Target London – Where’s the damn map?

January 15, 2014

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Target London, by Christy Campbell, tells the story of the second London blitz of 1944 by unmanned flying bombs and supersonic rockets.  The story is told in detail – great detail.  In fact, the first half of the 400 pages, before the first V-1/buzzbomb/doodlebug hits England, is at the same time extraordinarily tedious and gripping, narrating as it does the years of intelligence work that preceded the first attacks.  We have a front seat on the bureaucratic infighting, brilliant and difficult personalities, blunders and  intellectual coups transpiring as the British sifted through mountains of intercepted messages, once they had cracked the Enigma codes, of course.

All of this was done before the digital age had dawned, although they did have the essential help of the earliest of computers, which they called “bombes.” All very, very, Ultra secret.  Only a select few were allowed to be “in the picture.

Part of the British intelligence game was not letting the Germans know how much they knew about what the Germans were doing. Giving that game away would prompt the Germans to change methods, tighten up security, adopt different covers, which would then have to be blown again.  There was a lot of deception, misinformation, cover stories, hoaxes, some of which seems to have amused the directors greatly.

When the Germans finally got their V-1 (V for victory and revenge, revenge for the British terror bombings of civilian urban centers) buzzbombs flying into London, the engineers needed accurate information on where they struck. This was essential for evaluating and improving their performance.  Juan Pujol, a London-based Spanish  double-agent under British control was tapped by the Germans to report. They wanted information on bomb strikes plotted on a London map, ruled into squares, a grid.  As Campbell relates:

Juan Pujol, agent Garbo, still had to get the right map on which to plot where the Maikäfer [Maybugs – the German nickname for the V-1] were falling. It was proving a problem. Garbo radioed his control, and bought the Baedeker guide to London from a second-hand bookshop. But Control insisted on the Pharus version. Garbo’s research took him to the British Museum Library, where he found “the only copy in existence. I learn that the German map was edited in 1907 and therefore is very antique indeed. It seems to me very strange that the war plans are worked out in Berlin on such antique maps.”

But now, at least, everyone was working from the same grid.

Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, made the idea of gridded London famous.  In the first part of the story, exactly that type of map – it probably was not a Pharus! – is tacked to the wall of the flat where Teddy Bloat, Tyrone Slothrop, and other servicemen are living during the V-2 assault.  The map shows a strange convergence of data:  Slothrop’s female conquests and the rocket strikes seem oddly congruent.

Ah, yes, if you are not all using the same set of coordinates, your data will be meaningless.  I know about that personally.  Here is the map that the German rocket masters wanted to use – German, of course – and very nice indeed.

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Well, it’s not just German commanders who have some problems with maps:

HOTSPUR: Lord Mortimer, and cousin Glendower, Will you sit down? And uncle Worcester: a plague upon it!

I have forgot the map.

GLENDOWER: No, here it is.

William Shakespeare Henry IV (Part 1)

The British were able to defend against the V-1 to some extent.  Fighters and anti-aircraft guns could shoot some of them down, and their noise and relatively low-speed provided warning to civilians.  The V-2 was a different story.  Here is another peek at a stamp issued late in 1944, I think, that celebrates the launching of the ultimate revenge weapon, the V-2 rocket, against which there was no defense possible.  The image is pure propaganda: rockets ascended vertically and were never launched in such salvos.  Just as British intelligence confused and conflated the flying bomb and the true rocket for a long time, this stamp combines the powerful launch of the V-2 with the slanting trajectory of the V-1, which was shot from a ramp.

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Here is a reconstructed V-1 on a launch ramp.  As you can see, the ramp is light, and easily transported.  The Germans developed portable pre-fab ramps after the Allies started bombing their hardened launch sites.

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The bombing wasn’t all that effective, but it did disrupt testing and perfecting the V-1.  Precision bombing isn’t all that it was cracked up to be in those days, or today.

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The work of building the flying bombs and rockets was moved to a fantastic underground system of factories excavated and manned by slave labor overseen by civilian engineers and managers. Wernher von Braun, later the leader of the American rocket development effort for war and peace, was as undisturbed by these facts as are the suited civilians in second photo below.  These incredible color photos were taken by Walter Frentz, a colleague of  Leni Riefenstahl, apparently as part of propaganda/selling job for the project.  Notice how nicely groomed the slaves are.  Of course, those needed for skilled technical labor stood the best chance of surviving.  More photos and history at this excellent site.

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“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.   

Tom Lehr

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Maps in the News!

March 21, 2011

The grid of streets in Manhattan is celebrating its 200th birthday this week.  The urban grid itself has a much longer history than that, of course, going back at least as far as the Greek settlement in Turkey at Miletus.

Evacuation zones are on the minds of many who are watching developments at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan:  A map of similar zones for NJ was published in several newspapers recently.  An article in today’s Times indicates that these cartographies of danger are more fantasy than reality.  Not in the sense that the dangers are not real, but in that the ‘plans’ associated with the maps are infeasible.

Which leads me back to a more benign example of zones of influence that is similar in form, but different in intent from these buffer zones of horror – personal space.

her fame had spread itself to the very out-edge and circumference of that circle of importance, of which kind every soul living, whether he has shirt on his back or no,-has one surrounding him…But I must here, once for all, inform you, that all this will be more exactly delineated and explained in a map, now in the hands of the engraver, which with many other pieces and developments of this work,will be added to the end of the twentieth volume

from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne


New World Order

June 16, 2010

Circa 1540, a map of the New World.  I saw this at the New York Public Library exhibit on the history of mapping the NYC shoreline.  The same image with coloring is shown below in an image from the University of Houston.  A description of the map from a  dealer follows.

Amazing image!  Looking at this, one understands what that common phrase, The New World, really meant!

An early example of Munster’s map of America, first issued in 1540. The earliest map of all of America and the first to name the Pacific Ocean (Mare Pacificum). It is also one of the earliest depictions of Japan. The depiction of North America is dominated by one of the most dramatic geographic misconceptions to be found on early maps—the so-called Sea of Verrazzano. The Pacific cuts deeply intov into North America so that the part of the coastline at this point is a narrow isthmus between two oceans. This was the result of Verrazzano mistaking the waters to the west of the Outer Banks, the long barrier islands along North Carolina as the Pacific. The division of the New World between Spain and Portugal Spain and Portugal is recognized on the map by the Castille and Leon flag planted in Puerto Rico, here called Sciana.


Hey, man! That’s cool.

January 15, 2009

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Things aren’t looking too hot here in the USA for 2008.

Read more here at the excellent post on climate science, Watt’s Up with That?


USA by the numbers

September 12, 2008

Where is everyone?  Crowded on your doorstep if you believe the group NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to reducing all immigration, even legal immigration.  (I heard about them from this NPR story.)  Whatever their real reasons for opposing immigration may be – misanthropy, nostalgia, bigotry, fear of change – their argument about environmental degradation in the USA is a lot of hooey.  The biggest problem with our treatment of the natural world here in the US of A is our history of gobbling up space as if there’s no tomorrow!  Consider these maps:

This is a map of the population density (people per square mile) in the lower 48 with 2004 Census data.  Note that nearly all of the land is settled at the lowest density on the map, less than 250 people per square mile.  (Much of it is at much less than that!)  The high concentrations are where the cities are.  If we weren’t so violently opposed to city life…

“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts; but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere; and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue and freedom, would be my choice.”

–Thank you, Thomas Jefferson!

…perhaps we would concentrate our citizens there and leave the rest of the continent as a garden.  Even in those diseased parts of the nation that are highly urban, the density is not nearly so great as what is common in the rest of the world.  Consider this next map of the metro area around New York City.

Note how the higher density areas are relatively small, and are almost all within the five boroughs of NYC.  The area to the northeast of Manhattan, Bergen County, NJ, is one of the most densely populated regions of the country, but it is settled at about 2500 per square mile.  As I like to say, the USA is mostly unpopulated empty space.  To put these figures in world perspective, consider this chart:

 This graph shows many data items and has two axes.  The black curve on the top (refer to left axis) shows that about 97% of the USA population lives on only 50% of its land.  80% of the population lives on about 7% of the land.  (15% of the population lives within 50 miles of I-95 between Boston and Washington, DC.) 

The blue curve refers to the right axis, and shows that 90% of the land is settled at densities so low that they barely register on the axis. 

Manhattan, our most densely populated place, is only twice as dense as ALL of Bangladesh.  If you factor in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island, NY City is about as dense as ALL of Japan.  Many world cities are much denser than American ones as few cities in the USA even approach the density of NYC, let alone Manhattan! 

The horizontal dashed lines show the densities of some modernized countries – clearly people are crammed in – comfortably from what I’ve seen and heard – at rates that far exceed what we have here in the USA.

So, if we want to pave over the USA and have everyone live in a McMansion, then maybe we should cut back on our immigration and population growth.  If we want to use resources wisely, I don’t see anything to worry about.


Red = Menace

February 28, 2008

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So much for the “yellow peril.” It was red all over. During the Cold War, we were used to seeing lots of red ink spilled across maps, portending the onslaught of the communist hordes from the east. You can check out this post at strangemaps that adds some “perspective” to the Red Menace.

Here, I’m talking about a different sort of red, the type that signals danger, alert, alarm, something bad happening! Color is used in maps for all sorts of reasons, including just making them easier to read, but often, in “thematic maps,” i.e., maps that convey information and data about a particular topic, the colors are related to a scale of values that is described in a key, or legend. The image below is from a recent article in the New York Times Science section about the mapping of the impact of humans on the oceans of the world. This map shows the distribution of shipping lanes over the seas.

nytimes_shipping_map.jpg Link to original article.

Notice that red is the highest value, i.e., “most impact.” Clearly, that’s bad, isn’t it? But…how are we to know? Compared to what? Maybe it’s all horrible. Maybe none of it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that’s true, but the map doesn’t illuminate this point, while it does give the clear impression, with all that red splotched around, that humans are just mucking up the oceans everywhere!

Well, not quite everywhere – the southern hemisphere looks okay. What if we had chosen a projection of the earth like this one? The effect would be quite different, less alarming, less informative?

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Maps tell stories, and the mapmaker decides what to emphasize and what to downplay…suppress. Color and cartographic projection are part of that storytelling. No problem here, except that for some reason, people tend, I think, to regard maps as purely scientific documents that are totally precise and objective.

One could see the map in the NYTimes, and the others to be found at that link, as part of a sustained effort to propagandize for the view that the earth is fragile, in need of support and tender care, and that the cause of the problem is the brutish, unthinking behavior of stupid, destructive humans. Is this a true story or a myth?


Odd Maps

December 4, 2007

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Maps are part of my business – I make them with computers using geographic information system (GIS) applications. On occasion, I cannot resist buying some old scraps of paper with interesting maps on them. I have a particular fondness for maps that don’t show much of anything. The one on the left here (click on the thumbnails to enlarge them) is a genuine United States Geological Survey (USGS) quadrangle that has nothing but water! I like to say that it’s the most accurate map in the world because it conveys virtually no information. If you wish to avoid error, say nothing.

The quad is similar to another map, more whimsical, that is shown at the wonderful blog, Strange Maps, where you can find all things weird, funny, and cartographic. The map I have in mind is from Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark. Go take a look around – you’ll never look at maps the same way again.

The middle map I have here is an 18th century chart of part of Mongolia, and, of course, there’s not too much on it either. Makes you wonder what use is was to anyone. The image to its right shows the area of the map superimposed (dark polygon) on a modern map of Asia. Quite a big area to wonder through with only that as your guide! Such was life before MapQuest and Google Earth.

Finally, once again, we have James Gillray. This is not the only image he did that involves massive deployment of turds, animal or human. And it is not the only anthropomorphic map he did either, but it is one of the best of both. Believe it or not, it is not the most unflattering portrait of George III he did. After all, here George is heroically defending the British against an invasion by Boney, and the joke is mostly on the French. Was this where Monty Python got their line (for the French) “I fart in your general direction!”