More Unusual Calendar Designs



As a sequel to the popular 2014 post “The Flow of Time and Calendar Design”, I wanted to share a few more unusual calendar designs that intrepid artists have created.  Calendars help us to visualize and organize our day-to-day lives, and these unique designs all serve a purpose in encouraging us to see time differently.  Sure, 2015 is already half over, but it’s not too early to start thinking about 2016.

Cats Let Nothing Darken Their Roar

Cats Let Nothing Darken Their Roar, via

This Finish calendar is now in its 10th year.  It follows the traditional design, except for the fact that two weeks, rather than one, are placed in each row.  The letters for each month are spelled out by a phrase that changes every year.  In 2015, they recycled the 2006 phrase for January: Jaws, Nuts and a Diary.  The name of the calendar itself, Cats Let Nothing Darken Their Roar, spells out “calendar” if you take a few of the letters from the first four words.

The Calendar Dodecahedron

This calendar you can hold in your hand, as each of its 12 sides represents a different month. It makes for a colorful desk accessory and does not take up much space.  Switching between months is relatively easy compared to flipping pages on a standard desk calendar.  However, it is not nearly as practical, with little room to write events on the dates.

The Keyboard Calendar

By Harald Geisler, via Art at Heart (

By Harald Geisler, via Art at Heart (

The keys from a computer keyboard are the main ingredients for the above calendar.  From a distance, it is a mismatch of faded colors and black marks.  Look closer, and you will say months, days of the week, and numbers.  The image above begins with Friday the 2nd, followed by Saturday the 3rd, etc.  Once again, this is not the most practical way to organize your schedule, but it does give you an interesting image to ponder.  When your entire year is represented by a collection of keyboard keys, it seems to change one’s outlook on time itself.  Perhaps each day is simply a key waiting to be tapped?

Ink Calendar

In this most unusual calendar, a bottle of very slow-moving ink is spilled at the beginning of the month and gradually fills in the month’s days in embossed paper.  It takes 24 hours for each day to fill in with ink.  I love the fact that this calendar keeps current on its own, and the flow of time is illuminated so tangibly.

Circular Calendar

The entire year is again represented in one image, but this time it flows in a circular direction.  The outside ring lists each month, and the next inside ring contains each day in that month.  The most prominent feature is the giant yellow circle in the middle, representing the sun.  Its position on a given day indicates the hours of daylight, which is why the sun is closer to the outside rings in the summer months.

Map Calendar

Of course I had to find a calendar which was also a map!  This July 2013 desktop wallpaper calendar features a map which perfectly captures what July represents in the popular imagination: picnics, popsicles, and fans for cooling down.  Time is the 4th dimension, after all, so it is only fitting that this dimension should be mapped accordingly.

Hope you all enjoyed the calendars, and let me know if you’ve seen any other interesting designs which I may have missed!

What’s Your Favorite Map Projection? Here’s What It Says about You


, ,

There are many ways to handle the challenge of depicting the three-dimensional Earth on a two-dimensional map.  Each has its advantages and drawbacks, such as distortions in the size and shape of landmasses.  I think a simple Robinson or Winkel-Tripel projection does a fine job, but others would argue that any rectangular shape is inherently illogical.  For these deep thinkers, we have the Dymaxion or Goode Homolosine.  The most unusual one of all, the Waterman Butterfly projection, may actually be the most accurate, at least according to its creator Steve Waterman.  But I still find it incredibly disorienting and hard to use.

One of the most intelligent and hilarious webcomics, xkcd, created the below graphic to explain what your favorite map projection says about you.  The Theory of Knowledge blog brought this to my attention, and it tickled me in just the right way.

Exploring Earthsea

Fantasy is so captivating for so many people because it promises a world very different from our own.  Fictional worlds have magic, mystery, and dragons, not to mention a greater sense of danger and adventure than our own current-day planet Earth.  Stepping into Middle Earth, or Narnia, or Westeros, is exciting because we are experiencing completely alien and unpredictable.

And yet, most fantasy worlds end up repeating the same tired tropes.  For example, the geography and climate strongly resemble medieval Europe and the main characters are usually light-skinned.  This blog has already pointed out how most fantasy world maps are left-justified, with the ocean to the west, because writers are consciously or unconsciously basing their landmass on Europe.  Writers write what they know, after all, and most fantasy authors are European or American.  But extra credit is due to writers who break out of this mold and create something truly unique.

That’s where Earthsea comes in.

Map of Earthsea, originally created by Ursula K. Le Guin, redrawn by Liam Davis (via

Earthsea is the setting of the Earthsea series of fantasy novels by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin.  Beginning with 1968’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Le Guin set out to build a universe which subverted all the typical tropes.  I have not read her series yet, but based solely on the world map above, I would have to say it appears that she succeeded.

There are no major continents on Earthsea, just an assortment of numerous small islands, the largest of which, Havnor, is about the size of Great Britain, but does not resemble it in shape.  The defining feature of Earthsea is not the land, but the water, which surrounds all the islands and stretches in all directions.  The people that live in Earthsea are, by and large, red-brown in coloring, unlike most of the denizens of other fantasy universes.  Le Guin even employs a Taoist philosophy to underpins Earthsea’s treatment of magic; the usage of magic is good when it is in balance with the natural world, and bad when it upsets that balance.

Earthsea reminds me of other worlds which came after, such as the world from the video game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which was released in 2003.

Map of the World in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, by Deviant Art user YoshisGhost (via

When the game first came out, many long-time Zelda fans were very skeptical if not outright hostile to the idea of a world where Link had to travel by boat from island to island.  It broke with the series’ structure of using a horse to travel between locations in a world reminiscent of a traditional fantasy novel.  However, players gradually warmed up to it, and now the game is often praised as one of the best in the series for upending the standard tropes and trying something different.  It seems to me that the Earthsea series did just that, only several decades earlier.  I hope that more fantasy writers, and videogame designers, follows these examples in being more creative with worldbuilding in the future.

Happy mapping!

The Amazing Expanding United States


, , , ,

It’s Independence Day weekend here in the US, so I’ll have just a short post today, because everyone should be outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

In honor of America’s 239 years of independence, let’s remember our nation’s humble beginning as thirteen tiny colonies.  The colonies had to fight against the most powerful empire on earth for the right to self-governance.  And yet they prevailed against the British after several years, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 established the United States as an independent nation.  The colonists had the freedom not only to rule themselves, but to expand their territory westward over the North American continent.  Over the subsequent years, America took advantage of several opportunities, economic (the Louisiana Purchase), military (the Mexican-American War), and diplomatic (treaties with Great Britain over the boundary with Canada), all of which expanded its territory.

It is truly a marvel to see how the United States grew by such leaps and bounds from 1776 to the present day.  Below is a collection of maps from an Atlas which illustrate which areas were added to the union and when.  Quite a lot of information is here, including many little-known factoids of American geography, such as the fact that Vermont was an extralegal self-governing entity from 1777 to 1791.  With its many territorial possessions across the ocean, America has now become a global empire, a far cry from its thirteen original colonies.  Who knows what the future will bring?

Territorial Expansion of the United States (via AMDOCS, maintained by George Laughead,

10 Places You Can’t See on Google Maps



In a relatively short period of time, Google has achieved a remarkable feat of cartography: mapping the entire world.  Anyone with an internet connection can access Google Maps, find their location, zoom in, zoom out, and virtually explore anywhere else on the globe.

Well, almost anywhere.  A map is only as good as the data its creator has been given, and Google does not have the access or the authority to display certain locations, presumably for reasons of national security.  Of course, we don’t know for sure, because when you try searching for these places on Google Maps, they just appear as a blur or a black line.

The video below shows 10 of these hidden places on Google Maps.  They include military bases, power plants, nature reserves, and even some that are just plain mysteries.  In our hyper-connected information age, when anything can be googled, it is rare to encounter the un-googleable.  What do you think is being hidden, and why?

Has the Violence in Game of Thrones Become Gratuitous? A Look Back on Season 5


, , , ,

Jon and Sam (Courtesy of HBO, via

Violence, vengeance, fire-breathing dragons, ice zombies, and lots and lots of death.   Season five of Game of Thrones really doubled down on the more shocking elements of the show, putting an exclamation point on its thesis statement that this is a cruel, unjust world.  The season was rife with scenes of abuse and terror, and the finale alone featured enough deaths (both certain and presumed) to fill an entire season.  It turned off many viewers, including Senator Claire McCaskill, who publicly renounced the show after one rape scene too many.

But violence in a TV show, in and of itself, is not a bad thing if it serves the plot.  The question this season was whether the violence was justified or gratuitous.

In reaching my own conclusion, I’m going to first examine several aspects of the season as a whole to see what worked and what didn’t.  I’ll be judging the season on its plot, characters, and cinematography.  From this assessment, I’ll determine whether the violence was a help or a hindrance towards the success of the season.

Spoilers follow from the TV show, but not the books.

Plot (5/10)

In general, the plot was very uneven.  For long stretches of time, especially in the early episodes, almost nothing of consequence would happen.  Then, suddenly, the pace picked up in the last few episodes.  By the time the finale hit, so many game-changing events happened in a row that they lost much of their impact.  I understand that the source material is even worse, but I think the directors could have done a better job of evening it out.

That said, some of the arcs worked very well.  In past seasons, the events at the Wall had put me to sleep, but now I was fully onboard.  The arrival of the White Walker army gave that storyline the sense of urgency it needed.  Jon Snow’s election as Lord Commander was a little implausible, but the chain of events leading up to his death I found to be logical, even though I was caught by surprise.  One caveat, though, is that if he truly remains dead, and does not come back to life as many predict, then his heroic arc didn’t have much of a point.  Unless, that is, the point was for him to die as a martyr for his righteous cause.  However, many avid watchers and book readers sound pretty confident that Jon is coming back, somehow, despite Kit Harrington’s claims to the contrary.

Other storylines I mostly enjoyed were Tyrion’s trip to Meeren, and the political power plays going on at King’s Landing.  It was fascinating to see Tyrion and Cersei follow opposite trajectories.  Tyrion began the season in a crate on a ship, and he finished the season as the de facto ruler of Meereen.  Tyrion is at his best when pulling strings and make deals behind the scenes, so I am intrigued to see where this goes next season.  Cersei, on the other hand, went from Queen to prisoner, forced to suffer a humiliating, public punishment.  That final shot of her in the arms of the reanimated Mountain makes me think that the pendulum will shift again next season, when she begins to take her revenge on all her enemies.

I actually thought Daenerys’s arc in Meereen was well-handled, even though some reviewers found it to be tedious.  Previously, I had been frustrated by Dany’s sidequests, eager for her to sail to Westeros and unleash her dragons already.  But her rule of Meereen served an important purpose in teaching her how to make difficult decisions, and it was useful to see her agonize over re-opening the slave pits.  I especially enjoyed the argument between Tyrion and Hizdahr and wish there had been more discussions of political philosophy as a backdrop to Dany’s decision-making.  Finally, dropping Dany in the middle of a Dothraki horde at the end of the season is a fascinating development, because Dany has rarely, if ever, been off on her own without her advisers, forced to rely purely on her wits.

I thought that the plotlines in Dorne and Winterfell were hastily constructed and poorly executed.  Dorne looks like a stunning location, but we see very little of it and the people who live there.  Half of the season was spent watching Bronn and Jamie riding to save Myrcella while the Sand Snakes plotted, only to have them all suddenly, coincidentally, arrived at the exact same time and all get captured.  Mycella’s poisoning at the very end of the season is a shocking development, but it also didn’t make sense.  Why would Ellaria and the Sand Snakes be standing at the dock saying goodbye to their enemies?  Why would Jamie let Ellaria kiss Myrcella, without suspecting that she might try to poison her?  After Myrcella is poisoned, what’s stopping Jamie and Bronn from turning the ship around and coming back to kill Ellaria?

As for Winterfell, plenty has been written elsewhere about Sansa’s terrible rape scene.  In terms of plot development, I think it could have worked, if they had not chosen to portray it the way they did.  But the larger issue is that Sansa seemed to regress significantly compared to the end of last season, when it looked like she had finally learned how to play the “game of thrones”.  Now she is back to being a victim, dependent on Theon to save her.  And depending on how she fares after that jump off the castle wall, she might be crawling around with two broken legs in season six.

A plotline that fell in the middle for me was Arya.  It was a cool concept to see her begin her assassin training, but the pacing was incredibly slow until the very end.  It was obvious from the start that the mission of the faceless men differed from Arya’s, but it is not clear if the show is pushing her towards them or towards her own path.  Will she forsake her kill list to become a faceless man, or will she acquire the skills she needs and then leave to attain her revenge? Arya’s dispatch of Meryn Trant, and her punishment by blinding, makes me think that she will have to stick around the House of Black and White for at least a little while longer.

A major theme of the season was the futility of revenge.  The desire for vengeance is powerful, but ultimately unsatisfying once it’s achieved.  We have been cheering on Arya as she recited her kill list, but when she finally killed one of her marks in cold blood, it felt more like sadism than justice.  Meanwhile, Brienne fulfilled one of her oaths by tracking down Renly’s killer, Stannis, and getting a confession out of him.  After Stannis told her, “Go on, do your duty”, Brienne raised her sword, but there’s a hesitation, because there is little satisfaction in enacting retribution on a broken man.  Similarly, Cercei’s suffering this season should have felt like just desserts for a woman who has done so much evil, but we took no pleasure in her pain when it came to pass.  In these cases and others, violence was used not to titillate, but to highlight the pointlessness of a continuing cycle of war and punishment that has been ongoing in Game of Thrones since the beginning.

In Westeros, it seems that bad things always happen to good people.  Indeed, many of our favorite characters hit rock bottom this season.  But some of the villains did too, and when you really think about it, some of the heroes are not in such bad shape.  The question that comes to mind, though, is why anyone would be a good person when the consequences of one’s actions, whether good or bad, are kind of random.  Here’s a well-written article that addressed that very question perfectly:

Characters (8/10)

The acting overall was superb this season, as we started to gain deeper insights into some of the characters which we had not previously had.  The writing at times was weak, but the actors delivered the lines with plenty of conviction to sell the material.  Even in silence, I thought that many of the characters expressed wide ranges of emotions with well-executed facial expressions for the given situation.

In particular, I was most impressed by Cersei, played by Lena Headey, who experienced the full gamut of emotions throughout her arc this season.  At the beginning, she was still the cartoonish villain, scheming wickedly and heaping condescension on all those around her.  After being locked up by the Faith Militant, she became indignant, then enraged, and finally broken, as she suffered one humiliation after another.  Cercei was completely stripped, literally and figuratively, and the audience couldn’t help but sympathize with a woman they had previously hated so much. That long, agonizing “walk of shame” to the Red Keep was so difficult to watch because Lena Heady showed so convincingly the level of physical and psychological pain that her character was undergoing at the hands of the sadistic septons and the crowd.  One could argue that this scene was just gratuitous violence, but I think it served the narrative purpose of humanizing Cercei’s struggle for legitimacy and power in a man’s world.

I also thought that there was tremendous character development for Jon Snow, Theon, Daenerys, and Jorah this season.  Jon Snow wrestling with his new role as Lord Commander, and Daenerys struggling with quelling an insurgency in Meereen, allowed for significant growth in both of their leadership skills.  However, I will note that Jon could be more compelling still if we saw more of his internal struggles.  His heroism and righteousness often feel out-of-place in a show filled with morally ambiguous characters.

Theon spent most of the season in a tortured stupor, which was frustrating for the plot, but he conveyed his inner turmoil well.  Jorah may seem like an unlikely choice, due to his generally wooden nature, but I think this is by design due to the kind of man he is.  I thought he had some very strong scenes on the road to Meereen, such as his subtle sadness at learning of his father’s death before having the chance to repair their relationship.  For so many characters, we saw a different side this season, and it is credit to the show that it knows how to develop fully three-dimensional characters from initially minor roles.

The low point, again, was everything that happened in Dorne.  Prince Doran seemed completely disinterested in everything going on around him.  The Sand Snakes were silly caricatures with odd accents.  Myrcella was a one-dimensional princess, and it was somewhat disconcerting that she would be not just tolerant but actually glad that her uncle was really her father.

Cinematography (9/10)

The cinematography was probably the strongest element of the show in a season of uneven pacing and character development.  With stunning set pieces, CGI creatures that are fantastical yet lifelike, and dramatic scores that perfectly evoke the mood of each scene, it is easy to forget that this is a television show, not a movie.

In particular, I was impressed by the long Hardhome battle scene in episode 8.  Unlike most blockbuster action movies these days, which are filled with quick cuts, monotonous clashes of weapons, and incongruous explosions, the Hardhome scenes was filmed deftly and fluidly, with choreography that could easily be followed.  With shots like a horde of White Walkers clambering over the side of a cliff, only to rise again and charge toward their prey, this scene captured their ferocious tenacity and proved beyond a doubt who the true threat is in Westeros.  The closing shots were especially haunting, after the White Walkers had raised the slain wildlings to join their ranks.  As the gravity of the situation sank in, the music turned down almost to silence, and Jon Snow stared at the Night’s King while the boats retreated.

One other powerful scene to highlight, again, is Cercei’s long walk, which I discussed above.  It is interesting how massive the scale of the scene was, even though the central character was just one person.

But the season was not just a collection of big, shocking moments.  In fact, the majority of the time was spent in quieter scenes of dialogue, or traveling on roads to new destinations, or lingering on a character’s face to reveal his or her inner turmoil.  Violence is the exception, not the rule, when you really get down to it, and even in violent scenes (such as Sansa’s rape or Myranda’s death), the directors avoided too much graphic content.  The composition of the scenes indicates that Game of Thrones is a drama with occasional violence, as it serves the story, rather than a violent show with occasional drama to justify the violence.


The strongest parts of the season were the acting, cinematography, and certain of its plotlines.  Overall, I would rate the season to be weaker than the previous ones, though it is still better than virtually every other drama on TV, and I am still excited to see where season six takes us.

But what about the question that started this discussion?  Has the violence become gratuitous?

Many would argue that the violence has been gratuitous on Game of Thrones since Season 1, Episode 1.  I suppose it depends on your individual comfort level.  But violence is part of GoT’s DNA, and there is no way around that.  To be a fan of the show, one has to have a certain level of tolerance for violence.

I believe that the show has, so far, maintained a good balance and avoided an excess of gore.  The violence employed has served a purpose, although it could, in some instances, be toned down or filmed more tactfully. Game of Thrones fans are not sociopaths, and they don’t tune in to delight in blood and guts flying across the screen.  They enjoy the show because it offers a window to another world, as well as a window to our own past.  This is a world of chivalry and moralistic crusades, but also cruelty and violence, especially directed towards women and the powerless.  That is one of the main points of the narrative, and to lose that element would be to lose some of the power and significance of George R.R. Martin’s world.

Say Hello to the World’s Newest Micronations


, , , , ,

One of the great quixotic dreams of adventuresome travelers and political idealists is to start one’s own micronation.  Virtually all of the land on the Earth has already been taken, but if you’re clever, you can find a slice of land that no nation bothers to claim or enforce their right to govern.  Even if the only land available to you is a tiny rock in the ocean, at least that land is all yours.  And as we know, it’s good to be the King.

Back in 2013, we looked at one charming example, Sealand, an abandoned naval fort off the coast of England which has claimed independence for nearly five decades.  The Wikipedia entry for micronations has several dozen examples, and that list continues to grow with each passing year.  Just this past April, two more nations declared their micro-independence: Liberland and Enclava.  Today let’s take a look at these two, which are both located along the contested border between Croatia and Serbia.  They both took advantage of the fact that these areas are terra nullis, i.e., land that neither Croatia nor Serbia actually claims.  Despite these similarities, though, these two upstarts are not affiliated with each other, and in fact have completely different origins.


Liberland was the first micronation to declare its sovereignty this year, on April 13th.  It claims a 3 square mile triangular parcel of land along the Danube River.  As of yet, its territory is forested and completely uninhabited.  It is likely to remain so, because Croatia has blocked access to it, and individuals trying to reach the new nation have been detained by Croatian police.  That has not dissuaded the founder, Vit Jedicka, who recommends sailing a boat down the river from one of the neighboring countries to reach Liberland.

Jedicka, a Czech politician and activist, conceived of Liberland as a libertarian paradise.  According to its website,, this constitutional republic “prides itself on personal and economic freedom”.  The nation is accepting applications for citizenship on its website (over 250,000 have already applied), and welcomes all people who are tolerant and respectful of private property.  The only bars to citizenship are certain political views (Communism, Nazism) and past criminal convictions.  Jedicka has drafted a constitution and even created a flag for his fledgling nation.

Flag of Liberland (via

Liberland is not currently recognized by any other nation, but it has attracted some attention.  Croatia and Serbia mostly treat it as a joke, and given the fact that Liberland has claimed territory that neither country wanted, they do not seem too concerned, as long as Liberlandians don’t intrude upon their own territory.  The Czech Republic has distanced itself from Jedicka’s actions, calling them “inappropriate and potentially harmful.”  But positive responses have come in from political parties in Switzerland, Norway, and Spain, and at least one other micronation (the Kingdom of North Sudan) has officially recognized it.  Is it possible that Liberland could become an internationally recognized nation in the future?  Not likely, but considering that Liberland has only existed for less than two months, I would say it’s too early to count them out just yet.

Here is the map of the Croatian-Serbian border showing the location of Liberland, which is the green area toward the middle labeled “Siga”:

A Map of the Croatian-Serbian border. Lands in yellow are claimed by both Croatia and Serbia. Lands in green are not claimed by either. Liberland has seized this opportunity to claim the land marked “Siga”, and Enclava has claimed the tiny plot of land marked “pocket 1″ (via Wikipedia)


On April 23, ten days after Liberland formed, Enclava declared its own sovereignty.  It currently claims a little glob of land upriver from Liberland.  If you thought Liberland was tiny, then take a look at “pocket 1″ in the map above.  That’s the Kingdom of Enclava, all 0.386 square miles of it.  Enclava also created all the trappings of a modern nation-state, including a currency, an anthem, and its own flag.

Flag of Enclava (via

Enclava was initially founded on an unclaimed piece of land between Croatia and Solvenia by a group of Polish tourists who were traveling through that region.  However, Slovenia stepped in and asserted that a court of arbitration had yet to determine the actual land border, so the Enclavians, rather than incite an international incident, moved their claim to their current location on the Croatian-Serbian border.  Enclava has no constitution yet, but it does have a set of 24 principles, which have been adapted from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Much like Liberland, Enclava’s guiding philosophy is personal freedom.  However, Enclava seems to lack Liberland’s overt libertarian bent.  It places great emphasis on “caring for others” in its mission statement and its principles contain many guarantees (such as free public education) common to modern welfare states.  Although it styles itself as a monarchy, it does have a parliament with ministers who are elected by its citizens.  Currently, 134 citizenships have been granted, and the website claims that it accepts requests (though they have yet to add an application form).

Where would you most like to live?  Liberland or Enclava?  You still have plenty of time to decide; it may be awhile before either one secures its territory and gains recognition from other countries.  In the meantime, you can always start your own micronation.

The YouTube clip below gives a quick primer, using the example of Liberland, on micronation-building, for all those ambitious self-styled kings and queens out there:

Maps and Data are Powerful Tools to Help People in Crisis


, , ,

In 2013, Nancy Lublin launched the world’s first crisis-intervention hotline that utilized text messaging.  The Crisis Text Line (or CTL) allows anyone to send a text about their situation (such as bullying, suicidal thoughts, or physical abuse) to the number (741741), and a trained volunteer counselor will respond and provide support.  This service has been so useful because many problems that people, and in particular teens, face are difficult to raise with a parent or authority figure, so texting provides a more discrete way to reach out for help.  After two years, and six million texts, Lublin and the CTL team have helped a lot of people and learned a lot about the types of crises that are being experienced across the United States.

Lublin took what she learned from all those texts and launched a sister site,  The site synthesizes the data from teens into charts and maps to show the prevalence of certain types of crises across time and geography.  The data are able to show the likelihood of a text concerning a certain issue being sent at a certain time of day or day of the week.  For example, suicidal thoughts tend to occur most frequently at 7pm and 8pm, followed closed by 12pm.  The site also features maps ranking the states by the prevalence of each type of crisis, indicating that, somewhat surprisingly, the most anxious states are New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Hawaii, in that order.  Lublin hopes that this information will lead to better services, as local support systems become better tuned into the specific problems facing their areas.

Below are a few maps from the Crisis Trends site.  The first is the map of Anxiety:

Map of Anxiety (via

Map of Anxiety (via

Next is the map of where teens are most affected by eating disorders.  According to the data, Arkansas is ranked first followed by Maine and Virginia.

Map of Eating Disorders (via

Map of Eating Disorders (via

Finally, here is the map of suicidal tendencies, ranking Montana first, Alaska second, and Colorado third:

Map of Suicidal Tendencies (via

Map of Suicidal Tendencies (via

Crisis Trends is a great reminder that maps are not just good for navigation or intellectual stimulation. They can also be a potent force for social good.  Spread the word about Crisis Trends so that policymakers and local officials can utilize this data to know where crises are more likely to occur and work more effectively to help those in need.


The Oldest Surviving Map of the Holy Land


, , , , ,

In 1884, in the city of Madaba, Jordan, an ancient floor mosaic was discovered in the ruins of a long-abandoned Byzantine church.  Containing millions of tiny tesserae, the mosaic depicted important locations of the Middle East, including Jerusalem, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, Mt. Sinai, and the Nile Delta.  Greek text fills the empty spaces, explaining the religious significance of various locations throughout the area.  Based on the buildings present in the map’s view of Jerusalem, it was determined that the mosaic was created some time between 542 and 570 A.D., which makes it the oldest surviving map of Jerusalem and the biblical Holy Land.

The mosaic was restored as well as it could be, but the original colors have faded and some of the pieces are missing.  There are, however, numerous colorful reproductions. Below is a section from one of these reproductions, which shows Jerusalem in a prominent central position, and the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea at the top.  This mosaic may have served as a guide for Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem and other biblical sites during the early middle ages.

Photograph of a reproduction of the Madaba Mosaic Map.  Photograph taken by Lakshmi Sharath, via

Here is a reproduction of the full Madaba Mosaic:

Reproduction of the Madaba Mosiac Map, by Bernard Gagnon, via

The Madaba Mosaic can be a little disorienting at first.  The full view, shown above, has several large chunks missing, including most of the Mediterranean Sea.  In addition, we are used to maps having North at the top, but this mosaic, like so many from this era, has East at the top.  Even accounting for that, the orientation still does not quite make sense to me.  The Nile River delta is located in the bottom right corner of the mosaic, but Jerusalem is on the left side of the mosaic.  In real life, Jerusalem is East and a little North of the Nile River delta.  Shouldn’t the Nile be underneath Jerusalem on this mosaic?  Perhaps someone with more cartographic expertise could shed some light on this.

Today, the Madaba Mosaic is not useful for anything more than artistic appreciation.  When examining it, though, I do get the sense that it was a very impressive cartographic depiction at the time it was made. The locations included are rather extensive, and if I could read all the ancient Greek, I would probably be even more impressed with the biblical information cited.

The mosaic was not in use for very long, because Madaba was conquered by the Persians in 614 A.D., then the Muslims in the 8th century, and finally the city was destroyed in an earthquake and abandoned in 746 A.D.  But during the mosaic’s relatively brief life, I am sure that it helped many a traveler find his way to Jerusalem.


Wonderbook: Required Reading for Fantasy Writers


, , , ,

I just finished reading “Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction” by Jeff Vandermeer, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Its 300 pages are filled with words and illustrations containing invaluable writing advice, as well as exercises, planning guides, and contributions from famous authors.  The book’s target audience is writers of genres like fantasy and science fiction, and it is clear that Vandermeer’s personal interests skew more towards the weird.  However, I think the lessons contained within are useful for every kind of fiction, because “Wonderbook” encourages the writer to think outside the box and develop full and meaningful characters and settings, whether those characters and settings are down to earth or completely off the wall.

From the front cover, I was immediately hooked by Vandermeer’s style.  The island city built on the back of a whale seems to say that nothing is quite as it seems in the fantasy world, and that sense of mystery and wonder is what a writer needs to harness in order to capture the reader.  From the illustrations and examples that Vandermeer employs, he seems to delight in the truly odd, often explaining a writing convention only to turn it on its head.  His first chapter, about inspiration fueling creativity, explains how the disparate identities and memories of the writer can combine in the writer’s mind to create the jolt of energy that gives rise to a creative idea.  The examples he offers confirm that stories can come from the most random and unexpected sources.

"Cognitive Transformation" by Ben Tolman, from page 26 of "Wonderbook" by Jeff Vandermeer.

“Cognitive Transformation” by Ben Tolman, from page 26 of “Wonderbook” by Jeff Vandermeer.

Vandermeer goes on to describe the process for outlining a story, using the analogy of a living, breathing creature.  The story-creature must be properly assembled (the muscles, bones, and organs need to be functioning together), much like a story is built on top of a plot which has an internal logic and consistency.  If the author nurtures and feeds the story-creature, it can become a healthy adult creature.  However, as Vandermeer, shows in the diagram below, this is far from the final step in the lifecycle of a story:

From page 70-71 of "Wonderbook"

From page 70-71 of “Wonderbook”

“Wonderbook” also extensively delves into character development, plotting, worldbuilding (and mapping!), and revision.  I especially enjoyed one section where Vandermeer produces a few different beginnings for one of his published novels, “Finch”, and explains why he decided to start the novel where he did.  This is very helpful, because the decision of which exact moment to use at the opening of a novel affects the level of tension that is infused in the first scene, which in turn sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Vandermeer also spends time talking about proper endings, and even middles, which is another topic that doesn’t usually receive much attention.  Here is one map from the book which depicts the perils that await in muddling through the middle:

Map of the Middle Zone, from page 118 of "Wonderbook"

Map of the Middle Zone, from page 118 of “Wonderbook”

Vandermeer’s “Wonderbook” is a rich and engaging guidebook for the creative writer.  Its advice is practical, its examples are colorful, and it is sure to inspire any aspiring author to start putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard).  You can pick it up from Amazon here:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,131 other followers