Where is Stephen the geek?


As I was blogging the other day about where I am going on my next trip, I took a quick screenshot of a google map and embedded it, which prompted a question from my friend Gabe about why I was not using a real interactive map. I then pointed out to him that I actually have such a map embedded on my site at the “Where’s Stephen?” link and its own google maps page.  The original idea of this map and page was to track on an ongoing basis where I have been traveling. This map was great when I was first building it, but as I have been adding places to it, I have become somewhat dissatisfied with it. Google places a limit on how many pins can be on a single map page, and this was causing people to miss out on map points. So I dusted off the maps API and called forth the geek inside and learned how to make cluster maps that show the number of places visited at larger scales, but when zoomed into show the individual points. You can check it out here at the new “Where’s Stephen?” page. It is just a start, more of a technology demo for now. But in the future, I plan to link each place to a blog category that will show all posts related to that place, among other goodies. Stay tuned.

Which way is up?


One of the great things about working on a variety of projects is the opportunity it gives me to confront various ideas. On one such project I had decided on a world map background for the site, and dutifully started researching various graphic styles that I would use for it. My client approved one direction with time zone demarcations and then asked if I could use a Peters projection instead of the more common Mercator projection.

I had been familiar with the Peters projection for some time, but since it isn’t in heavy usage, I had all but forgotten about it. And just about all of the map examples I found were Mercator. My client hails from the San Francisco Bay Area (where I myself lived for many years) and so it gave me a lefty chuckle of recognition that he was asking for this map projection. That is because the Peters map is far more socially “just” than the Mercator. Why is this so, you may wonder? Because the Mercator map vastly benefits the northern (and colonizing) hemisphere over the southern one. While the map doesn’t correct for the orientation of the planet (why is Alaska where it is near the top instead of Australia, for example), it does correct for the size distortions (Africa is roughly 14 times larger than Greenland, for example, although you would never know that to look at the Mercator). This begins to present a more accurate and equitable way for the inhabitants of the world to picture themselves. For a wonderful summing up of these concepts, check out this great clip from an old “West Wing” episode:


Mapping my thoughts


It is raining and dark and cold outside. Days like this are demotivating (or give me an excuse perhaps) but I haven’t really felt like doing much. Looking out the window, I see low clouds blurring much of the skyline, and there is a calm sense of melancholy in the atmosphere. Today I have not been thinking very clearly, with thoughts wandering to all sorts of things, finding work, my travels, old friends on facebook, maps, food, book writing, updating my cv, politics and headaches. On more than one occasion today I have been asked by people what I have been up to the last couple of years and in response I just send them this map:

There is something wondrous about maps and mapping. They are really just another representation of experience. A map is a schematic and abstract representation often (as in my case) keyed to so many disparate memories, yet the map’s structure brings them all together.