The Best Map of Pluto Ever (Until Some Time Later This Month)

New Horizons Map of Pluto
NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

The New Horizons spacecraft’s rendezvous with Pluto is next week, folks, but we’re already getting better views of our favourite dwarf planet than we’ve ever had before. NASA has assembled images taken between June 27 and July 3 into the above map, which despite its relatively low resolution shows some intriguing surface features: the so-called “whale” and “donut.” (Of course, low resolution is relative: this is already much better than the Hubble-based maps of Pluto released in 2005 and 2010.)

RIP Yahoo Maps

Citing changing priorities, Yahoo announced today that Yahoo Maps is among the products that it will be shutting down; it’ll go dark at the end of this month. “However,” says Yahoo chief architect Amotz Maimon, “in the context of Yahoo search and on several other Yahoo properties including Flickr, we will continue to support maps.” Business Insider, TechCrunch, VentureBeat.

For a few years Yahoo Maps got frequent upgrades and improvements. The current map platform launched in May 2007; it replaced a Flash-based map engine that first debuted as a beta in November 2005 and became the default map a year later, replacing an even older map service that, if my memory serves, was like the pre-Google Maps MapQuest. Since then Yahoo Maps has stagnated—but for a while there, before Google Maps became the dominant juggernaut it is today, it could have been a contender.

Mapping An Ember in the Ashes

Jonathan Roberts's map for An Ember in the Ashes

The fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts has a blog post, reprinted at Tor.com, that shows some of the steps involved in creating the map for Sabaa Tahir’s novel An Ember in the Ashes.

I sometimes get asked how to do a fantasy map. I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m basically a fantasy map critic, not a working illustrator. What the people asking me this question want is an instruction manual for the standard fantasy map, and for that, Roberts is their man, because he’s an actual illustrator. He does operate within the dominant fantasy map paradigm I often critique (though with a good deal more colour and texture than the standard line drawing), but he does it very well, and more importantly shares his methods. Roberts’s blog is full of interesting material on how he goes about creating fantasy maps: see for example this tutorial.

Google Apologizes for Offensive Map Search Results

Google Maps had to apologize again last week, this time because searching for racist terms gave results like the White House and Howard University. The results were derived from online discussions: idiots using an offensive term to describe a place associated the term with the place in Google’s search algorithms. Google says it’s changing the algorithm to fix the problem (because algorithms are to Google what procedures are to bureaucracies—the source of, and solution to, all life’s problems). Boing Boing, Engadget.

Previously: Google Map Maker Program Suspended.

Clichéa

Clichéa

A Redditor called Sarithus has created a map of Clichéa, “a map based on fantasy tropes that also pokes a little fun at unoriginal map makers.” Like others of its kind, it hearkens back, probably undeliberately, to early modern maps of Cockaigne and Schlaraffenland and other satirical maps. Cartographer’s Guild thread, Reddit thread.

Previously: The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need.

Google Map Maker Program Suspended

Google is temporarily suspending Map Maker, its tool allowing user contributions to Google Maps, until they fix their edit moderation system. Auto-approvals of map edits had been suspended in the wake of the notorious and high-profile edits to the map near Rawalpindi; since then edits to the map have required manual approval, which has created a massive backlog. “We believe that it is more fair to only say that if we do not have the capacity to review edits at roughly the rate they come in, we have to take a pause.” Via The Verge.

Previously: Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment; A Google Map Maker Roundup.

Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba

Detail from the 1966-1967 Official Highway Map of Manitoba

While looking for something else, I stumbled across the Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry’s Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba site: a collection of PDF scans of dozens of highway maps of the province. The earliest is a 1926 map produced by the Winnipeg Tourist and Convention Bureau; the most recent is the B version of the 2010 Official Highway Map. Collectively they trace the development of the province’s road network: I got so very lost in this site watching the road network change from year to year—just as I did as a child, when I studied each new edition to see what had changed from the previous year. This is a weapons-grade hit of nostalgia for me.

Above, a detail from the 1966-1967 map, the first to use the style of map that I was familar with growing up in the 1970s.

Previously: Manitoba Historical Maps.

Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment

Some embarrassment for Google Maps last week, as they were forced to apologize for an image of the Android mascot peeing on an Apple logo that turned up on the map near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. To say nothing of the phrase “Google review policy is crap” etched into nearby Takht Pari Forest. Both have since been removed. Boing Boing, the Guardian, The Verge.

To be fair to Google, crowdsourcing map data does have its pitfalls: OpenStreetMap has to deal with this sort of thing all the time. You have to have something in place to deal with bad-faith edits. None of the edits I’ve made to Google Maps went through without someone reviewing them, so I’m surprised that this could happen. That said, when you need your map updated fast (such as during natural disasters like yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal), it’s hard to beat crowdsourcing.

As always, it’s important to keep in mind that all online maps have their shortcomings.

Map of Canada Changes Depiction of Arctic Sea Ice

Map of Canada

The federal government’s new map of Canada, part of the Atlas of Canada reference series, came out this week. Among the changes between it and its predecessor (which came out in 2006), one in particular is drawing attention. Ivan Semeniuk in the Globe and Mail:

Whereas the older version of the map showed only that part of the sea ice that permanently covered Arctic waters year round at that time, the new edition uses a 30-year median of September sea-ice extent from 1981 through 2010. September sea ice hit a record low in 2012 and is projected to decline further. The change means there is far more ice shown on the 2015 version of the map than on its predecessor.

The changes can be seen below: the 2006 map is on the left, the 2015 map on the right.

Differences in sea ice between 2006 and 2015 maps of Canada

Now as Semeniuk’s piece points out, neither way is wrong. But all maps have a point of view, and it’s naive to think that this change was made in a value-neutral environment: this was the result of a conscious decision. The reason for that decision—that’s what’s interesting.

Space Maps: Ceres, Mars, Exoplanets

Mars: Ares Vallis

Unruly Places (Off the Map)

Book cover: Unruly Places Alastair Bonnett’s Unruly Places (first published in the U.K. as Off the Map) is a light, entertaining exploration of some of the world’s more unusual places. Bonnett, a social geography professor at Newcastle University, has written 47 short essays about locations that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make any sense: the exceptions, the asterisks, the ink blots (in at least one case literally) on the map.

These range from the deeply frivolous to the profoundly injust: from bits and pieces of New York City transformed into environmental time capsules and art projects to places meaningful to the author; from rendition sites and pirate bases to Bedouin settlements in the Israeli Negev desert; from destroyed landscapes to Potemkin cities. The places often feel almost science-fictional; and in fact several of them evoked settings in existing science fiction works, like Christopher Priest’s Dream Archipelago and Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis.

All in all, a pleasant diversion for the geographically minded, though I did have one quibble: the book calling latitude and longitude “Google Earth coordinates,” as though degrees are as proprietary as limited to the KML format.

Amazon | iBooks: Canada, U.K., U.S.