Category Archives: Cartography

To explore the origins, view the state of the art, and guess at the future of the common (and uncommon) map.

BOOK REVIEW: Map Scripting 101

I can hardly remember the dark ages of online maps, back when Mapquest and Yahoo! gave us static images of streets and neighborhoods that could only be printed and later cursed at when their confusing mess got us horribly lost. I suppose it really wasn’t that bad, but it’s hard to recall now that we have had the dynamic map experiences given to us by Google Maps and later Bing, Yahoo! and even Mapquest.

From a web developer’s standpoint, these Ajax-driven map applications have given us the opportunity to embed navigable maps on our clients’ websites. Many developers stop there, with only the vaguest knowledge of a vast API and tools for customizing maps and building apps that leverage geolocation to provide a far more useful experience. Map Scripting 101 by Adam Duvander puts the spotlight on these advanced APIs and proves the tools are out there to make maps do practically anything you want.

Map Scripting 101 focuses on the three major online map websites—Google Maps, Bing and Yahoo!—but a lot of the book employs a particular API called Mapstraction that translates code to be applied to the three map APIs. I came to really like Mapstraction because I can code once and apply it to any of the three map APIs, and it’s also just easy to use. You do need to have some programming expertise to make the most of Map Scripting 101 but the examples are easy to follow for novices as well as advanced coders. (Adam subtitled the book “an example-driven guide” for a reason.)

Map Scripting 101 succeeds at being a really useful book—the examples and exercises are not only easy to follow but return excellent results and really useful apps. If you slog through the rest of the book, the final chapter—”Mashup Projects”—brings all the learning together in really neat projects such as a music event locator map, Twitter tweet geolocator, and a useful weather map. Adam uses all the most useful languages for web developers and designers—HTML, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP and JSON—so many web developers will feel comfortable plugging into the map APIs and building something really useful.

I really enjoyed reading Map Scripting 101 because the exercises were not too difficult or easy, the results were powerful and engaging, and the book illuminates one of the most powerful tools the World Wide Web has given us in the last five years. I can’t think of a better resource for map scripting and development than this book.

Map Scripting 101
Adam Duvander
Published by No Starch Press
US $34.95
Rating: 10/10

REVIEW: Acrobat 9 Pro Extended And The Power of Flash

Acrobat 9 Pro Extended small box

I was excited when I first heard Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro was being released, but along the way I noticed some box art for a different version: Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. This excited me even more because I like playing with toys and I figured, whatever Acrobat 9 Pro can do, Pro Extended can do better. Imagine this Mac user’s dismay when he learned Acrobat 9 Pro Extended is for Windows only! It was a disappointment, but Macs nowadays have Intel chips and can handle the Windows OS, so I fired up Parallels Desktop and got my copy of Acrobat 9 Pro Extended.

As usual, Acrobat 9 Pro Extended has all the features of its less powerful siblings (click here for a chart showing which features are offered in which products) and it also has a few special extras. Samuel John Klein is covering the review of Acrobat 9 Pro, so I’m going to stick with features specific to Pro Extended and take a look at just who they benefit and whether they’re worth the extra US$250.

Who needs it?

The first thing to make clear is this: the features in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended serve a specific segment of the PDF market. Consider another Adobe “extended” product, Photoshop CS3 Extended, which is different than Photoshop CS3 Standard only because of some features that serve specific users such as the medical community. In the case of Acrobat 9 Pro Extended, this includes only three kinds of professionals:

  • Those who need to work with geospatially-enabled PDFs
  • Creators of 3D and CAD content
  • Multimedia and PowerPoint users

Some of the new features found in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended were originally in Acrobat 3D Version 8, a specialized product for 3D that was released with the Acrobat 8 family. Other features are now fair game only because Acrobat 9 has new integration with Flash technology. If you don’t belong in any of the three categories, do you need Acrobat 9 Pro Extended? I don’t see what you would get out of it. Moreover, the first two kinds of professionals have a relatively small niche in the creative professional market compared to the number of general designers out in the field. I think by far the largest segment Pro Extended will impact is the multimedia and PowerPoint user community, and Pro Extended will probably cause some significant ripples.

Geospatial PDFs

A “geospatial PDF” is a PDF mapped out with latitude and longitude coordinates so users can search for locations and measure distances and areas. It’s really very slick and intuitive to use. Acrobat 9 Pro users have all the geospatial tools except the Geospatial Registration Tool, which is used to create coordinates and is exclusive to Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. Let’s say you have a PDF of a map and know the latitude and longitude of 2–4 locations. Here’s what you do:

  1. Select Tools –> Analysis –> Geospatial Registration Tool.
  2. A wizard will appear to walk you through the process. You’ll name the map and specify the map boundaries either by using the page edges or drawing borders.
  3. Plot the points and input their latitude and longitude coordinates.
  4. Select the coordinate system and units.

Acrobat 9 Pro Extended geospatial map

Geospatial PDFs allow measurements of geographic regions and can plot points with latitude and longitude. Click the image for a larger and more detailed view.

Now Acrobat treats your map like a true map and can measure distances and areas with the Measuring Tool—normally this tool measures length and width, but when used on a geospatial area it will measure distance and area based on the units you specify. You can also find locations and mark them with sticky notes by typing in their coordinates, but note that you can’t use the regular Find field or Sticky Note Tool— you have to right-click the Geospatial Location Tool and select “Mark Location” or “Find a Location.” You can also copy coordinates to the clipboard in this manner.

The benefit of geospatial PDFs is the ability to map and plot points, distances and area, and it will be helpful for land developers, city governments, farmers and others who handle land and real estate.

Digital Approaches To Cartographic Heritage Meet Scheduled for Barcelona

(via a tipster):

The 3rd International Workshop Digital Approaches to Cartographic Heritage will take place in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain 26 – 27 June 2008.
Organized by the ICA Commission on Digital Technologies in Cartographic Heritage and the Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya, registration is free.

This Workshop is addressed to scholars, researchers, map curators, map collectors, administrators, digital industry / market operators, and students coming from different cultural and educational backgrounds (humanistic, scientific and engineering) whose work is either focused on or affined to cartographic heritage. The Workshop will offer a common ground to colleagues from various disciplines and practice where they can meet, interact and exchange knowledge, experience, plans and ideas on how the digital revolution and modern information and communication technologies in general can or could be used and contribute to
cartographic heritage in terms of acquisition, processing visualization and communication of relevant digital data.

Event Website is here.

Geo-Cluelessness Makes For Good Humor

The reputation of Americans as a nation someone out of the clue loop about the human makeup of the planet we all share is something of a legend. According to a recent National Geographic-Roper survey on geographical literacy:

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It’s the largest country in Africa.)
  • Half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map.

Moreover, this video on YouTube references the same survey to sound the call that fully 20 per cent of British youths cannot locate the U.K. on a map. Perhaps the USA is being a bit unfairly singled out here.

Regardless, one way we deal with such sobering news is to make light of it, and this is not necessarily a bad thing; through humor vital messages can be delivered, and we can have a good laugh besides.

One example we’ve seen recently is a map of what may (or may not) be Europe in the popular comic strip Luann, drawn by cartoonist Greg Evans. In this strip published in American newspapers on Sunday, 17 Feb, the main character is asked by her parents what she learned in school today … and Luann gives them a literal gallimaufry of people and places.

In the middle panel is the cartographic joke; a thing looking vaguely like Europe but mixing everything up; Great England jostles just off shore between the British I’ll and Europe; North England shares space on what might be the Scandinavian Peninsula with Denland and Iceway; continental states include French, Mexico, Grease, and Ohio, the numeral 7 appears in several countries for no apparent reason, and a long word describes the mulligatawny in the center of the landmass – rendered unreadable by the multiplicity of colors, shapes, and boundaries.

Of course, the character here isn’t ignorant – she’s a high-school student doing the best she can with a welter of information being relentlessly dropped on her daily, making this more a commentary on where ignorance can spring from than what damage it might cause.

And as far as the damage geo-cluelessness can produce, nobody does satire better than the esteemed Onion News Network, who gives us here a report on America sending billions of dollars to Andorra, a prosperous western European microstate, because someone thought it was in Africa:

Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports

This image, a screen capture, shows the detail of the map of Africa the State Dept. was working from. They were sure that Andorra was in the purple area marked ??? somehow (noting also the nations of Mumbamu, to the north; the infamous Claw Island, and “Congo”, covering the northern fourth:

A US State Dept Map of Africa from The Onion News Network

Andorra: They were sure it was in there, somewhere …

This all simply stands as proof that humor can make the unfunny contemplatable, and this can perhaps give us the courage to address the situation. And, along the way, we’ll have a pretty good laugh, and a memorable joke or two.

Blog Of Interest: Show Off Your Maps!

Just noted today: an adventurous map blogger makes the following bold statement:

For a while now, we’ve thought to ourselves: wouldn’t it be great if there was some place on the web where map collectors could get together to compare their collections and discuss map collecting? We decided to stop thinking and start doing! Show Off Your Maps is a website by map collectors, for map collectors. We’re here to give collectors everywhere a place to discuss the wonderful world of antique maps and to show off what they’ve got. There’s only one rule: have fun!

That was from the (so-far) one and only post; it apparently has just been opened, so if anyone’s of the mind, this is something one can get in on the ground floor of.

Site To See: Historic City Maps

The site at, simply titled Historic Cities, endeavors to digitize and mount for online display historic maps of historic cities for all to access, enjoy, and use.

From the site’s About Us page:

This site is a joint project of the Historic Cities Center of the Department of Geography, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jewish National and University Library. The project was made possible by a generous grant of the Council for Higher Education in Israel – Planning & Budgeting committee (VATAT).

The site is intended to contain maps, literature, documents, books and other relevant material concerning the past, present and future of historic cities and to facilitate the location of similar content on the web.

The site is well-organized and intuitive to browse. Maps from as early as the 15th Century are available, and the list of countries covered include Albania and Yemen, Belarus and Germany, even one from the US (Saint Augustine).

The site also solicits contributions from visitors.

It’s all available now at Historic Cities.

Ork Posters – Neighborhoods As Typographic Art

There is not a lot of neighborhood information in the maps published as posters by Ork Posters–just lines, cities divided into compartments filled with DIN Engschrift type. They sort of ask you to create your own truth for them … or at least get lost in the play of plain type and shapes.

Ork Designs Chicago

A section of the Ork Poster neighborhood map of Chicago, from screenshot (design copyright Ork Posters)

According to the press info, the designer, Jenny Boerkrem, was looking for a Chicago neighborhoods map–but wanted something different:

By ditching the ‘vintage, illustrated’ look of traditional neighborhood maps, Ork designs its posters in a style characterized by originality, simplicity and modernity

The results (as can be seen in the illustration above) are rather refreshing in a less-is-more, find-your-own-truth way. If you like the idea of interesting shapes and type labels being liberated for energetic play–and really if you just like expressive maps with an adventurous point-of-view, you’ll like Ork Posters.

The press info goes into a bit more depth, putting the aim very well:

Ork’s design deduces each neighborhood to a certain ‘one-ness’, forgetting the stereotypes and differentiations, and reminding us that we, and our areas of living, are part of one larger community. Extending this idea, Ork hopes its line of posters not only function as a map, but also expand one’s sense of community beyond that of our immediate surroundings

They run $22 per copy, and so far come in editions for Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco. To purchase and to check availability (and to see the Ork Posters line) go to

Google Street View Gallery Open To All

One of the issues and delights surrounding the ever-expanding world of Google Street View is the amazing, odd, and sometimes appalling things caught, sometimes in mid-stride by the Google camera as it was driven through the neighborhoods recorded:

Despite the availability of Google Maps Street View in but a handful of American cities, the mileage traveled by thier intrepid photographers is already more than any seeker can follow in a lifetime–unless singularly obsessesd, perhaps.

Well, there’s good news! A company called LoudonTech has done you and us and everyone we know a favor by mounting an online Google Street View Gallery community:

Below is a huge list of links and pictures of the best interesting sites and places people have found using Google Maps new Street View feature. If you have found some interesting Google Street View sightings, please post them! Be sure to click on the “Top 500″ tab to see sightings with the best reviews. You don’t have to be a member to vote, so, go for it!

There you have it–free to join, free to play, you don’t have to even register to vote. And if you do have this sort of obsession, here’s a playground for you.

We rate this site five starts for a potential waste of your valuable billable time!

How To Make A Flat Earth Globe

For the wickedly humorous in us, John Krygier of DIY Cartography schools us in what would seem to be a contradiction in concrete terms–a flat-earth “globe”

While it twigs the intellect with its insoucient insolence, it’s actually quite doable, involving an azimuthal equidistant projection (north-pole centered) mounted on a wood circle and supported by a retired globe stand.

it’s pretty nifty looking, and you can see pictures of it here.

Te Taki o Autahi-International Conference Slated for Feb 2008

Via MapHist, Michael Ross, Chairman of Te Taki o Autahi–Under the Southern Cross International Cartographic Conference, transmitted the following message:

The Organising Committee of “Te Taki o Autahi – Under the Southern Cross” International Cartographic Conference invite you to attend our conference in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, on February 10-13 2008. This conference is also the 26th International Symposium of the International Map Collectors Society.

The conference will focus on the cartography of the Southern Hemisphere, with four main streams: Polynesian navigation and mapping, the mapping of Antarctica, and Southern Hemisphere Celestial mapping, and other Southern Hemisphere cartographic topics.

The details of the joint Australian Map Circle, New Zealand Map Society, and International Map Collectors Society Conference can be found at:

Online secure registration and accommodation booking is available on the website:

The conference “Call for Papers” is now available at:

Special post-conference tours can also be booked on line:

Speakers include: Dame Anne Salmond, Dr. Nick Kanas, Prof. Robert Clancy, Kirsten Seaver, Jack Thatcher, Helene Richard, John Robson, Dr Bill Richardson, John Manning, and Captain Phil Rivers.

Those of you so inclined will want to make your arrangements and save the date…

New York Stories: Field Checking the Cushman & Wakefield Map

Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate firm with international branches, does major commercial work in New York City. In conjunction with the graphics firm CS Designworks, it produces detailed real estate maps of midtown and downtown Manahattan–essentially that part of the island from 67th Street south, with properties color-coded with such attributes as square-footage and useage. It is given out to clients and is available for purchase from the company itself via its website.

Despite getting a great deal of information on new construction and demolition in the City, nothing beats getting down to the gritty streets of the city and checking things out by sight, as a recent New York Times article details:
Suddenly, the researchers began chattering. Was that a site up ahead? Mr. Speyer slowed the vehicle to a crawl. Just a few doors from the Abracadabra Superstore, a large excavation site occupied the north side of West 21st Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where the buildings with addresses 33 to 41 had recently been demolished.

Ms. Dauro rolled down her window and yelled to the workers, “What are you building?” A construction worker sauntered over to the station wagon and said, “Eighteen stories.” Ms. Dauro pressed him for more information. “Residential,” he replied.

The article is well worth the read to get a view of why some maps get made, and what the makers have to do to see to it that they’re accurate. The human link is still important.

Read the article at the New York Times.

Follow this link to find instructions on how to obtain the map for yourself. The cost is $40; look for the subhead NY MIDTOWN & DOWNTOWN MAPS in the right sidebar.

“Making Maps” Co-author Has Blog

John Krygier, co-author of the book Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS, now has a blog, Making Maps: DIY Cartography. Interesting stuff here; recommended for your RSS readers.

From the blog itself:

I started a blog for my Making Maps book a few years back, all done in HTML, in part so it didn’t look like every other generic blog out there. Alas, it is time to shift to a real blog. I will recycle some of the posts from the old blog here before adding some new ones that focus on extending the Making Maps philosophy of DIY Cartography.

Visit it here.

(Via Free Cartography Tools)

Upcoming Books on the Waldseemüller Map

Two upcoming volumes promise to open up “America’s Birth Certificate” to a mass audience

The Waldseemüller Map, a world map drawn and first published in 1507, is the map credited with not merely integrating into the cartographic knowledge store the continents at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean but dubbing them with the name we use today for them: “America”. Two upcoming books aim to explore Waldseemüller even more deeply, coincident to the U.S. Library of Congress’s acquisition of the world-famous map.

The first one, Putting America on the Map: The Story of the Most Important Graphic Document in the History of the United States, by Seymour Schwartz, is due to be released in August by Prometheus Books and is available now for pre-order on Amazon has this to say about that:

In a colorful narrative that reads like a good mystery, Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz brings to life the amazing history of America’s “baptismal certificate.” Since its creation the Waldseemüller World Map of 1507 has been surrounded by many intrigues and four major controversies. How did America come to be assigned that name and was it an appropriate choice? How can the revolutionary geographic representations depicted on the map be explained in the light of the fact that they preceded the known discoveries? What is the actual date that can be ascribed to the map now in the possession of the Library of Congress? Was the Waldseemüller World Map of 1507 the first to depict continental land in the New World and the first to bear the name “America”?

Another upcomer is a book by John Hessler, The Naming of America: Waldseemuller’s 1507 World Map and the Cosmographiae Inroductio, published by the Library of Congress and designed by Giles of London, is expected out in late December, at the same time that the Map is due to be encased by the LoC. Announced on the MapHist mailing list, the book:

..contains an introduction to new scholarship on both the 1507 and 1516 World Maps, focusing mostly on their use by their first owner Johannes Schoner and the map’s relationship to the other parts of Schoner’s extant Library in Vienna. The book also contains a new heavily annotated translation of Waldseemuller and Ringmann’s Cosmographiae Introductio with a commentary
on the text that identifies place names and the sources for Waldseemuller’s quotes from classical and contemporary literature. This is topped off with a sheet by sheet facsimile of the 1507 World Map.

John Hessler is a researcher at the Library of Congress whose blog, Warping Waldseemüller, is recommended reading.

(heads up via MapHist)

Important Historical Maps Narrowly Escape Destruction In DC Library Fire

Peabody Room Collection Originally Feared Lost

On 1 May 2007, library fans everywhere and United States historians in particular were shocked and saddened to hear that the Georgetown Branch of the Washington DC Public Library system, located at Wisconsin Avenue and R Street NW, suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the building. The branch was, at the time, closed for renovations.

Of particular notability was the branch’s Peabody Room, a rare and old books an maps repository. As the Washington Examiner reported:

Among the dozens of priceless historic documents and paintings housed in the library were a rare map of Civil War fortifications made inside the District and portraits of slaves dating from the early 19th century painted by Georgetown artist James Alexander Simpson, Peabody Room archivist and librarian Jerry McCoy said.

With the damage the building sustained, the worst with regard to the contents of the Peabody Room was feared. While this is a tragic loss for the DC Library System in specific, however, there was good news: the Peabody Room was apparently as far removed from the fire as possible and the fire was controlled before much damage happened to the contents, according to the office of Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty who has announced a rebuilding campaign for the facility:

Although the fire caused great structural damage ultimately destroying some of the library’s irreplaceable historical content, the Peabody Room, which serves as the District’s only special collection of Georgetown history, is about 95 percent intact with significant portions of the room unharmed by fire and water destruction.

More photos of the Peabody Room can be seen via this link.

(HT to the MapHist list and to Matthew Gilmore, H-DC maling list co-editor)

New DC Taxi Zone Map Clarifies Transportation

As part of a District initiative the well-known taxi zone map is redesigned for improved clarity and communication

Traveling by taxi in Washington, DC is different from just about any major city one might know.

In virtually all major American cities, the basic charges for a taxicab involve distance: an initial fare (the “flag drop”) followed by a fare metered usually in fractions of a mile (such as tenths). For instance, in this writer’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the meter starts at $2.50, then the trip is metered at $2.10/mile (or 21 cents per tenth of a mile). There are various minimal flat charges for extra persons and for waiting time when stopped at a stop light. Taxi fares are usually locally regulated; your mileage, as they say, will vary.

The DC system is unique for being meterless. Instead of using meters to measure distance/fare, the District of Columbia is divided into a target-like zone system; starting in the city center, with Zone 1, concentric zones radiate outwards to the limits of the district; Zones 2 and out are further divided into sector-like subzones, the end result being not unlike an avant-garde dart-board. The taxi rider is chaged, not unlike some mass-transit districts, flat fares based on the number of taxi zones traversed.

Old Washington DC Taxi MapThe old look Washington DC Taxi zone map, displayed in all DC cabs. Lack of obvious landmarks and off-cardinal arrangement made for a confusing map (PDF obtainable through this link.

A Blogger’s View

On Wednesday, 7 February 2007, well-known political blogger Atrios of Eschaton wrote a post (trackback, permalink) which caught our eye, particularly this remark:

…the DC taxi maps always mystified me, and I eventually stopped bothering to try to figure out why. Now I know why – up on the maps is not North.

The link in that post led us to a post at fellow political blogger Matthew Yglesias’s blog, which led us home; the announcement by the District of Columbia Department of Transportation that the long-used map was being revised:

The redesign of the map—an initiative of the Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s Action Plan: 100 Days and Beyond—is geared toward improving customer service and providing a more comprehensible map to the riding public. The latest version shows the city in its correct directional orientation, highlighting the four quadrants of the city: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast.

New DC Taxi Zones MapThe new-look Washington DC Taxi Zone map (PDF available here).

A Modern Difference

The result of the redesign is a vastly improved and much more communicative map which is visually appealing:

  • The old map took advantage of DC’s unique and quirky geography to display a layout that was economical. This, however, arranged the district so that the map no longer oriented to the north, unlike most every map we’ve seen published of DC. Reorienting the map to North restores a key visual cue that makes the map instantly recognizable
  • The new map takes its stylistic cues from modern transit maps in its use of geographically-inaccurate but schematically-correct attributes (lines only run vertically, horizontally, and at 45-degree angles, irregular lines greatly simplified) and the type is an attractive yet plain and functional sans-serif. The old map, with its small type and dated-looking font, looked as though it hadn’t been changed since before the 1970′s.
  • More local landmarks: The Capitol building is now easily locatable, features such as Union Station, the White House and the Washington Monument make for more quick orientation; the Anacostia River is more prominent and recognizable, and major trans-DC thoroughfares are easily noted and seen
  • The colors are well-chosen so to inform but not dazzle the eye; no simultaneous contrast anywhere.

The buzz about the District is that they may well eventually move to a traditional taximeter-based system. But until they do, riders should have a much easier time knowing where they are, knowing where they’re going, and knowing what they’ll have to pay to get there.

Found Item: The Stuckenberg Digital Map Collection at Gettysburg College

Free digital collection showcases antique map images from noted late-19th C. scholar

John H.W. Stuckenberg was a scholar and theologian (and even an American Civil War solider) who split his life between pursuits academic and spiritual, and between America and Germany. From his bio at the online Stuckenberg Collection mounted by Gettysburg College:

Dr. Stuckenberg had a life long interest in maps, and while living in Germany purchased the majority of his collection which consists of three 17th century atlases and over 500 separate maps from the 16th through the 19th century. A few of the cartographers represented in the collection are: Willem Jansoon Blaeu (1571-1638), Matthaus Seutter (1678-1756), and Tobias Conrad Lotter (1717-1777). The maps are housed in Special Collections at Musselman Library.

Those on the ‘net don’t have to travel to Gettysburg to view the collection, as delightful as that can be; the whole collection is viewable via this link. We at Designorati:Cartography suggest a bookmark.

(And a Cartographical Hat Tip to F. Valentine)

A Most Intriguing Political Animal

In the USA’s tempestuous modern political landscape, the “gerrymander” has raised its quizzical head

In the ongoing war of words that appears to amount to American politics latterly, we’ve heard much of the “gerrymander”. A most unique beast, it is a creation of man, a friend to those in power, and the enemy of those out of power.

Naturally, it’s not an actual beast, but one concept of party political warfare that the American public has been rather well-schooled lately. Gerrymandering is essentially the creation of constituency boundaries (in the USA these are typically Congressional districts) with the express purpose of dividing populations such that one power base is favored over another. It seems that certain geographic areas tend to vote for a certain variety of candidate; in Oregon, for example, the conventional wisdom holds that the urban areas of the state’s west and northwest, where most of the population lives, tends to vote for political candidates that are seen as more liberal and Democratic, versus the rural areas of the state, which tends to vote for candidates that are seen as more conservative and Republican.

From this observation, it follows that skillful division of such power blocs can enhance one side’s advantage at least either by splitting or concentrating those blocs of power.

The Original Beast

The Original GerrymanderElkanah Tisdale’s famous Gerrymander, drawn in 1812

The first documented sign of the beast was in Massachusetts, in the early 19th century.

Every 10 years, in concert with new information from the USA national census, electoral districts (which are based on population) are redrawn to reflect population shifts. When this was undertaken in 1812, the Republicans were in power in Massachusetts, and the commonwealth’s party endeavored to divide and conquer to the aim of reducing the aggregate power of the Republican’s major rival, which was, at the time, the Federalist party.

Examining a map of Essex County, legend has it it became quite clear to the Federalists what the Republicans were trying to accomplish. The Boston Gazette waggishly said that the elongated, sinuous district resembled a salamander; the editor of the Boston Weekly Messenger opined, even more waggishly, “Salamander? Call it a Gerrymander!”, dubbing it with the a portmanteau composed of the last name of the then-current governor (Republican Eldridge Gerry, who signed the plan into law) and the word salamander. Weekly Messenger cartoonist Elkanah Tisdale ran with it, and produced the first known picture of the now-famous political animal.

Gerrymanders in the Modern Political Bestiary

The concept of such an arbitrary divison, combined with the mercies of the USA’s political system–in which to the victor go all the spoils of power–have made the word gerrymander a verb as well as a noun, and have fueled some recent controversies, as was the case when the Texas legislature, in control of the Republican party, endeavored to redraw the Congressional district boundaries of the state some eight years early in order to create a preponderance of districts with Republican majorities, thus making a robust Republican majority in that state much more likely.

Illinois 4th DistrictThe 4th US Congressional district in Illinois, a peculiarly-shaped piece of land (courtesy

Since the majority party is usually in the driver’s seat, majority during a time of reapportionment is frequently viewed as a tool that can help make that majority longlasting, if not permanent, and these days, with the assistance of computers (the mass of population information making automated assistance necessary), many amazing examples of sprawling districts have happened. Many examples of areas that are sometimes called “helicopter districts” (because that’s what you have to use to go straight from one end to the other without lengthy detours) can be found without too much effort; to create majorities some district boundaries follow mere rights of ways of roads, forming areas that look like attenuated dumbbells.

The map illustration depicts Illinois US Congressional district 4, which seems to be riven in twain and then connected by a long, straggling runner which appears to follow local arterials and a regional Interstate highway, and may well in places be not much wider than that highway. It is hard for the observer not to want to conclude that the population in the middle was excluded from this district for one partisan reason or another.

Is It Possible to Kill the Gerrymander?

Whether or not one thinks gerrymandering has a deleterious effect to public policy making in the USA most likely depends on what side one is on. To a Democrat, a permanent Democratic majority might be worth whatever drawbacks that it may bring, and gerrymandering to the aim of ensconcing percieved advantages has the potential of making those alignments real.

A fair number of proposals have been advanced in order to remove the power of the gerrymander. There are technical aspects, such as establishing fixed districts or using more objective criteria, such as rigid rules on the “compactness”–or tendency to have districts that do not have outliers–of districts.

In as much as the party in power strives to remain in power, however, most schemes ought at least to excise the partisan tendency of the majority party to have the driver seat.


  1. Wikipedia entry on Gerrymandering: goes into great detail on methods of gerrymandering
  2. Drawing the Line, Mark Monmonier, Henry Holt pub, 1996, pp 196-201

CCAer’s “Cartography” Blog Goes On Hiatus

His Gain Is Our Loss

For the past year and a half, Paul Heersink (AKA “CCAer”) has run Cartography, a blog by and but not just for the Canadian Cartographic Association.

Today, this was posted to the blog:

Because new time commitments and potential conflict of interest issues prevent me from maintaining this blog to the full extent that I would like, I regretfully must cease writing posts. Loyal subscribers and regular visitors will have noted a decline in the quality and the quantity of posts since I began my new job about 1 month ago.Any member of the Canadian Cartographic Association that is interested and willing to pick up the pieces and continue this blog is more than welcome to. Contact me directly at pheersink at

We at Designorati:Cartography wish Paul well in his endeavor and
regret the suspension of Cartography for now; we’ve found it interesting reading and always found great research value in it.

It’s our official hope that another intrepid CCA member accepts the call to pick up where Mr. Heersink left off. Contact him at the address (emphasis ours) mentioned in the blockquote above

The Libre Map Project “Frees” USGS Maps, Info

Free electronic PD maps now much easier to find

Not widely heralded except on a few blogs, the Libre Map Project has opened its doors on the ‘Web.

It’s premise is simple and simply stated:

The purpose of the Libre Map Project is to aggregate and make digital maps and related GIS data available for Free.

At this point, LMP has digital raster graphic maps (TIFF, TGW) and ZIP files containing TIGER databases. It is searchable by via geographic place name, feature type, and county (currently LPM’s constituency is the 50 American States). There is also a page of SVG files with boundaries (State, County, and census tract, unlabeled) for the conterminous 48 American States.

The importance of this site is that it adds efficiency to finding USGS maps for the user. This is PD, so anyone can download and use them (your tax dollars at work) but it took money to purchase the database (LMP is accepting donations). Hosting is provided by The Internet Archive, home of the famous “Wayback Machine”.

All documents are released under the Creative Commons “Some Rights Reserved” license.

The location to surf to is:

The Famous “Four-Color” Problem

The “Four-Color” problem sprang from a map, but is really about mathematics.

4-color Pacific NorthwestA Suggestion for Coloring a US Map (from Robin Thomas’s proof page)

Somewhere along the line the carto-enthusiast will hear of the famous tautology that, if you wish to color a map along the lines of the illustration (to differentiate different regions, as was popular in the old Hammond and Rand McNally world atlases of the mid-20th Century), you will need no more than four colors.

It’s a thought that’s lived at the back of our minds for a very long time. Recently we decided to track down the answer and whether or not the problem had, in fact, ever been solved. Parts of the answer were, we’ll be frank, a little over our heads–but fascinating none the less.

It Began With a Question

The whole sordid affair, legend has it, started in 1852 when South African botanist and mathematician Francis Guthrie (1831-1899), who was a student at University College London at the time, noticed that in coloring a map of Englands counties he only needed four colors to differentiate all the regions that bordered each other. His instructor, mathemeticia Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871) reported it thus:

A student of mine asked me today to give him a reason for a fact which I did not know was a fact – and do not yet. He says that if a figure be anyhow divided and the compartments differently coloured so that figures with any portion of common boundary line are differently coloured – four colours may be wanted, but not more – the following is the case in which four colours are wanted. Query cannot a necessity for five or more be invented…

From that beginning came what became known as the Four-Color Theorem, which can be succintly stated: “given any plane separated into regions, such as a political map of the counties of a state, the regions may be colored using no more than four colors in such a way that no two adjacent regions receive the same color.” Regions can only be thought of as adjacent if they share an actual border segment, not merely touch at a point, moreover, the regions must be contiguous as well.

The Race Is On

Once released into the wild, the next thing to happen to any theorem is for it to be proven; in the same way that scientists attempt to reproduce the results of a notable new experiment, mathemeticians review the theorem and chase down any possible errors.

…quality of the proof rested upon confidence in the code used to render the proof

In fact, between the posing of the question and the turn of the 20th century, the theorem was proved no less than four times by four different mathemeticians, each eventually being shown as faulty through some thereto undiscovered flaw. It wasn’t until 1976 that the team of Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken published a proof, but this required the use of a computer and was not universally acknowledged, in as much as the proof was so massive that human checking proved impractical, therefore the quality of the proof rested upon confidence in the code used to render the proof itself.

Latterly, more attempts to proof have been made. One of the more recent, a 1996 proof advanced by the team of Neil Robertson, Daniel P. Sanders, Paul Seymour and Robin Thomas which was also computer-assisted, took a more efficient approach; by reducing the complexity of the problem the proof was more easily arrived at. This work built on the Apple and Haken work, addressing what were felt to be flaws in that proof.

The most recent proof was formalized in 2004 by Benjamin Werner and Georges Gonthier within a “proof assistant” computer application called Coq. This removes the need to trust the code that generated the solution; one must, however, decide how much confidence they have in Coq.

Strangely Enough…

In perhaps an ironic twist to our story, the famous “Four-Color” problem has really nothing much to do with practical cartography at all. Wikipedia’s overview seems to sum it up best of all:

According to Kenneth May, a mathematical historian who studied a sample of atlases in the Library of Congress, there is no tendency to minimise the number of colors used. Many maps use color for things other than political regions. Most maps use more than four colors, and when only four colors are used, usually the minimum number of colors actually needed is less than four.

There are also other considerations than mere regions on many maps: bodies of water (lakes and seas) can, depending on the map design, require yet another color. Overall, when choosing a color scheme for a map, many mapmakers’ concern is for balanced appearance, unless the object of the map is in fact to accentuate a certain feature or group of regions.

Indeed, in designing maps for print, the practical cartographer is probably not counting how many colors they’re using–or even limiting themselves to four.

Further Reading and References:

Strange Maps, Strange Worlds

New blog exhibits the weird and the interesting

I like maps. I like weird maps, the kind you won’t find in a regular atlas. Maps of countries that never existed – or never will exist.

…so says the proprietor of the new blog “Strange Maps”, which exhibits thought-provoking links on maps that depict things that could have been, nearly were, or completely improbable, but definitely interesting. Amongst the current gallery exhbits:

  • Imperial Texas
  • The famous map of “Jesusland”
  • The “Regoranized Middle East” of the controversial Armed Forces Times article
  • And a couple of “sauce for the gander” maps of an America divided through the eyes of one Turk’s perspective.

The blog, Strange Maps, can be viewed here.

(Via Cartography)

Rand McNally at 150: Back on Financial Course

The king of American map publishing comes back strongly after being passed up by online mapping

The Chicago Sun-Times gives us a snapshot of America’s preeminent paper map publisher, who grew into the undoubted titan on American map publishing, even to the point of acquiring Thomas Bros maps in 1999 only to enter bankruptcy in 2003 after mounting a failing effort to keep up with internet mappers such as Mapquest and Google.

The verdict today is considerably brighter; under a new CEO, RMN has divested itself of its chain of retail shops (still selling its published product in thousands of stores nationwide) and is undergoing a period of growth.

Read what the Sun-Times has to say here.

Map Projections Gallery Changes Address

Valuable resource changes its URL

Via a short message to the Maphist mailing list, Paul Anderson advises us that he’s moved his Gallery of Map Projection to a new URL:

The Gallery exhibits a large collection of example maps in PDF format suitable for printing from a browser, making it a valuable resource for cartographers both amateur and above who need, for example, a base map in a hurry. We have reported on this priorly here, and suggest a bookmark add (or an update if you already have one)

Washington Map Society Announces Ristow Prize Winners

Winner Gavin Hollis Scores for paper on on map literacy in early modern England

The Washington Map Society have recently announced the winner and Honorable mention for the 2006 Walter W. Ristow Prize:

The Winner of the 2006 Ristow Prize is Gavin Hollis, University of Michigan for his paper, “Give me the map there”: ‘King Lear and Cartographic Literacy in Early Modern England’, Mr. Hollis’ winning entry will be published in a future issue of The Portolan. He will receive a cash award of $1,000 and a complimentary membership in the Washington Map Society for the coming year.

Two papers were selected for Honorable Mention. One was entitled ‘Navigating Tasman’s 1642 Voyage of Exploration: Cartographic Instruments and Navigational Decisions’ by Avan Stallard, University of Queensland, Australia. The other was ‘The Cowdray Engraving of the Siege of Boulogne, 1544. Analysis of a sixteenth century artifact. Combining historic documentation with modern technology’ by Jinny Gunston, University of Portsmouth, England. A complimentary membership in the Washington Map Society has been awarded for the coming year.

The Prize has been awarded since 1994 in honor of the late Dr. Walter W. Ristow, who was for many years head of the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress and was founding president of the Washington Map Society.

Via Maphist.

A Couple Of Professional Opportunities In Cartography

The Leventhal Center and Yale University both seek employees

Notice of a couple of opportunities for professional map librarians have landed in our inbox via the MapHist mailing list in the past week or so. They look like valuable work for just the right person and, as far as we are aware, applications are still being accepted:

The Leventhal Seeks Admin Assistant

The Boston Public Library’s recently-announced Norman B. Leventhal Center is looking for an administrative assistant. The position, according to thier announcment, “will perform functions and duties in support of the work of the Map Center which will include serving as a registrar for all conservation activities in conjunction with Administrative duties.”

A responsible and professional approach is essential; one would be required to interface on a regular basis will many people. You will have to relocate to Boston, and be resident in the city on the date of first employ. You must have a BA from a recognized college or university, and the salary for the position is $39,693.

Full details on the posting can be had at

Yale U Seeks Catalog Librarian

Yale University’s Map Collection, which boasts more than 200,000 sheet maps, 3,000 atlases, and 11,000 rare maps, is seeking a Map Catalog Librarian.

Responsiblilities, according to the announcment, inlcude: “original cataloging for a wide range of print and manuscript maps, with an emphasis on rare maps. Descriptive cataloging is performed in accordance with national standards and the requirements of Yale’s local on-line Voyager system. Other responsibilities include keeping abreast of revisions in cataloging rules and trends, training and revising the work of other librarians and catalog assistants, and resolving cataloging problems for support staff. Librarians participate actively in the Library’s management, assessment, training, and development programs, contribute to implementing the mission of the Library, and keep active professionally.”

The salary begins at $56,100 yearly, and includes full benefits and relocation assistance. For full information on this position, surf to, where you can complete an online app and provide a resume and three professional references.