Thursday, January 31, 2013

The end of paper maps part 2

I continue to think about changes in mapping, and I keep coming back to how much I love Google maps. But first an overview:

As a coastal sea kayaker I want access to as much data as possible when I am paddling. For the Inside passage I used everything I could get my hands on. I started with the NOAA marine charts downloaded for free. Big charts end up folded and inside a chart case, but recently NOAA made a new product available, booklet charts. Which are the same charts made available in 8.5 by 11 format. Perfect size to be printed and used on the deck of a kayak. The marine charts give a lot of information on the water, but frankly, I really don't ned to worry about where shoals are - shoals that would cause problems for a ship, aren't too much of a concern for paddler. They do give current info, and great information on harbors. 

For Alaska I also purchased and printed topo maps from National geographic TOPO! A great resource. I was able to create and print PDF files with topo data. I like the topo data because it is great at figuring out where landable beaches are. My big concern when I am paddling is being able to get off the water when I need too. 

I used both of these on the inside passage, but I used google earth before I left. Google earth was instrumental in the planning process. Being able to actually see where I would be paddling is amazing. It offers topo information without having to decipher topo lines - a lot of people have a problems with that - and I can easily see routes and landings, crossings, and speaking in general terms options. You always have to work a little to make maps read in your head like the real world. Google earth takes this out of the process. It is the real world.

This illustrates how fundamental google earth was before doing the inside passage. I knew I would have to get off the ferry, with my boat on wheels. I would then have to walk to the harbor masters office to store my boat for two days. With google earth (and google maps street view) I was able to 'walk' the route from my living room. Looking at land marks, and seeing what the harbor masters office looked like. The building in the center of the photo is 'the shed' where my boat was stored. The yellow pin is the boat ramp where we launched from.


Like always, it isn't perfect. My biggest complaint with google earth, or any of the google earth clones - Garmin has birds eye for its devices - is you are seeing a snap shot. One slice of time. I would really like to be able to pick a location and scroll through 24 hours. Particularly as a paddler it would show me how the landform would change with the tide. The world looks very different at low tide than it does at high tide.

Second, I would like three dimensions. In google earth land forms have altitude data, so you can see all three dimensions, but as you can see in the photo above those buildings are a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object. To do this you would really have to take pictures of the same location from different angles. This would give so much more information.

Third, and this is a tough one, I want to be sitting in my cockpit, with my iPad in a waterproof case, looking at my exact location on google maps. Here is the kicker, I want it in real time. I want to see the top of my own head, and my red kayak in good enough resolution to identify it. I want to be able to wave to myself! No one would ever get lost again! I can't imagine the number of satellites this would take to make happen, but this would be the holy grail of navigation.

I suspect this technology exists for individual places on the planet. For instance, I am sure if the director of the CIA wanted to watch me paddle the inside passage in real time from a satellite, he could. But I don't think they are going to be sharing that technology with the paddling community any time soon. 

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