Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (6/19/13): How hard can it be? What's the color of the roof?

A roof in Holland.  But this is not the roof you seek.  
Sometimes a simple search problem requires just a slightly different way of thinking, a way of getting out of your normal way of doing things.  

This is such a problem.  It's not that hard, but it illustrates a great point about being a good SearchResearcher.  

This problem was sent to me by regular reader Miguel V., who asked about a particular section of a town in Holland that is obscured in Google Maps.  

He writes, "The really intriguing feature, apart from the blur itself being an artistic patch instead of a real blur, is that, although the satellite view is blurred, there's Street View for the whole area."  

But as you see when you look for Beatrixstraat 5, Noordwijk,  Netherlands... there's a twist to the problem.  

Today's challenge: 
1.  What is the color of the roof at Beatrixstraat 5, Noordwijk, Netherlands?  

You can rate yourself on this question.  It should take you less than 1 minute to solve.  If you're taking more than 2 minutes, ask yourself if you're looking under the wrong streetlight.  

And, for extra credit (and truthfully, I don't know the answer to this question myself, so don't spend TOO much time on this)
2.  Why is this part of Nordwijk obscured? 

Be sure to let us know what you do to solve this challenge.  Search on! 


  1. 1. I'm going with black or grey based on what Bing is showing (I can't believe I went there!)

    2. I searched the address in Google image search and found this article

    Translated it says that the Defense Pipeline Organization. It has since moved to The Hague but is still "stained" by Google Maps.

  2. Roofs are black, easily checked on any other mapping service, like bing.
    place is obscured because European Space Research and Technology Centre is located there. Second link for "noordwijk obscured on google maps" query. Below one minute for both.

  3. First I found the street view, and noticed that the colors of the blurred space roughly corresponded to the colors of the satellite image. So, even though I couldn't see the roof in street view, I'm going to guess that it's gray.

    For the second question, I googled

    [Nordwijk obscured google maps]

    The first result was "Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps." It took me a moment to find, ctrl+F did not find "Nor," but I did scroll down and find "Noor." The reason this area is blurred is because it is home to the ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre and part of ESA (European Space Agency).

    Took me about two minutes.

  4. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    [Beatrixstraat 5, Noordwijk, Netherlands]
    Found. The twist in your Challenge

    [Beatrixstraat 5, Noordwijk, Netherlands] in Googe Earth.

    Found: Stain is since 12/30/2005. USed Google maps Historical Imagery. Found roofs are dark brown or black.

    [Beatrixstraat 5 Noordwijk, The Netherlands google maps covered]
    Found and translated:‎


    1. What is the color of the roof at Beatrixstraat 5, Noordwijk, Netherlands?
    Found roofs are dark brown or black.

    2. Why is this part of Nordwijk obscured?

    "According to the city, the people of Noordwijk nothing to fear. The stain should the Defence Pipeline Organisation ( DPO ) proposals. This organization allows for the transport of liquid fuel. However, the DPO is already no longer a time in Noordwijk, but has moved to The Hague. The Noordwijk hope that the stain soon co houses."

    Have an excellent week.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Answer: Dark grey.

    Damn, it took me more than 3 minutes to figure out what I already knew. Great way of asking the question! :)

    Method: Try looking it on a map service other than Google.

    While I was writing this answer, I thought of another way: on Google Earth, check historical imagery. You can see the rooftops from 5/22/2003. The most recent imagery here appears to be from 12/31/2005: that's the one with the patch "blur".

    Then I thought of looking for how old are other satellite images. Well, the answer is not straightforward. Yahoo!, Bing and Nokia Here all append the copyright notice © 2013, but it isn't clear if that is when the satellite photo was taken, and I'd guess it's not. All of them use the same source as Google's image from 2003 (DigitalGlobe). Google uses imagery by Aerodata International Surveys for the most recent, blotted, view.

    So, my final answer is: I don't know. Rooftops *were* dark grey in 2003, I have no idea what is hiding there since 2005.

    Maybe 15-20 minutes for everything, including answering.

  7. roof appears to be black - used this site and your friends in Redmond map option:
    as to the camo-scura… the general answer seems to be the ESTEC, but since that is a bit to the south of Noordwijk and is visible (nice golf course),
    I really don't know…
    luckily, you reside in the belly of the beast and may have close NSA ties and the reason the inhabitants of Beatrixstraat are hidden from the virtual plebeian Gorgon Stare - or whatever the latest code moniker is - will be revealed.
    time: might have been under a minute… on Neptune - not a stellar search rating.

  8. Searching for more data found:

    Some pages mentions that the stains is because "European Space Research and Technology Centre" is there. Found, that is not true.

    [Defence Pipeline Organisation Noordwijk ]

    In that page found in the comments:

    "The blurring in Noordwijk marks the site of the former headquarters of the Defense Pipeline Organisation, overseeing the Dutch part of Central European Pipeline System (CEPS). However, the DPO headquarters have been relocated to the Hague years ago."

    and Wikipedia page with a list of "Satellite map images with missing or unclear data".

  9. like Dan said earlier, you have to love the Wikipedia lists (maybe the subject of a future challenge?).
    you may be interested in this:
    strange member

    what about the streelight reference? was that suppose to point toward this?

  10. Using the historical timeline in Google Earth I see that this address was visible back in 2003. The roofs look dark grey/black surrounded by red roofs all in a residential area. Why would a residential area be blurred? Well I have to tell you my first thought was not at all correct. I thought we were in the "red light district" but it looked like such a normal neighborhood, just can't be.
    But when I click on the "I" icon in Google Earth and I get the Noordwijk De Defensie Pijpleiding Organisatie (DPO). So I'm thinking that is the reason for the cover patch. Protecting Never seen this type of patch before. So I went to translate this from Dutch I got this link showing the patch image. It states (google translated)

    According to the city, the people of Noordwijk nothing to fear. The stain should the Defence Pipeline Organisation ( DPO ) proposals. This organization allows for the transport of liquid fuel. However, the DPO is already no longer a time in Noordwijk, but has moved to The Hague. The Noordwijk hope that the stain soon co houses.

    I think it means since DPO is no longer in the area the 'stain" will be removed.

  11. In a minute or two whilst replacing my hot water tank and the pressure controller valve I looked at this. I cannot find 5. All the even number houses are there but not 5 nor any other odd numbered address. Am I under the wrong StreetView light ?

    At I find a collection of images of areas 'camouflaged' over Netherlands. One of many is this place in question. The only ?reason I can quickly come up with is someone's comment that Noordwijk is a 'cable center' mentioned in Wikileaks.

    So, this suggests that streetview can drive all over the place because there ain't nuthin' to see above ground. The secret stuff is below ground.

    My new hot water tank is actually making warmish water already !

    See you next week - another most curious challenge

    jon who did not keep track of time nor process today in his desperate attempt to keep his wife in hot water

    1. As you mentioned if we search for #5 it is difficult. I did find what I believe was #5 in Street View of Google Earth/Maps but for some strange reason that particular address post on the house is blurred. I checked up and down the street and only that one was blurred. Odd?

      I also think you hit the twist in the challenge. We are likely dealing with an underground facility which fits with it being DOP.

  12. I'm glad to see that some fellow searchers have found an answer to the blur enigma. I should have thought of searching Dutch sources.

    Ramón is right, ESTEC was just a bad guess from some website which was apparently replicated. The reason for the blur seems indeed to be DPO. Well, that's what I thought until finding that DPO headquarters are on Hoogwakersbosstraat 12, which lays outside the "blur" patchwork. You may even see it clearly on Street View. Found them after seeing its picture on the news. Moreover, I couldn't find any other mention of DPO having been relocated. So, I guess the mystery remains solved.

    Back to the answer to the first question, thanks to remmij's link (Virtual Globetrotter), we now know that the rooftops were still the same in 2010. :) A footnote reads © 2010 GeoEye © 2010 Eurosense.

  13. Also checked out Bing maps for the first part.
    Personally I'd have called that color dark grey, but was curious what Pantone & Co would have to say ;)

    So just as an experiment I snipped out a nice large rectangular snippet of the roof's aerial view, pasted it into an imaging tool (Paint.NET) and started scaling the image down in several steps until only a single pixel was left, letting the interpolation algorithms of the software do the maths of finding the best weighted average value for my initial chunk of approximately 100x100px.
    After two approaches I came up with the hex values #383F4B and #3B434E. Now armed with those two values I ventured off to find the closest approximation of any standardised colour.

    The first results I thought worth mentioning are: and

    This site claims the best match would be a tone called "Bright Gray" but since that name doesn't really seem to be part of any established color space, I figured I might do one better and find the nearest possible Pantone code. offers a comparable service to the one I used above, only it converts an RGB color into the nearest PMS code. Both hex values claimed the closest I could get was Pantone 432, both with a color distance of merely 0.003.
    See for the final result ;)

    Now about Part 2.
    As someone pointed out earlier the Estec is indeed located a good 3km south of our mysterious blotch and could hardly have been the reason for any attempt to hide it.
    I also found that Dutch newspaper/web news article that claims the Defensie Pijpleiding Organisatie (DPO) was the reason behind the censorship.

    However! claims the address, or should we say former address of the DPO is at Hoogwakersbosstraat 12.
    A peek at that address on Street View ( ) will confirm this, thanks to the fat DPO logo still adorning the building's facade.

    And that location is still about 150m outside of the hidden area. So either whoever was in charge of trying to hide from our prying eyes what, let's be honest, doesn't exactly look like a high security installation to begin with, wasn't doing a particularly good job...
    Or the real solution is yet to be uncovered ;)

    Time spent all up, about 15 minutes.

    1. Love the details. But taking a single pixel out of an image isn't probably the best method. Perhaps taking a 100X100 grid and looking at the average value (an operation you can do in Photoshop) would be better.

    2. Cheers Dan.

      I did not "take a single pixel out of an image", but scaled the image down.
      I figured the interpolation algorithms used by any halfway decent raster graphics editor (Photoshop, GIMP & Co) when resizing a larger image to a smaller size do just about the same thing as that Photoshop function you mention:

      If the task is to find the correct color for one new pixel, where before there were say 4 pixels, then that new color will obviously have to be an average value of the old pixels. My approach was to scale down a circa 100x100px screenshot to a single pixel to determine the (weighted) average color of the initial 10k or so pixels. Obviously the outcome will differ a little based on what interpolation algorithm is used (linear, bilinear, bicubic et cetera), but all results should lie in very close proximity.

      It would actually be interesting to compare this method side by side with Photoshop's average color function.

      Of course the entire thing was more of a nerdy gag, since screenshots taken from a couple of highly pixelated satellite images on Bing are hardly a good starting point. Now if we knew the weather conditions and position of the sun when that picture was taken and the angle of the roof then... ;)

  14. One more thing. The DPO building is today part of a school. This can be learnt from a development report addressed to the Nordwijk city council found at:

    The document is in Dutch, but Google Translate will do a good enough job that you at least get the basic idea.
    Could something that even just at some point in the past had called for this kind of secrecy really be nothing but a school gym today?

  15. Excellent contribution, Andreas. :)

    Based on everything found, here's my conjecture about the blur is the following:

    1. NATO gives a list of addresses to Google that need blurring.
    2. Google receives this in a very specific department so as very few people have access to this classified information. Plus, there might be some automatic software dealing with the blurring itself. If NATO tells Google it's Hoogwakersbosstraat but not the number, the program or the people in charge blur what the map or those people believe to be the entire street, missing in fact a part of it.
    3. DPO moves. The folks in NATO responsible for the blurring either are not informed immediately or don't take measures immediately because it's of minor concern. (I haven't checked exactly where the new location is nor, therefore, whether it is blurred or not.)
    4. Even if DPO / NATO told Google about this but refer that it's not of major concern and the unblurring can be delayed, Google doesn't hurry it taking this step.

    As to the color, I usually use Encycolorpedia, where you can find, for every hex-color, a huge list of Colors from Paint Charts / Paint Brands & Suppliers, with matching colors ranked by average visual similarity. The ranking is not perfect but close. Here are the closest to #383F4B and #3B434E:

    Crown Diamond Paint Schemes 7325-83 Jazz Night #3a414b (Encycolorpedia first choice for both)
    Opaltone / OMS 6970 / #383f52 (my choice for the first one)
    Coronado Paint Schemes 8269 - In The Navy #3b4349 (my choice for the second)

    Under this light, I will now refer the color of those rooftops as "jazz-night-in-the-navy grey". :)

  16. How do you find that exact address of 5 ?

    I have StreetViewed both sides of the street. I do not see 5.

    jon who wonders if there isn't something interesting going on under that huge parking lot at the end of the street.

    1. It will be the door between number 3 and number 7 I should think:

  17. I decided to reopen this because of an unfinished matter: where did the DPO's headquarters move to and is the place blurred too?

    Well, here's the answer: Radiolaan 8, 3412 KA Lopikerkapel, Netherlands. Also blurred since the first photos, from 12/31/2005. Just searched [ Defensie Pijpleiding Organisatie ] and found it. In fact, now this information is already on a Knowledge Graph box.

    Google Maps: (on Google Earth, the oldest image for this place features that artistic patchwork instead of a pixelized blur, which appears on all the following photos, all from 2007)
    Bing Maps:

    Google Maps uses the same imagery as Wikimapia and ACME Mapper, who credit it to Aerodata International Surveys and DigitalGlobe.

    Imagery used by Microsoft Bing is attributed to NASA/NOAA NGDC. The same image composite is used, much less blurred, on Nokia HERE or on the ArcGIS view of Flash Earth.

    The engineering company who projected DPO's headquarters, Grontmij, shows a miniature of a NATO map of CEPS locations on their page about this project. (CEPS is the Central Europe Pipeline System, managed by DPO.) On that minimap, you can kind of guess that one of the points might be in Noordwijk. The map is from 2009, which is long after the headquarters moved in 2005.

    So maybe, just maybe, DPO still has some property under that patch in Noordwijk. The original question #2 remains still not completely answered.

    Trivia of some interest to Portuguese: as can be read on this article (in Dutch) about inspecting the pipelines by helicopter, one of the main pump stations is in a village named Poortugaal (whose coat of arms is very similar to the old Portuguese coat of arms). The place (address found at a NATO pdf reproduced in a weird website named DaMilA, an acronym for Danish Military Installations, in Danish) is also blurred on Google Maps. By the way, on top of page 3 of this pdf you can see an aerial photo of DPO Headquarters, unblurred (but very small). The same photo, btw, can be found elsewhere, like in this other NATO pdf.