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.
Desde antiguo un enigmático astro llamado Argos siembra la atmósfera con una substancia muy especial. Sólo un pequeño grupo de sabios sabe cómo recolectar y emplear esa esencia de los cielos que permite la vida eterna. Pero en pleno auge de la Roma imperial, un desastre sacude a la hermandad de sabios. Desperdigados por el mundo y sin los conocimientos necesarios para mantener la inmortalidad, vagarán sin rumbo, condenados al olvido. Hasta que en el siglo XXI, una inquieta historiadora, Irene Abad, descubre un antiguo mapa que, sin saberlo, conduce hasta el peligroso secreto que los Hijos de Argos han perseguido durante dos milenios.
I wish I could say more about this, but I never studied Spanish and can barely navigate Spanish-language websites, much less read novels. El Viaje de Argos is available in ebook form via Amazon and iBooks.
The ability to use other map styles with OpenStreetMap data is, I think, underexploited. I’m starting to hate the default Mapnik tiles. Stamen Design has released three different—vividly different—map styles for OpenStreetmap: watercolour tiles (above), high-contrast black-and-white, and shaded terrain. Via Daring Fireball.
You may have seen this already: a beautiful, painting-like visualization of the world’s surface ocean currents between June 2005 and November 2007, which NASA posted last month. The visualization is based on model data from the ECCO2 project. See also this short video on Flickr (Flash required). Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
“In the 18th and 19th centuries, children were taught geography by making their own maps, usually copies of maps available to them in books and atlases at their schools or homes,” says a David Rumsey Collection post from January 2010 that is for some reason drawing attention right now. “These old maps made by children were hand drawn and colored, one-of-a-kind productions, and it is amazing that any have survived down to our time. That they have is due to luck and the efforts of families to preserve the history of their children.” Anyone interested in hand-drawn maps will like these; for my part I can’t get over the similarity in style between these maps and later fantasy maps. Via io9 and MetaFilter.
Ars Technica callsOld Maps Online “the world’s single largest online collection of historical maps” but that’s not strictly the case. When I first read that I thought: what, bigger than Rumsey? Rumsey has 30,000 maps; Old Maps Online has 60,000. But Old Maps Online is a portal, not a collection: it has a damn slick timeline-and-map interface that brings up maps from the online collections of five institutions (so far), including the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, and yes, the David Rumsey Map Collection. At first glance it seems like a good place to start if you’re looking for a map of a specific time and place (as I have done on many occasions), and if they add more institutions to their database it will be even more useful.
Fantasy maps have a very specific style that is actually quite limiting. For an example of what would happen if all maps were subject to the same limitations as fantasy maps, have a look at what is described “a map of the United States à la Lord of the Rings”; it was posted to Reddit and edited there by divers hands. The version above had the gridlines removed and made more “antique.” It does look like the early Middle-earth maps done by Pauline Baynes and Christopher Tolkien. To match the movie maps, you’d have to replace all the text with overdone uncial calligraphy and Tengwar vowel marks, whereas maps in modern fantasy novels would lose the shading on the mountains and have all the text done in Lucida Calligraphy. Via io9.
Paul Schenk’s Atlas of the Galilean Satellites (Cambridge University Press, 2010) collects all the imagery gathered by the Voyager and Galileo missions of the four major moons of Jupiter (Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io, all discovered by Galileo in 1610) and assembles them into global, quadrangle and area maps. But this heavy, 400-page tome begins with a confession. “This Atlas is not what it should be.” The failure of the high-gain antenna on the Galileo spacecraft meant that far less data could be transmitted back to Earth during its nearly eight-year mission than had been planned. Large tracts of the moons are mapped in low resolution; the fuzzy images yield little detail. But until another mission is sent—the Juno probe now en route to Jupiter will not be studying the moons—this is all there will be for the foreseeable future. For decades, in fact.
The Atlas of the Galilean Satellites therefore represents a treasure trove of all available imagery of these four moons. The further out you go, the less imagery there is: outermost Callisto gets 49 pages of plates, innermost Io, with all its interesting volcanoes, gets 89. Despite the inevitable blurry patches, there are some extraordinarily high-detail images here. One problem, though, is that the global maps are unlabelled; I found it difficult to place features that were labelled on the quadrangle, regional and detail maps in their global context. Also worth noting is that—and I suspect this is the norm for extraterrestrial mapping—these are not maps per se, but spacecraft imagery labelled and put on a map projection.
One issue that has been noted elsewhere—for example, in Emily Lakdawalla’s review last November—is that several copies of this book have been defective, with pages falling out. My own copy is fine, but seems a bit fragile. (UPDATE: Laying it open flat once was enough for several pages to come loose.) The signatures appear to be glued rather than sewn—a textbook example of the badly built British book—which is inexplicable given the size of the book and weight of the glossy paper, to say nothing of its cost. Because, at $165 (£95) list, this book is extremely expensive; ebook versions are just as exorbitant. Cheaper copies can be found elsewhere with a little digging: I got mine via AbeBooks for less than $30, shipping included. Honestly, given the risk of the book falling apart on you, that’s the way to go.
This atlas isn’t really aimed at beginners or people with a casual interest in the solar system. The price reflects that, as does its rather technical nature and organization. Those with a serious jones for the solar system will not be deterred by these or any other reservations.