Monday, May 6, 2013

You're in a Maze of Twisty Passages

One of the first harbingers of the micro-computer revolution was a game called Advent. Or Collossal Cave if you were early and Zork if you were later. In this game you moved by typing "Go East", or one of the other directions of the compass. This took you to different rooms with different text descriptions and different contents.

I did not realize how American this paradigm was until today. I was discussing getting about in Oxford when she casually remarked, "Navigation is more landmark based than address based here."

Americans have benefited from the Northwest Ordinance since George Washington, a surveyor, signed it into law in 1787. With a blank slate of real estate the new nation set about laying out all of its streets and highways in a rectilinear grid. It even got so mathematical, that the Mormons established a Cartesian x-y axis centered at their main Temple.

In contrast, England literally paved the cow paths. There's not a straight road or a right-angle in London--at least none I've been able to find. In America one only tolerates this kind of non-rationality when there's a body of water you've got to build around. Sadly, the Good Lord didn't use rectangular lakes when he laid out North America.

This is the second major reason why I'm in love-hate with England: I'm forever getting lost. Last time I was in England, I became acutely aware of the smallness of text printed on maps and my need of the reading glasses I failed to pack.

I haven't gotten a good solution, but here's how I'm coping this trip: I bought an unlocked GSM smart phone and when I got to England I bought a Virgin Mobil SIM card and put 10 pounds on it. We shall see how well Google Maps works.

When we venture forth for supper, I'll run some experiments...

The experiment proved most successful. I turned on the cell phone and Virgin Mobile provided a Google Maps update automagically that showed me exactly where I was. Bravo Google Maps!


  1. If you get lost in London, the only thing you have to do, is to get down into the tubes. From there, at least if you know the name of the one close to your hotel or wherever your base is, it's easy to get back.

    At least that was my experience, the only time I got lost there.

  2. This is excellent advice. Sadly, I've not had the good sense to book a hotel near a tube station! Last time I got hopelessly lost from Paddington Station getting to my hotel for the first time!


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