[Taxacom] Impossible geocodes

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sat Jan 24 17:06:32 CST 2015

Just to be clear... conversion of Decimal Lat/Long to DMS (and vice versa) certainly does not require a computer (or at least it shouldn't!)  Granted, it might require a pencil and a piece of paper and about 30 seconds of time; but not a computer.  

Also, I wouldn't regard either DMS or decimal Lat/Long as being either more or less inclusive -- just different ways of representing the same number (like "0.5" vs. "1/2").  UTM, TRS, and other geocoding schemes are different; but in that context, I have to agree with Alec and Mary that it not only should, but already is strongly trending towards more consistent use of Lat/Long, and moreover the trend is (and should be) towards more consistent representation as decimal degrees and using the WGS-84 datum.

In any case, these are TRIVIAL problems compared to the much larger issue of historical occurrence records with textual place descriptions, but no coordinate values at all.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf
> Of Doug Yanega
> Sent: Saturday, January 24, 2015 11:53 AM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Impossible geocodes
> On 1/24/15 12:04 PM, Alec McClay wrote:
> > It's a vain hope, I know, and there is lots of legacy data out there
> > in every possible format. But can't we decide from here on just to use
> > decimal degrees for latitudes and longitudes? They're just numbers,
> > after all. Why do we have to treat them as being made up of weird
> > multiples of 60 instead of using the decimal format that we use for
> > every other unit? Pounds, shillings and pence are long gone - so
> > should minutes and seconds be.
> This could turn into a long and convoluted discussion, but bear in mind just a
> few points:
> (1) you'll find plenty of scientists who don't use DMS (latitude and
> longitude) at all, but instead rely on UTM or TRS (Township, Range,
> Section) coordinates, and they'll give you their own lengthy arguments as to
> why, often focusing on it being the ironclad tradition in their line of work.
> (2) you'll find plenty of people who use actual paper atlases or topo maps for
> a LOT of their work, and most such paper maps are either non-decimal DMS,
> or TRS. If someone gives you a decimal DMS value for a patch of some rare
> plant you need to collect pollinators from, and the map in your car is standard
> DMS, you may have serious trouble driving to the right spot unless you take
> the time to sit down and convert from one format to the other, which
> requires computer access. Further, the ease of reading a paper map is
> related to how easily your eye can follow the grid lines on the face of the
> map - and printed decimal maps are harder to use in that respect (the ones
> I've seen have no grid at all, just numbers along the edge, and you need a
> ruler to track vertical and horizontal lines if you want to be precise).
> (3) People who *DO* routinely use decimal DMS often do so using a
> computer, and an interface like Google Earth, meaning they typically have
> the capacity to convert different types of coordinates right there at their
> fingertips; if you give them coordinates in other formats, THOSE people have
> little or no trouble getting anything into decimal format or finding the spot on
> their digital map - but the converse is not true. They have less trouble using
> other people's data than other people have using theirs, so there is an
> asymmetrical burden if one applies a higher standard.
> Even if you, personally, don't use paper maps, or work with UTMs, there is
> still something to be said for having standards that are *more* inclusive,
> rather than less. If your aim is to impose higher standards, then it is unfair to
> do so without giving a practical explanation as to how you intend to supply
> those who are still using more "primitive"
> systems with a replacement *they can use* (that is up to the new standard),
> and doesn't require them to invest significant time or money.
> For example, can you convince the USGS to re-issue all of their printed topo
> maps using decimal coordinates superimposed with non-decimal, and TRS, all
> on the same maps, *and* make them available for free? Can you provide an
> app that allows people to see UTM or TRS coordinates *and* decimal DMS
> displayed simultaneously on their GPS-enabled device? Once resources like
> that are freely available, then it would be reasonable to expect people to
> switch - by weaning them off their old systems gradually. Just think how
> annoyed you get when you upgrade to a new operating system, and
> suddenly a pile of your old programs stop working; if you want people to
> upgrade willingly, then give them something cheap, easy, and backwards-
> compatible, rather than forcing the upgrade down their throats. ;-)
> Sincerely,
> --
> Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
> Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
> phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
>               http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>    "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>          is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
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