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Do You Know Where You Are? Does Anyone Else?


GPS is a radionavigation satellite system owned by the US and controlled by the US Space Force. That’s what I was reminded about when I was researching mathematician Gladys West, who wrote the computational modelling on the shape of the Earth that helped launch the GPS more than a decade earlier, and whose birthday it was on the 27th of October.


In a time when there was only traditional media, I used to love tuning into local media when moving across countries. In the middle of the summer in 2006, for example, a young Japanese crab fisherman was shot dead for straying into the disputed waters between Russian and Japan. I had heard nothing about this incident in the UK at the time. An incident like this would most certainly not go unnoticed today.


The GPS navigational system has been helping people with no sense of direction like me get to places since 1989. I get shamelessly cattled from one place to the next with Google Maps or City Mapper, and I’m happy to have a bot order me around mostly because it’s easier to get a bot with nothing to prove do the ordering than some guy who is showing me how he can read a paper map upside down.


On the more serious side, however, on top of the civilian application, there is also military intelligence, and of the two, I guess the latter makes me more nervous, considering it’s pretty much all owned by one nation. Though the claim is that its use is for anyone (including Russians after Korean Air was accidentally shot down in 1983, remember that?) and other nations do have their own more regional GPSs, the idea that the most widely used version is owned by a single entity is a little chilling, as is the idea that this single entity can cut off people they don’t like, eg the Soviet Union in 1983. Isn’t it? Or, am I just being paranoid about things I can’t understand?


Lots to think about this balmy weekend in London as civilian-use GPS turns 33 and the internet turns 53. Hope you’re having a good one pottering around the globe!

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