Category Archives: Geography

Say Yes! to da UP, eh?

On this day in 1836, the territory of Michigan and the state of Ohio ended their war over Toledo in a peace conference called (I kid you not) the Frostbitten Convention. It was a complicated war (if relatively bloodless) and a complicated peace, but I trust you can look up the details for yourself on Wikipedia; what matters to a Great Lakes statriot such as myself is that the end of the war spelled statehood for the land shaped like a hand.

The terms of the treaty negotiated by Congress granted Michigan statehood on condition that it cede Toledo to Ohio, and in exchange, Michigan was granted the Upper Peninsula. Little did Congress (or Michigan, for that matter) know that the UP was rich in copper and iron ore. Poor Ohio. All they got was the Mudhens.

To borrow the words of LGK, “Happy 175th birthday Michigan! High five.”

What the distance means

What is distance? What is distance when you’re on the last leg of a weekend climb to the top of a mountain? What is distance when the weather is miserable where you live in Western Washington but you have only three days of vacation? What is distance when you’ve got as much vacation time as you want but only $500 to spend?

In the first scenario, I might say distance is the 200 meters I have to keep walking before I reach the top; in the second, it’s as far south as I can get in 1.5 days; in the third, it’s a function of money—how far can I get on $500? It’s space, sure, but it’s also time and money.

A person with a stricter understanding of language would insist that distance is only ever the space between one place and another, but it’s hard to deny that the meaning of distance—how we experience distance—is much more. It’s time, and it’s money, and it’s how we use technology to change the relationship between space, time, and money. You remember the lesson on the transcontinental railroad from eighth grade history class don’t you? The opening of the railroad didn’t shorten the physical distance from New York to Sacramento, but it did dramatically cut the amount of time it took to travel that physical distance. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the West.

Traditional maps have been very good at helping us find the physical distance from place to place, and more recently, network-analysis based mapping services like Google Maps have acknowledged with options for car-travel, foot-travel, public transport, and biking that the ways we understand and use knowledge about distance is highly contingent on how we move from place to place.

A couple of recent mash-ups have developed the idea that the meaning of distance is not always so much about space as it is about how we experience space. Probably my favorite mash-up of the season is Mapnificent, featured a while ago on Flowing Data and also shown to me by AKC. For certain cities, it shows you where you can get from a central location in whatever amount of time you specify when you’re traveling on public transportation. This map shows me where I should look for apartments if I want to be able to get to class in Condon Hall at UO in 15 minutes or less:

The shape of my 15-minute bubble is influenced by physical geography (the river is a definite barrier) as well as the built environment (where are the major roads) and things like public policy (who determines the bus routes or the speed limits?). Beautiful isn’t it! Mapnificent also releases its API, which is kickass if you’re a developer.

A second mash-up that’s a little less cool but still worth a look is a flight-finder from the Hungarian airline Malev.

Enter your starting location and the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a ticket, and the map returns every city you can fly to for less than that price.

God bless creative minds in possession of sweet web programming skills!

To nod, to grin, to lend a hand

I realize blogging is no longer (was it ever?) the right platform for this, but in lieu of any real writing, it’s time to share some links.

First up, a great little article on FUME, the Fellowship of Unassimilated Manhattan Exiles in DC, that captures nicely the feelings of expatriotism. From the article:

If there were a Fellowship of Unassimilated Midwestern Exiles, it would have a waiting list for admission. Its members would congregate at the Olive Garden in Falls Church and wonder why you have to drive so far to find a good Dairy Queen and whether it’s really necessary for parking spaces to be so small or so expensive.

Every expat community has something it misses, something that stands for everything that is right about the place you came from and wrong about the place where you’ve arrived.

There is statriotism—that defensive instinct to start listing off stereotypically awesome things about your home town when some snobby east coaster questions its cred (see the opening clip of Season 4 Episode 15 of 30 Rock for an example)—and then there’s expatriotism, that longing for homeland of a small community in exile that makes ordinarily bagel-refraining New Yorkers talk at length about circles of dough when in DC. And while we’re at it, you know what I miss about the midwest, what I talk about with almost every Michigander I meet out here? Rain, the kind that smells good and is nice. And thunder! So all you Facebookers can please stop talking about the storms you’ve been having. (Via SC on the FB)

Next, we’re a bit beyond graduation season, but that means we’re in the thick of the season of figuring out what’s next in life. Map of the Week posted a great reference map for hipsters searching for a new city to live in.

Click for a larger image. Of course I felt particularly guilty reading the description of Detroit: “Something vague about hopeful post-apocalyptic urban gardening.” (Not sure of the original source, via MotW)

Finally, this goes out to all you alumni of the Calvin semester in Budapest, from any year, as well as any of our Hungarian pals. I need some help with a mapping project. I’m building a guide map to Budapest, and I don’t have the time, the memory, or the comprehensive experience to do it alone. Here’s the start of the map:

Follow the link for full sized map, and if you’ve got places to contribute, send me a message or an email and I’ll make you a contributor and send you instructions. I’m trying to put together blurbs on places to see, to eat, to drink, to experience, to go running, etc., and I hope to finish it before the new crop of students gets there in the fall. Köszönöm szépen!

off the road, up in the air

This weekend was a blessing to me. After the week’s goodbyes, car troubles, and diminishing time for making a decision about grad school, I was able to attend an interview weekend for an interdisciplinary, interdenominational fellowship for humanities students from faith-based undergrad institutions. I was the only geographer there, so it required the usual explanations of my discipline and research interests as well as some refreshing and challenging conversations about being a Christian in the academy. I really hope to receive the fellowship, but regardless of whether I do or not, the weekend was a wonderful chance to meet students with similar commitments as me and to reflect on and articulate those commitments and on my general academic goals. It was also nice to see an old friend from Calvin who I hadn’t seen in some time.

While I’m writing this I’m sitting on a plane back to Minneapolis. It is so interesting to see the world from a plane, particularly in a season not always shown in the satellite images we’ve become so accustomed to looking at on Google Earth. Most of the snow has melted, but there are still long straight lines of snow piled along the sides of certain roads and curves of ice edging Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. The Mississippi still looks enormous, if not yet so muddy. Glowing clusters of orange streetlights make the cities stand out against the fields.

The Twins are playing at home tonight; my aunt and uncle are at the game, and judging by the lights and the look of the stands, the game is still going on. After I land, I’ll take the tram into the city and meet them near the stadium. I’m finding travel wearying this week, but it is so wonderful to be traveling towards people I know and not only away from them.

Big Maps

Here’s a reblogged blog from my pal RG:

Big Map Blog

Today’s post (linked above) is one my pops will particularly like.

I’ve been on a rather rocky adventure these past few days. Lots of driving and breaking down and doubling back, and now I’m back in the midwest for a couple of days for an interview for a fellowship. It’s hard to believe I’ve gone so far only to end up near where I started. Oh well, I think I’ll make it to Washington eventually, and I’ve been collecting some great maps along the way. More on those when I make it to Snohomish.

Mapping with needle and thread


My uncle recently sent me this picture of a needlepoint map he made. It has kind of an interesting story. His father started it in 1961 (hence some of the older place names, like the Hawaiian Islands instead of Hawaii) but never finished it because he was running low on blue yarn for the oceans and got frustrated. When my uncle was going through chemotherapy last summer—and when he was on Prednisone and frequently up even earlier than he usually rises—he decided to finish the map, and I’d say he did a darn good job. I’m not sure whose flourish it was, but I particularly love the curlycue on the E in Mexico. Uncle David wrote about his time during chemotherapy on his blog Lymphoma, Family, Food and Diabetes. His writing is often moving, poignant and hilarious, and his first post on the needlepoint map is a good example.

The map reminded me of some embroidery work that a friend of mine does of street-level maps. Her work can be found at her Etsy shop. The map below is Eastown, for those of you familiar with Grand Rapids.

Computer mapping and GIS are wonderful, as anyone who’s ever used Google Maps or a Garmin knows full well. But maybe we’ve lost the physical feel of accordion city maps and highway atlases, and maybe that’s a sad thing. These maps make cartography tactile again, and I love that.

Eyes on Japan

I’ve been listening to the radio all weekend while working frustratedly on a mash-up map of Budapest. The news, of course, is sobering, and it puts my frustration with Java Script and HTML into perspective.

The radio coverage has been good, but there are some things that words fail to communicate.

The image above is from an interactive feature on the New York Times website that you can check out here. It shows before and after satellite images of the affected areas with a slider that lets you change the image and see the landscape transformed.

The Times’ mash-up map also does a nice job showing the extent of the shaking along with geotagged photos and information markers.