Map Evangelism and Tokyo Topographies

Very cool interview on the Japanese design blog, PingMag, with Hajime Ishikawa, a landscape architect with a passion for Tokyo’s topography.

From PingMag:

Sometimes you’ll find him developing concepts for a future city in an altered landscape (think of the rising sea levels) for the Fibre City project, and other times he’ll be depicting Tokyo in all kinds of visualisations: He calls himself a map evangelist and GPS is just one of his tools.

In addition to some great insight about the language of mapping, the post also includes this wonderfully whimsical GPS track of an elephant that Ishikawa created while bicycling through Tokyo over the course of “a very long day.”

Cartography of Protest and Social Change

We Make Money Not Art has a great recap of the “Cartography of Protest and Social Change” panel at the 2008 Conflux festival. The post starts off with a brief summary of the book, An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and then features a nice survey of the work of artist/activists John Emerson, Trevor Paglen, Brooke Singer, and Lize Mogel. Check it out!

Rising sea levels will be localized

When you hear about global warming and sea levels rising, the projections are often cast in universal terms, e.g. “Scientists estimate that sea levels will rise between 0.8 m and 2 m by 2100.” This map, released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, illustrates that contrary to popular belief, sea level rise is not uniform, and indeed has been and will be much more severe in localized areas. At significant risk are the low-lying coral atolls and islands in the Pacific, where the impact of climate change is already taking a huge toll. The president of the Republic of Palau, Tommy Remengesau Jr., spoke at recent meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and warned: “We are the window of what will eventually be happening to the rest of the world” (as reported by the Honolulu Star Bulletin).

When discussing the rising sea level, it is imperative that we consider the global picture rather than flatten the debate into statistical averages. Otherwise, it will be far too easy to discount the crisis, as The Telegraph UK has done in this headline: “An Inconvenient Truth exaggerated sea level rise.” The human and ecological cost is far too high.

Here’s a more detailed description of the above satellite image from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Warming water and melting land ice have raised global mean sea level 4.5 centimeters (1.7 inches) from 1993 to 2008. But the rise is by no means uniform. This image, created with sea surface height data from the Topex/Poseidon and Jason-1 satellites, shows exactly where sea level has changed during this time and how quickly these changes have occurred.

It’s also a road map showing where the ocean currently stores the growing amount of heat it is absorbing from Earth’s atmosphere and the heat it receives directly from the Sun. The warmer the water, the higher the sea surface rises. The location of heat in the ocean and its movement around the globe play a pivotal role in Earth’s climate.

Light blue indicates areas in which sea level has remained relatively constant since 1993. White, red, and yellow are regions where sea levels have risen the most rapidly—up to 10 millimeters per year—and which contain the most heat. Green areas have also risen, but more moderately. Purple and dark blue show where sea levels have dropped, due to cooler water.

The dramatic variation in sea surface heights and heat content across the ocean are due to winds, currents and long-term changes in patterns of circulation. From 1993 to 2008, the largest area of rapidly rising sea levels and the greatest concentration of heat has been in the Pacific.

Photosynth is… eh

Earlier this week, David Pogue from the New York Times reported on the “official” launch of Microsoft’s Photosynth app. This is not exactly news—lead developer Blaise Aguera y Arcas demo’d an early version last March at the TED conference, and beta versions have been available on Microsoft’s Live Lab site for months.

The new dedicated Photosyth website ( allows Windows-users to upload and “synth” their photos online, and then share with others. Photoscapes are rated by their coverage, so National Geographic’s 3D panorama of the Taj Mahal is “100% synthy” while Vaporetto’s vista of the Grand Canal is only “83% synthy.” After browsing the site for a few minutes, I felt a permanent lisp coming on.

Plus, since there’s still no love for Macs (17 months after TED, guys) I can’t actually do anything on the site, so I’ll have to leave the critique to Pogue:

Microsoft has designed Photosynth to be less a virtual-reality tool than a glorified slideshow, a clever way to arrange a bunch of discrete photos in space. That’s fine, but it does make photosynths less magical than they could be. Compare Photosynth’s one-photo-at-a-time focus with, say, the seamless views of a QuickTime VR scene (Google “QuickTime VR gallery” to see some), where everything is in focus as you look up, down, left, right, forward or back, as if you’re inside a giant wraparound photo.

Even so, Photosynth is wicked cool, and it will find all kinds of new uses. At the very least, it represents another milestone in the evolution of place-description technologies. Until someone comes up with brain-to-brain image sharing, that will have to do.

Read the full review here.

The geopolitics of Pop vs. Soda

Obama supporters clearly drink “soda.”

via Strange Maps (btw, interesting to note that this is the single-most submitted map to the Strange Maps blog, sent in by over 100 contributors. Guess people really love their pop.)

Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartography in Contemporary Art

I wish I were passing through Cincinnati this week to catch the tail end of the exhibit, “Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartography in Contemporary Art” at the Contemporary Arts Center. Here’s a description from their Web site:

Maps have a remarkable effect on our view of the world. At the root of their power is our frequently unquestioning acceptance of cartographic messages. Though we equate maps with truth, it is crucial to be conscious of the omissions and limitations of the map making process in order to create a readable map. Thus in turn, maps and their makers have the ability to manipulate their audience with the information chosen to include.

This exhibition addresses the subjective nature of mapping, how we locate ourselves in consideration of changing boundaries and territories, and how we give visual form to boundaries, territories and land masses.

One of the artists featured is Noriko Ambe, who does amazing things with books. The show is on view through August 17.

Space Debris Visualizations

Objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO)

Since 1986 the European Space Agency has been tracking the amount of space junk orbiting the Earth. As part of this ongoing study, the ESA created a catalog of images to document and illustrate the debris field both in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and further out in Geostationary Orbit (GEO), and they’ve recently posted new pictures online. The images look straight out of WALL-E. We’ve all heard that there was a lot of crap in space, but this is insane.

Between the launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957 and 1 January 2008, approximately 4600 launches have placed some 6000 satellites into orbit, of which about 400 are travelling beyond geostationary orbit or on interplanetary trajectories.

Today, it is estimated that only 800 satellites are operational – roughly 45 percent of these are both in LEO and GEO. Space debris comprise the ever-increasing amount of inactive space hardware in orbit around the Earth as well as fragments of spacecraft that have broken up, exploded or otherwise become abandoned. About 50 percent of all trackable objects are due to in-orbit explosion events (about 200) or collision events (less than 10).

More on Gizmodo.