Internet boring you lately? Your Facebook friends no longer amuse you like they used to? Are you tired of snapping photos of strange street signs for Instagram? Have you already earned three stars at every level of Angry Birds Space? You've finally had it with Youtube clips of cute cats, babies and Mizrahi singer Eyal Golan acting silly?
Don't despair! It appears that the Internet, that good old satyr of the modern world, has some mischief in store for you.
If you have a free hour or two and are willing to risk some old-school Internet addiction, the techno punks have a nice, passive mental vacation package just for you.
As technology develops and tools become simpler and more user friendly, the opportunities to kill time on any one of your half-dozen computer screens has only grown. Forget your troubles and dedicate yourself to making mountains out of molehills. Take a ride and plant your flag on one of these five peaks of Big Data.
Staring into the void of airport arrivals and departures
Once upon a time, flight simulators were a giant hit among computer geeks. But why experience all the tension and high-stakes pressure of landing a plane when you can simply track others actually doing it in real life?
At the website Flightradar 24 (www.flightradar24.com) it's possible to track a majority of flights around the world, whether commercial airliners, private jets or military aircraft. In practice, that adds up to several thousand flights that can be viewed from the comfort of your computer screen at any given second.
Founded in 2007 as a hobby site for several Swedish airplane junkies, the website's flight map is updated every couple of seconds. Using the map you can track down a specific flight, mark out its route, the airport from which it departed and where it is supposed to land. You can even see its altitude and speed. The information on the site can be grouped by airport, to see which flights are leaving a given airport and which planes are expected to land within the next two hours. The site's data includes each aircrafts specs (model type, serial number and airline affiliation) and tracks its most recent flights. Alternatively, you can narrow your selection by airline and follow which aircrafts it has in operation.
Serious flight junkies are invited to register and join chat rooms to discuss your favorite addiction with fellow flight fanatics from around the world.
If like "Unbreakable" villain Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, reading about air accidents is more your style, you can sign-up for the site's Twitter feed. Subscribers receive updates in real time about airplane breakdowns, delays, and all other sorts of things that frighten and worry mere mortal passengers when they are in the belly of a plane. Next time there are snakes on a plane you and Jackson needn't be so surprised.
Actually, the real surprise can be found using the website's iPhone app augmented reality option. A plane passes overhead and you want to know where it's coming from and where it's going? Point your iPhone in its direction and in a couple of seconds the app will provide you with all the details.
The cry of the modern mariner
Air traffic doesn't do it for you? But if you can hear the sea a calling, you can follow the major arteries of global maritime trade. The website Marinetraffic (www.marinetraffic.com/ais) stretches out in front of you like an enchanted pirate map containing the exact location of a majority of the world's cargo ships, various types of fuel tankers, pleasure cruise and fishing ships and private yachts at every point on the wide open seas.
The site is based on data provided by ship companies, but also relies upon frequent posts by the distinguished community who updates the website and photographs sailing vessels.
A cursory glance at the map on the website will show you major shipping routes, ports spread out across the globe and shipping density. Here too, you can track a single, specific sailing vessel. Once you've found it you can follow the ship's progress, view photographs of it, study previous routes it has plied, see where it is currently anchored, who presently owns the vessel, which country's flag hangs on the mast, who built the ship and a whole plethora of technical details that would appeal to sailing junkies. The website allows you to select a sailing vessel to create a "private fleet" and receive emails or text messages about the ships’ movement.
Just make sure to say "mischief managed" to yourself when you're done.
Catching the midnight train to London
With the clever use of Google maps a young guy named Matthew Somerville created a to-the-second documentation of London trains both above and below ground that crisscross the city's railroad tracks daily. The location of the trains is based on current reports provided by Transport for London and "a little bit of math and a little bit of magic," as Somerville explains on the site, traintimes.org.uk.
All the trains, stations and tracks are indicated on the London city street map, including info on the trains’ locations, their upcoming stops estimated arrival times. Somerville’s site also includes the location of trains across the British Isles with links for ordering tickets. Viewing a map like this is a bit like watching paint dry. In other words, there is little action and few surprises, but to those who understand what's going on, it's possible to flit away an hour or two of utter boredom.
Most importantly, your young wizard will never be late for the Hogwarts train again.
Paris, city of traffic jams
If we've already mentioned Google Maps, it's worthwhile to go straight to the source and zoom in on one of the basic layers built into the map: traffic patterns. When it's noontime in Israel, the streets of Manhattan are clear of all traffic. But if you hop over to Paris, something that takes only a matter of seconds on the computer, you will find yourself stuck in the heavy traffic on Boulevard des Capucines in the City of Lights, or an infuriating traffic jam on Avenue George-V on the way to the Champs-Élysées.
Of course, all the apps in Google Maps are likely to cause serious addictions, especially using Street View. A virtual tour of the streets of the world's largest cities may not be as exhausting as its real-world equivalent, but it consumes no less time. Perhaps even more.
Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
Despite having entered an era of global warming, devoting oneself to the meteorological service's radar reports (http://www.ims.gov.il/IMS/tazpiot/RainRadar.htm) during the rainy months of November through April is still a worthwhile endeavor. But quick trips to the site don’t do it justice. It's worth logging long hours following the movement of clouds, their informational color shadings and their potential to shower down on a specific region.
Who will be lucky enough to get a barrage of rain, when, and with what strength? When exactly should one head out the door with the kids so that they arrive at school all wet? And of course, the big guessing game: When will that big gray cloud reach the beach?
This past winter the map was upgraded so an update comes every 10 minutes, allowing everyone to be an on-duty forecaster – all day, every day.
With this Noah could have found a much simpler way to avoid the flood.
Keeping an eye on the final frontier
We've already covered car, train, water and air. Once you've exhausted all the tracking options on the face of the planet, there is only one place left to conquer: space. Even man-made bodies orbiting the Earth's atmosphere can be followed from any computer at any moment. On the website Real Time Satellite Tracking at http://www.n2yo.comyou can track dozens of satellites flying in space far above us. Weather satellites, GPS satellites, research satellites, communications satellites, and TV broadcast satellites – all of them are there, including some military satellites as well. All you need is to pick a category and satellite name and begin viewing its present location and its trajectory around Planet Earth.
Just remember that, at least according to "The Fifth Element," when the Great Evil comes to swallow the Earth whole, the communications satellites will be the first to go.
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