Bragging Rights

Sit back for a few minutes and put yourself on autopilot while I toot my own horn a bit. Humble (ahem) as I am, I really can’t resist crowing about this: We’ve launched!

By “we”, I mean the odd collaboration between the Polar Geospatial Center, the Google Geo team, and a wayward putative Research Scientist. And by “launched”, I mean this: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/become-antarctic-explorer-with.html

It started way back when I was at the Pole, and tried shooting some Street View imagery with a makeshift rig one of the carps helped me put together (props out to Laura Conchelos!) using a camera on loan from our NOAA officer (yay, Christy Schultz!). I brought the pics back with me and handed them to the Street View folks, who got really excited. But it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds to get imagery in, and it’s always been effectively impossible to get official permission from the NSF to do this sort of thing. After all, all the US stations in Antarctica are Federal bases, and technically, it’s illegal to photograph a Federal base. Yeah, yeah – tons of individuals do, but getting official permission for a private company to do it and put the pics on the web? No way.

Fortunately, I’d already been paired up with The Wizard, er, I mean Paul. Paul Morin’s the gleefully exuberant head of the Polar Geospatial Center, and he and I had already been collaborating on getting his satellite imagery into Google Earth. It was a match made in heaven. Suddenly, researchers all over the world had access to amazing, scientifically important imagery for free, right on their desktop. Huge impact, got lots of great press: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17692025 .

There were other great things coming from the collaboration: previously, due to the difficulty of pinning down locations in the pre-GPS world, the official atlas of 16,000 geographic names in Antarctica rounded their locations down to the nearest minute – that’s over a mile. So Mount Hahn, or the Watson Glacier, might be off a bit. Using the telemetry data that the PGC has, we helped canonicalize [most of] their locations down to within 20 meters. Better, yeah?
But the Street View was the thing that promised to open the eyes of school kids to Antarctica. And somehow, Paul secured permission from the NSF and USAP to do the photo shoot. Better than just “permission”, the USAP flew him and his right hand man (and student) Brad Herried down to Pole, McMurdo and Palmer. The NZ Historical Trust gave them access to Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts and gave them free rein to shoot what they wanted. With Paul working his wonders, it was easy to see how this was a win for everyone.
Shooting the pics was just the start of the hard work, though – once Paul and Brad got back from the ice, there still tons to do. Google folks like Alex Starns, Pete Giencke and Crystal Sholtz had to do all the technical massaging of the data and get all the legal hoops cleared. I kind of hovered and kept asking “Is there anything else I can do? Huh?” but mostly tried to stay out of the way.
Anyhow – it’s launched. The press is going crazy, and I’m just as pleased as can be.
By the way, that’s Paul with me in the pic at top, leaning against Canada Goose’s latest edition of Big Red. I’ve written about Big Red before, waxing eloquent in its praises, and the folks at the conference’s Canada Goose display were delighted to get such positive feedback. Natalie and her co-worker Paul (hi guys!) gifted us the most awesome, warm and comfortable knit beanie caps I’ve ever seen. If you need a beanie cap to keep you alive in the Antarctic, you need one from Canada Goose [End of shameless plug, but the CG beanies really are amazing – I had to keep snatching mine out of Devon’s hands, where she was stroking it absentmindedly and saying something about “her precious”].

4 responses to “Bragging Rights

  1. Pingback: Twin Cities Recap | David Pablo Cohn·

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