Da Vinci, the map maker

We’re familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s sculptural sketches and engineering diagrams, but he was an innovative cartographer too.

How Leonardo da Vinci made a “satellite” map in 1502
It was a feat of technological and symbolic imagination. And it was pretty accurate, too.

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This old map: Da Vinci’s plan of Imola, 1502
A map made by da Vinci would be interesting even if he hadn’t applied his fabled genius to the task. But here, he absolutely did. Besides this being a beautiful map, with its delicate colors and washes, it achieves a technical precision few others did at the time.

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.

Da Vinci centered the plan in a circle with four crossing lines, representing the points on a compass. And he showed the city ichnographically, “as if viewed from an infinite number of viewpoints,” perhaps inspired by his study of avian flight. It is the earliest such map in existence.

Bringing old maps to life

The National Library of Scotland have combined historic, hand-drawn maps with the latest satellite elevation data, allowing you to explore these visualisations of landscapes like never before.

Scotland from above – our 3D map viewer with new vertical exaggeration
The standard practice of depicting relief in the 18th century was with hachures, lines with variable thickness with followed the direction of slope, and by combining the map with elevation data, the shape of the landscape can be seen more clearly. This example below focuses on the mountains of Suilven and Canisp in Assynt, with the Ordnance Survey’s one-inch “hills” edition (1885-1903), with brown hachures:

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The Edinburgh mapmakers, John Bartholomew & Son were famous for their use of layer-colouring, employing a palette of colours from greens closer to sea level to browns and sometimes whites for mountains. This view below looks north-east along Loch Tay, with the dramatic outline of the Ben Lawers ridge to the north:

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(Via Atlas Obscura)

Everything’s upside-down

Feeling disorientated?

Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”

Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”

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It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.

“A small twist with a big impact”: New ZeitMagazin International cover reflects topsy-turvy Europe
The new SS19 issue of ZeitMagazin International, the German weekly’s English-language sister publication, is all about Europe in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Mirko Borsche, the creative director of the biannual glossy magazine, has created a limited-edition cover for 1,000 copies showing the map of Europe turned upside-down.

“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”

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Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.

Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.

A response to that petition

The government have responded to that viralled petition that 5,830,676 (and still counting) people have signed, about revoking Article 50.

Petition: Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
It remains the Government’s firm policy not to revoke Article 50. We will honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum and work to deliver an exit which benefits everyone, whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

Revoking Article 50, and thereby remaining in the European Union, would undermine both our democracy and the trust that millions of voters have placed in Government.

I don’t think they could have responded any other way.

The map of where the signatories come from is interesting. People from every constituency have taken part, from what I can see, following the north/south, urban/rural pattern seen in the original referendum.

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Speaking of which:

EU cannot betray ‘increasing majority’ who want UK to remain, says Tusk
Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you.

“Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union.”

Update 15/04/2019

Even though the government responded negatively, above, the petition was still debated in the House of Commons. Here’s the Hansard transcript.

Leaving the European Union
It is entirely coincidental that the date is 1 April, but I must confess to hoping right up until noon that the Prime Minister was at some point going to reveal to the nation that the Government’s entire handling of Brexit has actually been the most painstaking and elaborate April fool’s day hoax in history, and that she does in fact have a plan to get us out of this mess. Regrettably, that did not happen, and we are still in a national crisis.

Another data protection failure

Hot on the heels of Facebook’s latest password problem, TechCrunch has news of another online service with a very shoddy approach to data protection – i.e. there wasn’t any.

The app, Family Locator, allows families to track each other’s movements, similar to the location sharing option in Google Maps. But it seems the backend database for their nearly a quarter of a million users wasn’t protected at all.

A family tracking app was leaking real-time location data
Based on a review of the database, each account record contained a user’s name, email address, profile photo and their plaintext passwords. Each account also kept a record of their own and other family members’ real-time locations precise to just a few feet. Any user who had a geofence set up also had those coordinates stored in the database, along with what the user called them — such as “home” or “work.”

They tried to get in touch with the developer, React Apps, but to no avail.

The company’s website had no contact information — nor did its bare-bones privacy policy. The website had a privacy-enabled hidden WHOIS record, masking the owner’s email address. We even bought the company’s business records from the Australian Securities & Investments Commission, only to learn the company owner’s name — Sandip Mann Singh — but no contact information. We sent several messages through the company’s feedback form, but received no acknowledgement.

On Friday, we asked Microsoft, which hosted the database on its Azure cloud, to contact the developer. Hours later, the database was finally pulled offline.

Where is everybody?

Each six months Andy Kirk of Visualising Data highlights some of the significant developments in data visualisation. It’s a great collection, but this one in particular caught my eye.

10 significant visualisation developments: July to December 2018
2. ‘Human Terrain’: A genuinely captivating project from Matt Daniels of ThePudding, ‘Human Terrain’ is a staggeringly detailed, explorable prism map of the world’s population that can trap you into browsing for far longer than you can realistically afford. It evokes memories of a classic graphic from 2006, created by Joe Lertola for Time magazine. There is also a wonderful companion piece, ‘Population Mountains‘, where Matt walks through ‘a story about how to perceive the population of cities’.

When you fly from one part of the world to another, it becomes very quickly apparent just how crowded some places must be, compared to others.

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Human Terrain: visualizing the world’s population, in 3D
Kinshasa is now bigger than Paris. Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen are forming an epic, 40 million-person super city. Over the past 30 years, the scale of population change is hard to grasp. How do you even visualize 10 million people?

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It puts those incredibly dense housing schemes in Hong Kong I mentioned earlier into context, doesn’t it?

Population growth, like charity, starts in the home, so here’s an animated chart on family sizes in the US.

How many kids we have and when we have them
The chart above shows 1,000 timelines, based on data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Each moving dot is a mother. Age is on the horizontal, and with each live birth, the dot moves down a notch. The green bubbles represent the total counts for a given age.

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It’s interesting to watch the chart populate. You’ve got to wonder about the stories behind those outliers though.

Sketchy city portraits

I can’t decide if these drawings are portraits of cities, or just portraits of maps. The scale of each drawing, and of the project as a whole, is impressive though.

Large-scale drawings of the United Kingdom’s 69 cities by Carl Lavia
Self-taught artist Carl Lavia, who goes by the nickname “Sketch,” has been drawing intricate cities and architecturally-minded illustrations since he was the age of five. Although his early works were imaginative renderings of fictionalized cities, his practice has grown into immensely detailed depictions of large cities from an aerial point of view. Lavia uses ink and archival paper to produce each drawing, which appear like maps from a distance, but have a loose, almost Impressionist style when viewed up close.

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Perhaps he could convert these sketches into a Google maps layer, letting you take a stroll through his drawings as you walk round the city in real life, comparing one with the other.

Maps for who we are, not just where we are

Here’s an interesting short documentary, via Aeon, on a project to make maps that bring an indigenous voice and perspective back to the land.

Native cartography: a bold mapmaking project that challenges Western notions of place
Maps have been used not only to encroach on Native Americans lands, but to diminish their cultures as well. With every Spanish, French or English placename that eclipses a Native one, a European narrative of place and space becomes further entrenched. In an effort to help reclaim his region for his people, Jim Enote, a Zuni farmer and the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in New Mexico, has organised a unique project intended to help bring indigenous narratives back to the land.

Counter Mapping

Maps remind us who we are, not just where we are. As he says in the documentary, “More lands have been lost to Native peoples probably through mapping than through physical conflict.”

Here are some other things I’ve found that show how important maps and names are. And if you’re wanting more idiosyncratic local history, there’s this from Atlas Obscura.

The cowboy cartographer who loved California
In final form, the maps are flamboyant and dense, giving an impression of near-limitless detail. “They’re almost like books,” says Hiller. “You look at a part of them and set it aside, and then come back the next day and look at a different part.” When he’s done exhibitions of Mora’s work, he adds, the maps in particular are “like magnets … People just get totally absorbed in looking at them.”

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Looking up

There’s a bloody lunar eclipse this evening, although the thunderclouds that are accompanying our unusually warm summer may get in the way. But whilst we’re on the subject:

Figures in the stars: How cultures across the world have seen their myths and legends in the stars
Let’s compare 28 different “sky cultures” to see differences and similarities in the shapes they’ve seen in the night sky. Ranging from the so-called “Modern” or Western constellations, to Chinese, Maori and even a few shapes from historical cultures such as the Aztecs.

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And as we can see here, attempts to map and explain our place in the universe go back a long way.

Cosmography manuscript (12th Century)
This wonderful series of medieval cosmographic diagrams and schemas are sourced from a late 12th-century manuscript created in England. Coming to only nine folios, the manuscript is essentially a scientific textbook for monks, bringing together cosmographical knowledge from a range of early Christian writers such as Bede and Isodere, who themselves based their ideas on such classical sources as Pliny the Elder, though adapting them for their new Christian context.

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What’s in a name? #3

I mentioned earlier, in a post about the first map to include the name America, that people should be more aware of the names of places used by the first people to live there. Well, here’s a map that can help with that.

Indigenous geographies overlap in this colorful online map
For centuries, indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have been purposefully left off maps by colonizers as part of a sustained campaign to delegitimize their existence and land claims. Interactive mapping website Native Land does the opposite, by stripping out country and state borders in order to highlight the complex patchwork of historic and present-day Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages that stretch across the United States, Canada, and beyond.

What’s in a name? #2

It looks strange now, but this Waldseemüller map from 1507 was cutting-edge in its day, incorporating the very latest reports from voyages of discovery that were taking place at the time. Not everyone agreed with the reports from a certain Amerigo Vespucci, however.

The epic story of the map that gave America its name
Contrarily, according to a letter dated 1504 from Vespucci to Duke Renè that was reprinted in Introduction to Cosmography and describes his four voyages from 1497 to 1504, he reached the mainland a year earlier than Columbus. Historians have called the authenticity of this letter into doubt, but Waldseemüller and Ringmann took Vespucci’s letter at face value, basing their naming of the new continent on its contents.

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You could say that every country has at least two names — an exonym and an endonym; what outsiders call a place, and what the people that actually live there call their place. They were arguing about the former without bothering to ask about the latter.

It’s a gorgeous map, though, regardless of its accuracy and arrogance. Here’s another remarkable map of America, this time of just one of its rivers.

This 11-Foot ‘ribbon map’ puts the whole Mississippi River in your pocket
It wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, though. By choosing this particular form, Coloney and Fairchild leaned into a particular depiction of the Mississippi that took shape during the Civil War. “There was this idea that because the river went from north to south, it was a great unifier for the country,” Luarca-Shoaf says—that it tied the divided North and South together like, well, a ribbon. At the same time, they took pains to include important battle sites, like Vicksburg. That these sites made it onto the map just a year after the war ended “shows that the war had marked the landscape in more than physical ways,” she says. “It had become part of the history of the place.”

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What’s in a name?

The difficulties of dealing with the past.

The cost of changing a country’s name
“African countries, on getting independence, reverted to their ancient names before they were colonised,” His Royal Highness, King Mswati III told those gathered there. At that moment he was still king of Swaziland – but Swaziland was to be no more. “So, from now on the country will be officially known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”

Reminded me of the mountain of work Kazakhstan is undertaking, changing its official alphabet. There’s always a huge cost, as Darren Olivier, a South Africa-based intellectual property lawyer, goes on to explain.

“There’s value in that, there’s intrinsic value in that identity and what it means for the people,” he points out. “Yet at the same time there’s a cost – a physical cost in changing the identity.”

Like many, Olivier has wondered exactly what the price tag for eSwatini will be. Shortly after King Mswati III’s announcement, Olivier published a blog in which he estimated that it will cost the country $6 million to change its name.

All roads really do

Show me the way to go to Rome ♪♫

An interactive map shows just how many roads actually lead to Rome
No one can give you exact directions to Milliarium Aureum (aka the Golden Milestone). Just a few carved marble fragments of the gilded column’s base remain in the Roman Forum, where its original location is somewhat difficult to pinpoint. But as the image above, from interactive map Roads to Rome, shows, the motto Emperor Caesar Augustus’ mighty mile marker inspired still holds true.

All roads lead to Rome.

How to see 4000 years at once

A timeline of global power, from 2000BC to the 1900s.

The entire history of the world—really, all of it—distilled into a single gorgeous chart
The 5-foot-long Histomap was sold for $1 and folded into a green cover, which featured endorsements from historians and reviewers. The chart was advertised as “clear, vivid, and shorn of elaboration,” while at the same time capable of “holding you enthralled” by presenting: “the actual picture of the march of civilization, from the mud huts of the ancients thru the monarchistic glamour of the middle ages to the living panorama of life in present day America.”

It’s from the 1930s, so the terms it’s using are rather dated. And I can’t find Africa anywhere, Eygpt notwithstanding. Has there really been no history there, these last four millennia?

I’d love see this expanded another couple of inches, to chart where we are today. That should be simple enough, surely?

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Rain has fallen, generally cloudy

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The changing shape of UK weather: Historic maps show 142 years of rain, sun and wind
Thousands of weather maps throughout the past 142 years have been unearthed showing how fashion and technology have drastically changed the diagrams. The wealth of maps are largely drawn by hand and feature ink notes and tea cup rings as the Met Office did not draw maps on computers until 1981.