kottke.org posts about maps
That’s a portion of the 2012 US Presidential election map of the southern states broken down by county: blue ones went Barack Obama’s way and counties in red voted for Mitt Romney.
But let’s go back to the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Back then, the coastline of what is now North America looked like this:
Along that ancient coastline of a shallow sea, plankton with carbonate skeletons lived and died in massive numbers, accumulating into large chalk formations on the bottom of the sea. When the sea level dropped and the sea drained through the porous chalk, rich bands of soil were left right along the former coastline. When that area was settled and farmed in the 19th century, that rich soil was perfect for growing cotton. And cotton production was particularly profitable, so slaves were heavily used in those areas.
McClain, quoting from Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, points out: “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers.” After the Civil War, a lot of former slaves stayed on this land, and while many migrated North, their families are still there.
The counties in which slave populations were highest before the Civil War are still home to large African American populations, which tend to vote for Democratic presidential candidates, even as the whiter counties around them vote for Republicans. The voting pattern of those counties on the map follows the Cretaceous coastline of 100 million years ago — the plankton fell, the cotton grew, the slaves bled into that rich soil, and their descendants later helped a black man reach the White House.
The Information is Beautiful Awards have announced the shortlist of nominees for the best infographics, data visualizations, and data journalism for 2016. Literally hours of exploration here. Some well-deserved shouts out to Polygraph (multiple projects, including their breakdown of film dialogue by gender and age), Nicholas Felton’s Photoviz, climate spirals, FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 election forecast map, and many other projects you might have seen here or elsewhere.
The images above are from Adventures in Mapping, Polygraph, and Shipmap.
As I remarked last year, the Smoky Mountains website has the best fall foliage map in the business. The map covers the entire US and comes with a slider that lets you check the status weekend by weekend throughout the fall. Looks like the foliage will peak near Sept 30th in VT and Oct 14th in NYC and in the Smoky Mountains.
In today’s installment of terrifying graphics about climate change, the NY Times made a series of three maps showing the potential rise of 100 degree temperatures across the United States if current greenhouse gas emission trends continue through the end of this century. Look at the areas in orange and red on the 1991-2010 map: what sort of landscape do you picture? Keeping that landscape picture in your mind, look at the orange and red areas on the 2060 and 2100 maps. Yep! And Phoenix with 163 days above 100 degrees — that’s every day from March 25th to September 4th over 100 degrees.
P.S. A word about climate change and rising temperatures. The temperature that climate scientists typically reference and care about with regard to climate change is “the average global temperature across land and ocean surface areas”. According to the NOAA, the average temperature of the Earth in the 20th century was 13.9°C (57.0°F). In 2015, the average global temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above that.
In order to avoid dangerous effects of climate change, climate scientists advocate keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees (and more recently, below 1.5 degrees). In late 2015, 195 nations came together in Paris and agreed to:
[Hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change
That’s degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. I don’t know about you, but as an American, when I hear 2 degrees, I think, oh, that’s not bad. But 2°C is an increase of 3.6°F, which does seem significant.
Note also that it specifies keeping the temperature “below pre-industrial levels” and not below 20th century levels. It is maddeningly difficult to track down an exact figure for the pre-industrial global temperature, partially because of a lack of precise data, partially because of politics, and partially because of the impenetrability of scientific writing. From a piece Eric Holthaus wrote for FiveThirtyEight earlier this year:
It sounds easy enough to measure global warming: see how hot it was, compare it to how hot it used to be. But climate scientists have several ways of measuring how hot it used to be. NASA’s base period, as I mentioned above, is an average of 1951-80 global temperatures, mostly because that was the most recently available 30-year period when the data set was first created. By chance, it’s also pretty representative of the world’s 20th-century climate and can help us understand how much warmer the world has become while many of us have been alive.
Other organizations go further back. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of climate scientists that was formed to provide assessments to the United Nations, bases its temperature calculations on an 1850-1900 global average. There was about 0.4 degrees of warming between that time period and the NASA base period.
Climate scientists often refer to that 1850-1900 timespan as “pre-industrial” because we don’t have comprehensive temperature data from the 1700s. But meteorologist Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, has argued that an additional 0.25 degrees of warming occurred between the start of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) and 1850. Including Mann’s adjustment would bring February 2016 global temperatures at or very near 2 degrees above the “pre-industrial” average.
I now completely understand why some people deny that anthropogenic climate change is happening. Seriously. I looked for more than 30 minutes for a report or scientific paper that stated the average global temperature for 1850-1900 and I couldn’t find one. I looked at UN reports, NASA reports, reports from the UK: nothing. There were tons of references to temperatures relative to the 1850-1900 baseline, but no absolute temperatures were given. Now, I don’t mean to get all Feynman here, but this is bullshit. When the world got together in Paris and talked about a 1.5 degree increase, was everyone even talking about the same thing? You might begin to wonder what the scientists are hiding with their obfuscation.
Anyway, the important point is that according to climate scientists, we are already flirting with 1.5°C of global warming since pre-industrial times. Which means that without action, the spread of those Phoenician temperatures across the circa-2100 United States is a thing that’s going to happen.
Frodo (and Sam) made their way from Hobbiton to Mordor in six months and now you can see the route they took on Google Maps. “This route has trolls.” LOL. Full size image here. (via bb)
Update: From 2002, Mapquest directions for walking from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. (thx, seth)
The population of NYC is equal to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia. Here’s what that looks like on a map.
Put another way: 16 US Senators represent as many people in those states as a fraction of one of New York States’ Senators represent the population of NYC. A Senator from Wyoming represents 290,000 people while one from New York represents 9.8 million people…and in California, there are 19 million people per Senator. That gives a Wyoming resident 65 times the voting power of a California resident.
Since 1963, Jerry Gretzinger has been working on a map of a world that doesn’t exist. The map is never finished. In the morning, when Gretzinger draws a card out of the deck that sets his task for the day, sometimes that card says “scan”. That means a portion of the map is scanned and archived, and the copy is reworked to “upgrade” that part of the map. And that’s not even the half of it…just watch the whole thing to see how the map has evolved over the years.
It now comprises over 3200 individual eight by ten inch panels. Its execution, in acrylic, marker, colored pencil, ink, collage, and inkjet print on heavy paper, is dictated by the interplay between an elaborate set of rules and randomly generated instructions.
Portions of the map have been shown in Florence, Paris, and New York and it’ll be shown at an upcoming exhibition in Japan. (But where he really wants to display it is in MoMA’s huge atrium.) Prints and original panels are available on Gretzinger’s eBay store. (via @lukaskulas)
One of the most popular map projections of the world is the Mercator projection:
It’s useful but misleading in important ways. With the the True Size Map, you can drag countries and continents around a Mercator map to uncover their true sizes. For example, it may not be apparent on a Mercator map that Australia is about the same size as the lower 48 US states (see above). Or that Africa is much larger than it seems on the map:
Or is it that North America is oversized on the map? Greenland certainly is. Its true size becomes more clear when you overlay it on India:
Mercator’s been around for hundreds of years, so luckily cartographers have invented dozens of other ways to visualize the world in 2D, each of which have their own strengths and disadvantages. You can view many of them here.
Update: I had somehow forgotten about this great scene from The West Wing discussing the geographic bias of the Mercator map:
(thx to the many who reminded me)
According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.
A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort…that’s better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.
From Clive Thompson, a history of the infographic, which was developed in part to help solve problems with an abundance of data available in the 19th century.
The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that’s what a map is — a representation of geographic information — and we’ve had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a “Chart of Biography,” plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information “with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading.”
Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect-and publish-reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. “For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it,” says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. “The age of data really began.”
Using the results of a recent report by a team of Yale researchers, this visualization shows the growth of urbanization across the globe from 3700 BC to the present day. There is an amazing flurry of activity in the last few seconds of the video because:
By 2030, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.
There are now 21 Chinese cities alone with a population of over 4 million.
Tim Merrill is using Pinterest to collect maps showing where ethnic groups live and what languages are spoken in Asia.
Not everyone can distinguish between left and right. Besides natural affinity (or lack of it), health, drug use, other chemical changes, and stress can all cause our basic body compass to break down.
Telling left from right necessitates complex brain processes that include spatial perceptions, memory, language, and the integration of sensory information. The task is made increasingly complex when a person must identify laterality on someone else. Yoga teachers and other fitness instructors have it extra rough: While calling out to students to bend their left knee, the instructor has to raise their own right to mirror the class…
However, the field under the most pressure to avoid lateral confusion is medicine. In the dentist’s chair, there’s money wasted when hygienists x-ray the wrong tooth. It’s even worse when a left-right-disoriented dentist pulls one or more teeth from the incorrect side of the mouth. It’s even more serious in general surgery: A 2011 report estimates that there are 40 wrong-site surgeries done weekly in the U.S., and many of those involve mixing up a patient’s left and right. This is a devastating problem: If a doctor removes the healthy kidney and not the cancerous one, the results can be fatal. Wrong eye? Now we have a fully blind patient.
There’s nothing inherent about left, right, up, and down — or what are sometimes called “egocentric coordinates.” Speakers of Guugu Yimithirr in Australia famously use a coordinate system that leans much more heavily on absolute geocentric references at right angles (their equivalent of north, south, east, and west).
This plays a little easier when you’re playing off objects with fixed positions, like landmarks, or especially, the sun, than it does in big twisty-turny cities. But you could imagine in a world with ubiquitous handheld maps and compasses that a north/south/east/west orientation might make more sense.
What’s more, some of the old tech people used to train themselves to distinguish or remember left and right — miming handwriting, or wearing a wristwatch on one arm — aren’t as common or dominant as they once were. See also: distinguishing angular position by analogy with the face of an analog clock.
Either we come up with new tricks and new metaphors, or it’s conceivable that what’s seemed like an intuitive, natural way to think about the relative position of bodies in space could become a whole lot less intuitive for more and more people.
From the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, a map showing where the world’s most used crops originated. Potatoes and tomatoes are from the Andes, watermelon from southern Africa, bananas from south & southeast Asia, and blueberries from North America. (via @CharlesCMann)
Terrapattern is a search engine for satellite images. You click on a specific feature of interest on a map and the site returns results that match it. For instance, here are the locations of solar panels in NYC.
You can also use Terrapattern to find school bus depots, fracking wells, Air Force bombers, baseball diamonds, train tracks, and much more.
There are only four cities currently represented (Pittsburgh, New York, San Francisco, and Detroit) but this is already super cool to play around with. (via @genmon)
Betsy Mason and Greg Miller are writing a new blog for National Geographic about maps called All Over the Map. Here’s a mission statement.
There is something magical about maps. They transport you to a place you’ve never seen, from the ocean depths to the surface of another planet. Or a world that exists only in the imagination of a novelist.
Maps are time machines, too. They can take you into the past to see the world as people saw it centuries ago. Or they can show you a place you know intimately as it existed before you came along, or as it might look in the future. Always, they reveal something about the mind of the mapmaker. Every map has a story to tell.
You can also follow their progress on Twitter and Instagram. They recently shared this comparative rivers and mountains chart on Instagram; it’s one of my all-time favorite charts.
Londonist created a map of the London Underground with station names contemporary to medieval London.
The medieval period spans something like 1,000 years, covering the centuries from the Roman withdrawal around 400 AD to the rise of the Tudors in the late 15th century. Place names, of course, changed greatly over this time and those on the map were not necessarily all in use at the same time. Where applicable, we’ve favoured spellings used in the Domesday survey of 1086. Elsewhere, we’ve taken the earliest recorded version of a place name.
From Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography, a series of maps showing the rapid explosion of slavery in the United States from 1790-1860. Departing from previous efforts, Rankin used a uniform grid of dots to represent slave populations rather than counties.
First, I smash the visual tyranny of county boundaries by using a uniform grid of dots. The size of each dot shows the total population in each 250-sqmi cell, and the color shows the percent that were slaves. But just as important, I’ve also combined the usual county data with historical data for more than 150 cities and towns. Cities usually had fewer slaves, proportionally, than their surrounding counties, but this is invisible on standard maps.
A detail that struck me while cycling through the years was that the number of slaves as a percentage of the total population of the South stayed relatively steady at 33% from 1790 to 1860.
From Neil Freeman, proprietor of the excellent Fake is the New Real, a map of the continental United States with the 50 states reorganized into concentric circles of equal population.
See also the map accompanying Parag Khanna’s recent piece, A New Map for America, which calls for the creation of seven mega-regions centered around metropolitan clusters in place of the lower 48 states: the Pacific Coast, the Inland West, the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, the Southeast Manufacturing Belt, and the Great Northeast.
These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it’s easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that’s all they drive — socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn’t caught up.
America faces a two-part problem. It’s no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it’s not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.
To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren’t about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.
Holy shit, could you imagine? Most of America would have a fit over this.
Beyond the Sea is a neat project by Andy Woodruff that visualizes what lies across the ocean from the world’s coastlines. For instance, standing on the coast in North America looking straight out, you might see Brazil or the west coast of Africa, but also the east coast of Africa, India, and even Iran.
In the northern reaches of Newfoundland, near the town of St. Anthony, is the Fox Point Lighthouse. I’ve never been there, but I know it has one of the most impressive ocean views in the world. If you face perpendicular to the right bit of rocky coastline there and gaze straight across the ocean, your mind’s eye peering well beyond the horizon, you can see all the way to Australia.
What’s really across the ocean from you when you look straight out? It’s not always the place you think.
Randall Munroe has made a map of the United States with all of the states in different places but still retaining the same general shape. Particularly clever is the Michigan/Maryland combo to recreate the Bay Area.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, an animated map of the yearly migratory patterns of 118 bird species in the Western Hemisphere.
La Sorte says a key finding of the study is that bird species that head out over the Atlantic Ocean during fall migration to spend winter in the Caribbean and South America follow a clockwise loop and take a path farther inland on their return journey in the spring. Species that follow this broad pattern include Bobolinks, Yellow and Black-billed cuckoos, Connecticut and Cape May warblers, Bicknell’s Thrush, and shorebirds, such as the American Golden Plover.
“These looped pathways help the birds take advantage of conditions in the atmosphere,” explains La Sorte. “Weaker headwinds and a push from the northeast trade winds as they move farther south make the fall journey a bit easier. The birds take this shorter, more direct route despite the dangers of flying over open-ocean.”
The map was created with data from eBird, a database of crowdsourced bird sightings. They also created a follow-up map which labels each of the species. Look at how far Baird’s Sandpiper (#5) flies…all the way from central Argentina to Northern Canada and back. (thx, kevin)
A wonderful map by National Geographic of the Fertile Crescent highlighting where the domestication of grains and livestock first took hold.
I’m currently reading an interesting and provocative book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. He calls the Agricultural Revolution “history’s biggest fraud”.
Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
Harari also argues that wheat domesticated humans, not the other way around:
Think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a small range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of miles without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 870,000 square miles of the globe’s surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous?
Wheat did it by manipulating Homo sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. It wasn’t easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them. Wheat didn’t like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn’t like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was attacked by rabbits and locust swarms, so the farmers built fences and stood guard over the fields. Wheat was thirsty, so humans dug irrigation canals or lugged heavy buckets from the well to water it. Sapiens even collected animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew.
The body of Homo sapiens had not evolved for such tasks. It was adapted to climbing apple trees and running after gazelles, not to clearing rocks and carrying water buckets. Human spines, knees, necks and arches paid the price. Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture brought about a plethora of ailments, such as slipped discs, arthritis and hernias. Moreover, the new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields. This completely changed their way of life. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word ‘domesticate’ comes from the Latin domus, which means ‘house’. Who’s the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It’s the Sapiens.
The book is full of crackling passages like that…and this one:
History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.
I am enjoying reading it a lot. (via @CharlesCMann)
If you measure the contours of a river valley with Lidar (like radar with lasers), you get a beautiful map of all the historical river channels. The image above was taken from a poster of the historical channels of the Willamette River…click through to see the whole thing. See also Harold Fisk’s meander maps of the Mississippi River.
Using Neil Freeman’s maps at Fake is the New Real, the Guardian created a quiz: Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps? As interested as I am in both maps and subways, I did shockingly bad on this quiz. (via @daveg)
Update: Here’s a similar quiz using unlabeled street maps. See also Smarty Pins and GeoGuessr for more geography quiz fun.
Todd Schneider used a couple publicly available data sets (NYC taxis, Uber) to explore various aspects of how New Yorkers move about the city. Some of the findings include the rise of Uber:
Let’s add Uber into the mix. I live in Brooklyn, and although I sometimes take taxis, an anecdotal review of my credit card statements suggests that I take about four times as many Ubers as I do taxis. It turns out I’m not alone: between June 2014 and June 2015, the number of Uber pickups in Brooklyn grew by 525%! As of June 2015, the most recent data available when I wrote this, Uber accounts for more than twice as many pickups in Brooklyn compared to yellow taxis, and is rapidly approaching the popularity of green taxis.
…the plausibility of Die Hard III’s taxi ride to stop a subway bombing:
In Die Hard: With a Vengeance, John McClane (Willis) and Zeus Carver (Jackson) have to make it from 72nd and Broadway to the Wall Street 2/3 subway station during morning rush hour in less than 30 minutes, or else a bomb will go off. They commandeer a taxi, drive it frantically through Central Park, tailgate an ambulance, and just barely make it in time (of course the bomb goes off anyway…). Thanks to the TLC’s publicly available data, we can finally address audience concerns about the realism of this sequence.
…where “bridge and tunnel” folks go for fun in Manhattan:
The most popular destinations for B&T trips are in Murray Hill, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Midtown.
…the growth of north Williamsburg nightlife:
…the privacy implications of releasing taxi data publicly:
For example, I don’t know who owns one of theses beautiful oceanfront homes on East Hampton’s exclusive Further Lane (exact address redacted to protect the innocent). But I do know the exact Brooklyn Heights location and time from which someone (not necessarily the owner) hailed a cab, rode 106.6 miles, and paid a $400 fare with a credit card, including a $110.50 tip.
as well as average travel times to the city’s airports, where investment bankers live, and how many people pay with cash vs. credit cards. Read the whole thing and if you want to play around with the data yourself, Schneider posted all of his scripts and knowhow on Github.
Update: Using summaries published by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, Schneider takes a look at how taxi usage in NYC is shrinking and how usage of Uber is growing.
This graph will continue to update as the TLC releases additional data, but at the time I wrote this in April 2016, the most recent data shows yellow taxis provided 60,000 fewer trips per day in January 2016 compared to one year earlier, while Uber provided 70,000 more trips per day over the same time horizon.
Although the Uber data only begins in 2015, if we zoom out to 2010, it’s even more apparent that yellow taxis are losing market share.
Lyft began reporting data in April 2015, and expanded aggressively throughout that summer, reaching a peak of 19,000 trips per day in December 2015. Over the following 6 weeks, though, Lyft usage tumbled back down to 11,000 trips per day as of January 2016 — a decline of over 40%.
Colossal notes that artist Ed Fairburn has produced a bunch of new work (previously). Love these.
This is an animated map of the lower 48 United States showing every boundary change (country, colony, state, and county) from 1629 to 2000. (via @ptak)
Manhattan is home to many small clusters of businesses around a common theme. For example, the Garment District in the west 30s, the Diamond District on 47th St, and, formerly, the Meatpacking District. Here is a short guide to some of them.
A few weeks ago, as I walked to work in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, I noticed something unusual — not one, not two, but four tile stores, side by side, on 21st Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Strange. Then, I remembered rumors about a magical street in Chelsea populated by dozens of flower nurseries. I already knew of Manhattan’s legendary Garment District. I wondered — how many microdistricts could there be in the city?