Monday, December 21, 2009

Geography: A New Hope

Last week, I gave a talk to my nephew's geography club at. He's in middle school, and it gives me immense pride that he is so fascinated by geography. When I was a bit younger than him, I was thrown out of a geography contest in my class. Apparently it wasn't fair to the other team to have me be able to identify all the U.S. states by shape. I have high hopes for my nephew that the same thing will happen to him some day.

It was amazing to see this club though. About 25 or 30 students, all eager to see a demo of Google Earth. When I give a talk now, no matter the age group, it's the same result. But these kids instinctively understand the 3d nature of the application, and are curious about subjects like "How do you get the imagery to conform to the terrain when you drape it over?" "Geometry," I said, getting a big smile from the teacher. All of the questions were at least as smart as the questions adults ask me, leading me to think that either these are special kids, or there is hope for America's schools.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mobile Maps and Physicality

I've been working a lot with Google Maps API V3 and running it in an embedded browser on an Android or iPhone device. And this has got me thinking a lot about the sheer physicality of mobile maps.

I'm pushing 41 this coming February, and I'm old enough to remember when maps were only on paper. There was a presence to maps, holding it in your hand, tracing it with your finger. You could put a map of the city in your pocket, literally carrying the city around with you. The way you folded it was really important, a good test of whether someone was a maps person or not.

I confess the other way I loved maps was a gamer. Those hexagons on a map, moving chits around to conquer territories. I loved it. As an early teen, we'd read game maps and make up pronunciations for city names and argue over them. Back when people argued about facts instead of looking them up.

Don't get me wrong, I love Google Maps on my computer, I love the slippy nature of it, and the ability to manipulate it in ways that I couldn't have with a paper map. But working with mobile mapping has brought back some of that old feeling. Sticking the phone with the map open into my pocket. Moving it around with my finger. There's a physicality to it that I miss on my non-mobile computer. Sure, I don't have to learn a special folding technique. But still, I can carry the city around with me. And best yet, when I pull it out, it'll be right there, showing me where I am without me having to figure it out. OK, maybe I'll miss the figuring it out part.