How to Extract GPS Coordinates for a Google Maps Location

It’s a lot easier than you might think.

Like most folks who depend on the Internet as a source of information, I use Google Maps a lot. But rather than use it to track down street addresses and get driving directions, I use it to pinpoint places out in the middle of nowhere that I need to visit by helicopter. There are usually no street addresses, and even if there were, they wouldn’t help much while flying. What I need are GPS coordinates.

You might be in a similar situation. You see a place on a map and, for one reason or another, you need to know its exact GPS coordinates. Fortunately, Google Maps can help. Here’s how to get those coordinates.

  1. Use Google Maps (not Google Earth) to display the location you want GPS coordinates for. In my example, I’ll use satellite view to find a dirt airstrip I know along the Verde River north of Phoenix. You could search for an address if you needed the coordinates for a street address.
  2. Google GPS Step 1Hold down the Control key and click right on the spot you want the coordinates for. A menu pops up. (You may be able to simply right click, but I’ve had limited success with that on my Mac using Firefox; Control-click always works.)
  3. On the menu, choose Center Map Here. The view will probably shift a bit.
  4. Google GPS Step 2Above the map area, in the blue bar, click the Link button. A window appears with two text boxes in it. The contents of the top text box, which are selected, includes a link to the map that you might paste into an e-mail message. It also includes the GPS coordinates, which I’ve indicated with a red box around them. Sometimes the GPS coordinates are not so obvious and you’ll need to scroll through the contents of the box to find them.

Note that the coordinates are in digital format. In this example, they’re 34.160043°N 111.727266°W. (West and South are negative numbers.) Some GPSes use this format; you can usually specify the format you want to use in your GPS’s settings.

If you need coordinates in degrees, minutes, seconds format, you’ll need to do some simple math. Let’s take a look at how it works for the first number: 34.160043.

  1. Take the whole number (34) and set it aside. That’s the degrees.
  2. Take the number after the decimal point and multiply it by 60: .160043 x 60 = 9.60258
  3. Take the whole number from that calculation (9) and set it aside. That’s minutes.
  4. Take the number after the decimal point and multiply it by 60: .60258 x 60 = 36.1548
  5. Take the whole number from that calculation (36) and set it aside. That’s seconds. Keep in mind that if you want a more precise number, you can include the decimal places after it. You might also want to round the number up or down depending on what comes after the decimal point. In this example, the number after the decimal point is 1 so I’d round down and use 36.
  6. Put the numbers you set aside together in degrees° minutesseconds” format. In this example, you’d have 34° 9′ 36″.

My helicopter’s GPS uses a degrees° minutes‘ format, so I’d stop calculating after step 2 and wind up with 34° 9.60258′.

E25 to BFI by Helicopter on Google Earth

My four-day trip, plotted.

I’m a geek. Everyone should know that. This just proves it again.

I use a gps logger to track my GPS coordinates when I’m out and about taking photos, mostly so I can geotag my photos. But on long flights, I often turn the GPS logger on and let it collect my coordinates as I fly. The logger I use has a huge memory and was actually able to accumulate GPS coordinates for my entire helicopter flight from Wickenburg, AZ to Seattle, WA.

Helicopter Flight on Google EarthThe image shown here shows the four days of my flight. Day 1 was Wickenburg to Page, AZ. Day 2 was a photo flight on Lake Powell followed by a flight from Page, AZ to Bryce Canyon, UT. Day 3 was Bryce Canyon, UT to Salt Lake City, UT and then on to Yakima, WA. Day 4 was a bit of scud running to get to the other side of the Cascade Mountains, from Yakima to Seattle, WA.

If you’d like to look at the track points in detail on your copy of Google Earth, you can download them. They show altitude, too, so you can get an idea of how high or low we were for various stages of the flight. You can probably even do some kind of flyby if you have the right software.

Pretty cool, no?

Beggar Spam

A new kind of spam makes me wonder how stupid spammers think we are.

To post a comment on any of my blog-based sites, you need to jump three hurdles:

  1. You need to get past Bad Behavior, a spam prevention solution that can identify bots. If Bad Behavior thinks the a page is being accessed by a spam bot, it simply does not allow that bot to comment. Does this work? Well, during the past 7 days, Bad Behavior has blocked 2,018 access attempts. Does that mean it has stopped all the bots? Sadly, it doesn’t. But it seems to do a pretty good job.
  2. You need to get past Akismet, the WordPress-provided spam filtering tool. Akismet takes the incoming comments that get past Bad Behavior and evaluate them to determine whether they might be spam. If it thinks a comment is spam, it gets put in a spam “bucket” (my term). Does this work? Well, in March it caught 3,830 spam comments, missed only 11 that I flagged as spam, and incorrectly marked only 3 good comments as spam that I rescued. It has caught a total of 54,048 spam comments since October 2008 — that’s just six months.
  3. June 30, 2014 Update
    I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

    You need to get past me. I read all the comments that Akismet approves and either approve them for posting on the site or mark them as spam that Akismet missed. In certain rare instances, I’ll delete a comment that might not be spam but is, in my opinion, inappropriate for the site. (You can read my comment policy, if you’re interested.) I also briefly review what Akismet has flagged as spam and occasionally rescue a non-spam comment from the spam bucket so it appears on the site.

If you’re not a blogger, you probably don’t realize how big a problem comment spam is. Simply said, if I didn’t have Bad Behavior to block the bots and Akismet to filter out spam comments, this blog would attract anywhere from 10 to 1000 spam comments in a day. Spam comment contents range from links to sites selling drugs or offering online gambling to simple attempts to get some “Google Juice” from links to specific sites. Some of it contains crude and offensive words and ideas. If I let it get by me and allowed it to be posted on my sites, it would likely offend most of my readers.

But lately, I’ve begun getting a new kind of spam: beggar spam. The content of the message goes something like this:

I do not believe I get only one chance in life. I am from Guinea so my English is bad. Please give.

WTF?

Of course, this kind of comment never makes it to my blog. It’s stopped dead by Akismet or me. After a while, Akismet will pick up the pattern that identifies it as spam and properly filter each beggar spam message into the spam bucket.

But the real question is this: do these spammers really expect blog readers — or bloggers, for that matter — to send money to some faceless beggar just because they asked for it? Does anyone actually send them money to give them the idea this ploy works?

Which brings up another thought: The Internet has made it so easy for people to try to suck money out of people that they’ll try anything, no matter how unlikely it is to work. Just get yourself an automated commenting bot, set its options to include the message and link you want, and let it go. Sixty seconds of effort and an Internet connection can flood the world’s blog (and spam filters) with millions of scam attempts. If even one of them is successful, the spammer is ahead of the game.

I wonder how much of the world’s Internet bandwidth is used by but spammers and con artists. I’m not just talking about comment spam here. I’m talking about e-mail from Nigerian princes and widows. I’m talking about responses to For Sale items on online services, where the buyer offers a certified check for more than the purchase amount and asks you to give the difference to his shipping agent. Or the people who e-mail legitimate companies, offering to pay more for services than advertised, with the difference going to a “logistics” agent.

I see how many of these things cross my path in a day or week or month. I’m just one relatively well-connected person. What of the people who are better connected than me? Or the ones that foolishly put their e-mail addresses, unencoded, on a Web site so the spam bots can scrape them up for sale to spammers? Or the ones with blogs at the top of Google’s page rank that get thousands of visitors a day?

How much of the Internet is wasted on fraud and spammy self-promotion?

Anyway, I’d love to get feedback from other bloggers or people experienced with spam. What’s the most ridiculous spam you’ve ever received? The one that made you think the spammer thinks everyone is a gullible fool? Use the Comments link or form for this post.

And don’t try to spam me, please. Your comment will never appear on this site.

In Defense of Microsoft Word

It does the whole job.

About a month ago, I was having trouble with my Mac and decided to head off any serious problems by reformatting my hard disk and reinstalling all my software from original program discs. In the old days, before we all had hard drives measured in gigabytes, I did this every single time there was a major system software update. Nowadays, it’s a lot of work and I avoid doing it if I can. My 24″ iMac is just over a year old and shouldn’t have been giving me problems, but I figured I’d try the reformat before bringing it to a genius. (Turns out, it was the swapping out of 2 GB of RAM for 4 GB of RAM that probably fixed the problem.)

For some reason, I didn’t do a typical install of Microsoft Office 2004. I thought I’d save disk space by omitting the proofing tools for the languages I don’t speak — which is every language except English. Word, which I use daily, worked fine — until I noticed that it wasn’t checking spelling as I type. Although my spelling is above average, I count on Word to put red squiggly underlines under my misspellings and typos. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get this feature to start working.

I sent an update to my Twitter account about this as I went about troubleshooting the problem. The result was an outpouring of suggestions from my Twitter friends for replacing Word or Office with other software, ranging from Open Source Word or Office replacements to Google Docs.

Whoa!

I fixed the problem by uninstalling and then reinstalling Word. Life went on. But it got me thinking about Office and Word and why so many people go out of their way to avoid both.

Word and Me

I should probably start off by saying that I have been using Microsoft Word since 1989 or 1990. Although I got Microsoft Works with my first Mac, I soon learned Word and began teaching it in a classroom setting. It was Word 4 for the Mac in those days; I don’t know what the corresponding version in Windows was because I didn’t use it or teach it. I’m not even sure if Microsoft Windows was a player back then.

I’ve used every version of Word for the Mac since then.

My first book about Microsoft Word was The Macintosh Bible Guide to Word 6. Word 6 sucked. It was a processor hog. I remember working with it in beta as I wrote my book about it. I remember whining to my editor, asking if he thought they’d fix the performance issues before the software went out. They did, but not very well. I disliked Word 6 and the way it handled outlines and “master documents.” Everything seemed to be “embedded.” It seemed as if they’d prettied up Word to look more Mac-like and had done the job by pouring maple syrup all over the inside of my computer, bogging things down.

Word 98 was a vast improvement. From then on, each version of Word was an improvement. The interface remained basically the same but features were added and solidified. Some of the features worked with Microsoft server software, which I didn’t have, didn’t want, and certainly didn’t need. All I cared about was that Word did what I needed it to do, using the same interface I knew from years of experience as a user.

The End of the World as We Know It: Office 2007

Then Office 2007 for Windows came out with its ridiculous “ribbon” interface. What the hell was Microsoft thinking? Take a standardized interface that your existing user base knows by heart and throw it out the window. Force them to learn a whole new interface. Keep telling them that it’s easier and maybe a handful of morons will believe you.

I had to use Office 2007 for two Excel books. The only good thing I can say about it is that the complete, radical interface change — I’m talking menus vs. ribbon here, not spreadsheet basics — made a book about the software necessary. How else would users figure out how to get the job done? Fortunately (for users, not authors) Office 2007 adoption is slow.

Woe is Me: Office 2008

Word 2008 Splash ScreenOf course, I’m a Mac user and use the Mac version of Office. I held my breath when Office 2008 came out. Thank heaven they didn’t get rid of the menu bar — although I don’t understand how they could. Office 2008 retains much of the Office 2004 interface. It just adds what Microsoft calls “Element Galleries” and the usual collection of features that 1% of the computing world cares about. Fortunately, you can ignore them and continue using Office applications with the same old menus and shortcut keys we all know.

I would have switched to Office 2008 — I even had it installed on my MacBook Pro — except for two things:

  • Its default document formats are not compatible with versions of office prior to Office 2007. That means someone using Word 2003 for Windows or Word 2004 for Mac can’t open my documents unless I save them in an Office 2004-compatible format. This isn’t a huge deal, but it is something I’d have to remember every single time I saved a document. I’d also have to remember not to use any Office feature that only worked with Office 2007 or 2008.
  • It does not support Visual Basic Macros. One of my publishers makes me use a manuscript template that’s chock-full of these macros. Can’t access the macros, can’t use the template. Can’t use the template, can’t use Office 2008.

(I wrote about these frustrations extensively in a Maria’s Guides article.)

So I’m apparently stuck with Office 2004 — at least for a while.

But do you know what? I’m perfectly happy with it.

Why I Like Word

I like Word. I really do. It does everything I need it to do and it does it well.

Sure, it has a bunch of default options that are set stupidly. I wrote about how to set them more intelligently in an article for Informit.com. (Read “Three Ways Word Can Drive You Crazy[er] and What You Can Do About Them.”) It certainly includes far more features than the average writer needs or uses. And despite what Microsoft might tell you, it’s probably not the best tool for page layout (I prefer InDesign) or mail merge (I prefer FileMaker Pro). But it does these things if you need to.

I use all of the basic word processing features. I use the spelling checker — both as I type and to correct errors. I like smart cut and paste, although I have the ridiculous Paste Options button turned off. I like AutoComplete and love AutoCorrect (when set up properly). I use all kinds of formatting, including paragraph and character styles, tables, and bulleted lists. I rely on the outlining features when preparing to write a book or script for video training material. I use the thesaurus occasionally when I can’t get my mind around the exact word I’m looking for, although the word I want is usually not listed.

I’ve used some of the advanced features, such as table of contents generation, indexing, and cross-references. These are great document automation features. Trouble is, I don’t usually use Word to create documents that require these features. I use InDesign for laying out my books, which are usually illustrated. (And I admit that I’m looking forward to trying out the new cross-referencing feature in InDesign CS4 for my next book.)

I don’t jump on board with every new Word feature. I prefer the Formatting toolbar over the Formatting Palette. I write in Normal view rather than Page Layout view. I create my own templates but don’t use the ones that come with Word.

I don’t use the grammar checker; I think it’s a piece of crap designed for people who know neither grammar nor writing style. I don’t like URLs formatted as links. (Who the hell wants links underlined in printed documents?) I don’t use any of the Web publishing features; I’d rather code raw HTML than trust Word to do it for me. I very seldom insert images or objects or anything other than text in my documents. I have InDesign for serious layout work. I don’t use wizards. WordArt is UglyI think WordArt is ugly and amateurish. I keep the silly Office Assistant feature turned off.

I admit that I don’t use any of the project features that work with Entourage — although I’d like to. I decided a while back to switch to Apple’s e-mail, calendar, and contact management solutions (Mail, iCal, and Address Book respectively) because they’d synchronize with .Mac (now MobileMe) and my Treo. Entourage probably does this now, but I really don’t feel like switching again. Am still thinking about this.

The point is, I use a bunch of Word features and I completely ignore a bunch of others. The features are there if I need them but, in Word 2004, they’re not in your face, screaming for attention. (Wish I could say the same about Word 2008.)

iWork with Apple Computers

iWork '09Lots of people think that just because I’m a Macintosh user — an enthusiast, in fact — I should be using Apple’s business productivity solution: iWork. For a while, I thought so, too.

I own iWork ’08. I just bought iWork ’09. I’ve tried Pages. I’ve really tried Pages. I wanted to use it. I wanted to break free of Microsoft Word.

But old habits are hard to break. No matter how much I tried to use Pages each time I needed to create a document, when I was rushed, I reached for Word. No learning curve — I already know it. After a while, I just stopped trying to use Pages.

Why Use a Bunch of One Trick Ponies?

I know a bunch of writers who swear by one software program or another for meeting their writing needs. They use special outliners to create outlines. They use special “writing software” that covers the entire screen with a blank writing surface so they’re not distracted by other things on their desktops. They use special software to brainstorm, footnote, and index.

I’ve tried these solutions and do you know what? They don’t make my life easier. Instead, they just give me another piece of software to learn and keep up to date and interface with other software. They make more work for me.

I’m not going to forget my Word skills and Word isn’t going to suddenly disappear off the face of the planet anytime soon. In fact, it’s far more likely for one of these one-trick ponies to disappear than a powerhouse with millions of users worldwide like Microsoft Office.

Thought PatternI remember ThoughtPattern, a program by Bananafish Software. I saw it demoed at a Macworld Expo in the early 1990s and thought it was the greatest thing in the world for organizing my thoughts and ideas. I was sure it would make me a better writer. I was so convinced, I bought it — and it wasn’t cheap. I used it for a while and rather liked it. Evidently, I was one of very few people who’d joined the ThoughtPattern revolution. In April 1993, it was discontinued. I was left with software that wouldn’t work with subsequent versions of the Macintosh system software. Worst of all, the documents I created with ThoughtPattern were in their own proprietary format. When the software stopped working, the contents of those documents were lost. (Do you think it was easy to find a screenshot from software that was discontinued 16 years ago?)

So perhaps you can understand my aversion to one-trick ponies that promise a better writing experience.

Will the same thing happen with Microsoft Word? I don’t think so.

I Don’t Compute in the Cloud

Google Docs was one of the solutions suggested to me by my Twitter friends. I guess they think it’s better to avoid the evil Microsoft empire in favor of the “we’re not evil” Google empire. Along the way, I should give up the interface and features I know from almost 20 years of experience with the software and rely on an online application that could change its interface daily. Oh, yeah — and keep my documents on someone else’s computer.

Yeah. Right. Good idea.

Not.

Until I’m part of a multinational corporation that requires its employees and consultants to keep all their documents on some remote server for collaboration purposes, I will not be computing in the cloud.

One of the things I like about keeping my documents on my own computer — rather than a remote server accessible by the Internet — is that the Internet is not always available. What do I do then? Stop working?

Security is an issue, too. While I don’t usually write much of a confidential nature, I don’t like the idea of not having control over my documents. Servers get hacked. I don’t want my work suddenly accessible to people who I don’t want seeing it.

I will admit that I use MobileMe’s iDisk feature to keep some documents on an Apple server. This makes it a tiny bit easier to access them from my laptop when I’m away from home. But I’ve recently moved to a new strategy. I bought a pocket hard drive that’s bigger than my computer’s Home folder. Before I hit the road with my laptop on a trip for business or pleasure, I sync this portable drive with my Home folder. I then have every single document on my computer with me when I’m away. The added benefit: complete offsite backup.

That’s My Case

That’s my defense of Microsoft Word. I rest my case.

Please understand that I’m not trying to convince a non-Word user to switch to Word. If you’re happy with something else, stick with it! That’s the precise reason I’m sticking with Word. I’m happy with it.

I guess the reason I wrote this post was to assure other people like me that there’s no reason to be ashamed of being a Word user. You do what’s right for you. There’s nothing really wrong with Word. If it makes your life easier, why switch?

The Joys of Online Shopping

Why visit stores?

I have gotten to the point where I do about 75% of my non-grocery shopping online. I’m willing to bet that a good portion of the folks who read this are in the same situation. The rest of you might wonder why.

The Shipping Cost Argument

Most people use this as their argument against online shopping: if you shop in a store, you don’t pay shipping.

Okay, this is true. But I still have to get to the store. That takes time and costs money for fuel.

While I’m more concerned with the value of my time than the cost of fuel to drive to a store that has what I need, I won’t deny that I probably would have to drive at least 80 miles roundtrip from my Wickenburg home to find the item I’m looking for.

Let’s do the math here.

First, my time. Suppose I have to drive 80 miles round trip to get to a store that might have what I want to buy. Suppose I can get to the store in about an hour and that it takes me a half hour to find what I want to buy and pay for it. Then another hour to get home. That’s 2-1/2 hours. But what if the store that I thought had what I wanted didn’t have it? Then I have to go to another store, which may or may not be nearby. Let’s estimate 30 minutes for each store I visit. Now let’s estimate 2 stores per item I need to buy. So if I have to buy something as simple as a pair of jeans, I might be spending about 3 hours to get to the store, find them in my size and color, buy them, and get home. In 3 hours, I can write a how-to article for publication on a Web site that pays me several hundred dollars per article. So I’m potentially losing out on several hundred dollars of income.

Okay, so suppose I wasn’t planning on doing anything else that day. For the sake of argument, let’s assume my time is worthless.

But let’s look at the fuel costs. Suppose I drive that in my Honda, which gets about 20-25 miles per gallon highway. There’s some highway driving and some nasty “city” driving in terrible traffic where I usually shop. To make the math easier, let’s assume 20 miles per gallon. That’s 4 gallons for the 80 miles. Fuel prices for premium (which this little car takes) have ranged from $1.50 to $5.00 per gallon over the past year. We’ll use today’s price, which is about $2 per gallon. That’s $8 in fuel alone.

How much is the shipping cost for that pair of jeans?

It’s Not Secure

What? Get with the program. If you shop smart online, your transaction is secure.

In fact, it’s probably more secure than handing your credit card to a waiter in a restaurant where it’s all too easy to copy down credit card information before running a charge for your meal. Or reciting it over the phone, in a place where it could be overheard, or to a company that may or may not have honest employees or good intentions.

What’s risky is entering credit card information in unsecured forms online. Look for the lock icon on the edge of your browser window to ensure that a form is secure. You can also look at the URL; it should start with https (note the all-important “s”). Another thing that’s risky is putting your credit card information in an e-mail message. There’s no reason to do it, so don’t.

It Doesn’t Support the Local Economy

Well, that’s certainly true. But neither does shopping at the mall. Or at Wal-Mart.

And neither does hiring staff in India or China or Pakistan to provide telephone support or make products.

Let’s not go there, okay?

Today’s Purchase

Simply said, online shopping is fast, convenient, and affordable. Here’s an example.

Chef PantsI just bought 3 pairs of the “chef” style baggy pants I like to wear. (And no, I didn’t buy them with this crazy pattern — although you have to admit they look pretty funky.) As I was buying them online, my husband pointed out that he knows a place in Phoenix that sells “those kind of pants.” But do they sell the brand I’m wearing right now? The brand that seems to be cut perfectly for my middle-aged body and relatively long legs? And how much do they sell for there? These are all unknowns. There’s a chance that I could track down the store he knows and spend 30 minutes in there only to find out that they don’t have what I want. That my time wasted.

I found an online retailer that sold the pants I wanted by doing a Google search for a brand name. I immediately saw a store I’d bought from in the past, as well as a bunch of other online stores. Within about 10 minutes, I confirmed that the store I’d used before had the colors I was interested in at the best price. (You want to buy your own pair? The pants are from Five Star Fundamentals and the online store is AllHeartsChefs. These a great pants.) The entire shop-and-buy transaction took 15 minutes of my time as I sat at the kitchen table, enjoying my morning coffee.

Shipping on these three pairs of pants was a hefty $12.50. That’s a lot more than the $8 of fuel that I use up on a Wickenburg to Peoria shopping trip. But guess what? There was no sales tax added to my purchase. That saved me about $4.50. Oddly enough, when you add the cost of fuel to the sales tax I saved, it results in exactly $12.50 for this purchase. So the net savings was just my time.

And I’ll continue to argue that my time is of value to me.

The Death of Brick and Mortar Retailers

Online shopping is going to put a lot of brick and mortar retailers out of business. It’s sad, but is it such a bad thing? Don’t you think we have enough strip malls in this country? Aren’t you sick of seeing “big box” stores popping up all over the place, causing traffic jams during the day and blotting out the night sky with their parking lot lights?

Yes, there’s a loss of jobs. Or maybe it’s just a shift of jobs from malls to warehouses.

The benefits — as far as being green go — are real. People argue that when you buy online, the item has to be shipped to you and the shipper has a carbon footprint. That’s true, but don’t I have a carbon footprint when I drive my Honda down to Peoria and back to buy a single pair of jeans? The UPS guy, in contrast, is bringing goods for dozens — if not hundreds — of Wickenburg residents every time he comes to down. He’s doing the driving for all of us. And the more online shopping we do, the more driving we don’t have to do — while his driving remains almost the same.

This is the same argument the railroads have been using lately to say why shipping freight via rail is more green than shipping via truck. They’re already making the trip; adding more items doesn’t substantially increase the carbon footprint.

Personally, I’d like to see malls go away. I’d like to see downtowns revitalized. I’d love to be able to go to downtown Wickenburg and shop for things like clothes and shoes and books and music. I’d love to sit at an outdoor coffee shop with friends in my own town, with shopping bags at our feet while we discuss the bargains we’ve found. None of that kind of shopping is available in my town or anywhere near it.

Just as malls are killing downtown shopping, online retailers are killing malls.

And the way I see it, I’ve wasted enough time and money shopping. When I want to buy, I’ll buy it online.

What do you think? Use the Comments link or form to share your thoughts.