Monday, March 26, 2012

Map of the Week 3-26-2012:I'm Just Walkin'

Google Map of the streets, in red, that have been traversed so far by Matt Green.  He intends to walk every street in New York City, all 8,000 miles of them!  From: The New York Times, March 25th, 2012, Leaving His Footprints on the City, at

Here we have another great example of a “walkabout,” in this case a ginormous walkabout.  Matt Green, former civil engineer (who used to design roads!) completed in 2010 a walk across the United States, from Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York to Rockaway Beach in Oregon, and has just now embarked on his next adventure – walking every street in NYC.  He estimates it will take about 2 and a half years to complete the walk. 

Why is he doing all this walking?  “… those who walk for the sake of walking are called on to distinguish themselves from ordinary pedestrians.  In Teju Cole’s recent novel ‘Open City,’ the narrator, a psychiatric fellow at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, takes aimless walks ‘as a release from the tightly regimented mental environment of work.’  The British novelist Will Self — who has published two books on psychogeography, or the effect of topography on the human psyche — once trekked 20 miles from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan. ‘I walk,’ he said, ‘in order to somatically medicate myself against the psychosis of contemporary urban living.’  
Mr. Green’s reasons are less succinct, though similar in spirit.  ‘People tend to narrativize neighborhoods in New York, saying such and such a place is hip, or poor, or ugly or barren,’ he said.  ‘This walk is a way of understanding a place on its own terms, instead of taking someone else’s word for it.’”  From

In the Times article, there is a nice short video – a combination of the reporter’s interview with Matt and the reporter joining him in situ for part of what is likely a typical day for Matt.  Matt also has a website where you can see his progress and view some of his really quite interesting photos that he takes along the way. (Map with hyperlinked photo icons)

Matt Green taking a photo of a mural in the West Farms area of the Bronx, during one of his daily walks.

Just this week, I sat in on a class at the Mackintosh School of Architecture called “Mapping the City.”  For this week’s assignment, the students (advanced undergrads and Master’s students) were asked to read a short text by Guy Debord, the “father” of psychogeography, and then in pairs, to do a “drift,” and report back to the rest of the class.  Each pair of students was assigned a different part of the city for their “drift,” and most had never been to these areas before.  It was interesting for me, a relative newcomer to Glasgow, to see what fresh perspectives (or not, as the case may be!) the students brought to their exploration of random walking given a particular starting point, but no other restrictions or parameters.  A bit different from what Matt Green is doing, since he is on a mission to cover every street, (albeit not in a dogmatic, methodical way, it seems!) but I think some of the objectives are the same – the appreciation and notice of the details of everyday life in a great city that can ONLY be obtained by walking. 

See previous posts on Emotional Mapping and Wanker-Free Drifting for more on Will Self, psychogeography, Flaneur-ism, and the art of the drift.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Map of the Week 3-19-2012:Will Scotland go its Own Way?

Will Scotland Go its Own Way?  From an editorial in the New York Times, February 26, 2012, by Neal Ascherson, from:

This Map of the Week, above, is really more of a cartoon, but I think it's very well-done and quite illustrative of the recent events in the U.K. regarding independence and cutting of historical (and at the time of Union, expedient) ties, but also unable to completely undo the entanglements of  the lengthy alliance. Hence the knot of string loosely and tenuously still connecting the two nations.  As some of you are aware, Scotland will soon have a referendum to decide whether to split with the United Kingdom and become a separate, independent nation once again.  The results of the referendum will have huge ramifications on the United Kingdom as a whole, on Scotland, and on all the constituent components of UK, especially Northern Ireland, and to a lesser degree, Wales.  There are many pros and cons to Scottish independence, and the debate rages on.  Recent headlines in The Guardian and other major UK newspapers reflect the diversity and the strength of the passions on the various sides of the arguments.

“Scotland can not survive without England.”
“England will be better off without Scotland.”
“UK would be 'financially worse off' without Scotland.”
“Would the UK collapse without Scotland?”
“A future without Scotland would be distinctly uncomfortable.”

Map of Scotland, after a map in the 2005 book “The Stornaway Way,” by Kevin MacNeil, which is a punk-rock version of the coming-of-age novel, taking place in the 1980’s in Stornaway, the main port town of the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the islands in the Outer Hebrides.  As the author explains, “We do not live in the back of beyond.  We live in the very heart of beyond.”  
“Travelling the world taught me not to hold the atlas the way it’s printed.  Everyone needs to learn their own way to hold a map.  For me the Island looks better upside down, with our blood relatives in Scandinavia to the left, our blood relatives in Ireland to the right.”
And to me, this brings up an interesting point.  IF (and that’s a big “if”) Scotland became an independent nation, which countries would it ally itself with?  Who would be its “natural” neighbors, which community of nations would it best belong to?  Would it be Gaelic-speaking countries, Nordic countries, Germanic countries, or the newly-minted (but already somewhat passe) conglomerate of the “North Atlantic Arc of Prosperity,” which includes Ireland and Iceland?  How about a Circum-Polar culture stretching across the North Sea?  There are logical rationales for any of these choices.  People in parts of Scotland still speak Gaelic, and are culturally close to Ireland and Wales.  Parts of Scotland were settled by the Scandinavians, the Scots language incorporates many Scandinavian words (mainly Old Norse) and sentence structures, and some of the far northern Scottish islands are geographically closer to Norway than to Edinburgh.  And the Scots language is quite closely related to many variants of German, including Dutch, Africaans, and Rhenish (as is English, of course). For more on the Scots Language, and why it is considered a separate language, see The Scots Language and its European Roots at What is Scots? / Listen to Scots at and Regional Dialects at

The Celtic Realm
So, when building nation-blocks, does it come down mainly to economic reasons, geographical proximity reasons, linguistic reasons, reasons of shared history, or cultural reasons?  Perhaps language may end up being an important, or even the deciding, factor.  The fact that the Scots language has now been recognized even by the UK government as a distinct and separate language and not just a variant (dialect, patois, or “accent”) of English, is significant.  On the last U.K. census, there was a question “Do you speak Scots?” and a helpful website called Aye Can, developed so that people could hear different versions of Scots as spoken, to help them figure out if they are, in fact, speaking Scots.  It was essentially a primer in the Scots language, basically saying, if you speak like this, you’re speaking Scots.

Linguists say that there are three distinct languages spoken in Scotland today: English, Gaelic, and Scots.  Scots Gaelic, of course, is closely related to Irish Gaelic, and is a Celtic language, part of a very old Indo-European language family which also includes Welsh, Breton (spoken in Brittany in France), Cornish (spoken in Cornwall, which of course used to be an independent kingdom), and Manx (spoken on the Isle of Man, still an independent country, more or less).  The last two are not yet considered “extinct” languages, but have very few native speakers anymore.  In ancient pre-Italic days (about 1,000 BCE), Celtic languages were widespread in continental Europe, from Belgium to Turkey and parts of Asia Minor, but especially in Gaul and the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), where Celtic influence is still apparent in the mountain music.  In Scotland today, Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Highlands and some of the more remote islands such as the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Skye.
Most people in Scotland, even the Gaelic-speaking ones, also speak Scots.  Now, Scots and English share a lot of vocabulary, but they are about as mutually understandable as Portuguese and Spanish, or Norwegian and Danish.  In other words, closely related, but still separate languages.
If you would like a silly, but pretty hilarious perspective on the Scots tongue, take a look and listen to some of these old video snippets.  Some time ago there was a TV show in Scotland featuring an erudite “professor,” who came to Glasgow to study the Glaswegian language, and explain it to the rest of us.  Apparently it was actually a big hit amongst Glaswegians, who enjoy laughing a wee bit at themselves. 

Languages of Scotland around the early 15th century, based on placename evidence.  Orange is Norn (an insular Scandinavian language, now extinct, but similar to Icelandic and Faroese. Remnants of Norn vocabulary and grammatical structure still exist as integrated into Shetland Scots and Orkney Scots), yellow is English/Scots and blue is Scottish Gaelic.  


        In any event, whole debate about whether or not Scots is a separate language or a variant of English is very illuminating, especially in light of the Scottish bid for independence from the U.K.  The editorial in The New York Times brings up some interesting points drawn from history.  The crux of the problem, the op-ed piece points out, is how the 1707 Union is interpreted differently by the English and the Scots. 
“The English regarded the union [the 1707 Union which created the United Kingdom by joining England and Scotland] as irreversible; the Scots, then and now, regarded it as a treaty that could be modified or even ended by mutual agreement.”
And therein lies the rub…..

When Macbeth Met Hamlet: a Scandinavian Scotland?
“This map was taken from the Copenhagen Post, an English-language Danish newspaper.  The accompanying article mentions a few more similarities: both Scotland and Scandinavia harvest fish and renewable energy from the sea, both sides of the North Sea share some vocabulary (Scots call their children bairns, Norwegians and Swedes call them barn, Danes børn), and both have an outlook infused by similar brands of anti-hierarchical Lutheranism.  Significantly for a small nation considering independence: Scotland, Norway and Denmark all have about 5 million inhabitants. Small numbers don’t seem to be an impediment to successful statehood…. One final, crucial advantage of a Scandinavian over a British Scotland: it would no longer be in the Far North of the UK, but in the Southwest of the Scandinavia.  The place would not have to move an inch, but it would sound less cold, dark and at the end of everything.  Scotland’s new orientation could finally allow it to ditch some of the negative stereotypes that have been dogging it for far too long.  It would no longer be colder, emptier and darker than England.  It could be as socially sophisticated and as technologically advanced as Denmark or Norway.”  From:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Map of the Week 3-12-2012:The World According to...

The World as we know it....
OK, here is something sure to offend just about everyone - stereotyping maps - you know, "The World According to Texans," or "The World According to New Yorkers," etc. Many of these pertain to one or another of the United States, or else how the United States in general views the world.  I tried to get a more balanced picture, but you know, that's one of the troubles with stereotypes - they're not very balanced!  So even the stereotyping maps seem to be mainly from the US perspectives.  If anyone has seen other ones, please let us know!  I am particularly interested in seeing a stereotyping map of the different regions of the UK.  I've always been aware of how different areas of the UK look upon other areas of the UK, but now that I live here, I find it is even more pronounced than I imagined!

The World According to the USA - this is from a really clever series of these maps, stereotyping maps from a number of different points of view!  (The World According to the Turks, the Greeks, the French, the Swiss, Israel, etc.) See more at

Detail of map above, showing Asia, as viewed by Americans

Stereotypes of Canadian Provinces

And, from the Canadian perspective: America is Canada's 

The US according to Californians

Stereotyping Map of Massachusetts

A Chicagoan's view of the Midwest

The US as seen by a New Yorker (most of us think NYC should be its own independent country, anyway, since we have so little in common with other Merkins. We look at the rest of the country from an anthropological view.)

Another New Yorker view of the US

Stereotyping map of Texas

OK, this one has made the rounds (at least in my neck of the woods) and as they say, in every joke and satire, there is a glimmer of truth.  Need I say more.  And PS - I LOVE New Jersey!  My house is in the interstitial area between "lakehouses owned by New Yorkers" (yup, that's me), and "vast wilderness of rednecks and retired hippies" (yep, that's my neighbors and me, respectively).

The US according to Texans

The World according to Dubya (That's George W. Bush)

The World according to Reagan

The US according to Rednecks

The Iberian Peninsula, according to Spaniards
Couldn't resist adding another one from the Alphadesigner site. Europe, According to the Poles.

Of course, I am posting these maps with the huge caveat that MOST Americans, Texans, New Yorkers, etc., do not think in such a simplistic way about their neighboring states or other nations in the global community, and the maps are therefore quite fictional (well, perhaps all aside from the World According to Dubya! That one may bear some semblance to reality.  Only kidding, only kidding! Actually, though, I firmly believe that George W. Bush will go down in history). But the maps do poke fun at our prejudices and biases, and are meant to be more of an indictment against the viewpoint country than the country viewed.  What is being ridiculed or lampooned is the ignorance of the generalizing idiot, NOT the country being generalized about.
OK, so the moral of these maps?  Tribalism is alive and well in the 21st century.  Stereotyping is the easy, shorthand way of dealing with the complexities of the world, but not a very effective or accurate one.  However, on the bright side, it shows that the world is not a homogeneous bland place (yet!), and there are still recognized regional differences.  Now if only we could stop killing each other over those differences, and just appreciate them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Map of the Week 3-5-2012:Craigslist meets Voronoi Tessellation!

Map showing Craigslist market territories, or Craigs-sheds, as we might call them.  From:

I just had to make this a Map of the Week – and some of you faithful readers may know why.  That’s right!  Voronoi tessellations!  Delaunay triangulation!  Thiessen polygons!  Some of my very most favorite-est things!  Why do I love Voronoi diagrams so much?  They are so useful!  And elegant!  Put simply, a Voronoi diagram of a set of “sites” (points) is a collection of regions that divide up the plane.  Each region corresponds to one of the sites, and all the points in one region are closer to the corresponding site than to any other site.  It has applications in fields from anthropology to zoology, and just about everything in between.  A very simple yet effective interpolation technique.  

Delaunay triangulation on top of Voronoi diagram (in dotted lines), shows how they are constructed.   

“Voronoi diagrams were considered as early at 1644 by René Descartes and were used by Dirichlet (1850) in the investigation of positive quadratic forms.  They were also studied by Voronoi (1907), who extended the investigation of Voronoi diagrams to higher dimensions.  They find widespread applications in areas such as computer graphics, epidemiology, geophysics, and meteorology.  A particularly notable use of a Voronoi diagram was the analysis of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, in which physician John Snow determined a strong correlation of deaths with proximity to a particular (and infected) water pump on Broad Street.”  From
Snow considered the sources of drinking water, pumps distributed throughout the city, and drew a line labeled “Boundary of equal distance between Broad Street Pump and other Pumps,” which essentially indicated the Broad Street Pump's Voronoi cell. from:

Some more recent examples:

A Delaunay triangulation surface to get an idea of what the spatial pattern was for the seismic activity in relation to the collapse of buildings after Haiti 2010 earthquake, from.

A Delaunay Triangulation to determine the hierarchical spatial clustering of U.S. cities, from: 

Coefficients of Representativity (CR) for 467 sample points in Switzerland, from  NOTE: this is quite interesting, if you like that sort of thing!

Visual estimation of sampling density with a Voronoi diagram.  Polygon size is determined by the proximity of pedon sampling locations (larger polygons = less dense sampling).  A “pedon” is the smallest unit or volume of soil that contains all the soil horizons of a particular soil type. From:

How the United States would look if Voronoi-ed, based on state capital cities as the points, from  It pretty much mirrors existing state boundaries, which only goes to show that the state capitals were located in the center of each state. 

Here’s a nice website on the Voronoi Game, which appears as a puzzle in the book Codes, Puzzles, and Conspiracy, where it is called the Territory Game and was inspired by the Falklands War.  From:

Some nice properties of the Delaunay triangulation (from
·         It's dual to the Voronoi diagram, so computing one automatically gives you the other.
·         The Empty Circle Property -- If you draw a circle through the vertices of ANY Delaunay triangle, no other sites will be inside that circle.
·         It's a planar graph. By Euler's formula, it has at most 3n-6 edges and at most 2n-5 triangles. This property can be used to reduce many problems with quadratic size (like closest pair) down to linear size in the time it takes to construct the triangulation.
·         It contains "fat" triangles, in the sense that the minimum angle of any Delaunay triangle is as large as possible. In fact, if you write down the list of all angles in the Delaunay triangulation, in increasing order, then do the same thing for any other triangulation of the same set of points, the Delaunay list is guaranteed to be lexicographically smaller.

For a discussion of their methods for developing the Craigslist sector map, see The IDV website, which claims to be “All things data viz, design, and geospatial” at

The zipcodes within each Craigslist zone. For an update on their methods, see

Couldn't resist this one!  Pretty!