It didn’t take much to get me started on another obsessive-compulsive exercise. Longtime reader Rhodent commented on my observations about a stalker on St. Martin’s Island (map) in Bangladesh. That made me even more curious about the underlying situation. I knew I needed to check every image in painstaking detail to see if I could untangle the story. Fortunately the island didn’t cover a lot of ground so this actually seemed like a reasonable task, if a bit ill-advised.
Google Street View Comes to St. Martin’s Island
Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Photo by Eli Duke on Flickr (cc)
Google Street View arrived on St. Martin’s Island in October 2015 in an unusual way. The government of Bangladesh didn’t allow motorized vehicles there. It’s too small and it doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure anyway. People followed footpaths. Therefore Google brought its Trekker, a backpack device used more commonly to photograph mountain trails or glaciers in Antarctica or inaccessible places like that. The Trekker weighed 42 Pounds (19kg) including a vertical staff topped by 15 cameras. Google loans the Trekker to qualified individuals and organizations for those who want to add a favorite out-of-the way place to the Street View portfolio. Apparently someone wished to do that for southernmost Bangladesh.
The Main Characters
Two men dominated the narrative. One man carried the Trekker. I called him Street View Guy (or SVG). The other man accompanied him every step of the way.
Street View Guy
Evidence of SVG rarely appeared because he carried the backpack and stood beneath the photo sphere. At certain times, however, his shadowy image emerged from beneath the camera. This happened primarily as the sun began to set on a long day, when shadows extended far enough that they fell into camera range. Those were exceptions. Most of the time SVG stayed behind the scenes as he should, recording the story instead of contributing to it.
Mr. Walker Reveals Himself
In the earlier article I named the other guy The Stalker. That didn’t seem appropriate anymore so I renamed him Mr. Walker because, well, he walked every corner of St. Martin’s Island. I viewed literally hundreds of distinct frames, tracking his every move. Only one showed his unobstructed face, the one that I found previously that Google forgot to blur. Who was he? I knew he wore a uniform although I didn’t know what it represented.
Mr. Walker’s Epaulet
Every once in awhile Mr. Walker moved next to SVG. One of those close-up images let me see his epaulet and the matching logo on his shirt in detail. It said G4S. That offered the clue I needed. G4S is a company that provides security services worldwide including Bangladesh. That solved the mystery. Mr. Walker wasn’t a policeman or a tour guide. He belonged to a private international security firm. He was hired to keep SVG safe, or maybe just Google’s expensive hardware.
Maps That Guide the Story
I needed to create a couple of maps to help me make sense of the island trek. The first one showed various points of interest that I noticed as I sorted through the multitude of images available. More than fifty shots made the cut, which I think clearly demonstrated the daunting size of the larger set. Fifty images barely made a dent. However that tiny sample provided a number of useful vignettes, little points in time. The did not provide, either singly or collectively, any fluidity of motion. I needed to create something else.
Direction of Routes Walked
Presumably SVG and Mr. Walker moved forward, not backward. That let me determine the direction of all paths they took that day. I marked them with arrows. It revealed the two-phase strategy followed by the mapping team. They focused on the interior of the island in the morning and early afternoon, which I determined by examining the angle of the sun. Then they shifted course in the late afternoon. They walked the circumference of the island beach in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the ferry pier and continuing all the way around.
Wandering the Interior
Theoretically, I supposed, one could figure out the exact sequence of steps taken by SVG and Mr. Walker as they covered the island interior. However, even though my efforts demonstrated irrational signs of compulsion, I didn’t go far enough overboard to calculate the angle of the sun in minute detail. Nor did I attempt to calculate exact timing based upon the images that the Trekker captured once every 2.5 seconds. I’ll leave that for someone even more obsessed if so inclined. Nonetheless, I observed all sorts of interesting encounters as the team followed its journey.
The Boy in Green
Many of the locals seemed amazed or amused by the site of a man hauling Trekker machinery through jungle, fields and down the narrow corridors of the marketplace. Children especially enjoyed the spectacle and expressed the most interest. Some kids, like the Boy in Green, showed even more curiousity than others. He joined Mr. Walker has he escorted SVG from the eastern beach into the deep island interior.
Mr. Walker didn’t provide much actual "security" during his walk. He seemed to get distracted regularly and fell back. Other times it looked like he needed the kindness of strangers to help him get back on the right track. Once he fell so far behind that he had to hitch a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw. He carried a white plastic bag stuffed with goodies that whole time; I even caught him eating a snack. Mr. Walker amused me. SVG walked the whole island with a 42 pound backpack, and yet, Mr. Walker couldn’t keep up, got sidetracked by locals, glanced at his mobile phone, and seemed generally disinterested much of the time. He probably wondered what he did wrong to get stuck with this assignment.
Mysterious Mr. Bald
Say hello to Mr. Bald, first noticed by reader Rhodent in the previous comments.
Mr. Walker met-up with Mr. Bald late in the afternoon on a walk from the marketplace to the ferry pier. Mr. Bald also wore a uniform, although a different one than Mr. Walker. I drilled down on an image where he moved near the camera to see if I could find some clues about his identity.
Mr. Bald’s Epaulet
His epaulet seemed to have an anchor on it. I think he might have been part of the ferry crew. The image didn’t quite have enough resolution for me to read his name tag although I think it may have been in Bangali anyway. The ferryboat had a name, Keari Sindbad, that I traced to a tour company based on the mainland in Cox’s Bazar. The route took about two hours. It was quite a bargain at 800 Bangladeshi Taka (about $10 U.S.) for the best seats on the boat, on the bridge deck.
Although I found many photographs of the ship, I couldn’t find any images of the actual crew. Nonetheless, I still thought Mr. Bald probably belonged with the ship. Also I thought his appearance was coincidental. He seemed too surprised by the spectacle, taking photos with his mobile phone along the way. Several other people followed the exact same track back to the ferry. Mr. Bald stood out from the rest of them because he wore a uniform.
Then, as Mr. Walker approached the ferry, he put his tie back on. I guess he wanted to look more official.
Circling the Island
SVG and Mr. Walker began their counterclockwise loop of the island once they returned to the ferry dock. Mr. Walker forged way ahead as they walked the beach on the northwestern side of the island. Maybe he got tired of SVG’s company or maybe he wanted to get away from the ever-prying Street View camera. Mr. Walker returned soon enough when a bunch of kids surrounded SVG. Mr. Walker had to shoo them away. Finally he was able to provide some actual "security."
Mr. Local then approached. Like the earlier Boy in Green, Mr. Local seemed rather curious and he followed along for quite awhile on the western side of the island. Mr. Walker got sidetracked a couple more times by people selling stuff, and by a woman who caught his eye. Then he fell back once again trying to walk across the mostly barren rocky western side of the island. After proceeding a bit further, the heat of the day began to wear on Mr. Walker. He removed his tie, and reached not once but twice into his red translucent bag for a swig of water. He got really sweaty too. The heat must have been brutal. It was a long day.
Arm Reaches out of Sand for Water
Even SVG needed a drink. This created one of the more memorable Street View glitches I’ve seen in awhile. It looked like a zombie arm reaching out from the sand trying grab a plastic bottle instead of brains.
Mr. Walker continued to chat with the locals as they rounded the southern edge of the island and walked towards the eastern side. I’m not certain although he may have relieved himself in some bushes by the side of the beach. Eventually the duo made it back to the ferry pier safely just as the sun began to set on a long day of Google Street view trekking.
I guess the hours I spent on this exercise showed that I need to get a life. Maybe I should take a trip to St. Martin’s Island and relax for awhile.