Friday, August 19, 2005

Thoughts on Google Earth

Well, just incase you haven't heard of it before, Google has unveiled the BETA version of its latest product Google Earth. What an incredible program. It takes us a step beyond MapQuest and Yahoo Maps. Although it doesn't provide the same level of detail as MapQuest and Yahoo for driving directions, it does provide some great information that is wonderfully designed. Instead of providing maps it provides digital imagery for those who may want to visualize the world in a little more real fashion that the static maps provided by internet mapping tools.

Google Earth is also supported by the Google Earth Community. The community provides support, news, archives, data searches, and a bulletin board. As of August 19 there are already over 83,000 members. The community can be used for posting.

Why do I like Google Earth so much? Google Earth is a very valuable visualization tool. I can describe to someone how to locate my house, and I can direct them to MapQuest or Yahoo Maps to see the street and address structure, but the best way to find my house it to provide someone with a visualization of where my house lies in relation to other things (houses, intersections, landmarks). It provides someone who is looking for my house with some situational awareness while they are out looking for my house. Google Earth does this much better than any other mapping tool I have found.

In my current job as a consultant to the US Air Force we are creating a product very similar to Google Earth, but it is designed for the Air Force to visualize its installations and the battle space. Imagine a 3-D version of Google Earth with real time aircraft traffic, weather, and installation data on it. An aircraft can depart from an Air force installation and you can follow it as it transits the world. When it comes close to its destination you can zoom in to find a deeper level of visual and annotated detail on a seamless, integrated image. That is similar to where we are headed in the next couple of years. What I do isn't Google Earth, but a similar product. It is a very powerful tool that senior commanders will use to visually remain aware of all the thousands of moving parts in the military system.

Tips for using Google Earth:

1. Remember that the imagery is static and doesn't depict real time pictures. You can't see your car parked in the parking lot right now. Most of the imagery is "flown" once or twice per year and some of the imagery can be several years old.

2. Remember that some of the annotations on the imagery may not be accurate. The annotations can be provided in an open format, so they may not have any quality control before they are posted. If John found an ATM down the street he can place the location of that ATM on Google Earth, even if he is a block or a mile off.

3. Create your own address books using the "Add Folder" and "Add Placemark" functions. You can do some really creating things with the program.

4. Google Earth is free. Don't buy the upgraded version unless you have to. Most people will never need the capability to use the tools the upgraded version contains.

5. Google now owns Google Earth and Blogger. Both are currently free programs and I can hardly wait until they have both integrated into a tool that leverages the visualization tools of Google Earth ease of blogging with Blogger. The images from Google Earth are a little too large for posting on Blogger right now. The detail on Google Earth isn't used well on Blogger.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Missional Vacation

The history for this post starts out a couple of weeks ago. We have owned a camping trailer for several years, but the trailer had bunkbeds for the kids and was getting a little small for us.

My son and daughter are growing up and the bunkbeds are no longer able to endure the stress for someone who is bigger than I am. So, my wife and I found a 9 year old motorhome for sale at a great price and headed off on a family vacation to the mountains of North Carolina.

At the last minute we decided to tow our car behind us, a decision we will never regret and never have to make again.

When we left Interstate 40 near Knoxville, Tennessee headed for Cherokee, North Carolina we understood why got such a great price on the motorhome. The transmission gave up on us and we were stranded in Sevierville. We were stuck and had to be towed into the nearest campground, the Knoxville East KOA. It was a long and very hot day and although we weren’t amused, the Lord had His hands on everything that was going on.

I called the campground to see if they had room for us and the owner said they had one nice spot left that was long enough for us to be towed into. Off we went on a tow to the campground. What a great place! The campground owners (Gary and Jane Carty) waited around for us after hours and helped us get parked at a wonderful campsite. When the motorhome was being unhooked from the wrecker Gary invited us to attend a church service they have in the KOA campground store on Sunday mornings. I told him that I was a campus minister back home in Illinois and it started an 11 day conversation that just got better and better. Gary came back and offered us a free home made pizza that the campground sells to campers and we loved it. Some of the best pizza we have ever had, and it came at a time when we were at a low spot. Thanks Gary and Jane for the help.

We noticed when we were being towed into the campground that it was located on a hillside overlooking the baseball stadium hosting the Tennessee Smokies “AA” baseball team. All the campers moved their chairs to the edge of the hill to watch the game. It was nice to relax after a difficult day and Gary and Jane and a few others came by to ask how we were doing and to give us some moral support.

Sunday morning church service at the campground was excellent! There were about 3 or 4 families who worship regularly at the campground and several other campers there. I estimate there were 25-30 people at the service. The Lord worked throughout the service. Lee led us in worship and Lenny preached the message. Gary and Lenny did a great job leading communion. They are three wonderful servants of the Lord.

Sunday night we watched another Tennessee Smokies baseball game and it followed with a “Building 429” (One of my favorite Christian bands) concert at the stadium. It was like sitting in our living room and watching it on TV. Good stuff.

On Monday we had someone look at our motorhome and they determined we needed a new transmission. The parts would take a week to get to Knoxville and they estimated it would take one day to fix. So we knew we would be around for at least a week. We studied the map and found out there was so much more to do on the Tennessee side of the mountains than the North Carolina side that we began a series of day trips to explore The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We spend the better part of the week hiking trails in the park: Clingman’s Dome,

Laurel Falls,

The Gatlinburg Trail, and parts of the Appalachian Trail. We also saw Sivierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.

We had an incredible time. And all week long Gary and Jane treated us like we were family. My kids bought all the candy they could eat from the campground store and I bought all the Ben and Jerry’s Double Chocolate Fudge icecream they had.

On Friday evening a camper came into the campground that had a family member with a medical emergency at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, about 30 minutes away. Gary and Jane told me about the difficult time the camper was having and we each prayed for him that day. On Saturday we were told that his family member had passed away. When we go through tough times it is so comforting to know that someone is praying for us. Gary and Jane told me this is one reason why they got into the camping business, because it gives them the opportunity to help out people in all sorts of situations. They are true servants of the Lord, and God placed them in our path when we needed some help. I didn’t hear back on the situation that the camper was in, but I know the Lord used Gary and Jane to minister to him.

The Lord provided the opportunity for me to preach in the Sunday morning service the next week. I preached from Psalm 73 on how we need to have an eternal perspective when we go through trials as Christians because the Lord has control of all our situations and we need to trust Him that His way is best. It was something the Lord has laid on my heart since the beginning of the summer. Thank you Gary, Jane, and Lennie for letting me preach. I hope the Lord used my words to reach someone.

What did I learn from vacation?

1) I learned a great lesson on missional living. I always think of vacation when I think of camping, but there are a lot of people out there who are camping because they can’t afford anything else. Gary and Jane have intentionally placed themselves in a position to help a large group of people who are struggling through life and the Lord is using them because they have answered the call (Isaiah 6:8). I have taught my students many times that we need to go to where the lost are and share Jesus with them there, not expect them to come to us. Gary, Jane, Lennie, and Lee are living that on a daily basis. Praise God for their ministry!

2) I learned that the Lord really is in control of all our situations. He can use the situations that look the bleakest to us in order to create seams of light that shine and illuminate a lost world.

3) I also learned that I shouldn’t go through life whining about my situations. The Lord gives and takes away (Job 1:21). I should be content with what the Lord has privileged me with.

4) I need to consciously place myself and my family in situations where I can help people understand that the Lord loves them and has their situations under control. Life is pretty messy some times and that is when people are most vulnerable to understanding that there is a higher being in control of whatever happens in their lives.

Lack of Posting

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. We were on vacation and unexpectedly broke down and were sitting in a place for 11 days that had limited, to no, internet capability. I'll be posting again soon (hopefully later today) and I have some great things to share.