Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Unruly Places (Off the Map)

Book cover: Unruly Places Alastair Bonnett’s Unruly Places (first published in the U.K. as Off the Map) is a light, entertaining exploration of some of the world’s more unusual places. Bonnett, a social geography professor at Newcastle University, has written 47 short essays about locations that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make any sense: the exceptions, the asterisks, the ink blots (in at least one case literally) on the map.

These range from the deeply frivolous to the profoundly injust: from bits and pieces of New York City transformed into environmental time capsules and art projects to places meaningful to the author; from rendition sites and pirate bases to Bedouin settlements in the Israeli Negev desert; from destroyed landscapes to Potemkin cities. The places often feel almost science-fictional; and in fact several of them evoked settings in existing science fiction works, like Christopher Priest’s Dream Archipelago and Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis.

All in all, a pleasant diversion for the geographically minded, though I did have one quibble: the book calling latitude and longitude “Google Earth coordinates,” as though degrees are as proprietary as limited to the KML format.

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
by Alastair Bonnett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Viking Canada, July 2014
Buy at Amazon: Canada, U.S. | Kindle: Canada, U.S.

Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World
Aurum Press, April 2014
Buy at Amazon UK | Kindle

Emily Garfield’s Map Art

Emily Garfield: Branching Networks (Cityspace #178)

Emily Garfield’s art is a pen-and-watercolour exercise in the cartography of imaginary places. Her drawings “are inspired by the visual language of maps, as well as the fractal similarity that cities share with biological processes such as the patterns of cells and neurons.” Above: “Branching Networks (Cityspace #178).”

Map Anniversaries

Apollo 14: Mitchell Studies Map

Google Maps turned 10 years old on Sunday — a milestone observed by Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian. See also Liz Gannes’s retrospective at Re/Code. My reaction on launch day was pretty effusive — I was blown away mainly by the user interface. But it wasn’t immediately dominant: it took roughly four years for Google to surpass MapQuest in traffic.

Meanwhile, the Pro version of Google Earth, which used to cost $400/year, is now free. Google Earth itself launched in June 2005, so is approaching its own 10-year anniversary, but it began its existence a few years earlier as Keyhole EarthViewer 3D.

Speaking of map anniversaries, National Geographic Maps is marking its centennial.

The photo above marks another anniversary: It shows Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell consulting a map during his second lunar EVA on February 6, 1971. Apollo 14 returned to Earth 44 years ago yesterday.

Nikon’s Astrophotography Camera

Nikon D810A Nikon has just announced its first digital SLR optimized for astrophotography: the D810A. Like the D810 on which it’s based, it’s a 36-megapixel, full-frame camera. Unlike the D810, but like the Canon EOS 60Da and digital SLRs modified by third parties, its infrared filter is optimized to let in hydrogen-alpha wavelengths crucial to photographing emission nebulae and star-forming regions that emit light in those frequencies. It’s also capable of taking exposures up to 15 minutes long and has a new preview mode that simulates 30-second exposures.

Tweaking a camera for increased hydrogen-alpha sensitivity and longer exposures can make a world of difference in astrophotography: the former brings out a lot more colour and detail in those aforementioned nebulae (see sample images from the D810A here and here; the product page has a nifty comparison of D810A vs. D810 images of the same astronomical objects). But to be clear, the D810A’s modified IR filter renders this camera unsuitable for regular photography: the white balance will be permanently out of whack. This is not a camera for someone who would normally buy a D810 and wants to dabble with astrophotography on the side. And it’s not cheap, either: at US$3,800/C$4,450, it costs US$500/C$850 more than a regular D810.

So why buy one? Well, you get better results than you would from a digital SLR. And compared to dedicated astrophotography cameras, a digital SLR is considerably easier to use: dedicated cameras have to be connected to a computer via USB and their images require more processing, though the single-shot colour cameras are undoubtedly less difficult to use than the monochrome cameras that require you to record each colour channel separately. And even at the D810’s price, it’s still cheap: dedicated cameras that use large sensors can cost four or five times as much. (Astrophotography is an expensive hobby.)

And you can easily use a camera lens instead of a telescope, which makes this sort of camera ideal for wide-field astrophotography.

The only other digital SLR optimized for astrophotography is Canon’s EOS 60Da. It’s cheaper but has a smaller (APS-C sized) sensor. The conventional wisdom on digital SLR astrophotography has been to prefer Canon over Nikon cameras, partly because Canon has been making modified digital SLRs before today, and partly because Nikon’s noise reduction algorithms have tended to mess with star fields (the so-called “star eater” effect; I don’t know if this is the case with newer cameras). This changes things up a bit.

Previously: New Canon Digital SLR for Astrophotography.

Daniel Reeve, Film Cartographer

Someone was responsible for the maps developed for the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and other movies (on-screen and in promotional materials), and that someone is Daniel Reeve, a freelance artist who also did a lot of the letterwork and calligraphy. Via Boing Boing.

Arrest, Charges in N.B. Python Case

Remember the incident in Campbellton, New Brunswick in August 2013, in which a 14-foot African Rock Python escaped from its cage at an unaccredited zoo/pet store and killed two small boys? There’s been a development: the owner of the facility, Jean-Claude Savoie, was arrested in Montreal yesterday. He was released the same day but will appear in court in Campbellton on April 27. Only then will we know what charges he’s facing: the authorities aren’t saying at this time. The investigation is still under way. But it’s a fairly good guess that Savoie is facing criminal charges of some sort, rather than charges under provincial wildlife law — the window for laying those charges has apparently already passed.

Previously: About the Python in New Brunswick; Campbellton Python Incident Update; At the Pointy End of a Moral Panic; More Updates on the Python Incident; Python Truthers Are a Problem.

The Oldest Known Snake

What is the definition of a snake? If you said “legless reptile” you’d be wrong: there are two families of legless lizard as well as amphisbaenians (which are just weird, especially these things). If I remember correctly, a snake is defined by its skull, which differs from other squamates: it’s thin, delicate, mobile and articulated. It was that definitive skull that led a team of researchers, headed by University of Alberta paleontologist Michael Caldwell, to identify four species dating from 140 to 167 million years ago as snakes rather than lizards, putting the emergence of snakes far earlier in the prehistoric past. (Snakes were previously thought to have evolved around 100 million years ago: the gap in the fossil record is not really surprising given how poorly delicate snake skeletons fossilize.) The findings suggest that the snake skull may have evolved before snakes lost their legs. Article abstract. News coverage: CBC News, Discovery News, Live Science, University of Alberta.

CBC Ottawa and Medical Quackery

This morning, CBC Ottawa posted a story about how mistletoe extract helped a woman with stage four colon cancer, backed up with quotes from a naturopath, with only the most perfunctorily added disclaimer from the American Cancer Society that such claims are unsupported. The story bothered me so much that I filed the following complaint with the CBC’s Ombudsman:

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Irregular Verbs and My Doing Book Reviews in General

Book cover: Irregular Verbs and Other Stories My review of Matthew Johnson’s short story collection, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine, 2014), went live this morning at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.

It’s my second review for AE, and I’ll be doing more, so yes, I think it’s safe to call myself a book reviewer. A few years ago I would have found the prospect of writing full-length reviews, rather than a blog entry a paragraph or two long, utterly daunting, at least for science fiction and fantasy (I’d already been reviewing map books, after all). And yet here I am, to my great surprise. Still feels like I’m learning how to do it, one review at a time, sweat beading.

That said, I’ll primarily be reviewing Canadian sf at that venue (in case you’re wondering whether to send me a review copy). The fact that I know a lot of the Canadian authors in this field, some of them very well, will make things a bit tricky: “full disclosure” may well be a permanent feature of my reviews. To say nothing of the situation if I have to give a book a bad review (see my previous post on that subject). I’m definitely feeling what Amal El-Mohtar expresses about writing reviews of books by people you know or who might see the review, in the most recent episode of the Rocket Talk podcast (which is really worth listening to in full, for Amal’s and Natalie Luhrs’s sharp insights on the ethics of reviewing).

Fuel Economy and Transmissions

Warning: automobile fuel economy neepery ahead.

Cheaper gas makes fuel efficient vehicles less appealing, in part because what makes a car more fuel efficient can make the vehicle more expensive. Diesel and hybrid versions of a vehicle costs more than their regular counterparts: you need gas to be expensive and to put a lot of miles on your car to come out ahead.

When we were car shopping last year, I ran the numbers on twenty different vehicles, looking for (among other things) the most economical car to drive — taking into account both the cost of the car and the cost of gas. (In other words, taking note of the fact that we might need to pay an extra $100 a month in car payments to save $20 a month in gas.)

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Older Entries

Charlie Hebdo in Context
Books Read in 2014
Peregrine or Merlin
Atlas of Canada
Review: Following the Ninth
The Patterson Projection
Various and Sundry
A New Species Hiding in New York City
Geologic Maps of Vesta
The Biggest Venomous Snake Ever
‘This Year Is Different’
Gift Guide: 10 Map Books of 2014
Ecdysis 4
Threatened Status Proposed for Black Pine Snake
Gene Wolfe Interviewed
The Evolution of Combat and Courtship Behaviour in Snakes
Moon and Comet Maps
My Can-Con Schedule