September 2010

Google Maps Errors and Disappearing Cities

When Google replaced map data from Tele Atlas with its own map data from a mix of sources (for the U.S. last October and for Canada last April), new errors proliferated. In some cases the wrong labels were applied — even now, if you go to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island in Google Maps, you’ll still see it’s labeled in Cyrillic. In others, physical features simply disappeared (fortunately, St-Pierre and Miquelon are now back on the map).

And in several cases, entire towns and cities either were misplaced or simply vanished from the map. In April, Jessamyn noticed that her town of Randolph, Vermont had been moved to the middle of Lake Champlain. Even though she reported it via the usual method (i.e., clicking on “Report a Problem”), nothing much happened until Techland reported the story, at which point, Jessamyn says, it was practically fixed in real time.

More recently, the case of Sunrise, Florida got widespread media attention, on CNN and elsewhere. Not only did the city’s name disappear, but searches for its local businesses returned results from Sarasota, about 200 miles to the northwest. This is apparently the third time that Sunrise disappeared from the map, and Sunrise is far from the only city that this has happened to. Google denies that it took the embarrassing media coverage to get it to get this fixed expeditiously, but not everyone is buying that. Via Geospatial News.

Google could have a real problem on its hands if enough people (a) don’t trust their map data and (b) don’t trust them to correct the mistakes in it. It’s not like they don’t have competition.

Street View: Live in Brazil, Ireland and Antarctica, Lambasted in Germany

Google Street View expanded again today, adding Brazil, Ireland and even a spot in Antarctica (Google Earth Blog, Google LatLong, Google Maps Mania, the Guardian).

Meanwhile, Germany remains one country where Street View is not to be found, even though Germans are the heaviest users of the service who don’t have it themselves. Even so, Der Spiegel reports, 100,000 Germans have asked Google to blur their homes in Street View when it launches there later this year (via Valleywag). Some Germans have even added photos of themselves to a map protesting Street View, which frankly baffles me (link in German; see Google Maps Mania, via which, for an English account).

Ordnance Survey: Digimaps for Schools

The Ordnance Survey Blog announces the OS’s Digimap for Schools service, which is set to replace the OS’s Free Maps for 11 Year Olds program (previously), which is closing down after this year. Maps are a mandatory part of the curriculum in England and Wales; I can’t help but wonder whether going digital is necessarily a good idea. (How much of the education system is computer-based nowadays?)

The New York Times on Gerrymandering

A feature in last Sunday’s New York Times takes a look (with great maps) at some of the more creatively gerrymandered congressional districts, and why they were done that way — everything from keeping the Hopi and the Apache in different districts to keeping Barack Obama out of a district he once sought election in. Plus the usual draw-the-districts-to-make-incumbents-safer chicanery.

Chinese iPhone 4’s Maps Are Censored and Hobbled

Stefan Geens has discovered that the Maps app on the Chinese version of the iPhone 4 shows the Chinese-censored version of Google Maps (e.g., with the “official” national boundaries approved by the Chinese government), whether or not the phone is being used in China. Stefan discovered this when he bought an unlocked iPhone 4 in China to upgrade from his existing iPhone 3GS:

On my 3GS, I knew exactly how the Maps app worked: If I went online in China without a VPN, the Google Maps dataset was an English-language version that nevertheless had borders which complied with Chinese law (i.e. they show Arunachal Pradesh as being Chinese). As soon as I turned on my VPN to tunnel into San Francisco, the refreshed base map automatically showed the proper international version, the one which the rest of the world gets to see. […]
But my new Chinese iPhone 4 does things differently, even though ostensibly it is meant to be running exactly the same software as my old phone. The Maps app always shows China’s borders as the Chinese government would have them — regardless of whether I use my VPN or not. If I take this phone to the U.S. or Europe, it will still show the same crippled, semi-fictional base map. And there is no way that I can change it.

Less-ominous but equally crippling quirks include Chinese placenames outside China, Canadian street names in Chinese-only, and no street names at all in other countries. Stefan is using the mobile web version of Google Maps as a workaround.

MapQuest Adds OSM for Four Countries

MapQuest Open — the variant of MapQuest launched in July that uses OpenStreetMap data — has expanded to four more countries: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. I hope that reflects a certain level of quality of the OSM maps in those countries. (Canada’s OSM maps, for example, are a long way from completion; MapQuest shouldn’t even think of expanding here for years.)

Previously: MapQuest Embraces OpenStreetMap.

Mapping Global Fine-Particulate Matter Levels

Map of global fine particulate matter

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is a form of air pollution that has been linked to a number of diseases like asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease, and is suspected as the cause of millions of premature deaths worldwide. Researchers at Dalhousie University have produced a long-term global map of PM2.5 using aerosols data from two NASA satellites and computer modelling.

Mapping: Memory and Motion in Contemporary Art

Mapping: Memory and Motion in Contemporary Art, an exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York (north of NYC),

features paintings, works on paper, sculptures, videos, a sound installation, and a live web terminal to address such themes as borders and boundaries, identity and colonialism, journeys—both real and imagined, memory and nostalgia, and tourism and travel.
Encompassing the stars, the land, and the built environment, Mapping explores various strategies that artists use to track their subjects, distilling them into art objects and activities that choreograph location through time and space. Many of the artists incorporate actual maps into their imagery while others emphasize the act of mapping itself. Still others explore new technologies like satellite imaging, the Internet, and specialized computer software.

The exhibition runs from October 3, 2010 to January 9, 2011.

The Arrival of Digital Cartography

Eunice 'Biki' Wilson, 1984

Cartographers were still using pen and paper in the 1980s, Penny reports. “I arrived at college in 1984 with my electric typewriter and a bit of BASIC learned in high school. I was a geography major, and learned to make maps in a cartography lab with vellum, ink, light tables, X-acto knives, and rub-on letters.” The above photo, of LSE Geography Department cartographer Eunice Wilson, was taken in 1984. Another photo from the LSE, also featured in Penny’s curated Flickr gallery of women and maps, shows computer-based cartography only two years later. Via Cartographie.

National Geographic Maps the Gulf of Mexico’s Oil Infrastructure

National Geographic map of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico

The October issue of National Geographic includes a map supplement that shows the Gulf of Mexico’s oil infrastructure; it doesn’t so much map the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as its context. A zoomable version is available online. The verso of the map, a poster showing the Gulf’s ecosystem, is also available online in an interactive version.

Maps at the Denver Public Library

The Denver Post takes a look at the map holdings of the Denver Public Library, which — in no small part due to the library’s former status as a federal repository — are apparently substantial. “If you’re feeling lost, head to the fifth floor of the downtown branch. It is home to a collection of about 18,000 maps: many historic, some aesthetically gorgeous, and most available for perusal by the general public — no appointment necessary. This being the computer age, many of the maps are being digitized and archived online.” Via Geospatial News and MAPS-L.

Debunking Google Earth Myths

Google Earth Design debunks myths about Google Earth: “Over beers a topic that often came up was misconceptions about Google Earth from those with no GIS or Google Earth experience, so I’ve put together my personal list of myth busting facts.” No surprise that there are plenty of misconceptions about Google Earth; my favourite is the assumption that the imagery is in real-time. Any others?

The Ordnance Survey’s Aerial Imagery

A post on the Ordnance Survey’s blog explains how they acquire and process aerial photography. “We have a large contract in place with external suppliers to supplement our own flying and photogrammetric production. This gives us the capacity to have to 6 planes flying on our behalf at any one time, allowing us to make best use of good weather conditions and process 60 000 to 70 000 sq km (more than a quarter) of Great Britain each year.”

Another OpenStreetMap Book

Book cover: OpenStreetMap (Bennett) Oh look: another forthcoming book about OpenStreetMap. Like the other one, it’s also called OpenStreetMap, which won’t be confusing at all, but the subtitle this time is Be Your Own Cartographer. It’s by Jonathan Bennett and it’s apparently scheduled for publication next month. Via OpenGeoData.

Previously: OpenStreetMap Book Now Available in English.

The Geospatial Revolution Project

Geospatial Revolution Project logo

I first heard about the Geospatial Revolution Project more than a year ago (see, for example, posts from Boing Boing and Google Maps Mania), but promptly lost it in the bowels of my very lengthy to-do list. Described as an integrated multimedia educational initiative exploring the use and impact of digital mapping, the Project would produce a series of web videos that would form, once finished, a 60-minute documentary. A five-minute trailer gave some idea of what was to come.

Today, the Project’s first episode (of four) went live. In less than 14 minutes it introduces the subject, sets out the origins of geospatial technology, and explores its use in disaster relief for the Haitian earthquake:

I was impressed by the very high production values and was amused to see a few familiar names (if not faces) on-screen. I’m also amazed at how much ground was covered in so little time; I can’t imagine what will come in the remaining segments. The next episode is scheduled for release on November 2; episode three will come out on February 1, 2011, with the final episode following on March 15.

Via All Points Blog and many other sources.

Reuters on Hand-Drawn Maps

Book cover: From Here to There This Reuters article on hand-drawn maps is already turning up in a number of newspapers and other media outlets. Broad in scope, it touches on two things of interest. First, the publication of the book of collected maps from the Hand Drawn Map Association, From Here to There, which is now available for purchase (see previous entry). And second, the imminent opening of an exhibition at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, curated by our friend Katharine Harmon, that includes maps solicited by a call for submission from the HDMA. You Are Here: Mapping the Psychogeography of New York City runs from September 24 to November 6. Via Geospatial News.

OpenStreetMap Book Now Available in English

Book cover: OpenStreetMap OpenGeoData reports that Frederik Ramm, Jochen Topf and Steve Chilton’s OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World, a book that was first published in German (of course) in 2008 and has since gone through three (German) editions, is now available in English. Now that I’ve gotten my hands dirty with OSM, I’m very much interested in this book (wonder how it’ll compare to OSM’s online documentation).

Visualizing Sea Ice

A Snapshot of Sea Ice

This image of sea ice at the North Pole is not a photo. It’s compiled from microwave data gathered by the Aqua satellite’s AMSR-E microwave sensor. “Ice emits more microwave radiation than water, making regions of the ocean with floating ice appear much brighter than the open ocean to the AMSR-E sensor. This difference allows the satellite to capture a sea ice record year-round, through cloud cover and the months of polar night.” The data for this image was collected on September 3; the annual minimum will take place later this month. Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

A Book Roundup

Bookslut’s Colleen Mondor reviews three map-related books for her September column: Michael Trinklein’s Lost States (reviewed here in July 2008); The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories by Val Ross, a young-adult look at mapmakers from Mercator to Pearsall; and Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline.

The Collins Maps Blog announces the availability of The Times Atlas of Britain (previously) and the fifth edition of the mid-range Times Reference Atlas of the World. (See this post for the differences between the Times atlases.)

Geoweb Guru reviews Adam DuVander’s Map Scripting 101, a “comprehensive introduction to web mapping that relies on the Mapstraction open source library.”

Garmin to Exit Smartphone Market?

In an interview with Reuters, Garmin CFO Kevin Rauckman said sales of Garmin’s mobile phones have been below expectations and that if the situation does not improve within a couple of quarters, Garmin will “have to sit back and evaluate that and consider making the best decision for our business” — i.e., withdraw from that market. Via GPS Tracklog.

Previously: GPS Tracklog Reviews the Garminfone; Gadling Reviews the Garminfone.

Christchurch Quake Map

The Christchurch Quake Map is an animated map that “aims to present a time-lapse visualisation of the earthquake and its aftershocks, primarily to help those outside the affected area understand what those of us in Canterbury are experiencing. It plots earthquake data from GeoNet on a map using the Google Maps API, with the size of the circle denoting the magnitude (the higher the magnitude, the larger the circle) and the colour showing the focal depth (see the legend below the map).” Via Collins Maps Blog.

MapQuest, Playing Catchup, Offers Map Embedding

Recent updates to MapQuest include the ability to embed a map in your web page with a bit of HTML. I’m not sure whether to be pleased to see this feature at last or to be depressed that it took so long: even the Ordnance Survey has had embeddable maps since April.

Update, Sept. 8: Josh Babetski of MapQuest sends this correction: “MapQuest has had an embeddable maps feature for years, the feature was simply ported over to the new UI. Our blog post on it should have been more clear about the distinction, apologies for that.”

Two by Denis Wood

Rethinking the Power of Maps (book cover) Everything Sings (book cover)

The Making Maps blog has an excerpt of Denis Wood’s new book, Rethinking the Power of Maps (previously). In Chapter 1, available as a PDF file, Wood argues provocatively that there were no maps before 1500 — making a distinction between maps in the modern sense, made in the modern way, and descriptive illustration. Definitely worth a read. (It’s also available on the publisher’s page for the book.)

Meanwhile, another book from Denis Wood is coming: Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas. “Surveying Boylan Heights, his small neighborhood in North Carolina, he subverts the traditional notions of mapmaking to discover new ways of seeing both this place in particular and the nature of place itself. Each map attunes the eye to the invisible, the overlooked, and the seemingly insignificant. From radio waves permeating the air to the location of Halloween pumpkins on porches, Wood searches for the revelatory details in what has never been mapped or may not even be mappable. In his pursuit of a ‘poetics of cartography,’ the experience of place is primary, useless knowledge is exalted, and representation strives toward resonance.” Press release.

Louis XIV’s Scale Models

French 3d model I always enjoy reading Jeffrey Murray’s articles in Fine Books and Collections magazine, and his latest, on the three-dimensional scale models made of military fortifications and cities for Louis XIV and his successors, is no exception: it’s a fascinating look at a way of visualizing places in three dimensions that began two centuries before 19th-century bird’s-eye city illustrations. Via MapHist.

Previously: The Making of the Atlantic Neptune; World War I Trench Maps.

Rebecca Krinke Maps Joy and Pain

The University of Minnesota’s UMNews on Rebecca Krinke’s public art installation, Unseen/Seen: The Mapping of Joy and Pain:

On the surface (both literally and figuratively) Rebecca Krinke’s latest public art piece is simply a giant laser-cut map of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But once she added in two types of colored pencils — gold and gray —and let local citizens color in their personal places of joy and pain, it became something much more.
The map has turned into a sociology experiment of sorts and a sounding board for people’s emotions: hope and despair, contentment and anger, love and hate.

Via Geospatial News.

Navteq Unveils Landmark-Based Navigation

At the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin today, Navteq announced a new form of voice navigation called Natural Guidance:

NAVTEQ Natural Guidance leapfrogs today’s linear navigation instructions — e.g. “turn right in 50 meters on Kurfürstendamm” — by guiding the way humans instruct each other, through descriptions of orientation points such as distinctive points of interest and landmarks — e.g. “turn right after the yellow shop” or “turn right at the traffic signal.” Research shows consumers desire more intuitive and practical directions because it is easier to follow and allows the user to keep their eyes on the road. NAVTEQ Natural Guidance enables applications to use recognizable and easily understandable points of reference close to the decision point to highlight the next maneuver.

Landmark-based navigation isn’t the only way people navigate. I’m probably highly weird in that I tend to navigate by streets and highway markers, not by landmarks — I’m not going to turn left at the Wendy’s because I’m not looking for or at restaurants when I drive. Having said that, people who navigate like me — all 12 of us — are already well served by voice-based turn-by-turn directions. I imagine that people who use landmarks will much prefer this sort of navigation — assuming Navteq can get it working properly.

It’s available for eight cities so far, with plans to expand. No word in the press release about the devices on which Natural Guidance will be available. Via CNet.

Hodder Wants Your Map ‘Doodles’

Hodder Geography is running a map doodle competition: they want entrants to draw “your own map of your world, real or imagined,” scan it and send it in. Via Thierry Gregorius.

Not the first hand-drawn map competition, not by a long shot — I may have to create a new category. Previously: Mapplers, an Online Atlas of Hand-Drawn Maps, Seeks Contributors; Slate Receives Hand-Drawn Maps; Slate Wants Hand-Drawn Maps; Londonist Wants Hand-Drawn Maps; Hand-Drawn Map Assoociation Book and Contest.

The United States of Star Wars

The United States of Star Wars

The United States of Star Wars assigns a planet from the Star Wars universe to each state (list here), which then illustrated appropriately. According to the creator, Rebecca Crane, “Planets were assigned based on partial terrain, landmarks that correlate with the planet and state, types of people in the state and planet, famous landmarks, or slightly randomly selected (but loosely based on facts) from my brother and myself.” Some choices may raise eyebrows (especially South Carolina). Via

GPSMAP 62 and 78 Reviewed

As I understand it, the Garmin GPSMAP 62 and 78 series, like their 60-series and 76-series predecessors, are essentially the same under the skin, except that the 76 series is for marine use (and floats). GPS Information reviews them both. Via GPS Tracklog.

Previously: GPS Tracklog Reviews the Garmin GPSMAP 62s; Reviews the Garmin GPSMAP 62.