Google Maps - Katrina

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on September 15th, 2005.

At this point in time the only people amazed by the internet are little old ladies who are shocked to find out that there are so many pictures of schnauzer dogs at the other end of a Google search and myself.  Granted I’m not surprised by the internet in that I spend a lot of my day starring at my computer talking aloud to myself.

“Oh gosh,” I might say if I were a character in a 50s’ sitcom, “this internet machine is keen.”

I use the internet quite a bit, several hours a day, and so like most people I’ve learned to take it for granted.  I am no longer impressed that I can send a letter across the world in a matter of seconds, publish whatever random thoughts might cross my mind on my blog by pushing a few buttons or buy a record from the iTunes music store.  I have pretty much done anything and everything the internet offers including a few unsuccessful attempts at internet dating.  Every once in awhile though something gets through my jaded internet junkie exterior and actually surprises me.

A few months ago this was Google Maps (maps.google.com) which is a website from Google that offers a lot of the same functionality as sites like MapQuest (mapquest.ca).  With Google Maps and MapQuest you can pinpoint an address on a map, and plot a course to another address.  Long trips can easily be planned out this way, and in the new movie Broken Flowers Bill Murray’s character uses MapQuest to find his way around.

What Google Maps offers over MapQuest is an option to change the view from what looks like a standard illustrated map to that of a satellite photograph taken from space.  So type in your address and you can see what you house looks like from space, using the Keyhole satellite technology that the CIA was always using to track down the bad guys in those Tom Clancy novels.  Sadly there are some gaps, part of Kelowna is blurry for example, but overall like all the best stuff on the internet it’s a really cool tool and toy all at once.

One of the other realities of the Google Maps is that the satellite imagery is generally a bit out of date, as it is usually updated every few months since… well the world is a fairly big place to photograph.  What has been the part that I’ve been surprised with is that they’ve been able to update imagery of New Orleans and other affected areas of the American Gulf Coast on a far more regular basis following hurricane Katrina.  In affected areas there is an option to view either a pre-Katrina image or a post Katrina image.  It’s an impressive tribute to the scope of the disaster to streets lined with cars filled with water.  It’s almost equally impressive that with a few keystrokes we can now see that from our own desks.