Thank you for indulging me while I turned 12MC into a travelogue for a couple of weeks and then took a brief hiatus after I returned. Your patience will be rewarded. I’m rejuvenated now, and it’s time for more geo-oddity goodness.
I like looking behind the scenes, poking behind public façades. That’s why I was trilled to go backstage at Disney World last year, as an example. I used the analogy of a train ride. One sees the backdoor; the laundry hanging on the line, a junked car rusting in the corner, unkempt lawns and unruly children, home improvement projects gone wild and such. Contrast that with an automotive journey were one observes the front door, seeing things as they are meant to be seen. I prefer the former.
Google Street View isn’t immune from this phenomenon. Every once in awhile their equipment and cameras come into view by mistake. It’s hidden from sight ordinarily. It’s not supposed to be there, but is betrayed in subtle ways by situations beyond even the mighty Google’s control. Attuned to such things, I notice when they happen and sometimes I’m smart enough to actually record the position.
I’m not talking about obvious situations. One gets a clear and unadulterated glimpse of the Street View car in extremely remote locations such as Alaska’s Dalton Highway, featured in Street View Beats a Deadhorse. Google used two automobiles on purpose. I don’t know the reason with certainty so I’ll take an educated guess that it’s for one (or both) of two reasons: (1) It would be a long drive back to Anchorage to replace a camera if it broke; or (2) there is safety in numbers should an automobile die in the middle of nowhere on these punishing roads. This remains one of my favorite images even if it’s not exactly what compelled me to write today.
I’m more fascinated by accidental revelations of the Street View guy when he (or she — I’m using "guy" generically) drives past a nearby window. Google snaps a photo including the resulting reflection. Shadows also fit into this broad category although they are all-too-common on Street View. I get more excited by excellent examples of reflections.
I’m providing all images as screen grabs because Google will send their cameras through each of these places again someday and will overwrite them. Feel free to click the map links I’ve included to see the originals while they last. They’ll probably be different five years from now if you’re reading this in the future (is it 2017 already? is 12MC’s secret admirer President? did we survive the Mayan end of the world in 2012?)
I spotted the Street View car reflected in all of its urban glory upon the walls of an office building in Manhattan (map). That’s quite a contrast to the boring paint job Google reserved for their automobiles in rural Alaska. One can see the Google Maps design superimposed clearly, with roads drawn upon it and even the little push-pin character.
I swear I have an even better example somewhere, which of course I forgot to mark. I’ll post it in a comment if I remember it.
Any pane of glass will do. It doesn’t have to be attached to a building. It can even be mobile. I caught a close-up of the camera apparatus reflected in a bus window just outside of Washington, DC (map).
Street View has expanded its repertoire beyond the road network. That’s no big secret. I think most of us are aware of that revaluation already. I seem to recall hearing about their expansion to ski resorts in the hazy past and never gave it much additional thought or attention.
Visual evidence returned to my mind during a visit to the Pine Marten Lodge at Mount Bachelor during my recent trip to Oregon (map). In fact, that’s how I got the idea for this article. I noticed the street view guy pictured above. It looks like a driver sitting on a snowmobile. I can see what appears to be a windshield and the upper arc of a steering wheel on the left side of the image. He dons a protective helmet and a heavy jacket. The WALL·E looking thing behind him is his camera equipment diligently recording the slopes.
I’ve also spotted the reflection of the Google Tricycle. That’s what Google uses when it goes off-road to capture parks, campuses, and pedestrian thoroughfares.
I’d been observing the gorge and waterfall that runs through the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The tricycle, or more accurately a portion of the tricycle, revealed itself in one of the campus windows. I like that it’s so clear I can even see the window shade slats (map) along with tricycle details.
Once I spotted the Street View Car in real-life near the San Diego airport. I’d just landed, rented a car, and was preparing to drive to our office. I couldn’t catch-up to it though. The Street View car appeared in the distance and I tried to get into position while it sat at a red light. Unfortunately the light turned green, the car escaped, and the light turned red again while me trapping behind it. So much for my brush with Street View fame. The car might have been one of the Street View imitators. I don’t know. That’s how I’ll rationalize it.
Readers, of course, are encouraged to post excellent examples in the comments. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find better instances than mine.
I love a good border war, especially when it involves a town featured on 12MC previously for a totally different reason: Gaithersburg, Rockville in Fight Over Borders.
Even More Completely Unrelated
This is article #750 on the Twelve Mile Circle. I guess that’s a milestone or something.
Skip directly to the bottom if you want to be part of a little contest. Otherwise feel free to read through my
blathering extended explanation of context for a few moments.
I featured a nice Google Street View image of the historic Hume School in Arlington County, Virginia recently. It seemed familiar, and not because I’ve driven past it a thousand times but because I’d seen an eerily similar image not too long ago. It dawned on me that this was remarkably close to the winning design for the county tax sticker that will be placed on every motorized vehicle next autumn to cover the 2011/12 tax year.
I live in one of very few localities that still requires windshield decals to prove payment of annual automobile taxes. Many jurisdictions have done away with these stickers as superfluous. They haven’t done away with the tax of course, just the stickers. Arlington took the opposite tack and turned it into a contest, but that’s life here in the People’s Republic. Local high school students get an opportunity to participate in an annual design competition. The winner has his or her creation displayed on 155,000 vehicles for the following tax year. The Hume School will be stuck to windshields all over the county in a few months.
They’ve compiled quite a list of iconic images since beginning the contest in 2005. These are places that embody "Arlington" as distinct from the behemoth directly across the river, the District of Columbia. It’s not easy creating a distinct identity in the overpowering shadow of the capital of the United States, but that’s what the contest attempts to portray.
Surprisingly I couldn’t seem to find a comprehensive list of past winners so I had to do some Intertubes digging. I thought at the very least the county would have tracked these awards but I couldn’t find anything. I was able to compile a chronology of decals after some creative searching though. I’ve linked the locations to similar Google Street View images where they are available.
- 2011/12 – Hume School.
- 2010/11 – A bridge on the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) rail-to-trail in the snow. Street View doesn’t go down the trail so I can’t get very close to it.
- 2009/10- Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Again, Google Street View falls short, however satellite imagery is available.
- 2008/09 – Pentagon. This view also includes a memorial to September 11, 2001, which was still under construction when the Google car made its last pass.
- 2007/08 – U.S. Air Force Memorial.
- 2006/07 – Arlington House (Custis-Lee Mansion at present Arlington National Cemetery).
- 2005/06 – Key Bridge and Rosslyn skyline viewed from a frozen Potomac River. This is a great image even if everything but the skyline is actually part of Washington, DC.
One of the local news blogs also got in on the action. They started a contest to find a more appropriate satirical design and anointed its own winner.
I like many of the serious and not-so-serious contenders but my favorite view is:
View Larger Map
To me, the Marine Corps War Memorial, more commonly called the Iwo Jima Memorial, is truly the most striking and iconic image in Arlington. I’d thought this one was used on a decal sometime before but I couldn’t find a record of it. Maybe it was an also-ran from one of the years. I can’t remember anymore.
There are some other local features that have never been considered but might be viable future candidates. From a local history perspective as distinct from the nationally-recognized features, perhaps these would include the Charles Drew House where the famous doctor lived between 1920-1939, or perhaps Fort C.F. Smith (my page) which was part of the Civil War defenses of Washington, or maybe even my personal favority the West Cornerstone (my page).
Maybe local neighborhoods would be more appropriate. Perhaps Clarendon, Shirlington, or Westover deserve some recognition too.
What iconic image best represents your neighborhood? What view captures the very essence of your hometown (or other favorite place) in a single Google Street View frame? Simply take a moment to drop a link from Google Maps into a comment, below. You don’t have to provide an explanation unless you want to, or for the enjoyment and amusement of other readers. I have no idea how a winner will be declared but when it happens the victor will receive a hearty congratulations and perhaps some boost in personal pride. Maybe I’ll think of some other award too. Should we keep this open for a week? That sounds about right.
You’ve seen my iconic image. Can you do better?
Many months ago I toyed with an idea that I called the Throw the Dart game. That’s where I’d go into Google Street View, drop the cursor onto some random part of the world and then try to create an article from thin air. It worked pretty well in October 2009 when I hit a spot outside of Piedmont, Alabama, USA. I found similar success when fate delivered my eyes to Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England in March 2010.
Then I stopped.
I still enjoyed the concept so that wasn’t the problem. No, it was this image that put me into a tailspin for nearly a year:
View Larger Map
Yikes! Go ahead and circle that image all the way around. I’ll wait. I can guess that you saw only a ribbon of Ontario 527 stretching to both horizons with a curtain of trees on either side. I should have known I’d hit a bunch of remoteness if I threw a cursor at interior Canada when something like 75% of the population lives within 160 km of the United States border. A gambler wouldn’t place any meaningful bet on the odds of hitting a recognizable settlement by random chance here. That’s closer to Lotto territory. Why would the Google car even drive here?
View Larger Map
So I’d succeeded in capturing an image of some inexplicable stretch of rural Ontario north of Thunder Bay surrounded by forests and lakes. It sat unexplored as a draft in the queue of my WordPress blog software, month after month, reminding me that I’d been stumped. I came close to deleting it. Repeatedly. Psychologically I couldn’t do it though, and it remained lodged there every day confronting me. I’d come back to it from time-to-time, piddle around with it a bit, and still find nothing.
The beauty of the Intertubes is that as long as one searches hard enough and waits long enough then something will turn up eventually. Is today my day? Well, maybe. Let’s see if we can salvage something from this location and exorcise this demon for good.
View Larger Map
I’ll drill in a little closer. Ponds and lakes of various sizes dot the landscape. The largest one, maybe 3 km west of my spot, is called Cheeseman Lake. I tried to determine how it gained it’s unusual name and found nothing. However, I did learn that people fish here. In fact the fishing is supposed to be pretty good according to Internet chatter. Anglers warn that one should bring plenty of extra gasoline along though: the nearest filling station is 100 km further north in Armstrong, it’s expensive, and the pumps have been known to run-out at times.
It’s also not too far away from one of Canada’s continental divides. My random spot drains towards the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. A bit further either north or west and the land drains to Hudson Bay.
The last one is best. The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry mentions the Cheeseman Lake area on its Geology Ontario website. It’s also caught the attention of the Ontario Prospectors Association. Early testing has shown anomalous amounts of copper, gold, silver and several rare earth elements. This random spot may be sitting on a gold mine — literally — and that’s not so bad for some unknown place set in the middle of nowhere.
Nonetheless, I think I’m done with the Throw the Dart Game. Canada kicked my butt again.