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

How the Mercator Projection Won the Internet

OpenStreetMap, using Web Mercator, all zoomed out

I’ve said it before: if you want to start a fight among cartographers, ask them what their favourite map projection is. Earlier this week I did just that: I felt mischievous and wanted to try out Twitter’s polling feature, so I ran a poll asking my Map Room followers what the best projection for world maps was. And because I was feeling particularly mischievous, I made sure to include both the often-reviled Mercator projection and its antithesis, the Peters projection, rounding out the list with two less controversial choices: the Winkel tripel projection used by National Geographic, and the brand-new Patterson projection announced late last year.

The results of the poll were utterly unexpected: 42 percent chose the Mercator projection.

I was trolling the Internet, pure and simple, and in the end I got trolled back. Fair enough.

Then again, maybe I wasn’t. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, whether they knew it or not, the voters had a point. Because when you think about it, the Mercator projection has won in the cartographic arena that really matters today: online mapping.

Every online map service uses a variant of the Mercator projection called Web Mercator. Whatever its shortcomings — and there are many, owing to the fact that its calculations use a spherical Mercator model to save computational cycles — Web Mercator has become the de facto standard. And the size distortions at small scales that have made the Mercator projection the target of so much ire over the decades are simply moot for most use cases.

In many ways the past debates over the Mercator are moot: arguing over the right projection for wall-sized world maps — Mercator vs. Peters vs. Robinson — is fighting the last war. Mercator has become the default option for online mapmaking, simply because so many data visualization maps rely on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap for their base map layer. Other projections will be reserved for the professionals, people with access to more sophisticated mapmaking tools and the skill to use them, but for the most part, when data is mapped on the Internet, it’ll be mapped according to Mercator.

(For more on the controversy surrounding the Mercator projection, read Mark Monmonier’s Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection. I reviewed the book in 2008.)

Map credit: OpenStreetMap.

The Fall of Postmedia

At the National Observer, Bruce Livesey documents the fall of the Postmedia newspaper empire.

Postmedia is a national media giant with nearly 200 papers, magazines and websites. Its dailies reach 6.3 million Canadian readers every week, with some of its best-known papers including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader-Post, Winnipeg Sun, The London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette.

But Postmedia is also a ship taking on water, due to both self-inflicted and industry-wide wounds.

Crushing debt and falling revenues to cutbacks and a diminished editorial product, which in turn is compromised by the dictates of an intensely partisan CEO and advertising no longer held at arm’s length, which in turn gives readers far less reason to buy the paper. It’s a vicious circle, and not a happy story at all for the chain that owns most English-language newspapers in this country — and especially not for the people who work at them.

Corn Snake Genome Sequenced


The corn snake has had its genome sequenced. It turns out that the qualities that make the corn snake the most popular snake on the planet — its docility, ease of care and breeding in captivity, and multiple colour mutations — apparently make it a useful model species. And speaking of those colour mutations, the University of Geneva lab responsible for the genome sequencing has also discovered the exact mutation that causes the albinism — or more precisely, amelanism, the lack of black pigment — that is carried by so many pet corn snakes. Article. Via

Ecdysis and the Aurora Awards

The 2015 Aurora Awards were handed out today. Alas, Ecdysis did not win its category (Best Fan Publication). It finished a distant second to Derek Newman-Stille’s Speculating Canada (which won the award in 2013, the last time it was given in this category).

The detailed voting numbers (PDF) reveal that it wasn’t even close to being close: Speculating Canada received 52 first-place votes to Ecdysis’s 12; once the other nominees fell off the ballot, it won 55 votes to 20. Ecdysis received 12 nominations, the second most received in the category (it took 7 to make the ballot). I’m not at all unhappy with these results: losing to Derek is no dishonour, nor is finishing second the first time you make the ballot. A big thank-you to everyone who nominated or voted for Ecdysis.

In related news, I’m trying really hard to have the next issue of Ecdysis out by the end of the month.

Previously: Aurora Award Nomination.

Gift Guide: Map Books of 2015

At about this time of the year I assemble a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but if someone in your life is just a little bit obsessed about maps (and if you don’t have such a person, why don’t you?), and you’re looking for something to get them, this list might be of use.

Some of these books you’ve seen me blog about before; others I’m mentioning for the first time.

Historical Maps

  1. Mappa Mundi: Hereford’s Curious Map by Sarah Arrowsmith (Logaston Press, April 2015). “The first chapter of the book tackles some of the questions asked by the many people who visit Hereford Cathedral today to see the Mappa Mundi. Who made the map? Did they think the world was flat? How was it made, and where? The book then shows us the map seen through the eyes of a medieval visitor to the cathedral.”
  2. Great Escapes: The Story of MI9’s Second World War Escape and Evasion Maps by Barbara Bond (Times Books, October 2015). A history of the escape maps produced for prisoners of war. My blog post.

Map Books of 2015: Historical Maps

  1. Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen (W. W. Norton, October 2015). “When warfare erupted between Britain and her colonists in 1775, maps provided graphic news about military matters. A number of the best examples are reproduced here, including some from the personal collections of King George III, the Duke of Northumberland, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Other maps from institutional and private collections are being published for the first time. In all, sixty significant and beautiful cartographic works from 1755 to 1783 illustrate this intriguing era.”
  2. Mapping the Second World War by Peter Chasseaud (Collins, October 2015). A collection of historical maps; a sequel to Chasseaud’s 2013 book Mapping the First World War. Appears to be available in Britain only. My blog post.
  3. The History of Cartography, Volume Six: Cartography in the Twentieth Century edited by Mark Monmonier (University of Chicago Press, May 2015). The sixth installment of the massive History of Cartography Project takes two physical books and nearly two thousand pages to cover mapmaking in the twentieth century. (Volumes one through three can be downloaded as PDFs. Volumes four and five are still in preparation.) My blog post.

Map Collections

  1. Map: Exploring the World (Phaidon Press, September 2015). A collection of “300 stunning maps from all periods and from all around the world,” assembled by “an international panel of cartographers, academics, map dealers and collectors.” My blog post.
  2. Mind the Map: Creative Mapmaking and Cartography edited by Antonis Antoniou, Robert Klanten and Sven Ehmann (Gestalten, September 2015). “[A] showcase that reflects the broad range of work now being created by a new generation of mapmakers from around the world including classically legible maps, artistic experiments, editorial illustrations, city views, vacation guides, and global overviews.” My blog post.

Map Books of 2015: Map Collections

  1. The Curious Map Book by Ashley Baynton-Williams (British Library/University of Chicago Press, October 2015). “With The Curious Map Book, Ashley Baynton-Williams gathers an amazing, chronologically ordered variety of cartographic gems, mainly from the vast collection of the British Library.”
  2. Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Particular Books/Penguin USA, November 2015). A revised and expanded edition of Mark’s compilation of every urban transit map on the planet. (Here’s my review of the first edition.) My blog post.
  3. The Art of Illustrated Maps: A Complete Guide to Creative Mapmaking’s History, Process and Inspiration by John Roman (HOW Design, November 2015). A rare look at “illustrated” or conceptual (rather than strictly geographic) maps. “This book maps the origins and history of creative cartography, analyzes why our brains so easily relate to conceptual maps, presents how professional artists create illustrated maps, and showcases the works of contemporary map illustrators from around the world.”

Map Books of 2015: Map Collections

  1. Atlas of Prejudice: The Complete Stereotype Map Collection by Yanko Tsvetkov (CreateSpace, July 2015). Yanko Tsvetkov’s maps of stereotypes and prejudices are a staple of the cartographic Web. The Atlas of Prejudice contains all the maps from his two previous self-published collections, plus 25 more. My blog post.
  2. Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps by Martin Vargic (Michael Joseph, October 2015/HarperCollins, December 2015). Quirky, high-quality maps of idiosyncratic things from a teenage Slovakian design student. My blog post.

Maps and Literature

  1. Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff (Zest Books, October 2015). DeGraff’s distinct and idiosyncratic maps aren’t necessarily of books you’d expect maps for (e.g., A Christmas Carol); these are maps of the stories, not their setting, which means a completely different perspective that takes into account both time and distance travelled. My blog post.
  2. The Art of The Lord of the Rings by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (HarperCollins/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2015). A collection of about 180 of the maps, sketches and drawings Tolkien created to help him visualize the world he was inventing. Sample images. My blog post.

Previously: Gift Guide: 10 Map Books of 2014; Gift Guide: Map Books of 2013.

Star Trek: The Musical!

So William Shatner thinks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek should be celebrated with a musical or variety show. Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders gets behind the idea, and points to an old Mad magazine feature imagining the same.

It’s not that strange an idea. For one thing, it’s not like Star Trek is completely hostile to the idea of doing musical numbers.

Continue reading this entry

Extending Autoroute 13

Autoroute 13 shield I’m of two minds about a recommendation that Autoroute 13 be extended north to join up with Autoroute 50 in Mirabel. On the one hand, this is something I would personally find useful in terms of getting to and around Montréal. It’s a road I’d use. On the other hand, they’re talking about building it to relieve congestion on the nearby Autoroute 15, which it would run parallel to. It’s been demonstrated time and time again that you can’t build your way out of traffic congestion. Increasing road capacity increases traffic, because when you make it easier to drive, people drive more. Build a freeway to Mirabel and you make it easier for people to commute from there. And so on. It’s called induced demand, and traffic planners have known about it for decades.

World Fantasy 2015’s Harassment Policy

So the latest progress report from this year’s World Fantasy Convention, which takes place next week in Saratoga Springs, New York, apparently includes a woefully inadequate harassment policy that pleads an inability on the part of convention staff to distinguish between “legal harassment” and “incorrect/uncivil behavior” and punts responsibility to the local police department. People are upset about this. It’s being roundly condemned as “cowardly bullshit” and writers are invoking the Scalzi pledge, demanding the convention fix this policy or they’re withdrawing from programming or the convention itself.

This is neither my monkey nor my circus (I wasn’t going to be attending World Fantasy this year in any event), but so help me, and against my own interest and better judgment, I have a few thoughts:

Continue reading this entry

Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps

Vargic's Map of the Internet 2.0 (detail)

Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps (book cover) In January 2014 a teenage design student from Slovakia named Martin Vargic posted a map of the Internet — inspired, he told The Independent, by the xkcd classic — on his DeviantArt page. The map quickly went viral. Since then, he’s been producing maps of all sorts of things — a revised Internet map, a literature map, historical maps, maps of the world after global warming and an ice age, a stereotype map (see previous entry), plus other infographics — at a dizzying pace, most of which are available for sale on his website. Now his maps are being collected in a book, Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps. It’s out now in the U.K. from Penguin imprint Michael Joseph; in North America it’ll be available in December from HarperCollins. Did I mention he’s a teenager?

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Map of Middle-earth, Annotated by Tolkien Himself, Discovered

Detail of map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien

A map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien has been found. The map, found among the papers of illustrator Pauline Baynes, who died in 2008, was used by Baynes while she worked on a full-colour map of Middle-earth published in 1970. Tolkien’s annotations appear on the map in green ink and pencil; they not only correct some of the errors of the original map (executed by his son, Christopher); they also offer some geographical parallels to our own world (Hobbiton is at the same latitude as Oxford, Minas Tirith at Ravenna’s). Blackwell’s Rare Books is selling the map for £60,000; it’s the centrepiece of a forthcoming catalogue on the work of Pauline Baynes. Via

Previously: The Art of The Lord of the Rings.

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