Thomas is a Tiger. That is, he's in his first year of Cub Scouts and he and his friends are known as Tigers (go Pack 464!). This gets Thomas and I doing lots of interesting things: going on outtings, building cars, and... spending the night on an aircraft carrier!
Neither Thomas nor I had been on a military ship before, let alone an aircraft carrier. The Hornet was built over 60 years ago and refitted multiple times since then. It served in WWII and picked up the Apollo 11 crew upon their return to earth. Saved from the scrap heap 10 or so years ago, it's been renovated by a welcoming and dedicated group of people.
After orientation, setting up our bunks, muster, and chow, we spent the evening exploring the ship from top to bottom. Being able to roam around a floating city (3,500 crew members during WWII) was a lot fun. We got lost a few times but, as long as you know which way is up :-), it's easy to find your back to the hangar deck.
By far the best part of our stay was the fact that ex-crew members of the Hornet and its sister ships were giving us tours and answering our questions. It made all the difference in the world and gave us a window in the lives of the crew. We learned a ton:
When flying, you usually expect to pay more for greater distance. Flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a lot cheaper than to Tokyo. However, it seems that there's a point at which you pay more the closer you get... I was on United's site and, just for the hell of it, priced out a flight from Oakland airport to San Francisco. I believe the distance between the two to be roughly 12 miles as the crow, I mean the jet, flies. Those are some very expensive miles, check it out:
I was on Alexa today and looked at their top sites, i.e. the most traffic'ed sites on the net. In the top 10, four sites were Chinese and one Japanese. Very impressive. Obviously internet growth mirrors economic growth.
When I was in China a year ago I was impressed by the amount of construction going on. Huge cranes congregate in large numbers in cities. Four to eight lane roads run through the countryside with comparitively little traffic, awaiting the future onrush of cars (parking lots are for some reason still way too small though). We were even overtaken by a Lamborghini one day!
I expect most websites will have a "Made in China" logo in their footers before long :-)
I played with the Keyhole client a long time ago: it allowed users to roam the earth viewing satellite images, zooming over my house, checking out where I worked, tilting the view so I could the images rendered on the contour of landscape (very impressive). It was all going so well... And then my 30 day free trial expired.
Though I enjoyed it, it didn't seem worth the $30/year subscription. I mean, it was just a toy right?
Fortunately for everyone, a few months ago Google (having acquired Keyhole) decided to improve and make the entry level client free to all. However altruistic Google is, I suspect they also believed that the free version of (the now-rebranded) Google Earth was the best advertisement for the commercial version.
So is it worth trying Google Earth?
Most definitely yes! And not just for the pleasure of flying over your neighborhood. Playing the virtual tourist is a ton of fun, esp. when all you do is type "Paris, France" in the search box and you're wisked off to Europe (in my case zooming out from North America, flying over the Atlantic, and zooming down on Paris). And once you're there, why not check out the Eiffel tower?
The software's real strength, as you'd expect from Google, is in the way it leverages the internet community. The Google Earth bulletin boards are filled with lots of destinations (double-click on them in the browser and they'll direct your Google Earth program to that spot, usually with notes describing what you're seeing) and overlays (imagine being able to see hurricane Katrina's before and after impact on New Orleans, or viewing storm forecast models).
My favorite is the National Geographic coverage of Africa and the data they've set-up for Google Earth. There are over 4,000 high resolution pictures that you can zoom in on, each represented by a little plane icon. Click on the icon once and you get a callout with a low-res picture and description of what there is to see. Double-click on the icon and you zoom into the picture. Check out the elephant family I found... And this isn't even the full resolution.