The Cool Accidental Typography Of Satellite Imagery
October 24, 2014
Last year, the news media reported on 195,000 disasters around the world. The ones you heard about depend crucially on your location.
October 24, 2014

The 36 provinces of Canada: If every Canadian province proposal had succeeded.

Sortable table with population, area, GDP stats here.


  • Since Canadian Confederation in 1867, there have been several proposals for new Canadian provinces and territories, with varying degrees of support and seriousness.

  • Included is every new province proposal since the late 19th century that gained any significant political support. Excluded is the rest of the United States (besides Maine, Vermont and the Northeast Angle), because those proposals were satirical.

  • The three territories of Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) are included as provinces on the map, since there have been many proposals to make them full provinces.

  • Many province proposals overlap, such as Northwestern Ontario and Northern Ontario. The map assumes that all overlapping proposals had succeeded, resulting in distinct provinces.

  • After some more research it appeared I was missing the Bahamas. I added them and removed Northwest Angle, because its proposed provincehood was only for later annexation by Ontario.

October 23, 2014

A denim world map

October 23, 2014
Oldenburg, Germany database of emigrants
October 22, 2014


Tutorial: Drawing Complex Highway Interchanges in Illustrator

This is kind of a tangent to my normal tutorials, but I had a surprising number of requests for this after I published my McKinney Avenue Trolley map, so here goes!

The first thing to note is that this is not a 100-percent accurate representation of the interchange: this trolley map is not intended to be a road map or to be used to navigate freeways. I want to communicate the idea of an interchange stack and show general connections, but I’ve left some of the fiddly detail out. However, this technique stands up pretty well to any level of detail required: it’s just a matter of how patient you are.

Let’s run through this step by step:

This just shows my base layers before any of the complex stuff starts. At the very bottom, there would be a some sort of source image template for tracing elements from (which I’m not showing to improve clarity), then the background colour layer, then two road layers. In this part of Dallas, some parts of the highways are actually lower than the surface roads, so they come first (in a layer called “Hwy Low”), then a “Streets” layer for those surface roads.

A note here on colours. I actually define separate global colours for the different types of roads I need to show on a map, so that I can easily tell them apart while working. So, as shown here, there’s yellow for freeways/highways, white for surface roads and blue for freeway ramps. When I’m done, I can simply re-edit all these global colours to achieve the final look of the map (in this case, all roads end up being white). I also define a “road edge” colour for the stroke that separates the different level of roads (black in its working mode, the same colour as the background in the final piece).

I’ve added a layer for those parts of the highways that are elevated above the surface roads, called “Hwy Up”. Once I’ve drawn the paths for the roads, I’ve copied them and sent them to the back (a quick Cmd/Ctrl-C, Cmd/Ctrl-B combo) and changed their stroke from a 6pt “highway yellow” to an 8pt “road edge” black.

Here’s the first of my clever tricks for this type of work: the top yellow line has a rounded cap end, while the lower black line has a flat cap end (these are defined in the Strokes panel). If both of them had a flat cap end, then you can often see a tiny thin sliver of black extending past the end of the yellow, especially with PDF output. It’s tricky to see with this image, but I’ve circled a deliberate example of this in “Step 2” above. If both strokes have round ends, then the black stroke extends all the way around the yellow one, which we don’t want. Having a round cap above the flat cap hides it effectively every time.

Now it’s just a matter of adding all the desired freeway ramps and overpasses, working your way up from lowest in elevation to the highest. You can do this all in one layer if you’re confident in Illustrator, or you can make separate layers for each level as you go up. I thinned my ramps down to 4pt wide, with a 6pt “road edge” stroke behind them. The outside edge of the ramp stroke needs to line up pretty precisely with the outside edge of the freeway stroke below it: this probably takes the most practice to get right on a consistent basis.

You’ll note in the images above that even though the “road edge” stroke should cross over and be visible above the highway that’s on a lower layer, it isn’t. This is my second little trick: I use an opacity mask on the strokes where required to hide parts of them from view.

If you haven’t used opacity masks in Illustrator before, then I highly encourage you to do some research and make them a part of your workflow. Basically, you draw a 100-percent black object that defines the area that you want to be masked, making sure it’s placed above the stroke in the stacking order. Then, select both the stroke and the mask object and click the “Make Mask” button in the Transparency palette (you might also have to uncheck the “Clip” check box to make things show up as you expect).

It’s certainly not as intuitive as masking in Photoshop, but it saves having to shuffle things around layers in an often futile attempt to get them behind some objects while still being in front of others. In the images above, I’ve shown the masks I’ve used for each stroke as a magenta box, just to give an idea of what’s required.

Note: You could also use the simpler Clipping Mask function to achieve the same end result, although here you have to draw a masking object that covers what you want to be visible after masking, not what you want hidden. I personally find it easier to draw a small object over the tiny part I want to hide, rather than a large object that encompasses the rest of the relevant stroke.

We could really call things done after finishing Step 5, but I wanted to give the freeway ramps and overpasses a little more dimensionality and depth. I do this by copying “road edge” strokes where they cross lower layers and then pasting them behind. I cut them using the scissors tool so that I’m only left with the pieces that are required, then I just nudge them a few points directly down the page to give the illusion of depth. These are shown in green in Step 6 above.

Now it’s just a matter of redefining the working global colours for each element to achieve the final look. For this map, that means changing all the road elements to be white, and the “road edge” colour to match the background colour. Beautiful!

October 21, 2014

Soil Map of the United States, from the Atlas of American Agriculture, 1931

High resolution version.

October 21, 2014

Old World countries with a UN Human Development score above 0.8


Here’s the source for the inequality-adjusted human development index and Wikipedia’s definition of the Old World.

October 21, 2014

1966 Soviet map of world ore deposits


I managed to grab this when our department was cleaning out its map collection. This map is huge, four feet by six feet, and is cut into four panels that are glued onto what looks like cheesecloth. I’ve used Word Lens on it and determined that it is a map of world ore/fossil deposits. In the top right it says “Training Map”.

I’ve got some more pictures of it here:

October 21, 2014
Enhanced Shuttle Land Elevation Data (SRTM 30 meters) now in Esri World Elevation Services #ElevationData #NASA#SRTMData #Map Maps #Data #Esri #GIS
October 20, 2014

'A correct map of the United States showing the Union Pacific, the overland route and connections’. Published in 1892.

October 20, 2014

US State Plane Coordinate System Map.

The State Plane Coordinate System (SPS or SPCS) is a set of 124 geographic zones or coordinate systems designed for specific regions of the United States. Each state contains one or more state plane zones, the boundaries of which usually follow county lines. There are 110 zones in the continental US, with 10 more in Alaska, 5 in Hawaii, and one for Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. The system is widely used for geographic data by state and local governments. Its popularity is due to at least two factors. First, it uses a simple Cartesian coordinate system to specify locations rather than a more complex spherical coordinate system (the geographic coordinate system of latitude and longitude). By using the Cartesian coordinate system’s simple XY coordinates, “plane surveying” methods can be used, speeding up and simplifying calculations. Second, the system is highly accurate within each zone (error less than 1:10,000). Outside a specific state plane zone accuracy rapidly declines, thus the system is not useful for regional or national mapping.

October 20, 2014

eCollegeFinder is back with another map series, this time looking at which colleges charge the most for on-campus room and board in each state. We all know how expensive college is these days. From massive tuition fees to costly text books, it really burns a hole in the pocket. Aside from tuition, room and board is usually one of the top expenses for each student. This got us thinking, which colleges charge the most for on-campus living?

October 20, 2014