When Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation was published in the U.K. in 2010, I despaired of ever being able to lay hands on a copy easily. A book documenting the first century or so of the history of the Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national map-making body, is not likely to have much commercial potential outside Britain: no surprise that a U.S. edition has not come out. [Update: A paperback edition became available in the U.S. in 2013, after this review was posted.] But I recently discovered that, like at least one other book otherwise unavailable on this continent, it is available to North Americans as an ebook (and has been for a year: see how observant I am). So spent the $10, downloaded it to my Kindle, and settled in to read a book I’d heard about for years but didn’t imagine I’d be able to lay hands on without some effort.
Inasmuch as a history of field surveying and copper-plate engraving can be made anything other than dull, Hewitt has managed to produce a narrative that fairly crackles with interest. She starts at the bloody Battle of Culloden, not only as a way of setting the stage for the Military Survey of Scotland, a predecessor to the OS, but also as a rationale for mapping the whole of Britain’s territory in the first place. From there we’re led through the Scottish Highlands, joint French-British observations to measure the distance between their observatories, the triangulation of Britain and the survey of Ireland. The narrative closes with the publication of the last maps of the First Series and the expansion of the OS’s works into city maps. Along the way we get glimpses into the equipment used in the survey, such as the theodolite, and the mapmaking process; there’s a lovely section on how the OS dealt with Irish placenames, and digressions into art and poetry.
It does read a bit traditionally, in the sense that it is an institutional history seen through the lens of those in charge. It’s a history of those making the maps; the impact of those maps is less thoroughly covered. And if you ask me, it ends too soon — just as the OS is getting started. A lot more could still be written, I think.
There are rumours that for iOS 6, the next version of the operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, Apple will replace Google Maps with an in-house mapping application with an impressive 3D mode; the app will apparently “blow your head off,” to quote John Paczkowski’s source. Much is being made of the 3D mapping possibilities, thanks to Apple’s acquisition of C3 Technologies. My interest, and my concern, is with the base mapping data. If this is going to be a flagship product, and signs point to that being the case, Apple can’t use OpenStreetMap (as it does with the iOS iPhoto app), at least not exclusively: it’s still not ready. It would be better, but not cheaper, if Apple used Navteq or Tele Atlas map data directly; when Google abandoned them for their own map data, Google Maps’ quality did not universally improve. (AppleInsider, Daring Fireball, TUAW.)
A patch on a 16th-century map may suggest what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke. The map in question is the 1585 Virginea Pars map by John White. Based on the patch, which hides a symbol indicating a fort, researchers argue that the settlers may have moved westward and inland. AP coverage: ArtDaily, CBC, Washington Post. Via io9.
County-by-county life expectancy estimates released last month by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reveal a startling gap between the longest-lived and shortest-lived areas of the country: the difference can be as much as 15 years.
The range of life expectancies is so broad that in some counties, such as Stearns, Minnesota, lifespans rival some of the places where people live the longest—Japan, Hong Kong, and France—while in other counties, life expectancies are lower than places that spend far less on health care—Egypt, Indonesia, and Colombia. Even within states, there are large disparities. Women in Fairfax, Virginia, have among the best life expectancies in the world at 84.1 years, while in Sussex, Virginia, they have among the worst at 75.9 years.
And the situation isn’t improving either: “In 661 counties, life expectancy stopped dead or went backwards for women since 1999. By comparison, life expectancy for men stopped or reversed in 166 counties.” When people refer to the U.S. as a Third World country, this sort of thing—the disparity, the decline—is usually one of the reasons why. Via Tobias Buckell.