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…