(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘maps

“This is a credulous age, and the burden of knowledge which we now have to carry is partly responsible”*…


 click here, and again,  for larger version

This map, published by South Dakotan Orlando Ferguson in 1893, offers a unique vision of the Earth as a concave field, with a round convex area in the middle. Surrounded by Bible passages arguing against the idea of a spherical Earth and embellished with a small illustration of men grasping desperately onto a spinning globe, the map begs its viewers to order Ferguson’s book on “this Square and Stationary Earth,” which “knocks the globe theory clean out.”

Historian Christine Garwood writes that the idea that people in the medieval period believed in a flat Earth before Columbus roundly disabused the world of that notion is reductive. Some medieval thinkers realized the truth, and people have persisted in believing in a flat Earth far past the time of Columbus. “Flat-earth belief has a chronology far stranger than all the inventions,” she writes. The idea’s resurgence in the 19th century is part of that strangeness.

In the 19th-century United States, pamphleteers and authors of varying levels of credibility debated the flat-Earth theory vigorously. In an issue of the journal Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, published in 1896, the editors included Ferguson’s book in a list of other recent titles questioning the dominant scientific perspective on the nature of the globe. Some of these: Eclectic or Cosmo-Enspheric Astronomy: The firmament a hollow sphere, and we live inside of it (Ulysses G. Morrow, 1894); One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is Not a Globe (William Carpenter, 1885); and Terra Firma. The Earth Does Not Move. Is not a Globe (W.M. Herd, 1890)…

Explore further at “A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map.”

[Comics, courtesy of Dilbert.com]

* George Orwell, inspired to take up this topic by playwright George Bernard Shaw’s 1924 introduction to Saint Joan


As we contemplate circumnavigation, we might send supersonic birthday greetings to Robert Rowe Gilruth; He was born on this date in 1913.  An aerospace scientist and engineer, Gilruth developed the X-1, the first plane to break the sound barrier, then directed NASA’s Project Mercury– via which he enabled John Glenn to become the first American to orbit the Earth–  and later, the Apollo and Gemini Programs.



Written by LW

October 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The world is a perpetual caricature of itself”*…


Lilian Lancaster was 15 when she drew a collection of 12 anthropomorphic maps of European countries to amuse her ailing younger brother.  They were published in 1868 as Geographical Fun, with notes and an introduction by “Aleph” (the pseudonym  of William Harvey, a City Press journalist, antiquarian, and family friend).

Take the Grand Tour with Lilian in the Library of Congress’ collection; read her fascinating story (she became an actress, and continued her cartography) at Barron Maps.

* George Santayana


As we peruse personifications, we might note that, while folks in the U.S. are celebrating the signing, on this date in 1776, of the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. from Great Britain, it is also a day to spare a memorial thought for two of the drafters and signers of that document, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (respectively also, of course, the second and third Presidents of the United States); both died on this date 1826.

Adams and Jefferson



Written by LW

July 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The map is not the territory”*…


As regular readers will know, (Roughly) Daily is extremely enthusiastic about maps.  So your correspondent is especially grateful to Andrew Wiseman for his very helpful “readers’ guide”: “When Maps Lie- Tips from a geographer on how to avoid being fooled.”

* Alfred Korzybski


As we uninstall Apple Maps, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that Victor Emmanuel II set up the capital of the newly-unified Italy in Rome (recently “acquired” from the Papal States).  The first king of a united Italy since the 6th century, he had been king of Sardinia before– the second “Victor Emmanuel” in that role.  On claiming the Italian crown, he decided to keep “II,” a missed PR opportunity, as he could have proclaimed himself “I” (of Italy), signaling a fresh start.



Written by LW

July 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians”*…


Nathan Yau, the force behind the fabulous Flowing Data, was lamenting the loss of a classic resource, when he decided to take on the challenge himself:

Ever since I found out about the Statistical Atlas of the United States, historically produced by the Census Bureau, it annoyed me that there wasn’t one in the works for the 2010 Census due to cuts in funding. The last one was for 2000. Actually, the 2000 edition was called the Census Atlas, but whatever. With more data than ever, it seems like there should be one.

Maybe that’s why there’s isn’t one. Too much data, too much of an undertaking, and too many bureaucratic decisions to make.

The first Atlas, by Francis A. Walker, was published in 1874 using the data from the prior 1870 Census. Counting cover, credits, and all that, it was 56 pages.

I got to thinking, hey, I could do that. And if I did, I wouldn’t have to be annoyed anymore. So I recreated the original Statistical Atlas of the United States with current data. I used similar styling, and had one main rule for myself. All the data had to be publicly available and come from government sites

See the stunning– and stunningly useful– results (with larger versions of each chart) at “Reviving the Statistical Atlas of the United States with New Data.”

* “I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s?”  – Hal Varian, The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2009


As we discriminate between the median and the mean, we might spare a thought for Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson; he died on this date in 1948.  A classics scholar who was also an accomplished biologist and mathematician, Thompson is best remembered for On Growth and Form (1917, new ed. 1942), a profound consideration of the shapes of living things, starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way.”  Thus one must study not only finished forms, but also the forces that molded them: “the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’, in this sense, at least, that from it we can judge of or deduce the forces that are acting or have acted upon it.”

The book paved the way for the scientific explanation of morphogenesis, the process by which patterns are formed in plants and animals.  Thompson’s description of the mathematical beauty of nature inspired thinkers as diverse as Alan Turing and Claude Levi-Strauss, and artists including Henry Moore, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollock.  Peter Medawar, the 1960 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, called On Growth and Form “the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue.”



Written by LW

June 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece”*…


In 2012, 437,000 people were killed worldwide, yielding a global average murder rate of 6.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. A third of those homicides occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, home to just 8% of the world’s population. But data on violent death can be difficult to obtain, since governments are often reluctant to share their homicide statistics. What data is available is sometimes inconsistent and inconclusive.

To make this data clear and to better address the problem of global homicide, a new open-source visualization tool, the Homicide Monitor, tracks the total number of murders and murder rates per country, broken down by gender, age and, where the data is available, the type of weapon used, including firearms, sharp weapons, blunt weapons, poisoning, and others. For the most violent region in the world, the 40 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, you can also see statistics by state and city. That geographic specificity helps to underscore an important point about murders, says Robert Muggah, the research director and program coordinator for Citizen Security at the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute, in the above-lined story: “In most cities, the vast majority of violence takes place on just a few street corners, at certain times of the day, and among specific people.”

via Slashdot.  Explore the interactive murder map here.

* William Shakespeare, Macbeth


As we reach for the kevlar, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table.  Years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.



Written by LW

May 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it”*…


Cartographer Daniel Huffman has created a series of maps in which American river systems are visualized as subway maps (specifically, in the manner of Harry Beck’s 1930s London Tube maps), with nodes representing connections between streams and tributaries.

Huffman strikes a particular chord in the map-lover’s heart. On an Internet brimming with sleek, sharp geo-visualizations, Huffman’s maps offer a sweetly idiosyncratic view of the world. The signatures of historic figures turn into street vectors. Oregon’s wine country gets the ‘90s computer-game treatment. A simple bike path becomes a work of calligraphy.

“What it really probably comes down to is a desire to do things differently than others,” he says in an email. “I crave variety, and so it often leads me to thinking of weird ideas and saying, ‘I wonder if I can do X[.]’”

Lately, a trend has emerged out of Huffman’s impulses towards novelty—an idea he calls “Modern Naturalism,” in which his maps present natural features in the type of “highly-abstracted, geometrically precise visual language that we often apply to the constructed world on maps,” according to his website

More on Huffman and his marvelous maps at “When Rivers Look Like Subway Systems.”

* Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories


As we hop onto our rafts, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Nightingale, born on this date in 1820. Famed for her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, she went on to found training facilities and nursing homes– pioneering both medical training for women and what is now known as Social Entrepreneuring.  Less well-known are Nightingale’s contributions to epidemiology, statistics, and the visual communication of data in the field of public health.  Always good at math, she pioneered the use of the polar area chart (the equivalent to a modern circular histogram or rose diagram) and popularized the pie chart (which had been developed in 1801 by William Playfair).  Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society, and later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.

“Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East” by Florence Nightingale, an example of the the polar area diagram (AKA, the Nightingale rose diagram)




Written by LW

May 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion”*…


 click here for larger, zoomable version

Nobody lives here: The nearly 5 million Census Blocks with zero population

A Block is the smallest area unit used by the U.S. Census Bureau for tabulating statistics. As of the 2010 census, the United States consists of 11,078,300 Census Blocks. Of them, 4,871,270 blocks totaling 4.61 million square kilometers were reported to have no population living inside them. Despite having a population of more than 310 million people, 47 percent of the USA remains unoccupied.

Green shading indicates unoccupied Census Blocks. A single inhabitant is enough to omit a block from shading.

More discussion of unoccupied America (and other nifty maps) at @nikfrrr‘s mapsbynik.com.


* Democritus


As we search for signs of intelligent life, we might spare a thought for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; he died on this date in 1955.  A Jesuit theologian, philosopher, geologist, and paleontologist, he conceived the idea of the Omega Point (a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving) and developed Vladimir Vernadsky‘s concept of noosphere.  Teilhard took part in the discovery of Peking Man, and wrote on the reconciliation of faith and evolutionary theory.  His thinking on both these fronts was censored during his lifetime by the Catholic Church (in particular for its implications for “original sin”); but in 2009, they lifted their ban.



Written by LW

April 10, 2015 at 1:01 am


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