Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Strange Maps

I have always loved maps. They are abstract, conveying information like a graph, yet concrete, like a photograph, depicting a physical reality. Maps are fractal. How long is the coast of Britain? It depends what scale the maps is drawn to, the more detailed, the longer the coast. Strange Maps is a very popular blog. I first ran across it when searching for a map of Middle Earth, depicted here. Take some time and browse the maps. They can depict what is, what never was, and what might have been.


Anonymous said...

I too love maps and charts. Navigating strange waters in a small boat with marine charts has always been a joy for me - that real-time conversion of symbolic data into actions that gybe with the real world - and with the added intensity of the need to get it right.

As someone who made a living for years developing software I am in awe of what Google Earth does - have you seen it since they added 'Street View'?

Here is one of my favorite chart/graph/maps.

It shows Napoleon's march into Russia. The brown shape represents, by its width, the number of men - it gets smaller as they turn back (the black) or are killed. And it shows the temperature, Russia's greatest ally.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the chart on its page about Minard and this chart:

Minard was a pioneer of the use of graphics in engineering and statistics. He is famous for his Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l'Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813, an information graph published in 1869 on the subject of Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. The graph displays several variables in a single two-dimensional image:

* the army's location and direction, showing where units split off and rejoined
* the declining size of the army (note e.g. the crossing of the Berezina river on the retreat)
* the low temperatures during the retreat.

Étienne-Jules Marey first called notice to this dramatic depiction of the terrible fate of Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign, saying it "defies the pen of the historian in its brutal eloquence". Edward Tufte calls it "the best statistical graphic ever drawn" and uses it as a prime example in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. And Howard Wainer also identified this as a gem of information graphics, nominating it as the "World's Champion Graph".

The explanation of the chart image is here.

I used to have a set of books by Edward Tufts - a genius in the visual representation of quantitive data - and that is where I first saw Minard's charts.


Ted Keer said...

Thanks, Steve. As a school child I drew a map of an alien world orbiting Sirius A. It developed into a fourth-grade class project under Mrs. Beecken, with all the students contributing to the portrayal of the world with a bulletin board and dioramas. I didn't hang Charlies' Angels posters on my bedroom walls, but rather maps from National Geographic.

Minard's Carte Figurative is also posted at Strange Maps as well. That blog well repays a visit. And thanks for the suggestion of checking out "Street View" which I shall do right now!