homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about maps

Beautiful Maps of the Solar System’s Asteroids and the Topography of Mercury

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

Remember how last week I told you about Eleanor Lutz’s An Atlas of Space?

Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Well, she’s posted her first two projects: An Orbit Map of the Solar System (a map of more than 18,000 asteroid orbits in the solar system) and A Topographic Map of Mercury.

Atlas Of Space

Atlas Of Space

As promised, Lutz has posted the source code for each project to her GitHub account: Mercury topography, asteroid orbits. What a great resource for aspiring data visualization designers. Stay tuned to her site, Twitter, or Tumblr for upcoming installments of the atlas.

Space Robot Roll Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society filed a report on humanity’s current roster of spacecraft currently exploring the solar system (and beyond).

Probe Report 2019

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 are now past their prime mission and are in their extended mission phases. Their companion SmallSat, Longjiang-2, will crash into the Moon on 31 July to bring its mission to an intentional end. Parker Solar Probe is near aphelion as of 1 July and will reach its third death-defying solar perihelion on 1 September. BepiColombo completed its near-Earth commissioning phase on 5 April and is now settling into its long-cruise phase. Earlier this year, the ESA-JAXA Mercury mission was racing ahead of Earth on an inside track, but its elliptical orbit has now taken it farther from the Sun than Earth, allowing Earth to catch up. It will return to Earth’s neighborhood in April 2020 for a flyby.

I counted roughly 30 different probes and rovers in operation, most of them gathered around the Moon and Mars. Sure, where’s my jetpack and flying car and all that, but the fact that humanity has more than two dozen robots currently exploring the solar system seems pretty futuristic to me.

Wikipedia also has a page listing currently active probes and of course there’s the lovely & informative spaceprob.es as well.

An Atlas of Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

Atlas Of Space

Eleanor Lutz is one of my favorite data visualizers (previously) and she’s about ready to drop her new project: An Atlas of Space.

I’m excited to finally share a new design project this week! Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Over the next few weeks I want to share each map alongside the open-source Python code and detailed tutorials for recreating the design. All of the astronomy data comes from publicly available sources like NASA and the USGS, so I thought this would be the perfect project for writing design tutorials (which I’ve been meaning to do for a while).

Ahhh, look at those colors! Lutz is going to be posting a new map from the project periodically over the next few weeks so follow her on Tabletop Whale, Twitter, or Tumblr to tune in.

How Cartography Powered Global Exploration

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2019

Navigation Maps

Navigation Maps

First You Make the Maps is a survey of mapping technology by Elizabeth Della Zazzera showing how, starting at the end of the Middle Ages, better maps facilitated the European discovery of the Americas, the explosion of global trade, the enslavement of Africans, and the colonization by Europeans of much of the world.

While geographically accurate maps had existed before, the Age of Exploration saw the emergence of a sustained tradition of topographic surveying. Maps were being made specifically to guide travelers. Technology progressed quickly through the centuries, helping explorers and traders find their way to new imperial outposts — at least sometimes. On other occasions, hiccups in cartographic reasoning led their users even farther astray.

(via @ktguru)

An Inverted World Map

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2019

Inverted World Map

Inverted World Map

Frans Blok has created an incredibly detailed inverse map of the world, where all the current landmasses have been turned into water and oceans, lakes, and rivers converted into land.

Not only the coast lines are reversed in this world. Also, the relief is consistently the opposite of reality. So the deepest parts of the oceans are in the Tibetan and Himalayan troughs in the southern part of the Asian Ocean. And the highest peaks, around eleven kilometer, are found in the Mariana Mountains in the west of the continent Pacifica.

Prints of Blok’s map are available here.

See also Vladislav Gerasimov’s inverted world map.

Inverted World Map

Here Grows New York City, a Time Lapse of NYC’s Street Grid from 1609 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Using geological surveys, geo-referenced road network data, and historic maps drawn the from the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, Miles Zhang made this time lapse video of the development of the street grid of NYC from 1609 (when Henry Hudson first explored the area for the Dutch) to the present day.

The resulting short film presents a series of “cartographic snapshots” of the built-up area at intervals of every 20-30 years in the city’s history. This process highlights the organic spurts of growth and movement that typify New York’s and most cities’ development through time. The result is an abstract representation of urbanism.

Zhang has written up his research methodology for the video as well as some observations and analysis of the data.

For almost the first half of Manhattan’s history, walking was the primary means of transport. This preference was manifested in the shorter distances between residential, industrial, shipping, and commercial areas — and more frequently their overlap. With street systems, the reliance on the foot is manifested in narrower streets widths not designed to accommodate greater width from carriages, trolleys, and later cars. In fact, the average width of secondary arterial streets increased from 30 feet for streets opened between 1624-1664, to 45 feet for streets opened 1664-1811, and then a uniform width of 60 feet for any cross street opened after 1811. Later widenings increased many of these smaller and pre-1811 streets to width between 100 and 130 feet. In other words, moving from the older networks in the south to newer networks in the north, the width of streets and size of blocks generally increases. These new widths might be influenced by growing population size from only 25,000 in the 1770s, to 64,000 by 1811, and 247,000 by 1834, thereby requiring wider streets for expanding population and higher buildings.

These gradual changes in planning reflected increasing reliance on carriages and horse-drawn trolleys instead of walking. Each mode of transport required a different minimum street width and was associated with different speeds.

(via @john_overholt)

The Medieval Town Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Medieval Town Generator

Oh my, this medieval town generator tool is super fun to play around with. By adjusting parameters like size, color palette, building styles, and which features to include (rivers, coastline, temples), you can make a random ichnographic map of a medieval town or city.

Toy Town is a related tool by the same person that allows you to move through a 3D visualization of a medieval town, a la Minecraft. (Unfortunately, you can’t generate a map in the 2D tool and then fly through it in the 3D tool.)

Medieval Town Generator

See also Auto-Generated Maps of Fantasy Worlds. (thx, ann)

Update: See also the Fantasy Map Generator. (via @mattg)

Cultural Cartography

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

In 2017, BuzzFeed’s Publisher Dao Nguyen did a TED Talk about how the company thinks about producing content.

In it, she introduces a system BuzzFeed developed called cultural cartography.

The question I get most frequently is: How do you make something go viral? The question itself is misplaced; it’s not about the something. It’s about what the people doing the something, reading or watching — what are they thinking? Now, most media companies, when they think about metadata, they think about subjects or formats. It’s about goats, it’s about office pranks, it’s about food, it’s a list or a video or a quiz, it’s 2,000 words long, it’s 15 minutes long, it has 23 embedded tweets or 15 images. Now, that kind of metadata is mildly interesting, but it doesn’t actually get at what really matters. What if, instead of tagging what articles or videos are about, what if we asked: How is it helping our users do a real job in their lives?

Last year, we started a project to formally categorize our content in this way. We called it, “cultural cartography.” It formalized an informal practice that we’ve had for a really long time: don’t just think about the subject matter; think also about, and in fact, primarily about, the job that your content is doing for the reader or the viewer.

Here’s what BuzzFeed’s map of their users’ desires looks like:

Cultural Cartography

But as former BuzzFeed employee Matthew Perpetua notes in a post about pop star Lizzo, content can start to feel formulaic if, you know, you use an actual formula to produce it.

I can’t hear Lizzo’s music without recognizing her cultural cartography savvy. A lot of music can achieve these goals without contrivance, often just as a natural side effect of an artist intuitively making resonant work, but Lizzo’s songs all sound very calculated to me. This is not such a bad thing — her skill in expressing herself in relatable ways is a major talent, and I’ve worked with many people who have this natural skill and hold them in very high regard. (I’m much better at telling people who they are rather than asking you to identify with who I am.) Lizzo has a good voice, and her songs range from “pretty good” to “undeniable banger” but I have mixed feelings about all of it because I know the game being played rather well, and because I’m uncomfortable with this self-consciously audience-pleasing approach to content creation becoming the primary mode of pop culture.

All artists who produce work for a large audience (or aspire to) have a method like cultural cartography, though most likely much less formal and more intuitive than BuzzFeed’s system. Some artists are better than others in disguising their methods.

Physical Data Visualizations

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

For almost as long as we’ve had civilization, people have been making data visualizations.1 The availability of paper and screens has exploded their creation in the last few hundred years, but the earliest visualizations were made from physical objects. This list contains more than 300 examples of physical visualizations and related artifacts and is absolutely fascinating (the older artifacts in particular). Take these stick charts from the Marshall Islands for example:

Marshall Islands Stick Map

These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862.

The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and islands.

And Yakama time balls:

Yakama Time Ball

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball.

A young woman would use a time ball to record her courtship, marriage, and other experiences using a system of knots and beads that only she could decipher. As she grew older, a woman might have several time balls with which to share her life story or keep those memories private. When she passed on, they were buried with her.

The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences.

You can read more about stick maps in the Smithsonian magazine and more about time balls at the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel.

  1. And visualizations probably enabled civilization. Or is it the other way around?

How Leonardo Constructed a Satellite-View Map in 1502 Without Ever Leaving the Ground

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Have you ever wondered how mapmakers made bird’s-eye-view maps before the invention of satellites or even hot air balloons? I have and was glad to find Phil Edwards’ video on the subject:

Leonardo da Vinci is justly famous for a lot of different things, but we’ve heard somewhat less about his mapmaking prowess than his painting or mechanical designs. His 1502 map of the Italian town of Imola is the oldest surviving example of an ichnographic (i.e. bird’s-eye-view) map of a place, a type of map that is ubiquitous today in the form of satellite imagery.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Here is Leonardo’s Imola map (cropped) compared with a contemporary satellite image:

Leonardo Imola Map

Leonardo Imola Map

As Edwards notes in the video, Leonardo’s map is not strictly an illustration or drawing of a place but more of an infographic. We take this type of map for granted now, but 500 years ago, that shift was a genuine innovation.

A Map of the Internet from May 1973

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2019

Internet Map 1973

This is a map of ARPANET circa May 1973 via David Newbury, who found it among his father’s papers. The first part of ARPANET was built nearly 50 years ago and became the basis of the modern internet. The network was so small in the early days that those circles and squares on the 1973 map represent individual computers and routers, not universities or cities.

See also An Atlas of Cyberspaces.

A Map of Fairyland (c. 1920)

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 22, 2019

Fairyland (Smaller).jpg

The Library of Congress has a remarkable digitized work in its collection titled “An anciente mappe of Fairyland : newly discovered and set forth,” by Bernard Sleigh, published in London around 1920. Here’s the high-resolution image so you can see some of the detail:

Fairyland (Larger).jpg

The map aims to be a nearly comprehensive atlas of the world of common English fairy tales, with a few of its own twists and turns. The accompanying guidebook lays out the map’s unique, ontological take on folktales and faerie stories, with the following introductory paragraph (with a quote from Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”):

Of the Land of Faerie and of the way thereto

In the Heart of every child, is hidden away a golden key which unlocks the door of a silent, clean-swept room full of changing lights and mystic shadows. There, every child that is born into the world enters at times to gaze eagerly upon the one great window, pictured with ancient legends, and glowing with many colours: amber and scarlet, lapis blues and strange greens. And it is written in many places with curious letters of silver upon black and black upon silver.

About these,

“Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn,”

there lingers a faint, plaintive music, as of far-away organ pipes, of whispering harps, and the sighing of wind amongst the reeds. You would think, at times, it was but the droning of bees in the clover field, or the fall of surf upon some long white beach. It is always there, rising, swelling, dying away in a long, pulsing, voiceless harmony, and through the jewelled panes the light changes continually from that of a pale, cold starshine to the white glory of unclouded moons; and again to the rich warmth of an Eastern sun. Always too, there is the fragrance of enchanted winds, a breathless scent that is like the fading memory of all the flowers that have raised their glad faces to the sun, and closed them softly beneath the Evening Star.

At one time or another of its life, every child that is born of woman sets trembling fingers to open wide the flashing casements — to stand gazing, awed and silent, upon a sea and sky of gold and crimson, full of winged forms grey against its summer radiance.

It goes on like this. I hope you find it charming. (I do.)

Fairyland (Guidebook).jpg

One of the many things this is useful for, besides its own right, is in understanding the cultural mentality in which works like The Lord of the Rings, CS Lewis’s writings, Walt Disney’s films, and the like were shaped. There was a real grappling with European folk stories, from the 19th century onwards, but the 20th century added a metaphysical dimension, a desire to make these stories real, to fix them in a place, to give them their own world. I find that desire fascinating, especially coming out of the horrors of World War I, and the destruction of so much of what had been the old Europe.

(Via Allen Tan.)

The Partisan States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2019

The Atlantic recently teamed up with polling and analytics company PredictWise to build a county-by-county map of political open-mindedness in America.

US Map of Political Prejudice

In general, the most politically intolerant Americans, according to the analysis, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves. This finding aligns in some ways with previous research by the University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz, who has found that white, highly educated people are relatively isolated from political diversity. They don’t routinely talk with people who disagree with them; this isolation makes it easier for them to caricature their ideological opponents. (In fact, people who went to graduate school have the least amount of political disagreement in their lives, as Mutz describes in her book Hearing the Other Side.) By contrast, many nonwhite Americans routinely encounter political disagreement. They have more diverse social networks, politically speaking, and therefore tend to have more complicated views of the other side, whatever side that may be.

We see this dynamic in the heat map. In some parts of the country, including swaths of North Carolina and upstate New York, people still seem to give their fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt, even when they disagree. In other places, including much of Massachusetts and Florida, people appear to have far less tolerance for political difference. They may be quicker to assume the worst about their political counterparts, on average.

If you click through to the article, the interactive map will let you see how prejudiced your county is. There are also maps for Republican on Democratic prejudice and Democratic on Republican prejudice.

This map is a little bit bonkers…I can’t wrap my head around some of the results. Why are Florida and South Carolina so polarized while the states surrounding them are not? And look at New York…aside from NYC, there’s relatively little polarization right up against a very polarized New England and Pennsylvania. Utah sticks out among western states but you can probably chalk that up to Mormonism. Is this a methodology problem or is it due to something fundamentally different about the states and/or their governments?

The Heart of the Grand Canyon Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2019

Over a period of 8 years, explorer and photographer Bradford Washburn worked with a small team and National Geographic to produce a map called The Heart of the Grand Canyon. Published in 1978, it is “still considered by many to be the most beautiful map of the area ever created”.

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Here’s a closeup view of part of the map, which shows just how much detail is there:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Often Washburn was dropped off on top of a pinnacle or small butte along with surveying equipment, such as a state-of-the-art laser range-finder device still under development, on loan from the company that made it. Using a built-in telescope, Washburn would aim the helium-neon laser at a reflecting prism positioned on another point miles away. The laser beam would be reflected back to the range finder, which measured how long the beam’s round-trip took and translated that into distances that were accurate to within 6/100 of an inch per mile. Washburn used a 40-pound surveying instrument called a theodolite to measure the angles between each of the control points, providing him with the relative position and height of each set of points.

After a few weeks in the canyon, Washburn was convinced of the potential for “a map of really superlative beauty as well as topographic quality.” Knowing exactly where to find the expertise, and the funds, needed to realize that potential, he asked the National Geographic Society to join the project.

The surveying took years and then came the data analysis & production phases…it took over 1000 hours just to paint the relief shading onto the map. If you want to compare Washburn’s map to earlier efforts, check out this post at Codex 99. This 1903 USGS map was the best map into the 1960s:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Even in the age of crisp satellite views in Google Maps, The Heart of the Grand Canyon is a beautiful and useful map. You can purchase a copy of the 1978 map (and a refreshed 1999 version) from the National Geographic store.

Mapping the Odyssey Isn’t Easy

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 01, 2019

Odyssey - Abraham Ortelius.png

We’ve looked before at maps of Odysseus’s travels in The Odyssey (as Jason wrote in 2018, “that dude was LOST”). But it turns out — and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising — that it’s not easy to figure out exactly where Odysseus was in the Mediterranean Sea for all that time.

Scholars have pored over the text for clues for centuries, argued about their findings, and tried to interpret ambiguous language. We don’t even know for certain where Odysseus’s home island of Ithaca was.

Ithaca is one of a group of four islands, with smaller islands nearby, but it faces west while the others face east. (What does it mean for an island to face a direction?) It has forests and at least one mountain, and it is a good place for raising children. That isn’t much to go on.

Then there’s the whole question of what we gain from mapping The Odyssey in detail anyways. Some of it is plugging a gap in our imagination; we’ve gotten used to fantasy worlds supplying us with maps, and The Odyssey is a fantasy world that coexists with our own. But the level of detail is obsessive.

Attempts to map the Odyssey seem different from other attempts to locate the sites of famous myths and legends. Atlantis was the site of a wondrous civilization, Troy the landscape for an epic battle; finding them in the real world would mean discovering rich sources of evidence about past cultures. El Dorado’s location seems to have been coveted mainly for the lost city’s purported riches, Bimini for its rumored fountain of youth. But what do we gain by knowing where Helios kept his cows? Or which rocky, uninhabitable cave a kidnapping nymph called home?

Nevertheless, there’s a long history of scholars, artists, kings, and more attempting to write themselves into the myth of The Odyssey. The Aeneid, which simultaneously reimagines the founding of Rome as part of the story of the Iliad and Odyssey and elevates Virgil’s Latin poetry to the epic heights of Homer, is the most famous attempt to shore up a claim to legitimacy by appealing to the reality of the Odyssey’s ancient past.

But where exactly was Odysseus? Was he mostly in the Aegean and Italy, as Abraham Ortelius believed in 1597? Or was he scattered into the western Mediterranean, Spain, Corsica, North Africa, as Peter Struck thinks? We’ll probably never know. That dude was LOST.

A Detailed Map of Medieval Trade Routes in Europe, Asia, and Africa

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Medieval Trade Map

Medieval Trade Map

Grad student Martin Jan Månsson has created this incredibly detailed map of trade route networks in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Even before modern times the Afro-Eurasian world was already well connected. This map depicts the main trading arteries of the high middle ages, just after the decline of the Vikings and before the rise of the Mongols, the Hansa and well before the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

The map also depicts the general topography, rivers, mountain passes and named routes. All of which contributed to why cities came to be, and still are, up until modern times.

The high middle ages were a time when the stars aligned in terms of commerce for many areas of the world. In central Europe many German and French cities initiated annual trade fairs, some of which are still active today — most notably in Frankfurt. The Europeans have redeveloped a demand for eastern goods as a result of the crusades in Iberia and the Levant. The Italian city states and some north eastern Iberian cities had shipped the crusaders back and forth in the Mediterranean sea, building up huge fleets and setting up networks of trade all around the Mediterranean shores. The Italians frequented ports such as Alexandria, which had separate trading ports for muslim and christian ships.

You can play with a zoomable version here.

The saying is that “all roads lead to Rome” but as this map shows, that assertion belongs to an earlier era. In the 12th century, it was more accurate to say that all roads lead to Constantinople or Cairo or Baghdad or Hanzhong…or perhaps even “all roads lead to everywhere”. It’s not quite globalization, but many of the world’s peoples were well on their way to connecting with everyone else.

P.S. I have heard many good things about Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads. It’s been sitting on my (virtual) bedside table for several months now…I think I might make it my next read. Has anyone read it?

The Hoover Dam’s “Hidden” 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

There’s a little-known monument located at the site of the Hoover Dam that shows the progression of “North Stars” as the Earth moves through its 25,772-year change of rotational axis. Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation couldn’t find much public documentation related to this celestial map, so he did some research.

I now had some historical text and photos, but I was still missing a complete diagram of the plaza that would allow me to really understand it. I contacted the historian again, and she obtained permission from her superiors to release the actual building plans. I suspect that they generally don’t like to release technical plans of the dam for security reasons, but it seems they deemed my request a low security risk as the monument is not part of the structure of the dam. The historian sent me a tube full of large blueprints and a CD of the same prints already scanned. With this in hand I was finally able to re-construct the technical intent of the plaza and how it works.

In order to understand how the plaza marks the date of the dam’s construction in the nearly 26,000-year cycle of the earth’s precession, it is worth explaining what exactly axial precession is. In the simplest terms, it is the earth “wobbling” on its tilted axis like a gyroscope — but very, very slowly. This wobbling effectively moves what we see as the center point that stars appear to revolve around each evening.

Presently, this center point lies very close to the conveniently bright star Polaris. The reason we have historically paid so much attention to this celestial center, or North Star, is because it is the star that stays put all through the course of the night. Having this one fixed point in the sky is the foundation of all celestial navigation.

Here are some explanatory notes that Rose wrote over the blueprints of the monument showing how to read the map:

Hoover Celestial Map

Historic Topographic Maps Pushed Into 3D

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

What really sells it is the shadows cast by the topological part of the map onto the borders; it’s particularly evident in the Teton and Acadia maps. I’d love to see an animated version of the mountains pushing up from the flatness of the map. (via the morning news and several emailers)

Update: FYI, if you want to buy prints of some of these maps, Reinhard has set up a shop selling prints.

A Year in Weather

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2019

This is mesmerizing to watch for a few minutes: a time lapse map of weather activity across the entire US in 2018. I was thinking it would be instructive to see this sped up a bit more, that perhaps different patterns might reveal themselves, and then I remembered that you can control the playback speed on YouTube videos…just click the gear icon. I think I like the 2X version better. (via @DesignObserver)

The Inverted Grand Canyon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Inverted Grand Canyon

What would the Grand Canyon look like as a Grand Mountain, i.e. if its depth became its height? Not quite as Grand perhaps, but still pretty cool.

Some of my earliest memories of the place had to do with the trippy feeling of my eyes and mind trying to make sense of the scale. I had seen many mountain ranges and vistas, including some on the way, but the vast negative space played havoc with my perception of magnitude. I’ve felt it a few times since, but never like that first Grand Canyon overlook.

I wondered, then, if flipping the Grand Canyon into a Grand Mountain might in some way help me make sense of its scale. I’m much more accustomed to seeing the mass of something rather than the massive void of something. So, here’s what that looks like.

For reference, the depth at the deepest part of the canyon is ~6000 feet and the top of the canyon is between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level, so the highest point of the Grand Mountains would be somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 feet, in the ballpark of the Rocky Mountains. It would be fun to see what an inverted Kola Superdeep Borehole would look like: a 9-inch spire rising 40,000 feet into the air from a starting point very close to sea level, more that 10,000 feet higher than Everest.

If you want to dig into the details of how this visualization was made, check out this post on the ArcGIS blog. (thx, john)

Kottke.org’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

2018 light bulb.jpg

Subscribers to Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, have already seen our two-part Best of 2018 series, published on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st. We decided to split the best-of into two parts, with the first letter, the A-Sides, focusing on the 50 most popular posts of the year, and the second, the B-Sides, collecting our personal favorites.

For the B-Sides, Jason and I each submitted lists of posts we wanted to include, and after discarding redundancies, it turned out that the number of “favorite” posts was an even 100. I’d expected to write up about fifty, which was the number of the first newsletter. But that century mark felt like a sign, and a challenge I wanted to meet. So, fuck it; we wrote up the full 100.

Here’s an excerpt from the first newsletter:

Mapping cities, the planet, the stars

A number of the year’s best posts, as always, featured maps. A literal world map stars countries with the literal translations of their names. A map of the world after four degrees of warming is sobering, if not outright depressing. (Spoiler: most of the places where lots of people live will become hostile to the point of unliveable.) A map of the world where the sizes of countries is determined by their population has a similar “whoa!” effect, making you rethink the distribution of the planet. But maybe nothing is more “whoa!” than a timeline map of the 200,000 year history of human civilization, starting with migrations out of sub-Saharan Africa and following human travel and development through to the present.



We’ve reached the point in our development where we don’t necessarily need cartography to map our surroundings; photography will do the job. Even in 1920, photographers were able to capture stunning aerial photographs like cities, like these snaps of Edinburgh. These days, you can take aerial panoramas from 20,000 feet using as something as ubiquitous as an iPhone. Or use a fractal lens to take pictures of Tokyo, bending yourself into the future from that great contemporary city.



We now know what high-resolution photos of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon look like. We know how our seemingly geometric road grids subtly correct themselves for the curvature of the Earth’s surface. And we can even photograph black holes — or rather, watch stars in orbit around black holes, using a twenty-year time lapse. (Twenty years? Huh.)

That “twenty years” bit is a callback, as Kottke.org turned 20 this year.

And here is an excerpt from the B-Sides issue, which is, let’s just say, more dense:

The Year In Inspiration





Consider the fable of the dragon-tyrant. Literally, it’s about the possibility of extending the human lifespan and human flourishing, instead of sacrificing the young and old alike to the tyranny of death. But allegorically, as Jason writes, “humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.”



Consider, too, the calmness of airline pilots. In the midst of disaster, good pilots actually get calmer, and this helps them solve their problems.



Do you need to get yourself out of a funk? Or console or otherwise help a grieving friend? Think about what Augustine says about hope: hope stretches us out across time. It makes our hearts bigger in order to contain it. And all our secular hopes help to prepare us for the great hope to come, that all might be redeemed and made perfect, and we can find our true place in the cosmos. Think about Dean Allen, one of the kindest and most talented people in the tech universe, and whether or not he’s found the peace that eluded him — that eludes us all — on Earth.



We are, all of us, explorers and hermits, both searching for adventure and longing for routine. This is why, despite it all, it is some small comfort to know that humans right now are better at Tetris than they have ever been. And that if we decide to move to Los Angeles, we’ll have to solve a lot of problems with ourselves first: “How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?” And, to generalize: how can we care for 2019, as we’re drawn inexorably into its vortex, rather than allow it to steamroll us all?

It’s been a great year. I’ve loved writing this newsletter, and being able to chime in with my Friday posts and occasional guest weeks. (Guest editor Chrysanthe Tenentes put up some great posts this year as well.) Cheers to Jason for continuing to host the best blog in the universe. Here’s to more and better in 2019. Here’s to blogs making their inevitable comeback. Here’s to another twenty years.

GDP Per Capita in China and Africa in 1980 and 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Africa China GDP

Using data from the IMF and World Bank, this map by Näytä Data shows how quickly the relative fortunes of China and African countries changed over the last few decades. For reference, in 1980, Africa had an estimated population of 480 million and China’s population was 994 million, while in 2016, Africa had 1.23 billion people and China had 1.4 billion people.

Terrible Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

For the past few years, the @TerribleMaps Twitter account has been posting maps that aren’t useful or that don’t make a lot of sense. Here are some of my favorites.

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

(via laura olin)

Typewriter Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Typewriter Map

Daniel Huffman dug his dad’s old typewriter out of the basement and used it to type out a map of the major rivers draining into Lake Michigan.

The final product has various interesting smudges where the paper accidentally contacted the ribbon. In particular, I noticed that typing in red always produced a faint black “shadow” a couple of lines above. When the slug hit the red part of the ribbon, a small portion of it would lightly hit the black portion of the ribbon, too. Later on, I started holding scrap paper over my map in order to prevent this, so that the black shadow would go on the scrap.

In sum: my typewriter is not a precision instrument. This makes it a somewhat uncomfortable-feeling tool for a detail-oriented designer like me. I like being able to zoom in to 64,000% in Illustrator and correct errors that are small enough that no human eye could possibly ever see them. But, there’s something attractive about the organic messiness of the typewriter.

He experimented with a couple of other maps as well: a shaded relief map of Africa and a contour relief map of the Great Lakes.

See also An Atlas for the Blind.

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

I’ve you’ve ever skied or snowboarded in the US, Canada, or many other spots around the world, chances are you’ve used a ski map painted by James Niehues. He’s hand-painted almost 200 trail maps for places like Alta, Vail, Big Sky, Okemo, and Mammoth.

Ski Magazine regularly ranks the Top 50 resorts in North America. Jim has hand painted 45 of them. His tools of choice are a camera, a notepad, a paintbrush and a canvas. Every painstaking detail — peaks, cliffs, trees and shadows — is painted by hand. Jim’s large and beautiful paintings have helped generations of skiers navigate and capture the unique character of each mountain. He has had more impact on the image and feel of skiing than almost anyone, yet few people know his name.

With the help of a small team, Niehues is publishing a hardcover coffee table book featuring all of his work along with a series of prints. Here are a couple of the maps that will be in the book:

Niehues Maps 01

Niehues Maps 02

These Are Barely Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2018

Peter Gorman is creating dozens of minimalist maps that he’s rolling up into a book that will be ready late next year (hopefully).

One of my favorites is this map that shows the 5 largest cities in each US state as constellations.

Barely Maps

I also like how this map of Manhattan mostly keeps its shape only using subway stations.

Barely Maps

You can follow Gorman’s progress on Instagram.

An Infinite Icosahedral Puzzle of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

Earth Puzzle

Nervous System designed this puzzle of Earth so that it can be put together in a variety of different ways.

This puzzle is based on an icosahedral map projection and has the topology of a sphere. This means it has no edges, no North and South, and no fixed shape. Try to get the landmasses together or see how the oceans are connected. Make your own maps of the earth!

A Song Map of the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Song Map

Song Map

Design studio Dorothy has produced a poster of a map of the United States where all the place names are song titles.

Some of our favourite song choices are the ones which require you to think a little harder about connections, such as Space Oddity (David Bowie) which signposts Cape Canaveral, After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) which references Sutter’s Mill, and Homecoming (Kanye West) which is placed near the rapper’s home town of Chicago.

The map is accompanied by a Spotify playlist of most of the songs used…over 61 hours of music in total.

Leave Land and Remain Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

These two maps by Esri UK show the parts of the UK that voted to leave the EU and which parts voted to remain.

Leave Land Remain Land

See also the NY Times’ maps of Trump’s & Clinton’s Americas from the 2016 election. (via @goodwinmj)

All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2018

The folks behind the National Geographic cartography blog All Over the Map have come out with a book of the same name that is a “guided tour through the world’s most incredible maps”.

Just to give you a taste of the kind of stuff they feature, recent entries include maps of the most extreme places on Earth and Heinrich Berann’s panoramic paintings of national parks.

All Over The Map

All Over The Map

All Over The Map

You can order a copy of All Over the Map here.