Happy New Year 2013, Starting With 'Future of Mapping'

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For reasons planned and unplanned, I really did end up being out of electronic touch for a very long period, on a whole-family adventure. These past few days, rather than looking at a computer screen on a typical evening, I would look at something like what's shown below. And I read lots of books! You remember, actual "books" -- those big, made-of-paper objects whose contents, I find, lodge more firmly in your mind when you see them on a physical page than on an electronic screen.
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But now back to electronic existence, and contemplating messages that have arrived in the past week. Let's get started with a quick checklist:
  • Our new issue is out. You know how to start the New Year right. (Subscribe!). My part in it is a tech-section Q-and-A with Michael Jones of Google, one of the creators of the technology that gives us Google Earth. He describes what is likely to come next in the realm of computerized mapping, the field that over the past decade-plus has entirely transformed the way people understand spatial reality on every level from their neighborhood to their planet.

  • The next item you'll see in this space will be some bonus, web-only questions-and-answers from my session with Jones. For similar bonus home-study purposes, I encourage you to check out Google's recent Android app, Field Trip, in light of what Jones says about next steps in mapping. UPDATE: In this Q-and-A, Michael Jones talks about the effect of showing his father Google Earth's underwater "Street View." The collection of these beautiful scenes is here.

  • In my list of "developments to comment on real soon now" is the increasing, unfortunate crackdown by Chinese authorities on the Internet in the past few weeks. More on the "VPN" aspect of this problem shortly. For now, check out Nicholas Kristof's very sensible column today on the topic. Notably it includes this "paragraph that should be included in every story about China by anyone™" passage: "From afar, Westerners sometimes perceive China as rigidly controlled, but up close it sometimes seems the opposite. There are rules, but often they are loosely enforced, or negotiable." And if you want more on that theme and related contradictions, you also know where to turn!

  • I see that many people have written in to ask whether I agree or disagree with another recent NYT item. It's the one arguing that the only danger posed by use of the dreaded "devices with an on-off switch" aboard airplanes is the fistfights that will inevitably erupt over insistence that they be turned off. Ie that the devices themselves -- versions of which the pilots are using in the cockpit during the entire flight -- pose no discernible danger to navigation systems etc.

    Short answer: I agree.

  • Housekeeping and Contests dept: If I were Andrew Sullivan, my friend and former Atlantic colleague who has just announced a new publishing model for The Dish, well ... in that case a lot of things would be different. But among them is that I would use the photo above as the grist for a "View from your window" contest, even though it was from a sandbar rather than a window. But I think this one would be too hard even for crowdsourcing via The Dish. I'll give one other daytime view, made after I'd turned 90 degrees to the left from the perspective above. And I'll say that if I'd taken the photos a few hours later, you would have been able to see the Southern Cross. And if you were looking in the water, you would see a lot of large stingrays. That may be saying too much.

    Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for View2.jpg

    Seasonal greetings to all, and thanks for your attention and messages. About to start quoting from them again.
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Bonus. Here is a screenshot from one of Google Earth's "Panorama" 360-degree perspectives of the same locale. Not by me but from some previous visitor. This would be a further turn to the left from the preceding shot, showing more of the neighboring land, plus different lighting and a change of a few feet in camera location.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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