Posted by: GeekHiker | May 3, 2013

Technology Foul

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having worked for many years in the IT business, it’s that a lot of people are convinced that us IT folk have magical powers.  That, unlike them, whenever we need to get something done on the computer, all we have to do is sit down facing the screen and the computer will magically recognize our authoritah and do our bidding unimpeded.

I’m here to tell ya all, it just ain’t true.

For example, check out this picture:

Road Trip Route Paper Map

For a map geek, this is “art”

That’s a picture of the course of my road trip from late 2011.  I’d kept track of the route state-by-state in an atlas and then, when I got back, highlighted the entire route on a paper U.S. map.  It’s currently taped up on my living room wall.  Simple.  Probably took 20 minutes, mostly due to the fact that I tried to stay off the interstates and stick to the backroads, which are a teeny bit harder to find on a broad map of the whole country.

Looking back over my notes and contemplating what to write (or even where to start), I struck upon an idea: “I’ll do a map in Google.  I’ve drawn routes in Google Maps before, it’ll follow the roads automatically, even track the distance of the route.  Then I can put markers on the map with links back to the posts.  It’ll be brilliant!”

And so I tried to execute my brilliant idea.  Oh, Lordy, how.  I.  Tried.

First problem I encountered is that Google maps tends to stick to the most straightforward routes which, in the States, is gonna be the Interstates.  That was okay, though, because I could add points on the actual backroads I took to make the route follow the correct roads.  Which would have been fine, except in the free version of Google Maps, you’re limited to 20 points.

Then it stops drawing the line.

Oh, they don’t explicitly explain why the line stops drawing, mind you.  You can still add points to the route.  You can add all the points you damn well please.  Google Maps just stops drawing the line showing that route.

A might bit frustrating, that.

Okay, fine.  So I decide to break it down: I’ll do a separate line for each state.  Not quite the single beautiful route line I’d hoped for, but it’ll do.  A little line for each state.  Fine.

And it did do.  Just fine.  Peachy-keen, as they say.  Until I got to the 16th state.  At which point, the first fifteen states I’d drawn… vanished.

Turns out, Google Maps would only show me 15 states at a time, so I could only see the route in blocks.  There was no way to see the entire route I’d drawn.

Who would want to see that?  That’s crazy talk.  So sayeth the Google.

By this point I’d started from scratch two are three times, each time meticulously following the highlighted line in my atlas and re-creating the exact route in Google maps.  It was a start-stop operation, too, as occasionally the whole thing would freeze up while the computer was downloading new map data.

Or the line would suddenly stop drawing the road and only draw a straight line.

Or it would stop tracking distance because I hadn’t clicked on something Google defined as a “road” even though it was a… road.  With a name and everything.

Or I would drag the cursor across to move the map and the whole thing would take on a beautiful, and incredibly hard to work with, shade of deep Google Blue, as if all of Nebraska had suddenly been flooded.

I spent three days on it, and I’ve only made it from California to… Ohio.  And, bonus, I can’t even see everything I’ve drawn so far at once because, again, crazy talk.

So computers obviously don’t kneel before me like some technological god, either.  Just so you know.

The really frustrating thing is that THIS primitive analog technology, made with only a paper map from AAA and a blue highlighter, took only 20 frakking minutes.  Twenty.  Frakking.  Minutes.

Road Trip Route Paper Map

And the pen didn’t even run out of ink


I’m gonna get some map pins and go old school from now on…



  1. I like it! It looks really nice! Are you going to highlight a world map too now? What a neat idea 🙂

    • Don’t get me wrong, I like how the paper map turned out. But wouldn’t an interactive one be cool?

      • Yes. Especially if it was able to be manipulated “Iron Man” style. Why isn’t THAT computer available yet? Stupid CG effects ruining my everyday expectations.

  2. I think what you’ve described is an example of the limitations of GUIs – there’s a tendency for application to be limited to simple use cases. Out of curiousity do you know if lat/long data for state routes and interstates are accessible for free anywhere? If s this would be a really easy implementation in ggplot2; with so many possibilities for additional analysis…..

    • No idea. Hopefully a friend of mine who does GIS will be able to provide a bit of help at some point…

  3. Why does this make me think of the anti-progress post I just read by you from a few days ago…? 🙂 I dig paper maps. They’re way cooler than digital ones.

    • Paper or digital… I think I love maps in any form. 🙂

  4. Haha, every time I call IT they fix all my computer problems with,”Try restarting your computer” to which I reply, “This would never happen with a Mac”. lol

    • Concur!

      • Oh, you two. Macs do crash. Seen it with my own eyes…

        • Yes. But not every five seconds on the hands of normal people that don’t use them for extraordinary purposes. All the years mine hasn’t crashed? PRICELESS.

  5. I know how frustrating it can be. Have you tried to do it with Google Earth? Not as automagical as Google Maps but I’ve had some better luck using Earth over Maps.

    The more obvious solution is to use paper maps, magic marker, and a flatbed scanner.

    • Tried in Google Earth, but I was finding myself dependent on the “follow road” feature, which Google Earth doesn’t have…

  6. Me, being a bit illiterate tech wise, I would have taken a panoramic pic of the paper map with my cell phone and call it the awesomest thing ever. That fight with google? Would’ve lasted about…. 2 mins. hee.

    • Yeah, well, I’ve been known to be a bit stubborn, from time-to-time. 😉

  7. That must have been so frustrating! Sometimes old school wins. Tech sometimes makes life so much more complicated than it needs to be.

    • True… but while I might not spend too much more time on it, I’m still trying. Really want it for the blog, ya know?

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