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Short Version:

Google has asked me to remove the programs that I wrote that help you make large maps. There are lots of good reasons why this is a bad idea. There are also many why it makes sense. I've been thinking about this from many sides for a long time (well okay non-stop for 22 hours, minus some sleep and circuit design) and haven't reached a final decision on who is "right" and who is "wrong." The only thing I've come to realize is that it's a very Huge Gray Area.

So this web page has now, literally, been turned into a Huge Gray Area. I have turned all text and pictures into gray versions and modified my programs to turn all map images into grayscale versions.

Talking Points and References:

To name a few perspectives, both for and against removing the programs:

  • There's the DVD Jon precedent. He's the guy who made it possible to watch DVDs on Linux machines. Jon was put on trial for releasing information on how to access copyrighted DVD information in a way the manufacturers did not intended and was fully acquitted. The entertainment industry has not crumbled since then. BTW, Jon has also recently done a Google hack.

  • The tape recorder analogy: No tape recorder designers are prosecuted for the user's crimes committed with the tool.

  • The academic argument: This project is here to teach people something about html, digital photography and perl. In fact I've learned new perl techniques from users submitting improvements. It's also here to inspire people to be creative and learn how to use technology in order to be creative.

  • I originally wrote this simply to do an art piece about a completely gorgeous part of the Massachusetts landscape near Plum Island. Look for it sometime in northeastern Mass. The collage is not yet done- I'm still trying to figure out how to do the masks in photoshop...

  • If people do abuse the scripts it might actually be bad for Google. And therefore maybe all of us on the 'net. Nevertheless, people should be free to choose if they want to wreck it for themselves. This is America, after all. When we treat people like adults, most of them act like adults. The program's principal use is to make medium-sized maps, not mass downloads. Has anyone actually abused the script? It's not worth it. It doesn't seem practical to make posters much bigger than, say, 3000x3000. Computers can barely work with that much data, and what do you print it out on?

  • If Google fears people leeching their data, why do they take no steps on their servers to prevent it? In other words, this is a neat hack, people, but it's not hard for anyone who knows much about html and perl. Think how many other people can do this besides me! Stopping me won't prevent the hardcore bad guys from stealing Google's map data. So why should everyone have to suffer because of the fear of a few bad seeds? Let Google go after the people who are actually doing the mass downloads, and let them define mass downloads, too.

  • Google has said that this jeopardizes their ability to keep it public, yet I say it is only public if I can do what I want with it. There are limits to what you can do in, say, a public park though. But does this project go outside those limits? And how will we know when we're outside the limits? All the response I've gotten from users is very encouraging.

  • There's the fact that their takedown letter is superficially nice, but contained veiled threats. I'm not really sure how to take it guys. When you commend me, is it just flattery, or do you really like it? Would you sign your name and words to a map poster for me saying the same things you said in your e-mail?

  • On top of all this, there is the idea that by challenging them I could set a legal precedent, ruining it for everyone, or not. And on top of that, it may not really be worth a massive confrontation. (Bey vs. DeCerteau)

  • The fact that the information is already out there elsewhere, reposted and translated.

  • The fact that maybe the new Google Maps API could be used to do this the way they want it? But then why are they leaving up the old way? If someone were using my website for something I didn't like, I sure would adjust my service to stop it.

  • From Nomadology: The fact that the State is always "scanning" for Nomads to learn their ways and try to get them under their control. And the Nomads are always trying to evade the State in order to enjoy freedom, but don't have the safety of those inside the city walls.

  • Finally, I didn't really think they'd mind this page, since it's only a program and not a service, and I'm not getting paid for it. And I didn't think many people would know how to use it, anyway. Contrast that to the first Google Maps Takedown, which was an html form that let anyone type in something. With mine, you at least had to know how to run a perl script.
  • Extended Rant:

    But that's not where the discussion ends. There's the fact that Google could at any time fix the architecture of their system so that it's impossible for people to use it in a way that is unacceptable to them. They do have teams of scientists after all. They choose instead to send out pushy letters (are lawyers cheaper than scientists?). And then there's the fact that I might do the same in their place. Really. I've Google'd the product manager of Google Maps who sent me the takedown letter and he's a lot like me: He's got photos of himself at Coachella, looks about the same age as me, dresses up in silly costumes on Halloween, etc.

    Then there's the fact that I could just press control-z right now, type "rm -fr *", and everything would be over in an instant.

    But then there's the fact that culture is changing. Humans have always used tools around them to manipulate their environment into something liveable. (see Kubrick, and possibly also Toynbee, heh). That's why I don't begrudge the fact that we'd be dead without computers- we'd also be dead without bones to wack things with.

    And in addition to just wacking things, we also make plowshares, and communication tools. Freedom of expression = the right to take what's around as and turn it into a reference for our feelings. To come up with ideas. This process takes place in highly civilized places, like libraries, in informal ones, like coffee shops, outlaw ones, like graffitti under bridges, and in collage art. It's been going on since America started, with people appropriating each other's music, for example. Negativland point this out very well, demonstrating that we can't help but use what is around us (billboards, radio jingles, etc.) to communicate with each other. It's absurd to have language police jump out of the bushes every time we pervert a jingle for our own enjoyment. And in this same way, This hack is taking what's offered to me and expressing with it. And allowing other people to do it, too.

    And that can cut two ways: do we like grafitti? well yes and no. Not all the time, and only in certain places. Is my little hack more like grafitti or a thinktank press release.

    And there's more, too. I suspect Google wouldn't mind if I just did my art piece and moved on. But I think that's somewhat elitist! It's pretty lame if only the most ace hackers can go around doing whatever they want, and everyone else has to put up or shut up. What if only the most intelligent could take part in all the reindeer games? What if only the smartest were allowed to paint? or make music? Think about the wonderful explosion in home recording in the last 5-10 years since home recording studios came into abundance...one no longer needs to be (significantly) wealthy in order to produce music.

    I mean, think of that line in that movie Bulworth: "If a brother can't rap or write computer games." He was saying being poor sucks if you don't have lE3t 5|<1lz. This is the one of the main reasons I do what I do...to try to use my gifts to help other people! To help us all see something wonderful. Google has started to do that with these map programs...and I'm trying to keep the ball rolling! Years from now, we'll be able to talk about the effects on our culture of having google maps, how it changed the way we do things. But I just wanted to do it a little differently because I didn't think they had it quite right. And look! In the last three weeks, there have been umpteen links of people praising the script on blogs and comments, writing email to me to say thank you, fixing my bugs, and translating it into programming languages some of which I haven't even heard of before. What does this all say? My way of doing things IS important to people.

    Now, trying to see the problem from Google's side a little more: I believe Google is maybe afraid of people seriously leeching their data. (Care to speak up, guys? Please use my Media Lab addr, so I'll get it in time...it seems everyone at the lab knew about the takedown notice before I did!) And I guess that is a fear that I didn't think of when I first wrote the scripts. You know, I want to make clear that's not why I wrote them, and I don't encourage it at all. In fact, I don't think anyone using these programs would use up significantly more bandwidth than if they were using Googles original (and pretty smooth!) interface. After all, mine caches the image on your HD. And you know if it were technically possible, I would cripple the script so that you couldn't download more than, say, a 12x12 area at once. But I know that's impossible on my side...They could only restrict that at the server. And I wish they would.

    I think if people want more than 12x12, they can render several on their own and hand-stitch them. So I have modified my programs to restrict their max size to 12x12. I know most people can get around that, but I'm

    Anyway, there are too many sides to this problem to make a clear cut decision. Don't you at least agree to that? It's a problem our generation has to deal with. And, along with artists like Krzysztof Wodiczko, I don't believe in solutions, only discourse. (My sister has pointed out other problems our generation has yet to "solve," such as young people moving together before marriage. And I have added: who pays for the internet hardware? Who gets it when you move out?). So, discourse this is. And there has been discourse on Slashdot recently, too. I think my map program is somewhere in the middle. A gray area. And that's why I have made this page gray. Have I removed the programs yet? No, I'm still thinking about it, but I have modified them to turn all images downloaded into grayscale.

    In short, this is one of the least Black and White situations I've ever been in.

    Google Map Hack for Large Maps

    by Noah Vawter of Computing Culture at the MIT Media Lab

    Don't you love the quality of Google Maps? Ever wish you could create a giant one (2048x1792), bigger than your screen? They're great for making posters, or art. You could do it the hard way, by pasting together screen grabs, or you can use this free software!

    Use Firefox to Find the Center Tile Method #1

    (this is from a reader named JJ): I didn't need to use the Page Info/Media tab in Firefox on Mac OS X. At least for me, I can just control-click in the Google Maps viewport where I want center to be, and select 'Copy Image Location' to get the URL. (You can open the image directly in a new tab as well.) Definitely saves a few steps.

    Use Firefox to Find the Center Tile Method #2

    If you look closely, you can figure out how Google serves up the tiles that make up a map. After opening a map, go into Firefox, menu item Tools/Info, then click on the Media tab. Scroll through the pictures. It will list all the files that make up the picture.

    They have a simple format to them: e.g. http://mt.google.com/mt?v=.38&x=5376&y=-730&zoom=2 fetches tile 5376,-730.

    Then, you can write a program like this one (now version 3, adds grayscaling) that grabs all the tiles around the center one you specify and stitches them together using ImageMagick convert. Replace the numbers in the first two lines "$sx" and "$sy" with the coordinates of the center tile you wish to use. Note, it caches the tiles each time to run to save time on future runs.

    How to Get Google Satellite Imagery

    Using the above-mentioned Info/Media Tab from Firefox, you'll find the satellite map tiles are encoded as 256x256 jpegs. e.g. http://kh.google.com/kh?v=1&t=tqstqrrqstsrttss

    The map tile data is stored in the string made up of qs, rs, ss, and ts. The highest level of zoom out is called simply "t". E.g.: href=http://kh.google.com/kh?v=1&t=t

    Then, the letters q,r,s and t mean to zoom in toward a particular direction. 'q' means northwest/upper left, 'r' means northeast/upper right, 's' means southeast/down and to the right and 't' means southwest/down and to the left. Notice the the directions go in a clockwise circle.

    Each zoom level adds another letter. Up to 18 digits can be specified for maximum zoom! e.g. http://kh.google.com/kh?v=1&t=tqstqrrqstsrtsqsqr

    How to create a superbitmap? You want to grab adjacent tiles and stitch them to together, e.g. with unix convert. To navigate up/down/left/right, you can translate the string of q-t this way: q=0 r=1 t=2 s=3

    Now, you can treat each letter as a 2-bit number, where bit 0 means left/right and bit 1 means up/down. Therefore, a string gets translated like:

    #    tqstqrrqstsrtsqsqr =
    #  = 203201103231230301
    #  H 001001101011010101 (horizontal)
    #  V 101100001110110100 (vertical)

    Now, you have two 18-bit binary numbers that encode position. To navigate east, for example, you simply increment the horizontal number, then reencode:

    #  H 001001101011010110
    #  V 101100001110110100
    #  = 203201103231230310
    #  = tqstqrrqstsrtsqsrq

    You can now use this script (now version5, adds gray scaling) to grab satellite tiles and stitch them together into one mega image.

    Useful Maps - scaled for optimum view on PSP (2048x2048) and turned into grayscale

    Cambridge, MA

    Boston, MA

    Boston, MA, Downtown

    MBTA Subway

    U.S. Map with Capitals

    I used it to make this humungous map (3072x3072) of Cambridge/Boston/Somerville.
    Note! To store large jpg's successfully on PSP, you must use baseline ("standard") (not progressive "scanned"). If you are using PhotoShop, you must also omit the embedded color profile. Also, if you're going to use this software, all your images will be in gray so it won't matter what color profile they have.

    Future Work

    I would love it if someone could make this into some higher-level software, especially a firefox plugin, or a way to at least extract the center block via xml. Contact me if you feel like it.


    You can click here to get back to Noah Vawter's Webpage...

    ...or here to see more projects.

    Debugging help came from Roberto.

    Pall made a very nice map of Iceland. Enjoy this beautiful country by recycling as much aluminum as you possibly can! A lot of environmental degradation in Iceland happens because of aluminum mined and refined there. Pall also gives a version of my script translated into php.