Fun with Lego and Spreadsheets

Jon Schwabish has been building the Lego world map (previously), but he’s also been building a spreadsheet version. “Because the map is laid out in a grid, it’s primed to be built in Excel. And voila, I present to you the Excel version of the Lego World Map! I built a grid in a big Excel spreadsheet with each number then placed in the appropriate spot according to the instructions. Each number is then assigned a color using Excel’s Conditional Formatting menu.” Good for making drafts of your Lego map, or also if you can’t lay hands on the real thing.

Mapbox Employees Trying to Unionize

Bloomberg: “Employees at Mapbox Inc., which makes mapping tools used by Instacart Inc. and Snap Inc., have announced their intention to unionize, making them the latest group of tech workers to embrace organized labor in a traditionally nonunion industry.” Two-thirds of Mapbox’s 222 U.S. employees have signed union cards; in an internal statement Monday, Mapbox declined to voluntarily recognize the Mapbox Workers Union—which presumably means that there will be a government-supervised vote on whether to unionize.

Upcoming Conference: Mapping the Pacific

Taking place on 25 and 26 August 2021 in Sydney, Australia, Mapping the Pacific will be a hybrid (in-person and streamed) conference that will explore “the traditional wayfinding knowledge of the Pacific community, European exploration and the mapping of the Pacific from the early modern era through to the 19th century.” Registration is not yet open.

Apple Maps Updates Announced at WWDC

Upgrades to Apple Maps were announced on Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference: see coverage from AppleInsider, Engadget and TechCrunch, as well as the video of the keynote itself (the Maps section starts at 29:47).

Apple Maps on an iPhoneThe changes will be coming to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey this fall. They include highly detailed city maps (for only a few cities at launch); a three-dimensional map for navigation that indicates, among other things, complex intersections; improved transit features such as bus route integration and next stop notifications; precise walking directions based on a scan of nearby buildings; and an interactive globe when zoomed out. (Note that not all of these features will be available on Intel Macs, which lack the Neural Engine in Apple’s own chips, nor on older iPhones or iPads with an A11 or earlier chip.)

The Weather app will also be getting temperature, precipitation and air quality maps (see TechCrunch coverage). And Italy and Australia were announced as the next countries to get Apple’s upgraded map layer.

Update 11 Jun: MacRumors has a roundup.

Update 15 Jun: Justin O’Beirne has been adding screenshots of Apple’s redesigned maps—its new new maps—to this page.

VERITAS Mission to Map Venus Later This Decade

Artist's concept of the VERITAS mission to Venus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Artist’s concept of the VERITAS mission (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

VERITAS is one of two missions to Venus announced by NASA last week. Expected to launch between 2028 and 2030, VERITAS will produce an improved map of the Venusian surface with its two instruments: synthetic aperture radar to generate a high-resolution 3D topographic map, and a spectral emissions mapper to map rock types. News coverage: CNN, Global News, Slate, The Verge. Background from NASA; analysis from the Planetary Society.

2021 Ruderman Conference Announced

Registration is now open for the third biennial Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography. As in previous years, the conference will be hosted by Stanford’s Rumsey Map Center but this time it will take place online, and run from October 20 to 22, 2021. The theme this time around is Indigenous mapping.

This theme is of paramount importance, especially as Indigenous peoples around the world continue to fight for their recognition and rights to land and resources. Simultaneously, institutions are increasingly examining their roles in exploitative imperial expansion and settler colonialism. The history of colonial encounter and of indigenous agency can both be glimpsed in historical maps, many of which were made by Indigenous peoples or thanks to crucial, and often unacknowledged, Indigenous contributions. More recently, mapping technologies are helping Indigenous groups to monitor resources, protect language, survey territory, govern, and provide evidence for reclamation and recognition procedures. Scholars, many of them Indigenous, are voicing their critiques and interventions using geographic and cartographic frameworks.

Alex Hidalgo, Mishuana Goeman, and Eric Anderson and Carrie Cornelius will provide keynotes. The conference will run from October 2o to 22, 2021 and is free to attend (virtually). More information; registration form.

Lego’s 11,695-Piece World Map

Lego Art World Map
Lego

Lego’s recently announced world map is 104 cm by 65 cm (41 × 26 inches) and has a staggering 11,695 pieces. Part of the Lego Art series aimed at adults, it’s built basically pixel-by-pixel, and comes with pin pieces to mark locations once it’s finished.

Lego says that you can customize the oceans in any number of colours or patterns, but it seems to me, based on the building instructions, that there’s nothing stopping you from doing the continents completely differently as well. You’re not physically limited to the three choices the instructions give you: Europe and Africa in the centre, the Americas in the centre, or Asia and Australia in the centre. You could do a different map projection, or even a different globe. But that’s the point of Lego, isn’t it?

Anyway, it’s available as of this week for US$250/€250/£230/C$350; it’s already out of stock at the online store but may be available through other channels. [Boing Boing]

What3Words Hasn’t Had the Greatest Couple of Months: A Roundup

The proprietary geocoding system What3words, which assigns a three-word mapcode to each three-square-metre point on the planet, has been getting some grief lately. It’s always been somewhat controversial because it’s a closed system, and because of the steps What3words has taken to protect its proprietary database and algorithms: it’s issued takedown notices relating to the compatible, open-source WhatFreeWords (details here), to the point of threatening a security researcher over his tweets about it last April. Which, you know, got noticed.

It’s also been the subject of several parodies, including what3emojis (emojis instead of words), Four King Maps (four swear words, UK and Ireland only on account of a lack of swear words, which frankly disappoints me) and Maps Mania’s own April Fool’s joke for this year, what2figures, which expresses any point on the globe in just two numbers (I’ll wait).

But more recently it’s come under criticism for having similar sounding word combinations for addresses only a few miles apart: see Andrew Tierney’s blog post (which expands upon this Twitter thread) and What3words’s response. This is especially a problem for first responders trying to locate someone who may have misspoken or mistyped their location, or because of their accent, resulting in rescue teams being sent to the wrong location.

River Runner

Sam Learner’s River Runner is an amazing visualization that traces the path of a raindrop falling anywhere in the contiguous United States to where it reaches the ocean or leaves U.S. territory. “It’ll find the closest river/stream flowline coordinate to a click/search and then animate along that flowline’s downstream path.” It’s a tad resource-intensive, and if you end up in the Mississippi basin it will take a while (and make clear just how big that river system is), but it’s absolutely transfixing.

Patterson’s Malaspina Glacier Panorama

Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson’s latest is a panorama of Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier, with the St. Elias Mountains in the background. “I rendered this panorama to showcase a wild landscape in its entirety where human development is minimal. The sprawling Malaspina Glacier with its concentric rings of ice, rubble, and meltwater is front and center. I started this project in 2017 and then put it aside for four years. However, accelerating climate change brought newfound urgency to my mapping. I wanted to map this beautiful glacier while it still exists.”

Previously: Tom Patterson’s Map of Prince William Sound.

Google Maps Updates at Google I/O; Apple Maps Additions

Google Maps-related announcements at Google’s I/O 2021 keynote today include routing improvements to reduce hard braking, enhancements to Live View, expanding Google’s new detailed maps to 50 cities, identifying crowded areas, and tailoring map data to time of day and whether you’re travelling. This post takes a deeper dive on two of those upgrades. Coverage from the usual suspects: Engadget, The Verge.

Meanwhile, recent additions to Apple Maps include cycling directions in Seattle and Look Around imagery in Atlanta, Sendai and Kanazawa.

San Marino Transit Map

San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, but it’s large enough to have a bus network, for which Jug Cerovic has created a map. It’s a network diagram that includes not only San Marino’s domestic bus routes, but its connecting bus line to Rimini, Italy (where you can connect to/from trains and planes) and its funicular railway (Wikipedia: Transport in San Marino). It’s also something we almost never see in a transit map: an oblique view. Adding perspective makes total sense: with San Marino and its hills in the foreground and the Adriatic Sea in the distance, we get more detail where it’s needed and connections to the rest of the world in the distance.

San Marino Transit Map (Jug Cerovic)
Jug Cerovic

Mapping NOAA’s New Climate Normals

This month NOAA updated the official U.S climate normals. You know how in a weather forecast a meteorologist talks about normal temperatures or normal amounts of rain? The climate normals define what normal is: they take into account weather over the past 30 years, and are updated every 10 years. As you might expect, the normals do reveal the extent of climate change.

NOAA

NOAA compares the new 1991-2020 normals period with the one that came before (1981-2010): “Most of the U.S. was warmer, and the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. was wetter, from 1991–2020 than the previous normals period, 1981–2010. The Southwest was considerably drier on an annual basis, while the central northern U.S. has cooled somewhat.” (Bear in mind that there’s a 20-year overlap between the two normals.)

The New York Times (screenshot)

The New York Times has created a series of animated maps showing how 30-year normals compare with 20th-century averages for temperature and precipitation. “The maps showing the new temperature normals every 10 years, compared with the 20th century average, get increasingly redder.”

The data is available from NOAA’s website.

Canadian Passenger Rail in 1955 and 1980

This interactive map, created by Sean Marshall, compares the extent of Canada’s passenger rail network in 1955 with what was left of it in 1980 after decades of service cancellations and line abandonments. By 1980 the various railways’ services had been taken over by VIA Rail; VIA’s network would face the first of a series of cutbacks the following year (there’s a lot less of it extant today), so this map represents the public rail network at its maximum. More about the map from Sean here.

A Guide to the Library of Congress’s Collection of Fire Insurance Maps

Fire insurance maps are an invaluable tool for history research: they give a detailed snapshot of a city’s built environment at a given point in time. And they were made for just about every city, town and village. The Library of Congress has 50,000 fire insurance maps (700,000 individual sheets) in its collection, most of which were produced by the Sanborn Map Company. The Library has just released a resource guide to help researchers navigate its collection, and explain which maps are available (copyright is an issue with more recent maps). Announcement here.

Previously: Fire Insurance Maps Online.