Posts Tagged ‘maps’
Is confusion a good way to encourage safer driving? That seems to be the idea behind a new traffic calming ploy in Cambridge, England. The city reopened a remodeled street last week featuring what appears, at first, to be a roundabout. Look carefully, however, and you’ll notice that it isn’t a roundabout at all. It’s simply a circle of bricks laid into the street and adjoining sidewalk. It’s practical function is essentially nothing.
Or is it? The city’s thinking is that drivers will instinctively slow down when they approach this ghost roundabout. When they get closer, they will realize they’re actually on a normal street, and accelerate—but in the meantime they will have slowed down and watched the road more carefully on what could be a potentially dangerous corner.
The plan is interesting, if strangely devious, but it hasn’t received the warmest of welcomes from locals…
And … the whole thing is just a little eerie. There’s something unnervingly contemporary about road markings that seek to control drivers specifically through confusion and misinformation. The roundel essentially attempts to undermine drivers’ ability to tell what is real and what is false. It then uses their perplexity to enforce more submissive, hesitant behavior. In a contemporary scene where the concept of “post-truth” has become so ubiquitous that it’s moved from buzzword to cliché, it seems that even road planners are now tapping into the trend for misinformation…
Take the trip in full at “Britain’s Totally Fake Roundabout Is Driving Locals Crazy.”
As we prepare to circle, we might spare a cartographically-correct thought for Gerardus Mercator; he died on this date in 1594. The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.
While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments. And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.
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…
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…
xkcd (zoomable version here)
As we muse on the ways in which the map is not the territory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J. Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier. Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.
A Facebook friend recently noted that Turkey was “a remarkably rectangular country.” I wondered how it compared to other countries, and this post shows my answers (Turkey is 15th; Egypt is the most rectangular; full table below). I defined the rectangularness of a country as its maximum percentage overlap with a rectangle of the same area, working in the equirectangular projection (i.e., x = longitude, y = latitude). Ideally each country would get its own projection, but equirectangular rectangles feel at least linguistically thematic and are easier to code…
* Nicholas Chrisman, Professor of Geomatic Sciences, Université Laval
As we get square, we might send paradigm-shaping birthday greetings to a woman who enabled mapping of an altogether different– and world-changing– sort: Rosalind Franklin; she was born on this date in 1920. A biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer, Franklin captured the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that were, in the words of Francis Crick, “the data we actually used” when he and James Watson developed their “double helix” hypothesis for the structure of DNA. Indeed, it was Franklin who argued to Crick and Watson that the backbones of the molecule had to be on the outside (something that neither they nor their competitor in the race to understand DNA, Linus Pauling, had understood). Franklin never received the recognition she deserved for her independent work– her paper was published in Nature after Crick and Watson’s, which barely mentioned her– and she died of cancer four years before Crick, Watson, and their lab director Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for the discovery.
“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid”*…
On a theme we’ve visited before, an interactive map of the influences at play in the development of the musical genres we enjoy, from the general…
… to the specific…
… with navigational aids and background, to boot.
* Frank Zappa
As we hum along, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that The Shangri-Las, Johnny Tillotson, and “Many More”– including a band called “the Castiles” (which featured vocalist Bruce Springsteen) performed at the Surf ‘n See Club in Seabright, New Jersey.
Across the board, the Mercator projection of the Earth—which has been our baseline for world maps since the 16th century—skews the actual size of countries so they look bigger (and therefore, more important than they are) when they fall within the middle of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not just bad design, it has real geopolitical implications. For example, in most people’s minds, Greenland is a much larger country than Australia. But the reality is that Australia dwarfs Greenland. Likewise, you probably think Africa and North America are roughly the same size, but Africa can swallow all of North America and Greenland with room for all of Western Europe to spare. And so on… [To redress misperception] James Talmage and Damon Maneice created The True Size. The web app lets you drag-and-drop different countries on a world map and see how they shrink or grow on a standard Mercator Projection map. It’s a simple tool, but an eye-opening one that can be quickly used to show just how skewed our maps really are…
More at “This Interactive Proves Just How Wrong Our World Maps Really Are.” Visit The True Size here.
As we ponder perspective, we might might spare a thought for Eratosthenes of Cyrene; he may have died on this date in 194 or 195 BC. (His exact birth and death dates are lost, so this is as good a day as any to celebrate him.) A mathematician, geographer, poet, astronomer, music theorist, and Chief Librarian at Alexandria, Eratosthenes is probably best remembered as the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth (which he did remarkably accurately), to calculate the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun (which, again, he did very accurately); and he created the Leap Day.
In his three-volume work Geography (Geographika), Eratosthenes described and mapped his entire known world, dividing the Earth into five climate zones: two freezing zones around the pole, two temperate zones, and a zone encompassing the equator and the tropics. He placed grids of overlapping lines over the surface of the Earth, using parallels and meridians to link together every place in the world– in the process, coining terminology still in use… He had invented the discipline of Geography.
“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.”
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.