December 2008

The Boston Globe’s Year in Maps

The Boston Globe’s Drake Bennett takes a look back at the year in maps; I spoke to Drake a while back about potential items for this article, some of which made it into the final product. Highlights include local stories, CNN’s “magic wall,” Mark Newman’s election cartograms, and Cassini’s mapping of Titan. Via All Points Blog.

‘All Over the Map’ in Sheboygan, Wisconsin

At the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, from February 15 to May 10, 2009, All Over the Map is one of four exhibitions that are part of the Center’s “Journeys” series. This exhibition “focuses on rare historical maps from prestigious collections, including the American Geographical Society Library and contemporary works by artists who use mapping techniques in two- and three-dimensional works to chart faraway lands and fantastic places as well as their own lives and thoughts,” says this Sheboygan Press article.

Using Stereophotoclinometry to Map the Solar System

The New York Times profiles Dr. Robert W. Gaskell, who is working on producing topographic maps of various planets and moons of the solar system.

Just now Dr. Gaskell is mapping all of Mercury and eight moons of Saturn. He also has a NASA contract to do part of a topographical map of Earth’s Moon, and he is working on a project to refine his model of the near-Earth asteroid Eros. He has made 12,000 overlay “maplets” of Eros from images produced by the NEAR spacecraft at the turn of the century. In all, NEAR made 160,000 digital images, and “I’m doing 1,000 at a time,” Dr. Gaskell said.
Dr. Gaskell calls what he does “stereophotoclinometry.” Ideally he needs at least three images of the target landscape, usually taken by an orbiting spacecraft or a probe on a flyby to another destination. Only in rare cases can telescope images provide enough detail.
The sun angle must be different for each exposure so each image shows different shadows. By comparing the shadows, the software calculates slopes, which yield the altitudes of target features. The computer solves the equation in three dimensions, producing a patchlike topographical maplet.

Via Slashdot.

Google vs. MapQuest: Search Results Boosting Map Traffic?

Google Maps’s traffic is rapidly closing in on MapQuest, and a MapQuest executive is alleging that it’s because Google Maps gets favourable placements from Google search results, Investor’s Business Daily reports. Search engines send their users to their own mapping services, which is problematic for MapQuest — not a lot of people use AOL’s search engine. (This puts a new spin on MapQuest’s differentiation between Google’s search-based traffic and its own.) The question is whether or not this means that Google is fighting dirty, as the MapQuest exec alleges, or whether a search engine-map service combo owes its competition any favours. Read the article and let me know what you think in the comments. Via All Points Blog.

The Natures of Maps

The Natures of Maps (thumbnail) John Krygier has nice things to say about The Natures of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of the Natural World, by his colleague, Denis Wood (Krygier and Wood co-authored Making Maps) and John Fels, and reprints the blurb he wrote for the book. The Natures of Maps sounds quite interesting, taking Wood’s usual argument about maps as arguments and applying it to maps that are, more than others, expected to provide a passive view of reality. “The book confronts nature on maps — nature as threatened, nature as threatening, nature as grandeur, cornucopia, possessable, as a system, mystery, and park — with intense slow readings of exemplary historical and contemporary maps, which populate this full color, beautifully illustrated and designed book,” Krygier writes in the blurb. “The careful interrogation of maps reveals that far from passively reflecting nature, they instead make sustained, carefully crafted, and precise arguments about nature.”

Previously: A Book Roundup.

Mapping Rats in New York

The City of New York’s health department has, since last November, been mapping the city’s rat population in an effort to get a better handle on its rodent control efforts. Time has an article:

Today, rodent complaints by residents from all over New York are electronically pinpointed on the city’s computerized rat map, which allows inspectors to track complaints and hot spots over time and determine how well rat-control efforts are working. The results, after just one year, should be music to the ears of most New Yorkers: when the pilot study began in the Bronx, inspectors found active rat signs on 3,100 of the borough’s 39,000 properties. Preliminary results now show that 1,250 of those properties are rat-free. That’s a 40% drop-off in infestations.

The map itself can be accessed via the city’s Rat Information Portal; you may have some issues accessing it, and the interface is familiarly clunky. Via Cartophilia, among others.

Making Maps with Unfit Data

Charlie Frye has an interesting post up on the ESRI Mapping Center blog about the challenge of having to make a map with “unfit” data. “Unfit data will never work to make a good map. It’s a fact,” he writes. “My colleagues on this project, beyond being very good at their jobs, were undeterred realists. They knew the data wasn’t perfect; it’s all we had. In their view it was more important to get our work done than to fret over not having a beautiful map. Further, if I, the cartographer, couldn’t fix it, then that was an even better excuse than any of them not being able to fix it.”

The Death Map

Death map (thumbnail Researchers from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, have mapped mortality from natural hazards in the United States; using data from 1970 to 2004, their research showed that “chronic” natural hazards like severe seasonal weather and heat waves were far more likely to kill people than more dramatic events like hurricanes and earthquakes. (Disease and accidents are even more likely to kill you, by an order of magnitude or two.) Coverage: LiveScience, New Scientist. Via Andrew Sullivan, Huffington Post.

India’s Mapping Panic Continues

Last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai have apparently triggered India’s long-simmering moral panic about maps, satellite imagery and security in general, and Google Earth in particular. A petition has been filed before the Bombay High Court demanding a ban on Google Earth and similar services because the gunmen used satellite imagery to plan the attacks. They also used GPS, satellite and cellular phones, BlackBerrys — and, oh yes, boats — but no one seems to be calling for them to be banned.

The Times has more; Stefan does his usual excellent job demolishing and fact-checking the petition and the news coverage: “Forcing Google to make imagery of India inaccessible to users of Google Earth in India would mean that everyone but people in India could access the imagery. Considering that the planning for the attacks likely took place outside India, such a ban would have achieved nothing, security-wise. And let’s not forget that people sophisticated enough to use VOIP to coordinate their attacks are also likely to know about proxy servers.” From what I gather from this Washington Post article, the issue isn’t that the attackers were technologically sophisticated, it’s that the Indian authorities aren’t.

Stefan advises not to take the petition too seriously. It’s worth noting, as the Times and Stefan do, that India is launching its own competitor to Google Earth, Bhuvan (which Stefan reported on last month), and, even if the Indian government censored the hell out of the available imagery, it’s a safe bet that the hotel district of Mumbai would have been available in exquisite detail, had Bhuvan been available at the time of the attacks.

Via (and see also) GeoCarta and My Wonderful World.

In related news, two GPS surveyors in Gujarat were arrested for “snooping around” collecting data for a mapping data provider. The anti-terrorist squad booked them under the Official Secrets Act for taking photos and video of an airport and an air force base, which is apparently bad. Via GeoCarta.

Previously: Maps Must Be Cleared by the Survey of India; Google Earth, India and Security — Again.

Four ‘Offbeat’ Atlases

The Art Atlas (cover) The Christian Science Monitor looks at four “offbeat” atlases, all published in 2008: two rather pricey atlases of architecture; The Art Atlas, which “explores how inspiring new art forms have traveled, from the cave drawings of ancient Europe and Egypt to contemporary digital art”; and an atlas for children entitled The Most Fantastic Atlas of the Whole Wide World. Via Here Be Dragons.

Nokia Maps 3.0 Beta

Nokia Maps 3.0 Beta (screenshot) I’m late in reporting this, so you probably already know that early this month Nokia announced a beta of version 3.0 of its Nokia Maps software. New features include pedestrian directions and terrain relief maps. Nokia’s maps are also available on the Web through its Ovi platform; the site does not support any Mac browsers, however, so I can’t tell you anything about them. Edward ventures a few thoughts. Lots of coverage: All About Symbian, AnyGeo, Engadget, The Economist, Mapperz.

Previously: Nokia 6220 Ad Touts Mapping Features; Nokia Maps 2.0 Beta; Nokia Maps.

Magellan Sells Consumer Products Division to MiTAC

GPS Tracklog and GPS Review are reporting that Magellan has sold its consumer products division — think the Maestro, RoadMate and Triton — to MiTAC, whose Mio subsidiary also makes consumer GPS products. Curiouser and curiouser. (Apparently Magellan has been struggling in the past few years, with plummeting market share, leadership departures, and delayed product releases.) No word on what MiTAC’s going to do with Magellan’s product lines; not much in the way of details at all so far this morning.

Real Estate Site Finds Google Maps 385% Faster

At the end of its two-year contract with Microsoft, real estate brokerage site Redfin went from a mix of Virtual Earth and Google Maps to Google Maps only. The reason? Google Maps renders pushpins a lot faster than VE, and a lot faster than it used to. “We did an evaluation and figured out a way to draw a large number of pushpins on GMaps very quickly. When we went with VE in 2006, GMaps was faster out of the box but slower once we started drawing on it, especially on IE6. … In the end, it was speed, speed, speed that convinced us to switch. In our worst case scenario of 500 pushpins on the map in IE6, GMaps is 385% faster” (emphasis mine). Via All Points Blog and Scobleizer.

Geotagging Comes to Blogger

Photos aren’t the only things that can be geotagged; blog entries can, too. (So can just about any discrete piece of information, for that matter; don’t be so un-2.0.) Anyway, Blogger has added geotagging to its “Blogger in Draft” interface — a sort of experimental testing ground for new features. A few known issues but appears on the surface to be quite full-featured, with a map interface, reverse geocoding, and GeoRSS support.

The Case of Farhad Hakimzadeh

Last month, an Iranian-born businessman pleaded guilty to 14 counts for the theft of maps, illustrations and other pages from rare books in the British and Oxford University libraries. Farhad Hakimzadeh, 60, is believed to have taken pages from 150 books between 1997 and 2005; the number was arrived at by checking some 842 books he had consulted during that period. He apparently inserted at least some of the pages into less-valuable copies of the same books in his own collection. Sentencing is now scheduled for January; Hakimzadeh may face prison. Another 20 charges are pending, and the British Library has launched a civil action against him as well. For details, see news coverage from the Guardian, the Independent and BBC News. Via MapHist.

Japan Map Exhibition in Munich

At the Gemini Gallery in Munich until December 31, an exhibition called Maps of Japan — Japan on Maps:

Benedetto Bordone published the earliest known printed map devoted to Japan worldwide 1528 in Venice based solely on the mention by Marco Polo. Only when Portuguese and later also Dutch seafarers reached the distant archipelago the maps became more realistic. The Dutch brought back not only their own observations, but also Japanese maps. On the other hand Japanese cartographers became influenced by maps imported from Europe. The resulting fascinating evolution of the geographical image of Japan will be demonstrated in our exhibition by almost 100 oriental and occidental maps from the 16th to the 19th century.

Via MapHist.

Google Earth Browser Plug-in Now Mac Compatible

What’s this? The Google Earth browser plug-in now works on Mac browsers (Safari 3.1, Firefox 3.0)? Now I’ll (finally) be able to view certain Web sites properly. Digital Earth Blog, Google Earth Blog. The combined Intel/PowerPC download is apparently 47 megabytes. Will report back anon.

Previously: Google Earth in a Web Browser.

Update, 12/4 at 7:45 AM: Well, it works.

Update, 10:00 AM: Google Geo Developers Blog announcement.

Mapping Phobos and Deimos

Phobos From a cartographic perspective, the problem with Mars’s two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, is that they are not in the least bit spherical or even spheroidal — they are quite bumpy and irregular. If you thought map projections were problematic before, well. The Planetary Society Blog reports on the use of architect Chuck Clark’s Constant Scale Natural Boundary (CSNB) map projection; the end result is something that Bucky Fuller might have come up with. The projection preserves proportions and splits along natural boundaries. The blog post includes a cutout map of Phobos (image at right) that can be made into a papercraft “globe”; this PDF file shows Deimos. Via MAPS-L.

Map Blog Update

The Atlas of True Names

Sample image from the Atlas of True Names

The Atlas of True Names “reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings,
of the familiar terms on today’s maps of the World and Europe.” Place names are replaced with their literal meanings. It’s fascinating — and some of the names are quite surprising. Coverage from the New York Times’s Lede Blog and Der Spiegel (auf Englisch); Language Log notes a number of disputed name origins — e.g., does “Yucatán” really mean “I don’t understand you”? — while Languagehat urges us not to nitpick but to enjoy the fun. And it does look like fun. World and Europe maps are available, in paper, at five bob apiece.

MapQuest: ‘Out of Hibernation’ or Muddling Through?

I’ve been seeing more than a few stories lately about some incremental improvements MapQuest has announced to its service, which befuddles those who think that the venerable mapping service isn’t doing nearly enough in response to its upstart competition (i.e., Google, but of course that includes Microsoft and Yahoo who aren’t standing still either). Now, Search Engine Land’s interview with two MapQuest VPs sheds some light on (1) what MapQuest has been doing all this time and (2) what (the hell) they’ve been thinking. As to the first point, they say they’ve been working on under-the-hood improvements. Mark Law, Vice President of Product Development:

During the last six months, MapQuest has come out of hibernation and is now firing on more cylinders and delivering more products. There were two things going on prior to that time period that explain our low profile. There was considerable effort working on our new back-end technology. It is based on completely new platform technologies that was consuming a fair bit [of] our effort. There was also a bit of miscalculation in that we didn’t do much that was visible to the user. In hindsight we should have been more visible but we knew we needed to get our house in order to do what we wanted to do. This is exemplified by the deliveries in the last four months. Every two weeks for the last four months we have delivered new functionality and features.

Fair enough (see recent posts on the MapQuest blog for announcements of said functionality and features). What I don’t get is what they say about their users and how that informs their strategy. Apparently their users are different from those of, say, Google’s, even though both are presumably looking for maps to destinations. Not only are they wary of radical changes, they’re different from Google’s. They see their audience as monetizeable — I guess they have to — and their users stick around and are more engaged with the site itself, whereas Google’s is there at the endpoint of a search query.

To be honest, I’m having a hard time following the plot in this interview; their strategy seems not only excessively conservative — hang on to that loyal user base — but also just a bit muddled. Google has built its success by sending people away from their site as quickly as possible — they get out of the way of what you’re looking for. If I understand them correctly, they’re trying to make MapQuest “stickier,” a destination in and of itself, which strikes me as not only hard (i.e., resource intensive from a content perspective), but also a distraction from the core service of, you know, producing maps to destinations. They do say they can’t lose sight of their core business, but there’s a real risk of cruft.

I’m not sure I see a clear strategy here, but I could be missing something. Any thoughts?

Via All Points Blog.

Previously: MapQuest Beta Plays Catchup; MapQuest Beta and Blog; Imagery Comes to MapQuest; MapQuest Upgraded; More About MapQuest’s Future; MapQuest’s Mobile Strategy; MapQuest at 10; AP: MapQuest and the Competition; What’s MapQuest Up To?

‘A Giant Animated Globe’

Science on a Sphere Science on a Sphere is seriously cool: “a room-sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six-foot-diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe.” Developed by NOAA researchers, there are now 29 of them installed in various facilities. Via GeoCarta, where Roger points to Science on a Sphere’s latest installation at the forthcoming National Museum of Surveying.

Even More Caricature Maps

Geographical Fun (Harvey): Scotland Also via MapHist, collections of caricature maps from a couple of libraries. The Library of Congress has scans of William Harvey’s Geographical Fun, circa 1868 (at right, from that book, Scotland). And a search of the University of Amsterdam Library’s map collection reveals a number of examples of the form.

Previously: Adidas’s Impossible Map; More Caricature Maps from World War I; A Japanese Caricature Map of the World; Angling in Troubled Waters.

Online Maps Share Same Zoom Levels

David Janes: “Did you know that Google Maps, Yahoo Maps and Virtual Earth all use the same map tile resolutions? That is, you can actually seamlessly switch between mapping systems and have everything line up exactly the same way.” Examples provided. Google has one wider zoom than the others; Yahoo lacks the two closest levels of Google and Virtual Earth. Via Global Nerdy.

The Growth of OpenStreetMap

This post on the UK edition of TechCrunch about OpenStreetMap, written by Ed Freyfogle, provides a pretty good overview of what it’s been up to and where it stands vis-à-vis other mapping providers. Here’s an interesting excerpt: “As the biggest commercial geodata providers Tele Atlas and NAVTEQ have been acquired, the intensity of their competition in (and focus on) major markets has increased. As a result in many parts of the developing world OSM is now the most comprehensive online mapping available.” OSM has come a long way since I first heard of it.