Though he never actually crossed it, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras is sometimes credited with having first conceived of the Equator, calculating its location on the Earth’s sphere more than four centuries before the birth of Christ. Aristotle, who never stepped over it either and knew nothing about the landscape surrounding it, pictured the equatorial region as a land so hot that no one could survive there: the ‘Torrid Zone’.
Medieval Christian mapmakers, familiar only with a small corner of the planet, worked within strict horizons that were fixed by the Church’s interpretation of the Bible. Their Earth was flat. First created in the 7th century, the Christian orbis terrarum (circle of the Earth) maps, known for visual reasons as ‘T-and-O’ maps, included only the northern hemisphere.
This medieval argument was still rumbling on when Columbus first sailed southwest from Spain to the ‘Indies’ in 1492. Columbus, who had seen sub-Saharans in Portuguese ports in west Africa, disagreed with the Church: he claimed that the Torrid Zone was ‘not uninhabitable’. Columbus’s eventual ‘discovery’ of America stretched the horizons of the European mind. The Equator was gradually reimagined: no longer the extreme limit of humanity, a geographical hell on Earth, it became simply the middle of the Earth.
Busloads of tourists flock to the place to witness firsthand the ‘unique forces at play’ on the Equator, which is indicated by a red line that cuts through the middle of the museum.
What ‘unique forces’ are at play, then? The velocity of the Earth’s rotation varies depending on where you stand: 1,000 mph at the Equator versus almost zero at the poles. That means that the fastest sunrises and sunsets on the planet occur on the Equator, and centrifugal and inertial forces are also much greater there. Together, they produce what is known as the Coriolis effect, which largely determines the direction of weather systems, ocean currents, the east-west path of hurricanes, and the fact that tornados spin in opposite directions on each side of the Equator (it is not enough, however, to alter the equilibrium of eggs on a nail or the spiral of a gallon of water in a sink).
Because of these same centrifugal forces, the Earth’s diameter at the Equator is approximately 27 miles (43 km) greater than from pole to pole. Instead of a sphere, our planet is shaped like an M&M (or, asNew Scientist claimed in 2011, like a lumpy potato). The extra distance from the Earth’s core means that gravity is weaker at the Equator: about 0.6 per cent weaker than at the poles. And the equatorial bulge means that the Earth’s highest point, when measured by the distance from its core (rather than sea level), is not the peak of Mount Everest but that of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.
Cobo on the line of the Equator at the giant Quitsato sundial. Photo by Kurt Hollander
Cristóbal Cobo, a deep-voiced outdoorsman in his late 40s and self-taught Ecuadorian astronomer, anthropologist and geographer, used to make frequent visits from his native Quito to the mountain range 10 miles to the north to go hang-gliding. His solo flights gave him a bird’s-eye-view of the area, while his use of GPS technology, GoogleEarth and Stellarium helped him to track the line of the Equator throughout the region.
In particular, Cobo has problems with the direction that mapmaking has taken. In 150AD, Ptolemy drew the first world map with north placed firmly at the top. This orientation has become the standard one for maps everywhere. The preeminence of north derives from the use of Polaris, also known as the North Star, as the guiding light for sailors. Yet Polaris, or any other star for that matter, is not a fixed point. Because of the Sun and Moon’s gravitational attraction, the Earth actually moves like a wobbling top. This wobble, known to astronomers as the precession of the Equator, represents a cyclical shift in the Earth’s axis of rotation. It makes the stars seem to migrate across the sky at the rate of about one degree every 72 years. This gradual shift means that Polaris will eventually cease to be viewed as the North Star, and sailors will have to orient themselves by other means.
According to Cobo, the best point that we can use to orient ourselves is the Sun rising in the east above the Equator. As he points out, the very word orientation comes from the Latin oriens, which means east, or sunrise, while ‘disorient’ means losing direction, losing one’s way or, literally, losing the east. In Western culture, north is used to determine all other directions, yet the origin of the word itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European prefix ner-, which means down or under, but also left, and was commonly used as ‘left when facing the rising Sun’. Thus, in order to determine north, one needs to know the direction east.
In 1569, the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, the first to mass-produce Earth and star globes, devised a system for projecting the round Earth onto a flat sheet of paper. His ‘new and augmented description of Earth corrected for the use of sailors’ made the Earth the same width at the Equator and the poles, thus distorting the size of the continents. Although Mercator created his projection (still used today in almost all world maps) for navigation purposes, his scheme led to a bloated sense of self for the northern countries, located at the top of the map, while diminishing the southern hemisphere’s sense of size and importance.
The positioning of the northern above the southern hemisphere, and the distortion of their true size on most maps, has divided the globe into simplistic binary oppositions: First versus Third World; civilised versus primitive; developed versus underdeveloped countries. In fact, it would make more sense to divide the world into Aristotle’s Temperate, Torrid and Frigid zones, for it is not the southern hemisphere that has the greatest concentration of poverty, but rather the equatorial region.
From the beginning, more than being purely representations of the physical world, maps have been projections of man’s sense of self-importance onto the space around him. They have often been influenced by imperial or religious interests, props to the privileged status of certain cultures. Cobo believes that many of the geopolitical, ideological and economic hierarchies that shape our vision of the world would ‘disappear’ if the globe were laid on its side and all maps were rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, putting the east on top of the world and north with south spread out on either side of the Equator.
It is true that in space, directions don’t exist. On Earth, however, east is our most universal orientation. One loses sight of the southern celestial hemisphere when facing north, and it is only by gazing east that one can see both the northern and southern constellations simultaneously as the stars pass by overhead. As our planet hurtles through space, whipping around on its axis, the wind, the Sun and the stars, but also time and the future, approach us from the east. There is nowhere we can better appreciate the movement of the skies, better understand our place in the universe, than when we stand on the line that wraps around the middle of the Earth and watch the heavens streaming towards us.
This article has been excerpted with permission from Aeon Magazine. To read in its entirety, head here.
Aeon is a new digital magazine of ideas and culture, publishing an original essay every weekday. It sets out to invigorate conversations about worldviews, commissioning fine writers in a range of genres, including memoir, science and social reportage.
New look, new features for Google's mobile mapping software
At the Google I/O keynote in San Francisco, Google showed a sneak peek at the "next major version" of Google Maps for Android. Visually, it looks a lot like the iPhone Google Maps app, with a big search bar front and center, and re-vamped, smoother graphics. There's also a new Zagat experience built-in, with a new five-point rating scheme. Google Offers are now built into the app too, allowing offers to be saved directly from the Maps app.
The tablet maps UI has been overhauled too, with a UI tweaked to take advantage of the additional screen realestate. And in big news for iOS, there's finally a dedicated iPad app for Google Maps.
The company also showed off a re-vamped version of Google Maps on the web, with WebGL-based vector graphics as standard, and a bigger focus on search, through a large search bar at the top of the screen. There's been a complete UI overhaul too, designed to make features like navigation and public transit directions easier to use. For the first time, Google Earth-like 3D imagery is included in Maps on the web, too.
The new Google Maps experience for Android is due to launch "this summer."
Google announced a new version of Maps for Android, iOS, and the web today, with a new look and a focus on location discovery.
Well, it's here at last, Google's annual orgy for developers and fanboys alike. Rumors have been flying
We've got a wishlist for everything we're hoping
REFRESH FOR UPDATES
According to Google's Sundar Pichai, in 2011, Android was at 100 million activations. In 2012, it was at 400 million. In 2013, we're looking at a mind-boggling 900 million activations. We're also looking at 48 billion app installs. That's more growth than the goiter on my grandma's neck.
We're diving right in to Android here. Google Play services, a series of APIs for app developers, is getting a hearty update today. Today Google is launching three new APIs for location. The first will provide faster, more accurate location spotting, but at a fraction of the battery life. It will also offer geofencing, and use sensors to determine when you're driving, walking, or biking. This should really boost the calibre of third party apps that use location services. (Check out our deeper dive on the new Maps features.)
Play services are also now going to support cross-platform single sign on. So if you sign on to, say, a Yelp app within Chrome, you'll also be signed in on your phone and tablet as soon as you install the app. Pretty slick. There's also a new API that will synchronize notifications between your devices. So if you dismiss a notification on your phone, it'll be dismissed on your tablet, too. This is a very, very good thing. All that redundancy has been really annoying.
They're also introducing Google Play game services. The first bit of awesome in that is Cloud save. If you get to level three some game on your phone, when you open up the game on your tablet, you'll be all set to pay level four. Very cool. There will also be synced leader boards, if you're the competitive type. These will work across Android and iOS games, so you can play against your friends whatever they use.
Play game services, will also include the Play Game Server, which is also going to let friends on separate devices play head to head in real time. They attempted to demo this on Riptide II, but unfortunately it fall down go boom. Not the best networking environment here, to be fair. (For more on games, check here.)
I'm So Glad I'm a Beta
The Play Store just created a way for developers to take beta testers directly through the store. That means, if you're into beta-testing, you no longer have to side-load apps onto your device. And for the developers, they can get feedback without all the early (bad) reviews screwing up the app's rating once it finally comes out of beta. We're not exactly sure how one becomes a beta tester, but it seems like you'll have to be invited by the specific developer. Pretty neat.
Google Play Music All-Access
Google's rumored Spotify competitor is real, and it's called All-Access. As soon as you start using it, it starts learning your preferences. You have access to everything in the play store. You pick a song, and can instantly create a station based on it, a la Pandora, but with much more control. You'll see the whole playlist ahead of you. You can swipe away tracks you don't want to hear, and you can re-order them at will.
There's also Listen Now. Listen now is basically a collection of stations from your own personal library of music you've uploaded to Play Music, and also of stations that All-Access has created for you automatically. It's basically a fast way to get to music you'll like. It's basically Google's library blended with your own.
All-Access is launching today for $10 a month, but if you sign up before June 30th, it'll be a couple bucks cheaper. There's also a free 30-day trial for everyone, and it's live right now and rather lovely, so check it out. (For more info on All-Access, peep this.)
A Galaxy S4 Running Stock Android
Whoa nelly! For a million years we've been asking for a way to disable skins. Google is showing a Samsung Galaxy S4 running a stock version of Android 4.2. It will also be getting all Android OS updates "promptly"— one would assume as fast as a Nexus device. This. Is. Awesome. Google will be selling this phone directly, with an unlocked bootloader. It'll be on sale from Google Play on June 26th for only... $650!? Ouch. But still, for those of us who've always wanted that hardware, but without Samsung's super heavy, unwieldy skin, this is a pretty big deal. The updated Play Music app can be downloaded from the Play Store now, and it looks terrific. (For more info on the stock S4, click here.)
"The same capabilities that you're used to using for Chrome on a desktop, are going to be coming to Chrome on Android," says Sundar Pichai. Thanks to WebGL and web audio API's you're going to start seeing some pretty impressive web experiences, including games and rich interactive environments that were typically limited to the desktop experience. That's going to be especially sweet on a tablet.
Better Web Imaging
Google took a moment to show off WebP images. The quality was indistinguishable from JPEG, but it was about two-thirds the size. That's the kind of thing that will save you if you're mobile browsing. Not only will it boost the load time on websites, but it will help you not go over your data if don't have an unlimited plan. And, joy of joys, WebP supports animated images. Take that, GIF!
On the video side, they touted the benefits of VP9, which they say has the same quality of h.264, but comes in at less than half the size. Neato.
Google found that when it comes to shopping on your phone, the percent of people who get to a purchase screen and then jump ship was in the high nineties! Ouch. To combat that, they're releasing updated shopping APIs that websites will be able to simply integrate that will take Android/Chrome users to a streamlined checkout process, complete with autofilled information. Looks pretty smooth.
Android in Education
Google is about to go heavy on education, basically creating a whole subsection of the Play Store for educators. It will be sorted by subject and level. Say a teachers wants all 500 kindergarten students in a district to be working on the same app. The administrator can simple click the app they want, order 500 copies, and it will go to all 500 tablets (or Chromebooks) that those kids are using, instantly. It makes it really easy to buy in bulk, and there will be reviews from other educators.
I know, I know. Where will these thousands of tablets for kids come from? Well, there are already thousands of Chromebooks being used in schools. They've been rolling out both in the U.S. and in places like Malaysia. In fact they're in over 10,000 schools, and considering how cheap Chromebooks and tablets like the Nexus 7 are compared to full computers, we expect this trend to continue.
Google Play for Education will be rolling out in the fall. In the mean time you can learn more about it here
Google is introducing 41 new Google+ features today. Holy crap.
First, there's going to be a major redesign. It kind of looks a little more like Google Now. It's a really good-looking multi-column design, and it's width will scale depending on what device you use. You can also choose to just do one column if you want. It's full of animations, where cards slide, flip, and fade. Normally we don't go for that kind of thing, but it actually looks fantastic.
Google is also adding a layer of depth to make hashtags smarter. Not only will clicking on a post about, say, the Eiffel Tower, take you to other posts about the Eiffel Tower, but you don't even have to hashtag it yourself. It can do image analysis, recognize the tower, and hashtag it automatically. Pretty nuts, though obviously that won't work for everything.
Googles long-rumored revamped chat app previously rumored to be called Babel
Google+ announced earlier this week that in addition to unlimited backup of all your standard sized photos, it will now give you 15GB of storage for full sized images. This is rather cool. They're also introducing an analysis algorithm to create a highlight reel of your photos. It'll check all your photos in album for blurriness, smiles, and dozens of other criteria (taught to it by hundreds of actual human photographers), and create a highlight reel. It can even recognize your wife or kid and make sure some photos of them into the real. Which is cool, and also kinda scary.
It's also introducing an "auto-enhance" feature that will instantly adjust tonal distribution, red-eye, vignetting, skin softening, noise reduction, and a ton of other criteria to theoretically improve your photo with a single click. In the demo, it does indeed look to make dramatic improvements, but we're a wee bit skeptical about how well this will work in real life. But maybe if you're really, really crunched for time it'll help.
There's also an "Auto Awesome" mode. If you take a burst of photos, it will make an animated gif out of them. If you take a series of shots, and someone is smiling in one but not in another, it can make a composite image (similar to what the Galaxy S4 can do, but you don't have to activate that setting first, which is nice). It can also do HDR, and auto-stitch panoramic photos. Fun stuff. For more on the new photo stuff, snap this. For more on the new photo stuff, snap this.
Knowledge Graph—Google's service that answers your questions directly when you ask them, rather than sending you to the web—is about to get smarter. Not only does it answer the question you asked, but it'll predict the next question you might have. So if you ask for the population of India, it'll show you that and compare it to the population of the U.S.
Knowledge Graph will also work a bit like a manual Google Now now. So if you want your upcoming flight info, or dinner reservation, you can just ask for it (in case the card isn't already there).
The big news here is that conversational search is coming to Chrome and Chrome OS. You won't even have to click the mic to search. You can sit back, relax, and say, "Okay Google..." then ask your question. It worked flawlessly in the demo, perfectly understanding context, even words like "it" and "here". It knew your location, and was able to give incredibly detailed answers to very specific questions. It's the next level we've been hoping for.
Google Now will now support reminders, which is pretty awesome. You can set the reminder to go off at a certain time or when you get to a certain location. All via voice. It was extremely intuitive and had a very clean layout. Google Now will also capable of sending emails via voice ("Email Barry, Why are my pants on backwards?") and provide a lot of contextual info "Show pictures from my Costa Rica vacation last year.") It's also adding cards for TV shows, video games, and more.
These features will be available today for people in the Search Field Trial, and should be rolling out to everybody soon. It wasn't 100 percent clear which part is rolling out when. Very exciting stuff, though. The new Search app can be downloaded now from the Play store now. For more on the new Search updates, click here.
Maps for Mobile
Coming soon to Android and iOS, the mobile Maps app is getting a big refresh. It's more of a full-screen experience. It's really uncluttered, and gives the map the focus. If you're searching for something like a specific cuisine, the list of locations you'll get are paired down and easier to read. You can swipe between different results and get the skinny on each of them. There's a 5 star user rating system now that will be integrated across Google search, and Zagat scores/review are incorporated where available. Offers are going to be integrated right into the Maps results now. They've partnered with a bunch of companies already (including Starbucks) and will be announcing more soon.
Navigation is getting a major boost, including incidents and dynamic rerouting! This is one of the features we've been dying for. It'll let you know if there's an accident ahead in your route, and it'll automatically reroute you around it. Finally!
There's also more emphasis on location-aware discovery. Finding things around you (restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.) is a more visually rich and intuitive experience. We're looking forward to seeing how good the results are.
Finally, Google Maps on desktop is getting a major overhaul. You can see all of the relevant pinpoints at once. A simple click will open up a Google Now-like card for the restaurant with relevant info. Another click will zoom right in to the interior of it, with photos or StreetView if available. The maps are vector based and scale quickly and cleanly.
It's also more customized for the specific user. If you're logged in, places you've been (or rated) will have a permanent place there. If your friend is logged in, he'll have his special places and yours will be gone. If you're looking for directions to a place, the map will make sure the street names you need are clearly visible, which wasn't the case before (you'd have to zoom way in). It's basically a more personalized map, and it actually looks really nice.
The new directions interface looks absolutely fantastic, too, giving you very clear visual info on the duration of different routes. The 3D aerial view has been further refined, making it way more life like. Those changes were applied to the 3D Photo Tour, as well, which is powered by user submitted photos. Nexus users that can take PhotoSphere shots and add them to these maps as well, to create and enhance the interior 3D views of places.
Oh, and if you pull way out for a full view of Earth, the clouds you see are where they are in real time. That is frigging amazing. Pull back even further, and you see which part of the earth is lit up, where it is relation to the Sun, and even the Milky Way's stars are right where they should be. Madness.
And that's it! Be sure to check out our deeper dives on all of these tentpoles.
[Camera equipment provided by borrowlenses.com]
New Yorkers have spent the past four hundred years changing the coastal island they call home. It’s easy to forget (or not even realize) that Manhattan—or Mannahatta—was once a thin, marshy outcropping that protected the mainland from the ocean.
But a recent look at the earliest known map of New Amsterdam reminds us: you don’t get to eight million inhabitants without making a few landfills. Ellis Island? Built on landfill, in part. Rikers too. FDR Drive, the World Financial Center, and Battery Park City: yep, they’re all sitting on piles of dirt and trash. In fact, it’s remarkable the East River still exists—a plan from 1911 proposed infilling the river (and parts of the harbor) to reclaim fifty square miles of land.
Manhattan's topography—real and artificial—reentered public consciousness late last year, after Hurricane Sandy submerged parts of Lower Manhattan. Some engineers think it’s time to expand the shoreline even further to create “soft edges” to absorb the impact of the storm surge—a strange return to the city’s earliest incarnation as a marshland. As politicians and advocates are suddenly refocusing on the waterfront, the map is liable to change yet again—only this time, it'll be to repair and fortify the city against coming storms.
Curious to compare maps of yore to the Manhattan of today, we dug into some online archives. The GIF above begins with a map drawn in 1776 and ends with a 2004 rendition. What happened in between? This:
The Castello map is the earliest known map of the city, dating back to 1660. Wall Street was the single fortified road, while everything north of Canal was either wild or farmland. Only thirty years later, the city began its first artificial infill project: the construction of new piers along its banks.
The storied Ratzer Map, from 1770, was the subject of a long New York Times profile last year. There are only three in existence, and it's important because it shows us—in great detail—how Manhattan looked just before urbanization took hold. For example, check out Greenpoint, in Brooklyn—it was named Greenpoint because it supplied most of the growing city's produce.
A map of Manhattan in 1776, drawn by Bien and Johnson in 1878, shows the city's defenses against the British (insufficient, obviously).
William Bridges’ map of Manhattan, from 1814, shows inklings of the modern city. "Notice the Empire State Building at 34th Street and 5th Avenue," explain the writers at the Great American Grid. "At the time this map was originally drawn, that area of town was inhabited mostly by squatters, pigs, trees, and hills. The city commissioners had no idea the Empire State Building–let alone elevators, steel, or a city population of 7 million–was just over 100 years away."
This steel-engraved map by J. H. Colton, from 1836, is an interesting layering of the street grid with the old topography of pre-urban Manhattan. This was a time of explosive growth: as demand for land grew, the city began selling “water lots” along the shore, where daring entrepreneurs could create their own plots. Sometimes, engineers would sink entire ships to create a solid foundation for landfill. [Image Via Codex99].
By 1900, the original footprint of the city had expanded outwards by almost 1,000 feet on each side. This 1904 map shows us dozens of streetcar routes around the city—a vestige of public transportation long forgotten.
Manhattan in 1946 is bustling with the post-War economic boom. East River Drive (later, FDR Drive) was built along its eastern edge, which required thousands of tons of landfill. Most of the city’s public housing plots—the ones that flooded during Hurricane Sandy—were built on land created during this era.
A map that probably hails from the late 60s or early 70s shows us a close approximation to the Manhattan we know today. As the city’s economy shifted away from manufacturing, the demand for new land lessened. And in 1972, when construction started on the World Trade Center, the question of what to do with the excavated soil arose. The solution? Truck it down to the tip of the island to create Battery Park City.
And then, of course, there's the city we know today.
So tell us: what maps are we missing? Have any fascinating documents from your own city? Post 'em in the comments!
iOS: Google Maps is a fantastic app to help you get around, but sometimes you need to get a better idea of where you're going. To do that, you can swipe the navigation banner to get a preview of upcoming turns.
Buckminster Fuller applied his patented Dymaxion brand to all sorts of objects over the course of his career, from cars to buildings to entire cities. But one of the most useful and enduring applications? The Dymaxion World map, which unfolds the earth into a long string of shapes, like a carefully peeled orange.
2013 marks the map’s 70th birthday, and to celebrate, the Brooklyn-based Buckminster Fuller Institute launched Dymax Redux, competition to redesign updated versions of the map. The winners will be unveiled sometime this fall, but in the meantime, it's worth taking a look back at some of the awesomely tessellated Dymaxion spinoffs that already exist.
First, a bit of background. What makes the Dymaxion World map so enduring? It’s a brilliant mathematical object. Fuller’s projection bears far less distortion than other flat maps, like the Mercator projection or the Peters projection, and it divides up the globe into a contiguous surface without dividing any of its land masses. Because it isn’t a traditional “shadow” projection it’s not distorted on one axis or another, so you can read it from any orientation and rearrange its contents in any number of ways.
But it’s the Dymaxion’s distinctly optimistic point of view that makes it so unique. Patented at the end of World War II, it shows us all seven continents as a single archipelago, or "one island in one ocean.” It took him decades of tinkering to figure out the right projection, but it was important to him that we see the earth as a single, interconnected network. “For the layman, engrossed in belated, war-taught lessons in geography, the Dymaxion World map is a means by which he can see the whole world fairly and all at once,” explained LIFE magazine when it published the map in 1943. The writers at LIFE also found a way to rearrange the map to articulate a bit of wartime racism against Japan: "The ruthless logic of Jap imperialism is exposed by this layout,” the editors continued. “Their thinking strikes an obvious contrast to the landlubber geopolitics of their German allies.” Well then!
Fuller probably disapproved of the way LIFE twisted his map into something aggressive, but that’s a perfect example of how maps can become socio-political weapons—and why he thought we needed to retool them. Fuller intended the Dymaxion World map to serve as a tool for communication and collaboration between nations. “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them,” he famously said. “Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”
Did the map lead to a new world order? Not exactly—but did lead to a revolution in mapping. More about Dymax Redux is here, but in the meantime, check out eight other interesting applications of Fuller's projection below.
A printable version of Fuller's "Airocean" World map that includes assembly instructions.
The Cryosphere, or a map of the world map arranged based on ice, snow, glaciers, permafrost and ice sheets, by Nordphil.
A map showing the distribution of 259 "critical infrastructures" in energy, agriculture, banking and finance, drinking water and other systems, via Domus.
Flight routes of the Dubai-based airline, Emirates, mapped using Fuller's projection. Via Axismaps.
Rehabstudio's Googlespiel, an interactive Dymaxion map built at Google Developer Day 2011.
A page from Nicholas Felton's Feltron Annual Report, showing the designer's travels over the course of 2008.
Lead image: Buckminster Fuller and Chuck Byrne, Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map, 1981, courtesy of the Buckminster Fuller Institute.