Category: Maps

Getting there from here

Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out.

Wing, Jeannette (2014). “Computational Thinking Benefits Society”40th Anniversary Blog of Social Issues in Computing.

There are many definitions for the concept of “Computational Thinking”.  I like the above because it addresses more than writing a Scratch program that you see as the definition and result from some places.  Don’t get me started.

It also honours the fact that the solution might be human or machine solved.  Not specifically stated, are the notions that we often deal with algorithms and that there might be more than one way to solve a problem.

Here’s a great example.

I think we all have used Google Maps or Bing Maps to get driving instructions.  If there was one answer, you’d expect to get it no matter the program.  That’s typically not the case.  For a heady read, check out this Wikipedia article.

So, I put things to a test.  I asked both map programs to take me from the Yonge and Bloor intersection to The Old Mill in Blyth Ontario.  Here’s how these two popular services would do it.





It’s interesting to note that, once they get out of the Big Smoke, there really are only a few ways to go cross country without a bunch of turns.

What’s interesting is how they get out of Toronto.  Bing would have you head north immediately and use Allen Road to get to the 401 or 410.  Google actually takes you east and then down the Don Valley Parkway to the Gardiner and then to the 401 or 410.  The difference is in the algorithm and the thinking involved in implementation.  For the record, Open Street Map gave the same route as Google did.

Could you do something like this in school?  I think so.  (Because I did)

Let’s forget a computer solution for a minute because it gets very deep in a hurry.  Let’s look for the human solution.  Suppose every student either walks or rides a bike to school.  How do they get there?  What route do they take?

By the time you try this, the path will be engrained in their mind so let’s change the game a bit.  Suppose a new student arrived in your community and wants advice about how to get to school.  Now, it gets interesting.  Of course, they’ll want to get to school as quickly as possible.  Take a map of the community and pin the school and the new student’s house.  How do they get there?  It’s an interesting activity.  (unless they’re bused which leads us to a different talk)  If the walking or biking distance is far enough, you’ll be open to more than one answer.

What would Bing or Google do?  Of course, you know the answer, drop a couple of pins and ask for directions.

A computer solution is a big more challenging but can be done.  A problem that I gave my Grade 12 students went along these lines.

Fortunately, Lasalle where the school was located was mostly laid out on a grid although some roads didn’t always go through.  But that was OK; it made the problem interesting.  What we did was create a big matrix (2D array) and marked intersections as open or closed.  We had a starting point quite a way from the school at cell (0, 0) and the school was located at (20, 20).  The goal was to create an efficient algorithm to walk through the array as quickly as possible.  It wasn’t trivial, but like Bing, Open Street Map, and Google, as soon as you could get to a major road, it was smooth sailing.

Of course, you could make it even more like real life with one-way streets, cross walks, bridges, and points of interest.  For example, I only lived a few blocks from school and could be there in five minutes.  But, there was a bakery downtown that put out its day olds right after school.  Going home was a different route for sure.


To boldly go …

… where no browser has gone before!

Recently, Google has made space exploration so easy from within Google Maps!

All that you need to do is fire up Google Maps ( and switch to Satellite view.  (the little satellite button in the bottom left part of the screen)

First, you’ll switch to a satellite view of where you’re currently located but you need to scroll out.  Way out.  Way way out!  You’ll pass Canada, then North American, and then there’s the beautiful Earth.  You’ll probably want to spend a moment or two spinning Earth with your mouse.  I always do.

But keep on scrolling out and, all of a sudden, a Space menu will pop in from the left.  It’s probably a great deal of scrolling with the danger of getting lost in space to use your mouse to navigate so just choose the space place you want to explore.


Settle in for a quick ride and you’re at your destination.  It’s complete with things to learn and explore.  And, of course, use your mouse to take things for another spin.  Make sure that you zoom in and click on the hot spots to get the best from your exploration.

OK, here’s your skill testing question.  What kind of laptop computer will you find on the International Space Station?

Enjoy your trip through space.  Just don’t wear your red shirt.

See you on the other side

Admit it.  You, like me, have heard and probably used the expression “Dig a hole to China”.  It’s based on the premise that if you started digging in your back yard, you’d come out somewhere on the other side of the globe in that country.

I remember it as a challenge in Geography.

But, when we took a look at the globe and spun it around, it turned out that we were a long way from China.  But it was kind of cool and an inspiration that the globe was attached at the top and on the bottom.  The next step was to create our own globes with styrofoam balls, sketch in the continents, estimate where we were in this globe and then, using a poker, go for a dig and see where we actually would come out.

These days, we can do it digitally.  This isn’t to demean creating your own manipulative globe and all the learning that goes along with the original activity, but there’s something cool about doing it on your computer.  I guess it’s the precision, but more interesting, repeated tries until you come up with a starting and ending point of interest.

It won’t happen though, if you start in Windsor, Ontario.

The other side of the globe to Windsor is somewhere in the South Indian Ocean.


If you look closely at the image above, (or open it in a new window), you’ll see that the co-ordinates that would normally be N and W to be in downtown Windsor, get changed to S and E and you’re now treading water.

The site is the Antipodes Map although you could do it manually yourself. Quickly, you dig that hole and see where you come out.  So, it begs the question, is there anywhere in Canada where you emerge on dry land?  Since both locations are plotted on a Google Map, zoom out a bit on each and do a little refined try to see if you can do it.

Don’t stop there though.  Scroll down the page and take a refresher course in Geography.  There’s lots of good stuff to read, including the paired cities.

And, depending upon your frame of mind, this might be a cheat or a real insight.

Antipodes: The Other Side of the World

It’s not Stratford

The closest I’ve come to Shakespeare is at the Festival in Stratford.  It was a compulsory destination in high school and an elective now that I’ve graduated from there.  In either case, it’s a fabulous destination.

More than the theatre, the community is terrific for walking and wandering about; the geese being the most serious obstacle!  But, the bridges and the shops and more make it a wonderful place to visit.

But, back to Shakespeare.  (and not the village outside Stratford)

Google’s Map History or the Wayback Machine certainly couldn’t take us back to the 1500s and London in Shakespeare’s time.  But, the Agas Map certainly can.

I have this romantic vision of London from that time.  I’ll confess; it’s largely based on Oliver Twist and other media references (movies, documentaries, books, …)  But, the Agas Map from the University of Victoria took me to a new level.

I love maps and I’m really intrigued with how this project was created using materials from the London Metropolitan Archives.  (it’s worth a visit for its own merits as well)

But, head over to the Map and be prepared to be amazed.

The copyright restrictions are very tight so there are no screen captures to share.  If you enjoy maps, you’ll love this.

The map uses an extensive collection of overlays to let you identify prisons, churches, neighbourhoods, etc. in the city.  Of course, I had to check out St. Paul’s Cathedral!  That had me hooked and before long I was zooming in and out, recognizing so many places I’ve just read about.  Each object is clickable to display a popup of further information about it.

This is just a terrific way to spend lots of time exploring and wondering.


Extraordinary sights at home

Yesterday morning, my friend Lisa Cranston tagged me with this post.

All of the World’s Extraordinary Sights on One Map

She knows that I’m a lover of maps and this one is fascinating.  While I’m not the world traveller in the family, I do like poking around looking here and there for interesting things.

And, sometimes, they’re just down the road.  For students, often the summer is filled with trips but there’s amazing things just around your community.  I decided to check out the local area and was quite disappointed.  You can go directly to the map here.

Here’s a zoomed in look at Essex County.

Screenshot 2017-06-20 at 08.35.20.png

Sadly, the only thing that made the map was the old Boblo Amusement Park.  It’s not a bad choice.

We know that there’s more and it makes the trip and touring interesting.

Here are ten things that I think should be added to the map.

  • Windsor Sculpture Gardens
  • Peace Fountain
  • The Tip at Point Pelee
  • The Ambassador Bridge (and all its traffic)
  • Historic County Road 50 and its collection of wineries
  • Dairy Freez in North Ridge / Cottam
  • Doll Museum in Malden Centre
  • Pelee Island (the ferry ride is worth the trip)
  • Dieppe Gardens and then on to Willistead Manor
  • Amherstburg Freedom Museum (formerly the North American Black Historic Museum)

And I could go on for a while.  Caesar’s Windsor, Baby House, Lighthouse Cove, Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens, Jack Miner Sanctuary, Amherstburg’s Navy Yard and Hostas Gardens …

Don’t even get me started on the amazing restaurants and the best pizza in the world.

Why not take a look at the original map and check out your own area for places for your students to enjoy via day tripping at home this summer?  Or take a trip down the 401 to Essex County.  Tell them Lisa and Doug sent you.


Whatever happened to …

… road maps?

There was a time when no car was complete without one.  In fact, there was a time when they were free for the asking at a gas station.  They were promotional in nature and came with advertising.

The real kicker was being able to fold it back up when you were done.  They didn’t really cause the distracted driving these days because you had to pull over to the side of the road just to unfold it, try to locate where you were, and where the next turnoff was going to be.  Paper road maps didn’t have the ability to track you.  That’s what road signs were for!

Going to multiple provinces?  Then, you needed gas when you crossed the boundaries to get the next map for your trip.  Fortunately, this was seen as a real need and the concept of a road atlas with spiral binding came along.

They were staples for any car; I always had one tucked in the glove compartment (which I don’t think ever held gloves), the centre console, or in the back of the passenger seat.  When I was looking for my first teaching job, I had one posted to the wall over my desk to make sure that I didn’t miss a county in the province with my standard “I wanna job” letter.  A really useful feature that the traditional road map had that isn’t as apparent today was that the county seat had a special character to make it stand out on a map.  The board office often was located there. The biggest drawbacks – new roads since the last publication and the dreaded “fold that becomes a tear”.

But, these days, it’s hard to find yourself a good road map.  Visit a Chapters and you might be able to locate some at the back of the store.  Technology has provided a better answer – first the GPS and then applications with GPS for your phone.

The demise of the road map meant the loss of a wonderful tool in the classroom.  Sure, you could teach map folding but there’s much more.  Estimation of distances, calculations of travel time, population growth, and the even popular calculate the shortest distance by writing your own software solution.  It was a great way to teach the concept of nodes and sophisticated algorithms.  I wonder if Scratch can do that…  The one consistent thing with physical maps was scale.  It remained constant as opposed to an application that adjusts depending upon your view.

It would be interesting to take a walk through a parking lot at a big shopping mall and see how many people even have one today.  I know that I don’t.

Instead, technology has provided us with another solution in GPS and digital mapping solutions, both browser based and web based.  You might have an actual GPS unit in your vehicle for on the go advice or you might use an application or you might even plan on a computer.

But things are never absolutes.  Let’s plan a trip from Leamington to North Bay.  (Two absolutely wonderful places to visit)

Here are three options and opinions about how to get there and how long it will take.

Google Maps


Bing Maps


Here We Go


It’s not quite an exact art with each tool having its own idea about time and distance and what makes for the centre of a community.

And, don’t forget configuration – do you want to avoid construction, bypass the 407, take the most fuel efficient route, take the more scenic route from Toronto to Barrie, etc?  You’ve got all the data available to make your route planning in advance instead of perhaps taking a vote along the way.  Current technologies also let you avoid accidents rather than sitting stuck in traffic wondering what’s going on.

I hope that there are some map connoisseurs ready to check in and share your thoughts on this Sunday morning.  I’d be most interested in reading them via comments below

To help the discussion, consider…

  • do you still own a paper road map?
  • what’s your favourite digital mapping tool?
  • have you ever been burned by a digital tool recommending something bizarre like turning the wrong way on a one way street?
  • do you mount your phone on your dash or do you have a dedicated GPS to help you along the way?  Of course, nobody here would have it in your hand while driving.
  • finally, and don’t search for the answer – do you know what GPS stands for?

Check out the entire collection of Sunday morning memories here. And, if you’re so inclined, add a suggestion through a suggestion in the Padlet.

Whatever happened to …

… PCGlobe?

Now that I’ve unlocked the lock that was keeping me out of Windows, I used it as an opportunity to do a backup.  Isn’t it sad that it takes a moment like that to job the memory?

Anyway, as I “watched” the files fly by, I was reminded that I seldom throw anything away.  There were so many presentations from the past that made their way to the external drive and I thought of one that my old partner and I, Grover, had given in so many places.

PCGlobe Across the Curriculum

The presentation, of course, was based upon the application PCGlobe.  It had a Macintosh version, MacGlobe, and a subsequent update was called PCGlobe Maps and Facts.

A couple of the instant recollections was that PCGlobe was one of the first applications that came on multiple diskettes.  Diskettes?  Maybe that’s another topic…

PCGlobe was my first digital atlas.  At the time, it was a fantastic collection of images and data about the world’s countries.

The first version used to run on the Icon computer with the PC emulator, although the 4 colour CGA emulation really made reading a bit challenging.  And, small countries were difficult to hit with the trackball.

By Carobeppe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Point and Shoot was such a popular feature.  It was a great trivia game when you’d identify a country and students had to locate it on the map.  Hello, Switzerland, Monaco, …  It could keep students busy for hours with the appropriately chosen country.  The database section was a great place to harvest data for Computer Science students to solve problems with real world data.  There were so many things that you could do in addition to the obvious Social Studies applications.  Many were mathematics based and there were no apologies given.  Every teacher is always looking for interesting things to do to interest students in mathematics.

As I think now, many of the activities that we demonstrated are now standard fare in Google Maps or your car or phone’s GPS.  The one drawback, of course, for an application that you just install and use is that it’s never (or at least seldomly) updated and so political changes or changes in country data can quickly go out of date.  Even today, Google takes a conservative approach to drawing some country borders.

As for PCGlobe, it was a very popular application in the early 1990s and there were many a teacher who used it as the first curriculum application in their classroom.  It just had such that appeal.

How about you?  Does this jog some memories?

  • Were you ever a user of PCGlobe/MacGlobe either as a teacher or a student?
  • What’s your current favourite mapping application now that so much is available online?  Google Maps, Bing Maps, Apple Maps, OpenStreetMap, Something else?
  • Do you ever rely on a GPS when driving, walking?  When was the last time you updated your GPS maps?
  • If you had to find a collection of data about countries of the world, where would you turn?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Check out the entire collection of Sunday morning memories here. And, if you’re so inclined, through in a suggestion in the Padlet.