Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The new Google Maps is just way too cool. I know, I know, everybody thinks so. But they all think it for the wrong reason. The real reason that Google Maps is so cool is that you can finally see, and in great detail, the nuclear test range in Nevada.

Here's how: first, right click here and open this link in a new window. Now, make sure you are zoomed out to the fifth bar from the bottom. If you are looking at a satellite picture already, click "map" on the upper right hand side of the window. You should see Las Vegas, and due north of that, a large green patch, with a great big gray patch next to it. The green patch is the Desert National Wildlife Range. The gray patch is a combination of the National Wild Horse Management Area, Indian Springs Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range, and the Nevada Nuclear Test site.

(If you don't want to follow the directions, click here for a shortcut. I personally think that following the directions gives you a better idea of the location of the test range in relation to Las Vegas, but it's up to you.)

Center the map on the center of the gray patch, zoom in four more bars, and click "satellite" on the upper right of your screen. You should see a taupe colored patch, with green on either side of it, and a lighter sandy square above it. If you look closely at the taupe bit, you'll see little pock marks all over it. If you have really good aim, you should see Yucca Lake right in the center of the bottom of the picture. Yucca Lake is dry, so it is a sandy color, not blue. It's sort of triangular. If you can't see it, move the map south until you do.

Zoom in one more notch, and center the map so that the right side is aligned with the cutoff between the taupe picture and the false color green picture. Align the top the same way. There is a very obvious corner on the upper right of the taupe picture. This should be aligned with the upper right corner of the map window.

Zoom in two more bars. The top of the map should now have a little white peanut shaped crater. Just south and slightly west of that there is what looks like a small town. Center the map on the small town and zoom in all the way. You can see the charred remains and vacant slabs of the test town, destroyed long ago.

Zoom out to the fourth bar from the top, and look just east-north-east of the little white peanut crater. There is a lighter colored patch. Center on it and zoom all the way in. What do you think? Command Bunker? Nope, just a waste storage facility.

I think Google Maps is fantastically cool in two ways: Technologically and Functionally. You can't argue that this kind of technology isn't cool. The function however, might prove to be more controversial. Should the average citizen have access to detailed satellite imagery of government facilities? Access to this kind of intelligence is great in theory, but to what diabolical ends might it be placed?

Don't get me wrong, I love looking at it. I could look at maps for days on end. Last night I dragged (with the mouse) my way around the entire planet on google maps. I could nearly count the dunes in the Taklamakan desert. It's spectacular. But any time you provide a souce of information you have to be prepared for that information to be abused.

I encourage you to explore the Nevada Test site in more detail. Check out some of the bigger craters, look for little ancillary bases. This site has great info and a map to use in conjunction with the satellite photos. Look for Sedan Crater. Bonus points if you can find Groom Lake (the site of Area 51). An interesting thing to note about Groom Lake is that you can't zoom ALL the way in. Are we being censored already?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Demolition starts tomorrow.