Hidden Gems 4 - Where in the World?
February 19, 2013
While shelving books one day at the Library, I happened across a book titled Braniac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. What caught my eye was a cover blurb about the book’s author, Ken Jennings. He was the individual who won 75 straight rounds of the TV game show, Jeopardy. He won over $2.5 million dollars on the show before he was finally bested. I succumbed to the book’s cover marketing and decided give it a try. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jennings’ experiences on Jeopardy and his descriptions of trivia junkies and trivia, in general.
In 2011, I found out that Jennings had written a new book titled Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. In this new book, Jennings describes his lifelong passion for maps. I must admit, I, too, share this same affliction. I used to collect the free maps available at state welcome stations and at filling stations when I was a boy on family vacation road trips. If I hadn’t discovered a passion for computer programming while still in high school, I probably would have pursued a career in cartography (map making).
One of my favorite computer mapping applications is Google Earth, a downloadable application for the computer. The application provides a scrollable and zoomable map of Earth. Its map views are enhanced by satellite and aerial photographs, which are composited with line features showing roads, rivers, political boundaries, etc. When you first start Google Earth, it shows the globe as seen from a height of approximately 6,800 miles in outer space.
Now, for my "hidden gem." In his book Maphead, Ken Jennings devotes an entire chapter to Google Earth. At one point, he writes "Brian McClendon... is Google Earth’s head engineer." He goes on to say, "rank does have its privileges: the center of Google Earth (that is, the exact center of the map when the application opens) is an apparently random apartment building in Lawrence, Kansas – a secret salute to McClendon who grew up in that very building."
Back in the 1970s, I went to school and worked for the University of Kansas in Lawrence. After reading the above excerpt, I was naturally curious about where Brian McClendon, a fellow map geek (and definite kindred spirit), had lived. Could we have unknowingly crossed paths at some point? I ran to my computer and fired up my copy of Google Earth. I clicked on the zoom button until I zeroed in on the McClendon apartment building. Much to my surprise, the apartment was less than 200 yards from where I used to live!
You never know "where in the world" a hidden gem that’s buried in a book may lead you.