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. 



  1. Excellent post Sextant. Google Maps is also one of my favourite bookmarks.
    I would bet that I visit Google maps, almost once a day....but several times a week for sure.
    For the time being, give me the Classic (old skool) Google Maps as well.
    My first beef with the new version in street view, is when you pan with your mouse, the imagery is all blurry and makes my eyes and head spin when I see that. On the old version, you get a solid clear crisp image while you are rotating the mouse, in other words doing a 360 degree pan. It's like the images are still up loading while you are panning. Very frustrating. How is that new and improved?
    While I am on a rant here..........the screen view on the new version is too cluttered. I know you can hide some of the imagery(tools) but it is still not to my liking.
    And I see by the google reviews, that a lot of other peeps are not that thrilled with the new version either.
    But that said....I spend a lot of my computer time in the winter going away on virtual holidays, visiting other places in the world. Places that I know I will never get to. And I don't mean big name , big time places like the pyramids in Egypt and the beaches of Hawaii. I'm talking down and out places, like some meandering back road in the Russian Communist Bloc, along some small town trail along folks backyards in these communities. It is almost surreal, that I (we) can do that. In that regard technology is awesome.
    I've sort of done a version of the literary geography that you write about. Trying to discover or view actual places that are talked about, either in a book or what have you. I can while away (waste) so much time using google view. You kinda get sucked into a worm hole. But, what the heck, it's cheap fun...keeps me off the streets and out of trouble.
    Like I said at the beginning...excellent post.

    1. Agreed on the new version of the maps although I didn't keep it for more than an hour. I noticed when I asked for directions from city to city, all of sudden a monster took over my computer put an air route in with 3 bids at ticket prices. I don't want that shit cluttering my map. The fact that the old version is still available and going strong indicated to me that a lot of people are still using it.

      I do a lot of satellite gazing. But yes street view tours are very cool. There is a lot of info on those two links above for prefab tours, I need to check those out.

      I have to laugh, I am very familiar with latitude and longitude coordinates. I copy and pasted some coordinates out of a book and was trying to find where they were at. I kept getting errors and I kept trying. Finally I looked at the coordinates, they were something on the order of this:

      33° 69' 17" N 109° 72' 25" W

      The degrees were spot on to where they were describing.

      Busman, always an honor, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Pegman? Is that his official name? I use this app a ton at work to track down garaging addresses for my truckers so I can see if the yard is fenced, gated, etc and recently my pegman disappeared, you can't ever find a good man when you need one! Anyway, as usual I only got that far in your post before I had to comment, so back up to continue reading I go!

  3. Google beautifies the world??? Hahaha, that is rich! Actually, I'm in a google picture too. When we were moving into this house I was sitting on the back patio contemplating the boxes and boxes of stuff sitting there and wondering where I was going to put it all and along comes the google car and snaps my picture. Of course I was sitting in a chair with my back to the fence so you only see my arms and feet and back of my head. Thank goodness for that because I was busy moving and sweaty, no make would have had to delete me to beautify the world again!

  4. Very interesting Sextant. I did very much the same thing when I read a book recently that mentioned the Catacombs in Paris. I googled and was able to be in the same places the author was writing about in her book!

    1. Alicia,

      Pegman is official:

      Although it makes me suspicious that I have to go to Google India to find him. Why would he disappear? Did you load the "New" Google maps? I did so for about an hour, hated it, and went back to the old. In my hour foray I can't remember whether there was a Pegman or not. I checked, he is still there this morning on my version. Perhaps he got sick of looking at garages. "Oh shit, it's the garage lady."

      Google blurs the images for people and license plates, so while perhaps we may have seen that you were sitting there, other than some geeky nerd-vert editing imagery at Google in the middle of the night, no one would know that you were sweaty and sans make-up (regardless of the reason). In any event, I rather imagine that the Street View cams have caught plenty of interesting activities and more than one car parked in compromising locations. Pegman sees all.

      Yes, I remember your photos of the Parisian Catacombs--very cool! I have always looked at maps when reading books even as a kid, I recall of checking the encyclopedia for some of James Bond's travels. But the internet has really advanced the art of literary geography. Now with the traffic overlay, which I understand Google monitors Android phones for movement, you can almost watch the traffic lights in London operate. It may not be exactly real time, but it is damned close. Pretty amazing.

      Alicia, always an honor, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Loved it, Henry! I never thought of actually using the Google maps while reading fiction. I am a very visual person and I usually go online looking up bits of information while reading my mysteries but never thought of using Google maps. Thanks! (By the way, I don't like the newer window view of Google map either). LOL

    1. Bookreviews,

      Thank you for the kind comment. I always like to look at a map when reading a book and figure out where it takes place.

      Oddly Google Maps switched on me yesterday to the new version. I had to work at it a bit to get it back to the old version, and unfortunately do not remember what I did to get back to the old version.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. Great job! I was doing the same while LISTENING to the audio book of The Martian. I dawnd on me that I follow him thru Google Maps. The online Google Map gave me a much better pic than thru GoogleEarth (Mars). I had a little more trouble since I was listening and didn't know how some of the names were spelt.

    I began doing this when he once said he needed to go SW to the crater and all the other times he has said to the east or SE. I was baffl'd so I began looking for a map. Anyway there is a slight mistake in the book for that it is indeed SE, not SW.

    I stumbl'd over this webpage and your map. I wish I had found it before doing all the other work! lol

    Again, good job.

    1. An Wulf,

      Thank you for your kind comments. Did you publish your map on the web? If so send the address.

      I did not catch error about going SW. The kindle version had a crude map so I had a general idea of where things were at.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog and your very kind comment.

  7. Hey Sextant, just had to revisit your blog post about Google Maps and Street view. I was doing my usual surfing using Google maps and street view in south western Manitoba, when I noticed that there was an update on the image visit time, now indicating summer of 2014. ? So I thought I would re look at Sanford Manitoba, and low and behold we are updated as well. But not only that, I now find that I am an official Google Street view person as well.
    Last June 2014 I was roto tilling a flower bed at the Cenotaph in the southwest of Sanford. I looked up and saw the Street view car/camera roll, by, but I wasn't sure if he was just tooling thru or actually taking pictures.
    I promptly forgot all about it till I visited our town last week and discovered myself.
    So there is my 15 seconds of fame. Actually it could turn out to be 4 or 5 years, as Google seems to typically leave images up until refresh for several years anyways. I am not sure of the gps coordinates, or how to find them, but if you go to Burns Lane and Railway Ave, and rotate the camera around, you can find me there, toiling away in the dirt with my white Ford pick up truck parked near by.
    ** ps...and really loving the brutally cold weather we are having now..I thi nk it's -40C as we speak....I'll see if I can send some ur way..( misery loves company and all that rot)..

    1. By God there you are, white Ford RR truck with planks on the tailgate and running a red tiller. You have a Tee shirt so it ain't no -40 C which BTW is the same temp in F.

      I used to use my GPS maps in my computer to get the coordinates, but my old maps won't work with a iMac. So now I use Google Earth. I look at the spot that I want with Google Maps then find the same spot with Google Earth. I just have the free version that you can download off the web. You can set your settings to show latitude and longitude on the bottom of the screen. Set your mouse on the spot and read the screen read outs. It will give a very accurate reading if you are zoomed in.

      Google maps doesn't give coordinates (that I know of) but it will read them in the search bar. The advantage of using coordinates is that it will nail the location down to a foot or so accuracy. Also if you are trying to point a natural feature out, like the Worms Head above, street addresses may be useless.

      So using that method here are your coordinates:

      49° 40.819'N 97° 26.883'W

      If you "placemark" the location in Google Earth, you can copy and paste the coordinates out of place mark box which eliminates all that worry about degree and minute symbols.

      So now if you copy those coordinates above and paste them into Google maps, voila you are right at the apex of your little patch.

      As for your wishes for sharing your lovely weather, you have been successful. Yes it is a joke compared to your conditions but for us it is pretty damned cold. Don't mind the cold, you don't have to shovel that, but I am getting good and sick of snow. But we are having a balmy time of it compared to New England. They are running out of places to put the damned stuff. We are -15 C with a -25 wind chill right now. We going down to -23 C air temp tonight. Refreshing!