“Your Head Will Pop Off”

Feedlied across this snapshot of John Feathers’ vast collection of maps, city guides (mostly from Los Angeles), and pamphlets–an innocuous archive or impressive case of cartographic hoarding, I don’t know. The archive, its unusual ordinariness, its scale, its discovery, all of this is interesting, or passingly so for map enthusiasts, the sharpest thumbtack of this piece for my thinking is from the video, the note near the end about the memorial function of maps, their capacity for temporal-affective relocation, their dormant-until-brightly-lit teleportation function: when-where, an interlacing of spacetime. After the pragmatic, what do maps want more than this?

Method’s Con-trails

Caught a small
blip of discussion
yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth


the lost city of Atlantis
. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania,


It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth
including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown
species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data
collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often
collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact
that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how
little we really know about the world’s oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn’t interest me all that much.
Instead, I’m struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic"
tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others
have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like ‘beyond
ways’, even ‘ways
beyond’; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of
"bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don’t we see these in the adjacent
areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process,
translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?

Robert Sarmast
elaborated on the image’s trail-grid, noting:

The lines you’re referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the
underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it
zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly
underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the
ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire
grid. I’ve checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist
and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid’s unevenness, its predetermination, the
inability of the sonar devices to see (erm…hear) directly below. And
yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle
allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without.
Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?

And Now Here

A week ago Thursday we stopped through the closing reception of a show at the
Delavan Art Gallery here
in Syracuse. Hadn’t been to the gallery before, but several pieces produced by our
friend (and former neighbor), Amy Bartell, were on display (some of it by such
enigmatic and inventive techniques I can’t get my mind off of it). I don’t have a
program with me now, and I couldn’t find the exact title for her exhibit online,
but I think it was called "Archeological Memoir." Basically, she works with
various materials (impressions, overlays, exposure, stamping) to layer together
what I would describe as ‘geographic impressions.’ They’re not
impressionist, in the sense of that tradition; rather they involve the plying
(layering, doubling over, folding and folding) of found things (symbols and
materials)–a sandwiching effect by which their pressed-ness amplifies the deep
entanglement of place, object, and spatial imagination. I was struck by the
collection because it resonated conceptually with some of the stuff you would
find in Harmon’s You Are Here and at
Strange Maps. This it to say it
hooked into the same way-finding attitude or manner I continue to find
tremendously appealing. But the pieces were also detailed and varied–as
pastiche: almost imaginary maps, almost documentary,
autobiography. Digital versions of two of the pieces are online–Travelogue
and Your Call
Cannot Be Completed At This Time
–but the entire exhibit is worth
experiencing in its entirety, and because she does at least one show each year,
there is a decent chance of catching it again in Central New York.

Poetics of Cartography

I finally got around to listening to “This American Life” on mapping. Seems like someone mentioned the program when it aired last month (I remember looking at the accompanying images in Flickr). The program, a replay of the broadcast from 1998, covers mapping across the five senses, beginning with Denis Woods on sight and his neighborhood maps that take into account things like how often addresses (or names of residents) occur in a neighborhood newsletter and how the geolocations of jack-o-lanterns (photographed and layered onto a black background) correspond to the places references in the newsletter. He describes this fascination as a “poetics of cartography” and proposes that there isn’t anything that can’t be mapped. Brief thought it is, Woods opening piece gave me a boost for thinking about chapter five in the diss, even if I’m still two or three months from drafting the chapter on mapping. Hearing him talk about his mapping practices made me want to drop everything I’m doing (right now, on tag clouds) and re-read The Power of Maps.

The rest of the show is worth a listen, but I didn’t find the later sections to be as impressive as Woods’ bit. There’s a piece on mapping soundscapes (not far off some of the things Jenny has discussed re: documentary, although this guy finds musical notes in the drone of his microwave and CPU cooling fan), and there are also short segments on mapping with smell and touch–both of which reminded me of conversations in the cybercartography seminar I took two years ago.

United Lakes of Atlantica

Over the weekend Strange Maps
posted an

inverted map of the world
. The imaginary map was designed by Vlad Gerasimov who made it as
desktop wallpaper available at

Aside from the Grand Inversion, the map symbols would suggest
that the climate, landforms, coastlines, flora, and fauna are more or less in
tact. In that case, I suppose I’d be most at home just north and east of Bermuda City. Or somewhere within a canoe ride of the Great Islands.

Map, Map, Territory

What if Borges’ (or, more properly, Alfred Korzybski’s) map/territory
contrast is just an overplayed maxim, a dwindling truism due for reversal?
(Fine, so I’m not the


to consider the question.)

The aggregator turned up

a report
about laws in the Philippines and Malaysia that ban what is being called
"participatory GIS", the ad hoc mash-up efforts combining cartography
technologies with material models in an effort to define boundaries for lands
held by indigenous groups. The ban on such processes is, in itself,
fascinating (a way to keep the partitioning of the land specialized, in the
hands of experts). But
I’m also struck by the layers to this story, a coordination of compositional and
rhetorical elements–mental models of spaces, the image-assisted translation of
mental models into scaled relief maps made of various materials, the use of these
constructs for legal claim-making, the implied omnipotence of Google Earth.

From the report, the moment of reconciliation between satellite imagery and
the experiences and memories of the person and tribe (map as totemic?):

The modeling technique often starts by showing village elders satellite
images, which they use to record their mental maps of tribal territories,
hunting grounds, and sacred sites.

The material manifestation–something like a folk geodiorama or raised relief map–blends the
latest digital technologies with everyday craft supplies:

[A]ctivist groups…have been helping indigenous communities mix
computers and handheld navigation devices with paints, yarn, and cardboard
to make simple but accurate three-dimensional terrain models.

Simple but accurate? Accurate enough to warrant a ban, anyway.

Digital Onomastics, Frenetic Place-Names

What happens to onomastics or proper place-names with infusions of the
digital? How do the logics of the web, networked writing and folksonymy
let loose (a plentitude of named small-pieces, loosely joined) the
propriety of an onomastics founded on scarcity, where place-names refer formally
to physical locations and also depend upon authorization, a kind of official
license? We will have one name and one name only! Erm, okay, two…two
names. No more. Granted, place-names or toponyms are not altogether
unraveled or let loose. Kansas is still "Kansas," or "KS," even in Google Maps (at
a certain scale, though, the name vanishes because it’s too specific,
too local; KS fades into anyplace). But while these stabilized place-names
remain on highway signs and also showing at certain scales of the
cybercartographic mash-ups, the digital introduces a capacity for differently
circulating and contending name systems. Toponyms are further compounded. For now I don’t care whether
we’re online or on I-90. New (by which I mean not pre-fixed), folksonomic names
and tags don’t automatically replace the official names, although they might one
day contend with them and even displace them or unsettle them a bit.

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The upcoming issue of The New Yorker includes an article first
released yesterday to the magazine’s web site. 
There: The science of driving directions,"
offers a sharp-right overview of
evolving navigational technologies, running from Rand McNally paper maps to
their updated on-dash equivalents.  A brief history of automobile
navigation gets a few column inches, too; both the "Jones Live-Map" and the "Photo-Auto
Guide" were early twentieth century contrivances for first-person (um,
first-vehicle?) navigating.  Though it’s only briefly mentioned and mixed
in with a bunch of other fun, interesting details, one proposition is that we’re
seeing a resurgence in egocentric navigational devices with various mobile

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