Bus Turns

From Flowing Data, a terrific public transportation mash-up, Mapnificent, which reports estimated travel times along multiple radiating routes relative to an adjustable map marker. AATA estimates for The Ride are included in the data-set, although I assume the site would be prove more useful in complex urban zones with more routes than we have running in Washtenaw County.


Mapnificent is elegant enough that it doesn’t require much more explanation. I’m saving it as a nice example of maps concerned with time, thinking about its resemblance to river turns and big box turns (not all that far removed from the CCC word turns I showed at C&W a couple of weeks ago).

Also calls to mind a question about whether there is some sort of time-scape parallel to trap streets. Trap streets are geographic fictions embedded into proprietary maps meant to shield them from theft. If a copy of a map turned up showing the trap street, it made for easy sleuthing. What, then, is the temporal equivalent of a trap street? I suppose it could be an altered time-to-destination whose falsehood would establish duplication (e.g., Carpenter Road Meijer to AA Public Library in 8 minutes). And I’m not so inclined to think of these traps out of an interest in security (or copyright or plagiarism), but rather as a variety of imagined geography (much like the character in Mieville’s Kraken who sets out to ground-truth London’s trap streets as if they might, by the cartographer’s articulation, conjure up a potential space).

Inventorying Trees

Nick Paumgarten’s short article in the January 31 New Yorker reports on a census of Central Park’s trees undertaken by Edward Barnard, a “retired book editor,” and Ken Chaya, a graphic designer. Together they inventoried and mapped more than 19,000 trees, several of which they consider Very Important Trees (VITs) now having completed the project. VITs stand apart from the forest; they amount to the distinctive and curious exceptions worthy of noticing, touring on foot (binoculars in hand), and pausing to dwell upon. About the map, Paumgarten writes,

In December, they published their map. It’s five feet tall. It has nineteen thousand six hundred and thirty trees on it, about eighty per cent of the Park’s estimated twenty-four thousand trees, all of them identifiable according to a leaf-shape key. It is a beautiful and meticulous artifact, as full of captivating detail as the M.T.A.’s new subway map is devoid of it.

Trees stand up especially well to this map-treatment, since they are uniquely rooted and living. I read this brief article with an interest in what generalizes from these methods, from this project. City-dwellers, particularly NYC-dwellers, might be more fascinated with trees than we who find them abundantly surrounding us in more open Midwestern spaces. Yet, this also means for Midwesterners that we risk resting without noticing them in their seeming ubiquity.

To generalize from Barnard and Chaya’s impressively geeky inventorying, then, what becomes possible out of this for a course like Writing Ypsilanti? Map the campus’s trees? Map a local park’s trees (e.g., Frog Island, Prospect, Normal, Candy Cane)? In tentatively posing this, I am thinking, maybe not. Nothing here. Then again, I think of Denis Wood’s public utility map and jack-o-lantern map, and something here blends inventively into other noticings: Attending to trees that grow and change almost invisibly, what else might we accidentally find? Possibly a related tree-inventorying experiment could function as a heuristic then for yet other object-oriented census maps, which, like Barnard and Chaya’s project, might change our manner of dwelling or our routes simply by resetting those fields of attention that have gone stagnant.

Bike Routes

Biked a few miles through a dense July pudding for lunch with a colleague at Beezy’s. Nice place, Beezy’s: a zesty tapenade on the Mediterranean Veggie, the only sandwich I’ve ordered there in, oh I don’t know, the last three visits. Biked because D. and Is. have been in Mt. Pleasant area driving around in the Element for the better part of the week–returning in a couple of hours. And biking because we have not yet purchased a second vehicle this summer, though we have promised the loan guarantors at the credit union that we will get to that next week.

No-drip Curb

I secured the bike to this telephone pole behind the restaurant, making sure it was beyond the steady drops falling from a window air conditioner above. While I was inside, it rained–a five minute sprinkle that had evaporated again by the time I was on my way home again. I could not determine whether the bike had gotten wet from the rain, but the AC run-off hadn’t touched it.


While biking I set my new smartphone’s CardioTrainer app to ping a satellite every so often so I could quantify how far and how slowly I’d traveled. My Tracks and CardioTrainer seem like good options, as the free apps go. Open GPS is okay, too. And I have downloaded RunKeeper, which is apparently calibrated for a few more activity types than any of the others, just in case I want to take my phone skating, downhill skiing, or swimming.

Primary Flavors

Primary Flavors

So that the sweet tooths of the house (my own included) would stop gnashing
at me about how little we have on hand to please (and also to rot) them, I
boiled together three half-batches of rock candy early this afternoon:
peppermint, anise, and cinnamon. Can you tell from the photo that I’ve
never made rock candy before?

Continue reading →

Chamber of Absences

I haven’t been taking great notes while reading Prairyerth, but I did
dog-ear a page for this:

There are several ways not to walk in the prairie, and one of them is
with your eye on a far goal, because then you begin to believe you’re not
closing the distance any more than you would with a mirage. My woodland
sense of scale and time didn’t fit this country, and I started wondering
whether I could reach the summit before dark. On the prairie, distance and
the miles of air turn movement to stasis and openness to a wall, a thing as
difficult to penetrate as dense forest. I was hiking in a chamber of
absences where the near was the same as the far, and it seemed every time I
raised a step the earth rotated under me so that my foot feel just where it
had lifted from. Limits and markers make travel possible for people:
circumscribe our lines of sight and we can really get somewhere. Before me
lay the Kansas of popular conception from Coronado on–that place you have
to get through, that purgatory of mileage. (82)

"That purgatory of mileage"–the horizontal vista of Chase County draws Least
Heat-Moon in. The expanse of long grasses is at times disorienting.
He feels lost, but knows that no line can be walked for five miles without
crossing a road. He is a journalist, a chronicler, a gatherer of stories.
Sometimes he consults a map, such as when he stands in Cottonwood Falls with "an
1878 bird’s-eye-view engraving of the town" (52), but he also–sector by county
sector–sketches his own. This last point is important, I think. It
is the practice where his methods live up to the "deep mapping"–an ethnographic
presence in graceful suspense (not unlike North’s ten years of "walking among"),
part Geertzian "thick description," but also meta-, also interested in the up
and out–the topography. This prairie topography can be experienced on

I’m mulling over the relationship between Least Heat-Moon’s "chamber of
absences"–the "distance" and "openness" of the prairie topography and (yet
) de Certeau’s "wave of verticals," the "scopic drive" he chides after
looking out onto NYC from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. What
is strange–exciting, even–is that Least Heat-Moon cannot figure out how to
organize his book until he appropriates a form from the grid of his hand-drawn
maps. About maps, de Certeau says, "They allow us to grasp only a relic set in
the nowhen of a surface of projection…. These fixations constitute procedures
for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice" (97). If
I may put that last sentence through a tumbler, what if, "the trace left behind
is the practice" or "the trace left behind invigorates the
practice (of walking in the city/prairie)"? This windy adventure forks yet
again at the distinction between the general-use map (with common place names,
consensus, etc.) and that other, more self-selective attunement (an
experiential, even egotistical sketch).

About my own chamber of absences: I am warming up to the idea that none of
this belongs in Chapter Five. But I nevertheless find myself happily stuck (not
stranded) on the problem of "What about maps as a (databasic, interested)
writing practice?". I don’t know. Yet there is a promising something
(a fantastic thingamabob) at the theoretical fulcrum between de Certeau’s
high-up perch (fraught with verticality) and Least Heat-Moon’s more moderate,
walking-the-prairie sensibility (fraught with horizontality). I would be
thrumming again on matters of scale, I suppose, to wonder whether that’s all it
amounts to when Least Heat-Moon breaks into his intimate portraits of
people and places, interrupting with his private, deliberative excursions to the
various plateaus or flint shelves for reorientations from time to time.
Don’t we all need (or at least desire) such reorientations?

Manovich, "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime"

 Manovich, Lev. "Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime."
Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools. Eds. Byron Hawk, David Reider,
and Ollie Oviedo. Electronic Mediations Ser. 22. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,

Why render data visually? Lev Manovich, in "Data Visualization as New
Abstraction and as Anti-sublime," the opening chapter in Small Tech
(reprinted from ArtPhoto, 2003),
responds to this with an answer that, in spirit, moves beyond the "data
epistemology" of a cumbersome, old (perhaps even mythical) scientism. Why render
data visually? "[T]o show us the other realities embedded in our own, to show us
the ambiguity always present in our perception and experience, to show us what
we normally don’t notice or pay attention to" (9). By the end of this brief
article, Manovich begins to get round to the idea of a rhetoric of data
visualization, even if he never calls it this. Despite being caught up in a
representationalist framework as he accounts for what data visualization does,
Manovich eventually keys on "daily interaction with volumes of data and numerous
messages" as the "more important challenge" facing us. That is, we are
steeped now in a new "data-subjectivity."

Continue reading →

Certeau’s Sieve-order

Lately I’ve been puzzling over de Certeau’s theorization of maps and what they risk
obfuscating (e.g., stories, minutiae, detritus, etc.) in The Practice of Everyday Life. His pedestrian rhetoric affirms the viewpoint of the "ground level" over the observation
of the whole from the 110th story of the World Trade Center, from which he once
experienced a curious pleasure while looking onto Manhattan–seeing it as a "wave of verticals" hovering
distantly above the city’s "paroxysmal places" (91). De Certeau wonders about the
pleasure he felt and, as well, what this bird’s-eye viewpoint, with its "scopic and gnostic
drive," obscures: "When one goes up there, he leaves behind the the mass that
carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators" (92).

From the observation deck, De Certeau says the mass is left behind, that it
"carries off and mixes up." Reasonably true. Looking down on the ant-like taxis,
the city appears different–further away. But in another sense, the urban
observation deck is not less local than the sidewalk, is it? Also, marveling at
the city does not make its streets more readily navigable (whatever compels you
to go out and about).

Certeau goes on to critique maps, traces, place-names, and flattened
projections, lumping them together as totalizing devices: "The surface of this
["suspended symbolic order"] is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses,
drifts, and leaks of meaning: it is a sieve-order" (107). The sieve-order favors
stories and localization, and these are thwarted by intervals of distance, from
those viewpoints at which the "world’s debris" disappears.

Later he admits an oscillation between the local stories and "rumors"
(presumably reinforced by a desire for totalizing representations), he is
concerned that the relationship between the two has become stratified: "Stories
diversify, rumors totalize. If there is still a certain oscillation between
them, it seems that today there is a stratification: stories are becoming
private and sink into the secluded places in neighborhoods, families, or
individuals, while the rumors propagated by the media cover everything and,
gathered under the figures of the City, the masterword of an anonymous law, the
substitute for all proper names, they wipe out or combat any superstitions guild
of still resisting the figure" (108). The overwrought substitution of the one
(i.e., totalizing view) for the other (i.e., everyday practices) is troubling:
"The trace left behind [on, say, a map] is substituted for the practice. It
exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able
to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in
the world to be forgotten" (97).

Might the projection–and even the written account–also rejuvenate the action, renew its circulation, and cause it to be remembered again? Specifically, I am thinking about this in relationship to distant reading methods that translate large volumes of data
(mined from texts or activities) into visual models–projections in which we can
apprehend patterns not identifiable at other scales of contact (such as the
"ground level").

Maybe there is a place for de Certeau in Chapter Five. I haven’t decided
yet. But I am discovering the faint separations between my dissertation and the
walking rhetorics he advocates. Something tells me these can be bridged (or filled),
but I am still reaching for ideas about how to do that (and also still thinking about
whether it is even necessary).

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.

An Address


Strange Maps shows a map
of ‘the island’ in Lost, and in the
discussion, there is a question about naming, an observation that it is peculiar
that the island is un-named.  In one sense, the LAT-LON coordinates name
the island, locate it, provide it with an address (I would repeat those numbers
here but for the jinx). But the island is not named (Formosa!) in the
conventional sense of toponyms.

The map itself displays layers of plausible locations (colored dots) and
zones (rings) meant to match up with events over the first three seasons of the
program. I find the map interesting because it surfaces at the same time I am
reading and (sketchily) writing about archives, tagging and keywording, what
Derrida in Archive Fever calls the archontic dimension–consignment,
the gathering and piling on of signs.

What does the map archive? And where is the imaginary map between
commencement (sequential) and commandment (jussive)?

I don’t know.  I cannot settle this yet, and I am in no hurry. Lost
is not even airing again for a couple of months, and then, only if the writers’ strike is
resolved. Nevertheless, I am–for these few minutes–taken on a detour through
the map as a museum of Lost, of a topo-nomology embedded almost entirely in television (a
domain, like many others, about which we must continuously ask, What is lost (er,
diminished) in "legitimate hermeneutical authority" (3)?).

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.