Electronic Design

What’s All This Map Stuff, Anyhow?

After the horrific gasline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., a newspaper headline said “Maps Needed for First Responders.” Well, there’s an understatement!

Lots of people need maps, not just firemen. I sure do. I save new maps and old maps. When I was a kid, I always let my fingers do the walking through the whole desk drawer full of my father’s maps—some gas-station maps (remember when they were free?) and a bunch of mediocre ALA map books.

These days I have a couple of file cabinets full of highway maps (mostly old) for various states and a couple inches of stacks of United States Geological Survey (USGS) topo sheets—some for the eastern U.S., and some for the west. I love their detail.

When I was about 11, I saved up my pennies to buy a 10-cent quad of my town, Broad Brook, Conn. When it was time to buy, I was crestfallen that the price had gone up to 15 cents. I had to wait and save more pennies. Now the darned price is up to $8. Maps are better and cheaper than ever, but a dollar bill ain’t worth a lot.

I also love the British “Ordnance Survey Maps.” I have a few dozen, very good for hikers. And I finally got an excellent map of Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa. That explained why I didn’t exactly get lost when I hiked up there (with no map), but I didn’t exactly get where I wanted to go.

I also have about a desk-drawer’s worth of good road maps for Europe, foreign countries, and cities. And a similar amount of trekking maps for Nepal. When I have a question (what’s the name of the tiny settlement west of Dughla, and what’s its elevation?), they’re handy.

Yes, I love maps. There are so many things you can do with maps, starting with raw inspiration, and continuing on into actual trip planning and guidance. Sometimes you can plan cross-country hikes. Flights of fantasy....

All in the Family
My son Benjamin is a cartographer. He ain’t going to get rich soon, but he’s breaking even, and his maps are very handsome, such as his four hiking maps for the Marin County/San Francisco/Santa Cruz area. Check them out at Pease Press Maps. His maps have excellent, useful, and educational notes. His maps also make a good friend.

Now, I’m a real fan of real maps. But I must tolerate, and use, some of the Web-access (Mapquest) maps. I don’t like the way they leave out things they don’t think you need. But they are sometimes useful. Except when they feed you big errors.

I remember walking along MoPac Expressway in Austin, Texas, right where Mapquest told me to find National Instruments. I knew there was some absurd error, and of course, the map was off by more than a mile. Many people tell me that Google Maps also often makes similar foolish errors.

The other problem is that if a computer map tells you to go to the corner of, say, El Camino and Lawrence, it might take 20 minutes to find which of the four corners, and where, really. You almost need GPS for that, to scout your way through four malls. Or phone ahead.

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Benjamin showed me an excellent Web site where we can see topo sheets of just about anywhere in the U.S. and zoom in on the details. I love it even though you can’t print them out. You can print out small scraps, using Printscreen. (Details on request.) I haven’t figured out how to pay for a map.

Go to mapper.acme.com and request a place you know. Then you can zoom out and in and drag the map around. I often just start in Connecticut, and zoom way out, and fly around and zoom in where I want to be. I check out places where I have gone, many years ago.

“Olim Juvabit Meminisse”—someday it will be pleasant to recall. Well, it is. I have “let my fingers do the walking” from Moffat Tunnel to Grand Junction, Colo., along the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. And from Kennecott to Chitina to Cordova, Alaska, along its 200-mile abandoned railway.

A similar site, www.topo.com, is pretty good. Can it sell me a map? There’s a similar site for the Ordnance Survey Maps in England: leisure.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/. You can see maps and/or buy maps there.

After I’ve found an area I’m really interested in, I may print a small scrap, and/or I may buy a map from the USGS map store, which stocks most of the far western U.S. at $8 per map. That is just 1 mile off Bayshore (US 101) at the Willow Road exit. Its address is 345 Middlefield Road, and it’s open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Comments invited! Beast rgrds. [email protected] —or:
R.A. Pease, 682 Miramar Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112-1232

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