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Googling down the highway

By enelson
Tuesday, May 29th, 2007 at 7:00 pm in driving, maps, parking, Safety, Security, technology.

google-street-view.bmpLet me begin by saying that I continually strive to be as objective as possible about everything. Ken Lay had his reasons and so did Pinochet, thus there are two sides to almost every issue.

I will even give Google some credit where credit’s due, even though they suck the very essence of those who subsist on creating intellectual property, robotically repackage it and sell it to advertisers who once helped pay for my child’s health insurance.

Today I found more evidence of why the search engine I can’t live with or without is becoming the new Microsoft.

I was looking up something on Google Maps, as I do obsessively, and noticed a new button, “Street View,” which I dutifully clicked on.

Blue outlines ran along MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland and a little orange board-game pawn appeared on the map with a little balloon saying, “Drag me onto a blue outlined street. You can also just click on a blue outlined street.”

I dragged the little guy over to MacArthur, near Mills College, and thus began a bit of free time-wasting and sometimes useful activity not seen since the introduction of “Google Earth.”

It showed me a picture of MacArthur Boulevard, as one might see from one’s Honda Civic. There were the freeway ramps leading off of I-580. There was the 76 gas station. There was the conspicuous lack of signage.

You want to know if there’s a particularly memorable tree along the way? It’s there, along with the asphalt cracks and potholes along this virtual road trip.

In this particular neighborhood, MacArthur was the only street available. But go to downtown Oakland, and you can see down just about every street.

I randomly clicked on the Port of Oakland end of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and found that, using the crooked arrows above the zoom controls, I could pivot my view 360 degrees, looking at shipping containers in the port, a gate crossing the street (something maps don’t always show you).

Then I discovered that by repeatedly clicking anywhere on the photo, I could zoom in enough to read the local regulations on a “no parking” sign.

Another nifty control allows you to click and hold an arrow on the street, and you’re pulled into the scene on a virtual tour. I turned left on Second Street, right on Castro Street and stopped to ascertain that at Castro and Third, one can find “Mr. Espresso Coffee & Machines,” or at least a sign on a building to that effect, along the an arrow below with directions: “Enter 696 Third St.”

Even now, I am quivering with excitement and fear over this new ability to see where you’re going before actually going there, and, in the fine tradition of the Web, never have to go there at all.

How many times have I sat at my desk, asking, “Now what did that sign say?” or “what color was that house?” Now I can just Google the image on deadline. 

It’s true. I really do love Big Brother. 

Screen shot from maps.google.com.

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