Technology Revolution spinning in place

Written by Andrew on January 27th, 2013

The technology revolution that surrounds us has long become like the Cuban Revolution, or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. (Is that still officially underway?) At some point they were indeed revolutionary, but decades on? Please.

With my back to the obsolescence wall, I have once again begun the task of getting new computers, upgrading software, migrating data and rebuilding the Map Center webstore. This will be time consuming, frustrating and expensive, but unavoidable if I want to stay in business.

In 1990, before some of you can remember, I implemented the first computer system to run The Map Center. It was a big expense and lot of work. Once up and running, it instantly shortened my workweek by 10 hours. That is what you call a productive investment. Several times since, I have had to spend again as much money and time on computers and software. If each of those so-called investments were half as productive as the first, I would be saving so many hours per week that I should be watching time run backwards by now. I count those subsequent outlays not as investments, but mostly as forced transfer of wealth, a fancy term for robbery.

The system requirements for, say, the software I use to print shipping labels now rival the computational power at NASA’s disposal before the first moon landing. Is that progress or a just a form of rot? For my money, the revolutionary part of the high tech revolution has come and gone.

And get off my lawn.

If you want to be a Real Blogger…

Written by Andrew on January 27th, 2013

…do not attach your blog to your webstore. When you think of interesting things to say, you will stop and think, “Will this be good for business? Will it at least not alienate any customers?” And then you will be blocked.

Imus Geographics Hits the Big Time

Written by Andrew on March 27th, 2012

A paper map must be pretty remarkable to get a glowing review in Slate. The very idea of a “Map Review” is remarkable enough. The Map Center has been too busy selling “The Essential Geography of The United States” to blog properly about it so it is nice to see the kinds of things I have been trying to say all all along written where thousands (millions?) instead of dozens will read them.

For ages now, the first step to produce a “new” map has been to decide which existing maps to base it on. That will save a lot of time consuming work. However, things that have always been on the map tend to stay there and new things have trouble breaking through. If I took on the task of deciding from a fresh perspective what needs to be added to the standard reference map of the USA, and what has lost relevance, I am sure I would never finish.  David Imus took a good two years.

One of my favorite features, elevations in feet noted next to selected cities, actually revives an early cartographic practice.  On the other hand, three letter airport codes came into being long after the question “what belongs on the map?” seemed permanently settled.  There is a popular specialty USA map that spots colleges and universities, but Imus’s map properly recognizes that prominent colleges, the reason for so much travel planning and daydreaming, belong on a general reference map.

Best of all for map browsing pleasure is recognizing features you have heard of and wondered about: Bits of history and culture that will be less likely to float out of your mind after you have seen them on the map.  Fallingwater.  Trinity Site. Bluegrass Country. The San Andreas Fault (with arrows to show the directions of movement).  And now I know the Garden of Eden is almost right in the middle of Kansas.

I wonder if it was an easy or hard decision to omit railroads.  My only quibble.

The Slate article observed that “Specialty map shops are disappearing.” Ouch. By now, most people are surprised to know there ever was such thing as a specialty map shop!  One of those people wanders incredulously into the Map Center every now and then.

Must you have a favorite?

Written by Andrew on November 14th, 2011

Thank a reader for waking up “Why Read Maps” by sending a link to this:

What your favorite map projection says about you

What is MY favorite map projection? I should have tried to say before I read the strip. Now it is impossible to make a decision uninfluenced by the comic.

Come to think of it, those “What is your favorite…?” questions are useless, especially as security questions for password retrieval. Favorite color, movie, teacher, performer, vacation spot? My answer changes every time! Pesky Influences everywhere.

If I have to say, I go with Globe.

source: xkcd

Geography Quiz!

Written by Andrew on August 19th, 2010

(Need for a quiz here was pointed out by a reader)

First commenter with 3 correct answers will win one of these.

1. What is the world’s largest island in a body of fresh water?

2. Name the states that share a boundary with Rhode Island. No peeking!

3. This I borrowed from Click and Clack’s Puzzler. I only heard it just before they gave the answer and I guessed wrong. If you heard the answer on the radio, please disqualify yourself.

You are in a city in the USA. You travel due north until you arrive in the next state, which is state X. You return to the city. Then you travel due west until you arrive in the next state. It is again state X. You return to the city. Then you travel due south until you arrive in the next state. State X again. You return to the city. Then you travel due east until you arrive in the next state and yet again reach state X. The first state boundary you reach whether you travel North, West, South or East is the same state. Where are you?

Why Read Music?

Written by Andrew on August 13th, 2010

There is nothing new about technology changing the patterns of how people develop their brains, for better or for worse. Written language, the printing press, and the clock are some examples. Wondering about case studies that resonate with what is happening to spatial intelligence I found where I myself am stone guilty of taking the lazy way out: What happened to musical intelligence?

In times before the radio and phonograph, almost everyone sang or played an instrument in family and social settings. That seems so much healthier than sitting around watching TV or listening to recorded music. If I lived then, I think I would certainly have continued to play piano, guitar or bass through the years. But I dropped the instruments. I play the radio. I know it is not too late to change my habits and improve my relationship with the universe of music. We’ll see.

Miracles are everywhere

Written by Andrew on August 10th, 2010

According to the “Don’t be how much longer can we pretend to not be evil?” folks, the following is quoted at 2310 places on the web. I can not resist being #2311. I usually think too hard about my posts. Why not an easy one now and then?


In Washington,DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.  After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar.  A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.  The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time.  This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.  About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed and no one applauded.  There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story.  Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? If so, do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made. How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Yes, we miss a lot. But give people a break. Subway-passenger-pokerfaces hide a universe of inner life. There have been times I took delight in a busker’s performance, but no observer would have guessed it. I bet at least one person thought “Wow, this guy plays just like Joshua Bell!.”

Advice to parents: Whenever your child is ever moved as those in this tale, you can probably afford to wait for the next train.

A lot of mental effort is spent on maintaining “belief” in miracles, or the mere possibility of such, that we really know just ain’t so. Better to recognize how much of what we take for granted, like just being alive, is miracle aplenty.

Better readers read better!

Written by Andrew on June 16th, 2010

My ongoing complaint is how people allow gadgets to replace thought. I have never complained about how computers can be used to gather, analyze and present geographic data. Technology can serve thought. Geographic information systems make possible fascinating, informative maps that would have been unthinkable in earlier times. (I do complain that the aesthetics are severely lacking in most GIS maps).

Here is a wonderful example of someone taking a ton of data that was just lying around out there and compiling a map that like most good maps can tell a million stories.

Sites of photos posted by tourists are red, Locals blue.

Tourists red, Locals blue.

This was compiled from information about pictured locations and the homes of users who posted them, attached to images posted on Flickr. Clever work! It has gained jokey attention as a means for natives to avoid tourist infestations, but the comments on Flickr show there is plenty more to dig into here.

For instance:

“It’s like Queens and the Bronx have never heard of Flickr! Unsurprisingly, though, Williamsburg and Park Slope are fairly Flickr-friendly.”

“It’s interesting that tourists seem mostly to go to Yankees games, not Mets games.”

I was especially tickled to see that someone placed this label on the map: “5 pointz and/or views of the skyline from the 7 train.” And look how tourists, well represented on the Brooklyn bridge, have yet to discover the Williamsburg Bridge.

My point is the value of prior knowledge. In order to be able to look at this unlabeled yet data rich map and instantly grasp nuggets like these, you have to know the city as only a map reader can. The nuggets are endless.

Some nuggets are a question. What’s up with College Point?

She really oughtta sue…

Written by Andrew on June 1st, 2010

Sue the driver, OK, but even I had to wonder about this. My first reaction was in line with the widespread ridicule and disbelief, but after some thought, I wish good luck to a woman who is suing Google because she was injured on a dangerous highway in Park City Utah while following Google Maps walking directions.

In the old days, no one would have thought to sue Rand McNally after an incident like this.  But claims beyond any that paper maps ever made are being made, tacitly as well as explicitly, by high tech navigation.  The suit gains some merit because Google omits the “Use Caution…” disclaimer on the mobile device version of their walking directions website.  But more importantly, who is responsible for the blind faith in Google Maps that the plaintiff, and millions of other people have adopted?  Can Google demonstrate some ongoing dismay that such faith exists?  What have they done about it?  Should the sometimes visible disclaimer be enough to get them off the hook?  What deliberate actions have they taken, through public relations and their carefully nurtured image of omniscience and civic responsibility, to promote the idea “Why hassle with an old fashioned map and thinking for yourself when you can just click and go?”

I am not yet saying she ought to win the suit, but I do hope a trial becomes an opportunity to air these issues.  Should Google get to enjoy the benefits of the people’s faith in their servces while denying they have done anything to foster it?  Where else does the faith come from?

a dangerous walk

a dangerous walk

Any paper street map, or even a look at the Google map that disregards the suggested route, reveals to an actual map reader a route that is slightly longer but follows non-arterial streets for more of its length.  Nevertheless there appears to be no way Lauren Rosenberg could have traveled where she wanted to go without walking at least an eighth of a mile or so on the deadly 4 lane highway.

Here is who she has not sued, but I wish she would, and win big:  Whoever thought it was OK to build a place where it is impossible to walk somewhere half an hour away without placing oneself in a lethal situation.  That is the opposite of any place I would consider worthy of having the word “Park,” or “City” in its name.

Who needs street signs anyway?

Written by Andrew on May 26th, 2010

GPS has almost killed street maps. That won’t be the end of it!

Slate asks about the future of street signs “Does the advent of GPS mean we’ll no longer need them?”

I say: who’s we?

At least the article quotes an academic expert saying what I figured out running a map store all these years:

… the technology gets us where we need to go without teaching us anything: It’s not very good at “making us smarter about places.”

Skeptical nods like that, and a mention of bad GPS advice episodes, (which are, of course, being swiftly mopped up) do not begin to balance out the article’s Nothing-Can-Stop-Progress technophilia. If you read it, make sure to read the comments for perspective.

No one is looking at a big cost-benefit picture, some kind of greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number assessment of all this assumed progress. In the article, a booster of technology-for-all predicts

…Years from now, when a state can see that most of its population relies on satellite navigation, will it want to spent as much money maintaining signs that serve the minority of users—likely poor and elderly ones—who don’t?

The poor and elderly are only part of it. By the time the taxpayers can enjoy that big street-sign dividend, the heedless rush to get the latest gizmos (remember, these are no more of a one time purchase than paper maps) into everyone’s hands will have, collectively, cost a lot more than paper maps and decent street signs would have. What will we really have gained?

A dumber populace.

Google’s (or someone’s) ability to sell geotagged eyeballs to advertisers lucratively enhanced.

Totally invasive, all encompassing police state surveillance technology in place, just waiting to be abused.

Plus, I guarantee: In a city where emergency responders no longer know their way around because they depend on electronic navigation, things will go wrong (hoocouldanode?) and there will be preventable deaths.

Improve the web with Nofollow Reciprocity.