Map Projection Cartoon

Mercator ProjectionIf you read this whole article, I will reward you with a cartoon. But I know what you’re thinking, “I can just skip down to the cartoon and read it now!” Silly reader! You won’t be able to understand it without reading this article. Unless you know a lot about map projections. You don’t, do you? I’ll bet you don’t know anything, and now that I’ve turned off comments, I don’t even have to risk hearing that I’m wrong!

Projection Wars

Imagine that you are part of a group that works for pedestrian rights. For years, you’ve been lobbying the government to get rid of the “right turn on red light” law because it is so dangerous for pedestrians. Then this guy, who has no connection with your group, holds a press conference. He says, “This ‘right turn on a red light’ is madness! It must be changed. All these pedestrian rights people are wrong for supporting this law all these years.” You’d be pissed off at the guy, right?

That’s what happened in 1973, when Arno Peters held a press conference to blast the cartography profession and propose his new projection. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Map Projections

The world is spherical—or very nearly: it is wider in the middle than from top to bottom, just like many people my age. Maps are flat, and despite what the flat earth society might tell you (there really is one), the earth is not. So in order to translate the 3D globe onto a 2D page, compromises must be made.

There are hundreds of different map projections. Wikipedia lists almost 100 specifically. Why? Because each one has its advantages. For example, the Mercator projection (the one you probably think of when you think of a world map) is great for use in navigation. But it is horrible to look at; it greatly distorts the sizes of different places; for example, Greenland is as large as Africa, even though Africa is 14 times as big.

Back to Arno Peters

Arno Peters made a big splash in the 1970s when he came out with his map. It turned out it wasn’t new; James Gall had invented it 120 years earlier, but Peters probably didn’t know about it. What was important was not the details of the map, but why Peters thought a new map was needed.

Peters felt that the Mercator projection had bad political implications. And he was right. Just look at it: the countries surrounding the equator are minimized. Peters map does indeed fix this problem. But he made a lot of other claims for the map that turned out to be false, probably because he was not a cartographer.

The cartography community had long been complaining that the Mercator map was a lousy choice for general-purpose. They attacked back and forth and now, among many people, Peters and his map are vilified. This is wrong, I think. The truth is that Peters was able to do what the cartography community had not been able to do in 400 years: get non-cartographers to care about this issue.

The main problem with the Gall-Peters projection is that it looks kind of odd. The areas may be right, but the shapes are wrong. There are other maps that do the same thing better.

Other Projections

Back in about 100 AD, Marinus of Tyre came up with the projection I would have: meridians become equally spaced up and down lines; circles of latitude become equally spaced right and left lines. It is called the equirectangular or the plate carrée (square plate) projection. Sure, it is not accurate, but it’s easy and it looks pretty good.

The Walter Behrmann projection is really great. It does what the Marinus of Tyre projection does with the meridians, but it squishes the circles of latitude as they get away from the equator. In 2002, the Hobo-Dyer projection was developed based upon the Behrmann projection. How they are different, I don’t know, because I just don’t care that much.

There are, as I’ve noted, lots of other projections. And they all have their uses, even the weird ones, like the Waterman butterfly. (But don’t let the cartoon fool you, the Hobo-Dyer is a lot more recent.)

Randall Munroe Cartoon

Now you know enough to appreciate one of Randall Munroe’s more obscure cartoons—and that’s saying something.

Map Projection Cartoon

Khader Adnan

Khader AdnanAccording to various news sources, Khader Adnan has ended his 66-day hunger strike in return for the Israeli government agreeing to release him from “administrative detention”—a phrase the Israeli government gives for holding 309 people indefinitely without charge (one man has been held for over 5 years according to Human Rights Watch).

Bobby Sands, a volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, died on 5 May 1981 in Her Majesty’s Prison Maze after a hunger strike of, interestingly, 66 days. The song below is really good and compares these two men.

What I find frustrating about this is how Israel uses our own indefinite detention (and our habit of not allowing people to defend themselves because the information is classified) to justify locking people up for years without charge or due process of law. I will always be angry that we don’t even come close to living up to our ideals—the ideals I was lied to about all during my childhood. The ideals that most Americans still think we stand for.


I read through the comments for this video: very troubling. On the one side, a fair fraction (but nothing close to a majority) fall into antisemitism. On the other are a bunch of people who make the case that if the Israeli government says he’s a terrorist, he must be. The antisemitism doesn’t even need comment. At least I hope it doesn’t. I’ve noticed a lot of antisemitic comments on videos that have nothing to do Palestine, Israel, or even politics. A couple of times, I’ve started to reply to a comment, only to notice I’m surrounded by such comments. When you see the word “Zionist” it is best to turn away unless you are prepared to go to war (internet war).

The other side bothers me more, because I think (I hope!) the “Zionist!” chanters are a minority—at least in this country. I am concerned when I see people saying things like, “This fucking islamofascist arab terrorist must die!” Really? Adnan hasn’t even been charged with anything. If he were really dangerous, I don’t see why the Israeli government is letting him go free. For all I know, I would find the guy’s opinions repugnant. But the fact is that he hasn’t even been charged with anything and probably never will be. For the zillionth time: this is about who we are. And I’m someone who thinks that people must be proven guilty. And yes, I am willing to die for that.

Corporations are Rarely Creators

XXXLawrence Lessig’s 2004 book Free Culture is even more depressing 8 years later. But it is really worth reading, even (or perhaps especially) now.

He starts the book by talking about the Wright brothers’ invention of the airplane. I had never read Lessig, so I thought he was going to start talking about patent protection. (Really, I don’t know how I decided to get this book, so I didn’t know what it was about.) But he wasn’t going anywhere so obvious. Instead, he jumped ahead to 1945, when two farmers from North Carolina sued the government for flying airplanes over their airspace.

Until that time, common law said that property owners owned all of the space above their property. The Supreme Court threw out the case, stating that to hold on to this view of property rights would destroy the technology that the Wright brothers had made possible.

Lessig then goes on to talk about the fight between Edwin Howard Armstrong, inventor of FM radio, and RCA. RCA wanted to stop FM radio because they made so much money off AM radio. This all led to FM radio being delayed for decades and Armstrong killing himself.

These two cases are the same in that they both deal with how the law responds to a new technological innovation. They are not the same in that when those who would stifle innovation are just individuals with little power, the technology is allowed; when those who would stifle innovation are powerful corporate interests, the technology is stifled.

This brings us to today where corporate content owners are trying to stifle innovation on the internet. The book is important reading.

I’m very concerned about all this. Over the last 30 years (although it’s been going on longer), I’ve watched as copyright is expanded. This has done nothing for creators. It has done everything for corporations. Who would ever think that a 95-year copyright would be intended for a writer? Only corporations think in terms of these kinds of time frames. But it was one thing when copyright laws did no harm to creative activity. Increasingly, they do harm it. When everything becomes a commodity, someone will own everything.