(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘cartography

“There is no perfection. All maps lie. All maps distort.”*…

 

Your correspondent is off for his annual sojourn in the land of dunes and deep fried food; regular service should resume on or around August 16.  Meantime, in the hope of inspiring readers to serendipitous travels of their own…

The notion that maps provide an objective or scientific depiction of the world is a common myth. The graphic nature of maps simplifies reality, giving makers and users a sense of power without social and ecological responsibilities. Details like the coloring of areas or the different sizes in typography can have great political consequences. For example, when names of towns are omitted from a map, it can imply that the area is not of interest, while adding names, details, and other information suggests it is an area of importance.

Mapmaking is a very old trade, but modern cartography originated in the age of European colonialism. Maps were indispensable for ships to navigate the oceans, and they legitimized the conquest of territories. Sometimes just mapping a newly found territory was enough to conquer it, without having to step ashore or have any knowledge of the indigenous population and history.

Even the fact that we put north on the top of the map is a result of the economic dominance of Western Europe after 1500. A map does not have a privileged direction in space. After all, the Earth has no up or down, and no geographical center…

Ruben Pater analyzes four prominent maps, including the one Google, Apple, and Bing use—but shouldn’t: “All World Maps Lie. So Which One Should We Use?

Paula Scher

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As we struggle to find our bearings, we might spare a topographical thought for Peter Hodgson; he died on this date in 1976.  An advertising and marketing consultant, Hodgson introduced Silly Putty to the world.  As The New York Times recounted in his obituary,

The stuff had been developed by General Electric scientists in the company’s New Haven laboratories several years earlier in a search for a viable synthetic rubber. It was obviously not satisfactory, and it found its way instead onto the local cocktail party circuit.

That’s where Mr. Hodgson, who was at the time writing a catalogue of toys for a local store, saw it, and an idea was born.

“Everybody kept saying there was no earthly use for the stuff” he later recalled. “But I watched them as they fooled with it. I couldn’t help noticing how people with busy schedules wasted as much as 15 minutes at a shot just fondling and stretching it”.

“I decided to take a chance and sell some. We put an ad in the catalogue on the adult page, along with such goodies as a spaghetti-making machine. We packaged the goop in a clear compact case and tagged it at $1.00”.

Having borrowed $147 for the venture, Mr. Hodgson ordered a batch from General Electric, hired a Yale student to separate the gob into one ounce dabs and began filling orders. At the same time he hurried to get some trademarks.

Silly Putty was an instant success, and Mr. Hodgson quickly geared up to take advantage of it…

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Written by LW

August 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”*…

 

This map of Canada shows the country’s familiar vastness. A single line drawn across its deep south adds a surprising layer of information.

The line runs well below the 49th parallel that constitutes that long straight stretch of U.S.-Canada border from Point Roberts, WA to Lake of the Woods, MN… Split in two by the U.S. state of Maine poking north, the line traverses four eastern provinces, cutting off the southern extremities of Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick. Nova Scotia is the only province that falls mostly below the line.

Amazingly, what the line does, is divide Canada in two perfect halves – demographically speaking: 50% of Canada’s 35 million inhabitants live south of the line, 50% north of it. Below the line is where you find Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax and other major cities. The vast expanses north of the line are mainly empty…

Other compelling cartographic “curious dividers” at “One Half of Canada Is Smaller than the Other — Plus More Fascinating Inequalities.”

* Audre Lorde

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As we conquer the divides, we might send adventurous birthday greetings to Hugh Clapperton; he was born on this date in 1788.  A British naval officer, Clapperton saw action in the Napoleonic Wars and in Canada before volunteering for an expedition to explore Africa.  He made several such journeys, helping to chart West and Central Africa, and was the first European to to make known from personal observation the Hausa states (in what we now call Nigeria).  Clapperton ended his career sailing in an action aimed at suppressing the slave trade.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

“When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change”*…

 

Louise E. Jefferson, “Americans of Negro Lineage,” Friendship Press, 1946. (Used by permission of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. All rights reserved worldwide, 2016.) Larger version here.

Women have been making maps for centuries. They have developed and applied new technologies, data collection techniques, and visual presentations to their maps as they charted new terrain, illustrated historical narratives, and pushed political and social agendas. In the 20th century, women mapmakers continued this work in larger numbers than ever—and no short post can account sufficiently for all of their contributions over a century that saw technological and social revolutions, one after another.

Examining just a small sample of the many compelling maps made by North American women in the 20th century, a theme emerges: aesthetic mastery.

In the days before the women’s liberation movement (except for a brief moment during World War II), most women didn’t have access to technical training in cartography. “Civil engineering, where topographic drafting was taught, was not a ‘girls’ subject,” writes Judith Tyner, a professor emerita of geography at California State University, Long Beach, in a presentation given at mapping conference earlier this year. But this didn’t stop women from participating in cartography. It simply meant that many who did started with a background in the arts…

More of the story– and several beautiful examples– at “How 20th-Century Women Put the ‘Art’ in Cartography,” the third installment in a series on women and maps; see also Part 1 and Part 2.

* Ursula Le Guin

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As we contemplate cartography, we might spare a thought for Francesco Petrarca– Petrarch:  on this date in 1341, he became the first poet laureate since antiquity, crowned by Roman Senatori Giordano Orsini and Orso dell’Anguillara on the holy grounds of Rome’s Capitol.  Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was famous for his paeans to his idealized lover “Laura” (modeled, many scholars believe, on the wife of Hugues de Sade, Laura de Noves, whom he met in Avignon in 1327, and who died in 1348).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo, who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century based largely on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Petrarch’s frequent correspondent, Boccaccio).

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Written by LW

April 8, 2016 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

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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.

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Written by LW

July 2, 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

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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)

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Written by LW

May 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If the people of New Zealand want to be part of our world, I believe they should hop off their islands, and push ’em closer”*…

 

 

World Maps Without New Zealand is a stupid side project an attempt to raise the awareness of a very serious and troubling issue we are seeing taking place all around the world: the disrespectful cartographical neglect towards the country that gave you such amazing things as Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords, Lorde, and ZORB. Here, we collect and share the real world examples of this atrocity.

The blog is curated by this guy, who is a humble Auckland based web developer by day, and an extra lazy one by night…

Many, many more at “World Maps Without New Zealand“–“It’s not a very important country most of the time…”

* Lewis Black

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As we get antipodeal, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954, at an athletics meeting in Gisborne (New Zealand), that Yvette Williams broke the long jump record held by Dutch athlete Francine Blankers-Koen.  Williams record of 20 feet 7½ inches (6.29 m) stood for another 18 months.

Williams had already achieved international recognition by winning Gold in the Long Jump event at the at the 1950 Commonwealth Games and at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952.  She took Gold again at the Commonwealth Games later in 1954, but did not surpass her own record.  She was inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame in 1990.

Williams, mid-jump

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Written by LW

February 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes”*…

 

Adam Smith once famously observed…

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759

He is a member of a stream of observers of the human condition, stretching back to the ancient Greeks, who believe that an innate goodness is at work in us all.  But is it so?

Behavioral economists have revolutionized the standard view of human nature. No longer are people presumed to be purely selfish, only acting in their own interest. Hundreds of experiments appear to show that most people are pro-social, preferring to sacrifice their own success in order to benefit others. That’s altruism.

If the interpretations of these experiments are true, then we have to rip up the textbooks for both economics and evolutionary biology! Economic and evolutionary models assume that individuals only act unselfishly when they stand to benefit some way. Yet humans appear to be unique in the animal kingdom as experiments suggest they willingly sacrifice their own success on behalf of strangers they will never meet. These results have led researchers to look for the evolutionary precursors of such exceptional altruism by also running these kinds of experiments with non-human primates.

But are these altruism experiments really evidence of humans being special? Our new study says probably not…

Read more– and draw your own conclusion– at “Does behavioral economics show people are altruistic or just confused?

[TotH to Mark Stahlman]

* P.J. O’Rourke

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As we calculate the angles, we might spare a thought for Johannes Schöner; this is both his birthday (1477) and the anniversary of his death (1547).  A priest, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, cosmographer, cartographer, mathematician, globe and scientific instrument maker, and editor and publisher of scientific texts, he is probably best remembered today (and was renowned in his own tine) as a pioneering maker of globes.  In 1515 he created one of the earliest surviving globes produced following the discovery of new lands by Christopher Columbus.  It was the first to show the name “America” that had been suggested by Waldseemüller– and tantalizingly, it depicts a passage around South America before it was recorded as having been discovered by Magellan.  In his roles as professor and academic publisher, he played a significant part in the events that led up to the publishing of Copernicus’ epoch-making “De revolutionibus” in Nürnberg in 1543.

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Written by LW

January 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

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