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How different things work

June 9, 2011
Street view

Last month, Google launched its popular but controversial mapping service Street View in India's technology hub Bangalore, four years after it was unveiled in the United States. Over time, it will be launched on Google Maps as an additional service. Here is a primer on how it works:
What is street view? It is a feature on Google Maps that allows viewers to zoom right down to the level of the street and view it in 360 degrees. It requires real-world images that are shot with the help of cameras mounted on cars and specially-designed three-wheel pedicabs called Google Trikes. These vehicles are also equipped with motion sensors to track their positions, a hard drive to store data, a small computer running the system, and lasers to capture 3D data to determine distances within the Street View imagery.
The 360 degree view: After the images are shot, they are "stitched together" to get a 3D panorama with advanced imaging algorithms.
Why it is controversial: Not every country is happy having street-level views of its terrain easily available. But Google claims its images are not real time and allows blurring of specific images, including car registration plates.

More than meets the eye?

Last month, the Indian Navy, which has been at the forefront of anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean in recent years, stopped arresting pirates under a new policy of hold-disarm-leave. Apparently, the move was in response to a spurt in retaliatory action by Somali pirates, who have so far taken 43 Indian sailors hostage. While seeking the release of hostages is justified, letting pirates walk away is not, given India's own energy security concerns and the fact that pirates pose a threat to three sea lanes critical to global energy transportation passing through the Indian Ocean. The new policy's timing, too, raised some questions beyond the immediate goal of seeking the release of Indian hostages. Was it a confidence-building measure designed to coincide with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Africa? Or a pressure tactic to force the global community into developing a comprehensive and effective response to piracy?

Much in a Name

What's in a name? Plenty, if you go by the number of people seeking to change their names. Some 214,000 reportedly applied for a change of name in Maharashtra alone between April 2009 and August 2010. Some of them have funny surnames like Fakte, Lund, Kharabi and Kachara, among others, which they want excised. But in the majority of cases, the change usually involves adding a letter to their fi rst names to bolster fortunes. Fortune may or may not smile on these people, but the Maharashtra government is sure raking in big revenues from the application fee. Talking of fortunes, J. Jayalalithaa, who added an additional letter "a" at the end of her name in December 2001, recently staged a stunning comeback in Tamil Nadu assembly elections.

Fast and Furious

India is hosting its fi rst Formula 1 race this year. Racing drivers have to strictly maintain a weight of 70-74 kg during their driving careers to get the maximum speed out of an F1 car. The current generation of F1 cars can go from 0 to 100 kmph in 1.7 seconds, during which the driver is pushed back in his seat with a force of 1.45 times his body weight. The steering wheel in a modern F1 car is more like the controls panel in the cockpit of an airplane. It contains about 31 buttons and dials for various manoeuvres and costs e23,000, or Rs 14,72,000.

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