Hitting 11 million image views on Google Maps

My profile on Google Maps.

My profile on Google Maps.

Just a year ago, I passed 2 million views on Google Maps. Imagine my surprise when my images surged past 10 million views just a couple of months ago. The 190 images I’ve published on Google Maps has been viewed 11.1 million times as of this writing.

I wish I could claim total responsibility for this accomplishment, but it seems like it’s more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Since I started uploading photospheres to Google Street View, none of them had exceeded 1 million views (although one was close at 970,000 views). Following the Oroville Dam crisis in February, I had two photospheres reach past the one million mark, with one reaching past two million.

In my experience, the most successful spheres are those that are featured in Google’s search results. I don’t have definitive proof that this is the case, but I’ve found the images that featured in the search results seem to perform best. The example that came to mind was my photosphere for Bear Hole in Bidwell Park. I was surprised when I saw it suddenly surge beyond 100,000 views. I wasn’t sure why it was performing so well.

The most plausible explanation was that it was featured on the search results on Google Map. When I searched for Chico, CA in Google Maps, the search engine returns a map of the city, but there’s also a card showing useful information — and photos of the city. Often times, these are popular pics of major landmarks or the like. Google also includes photospheres. This is often from its own Street View service, but it increasingly appears to include photospheres taken by its users.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

I think this is behind my most “popular” photospheres, including ones taken at regional parks, train stations or other landmarks likely to be searched by people.

Adding credence to my theory was another photosphere of Bear Hole taken by another user. I saw that it too was featured at times in the Google Maps search results and it had a view count similar to mine,

That brings me to the incident that brought my views surging to new heights. In early February, there was a natural disaster that prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people in Northern California. Although the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam didn’t breach, I imagine there were a lot of people interested in learning the location of Oroville Dam and the surrounding area.

Indeed, the most popular photospheres featured the now-destroyed main spillway at the dam. It’s interesting that my most popular image is something that no longer exists.

The second most popular image for me was a photosphere of sculptures at Centennial Park in Oroville. It’s not associated with the park because there’s no entry for the park on Google Maps, but it is the first thing that comes up on Google Maps when someone searches for Oroville.

Several other images from Oroville have jumped following the Oroville Dam crisis, but those are by far the most popular.

I don’t know if a view is counted merely because someone sees it on a search result or if someone actually clicked through to see the full image. I would like to think it’s the later, but information on Google support forums indicates that merely seeing an image in a search result counts as a view.

Ultimately, I would like to think that people are viewing my images — it’s nice to think that millions of people are seeing my work. If it’s true, these images are the most popular thing that I’ve ever done.

 

Provo smokestacks before and after


Click to embiggen

It was certainly interesting to watch the demolition of the Provo smokestacks Sunday. Although I’m new to the area, I can certainly understand at least a small portion of what it’s like to lose landmarks like the duo that towered over the skyline for more than 67 years (77 years for the older stack to the north).

In the end, the stacks were practically in their birthday suits after having asbestos-laden paint stripped off of their structures a few weeks ago. While children waved glow sticks that looked like the towers of old with the branding of “Provo City Power,” the actual towers were bare, aside from a column of numbers stretching up the side.

I was excited to cover the event. It was great that the Daily Herald was able to have a reporter, photographer and online staff on the site. We were able to focus on our particular strengths — I reported while Issac Hale shot pics and Phillip Morgan captured live video of the moment. I’m bummed that I forgot that the Provo Mayor’s Office already suggested the #provosmokestacks hashtag and initially went with the shorter #provostacks tag. Hizzoner’s recommendation carried the day on Twitter and the posts using the tag were fun to browse through.

I also got to be a bit of dork and talk about the smokestacks before the event and later during a live, online interview with Assistant Power Director Scott Bunker (who was a pleasure to speak with). Although I’ve done radio broadcasting for years, I definitely saw room for improvement in my presentation.

We were able to cover the event from multiple angles and I was happy to shoot slow-motion video of the destruction. If you watch the top of the northern stack on the left, you can glimpse a small cloud emerge as it falls to the ground. Although the stacks were last used for power generation in 2000, it seems oddly fitting that they funneled either smoke or dust in their dying moments.

Before I left the Provo Recreation Center to write up the story, I snapped a final photo of the view without the towers framed to match a shot I took earlier in the morning. Using the Juxtapose.JS tool, I created the graphic you see at the top of this entry. It’s interesting to see just how much of an impact the old smokestacks had on the Provo skyline. One can only wonder what views we will see in the years to come.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 2.17.44 PM

Last call for Google’s Picasa photo service

A screen capture showing Google's Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

A screen capture showing Google’s Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

After years of languishing behind projects like Google+ and Google Photos, Picasa is finally going to the great software and Web service cemetery beyond the clouds. Google announced last month that Picasa was being retired, and the end begins March 15 when the company stops support of the Picasa desktop app. Picasa’s online Web albums will be changing starting May 1.

I’m writing today so people may have the chance to download the Picasa’s free software for Windows and Mac before it’s taken offline. Although I started with Picasa’s Web service, the desktop software has become an invaluable way to quickly sort images and do some basic editing (although the editing tools are closer to Instagram than Photoshop). Although Google is seeking a single service that works on mobile and desktop, that solution isn’t ready today.

At first glance, Picasa is a tough sell as it was first developed when software companies were determining how to bridge software that resided on local computers with cloud services. Picasa was both a desktop app (that Google initially acquired) and an online photo service and it could be hard to explain the difference between the two to others. The two services even had different Web addresses — the app was available at picasa.google.com while the Web service was available at picasaweb.google.com.

A screenshot shows the desktop software at the top of this blog post. Readers may contrast that with a view of the Web albums below.

Here's a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Here’s a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Compared with modern applications and Web services, both versions of Picasa look a bit dated but they were still generally effective.

When it came to sharing photos online, Picasa Web Albums made things simple without the clutter of other photo-sharing services, like PhotoBucket. You could embed individual Picasa images on other sites or share slideshows of entire albums. These features are not currently available in Google Photos.

The biggest advantage of Google Photos is that it can store all of your photos at a usable size (Google+ Photos had a pretty small image size limit). I’ve found it extremely convenient for locating and sharing individual photos, but I’m less inclined to share whole albums. To be fair, I didn’t choose to share many albums with Picasa Web Albums, but I miss the ability to view other’s public photo profiles and share my own.

Ultimately, I’ll likely miss the desktop software most of all, especially when it came to processing screenshots. As someone whose personal computer is a MacBook, it’s easy to take cropped screenshots with the Command-Shift-4 keyboard shortcut. On a Windows PC, it’s initially easy to take the screenshot with the PrtScn key, but then you have to go to an image app like MS Paint, paste the screenshot into the image, crop it and then save it.

Picasa for Windows allowed users to skip a couple of steps. When Picasa was running, the PrtScn key captured the desktop directly to Picasa (alas, no secondary screens). With the image already saved, it was easy to go into Picasa, edit and crop the image and export it from a bitmap to a JPEG or PNG file.

The rest of the desktop app’s tools were straightforward. You couldn’t cut out or easily modify smaller elements of an image (something that had me running to Photoshop a couple times last year). The tools were useful for basic photo editing and caption information was saved in an IPTC format, which saved a lot of time for work. Users could also add text to an image, which saved me a lot of grief when I was working on my Christmas cards.

As much as I liked the desktop software, it could get a bit difficult to manage images, especially as it tried to cope with updates from other developers. For example, it was great that Picasa was able to read Apple’s iPhotos image database, but that advantage is practically wiped out when the image database splits up images by date (instead of albums or something more useful).

Ultimately, it makes sense for Google to let go of Picasa as the desktop app was last significantly updated more than four years ago. It will also reduce some of the confusion of Google’s image programs (which will still include Google Photos and the Snapseed mobile editing apps). I hope Google Photos will pick up some of the features of the Picasa services. Google Photos offers some incredible advantages, especially with facial and object recognition, but I think it has some ways to go before it can be a suitable replacement for Picasa.

Is Google Photos the future?

Is Google Photos the future?

The night I nearly tripped over Tony Gwynn

A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn "Mr. Padre" statue outside Petco Park Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

A mourner looks up at the Tony Gwynn “Mr. Padre” statue outside Petco Park on Monday, June 16, 2014, in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I’m still in shock that Tony Gwynn has died. He was one of those icons you thought would live for decades, sort of like fellow slugger Ted Williams, but Gwynn left us at age 54 after battling salivary-gland cancer. Gwynn’s presence loomed large over baseball and San Diego, yet he seemed like one of the nicest, most relatable people around.

That was certainly true one day late in the 1997 season when I almost tripped over him.

It was the San Diego Padres’ last homestand of the season. I was working as co-news editor of the UCSD Guardian when we heard Chancellor Robert Dynes was going to throw out the first pitch that night (IIRC, it would’ve been the Wednesday, Sept. 17 game against the Colorado Rockies).

We thought it would make for a decent photo, but our photo editor had other assignments. We were on deadline, but I called for a press pass and headed for Qualcomm Stadium after grabbing a camera.

By the time I found parking (in the VIP area!) and got into the stadium, I was starting to run a bit late. After riding in a cramped and creaky old elevator to field level, I jogged down the tunnel toward the field where I was directed.

As I made my way through the cold, grey corridor, I started going a bit faster before I realized the tunnel had a slight downward slope.

I was going faster, faster and then I suddenly saw a player sitting on the floor, lacing up his shoes. If I didn’t do something, I would’ve crashed into him. I felt I couldn’t stop safely so I kind of skip-hopped to the right.

As I passed him, I heard a kind voice saying something like, “Woah, slow down there buddy” with a little chuckle.

It was Tony Gwynn.

I’m pretty sure it was him, although I passed by in a blur. I shouted out “Sorry, sir” and continued toward the field. I was able to get to the photographers’ area near the dugout with just a few moments to spare before Dynes threw out the first pitch (with three other people — it was Community Day or something).

The photo didn’t run — it was double-exposed somehow.

As I’ve retold the story over the years, I’m deeply thankful that I didn’t run into him. I would’ve been horrified if Gwynn was somehow injured because of my actions. Also, in hindsight, I appreciated his polite response, other people may have not reacted so well to such an interruption.

That was my only near-encounter with Gwynn. It would’ve been great to have known him better and to share some firsthand encounters like Keith Olbermann (video).

At the same time, nearly every San Diegan who was around during Gwynn’s 20-year career knew him in some fashion and his death leaves a hole in the city’s psyche. Even when the Padres were in the dumps (as they were in 1997), San Diegans could always look to Tony Gwynn — I had to check, but he won his final of eight National League batting titles in 1997.

After Gwynn retired, he remained a fixture of the San Diego community, coaching the San Diego State University baseball team. He was also a subtle, yet well-regarded presence in the north San Diego County city of Poway where he lived (one of my sisters has stories of trick-or-treating at his house).

To be sure, Gwynn was a great baseball player and one of the greatest hitters of all time. When I look back, I’ll recall those performances and remember his dedication, persistence and enthusiasm at both sport and life.

R.I.P., Tony.

Sorry, protestors can’t ignore decades of First Amendment history

As someone whose livelihood depends on the First Amendment, it can be irksome how this essential enshrinement of the four freedoms of assembly, the press, speech and exercise of religion is misinterpreted. Some of it can be a simple, yet gross misunderstanding where people like Hank Williams Jr. wrap themselves in the First Amendment to deflect criticism of their words by private people or companies.

Amid the nationwide series of Occupy protests and earlier efforts to disrupt BART mass transit in San Francisco, I’ve seen some well intentioned, if not fully informed assertions of the First Amendment, especially with regards to protestors claiming where and when they can protest. While there are (and should be) broad rights to protest and address government grievances in public spaces, people don’t have carte blanche. While the First Amendment is broadly written in the Bill of Rights, more than 70 years of Supreme Court rulings have defined the “public forum doctrine” where government agencies can set reasonable, content-neutral restrictions on access.

I first became interested in the current situation when the classic Occupy Wall Street group faced possible eviction from Zuccotti Park, ostensibly for cleaning. It was an interesting situation, especially with private ownership of what appears to be a traditional public forum (they’re apparently required to allow public access around the clock). It reminded me a bit of when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints acquired part of Main Street in Salt Lake City and turned it into a plaza (with significant speech restrictions that didn’t apply to LDS representatives).

Ultimately, the “public forum doctrine” under the First Amendment generally allows agencies to set reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on access to traditional public forums, provided that these rules are content-neutral and narrowly serve a significant state interest. [“Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association,” 460 U.S. 37 (1983)]. The Supreme Court also held that a government may enforce a narrowly crafted content-based exclusion that’s vital to serve a compelling state interest (which is stricter than a significant interest).

Despite protestors’ claims, the public forum doctrine still applies. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ruled that Sacramento’s 3o-year-old overnight curfew in parks doesn’t violate protestor’s rights. According to the Sacramento Bee

England said the Sacramento ordinance “as drafted and applied” does not discriminate against the views of park occupiers, and it governs in a reasonable way the “time, place and manner” of demonstrations in all city parks.

As layman who has studied the First Amendment, I believe the public forum doctrine is sound and should be honored when it is applied fairly and equally. Looking at the Zuccotti Park situation and others, my questions would be: Are the current restrictions reasonable to an average person, do they serve a significant state interest and are they being applied equally to all?

Generally, I’m in favor of people maximizing their free speech rights (like in California shopping centers), but protestors don’t seem to have much ground to stand on if the law is being applied fairly.

The blogging thing

I’m surprised at MySpace. It’s been an Internet phenomenon for more than two years, but they still can’t get their blogging tool to fully work in Firefox. For shame, Tom. For shame.

On the subject of blogging, I wanted to announce the newest and coolest blog to hit my profile in the past 10 minutes. I’ve started up a pop-culture entertainment blog on NorCal Blogs. It’s the Buzz Blog. It’s sorta like my old pop-culture column, but slightly more frequent and vastly more banal.

To keep tabs on all of my blogging endeavors, I’ve added a little widget to my profile. All of my blogs are now squeezed into a tiny space.

On Pop Culture: Pledge break

We’ll rejoin the regular “On Pop Culture” column in a minute, but first we’d like to take a moment of your time to ask you to call in with your pledge of support for this publication.

As you may have heard, our publication faces a tightening budget due to advertisers deciding that newspapers aren’t going to be the new MySpace. I know we’re not MySpace — the newspapers are like CraigsList, but with news and classifieds you have to pay for.

Because of the cutbacks, we’re now turning to you — the reader — for your support. For the cost of a submarine sandwich a month, you can help keep this column going. We will take your generous donation and buy our columnists sub sandwiches.

Since the inception of the “On Pop Culture” column last year, the average age of our publication’s columnists has been lowered by about 20 years. Without it and the “Starving Student,” the average age of the columnists jumps back to 67.

That includes Wm. Jameson T. Cornballer, our 93-year-old phonograph reviewer who thinks that “McPheever” is a disease his young fiancee died from in the 1930s. Thanks to your ongoing support, we have a vaccination for the most fatal and virulent forms of McPheever.

I know “On Pop Culture” can’t be as timely as the entertainment blogs or even weekly TV programs. Instead of going for instantaneous gratification, every two weeks our column goes for timelessness.

Remember where you were when he tried to explain the culture significance of the phrase, “Time to make the doughnuts”? Recall the good times when we tried to discuss the impact of the Disney Channel phenomenon “High School Musical” without actually seeing the program.

Who else but an overweight, out-of-touch columnist can shed insight on the things that you can hear and see with your own ears and eyes?

Call now. As our way of saying thanks, with your pledge at the level of $75 a year, we’ll give you a special premium — the voice of columnist Ryan singing a TV theme song on your phone answering machine. I’m a fan of “Electric Company” and “Speed Racer,” but can just as well sing the themes to “Lost” or “Heroes.”

We’re going to rejoin our regular programming in a minute, but we just want to let you know that we’ve got a lot of great things lined up for the next few months. April Fool’s Day is around the corner. We’ve got more “Secret Shames,” including a look at local karaoke bars.

With your generous pledge of support, we can … Uh, one second.

We’ve just received word that no one has called in during the past five minutes it’s taken you to read this column. I’m hearing from my manager that this will be the end of “On Pop Culture.”

Thanks for your support. It’s been a blast these past four months. And, please, buy a newspaper once in a while. It’s good for you (and me).


Due to budget cutbacks, the size of the Enterprise-Record’s “Buzz” entertainment section was halved. “On Pop Culture” was among the items cut to save space.

This MySpace-only column is my reaction to the news. The Dude abides and I hope I do too.

So, it’s 10:18 a.m. EST and I’m staring at the computer screen. I’m thinking about anything except writing my story.
Steve: What’s the current snowfall average to date?
Ryan: You want the average to today?
S: That’s what I’ve done before.
R: To today?
S: Well I’ve done it to the end of the month.
R: Oh, OK I can just add up the average snowfall from each month through February. [starts punching numbers in calculator]. It’s 150.

And it goes on like this for a few more minutes. sigh