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The Computer Corner


By Charles Miller

As I type this on my laptop computer, I am in an airliner cruising along at 612 miles per hour, thanks to a 72 MPH tailwind, 39,010 feet over Greenland, heading down towards Europe. So says the television screen on the back of the seat in front of me. In today’s world, the reporting and sharing of that kind of telemetry is required for almost every plane in the air anywhere above the planet.

Point your web browser to then click on the menu “Live Flight Tracking” to see a map showing almost every airplane that is now in the air anywhere in the world. You can use your mouse to drag the map around, and the plus/minus controls in the upper left let you zoom in or out. Hover your mouse (don’t click yet!) over any of the little yellow airplane icons and you should see the flight number, airline, origin airport code, and destination for that flight.

Now you may click your mouse. Try it on one of the yellow airplane icons and another window will open displaying a lot more information about the flight including speed, altitude, departure, and predicted arrival. The map on this page shows the flight plan for that specific plane superimposed on top of the actual route the plane has followed, so if the pilot detoured to avoid bad weather or turbulence, this shows up on the map. is one of several similar websites. Rumor has it that the ability to do all this came about at the behest of the US government after the events of September 11, 2001. Governments and militaries of many nations want to be able to track the location of planes in their airspace and do so in real time. Of course, transponders also improve safety by helping air traffic controllers do their jobs efficiently.

There are companion sites such as which tracks the real-time position of all vessels on every ocean. Oceangoing vessels carry position transponders that broadcast the ships’ positions, names, course, and speed. On the website you may follow ships all the way up the Mississippi River to Minnesota. You may also search for where the liner QE2 is today.

The rumor mill has it that any aircraft or ship that drops off the map or deviates significantly from its planned route comes to the attention of the nearest air force or navy within seconds. That sounds good for safety, but not so good for terrorists.

And there is one last thing. If you are wondering why in the world I found myself flying over Greenland on the way from Mexico to Europe, I have a website for that too. Point your browser to and then enter two or more three-letter IATA airport codes such as “LAX-LHR” to find the shortest straight-line route between the airports. If you are not familiar with the term “great circle route” then try entering Mexico City (MEX) to New Delhi, India (DEL). The straight line on that map does not go where many people think it does.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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