The notion expressed in Monday’s xkcd, particularly in the alt-text—
OpenStreetMap was always pretty good but is also now really good? And Apple Maps’s new zoomed-in design in certain cities like NYC and London is just gorgeous. It’s cool how there are all these good maps now!
—is unexpectedly more on point than not.
In 2013 I wrote a screed saying that all online maps sucked: that no one map platform had a monopoly on errors. At the time Exhibit A for the suckiness of online maps was Apple Maps; since then, and particularly since 2018, Apple has been putting in the work. Not that they’re done, but still: the product is fundamentally better now than it was then. And it’s not like the other platforms have been idle in the meantime. No one platform is going to achieve Cartography’s ideal of the universal and accurate Map—that’s inherently unachievable—but better? I’ll take better.
Randall Munroe’s map projection humour is increasingly on point, as last Friday’s xkcd demonstrates. (The mouseover text is even better: “There are two rules on this ship: Never gaze back into the projection abyss, and never touch the red button labeled DYMAXION.”)
Richard Peter Johnson has been posting quizzes on Reddit where the shapes of countries and U.S. states are flipped, rotated and/or inverted and you’re challenged to identify them. It’s actually harder than you might think—especially when they’re inverted or mirror-flipped—and messes with your perception in the way that, say, upside-down world maps do.
Maps where countries are coloured in with flag patterns: I’ve seen a lot of them around, especially on Reddit, but I haven’t necessarily liked them; xkcd’s comic from last Wednesday goes one step further in that it offers a way to hack them.
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.
The thing about this xkcd cartoon is that at first glance it’s entirely plausible: Randall has done violence to state boundaries while maintaining the rough overall shape of the lower 48. He’s snipped out seven states without anyone noticing if they don’t look too closely.
A map of Scarfolk has been announced. For those blissfully unaware, Scarfolk is Richard Littler’s fictional, satirical English town locked in a 1970s-era dystopia. Littler has been producing deeply creepy examples of graphic design—public information posters, mainly—purporting to emanate from Scarfolk authorities on his blog and in two books so far. This “road and leisure map for uninvited tourists,” which apparently comes with a postcard and visa, costs £12. As they say in Scarfolk: For more information please reread. [via]
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s take on the Mercator projection is … not what you’d expect. The punch line is similar to Christopher Rowe’s short story, “Another Word for Map Is Faith”: if you can’t make the map conform to the territory, make the territory conform to the map. Since we’re dealing with the Mercator projection, this requires some … escalation.
xkcd is back with another bad map projection: in this one, it’s all South Americas. The alt-text: “The projection does a good job preserving both distance and azimuth, at the cost of really exaggerating how many South Americas there are.”
It’s not like xkcd has a monopoly on comics about maps. Last week, Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic posted a comic about alternative non-spherical Earth theories: everything from a hollow Earth to, well, stranger variations—including a slightly lumpy oblate spheroid Earth, which I frankly find hard to believe in.