Friday, August 15, 2008

Technology Freakin' Rocks

In Japan, I used to jog to work.

Now that might not sound like much but - considering the distances involved, the occasional extremes in temperature and the fact that Osaka is comprised of a hearty blend of concrete and pollution - it was.

My coworkers thought I was nuts (particularly in summer) but man, did I love that jog. I did it so often that I started to recognize the locals and they started to recognize me. It was hard to stay in a bad mood when I was not only getting exercise, but people were smiling and waving at me. My run got me through the worst of things with work and with women (and often, a combo of the two). It kept me grounded and got me in great shape. It was a very special part of my time in Japan.

In fact, one of the chapters of my book is about my jog. (Hey, if Murakami can write a whole book about running, I can do a chapter, right?) I can't wait to run my old route when I'm back in Japan next month. A little jog down the ol' Natsukashii Lane. And measure it, too! (Thanks to the Nike + attachment for my iPod.)

My only regret about my run to work (aside from the damage I'm sure it caused my knees) was that I was never able to document it - really document it - before I left so that I could always take a look back at how things were (once my knees finally go out).

But, the logistics were too much. How does one film multiple angles of several miles of street and sidewalk snaking haphazardly through the heart of the 9th largest metropolitan area in the world? What was I supposed to do, stop and take panoramic pictures every few feet? Attach a camera to my bike? Buy a helmet cam?

I did occasionally stop to take a few pictures along the way before I left Japan, but it never felt like enough. I just had to accept that there was no way I'd get the kind of coverage I needed.

Until now.

On August 5th, the website Guuguru Mappu (which is Japanese for "Google Maps") added "Sutoriito Biyuu" (which is Japanese for "Street View". Told you Japanese was tough). I'd heard that "street view" had finally made it to Japan but I figured that they'd only have have it for for Tokyo, maybe a few major streets in Osaka. But, no. I swear they must have driven down every side street and back alley, god bless 'em.

I checked it out tonight and it's amazing. Nearly 2 years after I left and from half a planet away, I got to recreate my jog... without having to run. I was in heaven.

Hey! There's the factory I used to pass! Cool! Oh, I watched them build that! Neat! Aw man, that cafe's gone. Oh well. Hmm, the leaves are turning. That picture must be in autumn!

Here's a few quick highlights:

The gas station where everybody used to wave at me!

The view of USJ from the bridge!

That same bridge from above! (This is why I didn't drive!)

And this picture really made me happy:

Along the last leg of my jog, I used to pass a house where an elderly gentleman would always be tending to a wide variety of potted plants. Whenever he saw me, he'd always wave and smile. I often wondered if I'd ever see him again. Well, I don't know if he'll be there when I go back next month but, the above is a picture of his garden. Made me smile.

Gmail can go down all it wants as long as Google keeps doing cool stuff like this.

(Big Brother is Watching You) UPDATE: But, even though I can't get enough of it, Japan doesn't seem too thrilled about it.

(via Japan Times)
"While some Japanese users may have wanted the service to be available here sooner, others are troubled by the potential for invasion of privacy
For example, the image of a couple entering a love hotel in Osaka made its way to the 2 Channel Internet bulletin board, but this cannot be considered an infringement of privacy because the pair were shot from behind, according to legal experts..."
Oops! Looks like I'm going to have to enjoy it while I can. (And avoid love hotels next month.)

On the less controversial side, Google Japan has also added Transit, a site that figures out the directions, transfers and costs for traveling between two locations of your choosing. (The site's in Japanese but, if you're looking for something similar in English, I recommend Hyperdia. Very useful site.)

(OK, It's Creepy) UPDATE:
While checking Google maps for this post, I noticed that they now have "Street View" for the somewhat-small Florida town where I grew up.

Why? I don't know.

But, despite my above enthusiasm, I have to admit it was a little weird seeing pictures of my parents house online. I guess I can kind of see Japan's reluctance.

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