The Incredibly Granular Maps of Data.Pour.Paris

Screenshot

Data.Pour.Paris is a collection of interactive maps about the city of Paris. It’s a lot more interesting—and granular—than it appears at first glance, though. The traffic and real-time metro maps you might expect, but the map of street lights drills down to individual streetlights—and their wattage. Public order complaints are mapped individually, and there’s even a map of the 2018 Paris marathon that tracks the progress of individual runners. They’re the work of French engineer Benjamin Tran Dinh, and they’re neat. They speak as much to the availability of such data as the ability to map it. [Maps Mania]

Previously: Le Grand Paris en Cartes.

‘A Defilement of a Sacred Trust’

I hadn’t planned on posting anything about Trump’s Sharpie-adjusted hurricane forecast map: there was nothing useful for me to add to the discussion, and presumably you’d all heard about it already and didn’t need me to tell you. But it turns out something map-related can, and has, been said about the issue.

Charles Blow was once in charge of the New York Times graphics department, and an art director at National Geographic. His response to Trump’s marked-up map was “visceral”:

Because of this unyielding commitment to accuracy, I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe.

That is precisely what you want the case to be, particularly in natural disasters. This cartography should be devoid of any attempt to deceive. Its only agenda should be to inform and enlighten.

That’s what made Trump’s marked-on map such a blasphemy: It attacked, on a fundamental level, truth, science and public trust. It wasn’t just a defacement of a public document, it was a defilement of a sacred trust.

Blow’s reaction is predicated in the notion that maps can’t lie, or at least don’t, or at least shouldn’t. Enter Mark Monmonier, the author of How to Lie with Maps (reviewed here), who was interviewed by CityLab about this kerfuffle. Even Monmonier, who has no illusions about maps’ claims to accuracy and objectivity, and who literally wrote the book on how hazard mapping can be misleading, seems to be sputtering:

Usually, attempts to falsify tend to happen before maps are published, and don’t try to contradict established scientific facts. You can put a spin on something by influencing the appearance of a map before it’s published. You can put a spin on things by determining what is and is not going to be mapped. Something that might put your administration in an unfavorable view, for example: Those maps won’t be part of the plan. […]

But the Trump map is unusual. I cannot find anything truly comparable. We had a map that was already out there that he actually mutilated, and in a very obvious way. This guy shows absolutely no subtlety at all. And then people try to make excuses for him. I have never seen anything like this.

Trump’s little stunt has revealed something very interesting about how we see maps.

History of Cartography Project Updates

The first three volumes of the History of Cartography Project will be published in Chinese next year, “completing a translation project that began in 2014,” the Project announced on Facebook last week.

The Project was one subject of an international seminar on the history of cartography held at Yunnan University last month. Project director Matthew Edney gave the opening remarks, the text of which is here.

Meanwhile, Volume Four is in galleys and is now scheduled for publication in January 2020, and work continues on Volume Five. Volume Six, covering the 20th century, came out in 2015.

(Remember that the first three volumes, plus Volume Six, are available as free downloads.)

Poorly Drawn Lines Maps the Snark

Reza Farazmand, “Welcome,” Poorly Drawn Lines, 16 Aug 2019.

Last month Poorly Drawn Lines, the web comic by Reza Farazmand, published “Welcome,” a comic that with its blank map of the ocean channels Lewis Carroll’s 1876 poen The Hunting of the Snark.

If you’re not familiar with that poem, here’s the key passage:

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:”
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
A perfect and absolute blank!”

And here’s the accompanying map:

(More at Strange Maps. Source for the above image.)

Don’t Use Zip Codes in Geospatial Analysis

Matt Forrest of Carto says we should stop using Zip codes in geospatial analysis.

Even though there are different place associations that probably mean more to you as an individual, such as a neighborhood, street, or the block you live on, the zip code is, in many organizations, the geographic unit of choice. It is used to make major decisions for marketing, opening or closing stores, providing services, and making decisions that can have a massive financial impact.

The problem is that zip codes are not a good representation of real human behavior, and when used in data analysis, often mask real, underlying insights, and may ultimately lead to bad outcomes.

Zip codes, Matt says, are arbitrary: too many things going on at a local level can be missed if they don’t line up with zip code boundaries (such as the Flint water crisis). He does offer some alternatives: census tracts, spatial indices and good old fashioned addresses.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Bill Morris defends the use of Zip codes: yes, they’re overused; yes, they should only be used in the worst case; but they may be the only local unit a client or user will find easy to understand.

A Map of Hard to Count Communities for the 2020 U.S. Census

The HTC 2020 map is an interactive map of hard-to-count communities built for campaigns to increase participation in the United States’s 2020 census. Hard-to-count communities are populations that historically have a poor self-response rate: they return their census forms online or by mail at lower rates, requiring followup interviews by enumerators. The map shows response rates by census tract, and notes the demographics of each tract in terms of why the response rates might be low: lack of Internet access, or large numbers of people who are historically undercounted (poor, rural, people of colour). [NYPL]

Five New Islands Charted Off Novaya Zemlya

Climate change means retreating glaciers, which exposes new islands, which means new maps. BBC News reports that five new islands off the northeast coast of Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Russian Arctic that was the site of hundreds of nuclear tests, were mapped by a Russian expedition. The islands were discovered in satellite photos by then-student Marina Migunova, now a naval oceanographic engineer.

Previously: New Map of Greenland and the European Arctic.

MonoCarto 2019 Winners Announced

The winners—or as Daniel Huffman is calling them, the “final selection”—of the Monochrome Mapping Competition (now called MonoCarto 2019) have been announced. All 15 of them, with notes from the judges on why each of them was awesome.

The premise of the competition—a map made with any tint of a single colour of “ink”—was fascinating, and the resulting maps put paid to any assumption that you couldn’t produce a visually appealing or informative map with just one colour. The diversity of map styles is something to see as well.

Previously: Monochrome Mapping Competition Announced.

The Dangers of Hurricane Maps’ Cone of Uncertainty

The New York Times

The cone of uncertainty is a core feature of hurricane maps: it shows the potential routes a hurricane is likely to take (the path grows over time, as we’re less certain where the storm goes next). But it’s misinterpreted in ways that put people at risk. That’s the argument made by Alberto Cairo in an online infographic (and in print) in the New York Times last week: research reveals that people living along the edge of the cone are much less likely to prepare for the storm, even though the edge of the cone is one possible path for the centre of the storm—and the cone only covers 60 to 70 percent of the storm’s potential paths in any event.

Alberto Cairo goes into more detail about the problem, and the responsibility of both journalists and readers when faced with such visualizations, on his blog. His book, How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter About Visual Information, comes out from W. W. Norton next month.

Previously: Rethinking the Cone of Uncertainty.

Kickstarter for the Book Version of Barely Maps

Earlier this year I told you about Barely Maps, the minimalist map project undertaken by Peter Gorman, who in a series of posters reduced maps to their most cryptic and abstract state. He’s been selling prints on Etsy, but now Peter has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the next phase of his project: a book that collects 100 of his minimalist maps, along with the stories behind their creation.

Peter sent me a proof copy of the book. The cover is as minimalist as you might expect from such a project. The maps are familiar if you’ve been following the Barely Maps project: here they take up an entire right-hand page, with a brief description on the facing page.

Peter is using offset printing to produce this book, which requires a 250-copy minimum print run. Supporting the Kickstarter starts at $39, which gets you one copy of the book and free U.S. shipping. Higher tiers add map prints to the cart. As I write this post, the Kickstarter is about 88 percent of the way to its $10,000 goal.

Mapping the Amazon Fires

Let’s start with the current situation map from Brazil’s own space agency, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE), which I’m surprised is still online. In July Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, accused the widely respected agency of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon; INPE’s chief, Ricardo Galvão, was forced out earlier this month after defending the agency. After that, INPE said that fires were up 84 percent over the same period last year. (The ESA, for its part, tracked nearly four times as many fires in August as they did last year.)

Other raw data sources include the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fire activity data from which can be viewed here; and MODIS data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. For a live feed of MODIS data on the Amazon fires, see the MODIS Wildfire Dashboard.

NASA

Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth Observatory posted MODIS imagery of several Amazon fires, and had this curious statement that seemed to minimize the scale of the problem: “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. […] Though activity appears to be above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.”

A subsequent NASA Earth Observatory post seems to contradict the one I mentioned earlier, pointing to “a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon” which “are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought” and noted fire detections “higher across the Brazilian Amazon” since 2010.

Contextualizing the amount of fires seems to be a recurring theme in the reporting: the number of fires are up sharply over last year, but close to the average when taking a longer view. It’s helped a lot of bad and insincere actors make it harder to get to the heart of what’s going on over there. They can’t, after all, deny the satellite imagery or the remote sensing: we can see the fires. We can detect the emissions of smoke, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (1, 2, 3). We can map them. And those maps can help us understand what’s going on.

On the NGO front, InfoAmazonia has produced the above map comparing fires over the last 24 hours with historical fire data. (They have other maps on this subject as well.)

Note, too, the reference above to burning along major roads. Tim Wallace crunches MODIS date from 2012 onward and teases out some patterns in the fires.

The New York Times

And the New York Times, where Tim used to work, has a map correlating the position of the current Amazon fires along the edges of past deforestation. The Times also has maps showing maps on a month-by-month basis and comparing August 2019 with the August average over the past decade.

[CityLab, Maps Mania]

What Happened to the Society of Cartographers?

The Society of Cartographers posted a notice on Twitter announcing the formal dissolution of the Society after its upcoming (and now presumably final) Annual Summer School Conference. That conference will be held in conjunction with the British Cartographic Society’s Annual Conference on 11 and 12 September at the Ordnance Survey’s Southampton headquarters.

Apart from reactions like Kenneth Field’s, there is no other information about the Society’s dissolution available online, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been discussion in members-only areas. What on earth happened? (Comments open.)

Previously: Whither the BCS?