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Posts Tagged ‘maps

“The map is not the territory”*…

 

With the advent of GPS systems and cell-phone-based mapping guidance…

…many of us have stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are too intent on following directions. Some observers worry that this represents a new and dangerous shift in our style of navigation. Scientists since the 1940s have argued we normally possess an internal compass, “a map-like representation within the ‘black box’ of the nervous system,” as geographer Rob Kitchin puts it. It’s how we know where we are in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

Is it possible that today’s global positioning systems and smartphones are affecting our basic ability to navigate? Will technology alter forever how we get around?

Most certainly—because it already has. Three thousand years ago, our ancestors began a long experiment in figuring out how they fit into the world, by inventing a bold new tool: the map…

Get your bearings at: “From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps

* Alfred Korzybski

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As we follow the directions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1595 that Johann Kepler (and here) published Mysterium cosmographicum (Mystery of the Cosmos), in which he described an invisible underlying structure determining the six known planets in their orbits.  Kepler thought as a mathematician, devising a structure based on only five convex regular solids; the path of each planet lay on a sphere separated from its neighbors by touching an inscribed polyhedron.

It was an elegant model– and one that fit the orbital data available at the time.  It was, nonetheless, wrong.

Detailed view of Kepler’s inner sphere

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Written by LW

July 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Caveat lector”*…

 

xkcd

* “Let the reader beware,” Latin phrase

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As we interrogate our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that Representative (later, President) James Madison introduced nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives; subsequently, Madison added three more, ten of which (including 7 of his original nine) became the Bill of Rights.

Madison, often called “the Father of the Constitution,” created the amendments to appease anti-Federalists on the heels of the oftentimes bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution– in the drafting of which he had also played a central role.

Madison

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Written by LW

June 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand”*…

 

Build your own with The Medieval Fantasy City Generator

* Italo Calvino

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As we wander within the walls, we might spare a thought for Henry I, King of Castile and Toledo; he died on this date in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head.  He had become the monarch two years earlier, at age 10, when his father (Alfonso VIII of Castile) passed away.  His mother was Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile, the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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Written by LW

June 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”*…

 

Michelangelo Caetani’s “Cross Section of Hell,” an illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and part of Cornell University’s P.J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography (“more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs – to send a message – rather than to communicate geographic information”).

An enlargeable version of the Cross Section is here; browse the full collection here.

* Robert Frost

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As we ruminate on repentance, we might note that today is the Feast Day of  Lucifer– more properly, of St. Lucifer of Caligari.  At least, it’s his feast day in Sardinia, where he’s venerated.  Lucifer, who was a 4th century bishop fierce in his opposition to Arianism, is considered by some elsewhere to have been a stalwart (if minor) defender of the orthodoxy; but by more to have been an obnoxious fanatic.

“Lucifer” was in use at the time as a translation of the the Hebrew word, transliterated Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as HAY-lale), which means “shining one, light-bearer.”  It had been rendered in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally “bringer of dawn,” for the morning star.  The name “Lucifer” was introduced in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, roughly contemporaneously with St. Lucifer.  The conflation of “Lucifer” with “Satan” came later.

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Written by LW

May 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The picture is worth ten thousand words”*…

 

The first issue of National Geographic magazine, published in October 1888, was vastly different to the magazine we know today. It contained no photographs or illustrations. The cover was brown, with just the title and symbol of the National Geographic Society.

The following year, the magazine published a four-color foldout map, the first step towards the all-color charts and diagrams that have since become synonymous with National Geographic. “We’re in the business of using art to explain,”  Kaitlin Yarnall, Deputy Creative Director, explains…

Since then, National Geographic has become renowned for the infographics it uses to break down complex information…

More background– and beautiful examples– at “See the Most Captivating Infographics of the Last Century.”

* … and its variants: a supposed Chinese (or Japanese) proverb, actually coined by Frank Bernard in the early 20th century

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As we show instead of tell, we might send adventurous birthday greetings to Gerald “Gerry” Malcolm Durrell; he was born on this date in 1925.  A British naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author, and television presenter, most of his work was rooted in his life as an animal collector and enthusiast… though he is probably most widely known for his autobiographical book My Family and Other Animals and its successors, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods... which have been made into television and radio mini-series many times, most recently as ITV’s/PBS’s The Durrells.

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“Here too it’s masquerade, I find”*…

 

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.”

* Goethe

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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.

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Written by LW

December 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“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

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