Map Views VG

Internet Mapping at Its Best

Back in the day when your author was a Boy Scout he learned how to read and use maps. I remember earning my Eagle merit badge in map reading and was proud to be able to navigate just about anywhere with my trusty Boy Scout compass and collection of regional maps. 
 
These were of course physical maps, the kind you could fold and put in your knapsack. They still invoke fond memories to this day, and it’s always fun to reminisce. And there is always the tendency to think that just because something is newer, it’s automatically better. But try telling that to someone with an electric can opener in a power outage!
 
Yes, my scouting maps were great, and they had their advantages as I will discuss shortly. But looking back I must admit that they had their limitations too. For one thing, a map might be outdated. Try looking on a map for a road that didn’t exist ten years earlier when the map was printed! Or for a small hill that might have been razed in the meantime to make way for a shopping center that didn’t exist when your map was printed 25 year earlier. These aren’t problems for digital maps that can be updated monthly weekly, daily, even in real-time.
 
One element I fondly recall about my scouting maps (not seen on Google maps today) was their topographic detail that included curving contour lines to show altitude. 
 
These lines were spaced either farther apart or closer together according to whether a particular piece of terrain was gently sloped, as in the side of a hill where the contour lines were farther apart, or deeply sloped as with the side of a mountain when the contour lines would be closely and densely packed together. 
 
That way when we were trekking through the forest into parts unknown, we could avoid heading in a direction that would take us straight into the path of a mountain, allowing us to skirt it instead.
 
Another aspect of physical maps is that they were concrete, palpable, tangible — i.e., something you could hold in your hand and relate to physically. This simply isn’t possible with a digital, electronically displayed map. 
 
It’s like the argument you hear today about the pros and cons of reading a book on a Kindle or other handheld reading device compared with holding an actual book in your hands. Some say that the day of the printed book will soon be over; that one day soon books will be seen as museum pieces from times gone by. 
 
But maybe not. For example, there has lately been a resurgence of interest — with fan clubs springing up everywhere — of (mostly) young people listening to music on (gasp!) vinyl LPs. Yes, and even finding old phonograph players to play them on. 
 
There are even manufacturers now making new ‘record players’ featuring an actual tone arm and stylus (don’t ask) and featuring digital circuitry that (get this) emulates the sound of analog circuitry! 
 
This is a classic example of cultural reversion where when something seems to have gone too far, there is social push back to return to the previous technology. Especially if it seems to be more personal, more real, and less virtual in the way that much of the world is today.
 
Returning to maps, there is the issue of reliability and what technophiles call ‘uptime.’ What would it take for a physical map that you can hold in your hand to:
 
Crash? 
Go offline? 
Accidentally be deleted? 
 
Of course the answer is that none of these things could happen. Certainly any physical object can be lost, damaged or destroyed. But barring such an unforeseen circumstance, a map would never just disappear from your hands, leaving you to wonder whether you had remembered to back it up.
 
Another advantage to physical maps is that they can be used anywhere, at any time. Try using a digital map application in your smart phone when you can’t access either the Internet or a local cellular service connection. Oops! 
 
Under these circumstances you might as well be living back in the Civil War era. Seen in that light, all modern electronic conveniences are deeply susceptible to outages, interruptions, even acts of sabotage and terrorism.
 
But that’s not true with my handy Boy Scout maps. The worst a terrorist could do would be to try to ignite my map with a laser from far away! But, being the good Boy Scout that I was trained to be and raised on the motto ‘Be Prepared,’  I could simply duck behind a tree!
 
So there you have it. Physical vs. digital. Each has its advantages. As for me, I love gadgets and I’ve got  a collection of all the latest modern gizmophile conveniences. 
 
But in the glove compartment of my new car, computerized as all new vehicles are with cruise control, automatic braking and built-in blue tooth wireless communications, I’ve got a couple of maps sitting there.
 
Just in case.
The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite put fear into the hearts of American military planners. Yet ironically, it marked the beginning of a timeline that led to the Global Positioning System or GPS as we know it today. 
 
In 1957 Scientists working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology observed that the frequency of the radio signals transmitted by Sputnik increased as the tiny Soviet satellite got closer and decreased as it got farther away.
 
This was nothing other than the same Doppler Effect that makes an ambulance siren or a street car bell drop in pitch as it moves away from you.
 
This same effect is used by astronomers to measure the speed of entire galaxies that are rushing away from the Earth.
 
Since it was possible for any single receiver on the ground to detect and calculate the rate of change of frequencies from a satellite passing overhead, all it took was for the receiver to be able to communicate with two satellites a the same time to be able toe ‘triangulate’ its location on the ground. 
 
Add a third or even a fourth satellite and the calculation would be all that more precise. This was wonderful for the military since it meant that a guided missile like a cruise missile could be sent through an open window from thousands of miles away.
 
Today the GPS receiver that is built into your smart phone or the standalone GPS device sitting on the dashboard of your car can determine its location by receiving radio signals from two or more satellites (which must be in line-of-sight from the receiver) and calculating the time it takes for the signals to reach the receiver.
 
Since it is known exactly how far apart each satellite is from the others, it’s a simple matter to then triangulate your precise location. Modern GPS can even determine how fast you are going in miles or kilometers per hour, and it does this from a vantage point 13,000 miles above the Earth!
 
Today a network of 31 satellites revolve around the earth twice each day, each parked at a stationary point about the planet, allowing GPS to be used reliably by everyone for a wide variety of uses and purposes.
 
GPS sure has come a long way from the days of Sputnik. Here’s the timeline, and an update.
 
1959
The first navigation system that relied on satellites was built by the Navy and called TRANSIT. Designed to track sub marines, the system began with six satellites and soon expanded to ten. 
 
1963
The Aerospace Corporation performed a study for the U.S. military under which a network of satellites would continuously send signals to ground receivers which could then determine their exact location according to an exact set of coordinates.
 
1967
Atomic clocks added a measured of greatly increased accuracy with the new Timation satellite replacing the Transit satellite.
 
1974
The Air Force debuts NAVSTART featuring a 24-satellite network for the military.
 
1983
After the shoot down of a Korean passenger jet, the Reagan Administration made GPS available; for civilian uses so that aircraft could avoid inadvertently wandering off course and into hostile territories.
 
1983
Shortly after the Russians shot down Korean Air flight 007 after it wandered off course into Soviet airspace over the Kamchatka Peninsula, president Reagan offered to let all civilian commercial aircraft use the GPS system (once it was completed) to improve navigation and air safety.
 
1985
The government contracts with private companies to develop “airborne, shipboard and man-pack (portable)” GPS receivers.
 
1989
The Air Force finally places the first modern GPS satellite into orbit, launched from a Delta II rocket .
 
1989
The first hand held GPS navigation device, the Magellan NAV 1000, comes to market in the U.S.
 
1990
The U.S. military downgrades the accuracy of civilian GPS in order to thwart adversaries who might use it to advantage.
 
1993
The 24th NAVSTAR satellite is launched, completing the modern array of geostationary satellites.
 
1994
The CLinton administration informs the airline industry that GPS will continue to be offered free for use “for the foreseeable future.”
 
1995
The first major revision of the GPS system is complete with 27 GPS satellites in orbit and orbiting the Earth twice daily. Four satellites are now ‘visible’ to a ground receiver at any location on earth at any time of the day or night.
 
1999
The first GPS phone that is commercially available is the Benefon Esc!, manufactured by Benefon.
 
2000
The deliberate degradation of GPS is ended with the system instantly becoming more accurate by a factor of ten times. This launches the explosion of vehicular GPS devices and services for both businesses and consumers.
 
2001
As GPS receiver technology advances and costs drop significantly, increasing numbers of companies like Garvin begin offering a wide array of devised or consumers. 
 
2004
New “assisted’ GPS technology allows cell phones to use both Cell tower triangulation and satellite triangulation at the same time, allowing the end user to pinpoint their location on the Earth’s surface within just a few feet.
 
The U.S. Air Force currently manages an orbital  fleet of 31 GPS satellites, plus three that remain on hold and can be activated as needed.