Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need

The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need by Jake Manley isn’t the first map of its kind that I’ve seen (see also the map in Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland); still, it’s clear that fantasy maps are a proven vehicle to satirize and critique the genre. (And be satirized and critiqued.) Via @scalzi.

Importing CanVec Data into OpenStreetMap

Last February I imported CanVec data into OpenStreetMap for the first time.

CanVec is a dataset produced by the federal Department of Natural Resources. It’s been made available to use in OpenStreetMap: users have to download the data for a given area and import it into the OSM database.

It’s a great resource, but I’ve been giving CanVec the side eye for years, largely because OSM users had been bungling the imports and not cleaning up the mess they made. To some extent it also encouraged a certain amount of laziness from Canadian OSM users: why go to the trouble of tracing imagery or going out with a GPS if you could just download the data from the Natural Resources FTP server?

That said, most of my complaints were from a few years ago; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a CanVec-induced mess in the database (for example, doubled or even tripled roads imported on top of one another). And between existing imports and the improved Bing aerial and satellite imagery coverage, there weren’t many places I was aware of that I could, you know, try a CanVec import for myself.

Except one.

Hartney, a town of a few hundred people in southwestern Manitoba, managed to fall between the cracks of two swaths of aerial and satellite imagery. It was a noticeably empty patch of a map that was starting to fill up.

It was also the town my father grew up in. I spent a lot of time there as a child. I was, suffice to say, familiar with it. It was therefore a natural target for me to map. But with no imagery and no realistic chance of my visiting there in the near future, I was not likely to do so in the usual manner.

So I imported CanVec data.

It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. For one thing, I didn’t have to import the entire tile: I could import only the items I wanted. For another, I didn’t have to resort to JOSM or some other application I was unfamiliar with; I could, it turned out, do it in Potlach, the Flash-based web editor I’ve always used, by importing the downloaded zip file as a vector layer and alt-clicking each element through into the edit screen.

But easier still wasn’t objectively easy. I had to figure out what file to download from the FTP server by looking it up on the Atlas of Canada, and figuring out which of the files to import into Potlatch is a bit of a trial-and-error thing. There’s also a bit of a delay before the CanVec layer shows up in your edit window.

In the end, though, I was able to figure it out, with the following results:

Screenshot of Hartney, Manitoba in OpenStreetMap

I practiced good edit hygiene: I created a separate user account for imports (here) and I cleaned up what I edited: I joined road segments so that a road five blocks long wasn’t five separate ways, I straightened a badly garbled stretch of rail line, and I added a couple of points of interest I knew from personal experience.

In the end, I think I’ve left the map better than I found it. I didn’t everything I could have: CanVec isn’t perfect, and I’m not in a position to verify its data on the ground, so I adopted a less-is-more approach, so that I didn’t simply add a ton of data for someone else to clean up. Nor did I add so much that it would discourage a local user from adding more, better, and more up-to-date material.

A positive experience overall. I was surprised.

Art and Personal Mapmaking

Book cover: Map Art LabBook cover: Make Map Art

Two books (well, one is sort of book-ish) related to map art and personal cartography to tell you about:

  1. Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly (Quarry Books, 5/14): “map-related activities set into weekly exercises, beginning with legends and lines, moving through types and styles, and then creating personalized maps that allow you to journey to new worlds.”

  2. Make Map Art: Creatively Illustrate Your World by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell (Chronicle Books, 2/14), a “creative toolkit” that includes a booklet and 30 pull-out sheets to use as templates for personal mapmaking projects.

Via Fuck Yeah Cartography.

Jill Kelly’s previous work, Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking, was reviewed here in 2011.

WQSB Contracts Audited

The Pontiac Journal reports the results of an audit the Western Quebec School Board commissioned into its own procurement and contracting policies, this done in the wake of allegations of impropriety involving a WQSB director and a construction company. (More from the Journal here and here; a newspaper website should really timestamp its articles, you know?) But buried in the lede, and apparently unrelated to the O’Shea allegations, are revelations that contracts were done rather sloppily: non-compliant contracts, single-bid contracts without price verification, that sort of thing. It smells of incompetence rather than malfeasance. Take, for example, a surprising amount of money that had been spent on contracts for cleaning services:

For example, for the 2001-2002 school year, the cleaning contract for South Hull Elementary School was $40,131 and in 2012-2013 it reached $83,665, but for 2013-2014 the contract dropped to $37,098. For Eardley Elementary, the cleaning contract was $20,713 for the 2001-2002 school year. In 2010-2011 it jumped to $156,563 from $36,432 in 2009-2010. In 2011-2012 it reached a staggering $173,668. For the 2013-2014 school year the school board changed service providers and the price dropped to $23,144.

That’s astonishing: cleaning services for just two of the WQSB’s five urban elementary schools had ballooned to nearly a quarter million dollars a year. But those services now cost $60,000 a year — a savings of $180,000. How could one contractor justify $173,668 for a job another contractor could do for seven and a half times less? Anyone who recalls the stress and angst over the Board’s proposal to close schools (such as Shawville’s elementary school) to make up a million-dollar shortfall last year should be shaking with rage right now.

The Geology of ‘Game of Thrones’

The Geology of Game of Thrones

In The Geology of Game of Thrones, a group of geologists has created a geologic map of Westeros and Essos, as well as an invented geologic history of the planet on which George R. R. Martin’s epic takes place. Via io9.

This isn’t the first time a fantasy world has been looked at through a geologic lens. Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth took a reasonably rigorous look at the landforms of Middle-earth. And Antony Swithin — a geologist in real life under his real name, William Sarjeant — created a geologic map of his invented island of Rockall (see previous entry).

Previously: Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire.

Pontiac’s Voting History

Pontiac's Voting History, 1981-2014
Pontiac’s Voting History, 1981-2014

A graphical look at the Pontiac electoral district’s voting history since 1981. “Nationalist right” includes the Union Nationale, ADQ and CAQ; “separatist left” includes Québec Solidaire and its antecedents as well as Option Nationale.

Obviously this has been a safe Liberal seat for a very long time; what’s interesting is the fluctuation in voter turnout.

2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac Results

Surprising precisely no one, André Fortin of the Parti libéral du Québec was elected the MNA for Pontiac last night. With 75.75 percent of the vote, he improved substantially on the margin of his predecessor, retiring MNA Charlotte L’Écuyer, in 2012:

2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac (Percent)
2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac (Percent)

But that’s not the whole story. Voter turnout was up substantially over last time: 3,870 more votes were cast in the Pontiac electoral district than were cast in 2012, for a total voter turnout of 68.22 percent. Fortin got 8,666 more votes than L’Écuyer did in 2012, while the CAQ and PQ candidates each lost around 2,000 votes over 2012.

2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac (Votes)
2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac (Votes)

Charmain Levy of Québec Solidaire actually gained a percentage point and 592 votes over last time, coming within 740 votes of the PQ candidate, who in turn came in 129 votes behind the CAQ candidate. (This is the fourth time the PQ has finished third in this district: it’s not new.)

Previously: 2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac Candidates.


Flash mobs are not a new thing. Flash mobs by orchestras are not a new thing. Flash mobs by orchestras playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony are not a new thing: you’ve almost certainly seen this one (previous entry). So you might not appreciate the significance of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Ode to Joy at the Privoz fish market on March 22 (video). Or the orchestral flash mobs playing the Ninth at seven airports across Ukraine last Sunday, marking the end of 40 days of mourning for the protesters killed in demonstrations against the previous Ukrainian regime.

The Ninth has long been used for political purposes. For Ukraine at this moment, the Ninth’s use as the European anthem is no doubt as significant as its role as a hymn for peace and humanity. Invoking the Ninth is a powerful statement: it evokes memories of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. It’s a profoundly humane act of defiance.


Book cover: Lockstep In science fiction, faster-than-light travel is a narrative convention that allows you to move standard human beings over interstellar distances cheaply. But if you want to do science fiction rigorously — with the net up, as Gregory Benford calls it — you have to go without FTL (it’s not an engineering problem; it breaks known physics). They’re mutually exclusive. The problem is, you can’t have an interstellar civilization without FTL, can you?

My father and I have been debating this back and forth for years. On the face of it it’s intrinsically impossible: if you can’t have FTL, the distances and costs involved in travel make trade and communication prohibitive. To accelerate goods and people to relativistic velocities would be insanely expensive, and it would still take decades to get there. Hardly anything would be worth the shipping costs: it would be easier and cheaper to synthesize what you need rather than import it. Transmutation is less expensive than interstellar trade. (No doubt this is why sf focuses on rare goods, from melange to unobtanium.)

Absent that trade, there’s no rationale for having an interstellar civilization. Even if you were able or willing to colonize other planets (though again, the cost of sending a colony ship is of a magnitude that many in science fiction fail to grasp), the colonies would be on their own. With no reason to trade, how would the investment in a colony ship be recouped? And what purpose would there be for an interstellar government — Empire, Federation, whatever — if there was no trade for it to regulate?

Continue reading this entry

Ottawa Valley Twang

The Ottawa Valley has a distinct dialect, apparently. CBC News had an item about it a couple of years ago. The Language Portal of Canada has a page. Here’s a glossary of expressions. More recently, the Ottawa Valley to English Dictionary has appeared on Tumblr. In practice I’ve found it less distinct than the websites about it make it out to be. Maybe it’s milder now than it once was; maybe it’s less strong on the Quebec side; maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention; maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. Or I’m just not talking to the right people.

Older Entries

A Snake Science Roundup
Unlikely Cartography ToC
2014 Quebec Election: Pontiac Candidates
Trap Street, the Movie
The Snake Charmer
Ecdysis Editorial Posted
Snake Handling and Freedom of Religion
Ecdysis 2
Reality Show Snake Handler Dies
Ganymede and Mercury
Lyle Lanley Moves On
A Map of U.S. Intercity Bus and Train Routes
A Book About Globes
Mapping How Much Snow Cancels School
Fun with Power Lines
Two More Map Books
Fire and Ice
The New Yorker on Maps and Literature
Ceres and a Supernova
Food and the Big Picture