The end of the road for paper maps?

Planisphere I’m always a bit behind with what I read online, and this is a story from about a month or so ago.  Are paper maps dead? For those of us of a certain age who did things like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme or were Scouts or did military service, we can be put in to one of two groups; those who could fold and unfold maps with skill and confidence and not  rip them or get them blown off in to the mid-distance during the attempt, and those who…well…couldn’t.

I had my moments when I almost got it right – that’s why my paper OS maps are creased and crumpled in places where they shouldn’t be creased….

But I still have those paper maps – the Peak District, Sheffield and Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire.  In other words, the areas I walked and cycled around when I was a kid.  And about 5 feet from where I’m sitting writing this is my Silva compass with which I navigated my way around using those maps.  And in a cupboard downstairs are a couple of maps which I used when I did my ‘macho’ thing of travelling from Vancouver up to Prudhoe Bay and Point Barrow in the mid-1990s.

And the house is well equipped with Atlases – some are old enough to show large swathes of the world in ‘Empire Pink’ as I used to call it – and AA road maps and such.

Of course, at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger I can call up electronic maps on phone, iPad and computer.  I can zoom in, zoom out, get directions.  On my Blackberry I can even see where I am when wandering around courtesy of GPS. I even have an application on the iPad that gives me a star-map that updates in real time.

And funnily enough, it was when using this electronic star map the other night that  I was reminded of the article mentioned above and impressed by the fact that sometimes a paper map is needed.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in star-gazing and amateur astronomy I still can’t find my way around the heavens above without assistance – especially in the summer skies. So the other evening I wanted to do a little star gazing and decided to use the iPad to orient me….and failed miserably.  It updated in real time, showed me all I needed, but I just couldn’t get comfortable with it.  After 10 minutes I dug out my Phillips Planisphere (shown above) and got myself sorted with that in no time flat.  OK, I’ve been using such a gadget for years, so am rather used to it, but it just felt…right.

And there’s definitely what can only be called ‘the romance of old maps’ – as a kid I use to draw maps of imaginary countries on rolls of wallpaper, and used old maps to fight imaginary battles as part of my wargaming hobby. The Lands of Middle Earth and Narnia were mapped on paper, not digital screens, and the other day I saw prints of old maps being sold as wrapping paper in a local branch of Clintons Cards.  We’re going to buy a couple and frame them as decorations.  There is something wonderful about the idea of depicting landscapes on paper – something that electronic maps can’t match.

And, of course, on the day that the Governments of the world pull the GPS system down, or when a massive solar flare nukes all our electronics, we’ll still be able to use the paper maps to navigate by…although if the latter has taken place we may not be able to rely upon compasses anymore…..


He’s not the Messiah….

And so the Left and progressive movement in the UK and further afield rip themselves apart over Julian Assange.  I’d repeatedly said to myself ‘Don’t blog on this, you’ll annoy people, get your blood pressure up, and waste a good hour of your life’.  But, I can’t help it, after seeing ‘old heroes’ of the left supporting a bloke who has taken residence in a foreign embassy to avoid answering allegations of serious sexual assault, and hearing on the TV news people cheering him as if he’s some sort of hero.

Wikileaks started off with some good ideas, but I started falling out with it big time when it made some serious errors of judgement or process and ended up publishing secret information that made it more likely for folks who’d acted as interpreters or informers to Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to be identified.  All of a sudden the business of providing ‘Heat magazine for the chattering political classes’ was also making it possible for folks to be shot, bombed or tortured to death for giving information to Western forces.  Whether some folks on the left actually applauded this accidental release I don’t know – but any blood spilt because of these leaks has to lie at the door of Wikileaks and it’s team.

When Assange got himself in to trouble with allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, it was immediately leapt upon by many of the left as a set up of some sort.  Stories abounded about whether the events had happened, whether the women were CIA agents, all sorts of stuff.  the bottom line, though, was that Assange was wanted for questioning about these allegations in Sweden, ended up in London, then went to the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden as he and his supporters felt that he would be extradited to the US to answer potential espionage charges.  Which is ironic in itself, given that a journalist in Ecuador picked up 3 years in jail for ‘defamation’ of the Government of that country….

Which is where we are today, with long time doyens of the left like Tariq Ali, Ken Loach and John Pilger bending over backwards in support, and the progressive and left movement in the UK tearing itself apart over the whole issue.  I hate being able to say ‘I told you so…’ but I’m afraid that I’ve been warning anyone who will listen about the dangers from Assange for at least 3 years.  Here are a few points for my left wing friends supporting Assange to bear in mind.

If the US wanted Assange, I’m quite sure that between 2010 and now, it defies belief that the evil US Government wouldn’t have snatched him off the streets of wherever he happened to be.  The fact that they haven’t means that either they don’t want him badly enough, they don’t want him at all, or the US Government isn’t quite that evil….

It would be easier for the US to request extradition directly from the UK than go through this malarkey of asking Sweden to extradite first.  In recent years the UK has agreed to extradite bankers, alleged terrorists and computer hackers at the drop of a hat.  Are you genuinely trying to tell me that the UK Government wouldn’t agree, if asked, to extradite someone who the US want to talk to over leaks that may have impacted on UK military and diplomatic issues?

The likelihood of Assange being extradited from Sweden is low; why won’t he answer questions about the alleged allegations?

The whole issue looks like it reinforces a lot of rumours about just how mysoginistic the British left and it’s supporters can be when ‘the cause’ is viewed to be under threat.  By refusing to even consider whether or not the sexual assault allegations have any ground to them at all, supporters are denigrating the stories of women who have been assaulted.

Is the blind support of Assange and Wikileaks worth the massive rift that is being caused in the left and progressive movement?  Or is it a traditional knee jerk reaction as described by Nick Cohen in ‘What’s Left’ in which anything that gives the opportunity to hit at the US or UK must be right?

Come on folks, think this out – the Wikileaks material is what I’d expect to see in secret documents.  There’s little, if anything, in there that hasn’t been brought to the attention of journalists through other means. Just how many of the supporters of Assange have read the Wikileaks stuff?  Did it enlighten you about anything?  Is it worth the risk that by splitting the progressive movement around Assange and Wikileaks we damage the chances of change in the future?

Think carefully – the folks who’re suffering hard under Government policies in the UK right now may be very unforgiving if this demonstration of how ‘right on’ the left can be wrecks the chance of change.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

The title of this piece is a quote from the late, great American brainy bugger Gore Vidal.  I’m not sure how seriously I actually believe it, but a little pang of…something…went through me yesterday when a friend contacted me to tell me that a novel he’d written (and that I was lucky enough to read in manuscript form) was now fully completed and ‘out there’.  So, before we go further – check out ‘The Ironlane Detective’ by Paul Witham.  Congratulations Paul – you deserve it and I wish you many sales and the beers will be on you!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m lucky to know a lot of very creative people – film makers, craftspeople, writers, musicians, software developers, radio presenters, gardeners, woodworkers, painters, actors, comedians – and I love hearing from them as to how they’re getting on.  It’s just that….well….I don’t seem to have the knack myself.  I have the odd creative splurge every now and again, but it never seems to blossom in to the creative outpourings that many people I know achieve.  Which is odd because in my 20s I turned out books by the box full and articles for the technical press by the dozen – of course, that was in those glorious, pre-Internet days when there were definitely fewer distractions for those of us with butterfly minds!

I think that that is my problem – focus!  I know that when I do set my mind to something I can get it done.  I’m often reminded of Dr Johnson’s comment “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” with regard to my way of managing myself.  I need to be prodded!

Whoops…no Apocalypse!

So, all you Olympic / Illuminati / Alien Conspiracy theorists….how’s that ‘The 2012 Olympics will herald the end of the world with nukes, interdimensional portals and alien invaders’ idea hanging this morning?

A few weeks ago I posted this item – – and as we’ve now crashed back to earth on the Monday after the Olympic closing ceremony, I think I can safely say that given 3 possible ends of the world, 2 opportunities for these events to happen (opening and closing ceremonies) and 2 weeks of primetime TV coverage in case the bad guys were late in arriving – it’s not going to happen.

The use of the Clash in an advert was just marketing gonks not listening to the words, the triangular lighting towers at the stadium were just….surprise….triangular lighting towers, the ‘Shard’ is just a rather big glass and steel penis substitute and not a landing platform for Goa’uld style pyramid shaped mother ships.

The closest that we got to an interdimensional portal releasing hordes of creatures from another dimension was when the Octopus appeared in the closing ceremony, and for a brief moment it did look like “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” was about to give way to ‘Cthulhu has been woken up by the din and fancies a light supper’…..

OK.  Enough jokes. like I said previously – what really scares me is that there are quite a lot of sane, otherwise sensible people who publicly (well, behind Internet aliases) stated that all this bollocks was going to happen, and larger numbers of people who believed it.  Given the state of the world I guess that if I was feeling generous I could attribute this sort of rubbish to some sort of late Millennial or pre-Mayan Endtimes panic or a spillover of stress from the economic and environmental problems facing the world, but when I’m feeling less generous I have to regard the people pushing this tripe as rather nasty, evil little trolls.

So…to all you conspiracy nuts. Anyone I know on Twitter or Facebook will be purged the first time that you post ANY sort of apologetics explaining why the end of the world didn’t happen.  Just ‘fess up and admit it was bollocks.  There’s good folks.  And get back to playing Dungeons and Dragons.

And for the worried and the anxious – there are enough real world problems out here to deal with.  Engage with a few and try and make the future for yourselves and your family what you want it to be, rather than being anxious about a future that will never exist outside bad science fiction or a psychiatric ward.