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In Southwest Virginia, not all Google maps are created equal February 17, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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Q: We are wondering why the quality of the Google maps aerial photos for Southwest Virginia is so poor. The Roanoke area, and for that matter most of the country and lots of other countries is acceptable to spectacular quality, but once you get past Ironto the image quality drops off dramatically, to the point where it is pointless to even look at it. There are much higher quality aerial photos available — on the Radford University GIS Spatial Center Data Center Web site, for example. They are free but not in a format as user-friendly as Google Maps. From the standpoint of the localities involved, it seems this could negatively impact economic development and tourism.

— Martin D. Jansons, Blacksburg

A: The good news is that a spokeswoman for Google got back to me really fast. The bad news is that she gave me the same sort of boilerplate answer that a non-Web company would: “We are constantly working to update and improve the imagery in Google Earth, and we strive to have the best available imagery for any given location.”

However, she did tell me that if a town’s planning department already has aerial photos, they may be able to merge these with the existing Google system and let people zoom in a lot closer.

So if someone can persuade the owners of the pictures you mentioned to give the images to Google, we might see some improvement down here in the wilderness beyond Ironto.

Q: I know that Outback Steakhouse offers a gluten-free meal. Are there any other restaurants in the Roanoke area that do?

— Jo Shoaf

A: Our food reporter Lindsey Nair has reported that in addition to Outback, Olive Garden, Panera Bread, Wendy’s and McDonald’s offer gluten-free menus.

You may also wish to try the relatively new Carrabba’s at Valley View Mall. Their gluten-free menu offers adaptations to several meals and even a dessert.

Meanwhile, many smaller restaurants may not have an official menu, but may be able to serve you. On a gluten intolerance message board, I found a diner who had asked for a gluten-free meal at Nico’s Ristorante & Cafe on Campbell Avenue and was very happy with the service and the chef.

I’ll be glad to print the names other local restaurants that can offer gluten-free dishes, if readers know of any.

Q: Why aren’t local Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration offices’ phone numbers listed in the phone book?

Hallie Hardy, Roanoke

A: Well, there’s no longer such a thing as “THE” phone book. I’ve got a stack of them — and you probably do, too.

I looked through six books and got mixed results. Some listed only the 800 numbers for the two federal government agencies you mention. Some had one or the other. But I hit the jackpot with a book from Ogden Directories, which listed the local numbers for both.

The number given for the IRS office, 857-2364, was correct. However, a recording at that number said it’s best to try either a Web site, an 800 number or a visit to the office in person.

The number given for the Social Security office, 857-2190, was busy every time I tried.

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