Geography as a matter of opinion

June 24th, 2014

I was vaguely aware that occasionally Google Maps deals with disputes over sovereignty between nations by showing different search results according to the searcher's location, but I hadn't realised just how frequently, and how rapidly this sort of action is required:

Abroad, Google Maps has waded into raw, tender issues of national identity. For example, take its depiction of Crimea on, where a dashed line reflects the U.S. view that the area is an occupied territory. But in Russia, on, the boundary line is solid – Russia has officially annexed Crimea.

[Via Quartz, via Memex 1.1]

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The Centre of the World

February 21st, 2014

According to the New York Times the center of the world isn't where you'd have expected to find it:

The town [of Felicity, California], established in 1986, consists of the Istels’ home and a half-dozen other buildings that the couple built on 2,600 acres in the middle of the desert near Yuma, Ariz., just off Interstate 8. At the north end, up an imposing staircase, sits the Church on the Hill at Felicity – inspired by a little white chapel in Brittany – that Istel built in 2007. The church is gorgeous and serene and looks eerily out of place, though less out of place than the 21-foot-tall stone-and-glass pyramid on the opposite end of town. The pyramid is there to mark the exact center of the world.

The founder of the town of Felicity, Jacques-André Istel, has led a really interesting, not to say distinctly eccentric, life.

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Upside up and upside down

January 19th, 2013

The World Is What You Make It:

This is a map that takes some time to get your head around; quite literally, because to appreciate it fully, you need to consider it both with its north side and its south side up.

Earth 'upside up'

[…] There is no right side up – or rather: there is no wrong side up. For this is a planisphere palindrome, a planet-chart that can be 'read' the same way 'upside up' and upside down.

That Slartibartfast was a sneaky old bugger.

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Holland vs the Netherlands

December 24th, 2012

It turns out that differentiating between Holland and the Netherlands is a lot more complicated than I'd appreciated:


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April 23rd, 2012

Ferdinandea will rise:

In the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Sicily, an island comes and goes. Called, alternately and among other names, depending on whose territorial interests are at stake, Graham Bank, Île Julia, the island of Ferdinandea, or, more extravagantly, a complex known as the Campi Flegrei del Mar di Sicilia (the Phlegraean Fields of the Sicily Sea), this geographic phenomenon is fueled by a range of submerged volcanoes. One peak, in particular, has been known to break the waves, forming a small, ephemeral island off the coast of Italy.

And, when it does, several nation-states are quick to claim it, including, in 1831, when the island appeared above water, "the navies of France, Britain, Spain, and Italy." Unfortunately for them, it eroded away and disappeared beneath the waves in 1832. […]

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Old Maps Online

February 28th, 2012

I spent much more time than I'd intended this evening playing with Old Maps Online, which looks to be another project from the creators of the A Vision of Britain through Time site I linked to a couple of years ago.

The initial map and search interface are more powerful on the new site, but as viewing a particular map usually links out to the site actually holding the map1 the user experience from that point on can be confusing as different sites use somewhat different styles of navigation. However, the biggest and best feature of the new site is that it is global in scope.2

I know it's not the same tactile experience as leafing through an old atlas, but I'll take the convenience, flexibility and scope of the electronic version every time. Definitely a site I'll be exploring a lot.

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. In many of the cases I looked at, this turns out to be the Vision of Britain site.
  2. That said, as it turned out I spent most of my time exploring old maps in my area. I've always known that my corner of town was all fields not just in 1832, but only five years before I was born, but it's still fascinating to see graphical evidence of just how recently the town of North Shields expanded inland as it turned into a dormitory suburb of Newcastle.

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Japan: before and after

March 14th, 2011

ABC News in Australia have put up some astonishing before and after pictures of Japanese towns and cities in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.1

[Via currybetdotnet]

  1. They used the same clever sliding-picture technique just a few weeks ago in depicting the effects of the Brisbane flooding. The same comment applied then as it does here: "Nice user interface for the gallery: horrifying images."

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Nyiragongo Crater

March 1st, 2011

In June 2010, a team of scientists and intrepid explorers stepped onto the shore of the lava lake boiling in the depths of Nyiragongo Crater, in the heart of the Great Lakes region of Africa. The team had dreamed of this: walking on the shores of the world's largest lava lake. Members of the team had been dazzled since childhood by the images of the 1960 documentary "The Devil's Blast" by Haroun Tazieff, who was the first to reveal to the public the glowing red breakers crashing at the bottom of Nyiragongo crater. […]

This series of images of the expedition into Nyiragongo Crater is plenty spectacular, but as I scrolled down I was still unclear as to the scale of the lake. Then I came to picture #20, and all became clear: these people are several steps beyond brave. I wouldn't feel safe within 10 miles of that thing.

[Via jwz]

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Brisbane before and after

January 18th, 2011

Brisbane floods: before and after.

Nice user interface for the gallery: horrifying images.

[Via Bifurcated Rivets]

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January 15th, 2011

Dan Hill has posted an epic tale of life in Brisbane as the floodwater started to rise:

We spot a large advert for chocolate milk adorning a building. "Dive into chocolately fun" it says. It seems newly relevant as we see the river, looking exactly like a vast, smooth soup of milk chocolate. The Brisbane River is famously brown at the best of times, being an extremely silty bit of river, but is now browner than ever.

The landscape round here is distinctly suburban. Not quite the manicured suburban of rich Los Angeles suburbs, or even 'Erinsborough', but the slightly more raggedy Australian version, with cars parked on lawns, rampant foliage growing in and around the low, angled roofs, set against straggly gum trees and paperbarks, a most unruly genus. But it's distinctly suburban nonetheless, which adds to the surreal aspect of views like Witton Road, where that chocolately fun engulfs a training shoe, some wheelie bins, and a box of breakfast cereal, and most of the street.

The most striking observation, for me, came as he recounted a trip to stock up on sandbags:

We've run out of sandbags […] so we have to drive out to Kedron to pick up as many as we can load in the boot of the car. Plotting routes in and around the city is relatively complex, as you're listening for road closures on the radio, looking for the blue wriggle of creeks and rivers on the map, and trying to remember the topography of the city, all those swoops of valleys.

When was the last time you had to stop and think about whether your route took you uphill or downhill as you drove around a city?

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