Satellite Mode, Aerial Mode, Bird Mode

A lot of what we refer to on online maps as “satellite imagery” actually isn’t: the high-resolution stuff is usually taken from airplanes. This can be a point of confusion for some—and, according to this Twitter thread from Google Maps co-creator Bret Taylor, also a point of contention for the Google Maps team before it launched. Some engineers felt that calling the layer “Satellite” was factually incorrect—because of that aerial imagery—and therefore shouldn’t be used; others argued for “Satellite” based on label size and usability studies. It nearly got called “Bird Mode” as a compromise. [Boing Boing]

Festival of Personal Geographies

The Festival of Personal Geographies explores the use of art in creating personalized maps. Running until March 19 at several venues in Ames, Iowa, the Festival consists of an exhibition (“‘Index to a Place,’ an exhibition of prints, drawings and paintings that use the graphical languages of maps as a starting point in their creation”) and four workshops on personalized mapmaking. The event is organized by local artist Tibi Chelcea and hosted by ISU’s Design on Main Gallery. Free admission, free registration.

Previously: Personal GeographiesArt and Personal Mapmaking.

The Minimal Geography Atlas

Our friend Alejandro Polanco’s latest project is The Minimal Geography Atlas, a collection of 40 thematic maps.

In my work as a map designer and science writer, I have collected over the past two decades hundreds of curious stories related to cartography or geography. These stories have seen the light of day in the form of hundreds of articles in magazines and blogs, as well as in posters or maps of very diverse types. Now, I’ve decided to compile my best maps and lesser-known but interesting curiosities from all that material I’ve collected over the years. The result is this book, an atlas designed to awaken your curiosity. The thematic maps that I have selected are part of the ones that I have created in the last years, improving them and adapting them for this book.

Alejandro is currently running a Kickstarter for the book. €18 gets you the digital edition, €65 the print edition (in softcover).

Previously: Alejandro Polanco’s Minimal Geography; Alejandro Polanco’s Lost Worlds.

IKEA Map Poster Omits New Zealand

IKEA is apologizing after it was discovered that one of its BJÖRKSTA world map posters left off New Zealand. (Yes, that again.) IKEA says the product will be phased out; it’s still available in my country, for the moment. Note that there are three other world maps in the BJÖRKSTA series (which consists of framed pictures, including art, photos and maps); the other three do include New Zealand.

IKEA had better hope no one finds out about the map art that uses the Mercator projection.

Previously: New Zealand Launches Campaign to Get Itself Back on World Maps; Maps Without New Zealand.

More on the Pros and Cons of Paper Maps

The flurry of articles defending paper maps continues, and it can be tricky to separate them from one another: some are in the context of the Standfords store move; others are reprints of Meredith Broussard’s Conversation piece. But Sidney Stevens’s essay for Mother Nature Network is its own thing. It acknowledges both the downsides of paper maps (they get damaged and outdated) and the advantages of digital maps (“GPS”) before looking at the advantages of paper maps. It’s well-researched and well-considered.

Equal Earth Physical Map

On Sunday Tom Patterson announced that the Equal Earth Physical Map is now available for download in JPEG, Illustrator and GeoTIF formats. Unlike its political counterpart, no territorial boundaries appear on this map (though cities do). Not having borders doesn’t mean that Tom and his collaborators won’t get into trouble with the names of natural features, though: I note they use Sea of Japan rather than East Sea, for example (see above). But, importantly, they’ve released the map into the public domain: if you don’t like their labels, or their choice of cities or colours or textures, you can make changes to the map and put out your own version.

Previously: Equal Earth Gets a Wall Map.

Technochauvinism, Deep Knowledge and Paper Maps

Paper maps continue to find their defenders. The latest is Meredith Broussard, author of Artificial Unintelligence. In a piece for The Conversation, she applies her argument against what she calls “technochauvinism”—the idea that the digital and the technological are always better—to mapmaking. “Technochauvinists may believe that all digital maps are good,” she writes, “but just as in the paper world, the accuracy of digital maps depends entirely on the level of detail and fact-checking invested by the company making the map.” Errors on paper maps are more forgivable because, she argues, we recognize that paper maps fall out of date.

She also distinguishes between surface and deep knowledge, and associates digital maps with the former and paper maps with the latter, but there’s a risk of getting cause and effect spun around. “A 2013 study showed that, as a person’s geographic skill increases, so does their preference for paper maps,” she writes; but it doesn’t follow that paper maps lead to geographic skill. Those with poor map-reading abilities may do the bare minimum required to navigate, and nowadays that means using your phone. [WMS]

The Earth’s Climate Zones Are Shifting

Climate change is redrawing the map, writes Nicola Jones in a piece for Yale Environment 360 last October. It’s not just about polar ice caps, she writes: “Sometimes, the lines on the map can literally be redrawn: the line of where wheat will grow, or where tornadoes tend to form, where deserts end, where the frozen ground thaws, and even where the boundaries of the tropics lie.” Her article is punctuated by maps showing the changes in Earth’s climate zones, some of which dramatically and in a short period of time.

The Polar Vortex, Visualized

NASA Earth Observatory maps the bitterly cold temperatures resulting from cold air pushed southwards by an unstable polar vortex. The maps and animations are by Earth Observatory’s lead cartographer, Joshua Stevens. On Twitter he posted a companion visualization showing what’s happening on the other side of the planet, where a searing heat wave is blistering Australia.

Another Geolocation Horror Show, This Time from South Africa

Remember the farm in Kansas that, thanks to an error in MaxMind’s geolocation database, became the default physical location for any IP address in the United States that couldn’t be resolved? It’s happened again, this time to a couple in Pretoria, South Africa, who received online and physical threats and visits from the police because IP addresses that were from Pretoria, but whose precise location couldn’t be resolved any further, defaulted to their front yard. Kashmir Hill, who covered the Kansas incident, has the story for Gizmodo. It’s a fascinating long read that burrows into the sources of geolocation data and the problematic ways in which it’s used.

In this case the problem was traced to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which assigned the lat/long coordinates for Pretoria to this family’s front yard. The end result: one home becomes the location for one million IP addresses in Pretoria. (The NGA has since changed it.)

The problem here is twofold. First, a failure to account for accuracy radius: a city or a country is represented by a single, precise point at its centre. That’s a real problem when the data point being geotagged can’t be more specific than “Pretoria” or “United States,” because the geotagging is made artificially precise: it’s not “somewhere in Pretoria,” it’s this specific address. Second is the misuse of IP location data. It’s one thing to use a web visitor’s IP address to serve them local ads or to enforce geographical restrictions on content, quite another to use that data for official or vigilante justice. The data, Hill points out, isn’t good enough for that. [MetaFilter]

Previously: A Geolocation Glitch Creates a ‘Technological Horror Story’.

More on Stanfords’s Move and Paper Maps’ Comeback

Another article on the comeback of paper maps that is really about the move of the venerable map and travel bookstore Stanfords’s London store to new digs, this time from Nicholas Crane in the Financial Times. He maunders a bit, as do many map aficionados when we get started, and ends up becoming a paean to Stanfords’s old paper maps as much as anything else. [Gilles Palsky]

Previously: Stanfords Cartographer: ‘Paper Is Going to Make a Comeback’; Stanfords Is Moving.

The Washington Post Maps the U.S.-Mexico Border

The print edition of today’s Washington Post maps the fences and walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. The online version, which I seem to have missed when it was posted in October, offers a much more detailed look: it’s an interactive, scrollable map that offers a flyover view of the border, fenced and unfenced, as it passes through farms, ranches, towns and impossibly rugged terrain between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

Jake Berman’s Modern Maps of Old Transit Networks

Jake Berman

Among artist Jake Berman’s many map-related projects are a series of retro transit maps—modern maps, in a modern style, of transit networks as they were in the past. Above is one example: Los Angeles’s long-defunct Pacific Electric streetcar network as it was in 1926. Other maps include San Francisco’s cable car network circa 1892, the Chicago L in 1921, the New York subway in 1939, and more. Posters, naturally, are available for sale. [Atlas Obscura]