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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Google is taking over the world

I must confess that I'm addicted to Google's "My Maps" feature.

I use it to plan business trips. I use it for online supplemental material for stories I write for Lake Erie Living. And now, I have discovered that it works great for creating travel itineraries for foreign travel, too (as long as Google has mapped the country).

So, I tried it out for my upcoming trip to Ecuador next month (Oct. 9-14, 2008). I was able to find lodging close to the South American Explorers Clubhouse that I want to visit on my first day. (South American Explorers is the organization for which I volunteered in Peru for five months in 2004; and in Buenos Aires in 2006.) And I was able to change the icons on the map, so I can quickly see what points are restaurants, hotels, shops, transportation hubs or tourist attractions.

And voilá:

Laura's Ecuador Itinerary

View Larger Map

With My Maps, you can create customized maps in which you can add placemarks for the locations you want to visit. If a place already exists in Google's extensive database, then all the contact information appears at the placemark. If Google doesn't recognize the location, you can add it, then enter information about the place.

Once you have created a map, you can embed photos and videos; share the map with others; give other people permission to edit the map; import KML or GeoRSS to the map; open it in Google Earth; and embed it in a Web site, such as this blog! AND it's dynamic, so you can move the map around, and click on all the points of interest to get more information.

Lonely Planet may still be my primary travel planning companion, but with "My Maps," I can simplify the abundant information and plot only the things that I'm interested in doing.

Google has it all mapped out.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pulled Under

Today I watched a limp and lifeless child being pulled out of Lake Erie, shattering a beautiful Labor Day evening for at least one family.

I knew something was amiss when I saw a life flight helicopter hovering over the lake while I was riding my bike. Twenty minutes later, when the whirring of the chopper's blade was still puncturing the air, I decided to head to the beach.

I pulled up to Huntington Beach, where the fence overlooking the shoreline was lined with hundreds of people—-some still dripping from their dip in the lake that ended rather abruptly when the missing child alert went out. The beach was cleared of everyone but police and the family of the child. In the picnic area, some groups were still enjoying their holiday cookout, despite the many emergency vehicles and onlookers.

At the far end of the beach, the Coast Guard and Bay Village police were dragging the bottom of the lake. Just a few moments after I arrived, the seven-year-old boy was retrieved from his underwater nightmare. Unresponsive after being underwater for an hour, the emergency crew worked feverishly to revive him. People around me were staying positive (some assuring the crowd that it's possible to revive a drowning victim after an hour in the water), but I feared the worse. And after a quick check on, his status is still not known.

In the meantime, I did a little research. Fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those that becoming drowning victims, 54% survive.

Here are some tips from the CDC to keep swimmers safe:

* Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.

* Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags.

* Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents (e.g. water that is discolored and choppy, foamy, or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore). If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore; once free of the current, swim toward shore.

* Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children.

* Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.

* Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.

* Learn to swim. Be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming classes as the primary means of drowning prevention for children younger than 4. Constant, careful supervision and barriers such as pool fencing are necessary even when children have completed swimming classes.

* Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In the time it might take for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone�s life. CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to improve outcomes in drowning victims.

* Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles, or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets (personal flotation devices). These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

• If a child is missing from your sight, look in the water first.

Despite all best attempts to keep swimmers safe, accidents do happen, and perhaps this advice still couldn't save this little boy's life.

Maybe these tips will help someone else.