(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘map

“It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise”*…

Take a ride from the earth’s surface to the Kármán line (the conventionally-acknowledged boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space) on Neal Agarwal‘s (@nealagarwal) Space Elevator.

* Henry David Thoreau


As we get high, we might recall that this date in 1970 was the first Earth Day.  First suggested by John McConnell for March 21 (the Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a day of natural equipoise), Secretary General U Thant signed a UN Proclamation to that effect.  But Earth Day as we know it was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (who was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award for his work) as an environmental teach-in to be held on on this date.  The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States.  Later that year, President Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into being.  Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries, coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes– according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”

Earth Day Flag created by John McConnell


“Being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing”*…

Maps are crucial– and they’re also often crucially wrong… or at least misleading. Any attempt to reduce our 3-D world in 2-D results in distortion.

It is hard to represent our spherical world on flat piece of paper. Cartographers use something called a “projection” to morph the globe into 2D map. The most popular of these is the Mercator projection.

Every map projection introduces distortion, and each has its own set of problems. One of the most common criticisms of the Mercator map is that it exaggerates the size of countries nearer the poles (US, Russia, Europe), while downplaying the size of those near the equator (the African Continent). On the Mercator projection Greenland appears to be roughly the same size as Africa. In reality, Greenland is 0.8 million sq. miles and Africa is 11.6 million sq. miles, nearly 14 and a half times larger.

This app was created by James Talmage and Damon Maneice. It was inspired by an episode of The West Wing and an infographic by Kai Krause entitled “The True Size of Africa“. We hope teachers will use it to show their students just how big the world actually is…

The world as it actually is: “The True Size,” an interactive tool that let’s one compare the real scale of any two countries.

Apposite: “Animated Map: Where Are the Largest Cities Throughout History?” (with thanks to friend JA)

* Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


As we muse on measurement, we might recall that it was on this date in 1513 that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon came ashore and claimed “La Florida” [the “land of flowers”] for Spain.  While it has long been accepted that de Leon landed with his three caravels near St. Augustine and became the first European of record to see the peninsula, scholars have recently challenged details of that historical account, suggesting that he actually beached near Melbourne.

In any event, he went on to map the Atlantic coast down to the Florida Keys and north along the Gulf coast; historian John Reed Swanton believed that he sailed perhaps as far as Apalachee Bay on Florida’s western coast. Though popular lore has it that he was searching for the Fountain of Youth, there is no contemporary evidence to support the story, which most modern historians consider a myth.

Juan Ponce de Leon is commemorated on a stamp in Spain, left, while St. Augustine residents in 1923 re-enact his landing, right.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 2, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”*…

Our environment…

This map shows a slice of our Universe. It was created from astronomical data taken night after night over a period of 15 years using a telescope in New Mexico, USA. We are located at the bottom. At the top is the actual edge of the observable Universe. In between, we see about 200,000 galaxies.

Each tiny dot is a galaxy. About 200,000 are shown with their actual position and color. Each galaxy contains billions of stars and planets. We are located at the bottom. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is just a dot. Looking up, we see that space is filled with galaxies forming a global filamentary structure. Far away from us (higher up in the map), the filaments become harder to see…

For a (much crisper, more vivid, and interactive) version: “The Map of the Observable Universe.”

* Stephen Hawking


As we explore, we might recall that it was on this date in 1616 that The Minutes of the Roman Inquisition recorded the conclusion that Galileo’s writings in support of Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the solar system were “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” The next day, Galileo was called before Cardinal Bellarmine, who (on Pope Paul V’s instruction) ordered Galileo to abandon the teaching. Shortly thereafter, Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus and other heliocentric works were banned (entered onto the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) “until correction.”

Sixteen years later, Galileo “published” Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo)– that’s to say, he presented the first copy to his patron, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Dialogue, which compared the heliocentric Copernican and the traditional geo-centric Ptolemaic systems, was an immediate best-seller.

While there was no copyright available to Galileo, his book was printed and distributed under a license from the Inquisition.  Still, the following year it was deemed heretical– and he joined Copernicus on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum: the publication of anything else Galileo had written or ever might write was also banned… a ban that remained in effect until 1835.

Domenico Tintoretto‘s portrait of Galileo (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 25, 2023 at 1:00 am

“If the map doesn’t agree with the ground the map is wrong”*…

Mercator’s depiction of Rupes Nigra

Maps from hundreds of years ago can be surprisingly accurate… or they can just be really, really wrong. Weird maps from history invent lands wholesale, distort entire continents, or attempt to explain magnetism planet-wide. Sometimes the mistakes had a surprising amount of staying power, too, getting passed from map to map over the course of years while there was little chance to independently verify…

Gerardus Mercator, creator of everyone’s favorite map projection, didn’t know what the north pole looked like. No one in his time really did. But they knew that magnetic compasses always pointed north, and so a theory developed: the north pole was marked by a giant magnetic black-rock island.

He quotes a description of the pole in a letter: “In the midst of the four countries is a Whirl-pool, into which there empty these four indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the Earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is four degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogether. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare Rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic Stone (…) This is word for word everything that I copied out of this author [Jacobus Cnoyen] years ago.”

Mercator was not the first or only mapmaker to show the pole as Rupes Nigra, and the concept also tied into fiction and mythology for a while. The idea eventually died out, but people explored the Arctic in hopes of finding a passage through the pole’s seas for years before the pole was actually explored in the 1900s…

See five more confounding charts at “The Weird History of Extremely Wrong Maps.”

And for fascinating explanations of maps with intentional “mistakes,” see: “MapLab: The Legacy of Copyright Traps” and “A map is the greatest of all epic poems.”

* Gordon Livingston


As we find our way, we might spare a thought for Thomas Doughty; he was beheaded on this date in 1578. A nobleman, soldier, scholar, and personal secretary of Christopher Hatton, Doughty befriended explorer and state-sponsored pirate Francis Drake, then sailed with him on a 1577 voyage to raid Spanish treasure fleets– a journey that ended for Doughty in a shipboard trial for treason and witchcraft, and his execution.

Although some scholars doubt the validity of the charges of treason, and question Drake’s authority to try and execute Doughty, the incident set an important precedent: according to a history of the English Navy, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur L. Herman, Doughty’s execution established the idea that a ship’s captain was its absolute ruler, regardless of the rank or social class of its passengers.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 2, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Without geography you’re nowhere”*…

Finding meaning in maps…

You may not know it, but you’ve probably seen the Valeriepieris circle – it’s that circle on a map of the world, alongside the text ‘There are more people living inside this circle than outside of it’. The name ‘Valeriepieris’ is from the Reddit username of the person who posted it and in 2015 the circle was looked at in more detail by Danny Quah of the London School of Economics under the heading ‘The world’s tightest cluster of people‘. But of course it’s not actually a circle because it wasn’t drawn on a globe and it’s also a bit out of date now so I thought I’d look at this topic because I like global population density stuff. I’ll begin by posting a map of what I’m calling ‘The Yuxi Circle’ and then I’ll explain everything else below that – with lots of maps. As in the original circle, I decided to use a radius of 4,000 km, or just under 2,500 miles. Why Yuxi? Well, out of all the cities I looked at (more than 1,500 worldwide), Yuxi had the highest population within 4000km – just over 55% of the world’s population as of 2020…

More– including fascinating comparisons– at “The Yuxi Circle,” from Alasdair Rae (@undertheraedar)

* Jimmy Buffett


As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1995 that the day-time soap opera As The World Turns aired its 10,000th episode. Created by Irna Phillips, it aired for 54 years (from April 2, 1956, to September 17, 2010); its 13,763 hours of cumulative narrative gave it the longest total running time of any television show. Actors including, Marissa Tomei, Meg Ryan, Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, and Emmy Rossum all appeared on the series.

The 1956 cast


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