Tagged: maps

The beautiful road not yet taken

Remember when, before pervasive phone GPS, you actually asked for directions? You know, stopping a stranger on the street or pulling into a gas station and asking somebody working there and trying to write it down on a mapkin? If you’re not an american male, that is. Maybe it was awkward or ineffective, but the directions were personalized, and you could ask for all sorts of things not precisely shown on maps.

Via The Atlantic’s CityLab blog, I just learned that Yahoo! labs (!) has released a paper exploring “how mapping apps could theoretically generate short walking routes that are more beautiful or quiet than standard offerings.” Color me intrigued, and also excited about mapping that’s pedestrian based. Could a future mapping app plot me a course that optimized not for shortest distance or quickest time but for maximum beauty, minimum chance of an accident, or maybe even one that only uses the shady side of the street?

Yahoo! maps. Who knew?

The sub-head, “In the future, GPS directions may not always be destination-driven.” might be the most interestingly subversive idea in the piece. Who even says that a trip has to have a destination? Maybe the journey is the destination. Maybe you want your GPS to give you a scenic drive or walk of some duration or level of beauty. Maybe you want to explore Somerville and see as many Bathtub Marys as possible along the way.

Who knows when or if such things will ever become available, but I’m excited by the possibilities.  Until then, I recommend taking random walks when you can and also checking out some maps of imaginary places.

This weekend in wooden maps

While hanging out on the LES with the young lions of fintech, I stayed at the newly soft opened Ludlow Hotel and was enchanted by this coffee table in the shape of Manhattan with the street grid incised in it. It sort of reminds me of Max Becher’s Chocolate Broadway.

Manhattan coffee table at the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side

It’s made of wood and it’s a map, what more could I ask for? How about a Central Park filled with actual plants? Done! Sure, you could argue that other parks are not given this treatment or that the reservoir or other major bodies of water are missing, but hey, it’s a coffee table, not google earth.

Manhattan in wood, Central Park in moss

I didn’t have a chance to ask the hotel staff where they got this wonderful thing and the closest I’ve been able to find online is the superficially similar (and unavailable) Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge of (California-based) Galerie Sommerlath.

Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge

I give Edge much credit for including the transit lines, but I prefer the darker finish – and distinctive Central Park treatment – of the hotel’s version. I wonder if the concierge uses it to give directions.

Three and a half hours in a single step, more at the pole

We all know that parallel lines never meet, and it’s convenient to think of the lines of longitude and timezones as parallel, but they really aren’t. The former because they’re inscribed on the (more or less) spherical Earth, and the latter because they’re entirely made up, a construct of how we measure time. This trippy insight, acquired whilst contemplating the stunning entirely of Bruce Myren’s 40th Parallel project at Gallery Kayafas, led me to some interesting trivia about time zones.

Also, I was trying to sort out lead assignment for various shifts of telesales reps, but that’s a lot less interesting.

Leaving aside the puzzlement that is the International Date Line, it turns out there are places where you can travel more than one timezone at once, and relatedly, places where three timezones converge at a single point.

Take for example the convergence of Norway, Finland, and Russia. At that point you can hop from UTC +1 in Norway, UTC +2 in Finland, and UTC +3 in Russia, if the border guards let you. There are some similar spots in the middle of Russia, if you want to do the Time Warp without crossing international boundaries. The CIA has an awesome timezone map available in PDF, from which these are clipped:

Three timezones in the North Lots of timezones to the West of China

China has just one time zone from end to end, even though in neighboring counties, that span covers several time zones. So when leaving China to the West, you can go jump back two hours to Kazakstan, three to Kyrgyz-, Tajiki- and/or Pakistan, or even three and a half hours, to Afghanistan via the treacherous Wakhjir Pass. The web of timezones that are more or less than a whole hour from their neighbors make South and Central Asia even more confusing.

I thought that 3.5 hours was the biggest jump possible, and wikipedia says it is in the above linked article, but I think it’s more complicated that that. Around the South pole, in Antarctica, in theory all time zones would converge on that point, but that would be very tricky on a practical level.

It turns out that various parts of Antarctica observe a range of time zones from UTC -6 through UTC +12, and the borders of these zones could cause some even bigger jumps in time for people there, if they were ever to traverse those frozen boundaries.

Time in Antarctica, via Wikipedia

I got a headache (and maybe brain freeze) looking at this, but I think you can gain or lose at least ten hours going in and out of the inland zone, which is oddly labeled “Vostok” which I’m pretty sure means “East” in Russian (Восток). Which way is East at the South pole?? Without even opening the can of worms that is Daylight Saving Time, let’s just say you’re going to need more watches than you wore back in the 80s.

Not confused enough? Check out the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. If you’re already there, please send me a postcard!

All candy should come with technical cross-section diagrams

While snagging a fresh Mozart Kugel from the snack table at the office I noticed this informative diagram inside the box. Behold the majesty of two different kinds of marzipan on one chocolate ball.  What really drove the Salieri Kugel to madness was how easy the Mozart Kugel made it look.

Inside the Mozart Kugel

Now that’s my kind of infographic. It’s too bad you typically only get this sort of diagram with German or Japanese candy. To my mind, it should be as required as the nutrition information or the candy guide for the perplexed. Via Steve Almond’s CandyFreak, you can also test your ability to identify candy bars by their cross sections, and there’s a whole load of cross-sectional chocolate fun at Edible Cartography. It should go without saying that I really like that name.

The most uptowniest Starbucks in Manhattan is not on the island of Manhattan

I thought I was so edgy, I checked in at the Starbucks on 181st street in Washington Heights and noted that I was at the northernmost Starbucks in the borough of Manhattan. How wrong I was, by two coffee shops and an interesting carto-historical technicality.

Like many Manhattanites, I was guilty of conflating the island of Manhattan, the borough of Manhattan, and the civilized world. Understandable, I’m sure you’ll agree.  But what gives about the most uptowniest Starbucks? Well, it turns out there are two Starbucks establishments in Marble Hill, a chunk of political Manhattan physically embedded in the Bronx thanks to the motion of history and the Harlem river.

If you look at maps closely, you’ll see the border line. Marble Hill has a Bronx zip code and Bronx school district, but Manhattan representation. It used to be part of the island of Manhattan but was made an island by a canal and later joined to the Bronx by the infilling of the original course of the Harlem river. The more you know.

For extra credit, check out the excellently named Spuyten Duyvil Creek, anagrammed subway station maps (Damn Tyck Trees!), and Vanshnookenraggen’s excellent subway map poster showing the Marble Hill stop on the 1.

The law of Boston infrastructure: build five to keep four

Staring at the MBTA map and letting my mind wander while waiting for the train, I noticed a repeated pattern of 4/5.

There were five Green line branches, but only four survive today with the obvious gap at the start of the sequence B, C, D, E.  I guess if the E line had been cut, it wouldn’t have been so obvious.  OK, the E line has been cut back, but not cut out.

More recently, there were five terminals at Logan, but Terminal D was absorbed into C and E in 2006 leaving A, B, C, E.  It was decided that renaming Terminal E to Terminal D overnight to close the gap would cause too much confusion.

Also in more recent memory, the Silver Line now has only four line but numbering for five.  It acquired a gap with the demise of the SL3 in 2008 and the appearance of SL4 and the renaming of the SL5 in 2009 making the list of Silver Lines a gappy SL1, SL2, SL4, SL5.  The fact that the Silver Line still exists as two unconnected parts (SL1/SL2 and SL4/SL5) makes it a little less odd that there’s a gap in numbering. Although there were never five Silver Line routes in operation at the same time, we still have the 4/5 gap in numbering.

You can witness the changes of the Green and Silver lines in Andrew Lynch’s estimable Animated History of the MBTA, with a hearty hat tip to Universal Hub.  If you squint real hard at the airport loop in the last two slides you might or might not see the end of Terminal D.

What’s going on here?  Do the planners have spooky Mickey Mouse hands? Does Boston overbuild then scale back? Shrinkage?  I have no idea, I’m probably just making connections because there’s no bubble wrap to keep me busy while I wait for the T.  In any case, it’s interesting to think of the transit system as organic and changing, even if that means both growth and decay.

For extra credit, check out Cameron Booth’s upgrade to the official MBTA map.

Mappy diversion: the 40th parallel, Ana Ng's Peruvian lover, and globe-spanning sandwiches

I’m back from a trip almost halfway around the world in terms of longitude, but a pretty short hop in latitude. A weather diversion on the way over brought me to Oklahoma City airport, what would have been my second time ever setting foot on Oklahoma soil, but as you may have the misfortune to know, a “diversion” means you don’t get off the plane, at least not until the passenger bill of rights two hour limit expires.

That’s the long way around to say, I thought perhaps I was near the 40th parallel, the subject of the estimable Bruce Myren’s photo project and kickstarter campaign, which is widgetized at right. I was off by at least five degrees of latitude, which shows my level of familiarity with the middle of this country.

Which brings us back to maps. (Bet you didn’t see that coming) Here’s another clip from the Great Circle Mapper, which I touted some time ago. They’ve made some spiffy improvements. I often think of flights to Asia from the central USA as going “over the pole” but it seems that this one didn’t even break the arctic circle. Of course, the great circles mapped are the most direct routes, not necessarily the actual flight paths.

That’s a good 15,000 miles and will likely leave me soulless for almost two weeks. Thoughts of global mapping also bring me back to a vintage limeduck post where I wondered about the places alluded to in TMBG’s Ana Ng:

Make a hole with a gun perpendicular
To the name of this town in a desktop globe
Exit wound in a foreign nation
Showing the home of the one this was written for

These places, I’ve learned, are called antipodes, and it turns out that it’s pretty unlikely that any town in the continental USA has a dry land antipode. If we assume that Ana Ng is in Vietnam, then the song’s narrator could be in Peru. Locating Ana in various other parts of Asia can put the singer in other parts of South America, but with more than 2/3 the globe covered in water, there just aren’t that many inhabitable antipodes. So you don’t have to shoot your globe. Kudos to the smarties at Free Map Tools and Antipode Map for making this sort of cutting-edge research so easy, and also to the ever-alert Strange Maps blog.

In case anybody is still reading, I’ve got to bring up one more map-related wonder, the Earth Sandwich. According to Ze Frank, the creator (discoverer?) of the Earth Sandwich, “An EARTH SANDWICH is created when two slices of bread are simultaneously placed on opposite sides of the EARTH.” An excellent bookend to TMBG’s ballistic approach to antipodes, I think. If you happen to be reading this on a boat in the Indian Ocean Southwest of Australia and have bread and cheese, I propose we create the first Earth Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

120,000 blocks to Samarkand

In places like New York City, you can easily measure distance in blocks and people generally know how far that is in miles or minutes. In New York City, everybody knows that Manhattan street blocks are about 20 to the mile, and most New Yorkers can walk about one such block per minute.  Tourists travel a fraction of that rate and really should have their own lanes.  Avenue blocks are less reliably spaced but they run about 1/4 mile each.

In less griddy places like London or Boston, a block is not always a block, so it’s less of a useful measure.

If you’re getting sick of my New York City centric pondering, you’re really going to hate this next bit.  The estimable Harold Cooper has created a marvelous map mashup that extends the Manhattan street grid to “every point on earth.” It’s called extendNY, of course, and I think it’s awesome. Of course.

Now I can always know how many blocks away something is, using my beloved standard Manhattan blocks, even when not in Manhattan.  I must say, I never thought I’d be spending so much time on the Upper East Side.  I shall henceforth refer to the MBTA 1 bus as the 3,524th street crosstown, or the M3524.

For extra cartogeeky credit, check out what happens to the grid in Uzbekistan, which I shall henceforth call the North Manhattan Pole.  That’ll teach you to slap a rectangular grid on a round thing.

Are you Rear Admiral of a landlocked navy?

I am a cartography nerd.  I like maps.  I like globes.  I like pondering questions like “what countries have land borders with just one other country?”  (There are 17 such nations, including two mutual pairs and two Italian enclaves. How many can you name without consulting a map or intertube?)

It was while pursuing just such an item of trivia that I stumbled on the turgid wikipedia entry, Navies of Landlocked Countries.  Just my kind of thing!  There are 10 countries floating such navies.  Most are small but all have the distinction of being independent branches of their nations’ armed forces.

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Bolivia
  3. Central African Republic
  4. Kazakhstan
  5. Laos
  6. Paraguay
  7. Rwanda
  8. Serbia
  9. Turkmenistan
  10. Uganda

These are not all as totally loony as you might think. Three have coastlines on the Caspian sea (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan), three have major border lakes (Bolivia/Titicaca, Rwanda/Kivu and Uganda/Victoria), and four float their navies on big rivers (Laos/Mekong, Paraguay/Paraguay, Serbia/Danube, CAR/Ubangi). Imagine if you will, an independent landlocked Illinois having a navy on Lake Michigan or on the mighty Mississippi.  But one of these landlocked navies stands out to me for its Quixotic irredentist nature: Bolivia.

Sure, Bolivia’s navy patrols Lake Titicaca – which is about half the surface area of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the North American Great Lakes – and keeps its shores safe from drug smugglers and invading Pervian frogmen.  But the real reason for Bolivia’s navy is the hope that one day they will float free in the Pacific, an ocean whose coast Bolivia lost to Chile over 100 years ago in the War of the Pacific.  That’s right, generations of Bolivian sailors have come and gone, motoring about on Lake Titicaca (I never get tired of typing that), pining for a chance to chip off a chunk of Chilean coast and ply the Pacific.

I don’t mean to make light of a nation’s historical wounds or dreams, and I commend Bolivia for not taking any rash military action against Chile, but don’t you think that maintaining a navy is a bit much?  Does inner tubing around Lake Titicaca really prepare you for the Pacific Ocean?  Or does focusing the nation on regaining lost coastline take people’s minds off other problems?

At any rate, I’ll conclude this curious cartographic lesson with a deeper head-scratcher:  what impossible dream are you devoting resources to?  Are you to be commended for holding fast, or mocked for living in the past?

The price of Cronin Park is eternal vigilance

Just about two years ago, I wrote about Cambridge’s Cronin Park, a triangle of green near Central Square. These days, location-based stuff is all the rage, and I was pleased to note that Cronin Park is a place on Foursquare.  I quickly became the mayor.

But when I was taking screenshots for this post, I noticed that something was off. Foursquare’s Cronin Park pin, if you zoom in on it, turns out to be across the street from the actual place – in an adjacent green patch that is authoritatively labeled by Google Maps as… James Cronin Park.  Didn’t I add James Cronin Park to Google Maps two years ago?  What gives?

A search for “Cronin Park” shows two places: map point A is next to Google’s mislabeled Cronin Park; map point B is the center of the actual Cronin Park as added to the map by yours truly in 2008.  Indeed, you can see my car parked across from the park on Franklin street.

Just to make sure, I visited the site today, and “my” Cronin Park – the triangular one – is indeed, still James P. Cronin Park, still marked by a big rock with a plaque on it.  The park across Franklin Street has no name that I could find on site, but it seems to have been anointed by Google Maps.  Neither place is mentioned at the City of Cambridge’s DPW page of parks or shown on the Park Maintenance district 2 map.

What does this all mean?  Probably not much you didn’t already know.  Google Maps isn’t perfect, crowdsourcing with curation cuts both ways, the City of Cambridge website isn’t encyclopedic.  We’ll see if this post or my efforts with Google and Foursquare make any progress in getting Cronin Park properly located and noted.  In the mean time, be sure to check in if you’re passing by.