Friday, May 31, 2024

Earth Nose Game Champion 2024

Welcome to the 2024 Earth Nose Game World Championship! This year's event promises to be the most exciting and innovative yet, as players from around the globe gather to showcase their unique skills and compete for the coveted title of World Earth Nose Champion. Players in this year's competition will have to be at the very top of their nasal game as the 2024 Nose Game World Championship promises to be the ultimate challenge of nasal dexterity and nostril prowess!

The Earth Nose Game is a delightful fusion of technology and geography which leverages the power of TensorflowJS and FaceMesh to create an astonishing geography challenge. Using cutting-edge facial recognition technology, players need to identify locations around the world on an interactive globe - with their noses. To become the 2024 Earth Nose World Champion you will therefore need not only world-beating geographical knowledge but also a fine tuned and dexterous olfactory protuberance.

Seriously though - while the Earth Nose Game will give you a few minutes of fun it is also an impressive demo of how facial gestures can be used to navigate an online interactive map. There are potentially some very useful lessons to be learned from such experiments, particularly in making interactive maps more accessible for individuals who cannot use other navigational methods.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Map Disco 2000

Apropos of nothing I present to you my Dancing Polygons!

This afternoon I asked ChatGPT to help me create interactive polygons from an isometric grid that I had created using turf.js. I wanted to give a click event to each diamond polygon shape in the isometric grid. However ChatGPT had other ideas and instead decided to create a series of irregular polygon shapes by connecting random intersections of my isometric grid.

I would have been disappointed except for the fact that I really liked the resulting pattern. So instead of asking ChatGPT to correct its mistake I decided to embrace the glitch and create Dancing Polygons. Every second this map (although there are no map tiles) creates a number of randomly shaped and colored polygons from an underlying isometric grid. 

I am not exactly sure why but I have also added the option to listen to a really annoying tune while you watch my dancing polygons (although it is much better in silent mode).

Are these are the safest streets in the world?

map of the United States showing those cities which have achieved Vision Zero in at least one year since 2009

Vision Zero is a global strategy aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities. It is a vision built on the principle that the loss of life from road traffic accidents is unacceptable and preventable. Unfortunately many people believe that achieving zero road fatalities is impossible, especially in urban environments. The DEKRA Vision Zero Map not only shows that the Vision Zero goal is achievable it also shows you where that goal has been achieved around the world.

The DEKRA Vision Zero Map currently covers 26 countries in the world and lists all cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants in which no one has died in urban traffic in at least one calendar year since 2009. The color of a city's marker shows how many years since 2009 that city has had zero road fatalities. 

One of the aims of the Vision Zero Map is to make road safety visible. The map shows that many cities around the world are able to achieve zero road deaths, sometimes over many years. It is hoped that the map will help cities around the world learn from the most successful cities in order to get ever closer to a global Vision Zero.

Alongside the interactive map every year DEKRA awards one city the DEKRA Vision Zero Award. The 2023 DEKRA Vision Zero Award was won by the Swedish city of Karlstad. Karlstad has a population of over 60,000, and has still managed to have no traffic fatalities in eight of the past ten years. 

Sweden as a whole stands out on the Vision Zero Map for the safety of its city streets. Vision Zero as a policy was first formulated in Sweden and the country proves that eradicating road fatalities is achievable. Sweden has 27 cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. Of those cities 24 have achieved zero road fatalities in at least one year since 2009. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Loss of the Great American Grasslands

an animated GIF comparing a USA map of grassland coverage in 1992 ans 2021

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Act for Grasslands. have teamed up to map the loss of grasslands in the United States. Over 2 million acres of American grasslands are lost on average every year. The result of which has a devastating effect on American wildlife. 

Using historical satellite records Map for Grasslands has tracked grassland loss in the USA over the last 30 years. By mapping and comparing grassland coverage across the United States in 1992 and 2021 Map for Grasslands is able to visualize the incredible extent of grassland loss in just the last three decades. Map for Grasslands has also created a small multiple visualization zooming in on the grassland loss in different regions of the United States. This visualization allows you to compare 1992 and 2021 grassland coverage in the Southeast, Midwest, West, and Northeast in more detail.

map of the USA showing the loss of range of the Northern Bobwhite quail superimposed on a map showing grassland loss

To help explain the effect that the loss of grassland habitats has on wildlife Map for Grassland has also used an interactive map to plot the loss of animal species ranges on top of this grassland loss. This map allows you to compare the loss of range of a number of different animals and birds. For example the screenshot above is a map visualizing the loss of range of the Northern Bobwhite quail superimposed on a layer showing grassland loss. You can see that the loss of grasslands in the Great Plains has had a devastating effect on the numbers of quail surviving in this region.

Via: Quantum of Sollazzo

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Death of Japantown

animated gif showing where houses owned by Japanes Americans in Japantown before & after internment

I'm a little late to this one but last month the San Francisco Chronicle published a superb story map documenting the effect of America's internment of Japanese American citizens in World War II on San Francisco's Japantown District.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order led to the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to internment camps. During internment Japanese American families lost homes, businesses, and farms and many were forced to sell their property at a fraction of its value.

In Here's How SF's Japantown Was Devastated by Mass Incarceration the Herald has used historical census data to map out the racial mix of Japantown before and after World War II. In 1940 around 1,340 residents in the 20 square block of Japantown were of Japanese ancestry. In the 1950 census only around 730 Japanese people remained in Japantown.

side-by-side maps showing Japanese American owned homes in Japantown in 1940 and 1950
Detailed census records from the 1950 census were only released in 2022. So it is only now possible to accurately compare the number of Japanese American residents living in Japantown before and after the war. Alongside the huge reduction of Japanese American citizens there was a similar reduction in Japanese American owned businesses. According to the Chronicle's research there were 350 Japanese American owned businesses in Japantown in 1941. By 1952 there were only 200 remaining.

Monday, May 27, 2024

The Journey of a Vampire

a map of Europe showing Dracula's route from Transylvania to England

On a dark night in July, 1893, Count Dracula embarked on a long, secret journey from Transylvania aboard the ill-fated ship Demeter. Unbeknownst to the unsuspecting crew of the Demeter, a malevolent force lay hidden in the ship's hold—a coffin filled with the cursed soil of Dracula's homeland, concealing the vampire lord himself.

By the time the Demeter's ghostly silhouette loomed over the shores of Whitby, it carried with it a cargo of death. The once bustling ship had become a floating tomb, with the captain, the sole survivor, lashed to the ship's wheel in a desperate bid to maintain control over the vessel. 

You can follow Count Dracula's nightmare journey from Transylvania to England for yourself on a new interactive book map of the novel. Dracula: The Map is a project by Morgan Bishop, which plots all the locations mentioned in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Using the 'Character Routes' drop-down menu you can select to view an interactive map of the journeys undertaken by each of the five main characters in the novel; Dracula, Jonathon Harker, his fiancee Mina Murray, Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing.

The journey maps in Dracula: The Map were all created using Knight Lab's popular StoryMapJS format.

StoryMapJS was also used by the Smitsonian in Jane Austen's Footsteps to explore some of the important locations in the English writer's life. It has also been used to map Ayra's Journey in The Game of Thrones series of novels. Other maps of character journeys in fiction can be found in the Maps Mania post Literary Journeys.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Old Maps Online

animated map of Europe showing changing country borders from 100 AD

Old Maps Online, MapTiler and the David Rumsey Map collection have launched, a new interactive world map which allows you to explore the history of human civilization over the last 6,000 years. TimeMap promises to throw open the doors to the past, allowing you to explore bygone eras, trace the shifting boundaries of nations, encounter history's most powerful figures, and witness the battlefields that forged the world as we know it now.

You can also use TimeMap to browse over half a million vintage maps.

TimeMap has four main views: Regions, Rulers, People and Battles. The titles of these views are fairly self-explanatory: 

  • Select 'Regions' and you can use the timeline control to view the changing borders of countries and regions over time, since 4000 BC. 
  • Select 'Rulers' and the names of individual emperors, kings and queens and other important rulers are added to the map. These names obviously change as you change the date with the map's timeline control. 
  • The 'People' view is similar to the 'Rulers' view, except instead of rulers the map displays the names of notable individuals throughout history. 
  • Select 'Battles' and you can use the timeline and map to view the locations of military conflicts throughout history.

TimeMap also makes extensive use of Wikipedia to provide context for the 6,000 odd years of historical information which can be browsed on the map. In any of the the four main views you can click on any of the map labels (whether placenames, rulers, battles or notable individuals) to learn more from the relevant Wikipedia entry.

TimeMap is significantly enhanced by also providing access to over half a million vintage historical maps. Click on the 'Maps' button (top-right) and a sidebar opens showing you all the available historical maps for the current map view and selected year. You can then select any of these vintage maps to see it overlain on the main map.

These vintage maps provide snapshots of the world at different points in history. By layering these maps, TimeMap allows you to visualize how borders have changed, empires have risen and fallen, and cities have grown over time. The maps themselves are of course important historical artifacts. They reflect the cartographic knowledge and techniques of their time, so TimeMap also helps reveal the evolution of map-making alongside the evolution of human history itself.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Guess This City - Daily Challenge

a blue square with the words Guess This City

Unveil the World with 'Guess This City': A New Daily Map-Based Game

Get ready to embark on a new global adventure from the comfort of your home with the launch of 'Guess This City,' a new daily map-based game. Every day brings a new test of your geographical knowledge and deduction skills as you are challenged to identify hidden cities by revealing parts of a map, one click at a time.

Discover the Game: How 'Guess This City' Works

'Guess This City' is a simple game that challenges players to guess the name of a hidden city by clicking on a concealed map. Each click reveals a small section of the map, offering hints and geographical clues about the city's identity. The objective is to guess the correct city in as few moves as possible, making each click a strategic decision.

How to Win

The Guess This City map uses very few place-name labels. Therefore your task is to identify the mystery city from the street grid and from the location of other features such as rivers, parks and bridges. Don't worry if you are struggling to identify the correct city as after every ten clicks a letter of the city's name is revealed!  

You can find more daily map challenges in the Maps Mania post the 12 Best Daily Map Games. You can also remix Guess This City and create your own daily map challenge game by remixing my game on Glitch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It's War on the Streets of Paris

map of Paris with streets with military related names highlighted

Une Histoire de Rue is a new interactive map which explores the connections between Paris street names and military history. Around 15% of Paris' streets have names which are related to battles, soldiers and/or resistance fighters. This new interactive map allows you to quickly see the extent to which military history is reflected and commemorated in the names of Paris' roads.

On the map streets which have a name with a military focus are shown as colored lines. Streets which are named for important battles are colored green. The streets colored blue are named after generals and other important military figures. Heroes of the French resistance are commemorated in the streets colored red on the map.

As you explore the map you will find that certain districts of Paris have more militaristic sounding streets than others. For example the areas around the Arc de Triomphe (commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 after his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz) and the Bastille-Arsenal (the area around the former site of the Bastille fortress) both have a large concentration of streets bearing military related names.

Une Histoire de Rue (Street History) is also a website which allows you to create your own categories of street names. For example you can use Une Histoire de Rue to create your own map of Paris (or any other city) showing all the streets named for artists and writers. If you click on the 'Import' button you can load street data onto the map from a CSV file. You can then create your own categories of color-coded streets on the interactive map. The open-source code for the map is also available on GitHub.

map of Paris with streets named for people highlighted

Le Figaro has also created a map of Parisienne street names. In particular it has examined how many Parisian roads were named for people and which historical periods those people are from. It then colored those roads on a map of Paris to show which historical period is most commemorated in Paris' roads.

In What Paris Street Names Reveal the newspaper says that a total of 2,500 streets in Paris are named for people. Only 15% of these roads are named for people born before 1700. One reason for this is that after the French revolution street names referring to the monarchy or Catholicism were banned. 1700-1850 is the most represented period in French history in the street names of Paris. 56% of streets in Paris named for people are named after figures from this historical period.

Le Figaro discovered that political figures were most likely to be commemorated by having a Paris street named for them. The next most commemorated group are writers, followed by military leaders.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

99 Red Balloons Go By

Reuters reports that since December China has sent more than 100 balloons over Taiwan, often passing through air corridors used by civilian aircraft. It is unknown what the balloons are being used for, they could be weather balloons, but many suspect that they are being used to spy on Taiwan.

You may remember that in February last year many Americans became enraged by the presence of a Chinese balloon spotted over the United States. On that occasion the New York Times was able to use satellite imagery to work out the provenance of the balloon. In Tracking the Chinese Spy Balloon From Space the NYT was able to determine that the balloon had been launched from (or near) Hainan Island in China.

Reuters has now mapped out the flight paths of the balloons which have been spotted over Taiwan since December of last year. An animated scrollytelling map In Tracking China's 'grey zone' balloon flights over Taiwan visualizes the paths of all the possible Chinese spy balloons flying over the Southeast Asian island between December and April of this year.

The 'grey zone' reference in the Reuters headline hints at the news agency's take on the balloons as being used as gray-zone warfare, "designed to exhaust a foe using irregular tactics without resorting to open combat." Another data visualization in the Reuter's article shows that the balloons have been flying at much too low altitudes to be useful as weather balloons, indicating that they probably serve some other purpose.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Spreading Love & Peace in Nutopia

interactive map showing citizens of Nutopia around the world

Nutopia is a conceptual country which was created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1973 as a form of artistic expression and social commentary. Nutopia was created to be a utopian country with no land, no borders, and no passports, symbolizing an idea of peace and global citizenship.

The country of Nutopia has a white flag, symbolizing its surrender to peace, and its national anthem is a few seconds of silence, representing harmony and tranquility. John and Yoko's Nutopia exists as an idea rather than a physical place, emphasizing the transcendence of national boundaries and the unity of all people.

You can now become a Citizen of Nutopia and receive your very own Nutopia ID card. The Citizen of Nutopia interactive map shows the locations of the current 9,000+ citizens around the world. Using the map you can also read the messages posted by each citizen and "Spread love by clicking the ♡ next to a Citizen's name". 

Citizen of Nutopia appears to have a bit of a gaming element attached to it, in that you can also share your ID on social media and with your friends. You can then 'earn points' when someone scans your QR code and follows the link to sign up to be a citizen of Nutopia.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Citizen of Utopia also encourages people to donate the mental health charity Mind.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Man Made Star Signs

an animated map showing a constellation created from space debris

Space Trash Signs has hit upon a novel and fascinating way of visualizing the problems of space pollution. According to NASA there are around 9,000 tonnes of debris now floating around Earth at speeds of up to 25,000 km an hour. Space Trash Signs uses this debris to create new astronomical constellations or 'star signs'.

In 1978 NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler published a paper which argued that if the number of satellites in Low Earth Orbit reached a certain critical level, then even a small collision could create enough debris to cause a chain reaction that would eventually make further space exploration impossible. What has come to be known as the 'Kessler Syndrome' (or 'Kessler Effect') is the estimation that a critical level of space debris will eventually make it impossible to launch new satellites or spacecraft into LEO, as they would be at risk of being damaged or destroyed by this debris.

Space Trash Signs is a fun way to raise awareness of the problems of space debris. This space debris does not reflect enough light to be seen from Earth so the imagined constellations created by Space Trash Signs aren't actually visible in the night sky.

Last year Steve Wozniak's Privateer Space company launched an interactive map to visualize Earth's orbital debris problem. The Wayfinder interactive map shows the location of space junk and Earth satellites in near real-time. If you click on a cluster of space debris in one of the constellations created by Space Trash Signs you can click through to view its near real-time location in Earth's orbit on the Wayfinder interactive map.

Via: Webcurios

Friday, May 17, 2024

Segregation in the U.S.

US map with counties colored to show the levels of school segregation
Stanford University's Segregation Explorer visualizes the levels of segregation between schools and school districts in the United States. Developed by the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, this new interactive map shows the levels of segregation across various regions, including states, metropolitan areas, school districts, and neighborhoods.

The new map includes school segregation data for the last thirty years. This temporal data shows that white-black segregation in schools in the United States has actually increased by 35 percent since 1991. Some of the most segregated counties highlighted by the Segregation Explorer are found in large urban districts. For instance, three large urban school districts – LAUSD, Philadelphia and New York City - show high levels of racial and economic segregation within their schools. These areas exhibit significant disparities in racial and economic compositions between schools, reflecting broader national trends of increased segregation over the past few decades.

The Segregation Explorer primarily focuses on racial and ethnic segregation, providing insights into how different racial and ethnic groups are distributed across various geographic areas. The map allows users to explore school segregation at state, county and school district levels, and view segregation trends over time since 1991.
US map showing the 100 most segregated neighboring school districts

Earlier this year the think tank New America also released an interactive map which visualizes school district segregation by race and poverty levels. The Crossing the Line map identifies the 100 most racially segregated neighboring school districts and the 100 most segregated neighboring school districts by school-age poverty rates. It highlights those areas in the USA which have the starkest segregated school districts by race and by poverty level.

According to the New America data Birmingham, Alabama has some of the most segregated school district borders in the country. Birmingham City School District and Mountain Brook City School District are the two neighboring districts which have the starkest racial segregation in the USA, based on the 'percentage of students of color enrolled'. These two school districts are also the fifth most segregated by the school age poverty rates in each district.

New America argues that because of America's long history of racist housing segregation there is now a marked trend of lower property values in 'communities of color'. Because school funding is usually dependent on the levels of local property taxes school districts in areas with lower property values can spend less per student than those in more affluent areas. According to New America on average the "districts serving more students of color collect $2,222.70 less in local revenue per pupil than the predominately white districts". 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Warmer Stripes for 2023

visualization showing average global temperaures for every year since 1850 as colored stripes
average global temperatures since 1850

Ed Hawkins' Warming Stripes visualization has now been updated to include 2023. Last year was the warmest year since accurate global records began. Globally the average temperature was 1.18°C (2.12°F) above the 20th-century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This means that your local warming stripes will probably now end with a very dark maroon colored stripe representing last year's intense heat.

#ShowYourStripes uses historical climate data to visualize average temperatures around the world for the last 173 years. Each stripe represents the average temperature for a single year, with reds signifying warmer than average years and blues cooler than average years. On the visualization stripes are ordered chronologically so that the stripes depict a clear warming trend over time. The most recent stripes, representing the last few decades, are predominantly red, highlighting the accelerated pace of global heating.

#ShowYourStripes also now includes an interactive map. The map allows you to zoom in on areas of the world to view the warming stripes for individual cities. Click on a marked city and you can view its warming stripes in an information window, click-through to view the city's warming stripes in more detail, and download the stripes as an image.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Is Europe Ready to Burn?

map of Europe showing all megafires since 2000

This week Spanish news site El Diario wondered if Europe was ready for megafires. One of the most noticeable consequences of global heating over the last few years has been the increase in large wild fires across the world. 

In Megafires Burn Europe El Diario has mapped out all the wildfires in Europe this century which have burnt an area of more than 500 hectares. Two accompanying graphs show both the increasing frequency of these large fires in Europe and their increasing size over the last decade.

The El Diario map of this century's magafires shows that southern Europe is most affected by wildfires. Portugal, Spain and Greece respectively have experienced the most area burnt by megafires. In its article El Diario uses a storymap format to highlight some of the areas which have seen the largest concentration of these fires.

El Diario is unequivocal in blaming climate change for the increasing severity of wildfires in Europe and note that the 'situation is going to get worse'. They say that according to climate change projections by the end of this century Spain, Italy and Greece will experience between 20% and 40% more days when climate conditions are favorable for the expansion of forest fires.

Via: Data Vis Dispatch

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Welcome To Your New Gardening Zone

map of Miami showing its new plant hardiness zone (11a)

In November of last year the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the US plant hardiness map based on the latest weather data (1991–2020). The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a tool which is designed to help gardeners determine which plants are most likely to thrive in their location. 

The USDA map is divided into 13 zones based on average coldest temperatures. Zone 1 is the coldest zone, with average annual minimum temperatures below -55°F, while Zone 13 is the warmest zone, with average annual minimum temperatures above 65°F.

NPR has released a new interactive map which allows gardeners to discover their new plant hardiness zone and what this means for their gardens. Enter your location into the article, The USDA’s gardening zones shifted. This map shows you what’s changed in vivid detail, and NPR will show you your new plant hardiness zone, and the lowest average temperatures in your zone. The map will show you how much warmer this is than your previous average lowest temperatures.

As well as allowing you to discover your new Plant Hardiness Zone the NPR article does a very good job at explaining what the zones do and don't tell you about the kinds of plants that you can and can't grow in your garden. It explains how different locations within the same zone can still have widely different climate conditions which can affect which plants will thrive in your particular garden and climate.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Can You Draw America?

a satelitte map of the US on which an idiot has tried to draw the outlines of a few states

This morning I discovered that my geographical knowledge of the United States is ten times worse than I previously thought. Judging by my attempts to draw the outlines of all 50 states onto a blank map of the U.S. my application to the American Geographical Society is probably going to be summarily rejected.

Regular readers of Maps Mania (yes both of you) may remember that in March I posted a link to Huge Quiz's Europe Country Drawing Challenge. In this game players are challenged to draw the borders of European countries on top of a satellite map of Europe. For each country drawn points are awarded based on how much of the drawn area contains the actual named country and how much of the actual country is contained in the drawn area.

In March I discovered that I have a very bad knowledge of basic European geography. Today I learned that my knowledge of American geography is even worse. So far I have attempted to draw ten states in the U.S. State Drawing Challenge. I managed to score 0 points for Maine, Nevada, Montana, and Nebraska. The only two states I have managed to draw with any reasonable accuracy so far are California and Washington.

Due to the costs of using the Google Maps API Huge Quiz periodically restricts access to its games to premium members. This week the Europe Country Drawing Challenge is restricted. However (at the time of writing) the U.S. State Drawing Challenge is available to anyone.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Active Video

screenshot of Eyes in the Prize showing the video, map and timeline

Glen Chiacchier has devised an interactive mapped, timeline for the American civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize. His 'active video' of Eyes on the Prize turns what might otherwise be a passive viewing exercise into an active learning experience by providing viewers with the opportunity to browse the documentary by date and location. 

The civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize was a 14 part history of the 20th-century civil rights movement in the United States which originally aired in the late 1980s. Glen's 'active video' allows you to watch and explore Episode 2 - "Fighting Back (1957–1962)".

Instead of passively watching the video Glen's active video allows you to browse the video by location (using place-name links on an interactive map) or by date (using links on a chronological timeline). A transcript of the video is also provided, with space for viewers to add their own annotated notes on sections of the documentary. 

Glen notes that the "video can still be enjoyed passively if desired, but now viewers have a low-friction way of engaging further." The format is particularly useful for research. Most 'academic' reference books contain contents and index pages, which help students and researchers to quickly access the information that they need. This kind of 'active video' template really could help students and researchers browse and reference video documentaries. 

Friday, May 10, 2024

The Secret Life of Bridges

an animated map showing the cumulative growth of bridges in the U.S. since 1800
This amazing animated map visualization shows the cumulative growth of bridges in the U.S. since 1800. The map reveals the development of mass transport over the last two centuries and the enormous role that bridges play in the U.S. economy.

The animation is just one of a number of impressive mapped visualizations in Esri's Secret Life of Bridges. The Secret Life of Bridges is an Esri story-map which looks at the history of bridge construction and also explores the current condition of the country's contemporary bridges. There are over 618,000 bridges in the United States. Esri says that "roughly one out of every 13 bridges - about 46,000 in total - are considered to be in poor condition". 

Using interactive mapped visualizations of the grades awarded to bridges every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers Esri has identified the areas of the country with the highest proportion of bridges in a poor condition. This helps to pinpoint the regions of the United States which are most in need of investment. The Secret Life of Bridges includes an interactive map which colors each county based on the percentage of its bridges in a poor condition. Click on a county on this map and you can view the country's total number of bridges, the average age of the bridges and the percentage deemed to be in a poor condition.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Virtual Road Trips

screenshot showing the map,street view image and current status of the America - Road Trip Simulator
This summer why not go on that huge cross-country road-trip that you've always dreamed of undertaking? The great American Road Trip is a call to freedom. It is a chance to craft your own adventure while witnessing the vast beauty and the diversity of landscapes that America has to offer. Whether you crave the thrill of the Pacific Coast Highway or the charm of Route 66, a road-trip promises you the experience of a lifetime.

Alternatively you could avoid the unimaginable drudgery of endless hours of driving by staying at home and following the America - Road Trip Simulator instead. Simply open up a beer, lie back on your comfortable couch and take a virtual journey across America all from the comfort of your own home.

The 'America - Road Trip Simulator' styles itself as a 'serendipitous journey unfolding at your own pace'. Open it up and it will take you on a real-time simulated trip across the United States. The simulator uses a number of Windows 95 styled windows to provide you with information about the progress of your virtual road-trip. 

One of these windows provides you with a live animated map of the current location of your virtual vehicle. Other windows allow you to listen to a local radio station, view an image of your location from Mapillary, view Wikipedia articles of nearby points of interest, read local news stories, find nearby cafes and restaurants and view local classifieds from Craigslist. You can also open up a status window which provides you with a little data on your great American road-trip (currently I have been travelling for 46 minutes, have driven 36 miles and have visited only 1 state).

animated GIF of virtual cars moving around of a map of Virtual World
If the thought of traveling virtually across the whole of the United States feels a little too challenging then why not try a smaller virtual journey instead? If you haven't got the time (or inclination) to explore the whole country then why not take a little local drive around a small town on Virtual World

In this virtual world a number of virtual self-driving cars drive around navigating a virtual town, while trying not to collide with each other. You can use the drop-down menu to select a number of destinations for your vehicle. If you click on the steering wheel icon then you can take control of the car. This allows you to steer the car and to control the car's acceleration and brakes (on my laptop the arrow keys are the control keys).

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The Future of Street View

animated GIF of a gaussian splatting 3d model of a street scene embedded into Google Maps

In 2007 Google began adding 360 degree panoramic images to Google Maps. It is no exaggeration to say that the introduction of Street View revolutionized online mapping. Now users could not only zoom into their neighborhoods in satellite view but they could also virtually explore their area in Street View.

It is almost impossible to predict the next major revolution in online mapping. For a couple of years now I've been thinking that photogrammetry was going to provide the next break-through in the online mapping experience. The amazing virtual 3D model of Tunet på Havrå, and those exhibited on Iconem Exploration hint at one way an accurate interactive 3D virtual map of Earth could be created using models created through photogrammetry.

Creating a high-fidelity global 3D map of Earth enhanced with interactive photogrammetry models of key locations is a huge complex task which requires access to a huge number of high-resolution images. Creating a photogrammetry model of a location on its own is still an intensive task. Once a 3D model has been created making it accessible on a 3D map, and user & device friendly is pushing the boundaries of what is currently technically achievable.

One thing that may accelerate this process is Gaussian Splatting. Gaussian splatting is a relatively new technique in computer graphics used for rendering 3D scenes. It is able to create 3D models from multiple images of a scene by creating a point cloud. Gaussian splatting excels at capturing details in 3D scenes. By adjusting the size and distribution of Gaussians, it is possible to focus detail on specific areas without needing complex geometric models. In short it has huge potential for creating high-quality 3D scenes.

Kieran Farr has created a Splats and Map demo which embeds a 3D Gaussian Splatting model of a street scene into an interactive Google Map. As you can see from the animated GIF above a 3D model has some huge advantages over Google Maps Street View. Instead of being confined to navigating from one 360 degree panoramic image the user is free to pan and move around a 3D scene at will. 

One of the most impressive aspects of Kieran's demo is the speed at which the map works on even fairly low level devices. It suggests that it is possible to create an interactive map which incorporates a few 3D models of important locations within a city. It isn't even too hard to imagine that in a few years time Google Maps will be one huge interactive 3D model of the Earth.

Monday, May 06, 2024

Hexagen World

screenshot of hexagen world showing lots of user generated hexagon images

Hexagen World is a game world generated by players using AI prompts. The game is similar to the popular r/Place project. However in Hexagen World instead of users adding one pixel to a collaborative image they can add AI generated hexagon tiles to a world map.

Register with Hexagen World and you can add your own hexagons to the map. Just click on a blank hexagon and enter an AI prompt to generate your map tile. Each hexagon you add to the map costs 100 points. 

Initially you can only add 3 hexagons to Hexagen World but you can earn more points each day based on your 'creative points'. Each time you add a hexagon your creation is awarded 'creative points'. You can then harvest these points every day. Earn enough points (100) and you can add another hexagon to the map.

animated GIF of a globe of the Earth made from plasticine

While exploring Hexagen World you might find a few hexagons based on real world locations. So far I've spotted the Statue of Liberty, lots of Chichen Itza inspired pyramids, the Colosseum (with two dinosaurs playing tennis), and the Acropolis.

If you want to see more world famous landmarks as interpreted by generative AI then you might also like Google Un-Dough. In this game, from Google Arts and Culture, your task is to identify famous cultural monuments around the world while turning unformed blobs of plasticine into colorful 3d models of the very same monuments.

Each game of Google Un-Dough starts with a 3D plasticine globe. To begin the game you just need to spin this globe and select the country whose monuments you wish to reveal. Once you have chosen a country you are presented with the image of a blob of colorful dough. You now have to reveal the cultural monument hidden within this plasticine blob by guessing the letters in its name.

In essence Google Un-Dough is a form of hangman which requires you to guess the names of some of the selected country's most well-known cultural monuments or buildings. Each time you guess a letter correctly the colorful blob of dough transforms a little more into the plasticine model of the monument. Each of these plasticine models was created by a generative AI.

Guess enough letters correctly and you can move onto the next monument, however if you guess 7 letters incorrectly you lose the game.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

540 Million Years of Planet Earth

an animated 3D globe showing how the world's climate has changed over the last 540 years

540 million years ago the Earth's climate was very different from how it is today. During the Cambrian period global temperatures were warmer than they are now. It is believed there were no polar icecaps and there was likely to have been high levels of precipitation and humidity over much of the planet. Of course our world hasn't always been so warm. The last Ice Age was during the Pleistocene Epoch, around 20,000 years ago. During this period around 30% of the Earth's surface was covered by ice.

You can explore the history of the world's climate for yourself at the Climate Archive. The Climate Archive is an amazing interactive map which allows you to view animated simulations of the Earth's climate for the last 500 million years. Select an era of Earth's history from the map's timeline and you can view animated layers showing precipitation, wind and temperature conditions around the globe during your selected period.

animated map showing the development of the Earth's continents over the last 540 million years

If you aren't interested in the climate then you can instead use Climate Archive to view the evolution of the Earth's continents over its long history. Just turn off all the animated climate layers (listed under 'Layers in the left-hand sidebar). You can then use the timeline below the map to view the development of the Earth's continents over the duration of the last 540 million years, from the Cambrian period right-up until the Cenozoic (Earth's current geological era).

But forget about the past. I;m sure you are more interested in discovering how the Earth's climate might change over the next 1 million years. Select Next Million Years from the map sidebar and you can view an animated globe showing the Earth's climate "over the next one million years following a brief but strong anthropogenic warming".

two animated globes comparing the Arrakis of now with the Arrakis of 50 million years ago

Having mapped out the Earth's climate for the past 540 million years Climate Archive decided to move on to also map out 50 million years of climate change on the fictional planet of Arrakis. Fans of Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels (or the recent movies) will be aware of the tough desert conditions on the planet Arrakis. But did you know that 50 million years ago Arrakis was covered in water?

Select the Dune link in the left-hand menu and you can view a 3D globe of the fictional dry desert planet of Arrakis, as it appears in the novels and the films. You can also view a 3D globe showing the climate on Arrakis 50 million years ago, when 91% of the planet was covered by oceans.

a globe of Radland

After mapping 540 million years of Earth's climate history and 50 million years of the climate on Arrakis Climate Archive also decided to map the climate on Randland (the world which features in The Wheel of Time novels by author Robert Jordan - dubbed 'Randland' by some readers).

The Randland 3D globe features an animated layer simulating the yearly climate on the planet. Having never read the novels myself I cannot testify to the accuracy of this climate model. If you don't think the climate is accurate then you can always use the layers menu to turn off all the climate layers, and just peruse the 3D globe of Randland on its own.

Friday, May 03, 2024

The 2024 World Press Freedom Rankings

global map showing countries colored based on their press freedom rankings

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its annual World Press Freedom Index report. The 2024 report analyses and maps the levels of press freedom in countries around the world. The map ranks the level of press freedom in countries based on five different indicators. Norway, Denmark and Sweden respectively lead the 2024 rankings.

The United States has fallen to 55th overall. Once seen as a model of freedom of expression the United States continues to fall down the world rankings for press freedom. The RSF reports that in America, 'a growing interest in partisan media threatens objectivity, while public confidence in the media has fallen dangerously'. The RSF also notes that President Biden has personally been criticized for "failing to press US partners like Israel and Saudi Arabia on press freedom".

According to RSF the biggest threat to press freedom in the last year were politicians and political authorities. The organization uses five indicators to compile its country press freedom rankings. Of these five indicators the political indicator has fallen the most, reflecting a trend where many political authorities are in fact trying to control the media and suppress news and information instead of protecting and guaranteeing press freedoms.

The RSF points to a "clear lack of political will on the part of the international community to enforce the principles of protection of journalists" linking this directly to the more than 100 Palestinian reporters who have been killed by the Israel Defence Forces in the last year.

global map with countires colored to show the numbers of journalists imprisoned in 2023

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual report, Attacks on the Press, nearly 75% of journalists killed around the world in 2023 died in Israel’s war on Gaza. You can explore the results of the CPJ's report for yourself on the Attacks on the Press 2023 interactive map. This story map takes you on a guided tour of the report's findings into the continuing attacks on the liberties and lives of journalists around the world last year.  

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory saw by far the largest number of journalist killings last year. Of the 99 journalists killed around the world in 2023, 72 were Palestinians. China, Myanmar, Belarus, Russia, and Vietnam were responsible for jailing the most journalists, many of them without trial.

screenshot of Mapping Media Freedom's European map of alerts of threats to the media

Mapping Media Freedom is another organization which is dedicated to tracking attacks on the free press. Mapping Media Freedom maps threats to the media throughout the European Union and neighboring countries. It is a joint initiative from the Index on Censorship, the European Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. The map uses clustered markers to show the locations of crowd-sourced reports of threats, violations or limitations faced by journalists, newspapers or other media.

You can filter the reports shown on the map by location, date range or category. The categories include different types of censorship and limits to press freedom. They also include the option to filter by gender, type of journalist and the source of the threat to media freedom.  

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Whose Plaque is it Anyway?

illegible plaque on the side of a bridge over Bow Creek
For over 20 years I've wondered what the text on this plaque in East London actually says. This morning I finally decided to explore a few memorial interactive maps to see if I could discover why this bridge over Bow Creek has a plaque, and what the text on the plaque actually says. 

I thought it might also be a good opportunity to provide a little round-up of the growing number of memorial maps. So here are the cartographic references for my plaque search, and a couple of other memorial maps thrown in for good measure:

Read the Plaque has mapped over 20,000 plaques located around the world. As well as searching for plaques by location you can search Read the Plaque by tag or by the most recently submitted plaques. 

When you select a plaque on the map you can view its dedicated page, which includes a photo of the plaque and a transcription of the text on the plaque. A map also shows the plaque's exact location and the location of nearby plaques.

Anyone can submit a historical plaque to Read the Plaque by taking a photo of the plaque and marking its location on an interactive map.

screenshot of Read the Plaque's world map of plaques

The Historical Marker Database records the locations of permanent outdoor historical markers and commemorative plaques. The database allows you to explore the locations of markers and plaques around the world which are used to mark sites of historical importance. 

If you click on the 'near you' option and share your location with the Historical Marker Database you can view an interactive map of your nearest 100 markers. There is also an option to search for your nearby markers by topic (e.g. war, architecture, landmarks etc).

Open Benches is an interactive map of 28,592 memorial benches located around the world. These are benches which have been dedicated to the memories of local individuals, usually with a loving plaque.

London Remembers has an interactive map of over 7,000 plaques, monuments, statues, fountains which have been erected in the capital in order to commemorate a person or an event.

KilRoyTrip is an interactive map of World War II memorials in Normandy. It provides a fantastic guide to anyone visiting the region who is interested in the D-Day landings and the liberation of France. If you share your location with KilRoyTrip the map will show you the locations of your closest WWII memorials. Click on a marker and you will be taken to the selected memorial's dedicated place in the KilRoyTrip database. Each memorial entry in the database includes a description of the memorial, photographs of the memorial and links to other nearby memorials. 

close up of a plaque identical to the plaque on Bow Creek bridge
© Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence .

After only a few minutes of searching I managed to find this memorial entry on Read the Plaque. This isn't the plaque on the bridge over Bow Creek but it is nearby and also attached to the Norther Outfall Sewer so I am almost 100% convinced that it features the very same text memorializing the construction of Bazalgette's magnificent Victorian sewage system.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

The Global Inflation Tracker

an animated map showing inflation rates in countries around the world over the last three years

The Council on Foreign Relations new Global Inflation Tracker provides an intriguing guide to trends in prices across the world since the 1990s. On the map almost 200 countries around the world are colored to show their year-over-year rate of inflation (the darker the color the higher the rate of inflation).

If you animate through the data on the map it is striking how stable inflation rates in the Western economies were for a long twenty year period at the start of this century. During this period most western economies, including the US, achieved inflation rates consistently below 5%.

In 2020 the Covid pandemic started and in 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine. Both these factors have probably played a large part in ending this period of economic stability. Since 2021, inflation rates have risen globally, probably due to factors such as the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and the escalating energy costs arising from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent imposition of economic sanctions on Russia by Western nations.

The Global Inflation Tracker includes a drop-down menu which allows you to view the inflation rates for different sectors, eg for energy, food, clothing, housing etc. If you select to view the rate of inflation in energy you can view the huge rise in energy prices experienced since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On a more optimistic note you can see how in recent quarters in most Western economies there has been a marked deflation in energy prices. This in turn seems to be contributing to an overall fall in inflation rates in many countries.