Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Favela Painting by Jeroen Koolhas and Dre Urhahn in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

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[Editor's note: Geometric mural painted on a neighborhood canvas. Also see Jim Denevan's Art: Three mile wide spiral YouTube video. My earlier tweet inspired Cartogrammer to find geometry charting on satellite images.]

Republished from Space Invading.

Jeroen Koolhas and Dre Urhahn are two artist from Netherlands who started working together in 2005. In 2006, they started developing the idea of creating community-driven art interventions in Brazil. Their efforts yielded two murals which were painted in Vila Cruzeiro, Rio’s most notorious slum, in collaboration with local youth. After both murals were finished, they started their third stage of their project, ‘O Morro’.

View more at Space Invading . . .

Map album art covers from Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground box set

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

fe3c6230a8a013bd63f9f010lSaw these at a friend’s birthday party last weekend. Fanciful geographies from a collage of old school print maps form the covers of the 4 CDs in the Left of the Dial box set. The first shows San Francisco, California, on the left and Boston, Mass., on the right with Manchester, UK, at top with a London inset.

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The Geotaggers’ World Atlas

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Similar to Flickr's SHP api, but discrete to groups of photos rather than places (cities). Data visualization sorts all the geotagged pictures by photographer and date/time, and for each two adjacent pictures that are reasonably close together in place and time, drawing a line between them. The different colors represent different modes of transportation: Black is walking (less than 7mph), Red is bicycling or equivalent speed (less than 19mph), Blue is motor vehicles on normal roads (less than 43mph); Green is freeways or rapid transit. SF version.]

Republished from Eric Fischer’s Flickr site.

(above) Paris. The cluster to the northwest of the central city is La Defense. The cluster further to the southwest is Versailles.

Continue to Flickr for all 50 cities . . .

Density (heat) map of world-wide photos on Panoramio

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Neat idea, but not as detailed (street level) as the Flickr effort, post up next.]

Republished from Info is Beautiful.

Great places-to-avoid heatmap using distribution of photos on Panoramio. Nice idea! By BlueMoon.ee

World map color-coded by level of touristiness, based on analysis of photos on Panoramio. Yellow indicates high touristiness, red medium touristiness, and blue low touristiness. Areas having no Panoramio photos at all are grey.

Continue to view the map . . .

MoonZoo – Heads Up, Citizen Scientists: The Moon Needs You! (NPR)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Crowd sourcing "id that crater". Check out my post, Race To The Moon with Richard Furno for the original effort 40 years ago to map the moon.]

Republished from National Public Radio.

We’re seeing the most detailed images of the moon’s surface ever captured from afar — thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. The space probe carries a super-powerful camera, which photographs every bit of the moon’s surface for scientists to examine.

Only one problem: The LRO is doing such a good job that the scientists can’t keep up.

Enter Oxford astrophysicist Chris Lintott. He’s asking amateur astronomers to help review, measure and classify tens of thousands of moon photos streaming to Earth. He has set up the website MoonZoo.org, where anyone can log on, get trained and become a space explorer.

“We need anybody and everybody,” Lintott tells NPR’s Guy Raz on Weekend All Things Considered.

For example, “we ask people to count the craters that they can see … and that tells us all sorts of things about the history and the age of that bit of surface,” Lintott explains.

Continue reading at NPR . . .

Review: Geocart 3 (Kelso)

Friday, May 14th, 2010

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Once a required computer application in many cartography shops in the 1990s, Geocart has come back with a vengeance with Mapthematic’s 3.0 release (Mac and now Windows).

“If map projections are your problem, Geocart is your solution”

While most GIS and remote sensing map software support a couple dozen obligatory projections, Geocart supports over 175 general case projections. Map projections are mathematical formulas for converting the earth’s round shape to a flat surface and their “parameters” can be adjusted to form thousands of specific projections. For comparison, ArcGIS, the popular commercial geographic information system software from E.S.R.I. supports 1/3 as many projections; MaPublisher from Avenza supports 1/2 as many as Geocart.

The program’s author, daan Strebe, is a leading authority in this specialized subject and the new version incorporates corrections to many standard formula resulting in near loss-less projections. Unlike other software packages, Geocart can transform any projection to another projection (full forward and inverse transformation support for all projections). Other map applications can damage data when it is transformed. Furthermore, Geocart 3 introduces a new rendering mode using PixSlice technology to create a sharper, more detailed raster images (examples after the jump). This works both for resizing images and when transforming from one projection to another (reprojecting).

The application manual includes a handy decision tree to assist in what projection to use depending on the map’s topic and geographic coverage. The application includes innovative advanced tools  to visualize the distortion inherent in each projection (sample image).

Pricing: For lapsed users, upgrade pricing is available for $500 with new professional licenses running $860, discount for multiple purchases. Steeply discounted non-commercial and student licenses are available. Price includes map databases (36GB with the pro version!) and, importantly, the new version imports shapefiles, the defacto geodata format.

Full review continued below . . .

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Installation

I tested Geocart using the free, month-long trial (note the watermarks in the screenshots). Download and installation (once for the application, again for the default databases) went quickly but you will need an administrator account to accomplish the install. When the package downloads, it is labeled with your operating system type rather than “Geocart” so in my case I looked for “Mac OS 10.5/10.6″ in my downloads.

The app and included databases each weigh in about 150 mb for 300 Mb of disk space. Rather than collecting associated database files in the Applications folder (Program Files on Windows), they are installed in Library > Application Support > Mapthematics > Databases. If you want quick “template” access to frequently used data, it should be added in that location. The “add recent databases” command partly makes up for this.

Setting up a map document

To start mapping, go to File > New. Then go to Map > New. Multiple maps can be stored in a single Geocart document, each having their own projection parameters and database content.

When making a map, the first step is to determine how large the map dimensions will be and how much geography it will show. The relationship between the two is called map scale. Some databases, like Natural Earth, are set up based on map scales. Using the right database will result in prettier maps that are generalized appropriately (the linework doesn’t look too detailed or too coarse) and smaller files that are easier to work with.

Geocart also includes a useful linework simplification routine when your data is complex and needs to be simplified. This toggle is on by default and is accessed under Map > Generalize vectors. Toggle it on and off to compare the resulting resulting lines, your mileage will vary by map scale, even with the same source database.

Tip: The application takes map scale seriously and includes a tool to calibrate your system under Preferences > Display. This calibration functionality is absent to most other mapping packages.

To add data to the map

Each new map starts with “Stylized World Topo 5400×2700″ raster image in layered with a vector grid (Map > Graticule) in sinusoidal projection. With the map selected, go to Map > Databases. I was able to easily add in shapefiles from Natural Earth, some of which are included in the default databases. If you have existing Geocart 2 format databases, those will import directly, including typesetting databases.

Tip: To modify which databases load for each new map, go to Preferences > New Map Databases. I set mine to use Natural Earth country boundaries but removed the default image database.

Have a scanned map without a projection?

Geocart will help you figure it out. Add the map with File > Place image. (Vectors are not supported at this time). Then align with a map with a vector map database. Adjust the settings of the map until it matches. Then choose File > Export Database. Load the database back into a Geocart map and start projecting.

I was also able to add several map images and quickly georeference them and then deproject to geographic (platte carrée) or into another projection. One was a simple map of the ash plume in Europe in Mercator. The other was a complicated world wall map from National Geographic in Winkle Tripel (examples below).

Tip: When georeferencing an image, maximize both the map and the placed image to fit the window (Map > Scale to Window). Then adjust your Geocart map to use the same boundaries as the placed map image (make an educated guess). Then cycle thru the projections until the vector lines (graticule and country boundaries, etc) begin to match. Mercator and Robinson are common for world maps, a conic like Albers or Lambert is common for country and state maps. Then adjust the projection parameters and fine tune the boundaries and nominal scale and map resolution till everything fits exactly. Finally, export the placed image to database format.

Note: For raster maps that are georeferenced, the exported database file remains in the native projection of the image (it it not transformed to geographic). This does not affect your ability to reproject the image, however

Choose a projection

The familiar icons by projection class are still found in the main menu bar (see screenshot above). With a map selected on the document, choose a different projection (some are even listed in cyrilic and arabic!) and watch the map update in real time.

If you want assistance in choosing a projection (who can remember all their quirks!?), check out Projection > Change Projection. A dialog with the same listing comes up but with descriptions, history, preview maps, and distortion information. Gain insight with the programmer’s unique and comprehensive expert knowledge will help guide your projection choice. While the map is projecting, a progress wheel with a rough remaining time will show in the upper left corner. Advanced datum support and transformation are provided.

Tip: The manual includes a full decision tree for choosing a projection. This is one of the best features of Geocart.

I love interrupted projections like the Goode homolosine and making one in Geocart is a cinch. Simply choose the Goode from the Pseudocylindric menu (oval icon on left) and then chose Projection > Interruptions > Goode Continental. While you’re getting the projection parameters, map size and resolution right, keep the rendering quality at draft (Map > Draft). When the settings are right, change that to Map > Final Quality for more precise results.

All databases in Geocart are geographic with live, on-the-fly transformations into your map’s specified projecting (see exception above for georeferenced images). I added in coastlines, rivers, lakes, country boundaries, US state boundaries into my test vector map. Even on my slowest, older laptop, rendering was responsive for basic usage creating vector world, regional, and country maps.

Tip: If you somehow end up with a strange looking map (off center, etc), choose Projection > Reset Projection and the current projection parameters will revert to defaults

Tip: When using a conic projection like Albers or Lambert, make sure the Projection > Projection Center is set to Latitudinal 0°N.

Geocart 3.0 is a world unto itself, however. While it does import raw data in shapefile format (YES!), it does not currently import or export PRJ files, part of the SHP file specification, the defacto geo data storage and exchange format. Imported SHP files must be in geographic projection. This makes sense in part as Geocart supports many more projections and parameters than most other mapping software packages (3 times as many as ArcMap, 6 times as many as Natural Scene Designer, 2 times as many as MaPublisher and Geographic Imager). Geocart also sometimes uses slightly different formulas for the same projections as the other applications (the author claims Geocart’s implementations fix errors in common formulas, which is probably the case based on my experience with the literature and web source code snippits).

But for the projections that are shared in common, it would be useful to offer PRJ support (including transformations out of the error prone versions), and shapefile export of databases after their coordinates have been transformed (and GeoTIFF for raster).

More importantly, PRJ files offer a quick load of common projection parameters. So if I’m in California I can load up the Albers with the standardized parameters so my data will interoperate with other cartographers working in that area, and they take some of the guess work out of choosing a map projection. Both ArcMap and MaPublisher are better then Geocart in this regard. MapTiler thru Proj4 is the worst. Azimuth (r.i.p.) is the best at setting appropriate projection and parameter for the visible, selected geography.

Tip: If you do have a PRJ file, open it in a text editor and manually copy over the parameters to Geocart. They use a “well known text” structure that is human readable.

Legend editor (stylizing your map)

Geocart includes basic legend editor for setting line and fill styles, appropriate for general reference mapping. Geocart is a general projection tool, not for making thematic maps. The layer sorting of individual databases is adjustable in the Map > Databases dialog.

Tip: Consistent styles can be shared between map projects by going to Preferences > New Map Line Styles.

Testing the limits

Don’t want to plot the entire world? Use Map > Boundaries to set a crop (and speed up map rendering). This window is quite amazing and has both 2d and 3d views with actual spherical trapezoids! Boundaries can be set relative to the projection center and can be a circular diameter, spherical trapezoid, or irregularly shaped “custom” boundary. To remove the boundaries, change the setting back to “Unconstrained”.

Quibble: When adjusting boundaries in most conic projection, your standard parallels should also change. A prompt should be provided in this use case to automatically adjust those to your new view. In the special case of setting standard parallels in Projection > Parameters, it would be helpful if Geocart showed these on a map like in the Projection Center dialog.

Quibble: The draw on map interface in Boundaries needs a little more work for modifying the existing settings. Other apps, like Geographic Imager, allow me to drag the edges of a drawn boundary while in Geocart I have to start over (or use the number fields). It’s also a little wonky when dragging exactly horizontal or vertical (a full latitude or longitude strip). There are also no ticker buttons to increment the parameter values, either. Once you have this set, though, you’re golden so it’s a minor inconvenience.

Next: Rendering quality and speed . . .

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Above: Brand X on the left. Geocart at right. Examine the letter forms (U in United Kingdom, N in London, all in Paris, the Ca in Cariff). The Geocart render results in sharper, crisper letter forms with less “pixel burrs”. The demo water mark not with standing.

Rendering quality

The key concept is Geocart creates an optimized map on each render. The original data resolution is stored in the document, but what draws on the screen is determined by the map size and resolution. Set that in Map > Set size and resolution. Once adjusted, the map will fill that space in the window. You can zoom in and out with the normal Cmd-+ and – keyboard shortcuts and the zoom with update in the window title.

When Geocart is set to render in Final mode, its output results in better output than applications that use only nearest neighbor or bicubic interpolation. In the example above, looking at the letter edges on London, the Geocart version is crisper and smoother. This also comes into play at the edges of a world map where the projection distortion is more extreme and is especially important with projecting raster data.

For my heavy-use scenario, I put Geocart up against the latest National Geographic world map

The map is in Winkel Tripel projection. I rasterized the PDF (took about 1 hour with Photoshop on my old laptop) and then loaded the image into Geocart and georeferenced it and saved it out as a database (78 mb, seems small), see section on Adding map data above. I then reprojected it Goode homolosine in Geocart. I also ripped out a platte carrée from Geocart and projected that into Goode in Geographic Imager, Natural Scene Designer, MapTiler (Proj4), and ArcMap.

The final projected Goode image dimensions was 22,700 pixels by 9,910 at 675 mb in TIFF image format. Enough detail to print back out as a wall map or tile for a web map service.

Geocart is built for speed and will utilize all processors, including multicore

Paul Messmer’s under the hood improvements allow the application to make 100% use of all processor cores. I was still able to use other applications while Geocart processed data, however. One side effect of supporting multiple cores is rendering occurs per core in real time, see screenshot below. Geocart also plays nice on idle.

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I tested Geocart on 3 different machines, all Intel Macs running 10.5 or 10.6 from an older laptop to a new desktop towers. Application task completion speed increased directly proportional to the number of cores available.

Fun fact: Geocart uses a Hilbert curve to render the map when utilizing multiple cores to keep memory accesses as local as possible in order to make the best use of the processor caches. This results in seperate render traces on the screen, see image below.

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At best “final” settings, the huge map in Goode homolosine projection described above took 20 min on the 16 core Mac Pro (2 x 2.93 quad core GHz quad-core Intel Xeon with 8 gb of RAM) but 1 hour 20 minutes on an older 4 core Mac Pro with the same RAM configuration. The draft render took significantly less time and was comparable in time and quality to Natural Scene Designer, Geographic Imager, ArcMap, and MapTiler (Proj4).

Because Geocart is always planning for the most general case with the most advanced options, this can slow down it’s rendering compared to other applications (most noticeable when in Final rendering mode). Future versions might speed up if special functions were added for the standard parameter cases. But by the time the programmer did that, the speed difference might be equivalent to increases in hardware speed and cores, so this doesn’t worry me much.

Compared the competition

Geographic Imager ($699 for Adobe Photoshop plugin, add $699 if you don’t already own Photoshop) did not support the interrupted form of the projection and produced confetti until I tweeked the settings. To project vectors, you’d need MaPublisher, a vector plugin from Avenza for Adobe Illustrator, will set you back $1399 plus cost for Illustrator. ArcMap (thousands of dollars) required a RGB (not indexed) version of the geographic TIFF version but insisted on reprojecting into grayscale. Natural Scene Designer ($160) produced the most comparable raster results and ease of use, but at less quality (though faster). It should be noted the Pro version of Natural Scene Designer 5 also supports multiple cores and limited vector shapefile support (raster rendering only), plus better handling of GeoTIFF with TFW export. MapTiler, Mapnik, and other open source GIS options are free but you’ll spend time setting them up and learning their make-by-and-for-programmer quirks.

Visualizing Distortion

Geocart is a good teaching tool as well when using the distortion visualizations and mouseOver readouts (available under Window > Information). The pertinent readouts are Angular deformation, Areal inflation, Scaler distortion, and Scale factor range.

Note: Geocart quit on me once when I tried to use Map > Copy Attributes while visualizing distortion with a very large selected map, but I was not able to replicate the error or any crash in subsequent testing sessions. In general I’ve found the program to be very responsive and to not hang up, even when rendering extremely large maps with multiple databases.

Quibble: The Information panel should display how long it took to render the selected map.

Exporting

On exporting out your final map, vector (PDF) and raster (TIFF, PSB “Photoshop”, and JPG) formats are available. On opening the map in Illustrator, each database layer is conveniently grouped, with clipped content. Geocart could take a page out of IndieMapper’s layered SVG approach where the file format would still be PDF but the groups would be named and even better yet actual PDF layers.

Quibbles: Geocart suffers from the same zealous masking and embedding as other apps. If no boundaries have been defined in Geocart, the clipping masks should not be included. Saving out as PDF will embed the raster databases into the file, like all other programs. On export of the raster formats, an option should be provided to NOT export the vector database layers. Another option should be provided to export each raster database layer to a separate file (or layered TIFF / PSB). Needs to export out a PRJ file for the raster and GeoTIFF with embedded registration, pixel size, and projection tags.

Note: If you’re looking for SHP export, you’ll be disappointed. Though that’s kind of missing the point of Geocart. See “Choose a projection” section above.

Final word

Geocart 3 is a solid release that will satisfy most of your reference mapping needs, especially if projection matters to you. If you liked Geocart 2, you’ll definitely enjoy working with version 3, and on the latest computer hardware it simply screams. The addition of direct shapefile import removes a barrier to geodata access, though more could be made of the PRJ files and DBF attributes. There are still some missing features when compared to version 2 and daan (the programmer) is interested in hearing from the cartography community which should added back. They also seem responsive to fixing some of the usability issues I’ve noted above.

But where are those Kelso Corners, I ask? Besides being a personal soapbox, my blog is named for the “corners” that form when a pseudocylindric or lenticular projection is extended to fill out it’s rectangular bounding box by repeating content that would otherwise only be found on the opposite edge of the map. They are righteously awesome, plus they satisfy non-carto designers  proclivity to design to a boxy grid. However, you can only find these “corners” on a few old print maps; I don’t know of a single digital app that creates them. I’ve staked naming rights ;)

Pros: Over 175 projections (best in industry), support for advanced projection parameters, loss-less reprojection, PixSlice technology for sharper, more detailed raster images. Runs on both Windows and Mac, with support for multiple core processors. Now imports shapefile vector map data. Large document support. Easy to use. Software programmer responsive to emails and forum posts.

Cons: No PRJ support. Does not export GeoTIFF, or world file created after georeferencing images. Does not include a SHP filter in file dialogs, and file dialogs do not remember last browsed directory. Should start with blank new document on launch. Linework generalization engine filters just by Douglas-Peucker in this version, not the smooth bezier curves found in Geocart 2 or the amazing generalization found at MapShaper.org. Rendering in PixSlice can significantly increase render times. No support for scripting/automation. No export back to SHP format (especially with DBF attributes), useful for thematic mapping in a secondary GIS application.

Migration in China: Invisible and heavy shackles (Economist)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

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[Editor's note: Powerful charting compares official stats to reality for the agricultural "ecosystem refugees" who find themselves in the city. Related: US Census releases data on geographic mobility for 2008.]

Republished from the Economist.

Until China breaks down the barriers between town and countryside, it cannot unleash the buying power of its people—or keep its economy booming.

ON THE hilly streets of Chongqing, men with thick bamboo poles loiter for customers who will pay them to carry loads. The “stick men”, as they are called, hang the items from either end of the poles and heave them up over their shoulders. In a city where the Communist Party chief, Bo Xilai, likes to sing old revolutionary songs, these workers should be hymned as heroes. Yet few of them are even classed as citizens of the city where they live.

Most of the stick men were born in the countryside around Chongqing. (The name covers both the urban centre that served as China’s capital in the second world war, and a hinterland, the size of Scotland, which the city administers.) Since 1953, shortly after the Communists came to power, Chinese citizens have been divided into two strata, urban and rural, not according to where they live but on a hereditary basis. The stick men may have spent all their working lives on the streets of Chongqing, but their household registration papers call them “agricultural”.

The registration system (hukou, in Chinese) was originally intended to stop rural migrants flowing into the cities. Stick men were among the targets. In the early days of Communist rule in Chongqing the authorities rounded up thousands of “vagrants” and sent them to camps (vagrants, said Mao Zedong, “lack constructive qualities”). There they endured forced labour before being packed back to their villages.

201019fbc434Rapid industrial growth over the past three decades has required tearing down migration barriers to exploit the countryside’s huge labour surplus. Hukou, however, still counts for a lot, from access to education, health care and housing to compensation payouts. To be classified as a peasant often means being treated as a second-class citizen. Officials in recent years have frequently talked about “reforming” the system. They have made it easier to acquire urban citizenship, in smaller cities at least. But since late last year the official rhetoric has become more urgent. Policymakers have begun to worry that the country’s massive stimulus spending in response to the global financial crisis could run out of steam. Hukou reform, they believe, could boost rural-urban migration and with it the consumer spending China needs.

In early March 11 Chinese newspapers (it would have been 13, had not two bottled out) defied party strictures and teamed together to publish an extraordinary joint editorial. It called on China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which was then about to hold its annual meeting, to urge the government to scrap the hukou system as soon as possible. “We hope”, it said, “that a bad policy we have suffered for decades will end with our generation, and allow the next generation to truly enjoy the sacred rights of freedom, democracy and equality bestowed by the constitution.” Not since the Tiananmen uprising in 1989 had so many newspapers simultaneously cast aside the restraints imposed by the Communist Party’s mighty Propaganda Department, which micromanages China’s media output.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

Socotra, South Sudan, and the Netherlands Antilles (Economist)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

[Editor's note: Grab bag of Natural Earth admin-2 and admin-0 map units in last week's Economist magazine.]

Republished from the Economist.

Socotra: A still-enchanted island
Will Yemen’s magical island manage to stay aloof?

MAROONED in pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa but tied to unruly Yemen 400km (250 miles) away, the archipelago of Socotra has a forbidding look. Scorching summer winds strand ships. So fierce is the constant gale that it has whipped beachfuls of blinding white sand into dunes hundreds of metres high that ride up the cliffs. Even in winter it is blisteringly hot. Rats, the sole occupants of one rocky islet, are so ravenous that seasonal fishermen sleep in their skiffs, afraid to languish ashore.

Yet Socotra, whose main island is the size of Majorca or Long Island, is one of the world’s last enchanted places. The 50,000 native Socotris, speaking four dialects of a singsong ancient language unintelligible to other Yemenis, subsist on fish, goats and not much else. But they inhabit a wildly varied landscape of surreal beauty. The sea teems with giant lobsters, turtles and leaping dolphins. A unique breed of civet cat roams the limestone plateaus that are seamed with gorges carved by rushing streams, and spiked by finger-like granite towers rising to 1,500 metres. The cats are just one among 700 native species of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

South Sudan’s biggest ethnic group: On your tractor, if you can
The Dinka will decide whether Africa’s latest state-in-waiting fails or prospers

THE Anglican Bishop of Bor, Nathaniel Garang, sits under the little shade afforded by a thorn tree. His dusty compound has a few mud and straw huts, some plastic chairs, and goats reaching up to bare branches on their hind legs. The bishop is around 70, he guesses, and in reflective mood. He wears a small brass cross given to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Entering Canterbury cathedral, he remarks, was a special moment in his life.

Mr Garang is a Dinka, the largest of south Sudan’s tribes. Specifically, he is a Bor Dinka (see map), the first of the Dinka groups to become Christian and be educated. Their historic missionary post, founded just upriver on the Nile in 1905, was burnt down during Sudan’s long civil war between the Arab and Muslim north and the Christian and animist south that ended only five years ago. The cathedral in Bor was also shot up, but still attracts several thousand worshippers.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

The Netherlands Antilles: The joy of six
Curaçao savours the prospect of autonomy

AS independence struggles go, the process of dismantling the federation of the Netherlands Antilles is about as orderly and peaceful as it gets. On 10-10-10 (October 10th 2010) Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius will go their separate ways—but only up to a point. Curaçao and St Maarten will become self-governing territories, following the example of Aruba, a sixth Dutch-speaking island in the Caribbean which broke away in 1986. But all will remain under the Dutch crown. The tiniest three islands—Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius—will become overseas municipalities, with a similar status to towns in the Netherlands.

The attractions of autonomy are obvious in Curaçao (population: 142,000), the most populous island. It will take over government assets such as a large oil refinery and one of the Caribbean’s biggest dry docks, both in Willemstad, the capital, and the taxes from thriving tourist and offshore-banking industries. Generously, the Dutch will pay off 70% of the federation’s $3.3 billion debt. Local leaders have ambitious plans to develop new port facilities and hotels, and to modernise the dry dock.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

Maps of Mount Saint Helens, 30 years later +Tea Horse Road (NG)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

[Editor's note: Two great maps from this month's edition of National Geographic Magazine by Martin Gamache.]

Republished from National Geographic.
Click on each to view larger.

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French vehicle number plates: Choose your département (Economist)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

201017eud001[Editor's note: Coming from California where we do not list admin-2 counties on our license plates, it was always odd (from a privacy perspective) yet delightful (from a geo-nerd perspective) to see plates from Georgia and elsewhere that tagged them thus. France tried to scrap and now revamp their plate system, leaving it with a curiosity akin to the OBX & etc place bumper stickers one sees on the US east coast.]

Republished from the Economist.

What new licence plates reveal about car-owners and where they live

WHEN the French government decided to bring in new number plates, it all seemed simple. Under the old system, car-owners had to change their plates every time they moved from one département to another. Under the new rules, which came into effect last year, a licence plate belongs to the car even if the owner changes address. As a logical consequence, new plates would no longer display département numbers.

Yet this was to underestimate the fierce attachment of the French to theirdépartements, first created after the 1789 revolution. Under the first version of the new plan, the département number was to have been an optional add-on. One argument, never quite made explicit, was that this would enable drivers to avoid stigmatisation. Those from certain roughbanlieues, such as Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris (93), have always been treated with extra suspicion by the police. They could now choose to be less identifiable on the road.

The French were dismayed. One poll found that 71% disapproved of the numbers becoming optional. Some feared that it might be the beginning of the end of the administrative département. Families argued that it would ruin car games for children. Over 220 parliamentary deputies and senators joined a campaign, “never without mydépartement”, demanding the numbers’ reinstatement. “It’s a matter of roots, of attachment to a land,” said Richard Mallié, a deputy from Bouches-du-Rhône (13), who led the campaign.

Eventually the government backed down and agreed to make département numbers compulsory again—but in tiny, almost illegible characters. The result is an overloaded ugly mess. Worse, the département number is now pure whimsy: car-owners can choose anywhere they want, not just where they live. And they can change without modifying their official registration.

A year after the new licence plates were introduced, who wants to parade their roots, and who to disguise them? The most popular choices seem to be the 69 of Rhône, around Lyon, and the 59 of the Nord, centred on Lille, a département mythologised in “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”, a warm-hearted 2008 box-office hit. And the least sought-after? Not the 93 of Seine-Saint-Denis, but the 75 of Paris and the 92 of Hauts-de-Seine, which includes the swanky suburb of Neuilly. Parisians, the car dealers say, turn out to be the ones who are keenest to hide their origins—perhaps to protect their cars from casual vandalism when motoring on holiday, prompted by their reputation for haughty arrogance.