A Bridge How Far?

A few years ago, while playing around with Google Maps, I stumbled across an exciting experimental feature which is still available (evidently still experimental and definitely still quite exciting) – the Distance Measurement Tool.  To enable this you have to go to Google Maps Labs (a button just above the copyright information on the left-hand side of the Google Maps screen, at least how it appears on my browser today) and select the tool.  It then puts a small icon showing a picture of a ruler at the bottom left of the map screen.  Clicking on this activates the tool.

The DMT enables you to measure the straight-line distance between points on the map, allowing you to string several points together to approximate any path.  You have to put the points in manually and there doesn’t seem to be any way of editing any but the first and last points, which slightly limits its usefulness, but it is still quite fun to play with and does enable you to measure distances between things that are not on the roads (which you could measure using the navigation tools).

In its default mode, the tool gives you a choice between metric and English (aka Imperial, i.e. miles, feet and inches etc.) measurements.  However, next to the unit selector there is a link which, as I recall, used to be labelled Geek Mode and is now called I’m feeling geeky.  If you click on that, it replaces the brace of radio buttons in the unit selector with a drop down list containing an impressively long collection of units ranging from the commonplace (inches, yards or miles), through the well-known but not used every day (except perhaps by astronomers or other specialists – things like light years or Didot points) to the decidedly obscure (beard-seconds or Jewish second temple sacred cubits).

Over the next few weeks, I thought it would be quite fun to write a series of posts exploring some of the units that are available in the Google Maps DMT.  In each one, I will focus on a single unit (or perhaps a series of related units) and see what information I can find out about it (or them).  To give a useful point of comparison I will, each time, state the length of the span of the Menai Suspension Bridge (shore to shore as it appears on the Google map) in the chosen unit of the day.

There are two reasons for choosing this specific landmark.  One is that I cycle (or walk) across this bridge on my way to and from work every day, and it was the most convenient section of my daily commute (where I hatched, or at least developed, the idea for this series) to clearly define and  measure on the map.  The other is its special relevance (by virtue of being a bridge, rather than this specific bridge) for one of the units to appear at some point in the series – you’ll just have to keep reading to find out which.

There is a version of the DMT on the Google Maps for Android app, but that one doesn’t appear to have a geek mode.  Indeed, I haven’t yet figured out if it’s even possible to get it to work in metric. 😦

NB in case you were wondering, the title of today’s post is inspired by the film A Bridge Too Far, which Wikipedia describes as an “epic war film”, although I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it.