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by Peter Amram

Ever wonder why you missed that strong trail coming in from the left, even though you had a good pace count going? Perplexed about running right by the 2-meter boulder because you were sure it was the nearer one, and you kept going, and going? Just didn’t notice passing over the ruined stone wall that was to have been a collecting feature?

Alex Stone, who wrote Fooling Houdini (Harper, 2012) understands. In a witty, well-written, somewhat uneven memoir about his personal obsession with magic, Mr. Stone presents much interesting information about the science and practice of fooling others and being fooled yourself. (Stone also wryly acknowledges social ineptitude: continually performing magic tricks, he notes, is a good way to meet women, and a good way to make them disappear.)

by Peter Amram

Doctor John Watson, sidekick and chronicler of Sherlock Holmes, had been orienteering poorly for some time. The dialogue below is exerpted from A Scandal in Bohemia, a tale which appears to concern an indiscretion by some petty German king but is in reality crisp O-advice from Holmes, who is invariably first in his class (M155+ as of this year).

by Peter Amram

Although Norman Maclean is best known for his 1976 collection of fiction, A River Runs Through It, his posthumously published Young Men and Fire (Chicago, 1992) also attracted considerable attention, including a National Book Critics Circle Award. Young Men and Fire is an examination of a disastrous 1949 forest fire in Montana in which thirteen smoke jumpers were killed, and it is, inevitably, a somewhat melancholy essay.

MacLean’s adult life was spent as a professsor of English at the University of Chicago, but as a youth he had worked in the western forests, and he retained strong affection for nature, an affection which he expressed with terse perspective. In River, for example, Maclean recounted having once belonged to a USFS crew which “did what we had to do and loved the woods without thinking we owned them.” And in Young Men, Maclean declared, “Your best friend when you feel curious about what you are walking on is usually a good map, if you can find one.” He continued with this affirmation, and warning:

“Much of the interesting business of life is learning one way or another how to represent the earth. The easiest way still to abstract short distances is by pace and (if need be) compass, but this is not as easy as it sounds and is never very accurate.”

Noted, sir, noted.


Read more about navigation errors and how to avoid them in Peter's article, Smarter is Faster.

by Peter Amram

Mark Monmonier, a professor at Syracuse University, is the author of the 1994 Drawing the Line, tales of maps and cartocontroversy. Prominent among the cartocontroveries are the Vinland Map, a fraud which purports to show pre-Columbian discoveries in the New World, and the Peters Projection, a misleading, politically-correct attempt to show the ‘true’ size of non-European countries. Many maps, Monmonier suggests, are best approached with suspicion. 

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