2017 in Numbers

Number of blog entries posted: 386 (including this one).

Five most popular posts published in 2017: (1) The Medieval Fantasy City Generator (27 Jul); (2) World Life Expectancy (28 Dec); (3) ‘They Just Wanted to Fix Some Things About the State Borders’ (13 Oct); (4) Mapping the August 2017 Solar Eclipse (21 Jul); (5) The Territory Is Not the Map (27 Sep).

Two posts from 2016 that would have made the top five: Streetwise Maps Is Apparently Closing (31 Aug 2016); Mapping Star Trek (15 Sep 2016).

Least popular post published in 2017: Deadline Extended for Corlis Benefideo Award Nominations (4 Apr).

Books reviewed: 5.

Books received in 2017 that are still in my to-review queue: 1.

Bestselling book: Picturing America by Stephen J. Hornsby (my review).

Top five countries by page views: (1) United States; (2) United Kingdom; (3) Canada; (4) Netherlands; (5) Germany.

Countries generating a single page view in all of 2017: Afghanistan, Åland Islands, Angola, Bhutan, Côte d’Ivoire, Faroe Islands, French Polynesia, Grenada, Guyana, Liberia, Sint Maarten, Somalia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vatican City.

A Digital Cartographer Tries Drawing by Hand

John M. Nelson

Fresh from trying to replicate hand-drawn effects (or even papercut effects) digitally, John M. Nelson has crossed over and begun attempting actual hand-drawn maps. Here he documents how he created a hand-drawn map as a Christmas present; here he gives hillshading by hand a try.

Previously: Five Years of DroughtCartographers’ StoriesThe Earth at Night, Updated.

Early Radar Maps of Antarctica Digitized

Nature: “Glaciologists will soon have a treasure trove of data for exploring how Antarctica’s underbelly has changed over nearly half a century. An international team of researchers has scanned and digitized 2 million records from pioneering aeroplane radar expeditions that criss-crossed the frozen continent in the 1960s and 1970s. […] The digitized data extend the record of changes at the bottom of the ice sheet, such as the formation of channels as Antarctica’s ice flows, by more than two decades.” (Modern radar mapping of Antarctica apparently only began in the 1990s.) [WMS]

U.S. Wildfire Causes, 1980-2016

Jill Hubley has mapped the causes of wildfires in the United States from 1980 to 2016, based on Federal Wildland Fire Occurrence Data. The map toggles between main causes (human and natural) and specific cause; there’s also a chart ranking the causes.

The highest and lowest ranked causes are highlighted when the chart loads. These represent the cumulative ranking across all years. Lightning, a natural cause, often floats to the top, but that’s only because on the human side, the vote is split between more than twenty options. Lightning doesn’t predominate in all states, though. In Alabama, the number one cause is pyromania. In Indiana, it’s brakeshoes. In Minnesota, it’s field burning. There are a couple of overall trends, too. Smoking is going down as a cause, and powerlines are going up.

[CityLab/Benjamin Hennig]

Canadian Geographic’s (and Chris Brackley’s) Best Maps

Canadian Geographic

Canadian Geographic looks at the best maps it published in 2017. It did the same in 2016 and in 2015. The funny thing about the maps in these year’s-best posts is that they’re all by CG’s in-house cartographer, Chris Brackley, who the RCGS is clearly glad to have on board—and based on what I can see of his work, they should be.


Cat Rambo livetweeted some of the good bits from the online class on creating fantasy maps she taught with Alex Acks and Paul Weimer earlier this month (see previous entry), using the #mappingfantasy hashtag. Most of those good bits were common sense worldbuilding advice; by and large the intended audience is authors creating their fantasy worlds. They’re the ones who benefit most from basic geological or geographical advice, such as:

Other tips would be familiar to cartography students.

Here’s a point that makes sense from a worldbuilding perspective, but it has led to the cliché that every point on the map has to be visited:

On the other hand, there were some subversive bits that are so prosaic and pregnant with meaning that I’d love to know the context.

Examples of Multivariate Maps

Jim Vallandingham looks at multivariate maps:

There are many types of maps that are used to display data. Choropleths and Cartograms provide two great examples. I gave a talk, long long ago, about some of these map varieties.

Most of these more common map types focus on a particular variable that is displayed. But what if you have multiple variables that you would like to present on a map at the same time?

Here is my attempt to collect examples of multivariate maps I’ve found and organize them into a loose categorization. Follow along, or dive into the references, to spur on your own investigations and inspirations!

Jim’s examples of maps that display more than one variable include 3D maps, multicolour choropleth maps, multiple small maps, and embedded charts and symbols. Useful and enlightening.

Hurricanes and Aerosols

NASA Goddard

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center produced this visualization, based on computer modelling and data from Earth observing satellites, tracking how hurricanes transport sea salt, dust, and smoke across the globe.

During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK.

Video at the link, or here’s the YouTube version. [APOD/Kottke]

The Invention of Frisland

Nicolo Zeno and Girolamo Ruscelli, Septentrionalivm partivm nova tabvla, 1561.

Atlas Obscura has the odd and fascinating story of how a Venetian named Nicolò Zeno created an island in the middle of the North Atlantic called Frisland, in an apparent attempt to claim that Venetian explorers had discovered the New World. After it appeared on Zeno’s 1558 map, it persisted on other maps for a century afterward (it was even claimed for England in 1580), and the existence of Frisland itself was not fully debunked for a long time after that. “The answer to Zeno’s enduring success lies not with his works, but with his audience. For centuries, people believed Zeno because they wanted to believe him. That was Zeno’s true stroke of genius. He created a story too tantalizing for people to ignore.”

Google’s Map Data Alchemy

Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.

…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]

This is bonkers, isn’t it?

Google is creating data out of data.

This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.

Map Fonts

Siyu Cao

Lakeside, released in May 2013, is a font inspired by topographical maps. The brainchild of Siyu Cao, Lakeside “is a typeface inspired by natural forms and topography. Letter forms are defined by positive and negative space, which could be compared to mountains (positive) and lakes (negative) in nature. The design is based on the language of cartography and the 3D visualization of the typeface follows the contours of each letter. The typeface could be further integrated with architecture, creating green public space that can be read from high above.” It’s not available for download—was this a proof of concept?—and it’s rather hard to see how it could be used in the real world. [A Map a Day]

OldFonts.com has a number of fonts inspired by the lettering on old maps whose licenses are relatively affordable; they remind me a bit of the IM Fell series of fonts (one of which I use for The Map Room’s wordmark).

But the font you use on your map should almost certainly not be so obviously mappy. There’s at least one font designed for maps. Back in 2005 I told you about Cisalpin, a humanist lineal font designed by Felix Arnold for use in cartography. It’s available for licensing on Linotype.

But that’s not to say that other fonts shouldn’t be used; here’s a Cartotalk thread from 2005 and another from 2011 that talk about the best fonts to use on maps.

More font-related links. Writing on the ArcGIS Blog in 2008, Aileen Buckley offered minimum size guidelines for text and symbols on maps, based on viewing distance and whether the map is printed or on a screen. Gretchen Peterson’s blog has a typography categoryTypeBrewer, a tool to explore typography in a mapmaking context that I told you about in 2008, is temporarily offline, unfortunately.

Two More Books for 2017

The year 2017 is almost at an end, but two more map books, published last month, have just come to my attention (via, as usual, the WMS’s indefatigable Bert Johnson). These, then, are very late additions to the Map Books of 2017 page:

Sad Topographies by Damien Rudd (Simon & Schuster), who “journeys across continents in search of the world’s most joyless place names and their fascinating etymologies.” This appears to be an outgrowth of the author’s sadtopographies Instagram account.2

New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map by Matthew W. Wilson (University of Minnesota Press). “Seeking to bridge a foundational divide within the discipline of geography—between cultural and human geographers and practitioners of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—Wilson suggests that GIS practitioners may operate within a critical vacuum and may not fully contend with their placement within broader networks, the politics of mapping, the rise of the digital humanities, the activist possibilities of appropriating GIS technologies, and more.”

Some Maine Atlas and Gazetteer Humour

A satirical news website based in Maine would inevitably have a bit on the venerable Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. So here’s New Maine News:

Dixmont native Don Adams’ beloved Maine Atlas and Gazetteer was unable to complete the trip from Dixmont to Eustis yesterday. […]

Outside of Solon on Route 201, the Gazetteer shuddered in Sarah’s hands before evaporating into the heated air of the Adams’ 2008 Ford F-150. The particles were “finer than baby powder,” she said.

“It made a sound like a sigh, of relief almost, and then it was gone,” Don said.

Don bought the Gazetteer in 1989 during a family trip to Bangor to go school shopping for the kids. The Gazetteer was predeceased by seven different vehicles.

The Adams were left completely without navigational tools, due to Don’s TracPhone being a simple flip-style.