Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In Which Stereolithography Reverses The Polarity Of Graduate Studies

Back when I was in grad school, I did a little work in support of an ongoing project in Epirus by helping to digitize a map. There was a large-scale contour map of a region being surveyed, which was taped down on a special digitizing table. Other grad students and I would come in now and again and spend some time clicking around the contours with a specialized mouse, slowly reproducing the printed lines on the map in a digital format.

I recently came across a web-based utility called Terrain2STL. The Google Maps interface lets you pick a square of terrain anywhere on the planet (3 to 27 arc-seconds on a side; in the interface, it looks more like a rectangle because of the map projection). The utility uses the topographical information underlying the selected block to automatically generate a .stl file, suitable for use with a 3d printer or CNC mill. Indeed, it was trivial to make this:

That's not in Epirus, mind you. It's here:

(Photo yoinked from here)

It's Mt. Athos, the sacred mountain on the other side of the country, and home to a whole bunch of monasteries where women aren't allowed (so it was fitting, I think, that my lovely and talented spouse take the picture while holding it). The point is, though, that in this day and age, stuff I did in grad school can run backwards. Instead of taking a physical object and turning it into data as I did, someone could get the data and run off an object, perhaps sticking pins in it to indicate sites for further investigation or drilling holes to indicate where there's been looting. And if I could remember just where in Epirus that map was, I could do it myself. Oh, brave new world that has such widgets in it.

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