Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Approaching Ceres


The Dawn spacecraft’s trajectory is slowly edging it closer to Ceres. This is one of a series of images of Ceres taken between April 24 and 25 from a distance of 8,500 kilometres. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Previously: At Ceres.

Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba

Detail from the 1966-1967 Official Highway Map of Manitoba

While looking for something else, I stumbled across the Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry’s Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba site: a collection of PDF scans of dozens of highway maps of the province. The earliest is a 1926 map produced by the Winnipeg Tourist and Convention Bureau; the most recent is the B version of the 2010 Official Highway Map. Collectively they trace the development of the province’s road network: I got so very lost in this site watching the road network change from year to year — just as I did as a child, when I studied each new edition to see what had changed from the previous year. This is a weapons-grade hit of nostalgia for me.

Above, a detail from the 1966-1967 map, the first to use the style of map that I was familar with growing up in the 1970s.

Previously: Manitoba Historical Maps.

The Great Snake Weigh-in of 2015

Male Okeetee corn snake: 778 grams.Female checkered garter snake: 368 grams.Lucy the bullsnake: 1.537 kg

This month Jennifer and I started doing something we’ve been meaning to do since the fall of 2013: weigh all the snakes in our menagerie. It’s something neither of us has ever done before; we’d had vague ideas of the approximate weights of our various critters, but that’s about it.

Our method was pretty straightforward: tare the scale, stick the snake on it, and take its picture. Those of you who follow me on social media will have seen the photos already; I’ve assembled them into a photo album here.

As you can imagine we’ve been starting with the snakes most likely to sit still on a scale while I take their pictures; even so, some of the tame-but-exuberant snakes (hi there, Baird’s rat snake!) proved hard to do. We’ve just passed the halfway mark. Here are the results so far:

Graph of snake weights

(Click on the graph for a larger version.)

One immediate surprise was that our male black pine snake (Lucifer, for those who’ve me him) was substantially heavier than our female bullsnake (Lucy, for those who’ve met her); I thought it was the other way around. The bullsnakes are, I think, less heavy but longer (though I haven’t measured their lengths either, so I could still be surprised). We’ve only weighed two of the five Pituophis so far, though.

Every other snake weighed so far is under than two pounds, and many are around a pound. (We don’t work with big snakes here.)

I’m not sure how coincidental it is that the male corn snakes are heavier than the females (Pretzel is ancient — I’ve had her since May 1999, and she wasn’t a baby then — but has always been small: she’s only 397 grams). And while female garter snakes ought to be larger than males, the two male checkered garter snakes are problematic feeders: that one of them weighed in at just 63 grams is probably the sign of an underweight snake. I’m not sure he should be only one-sixth the weight of a female checkered garter snake of similar age.

It’s useful information. We should have started doing this long ago.

Review: My Real Children

Book cover: My Real Children My review of Jo Walton’s My Real Children is now up at AE. My Real Children came out a year ago, but it just won the Tiptree Award, which made doing the review more timely; AE’s review policy doesn’t limit itself to new releases in any event.

Rereading the book for this review was an interesting experience, as was writing the review. This is the kind of book that could generate several different reviews that each focused exclusively on a different subject. It wasn’t just that I was scratching the surface — I was scratching just one surface.

Taxonomic Changes to Crayfish, Swamp and Earth Snakes

I’m always afraid to check the CNAH website: there’s always some new study that renames or reclassifies everything. It’s been a while since the natricine snakes have been done over, though. A 2013 phylogenetic study of two North American natricine genera — the glossy and crayfish snakes (Regina) and the earth snakes (Virginia) — concludes that they’re not monophyletic. They split off two crayfish snakes and group them with black swamp snakes in a new genus, Liodytes, and split the earth snakes into two monotypic genera.

Here’s a table of all the changes:

   alleni (Striped Crayfish Snake)
   grahamii (Graham’s Crayfish Snake)
   rigida (Glossy Crayfish Snake)
   septemvittata (Queen Snake)

   pygaea (Black Swamp Snake)

   striatula (Rough Earth Snake)
   valeriae (Smooth Earth Snake)
   alleni (Striped Swamp Snake)
   pygaea (Black Swamp Snake)
   rigida (Glossy Swamp Snake)

   grahamii (Graham’s Crayfish Snake)
   septemvittata (Queen Snake)

   striatula (Rough Earth Snake)

   valeriae (Smooth Earth Snake)

From what I’ve read this isn’t exactly a surprise (at least insofar as the crayfish snakes are concerned). But I’m not sure I like the notion of changing the common names (e.g., “crayfish snake” to “swamp snake”) whenever there’s a taxonomic change: that’s more confusion than is strictly necessary, especially considering how much back-and-forth there can be.

‘1491’ Is Becoming a TV Series

Book cover: 1491 One of my favourite books, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, is being made into a documentary TV series. The book’s author, Charles C. Mann, confirmed on Twitter last week that principal photography had begun. There isn’t a lot of information out there yet. It’s being written and directed by Barbara Hager, whose Aarow Entertainment will be co-producing it with Animiki See Digital Production. Eight one-hour episodes are being filmed this year for broadcast on APTN in 2016.

1491 is a book-length debunking of a lot of shibboleths about the pre-Columbian Americas. It paints a picture of a heavily populated hemisphere filled with sophisticated societies that transformed the landscape around them. A TV version offers an opportunity for more people to have their heads explode, like mine did in 2006. (See also my review of its sequel, 1493.) Via Kottke.

Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment

Some embarrassment for Google Maps last week, as they were forced to apologize for an image of the Android mascot peeing on an Apple logo that turned up on the map near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. To say nothing of the phrase “Google review policy is crap” etched into nearby Takht Pari Forest. Both have since been removed. Boing Boing, the Guardian, The Verge.

To be fair to Google, crowdsourcing map data does have its pitfalls: OpenStreetMap has to deal with this sort of thing all the time. You have to have something in place to deal with bad-faith edits. None of the edits I’ve made to Google Maps went through without someone reviewing them, so I’m surprised that this could happen. That said, when you need your map updated fast (such as during natural disasters like yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal), it’s hard to beat crowdsourcing.

As always, it’s important to keep in mind that all online maps have their shortcomings.

Map of Canada Changes Depiction of Arctic Sea Ice

Map of Canada

The federal government’s new map of Canada, part of the Atlas of Canada reference series, came out this week. Among the changes between it and its predecessor (which came out in 2006), one in particular is drawing attention. Ivan Semeniuk in the Globe and Mail:

Whereas the older version of the map showed only that part of the sea ice that permanently covered Arctic waters year round at that time, the new edition uses a 30-year median of September sea-ice extent from 1981 through 2010. September sea ice hit a record low in 2012 and is projected to decline further. The change means there is far more ice shown on the 2015 version of the map than on its predecessor.

The changes can be seen below: the 2006 map is on the left, the 2015 map on the right.

Differences in sea ice between 2006 and 2015 maps of Canada

Now as Semeniuk’s piece points out, neither way is wrong. But all maps have a point of view, and it’s naive to think that this change was made in a value-neutral environment: this was the result of a conscious decision. The reason for that decision — that’s what’s interesting.

Valentina Lisitsa and Artists’ Social Capital

Here’s my take on the Valentina Lisitsa affair.

Lisitsa, a Russian-speaking, Ukrainian-born classical pianist, was scheduled to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra last week, but she was dropped by the TSO over a series of offensive tweets about ethnic Ukrainians and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Lisitsa has a social media presence — her reputation was basically made on YouTube — and the inevitable online shitstorm ensued. That shitstorm swallowed up Stewart Goodyear, the pianist tapped to replace Lisitsa, who had to bow out in turn.

More at Musical Toronto and NPR.

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New Moon Maps

Topographic Map of the Moon (Hare et al.)

Two stunning maps of the Moon have been released by the USGS, both based on data collected by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: one an image mosaic assembled from visual imagery, the other (above) a colour-coded topographical map derived from laser altimeter data. Via io9.

Older Entries

Chopin’s Preludes on a Pleyel
Space Maps: Ceres, Mars, Exoplanets
Back to Brontosaurus
Ecdysis 5
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
Irwin’s Controversial Legacy
A Cometary Closeup
Charge Revealed in N.B. Python Case
Various and Sundry (Again)
Backbench Conservative Hijinks, and How to Respond to Them
At Ceres
Unruly Places (Off the Map)
Emily Garfield’s Map Art
Map Anniversaries
Nikon’s Astrophotography Camera
Daniel Reeve, Film Cartographer
Arrest, Charges in N.B. Python Case
The Oldest Known Snake
CBC Ottawa and Medical Quackery
Irregular Verbs and My Doing Book Reviews in General