Falling into the Keyhole

For the last two nights, about the time I would generally use for blogging, I have been transfixed for an hour or more by Keyhole, a program billed as the “Ultimate Interface to the Planet.” They may even deserve that hyperbolic tagline. It’s an incredibly entertaining product.

I am amazed at the riches offered by the new breed of cheap satellite imagery. In the context of the war in Iraq, I blogged last year about two satellite imagery companies, DigitalGlobe and Space Imaging. Both of these are nifty (Space Imaging is currently sporting a nice zoomy swoopy view of Fallujah, that happy hamlet on Euphrates), but Keyhole dances far far ahead of these the same way Google danced away from Alta Vista in the early days of search (it’s only fitting, then, that Google recently bought Keyhole).

Seeing minutely detailed images of Saddam’s old palaces is one thing, but Keyhole has some tricks that will make your jaw drop. For one thing, you can fly smoothly and effortlessly to any point on the globe. I’ve flown to Martha’s Vineyard to see a friend’s house. I’ve located my dorms in college and grad school. After you get a little practice, it really feels like you have godlike power. You can fly to your parent’s place or measure the distance between any two points. My parent’s house is 650 miles away. It’s 9.22 miles from my front door to where I park my car at work. And I can tell you that it’s exactly 23.9 miles as the crow flies along the Boston marathon route from Hopkinton Town Center to the Boyleston Street finish line (Lat 42.229352 Long -71.518983, give or take a few inches). Does this matter? I don’t know, but it sure is fun.