Here Be Sea Monsters

Book cover: Sea Montsers on Medieval and Renaissance Maps Just found out about Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, a new book out this month from British Library Publishing, which explores the monsters drawn on maps from the 10th to the 16th century. From the publisher:

The sea monsters on medieval and Renaissance maps, whether swimming vigorously, gambolling amid the waves, attacking ships, or simply displaying themselves for our appreciation, are one of the most visually engaging elements on these maps, and yet they have never been carefully studied. The subject is important not only in the history of cartography, art, and zoological illustration, but also in the history of the geography of the ‘marvellous’ and of western conceptions of the ocean. Moreover, the sea monsters depicted on maps can supply important insights into the sources, influences, and methods of the cartographers who drew or painted them.

I may have to get this.

A Topographic Map of Titan

Global topographic map of Titan (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/JHUAPL/Cornell/Weizmann)
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/JHUAPL/Cornell/Weizmann

The Cassini team has released a global topographic map of Saturn’s moon Titan. What makes this map interesting is the fact that, due to its thick atmosphere, Titan can only be mapped by radar during Cassini’s close flybys. As a result, only half of its surface has been imaged, and only 11 percent has topography data. For this map, the remainder was, well, extrapolated:

Lorenz’s team used a mathematical process called splining—effectively using smooth, curved surfaces to “join” the areas between grids of existing data. “You can take a spot where there is no data, look how close it is to the nearest data, and use various approaches of averaging and estimating to calculate your best guess,” he said. “If you pick a point, and all the nearby points are high altitude, you’d need a special reason for thinking that point would be lower. We’re mathematically papering over the gaps in our coverage.”

Topo maps of parts of Titan have been released before, but not for the entire moon. See previous posts on The Map Room: Titan in Stereo; Topography of Titan.

Google Maps Redesigned

Google announced a complete redesign of Google Maps at their I/O developer conference yesterday. The new maps are vector-based, take up the entire browser window and change based on the context—highlighting certain streets, for example, based on a search—and your usage patterns. It’s also apparently quite resource intensive: these are maps designed for fast processors and fast Internet connections. It’s just an invite-only preview at the moment. For coverage see Engadget and The Verge.

OpenStreetMap’s New Map Editor

OpenStreetMap has launched a new map editing interface that runs, for the first time, in HTML5. (Potlatch, the previous web-based map editor, uses Flash, and JOSM runs in Java, which I always thought was ironic for an open project.) The editor, called iD, is live now, and is designed to make editing the map more accessible to beginning mapmakers. I’ve given it a quick try this morning. My summary judgment is that if you have any experience using another editor, you should stick with it. iD is far slower than Potlatch at the moment, and does things sufficiently differently that you might have a hard time finding things. I made a mess trying to edit the existing map. But will it lower the barrier to making new contributions, particularly for casual or non-technical contributors? I hope so.

The KickMap Comes to London

KickMap London screenshot

In 2007 Eddie Jabbour released the KickMap, a map of the New York subway system that tried to square the circle of various competing and controversial New York subway map designs. The KickMap later became an iOS app; I reviewed the iPad version in 2010. Now Eddie reports that he’s released a KickMap for the London Underground—not satisfied with updating Massimo Vignelli, he’s going after Harry Beck.

[W]hile the Tube Map’s updates over the decades have attempted to follow Beck’s design, a glance at the current iteration reveals that his design heirs have failed to retain his core credo of clarity and ease of use. Ongoing expansion of the Underground, the addition of the new Overground system, and essential disability access information have made most modern Tube Maps, both official and independent, overly complex and difficult to read. … [I]nstead of redesigning the entire map vocabulary as we did for KickMap NYC, we embarked on a fresh new effort to recapture Beck’s clarity and ease of use.

A regular Underground user would be able to evaluate whether the map succeeds in its goal to improve the Tube map’s clarity; I haven’t even so much as been to London, much less taken the Tube. But I’ve downloaded the app (disclosure: I received a promo code) and have played around with it a bit.

What I can say is that the map is gorgeous and scrolls fluidly (at least on an iPhone 5). In a nice touch, it adds detail like neighbourhoods and landmarks only when zoomed in, preserving a simpler, less cluttered map when zoomed out.

Those of you who’ve used the New York KickMap will find much that is familiar. While it can use your iPhone’s GPS to locate the nearest station—a nice touch on a non-geographic map—it does lack the New York app’s Directions function, which can route you between two stations on the network. Something to ask for, I think, in an update.

It costs only £0.69/$0.99 and is a universal iPhone/iPad app. iTunes link.

Mapping Manhattan

Book cover: Mapping Manhattan A new book collects hand-drawn maps of Manhattan submitted by both anonymous and notable New Yorkers: Becky Cooper’s Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers.

It started with Manhattan in the summer of 2009 when Becky was still an undergraduate at Harvard University. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, as well as her own experience creating a map of New York’s public art, Becky walked the length of Broadway, distributing over a thousand letterpress-printed outlines of the borough to the widest variety of New Yorkers she could find.

The maps she got back have been posted online, and now there’s a book. Fascinating project. Brain Pickings and The New York Times Magazine have profiles (with image galleries). Via io9.

The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers

Book cover: A Map of the WorldVia Kottke, news of a new map book that sounds rather interesting: A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers, described by the publisher as “a compelling collection of work by a new generation of original and sought-after designers, illustrators, and mapmakers. This work showcases specific regions, characterizes local scenes, generates moods, and tells stories beyond sheer navigation. From accurate and surprisingly detailed representations to personal, naïve, and modernistic interpretations, the featured projects from around the world range from maps and atlases inspired by classic forms to cartographic experiments and editorial illustrations.” Samples on the publisher’s website. Many of them I’ve seen before online; I’m happy to see them reprinted.

All Online Maps Suck

This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I should have written it last December, during the hullaballoo over Apple’s maps, but I’ve never been one to strike when the iron is hot.

You’ll recall that there were a lot of complaints about Apple’s maps app when it launched with iOS 6, replacing the previous app that was powered by Google Maps. The map data didn’t match the user experience: it was a first-rate app that used second-rate data. Apple oversold the experience and failed to meet the high expectations of its customers. It was a problem that no other online map provider had ever had to deal with before, not least because no one had launched a new map service with the same amount of hubris, nor the same amount of scrutiny from day one.

But many of the complaints about Apple’s maps verged into hyperbole. The notion that Apple’s maps were uniquely bad compared to other online maps was frankly unfair. Because when you get right down to it, all online maps suck. They all fail in some way, somewhere, and some more than others—and if the maps you use seem fine to you, it’s because they suck somewhere else.

Continue reading “All Online Maps Suck”

Fifty Equal States Redux

The United States Redrawn as Fifty States with Equal Population
In 2010 I blogged about Neil Freeman’s reimagined United States where the 50 states were redrawn so that each state had the same population. (That map had been circulating for a few years prior to that.) Neil has since produced a new version at the same address, with new boundaries and state names on a nicer map. Though it’s just as thought-provoking. Via Kottke.

Lunar Gravity Map

Free-Air Gravity Map of the Moon
NASA has released a free-air gravity map of the Moon: “If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. … The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean, the gravity that a cueball Moon would have.” Gravity data comes from the GRAIL mission, with the digital elevation model provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter laser altimeter. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

Ankh-Morpork on the iPad

Terry Pratchett once declared the Discworld unmappable (“There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humour.”); all the same, there is now an interactive map of principal city Ankh-Morpork for the iPad. Tor.com reports that “the map is dotted with itty-bitty little people walking around Ankh-Morpork, doing their Ankh-Morpork business. Walking around, being themselves. … While many of these figures are indistinct civilians, the city is full of characters from the Discworld novels. Of course Death is there … ” Costs $14; requires iOS 6.

Review: On the Map

On the Map (U.S. edition)Simon Garfield’s On the Map is the third book of its kind that I’ve encountered, akin to Mike Parker’s Map Addict (review) or Ken Jennings’s Maphead (review): Maps 101—an introductory book for people who are interested in maps but don’t necessarily know a lot about them, written by an enthusiastic generalist. But Garfield’s book is more peripatetic and less focused than the others.

On the Map covers a huge amount of ground in its 400-plus pages, from the Library of Alexandria to Apple Maps (but only the announcement; the subsequent fracas came too late). There is no narrative thread tying the chapters together, and some chapters, arranged by theme, span centuries; they’re interspersed with sidebars called “pocket maps” that deal with a smaller subject in a bit more depth. It’s an excellent survey of what’s been happening with maps over the past decade; you’d be better served by reading this book than by plowing through eight years and 4,055 posts of my former map blog, though you’d arrive at the same point in the end.

Because of that blog, I am the worst audience for this book: nothing really surprised me. Those who have been paying close attention to this subject will not find much new material: this is a survey. In fact, there were several instances where I knew that Garfield was telling the story too briefly, and leaving stuff out. In his rush to cover everything, he glosses over a lot of detail. Prodigious in scope but limited in depth, this book is a view from a height. There are chapters, even paragraphs, whose topics have been addressed with entire books. On the Map is only the start of your trip into maps; it will only whet your appetite for more.

Previously: On the Map: A New Book from Simon Garfield.

Amazon | iBooks | author’s page | publisher: UK, USA

Saladin Ahmed on Secondary World Fantasy

Saladin Ahmed’s essay on the NPR website argues that the appeal of epic fantasy isn’t in its plots, characters or themes; it’s in its creation of a vividly detailed secondary world.

[A]t its best, work that prioritizes world-building offers pleasures that just can’t be found in other sorts of literature, the joy of traveling to, as Tolkien put it, “a Secondary World which your mind can enter.” The type of immersion that a massive built world provides is unique. It’s an almost physical sense of getting lost somewhere that isn’t home, but which comes to be home. A sense that one is walking, sometimes even dancing, on a tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane. As with the Thousand and One Nights, which so often—and yes, clompingly—mentions things like which vegetables were just bought or who the monarch was at a given time, the modern fantasy novel’s nerdy attendance to world-building gives it a strange mimetic heft not present in, say, fairy tales.

If you accept Ahmed’s argument—and I can see no reason not to—then the usefulness of a fantasy map is immediately obvious. If it’s all about perceiving that secondary world, the map is literally the key to that world. As Ahmed recalls George R. R. Martin telling him, “When college students and hippies started hanging up Lord of the Rings posters, Martin pointed out, ‘It wasn’t the book covers or some artist’s conception of Frodo that went on our walls. It was the map of Middle-earth.’”

Conversely, you could argue that a story that isn’t principally about the world-building doesn’t need the map.