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Fun With Google Earth

Bucky Edgett (BuckyE)

Google Earth and Google Maps are two ways of looking at maps and satellite views of the earth.

  • Google Earth (GE) uses software that is downloaded to your computer. Layers of specific sights and places information are uploaded to the GE server by the Google Earth Community, so that when you open your GE, you can see all the information people have sent in. This page gives you the basics for using Google Earth.
  • Google Maps (GM) run on the web. People create their own maps and place them on web pages. You view GMs as part of specific web pages, using your web browser. And each GM shows just the specialized information its author chooses to include on that map. On Slow Travel we have implemented an online version of Google Maps - Slow Travel Google Maps.

Google Earth (GE) is an up and coming utopia for armchair travelers and travel bugs alike. Of course, being a compendium of information by people of all types, interests and levels of expertise, it can't substitute for specialized reports by knowledgeable folks with special interests. But it's a fast growing and fascinating way to look at places far and near.

There are two components to GE:

  • The earth viewer. This software runs on your local computer but "talks" to the internet to get information.
  • The GE Community (GEC) and the GEC website. These are online. Between the two, you'll have a wealth of trivia and important facts to peruse.

GE is not a replacement for Google Maps (GM) or Via Michelin type "mapping" systems. These run online, on websites, not on your local computer. GE uses much the same geocoding technologies as the mapping systems, and shows much the same information, but with added factors. Note that GE's road and street mapping is definitely not as detailed and precise as GM's. In GE, roads and streets are always overlays on the satellite views, and are crudely drawn. So if you just want a printable map, use GM. But if you want to get a ton of information on sites and features, look into GE!

This page gives you an overview on how to use Google Earth, but there is also extensive help available in the program. Google Earth: earth.google.com.

Download and Install the Google Earth Software

First, download the earth viewer software. Go to earth.google.com/download-earth.html. Check to see that your computer system and Internet connection can handle the size of the download (13mb download for version 4). Download the current application (beta - version 4). It has a better set of view controls than did version 3. Install according to your Windows or Mac instructions. I found the installation to be easy and the application has been perfectly stable. When you first run it, GE will look like Picture 1 below.

Set the Software Preferences

Before you begin, set the Preferences for the GE software. These screen snaps are taken from Google Earth Version 4 on a Mac.

Picture 2. View Preferences. Click for larger image.

Picture 2. View Preferences. Click for larger image.

Picture 2 shows my settings for View. In particular, set "Elevation Exaggeration" to 0. This ensures that location icons stay pinned to a particular place.

Picture 3. Control Preferences. Click for larger image.

Picture 3. Control Preferences. Click for larger image.

Picture 3 shows my settings for Control. The most important thing here is Fly-to Speed: a too fast setting will lose the fun of watching the earth stream by as you fly from place to place. But you might like a faster setting!

Picture 4. Navigation Preferences. Click for larger image.

Picture 4 shows one important setting: "Show Navigator." I like "Automatically," which hides the Navigator unless mousing over it.

Using Google Earth

Screen snap of Google Earth running on your local computer. Click for larger image.

Picture 1. Google Earth running on your local computer. Click for larger image.

In the upper right of the Earth view is the Navigator: your viewing controls. The vertical slider zooms you in and out. The horizontal slider provides a false perspective view; fun when you're zoomed in, but not perhaps very useful. The circular control rotates, and changes the compass direction of your view. The arrows and knob inside the circle move your view. You may also click, hold and drag your view, just like on GMs.

Of course you can have fun moving the Earth view by hand, but lets really get going.

  • In the upper part of the left hand column (Labeled "Search") type in rome italy.
  • Click the magnifying glass and watch GE "fly" you to Rome.
  • Now that we've arrived, click the little triangle next to Search to hide that section, and free up space in the column.
  • Click on the thin double lines between column areas, and drag My Places up as far as it will go.
  • For this tutorial, drag the Layers section up, too, until you can see all the items in Layers.

Now, go crazy! Click one of the boxes to "enable," or turn on, a layer. Try Shopping and Services. You'll have to wait a minute while all the icons load. Whew! Turn it off! Or, click the triangle next to S&S to view its sub-layers, and turn those on and off.

Google Earth Community

Of particular interest to us will be the Google Earth Community layers.

Try enabling some of the sub-layers and stand back! You'll see that some of the icons are better placed than others. Some folks are good at this, some not so good. But you'll never be bored!

Now, as an example of what's totally cool about GE, use the Search function to go to rome italy. (I'm assuming by now you've been playing around and have lost the standard view of Rome, so get back to it!) Turn down the Google Earth Community triangle, and under it turn down the Google Earth Community Forums triangle.

Turn on the layer "History Illustrated." When the icons load, look for one right in the middle of the view labeled "Nolli Map of rome." Click on its blue "i" icon. When the info box appears, click on "Click here for the post." If all goes well, GE should open your web browser and take you to the web page http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php/Number/37876

Here we are at the GE Community Bulletin Board, and is it a trove of fun and silly stuff. This BB is more or less a permanent feature of GE. It is the source of all the markers shown in the "Google Earth Community" layer in the "Layers" section of the left-hand column of the GE browser. The Bulletin Board is an ever-growing compendium of posts, and responses to them.

Posts get pushed back farther and farther in the list as new ones are added, just like any forum or blog. It can be searched (try searching for "rome"!). I have found one instance where a post (sadly the one showing the locations of all the nasoni of Rome) has been blocked, and its associated set of markers removed from the GE browser. So read on and find out how to Save a post (and its markers) to your computer. But in general, you should always be able to find posts here.

OK, back to our main tutorial. You will find a GE Community Bulletin Board post titled "All 12 Overlays in a 2KB .kmz". Part of the post is a GE earth icon followed by the text "Open this Placemark (4872 downloads)."  I recommend you do it! Click on the "Open this Placemark" text and Download the .kmz file to your computer. Then either drag the kmz file onto your GE icon, or, from within GE, use the menu choice File > Open to open it.

Once you do, your Places section in your info column will show "Nolli Map of Rome" under Temporary Places. Click the triangle next to that legend to see the list of 12 overlays, and enable the first. You might have to zoom out a bit to see the overlay, over the Vatican city. Note that a slider will appear at the bottom of the Places section. Use it to increase and decrease the transparency of the map. You'll see the georeferencing isn't quite perfect, but darn close and a lot of fun.

If you enjoy browsing a Places file, highlight it by clicking on its name, and use the File > Save > Save to My Places menu choice to save it to your GE cache. Now it will live on your computer, permanently in your GE. You can double-click its name in your list and be flown there from anywhere! Neat! If you have downloaded and opened a kmz Places file in your Temporary Places list, GE will ask you if you want to Save it when you quit GE. That's up to you.

And finally, once you've got GE, you may go to the nifty list of GE Community Bulletin Boards any time by choosing Help > Google Earth Community from GE's menu bar.

Let's Start a SlowTrav List!

Now that you've discovered the Bulletin Board, what other fun files can you find? Shall we start a SlowTrav List of GE Finds? Here's a couple of mine so far:

Happy hunting!


earth.google.com: Google Earth

earth.google.com/tour/: Do an online tour here of Google Earth

bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/: Google Earth Community

Bucky Edgett: lovebunnies.luckypro.biz. Google map of the Rioni of Rome and the Rioni Fountains: lovebunnies.luckypro.biz/rioni/.

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