16 Amazing Places to Visit Via Google Street View

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When Google Maps first rolled out the Street View feature in 2007, its collection of images was restricted to destinations within the United States, and mostly urban ones. Since Street View went international in 2008, its portfolio has expanded to include digital postcards of the suburbs, museums, tourist attractions, and natural landmarks in 48 regions and counting. Now anyone with an Internet connection is just a few clicks away from a panoramic view of their dream vacation.

1. Adélie Penguin Rookery – Cape Royds, Antarctica 

Leave the double-layered down parka behind; you won’t need it for this quick jaunt to the South Pole, which is much sunnier than you’d expect. Just off the water, this particular Street View doesn’t have much in the way of stoplights, but it does have plenty of penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins?

2. Céide Fields – County Mayo, Ireland

For a coast of a different color, here’s a quietly picturesque view of Ireland’s Céide Fields. The fields comprise an archeological site whose windblown grasses hide a secret from the Stone Age: homes, tombs, and other complex man-made structures dating from nearly 6000 years ago. The visitor centre (pictured) leads tours across the blanket bog covering the ancient civilization’s structures, for which it advises guests to wear sturdy shoes.

3. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona, United States

A screenshot can’t quite capture the breathtaking depths of the Grand Canyon, but the 360-degree digital view from the Bright Angel Trail is a considerable step up from a gift shop postcard. For those prone to vertigo, it’s also a much safer way to peer up and down thousands of feet of rock face.

4. The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

Between gladiator battles to the death and mock sea battles with scaled-down naval vessels, the ancient Romans knew how to put on a spectacle. The Colosseum, custom-built for such purposes, is similarly scaled down here to fit inside a computer screen.

5. Pena National Palace – Sintra, Portugal

The palace on the hill is one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, and a colorful example of 19th century Romantic architecture. Pictured are the Arches Yard, the bright red brick clock tower, and the chapel. Not visible here are the 200 hectares of parkland that surround the palace, containing exotic varieties of trees from as far as New Zealand and Japan. Some careful zooming will reveal an impressive view of the city in the distance.

6. Stonehenge – Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Stonehenge, the great prehistoric mystery, has been located squarely in the middle of an English field since about 3100 B.C.—not that there was such a concept as England then. Speculation about its purpose have included suggestions that it functioned as a burial site, a religious space, an astronomical observatory, or something else entirely, but no one is really quite sure about why it’s there. Although the Google view of the site is unusually blurry, the monument might best be viewed from afar as an out-of-focus whole, rather than in closer details as just a confusing bunch of rocks.

7. Palace of Versailles – Versailles, France 

Google’s cameras aren’t just limited to the great outdoors, as this interior shot of the Palace of Versailles proves. Though at the time, Louis XIV’s opulent redecoration scheme was a slap in the face to his starving French subjects, the grand artistry of such rooms as the Hall of Mirrors survives to dazzle visitors both in person and online.

8. The White House – Washington, D.C., United States

Forget submitting an official request to your designated member of Congress and providing government-issued ID for a tour of the White House. Instead, meander along the virtual path at your own pace, taking in the same sights included on the public walking tour, including paintings of past presidents and plenty of bald eagle-embellished furniture. It’s easier than going through security clearances anyway.

9. Heron Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

No need to hold your breath for this one (unless you’re using underwater Wi-Fi). Google’s cameras have done the deep-sea diving so you don’t have to. Yes, that’s a real turtle. 

10. Wilson Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The view from above the water is just as nice as from below.

11. Diagon Alley – Leavesden, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

You can visit the Warner Bros. Studio set used to film the back-to-school shopping scenes of the Harry Potter film franchise. Though there’s no option to peek in through the windows of such stores as Ollivanders and Quality Quidditch Supplies, a virtual stroll through the magical business district offers plenty of detail for fans to pore over, from the Puking Pastilles display in the doorway of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to copies of The Daily Prophet announcing Lucius Malfoy’s arrest. Keep an eye out for a suspicious masked figure lurking in the shadows… 

12. Crystal Mountain – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, United States 

Crystal Mountain is a popular ski destination for obvious reasons. Click around, pan up and down, check all 360 degrees of the view: all you’ll see is snow for days.

13. Times Square – New York City, United States

Sure, the lights and yellow cabs and tourists littering the sidewalks are all there, but without the auditory overload and ever-present danger of being run over while crossing the street, is it really Times Square?

14. Lago Bianco – Bernina-Abula, Switzerland

The white snow-capped mountains in the distance are, of course, the Swiss Alps, with Lago Bianco (“White Lake”) in the foreground. These shots were captured by a camera attached to a train car traveling down the Rhaetian Railway tracks, so this particular composition isn’t one likely to be found on the average mountain hike. 

15. Kohala Coast – Hawaii, United States

Hello, perfect beach vacation!

16. Everest Base Camp – Mount Everest, Nepal 

For the vast majority of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get to climbing Everest.

All images are courtesy of Google Maps.

6 Common Fire Hazards Lurking in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Prevent Them)

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Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a house fire can be a costly disaster. According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires account for more than 2500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries in the U.S. every year, not to mention billions of dollars in damage. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 350,000 house fires annually.

The good news is, total fire-related deaths, injuries, and property losses have trended downward in recent years, and that may be due to improved fire-fighting technology at home. Nothing beats the effectiveness of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a solid fire escape plan, but the newest smart home devices can help you prevent these common fire hazards lurking in your home.

1. UNATTENDED BURNERS

Wallflower stove monitor
Amazon

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we ask ourselves, “Did I remember to turn off the stove?” It’s worth double-checking, since cooking equipment is the leading cause of house fires. Stoves, ovens, and other appliances account for nearly 50 percent of incidents, while unattended cooking is the leading contributor to these fires.

Fortunately, new smart stovetop sensors and monitors will alert you when you’ve left the stove on. The Wallflower simply plugs into the wall with your electric stove, then alerts you when the stove is turned on, when it’s been on longer than usual, and even when you leave the house without turning it off. The crowd-funded Inirv React, meanwhile, promises to be a system of smart stove knobs that use sensors and electronics to detect smoke, natural gas, and motion, while allowing you to monitor your stove remotely.

2. DEAD SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERIES

Nest Protect home smoke detector
Amazon

Working smoke alarms should be placed on every floor of your home, and inside every bedroom: They cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.

Basic smoke detectors can get the job done, but newer models can also alert your phone if there's smoke in your home, turn off your HVAC system to slow the spread of smoke, or record video so you can check the situation remotely.

Security expert Emily Patterson of independent review site A Secure Life highlights the Nest Protect as one of her favorite devices for fire safety. “It has CO detection as well as heat and humidity sensors, so it has the ability to distinguish between real causes for concern and burnt toast,” Patterson tells Mental Floss. “You can also enable smartphone alerts, which is handy if you’re not home, and set up automated protocols to unlock doors or record video if the alarm goes off.”

The detector is only as reliable as the battery powering it, though. The Roost Smart Battery allows you to retrofit existing smoke detectors with 9V batteries to be managed by your smartphone and alerts you when battery life is running low (after three to five years).

3. SPACE HEATERS

Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater
Amazon

Space heaters keep things cozy when your existing heating system performs poorly, but they can also be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 1100 residential fires—and more than 50 deaths—are linked to portable electric heaters every year. Fires often occur when the heaters are left on unattended or they’re too close to flammable materials like paper or blankets.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing only newer-model heaters equipped with safety features like a tip-over switch and automatic shut-off, which kicks in if the heater exceeds a certain temperature. The Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater uses diffused mode heat to warm rooms evenly while the machine stays comfortable to the touch. For a more affordable option, the Smart Ceramic Tower Heater has infrared heat settings, a sleep timer, overheating protection, a tip-over safety switch, and Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control it with your smartphone—just in case you forget to turn it off before leaving home.

4. OVERLOADED OUTLETS

Wemo smart plug
Amazon

Heat-producing small appliances like coffee makers and toasters can pose a fire risk if used improperly—like if you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The NFPA recommends plugging only one heat-producing gadget into an outlet at a time [PDF], while smart plugs make it easy to turn off power to small appliances when you’re not home. Some devices even turn off outlets automatically when they’re not in use. There are dozens of options on the market now, from Wemo’s Insight Smart Plug with energy monitoring to the iDevices Switch. Most can be controlled with your phone, and are compatible with smart-home hubs. Be sure to check that the smart plug you choose is equipped with enough power to handle the wattage of your appliances.

5. COMBUSTIBLE LANDSCAPING

B-Hyve sprinkler regulator
Amazon

The landscaping around your home can mitigate fire risks—or multiply them. Any plants that are too close to the house can present a fire hazard, especially when they’re dried out, says Cassy Aoyagi, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.A. Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping. “Several popular plants, like pampas, feather, and fountain grasses, marketed in the West as ‘drought tolerant,’ are actually quite combustible,” she tells Mental Floss.

A smart sprinkler controller makes it easy to ensure that your yard is moist and as fire-safe as possible. It can regulate and even reduce your water consumption, too. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is equipped with a weather-monitoring system to adjust water use based on the forecast. The Orbit B-Hyve has fewer bells and whistles, but still offers smart scheduling with a smartphone app.

6. INTENTIONAL FIRES

iCamera KEEP home security system
Amazon

Let’s hope you never have to deal with this one, because playing with fire is no joke. The NFPA reports that 8 percent of residential fires between 2011 and 2015 were set intentionally, with 15 percent of civilian deaths happening as a result [PDF].

To keep your home safe inside and out, consider using a smart home security system. The iCamera KEEP Pro from iSmartAlarm has a powerful image sensor, sound and motion detection, event-triggered video recording, and a motion-tracking feature that allows the camera to follow movement around your space. The Wyze Cam 2 is a smaller model with motion-tagging technology and a budget-friendly price tag.

Nothing beats the power of common sense, of course. “Preparedness is the best protection,” Patterson says. “Have the right tools, have an evacuation plan, and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires are scary and it can be difficult to act quickly and think clearly in the moment if you aren’t prepared.”

Trulia Now Makes Browsing Neighborhoods as Easy as Browsing Homes

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iStock

An online real estate listing can tell you the number of bedrooms, the square footage, and the price of a property, but until you arrive in person, it's hard to know if the location will be a good fit for you. Trulia is looking to tackle that problem with a new Neighborhoods feature, as Fast Company reports, letting you virtually explore your potential home's surroundings before you show up for the tour.

Trulia, a listings site owned by Zillow, already offers all the standard information you would get from any other real estate service. Now, the new Trulia Neighborhoods feature also makes it possible to research various neighborhoods within the app the same way you would research individual houses and apartments.

The Neighborhoods feature includes a slideshow of annotated images of each neighborhood captured by Trulia's team of photographers and videographers. It also has some objective data about the area, like maps of local businesses, as well as first-hand reports from residents. In the "What the Locals Say" section, for instance, you might find that 90 percent of people reported that a neighborhood is quiet, while just 50 percent said it's easy to find parking there. This part also includes personal testimonies from individual users that you can browse by topic, such as "community" or "dog owners." Neighborhoods also allows you to easily access data on schools, safety, and commute times.

Trulia Neighborhoods isn't available for every market yet. For now, you can only take advantage of it if you're house-hunting in one of 300 neighborhoods across five U.S. cities—San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin, and Chicago. Trulia plans to expand the feature to more than 1100 neighborhoods by the end of 2018.

[h/t Fast Company]

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