Window on my world — 23 February 2009

When I started the Knowledge 17 years ago you got yourself a bike, some warm clothes and set off most days to explore London whatever the weather.

One anecdote at the time was of somebody buying a Travel card and attempting to gain that coveted green badge from studying the Knowledge from the top of a double decker bus. Nowadays I suppose the lazy use Google Maps.

But for most of us it was the humble Honda C90. Along the way you first experienced Cabbies Scrotum a condition caused by sitting down for too long. The verbal exams also would be a challenge to your resolve, I was once asked to describe a journey from two places on opposite sides of the same road. When I queried it with the examiner he said “it’s raining, I’m pregnant and I’ve got a wooden leg so I need a cab”.

Now these clever people at Google have come up with a service which some lazy Knowledge students will want to try, make a cuppa and sit in the warm, call up Google Street View and bingo.

Google has spent almost a year collecting these images, with a fleet of specially modified cars, and the resultant images provide a snapshot of a bygone era before the recession hit the British high street. With many of the pictures were taken last summer, they show stores that have since gone bust, including Woolworths.

As well as the logistical challenges of taking tens of millions of individual pictures along Britain’s roads, Street View has also suffered intense criticism from privacy campaigners since it launched in the US two years ago. An American couple even went as far as to sue Google over invasion of privacy although they subsequently lost the case.

The resolution of Google Street View is amazing and you can examine every recess. Alright you still have go to Knowledge School to revise with other students, and yes, you don’t get some of your senses stimulated, like smelling the urine on the Paddington slip which for some perverse reason is used as a toilet by some cabbies.

But pursuing the Knowledge can be much more interesting than looking at images and studying a map all day, and you need a reasonable intellect to achieve your badge, but it’s a pity you’re not told how boring driving a cab all day it can be.

But how good is Google Street View at locating some obscure ‘points’ like the Texas Legation Memorial. So what will we have soon, a generation of cabbies who have strained their index fingers using a mouse?

I tell you what they’ll miss the smell of the urine!

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