Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mapping Booklandia

I'm a map geek.  I can't help it.  I love maps.  I buy a new Rand McNally Road Atlas every year and pour over it looking for all of the changes from the previous edition.  I have a collection of old atlases, some almost 100 years old, because I love looking at the old maps.  I have a collection of old globes, too.  And a few old gas station road maps.  There's something beautiful about a map.  Maps are a representation of actual places, and I love how the cartographer (the map maker) interprets how the map should be designed.  They are used for all kinds of purposes, to show us where to go, or how to get to where we want to go.  And they're all around us.  They are literally everywhere.

I love to plan a road trip, and so I will periodically start looking through my road atlas and pick a state, or landmark, and plan a trip around it.  I have a log of more than 20 different trips that I want to go on, all at various lengths and destinations.  My favorite trips were my two cross-country loops, one alone, and one with my wife.  I also drove down old Route 66, one of the most incredible drives I've ever taken.  But I honestly had as much fun planning these trips as I did actually taking them.  And it's all because of maps.

It's kind of sad that map reading skills are disappearing with the proliferation of GPS, or Global Positioning Systems.  These nifty gadgets are now everywhere; in your car, on your smartphone...they're everywhere.  You don't have to be able to read a map anymore.  All you have to do is ask it where you want to go, and it will tell you how to get there.  I guess they make things easier.  But for me, the fun is in trying to figure out on my own how to get to where I want to go.

When I was deciding on where I wanted to go to college, I decided I should be a computer science major.  Once in college, I discovered that I had a lot of other choices.  But I was surprised when I found a geography class.  I took it and I had a blast!  I had no idea I could be a geography major.  But that's what I wanted to do.  I became a cartographer, and began a career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Aeronautical Charting.  And I've been there ever since.  And I love it, even if I'm no longer practicing cartography.  Management isn't quite as much fun.

Anyway, my point is writing this is because my wonderful daughter, Melody, in her Geography class, was assigned a project where she had to design her own country.  She determined how it would look, what kind of topographic features it would contain, where the towns and cities would be located, what kind of natural resources it might have, and she had to come up with names for all of these features.  On the flip side of her design, she had to create a map of a city within her country, and what the street layout would look like, where stores, hospitals, schools, neighborhoods, police stations, fire stations, parks, municipal buildings, and so many other features would be located, and then she had to come up with names for each of them.  I think I was more excited for her to do this project than she was!

Mockingbird City, capital of Booklandia

The results were profound.  Her country, "Booklandia," so named because of her love of books and reading, is a work of art.  She named many of the features after books she has read, with names like Mockingbird City (named for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, her mother's favorite novel), as an example.  I'm just so impressed!  She approached this project with gusto, and the result is inspiring.  And I didn't have to help her with any of it.  She designed the whole thing herself, with no input from me.  I couldn't be more proud of her.

So I don't know if my girl has a future as a cartographer.  As I mentioned, with the proliferation of digital navigation aids, there aren't too many needs for cartographers.  My employees are all called "Aeronautical Information Specialists" now.  Our tools are GIS hardware and software, not exacto knives and scribers.  We don't use paper much anymore, and paper charts are being replaced by digital files.  My boss recently asked our employees, "Who, besides Eric, still buys road atlases?" Not very many raised their hands, and there were chuckles that I was mentioned by name as someone who does.  But it doesn't change my opinion.  I love maps.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Don't get lost out there!  And don't get so dependant on technology that you forget, or don't learn, how to use a map.

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