Join 3,523 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


This is what happens when you take the blue pill *and* the red pill.
April 6, 2013 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Postcards From Google Earth: "I collect Google Earth images. I discovered them by accident, these particularly strange snapshots, where the illusion of a seamless and accurate representation of the Earth’s surface seems to break down. I was Google Earth-ing, when I noticed that a striking number of buildings looked like they were upside down."

Clement Valla (previously) explains how Google's The Universal Texture system is changing the way we see the world:
"At first, I thought they were glitches, or errors in the algorithm, but looking closer I realized the situation was actually more interesting — these images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition—an anomaly within the system, a nonstandard, an outlier, even, but not an error.

These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works, focusing our attention on the software. They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion; Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them."
The Universal Texture

WebGL Earth Documentation

WebGL Earth 3D Digital Globe
posted by Room 641-A (37 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
CoooOooooOOoOoooooOOool.
posted by limeonaire at 7:27 PM on April 6, 2013


Yeah, this is great.
posted by nevercalm at 7:29 PM on April 6, 2013


There are other artists working on Google Maps.
Satellite Connections, by Jenny ODell.
Finding Art In Google Maps, where Odell reaches into the junk drawer.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Apple's Maps app was doing things like stranding people in remote locations in Australia. That's a bit different.
posted by limeonaire at 7:34 PM on April 6, 2013


Voting for this as best title ever! I am a fan of Google Maps--Street View and Earth entertain me. I have seen some things I questioned but nothing like these. Wonderful.
posted by Anitanola at 7:34 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Googledor Dali. Great post.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 7:53 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love the images, but how are these not glitches/bugs? I really don't get that.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:55 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why but I really loved those images. They drew me in and kept me mesmerized.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2013


I'm a little mystified by the conspritorial tone of the article. Texture mapping is just how computer graphics deals with fakinig detail on crude polygonal models. Those flat bridges and buildings--no actual civil engineering artifacts were harmed in making them (tho they are pretty funny-looking).
posted by hexatron at 8:04 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like they took my hot wheels set and laid it out on the earth.
posted by arcticseal at 8:04 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love the images, but I'm not sure the accompanying text is anything more than a bunch of fluff. Saying the distortions aren't 'glitches' is like saying that a program that adds 2 + 2 and gets 3.999 repeating doesn't have a glitch. Just because it follows the imperative of the program doesn't mean the output is somehow special or priviliged, it just means the program has shortcomings. Maybe you don't count them as logically incorrect, because we can interpret the warped bridges in the same way we can interpret that 3.999 repeating equals 4, but from any practical standpoint, yeah, they're glitches.

The discussion of how the rendering engine actually works is interesting enough, but the author kind of lost me right off the bat.
posted by Ickster at 8:20 PM on April 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Strong whiff of MFA here, from the bullshit artspeke saying mostly nothing to the OCD-like collection exercise of using hundreds of things to show what ten would adequately.

I like it anyway.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:27 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, after five images I get the idea. Google doesn't have elevation data for bridges. Ok. That's the whole thing.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:36 PM on April 6, 2013 [21 favorites]


You know, like or hate Google, one of their core competencies has become mapping. Look how completely Apple, historically a highly competent software company, faceplanted when trying to replace Google Maps with a homegrown product.

Apparently, if you spent enough billions on something, you can get pretty darn good at it.
posted by Malor at 8:43 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where are the upside down buildings? I only see roads that aren't represented properly.
posted by ashbury at 8:44 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


So reality also has rendering glitches like early versions of SimCity and Tropico had. Who knew!
posted by the cydonian at 8:54 PM on April 6, 2013


Next phase: A civil engineer designs and executes a highly irregular, bone-jarring, surrealistic bridge over a gorge so it renders correctly in Google Earth.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:09 PM on April 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


These are some odd postcards. "I'm at another weird overpass/bridge, wish you were here!"
posted by axiom at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Googledor Dali.

"The Persistence of Bridges"
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:17 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love the images, but how are these not glitches/bugs? I really don't get that.

I think the assertion is that the software is doing what it is supposed to do, but is getting slightly wrong data. There was the one picture of the dam where the parking lot stretched up the side of a hill. This means the satellite imagery is not perfectly registered with the topographical data. Think about trying to wrap a globe with square sheets of paper. There are going to be trouble spots.

As for the bridges, yeah, it seems like they just don't have elevation data for the road surfaces. Or it too is off by 20 feet and the computer gets confused.
posted by gjc at 9:21 PM on April 6, 2013


I do love a good glitch. Most glitches are just annoying, but this is a really good glitch.

Our Time Warner cable is quite crappy in most respects, but at least some of the glitches can be entertaining. Lately it's been doing this crazy thing where parts of the image on TV kind of freeze in place and slow down, while the rest of the image keeps moving. In practice what this means is that you'll be watching a stand-up comedian and then suddenly he'll have four arms, all seemingly solid and in movement, and then he'll turn his head slightly and suddenly he'll have two faces. Whenever you're watching TV, you never know when the people on it will turn into freaky shapeshifting monsters like something out of The Thing.

Apologies for linking to Buzzfeed, but they had a pretty entertaining list of FIFA glitches today. That first one will make you have nightmares all day long.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:22 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see any upside down buildings either, am I missing something? I think I looked at all the "postcards" there are and they're all nearly the same thing...twisty roads.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:33 PM on April 6, 2013


Apple's Maps app was doing things like stranding people in remote locations in Australia.

What a wasted opportunity to make some improvements. Let's say I enter "Hooters" into the maps app, and hit the directions button. If it then directed me off a cliff, jolly well done.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:02 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like Google has tapped into my subconscious mind. Anyone else have dreams like that? You're driving along and suddenly the road has turned into some terrifying rollercoaster thing with enough confusing overpass interchanges to be straight from a cartoon of the future as envisioned in 1938?

... just me then? Okay. Carry on.
posted by cmyk at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love the images, but how are these not glitches/bugs? I really don't get that.

OK, the Valla quote is really speaking metaphysically. Obviously it's a "glitch" in that it does not display the world correctly -- but then there are all those perfectly flat buildings.... What he's getting at is that the GE software has effectively created an alternative view of reality, something that this Postcards guy is tapping into. There are a few freaky railroad viaducts in my hometown that I think it would be amusing to traverse in the way that they are displayed, as cmyk alludes.

Ursula mentions video glitches. I think the standard VHS glitch was an artifact of its time. Movies like Videodrome explored the glitchiness of broadcast television. Before that (a time I still vividly recall) was the amusement and reality-bending of just running film faster, slower, or backwards. If you go back to early animation you see a lot of fascination with the form itself, with the gag of it all being just drawings, and of the possibilities inherent with all that. I think this is just a new instance of that with a different technology.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My non-Euclidian neighborhood: no bridges here, still wonky 39° 57' 32" N 75° 12' 13" W
posted by cometwendy at 3:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first glance thought was "oh is this in China where they did some really funny cheapo civil engineering?" but halfway through the second glance, "funny render glitch, everyone needs a hobby".
posted by sammyo at 5:45 AM on April 7, 2013


At some point we discover that the guy is paid by the Apple iOS Map Division.
posted by Atreides at 6:07 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't see any upside down buildings either, am I missing something? I think I looked at all the "postcards" there are and they're all nearly the same thing...twisty roads.

I think by "upside down buildings" he means stuff like this. Find the spot where the road goes over a "hill" with two black cars on it, and look to the right.

It's the same basic glitch: a 2D picture of a building, taken from directly overhead, has gotten "draped" over a steeply tilted 3D surface in an incongruous way. To me the effect looks more like the building has been pitched 90° forward rather than turned 180° upside down. But that's nitpicking — one way or another there's some very clear spatial Wrongness there.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:12 AM on April 7, 2013


There are other artists working on Google Maps.

David Thomas Smith “Google Maps” Your City As a Persian Rug
posted by homunculus at 10:45 AM on April 7, 2013


Postcards, eh?

"Wish you were here; glad I am not. Wobblingly, Your Friend wenestvedt"

On Preview: Damn you, axiom! *shakes tiny fist*
posted by wenestvedt at 12:18 PM on April 7, 2013


Well folks it was mighty hot today.

How hot was it?

Oh it was hot, trust me.
posted by Splunge at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Malor: "Look how completely Apple, historically a highly competent software company"

Apple may be considered a highly competent software company.* However, nobody in their right mind would consider them to be competent purveyors of web services. This has always been a key weakness for Apple.

They've been getting better at it, but they really shouldn't have bet the farm on it, like they did with Maps. It's not at all surprising that the Maps debacle happened; Apple were working well outside of their core competencies.

And, yeah. Google are really good at what they do when it comes to mapping.

*I'd actually challenge that statement, given the company's series of very public failures to develop new products and standards throughout the 1990s, which ultimately led to them buying their current flagship software product from a competitor, but I digress...
posted by schmod at 4:58 PM on April 7, 2013


Splunge: "Oh it was hot, trust me."

The scary thing is that something like that actually happens to railroads when it gets too hot.
posted by schmod at 5:01 PM on April 7, 2013


"Oh it was hot, trust me."

Also, earthquakes.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:31 PM on April 7, 2013


buying their current flagship software product from a competitor

And taking it a few dozen iterations farther. (Speaking as a not-Mac-philosophy fanboy and not-Jobs-fanboy.) And NeXTSTEP - a very innovative and competitive OS - was only a competitor while Apple was failing badly, not after they had to re-import the Jobs magic. Nice try there.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure the Maps debacle would never have happened if Jobs had been around. Now I'll stop before I counter-balance with the thousand point critique.
posted by Twang at 8:17 PM on April 7, 2013


Our Time Warner cable is quite crappy in most respects, but at least some of the glitches can be entertaining...

Our over-the-air DTV receiver is like this, only in our case the glitches look like someone's facial skin has melted off and revealed the skull underneath. It's actually pretty disconcerting.
posted by werkzeuger at 4:59 AM on April 8, 2013


« Older 40 Years of Music Industry Change, In 40 Seconds o...  |  There is no way this could pos... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments