Friday, July 2, 2010

I love NOAA and the USGS

Quietly, maybe too quietly, both NOAA and the USGS have been improving their free information access to the benefit of all of us who care about weather and topography. Point forecasts for the Sierra were a must for my backcountry tours this winter and spring. This long weekend, I am going to Oregon to ski (guided) the South Sister near Bend. I wanted a topo map to study the terrain before the trip. I bought a while ago the National Geographic TOPO program with California maps, but I could not find the Oregon DVD at REI in Mountain View, and they do not offer a map download service. I searched [download topo maps]. The top ads were for (pay) map download service with awful, useless interfaces if you don't know which topo quad you want. One of the top organic search results was for the USGS Store, which has a nifty integration with Google Maps: search for your interest point on Maps, and then click on the marker for your interest point to find which USGS maps cover it. Buy the paper map, or download a good compressed image of the map for free. Great mashup, just what I needed.

One more service that government does right, and private enterprise has neglected totally. I would have paid $49.95 for the Oregon TOPO! maps at REI or online (if available for download), or a fair fraction of that for the quad I was looking for. But none of those "services" were usable, while the USGS came through.

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