Tag Archives: cartography

Etymologic cartography

I propose Etymologic cartography as a field of study: Somebody had the simple but appealing idea to simply translate the toponyms on a map to English. In this case the subject in question is the USA:

Map of the USA with state names in English

Some of the names are rather interesting (and were unknown to me), e.g. Asleep for Iowa, Flattened Water for Nebraska, Great Hills for Massachusetts, Lord of War for Delaware, Dugout Canoe for Missouri (see here for an ordinary USA map for comparison). Note also, that both peripheral Alaska and peripheral Maine consider(ed) themselves the Mainland and that Idaho was apparently named such as a practical joke (really!? – possibly!)!

Also, the map nicely answers a question a friend of mine recently wondered about (and which I couldn’t answer): Kansas apparently means Wind, while Arkansas means People of the Wind!

The principle of etymologic cartography is of course easily transferred to other geographic areas. Though, coming to think of it, given its history the USA has probably a substantial (more than average?) density of toponyms that don’t stem from the local language but rather from Spanish or Aboriginal American languages (think, for example, Utah). I wonder what other countries or regions would especially lend themselves to such an experiment?

(via gisn8)

Review of Swiss GIS Day 2012

As announced a while ago, I went to GIS Day in Zurich, Switzerland.

On my employer’s blog, I have written up a review of the event in German. Head over to find out about interesting Switzerland-based GIS projects (in-browser-translation should be fine to get the gist, I suppose).

Swiss air rescue organisation Rega uses GIS for emergency dispatching

Swiss air rescue organisation Rega uses GIS for emergency dispatching

Eric Fischer: Mapmaker, artist and programmer

The Atlantic Cities has a nice portrait of Eric Fischer: Mapmaker, artist, or programmer?. If you have been following information visualization and geovisualization news online over the recent years, I bet you have come across Fischer’s work. A few examples:

See something or say something: In this piece Fischer has overlaid georeferenced tweets (blue) and georeferenced Flickr pictures (orange). White areas have been posted to both Twitter and Flickr.

Locals and tourists: In this piece Fischer has coloured georeferenced Flickr images depending on if they were taken by tourists (red) or locals (blue). Pictures whose author’s origin was ambiguous are coloured yellow.

Race and ethnicity: Map of racial and ethnic divisions in Chicago, based on US Census 2010 data. Each dot represents 25 residents, red dots represent white people, blue dots represent black people, green represents Asian, orange Hispanic and yellow other origing.

“Ultimately, almost everything I have been making tries to take the dim, distant glimpse of the real world that we can see through data and magnify some aspect of it in an attempt to understand something about the structure of cities.”

“When the maps succeed, I think it is when they can confirm something that the viewer already knows about their neighborhood or their city, and then broaden that knowledge a little by showing how some other places that the viewer doesn’t know so well are similar or different.”
– Eric Fischer

What I like most about Fischer’s projects is that they are often crowdsourced (from Flickr or Twitter), data-heavy and employ often, not always, quite simple analysis or visualization approaches, but to great effect. In the end it’s all about the ideas behind the visualizations and Fischer doesn’t seem to be short on those.

Eric Fischer, formerly programmer at Google, is currently artist-in-residence at a San Francisco museum, where he will hopefully continue to produce interesting maps and visualizations. It’s probably indeed safe to respond to the Atlantic Cities article’s title that Fischer is all: mapmaker and artist and programmer.

Evolution of NYC

Interesting for history/urbanism/New York buffs:

The evolution of the New York skyline

Evolution of New York skyline


The evolution of the New York street grid (review of a book):

The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, the map and surveying scheme that set the blocks at 200 by 800 feet all the way up the length of the island, was an audacious gamble on growth. From 1790 to 1810, the population of New York had tripled, and the commissioners predicted that by 1860, New York would have almost the same population as Paris, then home to half a million people. (They were wrong, of course — New York would top nearly 800,000 by then.)

(via Swissmiss)


Skobbler’s OSM map

Skobbler produces apps and maps based on OpenStreetMap (OSM) data. Under http://maps.skobbler.com they’ve released an OSM-based map. I’ve always had mixed feelings about how OSM presented their map online. While I like the project very much and on and off use OSM data in my projects, I don’t like many things about the visual style both of the map and the website used to present it.

I like the sleek interface of Skobbler’s OSM map, however:


Functionality-wise the Skobbler map offers their own map style as well as some traditional ones (they for example offer the Mapnik and the Cyclemap style), the usual search, routing (I suspect via Google or some other routing service as a standard, because there is a checkbox “switch to OSM”, which makes the functionality less user-friendly), favorite and recently visited places, editing via both JOSM and Potlatch and POI search and easy filtering.

Comparison of Skobbler (top) and Mapnik (bottom) map styles (click to enlarge).

Regarding the map quality I think Skobbler has done many things right and presents a major improvement over the standard OSM map styles: clearer and leaner colour scheme (which orientates itself a bit more towards the ‘industry standard’, I guess), less label clutter, more agreeable line widths (see for example the railway lines or some streets, above), nice choice of font style and capitalisation as well as label placement and repetition (of course, all these things are not completely without flaws).

All in all, a truly attractive OSM map!

(discovered via opengeodata.org)

Miscellaneous news of 2012-06-07

Today in miscellaneous news:

Open government data Zurich briefing: Today I’ve been at a preliminary open government data briefing by eZurich, an initiative to promote the IT industry in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich will be the first Swiss city (actually the first Swiss administrative body at all) to adopt an open government data strategy and launch a data dissemination portal. The meeting today brought together officials, journalists, developers, ideators and evangelists to discuss opportunities and challenges of open government data. The main challenge and most widely discussed topic was responsibility/indemnity of developers using (potentially faulty) official data in one of their apps. While including a disclaimer in one’s app may already go a long way, I’m sure we haven’t heard for the last time about this particular concern.

Open government data conference: On 28th of June, the city of Zurich will publicly launch its government data dissemination portal during the Opendata.ch 2012 Conference [german] (see this blog post by me on my company’s website [german] for more background information on the Swiss open data movement). I’m honoured that I’ve been invited to give a presentation in the Health & Environment track at the conference. The topic is my study about the hazard imposed on Switzerland’s population by nuclear power stations in Switzerland and abroad.

Google detailed the “next dimension of Google Maps”: Today, Google’s much-hyped press conference took place. According to some pundits, the mountain gave birth to a mouse. What was announced boiled down to:

  • Cacheable Google Maps (something that has been around by 3rd party providers and to some degree also by Google itself (at least on my Samsung Galaxy SII I can download GMaps tiles for offline-use, not sure if that is some kind of “Lab feature”).
  • 3D imagery ‘maps’: They look very nice, but Google is not alone/first in that field either.
  • New (portable) gear for acquiring Streetview imagery.

Peter Batty at geothought has some more very interesting – errh – thoughts and insights into El Goog’s announcements. His take-away message: Google announced that it is scared of Apple Maps (press conference next week).

NY Times Borderline blog on Leopold Kohr’s idea of ideal size of countries: The Borderline blog continues to produce great reading material. This week Frank Jacobs writes about Leopold Kohr who develop ideas about the ideal sizes of countries with such gems as:

“There seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness.” Size was the root of all evil: “Whenever something is wrong, it is too big.”

“The absolute maximum to which a society can expand without having its basic functions degrade, is about 12 to 15 million people.”

A must-read. And look at these maps of proposed countries:

Proposed sub-division of the USA (NY Times)

Proposed sub-division of Europe (NY Times)

Material to get you started with R stats package: FlowingData have posted a nice list of resources to learn R.

Recommended reading – books about places: Thierry at Georeferenced posted his list of 10 favourite books (and one magazine) that convey a sense of place. This made me wishlist some books.

An – alas – presumably unsuccessful try at Earth Standard Time: by xkcd. Nuff said, go see for yourself.

Tornado map: IDV Solutions have produced an (alas static) tornado map of the USA. It’s visually quite appealing, however, unfortunately there are some drawbacks, the most obvious ones being: it uses Mercator projection (distorting northern regions severely) and only touchdown and liftoff coordinates (giving straight lines for the tornado paths, losing much detail in the process). While this is already an appealing visualization, steps towards an improved next version are clear.

IDV Solutions tornado map

Some love for strange toponyms: Apparently, the Scottish town of Dull (population 84) and the U.S. town of Boring (population > 10.000) have become sister communities. BoingBoing formulates it thusly: “They have joined forces to promote their inherent interestingness.” The Guardian has more coverage with this gem:

Residents of both places wait with bated breath as officials in Boring, which is six hours behind the UK, voted on whether they could be officially linked. Any fears were quickly assuaged though as the Boring Community Planning Organisation in Oregon voted to make the two communities “a pair for the ages”.

Hooray for Dull & Boring!

And finally, my quote of the week (via Swissmiss):

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”
– Duke Ellington