Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I’m best known for DFL and The Map Room. Lately I’ve been reviewing science fiction at AE and editing a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything

Mercator Puzzle

Mercator Puzzle (screenshot)

The Mercator Puzzle is an excellent way to visualize the distortions inherent in the Mercator projection, which conserves angles (useful for navigation) by exaggerating size at the poles (problematic in virtually every other use). Click and drag the countries in this in-browser app to see just how dramatically larger or smaller they become as you move them closer to and further away from the poles. Via Boing Boing.

Previously: Review: Rhumb Lines and Map Wars; Reversing the Mercator Effect.

Linear Lake Michigan

Linearlized Lake Michigan (Daniel Huffman)

Cartographer Daniel Huffman, whose work I posted about a few times on The Map Room, has created a map of Lake Michigan in which the lake’s shoreline has been unfurled into a straight line. “I made this map because I wanted to show space referenced against a natural feature, rather than figuring locations based on the cardinal directions of north/south/etc.,” he says. “I think it’s a very human perspective, grounded in how we relate to the lake, rather than how it looks from space.” (With a 1:6 width/height ratio, it’s also insanely long, rather like a vertical Tabula Peutingeriana, and as such hard to display an excerpt of: you have to sacrifice detail or a sense of the whole. Which is to say: go and see the whole thing.) Via Kottke.

More Maps of Ceres

False colour compositional map of Ceres

New maps of Ceres were released today at the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France. One is a colour-coded topopgraphical map that resembles a map we saw earlier but adds newly approved names for topographical features. Another, the false-colour map seen above, combines imagery through infrared, red and blue filters and highlights compositional differences on Ceres’ surface (different materials reflect light at different frequencies). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Previously: New Maps of Ceres and Pluto; Space Maps: Ceres, Mars, Exoplanets; At Ceres.

Eleusinian Mysteries

Another fantasy story featuring maps, Charlotte Ashley’s “Eleusinian Mysteries,” appears in this month’s issue of Luna Station Quarterly. In it, a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker named Maghfira is punished for making maps of the moon that include a seemingly fanciful feature: a city named Eleusis. Naturally — this is an sf/fantasy story, after all — Eleusis turns out to be not so fanciful, and Maghfira gets herself into further trouble in its pursuit. The story says a little about maps and forbidden knowledge, rather more about about alienation and the urge to strike out into the unknown.

Can Snakes Hear? (Hint: Yes)

Snakes are inscrutable and mysterious. That’s probably why so many people ask so many basic questions about their biology. (One I’ve run into a few times: do snakes have bones? The answer is yes, lots of them, but the question belies a confusion about what a snake is: they think it’s some variant of worm.)

Sometimes, though, the answer is complex, or incomplete because we don’t know yet. For example, last month, Andrew Durso looked at the science behind the question of whether snakes sleep, a question whose answer is made more complicated by snakes’ lack of eyelids. As it turns out, there hasn’t been a lot of work done on the subject (one EEG study with an African rock python). “So here’s what we know: snakes probably do sleep, perhaps most of the time, but we don’t really know when, for how long, how deeply, or whether or not they have paradoxical sleep, including dreaming.”

Now Andrew has posted another good question: can snakes hear? Now, those of us who know anything about snakes know that snakes don’t have external ears. It’s widely understood that snakes can feel ground vibrations, but airborne sounds? Much to my surprise, they can. This time there’s a bit more research. Snakes, it turns out, aren’t really deaf.

Studies have shown that snakes can hear sounds in the 80-600 Hz range optimally, with some species hearing sounds up to 1000 Hz (for comparison, the range of human hearing is from 20-20,000 Hz). This means that a snake could hear middle C on a piano, as well as about one octave above and two below, but neither the lowest key (which is 27.5 Hz) nor the highest (which is 4186 Hz). The average human voice is around 250 Hz, which means that snakes can hear us talking as well. Of course, there is likely a lot of variation among snake species, and the hearing of most species has not been examined, so these are generalizations.

Of course they don’t hear exactly the same way we do, because their inner and middle ears are structured differently. But now I’m wondering how much the snakes in our living room can hear the home theatre system. I’ve always assumed that they could feel the subwoofer, but it doesn’t look like they could hear it.

More AE Reviews

Book cover: Station Eleven Book cover: Falling in Love with Hominids My reviewing gig at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review continues. Last month I reviewed Emily St. John Mandel’s Clarke Award-winning novel, Station Eleven; somehow I forgot to mention it here (I may have been preoccupied). And this morning, my review of Nalo Hopkinson’s new short story collection, Falling in Love with Hominids, went live at AE.

(A reminder: though I read very broadly, and talk a lot about books here, my remit at AE is reviewing Canadian science fiction.)

A Geographically Accurate Tube Map

London Connections map (detail)

There is no transit map more iconic than the London Underground’s Tube map. First created by Harry Beck in the 1930s, the design has inspired countless other transit network maps that are schematic diagrams rather than geographically accurate maps. But Transport for London, which operates the Underground, also has a geographically accurate map of the network: it was strictly for internal use, but a freedom of information request has now brought it to light. It’s available here (PDF). The response has been so good that TfL now says it’ll be added to their website. CityMetric, Mapping London.

The Map Room’s archives have lots of blog posts about transit maps and their design.

Pluto, Backlit


The New Horizons probe has resumed sending data from its flyby of Pluto and Charon last July. Those of us who are not scientists are mainly interested in the awesome space pics, and last week we got some fine ones: images taken from 15 minutes after the probe’s flyby, looking back on Pluto from an oblique, backlit angle. They show us rugged mountains casting long shadows, and reveal layers in Pluto’s atmosphere. The technical term for this is “holy shit.” Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute. (NASA/JHUAPL)

Real World vs. Fantasy Maps

In my study of fantasy maps, one thing I’m particularly interested in is the difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts. Those differences can be substantial; at some point I hope to go into a bit more depth about them. Meanwhile, James Hinton’s guest post at The Worldbuilding School tries to address this subject by comparing a single real-world city map (London, 1653) with a non-canonical map of Osgiliath from a role-playing game. His point turns out to be that fantasy settings should make sense (Osgiliath, according to the map, doesn’t): it’s a question of geography rather than cartography. The territory rather than the map. But if you begin building your fantasy world by drawing the map … Via MetaFilter.

Atlas of Stereotypes

Culinary Map of Europe According to France (Yanko Tsvetkov)

Back when I was doing The Map Room, I followed along as Yanko Tsvetkov started producing map after map of European stereotypes. The project really took off. He’s kept at it since, while I wasn’t looking quite as closely; he’s also collected them into two self-published volumes called the Atlas of Prejudice, which appear to have sold rather well in several different languages. As of July, an all-in-one edition, Atlas of Prejudice: The Complete Stereotype Map Collection, containing all the maps from the previous volumes plus 25 more, is now available.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Previously: Yanko Tsvetkov’s Beloved Europe; Mapping European Stereotypes; Stereotype Maps of the World, Unite!

Older Entries