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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Google Maps is a wonderful thing

A friend just emailed me to say that he is moving to a place in France somewhere, providing the name but nothing else. As it turned out, I guessed right about where this is, approximately, but it was only a guess. Within a minute I was able to turn a mere guess into pinpoint accuracy. It’s like having a complete A-Z map of the entire world with you at all times. Yeah, yeah, like, you didn’t know this. Of course you know this. But for me, resorting to something like Google Maps is still something I have to remember, from time to time, that I can do. And when I do, I feel like an Ethiopian of a hundred years ago seeing his first ocean liner.

If you grew up with this kind of thing, or if it arrived when you were a mere teenager, you wouldn’t regard it as very remarkable. No more so than I regard electric light if I flick a switch as remarkable, or fresh water if I turn on a tap. But, I didn’t and it didn’t.

Not everything in the world is getting better to put it mildly (and see below), but things like this are.

29 comments to Google Maps is a wonderful thing

  • But for me, resorting to something like Google Maps is still something I have to remember, from time to time, that I can do.

    Me too (only day before yesterday, in fact)! I’m talking about the mobile version though – the internet one has become second nature by now.

  • I find life sans ‘net unimaginable. OK, some of those things are problems the net causes then solves – such as hunting down device drivers and such but it is weird to think, sitting in the shed in the back garden typing this via wifi it is actually quicker to look at my house via Google Earth than to get off my arse. And I can tell it’s my house because (last I checked) my wife’s car is recognisably parked in the drive. We live in an age of wonders and torments.

  • Google maps on an iPad is worth the cost of an iPad, by itself. On those frequent occasions when I am wandering around unfamiliar cities, I have a map with a little blue dot on it showing where I am. This is one case where a smartphone screen is too small, and a tablet is much better.

  • Sunfish

    You mean the inter webz are for something besides lolcats and pr0n? Who knew?

    Seriously, though, it’s quicker to look up my bike’s maintenance schedule on my phone, than it is to get off of the couch and get the Hayne’s manual from the other room, which became relevant an hour or so.

  • True, Michael. Still, a smartphone is good enough when you are in a familiar area, but need to find a small and obscure street or even a number on a familiar street – helps with direction of approach and parking considerations immensely.

  • Nick, I’d go and peek at the driveway, just in case…:-)

  • For me, the biggest WOW! moment came in 2004 or so, when I used Google Earth for the first time and zoomed into a massively detailed photograph of downtown Dallas and the building that we were in.

    I felt like an Ant under a microscope.

  • Kevin B

    And then a Carrington Event comes along and knocks out all the satellites and half of the huge transformers in the world and people emerge blinking into the open, lost in their own front drives and I, having bought up all the paper maps, will be rich beyond the dreams of Creosote!! Ha Ha!!

    And to think they call me mad!!!

  • llamas

    Sunfish wrote:

    ‘Seriously, though, it’s quicker to look up my bike’s maintenance schedule on my phone, than it is to get off of the couch and get the Hayne’s manual from the other room . . ‘

    What, you don’t have the oil-change app loaded?

    While the powers of the Intertubes are remarkable, I am getting more and more concerned about excessive joined-up-ness and the concentration of so much data, commo and information in more and more singular packages – like the latest generations of smart-phones. No, thank you. The transitory convenience that these devices occasionally offer is outweighed (for me) by all of the potential downsides. Diversification is good in all things, and that includes data and information access and storage.

    These devices can now be used to track you, bug you, and record all your activities, both physical and virtual, and the courts presently hold that they can be searched incidental to arrest and without a warrant. Police departments are now deploying hand-held devices that can vacuum out the entire content of your smart-phone in seconds, possibly without your knowledge. Even a completely-innocent person – especially a completely-innocent person – would be most unwise to enable a device like that. And that’s the good guys – the potential for criminal mususe is virtually limitless.



  • PersonFromPorlock

    Google Maps is indeed useful but the same maps and images are accessed by Wikimapia – along with a lot of other information – and load a lot faster, with no hangups, at least with Linux.

  • I think for me the “change” happened when I went from using the internet to download stuff and “have it myself” to just knowing where it was. That was broadband. And then the second change happened when I no longer even book-marked but just knew how to find stuff. It is phenomenal. The entire nature of knowledge is different now. It is not what you know or even what you have on the shelf or bookmarked in Chrome but what you can find and how quickly. For once “interesting times” is not entirely a curse.

    What are you incinerating? My missus has gone to yoga, honest!

  • Jerry

    I have the same concerns as Llamas.

    I’ve watched the staggering increase in the sheer AMOUNT of data being gathered sort, sifted and used over the last 4 decades and the trend, at least to me’ is at best worrisome.
    There is simply TOO MUCH information about me ( and everyone else ) available TOO EASILY by TOO MANY people – identity theft ring a bell ?? – made possible ( or at least MUCH easier/prevalent) by ‘computers’ in general and being made even easier by the wonderful little gadgets that seem to enthrall almost everyone !!
    Maybe that’s why my phone has a Faraday cage, the GPS function is disabled ( yes I know, that’s why the Faraday cage ) and for the most part, I try to remain as anonymous as possible.

    At a recent conference, listened to a lady gushing about how wonderful all of the massive databases are for medical purposes etc and then saying it was just wonderful that her daughter ( have no idea the age ) wore a GPS tracking unit that allowed this lady to know her daughter’s location at any time ( and I think this fool actually believed what she was saying – the most dangerous type of zealot ). I was sorely tempted to point out to her that all she REALLY could know was the location of the GPS unit – NOTHING MORE !!

  • RAB

    Yep, the car is still in the drive Nick. The wife really must get out more 😉 I’ve just been looking at the legendary shed too, but that’s a bugger of a lot of grass to cut!

    I’m from a generation that a computer meant a thing that needed its own building and ran on punchcards and magnetic tape, so the current state of the web is nothing short of miraculous to me. I do damn near everything via it. Like Nick I can’t imagine a world without it now.

    I just booked a cottage in Brittany for September, and thanks to Google Earth and Streetview, I can look around the place and see what has to offer before we even get there. Utterly amazing!

    I’ve just been in our local park, it’s a glorious day here, and there has to be about 300 people doing their thing, soaking up the rays, firing up the BBQ’s, strumming on guitars and beating on bongos. The tight rope walkers are out, the cafe is doing a roaring business, there’s even a Punch and Judy show going on.

    And I’m not shy, obviously I’m not going to tell you exactly where I live, but it’s only two minutes walk away, so Google Streetview, Effingham Road, or St Andrews Park Bristol, and have a stoll around my neighbourhood y’all.

  • I’m terribly fond of google-maps, and for the street-view; I use them to refresh my memory of the places that I have lived, variously … and for one of the books currently under construction, I wrote a long discription of a carriage ride from Waterloo Station to a mansion on Belgrave Square … using the present-day street-level view and the names of those landmarks passed to look up what they would have looked like in 1876.
    I could have used an ordinary street map, I suppose, but it was more fun this way.

  • Richard Thomas

    Personally, I think tech is great and my wow moment was accidentally passing a few bytes of data between two Commodore pets over a shared printer cable.

    I don’t think it’s the devices themselves we need to be worried about, it’s more the people who are in positions of power and don’t really understand what they’re dealing with (such as the mother mentioned above and 99.997% of the government) and the vested interests who will attempt to subvert our rights for a buck (typically utilizing the aforementioned ignorant government).

    Long term, I think there’s some changes that we’re just going to have to get used to (like monitoring of public spaces) and some that will be solved by maturing technology (privacy of documents for example)

  • Richard Thomas

    Smited again? Does someone have the control turned up to 11 or something?

  • Laird

    Google maps is scary.

  • Ok, so I have an android phone. It gave me pause at first, Google being pretty much integrated with everything it does.
    But what does Google know? Or what in particular would a policeman “Hoovering” my phone discover?
    The banality of everyday trivia. my friend’s birthdays. My search history. It sounds scary, but really… what use is it to anyone?
    So I look at websites like this, I follow certain people on Twitter, really the Face book has more info on me than my phone, but nothing there singles me out from millions of others and won’t tell you anything my home isp (eeevul Sky!!!11!! Etc) couldn’t have.
    Unless you’re Ted Bundy or someone, it’s just noise.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Just keep in mind that the image you look at in Google Maps might be 6-12 months old. They are not updated daily.


  • Sunfish


    The Android oil change app is sill in beta. It occasionally adds olive oil, for reasons not yet fully understood.

    A pity, because the iPhone version will replace worn chains. If only it weren’t for my irrational hatred of Apple I’d be set.

  • John B

    . . I don’t think it’s the devices themselves we need to be worried about, it’s more the people who are in positions of power and don’t really understand what they’re dealing with . . .

    It’s not the devices that are scary but the people, Richard T?
    Can’t wait for “singularity”, when artificial intelligence overtakes human. Will the machines be good, bad, or just indifferent? Or just cuddly?
    I almost wouldn’t worry so much about the “exposure” so much, if it wasn’t for the way that the exposure is being encouraged by our “betters”.
    I guess some folk enjoy the airport scanners, as suggested in a recent Virgin ad, but, well that exposure may come at a terrible cost.

  • as suggested in a recent Virgin

    Where can I see it?

  • Oops, sorry, didn’t copy the rest of the sentence: as suggested in a recent Virgin ad.

  • Kevin B

    Here you go Alisa

  • Thanks Kevin.

    I’m not sure it should be seen as an endorsement of the scanners, but I don’t really know.

  • John B

    Yes, Alisa, it is ambivalent. It does not endorse the scanners. It is more taking a playful swipe at them. It could even be considered defiant. However it does not condemn them but rather takes them in its playful stride. Rather like a child doing a: “na, na na na”.
    It is making them acceptable in a rather stylishly edgy sort of way.

    Thanks, Kevin. I did not know where to find it.

  • Yeah John, I think you got that about right.

  • John B

    Another piece about the technology love affair(Link)

  • Yep, was just reading this today.