Early Days on Street View
July 3, 2014 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Ian McClatchie, the Ambivalent Engineer, reminisces about his time on the Google Street View project. "At the time I was hired, we had two copies of the first camera set, which I dubbed R1. These had been assembled by bolting five 11 megapixel CCD based book-scanning cameras (shown below) to a plywood board, and bolting that to the roof of a car, much of which was accomplished by Elliot Kroo when he was, if I'm not mistaken, 14 years old (youngest intern ever at Google). Neither R1 worked much, due to problems with the cameras, not Elliot!"
posted by daisyk (20 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Google street-view car showed up in my remote-ish Canadian town last year. Working at the local paper, I decide to go down and grab a photo. It was parked at the Tim Hortons (yes, the stereotype is true).

As I'm getting my camera, the driver is standing outside, chatting with another customer. When he's finally done, I politely ask him if he'd mind if I take a photo of the car for the paper. Almost instantly the irony of the question hits me. The driver looks sort of puzzled and says, "Go for it," as he walks in to place his order.
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:54 AM on July 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'm on it, driving a loaner in front of the street view car. Wife is also on it, looking out our front door with a 'WTF?' expression.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:49 AM on July 3, 2014

Best part about this article has nothing to do with the cameras:
The next day, I remember seeing one email thread from seriously angry SREs which was getting nasty messages faster than I could read them. SREs are the folks who keep google.com running; they are very smart and enjoy excellent management support -- you do not mess with SREs.
posted by Skorgu at 5:36 AM on July 3, 2014

My mom was on it about 8 times on the same stretch of a street outside my brother's condo in Toronto because she was walking along the street while the streetview car was in traffic. Mom clones. Uncomfortable.
posted by srboisvert at 5:39 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Would pay top dollar for "War Stories Of The SREs".
posted by Devonian at 5:39 AM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

SRE = site reliability engineers.

I was kind of surprised that Google is still using the same hardware 4 years later, since Street View imagery isn't exactly amazing. It generally feels overexposed and blurry.
posted by smackfu at 6:00 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't look now, but that van with the rice cooker on its roof is following us again!

Colander Warehouse! All we do is colanders!

Chrome golf balls! On sale now!

The Melon Squad, on patrol!

Kettle drums, all sizes! That's right, citizens, kettle drums! Get 'em here!

Van de Graaff generators! Practice science in the comfort and convenience of your own home!

Round things! Half off on round things! Today only!
posted by Herodios at 7:40 AM on July 3, 2014

I saw a streetview car drive down Main St of my small town in 2008. I remember thinking, damn, they're doing this place too?

Fun article; thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:45 AM on July 3, 2014

Three out of four siblings homes, and the house we grew up in are still not visible on Google Street View.

To collect 'em all, Google will need a long expensive ferry ride; a trip out into the county; and a bit of trespassing (the old homestead is down a gravel track entirely surrounded by other people's private land).

I suspect it wont be long, though.
posted by Herodios at 7:49 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw one in Barcelona just over a month ago.

I would have liked to have checked out which country's licence plates it had (i.e., do Google have a fleet of cars in each country or do they keep their European fleet in, say, Germany or the Netherlands or somewhere and cycle it around the Schengen zone periodically), but all I had was a side-on view of it.
posted by acb at 8:20 AM on July 3, 2014

The last line was intriguing for me.

"I went on to develop aerial cameras for Google, but that story will have to wait for Google to publish some details."

Aerial cameras? Does anyone know what aerial cameras he might be talking about?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:43 AM on July 3, 2014

Does anyone know what aerial cameras he might be talking about?

Google Aerial Street View, maybe? "Google have initially provided us with a collection of 450,000 panoramic images taken by the aircraft, almost all of which show nothing but clouds."
posted by effbot at 8:53 AM on July 3, 2014

Devonian: "Would pay top dollar for "War Stories Of The SREs"."

From what I can tell, LISA is basically the annual SRE retreat now.
posted by pwnguin at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2014

Darn it, the article is down. Anyone have an archive?
posted by caphector at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2014

Blast. I hope it gets put up again soon. No archive here. :(

Herodios: "I suspect it wont be long, though."

Herodios, are you and your family meteorites?!
posted by daisyk at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2014

Found it in the Google cache:

Read it here

Good thing that Google archived the data that the author states he need to talk to Google about releasing.
posted by caphector at 1:03 PM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I caught a glimpse of the street view guy a few years ago, he had to stop to tinker with the camera...
posted by Abinadab at 3:13 PM on July 3, 2014

Found it in the Google cache:

Read it here

Now shows a cached version of "Down until I'm done talking to Google about this post."
posted by thedaniel at 9:56 PM on July 3, 2014

Some years back after they'd been through my hometown I went and looked up my grandmother's address. You could see her out in front of her house handing over a bowl of pierogies to her neighbor who'd no doubt done her some kind of maintenance favor. You could not have captured a more quintessential Grandma Josie image if you'd tried to stage it.

My grandmother died in 2011. I just looked up her address again and I guess the car's been by as she's no longer out there.
posted by marylynn at 10:56 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Still available in the way back machine (minus images) at http://web.archive.org/web/20140703070328/http://ambivalentengineer.blogspot.com/
posted by MikeWarot at 2:07 PM on July 4, 2014

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