Michael T. Jones, 1960-2021

Keyhole co-founder Michael T. Jones died January 18th at the age of 60. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment. Geospatial World: “Words can’t describe the contribution and impact of Michael Jones’s work on democratizing and personalizing maps. He is to be credited for not only launching Keyhole in 2000—the original version of Google Earth, quite accidentally as he put it in a conversation with Geospatial World—but also for his years of work on improving on it as the Chief Technology Advocate of Google after its acquisition by the IT giant.” Last year the Royal Geographic Society awarded him the 2020 Patron’s Medal.

(To be honest, between Jones, John Hanke and Brian McClendon I’m not sure who did what at Keyhole and Google Earth: the company history isn’t quite as ingrained in computer lore as, say, Apple’s is.)

Atlas Obscura Interviews James Niehues

In an interview with Atlas Obscura’s Max Ufberg, legendary ski resort map artist James Niehues (no stranger to us here at The Map Room: previously) discusses some of the challenges involved in creating his paintings. For example:

What’s the most challenging aspect of the work?
Showing all the trails in the most understandable and navigational way. It may not always be in one view, but I strive for the single view because it leaves no doubt about any trail connections or direction. Many mountains have slopes on more than one face, which requires manipulating the features to show the back side with the front on a flat sheet of paper. This has to be done with care since skiers will be referring to the image to choose their way down; all elements have to be relative to what they are experiencing on the mountain.

[via]

More on Marie Tharp

A new article on the life and career of Marie Tharp, written by our friend Betsy Mason, was published by Science News earlier this month. Plenty has been written about Tharp, whose work mapping the ocean floor helped provide the evidence for continental drift: numerous articles, a 2012 biography, two books for children just last year. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people who still haven’t heard of her, and should.

America’s Overdependence on GPS

GPS signals are relied upon by critical parts of our infrastructure, from transportation to communications to agriculture to financial markets. But those signals are easily spoofed or jammed and, at least in the United States, have no real backup (despite legislation mandating one by last year). Kate Murphy’s opinion piece in the New York Times not only serves as a summary of the problem, and a warning, it also does so in the most mainstream of newspapers: most of what I’ve read on the subject has been in the business, tech and science media. More people will see this. [MAPS-L]

Previously: GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious; A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Economic Impact of GPS—and GPS Outages; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

Maps at Year’s End

Kenneth Field has posted his favourite maps from the past year—something he’s been doing since 2013. Quite a diverse set, from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard to a Lego model of Manhattan: you won’t have seen all of them.

CityLab has posted a selection of reader maps that explore how their lives were affected by 2020. Coronavirus, change and disruption are recurring themes. “We hope these maps offer readers a sense of solace and solidarity, a chance for reflection or provocation, and perhaps even a breath of creative inspiration.” (Previously: CityLab Wants Your Homemade Map of 2020.)

The Closest Stars

The Closest Stars is the latest astronomical map produced as part of Kevin Jardine’s long-running Galaxy Map project: it shows stars within 10 parsecs (32.6 light years) of our solar system. (Earlier maps covered much more territory: this map goes out to 6,000 pc.)

It’s fascinating, and has a lot of interesting information, but there’s a problem. Like all maps, it reduces three dimensions to a flat plane; as such it distorts the distance of stars that are substantially above or below the galactic plane but not very far away on the x or y axis. Take Beta Comae Berenices: it’s 9.18 pc away and as such should be at the edge of the map, but because it’s 9.18 pc away on the z axis, at nearly a right angle to the plane, it appears on the map as one of the closest stars. The distance above or below the plane is marked in parentheses, but that’s not enough: a label can’t compensate for a misleading position on the map. On the smaller-scale maps this isn’t as much of an issue, because the galaxy is more or less a disk or a lens, but within a 10-pc radius? This isn’t the right projection for the job.

Apple Maps Updates Canada

Apple’s new maps, first announced in 2018, have finally come to Canada: they went live country-wide on 10 December. See coverage from AppleInsider and MacRumors; Justin O’Beirne compares the new maps with the old.

The update also includes Look Around, and not just in a few locations. Elsewhere in the world, Look Around is being rolled out on a city-by-city basis; in Canada it’s far more comprehensive. How comprehensive? I live in a village of 1,600 people not far from Ottawa, and my house is on it. (Based on the state of our gardening, the imagery was taken sometime in 2019, either in late summer or early fall.) Major highways are also included, not just cities. Justin O’Beirne looks at the coverage areas.

Canada is the fourth country to get the new maps: Ireland and the U.K. got them in October.

Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated

The new temporary Tube map
Transport for London

Complaints that London’s Tube map has gotten too complicated are not new. So it’s not too surprising that Transport for London’s decision to add Thameslink rail services to the Tube map as of next month—temporarily, as a means of illustrating alternative travel options in the age of social distancing—is generating some heat. Thameslink already appears on TfL’s Tube and Rail map, but adding it to the Tube map proper is in some quarters seen as the final straw. Jonn Elledge at On London:

Once a design classic, the map has been ugly, and getting uglier, for a while. The rot started to set in with the baffling decision to show the fare zones using a series of irregular grey polygons that make it look like the familiar shape of the Tube network had been painted against the backdrop of the sort of artwork you’d find lining the corridors of a Gatwick Airport hotel sometime in the late 1980s.

But the bigger problem is that Transport for London have thrown more and more services onto the map without any apparent consideration for what it might need to change in order to accommodate them. Most of the map is still given over to the northern half of London, even though a growing share of the services it shows (the Overground, Tramlink, now Thameslink) are south of the river.

Diamond Geezer has some specific questions about what the map is doing. On YouTube, Geoff Marshall is more positive.

The new map isn’t up on the TfL site yet, but can be seen here.

Previously: Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

The Mythology of John Snow’s Cholera Map

John Snow's cholera map (detail)

Kenneth Field explores (and dismantles) the mythology around John Snow, the discovery that cholera was spread by water, the role of the famous cholera map and whether it revolutionized disease mapping. Depending on what you know about the subject—if, for example, you got what you know from an episode of Map Men—what you know is more myth than history: the map came after the Broad Street outbreak, it was not by any means the first example of disease mapping, and John Snow wasn’t the map’s cartographer. Field:

The mythology surrounding his work, the 1854 epidemic, and specifically the role of the map are a fine story, but much of it is retold according to the version many seem happy to believe rather than what really happened. But the real story is just as interesting. There are plenty of excellent longer form discussions of the story in which you may be interested. In particular, Kari McLeod’s excellent article that goes into detail about the various myths, and an article by Tom Koch and Kenneth Denike also goes into detail about the true order of events.

Google Street View App Enables User-Uploaded Photos

Google announced earlier this month that their updated Street View app for Android—as an Apple user I had no idea that Street View was a separate app on Android—now supports user-contributed photos to Street View. “After you record your images and publish them via the Street View app, we automatically rotate, position and create a series of connected photos. We then place those connected images in the right place on Google Maps, so your new Street View can be found in the exact location where it was taken for others to see and explore.” The idea is to supplement Google’s imagery where it’s thin on the ground. This beta feature requires an ARCore-compatible Android device and is only available in a few areas for now: Toronto, New York, and Austin TX (presumably for testing purposes), as well as Costa Rica, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Apple and Google Ban Location Tracking SDK from Apps

Last month it was reported that the X-Mode software development kit, used by many apps, was collecting and selling user location data, with the U.S. military among the buyers. In response, earlier this month both Apple and Google gave developers a deadline to remove X-Mode from their apps: seven days in Google’s case, fourteen in Apple’s. Apple found 100 apps that contained the code; X-Code claims 400 apps on all platforms, tracking 25 million devices in the U.S. and 40 million elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal story is behind a paywall; see The Verge and MacRumors for summaries.

xkcd’s 2020 Election Map

Randall Munroe, “2020 Election Map.” xkcd, 16 Dec 2020.

xkcd did another map thing, so I have to post about it; it’s a rule. This time Randall revisits the design of the map he did for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in which one figure represents 250,000 votes for each candidate. In a Twitter thread, he explains the rationale for the map:

It tries to address something that I find frustrating about election maps: Very few of them do a good job of showing where voters are. […] There are more Trump voters in California than Texas, more Biden voters in Texas than New York, more Trump voters in New York than Ohio, more Biden voters in Ohio than Massachusetts, more Trump voters in Massachusetts than Mississippi, and more Biden voters in Mississippi than Vermont.

Previously: xkcd’s 2016 Election Map.

The ‘Critical Role’ of Maps in Video Games

In a long piece for Canadian Geographic that came out in May 2019, Aaron Kylie explores a subject that really should get more attention: maps in video games. “Maps have long played a critical role in video games, whether serving as the primary user interface, a player reference tool or both. This virtual cartographic world (and its remarkable Canadian connections), however, remains widely unheralded, even as mapping has become increasingly important to many games.” The focus of the article is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, though Kylie touches on other games as well. [The History of Cartography Project]

New Books from the University of Chicago Press

Two books from the University of Chicago Press

I received as review copies the following books from the University of Chicago Press, both now available:

In The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, Jessica Maier “considers Rome through the eyes of mapmakers and artists who have managed to capture something of its essence over the centuries. Viewing the city as not one but ten ‘Romes,’ she explores how the varying maps and art reflect each era’s key themes. Ranging from modest to magnificent, the images comprise singular aesthetic monuments like paintings and grand prints as well as more popular and practical items like mass-produced tourist plans, archaeological surveys, and digitizations.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Edited by Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer, Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era collects nine essays on the “ingenious and provocative ways” maps have attempted to depict time. “Focusing on maps created in Spanish America, Europe, the United States, and Asia, these essays take us from the Aztecs documenting the founding of Tenochtitlan, to early modern Japanese reconstructing nostalgic landscapes before Western encroachments, to nineteenth-century Americans grappling with the new concept of deep time.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Related: Map Books of 2020.