Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

My Camera Usage

In March 2013 I bought a Nikon D7100, my third digital SLR since 2006. Lately I’ve been wondering whether doing so was strictly necessary, given how often I use my iPhone as a camera.

So I counted up the photos I’ve posted to Flickr since then. Turns out I still use the digital SLR a fair bit; it’s the pocket cameras that don’t get used much any more:

Camera used for photos I uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013
Camera used to take photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013

The S100 was mainly used on a trip where I deliberately left the digital SLR behind; the AW100, a ruggedized, water-resistant camera, got brought out in wet or winter conditions. The D7100 was used for deliberate photography: wildlife photography, newsworthy events (such as a fire next door) and science fiction conventions. The iPhone was my walkabout camera and my cats-are-being-cute camera — very much the “best camera is the one that’s with you” — but would have done very poorly in lieu of the D7100 or the AW100.

Tracks and Shadows

Book cover: Tracks and Shadows Field biologists’ memoirs can often be a hit-or-miss affair, but Harry W. Greene’s Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art is definitely more hit than miss, precisely because it is much more than a memoir.

Greene, who writes far too well for a biologist, is the author of the highly lauded Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (1997). That book combined science, photography and personal experience in a lyrical and literate fashion, and may well have been the only snake book to win a literary award.

In Tracks and Shadows, the mix is more personal. In tracing the origins of his own career, parallelling it with that of Henry S. Fitch (1909-2009), a major figure in herpetology, Greene ably sketches out the why of fieldwork. Too many stories deal with the travel and the chase but elide the purpose of going out into the field to collect snakes; Greene shows us the science.

It’s a personal viewpoint, but this is not an autobiography; little of Greene’s personal life is mentioned past graduate school. There is plenty to indicate why a former mortician’s assistant and army medic became a herpetologist, less that reveals how he writes as well as he does. The scholar fades into the background of his own work: present as a field biologist in the context of a discourse on field biology.

As for that work, Greene is a snake ethologist: his research focuses on snake behaviour — why snakes behave the way they do, from hunting to defence to reproduction. The best parts of the books are the discoveries: his dissertation showing that primitive snakes all constrict in the same fashion, implying that constriction as a tactic is ancient; the discovery that night snakes predate on diurnal prey during the day; the evidence of parental and social behaviour in black-tailed rattlesnakes. The idea that there is more going on in those little serpentine heads than we expected is frankly quite exciting. Greene’s elegant writing cannot help but make that excitement infectious.

Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art
by Harry W. Greene
University of California Press, October 2013
Buy at Amazon (Kindle) | publisher’s page | Goodreads | LibraryThing

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.

Older Entries

Ottawa Valley Twang
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