Category Archives: Maps

Forcing a round object into a square map

The earth is approximately a sphere, yet we try to force this round object into a square grid through the use of latitude and longitude and Ordinance Surveys. Why?
The rationale for use of grids depends on scale. We have naturally come to think of the earth rotating on an axis with a prime meridian reflecting that access on the surface, intersecting the axis at the north and south poles, complemented by an equator belting it. The equator has a natural physical meaning, but the prime meridian is arbitrary. Greenwich, England is no more the start of time than any other place. But longitude, if not latitude is arbitrary. The idea of longitude lines running north-south does have convenience in that it tends to align with the magnetic poles, and benefitting navigation.


Geodesic domes, developed by Buckminster Fuller (who did not invent soccer, but whose name was given to the Fullerene) enclose spherical areas with a mesh of triangles, forming many hexagons and 12 pentagons.
We could remap the earth using geodesic principles. Fuller did this with his Dymaxion Map. The triangular cut marks do not align with latitude and longitude. However, one should be able to align the triangles with either latitude (the equator) or longitude (a prime meridian), though that might cut land masses, which dilutes the political point Fuller was trying to make.

There are many ways to skin the earth, and stretch it out like a tanner stretches leather. The way we present this 3D object in 2D affects how we perceive it. We expect (in western countries) north to be up, and are disoriented when maps are presented otherwise. Yet we don’t expect our environment to clue us in very often, we don’t typically see compass marks in the pavement to show us which direction is north, to help us reorient (meaning turn to the east, oddly we never reoccident and turn to the west).
The map is the user interface to the environment, and we need to give it more consideration. We should also better embed navigation clues into our environment. Some cities post wayfinding systems around, especially near transit stops. Even (especially?) in the age of the almost ubiquitous smart phone, this still seems wise, so people can keep their eyes looking ahead, focused on the real environment, rather than face down in a phone, or staring into an imaginary distance with glasses.

Going Underground

Prior to the advent of the steam railway, London was a metropolis of just over 1 million people. It was well Figure_c8-f3bFigure_c8-f3cFigure_c8-f3dserved by both canals and turnpikes connecting to other parts of Great Britain. Internally, there were omnibus services. The London & Greenwich Railway was the first of many railways to reach London, with the first section opening in 1836 and being completed in 1838, making it possible to reach Greenwich in twelve minutes instead of the hour required by horse-drawn omnibus or steamboat. Famously built on a viaduct, the route was initially paralleled by a tree-lined boulevard that operated as a toll road, serving those unwilling to pay rail fares. However, the toll road was disbanded when the viaduct was widened to enable more frequent services to the densely populated urban core, ultimately growing from two tracks to eleven.
Soon many other railways sought to connect to London. To avoid disruption in the core, a Royal Commission on Railway Termini, appointed in 1846, drew a box around central London and decreed no line shall enter the cordon. [This box resembles the congestion charging zone adopted in the early 21st century, which aimed to reduce cars, rather than prohibit trains]. The result was railway terminals locating on the edges of the central region. London, like many cities, has no unified railway station, as the North, South, East, and West lines have no common intersection. The problem is worse though in London, as even lines from the north run by different organizations would be build adjacent (St. Pancras/ Kings Cross), or nearly adjacent (Euston), stations without convenient interchange. Later (between 1858-60) some penetrations of the box were permitted by Parliament, but most of the City of London (the original walled city where the financial district still lies) remained untouched. While preventing railways from severing the most densely populated part of the city, which would have been expensive for both the railways and the city, it created a need for a connection between the termini to allow transfers. The Metropolitan Railway, a private concern like all railways of the era but with some support from the Corporation of the City of London, was approved by Parliament in 1854. It aimed to connect the northern termini (Paddington, Euston, St. Pancras, King’s Cross, and Farringdon, which was later added to the plan) to ease movement for through travelers.
The trends in the City of London were quite different from the rest of London. The City of London has seen a long trend of depopulation from 1851 (prior to the first Underground line) and for many years saw increasing employment, lending support to the notion that the railways, especially the Underground, enabled decentralization of residences and concentration of employment.
The Metropolitan Railway opened in January 1863, and was extremely successful. Clearly the market was much larger than inter-line transfers. The firm paid dividends throughout its life. Accounting in the early years of the Metropolitan Railway, especially prior to the Regulation of Railways Act of 1868, was a bit dodgy, and dividends were reportedly paid out of capital. To quote Jackson (1986) p. 38, describing the era of 1865, “It was . . . a house of cards, a precarious game in which the level of dividend was kept up at all costs, by finding money from somewhere, with no regard to sound accounting or financial rectitude.”. Emulation is the proof of success. Many new railway lines were proposed, the 219 London-area railway bills brought before Parliament during the period 1860-1869 totaled 1420 km (882 miles).
Some of those lines were proposed prior to the opening of the Metropolitan, indicating the smell of success was in the air, though the peak years were between 1863 and 1866, following closely on the heels of the Metropolitan’s opening. The most important of these was the Metropolitan District Railway (later called the District line), which ran just north of the River Thames, but south of the Metropolitan, connecting a number of the southern railway termini (Victoria, Charing Cross, Blackfriars, Cannon Street). Proposals for what became the Circle Line service linking the Metropolitan and District (roughly inscribing the box described above) were quickly proposed, but the two lines were not connected on both ends until 1884. Both the Metropolitan and District lines were constructed using cut and cover techniques. Later lines, from the City and South London Railway (first section opened in 1890) onwards, generally used deep-level tunneling techniques to avoid disruption of city streets, existing railway lines, and public utilities when they needed to be below grade. Outside the Circle Line however, the railways could emerge above ground and competed fiercely in some markets, while operating unfettered in others, to provide suburban services. In some cases this involved building new lines, in others it involved acquiring running rights on (or ownership of) existing lines. The development of suburbs was a way to develop traffic for lines that in the city, though profitable, were operating below maximum capacity, and thus maximum profitability.
Adapted from

Also see:

Comprehensive LRT System Plan for Hennepin County


From the archives, we see that proposals for LRT in Hennepin County are not new, This 1988 document (PDF) has maps of the  Comprehensive LRT System Plan for Hennepin County

. The debate about the location of the Southwest and Northwest corridors as they approach downtown remains alive. [This mostly about whether to speed the commute of suburbanites or serve the needs of local Minneapolis residents.] The South corridor has become Freeway BRT. The priorities of which gets done first and second have changed, but the main part of the corridors are unchanged. Of course only a the Hiawatha line was done within the 20 year life of the plan. Some more discussion at City Pages.
I am still looking for a digital version of 1970s “Regional Fixed Guideway Study” proposing a 37 mile transit system for Twin Cities. Anyone have scan/map?
(Other cool documents here). Also AJ Froggie’s site.

How memory load leaves us ‘blind’ to new visual information


KurzweilAI: How memory load leaves us ‘blind’ to new visual information

“Professor Nilli Lavie from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the study, explains: ‘An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a sat nav [GPS receiver] while driving.
‘Our research would suggest that focusing on remembering the directions we’ve just seen on the screen means that we’re more likely to fail to observe other hazards around us on the road, for example an approaching motorbike or a pedestrian on a crossing, even though we may be ‘looking’ at where we’re going.’”

Route damn spot, Route I say. or Rooting for a Rout.


In my lab today we had a discussion over the proper way to say the word “Route” dictionaries and professional linguists who were consulted give both “root” and “rout” as acceptable pronunciations, leaving us no wiser than before.
But online, we find this Dialect survey (color matching the map).

Dialect Survey Results:

26. route (as in, “the route from one place to another”) 
     a. rhymes with “hoot” (29.99%)
     b. rhymes with “out” (19.72%)
     c. I can pronounce it either way interchangeably (30.42%)
     d. I say it like “hoot” for the noun and like “out” for the verb. (15.97%)
     e. I say it like “out” for the noun and like “hoot” for the verb. (2.50%)
     f. other (1.40%)
     (11137 respondents)


As a north-easterner myself, It was always take Root 29 or Root 95, but in the South, we were on Rout 85. In the midwest, it seems more Rout than Root. In any case the “e” is superfluous, as it doesn’t modify in a consistent way, since we already have a double vowel. The word is also superfluous, since we already have the word “road” from the same root. Damn French imports.

Etymology online says: route (n.)
early 13c., from O.Fr. rute “road, way, path,” from L. rupta (via) “(a road) opened by force,” from rupta, fem. pp. of rumpere “to break” (see rupture). Sense of “fixed or regular course for carrying things” (cf. mail route) is 1792, an extension of the meaning “customary path of animals” (early 15c.).

See also this on Highway Linguistics

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Alexis Madrigal @ The Atlantic: How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything – Technology :

“Or as my friend and sci-fi novelist Robin Sloan put it to me, ‘I maintain that this is Google’s core asset. In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world) and, oh, P.S. they still have a search engine somewhere.’
Of course, they will always need one more piece of geographic information to make all this effort worthwhile: You. Where you are, that is. Your location is the current that makes Google’s giant geodata machine run. They’ve built this whole playground as an elaborate lure for you. As good and smart and useful as it is, good luck resisting taking the bait. 

Linklist: May 16, 2012

Kottke: Fantastic time lapse map of Europe, 1000 – 2005 A.D.

In Vancouver, Buzzer Blog: New wayfinding signage is going up around the region

Massive Tornado, Can it Happen Here? [MPR succumbs to Sweeps Month] If you’re stuck in traffic, you have no good choices”

A local Car Dealer (Walser) is encouraging trading in used cars for bikes (and cash). The campaign is here: New Wheels

The Scholarly Kitchen: The Emergence of a Citation Cartel :

“In a 1999 essay published in Science titled, ‘Scientific Communication — A Vanity Fair?’ George Franck warned us on the possibility of citation cartels — groups of editors and journals working together for mutual benefit. To date, this behavior has not been widely documented; however, when you first view it, it is astonishing.
Cell Transplantation is a medical journal published by the Cognizant Communication Corporation of Putnam Valley, New York. In recent years, its impact factor has been growing rapidly. In 2006, it was 3.482. In 2010, it had almost doubled to 6.204.
When you look at which journals cite Cell Transplantation, two journals stand out noticeably: the Medical Science Monitor, and The Scientific World Journal. According to the JCR, neither of these journals cited Cell Transplantation until 2010.”


Jason Hong sends me to his project: Livehoods:

About the Livehoods Project
The Livehoods Project presents a new methodology for studying the dynamics, structure, and character of a city on a large scale using social media and machine learning. Using data such as tweets and check-ins, we are able to discover the hidden structures of the city with machine learning. Our techniques reveal a snap-shot of the dynamic areas the comprise the city, which we call Livehoods.
Livehoods allow us to investigate and explore how people actually use the city, simultaneosly shedding light onto the factors that come together to shape the urban landscape and the social texture of city life, including municipal borders, demographics, economic development, resources, geography, and planning. Livehoods is a research project from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cool maps at the site.