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.


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?

IKEA’s All-Black Globe

IKEA sells an all-black globe as part of its LINDRADE series. It costs $20 in the U.S. and £17 in the U.K.; for some reason it’s not available on the Canadian store. If it were, I might just get one.

Per standing IKEA policy, New Zealand is not shown.

The reviews on the U.S. store are hilarious, but on the U.K. store the single a review on the U.K. says that the globe is chalkboard (it’s made of polystyrene), which makes the product a good deal less absurd. Otherwise, it occurs to me that it could make a halfway decent base on which you could paste your own globe gores. [Cartophilia]

Tech Companies Ignore NTSB Request to Add Railway Crossings to Their Maps

Tech companies have largely ignored a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to add railway crossing data to their map apps, Politico reports. In 2016, after an accident in which a tired truck driver who used his mobile phone to navigate crashed into an Amtrak train at a level crossing, the NTSB issued a recommendation asking mapping companies to incorporate at-grade railway crossing data from the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of some 200,000 level crossings, so that their apps can warn drivers that a railway crossing is coming up.

Nearly three years later, hardly any of them have implemented the recommendation, and to date only three have responded to the NTSB recommendation: Garmin said it has railway crossing data in its latest devices, TomTom said it has had such data for a decade; Google, for its part, worried that adding such data might overcrowd the map and distract its users. Other providers, including Apple, Here, MapQuest and Microsoft, did not respond to the NTSB. Meanwhile, UPS says its proprietary navigation system includes level crossings, and while OpenStreetMap doesn’t use the FRA database, it has a level crossing tag that’s been used worldwide more than 730,000 times.

More coverage: Philadelphia Inquirer, The Verge.

Mapping the Local Void

R. Brent Tully

A team of researchers led by University of Hawaii astronomer Brent Tully has mapped the structure of the universe at a vast scale. In particular, they have mapped the shape of the Local Void, an empty expanse of intergalactic space hundreds of millions of light years across; the Milky Way is found at the edge of the Void. From the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy press release:

Now, Tully and his team have measured the motions of 18,000 galaxies in the Cosmicflows-3 compendium of galaxy distances, constructing a cosmographic map that highlights the boundary between the collection of matter and the absence of matter that defines the edge of the Local Void. They used the same technique in 2014 to identify the full extent of our home supercluster of over one hundred thousand galaxies, giving it the name Laniakea, meaning “immense heaven” in Hawaiian.

A video map and interactive 3D model are available. The study behind this model was published in The Astrophysical Journal (paywall). [NBC News]

Reviews of Edney’s Cartography

Matthew Edney’s Cartography: The Ideal and Its History was published by the University of Chicago Press last April. I have a review copy and a review is in the works. While you’re waiting for me to get said review written, here are a couple of reviews to tide you over: one from Steven Seegel at New Books Network; and one (behind a paywall) at Times Higher Education from Jerry Brotton.

(Incidentally, Seegel is the author of Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe: a review of that is forthcoming as well. Brotton has several books to his name: he’s co-author of this year’s Talking Maps, and in 2012 published A History of the World in 12 Maps, which I reviewed here.)

Related: Map Books of 2019.