GOOGLE: Google Earth, Google Oceans and Google Space Developments

Google Inc. has launched a new version of Google Earth that allows users to explore the oceans, view images of the planet Mars and watch regions of the Earth change over time.

The new features mark a significant upgrade to Google Earth - a popular software program that provides access to the world’s geographical information through digital maps, satellite imagery and the company’s search tools.

Google Earth 5.0 was unveiled at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where former Vice President Al Gore and others spoke about its capacity to educate the public about global warming, ocean acidification and other threats to the planet.

“This is an extremely powerful educational tool,” said Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work raising awareness about global warming. “One of my fondest hopes is that people around the world will use Google Earth to see for themselves the reality of what’s happening because of the climate crisis.”

More than 500 million people have downloaded Google Earth since it was launched in 2005. The software is available for free on Google’s website. Researchers and organisations can purchase a more powerful version for $400.

Oceans in Google Earth
Something fishyJohn Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, said the idea of adding oceans came three years ago when a scientist pointed out that the software was missing the water that covers almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface.

Google Earth users can now plunge beneath the ocean’s surface, explore three-dimensional images of the underwater terrain and view articles and videos about marine science contributed by scientists and organisations around the world.

Internet users are now able to fly over and around underwater seamounts or follow scientific research expeditions as they mine the depths of the oceans for new species and discoveries.

The new ocean tool from Google is being dubbed has one of the best tools for protecting our oceans. According to experts, less than one percent of the Earth’s oceans are protected, compared with 12 percent of the land surface.

A key creation of the project is the Marine Protected Area layer, which contains information on over 4,500 protected sites spread around the globe and is conceived as an interactive tool that anybody can contribute to. Anybody can now dive in and explore the natural beauty, learn what threats these protected areas face and find out what they can do to help.

Exploring the future and beyond
Explore space...The Historical Imagery feature lets users see archive satellite images of individual locations to see how the region has evolved over time as a result of climate change and other forces. For example, viewers can observe how the largest glacier in Glacier National Park has melted over the past decade.

Google has also made connections with the Hubble Space Telescope – a large space-based observatory which has revolutionised astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe. These images range from our own solar system to extremely remote fledgling galaxies forming not long after the Big Bang.

With Google Mars 3D users can view three-dimensional, satellite imagery of the Red Planet taken during NASA space expeditions.

The new version of Google Earth also allows users to created narrated tours of places using the software’s content and images.

“It’s not just a fun demo,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “What it really is, is a platform for science and research and literally understanding the future of the world.”

– Original text supplied

For more information on Ocean in Google Earth visit:
www.protectplanetocean.org

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SOCIAL MEDIA VS. SAA: What the web can do to improve SAA

FOR those of you who don’t know, Justin Hartman has created a space on the interweb for people to complain about their treatment by South African Airways and share their horror stories online. He simply calls it SAA Sucks. Here’s a quote from his introductory post:

“It is clear that SAA are living in complete arrogance and have a total disregard for their clients and I think we need to take a stand. I’ve been a big pundit of the power of social media and now we can really put it to the test and see if we can make any difference whatsoever” - Justin Hartman

It would be interesting to me to see whether social media in South Africa actually has the power to get the fat cats of large companies such as SAA to change their tune with regards to consumer service. So here is my contribution. It’s a letter I wrote to SAA last year when I was trying to book a ticket to get back to varisty to write my final exams. I lost 10 days of life through the process…

Dearest SAA

I have only flown a handful of times in my life, each time having been enjoyable and hassle-free. It was now time for me to fly back to varsity to write my final exams and enjoy my seventh trip in the air. I decided to go for the cheapest flight, which so happened to be South African Airways. I booked a ticket online at and all seemed to be in order. I only awaited my email to confirm the booking.

The next day I found an empty inbox, so I went to the SAA website for the second time to check if my flight was confirmed only to be told that my details (i.e. reference number and email address) were incorrect. It didn’t, however, specify which one of the two was incorrect or let me change either of them for that matter. So I attempted to book again online with the obvious fear of getting charged twice.

The next day there was still no email of conformation awaiting me and I was again told that my details (with the new reference number) were incorrect. So I phoned the airline service in Durban, and after listening to “Smooth Operator” about seven times over I was told by the ‘customer care’ operator that their link was down and that there was nothing that they could do. I wasn’t told what my next step should be or whether my two bookings were at least in the process of being confirmed. So I left it for a day hoping that all would be well the next morning.

When I phoned for the second time I was told (by a different ‘customer care’ operator) that there was a problem with the credit card details and that a “SafePay” error had occurred. Yet this was not displayed when I booked both times, and I know that actual problems display themselves in red digital ink. So I went online yet again and attempted to do a bank transfer from a different account. It all seemed to go smoothly and I printed the deposit slip and faxed it through the next day as had been instructed.

I phoned again the next day and realised that “Smooth Operator” must be your only song to entertain people while they wait for an answer. When I was finally received I was told that my online booking was still on their records but they hadn’t any record of payment. I was then told by the smooth operator that she would phone their accounts department to see if they had any record of payment and that I should phone back later. I kindly asked if they could rather phone ME back when they had done their magic. Telkom isn’t cheap these days.

About an hour later I got the call and was told that there was no record of any payment. I felt really perturbed at this point as for one: it said on the deposit slip “payment made successfully” and two: I feared that I had now paid TRIPLE the price for a ticket that was not even yet mine.

So the next day I phoned for the umpteenth time with an optimistic air that everything would have worked out and all would be right with the world. So after singing to “Smooth Operator” (as I now knew all the words) I was told that I still owed R455! In a tone devoid of any hint of hope I asked, “So what do I do now?” It was suggested to me that I physically go to the bank and try deposit the money directly into SAA’s account.

So I took R455 cash down to the bank and did just that, after which I had the latest deposit slip faxed through. I attempted to phone several times after I got back home (from 4pm onwards). I gave up around 6pm as my ear was getting sore from holding the phone against it. The only relief for the day was that they had changed their ‘entertainment’ music (to something equally annoying).

Knowing the number off by heart at this point I speedily dialed SAA again the next day. I explained that I had been to the bank, physically transferred cash into their account, had faxed the deposit slip at exactly 4:08pm, and had attempted to phone them immediately afterwards without success. I was told that they would call me back after they look for the fax.

Waiting patiently for the call, and feeling quite constipated at this point from all the stress, I was phoned and told that the fax could not be found. I explained what the accounts department had said to me but was told that it didn’t matter; the ‘customer care’ operator needed to have a fax of the deposit slip in front of her. She asked me if I could fax it again. I explained that it WAS a bit of trouble as it meant going into town in the pouring rain to do exactly what I had done the previous day (the fax machine at home was on strike and refusing to work). But no, she needed to have a fax of the deposit slip to help me.

Getting ready to venture back into town I decided that it was really unfair that I had to fax the damn thing again AND pay more money to do so. So I thought I would phone the woman back, give her an earful, and ask her to look for my fax again. I hung up the phone after enduring about five minutes of “Smooth Operator” which seemed to be back at the top of the charts.

I’m now back at home. The latest deposit slip has been faxed and I am about to attempt calling back in the hope that this whole nightmare will end. That or suicide - I can’t decide. It’s been 10 days at this point…

Yours faithfully
Galen Schultz

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VIRTUAL REALITY: Exit reality and enter the virtual world of the 3D web

AN Australian company has launched a free tool that offers web browsers a world-first opportunity to view the Internet in three dimensions.

Melbourne-based ExitReality said its application allows users to turn any regular website into a 3D virtual environment, where an avatar representing them can walk around and meet other browsers viewing the same website.

Founder Danny Stefanic said that, previously, only specialised websites such as Second Life and World of Warcraft allowed users to enter a 3D environment, however, interaction within those environments are limited.

"ExitReality goes far beyond that. It allows you to view not just one website but the entire World Wide Web in 3D," said Stefanic.

Exit reality and enter the virtual world of the 3D web
cool

Browsers can use the tool to turn their social networking pages on sites such as Facebook and MySpace into a virtual apartment, where photographs are displayed on the wall and links to friends are displayed as "doors" leading to other apartments.

Users can customise their flats by "decorating" with 3D versions of couches from stores such as Ikea or downloading an e-jukebox to play music clips stored on their personal page.

Similarly, using ExitReality on video-sharing websites such as YouTube creates a virtual cinema, where the browser's avatar sits next to other users logged on to watch the clip they have selected.

Stefanic said the tool will transform the web from a solo experience into one that could be shared with friends and other users interested in the same content.

"The user can see and share experiences with their friends while chatting with them and other people at either their own website or another billion web pages" - Danny Stefanic

Stefanic says there is a wealth of 3D content on the Internet that conventional web search engines ignored. Such 3D effects made the web more interesting for users, meaning they were more likely to spend more time browsing the page.

"Users would normally spend no longer than a couple of minutes on a 2D website," he said. "In a 3D environment, this time can extend to half an hour, creating a huge potential for the website owner to maximise user engagement."

Link: ExitReality home
Related post
: The reality of the virtual

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WEB ADDICTION: Synopsis, symptoms, statistics, research and treatment

Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m an addict. A web addict.

Several surveys and related research is leading to more and more psychologists being trained to identify and treat what has become known as Internet addiction or web abuse. It has even been suggested that web abuse be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders within the American Journal of psychiatry.

SYNOPSIS:
Internet addiction has been labeled as a compulsive disorder with cyber sex and cyber porn addiction being the most common forms. Like most addictions these have an impact on an individual’s social and personal life.

The disorder has been further sub-catergorised into addiction to online gaming, compulsive surfing and eBay addiction. However, it has been noted that these only become a problem when they interfere with normal living and cause severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and work performance.

Internet addiction appears to be having real effects on people. One blogger has pointed out how websites have been ironically set up to provide information for sufferers, as well as info for attorneys and psychologists.

SYMPTOMS:
According to netaddiction.com:

"Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the lives of addicts"

According to the Daily Telegraph web-addicts suffer from 4 symptoms:

  1. Forgetting to eat and sleep
  2. Needing more advanced technology or more hours online as ‘resistance’ to the pleasure given by their current system develops
  3. When deprived of their computer, genuine withdrawal symptoms are experienced; and,
  4. In common with other addictions, victims begin to have more arguments, suffer from fatigue, experience a decline in work performance, and begin to feel isolated from society - Andy Bloxham, Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2008

Related symptoms may be cravings (for better software, faster machines etc.), withdrawal (which may cause irritability, tremors and anxiety), a loss of sense of time, and negative social repercussions (such as neglecting real-life relationships). Some patients even report suffering nervous breakdowns when they can’t go online.

STATISTICS:
Although research into Internet addiction is sketchy (and usually concerns a group of white Americans) a few countries have conducted in-depth surveys. Below is a summary of the more recent findings.

  • British psychiatrists have reported that between 5% and 10% of online users are internet addicts.
  • In China the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital puts the number of teenage pathological computer users at 10 million.
  • Research from South Korea suggests the affliction is a serious public health problem, and estimates that 168,000 children may require psychotropic medications.
  • National (North American) surveys revealed that over 50% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions (mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex).
  • Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases.
  • Trends also showed that Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders (it has been suggested that web addicts often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations in reality).
  • Gender stereotypes also seem to translate online: men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, for example, while women are more likely to become addicted to chatting, instant messaging, eBay, and online shopping.

RESEARCH PROBLEMS:
It has been noted that around 70-80% of the subjects referred to in such research is comprised mostly of white Americans. However, the idea of Internet addiction does seem to be spreading around the globe like a 21st century plague.

Yet there is much dispute over whether or not such a condition is in fact unique. One psychiatrist has suggested that the Internet is merely another form of escapism for those with other problems:

"What most people online who think they are addicted are probably suffering from is the desire to not want to deal with other problems in their lives. Those problems may be a mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), a serious health problem or disability, or a relationship problem. It is no different than turning on the TV so you won't have to talk to your spouse, or going "out with the boys" for a few drinks so you don't have to spend time at home. Nothing is different except the modality" - John M. Grohol

TREATMENT:
Despite this, several doctors around the world are recommending various treatment options for those who believe they are web addicts. Dr Kimberley Young, who maintains www.netaddiction.com suggests that like an eating disorder, the key to beating Internet addiction is to develop a healthy pattern of consumption.

"Treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns" – Dr Kimberley Young

Dr Grohol, on the other hand, believes that Internet addition is simply a behavioral problem. He suggests that "it's the behavior, and behaviors are easily treatable by traditional cognitive-behavior techniques in psychotherapy".

I leave you with a snippet from Wired Magazine, which took a similar skeptical stance towards the idea that the Internet is dangerously addictive:

…it's so much easier to date an avatar. Sound familiar? Your friend the World Wide Web may be a monkey on your back. Or not. Just ask yourself this: If Google were a drug, would I smoke it?

Links:
Wired Magazine: Internet Addiction articles
News article: Internet addiction is a ‘clinical disorder’

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