The Geospatial Revolution Project: Mapping the Pandemic

A decade after the Geospatial Revolution Project, which explored the use and impact of digital mapping technologies, released its fourth and (apparently) final episode, there’s a new episode focusing on how digital mapping tools were conscripted into the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Project has posted a version of the episode including a live panel discussion afterward on Facebook Live.

Previously: The Geospatial Revolution Project; The Geospatial Revolution Project, Episode Two; The Geospatial Revolution Project, Episode Three; The Geospatial Revolution Project, Episode Four; Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.

xkcd: The Greenland Special

xkcd: Bad Map Projections: The Greenland Special
Randall Munroe, “Bad Map Projection: The Greenland Special,” xkcd, 14 July 2021

At some point, xkcd cartoonist Randall Munroe is going to put out a book focusing on his map-related cartoons, isn’t he. The latest in his “Bad Map Projection” series (previously: All South Americas, Time Zones, Liquid Resize) is The Greenland Special, an equal-area projection except for Greenland, which uses Mercator. And I thought he was messing with us before.

Google Maps Called Out for Showing ‘Potentially Fatal’ Mountain Routes

The Guardian: “Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are ‘potentially fatal’ and direct people over a cliff.” Google Maps’s issue with Ben Nevis is that it routes to a parking lot nearest the summit, then more or less straight-lines it from there; as a dotted line it’s meant to indicate a route very imprecisely, but it also corresponds to a higher-difficulty ascent route that could land even experienced hikers in trouble. Not meant to be taken by people who don’t know what they’re doing—the people who might have no clue that it’s a bad idea to use Google Maps for mountain hiking, for example.

To be clear, I think this one’s on Google. A lot of people trust online maps implicitly because they have poor navigation skills and have a hard time overruling what the directions tell them: this is why people keep driving into rivers and onto tracks. It’s a design failure not to account for this in every circumstance.

CDC Vaccination Maps

Screenshot of CDC Covid Data Tracker map showing county-level vaccination equity in the United States
CDC (screenshot)

Maps tracking the progress of the U.S.’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign at the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker (now) include an interactive county-level map showing first and second doses among 12+, 18+ and 65+ populations and a map of vaccine equity (above): a bivariate choropleth map showing the relationship between vaccination coverage and social vulnerability (housing, vehicle access, general poverty).

The Mother of Landsat

Virginia Tower Northwood is sometimes called “the mother of Landsat” for her invention of the multispectral scanner that was launched aboard Landsat 1. An alumna of MIT, she is the subject of this long profile by Alice Dragoon in the MIT Technology Review, which looks her entire career, which prior to Landsat involved radar and antenna design—including, notably, the transmitter on the Surveyor 1 lunar lander. See also this profile on NASA’s Landsat Science page.

Peter Bolt’s Bespoke 3D Relief Models


Since 2013, Peter Bolt—whose company is called Landfall—has been making bespoke 3D relief models based on from nautical charts, Ordnance Survey maps and aerial photographs (see his portfolio for examples). The models are layered along contour lines—a process that can be seen in several of his videos. Everything is a custom job, made by hand; prices begin around £250 for an A4-sized model and go up from there.

Cross-stitched Earth Science Maps

Kara Prior cross-stitches earth science maps; her work includes a series of state bedrock geology maps (see also Reddit) and a bathymetry map of the Great Lakes (above), among other things. She has an Etsy store.

Fun with Lego and Spreadsheets

Jon Schwabish has been building the Lego world map (previously), but he’s also been building a spreadsheet version. “Because the map is laid out in a grid, it’s primed to be built in Excel. And voila, I present to you the Excel version of the Lego World Map! I built a grid in a big Excel spreadsheet with each number then placed in the appropriate spot according to the instructions. Each number is then assigned a color using Excel’s Conditional Formatting menu.” Good for making drafts of your Lego map, or also if you can’t lay hands on the real thing.

Mapbox Employees Trying to Unionize

Bloomberg: “Employees at Mapbox Inc., which makes mapping tools used by Instacart Inc. and Snap Inc., have announced their intention to unionize, making them the latest group of tech workers to embrace organized labor in a traditionally nonunion industry.” Two-thirds of Mapbox’s 222 U.S. employees have signed union cards; in an internal statement Monday, Mapbox declined to voluntarily recognize the Mapbox Workers Union—which presumably means that there will be a government-supervised vote on whether to unionize.

Upcoming Conference: Mapping the Pacific

Taking place on 25 and 26 August 2021 in Sydney, Australia, Mapping the Pacific will be a hybrid (in-person and streamed) conference that will explore “the traditional wayfinding knowledge of the Pacific community, European exploration and the mapping of the Pacific from the early modern era through to the 19th century.” Registration is not yet open.

Apple Maps Updates Announced at WWDC

Upgrades to Apple Maps were announced on Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference: see coverage from AppleInsider, Engadget and TechCrunch, as well as the video of the keynote itself (the Maps section starts at 29:47).

Apple Maps on an iPhoneThe changes will be coming to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey this fall. They include highly detailed city maps (for only a few cities at launch); a three-dimensional map for navigation that indicates, among other things, complex intersections; improved transit features such as bus route integration and next stop notifications; precise walking directions based on a scan of nearby buildings; and an interactive globe when zoomed out. (Note that not all of these features will be available on Intel Macs, which lack the Neural Engine in Apple’s own chips, nor on older iPhones or iPads with an A11 or earlier chip.)

The Weather app will also be getting temperature, precipitation and air quality maps (see TechCrunch coverage). And Italy and Australia were announced as the next countries to get Apple’s upgraded map layer.

Update 11 Jun: MacRumors has a roundup.

Update 15 Jun: Justin O’Beirne has been adding screenshots of Apple’s redesigned maps—its new new maps—to this page.

VERITAS Mission to Map Venus Later This Decade

Artist's concept of the VERITAS mission to Venus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Artist’s concept of the VERITAS mission (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

VERITAS is one of two missions to Venus announced by NASA last week. Expected to launch between 2028 and 2030, VERITAS will produce an improved map of the Venusian surface with its two instruments: synthetic aperture radar to generate a high-resolution 3D topographic map, and a spectral emissions mapper to map rock types. News coverage: CNN, Global News, Slate, The Verge. Background from NASA; analysis from the Planetary Society.

2021 Ruderman Conference Announced

Registration is now open for the third biennial Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography. As in previous years, the conference will be hosted by Stanford’s Rumsey Map Center but this time it will take place online, and run from October 20 to 22, 2021. The theme this time around is Indigenous mapping.

This theme is of paramount importance, especially as Indigenous peoples around the world continue to fight for their recognition and rights to land and resources. Simultaneously, institutions are increasingly examining their roles in exploitative imperial expansion and settler colonialism. The history of colonial encounter and of indigenous agency can both be glimpsed in historical maps, many of which were made by Indigenous peoples or thanks to crucial, and often unacknowledged, Indigenous contributions. More recently, mapping technologies are helping Indigenous groups to monitor resources, protect language, survey territory, govern, and provide evidence for reclamation and recognition procedures. Scholars, many of them Indigenous, are voicing their critiques and interventions using geographic and cartographic frameworks.

Alex Hidalgo, Mishuana Goeman, and Eric Anderson and Carrie Cornelius will provide keynotes. The conference will run from October 2o to 22, 2021 and is free to attend (virtually). More information; registration form.

Lego’s 11,695-Piece World Map

Lego Art World Map

Lego’s recently announced world map is 104 cm by 65 cm (41 × 26 inches) and has a staggering 11,695 pieces. Part of the Lego Art series aimed at adults, it’s built basically pixel-by-pixel, and comes with pin pieces to mark locations once it’s finished.

Lego says that you can customize the oceans in any number of colours or patterns, but it seems to me, based on the building instructions, that there’s nothing stopping you from doing the continents completely differently as well. You’re not physically limited to the three choices the instructions give you: Europe and Africa in the centre, the Americas in the centre, or Asia and Australia in the centre. You could do a different map projection, or even a different globe. But that’s the point of Lego, isn’t it?

Anyway, it’s available as of this week for US$250/€250/£230/C$350; it’s already out of stock at the online store but may be available through other channels. [Boing Boing]