Evil Maps, Ancient Trees, and a Well-Deserved Paddling

A thumbnail image of our kayak.  The full-sized image is linked from the map at the end of this post.Busy, busy, busy. There’s quite a lot going on at the moment here, and a number of potentially interesting topics that I ought to be blogging. Still, we did manage to get back out on the water and spank the lake some more, so in addition to another map-and-pictures travelogue of kayak paddling on Lake Conroe (at the end of this post), here’s a map-related story that came up recently.

The BBC posted a story online wherein Mary Spence of the British Cartographic Society complains that online maps are somehow wiping out history. The gist of the complaint is that since the basic map view of online maps provided by Google, Yahoo, Mapquest, and so forth are mainly diagrammatic street maps intended for little more than displaying driving directions, corporations are essentially “blankwashing” all kinds of other information away that occasionally cluttered-looking old-school maps printed on dead tree would have. For example, if you use a good physical map printed on paper to work out how to get from one place to another, you might spot a museum or monument or other noteworthy location that you weren’t specifically looking for, but might be interested in anyway. The driving directions from “Google Maps” show little besides the street names, highways, and city limits by default so you never see any of the potentially informative little extras that more traditional map formats might give you. There may be something to this argument, but then I got thinking. Ms. Spence says:

“Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain’s remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day.”

At this point I started getting quite irritated, because Ms. Spence has so readily accepted the internet as a “consumer” product.

I know I’ve said this before: many of us are not (and none of us should be) mere “consumers” of the internet, but rather participants. The internet is not television – or even books, for that matter. The internet is designed from the ground up to facilitate communication both to and from everyone who is connected. Strangely, Spence almost seems to get this. She does mention the solution to this alleged problem:

Projects such as Open Street Map, through which thousands of Britons have contributed their local knowledge to map pubs, landmarks and even post boxes online, are the first step in the fight back against “corporate blankwash”, she added.

GIS Lounge points out where Spence seems to be lacking in understanding of online mapping. (The “Ancient Tree Hunt” project, incidentally, sounds really interesting…)

I’ll take it a step further here. “The first step”? How about “the only step”! I don’t care how well-meaning a corporation or government agency is, there’s no way a centralized agency catering to a passive audience can possibly provide the kind of massive, eclectic geographically-tagged information that we active participants on the internet can add. Spence seems from this article to think of OpenStreetMap and other such projects as some sort of protest, not a “serious” project. In her mind, perhaps the goal here is only to shame the evil corporations into providing some more historical data on their maps, at which point the rest of us can stop working on “mere” amateur geography and go back to “consuming”. I hope I’m wrong.

And now, as a demonstration, here is some geographic information about kayak paddling on Lake Conroe in the region of the Sam Houston National Forest that I’ve added atop Google’s maps….

Discussion is encouraged…

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The Author is (currently) an autodidactic student of Industrial and Environmental microbiology, who is sick of people assuming all microbiology should be medical in nature, and who would really like to be allowed to go to graduate school one of these days now that he's finished his BS in Microbiology (with a bonus AS in Chemistry). He also enjoys exploring the Big Room (the one with the really high blue ceiling and big light that tracks from one side to the other every day) and looking at its contents from unusual mental angles.

2 thoughts on “Evil Maps, Ancient Trees, and a Well-Deserved Paddling”

  1. Lake Conroe seems to be a wonderful place to paddle. One of these years, we’ll have to come visit and bring the canoe or the rowboat, when Dad finishes it. He’s already planning the next boat. This one will take quite a while to build and cost a whole lot more. But it will have to wait until retirement when he has a place to build it.

    The pictures are great and it’s a great way to enjoy the area through your camera. The paddling is good for you also.

  2. If you’re RV’ing, there are several RV campgrounds right on the lake.
    Of course, if the “next boat” is a Spanish Galleon or something, you can always just camp on it…

    The paddling’s definitely good exercise. I did about 13 miles of it yesterday (see next post), and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I still need more practice getting decent pictures off the kayak from my cheap little digital camera, though.

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