Friday, March 11, 2005

On the map.....

The old clog almanacs provided, by means of simple symbols carved and ruled on a wooden stave, the trajectory of days, weeks, months and red-letter events of the year. They were portable and succinct; didn’t require the ability to read, and were durable. Their long history of use is a testament to their utility and elegant if not simple design.

Paper maps are another indispensable means of navigation. However the rendering of fine details over sizable mapped areas requires the use of a scale that commonly results in maps being printed on large unwieldy sheets of paper. So they get folded so as to make them portable. More often than not, maps are doubled, folded lengthwise like an accordion, then doubled over again.

So here’s the problem: folded paper maps are elegant and relatively accurate representations of the things they depict. They are portable and more or less succinct. But the nature of the folding makes charting and following one’s course of travel decidedly inelegant, since the map must be unfolded, and folded repeatedly as one’s journey progresses.

The good news is that maps can be re-folded in such a way as to make their use more elegant – that is easier to manage with less folding/unfolding required.

Not that a better-folded map would have helped the Lewis and Clark expedition in any way. Two-hundred years ago today they were experiencing personnel problems as well. Charboneau was getting a little testy about the terms of his employment as a guide and interpreter. His wife, the famous Sacagawea, had given birth to their son just a month before. The timeless work-family conflict.

How did Captains Clark and Lewis deal with Charboneau? Just like many modern employers do to this day: they issued an ultimatum. What did Charboneau do, out there in the wilderness, over 1600 miles up-river from Fort Mandan? He quit right then and there.

But we know how the story ended. He cooled off for a few days, got his wits back, and then asked for his job back. Otherwise, Disney would be rewriting the history of Sacagawea about right now.
[Journals of Lewis and Clark, entry for March 11, 1805]

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