GPS Units: Still a Thing

Wirecutter’s Medea Giordano argues that even in the age of smartphones with built-in map apps, there’s still a place in your car for a dedicated GPS device: “there are cases when a phone just doesn’t cut it—say, in rural areas where coverage is questionable, or if you simply don’t want to drain your phone’s battery and data plan. Or when you’ve just found it frustrating to use a phone for long trips, like I have.”

Mapping the Canadian Election Results: Technical Details

Bothered by the widespread use of Web Mercator by Canadian news outlets to show last week’s election results, Kenneth Field has posted an article that aims to address the problem. Static maps of Canada tend to use a conic projection like the Albers or the Lambert, and that’s the case for print election maps as well. Online interactive maps, on the other hand, use off-the-shelf tools that use Web Mercator, which results in the sparsely populated territories looking even more enormous. But that doesn’t have to be the case, says Ken, who shows us, with a few examples, how use ArcGIS Pro to create interactive maps using a conical projection.

Meanwhile, Mark Gargul writes in response to Ken’s critique of his cartogram of the election results. Mark describes himself as an amateur and readily admits that other cartograms are “clearly more aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, I was going for something different with my cartogram—specifically, to try to preserve riding-adjacency as much as possible.”

The other thing Mark was going for in his cartogram was to indicate the urban-rural split: metropolitan areas are given a black border: it’s easy to see which ridings are in Montreal or Toronto; seats that are partially urban and partially rural straddle those borders.

So it’s doing several things at once that may not be immediately apparent.

Previously: A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results; More Canadian Election Maps.

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

The Atlas of Boston History

The Atlas of Boston History (book cover)The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Boston historian Nancy S. Seasholes, came out last week from the University of Chicago Press. It features 57 full-colour spreads—for a complete list, plus some examples, go here—that trace the city’s history from the post-glacial period to the present day through maps, photos, illustrations and accompanying text from three dozen different contributors. (The maps are original to this volume: this is a historical atlas, not a collection of old maps, in case that needs saying.) Looks impressive and interesting.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

Australia to Eliminate Paper Topographic Maps

The Australian government agency responsible for printing topographic maps will stop printing them as of December, ABC Australia reports. Geoscience Australia cites a lack of demand for paper maps, but as you can imagine there’s some pushback against the decision.

(The Canadian government tried something similar back in 2006, but the decision was overturned after a public outcry.)

New Editions of World Atlases

World atlases are still a thing, and the first of this month saw the publication of two new editions of venerable world atlases.

First, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, a new edition of which comes out every four years. This year’s is the 11th.

I have to confess that I’m fond of the National Geographic: compared to other atlases it does its own thing with political maps that eschew coloured relief and explain every little boundary dispute and controversy in little red letters. It’s also enormous, larger in dimension than the Times Comprehensive (though not as heavy) and with a list price of $215/£170 is slightly more expensive. National Geographic’s page doesn’t go into detail as to what changes were made for the 11th edition, which is a pity. (Does it have Eswatini and North Macedonia, for example?)

The Oxford Atlas of the World is a lot smaller and more affordable. At $90, it slots between the Times Universal and Concise atlases in terms of list price, though its page count is that of the more expensive Concise. It’s also updated every year; this year’s edition is the 26th. And the publisher’s page does list some of the updates. (Eswatini and North Macedonia? Yes!)

As for the Times line of atlases, the most recent to be updated was the third-tier Times Universal Atlas ($50/£80), the 4th edition of which came out in August. Prior to that, the 5th edition of the affordable Times Desktop Atlas ($35/£20) was released in February. The 15th edition of the top-of-range Times Comprehensive Atlas ($200/£150) came out in the fall of 2018: I reviewed it here.

Out Today: Airline Maps

Airline Maps

Out today: Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design (Particular Books/Penguin), Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts’s book about the history of the airline map—those maps showing where an airline flies that you often see in in-flight magazines.

Hundreds of images span a century of passenger flight, from the rudimentary trajectory of routes to the most intricately detailed birds-eye views of the land to be flown over. Advertisements for the first scheduled commercial passenger flights featured only a few destinations, with stunning views of the countryside and graphics of biplanes. As aviation took off, speed and mileage were trumpeted on bold posters featuring busy routes. Major airlines produced highly stylized illustrations of their global presence, establishing now-classic brands. With trendy and forward-looking designs, cartographers celebrated the coming together of different cultures and made the earth look ever smaller.

CityLab has an interview with Ovenden and Roberts about their book. One exchange stuck out:

But some of the maps in the book are really geometric and straightforward, like transit maps. I’m wondering, how are these airlines dealing with some of the problems of transit maps? For instance, how do you get a lot of lines to a central station, or a hub in terms of air travel?

Roberts: I’m not sure that they do. I’ve actually looked closely at a lot of these airline maps and tried to get my head around them, and actually some make no sense at all. They’re essentially unusable. And that’s the big irony with airline maps: Nobody’s ever used an airline map to plan a journey.

It seems to me that this is because airline maps aren’t transit maps, they’re pictorial maps. Pictorial maps were about promotion and decoration, not navigation.

Ovenden is known to us here at The Map Room: he’s published books about transit map design such as Transit Maps of the World (2007, updated 2015), Paris Underground (2009) and (Great) Railway Maps of the World (2012). Roberts is the author of Underground Maps After Beck (2005) and Underground Maps Unravelled (2017). Taking to the air is a bit of departure for both authors, then.

For another book on this subject, see Paul Jarvis’s Mapping the Airways, which came out in 2016 (previously).

Vanessa Barragão’s Botanical Tapestry

Vanessa Barragão, ”Botanical Tapestry,” 2019. Wool, cotton and jute, 6 m × 2 m. Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

A massive, six-by-two-metre textile tapestry map of the world is now installed in the departure area of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s called “Botanical Tapestry,” and it’s the work of Portuguese textile artist Vanessa Barragão. It took her 520 hours to make, using different techniques like latch hook, crochet and felt needle to achieve different textures; it also took 42 kg of recycled wool, plus another 8 kg of cotton and jute. [Geography Realm, My Modern Met]

The Secret Mission to Seize German Map Data in World War II

Greg Miller’s crackerjack story in the November 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine is about the quest to capture German geodetic data—and German geographers—during the dying days of the Second World War. Said data was a strategically critical treasure trove, of immense interest to the U.S. War Department, and the team led by Floyd W. Hough was in a race to find it before it was destroyed, carried away by the enemy, or fell into Soviet hands.

Little is publicly known about the true scope of the information that Hough and his team captured, or the ingenuity they displayed in securing it, because their mission was conducted in secret, and the technical material they seized circulated only among military intelligence experts and academics. But it was a vast scientific treasure—likely the largest cache of geographic data the United States ever obtained from an enemy power in wartime.

The data seized by Hough’s team went on to form the basis of the ED50 geodetic datum, which in turn led to the Universal Tranverse Mercator system.

More Canadian Election Maps

I hit “Publish” too soon last night. Kenneth Field and Craig Williams put together a series of maps showing the Canadian election results in a number of different ways: we have a value-by-alpha map, a proportional symbol map, and two kinds of dot density maps: one showing the winners, one showing all votes per constituency. (One dot equals 100 votes; the dots are spread evenly across constituencies, even when people aren’t. You can’t have everything.) And it’s on the Lambert, not the Mercator.

Speaking of the Mercator. Maps Mania’s roundup of Canadian election results maps notes that the Canadian media’s interactive maps (e.g. CBC, Global, Globe and Mail) invariably resorted to Web Mercator, largely because of the mapping platform used. (In-house infographics team? Don’t be ridiculous.) Web Mercator is singularly bad for Canadian election maps, because Nunavut: it’s the largest electoral district by area (1.9 million km2) and the smallest by population (31,906). It’s enough of a distortion on the Lambert: Mercator makes it worse.

As for cartograms, Ken hated the one I posted last night; Keir points to Luke Andrews’s Electoral Cartogram of Canada, which is a bit nicer, and uses only one hexagon per riding instead of seven. Keir also points to this animation that shifts between a geographical map and a cartogram. It’s hard to recognize Canada in cartograms, because it’s difficult for us to grasp just how many people live in southern Ontario.

Previously: A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results.

A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results

This cartogram shows the seat-by-seat results of the federal election held last Monday in Canada. It was uploaded to Wikipedia by user Mark Gargul to illustrate the 2019 Canadian federal election article, and it’s a welcome departure from the usual election results maps in this country.

(An example of the usual results map is Elections Canada’s official map of the unofficial results, in PDF format.)

Canadian election results maps generally use geographic maps, usually the Lambert conformal conic projection that most maps of Canada use (though sometimes it’s the Mercator!) rather than cartograms. Which means that Canadian maps suffer from the same “empty land doesn’t vote” problem that U.S. maps have, though it’s mitigated by the fact that vast rural and northern seats are often won by different parties: you don’t have the same sea of one colour that you get in the States.

That said, Canada is overwhelmingly urban, and so are its electoral districts. Most election results maps resort to using multiple inset maps to show the urban results. (Elections Canada’s map has 29 of them.) Gargul’s cartogram sidesteps both problems neatly; on the other hand, it’s next to impossible to find your own damn constituency (it’s hidden in the mouseover text). If the disadvantage of empty-land election results maps is that the colours aren’t representative, their advantage is that you can tell what regions voted for whom, at least if you know your geography.

H-Maps, a New Discussion List About Map History

Despite the imminent shutdown of Yahoo Groups, and the lamented demise of MapHist in 2012, discussion lists are still a thing, it seems: H-Net, that venerable purveyor of academic discussion lists since I was in academia, has, with the collaboration of the International Society for the History of the Map, launched H-Maps, “an international digital forum in the historical study of the making, circulation, use and preservation of maps from the ancient to the contemporary period.” Scholarly in focus, to be sure.

Tony Campbell lists other discussion lists related to map history here.

Book of Niehues Ski Resort Art Now Available

The Man Behind the Map, the coffee table book of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps whose crowdfunding campaign I told you about last year, is now available for sale.

The Man Behind the Maps (cover)The book is nearly 300 pages long, contains more than 200 ski resort maps, and costs $90. That seems high, but printing a full-colour book in small or print-on-demand batches doesn’t come cheap.

Previously: Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art; A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.