Flatten the world

Squaring the circle is hard, but it’s nothing compared to the problem of flattening the globe. We like flat maps, but any map of a sphere is going to cause major distortions one way or another. So the map you like tends to be the one that distorts the stuff you care about least. Maybe you want to preserve the areas of the land masses or the great circle distance between points. That’s all good so far as it goes. But there’s a problem: map projections are a drug. They induce obsessive behavior among their users. They multiply beyond necessity and fragment into a fetishistic and surreal cornucopia. Beware!

Oh sure, you start off with a well-intentioned disdain of the old-school Mercator. Then you roll a few of Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion Icosohedrals and chase it with a Rhombicuboctahedral. No harm done. You could stop. But soon you’re into the heavy stuff. Wiechel’s Modified Azimuthal Projection is just a gateway to a Stabius-Werner Cordiform Pseudoconic. Your lust for exotic creatures like Peirce’s glorious Quincunx are matched only by your ability to end conversations and empty rooms with impromptu lectures on Mollweide’s wicked homolographic compromise. Where will it end?

Today it will end with a lovely movie courtesy of New Scientist on some recent research into algorithmically generated arbitrary interrupted maps. Behold van Wijk’s Myriahedral projection!


Oh Lord, keep me away from Carlos Furuti’s lovely cartography site.

4 thoughts on “Flatten the world”

  1. This reminds me of my ongoing feud with my kids over the existence of a Southern Ocean. According to “the Powers that Be,” the Southern Ocean comprises the vast swath of water stretching across the bottom of the world, so obvious on any Mercator map, such as Google Earth or the NOAA map. Of course, those vanishingly few of us who still use atlases or actual globes point out that the Southern Ocean has a bloody great continent right in the middle of it!

  2. Good point! And from the looks of it they got some nice beachfront property on that Southern Ocean. I always wanted to retire to a nice beach down south…

  3. Great. Just remember whose fault it is when I end up cartographed out of my mind in some Thai Atlas den.

  4. oh my, map projections really are a drug. what a treasuretrove! I’m about to go on a tall ship – I hope to question the navigator on their projections and what maps they use to cross the oceans. (bet the answer is: just use GPS, silly)

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