the "ground up." You can activate the "buildings" layer on the bottom navigation panel. Tilt the screen in order to see the buildings in 3D. Similarly, the terrain is also mapped in 3D, meaning you can see mountains and valleys and canyons in Google Earth.

A performance note : when using the 3D aspect, my computer really took measurably longer time to display a final image. This feature may not be suitable on computers that are "just cutting it" as far as performance goes.

2) The "Play Tour" feature can be used to virtually travel a route of your choosing. This feature begins by clicking on the Play Button when using the Directions feature. The effect is like traveling in a plane at a low altitude along the route, with brief stops as turns and other notable features are pointed out.

3) Some area maps are just not as clear as other areas. I am assuming that these areas will have improved images as time goes on. Looking at Brampton, for example, compared to London, Ontario. Brampton appears in good detail, while the London images are blurry and indistinct. Where darker rectangular areas of the map mosaic are found, you will find the detail. Where the lighter areas are, you will not. You can make your own comparison by zooming in on a place where dark and light areas abut - details on one half, far fewer details on the other.

4) A neat measuring tool can be used to measure the distance from place to place quite easily. It can be found in the Tools pull-down menu. Measurements can be taken in a "line" or in a multidirectional "path", and they can be shown in Metric or Imperial measurements, and in "Smoots".

5) Interestingly, clouds (and their shadows) do appear in some areas.

6) As always, right-clicking on things means more controls. Right-click and drag to zoom in and out. A right-click held down and a push or pull will cause the image to drift in or out.

7) Left-click to move about. A left-click held down and a push or pull will get the image to drift across the screen, giving a moving aerial view similar to that of moving over the ground in an airplane.

8) Latitude and Longitude can be entered as a location. To view these lines on-screen, click on View and toggle Lat/Lon Grid. (Ctrl-L hotkey also toggles.) It is a bit tricky to enter the numbers and have Google Earth, and I haven't quite mastered this, so you may have to play around with the numbers. Latitude first, then Longitude. Entering numbers you may know may not take you where you think they are, so go to these places generally, toggle the grid on, then look to find your target.

Groom Lake, in Nevada, has latitude and longitude 115º49'00"W, 37º14'00"N. (The Groom Lake Base is the top-secret military base located 90 miles north of Las Vegas. It's in grid number 51 of the Nevada Test Site, so it's called Area 51.) To view this location, I went to Las Vegas, turned the grid on, then zoomed in.

Using latitude and longitude...

Besides textual searches, latitudinal and longitudinal references can be used to view a specific place on the Earth.

Shuttle Runway 15 on Cape Canaveral : 28 36 50n 80 41 35w.

It is interesting to bump the latitude and longitude along by adjusting the degrees, minutes and seconds - gives one a perspective on the size of the Earth.

Here is a converter/calculator for distances and latitude and longitude, with major cities noted.

What is a knot? What is a nautical mile? Visit this page to see definitions and conversion factors...

Google Earth overlays...

Google Earth has been receiving a lot of support from many institutions and individuals providing new photos and other graphics that overlay the original satellite photos of the product. These overlays come in the form of KMZ files - a file type that can be acquired by email or download, then dropped on, or opened in, Google Earth.

Here is a page of image overlays pertaining to Hurricane Katrina.

Simple instructions -- Run Google Earth. Download a KMZ file of interest. Drag-and-drop the KMZ onto the image area of Google Earth (or open it from the File pull-down menu).

Here is an example from Google Earth, followed by the matching overlay. You can see the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

An overlay appears like this from further out.

You can toggle an overlay on and off in this area of the Google Earth screen. Just check or uncheck the appropriate box...

Some images...

Below are four images. The first shows the 3D view of Boston, Mass. The second shows the same location, but with the 3D feature turned off. The third is an image not related to Google Earth, that shows the relative heights of a number of tall buildings on the planet. The fourth shows the tall buildings in comparative size to wildlife. The two unrelated images are quite wide, so some scrolling will be required to see them in their entirety. I usually work with a screen resolution of 1280 x 1024, so 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 will require even more scrolling.

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