U2 and Spot Are Watching You

Not Starwars; but Spyplanes,
Satellites and a Dog of a CD-ROM

Paris:- Tuesday, 7. May 1996:- Odd things might be going on in the sky when you are not looking up. And it you do happen to look up, you probably won't see anything unusual.

In a report published on Friday, 3. May, Libération claimed that an American spy plane was snooping around over France. The sub-head said, "On the 16th of March, a spyplane photographed sensitive missile locations."

The report went on to state that the newspaper had received confidential information from trustworthy French military sources. The report added that the US Air Force confirmed that U2 spyplanes based in France, for use in observing the Bosnian peace agreement, made occasional training flights over French territory.

A French military radar, located at Taverny, tracked U2s circling in French skies. This was followed by a long list of specific sites which were overflown and I will not repeat their names here just in case these places do exist and are in fact, secret. The U2 was supposedly flying at 20,000 metres ('level 600' in aviator jargon, according to Libération), and this was too high for Mirage 2000s, the most moddern French interceptor. According to the story the Americans are supposed to have explained that the U2 pilot was burning off fuel before landing, and the French requested that this be done over Belgium.

I am trying to write this with a straight face, but it is hard.

The report goes on, with one military informant telling Libération that they want to keep this activity of the Americans secret, but are offended that the Americans are abusing French hospitality by taking spy photos - when after all - they could use their spy satellite 'Keyhole.' This is followed by some really incredible mumbo-jumbo about trucks transporting something that is loaded onto British Hercules aircraft - and behold, it turns out this cargo is nothing other than 4th generation Trident nuclear warheads, that Washington has refused to sell to the UK submarine force. There is much more.

The Americans took it somewhat seriously, because the Friday report was denied in Saturday's International Herald Tribune, by American as well as French sources. The flight of the U2 and the dumping of fuel were real enough, but it was under the direction of French air controllers.

CD Cover (15k) This brings me to the point: my personal Portfolio CD-ROM containing satellite photos made by France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) satellite, Spot. The CD is called 'Points de Terre' and it is distributed by Hachette Livre - Matra-Hachette Multimedia, and I believe it retails for about 200 francs.
A couple of years ago I pestered Kodak-Pathé fairly regularly for information on how to produce the 'Portfolio' version of the Photo-CD, but I finally gave up after they gave me a demo CD at the 'Portfolio' European launch press conference - one that couldn't be 'played' on a Macintosh. The subject they had chosen for the demo - a Renault 'idea' car that had about as many ideas for a future sporty car as a Martian tractor mechanic, and the fact that the thing plain didn't work on a mainstream graphics computer - made me decide to quit wasting my time, and I went on to other things - like the Internet.

Anyway, I looked at this 'Spot' CD. Long before doing so, I had a couple of conversations with the people at the Institute Géographique Nationale about the idea of commissioning the CNES' Spot satellite to take some photos for me, so I know they know what they are doing. In ten years of operation the Spot program has produced 4.5 million photos of the earth and has generated about 220 million francs worth of business a year.

Paris from Spot (35k) But this commercial CD, 'Points de Terre' is a complete wash-out. Although it is supposed to be able the play on Mac, Wintel and CDI machines - it does not play well. Without playing it at all; just using it as a Photo-CD, the highest resolution images are sized 768 by 512 (PAL-TV screen size) pixels and each one is 1536 Ko. The quality of the images are about what you would expect from a 59 franc throw-away camera and are half the bit-depth of a normal Photo-CD, and a quarter of the maximum size. The so-called 'commentary' is a lot less than rudimentary, and the advertised music I did not hear at all - but maybe the radio or the TV or my hard disks drowned it out.
The interactivity of the built-in 'Portfolio' navigation is also brain-dead simple, but it doesn't matter as there is not much to see in any case and hardly anyplace to go to. Each view is presented twice, once without 'commentary' and once with, and that's it. Although containing blurry photos of the earth, the locations are not adequately identified - and no explanation is given for the odd coloring that I assume means something, to somebody, but I can not figure out who it may be because it is all so blurry anyhow.

If you copy a 768 by 512 image to your hard disk, and do one zoom which is a plus of 100 percent, it is about what you would get if you did a 400 percent zoom to an index-color image of a postage stamp. You get really big and unsharp pixels. This is not high-tech.

Why this CD-ROM product been produced at all is beyond me. I assume that Spot Image and the CNES will deny that they had anything to do with it. I give this product a less than one star rating.


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