Monday, January 27, 2014

A Meta Portrait of Earth's Surface

The chart and data is certainly not new, but I find myself focusing on it in presentations and since it had previously been embedded in a graphic with ten other charts,  its meta coolness got diluted.  But I think about this map, like, alot, and I wanted to tell you why.  And why I call it a map.

Non-geographic data that can't help but arrange itself into a pixelated portrait of our planet.  What it is: Months on the left, time on top, roll-ups of pedestrian risk in the cells. What it really is: an emergent picture of the Earth's silhouette.

Geography Finds a Way
The data you see in this cell chart (or "heatmap", but since I'm a cartographer that term is sort-of taken) is non-geographic.  It shows the proportion of American traffic fatalities that involved pedestrians by time (left-to right is the time of day and night while the up-and-down splits up the months of the year).
Do you notice how strongly the band of elevated pedestrian risk bows the way it does?  That's because it is especially dangerous to walk at twilight (sun in your face, difficult lighting for object perception, more people walking about, all that).  But twilight is relative depending on the season, so you see the arc of sunset pushing out through summer months and back in for the winter months.  All because we live on a round thing flying through space.  The nature of that roundness is unintentionally revealed in this data.

An Echoed Silhouette of Earth
As we whiz around the sun, once a year, the tilt of our round Earth means that there is a lot of change in the amount and timing of sunlight each day (increasing as you move away from the poles) throughout each trip around.  Amazingly, or not so amazingly to the tougher nuts out there, is that the very roundness of Earth is echoed in the shape of the curve you see in this chart.  It's like what I would expect to see from a rough radio telescope signal of some distant planet, only it's our planet.  And the signal we see is an emergent reflection of our movements on its curved surface.
These traffic events happened in the United States.  But the curve would be the same for other Northern Hemisphere places, and it would bend the other way for places in the Southern Hemisphere.
Because we live on something that is dynamic, data of our lives often reveals the signal of that dynamic process -a roundabout meta image of Earth.  That's a map.

Life and Death
To lump data together and visualize it through different dimensions and isolate different rates can seem to dull the acuity of the very real tragedies that it represents.  While I know this is the data of death, the pixels that paint in this simple chart are sourced from pain and loss in aggregate volumes I can't comprehend.  However, one of the ironies of studying the data of death is that it is often almost perfectly correlated with the data of life and the distinction between the acts of living and the act of death dissolves.
Then, I start down the path of trying to illustrate the thread of life through ups and downs in geography to paint another, maybe more direct, portrait of Earth, which is our vaporous time on it.  And so it goes, the nature of our home to spring up in unexpected places, revealed by proxy in the data we collect about ourselves, nudging us into more questions with the benefit of perspective.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Maps You Can Use For Your Desktop If You Feel Like It

Here are some maps that you can set as your desktop image if you want to.  They are high-resolution photographs of the etched slate and sandstone pool installations I have in my backyard, carved to show the earth's varying ocean depths and filled to sea level.  It's a real sonofagun keeping them topped off to the exact right amount of water, especially when it's hot, but totally worth it.
Anyway, they make fun desktop images if you are map-nerd inclined.  An eye-grabber that will help you determine which co-workers are glancing at your screen when they walk by.  Not cool.
I added an optional version that has a 2014 calendar (showing week-starts on Monday, which is sort of how I think about Mondays).  Can you spot the lizard?

Sandstone Earths, with or without 2014 calendar:

Slate Earths, with or without 2014 calendar:

Also, you can browse the 2013 lot of maps that make alright desktop images for nerds.

I almost forgot!  A rock marks each of the 30 most populous cities in the world.  You can quiz those looky-loos who don't know it's rude to peek at screens.  Put them in their wandering-eyes place!

P.S. I don't really have these slate and sandstone pools in my yard, but you knew that.  However, they are totally real digital images of this data.  Here's pretty much how I made them just mentally swap 'wood' for 'stone.'  Also, before you point fingers, these maps use the Times projection and are not equirectangular or Mercator.  Why?  Refer to #14.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

MRI Scan of Earth's Oceans

I sort-of accidentally made this MRI scan that plumbs the depths of Earth's oceans while working on something else.  But it was too fun not to share.  Here you go!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fake Wooden Bathymetric Maps

Have you seen these 3D wooden bathymetric maps in coastal tourist shops?  My Dad, who lives in Mackinac City, loves them.  He taught oceanography for 40 years so I imagine there is a snug little place for them to fit neatly inside his heart.  Here's a picture of one that hangs on his wall:

Dad's wooden bathymetry map of Lake Michigan.  He wonders what they would look like with a continuous color palate.

Dad's Question
But he's often told me that he wished each depth layer would have a deeper-looking color, and I agreed.  Based on how they are made, that would be really difficult (expensive) so I told him I'd make fake digital ones and show him what it might look like if depth were tied to a range of colors.  Then, of course, I got carried away.
The results look less like the laser cnc map, above, and more like they were milled out of a thick block of wood.  Which I like even better, actually.

Bathymetry in Various Species 
Because my maps are virtual, I can easily swap out the wood species for a totally different look.  And if you admire woodgrain the way I do, then you might enjoy the variability of the aesthetic.  Different types of wood have different lightness and really varying contrast, both having their own trade-offs.

Birdseye Maple

Burled Walnut

Cherry Heartwood




Straight-grained Walnut

What are the Real Ones Like?
Some of the hallmarks of these maps are their generalized contours (so cutting them out of wood is feasible), slightly imprecise cartography (it's a map cut out of wood, give them a break), and wood-burned labels.
The real maps start out as a thin sheet of wood, laser-cut along bathymetric lines of equal depth.  Areas of ocean get stained aquamarine and land stays bare wood.  Cartographic labeling and titles get burned on with a hot letter press, like a brand.  Then they are pushed into a backing form that offsets their heights according to the depth layers.  Drop that into a frame and paper up the back so as not to reveal the magic.  Ship to nautically-inclined retail locations.

How to Make These Fake Ones
I decided to make my fake wooden maps show the Mid-Atlantic Ridge because the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is awesome.  Here are the steps:

-Data.  I found the bathymetric source data at Natural Earth and projected it to a centered Winkel Tripel projection.  I exported each depth sequence as an individual image layer with a transparent background.  Because this data has much more precision that is realistic from a wood-cut, I included a rather thick outline stroke to give a smoothing effect to the edges.  I'm not too concerned over the cartographic oddities this outline creates (the island in coastal Brazil, for example) since the real woodcut maps are inherently generalized and I don't mind a bit of kitch.  But the source data is stellar, to be sure.

-Clipping.  I used each of the depth layers as the clipping (or "masking") source for my stock woodgrain imagery, individually, in an image editing program.  I used Fireworks, but you could do it in Illustrator or Gimp, or Photoshop, whatevs.  I offset the grain pattern fill slightly for each layer to replicate the small depth change in the "block" of wood.  Then I added a beveling filter (AKA an inset shadow of white in the top-left and an inset shadow of black to the bottom-right) to give the effect of protruding elevation with an imaginary light-source in the upper left (which is right where a light-source should be, for some reason).

-Text.  I used two types of text in the map.  The first is the simple branded wood-burn text for cartographic labels.  To do that I used black text with a dark brown glow filter to replicate the creeping of the scorched wood.
For title text I replicate a wood inlay.  I do a black text with an inset bevel and slight Gaussian blur (to replicate the carved out wood channels) and on top of that I duplicate the text and give it a brighter wood species pattern fill with a bevel filter (to replicate the cut-out letters I crammed in to the cut channels).  Do yourself a favor and watch this demonstration of actual inlay lettering to really appreciate the ease of changing digital fonts, or if you just like typography in general.

-Color.  Picking the right color palate was more involved than I thought (but, considering this was the whole reason for doing this, I didn't mind).  The goal is to make it look like the wood has been slightly stained at each depth, so I used a 20% color fill filter to each wood layer along the 8 color stops I ended up with.  Because of how much the underlying wood coloration affected the tinting, I worked through several iterations until I got something that didn't look like it went from green to purple.  It was a good reminder of the impact of underlying colors and textures for regular mapping.

I think that's just about it.  Thanks for having a look!