Readily available technology, known as photo stitching, is allowing casual photographers to easily create amazing images. The technical terms used vary by vendor, but to the lay person they end up sounding pretty much like:
Really cool 3D virtual reality things you can spin around in and look at everything from your feet to directly over your head.
If you have not yet seen this technology, you should. Like the Street View in Google Maps, you can slip into a 3D virtual bubble and look around. But rather than being of popular street locations driven by a Google car, these are micro bubbles usually created by individuals in strange or remote locations. They can be inside a museum, an office building, or be deep in the wilderness.
For backpack planning, the possibilities are intriguing. My middle son loves to backpack but prefers solid granite to lose shale, and he wants inviting water features such as cascades and falls. A quick pop into a virtual bubble gives us a realistic view of the surroundings. Google Earth provides us high level visualization, but these photo stitches are micro level.
How Are Photo Stitches Created?
On a Yosemite backpacking trip we were resting near a wooden bridge which spans the Merced river. A man approached and sat down on the other side of the river, apparently waiting. For what we had no idea. Our powers of laziness far exceeded his powers of patience, and he eventually resigned himself to our continued presence. He ambled onto the center of the bridge, pulled out his smart phone, and began taking a series of photos in an arching and overlapping pattern.
Well, we were in stitches. That’s not to say we were laughing, though we might have been, but we were being stitched, as in photo stitched. Once I realized, I apologized for ruining his visual knitting. He simply smiled and said he was using Microsoft‘s Photosynth™ application. He went on to say that in about a month we should go to Bing Maps, find this bridge, and there find a 3D panorama of us on our lazy rear ends. Okay, I added that rear ends part.
Frankly, I was not sure I could remember my name in a month’s time, let alone to come to this bridge on Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Apparently, the thought of seeing myself sprawled for eternity in a virtual wilderness wonderland was powerful indeed. For I did remember to come. I found the bridge and spun myself around on it like a whirling dervish. I zoomed in and out and eventually landed on my chillaxing virtual self. I marveled. Not at the amazing technology, but rather at how happy and relaxed I seemed.
And yet I somehow also felt violated. There I was, happy to be in a place I had worked so hard to reach. Nearing the end of what had been 2 weeks of rigorous backpacking, I was marveling at the raw beauty. Much of my thrill, I now admit, coming from the realization that very few people in the world have ever seen this place. And of those who have, they certainly earned it… made painfully clear by the sweat on their brows, and a little less clear in other places.
Mousing around in my virtual wilderness, I realize that every common sofa spud within an arms reach of a computer can now come play here too. Not only can they see what I saw without any effort, but they can do so with the smiling approval of virtual me! I click on virtual me in an attempt to make him protest: “You have to earn this!” But oblivious virtual me remains blissfully silent.
Upon further examination, however, I realize this virtual world is not an entirely accurate representation of what I worked so hard to see. For example, notice the legs to the right and below me. They are missing a torso and head. I am pretty sure I would have remembered that. The good news, however, is that in the lower left part of the frame, near the waters edge, there appears a head missing a torso and legs. This virtual slaughter house is made slightly worse by the realization the head is that of a woman and the legs are that of a man. I leave it to you to determine which, if either, is improved by the addition of the other.
So for now at least, if you want to see what actually exists in the wilderness, with heads and legs attached, you are going to have to get off the couch and work for it. But like most technologies, I am sure these virtual representations will continue to improve. In fact it might not be long before virtual me in the wilderness is able to see actual you on your couch. I’m thinking at that point you are going to want to turn the technology off, leaving me virtually alone.
To see the actual Bing Photosynth of the bridge follow the attached link. But while there, please remain quiet. I am clearly resting.
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