Saturday, 25 April 2015

Parody Week 2: Map Hugger

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5 Things I Learned Because of Google Maps

DISCLAIMER: Unfortunately, while there is still a lot of functionality in google's latest online mapping site,, the original site at had a few more functions which were . . . functional when I wrote this article (and took some of the related screenshots) in 2012. If I refer to something that no longer exists in the current Google Maps, you can still find some of them with the Wayback Machine ( and others using the separate Google Earth app ( But, if not, I hope this article gives the information you need.

1. Foreign Languages Spread Like Butter

England was famous for having a crazy powerful Naval fleet back in the day, but it's not something I was conscious of until I turned off the "English" function, and played around in Europe [or, just zoomed in to see the local names under the Anglicized names]. We gave everyone else an Anglicized name, but that's not what they use to call themselves. But also, when you look at their proper names, you learn something interesting about language.
You can't see it, but in Australia, there were once over 3,000 languages. There were a lot of aboriginal tribes, but they didn't all talk the same language. They were in all over the place, spread out where they could survive and each tribe had their own language. Or sometimes more, some groups had languages you only used with your elders, and a separate one for teaching children, some had a specific language for your mother in law (I assume it had more swear words). Some tribes even had languages that you specifically WEREN'T allowed to learn until you earned respect - that's hardcore.

But when tribes spoke to each other, languages melded so that they could interact, so each seperate language would have shared "trade words" (like talking shop) so they could interact. So, why am I talking about this? Well, because it's not a purely Australian phenomenon - this fact of exchanging languages is evident all over the world.

Look at Japan, surrounded by China, they both have a similar form of writing. No, I'm not saying all Asian people talk the same. But look at it, you can see they were both inspired by the same idea when it came to the style of their written language, they obviously have similar roots. Then go look, and you see that next to it that a similar language style drifts left [West]. China is surrounded by Nepal, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan & Mongolia.

And as you drift further from Japan, the lettering seems to become more and more like the Greek Alphabet that you and I use, until right near England itself.
Then, near Israel, you can see the peoples' language spreading through Africa.
Hopefully you can see what I mean. Language, or at least lettering, seems to spread around and seep into the surrounding cultures, a little bit like how butter seeps into hot toast.
okay, now who else wants toast?

2. Slovenia loves them some borders

When I was rolling around the map, my eye was caught by the sight of a little dot of grey on the screen. I wondered what that was about, so I zoomed into a little place called Slovenia. It is a mass of grey. what is that? Rivers? Roads? Did someone leave it in the sun, and let it crack? No, those grey lines are all borders. At a distance, that just looks like they opened a new coal mine, like THIS big. But up a little closer, you can see how many little municipalities, cities and just borders in general that this place has.

[Click to see Larger Image]
I wondered why, and so I looked it up on my good old friend Wikipedia. It turns out that AGES ago, like before Nintendo, a whole heap of people wanted to own Solvenia. See, first came the Carantanians, who brought with them Christianity. Then came the Franks, who cut the place up with their border dukes and the Feudal system. Then the isolated area had whole chunks cut off by the Magyars. Then the Holy Roman Empire divided it all up.
Then, they sort of sat and grew smaller and smaller, until the Hadsburgs took over. Then at the end of the Middle Ages, Turkish raiders ruined the economy, and then the revolting peasants destroyed the place (i.e I mean peasants who revolted, not revolting, smelly peasants. Although the two are not mutually exclusive).
Essentially the Ethnic Identity of Slovenia was in tatters, until the Protestant Reformation spread, and Slovenians began writing books, including translating the bible into their common tongue.
They eventually had a standardised language, until yet again getting screwed over by World War 1. They lost many people and a few Territories.

That was a pocket-sized version of their history, but the fact is Slovenia keeps getting kicked, cut, taken over, reformed and attacked by other, much BIGGER countries. The fact that it's till there is a testament to it's people. So all those grey dashes? They aren't borderlines. They are battlescars. And still, Slovenia is here today. Good on you, old Slovey.

If you have the time, I recommend checking out that history for yourself.

3. The Google Team are Insane. Like, a lot Insane.

First of all, I found out where google was. So I zoomed in to Amphitheatre Parkway, and I saw a guy with a sign saying "I'm Here". Pretty funny on it's own, I saw also that there were markers on the road, like barricades. I wondered why. Then I went a little further down, and saw all these people.

Apparently, this is the Google Development Team. They got sick of hanging around their offices, and when they scheduled the Google Street View car to come around, they made a day of it. Those crazy Google People . . .

But it didn't stop there. As I moved around, I realised there were a bunch of lines leading OFF the road. So I went off road too. At first I was weirded out that it was just a park. Until I realised that you could go between the buildings. The Google Team had mapped out the GoogleplexThat sounds a lot more awesome than it is, firstly because of the word googolplex, but secondly because I soon realised how they did it . . .

Hello tricycle man! You know, it almost looks like they were testing out the Google Maps idea, by first implementing it on their own headquarters. Huh . . .
But if you still don't think Google is a little bit crazy, you obviously haven't tried to walk from Darwin to Washington D.C., because Google Maps has a pathfinding program to help people get directions. And it's pretty good, it'll even tell you how to
walk from Darwin, Australia to Washington D.C. America. Everyone knows that the trick is to take a shortcut through Japan and Hawaii.

Yeah, it'll take 179 days, but it's possible, right? Oh, did I mention that you need to bring a kayak? Because that's kind of important . . .

[These days, this function has been removed. Perhaps people complained, because now when I ask to get from Darwin to Washington D.C. it says: Sorry, we could not calculate walking directions from "Darwin NTto "Washington, DC, USA". I guess too many people didn't get the joke.]

4. The Earth  is a REALLY big ball.

Sure, a lot of people know the earth is a ball. But I'm not talking about the ball part (Because technically, it's an oblate spheroid . . . but I'm sure you knew that already) I'm talking about the BIG part. You notice this when you use the Google Earth function [Or, the Google Earth App (see disclaimer)]. Let's look at a nice place like New Zealand.

What a cute little country. Which looks a lot like Japan for reasons that the Japanese people refuse to explain. Now let's get closer . . .

okay, kinda normal. It looks a little weird near the edges, but let's get closer . . .
Wait, what is happening to Australia and Antarctica?

The closer you get, the more the other Countries start to slip off the edges.
Because the Earth is so big, even though it seems like a circle the whole time, the closer you get, the smaller your perspective of the Earth gets. And the horizon gets closer. See, that horizon you see out the window? The further you get from earth, the more it turns from a line, into a curve, into a circle.

It's something I always understood in theory, but thanks to Google Maps' Google Earth function, you can see it in action. It always makes me think of David Niven's Ringworld. The place is a ring, but it is so large that it just looks flat when you stand on it, you can't actually see the horizon as it rises up, you just see sky, and a large arch peering out of the blue. It's weird to think that not only can something be so SMALL that you can't see it, but so LARGE that you can't even perceive it all at once.
It's a pretty big concept.

5. Antarctica's Anus

If you use the Google Earth View and look at Antarctica, you may notice a lot of lines. A lot of long lines that converge into one point, which at first I thought was the South Pole.

But those aren't the leylines leading to Santa's Workshop; rather, they are evidence of the fundamental flaw of map design.
Look at Antarctica in Satellite View, while keeping in mind that the long line at the bottom is just one place, and not a big one, it is a philosophical place, in essence so small that it doesn't exist, it is miniscule, and yet that long line, as long as the equator mind you, represents it. This kind of map view is known as the Mercator projection.The Mercator Map draws the whole world flat, turning longitudinal and latitudinal lines from a net into a grid, but when you do this, it stretches out the top and the bottom from a dot into a line.

While this completely warps Antarctica beyond recognition now, it didn't matter in the old days, because no one went to Antarctica. It was like telling your kids that there were monsters that came out at night to stop them from wandering alone. It was too hard to explain the paedophiles out there, so we lie about it to make it easier. And that is what this map is. It is a bogeyman. We tell people that Antarctica is this giant spread out line, to hide the true that it is, in fact, a giant ice sting-ray.

See, when you draw a map, we draw it flat, and in essence we press and mould the world around to suit our own ends. The problem with that is that the Earth is not flat (despite what morons say). So, when we roll that same flat map up into a ball, we have to squish that useless line into one point, effectively forming a little anus in Antarctica, which creates the bullshit message that the Mercator Projection of the World Map makes sense, when really it's completely, off-the-charts wrong.
But, then again, when it comes to two-dimensional map projection, it's one of the best we've got.