Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

And now for something completely different

OK, never mind all that, here are some little videos, courtesy of Laughing Squid and Futility Closet, to take your mind of it all for a while. We’ve just had Halloween, so let’s start with this from our favourite melancholic.

Edward Gorey talks about when he designed sets and costumes for ‘Dracula’ in a brilliantly animated shortLaughing Squid
The artist explains that he didn’t consider it to be his best work at all. Several years later both the set and costumes were brought out again for a production in Boston, were Gorey won two Tony Awards in 1978 for both costumes and scenic design.

Let’s keep the spooky vibe going with this. Reminds me a little of Chris Eckert’s work.

Disney uses an animatronic bust with cameras in its eyes to create realistic interactive humanlike gazesLaughing Squid
A team at DisneyResearch in Los Angeles used a proprietary Audio-Animatronics humanoid bust that had responsive cameras in its eyes and subjected it to interactive situations. The goal of this experiment was to learn how to create highly realistic gaze engagement for true character believability in films.

Speaking of films, here’s a trailer for a new documentary from Alex Winter, one half of Bill and Ted, about the incredible Frank Zappa. Apparently, the Kickstarter campaign for this project was the highest funded documentary in crowdfunding history.

The exceptional musical genius of Frank Zappa explored in a definitive biographical documentaryLaughing Squid
To tell the whole story, Winter makes use of previously unreleased tapes, video clips, film footage, and other items that Zappa kept in a private archive, along with in-person interviews with those who knew him best, in order to provide a comprehensive inside look Zappa’s multi-faceted life.

An incredible musician. What would he have made of this, I wonder.

A reflective electric guitar built with infinity mirrorsLaughing Squid
Burl, the creative luthier of Burls Art appeared to be feeling rather reflective and decided to build an incredibly sleek Infinity Mirror Guitar. Like his other guitars, Burl first formed a mold that would give the initial shape. he then built a special frame that would hold the mirrors in place. He then added the custom neck, bolted the bridge in, and polished the whole thing up before playing a short riff.

And I would love to hear him bring these clever and surprisingly musical tunes to life.

World musicFutility Closet

I thought this one was very catchy — a new EU anthem?

Here’s something sillier than a piano-playing map, a fluffy fluffball fluffing his lines.

Hilarious blooper footage from an Elmo and Robin Williams sketch for a 1991 Sesame Street specialLaughing Squid
During the 1991 Sesame Street special “Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake”, the late, greatly missed Robin Williams hilariously showed a curious Elmo the many fun things one can do with a stick.

What’s that? You want something fluffier? Ok then.

Animated Tetris with fuzzy softbody stacking piecesLaughing Squid
In his ongoing quest to create the perfect softbody game of Tetris, German computer animator Chris of C4D4U has released his 19th iteration of the game. Rather than the gummy shapes of his previous games, this version features very soft looking, fuzzy animated tiles that appear snuggly enough to hug.

Things are looking up #4

For all we moan about the weather, it’s endlessly fascinating. Clouds, especially. Here’s one, wandering over a lake in Austria.

Impressive ‘cloudburst’ rainstorm captured in Austrian timelapseMoss and Fog
We love this stunning capture of a cloudburst over Lake Millstatt in Carinthia, Austria. Amazingly robust rain cloud, and great viewpoint.

Here’s an interesting question to ponder after watching that.

How much does a cloud weigh?The Conversation
Summer cumulus clouds vary in size, but a typical one would be about one kilometre across and about the same tall. This means we can consider it to be a cube, with each side measuring 1km across. That means our cloud is 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 cubic metres in size – and this makes 1 billion cubic metres. Our cloud had only a quarter of a gram of water per cubic metre, but that’s going to work out as rather a lot now there’s a billion of them. The weight of the water in the cumulus cloud is 250,000,000 grams – 250 tonnes. This is about the same as two adult blue whales.

Looking for the next cloudburst? Perhaps start here.

Lightning & thunderstormsBlitzortung.org
A worldwide, real time, community collaborative lightning location network.

Those maps (especially the vector map version) make you realise just how tumultuous and highly charged this globe of ours is — which isn’t the impression you get when looking down on Google Earth. “In prioritizing clarity and smoothness in its representation, Google Earth supports how we are consuming the planet.”

Springtime everywhereReal Life
As Covid-19 lockdowns were shuttering citizens indoors in April, for instance, Google Earth seized on the opportunity to launch a slew of themed virtual tours (e.g. the National Parks of the United States tour). It made Google Earth accessible in all browsers and added 2,500 new images to Earth View, a spinoff showcasing surreal and awe-inspiring landscapes from above. For all the feeling that Google Earth’s could be a helpful resource for learning about the climate crisis, its interface of zooming in and out and around the globe seamlessly in high-definition undermines its potential. The form comes to contradict the content: We may revel in the beauty and awesomeness of seeing the earth from the sky — and our ability to freely manipulate this view — despite the crises the imagery may depict. Deforestation on a devastating scale can take on the same aesthetic as any other “virtual holiday” on Google Earth.

Listening to the world sing

Via the occasionally very interesting Recomendo, something that has renewed my faith in the web and shown us a glimpse of what the internet should have been.

Radio Garden
Radio Garden is a website that presents you with a spinnable globe of the Earth. The green dots represent radio stations. Rotate the globe, click a dot and you are suddenly listening to live radio in that part of the world.

listening-to-the-world-sing

Radio Garden invites you to tune into thousands of live radio stations across the globe. By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.

This is such fun, just what we need about now. How about Nerds 4 God Radio, Orlando, Florida? ZM Online FM, Auckland, New Zealand? Radio Menhunt FM, Karanganyar, Indonesia? There’s just so much out there.

Mapping the outbreak

Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

2019-nCoV-tracker
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.

mapping-the-outbreak

You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.

Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timelineThe Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.

mapping-the-outbreak-2

A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.

Cases Deaths Countries affected Case fatality rate
2003 SARS 8,096 774 26 9.56%
2009 H1N1 (swine flu) 60,800,000 18,499 214 0.1%
2014 Ebola 28,646 11,323 10 39.53%
2019 nCoV:
12 Feb
45,171 1,115 26 2.5%
2019 nCoV:
2 Mar
88,913 3,043 62 3.4%
2019 nCoV:
13 Mar
125,048 4,613 118 3.7%

Update 13/02/2020

Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?

mapping-the-outbreak-3

A ray of hope in the coronavirus curveThe Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.

The end can’t come soon enough.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.

Update 02/03/2020

I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.

Update 13/03/2020

And still climbing.

But where did he get all the phones from?

In a different take on interactive art, here’s a story of the little guy getting one over on a multinational conglomerate—by making his own traffic jam.

Google Maps hackSimon Weckert
99 second hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps. Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.

Google Maps Hacks by Simon WeckertYouTube

all-the-phones

It’s certainly been getting plenty of attention. I wonder if others will be giving it a go.

Man creates fake traffic jam on Google Maps by carting around 99 cellphonesBoing Boing
Simon Weckert loaded a hand-cart with cellphones and pulled them slowly through Berlin. This fooled Google Maps into registering severe congestion, marking the streets bright red in the service, and rerouting traffic to avoid the area.

Hacking Google, a red handcart for red roads Traffic Google MapsKottke
You’ve got to love little artistic hacks like this. Simon Weckert put 99 second-hand smartphones in a red handcart and walked around a few blocks in Berlin. Each phone was running Google Maps and being tracked for trafic measurements. Their presence and slow rolling around the streets caused Google to display a traffic jam.

An artist used 99 phones to fake a Google Maps traffic jamWired
“What I’m really interested in generally is the connection between technology and society and the impact of technology, how it shapes us,” Weckert says. He cites philosopher Marshall McLuhan: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. “I have the feeling right now that technology is not adapting to us, it’s the other way around.”

Traffic jams in Google Maps could be spoofed with 99 phones and a little red wagonThe Verge
Google jokingly told The Verge that it hasn’t “quite cracked” how to correctly track traffic data that comes from toy wagons, but that it can already distinguish between Google Maps data coming from cars and motorcycles in several countries.

Berlin artist uses 99 phones to trick Google into traffic jam alertThe Guardian
The work, revealed just a few days before the 15th anniversary of Google Maps’ founding, is just the latest example of a prankster taking advantage of the “crowdsourced” nature of much of Google’s data collection. In 2015, the company had to shut off one feature, Map Maker, after a series of embarrassing vandalism incidents culminated in the creation of a virtual park, the shape of which appeared to resemble the company’s Android logo urinating on Apple’s trademark.

A few lines about where I live

First, some contour lines that let you turn the world into a Joy Division album cover.

Peak map
This website allows you to pick any region of the world and print its high points in artistic, joyful manner.

few-lines

And these lines show that all roads don’t always lead to Rome.

City roads
This website renders every single road within a city.

Here’s Leeds, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. My Leeds.

map-lines-1

This is Leeds, Jefferson County, Alabama, United States of America. Not my Leeds.

map-lines-2

Lines of a different kind now. Centre the map on any location for a few lines of poetry.

OpenStreetMap Haiku

Some are quite poignant, like this poem centred on a nearby children’s hospital.

few-lines-3

Others would make interesting advertising campaigns.

few-lines-4

It’s a fascinating way of humanising geography. And quite addictive, too.

OpenStreetMap Haiku: Using OSM and Overpass for generative poetrySatellite Studio
Here’s what’s happening: we automated making haikus about places. Looking at every aspect of the surroundings of a point, we can generate a poem about any place in the world. The result is sometimes fun, often weird, most of the time pretty terrible. Also probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry). Go ahead and give it a try.

Mad Mormon maps

Via Kottke, a map from 1899 illustrating what can happen when geography, religion and history get mashed together — a map of the ancient inhabitants of North and South America.

Mormon theological geography… on a nine-foot-high banner!Boston Rare Maps
The map was an official production of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) in Independence, Missouri. The RLDS (known since 2001 as the Community of Christ), is a reformist branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, established in 1860.

mad-mormon-maps-1

It’s an impressive object for sure, and I do love a good map, but I was most struck by the summary of what this group of people actually believe.

Ten Lost Tribes: Latter Day Saint movementWikipedia
The Book of Mormon is based on the premise that two families of Israelites escaped from Israel shortly before the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and that they constructed a ship, sailed across the ocean, and arrived in the New World as founders of Native American tribes and eventually the Polynesians.[18] Adherents believe the two founding tribes were called Nephites and Lamanites, that the Nephites were white and practiced Christianity, and that the Lamanites were rebellious and received dark skin from God as a mark to separate the two tribes. Eventually the Lamanites wiped out the Nephites around 400 AD, leaving only dark skinned Native Americans.

All I know of the Mormons is what I’ve learnt by sitting through school concerts that have included songs from that musical, so that was quite illuminating. Native Americans are really Jewish?

It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

its-rarely-black-and-white-1

We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

its-rarely-black-and-white-2

More accidental typography

Some years ago I came across a photographer who had discovered an alphabet written in the skies over her head. Here are a few more examples of letter-forms in unusual places.

Put words into action with ‘Gerry’, a new font created from the silhouettes of gerrymandered electoral districts
The font, created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, is composed of 26 districts whose absurd boundaries resemble alphabet letters much more than they resemble logical, cohesive population groupings. Alabama’s pronged 1st District bears a striking resemblance to the letter K, while New York’s 8th District looks like an M with its tall legs connected by a curved middle.

more-accidental-typography-1

And here’s another example.

Stone alphabets
[A]ssembled by Belgian type designer Clotilde Olyff from stones collected at the beach.

more-accidental-typography-2

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.

da-vinci-the-map-maker

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:

bringing-old-maps-to-life-1

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:

bringing-old-maps-to-life-2

(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.”

upside-down-1

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.”

upside-down-2

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.

a-response-to-that-petition-1

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.

visualising-populations-2

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?

visualising-populations-3

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.

visualising-populations-1

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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Things are 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.