Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Monday, November 10, 2014

Literary Geography

Google Street View camera car
Image Credit:  Google

I love geography, maps, and books.  I also love Google Maps, especially the satellite and Street Views.  Google constantly has a fleet of camera cars (and walkers with back pack units, small push trolleys for museum interiors, trikes, snow mobiles, but mostly cars) driving about taking simultaneous photos in all directions every so many feet.  I haven't seen a specification of how far apart each photo is taken, and I would suspect that it depends on the visual information density of the surroundings. Hence I would expect that Manhattan would have far more photos per mile than a rural region.  Google then stitches the images together giving an almost seamless 360 degree view of the world at that spot and a view that will move right on down the road.  It appears seamless, but I have found that given the luck of the draw, a sign or detail that I am interested in is usually caught on the border in-between two images.  You click on the sign to read it, and you can only see it from a distant shot.  You click on it again and you blast past it and must turn around again to only see it in the distance from the other side.  Again I would imagine that Google regulates the distance between shots with the density of information.  If you are driving through a cornfield, there is a good chance that the address on a mailbox may be too distant to read, in contrast to being able to read the storefronts of every business on Main Street.  Despite the occasional frustration, it is truly an amazing application.
Pegman is the little orange guy
standing on the zoom slider.
Image Credit: Google Maps

Because I am old and cranky, I refuse to download the New Google Maps.  I did try it, and I didn't like it, so old coot that I am, I can address only the old version of Google Maps.  To activate Street View, you need to grab Pegman.  Pegman sits on top of the zoom slider.  When you grab him with your mouse all the streets that have street view content turn dark blue.  You will want to zoom in first to ensure a good placement.  So grab Pegman and drag him to the street you want to view.  The map will drop into Street View and you will see Pegman in the lower right corner sitting on a green disk with a pointer on a small section the map.  Now Pegman shows you where you are at and the direction you are facing.

I have only seen a Google Street View car once.  With old age and increasing decrepitude, I have taken to driving my leaf and grass clippings up to the compost pile on top of the cliff that is my back yard.  Unfortunately I block the one lane alley while dumping my cans, but there is seldom a car.  In the summer of 2013, I was dumping some grass and I look...there is the damned Google car waiting behind me.   My fat ass made the world wide web for about a month, and then curiously I was edited out.  I magically was in only one frame, a month later gone.  Google beautifies the world.  Alas--my 15 minutes of fame.

Google Maps Street View of Pittsburgh from the inbound portal of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
Pegman is in the right hand corner looking north east.
Image Credit: Google Maps.

Anyhow my purpose here with Literary Geography is to show some instances in fiction where the author provides accurate descriptions of real places.  It sounds like a Jeopardy category.

For two hundred dollars in Literary Geography, how does Lisbeth Salander escape from Carl-Magnus Lundin?

What is she steals his motorcycle, Alex.

Ohhhhhh, noooooaaaahhhhh, sooorry!  She runs up the steps to the upper Lundagatan.

Saved By The Steps

Our first Literary Geography lesson is from The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson.  Through out the Millennium Trilogy, Larsson provides detailed descriptions of the scenes of various Stockholm streets.  In the following excerpt, a member of a motorcycle gang has been hired to kidnap the heroine Lisbeth Salander:

Blomkvist saw Salander lash out with her fist. At the instant she struck her attacker she dropped to the ground and rolled beneath the car. 
Seconds later Salander was up on the other side of the car, ready for fight or flight. She met the enemy’s gaze across the hood and decided on the latter option. Blood was pouring from his cheek. Before he even managed to focus on her she was away across Lundagatan, running towards Högalid Church. 
Blomkvist stood paralyzed, his mouth agape, when the attacker suddenly dashed after Salander. He looked like a tank chasing a toy car. Salander took the steps to upper Lundagatan two at a time. At the top of the stairs she glanced over her shoulder and saw her pursuer reaching the first step. He was fast. She noticed the piles of boards and sand where the local authority had dug up the street.
Larsson, Stieg; Reg Keeland (2009-07-20). The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy) (pp. 152-153). Vintage. Kindle Edition. 
You can see this place with the steps and Högalid Church in the distance.  Go to Google Maps and copy and paste the following coordinates into the search bar:

59 19.085 N 18 2.649 E

I prefer the coordinates because it gives more accurate results, but you can also search:

49 Lundagatan Stockholm Sweden

The spot will be marked by a red balloon and possibly a green arrow.   Zoom in so that you have easy mouse access to the street.  Now grab Pegman on top of the slider and drag him so that he is slightly east of the balloon or arrow head.  Google Maps will drop into Street View.  Now look at Pegman in the lower right corner.  Grab the photo with your mouse and rotate it so the the Pegman faces west.  You should see the red balloon icons, a white painted crosswalk on the street, the spire of Hogalid Church in the distance and the steps that Salander took two at a time to the right.

Salander ran up these steps from the lower Lundagaten to the upper.
Högalid Church is in the distance.  Pegman is looking WNW and is about
 to trip over the red marker balloon. Image Credit:  Google Maps.  

Our next visit will be Salander's new swanky apartment building from the same book:

Blomkvist looked at the attached documentation for the purchase of an apartment in a building at Fiskargatan 9 in Mosebacke. 
Then he almost choked on his coffee. The price paid was twenty-five million kronor, and the deal was concluded with two payments a year apart.
Larsson, Stieg; Reg Keeland (2009-07-20). The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy) (p. 451). Vintage. Kindle Edition. 
Using the method above, copy and paste the following coordinates into Google Maps:

59 19.080 N 18 4.600 E

Slander's swanky new digs at 9 Fiskargatan.
Image Credit: Google Maps

Number 9
Image Credit: Google Maps

Plop old Pegman down near the green arrowhead and rotate the resulting image until you see the building with the red balloon.  If you move about and look over the doorway, you will see a 9.

Death By Tide

In her book The Wheel of Fortune, Susan Howatch describes in detail through the book a natural formation that plays a huge role in the book:

The Worm’s Head is Gower’s most striking claim to fame. It is an extension of the south arm of the bay; the cliffs beyond the village of Rhossili slope steeply to sea level and there, across the tidal causeway of rocks known as the Shipway, a long narrow spur of land arches its way far out into the sea. It has all the allure of a semi-island and all the glamour of a myth. “Worm” is an old word for dragon, and with a little imagination one can look at this unusual land formation and see a monster thrashing its way into the Bristol Channel. 
The Mansel Talbots of Penrice who owned the land kept sheep on the Worm’s Head, and it had been on his way to inspect this flock that Owain Bryn-Davies had met his death in the tidal trap of the Shipway. Bryn-Davies, born and bred in the Welshery of northeast Gower, had misjudged the dangers awaiting those unfamiliar with the landscape in the southwest. 
Howatch, Susan (2012-10-09). The Wheel of Fortune (Kindle Locations 1524-1530). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition. 

There are no streets on the Worm's Head but while reading Howatch's blow by blow description of a psycho-thrilling weird walk out on the Worm's Head, I followed along with Google Maps satellite view.  It was uncanny.  I could tell exactly where the characters were in their walk.

To find this one, type in Rhossili United Kingdom.  Find the red balloon in the village of Rhossili and then pan the map to the west.  You should see the Worm's Head about a half of mile west of the village.  Click on Satellite View in the upper right corner.  You can zoom into 3/4 of an inch of photo = 20 feet.  You can easily see the foot paths and rock formations.  The shadow in the water on the western end gives a hint to how high this formation stands above the surface of the sea.

The Worm's Head Rhossili UK in Google Maps Satellite View
Image Credit: Google Maps


 I have added some white space, if you haven't read the book yet skip the following.  The images below contain spoilers of sorts.   

Maps of  Mark Watney's Road Trips

Poor Mark Watney is literally in a world of shit.  If you don't like my description, don't read the book, Mark's language is considerably worse than mine.  Mark is one of six astronauts on a manned mission to Mars called Ares 3.  A storm brews up that threatens to destroy their ascent vehicle.  The mission is aborted by Houston and they are ordered to leave immediately.  In the walk from the living module, the Hab, to the ascent vehicle, Mark is stuck with a sharp piece of the antenna array used to communicate to Earth.  His suit is punctured and Watney is killed by the sudden depressurization.  The wind threatens to topple the ascent vehicle and they take off just in the nick of time and leave Mark behind.  Miraculously Mark wakes up some period of time later.  The wind blew him faced down on the puncture and his weight resealed the suit, the suit re-pressurized itself, again just in the nick of time.  Long and short, Mark is marooned on Mars with a finite amount of food and no way to communicate with his crew or Earth.  That is a summary of the first chapter.

Now here comes the spoiler parts.  Read no further.

Mark is a very clever botanist / mechanical engineer and he starts growing potatoes in the Hab which other than losing its antenna is otherwise fully functional.  Mark starts planning and he decides the only way he is going to get off this planet is to do a road trip to the next mission's, Ares 4, landing site which has a fully functional MAV (Mars ascent vehicle) already in place.  The trouble with MAVs is that it is a row boat for getting off the surface Mars.  Then you have get on board an interplanetary steamer to make it back to Earth. The story goes from there.

When you read books on a Kindle. They automatically open to the beginning of the text on your first read, not the cover.  So you never have to page through the beginning pages of the book.  I usually page backwards to check for forward, illustrations, maps and so forth, but in this book failed to do so.  The whole time I read the book, different craters and canyons were named and I was thinking I wished I had a map.  Little did I realize that the book has a map at Kindle location 27, before the table of contents.  Its a crappy map but still better than nothing.   I thought several times that I should go to the NASA website and see if I could find these features mentioned in the book.  I distinctly remember thinking ugh too lazy, I am spoiled by the convenience of Google Maps.

The other day I opened Google earth, it is Google Maps running on diesel.  It has far more features than Google Maps, but I have always found it clunky to use, and I don't like the surface looks too "computer gamish" to me.  It does has some nice features though, namely pin point latitude and longitude readouts, and a cool ruler for measuring distances.   Plus you can save place marks, look at GPS tracks, and a dozen other things that I am too lazy to fool with.  It is a wonderful piece of software, but for me Google Maps does the trick most of the time without all the brouhaha and better imagery (in my opinion).  Anyhow I opened it up looking for some coordinates here on Earth when I happened to notice a button on the tool bar with Saturn on it.  What's this?  Low and behold there is a Google Mars, a Google Moon, and a Google Sky all embedded in Google earth.  Now we are talking.

So I fire up Google Mars although the application is still called Google earth.  I want to see where the Hab is located.  I type in Acidalia Planitia.  Google Earth takes me to a place that doesn't quite jive with the crappy map in the book.   So I search in the book for Acidalia Planitia and I find this excerpt.  It is Mindy Parks, Mars imaging specialist reviewing incoming satellite images from Mars:

A flicker on her screen announced that another set of images was ready for dispatch. She checked the name on the work order. Venkat Kapoor.
She posted the data directly to internal servers and composed an e-mail to Dr. Kapoor. As she entered the latitude and longitude of the image, she recognized the numbers.
31.2° N, 28.5 ° W… Acidalia Planitia… Ares 3?”
Out of curiosity, she brought up the first of the seventeen images.
As she’d suspected, it was the Ares 3 site. She’d heard they were going to image it . Slightly ashamed of herself, she scoured the image for any sign of Mark Watney’s dead body. After a minute of fruitless searching, she was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.
Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel (pp. 52-53). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
From a story aspect, this is a little ridiculous.  It has been 5 weeks since the weather aborted a manned Mars mission costing 197 gazzillion dollars and resulting in a crew fatality in which the body has been left behind, and NASA is just now getting around to have a look with all their Martian satellites.   Hmmm.  The NASA of the future must not have the CYA (cover your ass) mentality that it has now.  I drift from my mission.  But now we have something to work with to locate the Hab.  Copy and paste    31.2° N, 28.5 ° W into the Mars search bar and voila.  We have a location.   Apparently the Acidalia Planitia is the Martian equivalent to the Great Plains, it is not very specific, but the coordinates zooms you in to a specific spot.  When Google Mars zooms, it zooms like it does for Google earth which is too much for the imagery.  It goes way beyond the resolution of the satellite imagery and you get a screen full of mashed pumpkin.  Zoom back out until the image makes some sense.  While you are at it put a place mark with the push pin icon, so you don't lose your place.  BTW you don't have to put in the little degree symbols if you are typing in coordinates, although don't forget the letters.

Anyhow our marooned hero makes two road trips in his rovers.  The first is an 800 km trip to the US Pathfinder site (an actual NASA mission).  Along the way Mindy tracking his progress reports that he is at  28.9 N  29.6 W.  Search those coordinates and you get another point on Mark's first road trip.  He reports seeing Hamelin Crater.  Another point plus you can search Pathfinder to find his destination.  So Mark's first road trip looks like this.

Mark's first road trip to the Pathfinder site.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.  

All the orange square brouhaha over in Mawrth Vallis is not my doing.  It indicates further detailed images of specific features.  I couldn't figure out an easy way of getting rid of them, like some sort of layer control.  My annotations are the red place markers and yellow line.  So the story proceeds and our hero makes a second road trip to the location of the next Mars mission, Ares 4, with the hopes of hot wiring a ride back is a bit more complex than that but let's concentrate on the road trip.  The next mission is located in the Schiaparelli Crater.  The crater is real and you can search it.

Schiaparelli Crater.  Red pins are my place marks.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.

You will notice that it has a small unnamed crater on its north western corner.  This second crater and wind erosion has provided Mark with an entrance ramp down into the Schiaparelli Crater.  So that is the end destination of a 3200 km road trip.  Watney goes through the canyons of Mawrth Vallis, and into the "Watney Triangle" defined by the Rutherford, Trouvelot, and Marth craters (all real).  He gets diverted by a potentially deadly dust storm at Marth Crater and must detour due south.  He then heads east to Schiaparelli, overturns the rover on the entrance ramp, recovers and arrives to Ares 4 and his ticket home, if he can strip of the excess weight and add more fuel to meet the flyby of the Hermes mother ship (the slow boat to Earth).  So I searched all those places and plotted a probable course for Marks trip:

Mark Watney's second road trip denoted in blue.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.
I enjoyed this book immensely and I had even more fun tracing Mark's fictional trip across Mars.  Does he make it off Mars?  You will have to read the book and find out for yourself.

Edit 11/16/2014:  

Per a request from a member of my book club I have included an image showing Watney's Triangle.

The Watney Triangle
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.
Here is the text defining the triangle from the book:

I’m in the middle of a bunch of craters that form a triangle. I’m calling it the Watney Triangle because after what I’ve been through, stuff on Mars should be named after me.

Trouvelot, Becquerel, and Marth form the points of the triangle, with five other major craters along the sides. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem at all, but with my extremely rough navigation, I could easily end up at the lip of one of them and have to backtrack.

After Marth, I’ll be out of the Watney Triangle (yeah, I’m liking that name more and more). Then I can beeline toward Schiaparelli with impunity. There’ll still be plenty of craters in the way, but they’re comparatively small, and going around them won’t cost much time. 
Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel (p. 293). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I would assume the Watney Triangle is defined by the centers of Trouvelot, Becquerel, and Marth craters at the the vertices.  I drew the triangle somewhat larger to not obscure the crater images and place mark names.  The blue line is Watney's route.