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Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Oh, this is fun. If you have a little map, environment and/or geography geek streak, check out this interactive:

River Runner by Sam Learner

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“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

― Wendell Berry

When a raindrop falls, where does it go? If it falls on my hometown, it flows 390km to the Atlantic Ocean.

If it falls on the Denver Broncos’ Mile High 50-yard line, just east of the Continental Divide, the path to the Gulf of Mexico is 3862km!

Click a starting point and the site will calculate a route and then do a visual fly-over. I wish it covered places outside the US but it’s still a fun and impressive window into data from the always excellent USGS.*

* Ah, the USGS, font of so much maptitude! Wait, is that a volcano webcam? Stop browsing, woman, you have work to do! But remind me to tell you my volcano story someday:)

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river running through a forested glade
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

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Thinking about my grandfather yesterday got me thinking about our trip to Sweden. Here’s one of the best souvenirs I brought back, an adjustable driving distance calculator. The sheet inside slides to show distances from a given starting location. I like maps, and this one is particularly well done.

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For fun, here’s one of the first known distance maps, the Tabula Peutingeriana, with measures for (where else?) the center of all things at that time, the Roman Empire. Although at 22 feet long, it’s not exactly portable!

Tabula Peutingeriana map
Conradi Millieri derivative work: Thecinic, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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It’s lunchtime and I’m snacky, so for today’s post I bring you an excerpt from my European travel journal, featuring the delicious and mysterious (not really) zalmforel!*

I like the map, too.

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Bron: OTRES. Licentie: Publiek domein

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* It is a trout that looks something like salmon, but isn’t (despite what the nice lady told me at the time) an actual cross. Still very good, and isn’t it nice to learn new things?

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Digging through my files looking for some obscure notes, I ran across this piece of commentary on Ottawa. I wrote it during the first trip up here after Mr. Man convinced me to consider a move, so I was less of a tourist and more a potential consumer. It was also funny to see what I thought the first time I came to this place I now call home.

This was years ago now but the perspective (from inside a coffee shop! full of people! unmasked!) caught my attention.

Look, I thought, this is how it was, once upon a time, and how it will one day be again.

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OTTAWA 10:18 on a Monday morning and I’m in a Starbuck’s. We’re situated in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that remind me of Denver, and it’s surprisingly busy. What I’ve noticed so far: Canadians are generally not interested in bumper stickers. They seem to be much more interested in the resale value of their cars than in informing their fellow passersby that they oppose free trade, or love puppies, or want to follow their bliss (which, let’s be honest, often looks a lot like a 18-wheel truck halfway through a 48-hour run between New York city and Las Vegas). How committed can they be, I ask you, if they aren’t willing to sacrifice a bit of paint for their cause? Honestly. 

I’m freezing in here, as the climate control unit appears to be set up for a constant stream of hot-blooded Northerners, all anxious for their coffee fix. There is a constant flow of conversation as well, as interestingly plebeian as any space designed to provide a safe haven for meeting, greeting, and eating. A couple of enthusiastically large women are discussing jobs (one just lost hers due to her refusal to sign some important yet binding piece of paper and she’s happy as a clam to be anywhere that isn’t at work with her tool of a boss), kids (they don’t look old enough to have them but they do, along with husbands, tattoos, concerned mothers, and similarly unemployed friends to drink with at 11:00 in the morning. 

The cars are mostly new out here; we’re down South of the city now, in one of the several growing areas of development focused on providing big shiny new buildings for high-tech and other companies, large houses on tiny lots, gravid with the cars necessary to live in such a spread-out region. It’s not my kind of place, but I can see that it appeals to a lot of people. People who want to drive new cars from the office two blocks down the street to get a grande half-fat half-soy mocaccino with caramel on top. Not that I’m making fun, mind you. I’m drinking what appears to be a banana smoothie but is in fact a vente orange mango vivanno. I just don’t want to buy a car. Another sad note, the wireless here is decidedly not free.

One thing I notice is that as the day wears on, the brand new cars and fancy dress are replaced by a little more rust, more single women with artistically highlighted hair, fewer professionals. Perhaps this is more like an American experience than I’d expected, and I’ll see an influx of students come in soon with bags under their eyes, laptops, and the look of perennial stress that marks the perpetually intellectual. Ah, but wait, what’s this? A taste of home writ large, in the form of a bronze and white two-tone Chevy Bel Air flaunting the high gas prices as effectively as it does the slim parking spot it is bursting out of. Home sweet home. A Toyota hatchback the size of a basketball shoe slips into a slot nearby, its more practical size offset by an undeniable air of regret for its lost stature.

Most of the darker-skinned people I’ve seen so far here are South Asian. Yesterday, the lack of fellow African Americans left me feeling lonely, but on the plus side there will be whole new ethnicities to be mistaken for, and the food’s bound to be tasty. Not surprisingly, though, white prevails here. Outdoor tan white with big boots and pickup trucks, soft lumpy white with purses and a coffee and keys and flip-flops and two kids and a mini-van, self-conscious white striving for haute couture and perfect hair while casting constant glances at nearby windows to check, just to be sure, and big hand solid grip white, leading a child through a crowded room to safety.* 

Am I’m the only person here working on a laptop? Everyone else is either reading the paper or chatting with a friend. Wait! I see another fellow typist working in the far corner, injecting caffeine to spur the process along. That’s reassuring. I don’t mind being a foreigner, with darkish skin and a predilection for over-tipping due to acute unfamiliarity with the local currency, but surely we’re all in the same century, yah? Or perhaps not, since everyone else seems to have a cell phone, a car, a purse or pockets no doubt brimming with cutting edge technology, and I, I have only my little laptop. Thank God. I don’t think I could stand to be any more connected frankly. Am I antisocial, or just old school? I prefer to think the latter, and I support my argument with the fact that I will be keeping my loom, my books on food preservation without modern methods, and my books on basic survival under situations of extreme duress. I’m not anti-people, I’m just a geek.**

The people here are kind, I find. We crisscrossed a number of neighborhoods yesterday checking out the environment and looking for rental signs, and at one point stopped by the side of the road to take stock of our progress and plan out next steps. A woman knocked on the window and asked if we needed help. She’d seen the tell-tale signs of otherness: Massachusetts license plate, big map, pen and paper spread out before us. Of course, we weren’t lost at all but it was a great opportunity to chat with a woman who had lived in the Old Ottawa South area for the better part of her life, and was eager to help us spot the three or four houses in the area with for-rent signs. It was the sort of thing that might happen in any neighborhood anywhere, but that fact that at no time did I wonder if she had a pistol concealed in her handbag made it that much sweeter.

The bad news, of course, is that everyone seems to agree that Old Ottawa South is the best neighborhood in the entire city, and are unwilling to move out and give us our chance to experience it for ourselves. Perhaps we’ll find a place there. The fact that the squirrels are cute, fluffy, and completely black threw me. Not gray, not a ruddy brown, but black, like a shadow of a squirrel that’s escaped from its owner. Another non-surprise is that one is expected to pay a little something extra for the sunshine and water, the trees and green grass that tickles the toes. We’ll have to decide how far we want to travel down that road, softly green and floral scented though it may be. 

The river and canal are pretty as pictures, though, if pictures could capture the sense of motion inherent in a body of water surrounded by the swirl of cars, children, and the insufferably fit. 

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* This initial impression only captured part of the picture. The city is a great mix of ethnicities and countries of origin.

** I have a cell phone now but still don’t use it much:)

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Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3464o.pm010730

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So I’m in my house one day last year as storm rolled in overhead. Dark clouds rained down, thunderous booms rumbled, and, off in the distance like God’s own strobe, lightning. I’m at my desk asking myself all the usual questions one does in such situations: Which direction is the storm tracking? Who pissed off the powers that be? Was that last strike closer? And that most critical question of the 21st century: will the power stay on long enough for me to meet my project deadline?

A little websploration later, and I discovered a very fun tool: Lightning Maps.

A project from Blitzortung.org, the site uses crowd-sourced data from a community of contributors with strike sensors:

“Blitzortung.org” is a lightning detection network for locating electromagnetic discharges in the atmosphere (lightning discharges) with VLF receivers based on the time of arrival (TOA) and time of group arrival (TOGA) method.

Lightning emits radio waves detectable from thousands of miles, if you have the right sensor. With more than 500 sensors, the network displays data from America, Europe and Oceania.

Think this is extra cool, have some skill with electronics and want to join in? Keep an eye on the Blitzortung forums to see when their next batch of sensors is available for purchase and deployment.

While the site makes it clear that the data are not suited for insurance or protection of life and property, it’s still a fun resource. I recommend it for anyone interested in a dynamic view of one of nature’s most dramatic forces.

Would you like to know more?

Check out how lightning works and the science of detection.

I prefer the beauty and simplicity of Lightning Maps but there are a number of alternatives. Visit Blitzortung.org for real-time and historical maps, or any of the alternative lightning maps at the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN), the European Cooperation for Lightning Detection (EUCLID), and of course, NASA.

Next time a big storm comes through I plan to cuddle up with a bowl of popcorn and ooh-ahh over the latest lightning strikes… at least until the power goes out:)

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Gerardus Mercator was born today in 1512. Yes, that Mercator, as in maps, as in one of cartographic history’s groundbreaking creations, the Mercator Atlas. The Mercator projection* displayed latitude and longitude as a grid, which (while causing all sorts of difficulties with pole-proximate object scales that persist to this day**) allowed sailors to plot their courses in straight lines. Sounds like a simple thing? Try calculating where you are, and where you need to go, while tossing up and down on the deck of a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, using hand-held scientific instruments and a flattened, rum-stained ellipse with sea monsters at the edges, then see how you feel;)

In honor of Mercator’s 503rd birthday, I want to point my fellow writers to an article on the right ways (and wrong ways) to build a cartographic history for your fantasy land:
10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps

I particularly like suggestion #3 for urban fantasists; when it comes to understanding city form, it’s hard to go wrong with Kevin Lynch at your side.

Map: a useful distortion of reality.

* For more on Mercator’s process and the social context in which he produced his maps, see this excerpt from Mark Monmonier’s Rhumb Lines and Map Wars, via the University of Chicago Press.

** Check out this interactive puzzle map for a fun demonstration of size distortions.

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Because my father is touching down in the UK today, here’s a delightful look at the growth of London over the past two thousand years:

Watch London Evolve From Roman Times To Today

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