An Update on Anton Thomas’s Map of North America

Anton Thomas’s pictorial map of North America (previously) is now complete, and he’ll be selling giclée prints and posters from his website soon. (I know exactly where mine will be going.) In the above video, he looks at the multiyear process of creating the map—on paper, with pencils and pen, and how he had to correct and redraw (the inked parts!) as he went. Here’s an interview he did with Atlas Obscura last month.

Christopher Tolkien, 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, map from The Fellowship of the Ring (Unwin, 1954). The British Library.

Christopher Tolkien, the third son of J. R. R. Tolkien and the executor of his literary estate and editor of his posthumous works, died yesterday at the age of 95. But one of his legacies is likely to be overlooked: he drew the map of Middle-earth that appeared in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings. That map proved hugely influential. It helped set the norm for subsequent epic fantasy novels: they would come with maps, and those maps would look rather a lot like the one drawn by Christopher Tolkien.

Christopher Tolkien himself was self-deprecating about the execution of his map, and about the design choices he made. Regarding a new version of the map he drew for Unfinished Tales, he took pains to emphasize that

the exact preservation of the style and detail (other than nomenclature and lettering) of the map that I made in haste twenty-five years ago does not argue any belief in the excellence of its conception or execution. I have long regretted that my father never replaced it by one of his own making. However, as things turned out it became, for all its defects and oddities, “the Map,” and my father himself always used it as a basis afterwards (while frequently noticing its inadequacies).

However hastily it was drawn, it was pivotal all the same.

A Modern-Day Tube Map in the Original Tube Map Style

Arturs D.

There have been a lot of Beck-style maps—maps done in the style of the London underground map. This one’s a bit meta. Arturs D., a student living in London, has created a map of the present-day London underground using Harry Beck’s original style. The current TfL network map (PDF) is, of course, a Beck-type diagram, but there have been a lot of changes to the official map since 1933. It’s also a lot more complicated. Arturs’s map, which limits itself to the Tube proper, reminds us just how many changes there have been. [Mapping London]

Priore, Schulman Plead Guilty to Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts

Between 1992 and 2017, more than 300 rare books, maps and other items were stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. News of the thefts broke in April 2018, and in July of that year former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore and rare book seller John Schulman were arrested and charged.

Yesterday Priore and Schulman pled guilty: Priore to one count of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, Schulman to a charge of forgery and another of theft by deception and receiving stolen property. (They were facing a total of 10 and 20 charges respectively, but the remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.)

Sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 17; each man faces up to 20 years in prison (the plea deal does not include sentencing).

News coverage: Associated Press, CNN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Washington Post.

Previously: 314 Rare Books and Maps Stolen from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; New Details Emerging in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Arrests Made in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Theft Update.

Australia’s Bushfires and Misleading Maps

Whenever there’s a major news event, there will be an outbreak of fake, misattributed or misleading images that purport to be about that event. That goes for maps as well.

Take the serious situation with Australia’s bushfires at the moment. Social media is jammed with maps showing practically the whole damn continent on fire, or superimposed on another continent to let people there know just how big Australia is (and also on fire). It’s a profoundly serious situation, and as NASA’s Joshua Stevens points out, it’s possible to present an accurate map that shows its seriousness without resorting to hyperbole.

The trouble is, social media thrives on hyperbole, because it thrives on “engagement”—which means outrage and anger and, as Joshua Emmons notes, as we get inured to a certain level of outrage, even more outrage is needed just to get noticed.

Which brings me to this thing, which is showing up all over the social web:

Anthony Hearsey, Creative Imaging.

Continue reading “Australia’s Bushfires and Misleading Maps”

GPS Glitch Grounds GoPro Drones

GoPro KarmaGoPro’s Karma drone, released in October 2016 and discontinued in January 2018 (when GoPro announced it was getting out of the drone business), has apparently fallen prey to the GPS rollover bug: they’ve been grounded since the new year. See coverage at DP Review, Engadget and The Verge, as well as  discussions at GoPro’s support website.

GoPro says they’re “actively troubleshooting” the issue; I have to say I’m surprised that a relatively new gadget—between two to three years old—could be hit by a once-every-19.7-year bug.

Previously: Happy GPS Week Rollover!

Interactive Pollution Tracking Map Shut Down

The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET, an interactive map that tracked pollution, chemical exposure, toxicology and other data, was shut down last month. The move has been criticized in the context of the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections, but the NLM insists that the decision was theirs. The data mapped by TOXNET is available from other sources, but, and this is the point, not as easily or centrally accessible. [The Hill, Newsweek]

In Search of Thoreau’s Missing Map

A 1970 article about a 1912 expedition to Maine’s Mount Katahdin that mentioned “a diagram that Thoreau had made in the middle of the last century when he paid Katahdin what was to become a famous visit” has set off a modern-day search for that map of Thoreau’s. Only, as the Lewiston Sun-Journal’s Steve Collins reports, no one seems to has a copy of, or even heard of, said map. [WMS]

Beidou, China’s Satellite Navigation System, to Be Complete by June

Beidou logoChina’s Beidou satellite navigation system—a competitor to GPS like Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo—will be complete by June 2020, when the constellation’s final two satellites are launched, the Associated Press reports. Twenty-four satellites have already been orbited. Whereas the first two iterations of Beidou offered regional coverage, this third iteration will cover the globe when complete. [Engadget, TechCrunch]

GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious

In an article in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American, now available online, Paul Tullis looks at the problem of GPS hacking, or spoofing—how easy it is to do, how vulnerable GPS is to it, and the consequences we’d face if GPS was disrupted on a broad level. It’s essential but scary reading. The potential scenarios Tullis describes are far more serious than the instances of GPS spoofing we’ve seen so far. It’s not just about navigation: a lot of critical infrastructure relies on GPS timestamps.

Tullis points out that other GNSS systems have terrestrial-based backup systems; GPS does not, despite a 15-year-old directive to build an eLORAN backup that would put out a signal too strong to spoof.

Previously: A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

Check Out These Other Gift Guides

If The Map Room’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide still leaves you wanting for ideas, and the additional books in the Map Books of 2019 page don’t do it either—maybe you just don’t want a book—here are some other map-related gift guides curated by colleagues and reviewers:

Over at Map Dragons, Betsy Miller posts 10 Great Gifts for Map Lovers that include not just books, but posters, wallpaper, notebooks and even rugs. Many items, like Eleanor Lutz’s Atlas of Space, Jim Niehues’s book of ski resort maps, and Anton Thomas’s still-forthcoming pictorial map of North America, will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Mapping London’s Christmas list focuses on recent books about maps of London, as you might expect.

The New York Times’s Tina Jordan looks at recent map books, starting, as you might expect, with the latest National Geographic Atlas of the World (“If you’re going to buy just one atlas this fall . . . ”). Her list also includes a couple of 2019 releases I somehow managed to miss:

Book cover: An Atlas of Geographical WondersAn Atlas of Geographical Wonders: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds (Princeton Architectural Press, September), by Gilles Palsky, Jean-Marc Besse, Philippe Grand and Jean-Christophe Bailly, explores nineteenth-century scientific maps and tableaux, beginning with those by Alexander von Humboldt.

Also from September, Infinite Cities (University of California Press), a boxed set of Rebecca Solnit’s trilogy of atlases of San Francisco, New Orleans and New York.

Mason and Miller’s Third Act: Map Dragons

Betsy Mason and Greg Miller started blogging about maps at Wired Map Lab (which ran from 2013 to 2015), then moved to National Geographic, where their blog, All Over the Map, provided first-rate coverage of all matters cartographic, and formed the core of their book, coincidentally also called All Over the Map, which came out at the end of last year (see my review). Unfortunately the blog seems to have come to a close at about the same time the book came out. But now it looks like Betsy and Greg have struck out on their own with a new website, Map Dragons, where they promise more map stories soon. Can’t wait.

Tom Patterson’s Map of Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound
Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson’s projects are always worthy of note. His latest is a wall map of Alaska’s Prince William Sound—a physical relief map that, Tom warns, will very soon be out of date:

Prince William Sound turned out being the most laborious map that I have ever made. The culprit: climate change. Although much of the data that went into making the map was of recent vintage, glaciers in the region have melted noticeably these last few years.

Updating physical features—glaciers, coastlines, rivers, and lakes—from recent satellite images took up ninety percent of my time. Nevertheless, the completed map is only a snapshot in time. Columbia Glacier, for example, lost another one kilometer of its length during the summer of 2019. Much of what the map depicts will be out-of-date again before too long.

It can be downloaded, printed (it’s 44 × 36 inches) and modified free of charge.