How I went on my virtual vacation

As a kid I loved spinning the globe we had in class and watching it go round and round. It was one of those big topographic globes with craggy beige and white mountains, and bumpy green rainforests. When the globe started slowing, I would close my eyes and put my finger down on some random spot. Nine times out of ten I ended up in a smooth blue ocean; but that tenth time my finger would point to some place with an exotic sounding name like Kolkata, Chongqing or Liepaja. Sometimes, I would look up the names of those random places in the Encyclopedia Britannica we had at my grandmother’s house – ’71 edition. If the article had pictures of the random place, it was a bonus. In those days, that was the closest I could get to a virtual visit.

In today’s digital age, virtual visits are becoming more commonplace and interactive. A number of incredible online applications make it possible to journey around the world and get close to places you may not otherwise be able to visit. Of course, getting to the real thing is still better; but virtual visits allow teachers and students to explore places they are learning about, in ways that I couldn’t with my globe and encyclopedia articles. Here then, are some of my favorite ways to visit faraway places without leaving the comfort of my home:

360 cities: This website takes advantage of an old photography trick; the wraparound picture. Imagine standing in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (my first and favorite museum in the world) and taking a series of overlapping pictures of everything you see around you as you completed a full-circle. Hence the name 360 cities (ask a math teacher, if you still don’t understand). The number of cities available at this site is very limited, but the locations represented span every continent and the panoramic views are magnificent. Here for example is a picture of the Kossuth Parliament Building in Budapest.

Google Maps: Google took the idea of the wraparound picture a step further and made Orwell’s writing a little more prescient with its street view maps (ask an Enlgish teacher if you don’t understand). When Google first debuted the street view on its maps, there was an outcry from a number of sectors claiming invasion of privacy. True, some pictures coincidentally caught a number of embarrassing (and what some people assumed were private) moments. But the uproar has been quelled by the fact that the pictures are of public streets. This means we can now trek down many famous streets right from our computers. You’ll have to explore for yourself to see if your favorite city has a street view. Here’s a picture of one of my favorite places in NYC as seen through the street view map. This place is located directly across Central Park from my favorite museum. Tell me if you know what it is.

Virtual Earth: I mentioned in the Jan. 22nd post that Microsoft has a great application called Virtual Earth (VE). As in the above application, you can see road maps and satellite pictures. It is VE’s 3D feature, however, which elevates the online experience to another level beyond the traditional wraparound photo and Google’s street view. (If you’re really lost at this point, ask a technology teacher). Like so many relatively new things online, VE is not complete. Most places, even major cities, have no manmade three dimensional structures placed on the maps. Virtual Earth’s three dimensional rendering of natural topographic features though, makes exploring extreme places like the Grand Canyon and the Himalayas very informative and amazingly interactive. Unfortunately you’ll find one of our great national monuments in its pre-Borglum state (ask an art or history teacher).

Happy virtual travels to everyone and thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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