January 2007

What Virtual Earth Bugs Do You Want Fixed?

The Windows Live Local/Virtual Earth blog is asking for users’ top five bugs they’d like fixed: “List your most nagging bugs. Tell us about the usability issue that bites you everyday. Or the feature of the site that if tweaked slightly would help you better complete a task. Or the API method that really needs an overhaul or doesn’t quite act the way you want.” The comments make for interesting reading. I only have one request: cross-browser compatibility — make it work equally well in IE, Firefox and Safari so that I can actually spend a bit of time playing with it!

The Quebec-Labrador Border

GeoCarta notes the news that a boundary dispute between the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador has flared up over Quebec wildlife maps that show part of Labrador as belonging to Quebec.

Quebec-Labrador boundary This is not new. The Quebec-Labrador boundary has been in dispute since 1902, and a formal Privy Council decision in 1927, setting the present boundary, has not been accepted by everyone. Indeed, Quebec’s official maps frequently show two boundaries to southern Labrador, their unilateral boundary and the real boundary, labelled “Tracé de 1927 du Conseil privé (non définitif),” despite the fact that no one other than the province disputes it, and past provincial commissions have agreed that nothing could be done about it. (Then again, Quebec separatists’ maps include all of Labrador.) I live in Quebec, so I know.

For more on the Labrador boundary, see this page from Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, the Canadian Encyclopedia, this page from Library and Archives Canada, this page from Labrador Straits, the Wikipedia entry on Labrador, this collection of legal documents relating to the dispute and this page from Marianopolis College.

Forbes Smiley and Cortés’s Map

If you had thought you’d heard the last about Forbes Smiley — who is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year federal sentence after having admitted to stealing nearly 100 maps from various libraries — then you were mistaken. The Hartford Courant’s Kim Martineau has the strange tale of a 1524 woodcut map of Tenochtitlan that illustrated a letter from Hernán Cortés to the king of Spain. Yale’s Beinecke Library had one of only a few copies — until, of course, Mr. Smiley came for a visit.

[I]n May 2005, Smiley asked to see the second Cortés letter, the one with the map. Smiley toted his prize to midtown Manhattan and sold it to Harry Newman, owner of the Old Print Shop, for what Newman called “mid-five figures.”
When he confessed last summer to stealing more than 100 maps from libraries around the world, Smiley didn’t mention Yale’s Cortés map. But Yale advertised the theft and posted a picture online. Initially, the New York dealer breathed a sigh of relief. His map didn’t seem to have pinholes poked in the fold like Yale’s. A day later, he looked again. Faintly, he could make out where the holes had been feathered over.
“The image was the clincher,” he said.
The map made it home to the Beinecke before Christmas, for the last weeks of an exhibition on the mapping of early Mexico.

Interestingly, Smiley did confess to stealing a copy of the same map from Harvard. Which is where things get strange:

The case is closed, but another mystery remains. Smiley confessed to stealing Harvard’s copy of the Cortés map, but no one knows how two facsimile reproductions found their way into the book the map came from. Harvard discovered the two facsimiles — and its missing map — after Smiley’s arrest.
New York Public Library, it turns out, is missing a Cortés facsimile. Did Smiley steal it and put it in the Harvard book to disguise his earlier theft? If so, what about the second facsimile?

Stealing one map to replace another? Curiouser and curiouser. Smiley’s exploits may well have been more complicated than we thought. His lawyer says his client continues to cooperate, but does not have an eidetic memory. So far, four maps have shown up since Smiley was sentenced.

Via MapHist; thanks, Tony.

Poll: 20% Think Map Reading Is a Redundant Skill

About 20 per cent of respondents to a Nickelodeon survey of adults and children think that map reading is a redundant skill, the New York Daily News reports, putting map reading in the same category as spelling and using a dictionary (and presumably basic arithmetic thanks to calculators) — skills that lazy people think technology makes redundant. If you were wondering how otherwise sensible people can drive off cliffs, now you know. Via All Points Blog.

The Analog GPS

It's a sextant, okay? The Analog GPS: “Take your batteries and slavish dependence on other high-tech flummery and heave it overboard. With this device, you can pinpoint your location anywhere on earth and not be reliant on dodgy bits of information being projected through the ether by divers black arts. Precision constructed of brass and the finest optics available and featuring premium isinglass sun filters … Mounts for 7/8” and 1” bars are included, as is a fitted, velvet lined rosewood storage case. Not included are required declination charts (call for details) or the extremely accurate watch you are going to need to use this thing. Meets R.N. standard 3329-5 of 1787.” Yours for a mere $3,117. Via The Earth Is Square.

A Book Roundup

Much book-related news has been accumulating over here; past time I shared it.

Surveying, Mapping and GIS reviews Dava Sobel’s Longitude, a book about John Harrison, who discovered how to determine longitude. I think I need to read this book.

Google Sightseeing’s book Off the Map is reviewed by the New York Post. Via Google Earth Blog and Ogle Earth. (See previous entry.)

On Maps-L, news of a Taschen edition of Andreas Cellarius’s 1660 work, The Finest Atlas of the Heavens, replete with a new scholarly introduction.

The Historical Atlas of Oklahoma (see previous entry) is reviewed by the Muskogee Phoenix.

The Perfect Fake by Barbara Parker is a thriller whose plot apparently turns on the copy — or forgery — of a Renaissance-era map; the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel’s Oline Cogdill has a review.

The second edition Joseph Schwartzberg’s Historical Atlas of South Asia was published in 1992 and is now out of print; it lives on, however, in a digital version hosted by the University of Chicago’s Digital Library of South Asia. Via MapHist.

And finally (for now), also on Maps-L, a brief announcement of a collection of 72 maps of San Francisco spanning four centuries: San Francisco in Maps and Views by Sally Woodbridge, with an introduction by that David Rumsey chap.

Introduction to Neogeography

High Earth Orbit’s Andrew Turner has written Introduction to Neogeography, a short e-book, published as part of O’Reilly’s “Short Cuts” series and available as a PDF file for $8. It’s a guide to the new mapping technologies that are accessible to users and developers outside the GIS profession. Reviews from Mikel Maron and Guilhem Vellut; a companion web site is also taking shape. Via Ogle Earth.

Previously: Neogeography.

Two Blogs I Missed

Two more blogs to tell you about, though they’ve been around long enough that I should have spotted them sooner.

I linked to a page on High Earth Orbit’s site before, but since then Andrew Turner has added a blog to his site: it’s a wide-ranging blog with a lot of geospatial content, and I’ll have more to say about him in a moment. Via Ogle Earth.

Surveying, Mapping and GIS is a blog by professional land surveyor David G. Smith; it’s been running for more than a year. According to the tagline, the blog’s purpose is “to discuss a wide variety of topics revolving around acquisition, maintenance and development of surveying, mapping, and GIS data and applications. Some areas of current interest involve publishing mapping data and services on the web — to include ArcIMS, XML Web Services and interoperability.” Via Slashgeo.

Guettard’s Mineralogical Atlas

Hainault (Guettard) BibliOdyssey’s latest map-related find is Jean-Étienne Guettard’s Atlas et description minéralogiques de la France (1780), digitized and available online at the University of Strasbourg, where, peacay notes, “maps start on page 223 … the full maps at the site are large, around 6 MB each.”

See also this page of French geological maps, most of which either by or after Guettard, also via BibliOdyssey.

High-Resolution Satellite Photos of Europe in Google Earth

Stefan broke the news this morning that Spot Image’s 2.5-meter-per-pixel imagery had been added to Google Earth; this is apparently a substantial improvement over the 15-meter-per-pixel base layer. More from Spot Image itself; the countries affected include Belgium, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain. Frank notes: “[T]his is the first Spot Image satellite imagery in GE I’ve seen. It’s interesting to see Google is expanding it’s source of imagery data to another commercial satellite provider.”

Israel and the Holy Land, Past and Present

Holy Land Maps (thumbnail) I’m overdue in presenting a couple of links regarding maps of Israel and/or the “Holy Land,” which terms may or may not be interchangeable, but you get the general idea as to area.

Holy Land Maps is an online collection of more than 1,000 maps, dating back as far as the 15th century, from the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection of the Jewish National and University Library. Uses MrSid format, but static images are also available. The site is in English and Hebrew. Via MapHist.

For a modern view, on the other hand, see Eye on Israel’s Flash-based map (thanks, peacay).

The Other Shaded Relief Site

The Shaded Relief world map should not be confused with Tom Patterson’s Shaded Relief site (previously); instead, it’s a Google Maps mashup with a custom layer. “We have created a custom layer using SRTM30+ and SRTM90 DEMs and used VMAP0 sea, lake and river overlay to create a shaded relief layer,” Jon Parker writes. “We have uploaded up to zoom level 8 completely and have the Northern hemisphere of level 9 completed — Southern Hemisphere in progress — just 60,000 tiles to go. […] We will also be having a go at zoom level 10 for the shaded relief which is approx. 500,000 tiles.” (See also.)

Broer Map Library Update

Dave Broer of the Broer Map Library writes:

I wanted to contact you and thank you for the write ups that you have done in the past regarding my attempts at making a world-class online historic map collection available to the public. I keep adding what I can, when I can.
I’ve recently added about 800 more maps, most of which were from foreign language atlases, but I also added about 40 historic national park maps. We now have 8 foreign languages represented in our collection.
I’ve begun adding maps that users can download and view in Google Earth which makes it very easy to compare the present with the past.
I thought you would be interested in the latest updates, but I’m always trying to tweak the site and make it better.

Previously: Broer Map Library; Broer Library Adds 1,300 USGS Topo Maps.

Microsoft Streets & Trips Reviewed

Microsoft Streets & Trips Chad has a brief review of Microsoft Streets & Trips 2007 and its accompanying GPS unit: “I think it is very well worth it. … All and all I am impressed with the software and the GPS unit. They work quite well together. And the GPS unit also works in World Wind with the GPS Plug-in. … This is worth it if you don’t want to spend $400 or more for an in-car navigation system.” Likes the accuracy; identifies problems with route navigation; wants more GPS information.

Previously: Microsoft Streets & Trips 2007, GPS Included.

Correcting Directions

Dave Winer discovers a better route than the directions suggested by Google Maps, and wonders: “So — when does mapping become a two-way app? I’d be willing to tell their software that I have a better route, it’s one that comes from living here, and being a cab driver here.”

User-submitted directions look like one of those ideas that are brilliant in theory, but you can’t figure out a way to make them work in practice. There are, I think, two problems with it. One is mediating competing directions: how do you adjudicate between two alternate routes, each provided by locals who swear by them? (I can usually figure out several ways of getting from A to B; figuring out which is best is a bit harder.) The other is that there are simply too many different A and B points to navigate between: it’s one thing to know the best route between towns, or even between neighbourhoods, but how granular would user submissions be allowed to get?

It wouldn’t surprise me if driving directions were procedurally generated rather than stored in a database, in which case most of the errors would occur when real roads don’t match up with the algorithms’ expectations. But that’s just a wild guess on my part.

Previously: Tele Atlas Introduces Map Feedback.

Why Is the Return Rate for GPS Receivers So High?

DigiTimes, which reports on Taiwanese electronics manufacturers, reports that Wal-Mart may be thinking about dropping GPS receivers due to a high return rate — 40 per cent at Wal-Mart, 25 per cent elsewhere. (Wal-Mart, unlike Best Buy, doesn’t charge a restocking fee when you return something.) Rich is surprised by this, as am I: why is the return rate so high?

The only thing I can think of is a disconnect between what people think they’re getting and what they in fact get: I don’t own a GPS myself, but my impression is that they’re a bit harder to use and inscrutable than, say, an iPod. When you buy an iPod or a cellphone, you not only know why you’re using it, but you have at least a rudimentary idea how — these devices are essentially digital refinements of older, familiar technology. But a GPS receiver might be one of those things people think they should get, like a PDA; but unlike a PDA, operating one is less obvious: the how is less well-formed than the why.

I’d love to know what’s driving this return rate. Guessing’s fun, but some hard data would be really useful.

About Ricoh’s GPS Camera

James and Dan are enthusiastic about Ricoh’s release of the 500SE GPS-ready digital camera, but I’m not sure how groundbreaking this is. (By which I mean that I’m confused and seek enlightenment; I’m not speaking rhetorically.)

For one thing, it’s labelled as GPS-ready, which usually does not mean that it’s built-in; Dan notes that the GPS unit is a $130 add-on to the $899 camera (which, for the record, is a ruggedized, 8-megapixel point-and-shoot model aimed at outdoor professionals). And it’s not like GPS modules for digital cameras haven’t existed before: Nikon’s high-end digital SLRs, for example, have had GPS interfaces for at least a couple of years. Is this a big deal — i.e., is this something truly different — or is it nothing really groundbreaking?

Susan Stockwell

Susan Stockwell’s art makes frequent use of maps, either as raw material and as the shape of her final product. Examples of the former include dresses made of maps; examples of the latter include a map of India stitched from tea bags, or a “mad cow” map of Britain using the distinctive Holstein cow pattern. Via Gadling.

New Zealander’s Campaign to Correct Geographic Names

A retired public servant in Wellington, New Zealand is on a campaign to correct spelling mistakes in New Zealand place names, the New Zealand Herald reports. He’s made a total of 60 submissions to the Geographic Board pointing out errors in various toponyms, correcting them so that they reflect the proper spellings of the people’s names they bear. One so-far unsuccessful quest: to change his country’s name to New Zeeland, to reflect the correct spelling of the Dutch province. Also via GeoCarta.

MAPCO

MAPCO — Map and Plan Collection Online — is, as you might expect, an online collection of maps: it’s relatively small at the moment, with more promised, with maps of London, Britain and Australia, mostly from the 19th century. The site design follows several others I’ve seen, with closeups of a single slice of map at a time, rather than a single large scan or specialized interface. Via MapHist.

Previously: Old London Maps.

L.A. Homeless Map

L.A. Homeless Map, detail The Downtown Homeless Map tracks the number of homeless people in downtown Los Angeles; yesterday it received a revamp:

Today we’ve put online a new version of the maps, using a radically different methodology for showing the data. Instead of the dots of the old maps, this version takes the data and turns it into a “heat map” that shows the density of the population in different areas. … I think the main thing this new style brings is a more instant understanding of what’s going on. The dots made an interesting picture, and one that did work to tell the story, but in the end they generated a lot of questions.

The blogdowntown entry also has a bit on the methodology. Via Boing Boing.

Driftwood Map

From the fascinating blog Modern Mechanix, which reprints items from old popular science magazines, this item on Inuit mapping from the September 1933 issue of Popular Science:

Eskimo's Map of Driftwood

The text: “An Eskimo, who had never before seen a map, has just provided the Library of Congress with the first accurate chart of the islands of Dis-ko Bay, Greenland. After a careful survey by sledge and kayak, he whittled relief models of the islands from driftwood and painted them in colors to show lakes, marshes, and vegetation. Sewed to sealskin, they form the map illustrated at left.”

Five of 2006’s Top 10 Most Expensive Books Were Atlases

Cosmographia A Forbes article on the 10 most expensive books of 2006 (in the context of rare book auctions) makes this notable observation: “The top 10 list for 2006 includes a surprising number of atlases — five, including three versions of works by Ptolemy.” One of those was a 1477 edition of the Cosmographia that went for the equivalent of $4 million earlier this year.

Previously: Cosmographia Auctioned; Cosmographia Fetches More Than £2.1 Million.

DePaul Exhibition: Imperial Cartographies

At the art museum in DePaul University’s Richardson Library (in Chicago) until March 18, an exhibit called Imperial Cartographies: Power, Strategy, and Scientific Discovery, which, according to the DePaulia article, “will trace how the world views power and geopolitics, the planet and each other through cartography and geospatial visualizations such as satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems.”

[T]he exhibition displays a seven-volume “Atlas Historique,” which is geographical data collected by the Dutch East Indies Trading Company for the Indonesian archipelago in 1596. A map by Stephen Smith introduces the 20th Century into telegraphy, intercontinental governance, and urban modernity. Later in the century, cartographies were used as political propaganda for the Nazi war and against the Axis Powers. Scientific instruments used for navigation and mapping will also be on display. All contributions of maps, globes and imagery are from the Adler Planetarium, Newberry Library and other sources.

Africa South

“I have produced a relief map of my part of the world using SRTM30 in Global Mapper — it is my first attempt at published cartography,” writes Chris Berens of South Africa. It’s an interesting map that eschews national boundaries. Chris adds: “Not sure if I’m looking for promotion or criticism! I guess I’ll take what I get. One thing though, the relief maps of southern Africa that one repeatedly bumps into on the web don’t do this region any favours (i.e. UT et al).”

Question: GPS Software for India?

Earle writes, “I live in San Francisco and am planning a trip to NW India. At home I use a Garmin GPS sensor attached to a PC laptop with Windows XP operating system. Do you know of map software for India which is compatible with my equipment? If not, do you know another brand of sensor which will work with my laptop and India map software?”

Karelia

Languagehat has stumbled across a bilingual map of the Karelian Isthmus — the parcel of land northwest of St. Petersburg between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga that was annexed by the USSR during the Winter War of 1939-1940. Actually, it looks like a trilingual map, because Swedish names appear alongside the Finnish and Russian names (e.g. Wiborg/Viipuri/Выборг). The 1:200,000-scale map was printed in 1991.

Recent Obituaries

The deaths of the following people associated with cartography were reported recently:

Tom Devine (1927-2006) spent 32 years working as a cartographer for the USGS; he was a mountain climber and stereographic photographer in his off-hours. Via Maps-L.

Bradford Washburn (1910-2007) (see also) founded the Boston Museum of Science and was a serious mountaineer and photographer; he was also responsible for the creation of a number of topo maps: “Mr. Washburn made eight first-recorded ascents of North American peaks and authored two-dozen maps, several of the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, and Mount McKinley. As a photographer, he pioneered the high-resolution, large-format aerial picture.” Wikipedia entry. Via All Points Blog and Map History/History of Cartography.

Mapping Happiness

I don’t pretend to understand anything about psychology, but there is apparently a line of research into “subjective well-being” — which is, I guess, how people measure their own long-term happiness. And enough research has apparently been done to map it:

From White’s paper: “It is immediately evident that there is an effect of poverty on levels of SWB. The map itself mirrors other projection of poverty and GDP. This data on SWB was compared with data on access to education (UNESCO, 2005), health (United Nations, 2005), and poverty (CIA, 2006). It was found that SWB correlated most strongly with health (.7) closely followed by wealth (.6) and access to basic education (.6). This adds to the evidence that from a global perspective the biggest causes of SWB are poverty and associated variables.” But most research takes place in happy countries.

Thanks to Melissa Edwards for the link.

Hawaii Map Library Reopens

Thumbnail from article The Honolulu Advertiser reports on the reopening of a local university’s map library after a devastating flood in 2004 destroyed most of the collection: “More than two years after flood waters damaged or destroyed more than 250,000 maps and aerial photographs at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa’s Hamilton Library, many of the rare and valuable documents are again available for public use, but it could be years before the collection is back to the way it was.” The library is working on finding replacements; fortunately, almost all of the rare maps — some from as far back as the 16th century — were salvaged. Via Map History/History of Cartography.

Geophoto: Mac Geotagging Software

Also at Macworld, a new geotagging and photomapping application called Geophoto was announced: it apparently integrates with iPhoto on the one hand and Flickr and photo RSS feeds on the other, allowing you to both assign coordinates to your photos and view geotagged photos — yours and those online — on a geobrowser interface. It costs $50 (preorder price $40); it remains to be seen whether a commercial desktop software application can compete with free and/or online solutions. (We didn’t see anything about iPhoto 7 today, as we might have expected at Macworld — for all we know, the next iteration of iPhoto may include geotagging.) Via MacMinute.

iPhone Includes Google Maps

iPhone running Google Maps During his Macworld keynote presentation today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs just announced the iPhone, Apple’s mobile phone that doubles as an iPod and Internet communicator. One of the features announced for this phone — which won’t be shipping until June — is a customized version of Google Maps that uses the phone’s “multi-touch” interface — you zoom in by double-tapping the screen, apparently. The keynote webcast will be available presently, after which I may be able to say a bit more about this, but in the meantime here’s Gizmodo’s coverage.

Historic Pittsburgh Map Collection

Flood commission map for Pittsburgh Historic Pittsburgh is a site featuring documents, maps and books from the University of Pittsburgh and other Pittsburgh-area collections. Their Map Collections section has four large series of map scans available:

The total is over 1,300 plates (mostly from the Hopkins collection). Thanks to peacay for the links.

Nicolay Rutter to Be Auctioned This Week

Nicolay rutter A copy of the first accurate map of Scotland — a “rutter,” a book of sailing directions — is to be auctioned this week in Edinburgh, BBC News and The Scotsman report. The “Nicolay rutter” is a 1583 copy by French mapmaker Nicolas de Nicolay of an English manuscript map made in 1543 by Alexander Lyndsay. The auction house expects the map to go for £20-30,000; it’s the first copy — there are about a dozen in existence — to come on the market in three decades. Via Map the Universe and Map History/History of Cartography.

Update, 1/11: £22,610 (via Map the Universe).

GPS, Geotagging Automator Actions for the Mac

Automator logo For Mac users, some Automator actions to tell you about: GPS Automator Actions (which require GPSBabel) is a collection of scripts that automate downloading data from, and uploading to, a GPS unit and converting file formats; GeoTagging Automator Action enables you to add geodata from a GPS track file to photos by comparing log times with photo timestamps. Via Ogle Earth.

Previously: Google Earth Roundup: Automator, Rumsey; GPSBabel.

World Wind Update

World Wind screenshot Like ArcGIS Explorer (previously), NASA World Wind is another application to which I’ve been giving short shrift, a consequence of my Mac-only household. And the Java version that would run on Mac OS X and Linux that was scheduled for last September has, I guess, yet to make an appearance. Now the go-to blog for all things World Wind, as I mentioned before, is The Earth Is Square by Chad Zimmerman. Chad has a preview of the Java version of World Wind running in a web browser; he also anticipates upcoming posts about the features of World Wind 1.4, so keep an eye on his site.

Previously: More Map Blogs; StumbleUpon; Google Earth vs. World Wind; Mac, Linux Versions of NASA World Wind in September; World Wind for the Pocket PC; Reaping the World Wind; Keyhole and World Wind.

Roadnav

Roadnav screenshot Roadnav is open-source navigation software meant to be run on an in-car computer connected to a GPS; it runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. “Roadnav can obtain a car’s present location from a GPS unit, plot street maps of the area, and provide verbal turn by turn directions to any location in the USA. Roadnav uses the free TIGER/Line files from the US Census Bureau to build the maps, along with the GNIS state and topical gazetteer data from the USGS to identify locations.” At version 0.16 and looks a little rough around the edges. Via The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

ArcGIS Explorer Reviewed

ArcGIS Explorer screenshot I’ve been following the news about ArcGIS Explorer, ESRI’s putative response to virtual globe software like Google Earth, since it was first announced (James Fee, for example, has blogged about it a lot), but I haven’t blogged about it myself. I generally consider ESRI products beyond my capabilities (even if I did have a Windows machine to run them on) and defer to the pros.

In that vein, let me say that last week’s in-depth review of ArcGIS Explorer by Ogle Earth’s Stefan Geens impressed me a whole hell of a lot, both for its thoroughness and on-point analysis. Stefan’s conclusion:

[ArcGIS Explorer] shows promise as a tool for looking at somebody else’s GIS work, but it’s very much in Beta and it shows — a lot of basic functionality is still only half implemented. I don’t want to complain about the lack of compelling high resolution imagery — ArcGIS users are supposed to provide the maps, after all — but the slowness of the downloads of ArcGIS Explorer’s default globes really makes the application a chore to use out of the box.
At this stage, it is difficult to see AGX ever being anything more than a niche player among virtual globes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but after a year of anticipation, fueled in part by comments from ESRI that certainly didn’t disabuse us of the notion they were building a “Google Earth Killer” (for example Jack Dangermond’s comments in June), AGX disappoints.

Garmin: Still Working on Mac Software

Macworld: “Garmin’s recent announcement of new Mac software for runners, bikers and other outdoor sports enthusiasts has led some Mac users to wonder where the rest of their promised Mac software is. Garmin says they’re still working on it, though they’re unable to say when it will be released.”

Previously: Garmin Training Center for the Mac: Real Soon Now; Garmin Mac Compatibility Delayed; Garmin Announces Mac Compatibility.

Ask MetaFilter on U.S. Geographic Literacy

An interesting question posted to Ask MetaFilter last night: “It’s a cliché about people from the USA that they are ignorant of geography. Not just world geography but their own as well. … So, is there some explanation in the school system for this?” The answers so far are an interesting (if necessarily anecdotal) look at geography education in the U.S. — and a tendency in middle school to memorize states and capitals and to colour them. And, to be fair, elsewhere: several commenters made the point that the sheer size of the U.S. (compared with other countries) meant that domestic geography was enough of a task. Here’s part of AV’s answer: “To put things in perspective, England is roughly 50,000 square miles in area, about 4,000 square miles smaller than the state of New York. That’s just one of fifty states. The U.S. itself is closer in size to the entirety of Europe. Do you know where Dubrovnik is? Lviv? Do you think most Brits do?”

Previously: That National Geographic Survey.

Marie Tharp and Plate Tectonics

Marie Tharp The New York Times Magazine’s year-end retrospective on deaths of notable people in 2006 includes a profile of Marie Tharp, the oceanographic cartographer who died earlier this year (see previous entry). David Tiley places her career struggles in context: “This is really a fragment of a much larger story about the battle over plate tectonics, which had many casualties.” Via Map History/History of Cartography.

Analogue Art Map

Analogue Art Map is a group that uses non-digital technology (e.g., pen and paper) to map inherently digital things — MUDs, social networks and so forth. “[T]he group seeks to both record and generate connections between creative individuals and the spaces in which they live,” writes Marcus Helm. “Analogue Art Map strives to continue its groundbreaking work using only obsolete technology.”

Sea of Japan, East Sea, Sea of Korea

You may be familiar with the Korean campaign to change the international name of the Sea of Japan to the “East Sea.” It’s an aggressive campaign — even I got e-mail about it (see previous entry) — but one that for the most part has generated lots of heat, little light, and no traction. “East Sea” is essentially a local name — the body of water is only east of Korea — but its proponents make claims on its use elsewhere by referring to old maps that refer to the waters generally as the “Oriental Sea.” (For the Japanese government’s response to the campaign, see this page.)

Mer de Corée Now, according to a Korea Times article, critics doubtful of the East Sea campaign’s claim are forwarding an alternative for the renaming of the Sea of Japan: the Sea of Korea, which the Sea of Korea Association is (naturally) advocating (site is in Korean only so far; English translation forthcoming) in place of the official “East Sea” position. There seems to be more precedent for this new claim: the article cites examples from as far back as the 18th century; incidentally, in September 2005 I blogged about a digital collection of some 172 maps using that name. The motives, however, remain the same.

Via Map the Universe.