July 2009

‘A Rough Guide of Our Surroundings on a Scrap of Paper’

Writing for the Courier-Mail, Kathleen Noonan conflates map literacy with the ability to draw your own map. Responding to the tendency to go to an online map and print something out instead of sketching a quick map on a napkin or something, she writes, “What is happening to our senses? Can we not put a rough guide of our surroundings on a scrap of paper?” She then goes on to connect this with the ability to read a map, which I just don’t buy. That’s separate from the paper-vs.-pixels debate. Maybe not the best segue in an essay that’s actually all over the map, if you’ll pardon the expression. Via GeoCarta.

Personally, I think that if people print out a map from MapQuest or Google Maps, it’s not because they’re cartographically illiterate, it’s because it’s easier and they get a better, more accurate map — it’s not their geographic literacy that’s at issue, but their draftmanship.

Three Thousand

Possibly worth mentioning: this is the 3,000th post I’ve made to The Map Room — six years and four months since the first entry went up at the beginning.

It’s funny: the longer I do this, the less I have to say at each milestone. (Compare my laconicism now with my verbosity at post number two thousand, or this blog’s sixth anniversary versus its fifth.) I suppose that means it’s just “steady as she goes” at this point: no further navel-gazing required. Onward.

Declassified Satellite Images Show Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

Barrow, Alaska (USGS)

Earlier this month, previously classified images showing the dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice were released by the U.S. government. The one-metre-resolution images were taken by spy satellites on behalf of scientists studying climate change who were looking for images of Arctic sea ice during the summer, but the images were deemed “unsuitable for release” before now. The images are available here in raw form, with posters available here. News coverage: the Guardian, Reuters. Via Universe Today and Elizabeth Hand.

Reactions to Google Latitude on the iPhone

There’s a lot of web commentary trying to figure out why Apple rejected Google’s Latitude as a standalone application (which might have allowed for background processes and real-time updating), restricting it to a web application accessed via the browser (see previous entry). David Coursey calls it “hamstrung,” particularly in comparison to Latitude on other smartphones; Pete Mortensen suspects that AT&T is to blame.

Cartastrophe, a Blog About Bad Maps

Cartastrophe is a blog by Daniel Huffman that critiques bad maps:

There are a lot of bad maps out there. They lurk in brochures, on company websites, and in magazines. They confuse, they miscommunicate, and they make it hard to learn anything about the world. Sometimes they leave off Sicily. They’re made by people who have to rush against tight deadlines, by people who are pressured by their bosses to make bad design choices because it “looks cool,” and by people who were thrust into map-making jobs without any training.
I don’t hate these people. This site is not about attacking them. It’s about poking fun at their work, analyzing what went wrong. It’s never personal. A lot of work goes into making maps, even disastrous ones, and I have a good deal of respect for the people who go through it. I’m one of them, and I proudly feature one of my own works on this blog as an example of a few things not to do.

He does try to say at least one nice thing about each map.

Previously: GIS Web Maps to Critique Web Mapping Applications.

Ohio Is a Piano

Ohio is a piano (screenshot) I don’t think I’ve encountered Andy Woodruff’s Cartogrammar blog before, but his latest entry, about his latest project, is a beaut: “Last month, as I was driving through Ohio,” he writes, “it dawned on me: There are 88 counties in this state. There are 88 keys on a piano. I don’t know anything about music, but holy crap, I have to make a map based on this coincidence.” The end result is a Flash map called Ohio is a piano:

The premise is simply that each of the 88 piano keys is assigned to a single Ohio county. How the keys are mapped to the counties depends on a specified data attribute: the notes and counties are ordered by that attribute and then linked to one another. For example, if the chosen attribute is population, the county with the lowest population is assigned the lowest-frequency piano key, the county with the highest population is assigned the highest-frequency piano key, and so on. The data I have here are a little out of date, but that doesn’t matter for demonstrating the idea.

This is a very, very strange way of presenting data, but as a piano player myself I have to confess that I can’t help but love it. Via Cartophilia.

3D Perspective Maps, Camera Trajectories Come to the Google Maps Flash API

Speaking of Google Maps APIs, the Google Maps API for Flash now has three-dimensional perspective maps. “We’ve taken the regular API, added pitch and yaw, borrowed the look-around control from Google Earth, and thrown in some nifty camera trajectory support,” says Mike Jones on the Google Geo Developers Blog. That entry also includes a demonstration (also available here) which, I have to admit, is pretty neat. Here’s the documentation. Via googlemapsapi.

Northern Strategy Map Omits Northern Communities

Canada's Northern Strategy (thumbnail) A map illustrating the Canadian government’s northern strategy is drawing fire for leaving out Inuit communities in northern Quebec and Labrador, the Vancouver Sun reports: “while dozens of communities are identified in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the map does not pinpoint any of the 20 Inuit towns and villages in northern Quebec and Labrador.” The president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami raised a fuss, and the government is promising to correct the map. The Sun cites the fact that the federal government has special authority over the territories that it lacks over northern regions of the provinces as one reason for the map being the way it is. Via AnyGeo.

Macsense Geomet’r GNC-35 GPS Receiver

Macsense Geomet'r GNC-35 GPS Receiver Jon Bauer’s review of the Macsense Geomet’r GNC-35 GPS Receiver first appeared a year ago and has been reposted in several locations, but I only stumbled across it now on the Flickr Geotagging group. The GNC-35 connects to higher-end Nikon and Fuji digital SLRs through the PC terminal (i.e., it won’t work on my D90, but it will work on a D300), which makes it a part of a very crowded market segment (i.e., Nikon-compatible geotaggers).

Rethinking Maps

Book cover: Rethinking Maps (thumbnail) Via MAPS-L, news of a new book of essays on cartography: Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory, edited by Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchin and Chris Perkins. “This book,” says the publisher,

presents a diverse set of approaches to a wide range of map forms and activities in what is presently a rapidly changing field. It employs a multi-disciplinary approach to important contemporary mapping practices, with chapters written by leading theorists who have an international reputation for innovative thinking. Much of the new research around mapping is emerging as critical dialogue between practice and theory and this book has chapters focused on intersections with play, race and cinema. Other chapters discuss cartographic representation, sustainable mapping and visual geographies. It also considers how alternative models of map creation and use such as open-source mappings and map mash-up are being creatively explored by programmers, artists and activists. There is also an examination of the work of various “everyday mappers” in diverse social and cultural contexts.

Latitude Comes to the iPhone, Work Stops on Whereyougonnabe

Two items from the world of location services:

The Passing of the Navigator

The National Post’s Peter Kenter bemoans the passing of the skilled road navigator, from an era when “a driver or a passenger who was particularly skilled at reading maps was an important asset on any road trip. Born with an eagle eye, the navigator could watch a highway disappear into a local street, roll around a giant traffic circle with a historic fountain in the middle of it, then re-emerge as a secondary route, just outside of town.” Google Maps and personal navigation devices are apparently spoiling the fun — except, perhaps, for that apparently tiny minority who ventured forth with no ability to read a map, and who managed to get lost with no help from an onboard computer. Sounds more than a bit apocryphal. Via GeoCarta.

GPS Review on Navigon MobileNavigator for iPhone

Hot on the heels of their review of AT&T Navigator for iPhone (see previous entry), GPS Review has a review of the North American version of Navigon MobileNavigator for iPhone. The notable difference between the two: Navigon’s app stores maps on the iPhone instead of downloading them over the network — which, the review notes, has its pros and cons in terms of storage (1.2 GB!), battery life and (on the other hand) the ability to use it in network dead zones. It’s also a one-time purchase rather than a subscription (normally $99, introductory price $69). One neat feature noted: address book integration.

Previously: GPS Review on AT&T Navigator for iPhone; Expensive iPhone Navigation Apps: Navigon’s MobileNavigator.

Update, July 23: Engadget has a hands-on look: they like the onboard maps but note its heavy battery use; it also goes offline if you get a call.

Update, July 25: The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s look.

A Map of a Balkanized Western Europe in 2020

Microstate Madness: Europe in 2020 Coming Anarchy speculates about a balkanized western Europe in 2020 — with a map, of course. “It is purely speculative and in no way a firm prediction, but rather a sketch of the possibilities and list of the most likely cases. It is by no means exhaustive and you’ll notice seemingly obvious states such as Wales, Sicily, Crete and others are not listed.” Honestly, I wasn’t aware Normandy had a secessionist movement. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Previously: The Divided States of America; Redrawn Middle East Map Generates Controversy in Pakistan; The Middle East Redrawn; Question: What-If Political Boundaries?; Pearcy’s 38 States.

GPS Review on AT&T Navigator for iPhone

GPS Review has a huge, in-depth review of AT&T Navigator for iPhone, which costs $10/month and downloads its maps over a network connection. The latter point has some positive and negative implications:

[T]his means that the application relies on network availability for the app to work. Should you find yourself starting a trip in an area without network coverage you are simply out of luck until you drive to an area with network coverage. However I didn’t experience any issues while driving into an area with in and out network coverage — the app downloads maps ahead of time to help prevent that type of issue. Also your phone will spend more time using the network downloading maps as you drive along. This also seems to have a negative impact on battery life.

But downloading maps over the network does have one advantage over your usual in-car GPS unit: the maps never need updating.

Want a map update with a typical PND? That might set you back $50-$80 per year, but map updates are “included” with AT&T Navigator since the maps are not on-board and are downloaded to your phone as needed. Want live traffic reporting on your PND? While there are free options that are advertising based, other paid options can cost around $60 per year.

Previously: iPhone/iPod Touch Application Roundup.

Paul Morstad

Groundhog Meteorology by Paul Morstad (2006) Painter and illustrator Paul Morstad “looks to the details to see the bigger picture, turning his obsessions with maps, zoology and our ever-changing environment into art that would have even the least cartography-minded moving in for closer inspection,” Montreal’s Hour magazine reports. “Always on the lookout for old maps, he treats each one with gum shellac before painting, but they remain thin and delicate, more like an animal skin than canvas.” An exhibition of Morstad’s work entitled Fish and Bird is on display at the Wilder and Davis Gallery in Montreal until September 4. (At right: Groundhog Meterology, 2006.)

Douglas Rushkoff and Renaissance Cartography

Liberate the Mind has an excerpt from Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Life Inc., a history of corporatism, which has the following relevant passage (which opens by declaring that Prince Henry the Navigator was no navigator).

Royals went map crazy. Cartography was as much the rage in the Renaissance as MapQuest and Google Earth are today. Nearly every ship had a cartographer aboard to map new regions of the world and, of course, label them as belonging to whichever kingdom had chartered the voyage. Mapping a territory meant documenting one’s control of it — whatever the reality might have been on the ground. Eventually, the mapmaking fetish turned inward as well, as monarchs attempted to map the entirety of Europe and determine who owned exactly what. By 1427, a Danish cartographer working in Rome had developed the first known map of northern Europe. In 1507, the voyages of the Florentine seaman Amerigo Vespucci resulted in the first maps of “America,” showing two distinct continents separated from Asia.
With the physicality of the world represented in maps, and the exploitation of these maps arranged by charter, monarchs were at least two steps removed from the results of their actions — actions already undertaken with a cool logic defined by scientific rationalism. This disconnect characterized the colonial era, and determined the bias with which we treat our physical surroundings to this day. Place became property.

The Moon in Google Earth

Apollo 15 landing site in Google Earth

As anticipated, a 3D model of the Moon has been added to Google Earth on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. (See also Google Earth Blog.) Features include all kinds of content for the Apollo missions as well as terrain data and imagery from more recent surveys. I’m struck, actually, by how more fulsome the content seems for Mars; in the 37 or so years since human beings were last on the Moon, we don’t seem to have generated that much in terms of new content. Many areas are not in high resolution. I’m hopeful that imagery from the LRO and other new probes (SELENE videos are already there) will make a strong showing here (imagery from the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project wouldn’t be unwelcome, either). More Moon, please.

Nearest Subway Augmented Reality App for iPhone

“Augmented reality” superimposes computer graphics on real-world imagery; here’s a demo of a forthcoming application for the iPhone called New York Nearest Subway, which superimposes directions to nearby subway stops on top of imagery taken with the iPhone’s camera.

It and a similar app for London are apparently pending approval by Apple. Via Daring Fireball.

New Infrared Map of Venus Suggests Past Tectonic Activity

Venus's southern hemisphere A new infrared map of Venus’s southern hemisphere suggests that Venus may have been tectonically active at one point — oceans, volcanic activity and continents included. The map was compiled from more than a thousand images from an instrument on the European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe, and reveal regions where the surface emits heat at different wavelengths — an indication that they’re made up of different materials than the surrounding basalt. “The new map shows that the rocks on the Phoebe and Alpha Regio plateaus are lighter in color and look old compared to the majority of the planet. On Earth, such light-colored rocks are usually granite and form continents.” Via Astronomy and Universe Today. (Image credit: ESA/VIRTIS/INAF-IASF/Obs. de Paris-LESIA)

Vinland Map Not a Forgery: Researchers

The controversial Vinland Map has usually been dismissed as a modern forgery, but a Danish team led by Rene Larsen argues that tests on the map conducted over the past five years “do not show any signs of forgery.” The map has been carbon-dated to 1440 AD, which puts it a half-century before Columbus; Larsen’s research addresses the physicality of the map, such as the ostensibly anachronistic inks, rather than any anachronisms in, say, the handwriting. And here I thought the issue was settled. Via Map the Universe and Slashdot.

Previously: The Viking Deception.

iPhone/iPod Touch Application Roundup

MapQuest on the iPhone Some reviews of mapping applications for the iPhone and iPod touch. Peter reviews OffMaps, a $2 app (for the moment) that not only uses OpenStreetMap data, but also allows you to download the map data locally (handy if you’re trying to avoid hefty overseas roaming charges). The Unofficial Apple Weblog has a trio of posts about iPhone/iPod touch map applications: last month they looked at MapQuest 4 Mobile, which I’ve been playing with a bit; and earlier this month they looked at AT&T Navigator for iPhone, which costs $10/month (I told you iPod navigation is expensive), and Pocket Universe, which costs $3. Pocket Universe seems to be an iPhone/iPod touch take on the Celestron SkyScout (see previous entry): it uses the GPS, compass and accelerometer to figure out what’s where in the sky.

Previously: MapQuest Application for the iPhone; Moon Maps and Star Charts for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Smartphones vs. Standalone GPS Units

The New York Times’s Jenna Wortham raises the question: if you have a GPS-equipped smartphone, do you need a standalone GPS unit? And what will the near-ubiquity of GPS on smartphones do to the standalone GPS market? Wortham looks at the pros and cons of each option. Personally, I think the answer depends on how much GPS you need: some people with general needs will be happy with, for example, how the GPS works on the iPhone, especially since so much software can be written for it. But some people have more robust needs and will need a purpose-dedicated device.

Emily Yoffe on Her GPS: ‘A Cross Between Lady Macbeth and HAL 9000’

Everyone is pointing to the last paragraph of Emily Yoffe’s piece in The Washington Post about the perils of using a GPS, but there’s plenty of cringeworthy detail before that about the impact of being led astray by your dashboard GPS — especially when that impact is felt by many users on one spot:

We inaugurated our Magellan GPS on a family trip to Ikea. We were a little wary when the voice told us to take a left into a residential area — but we rationalized that this must be some fabulous shortcut known only to those with a friend attached to the dashboard by suction cup. After 10 minutes of twists and turns deeper into the neighborhood, we ended up on a street where our path was blocked by a couch (not from Ikea) with a sign propped on it announcing, “You Can’t Drive Through Here!” We realized the residents, sick of their quiet streets being turned into a NASCAR track by bargain furniture shoppers misled by GPS, had done their own public works modification.

Via Caitlin and MAPS-L.

Imperial Japanese Army Maps of the Asia-Pacific Region

A collection of maps from the Imperial Japanese Army archives is now online. Dating from the 1880s onward, the maps cover the Asia-Pacific region, and represent the IJA’s interest in mapping the entire region. “Until the end of World War II, the Japanese military created, copied and stole maps of the vast region stretching from Alaska to Australia, and from the Korean peninsula to Pakistan,” Agence France-Presse reports. Indeed, while the site is in Japanese, some of the maps are not — at least a few are Dutch maps of what is now Indonesia. Via All Points Blog.

Al Franken, Cartographer

Photo by Keith Ivey Al Franken, now the junior senator from Minnesota, has a hell of a party trick: he can draw, freehand and from memory, a map of the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. He’s been doing it for decades: Talking Points Memo and Cartophilia point to his 1987 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, in which he does it in less than two minutes. The YouTube video is of poor quality, and the trick doesn’t start until six and a half minutes in, so as an alternative, here he is doing it at a fundraiser in 2007:

I think his cartography has actually gotten better since 1987. (Photo credit: Keith Ivey.)

BLM Maps Potential Solar Energy Areas

Solar Energy Study Areas in Nevada (BLM) The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is looking into using federal lands for solar energy development, and has issued maps of six states showing the locations of so-called Solar Energy Study Areas where solar energy generation may be a possibility. “Only lands with excellent solar resources, suitable slope, proximity to roads and transmission lines or designated corridors, and containing at least 2,000 acres of BLM-administered public lands were considered for solar energy study areas. Sensitive lands, wilderness and other high-conservation-value lands as well as lands with conflicting uses were excluded.” CNet, press release.

The Web Goes Local

Clive Thompson’s piece on location services makes a point I was planning on making in a future piece, damn him, as he looks at how location services may transform the Web:

The whole reason the Web revolutionized the world was that it rendered geography irrelevant. People connected worldwide based not on location but on their common interests: Model-train collectors and free-speech activists and Britney Spears fans could swarm onto the discussion boards and blogs, from Chicago to Tehran. By severing the link between location and geography, the Internet turned everything upside down.
Now mobile phones are inverting everything again, in the other direction — because your location becomes most important thing about you. So how is the return of geography going to change our lives?

Via Bruce Sterling.

New Digital Elevation Model Covers 99 Percent of the Earth

ASTER imagery: Bhutan A new digital terrain map for the planet is now available. Based on imagery from the Japanese ASTER instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite, the new global digital elevation model covers 99 percent of the Earth’s landmass to a resolution of 30 metres; the previous digital elevation model, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, covered 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. The data itself is available here and here. See NASA’s press release plus sample images (one of which, showing the Himalayas in Bhutan, is reproduced at right). News coverage at Astronomy, BBC News and Universe Today. Via Gizmodo and MAPS-L.