August 2007

A View of Prague for the Blind

I’ve been encountering items on maps for the blind for some time now, and I’m fascinated by the fact that each map I encounter is done differently — there are quite a few approaches to the problem of providing visual, geographic information to the visually impaired. The most recent iteration is this Radio Praha report about a map for the blind of Prague’s historical centre:

The relief map comes in A3 notebook format, in sixty pieces, and is printed on specially pressed thin plastic. It can be read by means of various raised layers and other three dimensional elements such as points and lines. Important orientation points, monuments, streets and metro lines, along with Braille inscriptions all serve to colour the tangible picture of the city offered to those using the map. To make it more accessible to international visitors, the key in Braille relief is also provided in English.

The map is the brainchild of cartographer Radka Fuxova, for whom this subject was his university thesis and who has made maps for other Czech cities — Brno and Ostrava — as well.

Previously: Virtual 3D Maps for the Blind; Maps for the Visually Impaired; Maps and Directions for the Blind; Online Maps for the Visually Impaired.

NYC Subway Maps on an iPhone

iPhone with maps [Khoi Vinh] Yes, the iPhone has Google Maps on it, but Khoi Vinh feels the need to carry along a mobile version of the official New York Metropolitan Transit Authority subway map on his iPhone. His solution is what he calls “the most awesome low-tech New York City subway maps for your iPhone that you can find anywhere” — it’s simply creating map tiles and adding them to the gadget’s photo albums. I’ve heard of this on other devices. Via TUAW. Photo: Khoi Vinh.

That Miss Teen USA Map Question Meme

Lauren Caitlin Upton’s embarrassing moment at the Miss Teen USA pageant (see previous entry) has taken on a life of its own, as her garbled response to a question about cartographic literacy has become the latest Internet meme. And, since the Internet is powered by Schadenfreude and no gag goes unbeaten-to-death, responses and homages are already popping up. See, for example, the Tube Map for Miss South Carolina and Maps for Us, which takes Miss Upton’s plea at (ironic) face value: “And we believe that our education, like such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere … like. Such as. And we believe you should donate maps to this cause.” (Via Deadspin.) Oh dear.

Update, Sept. 1: On Salon’s Machinist blog, an argument that the question Upton was asked — or rather its premise — is wrong. “Remember, people in the survey were trying to place countries on unlabeled maps. That is, they were the sort of maps nobody ever uses, maps that, indeed, run contrary to the very aim of cartography. A map is a reference object; we make maps precisely so that we don’t have to memorize where things are, so that we can, instead, look up where things are.”

Maps Stolen from Spain’s National Library

Cosmographia A 1482 edition of the Cosmographia held by Spain’s National Library has been vandalized, El Mundo reports. Two maps were removed despite the Library’s security measures: the volumes are kept in a room accessible only by cardholders. There are approximately 120 copies of the atlas in libraries worldwide, according to the article. Via MapHist; corrections welcome from bona fide Spanish speakers.

Sky in Google Earth

Google Earth 4.2 was released overnight. Perhaps you’ve heard about one of its new features — and I don’t mean support for KML 2.2.

Google Earth Sky (screencap)

Sky in Google Earth: click on the Sky button and the program transforms itself from an earth viewer to stargazing software, with multiple layers of astronomical information — planets, stars, constellations, Messier and NGC catalogues. I like the detail: I can click on a star and get all sorts of information about it (but the distance in light years in the Wikipedia entry excerpt doesn’t always agree with what’s listed elsewhere in the popup window), and the imagery is quite impressive once you zoom in. Just like the regular mode of Google Earth, you’re not just getting mapping data, you’re getting high-resolution imagery of deep-space objects. This is very neat.

Here’s a video from Google:

Frank has a video tutorial as well.

This got coverage in the mainstream media: BBC News, New York Times (for example). See the official announcement on Google LatLong. Ogle Earth rounds up the changes in version 4.2.

Bad Astronomy isn’t impressed: “Google Sky needs work. It’s more of a gee-whiz photo album than a real piece of interactive software.” In some ways it doesn’t compare favourably, in other words, to dedicated astronomy software like Celestia or Stellarium, which, among other things, have a horizon, and are as such much easier for you to to orient yourself within their frame of reference. Via Ogle Earth.

Google Maps Now Embeddable in Web Pages

Google screenshot Google Maps are now embeddable as HTML in blog posts and other web pages. (If you’re familiar with embedded YouTube videos, it works exactly the same way.) This includes map layers (such as My Maps or a KML file). Which is to say that putting map data — any map data — on a web site just got considerably easier: as I understand it, if it can appear inside the Google Maps interface, it can appear on your web site. The Google LatLong blog post linked above has some examples; Ogle Earth has the text of an e-mail from Google that offers more detail.

I should have figured something like this was up earlier this month, when Apple announced that Google Maps could be added, widget-style, in web pages generated by iWeb.

This is big news: as My Maps made it easier for mere mortals to generate mappable content, this makes it easier to publish that content. I’ve had a half-finished mashup on my personal site for a while: this is going to make it dead easy to finish without a surfeit of JavaScript.

Stefan (see above) also nails it: this is very big news for bloggers. Watch for embedded maps to be as common as embedded video in blog posts before very long.

Chocolate Maps

ArtCoco products You’ll like this one. A Denver-based company, Art Coco, makes chocolate maps. They’ve been doing it since 1989, when they started out making chocolate topographic maps. Impulse buyers take note: they’re not shipping at the moment due to the weather. Via Very Spatial.

Waldo Tobler

Waldo Tobler, from his web site Waldo Tobler, according to his Wikipedia entry, coined the first law of geography in 1970: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” Now a retired geography professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Tobler has a home page that reprints a large number of publications and presentations. many of which appear to focus on the mathematics of cartography, and as such are totally opaque to me.

Ortelius: Forthcoming Mac Mapping Software

Ortelius screenshot Philip Riggs writes to mention a new Macintosh mapping application currently under development. It’s called Ortelius (after the sixteenth-century cartographer). From the web site:

It is a dedicated map-making illustration program that knows geography. Instead of building maps from lines and primitive shapes, you draw directly with roads, railways, boundaries, buildings, woods and streams. Generate contour lines from elevation plots. Label items using a consistent style. Roads (for example) know how they connect to each other and junctions are drawn properly, fully automatically. If it needs moving, it will move all of its connected feeder roads with it, maintaining junctions as it goes. Want to insert a bridge? Highlight the road and insert a bridge — no need to fiddle about trying to build one from tiny bits of curves and lines. …
In a GIS system, a database of geographical objects is used to generate plots. Ortelius works the other way around — you draw directly the objects you want, and it builds a database underneath. You can import aerial photographs for tracing, and work with any coordinate system or grid you desire.

Ortelius’s purpose seems to be twofold: create an accessible mapmaking application separate from complicated and expensive GIS and vector-graphics software (e.g., Illustrator with plugins), and give the GCDrawKit framework a place to shine.

But I’m not sure how useful it will be if it’s limited to freehand map drawing. Even rank amateurs will have geographical data in the form of GPS traceroutes, and it would be a mistake not to allow access to that data — or other geodata sources, many of which are freely available. I’ll reserve judgment until I see a final product, though: this is the sort of thing I could buy on the spot if they nail the feature set and interface. Version 1.0 is expected to be released as shareware for a price of around $50. No firm release date.

Illinois Official Highway Map

Detail from Illinois Official Highway Map

Free, official road maps seem to be an endangered species. Via MAPS-L, a press release from Illinois’s Department of Transportation announcing that, for the second year running, their Official Highway Map would be available free of charge thanks to a sponsorship deal with Best Western. The previous version (2005-2006) of said map is available online, but as a 12.3-megabyte PDF file. Other maps of Illinois from the DOT web site.

Under the Southern Cross

Te Taki o Autahi — Under the Southern Cross is a conference taking place in Wellington, New Zealand on February 10-13, 2008. “The conference will focus on the cartography of the Southern Hemisphere, with four main streams: Polynesian navigation and mapping, the mapping of Antarctica, and Southern Hemisphere Celestial mapping and other Southern Hemisphere cartographic topics.” It’s also, concurrently, the International Map Collectors’ Society’s international symposium. Via MapHist.

Another Geotagging Roundup

Free Geography Tools had a seven-part geotagging series last month beginning with this post; it covered a number of Windows applications that I wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of.

Richard Akerman has a couple of relevant posts on his Science Library Pad blog: this one actually explains why georeferenced photos are useful (with an example); he also has a post dealing with manually geocoding photos using GraphicConverter, a well-known Mac graphics application. (While I’m at it, I don’t think I’ve linked to Richard’s photo geocoding page yet either.)

Dan Catt, reports on his latest work; you may recall that he works on map stuff and on Flickr, the photo-sharing site. “Earlier this week I sneakily rolled out geo(in)RSS and KML feeds in a few places around the site. For users, groups and tags pages.”

Two Thousand

This is the two thousandth post I have made to The Map Room. It’s taken me a while to get here: four years, four months, and a few extra days.

When I started this blog, I was interested in maps, didn’t know enough about them, and wanted to learn more, but I couldn’t find a site that gave me what I wanted — namely, an introduction to what I thought would be a large body of mapping sites on the web. So I started one myself, figuring that I would learn as I went.

Along the way, other blogs have appeared: blogs about maps, mapping and cartography; blogs about the geospatial industry; blogs about Google Maps; blogs about Google Earth. Many of them are very good, and are written by people who know what they’re talking about. Some generate more traffic and revenue than I do here. But they cover a differnet niche. I simply can’t cover the geospatial industry as well as someone who actually works in it, and there’s too much about mashups and Google Earth to cover them and everything else. I’m relieved that there are other people there to do a better job of it.

Continue reading this entry.

Macworld on GPS and the Mac

An article about using GPS with a Mac from the current (September 2007) issue of Macworld. If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you will know that this is a subject dear to my heart. The article is brief but covers the basics: hardware, how to connect it, what software you can use (which usually involves booting into Windows on the Mac or using a third-party solution — but it’s better than it once was).

A Third of Britain Can’t Read a Map

One third of British motorists cannot read a basic road map, according to a survey of 1,000 adults undertaken by an insurance company.

Over a third of motorists struggled to read a four-figure grid reference and a staggering 83 per cent failed to identify the “motorway” map symbol. … One in six (16 per cent) UK drivers no longer keep a map in their car, with the majority (63 per cent) admitting to only keeping out of date maps in the car. When tested on their map reading skills, only 1 per cent would pass the Cub Scout Map Reader badge, which is aimed at 6 to 17 year olds.

The survey’s purpose was to see whether the use of satellite navigation systems was linked to a loss of map reading skills. Despite the general thrust of the article, I don’t think that’s the case — not because the systems are owned by so few people, but because there’s no indication, at least from this article, that it had once been better and has since gotten worse. Typically, it never was what it once was.

Update, 8:03 AM: Coverage from the Daily Mail, which contains the symbols that survey respondents couldn’t identify. It’s more a question of whether Britons can read Ordnance Survey maps, isn’t it? Via All Points Blog, which wonders why an insurance company conducted this survey. Answer: because they’re worried about people crashing their cars because they were obeying their satellite navigation systems.

Update, 8/12: “I doubt actually that people could ever recognise this symbols in the first place, PND’s and in-car SatNavs have not made people less map literate, they were never map literate in this way in the first place,” says Ed Parsons, who blames a slow news month.

Custom Globes and Contested Geographies

You’re no doubt familiar with the controversies about what gets depicted on a map: disputed territories, disputed names (e.g. Persian Gulf vs. Arabian Gulf, Sea of Japan vs. East Sea). Here’s an interesting article from the International Herald Tribune that talks about it from the perspective of an Italian maker of custom globes: “For mapmakers like Nova Rico, disputes over geography are commonplace. For a Turkish customer, Cyprus is shown split in two, a division that Greek Cypriots do not recognize. In one globe, Chile gets parts of Antarctica that on another globe go to Argentina. And in much of the Arab world, Israel is nonexistent.”

The Rebirth of the Sterling Map Collection

When Forbes Smiley was caught red-handed three years ago, it was at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, but it was the map collection at the nearby Sterling Memorial Library — and the state of disrepair of its catalogue — that caused the most fallout after Smiley’s arrest. An article in the current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine outlines the state of affairs at the Sterling map collection three years ago, and the changes that have taken place since, in terms of cataloguing and staffing, and in terms of digitizing a map collection some of the constituent parts of which simply cannot be priced. And let’s not forget security:

Today, Sterling and its storage space have been renovated. No one sees any of Sterling’s rare maps without first signing a form and listing the map requested. Patrons can see only one item at a time, and only while they themselves are under constant surveillance by two video cameras. Two full-time catalogers are now at work in the collection, and the 11,000 rarities are their main charge.

Via MapHist.

Previously: Forbes Smiley and Cortés’s Map; Theft Roundup: Yale Security Measures; European Libraries; Reese Donates $100K to Yale for Map Digitization; Yale Issues Statement About Smiley Investigation; Libraries Suspect Smiley in More Map Thefts; Yale’s Missing Maps; Forbes Smiley Case: Fallout at Yale’s Beinecke Library.

Google Maps: Ad Layer, Geocoding, Rush Hour Traffic

A few items about Google Maps, some of which of interest to developers, others to everyone.