How Twitter and Google Earth Saved the 4th of July

When I say “saved 4th of July”, I really mean, “saved me from disappointing my children.” Which, as any parent would readily understand, means exactly the same thing.

We live in a new development in San Ramon (Windemere), and we didn’t move in until late July last year. Since my daughter needs to be in bed by 7 or so, having the whole family out to see the fireworks around 9:30 wasn’t really an option. I knew San Ramon had a pretty big fireworks show, but I had no idea whether we’d be able to see the fireworks from our house. As the bird flies, they’d be just 4 miles away or so… but between us and the launch site were at least two ridges.

It occurred to me that Google Earth might be able to solve this dilemma. I got the location of the fireworks (Bollinger and Alcosta), and navigated there in Google Earth. Just one problem: how tall do fireworks detonate?

I tried a couple Google searches, but the obvious attempts resulted in lots of fireworks regulations for home use, ads for fireworks, etc… not what I was looking for. So I asked my Twitter followers. Within a few minutes, I had replies from Sean, Julio and John. (John’s clearly a better Google searcher than I am. Please don’t tell anyone at work.) I love Twitter.

So, back to Google Earth. I added a polygon with an elevation of 300m at that location:

End result was a nice tall rectangle right at that spot:

For the last step, I needed to go to my house in Google Earth, enable terrain mode, and then look in the direction of the fireworks to see if I could see the polygon:

Sure enough, it looked like I’d be able to see the fireworks! (For those wondering: the satellite images of our new development are a couple years old.) Sure, they were a couple miles away, and maybe one out of four blasts happened behind the ridgeline… but the bottom line was that the boys got to see their fireworks, and Becca got to sleep (saving us all from 5th of July “fireworks” during the day).

Yep, I’m a nerd.