History in Google Earth

This past week, just in time for Earth Day, Google revealed something interesting in Google Earth.

It’s the option to view the earth in a time lapse format for the past 37 years. My, things have changed.

When you land on the page, there are five highlighted, high profile topics to be played. And, they’re worth it.

It can be used further in the classroom. Certainly, the topics highlighted are starting points for great classroom discussions.

But, what around the neighbourhood?

Since this sits in Google Earth, it’s a snap to move around and zero in on your community to see what growth has happened there. Depending upon the location, you’ll enjoy high resolution imagery.

To be honest, I knew that there was a great deal of growth in our community. But, it’s very humbling to see the spread before my very eyes.

Knitting needles in the curriculum

It was a thing when I was in elementary school. If you went to your backyard and started digging, you could dig a hole to China. Apparently, it really was a thing but I never hear about it anymore.

The memory all came rushing back this morning as I was doing my daily wander around what’s new (to me).

The best memory from elementary school was a hands-on demonstration by our Social Studies teacher as to why it wasn’t possible. We had a globe in the classroom and, for some reason, he had a knitting needle. I’ll be honest; as long as I taught, I never had a knitting needle in my classroom. But he did.

So, he brought out the globe so that it was front and centre and we located just where we were. He used the knitting needle to go “straight down” which I still wonder about since going “straight down” on a globe seems to have so many different pictures in my mind.

This morning, I was reading about Floom from withGoogle. It’s purpose is explore the other side of the earth, giving a starting point you determine. So, I downloaded the app and off I was.

As I kind of predicted, I ended up in the Indian Ocean!

I just have to find an explanation for my wife for the hole in the rec room.

Fortunately, you can move your camera around a bit before telling Floom to start digging. The results are displayed on a Google Earth image. I did adjust things with the help of the App and ended up somewhere in Vietnam.

Playing with it and using the tips from Floom about whether I was over land or water was really helpful. When you do find land on the other side, a tap will take you to Google Earth so that you can explore just what you’ve found.

This was definitely more high tech than the knitting needle demonstration. And, of course, as an educator you can see all kinds of application in geography, mathematics, computer science, …

Where will your curiosity take you?

Yet another change

I remember Grade 9 Typing and Mr. Renshaw’s explanation for why the keys on the typewriter were the way they were. According to him, it was to deliberately slow you down so that you didn’t have the keys jam together and they pushed against the ribbon. We assumed that his explanation was good; fact checking wasn’t something that you did to your teachers back then.

The logic kind of fell apart when we moved to electric typewriters and the Selectric ball that could only print one character no matter how hard you tried to push two keys on the keyboard at the same time. (We weren’t always focused on this riveting subject…) The logic and arrangement were still there when we used a keypunch for programming.

It really blew apart when the computer came along. There were no keys to lock together and yet the key arrangement remained the same. It was probably then that we spun the expression “It is what it is”. About that time, somehow, I stumbled upon the Dvorak keyboard. I’m guessing it was in an edition of 80Micro because I downloaded an application that remapped my keyboard to the Dvorak layout.

Public Domain Image

The philosophy was simple; you can increase speed and productivity if you put the most used keys on the “home row” so that you aren’t reaching all over the keyboard as the previous layout forced you. It took a great deal of practice but I eventually became pretty proficient with it. However, it was a skill that wasn’t easily transferred to every computer that I might use and it made my computer unusable for anyone else who might want to use it.

Time and technology moved on and eventually those typewriters in keyboarding classrooms got tossed and were replaced by computers. That introduced us to the whole concept of the “Standard” IBM Keyboard. One of my first projects as computer consultant was the oversight of a district wide project where we replaced all the typewriters in our system with IBM PCs. Of course, they had that standard keyboard. Life was good and we were moving along.

Then, things changed. It probably was a miniscule change at the designer level at IBM or whoever was designing the keyboards. They moved the CTRL key! You’d think that the world was coming to an end by the reaction and the almost apologetic approach of our salesperson. The CTRL key had always been where today’s CAPSLOCK key is and moved to the bottom row of the keyboard. It still had the same function but it was different. We all had to be retrained to use it. Over the time that we had had the previous standard, we’d become well versed in the concept of copying, pasting, opening a file, sending a document to the printer, etc. without having to think about where the keyboard combination lay; it became second nature. Together, we all broke the cardinal rule of typing which was to not look at the keyboard. We had to – where was that new key? I guess someone thought that they were doing us a favour by putting two of them on the keyboard but still…that was only with some keyboards.

Then, along came the Apple fan people. “Nobody” in the industry was using IBM computers; they were using Macintosh computers. Because, well, Apple really sold it well by letting you think that you were looking at an actual sheet of paper while you were keying. To ensure that diehard Macintosh people remained with the platform, they got rid of the CTRL key altogether. As we know, the same functionality was assigned to the Command key. It didn’t feel quite right because it was just a bit of a different reach. Had it been placed where the Fn key was, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. It doubled the work for me because any instructions that I would create for a piece of software had to be translated either to or from the Apple layout. I wasn’t alone; how many times have you seen CTRL/Command + C?

Recently, the Chromebook has become a new player in the market, with a recent report that it has surpassed Apple in the number of computers in use. For this diehard PC guy, it was a piece of cake to move to the new keyboard. All the keys were in the same place. Well, all but one. Actually, a lot but only one that affects me directly! It was that strange looking key with the magnifying glass on it. I’ve heard it called the “Launcher” but I prefer the term “Search” and it replaced the CAPSLOCK key. That I didn’t mind since I don’t use CaPsLoCk much anyway. Most importantly, the CTRL and key combinations were the same as my PC or Command and key on the Macintosh.

Actually, I quite enjoy the “Search” key. It lets me search directly on the search engine of my choice or gives me a listing of all the applications on my Chromebook. I’d be happy with that.

Apparently, Google isn’t.



I had to read both articles rather slowly to really let the impact of this sink in and what does it really mean to me? I can’t imagine if any PC manufacturer or Apple would upset the apple cart (so to speak) by making such a big change.

I can only assume that the designers at Google only use Chromebooks. (and why not? The Google Chromebook is an incredible machine) But, how about those that are forced to use a number of different computers, now with one that has a different layout of keyboard functions that the others?

My guess is that most of the people that just use a Chromebook will learn the new arrangements and become pretty proficient with them. For the others, as long as the standard key combinations combined with a functioning mouse/trackpad exists, will happily use those and ignore the changes. As long as the traditional combinations exist, I don’t see it as a game changer for most. You can just move along as you always could.

I just feel for the person in school district who has to support them all!

Fighting the bad guys

Around here, we have two smartphones. I have had one for a long time now and we convinced my wife that she should have one and we get rid of the landline. Actually, it was a salesperson at The Source that had the final shove when he said that she could have the same number as the land line.

The fam and I tried to get her to get a completely different number but that was a non-starter since she really wanted people that only knew of us by the old phone number to remain connected. So, we dropped the issue.

It’s been about a year now since we made the move and I’m really a slow learner. After we take the dog for a stroll, my first impulse upon entering the house is to check the answering machine. Will I ever get over this? I’m Exhibit A for “old habits die hard”.

When we had a land line, caller ID wasn’t an option here even though we could conceivably display the information on the handsets.

As anyone with a smartphone knows, these days it isn’t uncommon to get unsolicited phone calls all the time. In a previous life, they still came but they mostly seemed somewhat legitimate – carpet cleaning, duct work cleaning, etc. Sadly, these days, my wife with the transported line gets a lot of calls and I’m guessing it’s because a lot of these people have bought into a service that lets them know that it’s a real number.

For the most part, I escape this except that I had three in a row yesterday from numbers that I didn’t know. I don’t have my phone set to ring; it just vibrates my watch instead. I could answer the phone but that lets the caller know that it’s a live number. I could immediately discard the call but that indicates that there’s a human on the other end. So, I typically just put up with the vibrations until they stop and usually that’s it.

Yesterday was a bit different. The third call actually left a voice message that I just had to listen to. After all, it could be a legitimate person calling from a number that I didn’t recognize. That wasn’t the case. This time, it was from a computer generated voice that let me know that the police had a warrant for my arrest and if I wanted to avoid the arrest, I needed to press 1 now.

Well, duh, that would be a confirmation that they’ve reached a real person although the fact that the number had voicemail should have been enough. And, secondly, if the police wanted to come for a chat, they’d be welcome. With COVID, we don’t get visitors anymore. I’d be happy to make them a coffee. Thirdly, I’m sure that I pay enough taxes that a real person could have made the phone call if legitimate. Fourthly, I wouldn’t think the police would want to give someone with a warrant advanced notice.

Normally, unsolicited numbers pop up with “POTENTIAL FRAUD” on the screen. These three didn’t for some reason. I’m guessing that the reason is that the number they claim their calling from was a local number on the same exchange as my phone. But, as we all know, any number can be spoofed. (Love the lead story at this site – go get ’em)

It’s but another reminder that sometimes it’s a not-so-nice world out there. I appreciate the fact that many of these unwanted phone calls are flagged before I even see them. When they do come through, I used the blocking feature to block and report them but I suspect that it’s meaningless as they’ll just spoof a different number.

I think we all have experienced the onslaught of unwanted content in other forms as well. But just how big a problem is it? Check out this article on security from Google.

In total, we blocked over 99 million Covid-related ads from serving throughout the year, including those for miracle cures, N95 masks due to supply shortages, and most recently, fake vaccine doses. We continue to be nimble, tracking bad actors’ behavior and learning from it. In doing so, we’re able to better prepare for future scams and claims that may arise. 

Our Annual Ads Safety Report – https://blog.google/products/ads-commerce/ads-safety-report-2020/

99 million!

Wow. Being connected in whatever way that I am, I know that there are all kinds of things out there – good and bad. But that number just blows my mind.

Obviously Google, being in the advertising business, has a huge interest in making sure that the advertisements that it lets through are legitimate and worthy. It’s pretty comforting to read this report describing what they’re doing.

These numbers are just a confirmation that having eyes wide open and a sense of what’s good and what’s not so good fully in place whenever you choose to be connected is a good skill. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that needs to evolve as the bad guys come up with new ways to beat the system.

Be careful out there.

My rec room is bugged

Seriously, apparently. You’d like to think you’re alone but really these days we’re not. At least I’m not.

This article got me thinking – How to stop your smart tv from spying on you (and why you should) (mashable.com)

A previous television died on us and we had to buy a new one a couple of years ago. We noticed, at the time, that everything in the television department at the store we went to was labelled “smart”. At one time, that meant that there was a sensor that turned down the brightness when the room darkened. Now, it’s much more.

Our television came with a number of applications that are available and over the course of time, there appear to be more. Plus, you can navigate to the “store” and get more if you want. All because the television is connected to our internet. The List of All the Apps on Samsung Smart TV (2021) (digitbin.com) come over the internet alongside the web browsing that we do. Everything, it seems, except for CBC or CBC Gem which for some reason Samsung televisions don’t support. For even more, there is an option to switch to the antenna on the roof of the house to pick up all kinds of stations from Windsor, Detroit, Ann Arbor, etc. Now, I could go with Option 1 in the article above and disconnect the television from the internet and stick to over the air but where’s the fun in that?

Besides, it’s not the only device there. I was gifted a Google Mini which only works when it’s connected to the internet. Supposedly, it just sits there waiting for a kick start “Hey, Google” but anyone that has one knows that there are false alerts and the device will randomly give out answers. Fortunately, you can ask it to dumb itself down a bit “Hey, Google, that wasn’t for you”. The response that it will be deleted soon is a little creepy. Why not right now? But, the big takeaway is that it has to be listening to get the proper prompt even if it makes a mistake every now and again.

It doesn’t stop there. My smartphone is typically plunked on the table next to me. You never know when you might need to answer a call, play a game, or quickly look up a fact or check email. I know I could just ask the Google Mini to do the deed but that’s a habit I haven’t adopted full time yet. Besides, everyone in the room would know what I was doing. Oh, and Google too.

For the little more intensive activity, I have my Chromebook sitting next to the phone. It has the Android side activated so it’s as useful/invasive as the others. Having done this for years and years, I’m still struck in awe how seamlessly it all works and the responses come back so quickly. Not to be too old fashioned but I remember the Art Linkletter Children’s Encyclopedia my mother bought for my brother and me. Later on in school, research if it was important enough to know the answer, involved writing a prompt in one of my notebooks and heading to the library at school to do the research.

Later in my job, that didn’t mean not visiting libraries. I loved the school visits and the chat with the teacher-librarians who always found time to welcome me. Ironically, it was typically a discussion about technology, internet, security, privacy, etc.

As I look around the room now (the Chromebook is awesome for blogging), it’s amazing to think of all the devices that are listening and maybe even watching me. I do use one of those sliders over the camera on the Chromebook to give me this false sense of privacy!

It seems like a losing battle at times. It really doesn’t bother me much; the benefits far outweigh all of the concerns at this point. I enjoy asking the Google Mini what my agenda is today in these days of COVID. My eldest daughter thinks I’m such a nerd.

There may come a time when I can welcome you into the house again. I really look forward to that.

We’ll go out and sit on the patio where there shouldn’t be any ears listening except for the ever-present dog and a few birds.